The world is full of mysteries. Some drive us to discover more about the world, just as archaeologists search for the roots of human civilization. Others perplex us, much like the piece of modern machinery discovered among ancient bones. Still, others inspire us to believe in the impossible, whether the ingenuity of humankind or the guidance of the divine. No matter what you believe, learning about these mysteries can provide inspiration and insight into the nature of our world.
The following seven cases demonstrate not only the impossible beauty of the planet and human creativity but also the importance pausing to recognize both.
This circular, prehistoric stone formation stands in Wiltshire, England on the Salisbury Plain and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the origins for this Bronze Age megalith monument remain unclear. Carbon-dating and related methods point to construction somewhere between 3000 and 2000 BC. With each block weighing several tons, it is unclear how and why people moved these boulders, especially the bluestones of the inner circle. Unlike the sandstone slabs of the outer ring, which comes from local quarries, the bluestones came 200 miles from Wales.
At the same time, it is unclear why it was built. While 12th-century legends point to Merlin, however, archaeologists point to the formation’s alignment to the sunset of the winter solstice as evidence of astronomical applications. Other clues include signs of potential worship, nearby evidence of warm water springs, and a burial mound at the center with bones dating from 3000 BC. Even the acoustic qualities of the bluestones may point to their use in healing. Without written records, it is difficult to know for sure.
2. The Bimini Road
In 1968, divers off the northern coast of the island of Bimini in the Bahamas discovered a line of massive flat limestone rocks lying under the seabed. Upon further investigation, they discovered two similar if smaller, parallel features made up of the same massive and roughly rectangular rocks. Immediately, people began seeing the formations as evidence of an ancient civilization, whether wall or road, pier or breakwater. Some historians even claimed that the pavement was created by the Chinese fleet during an imagined journey in the area. However, carbon dating places the native beach rock stones at around 3000 years old, and they show evidence of natural wear and tear that aligns with that date. Still, the evidence is not entirely definitive, and the prophecy of early 20th-century healer Edgar Cayce is especially striking – namely that the ruins of Atlantis would be discovered in Bimini.
3. Aluminum Wedge of Aiud
In a similarly specious mystery, Romanian workers at a construction site the city of Aiud in 1974 made an incredible discovery. Around 35 feet down into a sand trench, they found a pair of mastodon bones dating back around 11,000 years. They also found an even odder object – a 4-pound wedge-shaped piece of aluminum that could not have been crafted before 1825. This was the year that metallic aluminum was basically invented, and yet there sat an aluminum wedge beside ancient mastodon bones from much farther back.
Many lay people assumed the metal was part of alien landing gear or the remnant of a time traveler’s hasty retreat. Although there is room for speculation, the Aiud wedge sees far more likely to be a piece of a modern excavator bucket or similar tool that was lost in the sand in recent times.
4. The Piri Reis Map
This important map of the world was accidentally discovered in 1929 inside of a bundle of disregarded materials at a Turkish museum. The Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis had crafted the map in 1513 based on military intelligence, charts, and other world maps. These remarkably included Columbus’ otherwise lost maps and various sources from the Library of Alexandria. Only around one-third of this gazelle-skin parchment survives today, with portions of Europe, North Africa, Brazil, and various island countries.
There are numerous legends about the peculiar precision of the Piri Reis Map, in particular, the inclusion of the continental coastline of Antartica which only added fuel to the mystery since Antartica wasn’t officially discovered until 1820. How could these early map makers have known about the continent? Mysteries asides this fascinating world map demonstrates the exploration of the New World at the time, and you can view it today at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.
5. The Voynich Manuscript
This remarkable illustrated codex was discovered by Polish book dealer Wilfried M. Voynich, who discovered it in an Italian monastery in 1912. The Voynich Manuscript is generally considered the world’s most mysterious tome due to its hand-written, coded text. Linguists, cryptographers, and others have closely scrutinized its language but only come to the conclusion that it has an organized, consistent script potentially related to East and Central Asian families. The often bizarre illustrations on its vellum pages reveal the manuscript to be a pharmacopeia on early modern medicine, including plants, cosmological charts, and other topics. Carbon dating places the creation of the Voynich Manuscript in the early 15th century, but some researchers estimate that it could be older. The book itself has been remade multiple times, with a changing page count, order, and binding. So, any potential confusion is far greater without a guide to the original arrangement of its contents. For a closer look, head over to Yale University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
6. The Nazca Lines
In the high, arid plateaus of the Nazca Desert in Peru, over 13,000 lines form hundreds of designs over 50 square miles. These are the geoglyphs of Nazca culture, which were created between 500 BC and 500 AD and have survived so long due to the windless, stable client of the region. Outsiders see the striking designs of plants, animals, people, and geometric designs, and they guess that the lines could serve no purpose but to guide aliens to Earth. However, these artful lines could have served multiple functions.
To start, they were likely created using relatively simple tools like wooden stakes to create shallow trenches that reveal lighter clay beneath the upper, reddish pebbles. Although outsiders again assume you have to fly above to see the designs, each is visible from the surrounding foothills. Furthermore, the purpose of the Nazca lines was practical, astronomical, and spiritual. The lines themselves likely functioned as sacred paths to finding and worshiping mountains and water sources, with the figures portraying symbols to invoke – albeit of what kind we may never know.
7. The Shroud of Turin
Despite decades of intense scrutiny, the Holy Shroud remains an unsolved mystery. This rectangular linen cloth measures 14 feet 5 inches by 3 feet 7 inches, and it bears the imprint of a bearded adult male with hands over his groin. The fabric itself is a flax weave of three-to-one herringbone, which would have been elaborate for the time period. However, there are signs of crucifixion wounds, with an upward gouge in the man’s side, punctures on his forehead, and other wounds that match those of Christ on the cross.
Still, the Holy Shroud is predated by a long tradition of similar religious items, and one of its first records is of a bishop in Italy proclaiming the work a forgery based on an artist’s confession. Even the Vatican will not affirm its authenticity, especially after several radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 found the cloth to date only to the Middle Ages. However, many of the faithful still believe in the Shroud of Turin. They point to the resemblance between its seams and those found in a shroud from a 1st-century tomb in Jerusalem, along with matching dust particles from ancient tombs there. In any case, the Shroud remains protected under bulletproof glass, just in case.
Over time, many mysteries come unraveled, revealing the truth at their core, as and when research reveals the science behind a miracle or the reality behind a dream. For now, the above examples still offer more questions than answers. In pushing us to question our assumptions about our world and our sense of reality, these phenomena can inspire us to broaden our horizons and open our minds. So, let’s follow the lines of the Nazca and the alignments of Stonehenge – who knows what we might find over the next horizon?
Read more from Historical Horrors
You may also enjoy these stories: