10 Mysterious Watery Graves

Post 8062

10 Mysterious Watery Graves



Shipwrecks, sacrificial slaughter, burial rites, accidents, and flooding create watery graves. Under the proper conditions, these remains can lay undisturbed for thousands of years. The remarkable state of some submerged specimens has allowed genetic testing and analysis never previously thought possible. Watery graves provide insight into the past and pose new mysteries for the present. There may be more secrets waiting to be discovered under placid waters than we ever imagined.

10Skeleton Lake


Photo credit: Schwiki

Roopkund Lake sits 5,000 meters (16,000 ft) above sea level in the Himalayas in India. For one month during the summer, the frozen lake’s surface melts away, revealing hundreds of human skeletons. First reported in the 19th century, the watery grave was found again by a game reserve ranger in 1942. There are so many human remains in this body of water that it has been dubbed “Skeleton Lake.”

In 1942, the remains were initially believed to be Japanese soldiers, but it soon became clear that the bones were much older. Radiocarbon testing dated the remains back to AD 850. Some have suggested that they died in an avalanche. Others proposed ritual suicide or a brutal enemy attack. A 2013 examination of the remains determined it was likely that they had died in a hailstorm. Each individual suffered blows to the upper body—but nothing below the shoulders, ruling out an avalanche or warfare.


9Tomb Of The Sunken Skulls


Photo credit: Anna Arnberg via History

In 2009, archaeologists excavating a prehistoric lake bed in Sweden unearthed the Tomb of the Sunken Skulls. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Vattern, the tomb contains a collection of 8,000-year-old skullsmounted on stakes. Researchers discovered skulls and cranial fragments from 11 individuals, including men, women, and children. Two were impaled on spikes, and others showed evidence that they once were. The grave was built on the bottom of a shallow lake. Archaeologists also discovered scattered human bones, animal remains, and tools of antler, stone, and bone.

Various theories have emerged about the mysterious tomb. Some suggest the mounted heads were trophies of enemies killed in battle. Others believe the lake was a secondary burial site. The remains would have been allowed to decompose before they were dug up and deposited in the lake. The skulls would have been used in ritual display, a process reflected in other ancient Swedish sites.

8Black Hole


Photo credit: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic via Smithsonian

Divers discovered the oldest complete Native American remains in an underwater cave in Mexico known as Hoyo Negro, or “Black Hole.” The 12,000-year-old remains belong to a young woman whom scientists have dubbed “Naia.” She fell 30 meters (100 ft) to her death in search of water in the ancient cave, which would have been mostly dry at the time. Water levels rose between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago, flooding the Black Hole and helping to preserve her remains.

Anthropologists have long noted that early inhabitants of the Americas resembled Africans, native Australians, and indigenous people of the South Pacific more than modern Native Americans. With a narrow face, wide-set eyes, prominent forehead, flat nose, and protruding teeth, Naia is an example of this ancient morphology. Nevertheless, a genetic test revealed that Naia has maternal DNA matching modern Native Americans. This is the first genetic testing done on ancient-looking Americans.


7Bog Massacre


Photo credit: Skanderborg Museum via ScienceNordic

Archaeologists excavating Denmark’s Alken Enge wetlands found a mass grave of over 1,000 warriors killed in battle 2,000 years ago. They were between the ages of 13 and 45, and their bones show axe and sword impacts. They may have been killed far from the burial site; bite marks on the bones suggest that they were left exposed for a long period. It’s likely that they were left to rot on the battlefield.

So far, only 90 square meters (970 ft2) of the 3,600-square-meter (39,000 ft2) site has been excavated. Archaeologists have already unearthed the remains of 240 men. During the 19th and 20th centuries, peat cutters would routinely find bones in the surrounding area. Most theorize that the remains represent a defeated army that was sacrificed to an unknown god. The bones were deposited in what was once part of Lake Mosso. The slain warriors’ origins remain unknown.

6Sunken Sickness


Photos via Ancient Origins

In 2008, marine archaeologists exploring the sunken ruins of Neolithic Atlit Yam discovered the remains of the earliest known victims of tuberculosis. The skeletons belonged to a woman and her infant. The baby’s bone deformity suggests the mother passed the disease on shortly after birth. A DNA analysis conclusively determined the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Located 8 to 12 meters (26–39 ft) below the Mediterranean off the coast of Haifa, Israel, Atlit Yam remains a mystery. Dating to the seventh millennium BC, the settlement contains walls, paved areas, and a semicircular structure of seven monoliths arranged around what was once a freshwater spring. No one is sure what caused the settlement to sink into the sea. A volcanic collapse of Mt. Etna 8,500 years ago could have triggered a 40-meter (130 ft) tsunami capable of devouring coastal cities in hours. However, the megaliths are still standing, which suggests slower-rising sea levels.

5Ganges Bodies

In 2015, Indian authorities announced that 80 bodies had surfaced in Ganges River in less than a week. Villagers in Pariyar, Uttar Pradesh, discovered the bodies after noticing unusual dog and vulture activity in the area. Investigation determined that there was no foul play. These bodies, many of which were children, were consigned to the Ganges in traditional water burials and resurfaced when waters levels receded. The bodies were badly decomposed, suggesting that they had been in the water for an extended period. Sanitation workers refused to handle the grisly remains.

Water burials are illegal in India, but Hindu tradition often wins out. Unwed girls cannot be cremated; a water burial guarantees that the maiden will be reborn into the same family. The Ganges is also an attractive burial site for poor families who cannot afford cremation. It is India’s holiest river but also one of its most polluted—and water burials do not help.


4Secrets Of Sac Uayum


Sac Uayum sinkhole in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has long been considered haunted, and villagers refuse to go near. Legend states that a demon guards it and snatches children who get too close. It turns out that locals might have good reason to fear Sac Uayum: It is filled with human skeletons. Reaching a depth of 35 meters (115 ft), the sinkhole contains fascinating remains like a woman with an artificially elongated cranium, countless other skulls, cattle bones, and floors strewn with layers of bones from various periods.

Mayans were traditionally buried near—or even under—their houses. Sac Uayum’s bones do not exhibit any evidence of violent death, which suggests that they were not sacrificial victims. Some postulate that Sac Uayum’s bodies might be plague victims. Depositing the diseased here would keep them away from the populace and drinking water. This taboo might have lingered in the collective psyche, resulting in the avoidance of the sinkhole.

3Submerged Slave Graves


In 2011, a record drought in Texas revealed 25 mysterious graves beneath Richland Chambers Reservoir. The burials were originally submerged in 1980, when Tarrant County Water Improvement District No. 1 flooded the area to create the man-made lake. This small cemetery had no gravestones and went unnoticed. Many believe the remains belong to former slaves who worked as sharecroppers. In 2009, boaters discovered a cranium and jawbone. Experts believed the bones were 100 to 120 years old and most likely belonged to an African American.

The more recently discovered graves belonged to children. An examination of the square-cut nails used in the coffins indicates they are from before 1890. The children were found in small wooden caskets. So far, only loose adult bones have been discovered, without caskets. No one is certain why the children were buried separately.

2Lake Okeechobee’s Mysterious Skeletons


Photo credit: Richard Apple

Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is filled with myths, legends, and skeletons. Settlers in the early 1900s routinely discovered human bones around the lake. Fisherman were used to hauling in human skulls with their nets. One early account indicated that there were so many skulls that at low water, the lake resembled a pumpkin patch. During an excavation at Grassy Island, a surveyor discovered 50 human skeletons. A massive drought hit in 1918, exposing hundreds of human remains along Ritta and Kreamer Islands.

Many speculate that the bones belong to hurricane victims. In 1928, a massive storm hit, killing as many as 2,000 people. However, this does not explain the earlier skeletal discoveries. Others have suggested warfare. However, the Battle of Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War left only 30 dead. Some historians believe the bones may be as old as 1,000 years. How they met their fate remains a mystery.

1Antikythera’s Secret Skeleton


Photo credit: Brett Seymour via Nature

In 1900, sponge divers discovered a 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of the Greek Island of Antikythera. However, they missed something. In 2016, marine explorers discovered human remains in the wreck. Several feet of pottery shards and sand concealed the skeleton. The subsurface conditions allowed for excellent preservation, allowing geneticists to extract DNA from the remains. Most ancient genetic samples come from Northern Europe, so the forthcoming results may prove groundbreaking.

Shipwreck victims are typically eaten by fish or swept away. Preservation only occurs if they are rapidly buried in sediment. The only other ancient shipwreck remains ever discovered were a skull found inside a Roman soldier’s helmet and a skeleton from inside a sunken sarcophagus, which disappeared before it could be examined. The Antikythera wreck has been heavily explored; imagine what ancient human remains lay hidden in less-explored wrecks.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica andSong-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.

10 Mysterious Ancient Maps

Post 8061

10 Mysterious Ancient Maps



Maps reflect our worldview—literally. Far from purely scientific instruments, they are almost always bound with history, mythology, and religion. A study of ancient maps reveals the shifting attitudes human have had toward themselves and their place in the universe.

10Home Sweet Home


Photo credit: Manuel Vaquero

Archaeologists at Spain’s Moli del Salt site discovered what may be a 13,800-year-old map. The schist slab features seven semi-circular etchings, which experts believed to be huts. The shape coincides with modern hunter-gatherer dwellings of the Kalahari Bushmen and Aboriginals of the Australian Outback. The number seven reflects a typical population size. If true, this would be the earliest image of a human habitation ever discovered.

Anthropologists are thrilled by the idea that these huts are a spatial representation of social structure. All of the lines were carved with the same tool at the same time—suggesting one individual captured what was in front of him at one moment.


9Forma Urbis Romae


The world’s oldest and largest unsolved jigsaw puzzle is a 2,200-year-old map of Rome. Carved during the reign of SeptimIus Severus between 203 and 211, the Forma Urbis Romae originally hung of a wall in the Temple of Piece. It contained every building, temple, shop, bath, and staircase in ancient Rome. It is composed of 150 marble tiles built to a scale of 1 to 240. The Forma Urbis Romae was ripped down—most likely to be used to make lime cement.

Today, only 10 percent of the original map remains. The first pieces were rediscovered in 1562. A section recently discovered in Palazzo Maffei Marescotti allowed researchers to connect three chunks of the ancient puzzle. The newfound piece has shed new light on the present-day ghetto, an area which once dominated by the Circus Flaminius.

8Danish Map Stones


Photo credit: Live Science

Archaeologists unearthed a set of what they believe are 5,000-year-old maps in Denmark. Covered with etchings of squares and lines, these 10 broken stones may be some of the oldest maps ever discovered. Researchers theorize that these symbolic representations of the terrain were used in Stone Age farmers’ fertility rituals. These “map stones” were discovered in an earthen wall enclosure on the Danish island of Bornholm.

Experts have connected these “solar stones” with the Neolithic sun-worshiping religion. These newfound map stones are different. Their squares and lines evoke geographic elements—both man-made and natural. Many believe that these are “stylized maps” rather than navigational charts in the current sense.


7Turin Papyrus


Photo credit: J. Harrell

A 3,000-year-old papyrus contains a map to vast mineral wealth in Egypt’s desolate eastern desert. The Turin Papyus contains such detail of Wadi Hammamat valley that it is considered the world’s first geological map. Fragments of the work were discovered and slowly pieced together between 1814 and 1821. Initially believed to be three separate scrolls, the ancient map was found in a tomb in Deir-el-Medina. The most modern reconstruction of the map comes from the 1990s.

Experts date the scroll to the mid-12th century BC, around the reign of Ramsesses IV. Earlier maps have been discovered, but they are crude compared to the Turin Papyrus. The map contains no set scale but does contain text that acts like a modern map legend. It contains bekhen-stone quarries and gold mines The papyrus is so accurate that modern mineral hunters, like Aton Resources Inc. have relied on it to find fortune

6Star Map From A Distant Land


Photo credit: Asahi Shimbun

A star map carved into Japan’s Kitora Tomb may be the world’s oldest astronomic chart. 68 constellations with gold leaf stars cloaks the ceiling. Three circles track the movement of celestial bodies—including the Sun. The pole star dominates the center. The detailed map depicts the horizon, equator, and star courses. This is not the first depiction of the night sky. Lascaux Cave contains a 17,300-year-old image of the subject. However, it lacks astronomical observations.

Researchers noted that the sky depicted would have been observedhundreds of years before Kitora Tomb’s construction. However, estimates of the exact date vary between 120 BC and AD 520. Some believe that the knowledge came from Korea, despite depicting China.

5Earliest Map Of New York


The first map of New York was drawn on goatskin and is now worth $10 million. Created by a Genoese cartographer Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, the map is one of the first to show the eastern coast of America. It depicts New York harbor, which Henry Hudson would not explore beyond until 80 years later. The ancient chart even follows Magellan’s circumnavigation, making it a true world map.

6.7 feet wide and 3 feet tall, the map is made of nearly indestructible goatskin. For most of its existence, the chart remained rolled. As a result, the hues are still vivid. The only discoloration is that silver has become black. The map is filled with fantastic beasts like dragons and unicorns and is often very inaccurate.


4Buache Map


Photo credit: Philippe Buache

The Buache Map is a mysterious 18th-century chart that depicts Antarctica without ice. Many have used this as proof of ancient knowledge from a civilization that mapped Antarctica before it was cloaked with glaciers. Drawn by French cartographer Phillippe Buache de la Neuville in 1739, the work’s original title was “Map of Southern Lands Contained Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Antarctic Pole.”

Bauche popularized theoretical geography. This technique of deducing geography from explorers’ journals, astronomical observation, and scholarly research was considered defective in many instances. However, one assumption that proved correct was the existence of the Bering Strait. Another observation that was patently wrong was the existence of a sea in the middle of Antarctica. Some insist that the accuracy of the topography of Antarctica is proof of ancient, divine, or even alien mapping technology. Unfortunately, no one knows what the topography of sub-glacial Antarctica looks like.

3Columbus’s Cheat Sheet


Photo credit: Henricus Martellus

Christopher Columbus may have consulted a mysterious map from 1491 before setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean one year later. Made by Florence-based cartographer Henricus Martellus, the map synthesizes Claudius Ptolemy’s observations about the circumference of the world with Marco Polo’s observations and Portuguese Africa explorations. The map does not show the Americas. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Bahamas he believed he had reached Japan, which is where Martellus’s map had him located.

Analysis revealed hidden messages on the map. The secret notes contain place names and 60 written passages. The 6-by-4-foot map was photographed under 12 light frequencies—including several beyond human visibility. Latin descriptions reveal facts about far-flung peoples like the “Balor” of Northern Asia who live without wine or wheat and subsist on deer meat. The detail of southern Africa is extremely accurate, suggesting it was derived from native sources rather than Europeans.

2Ancient Babylonian Conservative Map


Photo credit: The British Museum

Archaeologists discovered the oldest undisputed map on the bottom of an unbaked clay tablet from the sixth century BC. Dated to the Neo-Babylonian period, the chart contains an inscription revealing that it is a copy of an even earlier work. The map was uncovered in 1899, at the site of Sippar located 30 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. Much more sophisticated and accurate maps were available in Greece centuries after this chart. The construction reflects an intentionally conservative blend of geography, cosmology, and mythology.

The map depicts the world as a disc surrounded by water. Seven mythical islands lie beyond and connect the earth to the heavens. Cuneiform text explains the mysterious beasts and heroes that inhabit these islands. Seven dots represent seven cities of the ancient world. A “Great Wall” symbolizes winter. The back of the tablet describes mythic beasts that inhabit the heavenly ocean. Experts believe these are constellations.

1Hereford Mappa Mundi


The Hereford Mappa Mundi lay hidden under a church floor for centuries. Dated to 1285, this is the largest medieval map. This grand chart of the world on calfskin is filled with observations of religion, history, and mythology. Because of its Christian origin, Jerusalem sits at the center of the circular map. In an archaic style, the east is oriented toward the top. The map contains a total of 420 cities and settlements, along with large bodies of water and important landmarks.

The map contains a supernatural world filled with bestiaries brimming with mythic monsters and curious cultures. The work was not intended for navigation but rather to serve as a compendium for knowledge. The map contains over 500 drawings of exotic animals and plants, biblical scenes, and classic myths. While the Mappa Mundi was made locally in Hereford, a copy has recently been brought to an international space station.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica andSong-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.