The ancient world is vast and mysterious, offering up a plethora of unexplained occurrences that even today’s top scientists can’t make sense of. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that there was a life before E! and the iPhone, but there were entire civilizations before us that paved the way for modern life. Do you think they would have tried so hard if they had known the Kardashians were the future? Me neither.
Our forefathers built the giant pyramids, hauled stones for miles without cranes and, in short, did some impressive things that we don’t give them anywhere near enough credit for. While science and technology have come along in leaps and bounds, there are still things from hundreds of thousands of years ago that we just can’t fathom. That’s not to say that this is just a case of moving ten ton stones from point A to point B without equipment. This is the world’s first analogue computer, a dancing plague, the skull of a ‘star child’ – and it’s all still up for debate, so let’s join in. It would be a shame not to partake in the speculation, wouldn’t it?
Let me introduce you to 20 Ancient Mysteries Science Can’t Explain.
20 TIWANAKU AND PUMA PUNKU
This strange archaeological site situated in Bolivia still baffles the scientific community. The monument group is made out of stone blocks that weigh hundreds of tons. The site is dated around 536AD – in other words, a really, really long time ago. Inca traditions believe that this is the site where the world began. From a scientific standpoint, it’s unsure how the blocks were transported and, as they show no chisel marks, no one knows how they were shaped either. There are many theories, but no definite answers, leaving a huge question mark over this South American landmark. The engineering and shaping of the blocks lead some to believe that Inca technology was far more advanced than originally thought.
Sacsayhuaman is an impressive complex near the city of Cusco, in Peru. This is another wonder attributed to the great Inca Empire, and looks like something straight out of a Tomb Raider video game. The complex boasts multiple floors made out of enormous boulders. The entire thing was added to over many years of construction, with no mortar at all. The site was put on the World Heritage list in 1983 to ensure its protection. The design and structure is unlike anything of its kind seen before and much like our previous entry, scientists still can’t get their heads around the complexity of the design that would be difficult to achieve with today’s technology – let alone hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Although I live very close to the town of Salisbury, I have never visited this ancient attraction, despite it being an English Heritage site. Visitors flock in their hoards to see the strange assembly of stones, some over ten feet tall. The origins of the stones remain a mystery, although some scientists believe that due to the sun’s positioning through the stones it was used as a type of astronomical observatory to keep track of moon cycles and eclipses. Archaeologists believe it dates from around 3000 BC. Stonehenge was also added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1986. The stones remain an important part of British identity.
17 COSTA RICA STONE SPHERES
The stone spheres of Costa Rica are basically giant stone balls. Over 300 of them were found in the 1930s when the United Fruit company began clearing the jungle to plant bananas. An estimated date of the stones was given of around the year 600 to the year 1000, prior to the Spanish conquest. Very little is known about the origin of the stones or the use of them, although some believe that they were used as a kind of driveway decoration leading up to the houses of chiefs. Initially, the spheres were treated with very little respect with the workmen pushing them aside with heavy machinery. When myths began circulating that there was hidden gold inside the spheres, sticks of dynamite were used to blow some of them apart. It goes without saying, nothing was found.
16 GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the great pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest remaining structure. Archaeologists believe that it took around 20 years to build this incredible masterpiece, which remains largely intact. The exact purpose of this pyramid is still shrouded in mystery, but it’s thought that it was built as the final resting place for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian Kind Khufu. As with all of the stone wonders of the world, we have no idea how they managed to build it. The stones used would have been dragged out from a quarry and lifted into place, but it’s not known how – or exactly why – it was built. Aliens?
15 THE SHROUD OF TURIN
Turning away from ancient structures for a moment, let’s take a look at The Shroud of Turin. If you're like me and you’d never heard of this before this article, you’re in for an interesting read. The shroud is a piece of linen approximately 14ft x 3ft that bears the faded image of a wounded man that looks a lot like Jesus of Nazareth. The shroud has been at the center of theological arguments for decades and underwent rigorous testing. While a test on the cloth in 1988 dated it back to the Middle Ages, this is argued, with many believing that this is the genuine burial cloth of Jesus Christ. What’s even more baffling to scientists is that no one can work out how the image on the cloth was made. It has been concluded that it isn’t paint and a UV method has also been discounted. It is still heavily debated.
14 STAR CHILD SKULL
The deformed skull of a child was found in Mexico around 1930 in a mining tunnel. Paranormalist Lloyd Pye claims to have obtained it from a couple in El Paso, Texas in 1999 – and what’s more, he believes it is the skull of an extra-terrestrial. The skull was explained as belonging to a child that had the condition hydrocephalus, where the skull becomes enlarged due to swelling. However, the capacity of the skull is considerably larger than that of the human brain of a child of the same age. Pye claims the ‘Starchild’ was a result of a human and alien breeding.
13 THE ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM
The Antikythera Mechanism might not look like it, but it was the world’s first analogue computer. This handheld bronze device was found by divers off the coast of an island in the Mediterranean way back in 1900. The ancient Greeks used it to predict astronomical positions and it could also keep track of the four-year cycle of the ancient Olympic Games. Powered by a bronze clockwork system, it amazed scientists as nothing similar has been found before or since. In theory, this device was way beyond the technology that we thought was prevalent at the time of the Ancient Greeks. The fragments are housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and still sparks excitement and intrigue by all who research it.
12 THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT
This ancient text, dating back to the early 15th century, is an illustrated codex that has yet to be deciphered. Despite various investigations into the origin of the text, scientists can only theorize that it may have come from Northern Italy during the time of the Italian Renaissance. The book has become famous in its own right after numerous experts have tried their best to decipher it – and have all failed. The pages are littered with illustrations, which has led to the belief that it is split into six sections – Herbal, Astronomical, Biological, Cosmological, Pharmaceutical and Recipes. While science can date it, the rest of the book remains a mystery, with its purpose as unclear today as the day it was discovered.
11 THE BAIGONG PIPES
These strange iron pipes were found sticking out the top of a mountain in the Qinghai Province of China. The pipes lead down into a series of caves in Mount Baigong, although most of these have collapsed. The only one left to enter is the largest cave, which has dozens of pipes protruding from it. Basically, no one knows what or how these pipes came to be there, considering they were dated back to a time that was not technologically advanced in the slightest. This is also an area that was never thought to have housed people, as Mount Baigong is inhospitable. Theories have banded around that the pipes are a natural formation, while others believe that they were part of some sort of drainage system.
10 THE BAGHDAD BATTERY
A set of three artifacts were found together in Khujut Rabu a very, very long time ago during the period of the Parthian Empire. The items were a ceramic pot, a singular tube of metal and a rod of another type of metal. No one really knew what they were until Willheim Konig, assistant at the National Museum of Iraq in the '30s, offered up the theory that they may have been used together as some sort of battery cell, in order to electroplate gold and silver objects. Most scientists think that theory is BS and don’t put any stock into it, however the idea stuck and the name the Baghdad Batteries was born. These days, it’s widely thought that they are little more than storage vessels, but the true use remains lost with time.
9 DAMASCUS STEEL
During the time of the of the Crusades at the turn of the 11th century, men returned to Europe with tales of the mysterious and terrifying swords wielded by Islamic warriors. Legends of the swords said that they were so sharp they could cut through a floating handkerchief and were both resilient and flexible. Numerous attempts have been made over the centuries to try and duplicate the recipe for the notorious Damascus Steel, but all have failed, perhaps due to a lack of raw resources. A research team hailing from Germany published a paper in 2006 that claims the steel contained nanowires and carbon nanotubes.
8 THE IRON PILLAR OF DELHI
The Iron Pillar of Delhi is a 7 meter tall column in the Qutb complex. The giant rod is thought to have originally come from Udayagiri by a monarch way back in 402 CE, but frankly, no one is around to tell us if that’s true or not so it remains a matter of dispute. The thing that has left scientists scratching their heads is that the pole doesn’t rust, despite being made of metal. The reason for this has divided the science community, with some believing that the mild climate of Delhi is to thank, while others believe that it's due to the absence of sulphur and manganese in its make up. Another mystery? No one has the foggiest idea how the column was forge-welded to produce the structure.
7 THE PHAISTOS DISC
Often described as one of the most famous archaeological mysteries of all time, The Phaistos Disc was found on the island of Crete, in 1908. The disc is made of bronze and has lots of teeny tiny markings on it that spiral around in a clockwise pattern. Despite investigations, there are a lot of question marks hovering over this little specimen. For a start, we don’t know what it says, what it’s for or even exactly what period it is from. It was even disputed that the disc is a hoax and not authentic at all, although it’s widely believed to be genuine.
6 THE MOAI STATUES OF EASTER ISLAND
Most of us will be familiar with the sight of these giant statues. A Dutch explorer came across these statues in 1722, funnily enough, at Easter. The people of the island, the indigenous Rapa Nui carved and transported 887 statues. Yes, you read that right, 887. Scientists still don’t understand how the stones were transported and there are conflicting theories, from leveled tracks to rope mechanisms. Over the years, people have attempted to recreate the transportation of the stones, but most test stones were damaged or destroyed along the way. The purpose of the formidable figures is thought to have held great spiritual meaning to the Rapa Nui, representing the ancient Polynesian ancestors.
5 SEA PEOPLES
It’s about to get a little weird. During the Bronze Age, civilization was propelling forward at an impressive rate. New technologies were being discovered, man had made fire and was getting the hang of this living thing. Advanced cities were beginning to be established. However, when 1200 BC came along, these advanced races were wiped out like chalk on a chalkboard. The Bronze Age collapse is a massive dark spot in history. Mankind was set back a thousand years, forgetting everything that they had learned – because there was no one left that knew it. One of the main reasons that everything went to hell? A mysterious group of sea fairing folk known as ‘Sea Peoples’. Science and history tell us very little about these groups, other than they were inferior and primal, and enjoyed a good raid. We still don’t know where they came from or how they managed to conquer these advanced civilizations.
4 THE DANCING PLAGUE
This is pretty much exactly how it sounds. In the town of Strasbourg, Alsace in 1508, one Mrs. Troffea began to dance without reason in the street. She continued to dance for six days. It didn’t stop there, within a week 34 people had joined her. Within a month, 400 dancers paraded in the street, unable to stop or even know why they were dancing. They didn’t stop to sleep, or eat – and unsurprisingly, some died from stroke and heart attacks. The incident has been described as dancing mania, but little in the way has been offered up as an explanation. At the time, physicians were called in to observe the dancers and concluded that the only way to cure them was to let them ‘dance it out’. Was it a case of poisoning, typhus or mass hysteria? Science can’t tell us, and we’ll never know.
3 TRACK MARKS IN THE PHRYGIAN VALLEY
The Phrygian Valley holds many a legend in mythology. Ancient Greeks told tales of the great kings of Phrygia, including some you may have heard of, like King Midas (the dude that turns everything into gold). In this part of Turkey, there are unusual track marks carved into the ground. The track marks are evenly spaced and it’s speculated that these could have been used for transportation of some kind, however very little is known about them from an archaeological standpoint. What’s even more strange, on horizontal track marks found on the wall, there is no evidence to suggest anything glided along the lines at all, as there are no signs of wear or repair. What do you think?
2 EARTHWORKS OF KAZAKHSTAN
In 2007, satellite images were discovered of peculiar patterns in the ground in Kazakhstan. Dated at approximately 8,000 years old, these giant geometric formations baffled experts. The largest formation is the square pictured above, close to a Neolithic settlement. The square consists of raised mounds, leaving no doubt that this was a man-made occurrence. The discovery even piqued the interest of NASA, and that’s when you know something is significant. Due to Kazakhstan’s slow movement in investigating the discovery, little is known about the earthworks. It has been theorized that ancient civilizations may have used it as a horizontal means to track the movements of the sun – but in reality, we just don’t know.
1 WHEEL OF GIANTS
This wonder is located in the Israeli-occupied part of Golan Heights, Levant. The puzzling structure is made up of over 42,000 basalt rocks, spiraling round in a shape that resembles a wheel, hence the name. Dating back to the Early Bronze Age II period, approximately 3000-2700 BCE, little is known about why this wonder was created, but we do know that at the center of the wheel is a tumulus (that’s a burial mound, to you and I), although no human remains have been excavated. No similar structure has ever been found, so no absolute conclusion has been made on the meaning of the site. It’s estimated that the entire wheel took almost 70 years to build. Could you imagine spending that long building something, only for people to never know what is was for? Me neither.