Lost Civilizations Uncovered
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Mysteries: Fact or Fiction?

We present seven examinations of mysteries both genuine and artificial to show how pseudoscience deals with ancient mysteries.


The genuine mysteries of the world seem to pale in comparison to the exaggerated and faked mysteries alternative authors put forward. These four quick looks at genuine ancient mysteries are, like all true mysteries, a little vague and short on details. For these puzzles from the past, more research is clearly needed to show where fact and fiction merge. . .

Legends of lost continents like Atlanits, Lemuria and Mu aside, tantalizing remains of underwater architecture still remain unexplained. Among the most prominent submarine ruins is the (in)famous Bimini Road, discovered in 1968. This miles-long complex of stonework that resembles a road or the walls of buildings is officially classified as a natural formation, but many people believe that the arrow-straight lines and right-angle turns imply an artificial source. Divers also report that patterns formed by the stones resemble the ground plans of Mayan temples. . .

On the other side of the world, Nan Madol is one of the great stone structures on earth. Its basalt megaliths form temples, palaces and other buildings with upturned corners so that they resemble boats. The native people remember legends that beneath the original Nan Madol, down in the ocean, is the primeval Nan Madol built during the glorious reign of the gods. Great stone pillars of this ancient city can still be seen off the island of Ponape. . .

Off the southernmost island of Japan, the Yonaguni Monument has created a heated controversy because of its resemblence to megalithic temples in South America and the Pacific islands. Japanese researchers have declared the structure man-made and 9,000 years old while American geologists like Robert Schoch, the man who claims the Sphinx dates from 7000 B.C., say Yonaguni is a natural formation. The underwater mysteries remain unexplained.

Still on the roster of unsolved mysteries is the question of just how much contact ancient cultures had with one another. Recently the story of the Egyptian cocaine mummies has reopened questions long thought answered. Analysis of Egyptian mummies has turned up traces of cocaine in hair follicles, implying that the Ancient Egyptians chewed coca leaves, a plant found only on the continent of South America.

The United States has had many cases of mysterious stones and markers bearing writing variously attributed to Phonecians, Egyptians, Vikings and Celts. While the vast majority of these are obviously racist hoaxes designed to bolster Euro-American claims to Native American lands, at least a handful of these artifacts have not been explained. In addition, late twentieth-century research confirmed that Vikings had colonized a portion of eastern Canada, the famous Vinland, during the eleventh century.

An archaeological team announced in 2001 that Roman coins had been discovered underneath the floor of an Aztec temple, proving that Roman goods had been present in the New World before Columbus. This dovetailed on reports of a Roman-style sculpture discovered in Mexico and Roman amphorae in Brazil. While some of these goods could have arrived through ships blown off course or by conquistadors bringing a bit of home with them, this mystery remains unexplained.

In 1901, an ancient clock-like mechanism surfaced off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera. The original 1959 Scientific American article on the device called it "the most complex scientific object that has been preserved from antiquity." The Antikythera Computer, as it is now called, had apparently been used to calculate the position of the stars as an aid to navigation. This computer predates the supposed invention of clockwork gears by millennia and is still considered only a curiosity by mainstream science. However, it is unlikely that the only Greek computer ever built would have been preserved, so presumably there were others.

Many sources comment on the exquisite workmanship of ancient artifacts. There have been rumors of archaic vessles made out of platinum or aluminum, metals not used in the West until the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, most of these objects seem to exist only in the pages of alternative histories and are nearly always described as "missing" or "lost." Consequently, it is impossible to comment on the veracity of most claims of ancient metalurgy, but an analysis of the remains of metal clamps used to hold together the blocks of the ancient Andean city of Tihuanaco seems to imply that the alloy used needed a higher smelting temperature than most archaeologists believe Andean peoples could generate. These mysteries require more investigation before they can be safely tucked away. (see Dendera Lightbulb and Coso Artifact below)

Despite nearly a century of theorizing, no one has been able to certainly determine how ancient peoples moved the massive megaliths that make up ancient buildings. Such structures seem to defy attempts to explain them away. While many competent theories have been proposed (and many more incompetent ones), no one can claim to completely solve the mystery of the megaliths.

At Ollantaytambo, to take one example, a series of polygonal megaliths weighing upwards of 70 to 100 metric tons each are fitted together in an immense jigsaw puzzle of a wall over 260 feet tall. What makes this more amazing is that all of the immense stones had been transported 195 feet up the side of a mountain from a quarry located five miles away and almost 3,000 feet higher on the other end of the Vilcamayu river valley.

Other megalithic sites on the same order include Sacsayhuaman, Tihuanaco, the Great Pyramid, and scattered ruins on the beautiful Polynesian islands. Other megalithic sites of large scale and note include Easter Island, Stonehenge, Carnak and the inexplicable stone spheres of Costa Rica. These spheres are near-perfectly spherical and range in size from an inch to tens of feet in diameter. They are placed seemingly at random across the jungles of Central America and, though we know how they were made, their purpose has never been satisfactorily explained.

Some theories on how the ancients moved the megaliths include earthen ramps, levers, levetation devices, dinosaurs and UFOs. The latter half of the list is purely in the realm of fiction, but to date no definitive solution has been proposed.


In contrast to the genuine mysteries from the past, the following three examples of counterfeit antediluvian technology make bold, powerful claims with specific details and a wealth of commentary and information. Since these claims are not true, they do not require real research, so there is much more published information about them that there is about the genuine mysteries, which still remain vague today. As for these three cases, they can safely be marked "Case Closed". . .

As recently as July 2001, ancient astronaut supporters continued to argue that a pyramid in Mexico disproved common archaeological assumptions about civilization. The news service of the Ancient Astronaut Society claimed once again that the Cuicuilco Pyramid in Tlalpan, Mexico is older than the oldest known North American high civilizations: "Specialists in Mesoamerican archaeology figured out the paradox that earthwork seems to be 2000 years old... an earthwork partially covered by a lava flow which geologists have determined to be 8000 years old. Long before any local culture."

"The reason that specialists in Mesoamerican archaeology are untroubled by this paradox is because this paradox does not exit,"says Paul V. Heinrich, a geologist and long-time skeptic of alternative historical scenarios. Heinrich addressed the Cuicuilco Pyramid mystery in 1995 when he reviewed Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods. In that book, Hancock repeated the assertion that the Pyramid was older than it should be: "To everyone's surprise, [geologists] concluded that the volcanic eruption which had completely buried three sides of the this pyramid . . . must have taken place at least seven thousand years ago."

Hancock's footnote tells us this story was "reported in Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings, p. 199," Charles Hapgood's discredited 1960s study of allegedly anomalous ancient maps.

According to Heinrich, Hancock did sloppy research: "What is troubling and revealing about these claims is that a basic review of the published literature, even Hapgood (1966 pp. 201-204) the likely source of this claim, reveals the claim that the Xitli lava flows are 8,000 years [old] is patently false and numerous published radiocarbon dates . . . disprove it."

Hancock apparently read page 199 of Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings, the page discussing the mystery, but he ignored pages 201-204, in which Hapgood himself rejects the mystery. However, on this scant framework, the story continues to grow and spread. Even as recently as July 18, 2001 ancient astronaut believers continued to repeat the mindless assertion about Cuicuilco's age without any regret.

"Since this paradox has absolutely no basis in fact, nothing exists to trouble archaeologists," Paul Heinrich said.

Inside the Temple of Hathor a series of relief carvings show elongated bulbs with snakes inside or upon them like filaments. A long tube leads from the bottom of the bulb toward the floor. Insulator-like Djed pillars support the bulbs, and various gods attend. At first glance the scene seems to depict a light-bulb, and ancient astronaut proponents are quick to sieze on the comparison. The so-called Dendera light bulbs even grace the front page of Chariots of the Gods? author Erich von Däniken's homepage.

Von Däniken claimed in Eyes of the Sphinx (1996) that the Dendera light bulb is located in a small, secret chamber that "can be accessed only through a small opening. The room has a low ceiling. The air is stale and laced with the smell of dried urine from the guards who occasionally use it as a urinal." However, contrary to his claims, the room is open to the public and is frequently visited by tourists.

Von Däniken then claims, "The walls of the crypt below Dendera celebrate a secret science: the knowledge of electricity." He then goes on to talk about "Pyramid Magic."

However, a closer inspection clearly shows that the "light-bulbs" are in fact something else entirely. The bulb is not a glass casing but is the bulb of the lotus flower, which is mythologically giving birth to the snake within. Another panel shows the bulb opening into a lotus blossom and the snake standing erect in the center as a representation of the god Horus.

John Anthony West, the Egyptian tour guide-turned-archaeologist who argues passionately that the Sphinx is 12,000 years old, distanced himself from the light bulb interpretation: "The splendid but enigmatic reliefs of the crypt are cosmogonical and depict the serpent (dualizing principle underlying all creation: In Genesis the separation of heaven and earth) borne aloft by the lotus, the symbol of creation as a manifestation of consciousness."

While there is evidence of a passing knowledge of electricity among ancient people (like the so-called Baghdad battery which used metal in an acid solution to generate a current), there is no evidence of electrical devices. This seems to be another case of people seeing what they want to see in ancient art.

"On February 13, 1961, Mike Mikesell, Wallace A. Lane, and Virginia Maxey set out for the Coso Mountains six miles northeast of Olancha, California, with the hope of finding some semiprecious specimens for their LM & V Rockhounds Gem and Gift Shop," reported Brad Steiger in Mysteries of Time and Space (1974). "Instead, they found what may be a clue to a precataclysmic world."

The company allegedly discovered a geode, which they cut open: "This geode did not contain a cavity," Steiger said. Inside, they discovered a piece of metal that was round and, upon x-ray examination, was seen to resemble a modern spark-plug, though of no type used in 1961.

Steiger asked Mrs. Maxey about the age of the geode. Her comments are telling:

"One possibility is that it is barely 100 years old--something that lay in a mud bed, then got baked and hardened by the sun in a matter of a few years. . . Or else it is an instrument as old as legendary Mu or Atlanitis. Perhaps it is a communications device or some sort of directional finder or some instrument made to utilize power principles we know nothing about."

Mrs. Maxey obviously knew that a recent, mud-baked spark plug would be an uninteresting find, so she helpfully informed Steiger that a geologist who examined the fossils encrusted on the rock opined that it took a half-million years to form. Steiger also found that creationists working on the case "discovered" that the artifact was remarkably similar to a spark plug, so much so that they concluded from the differences between a modern spark plug and the artifact that people living before Noah's flood had remarkable technology.

After an initial flurry of excitement from the Creationist community, who took the object as proof of an advanced pre-Flood civilization, the artifact vanished and the three people credited with discovering it have either died or gone into hiding.

Today Creationists routinely write about the so-called Coso Artifact in their books and magazines, as well as discussing it in lectures and television programs. In the words of one creation scientist, "Evidence of advanced technology, like spark plugs, should not, according to evolutionism, be discovered in old rocks." Creationists use the Coso Artifact as proof of their religious agenda, namely that evolution is a Satanic lie and life came to be as described in Genesis.

So what is the Coso Artifact?

Professional skeptic Pierre Stromberg and the ubiquitous geologist Paul Heinrich answered this question in a May 2000 article about the case. In "Coso Artifact: Mystery from the Depths of Time" the authors noted that the rock the Coso Artifact "possesses no characteristics that would classify it as a geode." While geodes require long times to form, the artifact has no interior crystals or a chalcedonic silica crust; therefore, it is not a geode. More significantly, that also means it did not necessarily take long times to form.

The authors contacted Chad Windham, president of Spark Plug Collectors of America and asked him to examine x-rays of the Coso Artifact: "Windham replied he was certain that it was a 1920's era Champion spark plug." The authors compared the 1920s spark plug to the Coso Artifact photographs and found it to be identical. The old-style make of the early plug accounted for the difference between it and 1960s-era spark plugs originally used for comparison. They concluded that "To suggest that it was a device belonging to an advanced ancient civilization of the past could be interpreted as true, but is an exaggeration of several thousand years."

One creationist responded to the authors by insisting, "My best guess is that it is probably early post-Flood."

Read the full report on the Coso Artifact

© 2001 Jason Colavito. All rights reserved.