Are you bemused by Bigfoot? Perplexed by Pyramid Power? Confused about crop circles?
Here's my top 10 unexplained mysteries of the world - explained.
WHERE? The first crop circle, recorded in 1966, was discovered by an Australian sugar cane farmer who claimed to see a flying saucer spaceship rise up from a swamp before flying away.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Early crop circles were primitive circular patterns of flattened crops, often created in mysterious circumstances overnight, and attributed to aliens. They began at a time when flying saucers were hugely popular in sci-fi literature and movies. Over the decades, crop circles have evolved to be increasingly complex. Today, they appear in the form geometric shapes like the DNA double helix, or fractals like the nautilus shell.
Is this an alien communication?
CROP CIRCLES EXPLAINED. The most compelling aspect of crop circles is their complexity and the speed at which they appear. But they lost this appeal overnight when, in 1991, two men from Southampton, England, admitted they had been creating hoax crop circles for 15 years.
The pair were able to make intricate patterns using planks, rope, hats and wire - and could create a 40-foot circle in 15 minutes. The only reason they came clean was because one of the men was running up considerable mileage on his car and had to convince his wife he wasn't having an affair. He still publicly demonstrates the art today.
TELL ME MORE? Another popularly held belief is that flying saucers leave nitrate deposits at crop circle locations. Sample testing has, indeed, found nitrate in the ground at multiple sites. But far from proving chemical evidence of alien visitation, this is the mark of farmers using nitrate-based fertilizers to grow their crops.
WHERE? The first reported sighting of a UFO came from Texas in 1878, when a local farmer reported seeing a large, dark, circular flying object flying "at wonderful speed".
WHAT'S THE STORY? In the 1950s, the number of reported UFO sightings went through the roof. The most common kind were flying saucers, described to have awesome maneuvering capabilities beyond any man-made aircraft.
How many UFOs are in this picture?
UFOs EXPLAINED. The acronym UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, so in the sense that these flying objects are unidentified by the viewer, UFOs are very real. However, countless UFO sightings can be later identified as dust on the camera lens, airplanes, helicopters, weather balloons, comets, meteors and even planets that can be seen with the naked eye.
TELL ME MORE? Today, there appears to be some pretty astounding video and photo evidence of alien spacecraft. Of course, there's also the movie Independence Day. Hoaxes are the best explanation for computer-generated images of UFOs.
What about alien abduction? See the extraordinary effects of sleep paralysis.
WHERE? For thousands of years, countless individuals from cultures around the world have reported what we now term as out of body experiences. Because it feels so real, it's interpreted as a literal separation of a mind or soul from the physical body.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Such an event appears to be strong evidence for a spirit world, afterlife, and even alternate dimensions in which other intelligent beings exist. Could the OBE really prove the existence of life after death?
Chances are you've had an out of body experience before...
OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES EXPLAINED. As a lucid dreamer I'm familiar with the out-of-body state. It all takes place inside the grand theater of your mind. Just practising a Wake Initiated Lucid Dream, or taking a dream enhancement supplement can induce an OBE, which exists on a spectrum of sleep-wake borderland experiences, near sleep paralysis.
Instead of projecting your awareness into a fanciful dreamworld (as in a WILD) you find yourself aware of the sleep paralysis which prevents you from acting our your dreams. You're in a replica of your bedroom, floating above your "body". This is spurred by diminishing bodily sensations as you fall asleep physically.
TELL ME MORE? So convinced that the experience is real, out of body explorers have long tried to prove its validity by trying to obtain data from faraway locations. Unfortunately nothing definitive has emerged under the necessary scientific conditions to lend credence to the true OBE state.
WHERE? The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt really are something special. We still don't really know how the Egyptians built the largest pyramid of all, known as the Great Pyramid of Cheops (or Khufu), some 5,000 years ago. Remember, this was even before the invention of the wheel.
The Pyramid of Cheops is the size of a 40-storey building and covers an area big enough to fit 10 football fields in it. More than 2 million stone blocks were used to make the pyramid, each weighing 2-5 tons and cut from a distant limestone quarry on the other side of the Nile. Experts reckon it took 400,000 men some 20 years to complete.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Engineering feats aside, these structures are claimed by some to possess the unexplained phenomenon of Pyramid Power. In the 1940s, a Czech radio engineer named Karel Drbal claimed that small pyramids of the same relative dimensions as the Great Pyramid (on a 1:1,000 scale) could sharpen razor blades. His explanation was that the pyramid shape focuses cosmic energy when precisely aligned on the north-south axis, which can renew the crystalline structure of steel.
Does the pyramid shape tap into supernatural cosmic powers?
PYRAMID POWER EXPLAINED. Despite the claims of Drbal and others, there is no scientific evidence that Pyramid Power exists. It is a cut and dry myth, presumably driven by the compelling nature of pyramids and their ancient, unexplained origins.
But as the Skeptic's Dictionary enthusiastically points out: "That almost anything in the universe can be found to have interesting mathematical proportions or be related to several interesting mathematical formulae is of little interest to pyramidiots."
TELL ME MORE? As the neurologist Terence Hines wrote: "Pyramid Power became quite a craze in the world of pseudoscience for a brief time in the mid-1970s. The idea was that the pyramidal shape itself was magical and filled with a mysterious energy and power."
"Pyramid Power claims have actually been tested. In 1973, Alter and Simmons showed that pyramid-shaped containers were no more effective than any other shape at preserving organic matter (flowers or meat) placed in them. Nor did putting dull razor blades in a pyramid-shaped holder restore them to sharpness."
WHERE? In 1971, in the small Spanish village of Belmez, Maria Pereira claimed a human face spontaneously appeared on her cement kitchen floor. It wasn't long before she destroyed the floor and replaced it - and a new face promptly appeared.
WHAT'S THE STORY? More and more faces continued to appear on the floor of Pereira's kitchen, attracting thousands of visitors every day. Some were male, some female, some large, and some small. In time, she discovered that the house, built around 1830, apparently stood above a graveyard used by the Romans, Spanish Muslims and then Medieval Christians.
Paranormal fans suggest that the faces were manifested on the floor by telekinesis. This notion was based on claim that the expressions on their faces used to change with the mood of Maria Pereira.
THE BELMEZ FACES EXPLAINED. For a long time, skeptics suspected that Maria Pereira painted the faces herself. But this didn't really add up - because she never benefited financially from all the attention. She lived a simple life in that same house and eventually died in 2004.
TELL ME MORE? It wasn't until recently that technology could explain this mystery. Scientific analysis of the molecular changes in the whitewash proved that some fakery was involved. Many now believe that the paintings were actually created by Maria's mischievous son, Diego Pereira, who dedicated years to spooking his long-suffering mother.
WHERE? According to some, the Mayan prophecy states that the entire world as we know it will end on December 21, 2012.
WHAT'S THE STORY? The prophecy is based on the idea that when the ancient Mayans plotted our position in the Milky Way, they created an astrological calendar. They predicted that at the Winter Solstice in 2012, the Earth would pass into a new astrological phase. New Agers interpreted this as news that something dramatic would happen - namely, a global Apocalypse, or end of times, Biblical style.
Are we dead yet?
THE MAYAN PROPHECY EXPLAINED. Mayan scholars report that there is no evidence to show that the Mayans ever made any kind of doomsday prophecy. Calendars keep track of the passage of time; they do not predict the future. The Mayan calendar had to end somewhere. Not only does it end, but it begins again in a new cycle, just as your calendar ends on December 31 and begins again on January 1.
TELL ME MORE? This is not a new phenomena: as landmark dates draw near, end-of-the-world theories creep out of the woodwork with astonishing popularity. People love this Armageddon stuff.
Unfortunately for fans of the Mayan Prophecy, there is no evidence to support the idea that the alignment of planets in relation to distant star constellations viewed from our Earthly perspective has anything to do with life on Earth. It's about as scientifically reliable as reading your horoscope.
WHERE? Stonehenge is a legendary neolithic monument made using stones transported to the Wiltshire countryside from Wales and built for unknown purpose.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Stonehenge is truly one of the great unexplained mysteries of the world. It's no hoax - estimated to be more than 5,000 years old - and is probably the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain.
How - and why - was Stonehenge created?
STONEHENGE EXPLAINED. For thousands of years, Stonehenge has stood silently, giving away few clues as to the meaning of its existence.
However, excavations have revealed that Stonehenge was built in four stages:
TELL ME MORE? Actually I can't. One of the great unexplained mysteries of ancient man, the meaning of Stonehenge is still not clear today. Was it a temple, a burial ground, an observatory, or an ancient calendar? We may never know.
He's big. He's hairy. And he's starred in his own TV show.
WHERE? Bigfoot is famous for spooking the bejesus out of hikers and hunters in North America. Meanwhile, people living in the Himalayan regions of Nepal and Tibet talk of a giant humanoid creature know as the Yeti.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Bigfoot has been described as an intelligent ape-like creature living in the wild, some 6 to 10 feet tall and weighing more than 500 pounds. Witnesses claim he has large eyes, a heavy brow ridge and a crested head like a male gorilla. His alleged footprints are 24 inches long.
Bigfoot: fact or fiction?
BIGFOOT EXPLAINED. Bigfoot - also known as Sasquatch, Yowie, and many dozens more names depending on your culture - is most likely the result of folklore, misidentification and a whole lot of hoaxes.
The most famous footage of Bigfoot at Bluff Creek, California, was revealed to be a hoax. Some 35 years after the footage was shot, Bob Heironimus explained to the Washington Post how he wore an ape costume for the filming.
TELL ME MORE? There's also a lack of physical evidence to support the existence of a Bigfoot population. The breeding population of such an animal would have to be so large that we would be able to monitor and observe Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) in the wild. Not to mention all the fecal matter, hair, footprints, corpses and skeletons that are absent from any scientific record.
WHERE? The Loch Ness Monster is claimed to be a prehistoric creature that inhabits the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. As lake monsters go, Scotland has tales of a fair few, with Nessie gaining the most popularity of all on the back of anecdotal evidence.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Nessie first hit the headlines in 1933 when a story was published in the Inverness Courier. The report quoted a Londoner who had visited a few weeks earlier as seeing: "a most extraordinary form of animal... the nearest approach to a dragon or prehistoric animal that I have ever seen in my life."
After that, more sightings were reported and this unexplained phenomena hit international headlines. That same year, one motorcyclist claimed to nearly hit Nessie late one night as it lumbered across the road and slid back into the loch. Soon, apparent photos of the Loch Ness Monster were published.
Years later, digital enhancement of the footage revealed what seemed to be the rear body, flippers, and two more humps of a plesiosaur-like body. The technician said: "Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I'm not so sure."
Those waves look mighty... small?
THE LOCH NESS MONSTER EXPLAINED. There's no doubt that the story of Nessie has drawn huge tourist interest to the famed Loch Ness. While some people believe the monster is a living plesiosaur, New Scientist points out that such a creature could not physically lift its head up out of the water like the photos and anecdotes suggest.
TELL ME MORE? The most compelling evidence of its non-existence is that the loch is a mere 10,000 years old - and was frozen solid for about 20,000 years before that. For a prehistoric monster claimed to be millions of years old, the numbers just don't add up.
WHERE? The Bermuda Triangle is held responsible for the disappearance of countless airplanes and boats in the ocean between Florida, San Juan, and Bermuda. This area is one of the most heavily sailed shipping lanes in the world, with vessels crossing through daily for ports in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean Islands.
WHAT'S THE STORY? Over the years, there have been a number of disappearances that happened in mysterious circumstances, which some people claim fall beyond the possibilities of human error, equipment failure or natural disasters. Paranormal fans talk of a suspension of the laws of physics.
The first unexplained event occurred in the 1950s when the story of Flight 19 came to light, detailing a group of five US Navy bombers on a training mission. The flight leader was reported to have said: "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white." It was also claimed that Navy officials said the planes "flew off to Mars".
THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE EXPLAINED. Is this part of the Earth haunted? Is it a portal to another dimension? Should we be freaked out?
Actually, no. If you take any other patch of ocean with comparable sea and air traffic, the Bermuda Triangle is responsible for no more disappearances than any other.
Phew. Now we can all go vacation in the Caribbean in peace.
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