The Lost Army of Cambyses

Cambyses II was the emperor of Persia (ruled 530–522 BCE) and successor to Cyrus the Great. Eager to emulate his father’s deeds of conquest, and to extend Persian rule across all the known nations (ie civilisations) of the world, Cambyses invaded Egypt in 525 BCE, defeating the last true Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus III. Yet today he is remembered not for his feats of conquest, but for his lost army – a force of 50,000 warriors, dispatched to conquer a tiny oasis kingdom, that vanished into the desert and was lost without a single survivor or the slightest trace being discovered for more than 2,000 years. The primary source for the tale of Cambyses and his lost army is the ancient Greek traveller and historian Herodotus, an intrepid man who travelled all over Egypt just 75 years after the Persian invasion.

Herodotus followed in Cambyses’ footsteps and recorded the local tales and histories of the invader. Unfortunately his impartiality is questionable; he had the typical ancient Greek antipathy towards the Persians and his Histories slander Cambyses remorselessly, painting him as a despot, madman and general ne’er-do-well. Herodotus first recounts how Cambyses managed to cross the difficult Sinai desert region and meet the Egyptians with his army intact, which is relevant because it shows that the Persians were capable of coping with desert transits. They recruited Arabian tribes to create water depots at regular spots along the route – in effect, artificial oases – and in this manner were able to arrive at the battle site in good order and defeat Psammetichus.

Later, Cambyses travelled to the major Egyptian cult centres to be crowned pharaoh but, according to Herodotus, made only a perfunctory effort to learn about or pay respect to their customs. He then decided to launch military expeditions against the Ethiopians (to the south), the Carthaginians (along the coast to the west) and the ‘Ammoniums’ – ie the inhabitants of the Siwa Oasis, a small fertile enclave deep within the Western Desert, which was famous for the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon (the Siwan name for the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, whom the Greeks equated with Zeus). The priests of the temple were used to commanding respect from Egypt’s rulers, who were supposed to obtain ‘divine’ favour to legitimise their overlordship. Alexander the Great made sure to do this when he conquered Egypt 200 years later, but Cambyses, it seems, failed to follow the proper forms and disdained the Siwans. Cambyses took his army south along the Nile to launch his Ethiopian expedition, stopping at Thebes to detach a force to send to Siwa in 524 BCE.

According to Herodotus, in Book III of his Histories, an army of 50,000 men was ordered to ‘enslave the Ammonians and burn the oracle of Zeus’. Led by guides, the army set off into the desert, reaching ‘the city of Oasis’, known to the Greeks as ‘The Isles of the Blest’ (modern-day Kharga), seven days’ march to the west. After this, they were never seen again, although the Siwans themselves were somehow able to give Herodotus a rough account of what happened next:
“…this is what the Ammonians themselves say: when the Persians were crossing the sand from the Oasis to attack them, and were about midway between … [Siwa] and the Oasis, while they were breakfasting a great and violent south wind arose, which buried them in the masses of sand which it bore; and so they disappeared from sight. Such is the Ammonian tale about this army.”

This is the full extent of what we know about the lost army, which has led many scholars to doubt the episode ever happened. Perhaps Herodotus was simply inventing the tale to make Cambyses look more foolish. Why would the Persian emperor waste his time launching a strike on Siwa? Why would he send such a huge army to conquer such a small place (probably only a few thousand residents at most)? Above all, why would he send them via such a perilous route with so little preparation or precaution? Herodotus himself suggests, albeit indirectly, some of the answers.

A possible motive for the expedition is that Cambyses was angered by the attitude of the priests of the Temple of Ammon, who – themselves angry at a perceived lack of due deference – may have been spreading the word that his kingship was illegitimate. They may even have predicted his death. Herodotus also drives home the point that Cambyses was an irascible drunk, given to fits of spite and cruel rage, and quite capable of nursing a lethal grudge. He was also unhinged enough to doom his men with inadequate planning and preparation.

An alternative explanation is that Siwa was only intended as a way point on a longer journey. Perhaps the real targets were lands further to the west. Cambyses’ intended assault on Carthage had been called off because the Phoenicians who provided his navy refused to move against their kin who had set up the colony at Carthage. Perhaps he intended to approach them by land instead – this would account for the apparently disproportionate size of the expeditionary force. If Herodotus is right, the Persian army met a bleak end. The region they were travelling across includes barren depressions of bare rock and boulders; wind-sculpted buttes; plains of salt and dust; vast sand seas of impassable dunes; searing desert winds hotter than 40°C that blow for days on end; massive sand storms that will bury anything that stands still; and an utter absence of water. How the Ammonians knew the fate of the lost army is unclear, given that they specifically told Herodotus that not one soldier had reached Siwa, but perhaps they simply assumed the most likely scenario.

Herodotus provides a few clues about the possible location of the lost army, describing the army’s route from the oasis known as ‘Island of the Blest’, which is today a major agricultural town known as Kharga. From here they would presumably have tried to follow the traditional caravan route to Siwa, which goes via the oases at Dakhla (a few hundred kilometres to the west) and then Farafra (a few hundred more to the north-west). From Herodotus’ account it sounds as though the Persians may have got to Dakhla or even Farafra, but were then lost as they attempted to complete the final leg of the journey. Even narrowing it down this far, however, leaves a dauntingly vast area to examine. If the Persians got lost out of Dakhla and started going in the wrong direction they could have ended up pretty much anywhere in the Western Desert.

The Western Desert is one of the hardest places in the world to be looking for lost relics. It is vast, covering about two-thirds of modern-day Egypt: an area of 680,000 square kilometres (263,000 square miles), equal to the combined size of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. The conditions, as described above, are incredibly harsh and desolate. Even modern vehicles with four-wheel drives and special equipment cannot cope with some of the dunes found in the sand seas.Much of the area is restricted owing to the security issues of the region: millions of landmines from World War II, the proximity of the border with Libya and sensitivities about oil operations and terrorism. And there is always the likelihood that any finds that are stumbled across will soon be covered up by the shifting desert sands, never to be seen again.

In the last decade there have been some slightly confused reports about discoveries in the Western Desert that sound almost too good to be true. In January 1933, Orde Wingate--later famous for creating the Chindits, allied troops that fought behind enemy lines against the Japanese during World War II--searched unsuccessfully for the Lost Army of Cambyses in the Egypt's Western Desert, then known as the Libyan Desert. On February 17, 1977, Associated Press reporter Marcus K. Smith wrote the following story, whose headline read: "Lost Army Found."

CAIRO—The remains of an invading Persian army that vanished in a sandstorm 2,500 years ago have been uncovered in the Egyptian Western Desert. An Egyptian archaeological mission discovered thousands of bones, swords, and spears of Persian manufacture of the vanished army of King Cambyses at the foot of Abu Balas Mountain. The site is in a region twice the size of Switzerland, known as the 'Great Sea of Sand.' Archaeologists are calling it one of the greatest finds of the century. The site is not far from the Siwa (Amon) Oasis, 350 miles west of Cairo which the Persian soldiers were trying to reach when they were overwhelmed by a desert storm...
This story proved to be a hoax.

From September 1983 to February 1984, Gary S. Chafetz, an American journalist and author, led an expedition--sponsored by Harvard University, The National Geographic Society, the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority, and the Ligabue Research Institute--that searched for the Lost Army of Cambyses. The six-month search was conducted along the Egyptian-Libyan border in a remote 100-square-kilometer area of complex dunes south west of the uninhabited Bahrein Oasis, approximately 100 miles south east of Siwa (Amon) Oasis. The $250,000 expedition had at its disposal 20 Egyptian geologists and laborers, a National Geographic photographer, two Harvard Film Studies documentary filmmakers, three camels, an ultra-light aircraft, and ground-penetrating radar.

The expedition discovered approximately 500 tumili (Zoroastrian-style graves) but no artifacts. Several tumili contained bone fragments. Thermoluminence later dated these fragments to 1,500 B.C., approximately 1000 years earlier than the Lost Army. A recumbent winged sphinx carved in oolitic limestone was also discovered in a cave in the uninhabited Sitra Oasis (between Bahrein and Siwa Oases), whose provenance appeared to be Persian. Chafetz was arrested when he returned to Cairo in February 1984 for "smuggling an airplane into Egypt," even though he had the written permission of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority to bring the aircraft into the country. He was interrogated for 24 hours. The charges were dropped after he promised to donate the ultra-light to the Egyptian Government.

According to Professor Mosalam Shaltout, chairman of the Space Research Center at the Desert Environment Research Institute of Egypt’s Minufiya University, an Italian-led expedition in December 1996 which was surveying for meteorites stumbled across archaeological remains in the El Bahrein Oasis area of the Western Desert. Aly Barakat, a geologist with the team, found a dagger blade and hilt, pottery shards, apparently human bone fragments, burial mounds, arrowheads and a silver bracelet, which, on the basis of a photograph, was identified as ‘most likely belonging to the Achaemenid period’ (ie ancient Persian).

Meanwhile, in 2000 there were widespread reports that a team of oil-prospecting geologists, said to be from Helwan University, in Cairo, had stumbled across similar finds in the same area, spotting scattered arrow heads and human bones. In 2003 geologist Tom Bown led an expedition to the area, accompanied by archaeologist Gail MacKinnon and a film crew, to follow up Aly Barakat’s discoveries, which they, controversially, said had been suppressed by the Egyptian authorities. Bown claimed to have found remains at the same site, near the El Bahrein Oasis, at a place later named Wadi Mastour, the Hidden Valley. In fact he reportedly went as far as describing seeing thousands of bones littering the desert.

Yet another follow-up expedition in 2005, however, cast serious doubt on the claims of both Barakat and Bown.A team from the University of Toledo, in Ohio, together with British and Egyptian associates, travelled to the site near El Bahrein. They located a broken pot found by both Barakat and Bown, although they identified it as Roman, but they failed to find any other suggestive remains beyond a few burial sites, which they claim are common in the desert. Instead of fields of scattered human bones they found large numbers of fragments of fossilised sand dollars (sea urchin-like creatures that leave distinctive round calcite cases), which are apparently easy to mistake for human bones and could explain the previous claims.

In November 2009, two Italian archaeologists, Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, announced the discovery of human remains, tools and weapons which date to the era of the Persian army. These artifacts were located near Siwa Oasis. According to these two archaeologists this is the first archaeological evidence of the story reported by Herodotus. While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing -- what could have been a natural shelter. It was a rock about 35 meters (114.8 feet) long, 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height and 3 meters (9.8 feet) deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.

However, these “two Italian archaelogists" presented their discoveries in a film rather than a scientific journal. Doubts have been raised because the Castiglioni brothers also happen to be the two filmmakers who produced five controversial African shockumentaries in the 1970s--including Addio ultimo uomo, Africa ama, and Africa dolce e selvaggia--films in which audiences saw unedited footage of the severing of a penis, the skinning of a human corpse, the deflowering of a girl with a stone phallus, and a group of hunters tearing apart an elephant’s carcass. The Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has said in a press release that media reports of this "are unfounded and misleading" and that "The Castiglioni brothers have not been granted permission by the SCA to excavate in Egypt, so anything they claim to find is not to be believed.

Apart from being a great unsolved mystery, the miserable desert fate of the lost army of Cambyses also presents the intriguing likelihood that there could be a huge find of skeletons, armour, clothing, weapons and equipment from the ancient Persian era awaiting discovery. The army would have included in its number soldiers from many different parts of the antique world. In the uniquely arid conditions, with the possibility that sand may have covered and protected, the remains could be amazingly well preserved. There could be an archaeological treasure trove somewhere in the Sahara.

(Sources : Lost Histories : “Exploring The World’s Most Famous Mysteries” by Joel Levy; and Wikipedia)

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14:02 | 3 komentar

The Drummer of Tedworth

The Drummer of Tedworth is a report of supernatural activity by Joseph Glanvill in the West Country of England, in his Saducismus Triumphatus. The book's Latin title Saducismus Triumphatus means The Defeat of Sadducism, and implies the denial of an afterlife. In 1668, Glanvill published one of the earlier versions of Saducismus Triumphatus, his A Blow at Modern Sadducism ... To which is added, The Relation of the Fam'd Disturbance by the Drummer, in the House of Mr. John Mompesson. The tale Glanvill told was that a local landowner, John Mompesson, owner of a house in the town of Tedworth (now called Tidworth, in Wiltshire), had brought a lawsuit against a local drummer, whom he accused of extorting money by false pretences. After he had won judgment against the drummer and confiscated his drum, he found his house plagued by nocturnal drumming noises. It was assumed that the drummer had brought these plagues of noise upon Mompesson's head by witchcraft.

The story is considered by some to be an early account of the activity of a poltergeist, a mischievous spirit that makes noises unexplainable except by supernatural causes. John Mompesson, a justice of the peace, had brought before him an ex-drummer in Cromwell’s army, who had been demanding money of the bailiff by virtue of a suspicious pass. The bailiff had believed the pass to be counterfeit, and Mompesson, who was familiar with the handwriting of the gentleman who had allegedly signed the note, immediately declared the paper to be a forgery. The drummer, whose name was Drury, begged Mompesson to check his story with Colonel Ayliff of Gretenham. The colonel would vouch for his integrity, the drummer insisted. Mompesson was swayed by the drummer’s pleas that he not be put into jail, but he told the man that he would confiscate his drum until he had checked out his story. Drury demanded that his drum be returned, but Mompesson told him to be on his way and to give thanks for his own freedom. Mompesson had the drum sent to his house for safekeeping, then left on a business trip to London.

Upon his return, his wife informed him that the household had been terrorized by strange noises in the night. She could only accredit the sounds to burglars trying to break into the house. On the third night of his return, Mompesson was brought to his feet by a loud knocking that seemed to be coming from a side door. With a pistol in one hand and another in his belt, Mompesson opened the door. No one was there, but now the knocking had begun at another door. He flung that one open, too, and finding no one there, walked around the outside of the house in search of the culprit. He found no one on his search, nor could he account for the hollow drumming that sounded on the roof when he went back to bed. From that night on, the drumming came always just after the Mompessons had gone to bed. It made no difference whether they retired early or late, the invisible drummer was ever prepared to tap them an annoying lullaby.

After a month of being contented with rooftop maneuvers, the disturbances moved inside— into the room where Mompesson had placed the ex-soldier’s drum. Once it had established itself in the home, the ghostly drummer favored the family with two hours of martial rolls, tattoos, and points of war each evening. On the night in which Mrs. Mompesson was being delivered of a child, the drummer was respectfully quiet. It maintained this silence for a period of three weeks, as if it were allowing the mother to fully recover her strength before it began its pranks in earnest. The children were the ones who suffered most when the drummer terminated its truce. With terrible violence, the thing began beating on their bedsteads at night. It would raise the children’s beds in time with its incessant drumming, and, when it finally did quiet down, it would lie under their beds scratching at the floor. The Mompessons hopefully tried moving their children to another room, but it did no good. The drummer moved right along with them.

By November 5, the ghostly drummer had achieved such strength that it could hand boards to a servant who was doing some repair work in the house. This was witnessed by a roomful of people, but Mompesson soon forbade his servant such familiarities with their invisible tormenter. When the thing began to leave behind offensive, sulphurous fumes, the Mompessons took this as sufficient evidence that their unwelcome guest had come directly from the pit of Hades. A Reverend Cragg was summoned to conduct a prayer meeting in the house. The drummer maintained a reverent silence during the minister’s prayers, but upon the last “amen,” it began to move chairs about the room, hurl the children’s shoes into the air, and toss every object that it could get its invisible hands on. A heavy staff struck Rev. Cragg on the leg, but the astonished clergyman reported that a lock of wool could not have fallen more softly. The knocking had become so loud at nights that it awakened neighbors several houses away.

The Mompessons’ servants had also become subject to receiving nocturnal visits from the drummer. Their beds were raised while they attempted to sleep, and at times it curled up about their feet. The ghost particularly delighted in wrestling with a husky servant named John. It would jerk the bedclothes off the sleeping man, throw shoes at his head, and engage in a hearty tug-o’-war with the man, who was trying desperately to keep the covers on his bed instead of on the floor. At times, the powerful entity would entwine itself around John and forcibly hold him as if he were bound hand and foot. With a tremendous effort of brute strength, the servant would free himself from the grasp of his invisible opponent and reach for the sword that he kept beside his bed. John had found that the brandishing of his sword was the only action that could make the thing retreat.

By January 10, 1662, nearly a year after its unwelcome arrival, the entity had acquired a voice and the ability to simulate the sound of rustling silk and the panting of animals. It had begun by singing in the chimney, then moved into the children’s bedroom where it chanted: “A witch, a witch! I am a witch!” When Mompesson rushed into the nursery with his pistol, the disturbances ceased at once. That night it came to his bedside, panting like a large dog. The bedroom, even though lacking a fireplace, and on a particularly cold and bitter winter’s night, became very hot and filled with a noxious odor.

On the following morning, Mompesson scattered fine ashes over the chamber floor to see what sort of imprints might be made by the incredible entity. He was rewarded by the eerie discovery of the markings of a great claw, some letters, circles, and other weird footprints. It was at this point in the manifestations that Rev. Joseph Glanvil arrived to conduct his investigation. The phenomena were most cooperative for Rev. Glanvil and provided him with ample evidence of their existence from the very first moment of his arrival. It was eight o’clock in the evening and the children were in bed, enduring their nightly ritual of scratching, bed-liftings, and pantings. Rev. Glanvil tried desperately to trace the source of the disturbances, but could find nothing. He was momentarily elated when he noticed something moving in a linen bag, but upon scooping up the cloth, and hoping to find a rat or a mouse in his clutches, he was dismayed to find himself left holding an empty bag. Later that night, when Rev. Glanvil and a friend retired for the evening, they were awakened by a loud knocking. When the clergyman demanded to know what the entity wished of them, a disembodied voice answered that it wanted nothing of the two men.

The next morning, however, Rev. Glanvil’s horse was found trembling in a state of nervous exhaustion, appearing as though it had been ridden all night. Glanvil had scarcely mounted the horse for his return trip when the animal collapsed. Although the horse was well-attended and cared for, it died within two days. One night in the children’s bedroom, the voice shrieked its claim that it was a witch over a hundred times in rapid succession. The next day, the harried Mompesson fired his pistol at an animated stick of firewood and was astonished to see several drops of blood appear on the hearth! The firewood fell to the floor and a trail of blood began to drip on the stairway as the wounded ghost retreated. When the invisible thing returned three nights later, it seemed to vent its anger on the children. Even the baby was tormented and not allowed to sleep. At last Mompesson arranged to have the children taken to the house of friends. At this tactic, the drummer pounded severely on Mompesson’s bedroom door, then quit its post there to show itself to a servant. The terrified man told Mompesson that he could not determine the exact proportions of the entity, but he had seen a great body with two red and glaring eyes, which for some time were fixed steadily upon him.

When the children were returned to their home, the thing seemed to want to make up to them. The Mompessons and their servants could hear distinctly a purring, like that of a cat in the nursery. The contented purring, however, turned out to be but another ploy of the devilish drummer. Four hours later, it was beating the children’s legs against the bedposts and emptying chamber pots into their beds. A friend who had stayed the night in the haunted house had all of his coins turned black. His unfortunate horse was discovered in the stables with one of its hind legs firmly fastened in its mouth. It took several men working with a lever to dislodge the hoof from the animal’s jaws. About this time, Drury, the man whose drum Mompesson had confiscated, was located in Gloucester Gaol where he had been sentenced for thievery. Upon questioning, he freely admitted witching Tedworth’s justice of the peace. He boasted that he had plagued him and that Mompesson would have no peace until he had given him satisfaction for taking away his drum. Mompesson had the drummer tried for witchcraft at Sarum, and the man was condemned to be transported to one of the English colonies. Certain stories have it that the man so terrified the ship’s captain and crew by “raising storms” that they took him back to port and left him on the dock before sailing away again.

Witchcraft was a real thing to the people of 1663, and noisy hauntings were often recognized as the work of Satan. While on board ship, Drury had told the captain that he had been given certain books of the black arts by an old wizard, who had tutored him in the finer points of witchcraft. By the time a king’s commission had arrived to investigate the haunting, the phenomena had been quiet for several weeks. The cavaliers spent the night with the Mompessons, then left the next morning, declaring that the entire two-year haunting was either a hoax or the misinterpretation of natural phenomena by credulous and superstitious men. Reverend Joseph Glanvil’s frustration with His Majesty’s investigators is obvious in the conclusion of Saducismus Triumphatus, his account of the Mompesson family’s ordeal, where he stated that it was bad logic for the king’s investigators to conclude a matter of fact from a single negative against numerous affirmatives, and so affirm that a thing was never done. “This is the common argument of those that deny the being of apparitions,” Glanvil declared. “They have traveled all hours of the night and have never seen any thing worse than themselves (which may well be) and thence they conclude that all apparitions are fancies or impostures.”

(Sources : Encyclopedia of Unusual and Unexplained Things; and Wikipedia)

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12:58 | 0 komentar

White River Monster

Of all the awesome and hideous mystery beasts in the world, nothing is loved by its neighbours quite as much as ‘Whitey’, the White River Monster. In fact, Arkansas State Legislators have declared the area where it has been most often seen – around the town of Newport – a ‘White River Monster Refuge’. It is now illegal to ‘molest, kill, trample or harm’ the legendary beast. But this has not always been the case – originally locals wanted to dynamite the monster. Whitey’s first appearance was in the 1890s. He then reappeared in 1915, but it was only in the first week of July 1937 that he really made a splash. It floated a few minutes on the surface, then submerged.

Men fishing in the White River, a tributary of the great Mississippi, noticed that they were finding it hard to land many fish. One day they spotted a strange creature and reported it to the local plantation owner, Bramlett Bateman. He saw a 12-foot, gray thing emerge from a “deep hole” some 60 feet deep in the river, a monster with the skin of an elephant, four or five feet wide by twelve feet long, with the face of a catfish, was lolling on the surface of the water, near Newport, on July 1, 1937.

He saw it again on September 22. As many as twenty-five other residents, including two deputy sheriffs, saw something that made a lot of bubbles and foam in the river that summer. Bateman was sceptical, but agreed to have a look at whatever they had found. He was shocked at what he saw. Bateman felt this beast was a threat to his crops, and applied to local officials to blow up the eddy with TNT. The authorities refused permission, and by then hundreds of people had heard of the phenomenon. They came from as far away as California, some with cameras, some with explosives; one man reportedly brought a machine gun. A plan to capture the monster with a giant net fell by the wayside, and Bateman’s use of a deep-sea diver to find the creature came to nought. As people lost interest in the beast, Bateman felt he was being accused of creating a hoax although there had been over 100 confirmed sightings recorded during the short period of excitement.

Whitey was forgotten, but he made a dramatic return on June 28, 1971, south of the White River Bridge. Cloyce Warren took a photograph of an animal that had been seen for about ten days. It shows a nondescript object disappearing beneath the water. He was fishing with two friends when suddenly a great fountain of water spurted in front of them and a creature with a 20-feet-long spikey back was seen to surface and then disappear beneath the water. The man managed to take a photograph of the beast, which he sold to the Newport Daily Independent newspaper. People who saw the picture were unimpressed by its clarity and the newspaper has since lost the original copy.

Ollie Ritcherson and Joey Dupree were boating on the river July 21, 1971, looking for the monster when something lifted their boat upward out of the water. Sightings continued through August. However, numerous other witnesses saw a long, grey creature surfacing in the water of the White River. Some said it was the length of a boxcar, that its smooth flesh looked as if it was peeling. Others said it made a bizarre noise, like a cow’s moo or horse’s neigh. Those who managed to see the beast’s face in detail told of a strange tusk protruding from its forehead.

A trail of peculiar 14 inch tracks were found on the nearby Towhead Island, and a CBS news team was duly despatched to report on the area. R. C. McClauglen and his family watched an animal thrash in the river for five minutes near Jacksonport on June 5, 1972. The last reported sighting came in late July when two people out fishing claimed their boat was rocked by what they believed was the monster. Media coverage killed off sightings of Whitey, and in February 1973 the Arkansas Senate passed its resolution to protect the beast.

From the accounts witnesses have provided, some experts believe Whitey may be a lost elephant seal. They can be immense creatures, up to twenty feet long, and the descriptions of noise, skin and forehead horn would all fit correctly. It is also known that the elephant seal migrates seven thousand miles each year so it may just be off-course. However, the nearest seal colony lies on the west coast of America, so it would have to come through the Panama Canal to reach the White River. Also, elephant seals only live for around fifteen years, so no single animal could possibly account for sightings over almost a century. Whatever Whitey is, he can be assured of a warm, if not explosive, welcome the next time he pops up in Arkansas.

(Sources : 100 Most Strangest Mysteries by Matt Lamy; and Mysterious Creatures : “A Guide to Cryptozoology” by George M. Eberhart)

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07:26 | 2 komentar

Sinking of Lusitania

RMS Lusitania, 31,500 tons, was built by the Cunard Line in 1906. (The vessel was named for a province of the Roman Empire, a region roughly corresponding to the Portugal of today.) On 7 May 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the south coast of Ireland, en route from New York to Liverpool, resulting in the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, 128 of them American. Allegations of a conspiracy to sink the Lusitania center upon the claim that the first Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill, colluded with the First Sea Lord, Admiral Jack Fisher, and other senior leaders of the Royal Navy, to place the liner in peril, anticipating that heavy loss of U.S. lives would hasten the intervention of the United States in World War I. While it is accepted that part of the Lusitania’s cargo comprised munitions for the Allied war effort, there have also been suggestions of a conspiracy to conceal both the precise nature of these war supplies and the military capacity of the ship itself.

The emergence of a conspiracy to sink the Lusitania is usually traced to a conference hosted by the British Admiralty in Whitehall on 5 May, two days before the liner was sunk, where a decision was made to withdraw the Lusitania’s naval escort without notifying the ship, in waters where U-boats were known to be active. Among others summoned to attend the meeting was Joseph M. Kenworthy, a lieutenant commander who worked for naval intelligence, and whose only prior association with Churchill had been when Kenworthy submitted a report, commissioned by Churchill, assessing the political outcomes should a passenger liner carrying American citizens be attacked and sunk by the German navy. But the suggestion that Churchill and other senior members of the admiralty conspired to sink the Lusitania is problematic.

Before she left New York on May 1, 1915, the German authorities in the United States published a warning that ships of Great Britain and her allies would be attacked by submarines in the war zone and advised passengers not to sail. Records from the admiralty conference on 5 May indicate that British naval forces stationed in Ireland were instructed to protect the ship. It is also a matter of record that at least eight, and possibly more, warnings of U-boat activity off southern Ireland were communicated to the Lusitania on 6 and 7 May. The millionaire Alfred G. Vanderbilt said to have been told, “Have it on definite authority the Lusitania is to be torpedoed. You had better cancel passage immediately.” The warning was not regarded as serious (certainly not by Cunard officials, who publicly denied that warnings of any kind had been received), and apparently the British admiralty did not send radio warnings to the Lusitania on May 6 that there was German U-boat activity in the approaches to southern Ireland.

According to the ship’s sailing orders, she should have been steering a zigzag course and had been instructed to keep off the land, but these instructions were ignored. Notwithstanding the urgency of these warnings, and the admiralty’s awareness of the U-boat threat, a more prosaic explanation for why the liner found itself unguarded in dangerous waters may lie in the complacency of the British military. At 2:15 P.M. on May 7 a torpedo struck Lusitania’s starboard side, fired from the German submarine U-20 (Captain Walther Schwieger). She sank rapidly (her bow was already on the seabed when her stern lifted clear of the water), and because she was listing so heavily and was at so steep an angle with her bow down when she sank, it was extremely difficult to get her lifeboats away. Thus 1,198 people died, including Alfred G. Vanderbilt. There were 761 survivors. One of these, a young American, McMillan Adams, who helped try to launch some of Lusitania’s lifeboats, wrote that “the staff Captain told us that the boat was not going to sink, and ordered the lifeboats not to be lowered.” It took only eighteen minutes for the Lusitania to settle on the seabed.

One theory has it that the second explosion came from the detonation of contraband cargo (although the Lusitania was not herself armed, she was certainly carrying a cargo of munitions). It was also claimed that she was deliberately ordered into the path of the submarine by Winston Churchill, who was at the time first lord of the admiralty, and by Sir John Fisher, first sea lord, in an attempt to bring the United States into the war (the same notion was advanced after Pearl Harbor in 1941). Germany claimed that the Lusitania was an armed merchant cruiser carrying troops from Canada, but London insisted that she carried no troops and no guns and that her only war cargo was 5,000 cases of cartridges; it is also possible that her cargo included a quantity of fuses in addition to the ammunition.

Nevertheless, despite this quantity of munitions in her hold, it was contrary to the rules laid down at the Hague Convention of 1907 for such a vessel to be sunk without first boarding her to establish the fact that she was carrying contraband and then making provision for the safety of her passengers and crew. Suspicions regarding the exact nature of the Lusitania’s cargo have been aroused by discrepancies in the two separate cargo manifests Cunard lodged with U.S. customs, one before and one after the ship’s departure from New York. Yet, in order to keep cargoes secret from German informers operating on the New York docks, it was standard practice for British shipping companies during World War I to file conflicting or incomplete manifests before sailing, and nobody has yet demonstrated convincingly that Cunard actively misled either the U.S. authorities or the public as to the contents of the ship’s hold.

The day after the Lusitania was torpedoed, for example, the New York Times published full details of the liner’s military cargo in its edition of 8 May. The civilian status of the Lusitania has also been challenged, with allegations that the liner carried a hidden arsenal that could be rapidly mobilized for use as necessary. A conspiracy to conceal the Lusitania’s military capacity has even been linked with the unidentified relative of an unidentified future U.S. president. But none of the 109 passengers who eventually testified at the two public inquiries into the disaster recalled seeing guns mounted on the liner.

More intriguing is the debate about what caused the fateful “second explosion” on board the ship. Although the admiralty maintained for some years that U-boat U-20 had hit the ship with two torpedoes, it is now widely accepted that the submarine fired only one torpedo at the Lusitania, and that the second catastrophic detonation, the one that sank the liner so quickly with such huge loss of life, was caused by an unknown object or substance the ship was carrying in its cargo. The second explosion has been explained in a number of ways, ranging from the lurid (the Lusitania was carrying a cargo of secret explosive powder) to the banal (the ship was sunk by a detonation of highly flammable coal dust following the impact of the torpedo). But no comprehensive explanation for the second explosion has ever been offered, and the admiralty’s initial insistence on the “two torpedo” scenario has kept alive the theory of a high-level cover-up regarding the contents of the Lusitania’s holds.

As well as the cause of the second explosion, one further aspect of the Lusitania conspiracy remains unresolved. In the aftermath of the sinking, early accounts estimated that the liner had taken to the bottom of the sea several thousand dollars in cash. By 1922 these estimates had been revised, with some commentators valuing the ship’s cargo at $5–6 million, much of it in gold. During the 1950s the activities of the salvage company Rizdon Beezley around the wreck revived suspicions of Churchill’s involvement in the disaster, with allegations that Churchill had commissioned the company to remove evidence of contraband from the wreck. To this day, no convincing explanation has been offered as to why the Lusitania would have been carrying millions of dollars of gold into a war zone.

(Sources : Conspiracy Theories in American History : “An Encyclopedia” edited by Peter Knight; and Seafaring, Lore & Legend by Peter D. Jeans)

(Pic sources :
07:37 | 4 komentar

Fairies Sightings

Traditionally, the fairies are a race of beings who are the counterparts of humankind in physical appearance but, at the same time, are nonphysical or multidimensional. They are mortal, but lead longer lives than their human cousins. Fairies have always been considered very much akin to humans, but also as something other than mortal. The fairies are said to be able to enchant humans, to take advantage of them in numerous ways, and even cast a spell on likely young men or women and marry them. They often seem intent upon kidnapping children and adults and whisking them off to their underground kingdom. Those who return from the magical kingdom have experienced missing hours, days, weeks—even years. On the plus side, fairies have also been reported to help farmers harvest their crops or assist housemaids in cleaning a kitchen. There are accounts of fairy folk guiding humans to achieve material successes, and stories are told of fairy midwives who stand by to assist at the births of favored human children and who remain to guide and tutor them for the rest of their lives.

Some scholars and researchers of the considerable body of worldwide fairylore maintain that fairies are entities who belong solely to the realm of spirit. Many of the ancient texts declare that the fairies are somehow of a “middle nature betwixt Man and Angel.” Some biblically inspired authorities have sought to cast fairies as an earthly incarnation assumed by the rebellious angels who were driven out of heaven during the celestial uprising led by Lucifer. These fallen angels, cast from their heavenly abode, took up new residences in the forests, mountains, and lakes of Earth. As fallen angels, they now existed in a much-diminished capacity, but still possessed more than enough power to be deemed supernatural by the human inhabitants of the planet. In a variation of that account of the fairies’ origin, other scholars contend that after the war in heaven, the dispossessed angels materialized on Earth and assumed physical bodies similar to those of humans—those beings declared “a little lower than the angels.” Eventually, these paraphysical beings took humans as mates, thereby breeding a hybrid species of entities “betwixt Man and Angel.” William Shakespeare (1564–1616) made fairies famous in a number of his masterworks. He is largely responsible for the concept of the wee folk as mostly benign—mischievous, perhaps, but never evil. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) wrote lovely passages idealizing fairies, but once satirically remarked that he believed many of the woodland sprites were possessed by the souls of deceased socialites who even after death refused to give up earthly amusements.

In 1188, a Welsh cleric named Elidyr told Gerald of Wales that when he was twelve years old, he had encountered two tiny men who led him through a dark tunnel and into a fantastic realm of little people ruled by a king. He returned to visit several times until he tried stealing a golden ball. The little men pursued and took it back from him, after which he could no longer find the tunnel.

In 1757, when British cleric Edward Williams was seven years old, he and some other children playing in a field in Wales saw a group of tiny couples dressed in red and carrying white kerchiefs. One of the little men, who had an “ancient, swarthy, grim complexion,” chased the children. The incident puzzled Williams all his life. In the early twentieth century, W. Y. Evans Wentz traveled throughout Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall , and Brittany, gathering many oral traditions of Fairies from all social classes. One informant, named Neil Colton, told him about Fairies he had seen in the mid-nineteenth century at Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland. He and some other children were gathering berries when they heard music and saw six to eight of them dancing a few hundred feet away. A little woman came running toward them and hit a girl on the face with a green rush. The girl fainted after they all ran home and was revived only with the help of a priest . The notorious Cottingley

Fairy photographs, taken by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, somehow fooled many people over the years. It was only in 1983 that the women finally admitted to using cutouts from Princess Mary’s Gift Book (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), by Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, on two of the photos taken in 1917. Three other photos taken in August 1920 with a different camera were probably double exposures. However, they never denied seeing real Fairies in the back near Cottingley, Yorkshire, and claimed the hoax was done to demonstrate their reality. The photos and related documents sold for £22,000 at an auction in July 1998.

On April 30, 1973, Mary Treadgold was traveling by bus on the Island of Mull in Scotland when she looked out the window and saw a small figure, about 18 inches high, who appeared to be digging peat with a spade. It was dressed in bright-blue pants and suspenders and a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and it remained completely still as the bus passed. Unexpected mishaps during construction of a new road at Akureyri, Iceland, in 1984 were blamed on the local fairies. Helgi Hallgrimsson, director of the Akureyri Natural History Museum, has collected many eyewitness reports from the district around Eyjafjörur, where a Fairy town is said to be located. Brian Collins, age fifteen, was vacationing on Aran Island, County Donegal, Ireland, around 1992 when he saw two men about 3 feet 6 inches tall, talking in Irish and dressed in green with brown boots. They were sitting on a bank, fishing in the ocean, but suddenly they jumped away and disappeared. Collins retrieved a pipe one had been smoking, but it later disappeared from a locked drawer.

Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) emphasized the beauty of the fairy realm and the struggle of the fairies to achieve humanlike souls. The famed poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) had a nearly obsessive interest in the supernatural and strongly believed in fairies. It was the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), who came to the defense of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, the two little girls who allegedly photographed fairies in the famous Case of the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. Doyle became convinced that fairies are genuine psychic phenomena and that just as some people can act as mediums and others have unusual powers of extrasensory perception, so do others—especially certain children— have the ability to see fairies. Concerning fairies themselves, Doyle theorized that they are constructed of material that emits vibrations either shorter or longer than the normal spectrum visible to the human eye.

In 1997 a motion picture entitled Fairy Tale: A True Story chose to emphasize the magical qualities of the Cottingley incident. Charles Sturridge, the director, was quoted in Premiere, November 1997, as saying that he didn’t want to make a film about whether or not the two young girls had faked the fairy photographs. Sturridge emphasized that his film was really all about, “The need to believe beyond what you can see.” Interestingly, yet another film about the Cottingley fairies, Photographing Fairies, appeared in 1998, and director Nick Willing chose to depict the elemental beings primarily as spirits.

(Sources : Encyclopedia of Unusual and Unexplained Things; and Mysterious Creatures : “A Guide to Cryptozoology” by George M. Eberhart)

(Pic source : Encyclopedia of Unusual and Unexplained Things page 101)
14:17 | 0 komentar

The Lost Village of Skara Brae

Five thousand years ago, a thriving community existed on an island north of Scotland. Skara Brae (pronounced /ˈskɑrə ˈbreɪ/) is a large stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, Orkney, Scotland. It consists of ten clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3100-2500 BC. It was built centuries before Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt were even conceived. It has been called the Pompeii of Britain as it too was buried by an natural cataclysm that preserved its secrets for millennia. Where did these people come from? Where did they go? These questions have been asked repeatedly ever since the year 1850 when a great winter storm swept the Orkney Islands, whipping the seas into a frenzy and throwing huge clouds of sand away from the shoreline. When the storm subsided, a number of ancient stone buildings were revealed.

Their homes are there today, looking as if their occupants had left them yesterday. They had central heating, toilets with drains and sewers, furniture including dressers, beds and couches, water tanks and were partly sunken so as to utilize the earth for insulation. Early examination gave no clue as to their identity or age and it was reasonably assumed that they were of Viking origin. The Orkney Islands lie about twenty miles north of the northern tip of Scotland. It is a harsh, unforgiving climate, flat and barren of trees and exposed to storms coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. As they had no wood, the people of Skara Brae were unable to build boats so their fishing was limited to offshore.

Map of Skara Brae

Skara Brae's inhabitants were apparently makers and users of grooved ware, a distinctive style of pottery that appeared in northern Scotland not long before the establishment of the village. The houses used earth sheltering but, being sunk into the ground, they were built into mounds of pre-existing domestic waste known as "middens". Although the midden provided the houses with a small degree of stability, its most important purpose was to act as a layer of insulation against Orkney's harsh winter climate. On average, the houses measure 40 square metres (430 sq ft) in size with a large square room containing a hearth which would have been used for heating and cooking. Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time. This also made the construction of dwellings difficult but surprisingly, the original settlers were extremely skilled in the use of stone so everything in the houses they built was of stone including beds, dressers, shelves and cupboards. The stone beds had been made comfortable with bases of heather or straw. Stone water tanks held a supply of rain water.

Excavated dwelling at Skara Brae

The houses themselves had rounded corners to deflect the strong winds, low ceilings for maximum preservation of warmth and one large wooden door, entered from street level. The houses were partly sunk in the ground to insulate them from the cold. Six houses remain today and a seventh building was a workshop, indicated by flint chippings on the floor. Originally, there were ten houses and they provided accommodation for over fifty people. They are all of a uniform design and all ten were spaced in a regular pattern, connected by means of underground passages.

Many have described Skara Brae as ‘a Neolithic housing estate.’ Carved designs decorate some of the wall stones and necklaces, beads, pendants and rings have been found, made from whales’ teeth. They were skilled pottery makers too and built peatkilns for firing the pots which were made in the shape of buckets and bags for carrying water though lipped pots were also found with distinctive patterns of grooves. Other painstakingly carved items are balls, probably used for games, mace heads and axes. Traces of pumice powder have been identified which they used to polish the bone adornments. Fish and shellfish comprised most of their food. Bones have been found confirming that they ate salmon, cod, eel, haddock, bream, sturgeon, oysters, crab and shrimp. Whales must have contributed to their foodstore too and the massive whalebones were used to form the supports for the roofs of their homes. Presumably, these were whales beached by storms, but it is remarkable that the inhabitants of Skara Brae could fashion tools that could perform such a massive task. The whalebones supported roofs consisting of peat slabs and deer skins secured with leather ropes; the skins were also used as blankets. Several houses contain stone ‘limpet boxes’ which were used for the storage of live shellfish as bait. They knew how to preserve meat by salting and drying, and stone basins have been found that were used to grind corn and make bread. Most of this knowledge of the way the inhabitants of Skara Brae lived comes from the Middens, that can be seen today.

There are many theories as to why the people of Skara Brae left, particularly popular interpretations involve a major storm. To attempt to find the answers, paleontologists have assembled what is known of these extraordinarily intrepid adventurers. They were skilled workers in stone; that was the first fact. They were resourceful too and learned quickly to make the best use of their environment. The houses they built indicated a knowledge advanced beyond most peoples of the time. The beads and necklaces they made suggest a certain refinement and enjoyment of beautiful things, not necessarily of any practical value. This view is enhanced by the designs they added to household items such as cooking pots and water containers. Dogs were kept as pets, another feature not common in prehistoric times. They probably had a hierarchy of power and organization to have set up a community that lasted for six hundred years.

When the storm in 1850 blew away the sand and uncovered the lost settlement of Skara Brae, there was mild interest in the archaeological community. It was in 1913 that the whole applecart was overturned. It happened that Professor Boyd Dawkins, renowned cave explorer, was visiting Lord Balfour Stewart, the owner of the site that contained Skara Brae. He heard talk of the find and gathered some of the other house guests to join him in some digging that focused renewed attention. This continued largely due to the efforts of the Laird of Skaill, William Watt. He had an interest in scientific matters and spent time and money on making sure that the site was protected and that as much exploration as possible was conducted by responsible individuals. This continued until 1924 when the Office of Works took over the responsibility for it and planned on opening it to the public. Later that same year, one of the frequent Atlantic storms blew mud and water into the houses and passages before they could be made available for viewing.

The Office of Works called in Professor Gordon Childe to supervise the cleaning up process. Professor Childe was the leading archaeologist of the time and gave no consideration to the possibility that Skara Brae was Neolithic. He thought it was ‘Pictish’—the Picts were one of the ancient tribes of North Britain and were absorbed by the invading Scots between the sixth and the ninth centuries A.D. Nevertheless, he was amazed at his own findings and he reluctantly began to accept the amazing evidence before him that indicated the true age of Skara Brae. He realized that Skara Brae was a Neolithic village that had been established earlier than 3,100 B.C. and had flourished for at least six hundred years that is until 2,500 B.C. The community had then remained unnoticed for almost 4,500 years before that winter storm in 1850.

It was in the early 1970s, however, that confirmation of its age was obtained once and for all when carbon dating was proven and available. The evidence was complete—Skara Brae had been occupied since as early as five thousand years ago despite the difficulty many scholars experienced at accepting this, in view of the urbanity displayed in so many aspects of life. This line of thinking was greatly reinforced when experts in ancient languages were examining the Runic writing carved into the sides of the stone beds while attempting to fully decipher them. They reached the astonishing conclusion that the language was not Runic at all. The Runic language was used in Northern Europe dating from about the first century A.D. so it could not have been known to the people of Skara Brae. The Runic alphabet has only 16 letters. Some of the letters or runes are letters of the alphabet as we know them but others have meanings in addition so they could be used as a sort of shorthand. Two examples are letters that had great meaning in those days; one meant ‘field’ and another meant ‘cattle’. The Runic language underwent several changes through the centuries but the oldest version, the one supposed to have been used in Skara Brae, would have been the one known as ‘Futhark’.

The evaluation made in 1850 when Skara Brae was first uncovered, was by scholars whose knowledge of Futhark was sketchy at best. No one questioned their conclusions and it was without doubt their best try based on data available at the time. In the century following, many more sites had been excavated and acquaintance with Futhark had advanced a great deal. The conclusion was irrefutable. The writings on the stone objects found in Skara Brae were NOT Futhark and not even Runic. So what was it? One new suggestion has been made and it is a hair-raising one . . . it has been proposed that the writings are Egyptian.

Some of the hieroglyphs in the Futhark language are indeed very similar to those in the Egyptian language and can account for the mistake in identification over a century ago when translation was much less accurate than it is today. All of the hieroglyphs in Skara Brae correspond to Egyptian hieroglyphs which makes it difficult to refute the new conclusion. In addition, pictorials of pyramids in the Skara Brae carvings presumably have meaning. But what does that mean in relation to other data beside language? The scale and type of construction of these Neolithic buildings match those of Ancient Egypt. The plumbing, rare in the Ancient World, is also identical in the two cultures.

The grooved pottery ware found at Skara Brae is said to be identical to that in Ancient Egypt. Stone spheres found at Skara Brae have pyramids all over their surface. The corbelled walls outside the houses of Skara Brae is said to be exactly like that used in Ancient Egypt. (‘Corbelling’ is placing flat stones on top of one another so that each layer projects further out than the layer below it.) The proponents of the belief that Skara Brae was built by people from Ancient Egypt further maintain that these were mostly priest-astronomers. Such an elitist class would have been essential in that unfriendly terrain and the hierarchy and influence they wielded in their homeland would have been necessary for survival.

These proponents also believe that many of the Skara Brae carvings have astronomical significance and relate to the lunar calendar, the nine planets in orbit around the sun, and symbolize the equinoxes and signs of the zodiac. Skeptics state that ancient Egyptian priest-astronomers would hardly have been likely to have been exploring in the North Atlantic in the centuries before the building of the pyramids. We know that the ancient Egyptians were not historians and left no books that might have told of their explorations. When Alexander the Great destroyed Heliopolis, the center of Egyptian science, he destroyed the last vestiges of Egyptian survey knowledge, so no traces of their travels can be expected to emerge. For now Skara Brae continues to guard its secret as it has for five thousand years.

(Sources : Atlantis Rising Magazine volume 55 : “The Lost Builders of Skara Brae by Peter King; and Wikipedia)

(Pics sources :;;;)
06:27 | 1 komentar

Ruins of Chichén Itzá

The mysterious ruined Mayan City of Chichén Itzá has fascinated and intrigued archaeologists, explorers, and historians ever since it was first encountered and described by Bishop Diego de Landa, who wrote about the history of the Yucatan in the late 16th century. Chichén Itzá was at its height from around A.D. 600 to 1200, and was probably the main political and religious center in the whole of the Yucatan at this time. The site itself consists of many elaborated designed and decorated stone buildings, including temple-pyramids, palaces, observatories, baths, and ball courts, all constructed without the use of metal tools. For reasons not exactly understood, the Maya began to abandon Chichén Itzá around the beginning of the 13th century A.D., and before long the ruins were left to the encroaching jungle.

Although the existence of Chichén Itzá was known about for centuries after its abandonment, there was no exploration of the ruins until as late as the 1830s. From 1839 until 1842, American explorer and writer John Lloyd Stephens, together with English architect and draftsman Frederick Catherwood, made various journeys through South America visiting countless ancient sites. Their research resulted in two important books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843), both written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood. Between 1875 and 1883, French antiquarian and photographer Augustus Le Plongeon and his wife Alice undertook the first excavations at Chichén Itzá, and made some incredible stereographs of Mayan sites. However, Plongeon’s conclusions on the Mayans were clouded by his belief that South America was the origin of all the world’s civilizations.

In the following decades there were various other expeditions to the site, including that of the Italian-born Teoberto Maler who, in the 1880s, lived at Chichén Itzá for three months, documenting the ruins more comprehensively than anyone before him. In 1889, English colonial diplomat, explorer, and archaeologist Alfred P. Maudslay visited the site and surveyed and photographed the ruins. Maudslay’s assistant Edward H. Thompson (the U.S. consul to Yucatan), later moved to Chichén Itzá with his Mayan wife, and spent 30 years carrying out investigations among the ruins, including dredging artifacts of copper, gold, jade, and human bones out of the Sacred Cenote (a water-filled limestone sinkhole). Professional archaeologists from the Carnegie Institution at Harvard University began work at Chichén Itzá in 1924. The 20-year long excavation project was directed by Sylvanus G. Morley, who had been a guest of Edward H. Thompson on his first visit to the ruins in 1907.

In 1961, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History undertook a methodical dredging of the sacred Cenote, recovering 4,000 artifacts in the process. Since 1993, the Mexico-based Chichén Itzá Archaeological Project (under the direction of Dr. Peter Schmidt) has been carrying out excavation, research, and conservation work at the site, in order to map the whole area, examine the pottery, and restore the many structures previously left in a partially excavated state. The reason for the Maya locating their sacred city here can be best explained by the presence of natural sink holes, known in the area as cenotes, as the lack of above ground rivers made an all year round water supply essential. The previously mentioned Cenote of Sacrifice or sacred Cenote is the most famous of these sink holes, and was used by the Maya as a place for ritual offerings to their rain god Chase. During periods of extreme drought, it seems that humans were also sacrificed here in order to perpetuate the god. Chichén Itzá is generally thought to have been founded in A.D. 514 by the priest Lakin Chan, also known as Itzamna, and its height comprised several hundred buildings. The ruins of the city can be divided into two groups, one belonging to the Classic Maya period (A.D. 250-900) and constructed between the seventh and 10th centuries A.D., and the other belonging to the Maya-Toltec period, which lasted from the late 10th century up to the beginning of the 13th century.

The Toltecs, another Native American people probably originating in central Mexico, made Chichén Itzá their capital in the late 10th century A.D., though whether this was by force or by some kind of agreement with the Maya is not known. It was during the Maya-Toltec period of the site that Chichén Itzá most spectacular ruins were constructed. The structure that people most identify with the Mayan and Chichén Itzá is probably the giant stepped pyramid that dominates the site, called the Temple of Kukulcan and also known by its Spanish name of El Castillo. The El Castillo step pyramid is the center­piece of Chichén Itzá, a very sacred place used in many Maya and Toltec ceremonies. Other major ruins include the Temple of the Warriors, and the Caracol Tower, a round building with a small observation chamber at the top. The Caracol Tower has its main axis aligned to the rising and setting of Venus. Other astronomical obser­vations include the vernal equinox, and the moon setting at its most southern and northern declinations.

Another dominant area in Chichén Itzá is the plaza housing the ball court. A sacred ritual called pok-ta-pok in Maya was played to the death here. The object of this sacred ritual was to bounce a hard rubber ball through stone rings on either side of the court without the use of hands or arms. Relief sculptures in the ball court show the unfortunate fate of a beheaded squad. The El Castillo pyramid is fundamentally the Maya calendar formed in stone. In order to calculate the appropriate time for rituals and planting, the astrolo­ger-priests relied on the highly advanced knowledge of Maya timekeeping — the most accurate calendar system developed by humans to date. The pyramid was specifically designed to represent the solar calendar and its attributes. The bril­liance of the El Castillo design is seen in how it was constructed to show the shadow of a serpent only on the spring and fall equinox days. The serpent was originally a Maya symbol of divine wisdom and is featured in practically every stone structure in the Yucatán. The four flights of the pyramids’ four stairways have 91 steps each, 364 in all, to which there is one final step up to the temple’s sanctum, for a total number equal to that of the solar year. Despite some dam­age along the sides, El Castillo stands relatively intact. Further evidence for the calendrical significance of the temple are its 52 panels (representing the 52-year cycle of the Mayan calendar round), and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the Mayan religious year).

The pyramid we see today was rebuilt upon an older, previous pyramid. The larger pyramid was superim­posed over a smaller structure by the Toltecs. Other notable Toltec additions are the warriors represented in temple carvings at the top. The El Castillo temple incorporates an inner sanctum containing a jaguar throne and a supreme Toltec figure. After the Yucatán Peninsula was invaded by the Toltec, information recorded in stone reveals the new rainmaking ceremonies and other major sacrificial rites became a theater of blood. The primary deities were aspects of nature and creation, and from atop the pyramid the priests would often request rain, fertil­ity and a plentiful harvest of corn. During the ceremonies, worshippers would assemble at the base of the pyramid, while the nobles would pierce their own tongues and ears and deliver their blood on pieces of bark for presentation to the gods. Splendidly attired priests divided into different orders to officiate the ceremonies. One order held the arms and legs of the victims — usually prisoners of war — while another split open the chests to remove their still-beating hearts. The lifeless bodies were then hurled down the pyramid steps where they would be deposited in a nearby well, along with offerings of gold, jade and copper. At times of famine or prolonged drought, live sacrifices, preferably children, were thrown into the 130-foot (40-m) deep “Well of Sacrifice.”

The artifacts located at the bottom of the well revealed a blood-thirsty culture, among the offerings of priceless jewels and medallions. Inside the earlier of the two pyramid-temples there are narrow steps leading to a secret chamber at the top of the structure, where archaeologists discovered the stone-carved Throne of the Jaguar, painted in brilliant red with jade spots, and also a sculpture of a Chac Mool figure. This latter object is a type of stone altar consisting of a reclining figure holding a bowl or tray over its stomach. It is thought that this tray was used for offerings of incense to the figure, who would act as a messenger to the gods. The bowl may also have been used to hold human hearts cut from sacrificial victims. During the spring or autumn equinox (March 21st and September 21st) when the sun’s light hits the steps on the northern side of the pyramid, it creates the spectacular illusion of the shadow of a moving serpent slithering up the pyramid as the sun moves across the sky.

East of El Castillo stands the Templo de los Guerreros or Temple of the Warriors, a huge, flat-topped, pyramidal structure, which originally possessed a wood and plaster roof. The temple has pillar sculpted in bas-relief in the likeness of warriors, many of which still retain some of their original color. Surrounding the temple are hundreds of columns, the remains of ruined buildings known as the Group of a Thousand Columns. On the western side of the site is The Temple of the Jaguars. This structure derives its name from the procession of jaguars carved on the front of the upper part of the building, and was constructed in the Maya Toltec architectural style from around A.D. 900 to 1100. Inside the temple are some of the most fascinating mural paintings in Chichen Itza, including one example which depicts an ancient battle between the Mayas and the Toltecs.

Adjacent to the Temple of the jaguar is the Ball Court Complex (Juego de Pelota), one of seven courts for playing the Meso-American ballgame discovered at Chchen Itza. The dimensions of this particular court, however, are 544 by 223 feet, making it the largest ball court ever built in central America, as well as the best preserved. No one is quite sure how this ballgame, called Pok-Ta-Pok by the Maya, was played, though it was probably more of a ritual ceremony than a recreational game. Panels along the side walls of the ball court are decorated with events from ball games, including scenes of players dressed in heavy padding and a particularly gruesome illustration depicting the beheading of a player in front of both teams.

Much of the Mayan creation story (the Popol Vuh) is concerned with a ball game played in this world and also in the world of the dead, indicating the religious significance of the game. In one part of the myth, the hero twins play the game for their lives against the lords of the underworld. In another, the use of a ball comprised of a decapitated head encased in rubber is described. More graphic illustrations of the relevance of the human head in Mayan ritual is provided by the Tzompantli, or the Wall of Skulls, a large, centrally located T-shaped stone platform 198 feet long and 40 feet wide. This structure was used as a base for wooden stakes on which the decapitated heads of enemy warriors and sacrificial victims were impaled for public viewing. Its walls are covered in bas-relief sculptures of skulls, as well as carvings of eagles, feathered serpents, and Mayan warriors carrying human heads.

The Wall of Skulls was probably designed to display the strength of the Maya and must have presented a fearsome site to invading armies. In the southern part of the city stands one of the highest accomplishments of Mayan architects at Chichén Itzá. This is the 74 foot high Observatory, or El caracol (the Spanish word for snail, referring to the resemblance of the the building’s internal spiral stairway to a snail’s shell). The Observatory, as it stands today, is actually the ruins of a cylindrical structure, and consists of a tower built on top of a rectangular platform. The building has openings at several points, which probably served as small windows to enable the observing and tracking of stars and planets.

South of El caracol is the Nunnery, also known by its Spanish name of Las Monjas, a colossal structure measuring at its base 230 by 115 feet with a height of 59 feet. This elaborately decorated building was constructed over a period of several centuries, but functioned as the city’s government palace. It is recorded in the mayan Chronicles that in A.D. 1221 the Maya revolted against Maya-Toltec lords the ruling at Chichén Itzá. Evidence of destruction has been found by archaeologists in the form of the burning of the Great Market and the temple of the Warriors. Civil war subsequently broke out, and control of Yucatan moved to mayapan, 30 miles southeast of Merida. The city of Mayapan became the most important center of the Mayan civilization before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. After this shift of power in the early 13th century, Chichen Itza went into decline, its citizen moving elsewhere, and when the Spanish came upon the site in 1517 they found only a city of ghosts, its past glories long vanished.

(Sources : Hidden History by Brian Haughton; Sacred Places Around The World : “108 Destinations” by Brad Olsen)

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07:20 | 3 komentar

Galley Hill Skeleton

In 1888, workmen removing deposits at Galley Hill, near London, England, exposed a bed of chalk. The overlying layers of sand, loam, and gravel were about 10 or 11 feet thick. One workman, Jack Allsop, informed Robert Elliott, a collector of prehistoric items, that he had discovered a human skeleton firmly embedded in these deposits about 8 feet below the surface and about 2 feet above the chalk bed. According to modern opinion, the Galley Hill site would date to the Holstein interglacial, which occurred about 330,000 years ago. Anatomically, the Galley Hill skeleton was judged to be of the modern human type. Most scientists now think that anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) originated in Africa around 100,000 years ago. They say that Homo sapiens sapiens eventually entered Europe in the form of Cro-Magnon man approximately 30,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals. Just what do modern paleoanthropologists say about the Galley Hill skeleton?

Allsop had removed the skull but left the rest of the skeleton in place. Elliott stated that he saw the skeleton firmly embedded in the stratum: "We carefully looked for any signs of the section being disturbed, but failed: the stratification being unbroken." Elliott then removed the skeleton and later gave it to E. T. Newton, who published a report granting it great age. A schoolmaster named M. H. Heys observed the bones in the apparently undisturbed deposits before Elliott removed the skeleton. Heys also saw the skull just after it was exposed by a workman excavating the deposits. Heys said about the bones: "No doubt could possibly arise to the observation of an ordinary intelligent person of their deposition contemporaneously with that of the gravel. . . . This undisturbed state of the stratum was so palpable to the workman that he said, 'The man or animal was not buried by anybody.'"

Numerous stone tools were also recovered from the Galley Hill site. Despite the stratigraphic evidence reported by Heys and Elliott, K. P. Oakley and M. F. A. Montagu concluded in 1949 that the skeleton must have been recently buried in the Middle Pleistocene deposits. They considered the bones, which were not fossilized, to be only a few thousand years old. This is also the opinion of almost all anthropologists today. The Galley Hill bones had a nitrogen content similar to that of fairly recent bones from other sites in England. Nitrogen is one of the constituent elements of protein, which normally decays with the passage of time. But there are many recorded cases of proteins being preserved in fossils for millions of years. Because the degree of nitrogen preservation may vary from site to site, one cannot say for certain that the relatively high nitrogen content of the Galley Hill bones means they are recent.

The Galley Hill bones were found in loam, a clayey sediment known to preserve protein. Oakley and Montagu found the Galley Hill human bones had a fluorine content similar to that of Late Pleistocene and Holocene (recent) bones from other sites. It is known that bones absorb fluorine from groundwater. But the fluorine content of groundwater may vary widely from place to place and this makes comparison of fluorine contents of bones from different sites an unreliable indicator of their relative ages. Later, the British Museum Research Laboratory obtained a carbon 14 date of 3,310 years for the Galley Hill skeleton. But this test was performed using methods now considered unreliable. Also, it is highly probable that the Galley Hill bones, kept in a museum for 80 years, were contaminated with recent carbon, causing the test to give a falsely young date.

In attempting to discredit the testimony of Elliott and Heys, who said no signs of burial were evident at Galley Hill, Oakley and Montagu offered several arguments in addition to their chemical and radiometric tests. For example, Oakley and Montagu argued that the relatively complete nature of the Galley Hill skeleton was a sure sign that it was deliberately buried. In fact, almost all of the ribs, the backbone, the forearms, hands, and feet were missing. In the case of Lucy, the most famous specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, more of the skeleton was preserved. And no one has yet suggested that australopithecines buried their dead. Scientists have also discovered fairly complete skeletal remains of Homo erectus and Homo habilis individuals. These cases, as all paleoanthropologists would agree, definitely do not involve deliberate burial. It is thus possible for relatively complete hominid skeletons to be preserved apart from burial. But even if the Galley Hill skeleton was a burial, the burial may not have been recent.

Sir Arthur Keith suggested in 1928: "Weighing all the evidence, we are forced to the conclusion that the Galley Hill skeleton represents a man. . . . buried when the lower gravel formed a land surface." As can be seen, old bones point beyond themselves, quite obliquely, to events in the remote and inaccessible past. Controversy about their age is almost certain to arise, and in many cases the available evidence is insufficient to allow disputes to be definitely settled. This would appear to be true of Galley Hill. The report of Oakley and Montagu casts doubt on the testimony of Elliott and Heys. At the same time, the testimony of Elliott and Heys casts doubt on the report of Oakley and Montagu.

(Source : Hidden History of the Human Race by Michael Cremo)

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08:01 | 4 komentar

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