I've noticed lately the news is chock full of fascinating finds:
Found: Violin that played as the doomed Titanic went down more than 100 years ago
Medieval Knight Remains Found in Edinburgh Car Park
Roman artefact discovered in Sudeley Castle cupboard
Discoveries like these can be excellent story starters, too. Robin Cook's Sphinx was no doubt inspired by real life; while I was reading it I kept thinking of Carter finding Tutankhamun's tomb. I knew from the moment I first read of Ötzi the Iceman that someday I'd write a fictional version of his story in one of my novels (and it took a while, but eventually I got my chance in Shadowlight.) Even something lost that isn't found can inspire a storyteller; Dean Koontz used the disappearance of the Roanoke colony as part of the plot for his book Phantoms (one of my writer pals believes the same event inspired Stephen King's It, too).
In a sense all stories are a quest for something. In fantasies there's usually some object of incredible power everyone wants, in mysteries the objective is solving a puzzle to find the truth. In romances the characters are seeking love as much as each other. Horror stories are all basically monster hunts, while memoirs are journeys into the past and one's self. This is why the first question I ask a character when I'm creating them is What do you want? -- when you know that, you've got the basic foundation to build on as well as design inspiration for your story elements.
If you want to draw on a real-life find for a story, ask yourself a couple questions:
Why does this discovery fascinate you? You want to write about something that engages you as a storyteller, but you also want to know why. For me it's always the chance to fill in the blanks, aka figuring out how to explain what we don't know. Such as what was Ötzi doing up there in the mountains when he died, and why was he killed?
Can you translate fact into plausible, original fiction? I've always thought those crystal skulls they've found all over the world were very interesting, and would make a great novel. I even wrote a couple plot outlines on how I'd handle them. Then Stephen Spielberg appropriated them for one of his Indiana Jones movies and used a plot idea very similar to my own. This doesn't mean every storyteller who wants to use crystal skulls in their fiction should give up, but you should find out what's already been done so you don't go in the same direction.
Is there enough room with this find for invention and reinvention? Incorporating the copper scroll of Qumran into my Darkyn series was a major ambition of mine, but the scroll itself wouldn't work. It was too old, it was made of copper, it was found in the wrong place, etc. I had to reinvent the scroll to get it to fit into my universe, which meant renaming it, reconstructing it out of gold, reworking the history and so forth. In the end the real scroll was simply inspiration versus having a place in the story, which was fine because I wasn't writing the real history of the actual scroll.
Probably the most important aspect of what you quest for in your story is its value to the reader. They have to want to find it as much as your characters; this is what engages them to stick with the story. Finding and authenticating the violin that was played on the Titanic is a good example of this: it's a symbol of tragedy and courage because of the events that happened during the last time it was played. Without the backstory it's just an old damaged violin someone found in an attic. So what you can do with that? What if it was repaired? What if the first time it was played the original owner showed up to reclaim it? The violin is still old and tragic, but now it's haunted, too.
What real-world discovery do you think would make a great story? Let us know in comments.