David Meyer (the Guerrilla Explorer) at the Maya Ruins at Tikal

The Mysterious Missing Maya?

Another week, another theory on what the mysterious Classic Maya collapse. As a reminder, the Classic Maya period took place in the southern Maya lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula, starting around 200 AD. By 900 AD, this highly-advanced civilization had abandoned its great cities and seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth. So, what caused the mysterious Maya collapse?

What caused the Mysterious Maya Collapse?

What Caused the Mysterious Maya Collapse?
Description: David Meyer at the Maya Ruins at Tikal

The Mysterious Maya Collapse?

Over the years, a number of theories have been put forth to explain this “collapse,” ranging from invasion to epidemics to most recently, climate change. Last week, another theory emerged to grab the headlines. Like many others, it blames the collapse on climate change…as well as religion. Here’s a quick taste on this latest Maya collapse theory from Fox News:

Reoccupying elevated interior areas with large numbers of people would require intense labor to re-establish water management systems, helping to explain why they were left abandoned, the researchers noted. In contrast, dwelling in the neighboring, low-lying areas was less challenging, and evidence suggests that sites there were typically occupied continuously even when the major political and economic networks they were linked with collapsed.

At the same time, the Classic Maya would have implicated gods and their “divine” rulers for the collapse. In that way, their abandoned territories became thought of as chaotic, haunted places, and reclaiming any lands from the forest was at best done with great care and ritual. Survivors in outlying sites may often not have bothered…

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Most of our regular readers know we don’t place a lot of credence in the various climate change theories, all of which are far more problematic than the media would have you believe. Now, its possible the Classic Maya stayed away from their former cities out of religious concerns. However, there is an equally plausible explanation. Perhaps they just found themselves living a far better life after the “collapse” and saw no reason to return to their former cities. Here’s more on the Maya collapse from us here at Guerrilla Explorer:

I want to suggest another theory to explain the Classic Maya collapse…namely, excessive centralization. This theory is best expressed by Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies.

As a society faces problems, it becomes more complex in order to solve them. A central government creates “solutions” which consume resources and cause yet more problems. The society becomes increasingly complex, leading to the necessity of even more complex solutions. Eventually, the costs of maintaining such a complex society outweighs the benefits at the individual level. When problems arise – things like drought or invasion – the collapse of the society is more desirable than the alternative. At that point, the civilization undergoes a process of simplification.

Historians tend to favor the collective over the individual. So, they often see the collapse of a complex society as a bad thing. And indeed, societal collapse is often bad for elites. However, it can be a blessing for the average individual, leaving that person far better off. Consider it from the point of the individual. For hundreds of years, Maya peasants were forced to support the construction of gigantic monuments and agricultural projects as well as fight in various wars. However, many of these things were of little benefit to the individual. In fact, the health and nutrition of peasants deteriorated throughout the Classic Maya period. For many of these people, the loss of complexity brought individual improvement.

The mystery of what triggers caused the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization remains a mystery. Perhaps it was drought. Maybe it was war or disease. And we still don’t know what happened to the people of that civilization. Many of them may have died from the immediate triggers. There is also evidence to suggest they merely moved north, precipitating the rise of Chichen Itza in the northern Yucatán. Regardless, it would appear that the seeds for destruction for the Classic Maya were sewn many years earlier, thanks to excessive centralization.

(See more on the Classic Maya collapse at Guerrilla Explorer)

The Search for Amelia Earhart?

At 8:43am on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 75 years later, her disappearance, along with that of her navigator Fred Noonan, remains one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history.

Background on Amelia Earhart

We first looked at this mystery back in July 2011. To sum up, Amelia was a famed aviatrix and the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She vanished in 1937, along with her navigator Fred Noonan and her Lockheed Electra plane while attempting a circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has searched for Amelia, focusing its efforts on tiny Gardner Island. They’ve uncovered an amazing amount of circumstantial evidence in the process. Two days ago, TIGHAR announced its latest expedition, which it hopes will finally answer this enduring mystery.

“So, unless you’ve been on a boat in the middle of the Pacific, you know what our news is. Niku 7 departs July 2, 2012, to do the deep water search we’ve wanted to do for many years. We are so grateful to the wonderful people at the U.S. State department for giving us the platform from which to make the announcement. We’ll have a lot more up on the website in the next day or two. Stay tuned!” – TIGHAR Update, March 20, 2012

Here’s TIGHAR’s general theory of what happened to Amelia, Fred, and the Electra:

  • Having failed to find Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan continued on the navigational line Amelia said they were following.
  • That line led them to uninhabited Gardner Island where Amelia landed the Electra safely on the island’s fringing reef.
  • For the next several nights they used the aircraft’s radio to send distress calls.
  • Radio bearings taken on the signals crossed in the vicinity of Gardner Island.
  • One week after the flight disappeared, three U.S. Navy search planes flew over Gardner Island. By then, the distress calls had stopped. Rising tides and surf had swept the Electra over the reef edge.
  • The Navy fliers saw no airplane but they did see “signs of recent habitation.” They thought that all the islands in the area were inhabited so they moved on. In fact, no one had lived on Gardner since 1892.
  • Earhart and Noonan lived for a time as castaways on the waterless atoll, relying on rain squalls for drinking water. They caught and cooked small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams. Amelia died at a makeshift campsite on the island’s southeast end. Noonan’s fate is unknown.
  • Whatever remains of the Electra lies in deep water off the island’s west end.

For a more detailed explanation as well as supporting evidence, check this out.


Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

Did Rudolf Hess Kill Himself?

In 1987, the infamous ex-Nazi Rudolf Hess appeared to be on the verge of being freed from Spandau Prison after more than four decades of incarceration. However, he died beforehand, supposedly by self-asphyxiation with an electrical cord. Afterward, researchers began to speculate that Hess’s death wasn’t suicide…it was murder.

The Mysterious Death of Rudolf Hess?

But why would someone want to murder Rudolf Hess so long after the end of World War II? One possibility involves the bizarre 1941 flight to Scotland that got Rudolf Hess imprisoned in the first place. This flight was apparently part of a “peace mission.” Rudolf Hess proposed a non-aggression pact between Great Britain and Germany, which would free up the Nazis to invade Russia.

Now, some believe there was a faction of the British government who was prepared to negotiate peace with Nazi Germany. In order to keep Rudolf Hess from revealing their identities, they decided to kill him before he could be released.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Of course, this is just speculation. We can’t even be certain how Hess died. However, a recently declassified report has poked holes in the suicide theory. This lends some credence to the idea that Hess was indeed murdered (or at the very least, assisted in his suicide attempt). Here’s more on the mysterious death of Rudolf Hess from The Daily Mail:

A declassified report has revealed for the first time the stark scene in which Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess was said to have killed himself at a fortified compound in Berlin, and his alleged suicide note.

Pictures, which had not been published until now, show the electrical cord Hess allegedly used to end his life inside a small summerhouse at Spandau Prison 25 years ago this month.

But the report of the investigation into Hess’s death, released this week under Freedom of Information, has only deepened the mystery surrounding his final moments…

(See The Daily Mail for more on Rudolf Hess)

Hitler’s American Bunker?

During the 1930s, a strange group of Nazi sympathizers known as the Silver Legion of America built a gigantic, heavily-guarded bunker in Los Angeles. What was the purpose of this bunker? Did they hope to build a Nazi America?

Nazi America – Hitler’s American Bunker?

The members of the Silver Legion of America were known as Silver Shirts. And yes, their bunker was intended to help bring about a Nazi America. Specifically, they planned to ride out World War II within its confines as they waited for Hitler to arrive on American shores.

“This was supposed to be the seat of American fascism from where Hitler would one day run the United States.” ~ Randy Young, Historian

The compound was built by Jessie Murphy, who’d inherited a fortune from family-owned mines. It consisted of a diesel power plant, a concrete water tank, a meat locker, a vegetable garden, 22 bedrooms, and a bomb shelter. It still exists today, although it’s scheduled to be bulldozed in the near future. Here’s more on this strange bunker and its role in the Silver Shirts trying to create a Nazi America from The Daily Mail:

It sounds like the bizzare script of a Hollywood B-movie. In a parallel universe the Nazis have won the war, Adolf Hitler moves to LA where he mingles with the stars of the silver screen while running his evil empire from a luxurious ranch deep in the LA hills.

But during the 1930s, American sympathisers were so confident this exact scenario was actually going happen they spent millions building a deluxe compound ready for their fuhrer’s imminent arrival.

(See The Daily Mail for more on the Nazi America bunker)

A New Human Species…in China?

As early as 11,500 years ago, a strange group of people lived in China’s Red Deer Cave and Longlin Cave.

The Mysterious Red Deer Cave People?

These people, referred to as the Red Deer Cave people, are believed to be a separate species of Homo – possibly the last such species on Earth, next to modern man. Here’s more from New Scientist on the Red Deer Cave people:

And so it begins. For years, evolutionary biologists have predicted that new human species would start popping up in Asia as we begin to look closely at fossilised bones found there. A new analysis of bones from south-west China suggests there’s truth to the forecast.

…What’s more, Curnoe and Ji Xueping of Yunnan University, China, have found more evidence of the new hominin at a second site – Malu cave in Yunnan Province. Curnoe has dubbed the new group the Red Deer Cave people because of their penchant for venison. “There is evidence that they cooked large deer in Malu cave,” he says.

(See New Scientist for more on the Red Deer Cave people)

Shocking Civil War Photos?

In memory of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, The Atlantic is publishing an astounding collection of Civil War photos taken by war correspondents. They are, in a word, shocking.

Shocking Civil War Photos?

My third great grandfather fought for the Union during the Civil War. He was mustered in during 1862, was captured at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station in 1864, and died three years later, presumably from war-related injuries. Even when looking at these photos, it’s hard to fathom the horrors and destruction he must’ve seen during the Civil War years. For some terrific insights on the war and more Civil War photos, check out my friend Sean McLachlan’s blog at Civil War Horror. And here’s more Civil War photos from the Atlantic. Make sure to click on over to check out the rest of these startling photos:

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War…Although photography was still in its infancy, war correspondents produced thousands of images, bringing the harsh realities of the frontlines to those on the home front in a new and visceral way. As brother fought brother and the nation’s future grew uncertain, the public appetite for information was fed by these images from the trenches, rivers, farms, and cities that became fields of battle.

(See The Atlantic for more Civil War photos)

Battle of the Presidents: Obama vs. Hayes?

Who’s the better U.S. President? Barack Obama? Or the little-known Rutherford B. Hayes?

Battle of the Presidents: Barack Obama vs. Rutherford B. Hayes?

In what promises to be the strangest President vs. President battle of 2012, President Obama knocked President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) yesterday over his apparent dislike of the telephone.

“One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore. He’s looking backwards, he’s not looking forward. He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.” ~ President Barack Obama

Whew! Pretty low blow there by President Obama, going after someone who can’t exactly defend himself. There’s just one problem…it’s not true. According to Nan Card at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, there’s no record of Rutherford B. Hayes ever saying that particular quote about the telephone.

“I’ve heard that before, and no one ever knows where it came from, but people just keep repeating it and repeating it, so it’s out there.” ~ Nan Card, Curator of Manuscripts

Furthermore, an article from the June 29, 1877 edition of the Providence Journal records a very different reaction by President Hayes

The President listened carefully while a gradually increasing smile wreathed his lips, and wonder shone in his eyes more and more, until he took the little instrument from his ear, looked at it a moment in surprise, and remarked, “That is wonderful.”

Rutherford B. Hayes – Was he one of America’s Greatest Presidents?

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to have a telephone, the first one to use a typewriter, and invited Thomas Edison to the White House to demonstrate the phonograph. Rather than being some kind of technophobe, President Hayes appears to have been the exact opposite.

As for President Obama’s slight about Mount Rushmore, I’d point to Ivan Eland’s excellent work, Recarving Rushmore. According to Eland, the four presidents who should be depicted on Mount Rushmore are John TylerGrover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, and…you guessed it, Rutherford B. Hayes. In contrast, he ranks Mount Rushmore’s current occupants as follows: George Washington #7, Thomas Jefferson #26, Teddy Roosevelt #21, and Abraham Lincoln #29.

Eland takes a unique approach to evaluating presidents. Instead of ranking them on the usual stuff, he ranks them on how well they achieved peace, prosperity, and liberty. Presidents earn points for avoiding “wars of choice,” pursuing economic freedom, and respecting individual freedoms as well as limits on presidential powers.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

President Hayes resisted going to war with Mexico, pursued anti-inflationary policies, avoided intervening in employer/labor disputes, and advocated for voting rights for African Americans. The biggest knock against him is he continued the U.S. government’s shabby treatment of Native Americans. Still, based on the ideals of peace, prosperity, and liberty, (and contrary to President Obama’s opinion), there is a strong case to be made that President Hayes deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest presidents in American history.

Da Vinci’s Lost Masterpiece?

On June 6, 1505, Leonardo da Vinci began to paint The Battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo Vecchio. Over fifty years later, Giorgio Vasari was hired to remodel the room where da Vinci’s mural was located. In the process, da Vinci’s mural vanished into thin air. New evidence suggests that not only does it still exist but that it is in the exact same place where it was painted all those years ago!

Battle of the Anghiari – The Lost Leonardo?

The Battle of Anghiari is often referred to as “The Lost Leonardo.” At the time of its creation, it was considered his finest work. Today it’s remembered via a few sketches done by da Vinci as well as a Peter Paul Rubens drawing which was apparently inspired by a copy of the original work (Ruben’s drawing is pictured above).

For many centuries, this work was feared lost. However, it turns out Vasari had a penchant for secretly preserving artwork. Back in 1861, workers removed a wall from Santa Maria Novella. The wall had been adorned with Vasari’s Madonna of the Rosary. Behind it, they discovered a 1428 piece by Masaccio entitled Trinità. Rather than destroy Masaccio’s fresco, Vasari had covered it up with a false wall and in the process, saved it for future generations.

Did Giorgio Vasari save The Battle of Anghiari?

Art diagnostic expert Maurizio Seracini believes Vasari used similar techniques to save The Battle of Anghiari. In 2005, he used sophisticated radar equipment to discover “a narrow cavity behind the Vasari fresco Battle of Marciano.” In true Da Vinci Code fashion, he also found an inscription from Vasari on the Battle of Marciano. It reads “Cerca, trova.” Or, “Seek and you shall find.”

Yesterday, Seracini’s team reported that they have uncovered chemical evidence of da Vinci’s lost work. Here’s some details on the search for the lost Battle of Anghiari from Live Science:

  • “One of the samples contained a black material with a chemical composition similar to black pigment found in brown glazes on da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “St. John the Baptist,” identified in a recently published scientific paper by the Louvre, which analyzed all the da Vinci paintings in its collection.
  • Flakes of red material found seem to be made up of organic material that may be associated with red lake (lacquer) — something unlikely to exist in an ordinary plastered wall.
  • From the high-definition images captured by the probe, the researchers saw a beige material on the original wall, which, they say, could only have been applied by a paintbrush.
  • The researchers confirmed an air gap between the brick wall holding Vasari’s mural and the wall behind it, something that had been identified in previous research using radar scans. The researchers speculate Vasari may have built a wall in front of da Vinci’s masterpiece in order to preserve it.”

Even if Vasari did store the mural behind a false wall, experts believe it could be in extremely poor shape. Still, we continue to believe the search is worthwhile. For if Seracini is right, then what may have been da Vinci’s greatest masterpiece will get a second opportunity to see the light of day…and to dazzle the world.

Did an Optical Illusion sink the Titanic?

Back in 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, taking over 1,500 lives in the process. But how did this happen?

Did an Optical Illusion sink the Titanic?

Recently, we wrote about how lunar tides may have caused the iceberg to end up in the Titanic’s path. However, this doesn’t explain how the crew managed to miss it. One intriguing possibility is that the lookouts were thrown off by an optical illusion. According to British historian Tim Maltin, the iceberg may have been shielded by a phenomenon known as super refraction. In other words, a thermal inversion caused light waves to bend in strange ways, effectively creating a false horizon from the Titanic’s point of view. Here’s more on whether or not an optical illusion sunk the Titanic from Popsci:

The Titanic may have struck an iceberg and sank helplessly because of a strange atmosphere-caused optical illusion, a new book argues. British historian Tim Maltin says super refraction, an extraordinary bending of light that causes mirages, prevented the Titanic’s crew from seeing the fateful iceberg…

…This abnormal bending of light waves would have created a false horizon, and the iceberg lay beneath it, out of view of the ship’s lookouts…

(See Popsci for more on whether or not an optical illusion sunk the Titanic)

Did Lunar Tides Sink the Titanic?

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,517 people to a watery grave. But how did it happen?

Did Lunar Tides Sink the Titanic?

The fate of the Titanic is well known. In 1912, it crashed into an iceberg and sank sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,500 people died in the process. But how did that particular iceberg enter the Titanic’s shipping lane in the first place?

According to modern astronomers, the answer might lie in the tides…the lunar tides. Here’s more on the Titanic and lunar tides from The Daily Mail:

‘The event January 4 was the closest approach of the Moon to the Earth in more than 1,400 years, and it maximized the Moon’s tide-raising forces on Earth’s oceans. That’s remarkable,’ said Texas State physics faculty member Donald Olson…

All these factors contributed to abnormally high sea levels which helped dislodge grounded icebergs and send them into the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, it is claimed…

‘That could explain the abundant icebergs in the spring of 1912. We don’t claim to know exactly where the Titanic iceberg was in January 1912 – nobody can know that – but this is a plausible scenario.’

(See The Daily Mail for more on the Titanic and lunar tides)