7 Famous 'Unsolved' Mysteries (Science Solved Years Ago)
We at Cracked aren't going to be satisfied until we've sucked every last mystery from the world like the final gurgling slurps of a milkshake. Thus, here are seven mysteries that have enthralled human imagination for decades -- if not centuries -- that were actually solved long ago. Hint: The solution never involves magic.
The Shroud of Turin
It's the ultimate religious artifact of our times, considering we still haven't found the Holy Grail yet. According to legend, Jesus was wrapped in a burial shroud after his crucifixion, and it retained the ghostly image of his face.
The shroud, mentioned only vaguely in the Bible, resurfaced in the possession of a knight in Lirey, France, in the year 1390 and made its way across churches in Europe. It eventually ended up in a chapel in Turin, Italy, after a fire damaged it in 1532. It remains there to this day and has since become known as the Shroud of Turin.
Wow, upping the contrast on a coffee stain can really work miracles.
It's considered one of the most holy relics in existence, and Pope Benedict XVI has declared it the authentic burial robe of Christ.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Church has been taken in by a 600-year-old hoax. In 1988, Oxford University in England, the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and Tucson University in Arizona performed radiocarbon dating and found that the shroud was dated to around the 14th century -- the same time that it mysteriously appeared.
Be honest. You all wish those hands weren't there so we could see what the King of Kings is packing.
But even if the shroud is a medieval hoax, how was it created? According to Luigi Garlaschelli, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pavia, it was pretty simple. Using a linen sheet laid over a volunteer and an acidic pigment (tactics and materials available to a 14th century forger), then artificially aging the cloth to make it appear a couple hundred years old, he and his students created a pretty damn impressive replica of the shroud in 2009.
If the messiah was Hulk Hogan.
That very same year, an authentic tomb from the actual time of Jesus was unearthed in Jerusalem, and archaeologists found a dead aristocrat wrapped in a shroud made from far less advanced a textile than the Shroud of Turin, which seems to use weaving techniques not found in the time of Jesus. So we'd have to believe that a really rich dude was somehow unable to afford the same super-shroud as a local carpenter who died a penniless criminal.
Oh yeah, and then there's the accusation that Church authorities in the 1300s knew the shroud was a hoax and actually had a confession from the unnamed artist who faked it.
"Also, keep spreading the word that Jesus was a white guy."
Generally speaking, auras are, you know, the manifestation of universal energy that, like, surrounds us all, man. And for a fee, professional aura readers who butcher the Papyrus font can take a look at your aura and tell you exactly what your spiritual malaise is based upon their handy color chart.
"I see sadness, and also that you need to replace your camera lens."
Those aura photographs can be taken with a kind of device that runs a current through your body. Not strong enough to kill you usually, just enough to bring out that spiritual energy. And for years, scientists didn't know what the hell it was. Maybe it was magic.
Turns out it's regular, old-fashioned sweat.
The electrical photographic method actually just brings out the outline of whatever it's observing in a beautiful neon glow. In the case of human beings, it also captures the cloud of sweat floating around the filthy, filthy hippie in question. The effect is much more dramatic if the subject is keen and nervous about, well, having an electric current shot through his body.
"Huh. Looks like you're feeling very apple today."
But there are some other explanations for why auras have featured prominently in iconography even before this neat camera trick. Visions of auras can be caused by defects in your own eye, brought to you by medical conditions such as migraines, epilepsy and eye burns. This is something even aura believers admit.
It also works if you rub your eyes really hard for about four minutes.
Still, there's something to be taken home from all this -- if you're into that sort of thing, you now have a way to know exactly what color your sweat is.
The Ghost Ship Flying Dutchman
The legend of the Flying Dutchman dates back to the 17th century. It's about a ghost ship that sails the deep ocean, full of lost souls who can never make port. According to the story, the Flying Dutchman sank in a terrible storm, and since that day it has drifted aimlessly (because apparently when ships are killed they also become ghosts). If you see the Flying Dutchman, it's a sign that a terrible storm is coming to make ghosts of you and your ship, too.
As implied by the name, it actually flies. That's how you know it's a ghost ship and not just some regular ship you've mistaken for one -- it's the one that's hovering above the water. No non-ghost boat can do that.
"Phew! It's just a regular rotting ship haunted by the anguished souls of the dead."
Sailors who report seeing the Flying Dutchman have kept this legend alive for centuries because, come on, it's a flying boat that predicts storms. How many of them can possibly be out there?
Turns out this all makes perfect sense. No, seriously. They're just falling victim to an optical illusion called fata morgana. It's a form of mirage that plays with light and moisture in a way that can and often will cause faraway ships to appear as all sorts of terrifying apparitions that float well above sea level. The Flying Dutchman is heavily associated with the areas that have conditions ideal for fata morgana mirages, such as the North Sea (the phenomenon is most likely to occur in colder water temperatures).
Apparently, 17th century sailors aren't the best way to objectively assess nautical phenomena.
But what about the storms? How many optical illusions do you know that can control the weather? Actually, it's the other way around. Guess what kind of atmospheric conditions are perfect for creating the fata morgana mirage? If you guessed "the ones right before a storm hits," you win 12 Cracked points.
Cracked points are redeemable only for shotgun shells and expired peanut butter.
Yes, we said "human magnetism." As in, there are people out there whose job description is "sticking metal objects to themselves." These are regular people like Aurel Raileanu and Brenda Allison, who display the uncanny ability to draw metal objects like a particular X-Men villain you may have heard of.
Seriously. They have entire tournaments in which these real-world Magnetos compete to find out who is truly the master stick-shit-to-himselfer. The current champion managed to lift, get this, a 92-pound slab of stone with his skin. This is particularly impressive when you consider that stone isn't noted for its magnetic properties.
Waaaaait, we can't see what his penis is doing here.
Skeptics such as James Randi have found that human magnetism is simply caused by a skin condition called not fucking bathing.
One of these years, Burning Man is going to suck a goddamn jet out of the air.
The stickiness of a suitably greasy skin and a certain amount of practice enables these people to use their skin for suction in a manner not unlike that of octopus tentacles, which also explains why they are able to attach technically non-magnetic objects to themselves.
Randi actually proved this theory on the field by rubbing talcum powder on human magnets, who instantly, magically lost their powers like it was Kryptonite.
It cost literally dollars to replace that TV.
Men in Black
If you only know the term "Men in Black" from the Will Smith movie, you should know that the mythology of the MiB predates it by decades. According to paranormal researchers, particularly UFO believers and conspiracy buffs, men dressed in black clothing show up after an encounter with the unknown. They're either government agents or entities posing as government agents, who make vague threats and attempt to intimidate people into keeping quiet about what they saw.
"It's like the Will Smith movie, but with less mind-erasing and more summary executions."
They're always dressed in neatly tailored black suits, drive large, black cars and often seem otherworldly or somehow not human.
MIBs were introduced into the public consciousness by way of a UFO researcher named Gray Barker. Barker was a credible journalist -- and by "credible journalist" we mean the exact opposite of both of those things.
Apparently the Blues Brothers are involved somehow.
Turns out, Gray Barker was actually a closet skeptic, and tended to refer to his UFO writings as "kookie books." In fact, he frequently played pranks on other UFOlogists because he felt like they were taking things too seriously. After his death, his own sister called him out for mostly being interested in cash, saying he once told her, "There's good money in it."
That's a man who's not revealing what's happening to his lower half at that precise moment.
Barker based his book about Men in Black on interviews with UFOlogists who had simply claimed to have been visited by government agents who asked them to take it down a notch. This might not actually be far from the truth. At the time, the government didn't want people getting too worked up over UFOs because they knew the craft were actually experimental spy planes, like the U-2 spy plane.
"Man, that's not a UFO either. Guess we still haven't found what we're looking for."
To further impugn Barker's record, he and his friend James Moseley once got their hands on some blank government stationery and sent a hoax letter to a fellow UFOlogist.
"The alien king of Xibitu has recently come into a great sum of money and needs my help?"
Then in 1970, he published a book titled The Silver Bridge, an account of the "Mothman" sightings in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, which he admitted to his friend John Sherwood contained fictitious and exaggerated accounts. Five years later, UFOlogist John Keel based his book The Mothman Prophecies (which became a film starring Richard Gere) heavily on Barker's book and prank phone calls Barker made to Keel. That's right, the Mothman was invented by Barker, too. Holy shit, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that he invented Bigfoot.
Related: Inside The Black Market For Whiskey
The Belmez Faces
Back in 1971, the Pereira family of the rural town of Belmez, Spain, found a mystery inside their very home: They woke up one day to find there was a face on their floor. Not a real one, of course -- that would've presented a very different kind of dilemma. This face, which would be known by ghost freakouters throughout the world as La Pava, was a terrifying ghost face that had appeared out of nowhere in the actual concrete.
If we were ghosts with droopy skin, we sure wouldn't showcase it.
Scrubbing and cleaning did nothing to remove it. The Pereiras were understandably a bit freaked out by this turn of events, and before long decided to chop that part of the floor away and pour some new concrete in. But as soon as the new floor was ready, La Pava grew right back. The only difference was, its expression was now slightly different, as if leering. Soon, more faces started to appear.
The paranormal's impressionist period.
The public and the media, of course, went apeshit over the phenomenon. The initial reaction by many was to call bullshit on the whole thing, but research found no evidence whatsoever of paints or dyes. One scientist even dubbed the Belmez faces the best-documented and "without doubt the most important paranormal phenomenon in the 20th century." Do a simple Google search today and you get a whole bunch of sources claiming this is still a huge mystery.
We're calling the old dead-bodies-buried-in-the-concrete trick.
What you don't hear so much is that the mystery of the Belmez faces was solved pretty much the day after it happened.
A study commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior -- the very same one that found no traces of paint -- broke down all the substances found in and around the faces. The scientists found that the faces' chemical composition strongly resembled stains left by an oxidizing agent. It's almost as if someone had clumsily reproduced old photographs by painting them on the floor with an acidic substance (like, say, vinegar with some soot mixed in). Once ready, the pictures could easily be manipulated with a cleaning agent, such as, say, the concrete stain removal product readily available at the local pharmacist.
Ghosts don't scrub away.
But who would have the chance to execute such a blatant hoax, with all the paranormal investigators and parapsychology advocates, not to mention the lady of the house, who seemed to be the center of the phenomenon, hanging around all the time?
The Crystal Skulls
Here's something that might have gotten obscured by the cloud of complaints that swirled around the last Indiana Jones film: the crystal skull mentioned in the title is actually based on a real thing. Said skull has gotten a very spooky reputation as one of the world's more mysterious artifacts.
While Indiana Jones 4 just has the reputation of having Shia LeBeouf.
It was found in Belize in 1924 by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, daughter of explorer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, on a collapsed altar in an ancient Mayan temple. Anna and her father later discovered that the skull was 3,600 years old, and was concisely called "The Skull of Doom." It was used by Mayan priests to wish death upon their enemies. Mitchell-Hedges came to believe that the skull had been polished by hand from a single chunk of crystal using nothing but sand over a period of 300 years. She even claimed that the skull has mysterious powers.
Here's a man communicating with the skull because he claims it's operating on a human level. Obviously.
Modern-day skull followers say that the skull is related to the Mayan 2012 doomsday prophecy, and that bringing the 13 crystal skulls from all around the world together before 12/21/12 is the only way for humanity to survive. Yes, there are more -- six have been found. One is in the British Museum in London, three are in the Quai Branley Museum in Paris, one is in the Smithsonian and the Mitchell-Hedges skull is the last, and said to be the most powerful. We have just over a year to find the other seven. Oh man, we're doomed.
This fetch quest is going to be EPIC.
But there are so many unanswered questions! Why did Mitchell-Hedges and his daughter never mention the skull until 30 years after the expedition? Why did nobody else who went with them ever say anything? Oh wait, turns out he just bought it at a Sotheby's auction in 1943.
The Apocalypse Temple in The Fifth Element was way better.
But hey, just because F.A. Mitchell-Hedges was full of shit about where it came from doesn't necessarily rule it out as a fake, right? It could still be thousands of years old and made by ancient Mayans or aliens or whatever.
Sure, except in 2008 Anna Mitchell-Hedges' widower, Bill Homann, brought the skull to Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian. Using a scanning electron microscope, she found that the skull hadn't been polished with sand, but with a high-speed diamond-tipped rotary tool, which, if you're keeping score at home, would not be a thing ancient Mayans would have. In fact, Walsh thinks that the skull was probably carved sometime in the 1930s. As far as the five other skulls? Yeah, they're all modern fakes, too.
But the other parts of the movie were true, right?
Man, are the aliens going to be disappointed when we've scienced every mystery to death.
For things that we already knew, check out 6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (That Have Totally Been Solved) and 6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (With Really Obvious Solutions).
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