segunda-feira, 4 de junho de 2012

Unexplained Wonders

The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle (or Devil’s Triangle) is an area of sea between the islands of Bermuda and Puerto Rico and South Florida where an unusual number of planes, boats and people have gone missing over the years. Many associate the Bermuda Triangle with some sort of extra-terrestrial force, in other words aliens kidnapping earthlings from the area using some sort of black hole technology. While many disappearances have been proven false, incorrect or exaggerated there still remain a number of unexplained missing persons cases in this area. The most famous Bermuda Triangle case, and what really started the whole mystery, involved the disappearance of five Navy planes in 1950. This is known as the strange case of Flight # 19. Recently however the wrecks of these planes were apparently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. It would seem they lost their bearings, ran out of gas and crash-landed in the sea- much like how perhaps Amelia Earhart died- though not in the Bermuda Triangle.

You might remember the appearance of the Flight 19 crewmen in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, showing that they, along with a number of other people, had been kidnapped by aliens. But this is just fiction. Or is it?

Researchers have determined that the number of crashes or disappearances in the so-called Bermuda Triangle is no greater than any other area of sea. As well the Bermuda Triangle is located in a part of the Atlantic with a large volume of sea and air travel, and known for its bad weather (tropical storms, hurricane etc). In fact a lesser percentage of ships have encountered difficulties in this area precisely because it is a difficult transit route and pilots take extra precautions when traveling there.

The Nazca Lines

The Nazca lines are a group of immense carved drawings or geoglyphs found in the Nazca desert of Southern Peru. The hundreds of geometric (or non-realistic) drawings represent birds, animals and people and are best, though not only, seen from the air. They cover an area of some 195 square miles of desert, and the largest is almost 900 feet wide. The mystery of them is, why were they produced almost 1500 years ago at a time when there were no planes or even balloons to see them? Many people believe they were created as messages to the gods or visiting aliens, and even as runways for alien ships to land on. Others believe they are large geometric patterns used by disciples in religious ceremonies to celebrate water or a good harvest or similar. And others say they are huge time-pieces used to calculate the seasons or to map the constellations of stars in the nighttime sky.

Despite the doubts as to their significance there is nothing unusual about their formation. They were produced by scraping away a top layer of reddish-brown earth and pebbles to reveal a white ground below. Whatever they truly signify the images created are beautiful works of art in most cases and must have required a great understanding of measurements and angles, not to mention artistic sensibility, in order to produce their final exquisite forms.
The Sphinx and Pyramids

The Great Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza form a group of large sculptures and burial tombs constructed outside the city of Cairo in Egypt by the Pharaohs, or ancient kings of Egypt, around 2500 B.C. They are the number one tourist attraction of the middle east. The largest pyramid, Pharaoh Khafu’s, covers an area larger than 13 acres, is about 450 feet high and was constructed by the hands of 100,000 slaves with over 1milliion300thousand blocks of stone weighing between 2.5 and 15 tons each. The Sphinx is a sculpture carved from a single block of limestone over 200 feet long and 65 feet high. It represents the harmony between Man, the thinker, which is the head and the body of the lion which was the strongest animal known to the ancient Egyptians. Some say the missing nose and customary beard were shot off by the French Emperor Napoleon’s artillery in the early 1800s but they were actually destroyed in 1837 by an Islamic ruler, Sai Al-suada, who was outraged his people were still worshipping the ancient gods and not the Muslim god, Mohammed.

Hollywood had made much of the mummified bodies of the Pharaohs and the curses attached to them. Anyone who robbed a tomb of its treasure would be cursed, it was said. Yet despite the curses most of the tombs of Egypt’s kings have been looted and destroyed over the centuries. In many cases only the mummies themselves have remained untouched. The most famous mummy’s curse surrounds that of King Tutankhamen, the boy-king. His is one of the few tombs found undamaged and has been judged the richest archaeological discovery of all time. The archaeologist Howard Carter discovered this tomb in 1922. After that a number of persons associated with the curse died under supposed mysterious circumstances beginning with Lord Carnarvon, who paid for Carter’s expeditions. He died six weeks after the discovery though the cause of death in the end was really just malaria. Of the 58 persons present when the tomb was opened only eight actually died from anything other than natural causes.

Machu Picchu

Another famous discovery by a classic explorer is the lost city of the Incas known as Machu Picchu found high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, South America, in 1911 by the National Geographic explorer- and inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones- Hiram Bingham. Like the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth and is usually always listed with the pyramids as one of the seven existing wonders of the world. Also included in this list are Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.

Machu Picchu Is located in a spectacular location high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Because of its isolated location it was never found by the Spanish conquistadors who defeated the Inca Empire in the middle 1500s after discovering the Americas. When Hiram Bingham found the city it was almost entirely covered with jungle. Bingham spent five years uncovering most of the city and today only 30% has been restored and is open for the public to visit.

The mystery of Machu Picchu is who built it and why. Some say it was built as an Inca fortress to hide away from the Spanish conquerors, others that it was a religious temple for sacrifices to the sun god. Most recently it is claimed to have been a sort of summer resort of an Incan king, high in the mountains where the temperatures were always cooler than in the historical Incan capital, Cuzco. Below Machu Picchu flows the Urubamba River, a tributary of the mighty Amazon.

Easter Island

Another South American mystery is the origins of the 887 massive stone statues called Moai found on Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile, South America. The ancient people of Easter Island, the Rapanui, were Polynesians like the people of Hawaii, who arrived by boat. Easter Island is located 2180 miles from the coast of Chile and is known as the most remote inhabited island on earth. The island is only 24 x 12 miles in area and is formed from the top of a great undersea volcano. Today less than 200 people live on Easter Island, which is part of the Republic of Chile. The island is a popular tourist destination, particularly for surfers.

Archaeologists have shown that when the island became too heavily populated the inhabitants began fighting amongst themselves for the few resources that remained. Eventually most were forced to leave. The giant statues built by these people were meant to represent their ancestors and to protect the people from the violence of the sea around them and invaders from other lands. To determine who would rule the people of Easter Island a yearly competition was held to collect bird’s eggs from the towering cliffs of the island. Petroglyphs, or cave drawings, depict these bird gods. Like the pyramids numerous slaves were made to cut the giant stones that form the statues of Easter Island and transport them over great distances before they were raised to face the sea.

One of the Easter Island Moais named Dum Dum appears in the first Night in a Museum film with Ben Stiller. You can see him at the Museum of natural History in New York City.

The Great Wall of China

It is said that the Great Wall of China is so big you can see it from space. Actually you can see it only from low earth orbit or 100 miles or so above earth, and not from outer space. Nevertheless it is one of the greatest constructions on earth. It is 5500 miles long and stretches across China’s entire northern border. Construction of the wall and numerous fortresses began in the 7th century in order to protect the Chinese people from the Mongolian invaders of northern Asia. The most frequently visited parts of the wall are those near the city of Beijing.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a famous palace and burial tomb found in the state of Angra in Northern India 120 miles from the city of New Delhi on the banks of the river Yamuna. It was built by the Hindustan ruler Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child! The shah and his wife are buried below the building in a special crypt.

The Taj Mahal was constructed between 1632 and 1652. It is made entirely of white marble, gold and precious stones, and is considered one of the most beautiful and expensive buildings ever created. The total cost has been estimated to be about 32 million Rupees at the time of construction. The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia and over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

A labour force of twenty thousand workers was recruited from across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, and another who carved only marble flowers were part of a thirty-seven men who formed the main group of designers.

Maybe you saw the Taj Mahal in the film Slumdog Millionaire?


Stonehenge is a Bronze Age circle of standing stones located in southern England and said to be a religious site of the neolithic Druid faith. It is also said to be an ancient time-clock used to calculate the comings and goings of the seasons for the purposes of religious ceremonies. The oldest stones have been dated to 2400 B.C. and it is said the site may first have been used as a cemetery as long ago as 3000 B.C. The name Stonehenge mans “hanging or suspended rocks”, henge being the old English word for hang or hanging. A legend from the 12th century suggests that Stonehenge was built by King Arthur’s magician, Merlin, as a place of healing and as a memorial to English soldiers who had died fighting against the Saxons from northern Europe.

Noah’s Ark

Our bible contains many fantastic stories, and is a great source for mysteries. Some stories are, of course, more believable than others. Some people believe in every word the bible says but they have trouble proving some of the more fantastic parts even to themselves. But remember that one of the most interesting things about a mystery is that it must have some basis in fact. If we are to solve a mystery we need to strip away the impossible and reveal the possible. That is what Sherlock Holmes taught us, remember? Remove the impossible and you are left with only what may be considered the possible. We can do the same with the bible. We can strip away the fantasy and reveal the truth.
For example, it may be difficult to believe God created the world in 6 days…science now tells us the universe may be 12 billion years old. But what if we divided those 12 billion years into six 2 billion year long days, wouldn’t that work? Moses is said to have parted the Red Sea so he could exodus Palestine and flee to Egypt with the Jews. But how, you ask? Archaeologists have actually found evidence of an earthquake during Moses’ time that may really have dried up the Red Sea temporarily. Perhaps this is where the story Moses and the Red Sea comes from?

What I am suggesting is that it is possible to understand God and his creation in terms of Science. We don’t have to solve or understand the mystery 100%. Do you really want someone to prove to you that Nessie really doesn’t exist, or that Unicorns really are not to be found in nature? Of course not. But scientific investigation can help us to better understand the things around us, and appreciate them more. Myths were originally created as a way to explain the mysteries of life to people. This is the basis of all religion. Today science helps us in a similar way. It also helps us understand the mysteries of life.

To finish today’s class I want to tell you the story of Noah and his ark. Noah was instructed by an angry God that he should gather up his family and two of every animal and construct for them a great boat, an ark that would survive a mighty flood God was going to cause and do away with all the sinners and unbelievers on earth. After 40 days of rain and 40 days of drought a dove brought a, olive branch to Noah in the ark and Noah knew the flood was over and man could begin his life anew on earth.

Science had found proof of floods and earthquakes in the Mediterranean region where the stories of the bible take place. But what about something as specific as Noah’s ark? Well it just so happens that on the very mountain in the bible where Noah was said to have lived, on Mount Ararat in Turkey, there is evidence of a huge boat-shaped construction preserved in the mountainside. Actual evidence of petrified wood has been found inside this form. But is this Noah’s Ark or something else? And if not, what is it?

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