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The Ice Mummies

17 Apr

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Within Incan culture, human sacrifices were sometimes carried out as offerings to the gods. Child sacrifices were often made in times of famine or before/after important events. The children were taken up to the tops of mountains and killed, or sometimes left to die of exposure (the mountain tops were freezing). This practice was known as ‘capacocha’, and early Spanish settlers mentioned it in their writings. In recent times, preserved remains of some of these children have actually been found by archaeologists. The remains of a child known as ‘Mummy Juanita’ is an example of one of these sacrificed children.

Mummy Juanita's frozen body

Mummy Juanita’s frozen body

Mummy Juanita was found wrapped in a tapestry by archaeologist Johan Reinhard and his climbing partner in 1995, on Mount Ampato; a dormant stratovolcano in southern Peru. She was around 11-15 years old at time of death, and is thought to have been killed between the years of 1450-1480. Her body was frozen, which led to mummification. Later, two other well-preserved ‘ice mummies’ were found in close proximity to where Mummy Juanita was found. All had been killed by a blow to the head.

Mt. Amparo

Mt. Ampato

Location of Mt. Amparo in Peru

Location of Mt. Ampato in Peru

Because Mummy Juanita’s body was mummified, her internal organs were so well-preserved that it was possible for scientists to figure out what her last meal had been, even though she died over 500 years ago. She had eaten a meal of vegetables. It was also found that she had suffered from a lung infection shortly before her death. Her skin, hair, clothing and nails were also well-preserved. The tapestry that she had been wrapped in also contained many other Incan offerings; bowls, pins and figurines.

mummyjuanita3

Mummy Juanita’s face

A similar case was found on Llullaillaco, a mountain on the border of Chile and Argentina. Three frozen bodies were found in 1999 by Reinhard and fellow archaeologist, Constanza Ceruti. One of these is known as ‘la doncella’ (the maiden), and her body is amazingly preserved. Here’s some pictures of her:

mummyjuanita

La doncella

mummyjuanita1

La doncella was around 15 when she died. She was taken to the top of the mountain and left to die of exposure after being drugged with coca leaves and a type of maize beer. The other two mummies found with her were a young boy and a young girl. The boy was tied up, and died from strangulation, and the young girl was hit by lightning after her death. From testing the hair of the mummies, scientists could determine the diet that the children had lived on, and it was found that the children were fed a rich diet to ‘fatten them up’ before being sacrificed.

While the circumstances of these deaths are sad, these finds have allowed scientists a rare glimpse into the past.

To learn more on this, watch this documentary:

The Suicide Forest

15 Apr

At the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, there is a forest called ‘Aokigahara’, which is also known as Jukai (the sea of trees). It is a popular tourist attraction due to the presence of icy caverns; however, it is also a popular destination for something much more disturbing. Aokigahara is one of the most popular suicide destinations in the entire world, second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The forest as seen from a distance. (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alpsdake)

The forest as seen from a distance. (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alpsdake)

On average, approximately 100 suicides occur every year in the forest. Many of the suicides happen right at the end of the financial year, and most are drug overdoses or hangings. Throughout the forest (and also at its entrances), there are signs written in Japanese and English urging suicidal people to get help and think of their families and other loved ones.

A sign urging visitors to think of their loves ones and seek help. (Source: http://studio360.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/your-life-is-a-precious-gift-from-your-parents/)

A sign urging visitors to think of their loves ones and seek help. (Source: http://studio360.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/your-life-is-a-precious-gift-from-your-parents/)

There is an annual body hunt to recover dead bodies, but it is not uncommon to wander through the forest and come across bones, old clothes, nooses hanging from trees, suicide notes nailed to trees, and sometimes even creepier things. There are dolls nailed upside-down to trees in certain parts of the forest, which is allegedly an expression of hatred for society in the form of a curse. To add to the weirdness of the forest, it is also eerily quiet. This is due to the lack of wildlife and the density of the trees, which blocks the wind.

A place in the forest where a noose was found, along with a bag and cut-up credit cards. (Source: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html)

A place in the forest where a noose was found, along with clothes, a bag, and cut-up credit cards. (Source: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html)

So, how did this awful suicide tradition begin? No one is entirely sure, but many think that a book called ‘Tower of Waves’ may have inspired people to think of Aokigahara as a place for suicides. However, its reputation as a suicide destination predates this novel, and Japanese people have associated the forest with death for a long time. The practice of ‘ubasute’ was allegedly carried out in the forest in the past; this was the practice of taking the elderly or sick into remote areas such as mountains or forests and leaving them to die of exposure or starvation. Thus, many believe that the forest is haunted by the spirits of the dead, and it also has an association with demons in Japanese folklore.

Would you visit this forest, or go camping in it? Any other thoughts? Let us know in a comment below.

To find out more about Aokigahara, watch this documentary:

Petra – The Rose-Red City

11 Apr

In the country of Jordan, one of the ancient world’s most beautiful cities is still visible today. The entire city, known as Petra, was carved into the side of a cliff-face, and it has been nicknamed the ‘rose-red city’. This is because most of the rock that it was carved into is a light red color. The city is also famous for its evidence of an ancient water management system.

Location of Petra in Jordan

Location of Petra in Jordan

Here’s some photos of Petra:

Al Khazneh - 'The Treasury'. Credit: Berthold Werner

Al Khazneh – ‘The Treasury’. Credit: Berthold Werner

Al Dier - 'The Monastery'. Credit: Dennis Jarvis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2217568198/)

Al Dier – ‘The Monastery’. Credit: Dennis Jarvis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2217568198/)

Credit: Berthold Werner

Credit: Berthold Werner

Close-up of the detail on Al Khazneh. Credit: Bernard Gagnon

Close-up of the detail on Al Khazneh. Credit: Bernard Gagnon

So, who built it?

Petra was built around 2000 years ago to serve as a capital city for the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans were an ancient Arabic people, and they established trade ties with many other groups at the time. Later, during Roman times, Petra was considered to be the capital of the Roman-Arabian world. During this period, the Petra Roman Road was constructed. This was the main entrance to the city, and featured enormous gates.

The Roman gates leading up to Petra. Credit: David Bjorgen

The Roman gates leading up to Petra. Credit: David Bjorgen

Unfortunately, during the period of Roman rule, Petra rapidly declined. In 363 AD, an earthquake destroyed a large proportion of the city, and it eventually fell into ruins. ‘Rediscovered’ by the Western world in 1812, it has been a popular Jordanian tourist destination ever since. It has also been classified as a World Heritage site, and it is quite vulnerable due to erosion/weathering and tourist damage. I hope that it can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

To learn more about this amazing site, visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/326

The Mystery of the Flannan Isles

10 Apr

In the Outer Hebrides (a group of islands near Scotland), there is a small island chain known as the Flannan Isles. There are two main islands in this chain; Eilean Mòr and Eilean Taighe, and from 1895-1899, construction on a lighthouse took place on Eilean Mòr. No permanent residents have lived on the Isles since the lighthouse became automated in 1971. Overall, the island chain would be quite unremarkable if it hadn’t been for the mysterious and still-unexplained event that occurred only one year after construction on the lighthouse was finished.

Location of the Flannan Isles

Location of the Flannan Isles

After it was built, the lighthouse was operated by three men; Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald Macarthur. Late in 1900, crew members of a passing ship noticed that something was amiss. The light was not on, which was especially strange given the poor weather conditions. They reported it to the authorities when they arrived at their destination, and a team was sent to the Flannan Isles to investigate. The team immediately realized that something was wrong when no one was there to greet them. All three of the lighthouse keepers had vanished.

The lighthouse on Eilean Mòr. Credit: Marc Calhoun (geograph.org.uk)

The lighthouse on Eilean Mòr. Credit: Marc Calhoun (geograph.org.uk)

The only other seemingly out-of-place thing was a chair that had been overturned in the lighthouse kitchen. Further investigation of the lighthouse and the island showed extensive storm damage to the west landing on the island, so at first, investigators thought that the men may have been washed away in the storm. However, they had kept logs of their activity right up until the morning that they disappeared (15th December), and the storm damage had apparently occurred sometime before this date.

The men were never seen again, and no bodies ever turned up.

Naturally, this strange occurrence led to wild speculation about what may have happened to the three men. Some alleged that one of the men had murdered the others, and then drowned himself out of guilt. It was also claimed that an enormous sea monster had taken them, while others blamed their disappearance on abduction by foreign spies. Some people also claimed that it was the work of malevolent ghosts, and modern theories mention alien abduction.

Some think that a giant sea monster took the men

Some think that a giant sea monster took the men

After an official investigation, the Northern Lighthouse Board came to the conclusion that the men must have been swept away by a freak wave while they were attempting to secure a box of equipment on the west landing, which was damaged in the previous storm (as recorded in their logs).

A more recent theory claims that a kind of geological formation known as ‘geos’ may have been to blame for the disappearance. A geo is an inlet or cleft in the face of a cliff, caused by wave erosion, and sea caves can form at their heads.

Eilean Mòr has many geos along its coastline, and the west landing of the island is actually situated in a geo. This geo terminates in a sea cave. In stormy weather, water could rush into the cave and explode out again. The theory holds that two of the men may have been securing the box on the west landing, while the other kept watch from the lighthouse. Noticing approaching waves, the watcher raced down to warn his colleagues of the impending danger, knocking a chair over in his haste to get out. Upon getting down to the west landing to warn them, he could have been washed out to sea by the water that exploded out of the sea cave, along with his two colleagues.

An example of a sea cave

An example of a sea cave

A very similar theory claims that one man may have been washed out to sea, and the other ran back to the lighthouse to get help. Upon attempting to rescue the man, both remaining men were washed out to sea by a second freak wave.

So, was the disappearance simply a combination of poor weather and bad luck, or did something far more sinister occur? We do know that when the men disappeared, the weather conditions were very poor, so I think that either one of the freak wave/geo theories would make sense. However, we will probably never know exactly what happened, so the mystery remains open to speculation.

The Island of Snakes

5 Apr

This is one island that I won’t be visiting anytime soon; Ilha de Queimada Grande, otherwise known as Snake Island, is probably one of the scariest places in the world. The uninhabited island is just off the coast of Brazil, and is home to a species of snake known as the Golden Lancehead Viper.

Location of the island just off the coast of Brazil

Location of the island just off the coast of Brazil

The Golden Lancehead, or Borthrops insularis, is not found anywhere else in the world, but this island is teeming with them. Some say that there is one snake per square meter, and others claim an even higher figure. The island is 430,000 square meters, so that’s at least 430,000 snakes.

They aren’t small snakes, either. The average length of one of these snakes is nearly 30  inches  (75 cm), with some reaching a maximum of 46  inches (116 cm). To make matters worse, they are one of the most venomous snake species on Earth. It’s really no wonder that the island isn’t used for anything.

The species might actually be at risk for extinction, which is sad for them (and snake-lovers). They are considered to be a critically endangered species, and they face other problems due to interbreeding. Interbreeding has caused a high rate of intersex baby snakes to be born, and these intersex snakes are almost always sterile.

As I said earlier, I would definitely never want to set foot on this island. Unfortunately for crazy thrill-seekers who do want to visit it, the Brazilian Navy has expressly forbidden anyone, except the occasional scientist, from going to the island. This really isn’t surprising, considering that wherever you set foot on this island, there is always a snake (or several) close by.

To read more, visit http://webspinners.com/coloherp/cb-news/archive/nature/Paradise.php or

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/snake-island-ilha-de-queimada-grande

Leptis Magna

5 Apr

All throughout Europe, there are many beautiful ancient Roman ruins, but there are equally-magnificent and lesser-known ruins on other continents too. A good example of this is Leptis Magna. Leptis Magna is the remnants of a once-great Roman port city, and is considered to be one of the most impressive and unspoiled Roman ruins in the world.

The city ruins are near the coast in the African country of Libya, around 80 miles from its capital, Tripoli.

Location of Leptis Magna in Libya

Location of Leptis Magna in Libya

Here’s some pictures of the city:

Leptis Magna's arch of Septimius Severus. Credit: David Gunn

Leptis Magna’s arch of Septimius Severus. Credit: David Gunn

The basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

The basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Close-up of part of the basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Close-up of part of the basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

The city was founded by the Phoenicians around 3000 years ago, and was originally called Lpqy. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, it became a thriving trade city. Then, from the year 193 onwards, it became one of Roman Africa’s most prominent cities. This was because the Roman Emperor at that time, Septimius Severus, was actually born in Leptis Magna, so he naturally favoured his home-city over others. Severus enlarged the city, and as a result Leptis Magna contains many Roman-inspired buildings; forums, a theatre, public baths, marketplaces and monuments, to name a few.

The theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

The theatre at Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Another view of the theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Another view of the theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

An entrance to the theatre. Credit: Sasha Coachman

An entrance to the theatre. Credit: Sasha Coachman

View of the marketplace in Leptis Magna. Credit: Sasha Coachman

View of the marketplace in Leptis Magna. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Public baths in Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Public baths in Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Eventually, the city was ransacked by the Vandals, and later by the Berbers. Byzantine Empire general Flavius Belisarius tried to re-establish it as a provincial Byzantine capital, but the city didn’t recover from the destruction that previous raiders had caused. By the year 650 AD, the city was mostly abandoned.

Libya isn’t the easiest country to visit due to its political instability, but Leptis Magna would certainly be a wonderful place to see. Archaeologists have still not finished excavating the ruins, so it will also be interesting to see what else ends up being discovered in the future.

Giant’s Causeway

4 Apr

The Giant’s Causeway is located on the north-east coast of Ireland in a place called County Antrim. It consists of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that formed due to a volcanic eruption.

Giant's Causeway - Source

Giant’s Causeway – Source

Rather than paraphrase Wikipedia’s explanation on the formation I figured I would copy it here as it provides a good, easy to understand overview:

“Some 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillar-like structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits”. In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called “ball and socket” joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools”

There was an old legend that described the formation as the result of an ancient giant ‘Benandonner’ tearing it up so that the great warrior ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill’ could not follow him. The story goes that the giant challenged Fionn and went to his house seeking him out. Not wanting to fight, Fionn and his wife came up with the idea to dress Fionn up as a baby. When Benandonner came to the house, Fionn’s wife told the giant he was out but he would be back shortly and he could wait if he wished. She showed the giant Fionn’s baby and after seeing how big he was the giant feared Fionn would be bigger. He ran away and tore up the causeway so Fionn could not follow him. There are a few slight variations on this story but this is the general outline.

These basalt structures are not unique to the Giant’s Causeway. There are many other locations with similar features around the world. There are two interesting features located at this spot, though. They are the Chimney Stack and the Giants Boot, shown below.

The Giants Boot

The Giants Boot

The Chimney Stack

The Chimney Stack

If anyone has visited the Giant’s Causeway or any similar structures, we would love to hear about it. Feel free to share some photos too.

Mount Mihara – The Most Depressing Volcano in the World

3 Apr

The geographical region that contains Japan and its surrounding areas is infamous for its occurrences of tectonic and volcanic activity, and Mount Mihara is an example of this.

Mount Mihara's peak from a distance. Source: http://wikitravel.org/shared/Image:IMG_4759.JPG

Mount Mihara’s peak from a distance. Source: http://wikitravel.org/shared/Image:IMG_4759.JPG

An active, 2500-foot tall ‘stratovolcano’, it is located on the island of Izu Ōshima, around 100 kilometers south of Tokyo. Stratovolcanoes are tall, conical, and most commonly formed at subduction zones. Mt. Mihara erupts quite frequently, with major eruptions occurring every 100-150 years. During the last major eruption, in 1986, the entire island’s population had to be evacuated by the military, and the plume created by the eruption was 16 kilometers high in the air.

Diagram of a subduction zone and stratovolcano

Diagram of a subduction zone and stratovolcano

So, what exactly is so depressing about Mt. Mihara? Well, the story starts in the 1920’s, when several people committed suicide at the volcano. From a certain point at the top of it, it was actually possible to jump straight into the lava. In 1933, a young student named Kiyoko Matsumoto also committed suicide by leaping into it, and this sparked a horrifying trend.

Within the year, almost 1000 people had committed suicide at Mt. Mihara, and when this trend continued for a few more years, Izu Ōshima became known as the ‘Suicide Island’. Eventually, Japanese authorities had to build a large wire fence around the jumping-off point, to prevent any more suicides.

Satellite image of Izu Ōshima. Mt. Mihara is visible as the darker area

Satellite image of Izu Ōshima. Mt. Mihara is visible as the darker area

Lava is so dense that if you jumped into it, you would not sink directly into it; instead, you would float. It is so hot that a person would essentially be cooked to death in their own steam, which is created from the body’s water vaporizing as it comes into contact with the lava flow.

That sounds like an incredibly awful way to die, and I have no idea why it became such a trend! Let’s hope that it doesn’t start up again.

The Eye of Africa

3 Apr

The ‘Eye of Africa’ (also known as the Eye of the Sahara) lies within the large east-African country of Mauritania, out in the Sahara Desert. Properly known as the Richat Structure, it is easy to see where its nickname comes from. Looking at it from above, it looks a lot like a big blue eye staring out of the ground. Here’s a picture of the Richat Structure:

Satellite image of the Richat Structure

Satellite image of the Richat Structure

Location of the structure in Mauritania

Location of the structure in Mauritania

Distant satellite image of Mauritania - the structure is still visble

Distant satellite image of Mauritania – the structure is justvisible, even from this far away

It is about 40 kilometers in diameter, and as you can see from the above picture, it is highly visible in satellite pictures.  So, how was this geological wonder formed? Researchers aren’t entirely sure. It was initially thought to have formed as the result of an asteroid impact, but scientists haven’t found any evidence for extraterrestrial involvement, other than its circular appearance.

richat4

Zoomed-in image of the Richat Structure from Google Maps

Geologists now believe that it is most likely to be a very symmetrical ‘geologic dome’. Wikipedia’s summary of a dome is this:

In structural geology, a dome is a deformational feature consisting of symmetrically-dipping anticlines; their general outline on a geologic map is circular or oval. The strata in a dome are upwarped in the center; if the top of a dome is eroded off, the result will be a series of concentric strata that grow progressively older from the outside-in, with the oldest rocks exposed at the center.’

No matter what led to the creation of it, the Richat Structure looks amazing, and I’m hoping that I will get to go and visit it one day.

Doggerland

31 Mar

It’s quite hard to imagine that only a few thousand years ago, there were lands on which people lived that have now completely disappeared into the ocean. But, this is exactly what happened to the area known as ‘Doggerland’.

Up until around 8500-8200 years ago, Doggerland was a large stretch of dry land that linked the European mainland to where the British Isles are today. Here’s a picture to show where it was, compared with what the area looks like today:

This is where Doggerland used to be in Europe. Credit: Max Naylor

This is where Doggerland used to be in Europe. Credit: Max Naylor

The same area today, minus Doggerland

The same area today, minus Doggerland

So, what happened to Doggerland, and how do we know about it?

Archaeologists first started to think that the area may have originally been above sea level in the early 1900’s, when fishing boats in the area would occasionally dredge up the remains of animals that had lived in Europe in prehistoric times, including mammoths and lions (yes, Europe used to have lions!). Plant remains were also brought up and studied by paleobiologists, who found them to be peat from when the land was above sea level and mostly tundra.

To add further interest, prehistoric tools and weapons used by ancient peoples were also found. Archaeologists now believe that Doggerland was occupied by humans during the Mesolithic period (this period started around 10,000 years ago), up until it started to disappear underwater. In fact, some think that it may have been one of the richest hunting and fishing environments available to European humans at the time.

Whilst surveying the area for petroleum, oil-company geologists produced seismic surveys of the land beneath the waves, and in 2012, the Royal Academy of London presented the results of the surveys along with all the artefacts that have been found so far. The seismic surveys allow researchers to see what the land looked like while it was still above sea level, and even Doggerland’s ancient river systems have been mapped in 3D. The largest of these rivers is known as the ‘Shotton River’.

In regards to the disappearance of Doggerland, researchers believe that at the end of the last glacial period, sea levels began to rise dramatically as the climate warmed up. Due to this, Doggerland was eventually submerged under the North Sea, and the British Isles were separated from the European mainland. This probably all happened around 8500 years ago.

Another recent theory claims that after already losing some land to rising sea levels, Doggerland may have become completely submerged as the result of a tsunami that hit the area 8200 years ago. This tsunami was caused by an event known as the ‘Storegga Slide’. It is named this because the event was a massive underwater landslide, occurring off the coast of Norway. The resulting tsunami would have been devastating to Mesolithic people who still lived on Dogger Bank, and after this event, British Mesolithic populations would have been totally separated from the rest.

The yellow numbers represent the height (in meters) of the tsunami waves from the Storegga Slide. Credit: Lamiot

The yellow numbers represent the height (in meters) of the tsunami waves from the Storegga Slide. Credit: Lamiot

One part of Doggerland actually remained for quite a while longer. An island known as ‘Dogger Bank’ emerged when the rest went underwater. Dogger Bank was an upland hill area of the original Doggerland, so the sea levels didn’t rise high enough to cover it. Eventually, however, Dogger Bank also disappeared into the ocean, and this probably happened around 7000 years ago. Here is a map that shows us where Dogger Bank is now:

The red line marks where Dogger Bank used to be. Credit: NASA

The red line marks where Dogger Bank used to be. Credit: NASA

It is fascinating to think that once-populated lands are now totally underwater. Geologists and archaeologists really have the most interesting jobs sometimes!

Derweze – The Door to Hell

31 Mar

In the Karakum (or ‘Black Sand’) Desert, which covers much of the central-Asian country of Turkmenistan, one of the strangest-looking natural gas deposits in the world sits outside of Derweze village. It is a large crater, with a diameter of 230 feet.

Location of Derweze in Turkmenistan

Location of Derweze in Turkmenistan

It is known to the locals as the ‘Door to Hell’, for reasons that become quite obvious when you look at it. The area also smells quite strongly of sulphur, which is quite a ‘hellish’ smell. Here’s some pictures of it:

Distant view of the crater. Credit: P. Lechian

Distant view of the crater. Credit: P. Lechian

Credit: Tormod Sandtorv

Credit: Tormod Sandtorv

If there actually was a doorway to hell, then this place really does resemble how most people would picture it. Why does it look like this, though?

Turkmenistan is known for its natural oil and gas reserves. In fact, it has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world. In 1971, some scientists investigated the field near Derweze to see if they could drill for oil. Upon realising that the field was actually a very large natural gas field, they decided to store the gas, and started drilling operations to get to it. Unfortunately, the ground that they were drilling collapsed and formed a large crater, which released methane gases into the air. Worried that the methane would affect the local population and nearby environment, the scientists decided to burn the gas off. This was considered to be a normal way of getting rid of dangerous gases, and they figured the burning would only last a few days.

It didn’t burn for a few days, though, in fact, it kept burning for 40-odd years. Even today, it is still burning! The hole really does look like some kind of doorway to a fiery underworld, especially at night-time.

The crater as seen at night. Credit: Flydime (http://www.flickr.com/photos/flydime/4671890969/)

The crater as seen at night. Credit: Flydime (http://www.flickr.com/photos/flydime/4671890969/)

So, now you know why it looks like this. I think it would be a great place to visit, but I might never be able to. This is because, as of 2010, Turkmenistan’s government is taking measures to have the hole closed so that it doesn’t influence other natural gas drilling efforts in the region. Either way, the ‘Door to Hell’ is still probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!

What was the Tunguska Event?

28 Mar

Early in the morning of June 17th, 1908, an enormous explosion rocked a remote Siberian area of Russia known as Krasnoyask Krai. The explosion was so massive that it leveled an entire forest of 80 million trees, and it is estimated that it was more than 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The epicenter of the explosion was in a swamp near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, so the event became known as the Tunguska Event.

Location of the explosion's epicenter in Russia

Location of the explosion’s epicenter in Russia

Luckily, despite the size of the event, it is thought that only one person was killed by the blast (although, not so lucky for the poor man who was killed). This was due to the sheer remoteness of the area that was hit. A lot of people did see it happen, though. Witnesses from areas much farther south claimed that they saw something extremely bright and pale blue moving across the sky, and a few minutes later there was a bright flash accompanied by a thunderous sound. A shockwave, which would have registered at 5.0 on the Richter scale, caused people to be knocked off their feet hundreds of kilometers away.

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik's expedition to the area

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik’s expedition to the area

So, what actually caused this massive explosion? There are several theories. Some have claimed that it may have been caused by the release of natural gases from the Earth’s crust, and others proposed that the explosion may have been a nuclear one; caused by deuterium in a comet undergoing nuclear fusion as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Another theory claimed that it was caused by a black hole passing through Earth. And, of course, a lot of people have brought up theories involving UFOs and aliens, especially since as the event is referenced in pop-culture quite a lot.

However, the most widely-accepted explanation is that a large meteoroid or comet caused it, exploding just above the Earth’s surface. This would explain the lack of an impact crater in the area. If this is true, then it was the largest impact event on or near the Earth in modern history. Chemical analysis of soils in the region showed that parts of it contained materials of extraterrestrial origin, further supporting this impact theory.

Meteor. Credit: Navicore

Meteor falling to Earth. Credit: Navicore

Despite the fact that the Tunguska Event is still technically unexplained, I would agree that the impact event theory seems to be the most likely. I think it would be even more interesting if there were a more mysterious explanation, though! It’s also very fortunate that it happened in such a remote area, because if it hit a populated area, then the aftermath would have been far worse.

The Devil’s Triangle

27 Mar

Almost everyone knows stories about the Bermuda Triangle; the sea between the three points of Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico which is apparently responsible for the demise of many ships and planes due to ‘mysterious circumstances’. However, hardly anyone has heard of the allegedly equally-dangerous Devil’s Triangle (otherwise known as the Devil’s Sea or the Dragon’s Triangle).

This particular ‘triangle’ has apparently claimed the lives of many people over the years, and stories hold that some supernatural force causes ships to disappear. There have been claims that other paranormal events occur in this region too, like time lapses and electronic malfunction. Some people also believe they have seen UFOs in the area. Also, the ‘Dragon’s Triangle’ name apparently originates from ancient tales of fire-breathing dragons being in the area.

Japanese dragon painting by Ogato Gekko. Credit: Adam Cuerden

Japanese dragon painting by Ogato Gekko. Credit: Adam Cuerden

So, where exactly is the Devil’s Triangle? The location differs depending on who you ask, but it is thought to be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, anywhere between 100 – 1300 km from Japan. That’s not exactly specific… however, most believe that the Devil’s Triangle is close to the Izu Islands, a chain of islands not too far south of Tokyo.

Map of the Izu Islands

Map of the Izu Islands

I wasn’t able to find any sources as to where the legend first definitively arose, aside from the ancient dragon legends, but a lot of it had to do with a book written by Charles Berlitz, called ‘The Dragon’s Triangle’. In this book, Berlitz claimed that Japan had officially declared the area a danger zone after they lost 700 people from military ships during 1952-1954. The ships apparently vanished into thin air, at which point Berlitz claims the Japanese government sent a research ship with 100 people to investigate. This research vessel promptly vanished too.

Now, this legend would be very spooky… if there were actually any truth to it. The oceans around Japan are known for their seismic and volcanic activity, so disappearances of ships/boats isn’t exactly an abnormal occurrence. The ‘fire-breathing dragons’ of the ancient legends could have just been volcanoes.

Credit: Oliver Spalt

Credit: Oliver Spalt

Also, it seems that Berlitz sensationalized the whole issue, along with simply making stuff up. The research ship, the Kaiyo Maru No. 5, actually only had 31 people aboard, and was found to have been destroyed by a volcanic eruption while it was investigating an underwater volcano. The military vessels that Berlitz referred to were actually just fishing vessels, and he conveniently ignored the fact that hundreds of fishing vessels are lost over the years in all different regions of the Pacific, not just the Izu Islands region.

I love reading about weird and creepy things, so it would be great if the stories surrounding the Devil’s Triangle were true. But, unfortunately, it seems like it is just another story that was made up to entertain people, or perhaps warn them about the real (seismic/volcanic) dangers of the area.

Wave Rock

26 Mar

There are many well-known natural formations all over the world; The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Mt Everest, to name a few. In Australia, there is a particularly spectacular formation that many of our readers may not be aware of, due to its fairly remote location. I am referring to what is known as ‘Wave Rock’; an enormous rock formation in south-eastern Western Australia, which is the largest state in Australia.

Located 3km (or about 2 miles) from the small town of Hyden, this natural geological formation attracts approximately 140,000 tourists a year. The rock itself is a large granite formation that has been dated to 2.63 billion years old, and was created through complex geological processes. As you can see from the picture below, it closely resembles an ocean wave, hence the name, and is nearly 50 feet (14m) high and 350 feet (110m)  across.

Wave Rock. It stands 14m high and close to 110m long.

Wave Rock. It stands 14m high and close to 110m long.

While there are no creepy mysteries relating to Wave Rock itself, the local indigenous people stayed clear of the area for fear of the spirit ‘Mulka’.

Here is the story of Mulka sourced from the Wave Rock website

Legend of Mulka’s Cave

“The name Mulka comes from an Aboriginal legend associated with the cave. Mulka was the illegal son of a woman who fell in love with a man with whom marriage was forbidden according to their law.

It was believed that as a result of breaking these rules she bore a son with crossed eyes. Even though he grew to be an outstandingly strong man of colossal height, his crossed eyes prevented him from aiming a spear accurately and becoming a successful hunter.

Out of frustration it is said Mulka turned to catching and eating human children, and he became the terror of the district. He lived in Mulka’s cave, where the imprints of his hands can still be seen, much larger and higher than that of an ordinary man.

Apparently, his mother became increasingly concerned about him. When she scolded him for his anti-social behaviour he turned on his own mother and killed her. This disgraced him even further and he fled his cave, heading south.

The Aboriginal people of the area, outraged by Mulka’s behaviour, then tracked down this man who had flouted all the rules. They caught him near Dumbleyung, 156km south west of Hyden, where they speared him to death. Because he did not deserve a proper ritual burial, they left his body to the ants: a grim warning to those who break the law.”

So, how did this formation come to be? As previously stated, the geological processes that led to the formation of Wave Rock are quite complex, but I will attempt to break it down to a simple, easier to understand explanation for our readers. Basically, Wave Rock is a part of a much larger rock known as Hyden Rock, and the shape was created by continuous erosion of the softer rock beneath the upper edge, in the process of weathering. This occurred over many millions of years. Eventually, this resulted in an ‘undercut’ base with a rounded overhanging shape, and ended up in the wave shape that we see today.

Having lived in Western Australia most of my life, I have visited wave rock numerous times. If you ever decide to visit Western Australia, I highly suggest making the effort to go and see the rock and some of the Australian countryside whilst you are there.

Dudley Town

24 Mar

In a forested area near Cornwall, a small town located in the picturesque Litchfield County, Connecticut, there is an abandoned old settlement known to locals as Dudley Town. Although it was never officially considered to be a town, several families lived there in the past. The area was first settled by a Thomas Griffis in the 1740’s, closely followed by several members of the Dudley family, whom the settlement was named for.  Locals claim that Dudley Town is now one of the most haunted abandoned towns in all of New England. Furthermore, it is actually illegal to visit the place, which adds to the mysteriousness of the case.

Location of Dudley Town in Connecticut

Location of Dudley Town in Connecticut

So, what’s with all the legends and secrecy surrounding Dudley Town? It all began when the town was completely abandoned by 1899, and the surrounding forest started to creep back in, leaving the settlement in ruins. Local legend has it that the inhabitants succumbed to some type of ‘madness’, while others died horrible, violent deaths. Also, according to hikers who have visited the place, the woods around the settlement are allegedly eerily silent, with birds and animals refusing to go anywhere near it. Hikers have also reported seeing strange orbs floating around the area.

The road to Dudley Town now

The road to Dudley Town now – By Jeff Belanger

While all of this makes for a good ghost story, historical researchers have found that most accounts of Dudley Town’s ‘haunting’ were simply made up for entertainment. Other less-imaginative hikers have claimed that the forest near the area is perfectly normal, and there are plenty of birds and other wildlife around. The land was most likely abandoned due to the land’s poor location and soil fertility compared with areas much further west. But, why is it illegal to visit the site?

Some of the Dudley Town ruins

Some of the Dudley Town ruins

Trespassers are heavily fined if they are discovered by the police that patrol the area. This makes it seem even more mysterious; why go to so much effort to guard an abandoned town? What are they hiding? The answer is actually simple enough. The land where the settlement ruins stand is now private property belonging to the Dark Entry Forest Association, who have planted many trees in an attempt to create a necessary ecosystem for wildlife, and do not want visitors encroaching on the land and disturbing this ecosystem.

As I said before, the idea that Dudley Town is haunted, with all its previous occupants cursed by some evil spirits, makes for a very good creepy story for people to tell others around a campfire. While there isn’t really any truth to it, I would certainly still like to be able to visit it myself… just to make sure.

Cenote Angelita’s Underwater River

24 Mar

An underwater river? How does that work? It seems impossible, but somewhere in Mexico, there is an underwater cave that has exactly that; an underwater river. The place I am describing is known as Cenote Angelita, and photographer/scuba diver Anatoly Beloshchin has managed to capture some amazing photographs of this river.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the logistics of a ‘cenote’. Cenotes, common to Mexico, are basically deep holes in the ground that result from the collapse of bedrock, and the groundwater is exposed from its normally subterranean hiding spot. These cenotes attract daring cave divers from all over the world, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Cenote Angelita is a special kind of cave, because of the especially beautiful scenery that awaits scuba divers. Here are some of Anatoly Beloshchin’s photographs of the cave:

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As you can see from the pictures, it appears that although the divers are already underwater, there is a river at the base of the cave. This river even seems to come complete with trees; branches and leaves are visible around it. So, how is this possible?

Well, the ‘river’ isn’t actually a river. It’s a large layer of hydrogen sulphide, and just has the appearance of a real river. Either way, it makes for some incredible scenery, and is definitely a spot worth looking at if you are a trained scuba diver. I am not a trained scuba diver myself, but images like this definitely make me want to go and learn how to do it!

Special thanks to reader Callum for sending us the idea for this article!

Pink and White Terraces (Otukapuarangi & Te Tarata)

23 Mar

The Pink and White Terraces were natural geological wonders of New Zealand up until their destruction in 1886, due to volcanic activity. The Pink Terraces were known to the Maori people as ‘Otukapuarangi’, which translates to “fountain of the clouded sky”, while the White Terraces were known as Te Tarata, or “the tattooed rock”. Situated on the edge of Lake Rotomahana in the North island of New Zealand, these wonders were created by geothermally heated water that contained high levels of silicic acid and sodium chloride.

Ernst Dieffenbachwas one of the first European explorers to visit New Zealand, arriving in June of 1841. He visited the Terraces on his travels and made note of them in his book “Travels in New Zealand”. His description of them sparked interest from the rest of the world. The Terraces became New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction, and were labeled the ‘Eighth Wonder Of The World‘. From here on until 1886, the Terraces were visited by many, including expeditions sent out to survey the area and surrounding volcanoes.

A drawing of the Pink Terraces.

A drawing of the Pink Terraces.

A drawing of the White Terraces

A drawing of the White Terraces

On the 9th of June, 1886, Mt Tarawera erupted, spilling hot muds and boulders all over the area. A 17km rift was created through the mountains, and a 100m-deep crater formed at the site of the Terraces. Over the years, this crater filled with water and now forms the new Lake Rotomahana, which is much larger than the old lake. The Terraces were thought to be completely destroyed.

In February of 2011, researchers from various earth-science institutions were mapping the floor of the lake when they discovered part of the Pink Terraces still intact. On the 125th anniversary of the eruption in June 2011, parts of the White Terraces were also discovered. It is now thought that the Terraces were not destroyed, but lay at the bottom of the lake covered in sediment. Unfortunately, the depth at which they lie is greater than 60m and is not easily accessible during a scuba dive.

Angikuni Lake

23 Mar

The remote Angikuni Lake lies in Canada’s northernmost territory, Nunavut, and has been the subject of urban legends and UFO conspiracy theories for quite some time. This is because for many years, it was thought to be the site of an unexplained disappearance. Not just one person disappeared, though; apparently, an entire Inuit village vanished.

Location Of Angikuni Lake in Canada

Location Of Angikuni Lake in Canada

The mystery began in the early 1930’s, when a fur trapper named Joe Labelle alleged that he often visited the village, but had gone back to find that everyone was gone. He claimed that it didn’t seem as if they had all just packed up and left, and that there was evidence at the site that purportedly showed how something awful must have occurred, causing the villagers to leave as fast as they could. This ‘evidence’ included his claim that there was still food left in pots over fires, and unfinished garments left with the needle and thread still attached. Several sled-dogs were apparently dead, and a grave was said to have been dug up. Furthermore, around the same time, another trapper named Arnald Laurent claimed that he and his son had observed a strange light crossing the sky, heading towards Angikuni Lake (they may well have seen something, but I think it was probably just a shooting star).

Shooting star. Credit: Navicore

However, unfortunately for all the conspiracy theorists, this is yet another mystery that has been more or less solved. Records from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed that at the time (1931), they considered the case to be… well, not actually a case at all. Investigations showed that there were some semi-permanent dwellings in the area that a group of Inuit peoples used seasonally, abandoning them for other areas at certain times of the year. There was no evidence that anyone had left abruptly, as claimed, but it is easy to see why the fur trapper may have been alarmed by the whole occurrence, as in his culture, people generally didn’t pack up and leave when the seasons changed. The other seemingly strange aspects of the story (eg. the dug-up grave) were probably the result of embellished re-tellings of the story over the years. Doubts have even been raised as to whether Joe Labelle had even been to the area.

So, sorry to all the mystery buffs out there, but it seems as if Angikuni Lake is yet another case that can be safely considered as an exaggerated story with a decent explanation.

For more information, check out Robert Columbo’s book ‘Mysterious Canada: strange sights, extraordinary events, and peculiar places’.  

The Last Stone Age People?

22 Mar

In the Bay of Bengal, which stretches from the east coast of India to the west coasts of Burma and Thailand, a tiny island is home to some of the last uncontacted peoples in the world. This island is known as North Sentinel Island, but we have no idea what its inhabitants, the Sentinelese, refer to it as. Why? Because hardly anyone has been able to get close enough to speak to them. No one even knows the exact number of people currently living on the island. Researchers must rely on photos taken from aircrafts flying above and historical anecdotes for any information on the people living there.

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Early British explorer Maurice Portman landed on the island in the 18th century, and captured a few Sentinelese people, but they were eventually returned to the island after a couple of them sickened and died.  Throughout the 1990’s, several Indian expeditions attempted to make contact with the Sentinelese, and a peaceful meeting was made by anthropologist T.N Pandit in 1991. This visit was recounted by an eyewitness, who said:

 ‘Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics… A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude… They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened — a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship.’

However, Indian visits ceased in 1997, and the Sentinelese have remained uncontactable ever since. They choose to reject any interactions with the outside world, and attack anyone who gets too close. Helicopters flying overhead have been met with hails of arrows, and in 2006, some unlucky fishermen were killed by the Sentinelese after their fishing boat drifted too close to their waters.

Sentinelese men aiming arrows at helicopter

Sentinelese men aiming arrows at helicopter

So, what do we know about them? Photographic evidence shows no sign of agriculture or use of fire, so it appears that the Sentinelese exist entirely as hunter-gatherers. The aforementioned Indian expeditions found that there were probably between 2-6 groups living on the island, with each group consisting of 20-40 people. It was hard for the expeditions to tell exactly how many groups were there, as many hid from them. Physically, they are quite small and closely resemble other indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, which are very close by. They have been known to salvage metal parts from ships that run aground on nearby reefs, and incorporate this metal into certain items, including weaponry.

Sentinelese people on the shores of their island home

Sentinelese people on the shores of their island home

Although North Sentinel Island is technically considered to be part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Sentinelese have autonomy from the government, whose only involvement seems to be attempting to take census figures, monitoring the island, and discouraging people from going there. It is incredible to think that in these modern globalized times, ‘stone age’ tribal groups can still exist with almost no contact with the outside world, but the Sentinelese have proven that this is possible. They have made it clear that they wish to be left alone, and the rest of the world has obliged.

For more information on this topic, see http://www.andaman.org/BOOK/reprints/goodheart/rep-goodheart.htm

What really happened at Dyatlov Pass?

22 Mar

In terms of unexplained incidents throughout history, the ‘Dyatlov Pass Incident’ is probably one of the scariest. To this day, no one is entirely sure exactly what happened that fateful night, but there are a few theories. So, for those who haven’t heard of it, what exactly was the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

In February 1959, ten Russian ski hikers, most of them university students, decided to trek across the northern Ural Mountains together. They were led by Igor Dyatlov (the mountain pass in question is now named after him). One of the hikers had to return home due to illness, and it was lucky that he did, because he would be the only group member to make it home alive. The group was expected to make contact with their sports club once they had returned to Vizhai, a far-north Russian town. When nothing was heard from them for an extended period of time, friends and relatives began to worry, and a rescue operation consisting of students and teachers was dispatched. Not long after that, the police and military became involved. On February 26th, the hiker’s tent was discovered on the eastern shoulder of a mountain, now ominously known as Kholat Syakhl (Mountain of the Dead).

The hiker's tent as it appeared on the day it was found - 26th February, 1959

The hiker’s tent as it appeared on the day it was found – 26th February, 1959

The tent appeared to have been cut open from the inside, and all the hiker’s belongings were still in it, including their shoes. This probably meant that something had caused them to flee in the middle of the night, without even stopping to put their footwear on despite the intense cold. Footprints, made by sets of both barefoot and sock-clad feet were found, and these footprints headed down the mountain to the other side of the pass, where there was a forested area. Unfortunately, after a short distance the footprint trail was covered in too much snow to be of any more use.

On the edge of the forest, the rescue operation found evidence of a campfire, along with the bodies of two of the hikers. They were barefoot and clad in only their underwear. Not far from these bodies, three more bodies were found, and all looked as if they had been heading back towards the camp. The other four hiker’s bodies were not found for several more weeks, as they were buried under a few metres of snow in a nearby ravine. They were dressed in more clothes than the others, and it looked like they had taken clothes from the previous five after they had died, in an attempt to keep themselves warm.

Medical inquests found that six of the hikers had died of hypothermia, and the other three had sustained fatal injuries; one had a crushed skull and the other two had chest fractures. The chest fractures were said to have been caused by some kind of massive pressure, akin to the force generated by a car accident. Strangely, one of them was also missing a tongue. Whilst it was initially suspected that they may have been killed by local indigenous Mansi people, there was no evidence of any other people having been in the area at the time. Along with this, the medical report claimed that humans couldn’t possibly cause the kind of damage seen on the victims, stating instead that the hikers had died from a ‘compelling natural force’.

There were other more controversial claims about the case:

1.)    Apparently, forensic tests also showed high levels of radioactive contamination on the hiker’s clothing.

2.)    An attendee at the hiker’s funerals stated that their skin seemed to have a ‘deep tan’

3.)    Some people who had also been hiking in the area came forward to claim that on the night that the incident occurred, they saw orange glowing spheres in the sky (later found to be missile launches)

4.)    Others claimed that there was a big military accident cover-up going on, as evidenced by the large amount of scrap metal in the area.

5.)    The reports on the incident were allegedly hidden by the government and revealed only in the 1990’s, with parts still hidden.

These more controversial claims have generally been dismissed; however, the actual cause of the incident is still unknown. Many people have posited the theory that an avalanche was responsible. This makes a lot of sense; the hikers may have been awoken by the sound of an approaching avalanche, cut the tent open and ran as fast as they could, not even bothering to take shoes or clothes with them in their hurry to escape. Being hit by an avalanche could also explain the massive force exerted on the three hikers who sustained fatal physical injuries, and even the missing tongue. However, an avalanche would probably have covered the footprints leading away from the tent, but they were still highly visible. There was also no avalanche damage seen in the area.

avalanche

Avalanche – Courtesy of Scientif38

Thus, no one is entirely sure what happened to these poor hikers. I think that what may have occurred is this: they were all asleep, and awoken by the sound of the missile launches or perhaps a plane passing overhead. Sleepily mistaking the sound for the booming of an impending avalanche, they cut the tent open and raced away as quickly as they could. Once they realized that there was no avalanche, they started to make their way back to their camp, but by this stage six had perished from hypothermia due to the exposure to the freezing elements. This explains why three of the bodies were found in various stages of making their way back to the tent. The other four took their clothes to keep warm, and ended up falling into the ravine that they were later found in. The heavy fall could explain the bodily trauma. As for the missing tongue, it’s possible that an animal could have scavenged it, especially seeing as the bodies were lying in the open for quite some time before being discovered.

Of course, this is just my speculation. For all I know, some other terrifying ‘compelling force’ may have scared the hikers into running away in the middle of the night, and this ‘force’ may have been responsible for the massive trauma found on three of the bodies.

So, did something sinister cause this incident, or is there a logical explanation? Anyone with their own ideas or theories is welcome to comment below. For more information and some (quite gruesome) photos associated with the incident, check out http://www.ermaktravel.com/Europe/Russia/Cholat-%20Syachil/Kholat%20Syakhl.htm

The Mystery of Bouvet Island

22 Mar
Picture showing the west coast of Bouvet Island.Credit to François Guerraz

Picture showing the west coast of Bouvet Island.
Credit to François Guerraz

The freezing subantarctic Bouvet Island is literally in the middle of nowhere; located in the South Atlantic Ocean, it is known for being the most remote island in the entire world. A Norwegian dependency, it is a very small, uninhabited island, and is now classified as a nature reserve after a weather station operated on it for a few months during 1978 and 1979. Aside from its unfathomable isolation, there doesn’t seem to be anything all that special about this island at first glance.

In 1964, British Lieutenant Commander Allan Crawford and a team were sent to Bouvet Island by helicopter, to research a new piece of land that had popped up on the island due to volcanic activity. Here’s where it gets a bit weird. When they arrived, they found something very unusual. On this new patch of land, which had only been there for around ten years, the team came across an abandoned lifeboat, floating in a lagoon. The oars were on the shore, along with a copper tank.  There were no signs of any people or bodies, and the boat was unmarked and thus unidentifiable as belonging to anyone in particular. Unfortunately, the team did not have much time to look around, but before they left they snapped this photo:

Picture taken of the abandoned lifeboat

So, where did the boat come from? It’s possible that it came from a ship in distress, but that theory has been seen as doubtful because of the sheer remoteness, minuscule size and lack of visibility of the island due to the harsh weather. Even if it was a shipwreck victim, where did they go? As mentioned previously, there were no signs that anyone had tried to camp near the lifeboat, or attempted to use it as a shelter. It’s also possible that it just happened to wash up near the island, coming to rest in the lagoon after floating in from a shipwreck hundreds of miles away, but this doesn’t explain the oars and other equipment on the shore.

From here, the mystery deepens. Another expedition to the island a couple of years later found no traces of the boat, the oars or the copper tank. Did the owner of the boat come back to fetch it? This seems unlikely, again due to the general remoteness of the island, coupled with the fact that retrieving a lifeboat would mean lifting it out with a helicopter or dragging it back out to sea and placing it on a ship; both just seem like way too much effort to go to for something as insignificant as a lifeboat.The whole thing is very mysterious, and quite creepy to think about. I have two theories:

  1. The lifeboat did belong to a shipwreck victim who had simply happened to come across the island by pure chance. Landing on the shore, he left the boat (which was obviously too heavy to carry around) and went to look for some kind of food and water sources. The severe climate may have been too much for him to handle, and he could have collapsed and died elsewhere on the island whilst doing this. As stated above, the team that found the boat didn’t have time to search much further than the shore where the boat was, so this seems like a logical explanation. There are still several questions remaining, though. Were there any shipwrecks in the general vicinity of the island at the time? If so, why didn’t anyone come forward to claim the boat and say it was from their ship? Where did the boat disappear to? Maybe the boat somehow floated back out to sea, or simply sank into the lagoon. Unfortunately, there is no real way of knowing.
  2. A larger ship was in the area on an expedition, and sent a team with a couple of smaller boats to land on the shore. When they landed, they noticed that one of the boats was slightly damaged, and the team all headed back on the good boat, got back on the ship and left, after exploring the island. This would explain why there were no signs of any camping activity or human remains. As the team who found the boat in 1964 spent very little time on the island, perhaps they didn’t notice the boat was slightly damaged. This still doesn’t explain where the boat disappeared to, though, and again, if this theory is correct, why didn’t anyone come forward to say that it was their boat?

Either way, the mystery of the boat on Bouvet Island remains unsolved. I doubt anyone will ever know the exact reason behind it, but anyone with other theories is welcome to list them in the comments below.

For more in-depth information on this topic, please see http://allkindsofhistory.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/an-abandoned-lifeboat-at-worlds-end/.

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