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Mysteries

The mysteries of our past surround us, from our legends to our ancient monuments. The past is full of remarkable tales such as the lost island of Atlantis and inexplicable structures like Stonehenge. Our inquisitiveness in these mysteries has lasted the test of time and our need to comprehend them draws us deeper into the great curiosity that is Mankind.

Bog People
Bog bodies are the remarkably well preserved human remains found in the wetlands of Northern Europe, particularly in peat bogs rife with sphagnum moss. Records show that since the 19th century these so-called bog people have been making appearances, one presumes, to horrified farmers and excited archaeologists. The lack of oxygen combined with low temperatures and high acidity found in these peat bogs result in natural mummification; skin is almost completely preserved. The majority of the bog bodies discovered date from the Iron Age and many have been found adorned with bronze jewellery. This has led to the widely accepted theory that these people had been thrown into the bog for sacrificial purposes. Mysteriously, however, many of the bodies show evidence of physical punishment and execution, which has led to another theory that many of these bodies were those of criminals.

Legend of Atlantis
First recorded in the 4th century BC in one of Plato's dialogues, the legendary island of Atlantis has inspired countless writers, scientists and explorers over the years, not to mention resort entrepreneurs. Numerous theories locate the lost island in spots throughout the Mediterranean Sea, across the Atlantic Ocean, and even as far flung as Antarctica. According to Plato's account, Atlantis was located at the Pillars of Hercules, which marked the Strait of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean - beyond which was literally the great unknown. Atlantis, so the story goes, was a powerful naval empire that came to rule much of the land surrounding the Mediterranean; until - according to Plato - they tried to take on the Athenians. Plato, arguably the most famous Athenian in history, reckoned that his people's predecessors handed the Atlanteans a resounding defeat and as if that weren't enough, the island of Atlantis simply sank into the sea, never again to be found.

Riddle of the Sphinx
The mythical Sphinx appears in various guises throughout history. The most famous or infamous rather, of these was she who lurked at the gates of the great Greek city of Thebes asking those wanting to enter the riddle that none could answer: Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? A wrong answer resulted in the untimely death of the traveller and a meal for the beast. That is until Oedipus, the future king of Thebes, answered simply, Man. At this the Sphinx promptly killed herself and Thebes, one assumes, enjoyed a moderate increase in tourism. The Greek Sphinx had the body of a lion, the wings of a bird and the face of a woman. The Egyptians, as can still be found in Giza, envisioned the Sphinx similarly, but with a man's face. The Sphinx appears in the ancient art of many other cultures, from India to Thailand, always depicted with the head of a human and the body of a lion.

Stonehenge
In the English county of Wiltshire, just off a busy motorway, stands one of Mankind's greatest prehistoric monuments: Stonehenge. Two precise circles of enormous menhirs are arranged in a mysterious manner thought to have astronomical significance. The monument has been loosely dated between 3000 BC and 2000 BC and its purpose and usage, not to mention its construction, largely remain a mystery. Stonehenge has been visited by millions of tourists, undergone continuing archaeological digs and a variety of pagan rituals, including particularly exciting neo-Druid festivals, one of which, in 1905, was complete with participants wearing long white robes and fake beards.

The Shroud of Turin
The mysterious Shroud of Turin is one of the most revered and debated artefacts of the Christian faith. It possesses a particularly haunting image of a Christ-like figure along with bloodstains and markings that have led to the claim that it is nothing less than the cloth that Jesus was wrapped in following his crucifixion. A late 19th century photograph of the shroud, the first ever permitted, produced a negative image that detected the up until then unseen face, leading to considerable controversy, not to mention worship. Naysayers, many of whom are respected members of the Catholic Church, point to carbon dating results that show the cloth originated in the 11th or 12th century. The Church, attempting to steer clear of the controversy, recommends that the shroud be venerated as an inspiring image of Christ.

The Antikythera Mechanism
The incredible ingenuity and technical prowess of the ancient Greeks was further underscored in 1902 with the discovery of an ancient calculating machine known as the Antikythera Mechanism. Found at the bottom of the Aegean Sea, this deconstructed instrument was eventually discovered to be nothing less than a highly sophisticated ancient computer. Once rebuilt, this complex bronze construction of dials, gears, and cogs proved to be an advanced mathematical instrument that could calculate and plot lunar cycles and planetary movement. The complexity of the Antikythera Mechanism, which has been dated to the 2nd century BC, astounded researchers. The instrument demonstrated a level of technical ability that was not thought to have existed at the time of the ancient Greeks; an ability that would not be seen again until the clockmakers of Western Europe emerged a thousand years later.

Piri Reis Map
Designed in 1513 by the great Ottoman admiral, geographer and cartographer Piri Reis, the surviving portion of this map provides a view of the Atlantic coastline from the Americas across to the Bay of Biscay in the north and as far south as Antarctica. Only one third of the map survives today. Drawn on gazelle skin, it was discovered in 1929 by a German theologian cataloguing the library of Istanbul's marvellous Topkapi Palace. The cartography is based on a variety of sources, including maps from Arabia, India, Portugal and most famous of all, Christopher Columbus. This was the first known copy of a Columbus world map, and the Piri Reis map generated enormous excitement upon its discovery. Contemporary analyses of the map have led to a variety of conclusions, and some scholars are convinced that it contains evidence that ancient civilizations had explored the Atlantic far earlier than Columbus.

Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant, as mentioned in the Old Testament, is thought to contain the Stone Tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments. The Ark, which is said to resemble a chest, was built at the command of God and used to communicate with Moses. Over the centuries, numerous people have claimed possession of the Ark, which has led to a considerable amount of drama, exploration and fine nights out at the movies. Claims have placed the Ark's current location in a plethora of unlikely places from Southern Africa to America, where Freemasons supposedly keep it under wraps. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church maintains that it possessed the Ark for centuries and even uses it today for a variety of rituals.

Fall of the Mayans
For almost 2,000 years the Maya civilization flourished. They built cities that were home to hundreds of thousands of people; they tracked the stars, wrote and built monuments of colossal scale. The permanency of their civilization is summed up by the fact they actually had a word for a 400-year time period. And then it all fell apart. Theories abound as to why the Maya collapsed: overpopulation, revolution, war, an epidemic, a drought - but the truth remains a mystery. In the 9th century the great Mayan cities were suddenly abandoned. Archaeological evidence shows that squatters took over the finest temples, leaving their daily refuse within the sacred walls. Soon the great urban and sacred centres were completely deserted. The Mayan people never returned.

Genghis Khan's Tomb
The fearsome Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan was responsible for an empire that to this day stands as the largest contiguous empire in history. A particularly gruesome feat, considering the number of massacres carried out at the hands of his nomadic warriors. But unlike many other great emperors, little is known of Genghis Khan's personal life. He is thought to have been born in 1162, but the exact date of his death is unknown. More elusive is the actual location of his tomb. Legend has it that at Genghis Khan's wish, his body was brought to his birthplace along the Onon River. The soldiers responsible for conveying the corpse were ordered to murder anyone suspected of witnessing the tomb's location. Furthermore, once the burial was complete, all those involved were killed, wiping out any hope of one day locating the tomb. The legends abound from here, complete with stories of stampeding horses wiping out all traces and rivers diverting to disguise the whereabouts of the tomb. To date, debunking the legends has proved an impossible task.