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Minecraft Archaeology Guide: Find the Ruins

Archaeology was introduced in the most recent Minecraft content patch (the Trails and Tales update), and with the amount of content added, you’ll need a guide to this new feature.

This huge update brought new mobs like the sniffer and camel to the game, while also adding numerous cosmetic items like armor patterns. These new items allow you to customize your world even more than before, while also providing additional goals for players who are particularly ravenous for fresh content and more varied parts of the world to explore.

Today, we’ll be breaking down how the archaeology system in Minecraft works, as well as what potential rewards you could get for seeking out your dig sites.

Archaeology Explained & How to Begin

The 1.20 update for Minecraft included numerous kinds of additions to the game, and archaeology is perhaps the most wide-reaching and compelling of the new additions. To engage with the archaeology system, first off you’ll need to make yourself a brush.

These are crafted by the player from a feather, a copper ingot, and a stick. Finally, a use for copper besides lightning rods!

How to make an archaeology brush in Minecraft.
Making a brush doesn’t take much, but you’ll want one around if you’re looking for ruins! (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Once you’ve created your brush, you’ll need to go seek out a set of ruins somewhere in the world. These represent whatever old civilizations may have tamed the world of Minecraft in the past, and you can find them in a variety of biomes.

The type of ruin that you choose to excavate will determine what you might find in the “Suspicious Sand” blocks buried beneath and around it.

Exploring a jungle, looking for ruins. - Minecraft Archaeology Guide
A new archaeologist looking for clues! (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Ultimately, the most valuable rewards in Minecraft from archaeology come down to Sniffer eggs, armor trims, and pottery sherds, all of which are mostly cosmetic for the time being. But all of these items are very cool, and decorating your castle with an awesome haul of blocky goodness is part of the fun of Minecraft.

Pottery Sherds

While combing through the suspicious sand or gravel around your archaeological dig sites, you might find old shards of pottery from times gone past. These “sherds” have art engraved or painted onto them. You can combine these sherds at a crafting table, with each sherd facing the direction you’d like it to be on the pot itself.

A decorated pot made from pottery sherds.
Decorated pots are a very cool addition to plenty of decor schemes. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

If you lack enough sherds to make the pot decorated on each side, you can also fill in the missing slots with bricks, or make the same kind of large pots with no decoration out of four bricks.

As of 1.21, plants can’t be put inside a decorated pot yet. However, decorated pots can be stacked on top of each other as well, allowing you to build entire walls of art if you want to tell a story with hieroglyphics!

Desert Ruins & How to Find

Desert structures are among the easiest of all ruins to locate among the many biomes of Minecraft, as they tend to stick out in an obvious way among the very flat terrain of an average desert. Keep in mind you’ll only find these structures in a desert made of regular sand, not a red sand desert.

You’ll want to keep an eye out for two kinds of structures – pyramids and wells.

Pyramids & Rewards

Pyramids should already be very familiar to regular Minecraft players, known as the “Temple” structure if you were to try to locate one via creative mode.

If you’re new to the game though, you can recognize them by the sandstone towers with orange terracotta question-mark shapes on them, often partially buried under layers of sand blocks. They’re fairly common among desert biomes.

Orange terracotta blocks mark the entrance of a pyramid ruin.
A half-buried pyramid stands ominously in the distance! (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Pyramids have already been in the game for quite a while, and experienced players will know how to navigate down to their treasure chamber without blowing themselves up on the pressure plates protecting it.

But now, the entry-level of the pyramid is worth exploring and excavating a small amount as well. You’ll find sand mixed in with the sandstone on the first level of the desert pyramid. Search through this sand with your brush as you clear it, and you’ll make your way into a hidden room inside the pyramid.

This new hidden room is connected to the main structure with a broken staircase, and it makes a great temporary bedroom while you dig through the rest of the temple.

Desert Pyramid Rewards

Searching through the suspicious sand in the hidden room of a Desert Pyramid will reward you with a 12.5% equal chance at several items, some more valuable than others. The least valuable item you can find here is gunpowder or TNT.

There is an equal chance you’ll find a single emerald or a single very valuable diamond, making diamond equipment possible without ever having to go underground.

The inside of a Pyramid Ruin - Minecraft Archaeology Guide
An excavated pyramid, with the left side desert rose pattern being visible by default. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

There are four pottery sherds you can find here too. These are the “Archer”, a depiction of a bow, “Miner”, a similar depiction of a pickaxe, “Prize”, which shows you the art of a diamond on the side, and “Skull”, which appears to be the skull of a classic Minecraft skeleton.

Drop rates and content are identical around this structure between Java and Bedrock editions of the game.

Desert Wells & Rewards

A desert well in Minecraft.
This well might have served the ancestors of the local village. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Desert Wells are tougher to find than most other structures. They don’t even show up in the list of structures you can locate via Creative mode, making them hard to find even if you’re flying around.

This is on account of them being registered as a “Feature” instead of a “Structure”, similar to boulders you might find in some forests, lava pools in stony areas, and the “dungeon” area with its monster spawners underground.

You’ll recognize them as small sandstone buildings in the distance. Inside they’ll have some water source blocks, and below that you can find some suspicious sand, as though these items were tossed into the well in times past.

Desert Well Rewards

At the bottom of the desert well, you’re most likely to find one of two pottery sherds, these being the “arms up” and “brewer” shards. Arms up is a reference to some of the earliest known cave drawings, while the brewer sherd would be perfect for decorating a potion-brewing room.

A decorative pot built from the sherds found inside a desert well.
Pottery outside of a well! (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

There is a lower chance that you’ll find a set of other items at the bottom of the desert well, including bricks, emeralds, sticks, and a suspicious stew that’s even more suspicious than normal. While these items are welcomed, they aren’t nearly as cool as the pottery sherds.

Good thing that the developers chose to increase the drop rate for the sherds instead. Drop rates and tables are the same for this structure between Java and Bedrock editions of the game.

Trail Ruins & How to Find

Trail ruins are another new addition to Minecraft, resembling ruined old villages that have been overtaken by time. You can only find them in heavily forested areas, like some of the taiga biomes, or one of the jungle variants. Old-growth forests can also contain these new structures.

Hints of a trail ruin sticking out from the ground in the jungle - Minecraft Archaeology Guide
The hints of a trail ruin below sticks up out of the dirt in the jungle. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

You can identify them in these biomes by the bright terracotta sticking out of the ground. Excavate around it to uncover some “suspicious gravel” that you can comb through for lots of cool items!

You’ll often need to dig straight down a good number of blocks, sometimes as many as twenty, to find the expanded ruins. Trying to pull the entire village out from under the ground without damaging it is a fun and rewarding task. Just make sure you carefully inspect all the gravel before churning through it with a shovel, or you might miss out on some of the great items buried beneath the surface.

Trail Ruin Rewards

When you find suspicious gravel throughout the trail ruins, you can sift through it using your new brush to access the ancient loot within.

A pottery sherd found at the bottom of a trail ruin.
The bottom of this trail ruin contains a pottery sherd! (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Unlike the desert ruins listed above, this time each block of suspicious gravel has a chance of giving you loot from either the common or rare loot tables. The common items will tend to be cosmetic items like bricks, dyed candles, and emeralds.

Meanwhile, there is also a chance you’ll get some very unique, particular items from the rare loot table. There are seven different pottery sherds you can find here, as well as four different kinds of armor trim smithing templates, “Host”, “Raiser”, “Shaper”, and “Wayfinder”.

Ocean Ruins & How to Find

Two kinds of ocean ruins can spawn in the new Trails & Tales update, with one made for cold water and another for warm oceans.

There are plenty of ways to traverse the ocean but the easiest way is to make a boat and paddle out into the water after drinking a night-vision potion, then down a water-breathing potion when you’ve parked your boat above an underwater structure.

Be cautious when you start to dive to the bottom. The ocean floor can be dangerous since the Drowned mobs don’t burn in the sun while they’re underwater, and their trident-throwing attacks can deal massive, unexpected damage compared to other low-level mobs.

A night vision potion will help you scan the ocean floor for ruins.
Night vision potions don’t last long, but make it much easier to scan the ocean floor. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

You can tell you’re in cold water if the floor of the ocean has gravel and stone brick structures at the bottom of the water.

Conversely, you’re in warm water if you see mostly sand on the ground and find sandstone structures.

Regardless of which one you find, the process is the same. Dive down into them and carefully begin to excavate the area. Pull out your archaeologist brush and start looking for suspicious gravel or sand, depending on the water temperature. And don’t forget to check the surrounding area for evidence of ruins as well, as these buildings typically will spawn in clusters.

Ocean Ruin Rewards

The two different kinds of underwater ruins will give you two different loot tables. However, both types have a chance of containing a buried treasure chest somewhere within the structure. This chest may contain a treasure map leading you to more valuable loot inland.

Hidden treasure chest in a warm water ocean ruin. - Minecraft Archaeology Guide
A buried chest at the bottom of a warm ocean ruin shows it has already been excavated. (Image: Mojang via HGG / Nathan Hart)

The suspicious gravel around a cold water ocean ruin can contain pottery sherds in four variants, “Blade”, “Explorer”, “Mourner”, and “Plenty”. Although, finding these shards is less likely than just brushing out a chunk of coal or a single emerald.

Warm water ocean ruins have a chance of giving you three different unique pottery sherds, “Angler”, “Shelter”, or “Snort” when you brush through their suspicious sand. Notably, warm water ruins are also the only place you can find one of the most interesting archaeological items – a sniffer egg.

Placing this egg down as a block will begin a countdown for it to hatch and produce a baby snifflet. This dinosaur-like creature can help you dig up ancient seeds once it grows up into an adult Sniffer. Plus, it’s just cute.

Join the High Ground

With this guide to archaeology in Minecraft, we hope you can put on your best block-shaped Indiana Jones hat and let your brush guide you to some spectacular adventures.

Journeys across the biomes of Minecraft often lead to unexpected dramas and some beautiful virtual sights, and now you’ll be able to make sure you keep the high ground!

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