The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World: Unlocking the Secrets of Past Civilizations

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Some of the ancient world's most enigmatic and fascinating mysteries are introduced here in an entertaining mixture of informative text by specialists and colour photographs, maps and diagrams. The 70 mysteries are divided into six sections: Myths and legends; Mysteries of the Stone Age; Ancient civilizations; Tombs and lost treasures; Ancient and undeciphered scripts; The fall of civilizations. They include the quest for the Ark of the Covenant, the Turin Shroud, the origin of humans and language, the Mother Goddess cult, the Iceman, the nationality of ancient Egyptians and the Olmecs, Rome's lost legions, Easter Island, Christ's tomb, the origins of the alphabet, runes, the fall of the Minoans and asteroid impacts. The sheer quantity of mysteries discussed means that some questions are inevitably left unanswered but the volume succeeds in its aim to inform the general reader whilst encouraging further research.
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Editorial Reviews

Grouped by their relation to mythology, the stone age, ancient civilizations, tombs and treasures, ancient scripts, and the fall of civilizations, seventy chapters discuss mysteries dealing with ancient figures, legendary places, human evolution, language, cave art, megaliths, human sacrifice, migration, alphabets, runes, and the decline of empires. Four hundred thirty-one color photographs, maps, and other illustrations are prominently featured. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780500510506
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 8.18 (w) x 10.54 (h) x 1.47 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

'ALL RIGHT, I will take you to the world of legend. You know that time, that place well, where animals talked and walked as men, untamed, unchanged, real people still....' The Northwest Indian story of the creation is one of countless such myths, a way of explaining the world order, the beginnings of existence. The ancient Egyptians told of the god Atum, who emerged from the watery chaos and raised a primordial earthen mound over the waters. Genesis, Chapter 1, recounts how God created the world and humanity in six days. We humans have a unique capacity for spiritual and symbolic thought, for defining the boundaries of existence, the relationship between the individual, the group and the cosmos in song and recitation. We are also intensely curious about the past, which is why so many of us have a preoccupation with the historical veracity of myths and legends.

    world — the Scriptures, Homer's Iliad, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Norse Sagas, to mention only a few — began as oral epics, which were later set down in writing and have been cherished, studied and analysed exhaustively to this day. They contain some of our best-loved stories of adventure and bravery — Jason seeking the Golden Fleece or Theseus battling the monstrous Minotaur in the Labyrinth. Inevitably, inquisitive science asks the question of questions: are the legends true? Did Moses actually flee Egypt at a time of plague and pestilence? Were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire and brimstone? Is the Trojan War historical fact and was King Arthur a living person who quested for a Holy Grail? Definitive answers often seem to elude us, for legends are not readily susceptible to definitive proof, as demanded by sceptical science.

    of Eden involves researches into Sumerian literature as well as archaeology. Sir Leonard Woolley believed (wrongly) that he had found evidence for the biblical Flood in a deep trench at Ur in southern Iraq. Today, there are claims that the sudden flooding of the Euxine Lake and the creation of the Black Sea caused folk memories of the Flood. Atlantis has generated an enormous speculative and scholarly literature. One of the most durable theories is that the Greek philosopher Plato recorded dim memories of the highly advanced Bronze Age civilization on Crete. Navigating through such controversies is to journey through shark-infested academic waters under constant attack from those who do not question the historical existence of, say, the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel or the Star of Bethlehem. Epic tales and spectacular disasters may offer adventurous scenarios and simplistic explanations for the past, but often science proves that historical reality was much more complicated.

    by which they explained their origins or vindicated the rule of divine kings and imperial rulers. Ancient Maya mythology was an elaborate fabrication, which placed powerful lords at the heart of a mythic world. Their priests maintained the celebrated Long Count calendar, which some people believe predicts the end of the world in AD 2012. But can one apply ancient Maya teachings to the 21st-century world? The Aztecs of the Mexican highlands created for themselves a glorious imperial past in the early 15th century AD, designed to justify their military campaigns and conquests. Their manufactured history placed their ancestral homeland to the northwest of the Basin of Mexico, at a lake called Aztlán. Can we now locate Aztlán and the original homeland of the Aztecs? The scientific jury is still out.

    spiritual worlds as a continuum, where men and women of unusual spiritual power had the ability to cross into the supernatural realm, to communicate with the ancestors and the forces of the spiritual world. In such cultures, the question of whether creation legends or epic tales are true or susceptible to scientific proof never arises. They are part of the fabric of human existence. The Australian Dreamtime is such a symbolic world, which surrounds every band member and pervades all life.

    and controversial of all relics of Christ, a cloth with the back and front images of a man, said to be Jesus himself. Radiocarbon dates place the Shroud in the 13th or 14th centuries, but there are serious anomalies and questions surrounding both the dating and the way in which the image was produced, or appeared on the fabric. The questions over the Shroud are a classic example of some of the limitations of science in unravelling mysteries of the past.

    the verification of long-established myths and legends. To search for answers is harmless enough, provided one remembers that, to many people, they constitute either historical truth or the core of human history and existence as a matter of legitimate and deeply held faith. And science is powerless in the face of fervent belief.

The Garden of Eden

Time: mythical

Location: possibly southern Iraq

Eden is a unique place on earth, but no creature is permitted to know its exact location. In the time to come ... God will reveal the path to Eden.

No one has ever known where the biblical Garden of Eden lies, with a great, life-giving river flowing through it. The book of Genesis tells us 'God planted a garden eastward in Eden' (Genesis 2: 8), which is taken to indicate an area of southern Iraq anciently called the Land of Sumer and Akkad. Over the centuries many people have looked for this fabled garden, but it has never been found. Similar legends are known from Sumer also, although they lack the sense of sin and punishment present in the Hebrew account. Later theologians, from St Paul on, thought of the Garden of Eden as a place of heavenly reward rather than an earthly paradise (2 Corinthians 12:3).

Gardens in Egypt and the Near East

The idea of a garden is deeply rooted in the Semitic psyche — probably as an antithesis to the parched landscapes that lie all around the cultivated areas where people live. It is hard labour to bring food out of the unwilling earth of much of the Near East. This huge region has always been an area of immense contrasts: well-watered, highly fertile oases, carefully nurtured by their inhabitants, exist in the middle of arid deserts. The immensely rich river valleys such as the Tigris and Euphrates, flowing through Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and the Nile in Egypt, contrast starkly with the dust of the dry plains and sandy desert beyond. Without fresh water nothing can survive — plant, animal or human. And along the sea coasts the land cannot be tilled unless there are springs or clear running streams for the crops. Where rain does fall it is never completely predictable; even irrigation agriculture is at the mercy of the water supply. In the Nile Valley Pharaoh's dream of seven years of abundance then famine for seven more (Genesis 41: 1-4), reflects a very real situation in Egypt that persisted until the mid-20th century when the Aswan dam was built.

    Near East for millennia. The very name 'Eden' is linked either to an Akkadian word edinu meaning 'a plain' or, more probably, to a Hebrew root meaning 'delight' or 'pleasure'; from earliest times it was linked to the idea of Paradise. Our word 'paradise' originates in the Old Persian apiri-daeza — a park — which became pardes in Hebrew and then paradeiseos in Greek. In Greek translations of the Bible the word was first used of the Garden of Eden and then for all gardens and pleasure parks, such as the great complex of palaces set in well-watered gardens with swimming pools and water features that King Herod created at Jericho in the 1st century BC.

    their homes with irrigated gardens that produced fruit and vegetables; fish for the table came from pools, beside which people relaxed in the heat of the day. Such a garden is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the area between the double walls that guarded Jerusalem (2 Kings 25: 4). This may well be the same as the garden of King Uzziah noted in 2 Kings 21:18. Elsewhere in the ancient Near East royalty created paradise gardens, such as those of the palaces of Assyria and Babylon. Some kings also created vast parks for wildlife, not so much for conservation as for hunting all kinds of imported and specially bred game — the most famous being the lions hunted by Assurbanipal (668-627 BC) depicted on the reliefs from his palace at Nineveh. Another relief shows this same king and his wife feasting in a bower of vines amid the luxurious trees of their palace gardens. A garden, probably created by Sennacherib (704-681 BC), is depicted in yet another Nineveh relief, criss-crossed by irrigation canals fed from an aqueduct built by the king to bring water to the vegetable plots, orchards and parks of the city, from the Zagros mountains some 80 km (50 miles) to the east.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The most famous gardens of all — the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — were renowned even in ancient times. These 'gardens of delight' (a good way to translate 'Garden of Eden') were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. In legend they were created by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) for his Median wife, Amyitis, who pined for the wooded mountains of her native land. Early in the 20th century, the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey thought that he might have identified the foundations of this structure, which he imagined as a kind of terraced ziggurat covered with all sorts of plants. More recent archaeological investigation has identified an area north of the royal palace where massive irrigated terraces may well have been planted with trees and flowers for the use of the king and his family and followers. Interestingly, this area lay between the walls of the palace proper at the extreme northwest corner of Babylon and the outwork walls to the north. It is possible then that the classic location for a royal garden was in the area between the double defensive walls of a city, close to its palace, as in Jerusalem.

The idea of Eden

The royal gardens of the ancient Near East are practical evocations of a mythical dream. The image of the biblical Garden of Eden itself is of an earthly or a heavenly paradise to which human beings aspire as a place of rest. In Western civilization it relates to notions of a 'Golden Age', 'the Happy Isles', `the Islands of the Blessed' and 'the Elysian fields', and others like them. The concept of Arcadian innocence has proved very persistent.

    in an age of innocence, when people could speak with God as with a friend. Then we grew up. As the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge opened our eyes to the reality of our condition we became fully human. We knew that we must work to live, that disease, evil, poverty and death stalk the world. The truth of a parable is very profound and works on the level of the human heart. Today we are more ready to recognize that the Garden of Eden has its place only in our souls, where the meaning of a symbolic myth is more powerful than any concrete fact.

Excerpted from The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World by . Copyright © 2001 by Thames & Hudson Ltd. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Myths & Legends: Hidden Truths?
Introduction 18
1 The Garden of Eden 21
2 The Biblical Flood & Noah's Ark 25
3 Moses & the Exodus: Myth or Reality? 30
4 The Lost Cities of Sodom & Gomorrah 34
5 Atlantis: Fact or Fiction? 38
6 The Trojan War 43
7 Theseus & the Minotaur 48
8 Jason & the Argonauts 52
9 The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel 56
10 The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant 60
11 The Star of Bethlehem 63
12 King Arthur & the Holy Grail 67
13 The Turin Shroud 71
14 Maya Myth: Will the World End in 2012? 74
15 Aztlan & the Myth of the Aztec Migration 76
16 Memories of the Dreamtime 79
Mysteries of the Stone Age
Introduction 82
17 The Puzzle of Human Origins 85
18 How Did Language Evolve? 89
19 What Happened to the Neanderthals? 92
20 The Enigma of Palaeolithic Cave Art 96
21 Who Were the First Australians? 101
22 The First Americans & Kennewick Man 105
23 What Wiped Out the Big Game Animals? 109
24 How Did Farming Begin? 114
25 The Mysteries of Rock Art 118
26 The Meaning of the Megaliths 123
27 Was There a Mother Goddess Cult? 128
28 The Iceman: Shepherd or Shaman? 132
29 How Did They Build Stonehenge? 136
30 Where Did the Indo-Europeans Come From? 141
Ancient Civilizations
Introduction 144
31 Were the Ancient Egyptians Black Africans? 147
32 How Did They Erect Pyramids & Obelisks? 151
33 The Riddle of the Sphinx 156
34 Where Was the Land of Punt? 161
35 Was Tutankhamun Murdered? 164
36 The Tarim Mummies: Who Were They? 167
37 Were the Olmecs African? 171
38 Why Did the Carthaginians Sacrifice Children? 173
39 Ancient Oracles: Prophets or Profiteers? 177
40 Who Were the Celts? 182
41 Bog Bodies: Murder Victims or Sacrifices? 186
42 The Lost Legions of Rome 189
43 The Mysteries of Mithraism 193
44 Lost City of the Maya: The Hunt for Site Q 197
45 The Mystery of the Nazca Lines 199
46 Who Built Tiwanaku? 202
47 Why Did the Incas Sacrifice Children? 205
48 How Did the Polynesians Find Their Homeland? 208
49 Statues & Survival on Easter Island 211
Tombs & Lost Treasures
Introduction 216
50 The Puzzle of Tomb 55 219
51 The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great 223
52 The Tomb of China's First Emperor 227
53 The Hidden Treasure of the Dead Sea 231
54 The Tomb of Christ 234
Ancient & Undeciphered Scripts
Introduction 238
55 The Origins of Writing 241
56 The Proto-Elamite Script 245
57 The Indus Script 247
58 Linear A & the Phaistos Disc 250
59 The Origins of the Alphabet 254
60 The Etruscan Alphabet 258
61 The Meroitic Script 260
62 The Zapotec & Isthmian Scripts 261
63 Runes & Pictish Symbol Stones 263
64 Rongorongo 266
The Fall of Civilizations
Introduction 268
65 The Thera Eruption & the Fall of the Minoans 271
66 The Fall of Rome 275
67 El Ninos & the Collapse of Moche Civilization 279
68 Why Did Maya Civilization Collapse? 282
69 What Happened to the Anasazi? 286
70 Catastrophic Impacts from Outer Space? 289
Further Reading 293
Sources of Illustrations 298
Index 300
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