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Mysterious disappearances of 10 civilizations

For almost as long as we've had civilization, we've lost it. There are records going back hundreds of years of explorers discovering huge temples encrusted with jungle, or giant pits full of treasure that were once grand palaces. Why did people abandon these once-thriving cities, agricultural centers, and trade routes? Often, the answer is unknown. Here are ten great civilizations whose demise remains a mystery.

Mayan temple
© Unknown
1. The Maya
The Maya are perhaps the classic example of a civilization that was completely lost, its great monuments, cities and roads swallowed up by the central American jungles, and its peoples scattered to small villages. Though the languages and traditions of the Maya still survive up to the present day, the civilization's peak was during the first millennium AD, when their greatest architectural feats and massive agricultural projects covered a vast region in the Yucatán - today, an area stretching from Mexico to Guatemala and Belize. One of the largest Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya made extensive use of writing, math, an elaborate calendar, and sophisticated engineering to build their pyramids and terraced farms. Though it's often said that the Maya civilization began a mysterious decline in roughly the year 900, a great deal of evidence points to climate change in the Yucatán combined with internecine warfare, which resulted in famine and abandonment of the city centers.
Magnify

New Research Suggests Modern Humans, not Volcanoes, killed off Neanderthals


About 40,000 years ago, a huge volcanic eruption west of what is now Naples, Italy, showered ash over much of central and Eastern Europe. Some researchers have suggested that this super-eruption, combined with a sharp cold spell that hit the Northern Hemisphere at the same time, created a "volcanic winter" that did in the Neandertals. But a new study of microscopic particles of volcanic glass left behind by the explosion concludes that the eruption happened after the Neandertals were already mostly gone, putting the blame for their extinction on competition with modern humans.

Why the Neandertals disappeared is one of archaeology's longest-running debates. Over the years, opinions have shifted back and forth between climate change, competition with modern humans, and combinations of the two. Earlier this year, the climate change contingent got a boost when a European team determined that the Italian eruption, known as the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI), was two to three times larger than previous estimates. The researchers calculated that ash and chemical aerosols released into the atmosphere by the eruption cooled the Northern Hemisphere by as much as 2°C for up to 3 years.
Question

Ancient Life-Size Lion Statues Baffle Scientists

Lion Sculpture_1
© American Journal of Archaeology
A life-size granite lion sculpture discovered in the town of Karakiz in Turkey. Dating back more than 3,200 years, to the time of the Hittite Empire, the lion is shown "prowling forward" with rippling muscles and a curved tail. In antiquity there would have been a second lion connected to it, bringing the total weight of the sculpture to about 5 tons (10,000 pounds).
Two sculptures of life-size lions, each weighing about 5 tons in antiquity, have been discovered in what is now Turkey, with archaeologists perplexed over what the granite cats were used for.

One idea is that the statues, created between 1400 and 1200 B.C., were meant to be part of a monument for a sacred water spring, the researchers said.

The lifelike lions were created by the Hittites who controlled a vast empire in the region at a time when the Asiatic lion roamed the foothills of Turkey.

"The lions are prowling forward, their heads slightly lowered; the tops of their heads are barely higher than the napes," write Geoffrey Summers, of the Middle East Technical University, and researcher Erol Özen in an article published in the most recent edition of the American Journal of Archaeology.

The two lion sculptures have stylistic differences and were made by different sculptors. The lion sculpture found in the village of Karakiz is particularly lifelike, with rippling muscles and a tail that curves around the back of the granite boulder.

"The sculptors certainly knew what lions looked like," Summers told LiveScience in an interview. He said that both archaeological and ancient written records indicate that the Asiatic lion, now extinct in Turkey, was still very much around, some even being kept by the Hittites in pits.

Curiously the sculpture at Karakiz has an orange color caused by the oxidization of minerals in the stone. Summers said that he doesn't believe it had this color when it was first carved.
Magnify

Historians Discover Medieval Banking Records Hidden Under Coats of Arms

© College of Arms
A rare accounting document, half-concealed beneath a coat of arms design, has revealed the activities of Italian bankers working in early 15th century London, decades before the capital became a financial powerhouse.
A rare accounting document, half-concealed beneath a coat of arms design, has revealed the activities of Italian bankers working in early 15th century London, decades before the capital became a financial powerhouse. The discovery was made by economic historians at Queen Mary, University of London.

Among the pages of a bound collection of traditional English crests held at the London College of Arms -- the headquarters of British heraldry -- are several papers belonging to a book of debtors and creditors for Florentine merchant-banking company, Domenicio Villani & Partners.

The coats of arms are estimated to have been painted in 1480, during a time when good quality paper was scarce and anything that was available was re-used.
The banking records, only half-covered by the design, date from 1422-24 and hint at the extensive trade in wool and other commodities produced in Britain during the era.
Pharoah

Pharaoh Snefru's Playground In the Desert

Pyramid at Dahshur
© Daniel Csörföly/Wikimedia Commons
Snefru's Red Pyramid at Dahshur. This was Egypt's first true pyramid. Credit:
Pharaoh Snefru, the "King of the Pyramids," developed his building skills over a 2.3 square mile playground in the desert, according to a new study into the geology of the Dahshur royal necropolis in Egypt.

The first king of the 4th dynasty, Snefru (reigned 2575-2551 BC) built Egypt's first true pyramid at Dashur, after a couple of failures. The task was overshadowed by his son Khufu, or Cheops, when he built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

More than 3.5 million cubic meters (123 million cubic feet) of building material were mined and transported at Dashur, some 20 miles from Cairo, yet very little evidence remains of what went on at the pyramid practice site some 4500 years ago. Nature wiped virtually any trace of human activity.

To expose the ancient pyramid playground, a team of Earth scientists from Germany turned to fractals.

Fractals are natural or artificially created geometric patterns that form designs. These appear to repeat themselves over and over when magnified.

Deltas created where rivers meet the ocean often display fractal properties. Dissected by river channels which drain into the floodplain of the Nile, the area around Dahshur was indeed supposed to show an abundance of natural fractals. The new study showed that was't really the case.
Meteor

Ancient astronomical observatory unearthed in Georgia, USA was doomsday clock?

earth mound astronomical clock
© LostWorlds.org
Ocmulgee earth lodge
About three hours west of Savannah, archaeologists unearthed an ancient Indian mound which had a secret hidden chamber inside. Inside this secret chamber was a circle of fifty seats and an altar in the shape of a hawk or eagle. Known as the Ocmulgee Earthlodge, new evidence proves this earth-covered building was a sophisticated piece of engineering with precise astronomical alignments that likely served as an astronomical observatory. It also appears to have served as a type of doomsday clock forewarning its designers as to the next severe meteor storm.

This earthlodge observatory is located at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Monument in Macon, Georgia, a site which dates to around 900 AD. The Ocmulgee Mounds site contains an enormous earthen pyramid ninety feet tall known as the Great Temple Mound. (The Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza is only 75 feet tall by comparison.) This pyramid was stuccoed in bright orange Georgia clay and magnetometer scans showed that it had a spiral ramp leading to its summit angled to the Ocmulgee River below. A smaller earthen pyramid known as the Lesser Temple Mound forms a right angle with the Great Temple Mound and the two pyramids form the boundaries of a giant central plaza.

Comment: Very interesting... it makes us wonder whether other so-called "tombs" were in fact meant for counting down the days the until the return of the "sky gods"...


Newgrange, Ireland: older than the Great Pyramid
Check out Laura Knight-Jadczyk's Comets & Catastrophe Series to find out more.

Sherlock

Amelia Earhart: Why the mystery continues

Today Google celebrates the 115th birthday of aviatrix
© Unknown
Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart -- and one of the great unsolved 20th-century mysteries.

Sorry, Amelia, no birthday present this year. But it's not been for a lack of trying.

Throughout the years there have been a number of search attempts to find Earhart or wreckage of her plane. Now 75 years after she vanished in her Lockheed Model 10 Electra over the Pacific Ocean, the most recent hope of finding evidence of Earhart's plane is fading.

Discovery News reported last week that a $2.2 million expedition by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) came to an end due to the challenges of exploring a steep, underwater coral cliff.

You remember, a couple of months ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a press conference, and gave an boost to the credibility to the TIGHAR hunt for Earhart's plane.

TIGHAR researchers believed that when Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan went missing July 2, 1937, they made an emergency landing on a reef near the uninhabited island Nikumaroro.
Info

Wet Climate May Have Fueled Mongol Invasion

Genghis Khan
© Peter Zachar/Dreamstime
A statue of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, in Ulaanbatar, Mongolia.
Beginning in the 13th century, the Mongol Empire spread across Asia and into the Middle East like wildfire, growing into the largest contiguous land empire the world has ever seen.

Historians have long speculated that periods of drought pushed the Mongol hordes to conquer their neighbors, but preliminary new findings suggest that theory may be exactly backward. Instead, consistent rain and warm temperatures may have given the Mongols the energy source they needed to conquer Eurasia: grass for their horses.

This idea, bolstered by the discovery of tree rings that preserve a climate history of Mongolia back to 657 A.D., is still in the preliminary stages of investigation.

LiveScience spoke with Amy Hessl, the dendochronologist, or tree-ring researcher, who along with collaborators Neil Pederson and Baatarbileg Nachin first discovered the preserved trees hinting at the weather during the era of the Mongols.
Boat

Record Treasure Hauled From Shipwreck

© Odyssey
The silver recovered from the S.S. Gairsoppa, as seen by scanners of the Odyssey expedition.
Deep-sea explorers have pulled up 48 tons of silver treasure from three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic in what may be the deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history.

The haul was retrieved from the S.S. Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship that sank in February 1941.

The expedition, by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a company specializing in shipwreck exploration, recovered 1,203 bars of silver, totaling 1.4 million ounces. Viewers will have the chance to follow the pursuit of the lost treasure on an upcoming Discovery Channel special produced by JWM Productions.

The cache has been transported to a secure facility in the United Kingdom, which contracted the project under the Department of Transport. Under the contract, Odyssey will retain 80 percent of the net value of recovered goods, after expenses, according to a press release.
Boat

Lost Viking Town Discovered in Germany

Viking town discovered Germany
You'd think that archaeologists would have unearthed everything that needs unearthing by now. An 8th century military town is believed to have been discovered in Germany. Specialists can't be sure at this point because the settlers weren't considerate enough to leave a map or a sign, but artifacts and other features are being used as conclusive evidence.

The demolished city is thought to be long-lost Sliasthrop, which was used as a military base. Thirty of the 200 houses have been properly excavated and have revealed a lot about how military towns functioned. A large building, comparable to a modern day community center, was found with arrow heads embedded in its charred walls, meaning that is was attacked, probably during a battle.
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