#2. A Norse Coin in Maine
Imagine it's 1957 and you're on an archaeology dig in Maine. If it helps set the scene, picture yourself listening to Elvis Presley in a white tee with a cigarette pack in your sleeve while you dig around. The spot you're working on was once the largest Native American settlement in Maine, so you're looking for Native American-y stuff. Arrowheads and the like. But among all that is this coin that just doesn't fit. "That's because it's British!" said everyone at first, but the truth turned out to be much weirder. The coin was Norse (think descendents of Vikings), and a thousand years old at that.
It actually took 21 years for anyone to pay attention to the coin that looked like a half-eaten Oreo ...
Prenibbled for the best filling-to-cookie ratio.
... but when they did, the evidence was pretty conclusive. Not only was this an ancient coin minted during the reign of Norse King Olaf Kyrre, but the window of its production was pretty limited: 1065 to 1080. That's 15 years, for those of you too lazy to bother with rudimentary math. This coin must have been made within those 15 years, and in Norway. And it was found in Maine, USA, 5 inches beneath the surface of the earth, among 30,000 genuinely Native American artifacts found during the dig.
"Dammit, Thor, I told you not to flip that coin. Now we have no change for the parking meter."
One lone Scandinavian coin among tens of thousands of American Indian relics. So how did it get there? There was zero evidence of the Vikings ever settling past the very top of Eastern Canada, and even that wasn't so much of a "settlement" as it was a "temporary campground, maybe." And that was hundreds and hundreds of miles away. So the story was probably amazing, and also one that we'll never, ever know.
#1. Ancient Japanese Speakers in New Mexico
We're starting to think aliens knew what they were doing when they totally and for real landed in New Mexico all those years ago. Weird shit has been popping up in the Land of Enchantment since forever. They probably thought no one would notice their weird little melon heads among the Hebrew rocks and wacky turquoise shops.
"Aw, my Etsy store sucks."
Case in point: Tucked into New Mexico is one tribe of Native Americans who happen to speak a language unlike any around them. A language called Japanese.
OK, maybe the Zuni people aren't speaking Japanese-Japanese, but there are enough similarities between the two languages that a few experts are spooked. The theory of a Japanese/Native American connection came about when graduate student Nancy Yaw Davis took an anthropology class on Southwestern Native American culture. She noticed that some Zuni words sounded a hell of a lot like Japanese words, and at a rate way above random chance. For example, the Zuni word for "clan" is "kwe," while in Japanese it is "kwai." The word for "clown" is "newe" in Japanese and "niwaka" in Zuni. "Priest" is "shawani" in Japanese and "shiwani" in Zuni.
The word for "cosplay" is "You're an embarrassment to your culture."
And then there was the whole syntax thing -- both languages use the verb as the last word of a sentence, a feature only 45 percent of languages share. That may not seem like a lot, but considering the Zuni language is nothing like the languages of the people who surround it, it's a pretty odd connection.
Kachina. In Japanese that translates to "those who have difficulty with sweaters."
So then Davis really started digging, and that was when she discovered all kinds of spooky crap -- like that both the Zuni and the Japanese share frequency of Type B blood, a rare kidney disease and specific oral traditions about their origins. So her theory is that sometime around the 12th century Buddhist missionaries made it all the way to California and traveled inland. Somehow.
If Davis' theory is true, the Zuni walked away from the deal with Japanese genes and some kickass stories -- which is a whole lot better than, say, smallpox. So it could have been worse.
It could have been dickgirls.
For bizarre finds that are unexplained, check out 6 Insane Discoveries That Science Can't Explain. Or learn about 8 Incredible Discoveries People Just Sort of Stumbled Into.
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