The last hundred years have borne witness to humankind’s extraordinary technological advancements. Man has walked on the moon, ventured deeper into the oceans than ever before and even uncovered the building blocks of life, DNA. But even with our inexorable progress as a species there are still mysteries and enigmas the solutions to which elude us. Below is a selection of 10 of the most puzzling mysteries in history.
10) The SS Ourang Medan
In June 1947, a chilling SOS message was picked up: “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." This was followed by some indecipherable Morse code, and one final grisly message... "I die." Then, silence.
It was picked up by nearby ships and listening posts, who identified the vessel as the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan and located it within the Strait of Malacca that separates Indonesia from Malaysia. The nearest merchant ship, The Silver Star, raced to her aid. The Silver Star was soon alongside the Dutch ship and their boarding party found a macabre sight: every member of the crew lay dead, their corpses scattered on the decks. More than this, their eyes were still open and expressions of sheer terror were etched on their features. The Silver Star’s party found the radio operator dead too, his hand still on the Morse sending key, eyes wide open and teeth bared. There were no sign of wounds or injuries on any of the bodies.
The decision was made to tow the mysterious ship back to port, but before they could get underway, smoke began emanating from the decks below. The boarding party hurriedly returned to their ship and barely had time to cut the tow lines before the SS Ourang Medan exploded and swiftly sank.
It has been claimed that clouds of noxious natural gases could have bubbled up from fissures in the seabed and engulfed the ship; even aliens and ghosts have been cited as possible explanations for the Ourang Medan’s macabre and mysterious demise. To this day, the exact fate of her crew remains an impenetrable mystery.
9) The Aluminum Wedge of Aiud
In 1974 (or 1973 depending upon which source you believe) a curious aluminum wedge was discovered on the banks of the Mures River in Transylvania, near the city of Aiud. It was found buried deep beneath the sand alongside two mastodon bones.
Upon examination, the object – which resembled a hammer head – was found to be encased in a one millimeter thick layer of oxide which suggests that it is some 300-400 years old. A second, Swiss investigation confirmed the results of the first examination. Furthermore, as it was found with mastodon remains it could even be as much as 20,000 years old.
Aluminum is abundant in the earth’s crust but it is always combined with other minerals and the wedge predates the technology used to extract it. An aeronautical engineer suggested that the wedge is similar to the foot of landing gear used on spacecraft. The scientific community believes ‘the wedge was made on earth and its purpose is not yet identified’. Unfortunately, the Aluminum Wedge of Aiud is currently locked away in a secret location; however, some photographs of the curious, unexplained object do exist online.
8) Dulce Base
Supposedly, a top secret subterranean complex is carved into the rock below the Archuleta Mesa in Dulce, New Mexico. Claims that the base is a ‘genetics lab’ in which humans and extraterrestrials cooperatively conduct disturbing experiments have been made by various ‘leaked documents’, witness reports and even an ex-employee.
Strange humming sounds that seem to emanate from the earth near the town of Dulce have added to speculations of an underground facility, as have the presence of military helicopters that have been spotted around the area.
An author with the nom de plume of Branton claims to have interviewed former workers at the base who said: "[There] are experiments done on fish, seals, birds and mice that are vastly altered from their original forms. There are multi-armed and multi-legged humans and several cages of humanoid bat-like creatures up to seven feet tall. The aliens have taught the humans a lot about genetics, things both useful and dangerous." The U.S. government denies the base’s existence, but that doesn’t stop the speculation.
Chances are you have not heard of BEKs (Black Eyed Kids) yet. Sightings of them are few and far between but via the internet they are growing in number, and the reports describe close encounters that are not only weird, but also frightening.
The stories almost always start with a ring of the doorbell. One, two or more children appear on a ‘victim’s’ doorstep and ask for help: they need to use the toilet, make an urgent phone call or relate another tale of distress. They ask to come in, plead in some cases, but the homeowners never let them in due to an unexplained feeling of terror that overcomes them. Perhaps it is the BEKs’ entirely black eyes that induce the overwhelming horror; perhaps it is because, as one ‘witness’ described, their faces appear as slightly blurry. The mysterious encounters don’t stop there, either: “For a period of three days straight, [the BEKs] kept showing up on my driveway. When the police came they were nowhere in sight. After that, they never showed up on my driveway, but every once in a while, I will see them in the downtown area, like they are following me. They will be behind a tree, I will drive to another section of Sacramento and I would see them again or I will see them on the side of the road as I am driving by and they will stare at me.”
One man did let the children in. They claimed to need to use the toilet and phone, but it was only when they entered into the house that he saw their peculiar eyes and felt the full force of dread. The BEKs moved towards him, saying that ‘they had come to collect him’. He fled the house in terror.
6) The Piri Reis Map
Currently located in the Library of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Piri Reis map is a puzzling enigma. It outlines the coast of western Africa, the eastern coast of South America, and even a section of the northern coast of Antarctica (thought to have been discovered 300 years after Piri Reis’s lifetime). Furthermore, the map shows the coastline without its glacial covering. Geological evidence suggests that Antarctica was last in this ice-less state in 4000 BC. Reis was a famous Turkish admiral whose passion (understandably for a seafarer) was cartography. Taking advantage of his rank and his privileged access to the Imperial Library of Constantinople, his 1513 gazelle skin map was built upon the work of others, with some of his cartographical sources dating back as far as the time of Alexander the Great. The map also seems to detail more about the topographical features of South America than Europeans were thought to have in 1513, such as the Andes.
5) Commandment Rock
An 80 ton boulder on the side of Hidden Mountain in New Mexico bears a puzzling inscription. Carved into the stone’s flat side is what has been interpreted by some to be a version of the Ten Commandments in a form of ‘Paleo-Hebrew’.
Discovered by academia in 1933 by archaeology Professor Frank Hibben, it had been known to locals for decades, and the guide who led Hibben to it said he had known of it since the 1880s – a date which, if genuine, means the rock’s authenticity is likely, as the Paleo-Hebrew script was then unknown. This means it outdates Columbus’s discovery of America and suggests that people from Israel or Phoenicia (who used a similar language) discovered the continent centuries before it was thought possible. Skeptics draw upon punctuation and grammatical ‘errors’ as evidence of it being a fake, while others still doubt this debunking.
4) The Somerton Man
In the early hours of December 1, 1948 a dead body was found lying on Adelaide’s Somerton Beach. The man was judged to be in his early forties and in good physical condition. Curiously, all the labels were missing from his clothing, he had no identification and his dental records did not match any known person.
Even the coroner and Scotland Yard had no luck finding out the man’s identity or cause of death. The mystery deepened when a piece of paper with the printed words “Tamam Shud” on it was discovered in a secret pocket concealed within the dead man’s trousers. The scrap of paper was traced to a rare edition of a book entitled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the back of which contained some kind of a code. Numerous unsuccessful attempts by amateurs and professional codebreakers to crack it have failed. The identity of the deceased man and even the cause of death remain unsolved to this day. The case was never closed by the South Australian Major Crime Task Force and many individuals continue to work on it.
3) Gef the Talking Mongoose
Also referred to as the Dalby Spook, Gef was said to be a creature resembling a mongoose. It was reported to live with the Irving family in their farmhouse near the hamlet of Dalby on the Isle of Man. Gef’s true identification remains shrouded in mystery. It has been interpreted as (among other things) a poltergeist, a cryptid and of course, a hoax.
In September 1931, the Irvings started hearing strange scratching noises coming from their farmhouse’s attic. Soon the scratching became more like a baby ‘gurgling’. The gurgling then evolved to ‘resemble a baby learning to talk and shortly after to mimic certain words that the ‘animal’ seemingly picked up from the Irving family’. If that wasn’t weird enough it described itself as a “an extra, extra clever mongoose,” an “earthbound spirit” and “a ghost in the form of a weasel.” It could even sing.
The case was investigated by Harry Price, but aside from a few grainy photographs of a strange animal roaming the fields outside the house, nothing substantial was ever recorded.
2) The Black Mausoleum – Tomb of ‘Bluidy’ MacKenzie
Edinburgh is a ghost hunter’s paradise. It seems that there is barely a nook or cranny of the Scottish capital that doesn’t lay claim to spooky goings-on of one kind or another, and there is one hot spot in particular that boasts inexplicable activity which is unusually well-documented.
George MacKenzie (1638–1691), Lord Advocate of Scotland, was a merciless persecutor of the Presbyterian Covenanters in life, and now it seems that he (or something else) has returned from parts unknown to take up residence in his tomb and continue his nefarious deeds.
In 1998, a vagrant broke into his tomb and fell through a rotten lower floor into a plague pit filled with skeletons. Since then, there have been over 450 reports of strange incidents, from people having lost consciousness to inexplicable fires breaking out and an unusually high number of dead animals having been found around the tomb. Visitors have had their fingers broken, hair pulled and been punched or kicked by an invisible assailant. Unexplained bruises, scratches and burns, skin gouges, nausea and numbness are all commonly reported.
The physical signs of attack often go unnoticed until people arrive home and relax or return to their hotels for the night. Witnesses have even reported activity following them home. Whatever lurks within the Black Mausoleum, it is certainly active.
1) DB Cooper
The solution to one of the greatest mysteries of all time still eludes America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. On the November 24, 1971, a man in his mid forties and giving the name Dan Cooper (he is also known as DB Cooper due to a ‘press miscommunication’) hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft and demanded $200,000 in ransom and two parachutes. His claim of having a bomb in his briefcase was verified by an air stewardess.
Cooper was given the ransom money at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. He allowed passengers and some members of the flight crew to leave before ordering the plane to be flown to Mexico.
Soon after the plane took off, Cooper then opened the rear airstairs and parachuted into the pitch black, rain-lashed night. A five month manhunt – said to the most extensive and expensive of its kind – was immediately launched. Despite $5,880 of the ransom being discovered by a boy in 1980, no other trace of the hijacker was ever found.
In 2007, the F.B.I. reopened the case, saying that it does not believe Cooper survived the jump, but expressed an interest in ascertaining his identity, saying: “Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely.”
Despite there being hundreds of leads since 1971 (including many deathbed confessions), Cooper’s identity remains a mystery and the world's only unsolved skyjacking case.