Fossils Sparking Debates on Origin of Mankind

We have long debated the origin of mankind. Some believe in God’s creation of man in his own image, while others say that mankind evolved from another species. Now, new evidence found in South Africa has reignited questions about where modern humans come from, and what species we may have left behind.

Way back in 1947, Robert Broom and John T. Robinson discovered the fossils of an ancient pre-human now known as Mrs. Ples. At the time, many believed the skull, identified as part of Australopithecus africanus, to be around 2.1 to 2.6 million years old. Many also believed the genus Australopithecus to be the likely precursor to the genus homo, marking it as the evolutionary origin of mankind.

Now, though, a new study has thrown all of these beliefs out the window. Researchers published the new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, authors Darryl Granger and others posit that the skull date back to between 3.4 to 3.6 million years.

That’s almost a one-million-year difference. As such, this study’s discovery has thrown a wrench into the theories that Mrs. Ples and other skeletons that were dated similarly are the precursors to modern humankind.

What does it all mean?

Granger says the caves in South Africa where Mrs. Ples was discovered hold more Australopithecus fossils than anywhere in the world. The site, known as Sterkfontein Caves, is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Cradle of Humankind. The discoveries in the cave have been at the center of debates on the origin of mankind for over 70 years.

Now, though, this new evidence suggests the fossils found in South Africa are from the same time as renowned fossils like Lucy, which was found in Ethiopia back in 1974. Many long considered East Africa the most likely origin of mankind, where the earliest hominin that evolved into the Homo genus resided. So, this study simply adds more merit to those claims.

But, one thing Granger notes is that it is very difficult to date the fossils found in South Africa. But, he does say they are much older than originally thought. At the time the discovery of Mrs. Ples confused many. That’s because the fossil showed a skull more akin to a chimpanzee. Many believed that the brain had evolved at the same time that pre-humans began walking upright.

With Mrs. Ples now dating to a similar period as Lucy and others, though, it once more has scientists scratching their heads. We’ve long searched for the origin of mankind, and now, it seems that scientists will need to keep searching if they hope to find a more definitive answer to that lingering question.

Legendary Shipwreck Discovered off Oregon Coast

Timbers from the wreck of a 17th-century Spanish galleon have been discovered on Oregon’s northern coast, state officials confirmed today.

The extraordinarily rare hull remains were removed from sea caves near Manzanita earlier this week in a risky emergency recovery mission involving archaeologists, law enforcement personnel, and search-and-rescue teams from multiple state and local agencies. © Provided by National Geographic

“I’m impressed and relieved,” says Scott Williams, an archaeologist with the Washington State Department of Transportation and president of the Maritime Archaeology Society (MAS), an all-volunteer group that spearheaded a 15-year search for the shipwreck.The rugged shoreline of Oregon’s north coast, strong swells, and treacherous storms all make for a landscape hostile to centuries of navigators. © Provided by National Geographic The rugged shoreline of Oregon’s north coast, strong swells, and treacherous storms all make for a landscape hostile to centuries of navigators.

The dozen timbers are believed to be pieces of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a Spanish galleon that was sailing from the Philippines to Mexico in 1693 when it veered off course and vanished, most likely wrecking on what’s now Oregon’s coast. Its cargo included costly Chinese silk, porcelain, and blocks of beeswax for making candles.

Santo Cristo de Burgos was a Manila galleon, a type of sturdy wooden vessel that plied an annual trade route between Spanish colonies in the Philippines and Mexico from 1565-1815, a period that marked the first era of global trade. The workhorse European ships were built in Asian ports by Asian craftspeople using Asian materials.

Despite their 250-year run—and the inevitable loss of wooden vessels crossing the hazardous Pacific—remarkably few Manila galleon shipwrecks have been found. Only three are known from the west coast of the Americas—with one each in Oregon, California, and Baja Mexico—and no surviving hull remains have been discovered until now.

Telltale signs of a sunken ship

Captain Frankie Knight of Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue drives a jetski while firefighter Levi Hill (left) and division chief Jesse Walsh secure a ship timber on the north coast near Manzanita, Oregon, in June 2022. © Provided by National Geographic Captain Frankie Knight of Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue drives a jetski while firefighter Levi Hill (left) and division chief Jesse Walsh secure a ship timber on the north coast near Manzanita, Oregon, in June 2022.

The Santo Cristo is better known along the Oregon coast as the legendary “Beeswax Wreck”—a moniker derived from distinctive blocks of beeswax that washed ashore for centuries and were traded by local Native American tribes and later Anglo-European settlers. Because honeybees are not native to the Americas—they were imported from Europe in the 17th century—Asian beeswax was a major import for Spain’s colonies, where beeswax candles were required for Catholic services.Mountain Region archaeologist Steve Jenevein and park resource program manager Chris Parkins of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and Scott Williams, president of the Maritime Archaeological Society, wrap a timber in flotation devices before it’s brought to shore. © Provided by National Geographic Mountain Region archaeologist Steve Jenevein and park resource program manager Chris Parkins of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and Scott Williams, president of the Maritime Archaeological Society, wrap a timber in flotation devices before it’s brought to shore.

There were other clues that a shipwreck lay hidden somewhere offshore, from small bits of blue-and-white porcelain to large pieces of wood tossed up on the rocks or buried in the shifting sand. A section of the upper deck of a wooden ship was visible at the mouth of a river near Manzanita until about the 1920s. And oral histories from the area’s Indigenous tribes tell of a foreign ship that wrecked long ago, with a crew that came ashore and met varying fates.

The discovery of the galleon’s remains “confirms that our ancestral people knew what they were talking about,” says Robert Kentta, cultural resources director for the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and a member of the Siletz Tribal Council. “They related oral histories in a way that just spoke the truth.”

As white settlers came to this dramatic, craggy coast, the Native American accounts became embroidered with increasingly fantastic tales of hidden riches. By the late 19th century, local legends of treasure and galleons—and the hunt for them—appeared regularly in the pages of Oregon newspapers. Those reports caught the attention of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and likely inspired his idea for the 1985 film The Goonies, a Gen-X cult tale of treasure-seeking kids and a mystery galleon on Oregon’s wild Pacific coast.Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita is called the “Mountain of 1,000 Holes” after more than a century of treasure-seekers dug without success for the riches rumored to be hidden within its slopes. Stories of shipwrecks and treasure play a prominent role in Oregonian coastal lore. © Provided by National Geographic Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita is called the “Mountain of 1,000 Holes” after more than a century of treasure-seekers dug without success for the riches rumored to be hidden within its slopes. Stories of shipwrecks and treasure play a prominent role in Oregonian coastal lore.

But for all the talk of treasure, there were two glaring questions: Where—and what—exactly was the Beeswax Wreck?

Secrets from a tsunami

A German engraving from 1620 shows Spanish galleons in the Pacific port of Acapulco. The annual Manilla galleon trade between Philippines and Mexico between 1565 and 1815 marked the first era of truly global trade. © Granger A German engraving from 1620 shows Spanish galleons in the Pacific port of Acapulco. The annual Manilla galleon trade between Philippines and Mexico between 1565 and 1815 marked the first era of truly global trade.

In the mid-2000s, a group of researchers and community members including Williams decided to answer that question, eventually forming the Maritime Archaeology Society (MAS). They studied thousands of pieces of Chinese porcelain collected by beachcombers over the years and determined they were from the Kangxi period (1661-1722).

The Chinese ceramics and Asian beeswax blocks with Spanish markings led them to conclude that the Beeswax Wreck had to be one of two Manila galleons that went missing between roughly 1650 and 1750: the Santo Cristo de Burgos, which was lost in 1693, or the San Francisco Xavier, which disappeared in 1705.Local commercial fisherman and beachcomber Craig Andes looks for fragments of Chinese porcelain along the Oregon coast in May 2021. © Provided by National Geographic Local commercial fisherman and beachcomber Craig Andes looks for fragments of Chinese porcelain along the Oregon coast in May 2021.

At first, the archaeologists suspected that the Beeswax Wreck was the 1705 San Francisco Xavier—and with good reason. In 1700, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the West Coast, trigging an enormous tsunami. If the Santo Cristo had wrecked in the area, they reasoned, the tsunami that swept the coast just a few years later would have destroyed anything that was left.A galleon timber is wedged between rocks on the Oregon coast. Manilla galleons were enormous cargo vessels—roughly 150 feet long and a third as broad—ideal for maximizing the amount of goods that could be transported for sale across the Pacific. © Provided by National Geographic A galleon timber is wedged between rocks on the Oregon coast. Manilla galleons were enormous cargo vessels—roughly 150 feet long and a third as broad—ideal for maximizing the amount of goods that could be transported for sale across the Pacific.

Then a geological study revealed something surprising: The area near the Nehalem River where beeswax, porcelain, and pieces of a wooden ship had been found was under and within—not above—the sediment layer left by the estimated 25-foot-high wave that struck the coast. This meant that the mystery shipwreck must have already been there when the tsunami hit in 1700. But was it the Santo Cristo de Burgos? 

A catalog of Spanish ships published in the 1930s—a source still widely consulted by archaeologists—claimed that, according to Spanish records, the Santo Cristo burned somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. But the volunteer group raised money to fund research in Spain’s exhaustive naval archives, which eventually told a different tale: Despite a multi-year search by the Spanish crown, Santo Cristo de Burgos had simply vanishedThe sun rises on a June morning on Oregon’s Pacific Coast. While the timber discovery has confirmed these are the likely remains of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, archaeologists will continue to search for other parts of the wreck that may remain offshore. © Provided by National Geographic The sun rises on a June morning on Oregon’s Pacific Coast. While the timber discovery has confirmed these are the likely remains of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, archaeologists will continue to search for other parts of the wreck that may remain offshore.

MAS researchers were then fairly confident that the Beeswax Wreck and the Santo Cristo de Burgos were one and the same vessel. But identifying the shipwreck’s whereabouts would prove even more challenging. For the all-volunteer MAS, it meant diving and surveying in their free time in difficult conditions that could change in an instant.

By 2019, their remote-sensing tools had detected a few objects off the coast near Manzanita that might be the remains of a wooden ship—or just an odd boulder on the seafloor. Yet despite the absence of conclusive evidence, the wreck of the Santo Cristo had to be somewhere offshore, they reasoned, for it had sent a steady stream of beeswax and porcelain ashore for generations of beachcombers to discover and ponder.

Growing up Goonies

Craig Andes is one of those beachcombers, a commercial fisherman who belonged to a “Goonies gang” of kids who grew up exploring the coast, inspired by tales of treasure and the Beeswax Wreck. He began sharing his knowledge of the area’s artifacts with MAS after reading about their hunt for the same fated vessel.

That information included the presence of bits of wood in sea caves that Andes first spotted in 2013. He kept a watchful eye on them and strongly believed they were ship timbers. He also grew concerned that the smaller pieces were at risk of being washed away. So in 2020 he contacted the MAS and urged them to test a sample of the wood. (Related: How do we find shipwrecks, and who owns them?)

“I was convinced it was driftwood,” MAS president Williams recalls. “To think that 300-year-old ship timbers could survive the Oregon coast was just crazy.”

A lab analysis revealed that the timbers were hewn from Anacardiaceae, a species of tropical hardwood found in Asia. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the tree was felled around 1650. Both facts lined up squarely with the composition and age of the Santo Cristo.

During the summer of 2020, MAS archaeologists investigated the caves—reachable only by water or a perilous scramble over rocks at extremely low tides—and determined that the timbers were a “secondary deposit,” meaning they were not part of a shipwreck site but had been washed into the cave, possibly by the 1700 tsunami.

The archaeologists also agreed that the timbers were at risk of being swept out to sea, but extracting them from the sea cave would be complicated and dangerous. They would have only about 90 minutes to document and remove the timbers before the tide would rise and trap them. Since the recovery could be safely done only by an expert team during an unusually low tide, they enlisted SEARCH Inc., a cultural resource management firm, to coordinate the mission. The project would be funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society.

A dangerous recovery

After a year of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and unpredictable weather, a few dozen people assembled at sunrise this week on an empty beach to recover the remains of the Santo Cristo de Burgos. Personnel from the Tillamook and Clatsop Counties Sheriff’s Offices joined archaeologists from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, MAS, and SEARCH Inc., in the risky scramble to the sea cave. Rescue swimmers from the Nehalem Valley Fire Department circled on jet skis, while ropes teams monitored the operation from the cliffs above.

The timbers were recovered safely and intact, and the team felt a palpable sense of relief. “It was amazing to pull off such a complex operation, made entirely possible by teamwork, cooperation, and exceptional professionalism by all involved,” says Jim Delgado, the project’s principal archaeological investigator and senior vice president at SEARCH Inc.

Andes watched the activity from the beach, marveling at the complex choreography. Nearly a decade had passed since he spotted the timbers, and as the first, and largest, piece was towed ashore, he ran his hand fondly along the glistening surface, pointing to a large spike hole. “Looks like there’s still metal in there,” he observed.

The timbers are now at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, where they’ll be carefully documented and conserved. Each timber will be scanned in detail, and the scans will be shared with Manila galleon experts around the world to better understand how the extraordinary ships were built.

But the small collection of unassuming wood is not just a source of information about Manila galleons, says Delgado. “These timbers are also the physical evidence for the stories that have been known and passed down through generations.”

Chris Havel, spokesperson for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, says the agency is looking forward to learning what researchers discover about the recovered timbers, “so we can share that news with the people who visit our parks.” But he also cautions people not to risk their lives attempting to visit the now-empty sea caves.

“Visitors should respect any signs or warnings you may see, and refrain from searching for artifacts or taking anything away from our parks other than the memories of a fun, safe visit.”

The source of the beeswax and porcelain that still washes up along the coast remains somewhere offshore, and MAS will continue its underwater hunt for more remains of the Santo Cristo de Burgos.

 Meanwhile, Williams urges local community members to keep their eyes out for any “smoking gun” that could confirm the identity of Oregon’s fabled galleon, such as a coin, or any item that bears a date or name.

“Somebody could have it in the attic or their basement,” he says. Or a lucky beachcomber might turn up a decisive bit of evidence after a big storm—”if someone just looks down in the right place.”

Do aliens exist? The ancient Greeks thought so and so should you

When it comes to aliens, everyone has an opinion despite no one having much of anything concrete to go on. Famed physicist Enrico Fermi famously looked up into the deafening silence of the night sky above Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s and demanded to know where the hell everybody was.

If even one of the greatest minds of the 20th century was stumped, it’s a good bet that we’re not going to do much better at answering the question, “where are all the aliens?” There is still a lot to say about them though, and the idea of alien species on other worlds or in different realities is about as old as human thought.

For whatever reason, aliens have a hold of our imagination, and they frankly always have. So what do we mean when we talk about aliens? What are our best guesses on their appearance if they do exist? And, honestly, what are the odds that they’re actually out there, and why should we care so much?

Do aliens exist?

That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? We’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets in the past 30 years, and we haven’t heard a peep one way or the other.

If we just look at the question of probabilities, then it seems like madness to doubt the existence of aliens. There are about 400 billion star systems in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each of those is almost guaranteed to have at least one exoplanet. Most systems we’ve looked at in detail have half a dozen exoplanets, with two or three in the “habitable zone” of their star—the range of distance from the star where liquid water can exist on its surface at least for a substantial portion of the year.

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute has been scouring the skies for radio signals from intelligent civilizations for decades now. While there have been plenty of false positives, we’ve yet to intercept or otherwise receive so much as a “Hello World”. We’ve even put many of our species’ significant highlights on a golden record and shot it into interstellar space—twice—in the hope that it bumps into someone up there who will then get on the ‘phone’ and call us to let us know that we’re not alone.

But in addition, many of our next-generation science instruments, like the James Webb Space Telescope or the Nancy Roman Telescope, are specifically designed, or at least have it in their remit, to look for alien life. It’s unquestionable that if there is alien life out there capable of being detected, we’re closer to making contact than we’ve ever been.

But that would be true whether we were days away from getting an interstellar email or we’ve got decades ahead of us before any kind of contact is made, and so all most of us can really do is look up at the night sky like Enrico Fermi and ask the big questions while we wait for an answer, one way or the other.

What do aliens look like?

Aliens could and will look like just about anything you can imagine, given the nature of their evolution and development (should they exist). Even on Earth, we are constantly surprised by the kinds of utterly bizarre flora and fauna that live 1 kilometer below the ocean surface, and we are far closer to a barreleye fish (see above) than we’d be to Alpha Centaurians.

Unless the exact opposite were true.

There is a theory in evolutionary biology called convergent evolution. According to this idea, geographically isolated species are likely to adopt the same evolutionary adaptations due to their lived environment. 

All those movies with humanoid aliens may be a more accurate representation of our future alien relationships than anything out of Independence Day. Suppose the aliens we’re talking about evolved primarily on land and on a planet similar to ours. In that case, they’ll have many of the same physiological developments that we do, even if there are some more unique configurations.

We’re far more likely to recognize ourselves in land-evolved aliens than we are for anything that evolved in the oceans, however, so that is definitely something to think about as we look out into the cosmos for evidence of intelligent life—and also reminds us that there are plenty of aliens to be discovered nearer to home than many people realize.

What about the Drake Equation?

Do aliens exist? The ancient Greeks thought so and so should you
Dr. Frank Drake, revisiting the variables of the Drake Equation, several decades after its inception | Source: Raphael Perrino/Flickr

The Drake Equation was introduced by the astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 as a starting point for discussion at the first meeting of astronomers working on the subject of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and it has since taken on something of a life of its own.

According to the SETI Institute, the Drake Equation “is generally agreed to be the ‘second most-famous equation in science (after E= mc2),’ and you can find it in nearly every astronomy textbook.” That isn’t that much of a stretch, and the Drake Equation has influenced the conversation around alien life for the past 60-plus years.

The Drake Equation looks at several factors to determine the probability of alien life in our galaxy. The Drake Equation is defined as

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

with the terms in the Drake Equation being:

  • N: The number of civilizations in our galaxy whose electromagnetic radiation is detectable
  • R*: the rate of star formation in the galaxy that produces suitable conditions for the development of life
  • fp: The fraction of those stars that have planetary systems
  • ne: The mean number of planets in a star system that can support life
  • fl: The fraction of such planets where life, in fact, develops 
  • fi: The fraction of life-sustaining planets where intelligent life develops  
  • fc: The fraction of those planets which have civilizations capable of producing detectable electromagnetic signals, like radio waves
  • L: The average length of time that a civilization can produce such signals, in years

What we’re looking for is N, namely the probability that an alien civilization is alive and broadcasting at a point in time when we can hear them. Take that probability and multiply it against the number of stars in our galaxy (400 billion). In theory, you can come up with a rough estimate of the number of active alien civilizations currently inhabiting our galaxy.

If you’ve read those variables closely, though, it should be fairly obvious to you that this is not an equation in a traditional sense like, say, E=mc2 or a2 + b2 = c2.

The Drake Equation is, ultimately, a probabilistic one, giving you a result between zero and one, and which tells you the odds of a particular outcome, much like the flip of a coin or the roll of a die, only with many more sides and each weighted very differently from the others.

If the number of life-sustaining planets in a planetary system is one or two planets greater than expected, the impact on the result can be substantial. The time a civilization can exist while being capable of producing electromagnetic waves can likewise produce a galaxy buzzing with activity, or, it can turn the Milky Way into a cosmic crypt with a single inhabitant—us—that is destined to take its place beside the rest of the dead alien species that we won’t ever even know existed.

Because the variables in the Drake Equation are so fluid, it’s not like math equations produced by thinkers like Einstein or Euclid. Those are meant to describe something concrete in an abstract way. Meanwhile, the Drake Equation is much fuzzier, and each variable is open to interpretation (at least for now), and serves a different purpose than mere math. 

In many ways, the Drake Equation is aspirational and is more an expression of hope in the existence of advanced extraterrestrial life than it is science (which is one of the principal criticisms leveled against it). Hope is not science, and in many ways is antithetical to sound science, at least in that a good scientist shouldn’t go out in search of evidence to support a conclusion, but should rather see whether neutral (or as close to neutral as possible) observation or experimentation supports a hypothesis.

But there is a place for something like the Drake Equation, taken in its proper context. When looking out into the cosmic void of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone, confronting the apparent silence of it all can easily lead one to write off SETI as a fool’s errand.

In cosmic terms, we’ve only had the capacity to detect aliens on other worlds for just over a hundred years, at most (assuming that rudimentary radio receivers on Earth could somehow pick up radio broadcasts from thousands of light-years away, not that we’d understand what we were hearing necessarily). That’s not long at all, even in terms of the lifetime of our species, much less the age of life on Earth or the galaxy as a whole, which is thought to have taken on its current form about 9 billion years ago.

In short, we’ve only just turned on the radio, and we haven’t even had a chance to hear the song. Given that our individual lives are so short, cosmically, it would be absurd to say that there is no alien life out there because we haven’t heard from them. That is what makes the Drake Equation a critical point of discussion from a scientific perspective because it gives scientists some perspective.

Yes, that is an enormous haystack we have in front of us, and after some searching, we’ve yet to find any needles. Some scientists might be tempted to throw their hands up and say the search is pointless, but the Drake Equation reminds us that there might still be needles in there, even tens of thousands of needles. We just have to keep searching if we ever hope to find them. Whether we continue to do so is entirely up to us.

Enormous Creature with ‘Human-like-Head’ Discovered on UK Beach

An enormous creature with a ‘human-like-head’ was found washed up on a UK beach.

The 48ft long sea creature, with a hard shell on its back and a human-like head, is said to have once washed up on at Porthleven beach, DevonLive reported.

The unknown beast, which dates back to the 1700s, is described as having green eyes, was reported to have reached the shore during a violent storm on September 14, 1786.

The discovery was made when a pair of boys were playing on the beach looking for shipwrecks when the duo stumbled across the bizarre creature.

The hair-raising event was shared in the old weekly newspaper Hereford Journal in October, 1786.

It was reported by a man from Cornwall who relayed how villagers slew the unknown beast.

Called ‘Sea Monster’, the article reads: “A just and particular description of a very curious and most surprising sea monster driven on shore in Portleaven Bay (sic), on the coast of Cornwall, on the 14th of Sept. 1786, by the strong westerly winds and tempestuous weather.

“Which continued to a violent degree for several days successively, and did much damage at that place and neighbourhood.

“This monster was first discovered by two boys who (agreeable to the custom of that place) went in search of wreck soon after day break.

“And as they stood on the cliff which commanded a prospect of a small sandy cove, they, at a distance of about a mile, discovered something of enormous hulk near the shore.

“And which after a short time they apprehended to be the side or part of an unfortunate ship which had the preceding night been broken to pieces by the extremities of the shore.

“They immediately went towards the place with sanguine expectation of great success, and as they approached the spot (the breaking waves at times leaving it dry).

“They were both struck with the utmost consternation to perceive such motions as it was something which had life.”

The boys, who were mortified, ran towards a group of men they knew and told them what they had witnessed. The men did not believe them at first, but eventually decided to follow them and see the monster for themselves.

“A great number of people soon collected themselves into a body, and determined to go armed, some with large sticks and pokers, others with hatchets, spits, etc, which was, after some deliberation, carried into execution,” the article reports.

“On their coming near the spot they perceived it to be something living, as was represented, and it raised its head, which had not before been perceived, and appeared to direct its course towards them.

“All were alarmed – some stood their ground, others possessed of greater fear turned back, they could see no legs to it, but it appeared to crawl on its belly, raising its body at times a little from the sand.”

The story adds: “No one knew what the animal was. “Various were the opinions about this creature; some said it was a mermaid, others a whale.

“But the greater number disbelieving the existence of the former, and adhering to the improbability of the latter, they were all equally at a loss.

“When it was agreed to examine what it was, they all went towards it, and after an hour’s beating, stabbing it, etc, it expired with a groan.

“Its length was found to be from the top of its head to the end of its tail, 48 feet to inches, and its circumference in the largest part of the body 24 feet and a half.

“Its head was large, and prickly in the hinder part, and not formed much unlike that of a man; its eyes were greenish; its mouth large; its nose flat, and from its neck to the navel.

“Resembling nearest to the human kind; its back was hard and more difficult to penetrate than the shell of a turtle.

“It had two short fore feet, formed like the paw of a monkey, and its hinder parts shaped measured full seven feet in width at the extent, and but five feet long.”

It is not known what was done with the body of the creature, or if anyone studied it.

The article says: “It is supposed a large quantity of oil will be produced from it, which, with the shell of its back, and its fins, are judged, if properly managed, to be of great value, and will be of considerable benefit to this neighbourhood.”

The Cornish man who sent the article said: “No one that has seen it knows its name, nor has any monster like it ever been described in record, or come within the knowledge of this kingdom.”

There have been multiple accounts of witnesses over the years claiming to have seen the 20ft long snake-like creature, dark skinned with humps on its back and a long neck, slithering its way through the sea.

The strange sightings in the waters off the coast of Cornwall have made people question whether plesiosaurs, giant marine reptiles which lived at the same time as dinosaurs and thought to have died out 65 million years ago, could still be alive.

Sightings can be traced back about 140 years, when a long-necked beast was allegedly caught by fishermen in Gerrans Bay.

And there are so many that the sightings have been turned into a legend, with the mysterious creature being named Morgawr, Cornish for sea giant.

There is no scientific explanation as to what people have actually seen – but people have suggested there might be more than one strange creature stalking the Cornish waters.

The first recorded time someone raised the hypothesis that it could be a surviving prehistoric animal was in July 1949.

Inca Children were Drugged to Keep Them Calm Before Sacrifice

A team of researchers from Poland, the U.S. and Peru has found evidence that suggests Inca children selected for sacrifice were given drugs to keep them calm prior to their deaths.

In their paper published in Journal of Archaeological Science, the group describes their analysis of hair and fingernail samples from two small Incan children who had been sacrificed on Peru’s Ampato volcano.

Prior research has shown that human sacrifice was a common practice in Incan society—called capacocha, it was conducted by priests as a means of controlling the population.

Ceremonies involving sacrifice were typically held to celebrate major events, such as the birth of a royal son, or a battle victory. Those selected for sacrifice were typically young women and children. In this new effort, the researchers studied hair and nail samples that had been left behind by two sacrificial Incan children (aged 6 or 7 years old), approximately 500 years ago.

In studying, the samples, the researchers found small amounts of cocaine and also two compounds found in a flowering vine known to be used to make ayahuasca—a hallucinogen. The two compounds, known as harmaline and harmine are monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

The researchers note that they did not find evidence of DMT, however, which is another major ingredient in ayahuasca.

It was not clear if its absence was intentional or was merely an accident. Regardless, its absence meant that the drugs given to the children would not have resulted in hallucinations, instead, they would have simply calmed them, making things easier for those tasked with sacrificing them.

The researchers note that the children would have known what was going to happen to them, weeks in advance; thus, they would very likely not have gone along willingly with a sacrifice.

Giving them drugs to calm them down would have allowed for forcing them to march to their death without them putting up a fuss. People chosen for sacrifice came from all across the empire, which would have meant a long journey prior to being killed during a sacrificial ritual. The researchers note that giving the victims calming drugs appeared to work—Spanish colonizers wrote of witnessing Incan sacrificial rituals where the victims

Mary Shelley Reportedly Lost Her Virginity in a Spooky Place

Today, Frankenstein, or rather Frankenstein’s Monster, is a staple of Halloween and the spooky world, and just about everyone can recognize the re-imagined large green ghoul with bolts poking out the side of his neck.

While that’s been the case for quite some time now, rewind a little over 200 years to 1818, and you’ll find that the first readers of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” weren’t too enthused with the then-controversial novel, according to The Portalist.

The author herself must have seen this reaction coming, as she published it anonymously, and it remained so for the first five years of the book’s life.

Mary Shelley is now one of the most famous writers to have ever lived. However, outside of her writing, she led a life filled with a unique set of events, from tragedy to forbidden love to some very macabre events.

In some ways, Shelley’s life is as one might expect for the writer of a sci-fi-horror novel. In other ways, her life seems like yet another story that pulls readers in and leaves them with a bit of disbelief and thought-provoking images.

A part of Shelley’s life that has become quite a popular story among her fans is the story of how — especially where — she lost her virginity. What might seem a strange discussion surrounding a favorite literary genius makes a bit more sense once you learn why people are so intrigued by the tale.

Mary confessed her love to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley on her mother’s grave

Mary Shelley was born in 1797 to the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the philosopher William Goodwin. According to an article published in The Portalist, her mother died just a few weeks after Mary’s birth due to childbirth complications.

A young Mary would visit her mother’s grave often, and it’s written that she used the letters carved into the headstone as a means to teach herself how to write her name, according to Profile Books.

As she grew older, the gravesite she so often visited became the spot for another piece of her life. According to some, it’s the location where she supposedly lost her virginity to her love, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Charlotte Gordon, author of the book “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley,” was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in 2015. According to Gordon, “That’s where we think she had sex for the first time, on her mother’s grave. We can’t prove that they actually had sex, but they certainly declared their love and became intimate. It was a really dangerous thing to do.”

Yes, Mary Shelley, famed science fiction and horror literature writer and inspiration to millions, possibly lost her virginity on her mother’s grave. Profile Books points out that social media users accurately characterize the story as “the most goth thing ever.”

Her father might have committed murder on her and Percy Shelley’s behalf

Mary Shelley’s romantic life seems like something right out of one of her own works, but the reality is that her relationship with her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was seemingly equal parts love and tragedy. At the age of 16, Mary fell in love with Percy, who at the time was her father’s apprentice. The two eloped to France, even though Percy was already married to another woman, Harriet Westbrook, according to The Portalist. The forbidden love led to Mary’s father disowning her, but not before possibly committing a crime on her behalf.

It’s long been speculated that Shelley’s father murdered his son-in-law’s wife in an attempt to salvage Mary’s reputation and allow Percy and Mary to officially wed, according to Lynn Sheperd Books. Though Harriet’s body was recovered in the Hyde Park River, the suspicions surrounding William Goodwin have never been met with any proof, and ultimately the death was ruled a suicide by drowning. 

Nevertheless, Harriet’s death was something that ate away at Mary for years to come. James L. O’Rourke’s book “Sex, Lies, and Autobiography: The Ethics of Confession” quotes an 1839 journal entry in which Mary wrote, “Poor Harriet, to whose sad fate I attribute so many of my own heavy sorrows as the atonement claimed by fate for her death.”

Shelley’s life was littered with tragedy and macabre acts of love

Perhaps Mary Shelley’s draw to her mother’s grave for both the experience of grief and love fit seamlessly into the rest of her life, as Shelley’s days were filled with more despair than most see in a lifetime.

Her mother’s death just a few weeks after birth was just the beginning of death’s hold on Shelley’s life, as her sister died when Mary was only a teenager, and three of her four children didn’t live to see adulthood, with one dying just days after birth and another dying at the age of three, according to The Portalist.

Shelley’s life would continue to see dark days when her husband, Percy, drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 1822, and her closest friend and fellow writer, Lord Byron, passed away two short years after, according to an article published in Refinery29.

Shelley herself died of a brain tumor when she was 53 years old. After her passing, it was found that she’d been keeping the heart of her deceased husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, in the drawer of her writing desk, gently wrapped in poetry and silk. The poem of choice was Shelley’s own “Adonais” (posted at The Poetry Foundation), according to The Portalist. In love, life, and death, Mary Shelley lived a life filled with macabre details in every moment, whether filled with pleasure or tragedy.

Actor Refused to Work with John Wayne Over Politics

John Wayne was one of the biggest Hollywood stars around in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. He starred in dozens of movies over the few decades and was just years away from winning his first Oscar for Best Actor in 1969’s True Grit.

So it was extremely exciting for the industry when Wayne decided to direct, produce, and star in the 1960 movie The Alamo – a biopic of The Battle of the Alamo, a historical event that turned the tide during America’s Texas Revolution.

And when he started looking for actors to fill the roles of his historical heroes, he only wanted the best.

At the same time, Charlton Heston was also making waves in the movie industry. He, too, was a prolific actor throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Most notably, he played Ben-Hur in the 1959 epic of the same name, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Suffice it to say, Heston and Wayne would have been a match made in heaven for filmgoers, who would have seen two icons of the silver screen work together for the first time.

But, because of the political divide between the pair, it was not meant to be.

Wayne was a staunch conservative, and extremely open in discussing his right-wing views. In 1971 he even openly advocated for “white supremacy”.

Wayne told Playboy Magazine at the time: “I believe in white supremacy,” before condemning the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy for being “a story about two f**s”.

Heston, on the other hand, was a passionate democrat. He would even go on to march for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King in 1963.

So when the American star was sent the script for The Alamo by Wayne, Heston was reluctant.

Before long, Heston turned down the role of Jim Bowie. And after the film had been released, Heston said there were “good reasons” to not do the movie.

When Heston was pressed further about the topic, he said one of the reasons was “having John Wayne” as a director.

There is no doubt that the pair’s political views drastically clashed. And some sources claim Heston “feared the critical response to the movie”.

The actor also cited his recently released Ben-Hur as a reason. Heston explained he had just spent months filming Ben-Hur in the desert, and did not want to commit to another enormous movie project.

Wayne went ahead with The Alamo without Heston, casting Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie instead. And the film was a great success, earning Wayne a nomination for Best Picture at the 1961 Oscars.

But years later, Heston expressed a lot of regret about his choices.

Heston later had a political change of heart and became a full right-wing republican in the years that followed. After reflecting on turning down The Alamo, he said refusing Wayne and his movie was “a huge mistake”.

Heston’s political views shifted so much that he became a Republican activist. He even worked with Wayne a few years later in 1965 on the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Heston’s respect for Wayne never faltered after that, either. When Wayne died in 1979 from stomach cancer, Heston was one of the first stars to speak out about the actor. Heston said: “He was – and is – an American institution. It’s not surprising that, to the end, Duke gave an example of courage that made him more than an actor and friend.”

1,000-Year-Old Native American Carvings Show Mysterious Giant Humanoids

A scientific study has uncovered massive, ghostly figures carved into the ceiling of an Alabama cave more than 1,000-years ago. 

The figures, three of which were humanoid in shape, are among the biggest ever uncovered in the Northern Americas. Some are more than 6ft long per a study presenting the findings published in the peer-reviewed journal Antiquity on Tuesday

Known as glyphs, the unique carvings sculpted in the soft mud on the cave’s ceiling could provide clues into the traditions of Native American peoples of this southeastern US, say the study’s authors.

“We know that Native Americans over a very wide area have certain ideas in their religious concepts that they share. They believe in a tiered universe,” said archeologist Jan Simek.

“They believed that there were these spirit worlds all around them that permeate the natural world, even though you couldn’t see them,” he said. 

Invisible figures revealed by months of tenuous work

The project was decades in the making for the paper’s authors — archeologist Jan Simek and photographers Alvarez and Alan Cressler.

Despite this, they could not document the artwork because of a simple, technically challenging barrier: The cave ceiling is so close to the floor that it was impossible to take good pictures of the carvings. 

Alvarez first tried to document the glyphs as a photographer on a National Geographic assignment in 1999. “The images were so faint!” he told Insider.  

“I feel like there are stories that get entrusted to me,” said Alvarez. “That was the motivation behind doing all the work.”

 Finally, hi-tech 3D photogrammetry would be the key to capturing the glyphs. It can read the minute variation in light between two images taken a few inches apart to draw precise 3D models of objects.

It was still a grueling, month-long task to capture more than 16,000 pictures that very slightly overlap to map out the entire cave ceiling.

“It took like years for my knees to recover. It’s just kneeling and stooping for hours and hours and hours in days and days and days on end,” Alvarez said.

Finally able to digitally lower the cave floor they first glimpsed the enormous humanoid glyphs.

Deciphering an ancient story for the first time in centuries 

The glyphs portray what archeologists call anthropomorphs, figures that could either represent humans in costumes and masks or humanoid spirits, Simek said. 

These characters were probably deeply ingrained in the culture of the people living near the cave so that they could understand who they were from seeing only a part of them, Simek said.

The style of the drawings in the Alabama cave is reminiscent of figures seen in the midwest and the western US. They are very large with square shoulders, ghost-like, with headgear and elaborate clothing, and directly face the viewer. That suggests that these figures represented inhabitants of the supernatural world, per the study. 

One example of similar anthropomorphs can be seen in the Barrier Canyon in Utah. 

However, the study authors have not been able to link the Alabama figures to recognizable characters recorded in southeast Native American stories.

“They clearly represent a character or a set of characters that we’ve never seen before,” said Simek. 

Philip Carr, a professor of Native American Studies and Anthropology at the University of South Alabama who was not involved in the study, was complimentary of the work. 

“It is the work of archaeological teams such as this one that provide those rare glimpses into past ideologies that leave us wanting to know even more,” he told Insider. 

“Are these figures related to the underworld?  If so, what was the relationship of the people who drew them to those beings of the underworld?”

Rediscovering the old to inform the new

We know little about the people that would have lived around that cave 1,000 and 1,500 years ago, what is called the Middle Woodland phase. 

“We don’t have the kind of documentation about artwork that we have for later time periods,” said Simek. “We know the archeological context, but even that is relatively hard to find that at this date,” he said. 

These findings are relevant to present-day Native American communities, which see these traditions as part of their heritage, Simek said. 

“Their descendants are the native people of the southeast that were in the region when Europeans arrived: The Cherokees, the Creeks, Muscogee people, Choctaw, Chickasaw,” he said.

“These people and their culture are vibrant and alive. Europeans moved them out of the Southeast forcibly, to Oklahoma, to reservations that were not their homeland. But they still maintain their connectivity,” he said.

“Archeology is not always about the dead,” Simek said.

Marquis De Sade: The Most Depraved Man in History

Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, was a bestselling author in his day and yet he spent most of his life behind bars.

His novels inspired the term “sadist” – “a person who derives pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain or humiliation on others” – and yet, in 2017, France declared his work a “national treasure”. So, was Sade a pornographer or a philosopher – and why does his name continue to cause such heated debate?

Two centuries after his death, Sade (1740-1814) remains a figure of controversy. On the one hand, his name is associated with the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, on the other, with rape, sexual terror and torture.

During his lifetime, Sade was found guilty of sodomy, rape, torturing the 36-year-old beggar woman Rose Keller, imprisoning six children in his chateau at Lacoste, and poisoning five prostitutes with the aphrodisiac “Spanish fly”.

He managed to avoid the death sentence but still spent 32 years in prisons and insane asylums, partly due to the intervention of family members who kept him locked up to avoid disgrace.

Momentarily freed under the French Revolution, he became “Citizen Sade”, participating in some of the key political events of the era, only to see his works seized, destroyed and banned under Napoleon Bonaparte.

His work remained censored throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th – but in 2017 the French State declared his 120 Days of Sodom (1785), written in the Bastille on a 12-metre scroll, to be a “national treasure”. So what happened between his lifetime and ours to change his profile so radically? Here are five things we should all know about the Marquis de Sade.

1. The most disgusting books

Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791), Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795), The New Justine (an extended version of Justine published in 1797) followed by the Story of Juliette, Her Sister (1797) and The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage (1785) – these are the works that led Napoleon Bonaparte to call Sade an author of “abominable” books and to have a “depraved imagination”. But they were penned behind bars and are the products of an incarcerated imagination – not accounts of his personal life and crimes.

No one escapes the satirical power of Sade’s pen – young or old, virtuous or corrupt, rich or poor – although his narratives are dominated by certain types, especially bankers, clergy, judges, aristocrats and prostitutes.

2. Philosopher of the bedroom

Sade lived in a time of terror. His writings may be read as a knowing inversion of Enlightenment high ideals as they were penned in France at the end of the 18th century in the shadow of the bloody guillotine. For example, Philosophy in the Bedroom – which contains a mock political pamphlet: “Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans” – was written shortly after the fall of the leading radical Robespierre and it offers an absurdist take on the rhetoric and promises of the French Revolution.

In it, Sade also reminds us that “were it among Nature’s intentions that man be born modest, she would not have caused him to be born naked”.

3.Sade and sadism

Sade’s taste for sodomy, paedophilia and flagellation, in addition to his fictional accounts of excessive orgies, which describe sexual cruelty and murder in excessive detail, led many to presume he was deranged. This status was magnified by the fact that he ended his life in the asylum of Charenton, although a scientific examination of his skull by a Dr Ramon after his death showed no physical or mental abnormalities – phrenology determined the skull “was in all respects similar to that of a Father of the Church”. Casts were even made of his skull, one of which now sits in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

In Sade’s writings, however, the clergy are typically amoral characters and by the 19th century, the term “sadism” was coined by psychoanalysts to denote the experience of pleasure through the infliction of physical pain.

4. Pornography at the service of women

The feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir defended Sade in a 1951 essay entitled: “Must We Burn Sade?”.

She argued that his novels’ exploration of the idea that “in a criminal society, one must be criminal” was never more relevant and that his life story and increasing perversity in his fiction was a symptom of society’s increasing attempts to control him.

In the 1970s and 1980s, feminists engaged in heated debate over Sade and his philosophical value. Angela Carter defended him for putting pornography “at the service of women” while Andrea Dworkin insisted his fiction only defended the male sexual desire to “possess” women.

5. ‘Divine Marquis’

By the 20th century, Sade was deemed “divine” by many intellectuals and artists who interpreted his writings as a dark mirror of man’s inhumanity to man. From Man Ray’s imaginary portraits of Sade in the late 1930s, portraying him as a paragon of liberty beside the burning Bastille, as war loomed in Europe, to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Saló (1975), which restages Sade’s 120 days of Sodom in fascist Italy, Sade’s name and writings offered modern artists and writers a means to address the horrors of war and totalitarian regimes. These are themes American artist Paul Chan explores in his mixed-media installations “Sade for Sade’s Sake” (2009) by conflating Sade and the “War on Terror”.

Sade’s writings may seem cold and cruel, but they can but leave a mark on the reader. Surely that is the power of art and why we must continue to read Sade.

Pile of 150 Female Skulls Found in Cave

A pile of 150 skulls that sparked a murder probe after their discovery in a Mexican cave were actually the remains of women sacrificed to the Aztec gods thousands of years ago.

The historic find was made close to the Guatemalan border in an area plagued with violent smuggling gangs.

Investigators thought the decapitated skulls were unfortunate victims of ruthless local gangsters and launched a probe to uncover how the remains got there, the Daily Star reports.

After 10 years of extensive tests, experts learned the women were not murder victims, but human sacrifices beheaded during rituals to the Aztec gods millenia ago.

A spokesperson for INAH, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, said: “Believing they were looking at a crime scene, investigators collected the bones and started examining them in Tuxtla Gutierrez”, the state capital.

Experts have said the unfortunate victims had been beheaded and their skulls put on display in a trophy rack known as a “tzompantli”.

It is believed were killed between 900 and 1200CE.

What confused investigators is that pre-Hispanic skull piles usually show a hole knocked through each side of the skull and are found in plazas not caves.

Among the vicitms of this latest find there were more women than men, with none of them having any teeth.

In the wake of the find, archaeologist Javier Montes de Paz said people should probably call archaeologists, not police.

“When people find something that could be in an archaeological context, don’t touch it and notify local authorities or directly the INAH,” he said.

In 2017, archaeologists found a staggering 650 skulls caked in lime at the Templo Mayor, one of the main temples in the Atzec capital Tenochtitlan – which went on to become Mexico City.

They also found thousands of skull fragments encased in the same central edifice.

A few years later, Mexican archaeologists found the remains of over 100 Aztec men, women and children who were suspected to have been sacrificed to the gods.

The grisly findings were discovered during the restoration of a building in Mexico City and are believed to be part of a five metre “skull rack” at a shrine to the Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice.

Hundreds of human heads have been previously unearthed at the site, first uncovered three years ago.

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