Saturday, July 15, 2017

10 Of History's Overlooked Mysteries

History is filled with mysteries, some small scale like the origins of a book and others on a very large scale such as the disappearance of an entire civilization.

I recently came across a list of 10 historical mysteries that don't seem to get too much attention.

The Tarim Mummies
An archaeological excavation beneath the Tarim Basin in western China unearthed more than 100 mummified corpses dating back more than 2000 years.  Even though dug up in China, when a college professor viewed the mummies in a museum, he was shocked to discover they had blonde hair and long noses.  In 1993 he returned to the museum to collect DNA samples from the mummies.  Tests validated his belief, showing that the bodies were of European genetic stock.  Ancient Chinese texts from as early as the first millennium BC mention groups of Caucasian people living in the far east, but there is no mention on any living in the Tarim Basin.

The Voynich Manuscript
This is quite possibly the most unreadable book in the world.  The 500-year-old, 240 page manuscript was discovered in 1912 at a library in Rome.  It contains illustrations and writing in an unknown language.  The best cryptographers have been unable to decipher the text, but statistical analysis of the writing shows that it does seem to follow the basic structure and laws of a working language.

Who Was Robin Hood?
The possible real-life existence of a bandit living in the forest who stole from the rich and gave to the poor is more plausible than the legendary King Author and a magical sword named Excalibur.  The historical hunt for the real Robin Hood has discovered several candidates including Robert Hod, a fugitive in Yorkshire who went by Hobbehod as well as Robert Hood of Wakefield.  The name Robin Hood eventually became synonymous with being an outlaw.  His identity would later become even murkier as various authors wove more characters into the tale such as Prince John and Richard the Lionhearted.

The Carnac Stones
As with the construction of Stonehenge, it was a backbreaking task for the people responsible for the Carnac Stones.  On the coast of Brittany, in northwestern France, there are over 3000 megalithic standing stones arranged in exacting lines and spread out over 12 kilometers (7.2 miles).  The local myth explains them as a Roman legion on the march when the wizard Merlin turned them to stone.  The identity of the Neolithic people who build them is unknown.

The Bog Bodies
Hundreds of these ancient bodies have been discovered buried around the northern wetlands of Europe.  Researchers who inspected them have found tell-tale signs of torture and medieval foul play.  These clues have led some to suspect that the dead were victims of ritual sacrifice.  [I recall reading about an incident in England, I think in the 1800s, where a body was found in a bog and it was so well preserved that the locals believed it to be a recent murder which resulted in a police investigation.]

Disappearance Of The Indus Valley Civilization
The ancient Indus Valley people were India's oldest known civilization.  Their bronze-age culture stretched from western India to Afghanistan with a population of over 5 million.  Their abrupt decline rivaled that of the Mayans.  Excavations in 1922 uncovered a culture that maintained a sophisticated sewage drainage system and immaculate bathrooms, but found no evidence of armies, slaves, social conflicts, or other vices prevalent in ancient societies.

The Lost Roman Legion
After an underachieving Roman army led by General Crassus was defeated by Persia, legend says that a small band of POWs wandered through the desert and were captured by the Han military.  An Oxford historian who compared ancient records claimed that the lost Roman legion founded a small town near the Gobi Desert named Liqian, which is Chinese for Rome.  DNA tests are being conducted to hopefully explain some of the residents' green eyes and blond hair. [Which leads one to wonder if there is a connection with the Tarim Mummies.]

Fall Of The Minoans
The fall of the Minoan Empire has proven just as puzzling as the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Approximately 3,500 years ago, life on Crete was disrupted by a huge volcanic eruption on the neighbor island of Thera.  Ancient clay tablets show that the Minoan Empire continued for another 50 years.  Theories about their demise include a blanket of ash devastating their crops and another one says their weakened society was left vulnerable to an eventual Greek takeover.

Lost City Of Helike
The Greek writer Pausanias wrote about a great earthquake that destroyed the city of Helike followed by a tsunami that swept away what remained.  The once flourishing city had been a worship center devoted to Poseidon.  No trace of this legendary society existed outside of ancient Greek texts until 1861 when a bronze coin was found showing the head of Poseidon.  In 2001, the ruins of Helike were located beneath coastal mud and gravel.  Work is currently under way to unearth what some consider the real Atlantis.

Rongorongo is an indecipherable hieroglyphic writing used by the early inhabitants of Easter Island, often referred to as the other Easter Island mystery.  Rongorongo appeared mysteriously in the 1700s, at a time when no other neighboring oceanic people had any type of written language.  The language was lost along with the best hopes of deciphering it when early European colonizers banned it because of its pagan roots.

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