Celtic Mummies…in China?

It looks like ancient Celtic warriors traveled miles past Europe’s boundaries…thousands of miles in fact…all the way to China’s mysterious Taklamakan Desert.

Did Ancient Celtic Warriors go to China?

The ancient Celts were a group of tribal societies that existed during the Iron Age and Medieval Europe. At its peak, the Celtic tribes encompassed a vast loosely-connected empire that covered the British Isles, France, Poland, Central Europe, and parts of Italy. But while Celtic warriors lived across a large amount of land, they never went past Anatolia, or modern Turkey. Or did they?

Here’s more from The Independent on the mystery of China’s Celtic warriors:

Solid as a warrior of the Caledonii tribe, the man’s hair is reddish brown flecked with grey, framing high cheekbones, a long nose, full lips and a ginger beard. When he lived three thousand years ago, he stood six feet tall, and was buried wearing a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. He looks like a Bronze Age European. In fact, he’s every inch a Celt. Even his DNA says so.

But this is no early Celt from central Scotland. This is the mummified corpse of Cherchen Man, unearthed from the scorched sands of the Taklamakan Desert in the far-flung region of Xinjiang in western China, and now housed in a new museum in the provincial capital of Urumqi. In the language spoken by the local Uighur people in Xinjiang, “Taklamakan” means: “You come in and never come out.”

The extraordinary thing is that Cherchen Man was found – with the mummies of three women and a baby – in a burial site thousands of miles to the east of where the Celts established their biggest settlements in France and the British Isles…

(See The Independent for more on China’s mysterious Celtic warriors)

Who Really Discovered America?

More than anyone else, Christopher Columbus is responsible for connecting the Old World to the New World. But he wasn’t the first person to reach America. So, who discovered America?

Who Discovered America?

I’ve long favored the idea that pre-Columbian contact between the “Old World” and “New World” was far more extensive than the history books would have you believe. And given recent evidence, it appears those history books may need to be rewritten. Someday soon, we may actually be able to determine who discovered America. But for now, there’s growing evidence that ancient Europeans once traveled to America. Here’s more on who discovered America from The Telegraph:

In a discovery that could rewrite the history of the Americas, archaeologists have found a number of stone tools dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, and bearing remarkable similarities to those made in Europe.

…The tools could reassert the long dismissed and discredited claim that Europeans in the form of Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first to discover the New World…

(See The Telegraph for more on who discovered America)

Neanderthal Mariners?

Were the Neanderthals land-locked? Or did they master the seas as ancient mariners?

Neanderthals: Were they Ancient Mariners?

Recently, researchers discovered Neanderthal-type tools in Greece as well as on several Greek islands. Although they have yet to be dated, they provide some intriguing evidence that Neanderthals crossed the Mediterranean Sea 100,000 years ago. It’s possible the water level was significantly lower back then and the islands were connected to the mainland. It’s also possible Neanderthals swam the distance. Or maybe, just maybe, they built boats and sailed to the islands as ancient mariners. Here’s more on Neanderthals as ancient mariners from New Scientist:

It looks like Neanderthals may have beaten modern humans to the seas. Growing evidence suggests our extinct cousins criss-crossed the Mediterranean in boats from 100,000 years ago – though not everyone is convinced they weren’t just good swimmers.

Neanderthals lived around the Mediterranean from 300,000 years ago. Their distinctive “Mousterian” stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. That could be explained in two ways: either the islands weren’t islands at the time, or our distant cousins crossed the water somehow…

(See New Scientist for more on Neanderthal ancient mariners)

The Mysterious Decline of U.S. Whaling?

In 1820, the U.S. whaling industry was just a blip, generating about $1 million in revenue per year. Thirty years later, it had grown nearly 1,000%, making the U.S. the global leader in whaling. By 1900, U.S. whaling revenues had declined an astonishing 90%. What happened?

The Mysterious Decline of the U.S. Whaling Industry?

The rise and fall of America’s whaling business is a fascinating tale. It exploded in the mid 1800s thanks to a series of new technologies and rising worker productivity. Almost as immediately as it came together, the U.S. whaling industry fell apart. Many historians blame its fall on lower demand for whale oil (thanks to the rise of petroleum oil) as well as reduced supply (due to fewer whales in the ocean). But the real story behind the decline in the whaling industry is something else entirely. Here’s more on the mysterious decline in U.S. whaling from The Atlantic:

One hundred and fifty years ago, around the time Herman Melville was completing Moby Dick, whaling was a booming worldwide business and the United States was the global behemoth. In 1846, we owned 640 whaling ships, more than the rest of the world put together and tripled. At its height, the whaling industry contributed $10 million (in 1880 dollars) to GDP, enough to make it the fifth largest sector of the economy. Whales contributed oil for illuminants, ambergris for perfumes, and baleen, a bonelike substance extracted from the jaw, for umbrellas.

Fifty years later, the industry was dead. Our active whaling fleet had fallen by 90 percent. The industry’s real output had declined to 1816 levels, completing a century’s symmetry of triumph and decline. What happened? And why does what happened still matter?

…The thesis of Leviathan, the ur-text of whaling economics, is that the source of our dominance in the 19th century will feel familiar to a 21st century audience: a triumph of productivity and technology…The standard explanation for the decline of whaling in the second half of the century is a pat two-parter consisting of falling demand (from alternative sources for energy) and falling supply (from over-hunting). But according to Leviathan, the standard explanation is wrong…

(See The Atlantic for more on the mysterious decline of the U.S. whaling industry)

David Meyer, the Guerrilla Explorer, at Palenque

The Mystery of the Vanishing Maya?

The Classic Maya Collapse is one of history’s greatest mysteries. How did it happen? And why do civilizations collapse?

What caused the Classic Maya Collapse?

Me at Palenque: What caused the Classic Maya Collapse?

The Classic Maya Collapse?

The Classic Maya period took place in the southern Maya lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula, starting around 200 AD (you can see one of the remnants of that civilization up above…that’s Palenque which I visited a few months ago while searching for lost Maya ruins). By 900 AD, this highly-advanced civilization had abandoned its great cities and seemingly ceased to exist. Most scholars blame the Classic Maya collapse on things like invasion, epidemics, or climate change.

Why do Civilizations Collapse?

The question of why civilizations collapse is an old one. Many modern scientists have been heavily influenced by the environment-based theories of Jared Diamond. Even as you read this, the media is all abuzz about research purporting to show the Classic Maya Collapse occurred because of “relatively modest dry spells.” The Maya used a complex water management system that depended on regular rainfall. So, when rain decreased for an extended period of time, the Classic Maya were unable to adjust. As is all the rage these days, the researchers then compare this reasoning for the Classic Maya Collapse to the present world, suggesting the need for government-led climate intervention.

“Whereas collapses were once attributed to impious or selfish rulers, or in West’s view to indolent masses, in today’s framework the sin is gluttony: ancient societies collapsed because they overshot the carrying capacities of their environments, degrading their support bases in the process. And since it happened to past societies, it could happen to us too. According to contemporary literature, the next collapse will come because all of us have consumed too many goods, eaten too much, driven too far, and produced too many children. The Greek tragedy unfolds even as numerous Cassandras (including Diamond and Caldararo) warn us to mend our ways. Some students of ancient societies perceive in this development that we now have an opportunity to contribute to broad social thought, even to human well-being. There is, however, another strand of thought that holds humans blameless. Collapses happen.” ~ Joseph Tainter, Collapse, Sustainability, and the Environment: How Authors Choose to Fail or Succeed

The Problem of Excessive Centralization?

I don’t want to get into Diamond’s work or the various climate change theories, all of which are highly problematic. Instead, 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 – a civilization collapse is more desirable than the alternative. At that point, the civilization undergoes a process of simplification.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

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 Classic Maya collapse brought about individual improvement.

The mystery of what triggers caused the Classic Maya Collapse remain 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 the Classic Maya Collapse were sewn many years earlier, thanks to excessive centralization.

Teddy Roosevelt vs. Bigfoot?

In 1893, Teddy Roosevelt published The Wilderness Hunter. In that tome, he told a strange story about an encounter with an “unknown beast creature” that walked on two legs. Did Teddy Roosevelt do battle with the mysterious Bigfoot?

Did Teddy Roosevelt Battle Bigfoot?

First, thanks to Sean McLachlan over at Civil War Horror for providing the idea for this piece. Second, sadly, the answer is no. Teddy Roosevelt never battled Bigfoot. But his account (reproduced below) is intriguing all the same. Many of you know we’re pretty skeptical about Bigfoot here at Guerrilla Explorer. If megafauna cryptids exist, they’re far more likely to be in the ocean than on land.

Still, Teddy’s story is one of the earliest accounts of a Bigfoot-like creature recorded by a non-Native American. It was told to Teddy Roosevelt by a mountain hunter named Bauman decades before the famous discovery of large footprints at Bluff Creek, which for all intensive purposes launched Bigfoot into the public eye. According to Bauman, he and a companion were trapping game when they ran into the strange creature. Things got progressively worse until…well, let’s let Teddy Roosevelt tell you in his own words.

Frontiersmen are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They lead lives too hard and practical, and they have too little imagination in things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories while living on the frontier, and these few were of a perfectly commonplace and conventional type.

But I once listened to a goblin story which rather impressed me. It was told by a grizzled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman, who was bom and had passed all his life on the frontier. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore, so that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the spectres, and the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk; and it may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.

When the event occurred Bauman was still a young man, and was trapping with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of the Salmon from the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck, he and his partner determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely pass through which ran a small stream said to contain many beaver. The pass had an evil reputation because the year before a solitary hunter who had wandered into it was there slain, seemingly by a wild beast, the half-eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining prospectors who had passed his camp only the night before.

The memory of this event, however, weighed very lightly with the two trappers, who were as adventurous and hardy as others of their kind. They took their two lean mountain ponies to the foot of the pass, where they left them in an open beaver meadow, the rocky timber-clad ground being from thence onwards impracticable for horses. They then struck out on foot through the vast, gloomy forest, and in about four hours reached a little open glade where they concluded to camp, as signs of game were plenty.

There was still an hour or two of daylight left, and after building a brush lean-to and throwing down and opening their packs, they started up stream. The country was very dense and hard to travel through, as there was much down timber, although here and there the sombre woodland was broken by small glades of mountain grass.

At dusk they again reached camp. The glade in which it was pitched was not many yards wide, the tall, close-set pines and firs rising round it like a wall. On one side was a little stream, beyond which rose the steep mountain-slopes, covered with the unbroken growth of the evergreen forest.

They were surprised to find that during their short absence something, apparently a bear, had visited camp, and had rummaged about among their things, scattering the contents of their packs, and in sheer wantonness destroying their lean-to. The footprints of the beast were quite plain, but at first they paid no particular heed to them, busying themselves with rebuilding the lean-to, laying out their beds and stores, and lighting the fire.

While Bauman was making ready supper, it being already dark, his companion began to examine the tracks more closely, and soon took a brand from the fire to follow them up, where the intruder had walked along a game trail after leaving the camp. When the brand flickered out, he returned and took another, repeating his inspection of the footprints very closely. Coming back to the fire, he stood by it a minute or two, peering out into the darkness, and suddenly remarked: “Bauman, that bear has been walking on two legs.” Bauman laughed at this, but his partner insisted that he was right, and upon again examining the tracks with a torch, they certainly did seem to be made by but two paws, or feet. However, it was too dark to make sure. After discussing whether the footprints could possibly be those of a human being, and coming to the conclusion that they could not be, the two men rolled up in their blankets, and went to sleep under the lean-to.

At midnight Bauman was awakened by some noise, and sat up in his blankets. As he did so his nostrils were struck by a strong, wild-beast odor, and he caught the loom of a great body in the darkness at the mouth of the lean-to. Grasping his rifle, he fired at the vague, threatening shadow, but must have missed, for immediately afterwards he heard the smashing of the underwood as the thing, whatever it was, rushed off into the impenetrable blackness of the forest and the night.

After this the two men slept but little, sitting up by the rekindled fire, but they heard nothing more. In the morning they started out to look at the few traps they had set the previous evening and to put out new ones. By an unspoken agreement they kept together all day, and returned to camp towards evening.

On nearing it they saw, to their astonishment, that the lean-to had been again torn down. The visitor of the preceding day had returned, and in wanton malice had tossed about their camp kit and bedding, and destroyed the shanty. The ground was marked up by its tracks, and on leaving the camp it had gone along the soft earth by the brook, where the footprints were as plain as if on snow, and, after a careful scrutiny of the trail, it certainly did seem as if, whatever the thing was, it had walked off on but two legs.

The men, thoroughly uneasy, gathered a great heap of dead logs, and kept up a roaring fire throughout the night, one or the other sitting on guard most of the time. About midnight the thing came down through the forest opposite, across the brook, and stayed there on the hillside for nearly an hour. They could hear the branches crackle as it moved about, and several times it uttered a harsh, grating, long-drawn moan, a peculiarly sinister sound. Yet it did not venture near the fire.

In the morning the two trappers, after discussing the strange events of the last thirty-six hours, decided that they would shoulder their packs and leave the valley that afternoon. They were the more ready to do this because in spite of seeing a good deal of game sign they had caught very little fur. However, it was necessary first to go along the line of their traps and gather them, and this they started out to do.

All the morning they kept together, picking up trap after trap, each one empty. On first leaving camp they had the disagreeable sensation of being followed. In the dense spruce thickets they occasionally heard a branch snap after they had passed ; and now and then there were slight rustling noises among the small pines to one side of them.

At noon they were back within a couple of miles of camp. In the high, bright sunlight their fears seemed absurd to the two armed men, accustomed as they were, through long years of lonely wandering in the wilderness, to face every kind of danger from man, brute, or element. There were still three beaver traps to collect from a little pond in a wide ravine near by. Bauman volunteered to gather these and bring them in, while his companion went ahead to camp and made ready the packs.

On reaching the pond Bauman found three beaver in the traps, one of which had been pulled loose and carried into a beaver house. He took several hours in securing and preparing the beaver, and when he started homewards he marked with some uneasiness how low the sun was getting. As he hurried towards camp, under the tall trees, the silence and desolation of the forest weighed on him. His feet made no sound on the pine-needles, and the slanting sun-rays, striking through among the straight trunks, made a gray twilight in which objects at a distance glimmered indistinctly. There was nothing to break the ghostly stillness which, when there is no breeze, always broods over these sombre primeval forests.

At last he came to the edge of the little glade where the camp lay, and shouted as he approached it, but got no answer. The camp-fire had gone out, though the thin blue smoke was still curling upwards. Near it lay the packs, wrapped and arranged. At first Bauman could see nobody; nor did he receive an answer to his call. Stepping forward he again shouted, and as he did so his eye fell on the body of his friend, stretched beside the trunk of a great fallen spruce. Rushing towards it the horrified trapper found that the body was still warm, but that the neck was broken, while there were four great fang-marks in the throat.

The footprints of the unknown beast-creature, printed deep in the soft soil, told the whole story.

The unfortunate man, having finished his packing, had sat down on the spruce log with his face to the fire, and his back to the dense woods, to wait for his companion. While thus waiting, his monstrous assailant, which must have been lurking nearby in the woods, waiting for a chance to catch one of the adventurers unprepared, came silently up from behind, walking with long, noiseless steps, and seemingly still on two legs. Evidently un- heard, it reached the man, and broke his neck by wrenching his head back with its fore paws, while it buried its teeth in his throat. It had not eaten the body, but apparently had romped and gambolled round it in uncouth, ferocious glee, occasionally rolling over and over it; and had then fled back into the soundless depths of the woods.

Bauman, utterly unnerved, and believing that the creature with which he had to deal was something either half human or half devil, some great goblin-beast, abandoned everything but his rifle and struck off at speed down the pass, not halting until he reached the beaver meadows where the hobbled ponies were still grazing. Mounting, he rode onwards through the night, until far beyond the reach of pursuit.

Grover Cleveland: The Greatest President?

Who was the Greatest President in U.S. history? Most historians tend to share common ground when it comes to ranking U.S. presidents. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt receive the top honor in practically every single poll. However, recent attention has fallen to a far more unusual candidate…Grover Cleveland.

Who was Grover Cleveland?

Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, making him the only President to serve nonconsecutive terms. He is largely remembered for the economic meltdown that took place during his second term, including the second-worst depression in U.S. history as well as a series of vicious labor strikes. While not ranking as low as President John Tyler, he fares no better than 19th in Wikipedia’s aggregate of various scholarly polls. Who in the world would possibly consider Grover Cleveland to be the greatest President in history?

Was Grover Cleveland the Greatest President in History?

In his book, Recarving Rushmore, Ivan Eland argues that the reason most historians overlook presidents like John Tyler and Grover Cleveland is because of flawed ranking systems. He points out four particular biases exhibited by historians:

  1. Effectiveness: Scholars tend to focus on a president’s ability to enact an agenda without considering the positive or negative results from that agenda.
  2. Charisma: Historians place undue emphasis on exciting personalities at the expense of dull ones.
  3. Service during a Crisis: Many historians will only rank a president highly if he served during a great war or financial crisis, giving little credit to those who avoided war or kept crises from happening in the first place.
  4. Activism: Presidents who did a lot are ranked higher than those who preferred minimal government.

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.

His analysis leads to some interesting conclusions that differ wildly from most polls. George Washington is still fairly high at #7. But he ranks Abraham Lincoln (#29) and FDR (#31) far lower than pretty much any other historian. His top five are John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. These presidents are barely remembered by most Americans today which, in a way, is the point. Their terms were boring, thanks to their decisions to avoid wars and pursue policies that led to economic success as well as personal freedom.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So what about Grover Cleveland? Well, he refused to annex Hawaii and avoided war with Spain over the Cuban rebellion (a policy that would later be reversed by President McKinley). He restored sound currency and avoided the New Deal style programs that lengthened the Great Depression. He was “relatively benevolent” to Native Americans.

As for the depression that marred his second term, it was largely caused by the actions of his predecessor, Benjamin Harrison. During his term of office, President Harrison instituted the McKinley tariff, increased federal spending, and supported the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which increased the money supply while reducing the government’s gold reserves.

President Grover Cleveland’s record wasn’t perfect. He signed the Interstate Commerce Act which “provided the underpinning of the Progressive movement.” To get lower tariffs, he agreed to bring back the income tax. He also “backed segregation as constitutional.” That being said, in terms of promoting prosperity, peace, and liberty, Grover Cleveland outranks nearly every other President, with the possible exception of John Tyler.

Shortly after his second term ended, the Democratic Party underwent a sea change, abandoning the classical liberal ways of President Grover Cleveland and his fellow Bourbon Democrats. The Bourbons fled the Democratic Party when FDR instituted the New Deal and were eventually absorbed into the Old Right. The Old Right, in turn, largely collapsed in 1952 when Eisenhower effectively stole the Republican nomination from Robert Taft. Since then, President Grover Cleveland’s legacy has appeared all but dead. However, the rising popularity of Dr. Ron Paul – who counts Grover Cleveland among his heroes – seems to be changing that. Will future historians cast a kinder eye on President Grover Cleveland? Only time will tell…

Grover Cleveland was a principled classical liberal. But even while serving as president, his own Democratic Party was deserting him as the forces of statism and unlimited democracy, unleashed by the death of states’ rights in 1865, were beginning to dominate American politics. He was the last American president in the Jefferson/Andrew Jackson/John Tyler tradition, and the last good Democrat to serve in that office. For the most part, his successors (in both parties) have ranged from pathetic panderers to dangerous, megalomaniacal warmongers, or both.” ~ Thomas DiLorenzo, The Last Good Democrat

The “Wow!” Signal?

On August 15, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected a strange radio signal while working with Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope. The signal lasted for 72 seconds and appeared to be of non-terrestrial origin. Dr. Ehman quickly circled the signal’s markings on a piece of paper and wrote “Wow!” next to it. What was the “Wow!” Signal?

What was the “Wow!” Signal?

Well, the jury is still out on this question. The “Wow!” signal appeared to originate from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, despite multiple attempts over the last three decades, no one has been able to re-detect it. Even Dr. Ehman came to doubt the “Wow!” signal was of extraterrestrial origin.

“Even if it were intelligent beings sending a signal, they’d do it far more than once. We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. Something suggests it was an Earth-bound signal that simply got reflected off a piece of space debris.” ~ Dr. Jerry Ehman, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 18, 1994

It should be noted Dr. Ehman later qualified this statement. However, he remains skeptical the “Wow!” signal originated from an extraterrestrial source. While we are no closer to solving the mystery of the “Wow!” Signal, plenty of dedicated researchers are still trying to understand it. Here’s an excerpt from an interesting interview on the “Wow!” signal from The Atlantic with one of those researchers, Robert Gray:

Is it possible that the “Wow!” signal is somehow a computer glitch, or a signal from earth that was reflected off of space debris of some sort?

Gray: Of course it’s possible. It could have been any number of things. However, it almost certainly wasn’t a computer glitch, because it showed this rise and fall of intensity that’s just exactly what a radio source from the sky would look like. Also, the Ohio State radio telescope was cleverly rigged to filter out local stuff.

The only thing that conceivably could have made that special signature is a satellite of some sort at just the right distance, going just the right speed, in order to mimic a celestial object traversing the sky. So that’s a possibility, but it seems pretty unlikely for a number of reasons. First, it would have been seen by a lot of people. Ohio State would have seen it repeatedly, because satellites broadcast repeatedly. Secondly, if it was a secret satellite it would have been pretty stupid to broadcast at a frequency that radio astronomers across the world listen to.

For a long time, Jerry Ehman, who actually scribbled “Wow!” on the original computer printout, considered the possibility that it was a piece of space debris reflecting a signal from the earth back down into the antenna. But he no longer believes that to be the case. And I’m not saying that it definitely was an extraterrestrial broadcast; there’s no proof of that. The best way I can think to analogize this thing is to say that it was a tug on the cosmic fishing line. It doesn’t prove that you have a fish on the line, but it does suggest that you keep your line in the water at that spot…

(See The ‘Wow!’ Signal: One Man’s Search for SETI’s Most Tantalizing Trace of Alien Life for the rest)

Charlie Chapin’s Secret Identity?

Charlie Chaplin is one of the most well-known comedic actors of all time. But was his name really Charlie Chaplin? And where did he come from?

The Mysterious Charlie Chaplin?

Back in 1952, during the height of McCarthyism, the U.S. government was convinced Charlie Chaplin was a communist. They asked the British Secret Service, MI5, to investigate his background. After sixty years, that MI5 file has finally been released to the public. By the way, that’s an impressive length of time to keep such a secret although in pales in comparison to the CIA’s epic protection of invisible ink secrets.

Anyway, it turns out there is no official record of Charlie Chaplin for the first 31 years of his life. As a result, the CIA believed he was really a Frenchman named Israel Thornstein. More recent evidence suggests another reason for the lack of records: Charlie Chaplin might’ve been born into a British gypsy family. Here’s more on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity from The Telegraph:

MI5 investigated whether Charlie Chaplin was actually a Frenchman called Israel Thornstein, previously secret files on the Hollywood film star have revealed. Intelligence officers could find no trace of the actor’s birth in Britain despite Chaplin always claiming he was born in London in 1889.

The mystery surrounding his origins emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into the comic actor’s background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links…

…British intelligence rejected American claims that Chaplin was a high-risk communist, concluding that while he may have been a “sympathiser” he was no more than a “progressive or radical”.

(See MI5 files: Was Chaplin really a Frenchman and called Thornstein? for the rest on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity)

Cyborg Spy Cats?

In the 1960s, the CIA embarked on all sorts of strange espionage projects to spy on the Soviet Union. Perhaps there was none stranger than America’s first cyborg spy cat…the Acoustic Kitty.

The Acoustic Kitty Project?

The Acoustic Kitty project, which cost a whopping $25 million, wasn’t for the squeamish. Agents literally sliced open a cat, stuck batteries into him, and wired him up using the tail as an antenna. Then they dropped off the Acoustic Kitty in front of a facility believed to be used by Soviets. Unfortunately, the cat never got close enough for a proper test – it was wiped out by  a taxi driver almost as soon as it hit the ground. Here’s more on the bizarre Acoustic Kitty project from TBD:

As if the D.C. Taxicab Commission wasn’t already receiving enough heat from the Uber mess, let’s turn to a sadder piece of local taxi history — the tale of how our country’s multimillion-dollar CIA-trained cat spy died at the wheels of a D.C. taxicab. Today I’ve already talked about dogs (and about cabs and technology), so it’s only fair I bring up felines as well.

…Accounts of the CIA’s $25-million Acoustic Kitty project are available throughout the Internet, but one of the more detailed and fun couple pages come from Alan Bellows’ book Alien Hand Syndrome in a section called “Cyborg Spy Kitties.” He recounts a former CIA agent’s description: “They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity.”

(Thanks to The Birdman & see Metro history: A D.C. taxicab killed America’s premier CIA-trained cat spy for more on the Acoustic Kitty project)