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A man crouches next to a destroyed tent on the side of a snowy mountain

The 19 greatest mysteries in history

Some phenomena in this world may never be explained, but that hasn't stopped people from speculating for centuries.

Image: Investigators discovered the destroyed tents of the Dyatlov Pass hikers | Public Domain

From missing pirate treasure to an unsolved plane hijacking, we look at some of history’s greatest and most intriguing mysteries.

1. Flannan Island mystery

On 15th December 1900, a transatlantic steamer passed the Flannan Isles in the Scottish Outer Hebrides and noticed that the lighthouse was without its light. After reporting it, a lighthouse relief tender vessel was sent to investigate and landed on the isles on Boxing Day.

No sign of the three lighthouse keepers could be found. Compounding the mystery was the presence of a half-eaten meal in the living quarters, a toppled-over chair and a set of oilskins, suggesting at least one of the keepers had ventured out without their coat.

Official investigations concluded a storm had caused ‘an extra-large sea’ to sweep the men away as they attempted to secure supplies near the cliff edge. That didn’t dampen wild speculation from becoming rife, with anything from ghost ships and giant sea monsters to murder driven by cabin fever to blame.

2. Skinwalker Ranch

Whilst the location of Curse of Skinwalker Ranch continues to mystify the modern world, the famous American ranch has a spooky history that dates back hundreds of years.

Although the sprawling ranch, situated in the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah, was officially established back in the early 1930s, the land on which it was built is said to have been cursed since the 1800s.

Local legend attests that the Native American Navajo tribe placed a curse on the land, unleashing malevolent shapeshifting spirits known as ‘skinwalkers’ to roam across the territory of their sworn enemy, the Ute.

Sightings of skinwalkers and UFOs continue to this day on the ranch.

3. Dyatlov Pass Incident

On 1st February 1959, nine highly experienced Russian hikers pitched a tent for the night in the Ural Mountains. At some point during the night, the hikers cut their way out of their tents, wandered into the sub-zero environment without their gear and perished.

Investigations discovered that six of the nine had died of hypothermia, whilst the other three had suffered what can only be described as violent and grisly injuries.

Since the event, a multitude of theories have been put forward covering anything from UFOs to the CIA, indigenous people to the Yeti. Official investigations concluded an avalanche was most likely to blame, however the incident remains a hotly debated subject.

4. Princes in the tower

The disappearance of two young English princes has remained a mystery ever since they were last seen alive in the autumn of 1483.

The pair in question were Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Although many believe the pair were murdered on the orders of their uncle, Richard III, the theory has never been definitively proven. Other theories have suggested they were slain by either Henry VII, Henry Stafford the Duke of Buckingham or Lady Margaret Beaufort.

There’s even a belief they might have escaped the Tower of London and lived on into adulthood. The answer to the mystery might never be known.

5. The Amber Room

Nazi looting during WWII was on an industrial scale. It’s estimated that around 600,000 pieces of art were stolen across Europe by the Third Reich. Whilst some pieces were successfully returned at the end of the war, some have remained missing, including the priceless collection of stunning amber panels, known as the Amber Room.

Dating back to 1701, the Amber Room was known as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and one of Russia’s most treasured artefacts, making it perhaps the most valuable item ever looted by the fascist regime.

After its initial looting, the room was sent to Germany and put on display, but it disappeared in the closing months of the war, never to be seen again. Did it succumb to fire and destruction, was it placed on a ship only to be sunk to the depths of the ocean or was it hidden deep within a salt mine somewhere? The mystery continues.

6. DB Cooper

On 24th November 1971, a man who had given his name as Dan Cooper boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon heading for Seattle, Washington. Wearing a black raincoat over a dark suit with a clip-on necktie, Cooper had with him a black attaché case.

Shortly after take-off, Cooper passed a note to one of the stewardesses declaring that within his case was a bomb and he wished to lay out a set of demands, which included £200,000 in ‘negotiable American currency’ and four parachutes to be delivered to the plane when it landed.

With his demands met at Seattle, the plane took off again heading to Mexico on Cooper’s orders. During that flight, Cooper jumped out of the plane in the darkness, never to be seen again. It remains the only unsolved air piracy case in U.S. aviation history.

7. Newgrange

Located not far from Dublin is one of the greatest wonders of the prehistoric world, Newgrange. Built nearly a millennia before Stonehenge, the massive Neolithic passage tomb is 5,000 years old.

Although it was seemingly constructed with one purpose in mind, to mark the winter solstice, many mysteries still surround the monument. For example, experts remain uncertain about how the heavy Newgrange stones were brought to the site. How long did its construction take and how many people were involved?

8. Blackbeard’s treasure

During his short reign of terror during the Golden Age of Piracy, the infamous pirate Blackbeard amassed a vast fortune. Aboard his fearsome ship, Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) and his motley crew sailed the Seven Seas plundering and pillaging as they went.

He finally met his comeuppance in 1718 and was beheaded during a fight with British Lieutenant Robert Maynard. However, his enormous treasure was nowhere to be found. Treasure hunters have sought far and wide in the centuries since with so far, no success.

And if the legend were to be believed, Blackbeard once declared, ‘that nobody but myself and the Devil, knows where [the treasure] is’.

9. Spring-Heeled Jack

Before Jack the Ripper was terrorising the streets of Victorian-era London, Spring-Heeled Jack was the scourge of the local populace. From his first attack in October 1937, when he tore the clothes off a woman walking home with claws described as ‘cold and clammy as those of a corpse’, the legend of Jack quickly grew.

Stories about him got wilder and crazier with people claiming he could jump tall buildings with a single leap, his eyes were like 'flaming red wheels', and he could vomit blue flames. With attacks on the up in London, it wasn’t long before Jack was being spotted all over the country.

Although sightings of him began to diminish towards the end of the 19th century, it seems Jack’s legend is still very much alive with him even being spotted as recently as 2012.

10. Turin Shroud

The infamous relic known as the Turin Shroud has sparked intense debate between the religious and scientific communities for 600 years.

Dating back to the 14th century, the 4.4-metre-long piece of linen is believed to be the shroud Jesus Christ was wrapped in following his death upon the cross. The faint image of a man with long hair and a beard can be seen imprinted on the shroud.

Along with the visual similarity to what Jesus was believed to have looked like, the shroud also contains evidence of wounds that coincide with the biblical description of the crucifixion.

Over the years, extensive scientific tests have failed to provide a definitive answer as to whether the shroud is the real deal or an impressive forgery. Either way, it continues to be a piece of religious history that sparks fascination and debate.

11. The missing years of Jesus Christ

Thanks to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we know a great deal about the life of Jesus Christ. However, there is a period during his documented time on Earth when no one knows exactly where he was or what he was up to. They have become known as the ‘Lost Years’ and have baffled scholars and Christians for centuries.

Between the ages of 12 and 30, Jesus’ life is unaccounted for, it is quite frankly a biblical conundrum with no written records documenting where he may have been or travelled to.

The 18-year vacuum has been filled with theories largely inspired by religious belief, hearsay and folklore but no one knows for certain.

12. Area 51

There are very few people on this planet who haven’t heard of Area 51, the notorious secret base hidden away in the Nevada desert about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

Synonymous with aliens and UFOs, Area 51 has been shrouded in secrecy for decades with the public kept in the dark about what goes on at the government facility. Officially run by the United States Air Force, it took until 2013 for the U.S. government to acknowledge Area 51’s existence, further fuelling the conspiracy theories.

It’s likely the base is a test and training facility with a focus on developing cutting-edge aircraft, however, the alien rumours will undoubtedly continue.

13. Loch Ness Monster

The legend of Nessie dates to 1933, when the Inverness Courier published a story about a local couple who spotted something very strange while driving by Loch Ness. It didn’t take long before a picture captured what looked like a long-necked creature emerging from the lake.

Since then, numerous eyewitness accounts over the decades have fanned the legend. Multiple investigations of the loch have failed to find any concrete evidence of the creature, whilst the iconic picture of Nessie has been proven to be a forgery.

That being said, the legend of Nessie continues to this day undeterred. Thousands of visitors head to Loch Ness each year, many in the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous monster.

14. Why did Ancient Rome fall?

The Roman civilisation is one of the greatest the world has ever known. Lasting for over a thousand years from the 8th century BC to the late 5th century AD, the might of Ancient Rome culminated in its vast empire.

That empire was one of the biggest in history, dominating large areas of Europe, especially the Mediterranean, with an estimated population of around 90 million people.

The Romans are credited with several inventions that we continue to use in some form or another. So, why did this mighty civilisation come crashing down in 476 AD? It seems that no single reason can be applied to Rome’s downfall, with scholars putting forward a myriad of suggestions from political instability to the rise of Christianity.

15. Who was the Zodiac Killer?

It is the biggest unsolved crime in American history. Known as the Zodiac Killer, the identity of the killer remains a mystery over 50 years after they last struck.

Operating in California at the end of the 1960s, the Zodiac Killer killed five people between 1968 and 1969, although he claimed to have murdered a total of 37. His notoriety grew when he began mocking the police with a series of letters he sent to newspapers. He ordered them to be published alongside several cyphers.

The coded messages garnered the killer much attention and whilst most have now been decoded, some remain unsolved. The Zodiac Killer disappeared as quickly as he came, leaving behind tantalising clues that could contain his real identity.

16. Genghis Khan’s tomb

The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest contiguous empire in history and its existence was all down to one man, Genghis Khan.

Khan’s forces spread like wildfire, conquering vast swathes of land until the enormous empire straddled half of the Eurasian landmass. Before his passing in August 1227, Genghis Khan demanded his burial place remain a secret.

According to legend, 2,000 slaves who helped bury the emperor were all killed to keep the location a secret. Their executioners were then cut down by an infantry unit who eventually committed suicide, but not before massacring anyone who’d seen them.

The location of Genghis Khan’s tomb remains a mystery.

17. Bog people

Across the peat bogs of Northern Europe, over a thousand remarkably preserved ‘accidental mummies’ have been turning up.

Known as bog people, the corpses of mostly Iron Age humans have been mummified naturally by the biochemical composition of the peat bogs. Bog people have been found to date back as far as 8000 BC, many having suffered gruesome, protracted and disturbing deaths.

Were these human sacrifices, cases of murder or just unfortunate souls who wandered too far into the bogs?

18. Why was Stonehenge built?

Known the world over, Stonehenge is arguably the most famous prehistoric monument still standing. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, dates back over 5,000 years when construction on it began during the Neolithic Period.

Construction continued well into the Bronze Age for over 1,500 years as the monument changed and evolved, begging the question of why exactly it was built.

Several theories have been put forward with the most popular suggesting the monument is an ancient solar calendar that served as a physical representation of the year. However, others believe it was a burial ground, a Druid temple, a place of healing and even the work of aliens.

19. What happened to the True Cross?

The cross upon which Jesus was crucified has become known as the True Cross. It’s believed that Helena Augusta, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, discovered the cross during the 4th century AD. She presented it to a terminally ill woman who was instantly cured upon touching it.

The cross was sent to Constantinople but when the city was sacked in the 13th century, the True Cross was broken up and distributed throughout Europe. Since then, churches and abbeys across the continent claimed to hold a piece of the famous cross.

Today, some of the fragments remain in religious institutions such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, however, many have been lost to time.