Alexander the Great
10. What Happened to Alexander the Greats Tomb?
Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors in history, and a name still admired and revered today. The most amazing thing about the Macedonian King was that he managed to forge an Empire stretching from Europe to Northern India by the age of 33, when unfortunately he succumbed to a fever, thus ending any aspirations of expansion.
After his death he was taken back to ‘his’ city, Alexandria, entombed and then put on public display, in a similar way to both Lenin and Mao. The inheritors of Alexander’s passion for Empire were the Romans. The Emperors, in particular came to regard Alexander as the epitome of bravery, strength and courage. They paid regular trips to Alexandria to pay their respects. It’s widely reputed that Julius Caesar wept when he gazed upon a statue of Alexander while in Spain, and the Roman general Pompey was so obsessed with him, that he searched high and low across the Empire for his cloak, which apparently he discovered and wore as a costume of greatness, and even went as far as to have his hair cut in the same manner. Caligula, the mad Emperor stole Alexander’s armour from his tomb and wore it for luck. If Caligula was considered mad, then Emperor Caracalla who ruled from 211-217 AD was crazy, thinking that he was the reincarnation of Alexander himself. Eventually, in 200 AD, the tomb was closed to the public out of concern for its safety, owing to the ever increasing hordes of tourists. Since then, its whereabouts have become one of the greatest mysteries of all time.
Unlocking the Mystery of the Lost Tomb.
The Biggest of all the Megafauna on Land
9. What Caused the Extinction of the Megafauna?
Today, we live in an impoverished world in terms of large animals, otherwise known as megafauna. If you want to go and see large numbers of large animals, you must travel to Africa. If you were to look elsewhere, you’d be bitterly disappointed. But it wasn’t always this way; just 50,000 years ago there were big herds of big animal’s right across the planet except Antarctica.
Then, over a very short period many species of megafauna began to go extinct, but why did this happen? Answering this perplexing question is one of the most contentious issues in science today. The intriguing thing about the extinctions is that they seem to coincide with the expansion of modern humans out of Africa. Humans colonised Australia 40,000 years ago, shortly afterwards, nearly 1 in 3 of all large animal species disappeared. The Americas were settled 12,000 years ago, and again coincided with a grand erasing of virtually everything larger than a human. Unsurprisingly this circumstantial evidence has led many scientists to point the finger of blame squarely at us. But how could small numbers of humans armed with Stone Age weapons wreak such havoc? Questions like these have led other scientists to theorise that climate was the main cause. For others, neither hunting nor climate is a sufficient enough explanation and in recent times, another theory suggesting that disease wiped them all out has been put forward. Today, most scientists tend to favour a middle ground theory suggesting that a combination of factors including predation from humans was the most likely cause.
A Couple of the Nazca's Creations
8. How did the Nazca People Construct Their Giant Geoglyphs?
Sometime between 300BC and 800AD, the ancient Nazca people were responsible for fashioning what are often described as superhuman depictions of their animal gods. On a 500 square kilometre plateau, these people carved hundreds of perfectly straight lines and geometric patterns by painstakingly brushing the arid sand and grit to one side. The remarkable thing about these depictions is that they only can be glanced at properly from hundreds of feet up, only at such a great height can you see more than seventy enormous pictures of both animals and humans in detail, some are more than 270 metres long.
Back on terra firma, and all you can see are paths in the dust, so how on Earth did these people construct such beautiful and breathtaking works of art without being able to see what they were doing from above. It’s one of the biggest mysteries of all and theories for their purpose range from markers for underground waterways to landing pads for UFOs. A more likely theory is that they served as a means to communicate with the gods; essentially they used the arid ground as a message board, while the night sky, home of their Gods served as their audience.
A World In Bloom
The First Flower
7. What Caused the First Flowers to Boom?
Flowers; surely the most delightful things you can possibly look at. There are few other life-forms on this planet that arouse our curiosity quite as much as flowers. But how on Earth did they first evolve? In 1879, Charles Darwin composed a letter to his friend; the botanist Joseph Hooker, stating that he couldn’t understand the sudden appearance of flowering plants in the fossil record. Unfortunately, to this day no one has really come up with a decent explanation, which is amazing considering some of the wild theories you often encounter in the scientific world, such as Life arriving on Earth via a meteorite. Yet, some 130 million years ago, the first recognisble flowers suddenly start to show in the fossil record. This is around the start of the Cretaceous Period, which of course ended with the extinction of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The first flowers though bloomed in a world that was dominated by the dinosaurs, but the ancient super continent of Pangaea was now splitting into two separate land masses, Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south, with a big ocean, the Tethys in between.
Some experts though think that flowers are more ancient than supposed, arising as long ago as 250 million years ago, but fossil flowers have never been found from this period. Others think that several evolutionary phases occurred in quick succession, accounting for flowers’ sudden appearance. However, it happened, what can’t be disputed is just how much impact flowers have had on the planet. Without them, life today would be very different. For instance, more than 75 per cent of all the food we eat comes from flowering trees or plants. Once the first blooms appeared, the era of a green, brown and blue Earth was gone forever. Now the planet became red, yellow, orange, purple and pink.
Did the presence of pollinating insects such as bees bring about the evolution of flowers, or did the pollinators only evolve after the first flowers appeared, that's another little mystery in its own right.
The Earliest Biped
6. Bipedalism in Humans?
Bipedalism or walking on two legs is the one obvious way, apart from our hairlessness that we differ from our great ape relatives. It’s a very odd adaptation it has to be said, with every good advantage, coming with an equally good disadvantage. For example, walking on two legs did free up our hands for carrying food items, but it also slowed us down significantly; not a particularly good thing to happen, considering that we were in the middle of making the transition from living in dense forest to living in open grassland savannah, an environment full of fearsome predators both alive today and long extinct.
It was once thought that the development of large brains brought on the development of bipedalism. But we now know that the first bipeds had brains the same size as chimps; so maybe raising ourselves on to two feet brought an unprecedented growth of the brain? The answer to this is also no, as these early upright hominids known as Australopithecines experienced very little brain growth over several million years. It seems that the brain growth coincided almost exactly with the invention of stone tools some 2.5 million years ago, nearly 4 million years after we first rose up onto two feet.
There are in fact many theories that try to explain the most important physical development in human history, ranging from simply freeing up the hands, to reaching up to feed from low growing savannah vegetation and maybe the most bizarre of all, the idea that we evolved bipedalism through having to wade across flooded areas of rainforest. This is a mystery that is definitely solvable; it just simply needs more evidence before anything of a concrete nature can be established.
Human Evolution on Film
The Tiny Bone That Makes Speech Possible.
The Location of the Hyoid
5. When did Humans Learn to Talk?
As well as walking on two legs, the other noticeable thing that marks us out as different is our peculiar way of communicating. Our ability to converse with each other in a whole range of complex languages seems so natural, but it’s all too easy to forget that for the majority of our evolutionary history, our communicative skills were limited to calls, shrieks, hoots and hand gestures. Today, complex language is intrinsic to our species, however, each one of us needs to be taught our own language by our parents or indeed any adult; we cannot instinctively speak a language, although some of us develop more of proficiency for languages than others.
So when did this peculiar, yet remarkable trait evolve. Most reasonable theories estimate that our species evolved the capacity for complex language somewhere between 50,000 and 110,000 years ago, but no one can be sure. Whenever it evolved, one thing was perfectly clear; it gave us a big advantage in terms of organising ourselves socially and also helped us to hunt more efficiently. But were we the first humans to evolve language?
In 1983, a Neanderthal bone was found in a cave in Israel, the bone was very small, barely distinguishable from the rock. But it was in fact a bone called the hyoid, we have them too and it sits in our throats and serves as a connector between the tongue and the throat. Astonishingly, the Neanderthal hyoid was virtually identical to ours. This means that they certainly had the capacity to speak. Also, the size of the openings in Neanderthal vertebrae for the nerves that control the tongue for speech are about the same as ours, so they were able to produce a wide range of sounds. Neanderthals originally evolved more than 300,000 years ago, more than 100,000 years before the first anatomical modern humans, meaning that Neanderthals were probably the first humans, and indeed the first creatures to be able to speak.
Just How Close are we to Chimpanzees?
4. The Last Common Ancestor of Humans and Chimpanzees?
The advent of modern genetics proved once and for all that we are closely related to Chimpanzees, so closely related in fact that less than 4 per cent of our DNA is different. In depth analysis of our DNA and the DNA of our closest relatives suggest that we are descended from an ape which lived sometime between four and seven million years ago. Despite the fact that no evidence has ever been unearthed o this mysterious creatures, scientists have already dubbed it Pan prior.
It’s important to remember that this creature was not a chimp although it may have closely resembled one, enough for us to describe it so, if we ever to gaze upon one. Gradually over millions of years ago this ape’s offspring developed into modern chimps and their rarer cousins, the bonobos on one hand, and early hominids- the direct ancestors of humans on the other. Who this ancestor was exactly, and where they lived, is one of the greatest mysteries of all. Experts from the time of Darwin have always assumed that our common ancestor lived in Africa, but it could have come from Asia or indeed Europe which was much warmer during the Miocene Period- the geological time period in which the human/chimp split occurred. For now, this is a mystery that’s still waiting to be solved.
One Possible Cradle of Life
3. How did Life Evolve on Earth?
As far as we know, Earth is the only planet on which life evolved. Of course, the existence of life elsewhere is possible, but discussing the possibility of that is a whole other mystery. How on Earth did life get here? For a long time it was widely believed that God had simply created everything in its modern form in some lovely Garden of Eden- but the evidence seems to suggest that in fact life developed slowly and gradually over a seemingly infinite amount of time from a few simple organisms into many millions of complex organisms.
Is life endemic to the Earth? Did it develop in some sort of primordial chemical soup deep within the Earth at the mouth of sea-floor volcanic storm. Perhaps it was a chance spark, accidentally triggered by some sort of astonishing primordial lightning storm? Even more intriguing is the possibility that maybe all of the scientists are wrong, and that we were truly created either by highly intelligent aliens or by some divine architect like God. Again, it seems like this is a mystery beyond the range of the human spectrum, an untenable answer that will remain elusive forever.
Or Were We All Bought Here By One Of These?
The Biggest Bang in History...
...But What Happened Before It?
2. What Happened Before the Big Bang?
Most scientists are in agreement that our universe began with an almighty explosion almost 14 billion years ago. It began as an invisible speck of infinite energy in the middle of nothing. Then within an instant, the universe became a huge cosmological mess, billions and billions of miles wide. In a fraction of a second, what we now call the universe was filled with all the matter necessary to make the sun, the earth, the moon, and of course us. But there’s so much more, because our telescopes only allow us to gaze at a small fraction of the universe, as a matter of fact, nobody knows how wide or deep it is.
The Big Bang itself is shrouded in mystery, in fact many remain suspicious and sceptical about whether a Big Bang occurred at all, despite the fact that scientists broadly agree that the evidence for the ultimate explosion is all around us. Indeed, a cosmologist called Robert Dickie picked up what is thought to be the lingering echo of the biggest bang in history using a highly sensitive space microphone.
But while many aspects of the Big Bang remain a mystery, what about before the Big Bang; was space just a huge empty, timeless vacuum. Or is our universe just the next in line of an unlimited number of universes. What about parallel universes? Did the Big Bang create our universe and an infinite number of parallel universes with their own different laws of fundamental physics, creating not just a universe but a multiverse? Or, perhaps scariest of all, is there some form of superior intelligence that created our universe and life on Earth; think of the Matrix on a bigger scale? Ultimately, this appears a mystery that we’ll never to solve fully, simply because we cannot travel back in time, and while scientists are attempting to recreate the Big Bang explosion, such experiments are fraught with danger, and are probably best avoided.