The Rise and Fall of Civilizations – WIF Into History

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Unsolved Mysteries

of

Ancient Civilizations

Archaeology has uncovered many secrets from the ancient world. But the Earth has a bad habit of eroding the past, making it difficult to piece together the stories of our ancestors. In the past couple of centuries, we’ve discovered Roman artifacts in the Americas, found ancient Greek cities in what was once thought to be the backwater of Ancient Greece, puzzled over the success of the Incan economy, and have long searched for the core of history’s first true empire.

These mysteries prove that humanity needs to keep digging to uncover the truth, lest we repeat our past mistakes.

10. The Romans May Have Discovered the New World

But the recent discovery of certain artifacts around the Americas has been putting this idea into question. We’re talking about Roman artifacts discovered both on the continent and in her waters, such as a sunken Roman ship in Brazil’s Guanabara Bay, terracotta amorphae, and tall jars clearly made during the Roman Empire’s rule.

The jars themselves date back to the 1st or 3rd century BC. Wine, grains, and olive oil were stored inside these types of jars and transported all over the Roman Empire.

Just outside Mexico City, another terracotta artifact thought to belong to the ancient Roman Empire was found. The artifact is a carved head, and experts say it’s a depiction of a Roman during the Hellenistic period, dating all the way back to 200 AD.

Finally, the discovery of several caches of Roman coins have been found buried throughout North America, and date back to the 16th century. Though some doubt has been raised as to the legitimacy of the coins, many archaeologists have seriously begun to consider the possibility that Roman settlers discovered the Americas in the ancient past.

Though, who, how, and why is still a mystery.

9. Ancient Roman Cults

Cults in the ancient Roman Empire have baffled archaeologists and historians alike because the evidence of their writings and artifacts have been poorly preserved. A mystery religion is defined by historians and archaeologists as one that offers individuals a religious experience not practiced officially by the state. The Mithraic cult, which historians seem to agree existed sometime before Christianity began to take over Rome as the primary religion, had most of its writings and artifacts destroyed after Christianity took hold. Though most scholars agree that before this, the Roman government tolerated the Mithraic cult, as its views supported the government at the time.

For every Roman god, there was probably one or two cults devoted to them, most of them starting as a family or a divergent version of the official state religion taken on by a clan. These cults would persist until the state absorbed them. Most of them featured an initiation ritual (just like today’s cults) and were typically performed inside a large sanctuary.

Just how many of these cults existed in the ancient world, and what they believed, however, remains a mystery.

8. The Lost City of Paititi

The Lost City of Paititi and the quest to find it has claimed many explorer’s lives. The legend even inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” This lost city of gold has eluded every treasure hunter, archaeologist, and would-be explorer who have gone searching for it. Finding this city would inform much about the ancient Inca civilization which thrived between 1400 and 1533 AD, extending across western South America.

After the discovery of a letter to the pope in the Vatican archives from a missionary named Andres Lopez concerning the location of a large city rich with gold, silver, and jewels, the search for the city was renewed. Lopez’s letter claimed the city was located in the middle of the jungle and called Paititi by the local indigenous tribes. The pope and the Vatican kept the location secret for decades, but in 2016 a new expedition was set in motion. While that expedition turned up questionable artifacts in a site which is still being disputed today, the discovery of previously hidden cities throughout the Amazon (thanks to a combination of ground-penetrating radar and illegal logging and deforestation) has helped to keep the renewed fervor for the lost city alive.

7. The Economy of the Incas

Most historians agree that the Incan economy was one of the most successful in the ancient world, but perplexingly, they did not use money or gold, and only seemed to trade with outsiders. A lot of what we know of the Incas comes from the Spanish conquistadors who crushed their armies (after unleashing a plague of smallpox upon them, wiping out 90% of their population), so, much of how the Incas functioned as a society has been lost to time.

Still, the question remains how the Incas were able to create such a thriving economy without currency or even trade. Some historians believe that the secret to their great wealth came from the unique tax system they used, which required every Incan citizen to pay labor to the state. Strangely, wealthy Inca who passed away were able to continue owning property, and some historians jest that it’s almost as though they invented the idea of corporations-as-people without ever creating a market economy.

Because of the difficult terrain and harsh environment of the Amazon, much of the Incas way of life was dictated by a need to keep their people from starving, rather than developing markets and traditional forms of economics. At least, that’s what historians believe based on the little evidence that survives of the Incan civilization. Much of it still remains a mystery.

6. The Lost City of Tenea

The Lost City of Tenea was said to have been founded by prisoners of the legendary Trojan War, but it’s thought that the city was abandoned some time in the 4th century BC. Archaeologists have been on the hunt for signs of the legendary city since a sarcophagus was discovered in the Greek village of Chiliomodi in 1984.

More recently, though, archaeologists claim that the city has finally been discovered. An archaeological effort in the modern village of Chiliomodi began in 2013, leading to excavators of the site there to proclaim that proof of the legendary city was at last discovered after a series of rare coins, seven graves, and carefully constructed structures composed of clay, stone walls, and marble floors were unearthed.

Whether or not the Trojan War actually happened is up for debate, but the things learned in Tenea may provide a clue, especially if proof is found that shows that the city was indeed settled by those fleeing from their defeat in the Trojan War. Whether this was at the hands of legendary Odysseus or not, remains to be seen, and the city itself holds many mysteries which archaeologists are eager to uncover.

5. The Mystery of Teotihuacan

The ancient city of Teotihuacan stretches out for 20 square kilometers, contains nearly 2,000 single-story structures which appear to have been homes, and various impressive buildings like pyramids. The discovery of Teotihuacan may have been a major archaeological find, but its existence poses some problems for scholars, as it’s unknown who exactly built it. Originally, it was thought that the Toltec civilization must have built the city, but this was refuted when it was discovered that Teotihuacan peaked long after the Toltecs vanished.

Other theories range from the Totonacs having built the city, or immigrants fleeing the eruption of a volcano, but no conclusive theory has emerged. The city contains the hints of Mayan, Mixtec, and Zapotec cultures, further adding to the mystery.

Whoever built the city, scholars are certain Teotihuacan was originally founded in 400 BC, with the largest structures seeing their completion by 300 AD, and the city and culture reaching its peak nearly 100 years later with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.

4. The Mystery of the Origin of the Sumerian Language

The Sumerian language appeared as early as 4000 BC and dominated Sumerian civilization for nearly 1,000 years, before being mostly replaced by Akkadian. The language was pictographic (or cuneiform) meaning that individual images represented whole words, phrases, or sentences, (much like Egyptian hieroglyphs, or later logographic languages like Chinese and Japanese).

This language is quite mysterious because beyond Akkadian there are no known ancestral forms of communication connected to it. Although some linguists think that Sumerian could be related to the Uralic languages such as Finnish and Hungarian, this view isn’t shared throughout the academic community.

Scholars suggest that, if the Sumerian people did not originate from the area of Mesopotamia, then it’s possible that their language could have been influenced by an older, still undiscovered language, but this is just a hypothesis.

3. The Fall of the Akkadian Empire

The Sumerian empire eventually fell to Sargon the Great, who established one of history’s first empires. The Akkadian Empire was ruled from Sargon’s city of Akkad. The Akkadians would succeed in nearly stamping out the Sumerian language and Sargon would be succeeded by several other rulers after his death. But sometime after Shar-Kali-Sharri took rule of the Akkadian empire, things took a turn for the worse, and eventually, what was once the world’s first true empire would collapse in 2154 BC.

What caused it, though, is a bit of a mystery.

Historians present three theories for the fall of Akkadia.

The first is that the invasion of the Gutians (a people who dwelled in the mountains) proved to be too much for the disorganized Shar-Kali-Sharri, who was already having difficulty maintaining order in the wake of his father’s death. He also waged a seemingly indefinite war with the Elamites and the Amorites at the same time the mountain people were invading.

The second is that a combination of a poor harvest, a great famine, and a great drought may have contributed or caused the collapse outright. In 2019, a study of fossil coral records from Oman provided evidence that winter dust storms, along with a longer winter than usual may have sealed the Akkadian Empire’s fate.

The third possibility is that a meteor collision with the Earth set in motion drastic changes to the Earth’s weather, causing the climate to change around an already struggling empire.

2. The Lost Ruins of Vlochos

In 2015, archaeologists uncovered what appeared to have been the site of a Greek village called Vlochos. At the time, they wrote the discovery off as of no importance, thinking that the remains atop the hill were nothing more than the remains of a Greek village. That was until they discovered the remnants of towers, gates, and a city grid which hinted at there being a deeper story to the ruins. With new information, the site is now considered to have been the center of a Greek city, one which flourished sometime during the 4th century BC, and was abandoned in the 3rd century BC.

Why it was abandoned, though, remains a bit of a mystery. Archaeologists and scholars think that a likely candidate is the invasion of Roman forces. Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists hope to uncover more of the lost city’s secrets.

What is interesting about this site is that this area of Greece was previously thought to have been a backwater of the Ancient Greek world, so archaeologists and scholars haven’t really paid much attention to it.

Who knows what other mysteries lie in wait for them?

1. The City of Akkad

No one knows where the city of Akkad was located. We know a great deal about the man who supposedly built it, Sargon the Great, and the empire he ruled, but the capitol city itself has long eluded scholars and archaeologists.

It has been told that Sargon the Great built the city along the bank of the western Euphrates River, possibly between the cities of Kish and Sippar, though Mari and Babylon have been offered as other potential possibilities as well.

There are a number of excavation sites which scholars think could be candidates for the City of Akkad. Most of these places are situated east of the Tigris, which is part of the Euphrates, but there is much debate as to which of these might be the true site of the capital of the Akkadian Empire.

How the city fell and where it was located is almost as great a mystery as to how the Akkadian Empire fell.


The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

WIF Into History

Getting Sphinx-y W/You – WIF Like an Egyptian

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Mysteries of Egypt’s

Great Sphinx

of Giza

When the soldiers of Rome first encountered the Sphinx they gazed upon an ancient structure which was already older than the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire are today. Staring with mouths no doubt agape in wonder, they likely formulated questions which for over two millennia have remained largely unanswered. What was it? Who built it? Why? The great head which appeared before them (the body of the Sphinx was buried in the desert sands, unseen for hundreds of years before and after the Romans visited) may have retained the colors applied by its builders, adding to the mystery which stood before them. Or they may have already been scoured away by the sands of the desert and of time.

Since its rediscovery the Sphinx has added to its mysteries, with every proposed answer and theory leading to others, yet more secretive. It has left impressions upon its visitors throughout time. Napoleon gazed upon it in awe. Archaeologists, explorers, historians, and tourists have attempted to understand and explain its purpose, its meaning to those who built it and to those who followed. Yet it remains among the most mysterious artifacts of the ancient world. Why it was built, how it was built, what it represented, and what it continues to represent remain matters of speculation, mysteries unsolved, further enshrouded by the passage of time. Here are some of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the eternal lion of the Egyptian desert, silent guardian of the Pyramids.

10. Who built it?

The short answer, and one which has changed frequently over the centuries, is nobody knows. At least not to a certainty. Theories have abounded, with differing views presented based on science, religion, and even the study of extraterrestrials. It has been called a device representing astronomical configurations. It has been called a tribute to the dead. The bulk of the evidence regarding its origin is circumstantial, and its construction has been described to support other theories regarding ancient Egypt, each of questionable accuracy on their own. Some believe the statue to predate the nearby pyramids, others posit that it was added later. Today, the consensus is that the face of the statue represents the pharaoh Khafre, though some maintain that earlier known images of Khafre bear little likeness to the face on the statue.

Khafre is regarded as the builder of the second pyramid at Giza, and the theory that he built, or rather had built, the Sphinx is supported by those who believe that a statue in his likeness was included in the Sphinx Temple, part of the overall complex which was built as a funerary. Other Egyptologists of past years disputed Khafre’s contribution to the construction, claiming it to predate his reign by centuries. Accurately dating the construction is difficult, as there are no references to the statue, at least not by name, in any contemporaneous documentation yet discovered. A causeway near the statue, generally believed to have been built during Khafre’s reign, is believed by some to have been designed with the existing statue in mind, rather than as a part of the construction of the statue itself. Who built the Sphinx remains one of its riddles, to date unanswered, and to many unanswerable given the existing evidence.

9. What is the Sphinx?

Whoever built what is now known as the Sphinx aside, it is also unknown by what name the statue was called by its creator or creators. No inscriptions have yet been discovered which describe the statue, refer to it by name, or describe the purpose for which it was intended. The great statue was not referred to as the Sphinx until over 2,000 years after it was built, if the most widely accepted date of construction is used as a point of reference. The term itself is borrowed from the Greek, referring to a mythological being with the body of a lion, wings of eagles, and the head of a woman. Other Egyptian “sphinxes” which have been discovered bear the head of a man, the body of a lion, and lack wings. Even the name Sphinx comes from Greek, meaning (loosely) to squeeze. The term refers to the beast squeezing to death those unfortunates who failed to solve the riddle she presented.

Nearly all known inscriptions connected to the statue refer to it as the “Terrifying One.” It has been linked to the sun-god Ra, as well as the god appearing in the form of a jackal, Anubis. Anubis was the god of the Necropolis, the city of the dead. Over 1,000 years after the generally accepted date of its construction it was excavated and restored for the first time, or rather attempts at such restoration were made. The pharaoh Thutmose IV directed the excavation of the statue (which had been buried in the desert sand over the preceding 1,000 years, only its head showing above ground), though his attempt managed to expose only the front paws. To mark the event, Thutmose had a granite slab placed between the paws. Thutmose inscribed the slab, known as the Dream Stele, on which he linked the statue, already approximately 1,200 years old, with Ra.

8. How was the Sphinx built?

The Sphinx, contrary to common belief, is not a construction but a carving. It was hewn out of the rock of a quarry which also provided the limestone blocks for the construction of the nearby pyramids and the temples and causeways which surround them. The rock appeared in layers, with each layer presenting differing qualities regarding resistance to erosion and the ravages of time. How it was carved is, like all else about the statue, a subject of debate. It may have been hewn by hammer and chisel, shaped with saws, or blasted with water. Water, routed through leather hoses, pressurized by decreasing the diameter of the vessels transporting it, and used to wear away the rock might have been used. But if water was used, what was its source? There are those who believe, as much because they have to believe it to support their theory as for any other reason, that the valley, now arid desert, was once fertile and well-watered.

The theory is given some support through the belief, not fully accepted by the scientific community, much of the erosion which has damaged the statue is the result of rainwater, rather than desert sands driven by the winds. The theory that extensive rainfall damaged the statue furthers the argument that it predates the time of Khafre, during whose reign the region was arid, much as it is today. Nonetheless, by the time of the reign of Thutmose IV the Sphinx was buried up to the neck in the sands of the desert, as has been seen. Climatologists believe that the last period of heavy and persistent rainfall in the region occurred over 4000 years BCE, and the level of erosion, if the theory is accepted, indicates that the statue was built as early as 6000 BCE. The dates alone lead Egyptologists to consider the theory to be a fringe idea, lacking credence and scientific evidence, especially since it conflicts with theories of their own.

7. How was the Sphinx used in Ancient Egypt?

Over time, according to the experts, the significance and use of the Sphinx changed. In ancient Egypt, the lion was symbolic of the sun, and thus it is believed that the statue was used for solar worship more than 2,500 years before Christ. One thousand years later the statue was connected to the worship of the god Harmachis, another god of the sun. The Sphinx was at least one thousand years old when a temple to the god Harmachis was built nearby by the Pharaoh Amenhotep II. Yet the massive statue meant different things to different beholders. The Canaanites, a polytheistic people of many tribes often referred to in the Old Testament of the Hebrews and modern day Christians believed the Sphinx to refer to the god Horon, one of two gods who held sway as lords of the netherworld.

Despite the beliefs of the Canaanites, covered in detail in the Old Testament which describes the many conflicts between them and the monotheistic Israelites, the massive statue is not referred to or otherwise described in the biblical narratives. How it could be overlooked, when it was a focal point of so many of the ancient tribes and cultures, is one of its enduring mysteries (particularly given the large number of Israelites held as slaves by the Egyptians, according to the narrative in Exodus). The Book of Jeremiah does refer to what it calls “…signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,” but a more specific description is lacking. If Moses, or his brother Aaron, or any of the Israelites saw the Sphinx, they evidently did not find it worthy of comment in the books of the Old Testament.

6. Why was the Sphinx vandalized in ancient times?

A fairly well-known feature of the Sphinx is that the massive head is lacking a nose.Instead there is an irregular and roughly textured area of the face where the nose once was displayed. For many centuries it was assumed that the facial feature had fallen to the ravages of the desert and time. In other words, it simply fell off the face. The same fate was assumed to have befallen the beard which once adorned the chin of the statue. A myth developed in the nineteenth century that a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s troops during the Battle of the Pyramids destroyed the nose. In fact, subsequent archaeological research revealed that the nose was deliberately removed, using either lengthy rods or other instruments designed for the purpose, sometime prior to the tenth century of the common era. The unanswered question regarding the act? Why?

One theory is that Islamic peasants prayed to the Sphinx, offering it sacrifices, in the belief that the gods would intervene to ensure a better harvest, a sacrilege which Sufi Muslim leaders could not abide. The statue was thus desecrated to discourage the practice. Other sphinxes throughout the region were similarly defaced during the 13th and 14th century, for similar reasons. The desecration of the statue was also rumored to be the source of retribution, including the Crusade of Alexander in 1365. The status of the beard reputed to once have been a feature of the statue is disputed, with some scholars believing the beard was an original part of the carving. Others believe that it was a later addition, though all are in agreement that the beard is no longer a part of the face, with portions of the stone which formed it recovered from the sands between the beast’s paws.

5. Is the human portion of the statue a man or a woman?

The presence of a beard adorning the chin of the massive head of the statue would lead an observer to assume it depicts the head of a man. But beginning in the 1500s CE, and continuing well into the nineteenth century, visitors regularly described the statue as depicting a woman’s head and upper body melded with the body of a lion. The description of the statue as being that of a woman was reflected in both written form and in sketches and paintings by western artists. The Sphinx was described as having the breasts and neck of a woman, as well as a woman’s face. Traces of coloration which remain around the statue’s eyes and the lower face suggested that the statue at one time presented a garishly multi-colored visage, as that of a woman wearing heavy makeup.

George Sandys, an English poet, translator of the ancient classics, and extensive traveler who chronicled his journeys, described the Sphinx as a harlot. A noted contemporary, German writer Johannes Helferich, described the Sphinx as a “round-breasted woman.” Prior to the French Revolution, the overwhelming majority of images of the statue available in Europe depicted the Sphinx as decidedly feminine in appearance. Only after the French invasion of Egypt led by revolutionary general Napoleon Bonaparte were images of the Sphinx which were more interested in accuracy than romanticism widely available in Europe. Interestingly it was not until 1755 that European drawings of the statue presented the absent nose.

4. Who are the Anunnaki and did they build the Sphinx?

The Anunnaki were the temple gods of the Ancient Sumerians, a trading people who recorded their activities in cuneiforms, and gave to history among other things the twenty-four hour period known as one day, divided into periods of sixty minutes each. An agricultural society, they also left behind a method of preserving grain for consumption in liquid form, a beverage we know today as beer. According to a believer in ancient visitors from alien realms, Zecharia Sitchin, the Anunnaki built the Sphinx, as well as the pyramids, centered in Giza as a port for other visitors. Sitchin’s theories have been dismissed as both pseudoscience and pseudohistory, but his works have sold millions of copies around the world to followers of his beliefs.

Though it is easy to dismiss Sitchin’s work, it is not easy to deny the influence he has over those who believe in extraterrestrial visitations in the ancient world. The seeming impossibility of explaining much of the mystery which surrounds the Sphinx and the ancient peoples who saw it in the background every day, just as modern people see cell towers and giant aircraft soaring overhead, leads some to seek otherworldly explanations. Sitchin’s numerous books and interviews have inspired motion pictures, video games, religious fringe groups, and various clubs and groups who believe that there is no mystery at all to the Sphinx, it is simply evidence of alien visitation, created by the gods of the ancient Sumerians.

3. How has the Sphinx survived for so many thousands of years?

It is no secret that the part of the Sphinx which has had the most difficulty weathering the passage of time is the head and upper torso. There is a simple explanation for that seeming mystery. For most of its existence the majority of the statue has been buried beneath the sands of the desert which filled the quarry in which it was carved. Before it was submerged, evidence of erosion was present (remember the postulation that water was eroding the statue), and the carving was protected by covering the damaged areas with limestone and sandstone blocks, carved for the purpose, as a sort of laminate.

During an excavation in 2010, a wall was discovered surrounding much of the statue, built of mudbrick, which ran for more than 400 feet around the Sphinx. It was determined it was intended to act as a windbreak, erected around the same time that Thutmose installed the Dream Stele between the paws. Most of the statue was still buried in the sand at the time. Not until the 20th century, in a project which began in 1925 and took 11 years to complete, was the entire statue exposed to view, and thus also to the elements. The face on the other hand was exposed continuously throughout the millennia since its completion, as well as being the subject of vandalism, or at the very least religious censorship, since it was first completed at a time still unknown.

2. Is the Sphinx linked to the constellation known as Orion, the Hunter?

According to some theorists (Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, et al) the Great Pyramids of Giza are aligned in the same manner as the stars which create the “belt” of the constellation Orion, and when considered along with the Sphinx and the nearby Nile River present a model of the relationship of Orion and its position with the Milky Way. According to their calculations, the positions of the stars, if established in relationship to the pyramids and the Sphinx, are depicted as they were 10,500 years ago. That would mean that the Sphinx is part of a model displaying the astronomical positions at that time, and is thus 10,500 years old. To those subscribing to the theory, Giza is a map, presumably for the use of visitors from beyond the stars.

They are undaunted by the fact that no artifacts of any kind supporting such an early appearance of the Sphinx, the Pyramids, or any other man-made structure of the kind have ever been found in the region. They are equally undaunted by the fact that their method of establishing the date has been proven to be inaccurate. While it is possible that the belt of the constellation could have been used as a guide for the layout of the Pyramids (the Sphinx is also laid out in a manner which annually measures the sun’s attitude during the solstices), that in and of itself does not necessarily indicate a link to interstellar visitation. Alien influence in the construction of the Sphinx also does not take into account one important fact about the statue. After surviving thousands of years, through earthquakes, floods, world wars, the rise and fall of empires, and all of the vagaries of human existence, the statue is rapidly crumbling into dust.

1. Can the Sphinx survive the 21st century?

Modern man is destroying the Sphinx. The greatest single culprit is the air pollution emanating from the city of Cairo, as well as high winds and humidity, both of which are increasing and for both of which climate change is a contributing factor. Since 1950 – almost three-quarters of a century – organized efforts to save the statue have been underway. They are failing. Concrete used to reinforce the statue was found to be incompatible with the original stone, and did more damage than good. Chemical injections to help the stone resist the effects of modern pollution failed to do so. Additional limestone blocks were added to reinforce the stone, but they were unable to prevent further erosion of the original structure.

By the 1980s portions of the left shoulder were crumbling, falling to the ground in pieces, and attempts to reattach them, or replace them with modern substitutes, also failed. The structure is crumbling so badly, and its decay accelerating so quickly, that further exploration of the Sphinx has been for the most part set aside in order to concentrate on saving what is left before it is too late. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is responsible for protecting and hopefully saving the massive structure, the oldest extant relic of the ancient world, as well as the largest. With them lies the answer to the greatest of all the mysteries of the Sphinx; can a marvel created by ancient man survive the foibles and shortsightedness of their modern successor? As with all of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the answer remains unknown.


Getting Sphinx-y W/You –

WIF Like an Egyptian