Most Incredible Civilizations Scientists Can’t Explain
Let's rewind time and visit the most incredible civilizations scientists can't explain!History
Weird and wonderful artifacts are being found all the time. But it’s hard work learning all the secrets of our forefathers when all you’ve got are two rusty pennies and a bad drawing on a cave wall. It’s no wonder even scientists get it wrong. Let’s go back in time to the most incredible civilizations scientists can’t explain!
Laser Archeology And The Lost Cities Of The Amazon
Did you know the Amazon rainforest houses around 30% of all plant and animal species in the world? However, the history of one native species has eluded scientists for centuries: humans!
Human life in the Amazon was assumed to have never been anything more than a few scattered tribes. However, ongoing deforestation in Brazil’s Acre state, which was long believed to be uninhabited, has revealed large, unnatural shapes in the ground known as geoglyphs.
While they look like little more than shallow ditches, they’re actually the remains of a vast civilization! Across 5,000 square miles, there are around 450 markings, with some measuring up to 1,300 feet wide! The huge geoglyphs probably housed some sort of ceremonial buildings, where up to a million people could’ve congregated as recently as 550 years ago.
Nowadays, thanks to technological advancements like LiDAR, we can explore without damaging the rainforest. By firing a tree-safe laser from directly above the surveying area, a receiver measures the light bouncing back and records a 3D map of the objects in the scene.
In 2019, scans of the southwestern Amazon basin uncovered miles of elevated roads and pathways, and even pyramids over 70ft tall! An astonishing 26 individual settlements were discovered, two of which were at least 250 acres each! That’s equivalent to 330 football pitches!
The mysterious Casarabe people lived here for hundreds of years, and then just disappeared around 1400 AD. European conquistadors probably drove them out, but we don’t know for sure. Still, building a giant jungle community in the thickets is certainly impressive.
Since 1913, partial skull fossils found across South Africa have provided a potential new brainiest contender called the Boskop Man. This presumed extinct human-like species could’ve lived as recently as 10,000 years ago.
But compared to us, their skulls imply they had unusually large craniums, meaning our big-headed brethren’s brains might’ve been a whopping 30% larger than ours! Their average IQ would’ve been around 149, putting the average Boskop among the smartest 0.05% of people alive today. But if old Boskop brainiac here is so much smarter than us, how come we’re alive and he isn’t?
Despite what you might think, bigger isn’t always better. Our brains are about fourfold bigger than our ape relatives. But most of this increase happens in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex which is mainly responsible for our highest cognitive functions such as decision-making, working memory, and self-awareness.
The actual motor functions of the brain that control our senses and movement don’t really change. So, it’s possible that all that extra brain size just translated to Boskop spending more time crying about the past than going out hunting.
This is all speculation, however. Truthfully, we can’t be sure what happened to our clever cousins. In fact, some people argue Boskop wasn’t different from us at all! The only evidence we have are partial skull fragments. Nevertheless, seeing as the Boskop aren’t here to collect their “cleverest species ever” award, we’ll accept it on their behalf.
Atlantis And The Eye Of The Sahara
The first records we have of Atlantis were written by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, who spoke of a great city just outside the Strait of Gibraltar. However, there was nothing to say Plato’s Atlantis genuinely existed. For millennia, people just assumed he’d created an idealized version of his home, Athens.
So why is it that some 12,000 years after allegedly disappearing, we still talk about it like it might be real? In 1882, US Congressman Ignatius Donnelly published 13 reasons why he believed Atlantis was far more real than previously accounted for. He wrote a book called The Antediluvian World, which proved to be highly influential. Then, in 1965, someone allegedly found Atlantis!
The image below is of the Richat structure, a 25-mile-wide geological dome found in Mauritania, Africa. This thing is so huge you can only see its full scope from space, which is how it was discovered. Two astronauts flying over the Sahara Desert had spotted the giant eye staring back at them and thought they’d stumbled across the most important archaeological find ever!
Alas, there’s nothing concrete linking it to Atlantis. It’s believed the Richat structure was formed from volcanic activity around 100 million years ago. Even though it does look suspicious, we’re still no closer to the truth.
The Mysterious House Burning Of The Cucuteni-Trypillia
We all love our homes. But if you lived with the Cucuteni-Trypillia people, who settled in eastern Europe around 7,500 years ago, home was less where the heart is, and more where the hearth is. Why? Because they routinely torched their own villages!
Archeological evidence shows that every 60 to 80 years, they’d bash out the matches for a spot of accommodation incineration. The burning question, of course, is why? This was long before home insurance, so they weren’t trying to cash a claim. And it happened way too regularly to be accidental.
We don’t know for sure, but one of the leading theories is that they were animists; people who believe objects have souls. So, they might’ve believed their houses were alive! And once it got to the end of a house’s life, it was proper send-off time. Still, torching a whopping 3,000 buildings to the ground every 60 years just to rebuild them sounds like a lot of effort.
Mycenaean Culture Disappearance
Despite being the OGs of ancient Greek society and true pioneers in architecture, engineering, and language, in 1050 BC, the Mycenaeans of ancient Greece managed to totally lose themselves. They straight-up disappeared.
How does one of the most developed societies of its time suddenly just cease to exist? That’s one of history’s greatest unsolved riddles. There are lots of possibilities about what could have happened. Maybe it was an invasion from a neighboring civilization like the Dorians. Maybe there was a disturbance closer to home which led to civil war.
Or maybe there was a big natural disaster, like a volcano or a giant flood which wiped them all out. However unsatisfying it might be, we just don’t know. Whatever it was, it was really bad. The period following the Mycenaeans’ disappearance was a total dead zone known as the Greek Dark Ages. It’s like they vanished and took the next 300 years of history with them!
Ever jumped in a puddle and realized it’s deeper than you thought? If you lived in Shiyan Beicun village in Zhejiang, China a few decades ago and did it, you’d have gotten more than a little wet. That’s because in 1992, local farmers drained five unassuming ponds and discovered a giant network of 24 cavernous chambers hidden beneath them!
Directly beneath the five ponds were five main caves, each dropping nearly 100 feet underground and averaging a whopping 11,000 square feet. That’s over two basketball courts a piece! And it turns out, there are 19 other cavernous chambers too, now known as the Longyou Caves.
Most astonishingly though, all of them appeared to be exquisitely manmade! They’re held up by pillars, the walls rise at a perfect 60-degree angle, and 23-inch wide bands have been chiseled into all of the surfaces. On top of this, the entrance holes all face south to southwest to draw the most sunlight.
Whoever built these caves must’ve been highly sophisticated architects, but we have absolutely no idea who they were. Well, almost no idea. Pieces of clay pot were found half submerged in soil that dated back to the Western Han dynasty, an almighty 2,000 years ago!
These caves are old! Aside from that though, there’s nothing else to go off! They don’t look like any other caves, quarries, or ceremonial caverns yet found in China, and could’ve served as anything from mausoleums to military encampments.
The Dogon Tribe And The Sirius Mystery
Despite living largely detached from modern society in the Bandiagara cliffs between Mali and Burkina Faso, the Dogon tribe's knowledge of the planets and stars is incredibly advanced. In fact, they may know more about the Sirius star system than we do!
Sirius A, the Dog star, is the brightest star in the night sky. It’s easily spotted with the naked eye. But, in 1862, astronomers discovered a much fainter star just behind Sirius A, which they imaginatively named Sirius B. So, when French scientist, Marcel Griaule, made first contact with the Dogon in 1933, he expected to stun them with his knowledge.
Instead, he discovered they already knew every little detail about Sirius B, or to them, “Po Tolo,” despite owning no telescopes and the star being invisible to the naked eye! Weirder still, the Dogon claim there’s a third, even fainter star they call “Emma Ya”.
Astronomers haven’t found any signs of this one, but with the Dogon’s track record, that doesn’t mean they won’t! So, how the heck did they get all this knowledge when they were so isolated from regular society? The Dogon insist they learned everything from an amphibian alien race called Nommos who come from a distant planet orbiting the Sirius system.
Most likely, sometime between Sirius B being discovered in 1862 and Griaule making contact in 1933, traditional Dogon beliefs and modern astronomy hashed together somehow. Perhaps Griaule wasn’t actually the first to make contact, but then, what happened to whoever was? Extra-terrestrial fish men from stars we can’t be sure exist is not convincing enough.
Mysterious Masks of the Ancient Shu Kingdom
The Longyou Caves are far from the weirdest historical find in China. In 1986, construction workers in Sichuan province stumbled across a ginormous underground cache of 13,000 eerie artifacts at an ancient site they named Sanxingdui.
The pits were full of gold, bronze, and pottery, unlike anything the country had seen before. Stranger still, many of the artifacts appeared to have been damaged and burnt before being purposefully buried. Who could these have belonged to? And why do they look so alien?
Historians reckon they’re evidence of a mysterious 3,000-year-old civilization that existed at the same time as known Chinese civilization, yet was separate from it. It was called the Kingdom of Shu, and Sanxingdui was one of its cities.
One of the most striking finds, a huge 400lb bronze mask, apparently represents Can Cong, a semi-mythical ruler with bulging eyes. It could be one of the earliest religious icons in China!
Shu fell when the Qin Dynasty united China around 300 BC, so they could be responsible for trashing and burying whatever evidence they could of Shu when they took over. But we can’t be sure. Unfortunately, the Shu people didn’t have a written language, so their history has been lost to the ages. For now, we’ll just have to imagine what Sanxingdui and ancient northern Chinese culture looked like.
Mysterious Engineering Of Nan Madol
Some 1,200 years ago, there was Nan Madol, an ancient city off Pohnpei, Micronesia. The residents needed building materials, only problem was, it was all on the other side of the island, 25 miles away. Yet these Polynesian powerhouses trekked all the way there and somehow brought an astonishing 750,000 tons of heavy basalt rock all the way back.
The heaviest cruise ship in the world, the Wonder of the Seas, is around 250,000 tons. So, imagine lugging three of them. That’s unbelievable! Pulling all that seems impossible, and basalt’s too heavy to float around the island. Local legends say great birds or giants moved them into place.
And moving it was only the first hurdle; the inhabitants then had to carve and shape all that rock into 100 tiny islands which they built on top of a coral reef off the mainland. Nan Madol was where the first organized government of Pohnpei resided, so it was turned into a grand capital city.
Even today you can see the remains of stone palaces, ritual sites, temples, and tombs that were built hundreds of years ago. Remarkably, it was all achieved without mortar or concrete! The sheer weight of the stones themselves secured them into position, some were up to 50 tons! It might not look like much now, but in its prime, you’d have needed some big stones of your own to go anywhere near this imposingly affluent dynasty!
Farming has only existed for about 10,000 years, making any civilization before it all the more impressive. Take Gobekli Tepe. This vast 11,000-year-old site in South-eastern Turkey has archaeologists stumped. Somehow, people who couldn’t grow a potato came together and built the world’s oldest known stone megaliths.
Masons created twenty circles of tall rock pillars, with each pillar weighing up to 50 tons. Many are almost sixteen feet high and engraved with animal carvings and human forms, providing a window into this weird prehistoric world.
However, the knowledge of math and geometry required to achieve all this is comparable to that of the Great Pyramids, and they came some 7,000 years later! Everything we thought we knew about prehistoric civilizations says Gobekli Tepe just shouldn’t exist. Yet here it is!
Some people reckon it was used for religious rituals, while others insist it was some form of ancient observatory. Without more solid information though it’s hard to be sure who’s right, since it was discovered back in 1994, only around 5% of the site has been excavated!
Japan's Mysterious "Keyhole" Kofun Tombs
The tombs in the image below are called Kofun, and there are a staggering 160,000 of them scattered around Japan. The largest of which, Daisenryo Kofun, in Sakai, is over 1,000ft wide and 1,600ft long! That’s twice as long as the Great Pyramid of Giza. What 500ft monster have they buried there?
Ironically, these keyhole-looking crypts are totally locked up! So, we’re not entirely sure who or what might be inside. It’s assumed Daisenryo was built for Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor of Japan. He supposedly died in 399 A.D. at the grand old age of 109! But until anyone goes in and checks, can we really be sure?
Sadly, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Many are classified as sacred religious grounds and trying to enter them is illegal. Plus, Daisenryo is completely isolated by three separate moats. There used to be a bridge, but it was destroyed by a typhoon back in 1872 and nobody’s been on the grounds since!
In 1936, an iron hammer was found encased in a piece of rock in London, Texas, and it sent some theorists wild. Despite modern humans only being around for 200,000 years, tests on the rock near where the artifact was found dated back to the Cretaceous period. That’s a mind-blowing 66 to 145 million years ago. So does that mean the hammer is that old too?
Self-proclaimed science whizz Carl Baugh, who bought the hammer in 1983, certainly thinks so. And he also believes it’s comprehensive proof of an ancient civilization of giants. I’ve wasted many hours and precious brain cells trying to decipher Carl’s crazy theories. Here it goes:
As a creationist, Carl believes the world as we know it was made by God about 6,000 years ago. Therefore, if something is older than that, it must come from an unrecognizable pre-god Earth. Tests Carl authorized on the hammer showed it contained Iron and chlorine, which he falsely claims can’t exist organically in our atmosphere.
Before God though, he argues the atmosphere would have allowed this compound to exist naturally, and also have turned anyone alive at the time - the creators of the hammer - into giants. However, there’s no proof the cretaceous rock near where the hammer was found is the same as the rock encasing the hammer itself.
Suspiciously, Carl won’t let anyone else run tests to check. Plus, minerals in ancient rocks can dissolve and re-harden around objects that aren’t ancient if put under the right pressure, it’s called concretion. So, even if it was the same rock, it still wouldn’t be proof of a 100-million-year-old hammer.
Baalbek Stones Megalith
The Roman Empire is one of ancient history’s best-documented civilizations. But that’s not to say we know everything. In Lebanon, on the outer edges of the old empire, six hefty puzzles known as the Baalbek stones still have us scratching our heads.
The Romans carved and shaped these colossal stones from a quarry by hand. The smallest is a stonking 800 tons, and the largest is a colossal 1,650 tons, about the weight of 250 elephants! For comparison, the largest stone in the Great Pyramids is a measly 80 tons.
As if carving all that isn’t impressive enough, the three smallest, which are anything but small, were somehow moved about a mile from the quarry to their current location! Absurdly, you’d need 40,000 people to move just one block, and that many people couldn’t conceivably fit around even the biggest of them.
So, it’s been theorized that some sort of pulley system was used. By chipping a gap beneath the slabs before they were cut away from the quarry, rollers could’ve been slid underneath them. Then, when they were completely removed from the rest of the stone, they’d already be sitting atop the rollers and ready to attach to a pulley system.
Like this, it could’ve taken as few as 144 workers to lug them to their destination, as part of the Temple of Jupiter. It’s just a theory though, we can’t know for sure how the incredible feat was pulled off. We do know however that the three biggest stones proved too heavy even for the Romans and are still lying in the quarry today.
The Giants Of Monte Prama
Local myths say giants once roamed the land of Sardinia island around 3000 years ago, and humanlike skeletons over 13ft tall were discovered on the island. The evidence is somewhat sketchy though and no one’s got a big bone to prove it. Even so, there have been some seriously strange goings-on that suggest there might be more to it than you first think.
Back in 1974, over 5,000 pieces of smashed-up stone artifacts were uncovered in an area of the island called Monte Prama. But suspiciously, when they were sent to a nearby museum, they weren’t put on display.
Instead, they were immediately stashed in an underground vault, where they stayed locked away for some 30 years. When they were finally removed in 2005, the pieces were reassembled and turned out to be statues of giant men. 38 of them, to be precise. At 8ft tall, they’re a touch shorter than the rumored skeletons, but still mightily impressive.
It’s believed they were carved by and represent the Nuraghe people, who lived on the island many thousands of years ago. As well as the giant statues, the Nuraghe also built over 8,000 enormous stone buildings.
Even though it's not possible to claim that the Nuraghe were giants, these people sure seemed to like things a little larger than most. We can only wonder what their civilization would’ve looked like in its prime. Could even bigger statues have stood guarding the island that have since been lost to time?
In case you are prone to more outlandish interpretations of these ancient mysteries, you might want to read our article about artifacts that prove past advanced civilizations existed. Thanks for reading!