Friday, April 18, 2014

Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head

In 1933, archaeologist José García Payón was excavating a grave in the Toluca Valley, near Mexico City, where he discovered various burial offerings made from different kinds of materials (e.g. gold, pottery). Most of these objects were to be expected in a burial site dated 1476-1510 AD. However, one of the objects was unlike the others. What Payón discovered was an out of place artifact; a terracotta head. While a terracotta head by itself is nothing special, it becomes special when the head seems to be of Roman design. Some believe this to be evidence for intercontinental trade between the Americas and Eurasia, long before Columbus arrived in America.

As with most out of place artifact finds, there are arguments in favour and against. Two researchers, Romeo H. Hristov and Santiago Genovés T, provide a strong argument in favour of the heads being of Roman origin. Specifically, it is argued that the features of the head resemble Roman work from the 2nd to 3rd century A.D. Furthermore, they argue that the grave remained undisturbed until the archaeologists excavated it and that there was no evidence the archaeologists had planted the head. Furthermore, a thermoluminescence test by Schaaf and Wagner revealed that the head’s age ranged from the 9th century BC to the 13th century AD.

Opponents argue that the head must have been planted inside the grave and that it is therefore a hoax. Another explanation as to how the head arrived in the grave is through an early European visitor. They could have brought over the head from Europe and have given or traded it to the locals. However, it is highly unlikely that early Europeans brought the head, or even an entire Roman statue, with them on their long voyage. A third explanation is that Vikings have brought the head to the Americas and that it consequently ended up in Central Mexico through trade. Some historians have proposed that the heads’ head-dress resembles Viking headgear and is therefore actually a Viking head rather than a Roman head. A fourth possibility is that the head is indeed Roman but that it ended up in Central Mexico through trade with Asian civilizations such as the Chinese. Yet another explanation could be that the head ended up accidentally in Central Mexico through a shipwrecked Roman exploration vessel.  

Sources / further reading:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Maine Penny

The Maine penny, also known as the Goddard coin, is a silver coin found in 1957 in the United States at an archaeological dig-site of an old Native American settlement, called the Goddard site. Although researchers initially thought the coin was of British origin, it was soon suggested that the coin might be Norse. Further research indeed confirmed that the penny is Norse, which would make it an out of place artifact.

The Maine penny features the King of Norway, Olaf Kyrre, who ruled from 1067 until 1093 AD. The coin itself was estimated to have been created in 1065-1080 AD, before the Native American settlement was founded in 1180 AD. This is of interest because, according to modern history, the Vikings have not been to what is now known as Maine.

There are, however, a lot of theories on the coin and how it found its way to Maine. One plausible explanation for how the coin arrived in Maine is through trade. The Native American Settlement was a huge trade hub in its time, a place where people traded goods originating from all over the place. This argument is further supported by a small hole found on the coin, suggesting it might have been used as a pendent rather than as a means of payment. Others even suggest that the coin has been planted by Mellgren, its finder, as these types of Viking coins were readily available in 1957. However, why would Mellgren plant the coin, and then stay quiet about it? It was not until 1978 that other researchers suggested it might be Norse.

The coin is presently in possession of the Maine State Museum, which believes that the coin was obtained by Native Americans elsewhere, and then brought to Maine along trade routes.

Sources / further reading:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Piri Reis map

Piri Reis (about 1465 – 1554), actually called Muhiddin Piri Ibn Haji Memmed, was an admiral of the Ottoman fleet and hence familiar with sea – and land maps. In his time it was nothing special that an admiral would draw his own maps in order to get a more accurate understanding of the region. Also the fact that he would look at other maps for inspiration was nothing special. However, on one of his maps there was a region which wasn’t discovered yet in his time.

A map of America
Piri Reis’s map dates back to the Islamic year of 919 (1513). This map is probably the first world map that he made. Piri Reis used old card material to aid him with his own map, he copied out parts that matched with his and added his own notes, which he had gathered during his time on sea(since 1481). During that time he mainly sailed the waters of the Mediterranean sea. It is unknown what maps he used as a source for his world map, but in his writing he refers to a Portuguese map.

On the map from 1513, Europe, Asia and a big part of Africa were clearly visible, but also the American continent was shown on his map. Only a couple of years earlier it became known that Columbus had discovered America, 21 years earlier, during his search for a western route to the Indies. The north American and Caribbean parts of the map are not very accurate, but the southern continent is remarkably clear.

The part of the world map that shows the west-coast of South-America has vanished over the years, but the east part alone is a mystery. The Spanish and Portuguese only produced maps after the year 1513 of South-America, during their conquests. This raises the question, what map did Piri Reis use?

A map of Antarctica
When the map of Piri Reis was discovered in the Topkapi palace, in 1929, it was studied right away. These studies caused for a lot of discussion amongst different kinds of groups and they came to the conclusion that it must have been made later, around the mid-16th century. Another theory suggests that Piri Reis stumbled upon maps made by Chinese or Norwegian sailors, which were handed over to the Portuguese.

At the end of 1959 the map was studied by Charles Hapgood, a history professor at the American Keene State College, New Hampshire. During his studies he discovered the arctic coastline south of Africa and South-America. This is unusual, because large parts of the coastline resembles the actual coast line as it is today. The arctic coastline has been covered with ice since 4000 B.C. and was only discovered in 1819 by the Russians.

The question remains if there really was a map that was approximately 6000 years old, or that the knowledge was maintained for all those years. If this is in fact the case, a new question arises where the knowledge came from, because according to our modern understanding, no civilization was capable of reaching Antarctica in the year 4000 B.C.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Antikythera mechanism

In 1900 divers discovered a shipwreck, in front of the coast of the Greek Island Antikythera. The ship was lying 40 meters below sea level on the bottom of sea. The divers managed to recover several goods from the ship: Other than sculptures and other art objects they also found a damaged gearwheel of which the function was not obvious at first glance. Only in the 50’s people began to think that this might in fact have been an analog computer.

The planetarium with differential gears
The mechanism consists out of different kinds of bronze rings which are connected by gearwheels to each other. On the rings are inscriptions and symbols that indicate an astronomical function. These facts were already known in 1902 and have been brought to the public by the Greek archeologist Spyridon Stais. Unfortunately, the mechanism seemed to be broken into four pieces when it was salvaged by the divers. Due to this, the function of the object was not clear and it didn’t receive much further attention. Signs in the shipwreck indicate that the ship sank around 82 B.C. It is generally assumed that the mechanism was produced around the same time.

Derek de Solla Prince, a science history professor at Yale University, started researching the Antikythera mechanism in the 50’s. Already in 1955 he published his first dissertation about it, but the article that made the mechanism known to the public, was published in 1959. In this article Price described the construction of the mechanism and he came to the conclusion that the Antikythera mechanism was surrounded by a wooden framework.

Navigation instrument
Price came to the conclusion that the mechanism was used to calculate astronomical positions. This was needed to determine the position of the ship on sea and thus navigate on it. The sailors could have used the Antikythera mechanism to determine the position of the, then, known planets, as well as the special data in a year, such as the solstice and equinox. Also moon positions could have been read by adjusting the gearwheels. Interesting is that all of this could have been determined one year in advance.

All of this was only possible because the mechanism was equipped with a differential. In the modern world patent was obtained for the differential only in 1828. An earlier design for a differential that probably has never been realized, is that of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

Complex structures
In 1970 the knowledge obtained of the Antikythera mechanism was already enough for some scientists to try to recreate a similar mechanism. However, no function was fully function until somewhere in the 90’s. Another mechanism was built in the year 2002.

The complex gearwheel mechanism, which basically works like a mechanical calculator, was really unique for its time. The Greek already had many experience with astronomy and math. Scientists did not think that humankind was capable of making such a machine back then. Strangely, no other mechanisms have been found and also the planetarium was not referenced to in any written source. This is strange, because an invention like this should have generated a lot of attention. This makes the origin even more mysterious. Therefore, it is not clear today who made the machine. It is also unclear why this mechanism was developed, because it generated way to much information to be used by ships.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crystal skulls

Little artifacts caused such a big public discussion as the so called “Crystal Skulls”, sculptures made out of mountain crystal in the shape of a skull or facial masks made out of quartz. For decades esoteric and scientific sides introduced new speculations and research results.

A skull as a birthday present?
In 1927 the, then, 17 year old Anna Mitchell-Hedges performed research into the Mayan culture. During excavations in the ruins of Lubaantun, in Honduras, a skull of mountain crystal was found. The skull-shape was hard to recognize because the bottom jaw was missing. It was only discovered 3 months later, a mere 3 meters away from the original skull. It soon became clear that this find was a special one. Mountain crystal is quite common in nature, but the processing of it requires, due to its high hardness grade and structure, special tools and skills. Aiming for a highly realistic sculpture doesn’t make this process any easier.

Soon after the skulls were found, the first critics raised their voices. They insinuated that it was Anna Mitchell-Hedges birthday the day the skull was found and that the archeologist Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges planted it near the altar. Moreover, the skull would have been made shortly before by a modern machine. Recent studies seem to be in favor of the critics, because electron-microscopic traces have been found on the skull, which could only be produced by modern machines. On the other hand, not only 1 skull has been found: So far multiple crystal skulls have been recovered, which seem to have been made with great care.

Original, fake or an inheritance of Atlantis?
For unclear reasons people only doubt the first skull whether it was real or not. Many scientists claimed, after research, that this modern forgery was made in Europe. Esoteric groups, however, claim that this crystal skull is an object from Atlantis, that has been passed on to the Maya’s. Anna Mitchell-Hedges herself already made a connection between the prehistoric knowledge of rituals and estimated the skull to be 3600 years old. 3600 years ago the Mayan culture didn’t even exist yet. She came to this conclusion due to the earth layers in which the skull was found and thus determined the geological age. Because mountain crystal is an inorganic material, date determining techniques are useless. There are only a few other techniques that can be used to determine the age of the skull.

According to other archeologists, supporting Mitchell-Hedges and his excellent reputation, claim that the skull has been made later. Several say that the skull is only 1500 years old, while others claim it has been made in the 15th century. These estimates still don’t explain how the skull could have been made, because even in Europe the knowledge to process mountain crystal has only been discovered in the 17th century. Moreover, the right tools were not available at that time. Until today it is not unequivocal how the skull has been made and who made it.

Mountain crystal
The processing of mountain crystal is a very precise task, because the material is very hard and therefore very sensitive. If, during the processing, the structure of the crystal is not taken into account, it will splinter or brake. In addition there is a chance that a crack will form within the crystal, so that cracks will form throughout the entire piece. The base structure of the mountain crystal can only be observed by using a magnifying glass to see how the light brakes on the crystal.

The stone spheres of Costa Rica (Diquis spheres)

In Costa Rica are hundreds of spheres that are perfectly round, but not similar in weight or size. Many of the spheres have been destroyed or damaged during the colonization of Costa Rica. Also military exercises and the search for gold damaged many spheres. Today these spheres serve as decoration in the front garden. After many years, scientists are still unsure what caused these spheres to be so perfectly round.

Mysterious spheres
Until the day of today it is unclear where these spheres came from. In the national museum of San José there are numerous samples and here and there excavations have been carried out. During these excavations more spheres appeared, which were partially or entirely covered in the mud of a river delta or in the ground below the jungle. The information gathered thus far is seriously limited.

The heaviest sphere found so far weighs 16 tons. Every sphere has a perfectly round shape, in other words: The middle line is on every place the same. Many spheres have a very smooth surface, which was probably, over time, obtained thanks to a mixture of sand and water. It is improbable that these spheres got their shape naturally. Therefore, the question remains: How could the indigenous people of Costa Rica create such a perfect round sphere which weighs at least a couple of tons. Other than an excellent understanding of geometrics, there must have been some technique to create these spheres. Without mechanical tools it is nearly impossible to create such a sphere. The problem becomes even more complicated, because many spheres consist out of a type of granite that is not present where the spheres are found. Only 50 kilometers further the granite can be found.

Astrology or religion
The spheres are discovered at places where Indians lived in the past, but thus far no tribe has been found that knows stories about the creators of these spheres. Also no tribe would claim their ancestors made the spheres or participated in any way. Sure is that these spheres have a special meaning for the Indians, because archeologists found smaller spheres in the graves of Indians. These probably served as gifts. Some archeologists claimed that they would recognize stellar constellations in the smaller spheres.

This didn’t work on the bigger spheres, because these have been exposed to the rough nature for centuries. Classifying these spheres is in many cases impossible. The few exceptions, where the exposition of the spheres were still visible, don’t seem to confirm the suspicions of the archeologists: The spheres were placed in long rows, golf lines or triangle formations. Furthermore, the suggestion that these spheres are a symbolization of stellar constellations is conflicting with the modern believe that South-American Inca’s and Maya’s portrayed stellar constellations, such as the sun, as a disc. This suggests that Costa Rica was home of an entirely different culture, but this seems unlikely to many scientists.

Another theory suggests that the perfection of which these spheres have been created are a religious utterance: The spheres, as a result of dedicated labor, should be seen as a symbol of godly perfection. This would also explain why there are no other indications about a religious believe. The question, if this theory is based on facts, will most probably never be answered a 100%.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Iron pillar of Delhi

The iron pillar of Dehli has increased in populairity in the 20th century. People claim that this pillar will bring luck to those who can touch their own fingers around the pole, while facing it with their back. The catch is to do it on the first try or it won’t work. About the pillar itself, people claim it has been built thousands of years ago. All this time it has conquered the elements and doesn’t show a single sign of rust.

In the Qutab-Minarcomplex, named after a 73 meter high triumph-pillar that had been erected in Dehli in 1193, is the first mosque of India, named Quwwat-ul Islam-Masjid (Mosque of the power of the Islam). The construction of the mosque started at around the same time as the construction of the triumph pillar. Located in the courtyard of the mosque is another, iron pillar of about seven meters high. This column has been here even before the construction of the mosque. A Sanskrit inscription on the column says that the column originated from another location, but has been moved here.

In 1969, Erich von Däniken published a story about the iron column in one of his books. According to him it consists out of different parts of iron alloy which are welded in to place. The interesting part about this is that the iron ally used is non-existent in today’s modern world. The alloy doesn’t contain any phosphor or sulphur, meaning it cannot rust. The 4000 years it has been standing tall is evidence of this.

Reality check…
A few years later Erich von Däniken admitted that his story wasn’t completely true. Nevertheless, his initial claim became so popular that many see this as the truth. Even though the pillar is very interesting for scientists two things need to be cleared up first. First of all, it is more likely that the pillar has been built in the 5th century. Scientists assume the pillar has been erected in or next to a temple in the Indian Bihar. The temple would have been dedicated to Vishnu, the Indian god of “durability”. Additionally, because of its unusual top it is expected that a figure or statue would have been on top of it.

Secondly, the pillar is not made out of different iron alloys. That it is made out of unknown alloys is even further from the truth. However, this is also the fact that makes it so interesting. The 7 meter high pillar has been forged in one piece and weighs approximately 6 tons. Moreover, during its creation people made the iron so pure (99.7%) that the column doesn’t show a single sign of rust. Even the damp climate in India during rain seasons doesn’t leave any rust.

If we take an European standard, this knowledge could have only been applied 1500 years after it was constructed. Only at the end of the 19th century people had the necessary knowledge to create such a pillar. Looking at the current chemical knowledge, the manufacturing would even be problematic today. It is sure that already in 1938 very pure iron could be created in laboratories, but it could not be created using natural conditions like in a forge. The high degree of purity could simply not be kept until the end of the process.

At this moment in time it cannot be explained how the creators of this pillar made such a high level of iron purity without losing quality.

The jaguar of Panama

In 1920 an item was found in Panama. At the first glance it seemed like an everyday item, to be more precise: It looked like a Jaguar. Not long after that the first suspicions arose whether or not this was really just an everyday item.

The body of the figure is unnaturally flat and has a large amount of corners. The tail on the other hand, looks very powerful and has 2 large wheels on the end. Additionally there are markings on the tail. The claws of the jaguar are also portrayed unnaturally: They are bent and are getting sharper the further down they go. On the top they seem connected to each other.

These unnatural aspects are what started the discussion: Is there more to this Jaguar or not? Some people seem to believe that this Jaguar is in fact an early representation of a dredge machine. To achieve a dredge machine effect a chain could have been used. This chain would have been attached to the large wheels at the tail. The wheels, on their turn, would make the legs and claws move. Using this method a large amount of dirt or sand could have been moved.

Some experts believe that a technology like this could have been used in the construction of Machu Picchu, ‘the lost city’, in the Peruvian Andes. Skeptics point out that the Inca’s could have performed the same work by only using human labour. Additionally they claim that in order to construct a dredge machine certain skills are required. Knowing how to melt iron was one of them. Another one is the construction of machine parts. No archeological findings can proof that the Inca’s possessed this knowledge. So until evidence is found, it cannot be proven that this item was used at the construction of Machu Picchu.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Inca airplanes

A couple of decades ago the question for ancient technology arose again. The reason for this was the display of golden Inca objects that seemed to resemble airplanes. The objects were dated 500-800 AD.

But are they really airplanes? Because of their weight and construction these objects themselves could not fly. However, the resemblance with modern day airplanes is remarkable. If these objects were merely a representation of animals then what is the vertical stabilizer doing on their tail? Without a vertical stabilizer a modern airplane wouldn't be capable of flying. Also, no animal in the world has a vertical stabilizer, so it couldn't be a representation of an animal. This detail in particular is what interested scientists.

If we study some of these planes in more detail, we can see a windshield and a cockpit. Were there really airplanes approximately 1500 years ago or were the Inca's only fascinated by flying? Maybe they were performing research about it, but could never really accomplish it. Until a 1500 year old airplane is found, people can only speculate.

The Saqqara bird

In 1898, a grave in the Egyptian city Saqqara contained a sculpture of an animal or object with wings. Studies showed that the object was created around 200 B.C. After determining the age of the object it was categorized as a bird and nobody paid any further attention to it.

Not until 1969, when a professor in archeology, Kahlil Messhia (1924-1999) rediscovered the sculpture. He immediately began detailed studies on it, because the form of the object reminded him of a modern glider, despite the fact that part of its tail was missing.

His research proofed that before the object was damaged it must have looked somewhat like an aeroplane. Some say it is merely a weathervane, while others say it is a boomerang or a toy. The question remains if this sculpture served as a model for a real life glider or not. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure.