The Moai statues of Easter Island
The mystery of Easter Island and the Moai statues that inhabit it is something that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with, but the fact that there are still so many legitimate unanswered questions surrounding the island is in itself quite remarkable.
Back in Easter in 1722, a Dutch explorer happened upon something strange. He was originally in search of a hypothetical land mass called Terra Australis, thought to exist because at the time they thought that the northern and southern hemispheres should be balanced. Instead though, he discovered an island in the Southeastern Pacific Ocean, which he would later name Easter Island due to the date of its discovery. He was surprised to discover that the island was inhabited, and he reported seeing 2,000 to 3,000 people there.
This was surprising, because the island is … well … really far from anything else at all. A staggering 1,900 kilometres away from the nearest inhabited land, and about 3,500 kilometres off the coast of Chile. And yet despite its incredible remoteness, The Rapa Nui people who called the island home managed to carve and transport a mind-blowing 887 statues, some measuring 33 feet tall and weighing up to 82 tonnes, an average of 17 kilometres each. And this all happened roughly 700 years ago.
The biggest remaining question mark concerning the statues themselves is definitely their transportation. Theories have been proposed that involve ropes, sleds, rollers, levelled tracks, or even that the people slowly rocked the statues back and forth to their destination. Attempts have been made to recreate the methods that could have been used, but most resulted in damage to the statues, or would have required hundreds of people making just 0.08 kilometres of progress per day.
The truth is, we don’t really know exactly how they did it. But however the Rapa Nui managed to move the Moai, they would have certainly needed to be incredibly patient, creative, and organised to make them a reality.
11.The Confederate Treasury
The year was 1865, and the American Civil War was drawing to a close. As the Union army marched the final path to victory, however, Confederate Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm made one last effort to preserve the South’s assets: he liquidated them.
While a veritable fortune in gold, silver, and jewels had been carried by President Jefferson Davis and his men when they abandoned Richmond, Virginia, when they were captured, it was all gone. All of it, save a few confederate banknotes. And the most improbable part of all was the staggering 4,000 kilograms of Mexican silver dollars that seemed to simply have vanished. Dozens of theories have been proposed to explain the mystery behind the missing treasure. Some maintain that the gold was distributed among plantation owners and buried, waiting for a day when the South will rise again.
Many believe that the silver was buried in Danville, Virginia, where it still resides today. Others have claimed that the funds were entrusted with a secret society called the Knights of the Golden circle, so that they could finance a second civil war in the future. But the truth is, the real fate of the Confederate treasury still remains a mystery to this day.
10. Gobekli Tepe
Every so often, a discovery happens that forces us to re-imagine what we think we know about humanity, and how we got to where we are today. Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe is certainly one such discovery. The site, located at the top of a mountain ridge, is composed of more than 200 pillars, up to 20 feet in height and weighing up to 20 tonnes, arranged in roughly 20 circles. Many of the pillars have predatory animals engraved on them. And none of this would be surprising if it was built in, say 2000 B.C., but Gobekli Tepe was built more than 13,000 years ago, predating Stonehenge by more than 8,000 years.
Its existence completely up-ends the conventional view of the rise of civilisation. The idea of a religious monument built by hunter-gatherers flies in the face of our knowledge about both religious monuments and hunter-gatherers. Prior to the discovery of this site, we believed that the people of that time lacked complex symbolic systems, social hierarchies, and the division of labour — three prerequisites, we thought, for building a 22-acre massive temple. Formal religion, meanwhile, is supposed to have appeared only after agriculture produced such hierarchical social relations.
The findings at Göbekli Tepe, however, suggest that we might just have the story backward — perhaps it was the need to build a sacred site that first fuelled hunter-gatherers in their quest to organise themselves as a workforce, to settle down in one place, to secure a stable food supply, and to, eventually, invent agriculture. But the existence of the site raises far more questions than it answers. How did nomadic, neolithic man manage to organise a workforce to complete this site? Why was it built? How come it predates similar structures by thousands of years? Excavation started on the site in 1996, and most of it still remains to be unearthed, but for now these questions must go unanswered.
9. Sea Peoples
During the late Bronze Age, civilisation was progressing at an impressive rate in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean regions. Kingdoms rose, order was established, and technology advanced. The Mycenaean and Minoans had intricate palaces in Greece and Crete, the Hittites dominated what is now Turkey. And the Canaanites controlled what would become the holy land — Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. But in the years surrounding 1200 B.C., all of the would change.
Over the course of a single generation, all of those civilisations would be almost entirely wiped off the map, and those that did survive would be set back a thousand years, losing the ability to write and turning back the clock on the sophistication of their art, architecture, and pottery in the hundred years to follow. This event was part of what is known as the Bronze Age collapse, and it remains one of the largest dark spots in historians’ records. And one of the causes of this bizarre collapse was the mysterious “Sea Peoples” — a technologically inferior, unaffiliated group of seafaring warriors who raided the lands and are often credited with the collapse of these once-great civilisations.
The problem is, historians still have little if any idea of where these warriors came from, or what became of them after their conquest finally ended in Egypt. Also unknown is how the Sea Peoples managed to conquer civilisations hundreds of years more advanced in weaponry. But without solid records from the time, and with only scattered details of the origins of these strange raiders, we may never know their true identity.
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