Some of History’s Most Overlooked Mysteries



Considered the other “Easter Island mystery,” Rongorongo is the hieroglyphic script used by the region’s early inhabitants. While no other neighboring oceanic people possessed a written language, Rongorongo appeared mysteriously in the 1700’s. The language was lost though-along with the best hopes for deciphering it-after early European colonizers banned it because ties to the islanders’ pagan roots.



Lost City of Helike

Greek writer Pausanias gave an account of how, in one night, a crushing earthquake destroyed the city of Helike, followed by a massive tsunami that swept away what remained of the once-flourishing metropolis. The Achaean league capital was a worship center devoted to earth shaker and God of the sea, Poseidon. No trace of the legendary society existed outside of ancient Greek texts until 1861 when an archeologist found Helike loot-a bronze coin with the unmistakable head of Poseidon. In 2001, a pair of archeologists located the ruins of Helike beneath mud and gravel and is currently trying to uncover the rise and demise of what some consider the “real” Atlantis.



The Bog Bodies

Even CSI’s best efforts wouldn’t go very far in solving the mystery of the bog bodies. So far, there have been hundreds of corpses-mostly from the iron age-discovered buried around the northern wetlands of Europe. Many of these amazingly well-preserved bodies, some dating back 2,000 years back, exhibit tell-tale signs of torture and violence. Such gruesome clues have some researchers suspecting that they were victims of an ancient practice of ritual sacrifice.



Fall of the Minoans

While many historians have figuring out what caused the collapse of the Roman Empire pretty high up on their to-do lists, the fall of the Minoan empire has proved just as puzzling. Three and a half millenniums ago, life on the island of Crete-which boasted a mythical King and his man-eating beast-was disrupted by a volcanic eruption at neighboring Thera Island. Clay tablets found by archeologists showed that instead of folding, Minoans carried on for another 50 years before finally packing it in. Theories of what finally did them in range from subsequent volcanic ash cover that devastated harvests to a weakened society left vulnerable to an eventual Greek takeover.



The Carnac Stones

If erecting Stonehenge seemed to have been a tremendous groan, think about how backbreaking it must have been for builders of the Carnac stones. On the coast of Brittany in northeastern France, are over 3,000 megalithic standing stones arranged in perfect lines and spread out over 12 kilometers. The local myth about the stones is that they were all part of a Roman Legion that the wizard Merlin turned into stone. A more rational stab at an explanation, by a researcher who studied the stones for over 30 years, purported that the stones are likely an elaborate earthquake detector. The identity of the Neolithic people who built them is unknown.


Who Was Robin Hood?

The existence of a forest-dwelling altruistic bandit might seem more plausible then a legendary king with a magical sword. However, the hunt for the real-life Robin Hood has turned up entire scrolls of suspects. For example, candidates include a fugitive in Yorkshire by the name of Robert Hod, who went by Hobbehod as well as a Robert Hood of Wakefield. The growing list of names is further complicated as the name “Robin Hood” soon became synonymous with being an outlaw as in the case of William Le Fevre who’s surname was later changed to RobeHod, according to medieval court records. His possible identity gets cloudier as later authors of the tales wove more characters such as Prince John and Richard the Lionheart into the story.



The Lost Roman legion

After the Parthians defeated underachieving Roman General Crassus’ army, legend has it that a small band of the POWs wandered through the desert and were eventually rounded up by the Han military 17 years later. First century Chinese historian Ban Gu wrote an account of a confrontation with a strange army of about a hundred men fighting in a “fish-scale formation” unique to Roman forces. An Oxford historian who compared ancient records claims that the lost roman legion founded a small town near the Gobi desert named Liqian, which in Chinese translates to Rome. DNA tests are being conducted to answer that claim and hopefully explain some of the descendents’ green eyes, blonde hair, and fondness of bullfighting.


The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript might be the most unreadable book in the world. The five hundred year-old relic discovered in 1912 at a library in Rome, consists of 240 pages of illustrations and writing in a language not known to anyone. Deciphering the text has eluded even the best cryptographers and some have even dismissed the book an entertaining but lengthy hoax. But a statistical analysis of the writing shows that the manuscript does seem to follow the basic structure and laws of a working language.


The Tarim Mummies

During an excavation beneath the Tarim Basin of western China, archeologists were pleasantly surprised to discover a little over 100 mummified corpses dating back over 2000 years ago. But Victor Mair, a college professor, was downright stupefied when he came skull-to-skull with some of the blonde-haired and long nosed Tarim mummies being displayed at a museum. So in 1993, Mair returned to collect DNA samples and the tests validated his hunch that the bodies were of European genetic stock. Ancient Chinese texts from the first millennium BC do mention groups of far-east dwelling caucasian people referred to as the Bai, Yeuzhi, and Tocharians. None, though, fully reveal how or why these people ended up there.


Disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization

With a culture that stretched from western India to Afghanistan and numbering over 5 million, the ancient Indus Valley people-India’s oldest known civilization-were apparently an impressive and sanitary bronze-age bunch. The scale of their baffling and abrupt collapse rivals that the great Mayan decline. It wasn’t until 1922 that Sir John Marshall excavated the remains of a hygienically-advanced culture with a highly sophisticated sewage drainage system and immaculately constructed baths. Strangely, there is no archaeological evidence of armies, kings, slaves, social conflicts, or vices prevalent in ancient societies. Even to the very end, it seems, they kept it clean.


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