As some of my co-workers know, I love unexplained phenomena. It is the most fun you can have without drawing a crowd and it gives you something to think about during speeches. There are many types of these mysteries, many of them natural, some man-made, some it’s-anybody’s-guess. One of my favorite categories is popularly known as Ancient Anomalies, things that sometimes just don’t add up at all, but particularly for their time.
My favorite anomaly is the Antikythera Mechanism (pictured above). According to current popular theory, this computer-like device was created to track cycles of the solar system, but no one knows by whom. It was found more than 100 years ago by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera and has been dated to the around 150-100 BCE (BC). (We might assume it is Greek because of its location, but ships from many locations visited Greece’s ports, so who can say?) A research project has mushroomed around it and still the debates wage on as to its creators and its true purpose. Recently X-rayed by the powerful Bladerunner X-ray machine, inscriptions on gears have now been seen for the first time in 2,000 years. These inscriptions may be the key to its origins.
Another mystery from around the same time is a device called the Baghdad Battery. There were a number of these artifacts found near Baghdad around 1936. Dated to between 250 BCE (BC) – 226 CE (AD), they were constructed by inserting a copper cylinder inside a small vase, securing it with asphalt or bitumen, then placing an iron rod in the center of the cylinder and sealing it top and bottom with asphalt. Experiments have proven that these devices were primitive electric batteries. Volta didn’t “invent” the battery until approximately 1800 years later, in 1799.
And imagine you are an archaeologist in 1898 in Saqqara, Egypt. You find an object made of wood dating from about 200 BCE (BC) that is shaped a little like a bird. So you toss it into a box with other relics and it is forgotten – for a while. Later, when the airplane is invented, the “model” takes on an unexpected significance. What do you think – is it a bird or a plane?
Some anomalies aren’t ancient objects, just strange phenomena. Visit Thailand’s Mekong River in October and watch red fireballs rising off the river’s surface. The Naga Fireballs have been decorating the late autumn night skies for as long as anyone can remember. The locals attribute them to Naga, a mythical serpent that haunts the river. So far, science has been unable to explain them. Any ideas?
There are hundreds upon hundreds of these aberrations around the world. Modern-looking objects or tools found inside rocks that are older than the human race; rocks that move of their own volition across the desert (Death Valley); markings and lines carved into the earth on such a grand scale, they can only be seen in their entirety from the air (Nazca lines and candelabrum in Peru) ; ancient maps that offer an uncanny amount of geographical detail, not only along shorelines, but also inland (Piri-Reis Map). If you like musing on things and coming up with your own theories, I think you’ll love these mysteries. You can start right here in North Carolina, with your own theory on why nothing grows in the circle of woodland known as the Devil’s Stomping Ground. Mystery surrounds us. We’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Some books to get you started:
Knauer : Exploring the Unexplained
Spignesi : The Weird 100
Levy : K.I.S.S. Guide to the Unexplained
Breuer : Unexplained Mysteries of World War II
Wilson : Mysteries of the Universe
Warren : Speaking of Strange
Clarke : Unexplained
Clarke : Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena
National Geographic : Mysteries of Mankind
Watson: The Golden Book of the Mysterious
Sanderson: Investigating the Unexplained