5 Historical Mysteries That Had Painfully Dumb Explanations

Not everything hard to solve is worth the effort.
5 Historical Mysteries That Had Painfully Dumb Explanations

History is full of enduring mysteries, like the Ark of the Covenant, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, or the true purpose of Stonehenge (our theory: Druid parkour track). But every once in a while, some historian will crack one of those big puzzles ... and find an answer so random and anticlimactic that they probably wish there was an actual government mega-warehouse for them to hide it in. For example ...

An Ancient Coded Papyrus Turns Out To Be A Horny Pamphlet Encouraging Women To Get Some

For centuries, an unusual sheet of papyrus was owned by the equally unusual Amerbach family of Germany. But when their bloodline dried up, the document landed in the lap of the University of Basel. There, scholars spent centuries fruitlessly trying to decipher the Basel Papyrus, which had a strange code of mirrored letters on both sides. But finally, in 2010, modern archaeology managed to crack the code ... which turned out not to be a code at all.

Through the use of ultraviolet and infrared light, researchers discovered that the Basel Papyrus was actually several loose sheets of papyrus that had fused together over time, explaining the weird overlapping text. After separating the layers, the teams discovered that this random, uncoded text still contained valuable medical literature, likely written by none other than the renowned Ancient Grecian physician Galen. "Likely" because no one else in the history of mankind had such bonkers ideas about female sexuality as Galen.

A5U 2H heersrce mmice 10377341 1722 Y4A-6O MFE Y:45 ate palhn
University of Basel via LiveScience
The historical equivalent of your meathead cousin explaining how vaginas work.

Galen is seen as one of the first proper scientists -- but with an emphasis on "first." Because while he was a pioneer of many medical methodologies, like anatomy and pharmacology, he was also very much a guy taking a lot of wild stabs in the dark (a quality you really don't want in a surgeon). And one of those stabs was this scroll, in which Galen wrote down his theory of "hysterical apnea" -- a condition whereby women's uteri suffocate if they don't receive enough fluids. In other words, if they don't get regular visits from the bone train, their junk literally gets so thirsty that they die of dehydration. Not a great contribution to science, though historians are still debating its value as a Greco-Roman pickup line.

Related: The 6 Most Intriguing Stupid Questions Answered By Science

A Mysterious Sound That Almost Caused World War III Was Fish Farting

For most of the '80s, the Swedish navy was on high alert for Soviet submarines trying to get their hands on invaluable intelligence, like their meatball recipes. But even after the Cold War ended, the threat remained. In 1994, Sweden again started picking up a troubling sound on their equipment: a slight underwater hiss that exactly matched the sound of sneaky submarines. And despite finding no subs to speak of, diplomatic tensions between Sweden and Russia got so out of hand that Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt sent Russian President Boris Yeltsin a furious letter telling him to back off.

This diplomatic conflict raged on until 2004, when scientists made a vital diplomatic discovery: Herrings fart. Sent out to investigate the sound, researchers Magnus Wahlberg and Hakan Westerberg discovered that the hissing came from bubbles filled with gas, which herrings secrete through their anuses to covertly communicate with one another. (Same spycraft, different species.)

The researchers referred to the communications system as "fast repetitive ticks," or FRTs, and these FRTs just happened to sound exactly like the whoosh of a submarine. The discovery cleared the Russians of any wrongdoing, set the Swedish navy's mind at ease, and won Wahlberg and Westerberg an Ig Nobel prize to boot. Maybe diplomats should try blaming things on fish more often.

Related: 4 Creepy Mysteries With Hilariously Stupid Explanations

Historians Keep Falling For Mundane Viking "Riddles"

Since the 1800s, archaeologists have discovered over 1,000 small T-shaped metallic objects across Europe. Sadly, this didn't lead to the discovery of a lost race of Mr. T's, but instead a very divisive fashion item worn by pillaging Vikings.

5 S cm
National Museum of Denmark
"I pity the fool who doesn't prepare offerings to Odin before going on a long sea voyage!"

Some historians assume that they were some sort of misguided tribute to Thor and his hammer Mjolnir. But because of their weird double-headed shape (is there a god of tiny anchors?), the silly debate raged on for centuries. The bickering didn't come to and end through rigorous academic research and analysis, but because archaeologists in Denmark unearthed one back in 2014 that was inscribed with runes reading "hmar x is" which literally translates to "This is a hammer." So, um, case closed?

And the hammers aren't the only weirdly straightforward message we've recently decoded from the Viking world. For many years, archaeologists wondered over Viking runes carved using a form of early cryptography called jotunvillur. Could they be secret messages of great religious or political importance? Nope. Also in 2014, a researcher named Jonas Nordby cracked the code and translated one of the most ancient riddles to ... "Kiss me." Turns out those runes were the Viking equivalent of text speak, a collection rude boasts and love notes that youths scratched on stones like Dwarven graffiti. 2014 may have been a good year for Viking history, but it sure was an awkward one for Viking historians.

Related: 10 Famous Unsolved Mysteries Easily Explained By Science

The Highest Temperature In History Was Misrecorded By A New Hire

If you had a Guinness Book of World Records as a kid, you'll know that the hottest recorded temperature in history was a sizzling 58 degrees Celsius (136.4 Fahrenheit), measured by an Italian weather station at El Azizia in Libya back in 1922. Well, actually, you probably just looked at gross pictures of really long fingernails, but the temperature stuff was in there as well.

Then, in 2010, an international team of meteorologists and natural historians began an epic quest to solve the mystery of this outlandish record. There was one little hitch in their plan, though: That was the year the Libyan civil war broke out, and Gaddafi branded all meteorologists as traitors because he thought they were helping NATO bombers. Or controlling the clouds with their minds. Who knows, that guy was crazy.

Undeterred, the party's inside meteorologist, director Khalid El Fadli, risked life and limb (and one assassination attempt) to continue his search for proof. Eventually he managed to obtain the documents and ship them out right before Gaddafi cut off all communications with the outside world. So what did all of these dangerous weather-related spy hijinks reveal about this meteorological phenomenon? That reading thermometers is hard.

Turns out that the weather station used a somewhat complicated Bellani-Six thermometer, and some new hire accidentally added a whopping 7 degrees centigrade to the actual temperature. Slightly deflated, the team presented its findings to the World Meteorological Organization and the record was disqualified. The new record high temperature is probably whatever it is outside on the day you're reading this. We're all fucked.

Related: The 5 Most Disastrous Typos In Human History

A Mythic Sea Creature Is Likely A Caricature Of A Hated Sea Captain

Georg Wilhelm Steller is one of the great naturalist explorers of history, up there with Charles Darwin. And like Darwin, Steller cataloged many new and exciting animals while at sea, taking part in the Great Northern Expedition with Captain Bering (of Strait fame). But of all the creatures he encountered during his mission, there was none more terrible and mysterious than Steller's Sea Ape.

5 Historical Mysteries That Had Painfully Dumb Explanations
Steller, Georg Wilhelm
Boy, those sea monkeys they used to sell at the mall sure were ripoffs.

According to Steller, the beast, simnia marina danica, stands at about six feet long with a head like a dog, including pointed ears and whiskers hanging down from the upper and lower lips. It also has a long, round, fat body, thick with hair the reddish complexion of a sunburned cow. Definitely not a looker, according to Steller, but also something you wouldn't easily miss. And yet not a single other person has managed to find a Steller's Sea Ape. Sounds like another made-up monster to join the ranks of marine cryptozoology, except everyone agrees that Steller was a reputable man of science who wouldn't ruin his reputation by inventing a lame cryptid. Surely Steller's Sea Ape had to exist. And they were right, except it wasn't a sea ape, but a sea man.

The Sea Ape is in fact Captain Vitus Bering. At least according to deep-sea ecologist Andrew Thaler. He says that Steller created the ape as a snarky workplace caricature of a much-hated boss. And the evidence stacks. In his diary, Steller's descriptions of Bering (who wasn't much beloved by his crew) are suspiciously similar to how he described the sideburns-rockin', angry-jowl-sportin' sea ape.

And Steller clearly disliked his sea ape as much as his captain, writing that he fantasized about shooting it several times. The sea ape was also the only creature in his notes that Steller did not officially log or mention in his reports, a big clue to its perceived scientific value. But perhaps most damning of all: Steller named his mustachioed menace simnia marina danica, or "the Danish Sea Ape." And Bering happened to be the only Dane on the ship's crew.

Christian Markle is still a mystery that people can't solve for decades. Go on and hit him up on Facebook

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