The Purpose of Mystery Object 40.9.11

The Purpose of Mystery Object 40.9.11

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In the summer of 1915, a wireless telegraph station in Sayville, Long Island owned by the German company Telefunken was caught sending covert commands to U-Boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. The transmission device was recovered, but it still isn't clear what it is or how the messages were sent. The mystery box is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, and though they haven't been able to identify the specific properties of the item, it seems like it should be possible based on the specifics of the machine itself.

The details that are available, plus pictures, are all here, and our site (including details about the project) can be found on the project page. We're hoping a specific identification of the object's mechanism can be determined based on the following clues (from the description pages, above): it is a "light-tight wooden box containing a neon yellow, paper tape reel. When the Museum's conservation department initially opened the box, the paper tape began fading to a near-white pale yellow, leading them to believe that the tape was treated with cyanide. Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication and IT at the Henry Ford Museum, first thought of the cyanotype process. But her search for evidence of cyanotype paper-tape devices in radio and wireless history came up with nothing."

Does anyone know of other analogous processes used historicaly similar to the setup described? Are there precedents in the history of covert communications in WWI for non-cyanotype communications methods that might apply to this object?

The object in question is a blank spool of recording tape for a multiplex photographic recording system. Such systems were commonly used not only at Sayville, but at all transatlantic radio receiving stations. The way the systems worked is that a photographically sensitive tape was fed into a galvanometrically modulated exposer and then immediately developed, essentially making a picture of the Morse code dash-dot sequence received by the radio. This is what a developed tape looked like:

Here is an example of records of transmissions from various European stations, including the Nauen, Germany, station:

All receiving stations used such systems, not just the German one at Sayville. The example above is from the Bar Harbor station operated by the US Navy, for instance.

The box itself is a light-tight case (notice the red window) in which the undeveloped film is stored on a reel. By opening the box in a lighted room you ruined the film.

Here's an excerpt from Kadin2048's answer to this question at, making a reasonable summation if we consider the wire recording (Wiki) techniques that were known at the time:

What I think is more likely, is that the tape was just colored in dark and light patches or stripes, and that it was decoded manually. As the tape went through the 'reader' device, the light reflected from the tape probably just illuminated a window, and a human had to decode it just like they would have decoded Morse code. (The Germans had their own dot-dash code similar to Morse, but not exactly the same.) It was probably itself encoded and meaningless to the person doing the transcription. They would have simply transmitted it onwards, and the final decoding to meaningful instructions would have happened in the actual U-boats.

This looks like the printer for a receiver of high-speed code transmissions, probably marking the paper with electrical impulses. But this is only one component of a system, and might be as little as just the paper feeder.

What is the Utah monolith?

This Nov. 18 photo provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety shows a metal monolith installed in the ground in a remote area of red rock in Utah. The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said Monday. Associated Press

A crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Division of Wildlife Resources recently discovered a shining metal monolith in the middle of remote Utah, and it has since gone viral.

So what is the monolith?

The term monolith refers to “a large single upright block of stone, especially one shaped into or serving as a pillar or monument.”

  • The Utah monolith was discovered in a remote area of Utah.
  • The metal object is believed to be between 10 and 12 feet high.
  • Reports suggest the object was planted and not randomly dropped there.
  • It’s been linked to something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

How did officials find it?

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was helping Utah Division of Wildlife Resource count bighorn sheep in the remote Utah wilderness. They noticed the object planted in the middle of a red rock cove, as I wrote about for the Deseret News.

  • “One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” said pilot Bret Hutchings, according KSL-TV. “He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘what.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there — we’ve got to go look at it!’”
  • “I’d say it’s probably between 10 and 12 feet-high,” Hutchings said. “We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it.”

Mysterious monolith discovered in remote Utah wilderness

It’s actually illegal

Utah DPS in a statement released Monday that the device is actually illegal.

  • “Although we can’t comment on active investigations, the Bureau of Land Management would like to remind public land visitors that using, occupying, or developing the public lands or their resources without a required authorization is illegal, no matter what planet you are from.”

What’s been the reaction?

Numerous media outlets have reported on the monolith. The New York Times, CNN, AV Club, HuffPost, ScreenCrush, The Guardian and the Daily Mail are among the national and international news organizations that reported on the strange pillar sitting in the middle of the desert.

Social media has run rampant with theories about the pillar as well, positing that it’s sent from aliens or is someone’s trolling art project.

All I want is more info about the metal monolith found in Utah rn

— ᴴᴬᴿᴰ ᴮᴼᴵᴸᴱᴰ (@BULGOGI_BABY) November 24, 2020

I'm still trying to contain my envy for the artist(s) who placed that metal monolith in a Utah desert.

— Jon Cone (@JonCone) November 24, 2020

This Diesel Brothers video shows the Utah monolith up close

What don’t we know?

No visitors

Internet sleuths have used Google Earth to try and determine the location. According to The Verge, the supposed location is “remote and highly inhospitable.” It’s not recommended that people travel there to see it. According to the Deseret News, “Officials are not revealing the exact location of the monolith because it is in such a remote area and there is concern that visitors will become stranded and require rescue. Anyone who may know the location of the monolith is being encouraged to refrain from visiting it due to hazardous road conditions.”


Eleusinian Mysteries (Greek: Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια ) was the name of the mysteries of the city Eleusis.

The name of the city Eleusis is Pre-Greek, and may be related with the name of the goddess Eileithyia. [9] Her name Ἐλυσία ( Elysia) in Laconia and Messene, probably relates her with the month Eleusinios and Eleusis, [10] but this is debated. [11]

The ancient Greek word "mystery" ( μυστήριον ) means "mystery or secret rite" [12] and is related with the verb myéō ( μυέω ), which means initiation into the mysteries, [13] and the noun mýstēs ( μύστης ), which means one initiated. [14] The word mystikós ( μυστικός ) means "connected with the mysteries", or "private, secret" (as in Modern Greek). [15]

The Mysteries are related to a myth concerning Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility as recounted in one of the Homeric Hymns (c. 650 BC). According to the hymn, Demeter's daughter Persephone (also referred to as Kore, "maiden") was assigned the task of painting all the flowers of the earth. Before completion, she was seized by Hades, the god of the underworld, who took her to his underworld kingdom. Distraught, Demeter searched high and low for her daughter. Because of her distress, and in an effort to coerce Zeus to allow the return of her daughter, she caused a terrible drought in which the people suffered and starved, depriving the gods of sacrifice and worship. As a result, Zeus relented and allowed Persephone to return to her mother. [16]

According to the myth, during her search Demeter traveled long distances and had many minor adventures along the way. In one she taught the secrets of agriculture to Triptolemus. [17] Finally, by consulting Zeus, Demeter reunited with her daughter and the earth returned to its former verdure and prosperity: the first spring.

Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone. However, it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (either six or four according to the telling) which forced her to return to the underworld for some months each year. She was obliged to remain with Hades for six or four months (one month per seed) and lived above ground with her mother for the rest of the year. This left a long period of time when Demeter was unhappy due to Persephone's absence, neglecting to cultivate the earth. When Persephone returned to the surface, Demeter became joyful and cared for the earth again.

In the central foundation document of the mystery, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter line 415, Persephone is said to stay in Hades during winter and return in the spring of the year: "This was the day [of Persephone's return], at the very beginning of bountiful springtime." [18]

Persephone's rebirth is symbolic of the rebirth of all plant life and the symbol of eternity of life that flows from the generations that spring from each other. [19]

However, a scholar has proposed a different version, [20] according to which the four months during which Persephone is with Hades correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period during which plants are threatened with drought. [21]

The Eleusinian Mysteries are believed to be of considerable antiquity. Some findings in the temple Eleusinion in Attica suggest that their basis was an old agrarian cult. [22] Some practices of the mysteries seem to have been influenced by the religious practices of the Mycenaean period and thus predating the Greek Dark Ages. [3] [4] Excavations showed that a private building existed under the Telesterion in the Mycenean period, and it seems that originally the cult of Demeter was private. In the Homeric Hymn is mentioned the palace of the king Keleos. [23]

One line of thought by modern scholars has been that the Mysteries were intended "to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him". [24]

Some scholars argued that the Eleusinian cult was a continuation of a Minoan cult, [25] and that Demeter was a poppy goddess who brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis. [26] [27] Some useful information from the Mycenean period can be taken from the study of the cult of Despoina, (the precursor goddess of Persephone), and the cult of Eileithyia who was the goddess of childbirth. The megaron of Despoina at Lycosura is quite similar with the Telesterion of Eleusis, [28] and Demeter is united with the god Poseidon, bearing a daughter, the unnamable Despoina (the mistress). [29] In the cave of Amnisos at Crete, the goddess Eileithyia is related with the annual birth of the divine child, and she is connected with Enesidaon (The Earth Shaker), [30] who is the chthonic aspect of Poseidon. [31]

At Eleusis inscriptions refer to "the Goddesses" accompanied by the agricultural god Triptolemus (probably son of Ge and Oceanus), [32] and "the God and the Goddess" (Persephone and Plouton) accompanied by Eubuleus who probably led the way back from the underworld. [33] The myth was represented in a cycle with three phases: the "descent", the "search", and the "ascent" (Greek "anodos") with contrasted emotions from sorrow to joy which roused the mystae to exultation. The main theme was the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother Demeter. [34] At the beginning of the feast, the priests filled two special vessels and poured them out, the one towards the west, and the other towards the east. The people looking both to the sky and the earth shouted in a magical rhyme "rain and conceive". In a ritual, a child was initiated from the hearth (the divine fire). The name pais (child) appears in the Mycenean inscriptions, [35] It was the ritual of the "divine child" who originally was Ploutos. In the Homeric hymn the ritual is connected with the myth of the agricultural god Triptolemus. [36] The goddess of nature survived in the mysteries where the following words were uttered: "Mighty Potnia bore a great son". [3] Potnia (Linear B po-ti-ni-ja : lady or mistress), is a Mycenaean title applied to goddesses. [37] and probably the translation of a similar title of Pre-Greek origin. [38] The high point of the celebration was "an ear of grain cut in silence", which represented the force of the new life. The idea of immortality didn't exist in the mysteries at the beginning, but the initiated believed that they would have a better fate in the underworld. Death remained a reality, but at the same time a new beginning like the plant which grows from the buried seed. [4] A depiction from the old palace of Phaistos is very close to the image of the "anodos" of Persephone. An armless and legless deity grows out of the ground, and her head turns to a large flower. [39]

According to Mylonas, the lesser mysteries were held "as a rule once a year in the early spring in the month of flowers, the Anthesterion," while "the Greater Mysteries were held once a year and every fourth year they were celebrated with special splendor in what was known as the penteteris. [40] Kerenyi concurs with this assessment: "The Lesser Mysteries were held at Agrai in the month of Anthesterion, our February. The initiates were not even admitted to the epopteia [Greater Mysteries] in the same year, but only in September of the following year." [41] This cycle continued for about two millennia. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, King Celeus is said to have been one of the first people to learn the secret rites and mysteries of her cult. He was also one of her original priests, along with Diocles, Eumolpos, Polyxeinus and Triptolemus, Celeus' son, who had supposedly learned agriculture from Demeter. [42]

Under Peisistratos of Athens, the Eleusinian Mysteries became pan-Hellenic, and pilgrims flocked from Greece and beyond to participate. Around 300 BC, the state took over control of the Mysteries they were controlled by two families, the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes. This led to a vast increase in the number of initiates. The only requirements for membership were freedom from "blood guilt" [ citation needed ] , meaning never having committed murder, and not being a "barbarian" (being unable to speak Greek). Men, women and even slaves were allowed initiation. [43]

Participants Edit

To participate in these mysteries one had to swear a vow of secrecy.

Four categories of people participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:

    , priestesses, and hierophants.
  1. Initiates, undergoing the ceremony for the first time.
  2. Others who had already participated at least once. They were eligible for the fourth category.
  3. Those who had attained épopteia (Greek: ἐποπτεία) (English: "contemplation"), who had learned the secrets of the greatest mysteries of Demeter.

Priesthood Edit

The priesthood officiating at the Eleusinian Mysteries and in the sanctuary was divided in to several offices with different tasks.

Six categories of priests officiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. Hierophantes – male high priest, an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  2. High Priestess of Demeter – an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  3. Dadouchos – men serving as torch bearers, the second-highest male role next to Hierophantes. [44]
  4. Dadouchousa Priestess – a female priestess who assisted the Dadouchos, an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  5. Hierophantides – two married priestesses, one serving Demeter, and the other Persephone. [44]
  6. Panageis ('the holy') or melissae ('bees') – a group of priestesses who lived a life secluded from men. [44]

The office of Hierophant, High Priestess, and Dadouchousa priestess were all inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families, and the Hierophant and the High Priestess were of equal rank. [44] It was the task of the High Priestess to impersonate the roles of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone in the enactement during the Mysteries, and at Eleusis events were dated by the name of the reigning High Priestess. [44]

Secrets Edit

The outline below is only a capsule summary much of the concrete information about the Eleusinian Mysteries was never written down. For example, only initiates knew what the kiste, a sacred chest, and the calathus, a lidded basket, contained.

Hippolytus of Rome, one of the Church Fathers writing in the early 3rd century AD, discloses in Refutation of All Heresies that "the Athenians, while initiating people into the Eleusinian rites, likewise display to those who are being admitted to the highest grade at these mysteries, the mighty, and marvellous, and most perfect secret suitable for one initiated into the highest mystic truths: an ear of grain in silence reaped." [45]

Lesser Mysteries Edit

There were two Eleusinian Mysteries, the Greater and the Lesser. According to Thomas Taylor, "the dramatic shows of the Lesser Mysteries occultly signified the miseries of the soul while in subjection to the body, so those of the Greater obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual [spiritual] vision." According to Plato, "the ultimate design of the Mysteries . was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, . a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good." [46]

The Lesser Mysteries took place in the month of Anthesteria – the eight month of the Attic calendar, falling in mid winter around February or March – under the direction of Athens' archon basileus. In order to qualify for initiation, participants would sacrifice a piglet to Demeter and Persephone, and then ritually purify themselves in the river Illisos. Upon completion of the Lesser Mysteries, participants were deemed mystai ("initiates") worthy of witnessing the Greater Mysteries.

Greater Mysteries Edit

The Greater Mysteries took place in Boedromion – the third month of the Attic calendar, falling in late summer around September or October – and lasted ten days.

The first act (on the 14th of Boedromion) was the bringing of the sacred objects from Eleusis to the Eleusinion, a temple at the base of the Acropolis of Athens.

On the 15th of Boedromion, a day called the Gathering (Agyrmos), the priests (hierophantes, those who show the sacred ones) declared the start of the rites (prorrhesis), and carried out the sacrifice (hiereía deúro, hither the victims).

The seawards initiates (halade mystai) started out in Athens on 16th Boedromion with the celebrants washing themselves in the sea at Phaleron.

On the 17th, the participants began the Epidauria, a festival for Asklepios named after his main sanctuary at Epidauros. This "festival within a festival" celebrated the healer's arrival at Athens with his daughter Hygieia, and consisted of a procession leading to the Eleusinion, during which the mystai apparently stayed at home, a great sacrifice, and an all-night feast (pannykhís). [47]

The procession to Eleusis began at Kerameikos (the Athenian cemetery) on the 18th, and from there the people walked to Eleusis, along the Sacred Way (Ἱερὰ Ὁδός, Hierá Hodós), swinging branches called bacchoi. At a certain spot along the way, they shouted obscenities in commemoration of Iambe (or Baubo), an old woman who, by cracking dirty jokes, had made Demeter smile as she mourned the loss of her daughter. The procession also shouted "Íakch', O Íakche!", possibly an epithet for Dionysus, or a separate deity Iacchus, son of Persephone or Demeter. [48]

Upon reaching Eleusis, there was an all-night vigil (pannychis) according to Mylonas [49] and Kerenyi. [50] perhaps commemorating Demeter's search for Persephone. At some point, initiates had a special drink (kykeon), of barley and pennyroyal, which has led to speculation about its chemicals perhaps having psychotropic effects from the Ergot fungi.

Discovery of fragments of ergot (fungi containing LSD like psychedelic alkaloids) in a temple dedicated to the two Eleusinian Goddesses excavated at the Mas Castellar site (Girona, Spain) provided legitimacy for this theory. Ergot fragments were found inside a vase and within the dental calculus of a 25-year-old man, providing evidence of Ergot being consumed (Juan-Stresserras, 2002). This finding seems to support the hypothesis of ergot as an ingredient of the Eleusinian kykeon.

Inside the Telesterion Edit

On the 19th of Boedromion, initiates entered a great hall called Telesterion in the center stood the Palace (Anaktoron), which only the hierophants could enter, where sacred objects were stored. Before mystai could enter the Telesterion, they would recite, "I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon, I have taken from the kiste (box) and after working it have put it back in the calathus (open basket). [51]

It is widely supposed that the rites inside the Telesterion comprised three elements:

  1. dromena (things done), a dramatic reenactment of the Demeter/Persephone myth
  2. deiknumena (things shown), displayed sacred objects, in which the hierophant played an essential role
  3. legomena (things said), commentaries that accompanied the deiknumena. [52]

Combined, these three elements were known as the aporrheta ("unrepeatables") the penalty for divulging them was death.

Athenagoras of Athens, Cicero, and other ancient writers cite that it was for this crime (among others) that Diagoras was condemned to death in Athens [53] [54] the tragic playwright Aeschylus was allegedly tried for revealing secrets of the Mysteries in some of his plays, but was acquitted. [55] The ban on divulging the core ritual of the Mysteries was thus absolute, which is probably why we know almost nothing about what transpired there.

As to the climax of the Mysteries, there are two modern theories.

Some hold that the priests were the ones to reveal the visions of the holy night, consisting of a fire that represented the possibility of life after death, and various sacred objects. Others hold this explanation to be insufficient to account for the power and longevity of the Mysteries, and that the experiences must have been internal and mediated by a powerful psychoactive ingredient contained in the kykeon drink (see Entheogenic theories below).

Following this section of the Mysteries was an all-night feast (Pannychis) [56] accompanied by dancing and merriment. The dances took place in the Rharian Field, rumored to be the first spot where grain grew. A bull sacrifice also took place late that night or early the next morning. That day (22nd Boedromion), the initiates honored the dead by pouring libations from special vessels.

On the 23rd of Boedromion, the Mysteries ended and everyone returned home. [57]

In 170 AD, the Temple of Demeter was sacked by the Sarmatians but was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was then allowed to become the only lay person ever to enter the anaktoron. As Christianity gained in popularity in the 4th and 5th centuries, Eleusis's prestige began to fade. The last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian, reigned from 361 to 363 after about fifty years of Christian rule. Julian attempted to restore the Eleusinian Mysteries and was the last emperor to be initiated into them. [58]

The Roman emperor Theodosius I closed the sanctuaries by decree during the Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire about 30 years later, in 392 AD. The last remnants of the Mysteries were wiped out in 396 AD, when Arian Christians under Alaric, King of the Goths, destroyed and desecrated the old sacred sites. [59] [60] The closing of the Eleusinian Mysteries in the 4th century is reported by Eunapius, a historian and biographer of the Greek philosophers. Eunapius had been initiated by the last legitimate Hierophant, who had been commissioned by the emperor Julian to restore the Mysteries, which had by then fallen into decay. According to Eunapius, the last Hierophant was a usurper, "the man from Thespiae who held the rank of Father in the mysteries of Mithras".

According to historian Hans Kloft, despite the destruction of the Eleusinian Mysteries, elements of the cult survived in the Greek countryside. There, Demeter's rites and religious duties were partially transferred by peasants and shepherds onto Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, who gradually became the local patron of agriculture and "heir" to the pagan mother goddess. [60]

There are many paintings and pieces of pottery that depict various aspects of the Mysteries. The Eleusinian Relief, from the late 5th century BC, displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is a representative example. Triptolemus is depicted receiving seeds from Demeter and teaching mankind how to work the fields to grow crops, with Persephone holding her hand over his head to protect him. [61] Vases and other works of relief sculpture, from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries BC, depict Triptolemus holding an ear of corn, sitting on a winged throne or chariot, surrounded by Persephone and Demeter with pine torches. The monumental Protoattic amphora from the middle of the 7th century BC, with the depiction of Medusa's beheading by Perseus and the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus and his companions on its neck, is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis which is located inside the archaeological site of Eleusis.

The Ninnion Tablet, found in the same museum, depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iacchus, and then the procession of initiates. Then, Demeter is sitting on the kiste inside the Telesterion, with Persephone holding a torch and introducing the initiates. The initiates each hold a bacchoi. The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, a priest who held torches for the ceremonies. He is standing near the omphalos while an unknown female (probably a priestess of Demeter) sat nearby on the kiste, holding a scepter and a vessel filled with kykeon. Pannychis is also represented.

In Shakespeare's The Tempest, the masque that Prospero conjures to celebrate the troth-pledging of Miranda and Ferdinand echoes the Eleusinian Mysteries, although it uses the Roman names for the deities involved – Ceres, Iris, Dis and others – instead of the Greek. It is interesting that a play which is so steeped in esoteric imagery from alchemy and hermeticism should draw on the Mysteries for its central masque sequence. [ citation needed ]

Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) borrowed terms and interpretations from the late 19th and early-20th century classical scholarship in German and French as a source of metaphors for his reframing of psychoanalytic treatment into a spiritualistic ritual of initiation and rebirth. The Eleusinian mysteries, particularly the qualities of the Kore, figured prominently in his writings. [62]

Dimitris Lyacos in the second book of the Poena Damni trilogy With the People from the Bridge, a contemporary, avant-garde play focusing on the return of the dead and the myth of the revenant combines elements from the Eleusinian mysteries as well as early Christian tradition in order to convey a view of collective salvation. The text uses the pomegranate symbol in order to hint at the residence of the dead in the underworld and their periodical return to the world of the living. [63]

Octavio Vazquez's symphonic poem Eleusis draws on the Eleusinian Mysteries and on other Western esoteric traditions. [64] Commissioned by the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores and the RTVE Symphony Orchestra, it was premiered in 2015 by the RTVE Orchestra and conductor Adrian Leaper at the Teatro Monumental in Madrid.

Numerous scholars have proposed that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from the kykeon's functioning as an entheogen, or psychedelic agent. [7] The use of potions or philtres for magical or religious purposes was relatively common in Greece and the ancient world. [65] The initiates, sensitized by their fast and prepared by preceding ceremonies (see set and setting), may have been propelled by the effects of a powerful psychoactive potion into revelatory mind states with profound spiritual and intellectual ramifications. [66] In opposition to this idea, other pointedly skeptical scholars note the lack of any solid evidence and stress the collective rather than individual character of initiation into the Mysteries. [67] Indirect evidence in support of the entheogenic theory is that in 415 BC Athenian aristocrat Alcibiades was condemned partly because he took part in an "Eleusinian mystery" in a private house. [68]

Many psychoactive agents have been proposed as the significant element of kykeon, though without consensus or conclusive evidence. These include the ergot, a fungal parasite of the barley or rye grain, which contains the alkaloids ergotamine, a precursor to LSD, and ergonovine. [66] [69] However, modern attempts to prepare a kykeon using ergot-parasitized barley have yielded inconclusive results, though Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin describe both ergonovine and LSA to be known to produce LSD-like effects. [70] [71]

Discovery of fragments of Ergot (fungi containing LSD-like psychedelic alkaloids) in a temple dedicated to the two Eleusinian Goddesses excavated at the Mas Castellar site (Girona, Spain) provided legitimacy for this theory. Ergot fragments were found inside a vase and within the dental calculus of a 25-year-old man, providing evidence of Ergot being consumed. This finding seems to support the hypothesis of ergot as an ingredient of the Eleusinian kykeon. [72]

Psychoactive mushrooms are another candidate. Terence McKenna speculated that the mysteries were focused around a variety of Psilocybe. Other entheogenic fungi, such as Amanita muscaria, have also been suggested. [73] A recent hypothesis suggests that the ancient Egyptians cultivated Psilocybe cubensis on barley and associated it with the deity Osiris. [74]

Another candidate for the psychoactive drug is an opioid derived from the poppy. The cult of the goddess Demeter may have brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis it is certain that opium was produced in Crete. [75]

Another theory is that the psychoactive agent in kykeon is DMT, which occurs in many wild plants of the Mediterranean, including Phalaris and/or Acacia. [76] To be active orally (like in ayahuasca) it must be combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor such as Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala), which grows throughout the Mediterranean.

Alternatively, J. Nigro Sansonese (1994), using the mythography supplied by Mylonas, hypothesizes that the Mysteries of Eleusis were a series of practical initiations into trance involving proprioception of the human nervous system induced by breath control (similar to samyama in yoga). [77] Sansonese speculates that the kisté, a box holding sacred objects opened by the hierophant, is actually an esoteric reference to the initiate's skull, within which is seen a sacred light and are heard sacred sounds, but only after instruction in trance practice. Similarly, the seed-filled chambers of a pomegranate, a fruit associated with the founding of the cult, esoterically describe proprioception of the initiate's heart during trance.

Since 1985, Aquarian Tabernacle Church has performed a modern continuation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as the Spring Mysteries Festival. These mysteries, held every year in honour of Demeter and Persephone, explore universal concepts and truths from the perspective of the seeker of hidden knowledge.

It occurs on the weekend of Easter every year. The first year back in the modern age was 1985. [78]

'There is stuff': Enduring mysteries trail US report on UFOs

The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. "There's a whole fleet of them," one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. "It's rotating." The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021. Credit: Department of Defense via AP

The blob, captured on distant, fuzzy video by Navy pilots, seems to skitter just above the ocean waves at improbable speed, with no discernible means of propulsion or lift. "Oh my gosh, man," one aviator says to another as they laugh at the oddity. "What . is it?"

Is it a bird? A plane? Super drone? An extraterrestrial something?

The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects like this one. A report summarizing what the U.S. knows about "unidentified aerial phenomena"—better known as UFOs—is expected to be made public this month.

There won't be an alien unmasking. Two officials briefed on the report say it found no extraterrestrial link to the sightings reported and captured on video. The report won't rule out a link to another country, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss it.

While the broad conclusions have now been reported, the full report may still present a broader picture of what the government knows. The anticipation surrounding the report shows how a topic normally confined to science fiction and a small, often dismissed group of researchers has hit the mainstream.

Worried about national security threats from adversaries, lawmakers ordered an investigation and public accounting of phenomena that the government has been loath to talk about for generations.

"There is stuff flying in our airspace," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the senators who pressed for the probe, recently told Fox News. "We don't know what it is. We need to find out."

Congress late last year instructed the director of national intelligence to provide "a detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data" from multiple agencies and report in 180 days. That time is about up. The intelligence office wouldn't say this past week when the full document will be out.

The bill passed by Congress asks the intelligence director for "any incidents or patterns that indicate a potential adversary may have achieved breakthrough aerospace capabilities that could put United States strategic or conventional forces at risk."

The chief concern is whether hostile countries are fielding aerial technology so advanced and weird that it befuddles and threatens the world's largest military power. But when lawmakers talk about it, they tend to leave themselves a little wiggle room in case it's something else—whether more prosaic than a military rival or, you know, more cosmic.

"Right now there are a lot of unanswered questions," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California told NBC this week. "If other nations have capabilities that we don't know of, we want to find out. If there's some explanation other than that, we want to learn that, too."

Luis Elizondo, former head of the Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, said he didn't believe that the sightings were of a foreign power's technology in part because it would have been nearly impossible to keep that secret. Elizondo has accused the Defense Department of trying to discredit him and says there's much more information that the U.S. has kept classified.

"We live in an incredible universe," Elizondo said. "There's all sorts of hypotheses that suggest that the three dimensional universe which we live in isn't quite so easy to explain."

But Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, is skeptical.

The science historian, a longtime analyst of UFO theories and other phenomena, said he's seen too many blurry images of supposed alien encounters to be convinced by still more blurry footage of blobs from airplanes. This is a time, he notes, when several billion people worldwide have smartphones that take crisp images and satellites precisely render detail on the ground.

"Show me the body, show me the spacecraft, or show me the really high quality videos and photographs," he said in an interview. "And I'll believe."

Mick West, a prominent researcher of unexplained phenomena and debunker of conspiracy theories, said it was right for the government to investigate and report on the potential national security implications of sightings captured in now-declassified videos.

"Any time there is some kind of unidentified object coming through military airspace, that's a real issue that needs to be looked into," he told AP.

"But the videos, even though they're showing unidentified objects, they're not showing amazing unidentified objects."

Pilots and sky-watchers have long reported sporadic sightings of UFOs in U.S. airspace, seemingly at unusual speeds or trajectories. In most cases, those mysteries evaporate under examination.

In 1960, the CIA said 6,500 objects had been reported to the U.S. Air Force over the prior 13 years. The Air Force concluded there was no evidence those sightings were "inimical or hostile" or related to "interplanetary space ships," the CIA said.

Reports of UFOs have, of course, persisted since then. Some people who study the topic argue investigations have been limited by the stigma of being linked to conspiracy theories or talk of little green men storming Earth. They note that the government has a history of stonewalling and lying about the unexplained.

It took 50 years for the government to offer what it hoped was a full debunking of claims that alien bodies were recovered at a crash site in New Mexico in 1947. In 1997, the Air Force said the Roswell "bodies″ were dummies used in parachute tests, recent ancestors of the car-crash dummies of today.

Retired Air Force Col. Richard Weaver, who wrote one of the official reports on the Roswell rumors, tried to assure the public that the government isn't competent enough to cover up a genuine alien sighting. "We have a hard time keeping a secret," he said, "let alone putting together a decent conspiracy."

A recent turning point came in December 2017, when The New York Times revealed a five-year Pentagon program to investigate UFOs. The Pentagon subsequently released videos, leaked earlier, of military pilots encountering shadowy objects they couldn't identify.

One was the video clip of the aviators tracking the blob above the ocean off the U.S. coast in 2015, dubbed Gofast. In another from that year, labeled Gimbal, an unexplained object is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. "There's a whole fleet of them," one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. "It's rotating."

In 2019, the Navy announced it would create a formal process for its pilots to report unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs. Last August, the Defense Department created a task force dedicated to the matter. The mission was to "detect, analyze and catalog UAPs" that could endanger the U.S.

In an era of increasingly sophisticated drone aircraft, now seen as a risk to sensitive domestic military sites such as nuclear missile bases, the focus has been more on foreign rivals than on any supposed visitors from another planet. Yet the formation of the task force stood as a rare acknowledgment from the government that UFOs posed a potential national security concern.

More recently, a story on CBS' "60 Minutes" featured the declassified videos and raised questions about what intelligence the U.S. government has.

Rubio, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and its former chairman, said it is important for investigators to follow up on the reports of its pilots and make the findings public. "I am going off what our military men and their radars and their eyesight is telling them," Rubio said. "There are multiple highly trained, highly competent people."

Yet things in the sky are very often not what they seem. Shermer rattles off examples of how phenomena that appear otherworldly may be tediously of this Earth.

"Ninety to 95% of all UFO sightings," he said, "can be explained as weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, planes flying in formation, secret military aircraft, birds reflecting the sun, planes reflecting the sun, blimps, helicopters, the planets Venus or Mars, meteors or meteorite space junk, satellites, swamp gas . ball lightning, ice crystals reflecting light off clouds, lights on the ground or lights reflected on a cockpit window, temperature inversions, punch clouds."

"For any of these things to be real, we need something more than these grainy videos and blurry photographs," he said.

"We need really some hard evidence, extraordinary evidence, because this would be one of the most extraordinary claims ever if it was true."

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

‘Little Albert’ regains his identity

One of psychology's greatest mysteries appears to have been solved. “Little Albert,” the baby behind John Watson's famous 1920 emotional conditioning experiment at Johns Hopkins University, has been identified as Douglas Merritte, the son of a wetnurse named Arvilla Merritte who lived and worked at a campus hospital at the time of the experiment — receiving $1 for her baby's participation.

In the study, Watson and graduate student Rosalie Rayner exposed the 9-month-old tot, whom they dubbed “Albert B,” to a white rat and other furry objects, which the baby enjoyed playing with. Later, as Albert played with the white rat, Watson would make a loud sound behind the baby's head. After a number of conditioning trials, Watson and Rayner reintroduced the animals and furry items without the scary noise. Through the conditioning, the animals and objects that were once a source of joy and curiosity had become a trigger of fear.

Watson had no reason to reveal Albert's true identity, and he never de-conditioned the child. (Watson was also dismissed from the university around the same time because of an affair with Rayner.) Since then, Little Albert's fate and identity have been a recurring question among psychology scholars, including Appalachian State University psychologist Hall P. Beck, PhD, who with a team of colleagues and students, sought answers. For seven years, Beck and his associates scoured historical materials, conferred with facial recognition experts, met with relatives of the boy they theorized was Albert.

Eventually, the pieces of the puzzle came together. The attributes of Douglas and his mother matched virtually everything that was known about Albert and his mother. Like Albert's mother, Douglas's mother worked at a pediatric hospital on campus called the Harriet Lane Home. Like Albert, Douglas was a white male who left the home in the early 1920s and was born at the same time of year as Albert. What's more, a comparison of a picture of Albert with Douglas' portrait revealed facial similarities.

Sadly, the team also discovered that Douglas died at age 6 of acquired hydrocephalus, and was unable to determine if Douglas' fear of furry objects persisted after he left Hopkins.

The team, which also included Sharman Levinson, PhD, of The American University in Paris, and Gary Irons, the grandson of Arvilla Merritte, published their findings in the October American Psychologist (Vol. 64, No. 7). The article not only satisfies a long-held curiosity, but also reflects a growing interest in the fate of research participants, says Cathy Faye, of the Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron. Participants in such famous, controversial studies “have become unwitting protagonists whose stories are told over and over again in psychology textbooks,” she says. “So people become very curious: Who were they, and how did they feel about the experiment?”

Beck is pleased his students have answered some of those questions, but the real bonus, he believes, is what they gained in the research process.

“The search took them beyond the memorization of their lectures and textbooks, and for the first time, into the creative world of psychological research,” he says. “In the end, that was even more important to them than finding Albert.”


Posted By: Dattatreya Mandal November 11, 2014

Traversing the the hard work of historians and archaeologists from over the centuries, the enchanting realm of history is replete with mysteries, conundrums and perplexities. And, within such a vast ambit of the proverbial ‘rabbit hole’, there are a few objects that still manage to baffle experts in spite of their extant nature. Ranging from fascinating artifacts, odd mechanisms to plainly weird thingamabobs – let us check out ten of such enigmatic objects that puzzle and perplex us sometimes from the perspective of their origin, and sometimes pertaining to their purpose.

1) Antikythera Mechanism –

A few days ago, we provided a detailed overview of the Antikythera, a historic site (south of Greece) which probably boasts of the world’s largest ancient shipwreck. The Antikythera mechanism was salvaged from this particular underwater location in 1900, and since then the proverbial ‘contraption’ has astonished archaeologists and scientists alike, by virtue of not only its evolved workmanship but also its advanced purpose. To that end, the mechanism is often stated as the world’s oldest gear ‘machine’, and is also called the world’s oldest analog computer – crafted to detect (or predict) various complex astronomical observances (including eclipses).

Oddly enough, in spite of such praises and hyperbolic statements, historians have still not been able to find out much about the creator of this state-of-the-art mechanism. The only substantiated factors are that the machine was made by Greek astronomers, and it was built around the period of late 3rd century BC. As for the exact source of the enviable craftsmanship, there are several conjectures including the most recent hypothesis from ‘ The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project ‘ that proposes that the device was contrived in one of the colonies of Corinth (which can include Syracuse – the home of Archimedes). In fact, recent analysis has hinted that this contraption might have been the very same device that Roman general Marcellus took as a booty from Syracuse in 212 AD, thus alluding to Archimedes’ hand in its creation (check this post ). Other inferences pertain to the mechanism’s origin in Pergamum (in present-day Turkey) or in Rhodes – with both locations being known for ancient accomplishments in the fields of science and astronomy.

2) Baghdad Battery –

The name given to a collective group of around twelve artifacts found from Iraq, these pot-like objects are determined to be from the era of the Parthians and early Sassanians (250 BC to 225 AD). Now, according to pseudo-archaeology enthusiasts, the contraptions were actually galvanic cells, and were used for electroplating gold onto surfaces made of other metals (namely silver). If this hypothesis is presumed to be correct, then the Baghdad Batteries would predate Volta’s electrochemical cell by more than 1,500 years!

Of course, most mainstream archaeologists and historians tend to dismiss such ‘sensational’ claims. But there are still conflicting theories among themselves about the dating of the artifacts. For example, Dr. St John Simpson from the department of the ancient Near East at the British Museum, believe that the objects might have come from later Sassanian period, and they were actually scientific in nature with capacity to conduct electricity. Contrastingly, others have noted their similarity to conventional storage vessels from the era. And lastly, adding a dash of hullabaloo to the controversial topic, Discovery Channel demonstrated that these ‘jars’ could have been used as batteries to electroplate at least small items.

3) Goddard Coin (or the Maine Penny) –

In one of our previous posts we talked about how the Vikings had discovered the continent of North America at least 500 years before Christopher Columbus. However from an archaeological perspective, their settlements have only been found along the Newfoundland area. But in an interesting turn of events, an amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found the so-named Goddard Coin from a southern area which used to be an old Native American settlement at Naskeag Point, Brooklin, Maine. The coin was identified by experts as belonging to the period of one Norwegian Viking king named Olav Kyrre, who reigned from 1067-1093 AD.

So, this brings us to the question – did the Vikings travel further south into what is now proper United States? This is a claim which is not yet substantiated by proper archaeological evidences. In fact, the lack of evidences has led the American Numismatic Society to label the Goddard Coin as most ‘probably’ a hoax, with Mellgren possibly planting the evidence in the site. However, the Maine State Museum has taken a different stance with their hypothetical assessment that the native acquired the coins from the Newfoundland Vikings – which in turn pertains to their associative trade links over long distances of North America.

4) Iron pillar of Delhi –

Indian metallurgical skills had been long valued during the ancient and medieval times, so much so that many Islamic factions imported Indian-made weaponry in spite of the famed Damascus steel (many researchers have even put forth their theory that the manufacturing of Damascus steel was probably inspired by ‘wootz steel’ from the Indian subcontinent). A physical testament to such skills is perhaps demonstrated by the 1,600 years old Iron pillar of Delhi, which is notable for its impressive rust-resistant quality that is presumably derived from the structure’s advanced metallic composition.

Estimated to be built during the rule of Chandragupta II (also known as Vikramaditya), the free-standing column rises to about 22 ft, and is currently erected inside the Qutb complex in Delhi (it was most probably brought as a trophy from its original location – the Udaygiri caves in Madhya Pradesh, central India). As for its advanced scope, most experts believe the pillar was constructed by forge welding pieces of high-quality wrought iron. The anti-corrosive nature of the ancient pillar is a result of a passive protective film that coats the iron-rust interface. This mitigating layer in turn was derived from mostly the high-content of phosphorus in the metal, along with usage of second-phase particles like unreduced iron oxides. In any case, the Iron Pillar still remains a rare specimen representing the progressive levels of ancient engineering aptitude and it continues to puzzle historians, given the lack of proper replications in other parts of India (or even Asia).

5) Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone –

A dark-hued, egg-shaped stone was found in 1872, near Lake Winnipesaukee in New England and it exhibits a variety of carvings ranging from a face, an ear of corn to star-like circles. The mysterious artifact was donated to the Museum of New Hampshire History in 1927, and it is still displayed there. Now, as for the purpose of the stone, there are a few deductions made by historians, with The American Naturalist’s conjecture pertaining to the view that the object was used as a commemoration piece for a peace treaty being agreed upon between two native tribes.

However, more than just the carvings, there is another cryptic angle to the whole affair, it relates to the two holes that were bored at the two ends of the stone. According to Richard Boisvert, a state archaeologist, these holes are impressively regular, thus hinting at the utilization of power tools rather than the rudimentary boring techniques used by Native Americans. He further added that there was every chance that these smooth holes were made during later part of the 19th century, which would entail tampering of the artifact. In any case, the stone itself was presumably crafted from quartzite, which is a derivative of sandstone or mylonite.

5. Easter Island heads of Rapa Nui

Sometime around the year 800, a small tribe of 100 brave souls is said to have traveled thousands of miles to settle on the shores of Easter Island. For the next 1,000 years, they conducted a ritual of carving and planting some 1,000 Heads of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Wikimedia Commons

We still don&rsquot know why the inhabitants of Rapa Nui transported the large rocks, carved their features, and placed them in the ground facing away from the sea. We think we know how they were moved, but before European explorers arrived on Easter Day 1722, the secrets were lost to history.

Pillar of Ashoka

  1. Click on the image to zoom in. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum
  2. Photograph showing a pillar of Ashoka as it looks today. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum
  3. Map showing where this object was found. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

This fragment comes from one of the pillars erected throughout India by the Emperor Ashoka around 240 BC. The type of writing used for the inscription is known as 'Brahmi' and forms the basis for all later Indian, Tibetan and South-East Asian writing. This inscription outlines Ashoka's personal philosophy ? a system similar to Buddhism ? on how people should live their lives. In this pillar, Ashoka speaks of how the greatest conquest is over one's personal morals ? not over other people or lands.

Ashoka was the most famous king of the Mauryan Empire ? one of the largest empires in the history of South Asia. At their height, the Mauryans controlled most of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. As a young man Ashoka was renowned for his hedonism and cruelty. However, later in life he felt intense remorse triggered by a massacre that occurred during one of his conquests. This inspired him to renounce violence and follow dharma ? a self-defined path of righteousness that guided him through life.

A carving of four lions that once topped one of Ashoka's pillars at Sarnath is now the national emblem of India

A man of peace

It is always said that Ashoka, after winning a great battle, turned into a man of peace. Bhutan does not have great battles but some few years ago the fourth king personally led the very small Bhutanese army down to the south east to expel some thousands of Indian separatist rebels who were fleeing into Bhutan after attacking the Indian army in Assam.

Before he sent he made a speech to the army in which he said we must try not to kill people. It was a successful operation, in just three days all these rebels were flushed out and when the king returned to the capital there was some suggestion that there should be a triumphal entry and all the flags were put up and the invitation cards sent out. But no, that was not his style. His view was this some people had been killed, there is nothing to celebrate. And so he returned quietly with no celebrations, no triumphalism – something I feel that Ashoka would have felt very at home with.

It is always said that Ashoka, after winning a great battle, turned into a man of peace. Bhutan does not have great battles but some few years ago the fourth king personally led the very small Bhutanese army down to the south east to expel some thousands of Indian separatist rebels who were fleeing into Bhutan after attacking the Indian army in Assam.

Before he sent he made a speech to the army in which he said we must try not to kill people. It was a successful operation, in just three days all these rebels were flushed out and when the king returned to the capital there was some suggestion that there should be a triumphal entry and all the flags were put up and the invitation cards sent out. But no, that was not his style. His view was this some people had been killed, there is nothing to celebrate. And so he returned quietly with no celebrations, no triumphalism – something I feel that Ashoka would have felt very at home with.

Michael Rutland, British Consul in Bhutan

A griefless emperor

Ashoka… Shok is grief in Sanskrit. Ashoka is griefless, so there is a kind of commitment to happiness. We don’t know if he was born with that name or not he may have been called just that – my name, Amartya, means immortal – I know that’s not true. In his case, it might have been more true!

But certainly he is associated with good governance. He is associated with the unity of India as one of the first emperors ruling all over the land – the entire land – he is associated with Indian secularism because of his religious neutrality. He became quite famously converted from Hinduism to the new religion of Buddhism, but his argument was that all the religions would have equal status and recognition and get attention from the others. So secularism in the Indian form, not no religion in government matters, but not favouritism of any religion over any other. That interpretation of secularism, which Akbar pursues, actually originates in fact with Ashoka.

Then there is the issue of democracy, and democracy as governed by discussion, that’s very big in Ashoka, namely that you have to discuss and you have to arrive at a conclusion and that’s the best way to govern.

Ashoka… Shok is grief in Sanskrit. Ashoka is griefless, so there is a kind of commitment to happiness. We don’t know if he was born with that name or not he may have been called just that – my name, Amartya, means immortal – I know that’s not true. In his case, it might have been more true!

But certainly he is associated with good governance. He is associated with the unity of India as one of the first emperors ruling all over the land – the entire land – he is associated with Indian secularism because of his religious neutrality. He became quite famously converted from Hinduism to the new religion of Buddhism, but his argument was that all the religions would have equal status and recognition and get attention from the others. So secularism in the Indian form, not no religion in government matters, but not favouritism of any religion over any other. That interpretation of secularism, which Akbar pursues, actually originates in fact with Ashoka.

Then there is the issue of democracy, and democracy as governed by discussion, that’s very big in Ashoka, namely that you have to discuss and you have to arrive at a conclusion and that’s the best way to govern.

Amartya Sen, University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University

Comments are closed for this object


The decision of where to place a pillar would need to take in all sorts of considerations. One of them would be if there were any electromagnetic planetary power lines or ley lines running across that spot. (If you wanted to begin looking at ley lines you could start with [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] The reason for locating a pillar on a ley line is so that it could tap into that natural power and enhance its function as a ?public address system?.
It is interesting that like England, India has the lion as its emblem. A lot of cultures have the Bull, Lion Eagle or Snake as their emblem I have gone into the possible reason for this in my blog [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]10

Dear BBC,
You have given me immeasurable pleasure throughout my life, in my highs and downs, through your programmes. I have been listening to the BBC since my childhood. Earlier through short-wave, now through Internet. It?s a childhood habit that has been passed on to me by my father I am thirty now, an Indian.
Yet, I must say, this series has been the most wonderful that I have ever had the pleasure to listen and I am deeply thankful to you and the British Museum, particularly tireless Mr. Neil MacGregor, for expanding my horizon. I love his comnforting voice. I would love to visit London someday to see these objects myself.
I was most thrilled to hear this episode on Ashoka the Great. It reminded me of how we Indians should live. Not that I don?t know about Ashoka or Buddha, but you get reminded of them suddenly, in this case through your programme. At least for a month or two, I will be sober J before forgetting all the nobilities and their teachings in my daily struggle to life here in Mumbai.
I don?t get to hear the episodes when they are on air but I make sure I download the episodes.
Sadly, not many people back here in India are aware of this excellent programme. I am doing my bit to let my friends know about this excellent initiative. Apart from directing them to your website, I hope to collect all the 100 episodes and make a disc to present to my near and dear ones, particularly to kids. Kids who understand English and are eager to know about the world but do not have good educational stuff available with them. Also, I hope, by listening to these episodes, they will realize the importance of visualizing and creating their own world that is so restricted when they are watching a television programme.
I hope, making discs out of these programmes and distributing them for private use, and not for commercial, is not a copyright infringement. Please let me know if it is so. I would deter doing so.
Best regards.

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The Secret Tomb of the First Chinese Emperor Remains an Unopened Treasure

The tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, despite being involved in one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all times, endures as a mystery to archaeologists and historians as it remains largely sealed up and unexplored. The strange and deadly history of the tomb and its contents was sealed within and buried beneath vegetation for thousands of years.

The two decades following 218 BC was a period of instability in the Mediterranean as the Roman Republic went to war with the Carthaginians. In the Far East, by contrast, this period was relatively stable, as a unified China emerged from the chaos of the Warring States Period. Qin Shi Huang was the man responsible for uniting the seven warring states to form the first imperial dynasty of China. The first emperor of China was as obsessed with life as he was with the afterlife. Whilst occupied with the search for the elixir of immortality, Qin Shi Huang was also busy building his tomb.

A 2017 study of ancient texts written on thousands of wooden slats reveals the extent of the emperor’s power and his desire to live forever. The artifact includes an executive order from Emperor Qin Shi Huang for a nationwide hunt for the elixir of life and also the replies from local governments. One village, called "Duxiang", reported that no miraculous potion had been found there yet but assured the emperor that they would continue to search. Another place, "Langya," claimed to have found an herb on an “auspicious local mountain,” which could do the job.

As a matter of fact, the construction of the emperor’s tomb began long before Qin Shi Huang became the first Chinese emperor. When Qin Shi Huang was 13 years old, he ascended the throne of Qin, and immediately began building his eternal resting place. It was only in 221 BC, however, when Qin Shi Huang successfully unified China that full-scale construction would begin, as he then commanded manpower totaling 700,000 from across the country. The tomb, located in Lintong County, Shaanxi Province, took over 38 years to complete, and was only finished several years after his death.

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. (Public Domain)

An account of the construction of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb and its description can be found in the Records of the Grand Historian, which was written by the Han dynasty historian, Sima Qian. According to this source, Qin Shi Huang’s tomb contained ‘palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials’, as well as numerous rare artifacts and treasures. In addition, the two major rivers of China, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, were simulated in the tomb using mercury. The rivers were also set mechanically to flow into the great sea. Whilst the rivers and other features of the land were represented on the floor of the tomb, its ceiling was decorated with the heavenly constellations. Thus, Qin Shi Huang could continue to rule over his empire even in the afterlife. To protect the tomb, the emperor’s craftsmen were instructed to make traps which would fire arrows at anyone who entered the tomb.

Painted portrait of historian Sima Qian, ( Public Domain)

Qin Shi Huang’s funeral was conducted by his son, who ordered the death of any concubines of the late emperor who did not have sons. This was done in order to provide company for Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. When the funerary ceremonies were over, the inner passageway was blocked, and the outer gate was lowered, so as to trap all the craftsmen in the tomb. This was to ensure that the workings of the mechanical traps and the knowledge of the tomb’s treasures would not be divulged. Finally, plants and vegetation were planted on the tomb so it resembled a hill.

Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is covered by vegetation and resembles a hill. (CC BY SA 2.0 )

Although a written record regarding Qin Shi Huang’s tomb was already in existence roughly a century after the emperor’s death, it was only re-discovered in the 20th century (whether the tomb has been robbed in the past, however, is unknown). In 1974, a group of farmers digging wells in Lintong County dug up a life-size terracotta warrior from the ground. This was the beginning of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all times. Over the last four decades, about 2000 terracotta warriors have been uncovered. It is estimated, however, that a total of between 6000 and 8000 of these warriors were buried with Qin Shi Huang. Furthermore, the terracotta army is but the tip of the iceberg, as the emperor’s tomb itself remains unexcavated.

Terracotta Warriors and Horses, is a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Xi'an, China. (Aneta Ribarska/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Numerous elaborate artifacts have been recovered around the site, such as this chariot and horses found outside of the tomb mound. (Tomasz Sienicki/ CC BY 1.0 )

It is unlikely that the tomb of Qin Shi Huang will be opened any time soon. For a start, there are the tomb’s booby traps, as mentioned by Sima Qian. Despite being over two millennia old, it has been argued that they would still function as effectively as the day they were installed. Furthermore, the presence of mercury would be incredibly deadly to anyone who entered the tomb without appropriate protection. Most importantly, however, is the fact that our technology at present would not be adequate to deal with the sheer scale of the underground complex and the preservation of the excavated artifacts. As a case in point, the terracotta warriors were once brightly painted, though exposure to the air and sunlight caused the paint to flake off almost immediately. Until further technological advancements have been made, it is unlikely that archaeologists will risk opening the tomb of the first emperor of China.

The Evolution of the Mystery Box

Mystery-oriented storytelling has come a long way since the days of ‘Lost.’

When J.J. Abrams was a kid, he loved magic. One day he headed over to the magic store, and he bought the first thing he saw that captured his imagination: Tannen’s Mystery Magic Box. Its purpose is simple – when you open the box, you’ll find some kind of magic waiting inside. Abrams has never opened the box.

In his 2007 TED Talk, Abrams considers why. “What I love about this box,” he says, “is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is a catalyst for imagination.”

With Lost, Abrams applied the same logic and introduced mystery box storytelling to the small screen. Most mystery box shows can be summed up with the question, What’s the deal with ______? This narrative style – characterized by narration that unfolds as a series of reveals and twists to unearth central mysteries – can be equal parts rewarding and maddening. Fundamentally, mystery boxes raise the narrative stakes. When storytellers introduce a mystery, they take on the responsibility of solving it in a satisfying, meaningful way.

Lost gave us the perfect mystery box. In a nearly flawless pilot, Lost tossed us onto a tropical island with total strangers and smoke monsters and scary jungle sounds. Throughout the next few seasons, the questions piled up: What’s so special about Walt? What is The Hatch? Why are there polar bears on the island? And what is up with those numbers? Naturally, viewers started hacking away at the box.

Lost strategically kept us hooked by teasing out questions at a faster rate than answers. Flashbacks (and only flashbacks) were the show’s greatest strength. They served triple duty by filling in backstory, developing characters, and guiding each episode’s narrative. The series was one giant act of unearthing each episode created new questions, but still inched us closer to complete understanding (or so we thought).

TV shows actively teach you how to watch them. Lost taught its viewers to be hungry, attentive sleuths, rewarding viewers who searched for clues, answers, and easter eggs. For example, Lost’s writers and producers created The Lost Experience, an alternate reality game, to let fans track down clues and uncover information during the hiatus between seasons 2 and 3. The internet also blossomed in conjunction with Lost’s run, so fans had a new space to fiddle with the mystery box as much as they liked.

When it was time for the show to end – time for the theorizing to stop and the mystery box to open once and for all – the stakes were high. With only one chance to reveal the contents of the mystery box, not everyone will like what’s inside in the case of Lost, not all the contents were even revealed. The finale was infamously divisive. Twitter transformed from a space for communal sleuthing to a war zone.

The Lost finale decided to leave a lot of threads open and mysteries unanswered. It focused on character development over plot resolution (a perfectly valid choice). But viewers who were trained to focus on answers – trained to see plot as a puzzle, not as a means to character development – were let down. When the writers infused the plot with ambiguity, viewers rejected it because they were taught that the story was meant to be solved.

That’s an extremely abridged version of the story of Lost – where it began and ended, what went right and wrong. From this story, countless other shows have learned from the successes and foibles of the first television mystery box.

Westworld draws comparisons to Lost for obvious reasons. Westworld emulates Lost in its attention to detail and penchant for mystery. Each show has a vague organizational entity (Delos, DHARMA), visual clues (mazes, numbers), and lots of temporal play. The plots of both shows unravel rather than simply progress. Like Lost, Westworld is propelled by questions, and most of us probably watch for the answers rather than for characters. Anything can be the key to everything.

But Westworld has learned from some of Lost’s mistakes, namely the need for a payoff. Season one ended in a beautifully orchestrated climax. A culmination of smaller revelations throughout the season, the finale tore open the mystery box enough to answer our most immediate questions (Maze? Check. Arnold? Check. Wyatt? Check.) while still teasing new possibilities.

In its second season, Westworld has achieved some of its highest highs and lowest lows, occasionally fumbling with the mystery box. The first few episodes, for example, once again gave us disparate timelines that demand piecing together and an intriguing end goal (“Glory” replaces the maze this season as the coveted final destination). But the pace has slowed, the stakes are less tangible, and shocking twists are fewer. It feels the show has lost a central, propelling mystery.

But then the fourth episode charges out of the gates. “The Riddle of the Sphynx” is a sign that Westworld’s mystery box has matured, that questions can be posed and answered within the span of a single episode. The episode combines episodic closure and cliffhanger revelation, not deepened mystery, captures our imagination.

Westworld proves a successful mystery box is a balanced one. Maintaining mystery without dragging it out is paramount evenly distributing questions and answers is key. “The Riddle of the Sphynx” shows that unsolicited knowledge can engage us just as much as mystery can.

Westworld has the same rabid, perpetually-sleuthing fanbase that Lost did. This is something the show’s creators have had to deal with (which they did poorly, with this obnoxious Rick Roll). But this season feels less like we’re being asked to solve the story, and more like we’re simply being immersed in it. It’s promising.

The Leftovers takes a different approach to the mystery box. Like Lost (What’s the deal with the Island?) and Westworld (What’s the deal with the park?), The Leftovers is also founded on a central mystery (What’s the deal with the Sudden Departure?).

But The Leftovers showrunner Damon Lindelof – who is also the co-creator of Lost – learned how to let the mystery be without frustrating viewers. The Leftovers leaves most of its mysteries unanswered (Kevin’s immortality, Patti’s ghost, that afterlife world), and yet is a profoundly fulfilling narrative.

Lindelof learned from his time on Lost how to train an audience early on, viewers learn to let unexplained plot points go. Instead of harping on answers, The Leftovers focuses all of its energy on characters and uses plot as a means to develop them – not as a question that needs answering.

By the end of the series, almost none of the series-long mysteries are answered, except (perhaps) one. A character explains what happened to the millions of people that vanished in the Sudden Departure (though we gain no insight into the why or how). The catch? Her verbal account only tells us it doesn’t show us. This forces us to decide whether or not we even believe her. Sounds like a frustrating lack of clarity, a la Lost? Just the opposite. The Leftovers primes us for this the whole show is about how belief works and why people believe that they do. So when the show tosses the ball into our court, we’re not frustrated by the ambiguity – we’re exhilarated.

Other post-Lost series like This Is Us and The Good Place have taken the mystery box out of the realm of sci-fi drama. Like Westworld, This Is Us picked up an affinity for multiple timelines from Lost. This Is Us uses flashbacks to create a narrative puzzle, two realities that need to be negotiated.

But the show’s mystery box is subversive in its transparency we already know what happens to Jack and Rebecca and the rest of the Pearsons. The mystery box is largely opened to us we’re only missing the how. There is no complex mythology or incessant new mysteries. Instead, we search for the source of the Pearsons’ grief alongside them. And, like The Leftovers, This Is Us frequently subordinates plot to character development (something Lost figured out a little too late).

The Good Place has a more traditional mystery box premise (What’s the deal with The Good Place?). The answer to its central mystery is revealed at the end of season one. It’s the only half-hour comedy of the bunch and the resourcefulness with which it uses that limited time is remarkable. The Good Place gives character and plot equal weight we are as in love with Chidi and Eleanor and Tahani and Jason as we are invested in the mystery of the show. And it does all this while being hilarious.

The Good Place has also figured out how to keep twists organic, something Westworld and Lost sometimes struggle with. The big season one reveal, for example, was brilliantly blindsiding. But since that question was answered, the show has evolved from a pure mystery box into something else. Season two didn’t end with another twist, but rather a new stage. Season 3 will likely be one big exercise in dramatic irony, as our squad undertakes their second chances back on Earth.

It’s no surprise that The Good Place has also drawn a lot of comparisons to Lost. It even follows a pretty similar structure: a group of unlikely friends is trapped together in an environment that is not what it seems, they have to figure out how to maneuver this new setting, and we get to know them better through flashbacks. Even the season two finale reminded many viewers of Lost’s fifth season finale (both established wonky “other” timelines).

But The Good Place is lithe and light on its feet. Its limited runtime works enormously to its benefit. It gives us the information we need fast, and it doesn’t linger on any one mystery. Where Lost got hung up on complicated mythos and flash-forwards/backs/sideways, The Good Place nimbly moves through dense mythos while still getting laughs.

JJ Abrams has some pretty lofty ideas about the role of the mystery box. “What are stories but mystery boxes?” he asks in his TED Talk. I’m not a fan of this claim. Not every story is – or should be – innately solvable. We see this truth with the newer iterations of the mystery box. Westworld has taken to the idea of the puzzle-plot but has refined it to balance mystery and revelation. The Leftovers completely rejects the idea of solving – or even resolving – plot, and confidently leaves questions open-ended. This Is Us prioritizes characterization over answering the Pearsons’ mysteries, but their mere presence piques our curiosity. And The Good Place gets us answers fast, intricately weaving in humor and character development.

Stories aren’t just mystery boxes. They ask us big questions about life, introduce us to characters we feel like we know, deliver beauty and order and insight. But they can be mystery boxes on top of all that, shocking us with twists, gripping us with intrigue, making us think critically.

Lost provided an excellent template for the potential of the mystery box. Now, the shows that follow realize what the mystery box can and should be.