8 Mysteries of the Ancient World That Aren’t So Mysterious

1. Mysterious eight-sided Great Pyramid?

Satellite image of the Great Pyramid

If you look at the Great Pyramid from above, particularly when the light is just right, you might see what looks like a shadow being cast starting around the middle of the pyramid which runs from the point at the top to the midpoint of the base. Mathematically, this line is called the apothem. Some click-bait types like to post some of the better images then point to this little-known and “suppressed” and “mysterious” fact about ancient pyramids. They hype up the mystery, but–truth be told–there’s not really a mystery. The phenomenon is real enough, but the angle is so very slight that there may be less than 1 degree of change. Contrary to the click-bait and hype, the pyramids aren’t suddenly “eight-sided” at all. They’re still four sides, but with some very, very slight concavities.

And these concavities also aren’t “suppressed” or otherwise hidden from the public. They just aren’t that significant. Interesting when you catch the right photograph or view, but only mildly curious. A couple hypotheses exist to explain this effect. The first is that it’s related to the method of construction. Perhaps the builders used the apothem for a datum point, ensuring equal stone was used on each side. The second suggests that it might simply be an erosional feature. Which makes sense when you think about it. Water, constantly running down the sides of limestone will erode since the pH of rainwater is slightly acidic and limestone is a carbonic rock. This makes it very susceptible to erosion.

Either way, W.M. Flinders Petrie[1] first noticed the effect and wrote about it in 1883. Since then, several other authors have published hypotheses regarding the effect. None of these works were ever pulled from shelves of libraries or burned in a mass “witch hunt” to suppress the shallow and otherwise boring concavity of the sides of the Great Pyramid. They were just too boring to bother with.

2. 700 Year-old Knights Templar caves beneath a field in Shropshire

Photos courtesy of http://www.ukurbex.co.uk/caynton-caves/

Just a few months ago, click-bait sites like Ancient Origins and Ancient Code[2] were all abuzz with news about the mysterious Caves of the Knights Templar found down a rabbit hole! They all had photos of these carved sandstone caves with dozens of candles lit for effect. Most of these sites declared this was a set of caverns used by the Knights Templar over 700 years ago and structurally “untouched” since that time. Few websites catering to the click-bait crowd mentioned that they were originally closed off to the public in 2012 after the landowners grew tired of trespassers. Most reported them as a “new find” for 2017. Almost none mentioned that the Shropshire caves were archaeologically investigated, documented, and declared to be probably late 18th or early 19th century and was listed in 1984 for its “special architecture or historical interest[3].” The overall conclusion is that the site was created in the 18th or 19th century by a land owner fascinated with the legend of the Knights Templar as a kind of grown up “clubhouse.”[4]

3. Stone Spheres in the Czech Republic and Bosnia.

Large, spherical concretion in Bosnia

Touted as proof of everything from aliens to giants (their marbles?), these “mysterious” stone spheres in Europe do look unnatural if you don’t know what a concretion is or how it’s formed. Essentially a chemical process, the results are carbonates, sandstones, or mudstones that are often spherical or near spherical (squat) in shape. First, there is an initial precipitation. That is to say, some bit of matter appears in a matrix of that causes a chemical reaction. Perhaps it’s some acidic water that begins to eat away at the carbonate grains of sediment or a deceased organism that begins to decay which sets off a chain of chemical events. Geologists call the process diagenesis, which is the changing of sedimentary rock into another sedimentary rock at temperatures and pressures that are much less than that required for the creation of metamorphic rocks.

The process is fairly well understood and was even replicated in the lab. There are examples all over the world.

4. Piri Reis Map and Antarctica.

Sketch of Piri Reis as overlay with the S. American coastline. Note the position of Falkland Islands.

Lots of folks claim that Piri Reis had evidence of Antarctica before the ice. This is because of the map he put together from about 20 other map sources shows a strange coastline that deviates about 90 degrees from the coast of what is clearly South America. For this to be true, either Antarctica had to be ice free in the 1500s or one of Piri’s sources had to be over 15 million years old.

The oldest known hominid species was Sahelanthropus tchadensis which dates to about 6-7 million years ago. And there’s no evidence that this species could even communicate abstract ideas with each other, much less visit and create a map of Antarctica. The suggestion, of course, is that there was some sort of “high civilization” that lived prior to a few million years ago. An assumption that has to go with this is that zero evidence ever survived the archaeological record. Well, except whatever source Piri used for his map!

But there is no reason to believe that either Antarctica was ice free in the 1500s or that one of Piri’s sources was 15 million years old. There’s a much easier explanation that requires fewer new assumptions.

Piri just got it wrong. He got enough things right to make the map interesting, to be sure. But it comes as no surprise that the least traveled regions of his time were also the regions on the map with the most errors.[5]

5. Ancient Pyramids in Antarctica.

Not a pyramid. Just a faceted spur.

Considering that for the last 15 million years Antarctica has been covered in ice, and there simply hasn’t been a climate that can support a workforce that would need to quarry, grow food, and work, it would be hard to believe that there’s a mysterious pyramid in Antarctica.

What it is, however, is some cool geology called a faceted spur. Typically, there’s more than one of these and they’re associated with faulting and tectonic activity combined with erosion. They can occur when uplifted rock layers erode with drainages that create the spurs that terminate at the fault scarp, usually parallel to the resulting facet in the valley below. Additional erosion that leaves behind the harder, erosion resistant layers of rock can also create triangular facets. These are called flat irons. The erosion in Antarctica would likely be due to glacial activity passing between the peaks, carving out the rock, leaving behind some interesting geometric shapes.

The pyramid-like peak in question is named Lippert Peak, after George E. LIppert, a biologist that worked at Palmer Station in 1965. It reaches an altitude of 4,133 feet and if you want to look for it in Google Earth, just input a latitude of 79.98333 south and a longitude of 81.93333 west.

6. 500 million year old hammer found in London, Texas.

The London Hammer in a concretion of probably carbonate material.

This apparent 19th century hammer was found in a concretion near London, Texas by hikers in 1936 and ended up in Carl Baugh’s creation museum. It’s been variously dated to millions of years old by mystery-mongers of all kinds to just a few thousand by Baugh who claimed it to be proof of Noah’s Flood.

The fact is that it’s very probably a concretion formed through much the same process of diagenesis as mentioned in #3 above. It’s very telling that Baugh would never let anyone perform radiocarbon dating on the wooden handle. This “mysterious” hammer probably isn’t so mysterious after all.[6]

7. Paracas Skulls.

Courtesy University of Pennsylvania

And all the so-called “elongated” skulls. They’re not so mysterious when you read a bit about the practice of artificial cranial modification.[7] In every populated continent, throughout history and prehistory, there have been cultures that practiced various forms of head shaping in order to honor ancestors, differentiate themselves from other, define social status, or just for completely aesthetic reasons. This practice is well-documented through the archaeological record and even documented through ethnographic accounts. There are even photos of men and women who underwent the process of having their heads shaped as toddlers. And there are photos of infants and toddlers that have bindings on their heads to show the process.

Mystery-mongers like to say that there is “increased cranial volume,” perhaps as a means to say that their heads are big so therefore their brains are as well, making these special beings. But it simply isn’t true. The largest of these skulls, properly documented and recorded, shows a cranial volume within the normal human range.

They aren’t alien. They’re not Nephilim. They’re the remains of indigenous people who deserve respect and dignity. But those that would like to force their own agendas on them handle them indignantly and very likely without properly documented consultation with indigenous descendant groups.

8. Aluminum wedge of Aiud.

An aluminum tooth to an excavator found in Aiud, Romania.

This alleged mysterious artifact has its origin in Aiud, Romania where, in 1974, it was recovered by someone digging on a construction project but with a couple of mastodon bones. Since the bones dated to 11,000 years, the wedge was claimed to be of a similar age, which presents a problem since the wedge was made of aluminum. Aluminum wasn’t isolated until 1825. Therefore this artifact “baffles archaeologists” due to the alleged extreme age. Explanations range from previous, highly technologically advanced society to time travelers who happen to carry around wedges in their pockets. In case… you know… you need a wedge.

An easier explanation is that an excavator bucket lost a tooth. Coal mining was once a viable occupation in Romania that discontinued. When using heavy digging equipment near coal mines, coal dust, and flammable gases, you want to use a metal that doesn’t spark quite as readily as iron. Aluminum will do this nicely. It broke off an excavator, sunk into the mud of a riverbank. And was recovered many years later.

References and Notes:
  1. Petrie, William Matthew Flinders (1883). The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh. Oxford: Field & Tuer. []
  2. http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/you-never-know-what-you-ll-find-down-rabbit-hole-were-spooky-caynton-caves-021261 []
  3. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1367600 []
  4. http://www.snopes.com/knights-templar-caves-shropshire/ []
  5. https://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/PiriRies.HTM []
  6. http://paleo.cc/paluxy/hammer.htm []
  7. http://ahotcupofjoe.net/2009/05/artificial-cranial-modification-head-shaping/ []
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About Carl Feagans 334 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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