UFO in Edo Period

The Iwase Bunko Library has in its possession a document entitled Hyouryuukishuu ("Tales of Castaways"), which was printed during the late Edo period (1603-1868).

The document recounts the stories of Japanese sailors who find themselves in foreign lands after becoming lost at sea, as well as castaway foreigners washed ashore on the beaches of Japan. To the Japanese people, who at the time had been living in a prolonged period of national isolation, these exotic tales must have seemed very fantastic.

Among these stories is the account of a wrecked ship with a very mysterious appearance.

According to the document, this vessel washed ashore at Harashagahama in Hitachi-no-kuni (present-day Ibaraki prefecture). The body of the ship, described as 3.3 meters tall and 5.4 meters wide, had been built from red sandalwood and iron and was fitted with windows of glass or crystal. The mysterious characters of an unknown alphabet were found inscribed inside the vessel.

Aboard the drifting vessel was a finely dressed young woman with a pale face and red eyebrows and hair. She was estimated to be between 18 and 20 years old. Because she spoke an unfamiliar tongue, those that encountered her were unable to determine from whence she came. In her arms she clutched a plain wooden box that appeared to be of great value to her, as she would allow nobody to approach it.

The document shows a portion of the text found inside the ship (see above).

Other Edo-period documents describe variations of this mysterious encounter. Toen Shousetsu (1825), a book by Kyokutei Bakin (who is most famous for his 106-volume samurai epic Nansou Satomi Hakkenden) tells the story of the same encounter, referring to the strange vessel as the utsuro-fune ("hollow ship"). Another variation of this tale appears in Ume no Chiri (1844), penned by a relatively unknown author named Nagahashi Matajirou. A thorough analysis of these two variations of the story can be found in a translated article by Kazuo Tanaka titled "Did a Close Encounter of the Third Kind Occur on a Japanese Beach in 1803?"

Contemporary fans of the paranormal know this ship as the Edo-period UFO.



Artificial cranial deformation

Artificial cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding is a form of permanent body alteration in which the skull of a human being is intentionally deformed. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child's skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among those chosen. It is typically carried out on an infant, as the skull is most pliable at this time. In a typical case, headbinding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for about six months.

Intentional head moulding producing extreme cranial deformations was once commonly practised in a number of cultures widely separated geographically and chronologically, and so was probably independently invented more than once. It still occurs today in a few places, like Vanuatu.

Early examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BC in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq. It occurred among Neolithic peoples in SW Asia

The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates' description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.

The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines, Maya, and certain tribes of North American natives, most notably the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast.

In the Old World, Huns and Alans are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom (Gepids, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Rugii and Burgundians). In western Germanic tribes, artificial skull deformations have rarely been found.

The Native American group known as the Flathead did not in fact practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder. However, other tribes, including the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians, did practise head flattening by strapping the infant's head to a cradleboard.

Friedrich Ratzel in The History of Mankind reported in 1896 that deformation of the skull, both by flattening it behind and elongating it towards the vertex, was found in isolated instances in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and the Paumotu group and occurring most frequently on Mallicollo in the New Hebrides, where the skull was squeezed extraordinarily flat.

Methods and types

Deformation usually begins just after birth for the next couple of years until the desired shape has been reached or the child rejects the apparatus.

There is no established classification system of cranial deformations. Many scientists have developed their own classification systems, but none have agreed on a single classification for all forms that are seen .

In Europe and Asia, three main types of artificial cranial deformation have been defined by E.V. Zhirov
1. Round
2. Fronto-occipital
3. Sagittal.

Cranial deformation was probably performed to signify group affiliation, or to demonstrate social status. This may have played a key role in Egyptian and Mayan societies. Queen Nefertiti is often depicted with what may be an elongated skull, as is King Tutankhamen. It could be aimed at creating a skull shape which is aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan, a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits.

Source: Wiki & verseofuniverse


Top 10 Most Bizarre Plants

There are about 375,000 species of plants in the world today, with more being discovered on a daily basis. Plants come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and even scents. We’ve all seen the common household plants: ferns, orchids, violets… but most of the plants on this list you’ve probably never seen in real life.

Even though classifying something as bizarre is pretty relative and will differ from person to person, these plants are most definitely strange in more than just one way. If you’re looking to surprise your girlfriend, these are not the types of plants to put into a pot; save them for the mother-in-law. Below are 10 odd plants that will probably make you think twice.

10. Dionaea Muscipula

Better known as the Venus flytrap, the Dionaea muscipula is one of about 670 carnivorous plants that researchers have discovered. The plant is able to attract insects and spiders, and once the bug is inside of the plant it will make contact with the tiny hairs inside, which then spark a reaction for the plant to close its lobes. If the prey does escape, the trap usually reopens in about 12 hours. If the bug is unable to get away, the further movement it makes in attempt to escape only forces the plant to tighten even more, which leads to digestion.

You’ve probably seen these plants in the stores or even at someone’s home, placing it low on the list despite its strange diet (and, let’s face it, a meat-eating plant is pretty bizarre). The stems often get no larger than 4 inches, and can be a bit smaller than 1 inch. In the spring, the plant produces delicate white flowers, but only if it is healthy. As a result of wildfires, they are considered to be a vulnerable species, which means that they are highly likely to become endangered. While the plant has been transplanted to many locations, the only place where it grows natively is in North Carolina bogs. Despite what you may think, the Venus flytrap is not a tropical plant; in fact, it thrives in the winter.

9. Wolffia Angusta

Sometimes referred to as watermeal, Wolffia angusta belongs to a genus that is made up of some of the smallest plants on earth. There are 38 Wolffia plants total, 9 of them being the smallest plants ever discovered. The Wolffia angusta is so small that a dozen single plants can easily fit onto the head of a pin. If you were to find 2 plants that were in full bloom, you could fit them inside a very small handwritten “o.” You’ll find this plant growing on the water’s surface, which explains its name because, at first glance, you could easily mistake it for cornmeal floating in the water. These plants have no roots and grow in depressions in the water’s surface. They often group together and even combine with other similar plants that also make the water home.

Watermeal is native to Asia, where it is part of many people’s diets. It is said to have just as much protein as soybean, which is about 40% of its nutritional value. However, eating plants the size of 1/25 of an inch can’t be filling!

8. Lithops Julii

Lithops julii is a weird plant that you’ll find growing in southern Africa. The plant thrives in very hot and dry environments, and if you know a little Greek, you may know why. The plants name, Lithops, comes from the word ‘lithos’ which means stone and ‘ops,’ meaning like or similar to. Other names for Lithops julii are pebble plants as well as living stones. Truly, every aspect of the plant is very much like a rock. For instance, most plants are green or have some hint of yellow to them. But, the Lithops are cream, grey, brown in color (some with red designs). These colors are useful because they allow the plant to blend in and almost camouflage itself. Overall, just like rocks, the Lithops plant is pretty dull.

Though the plant doesn’t sound pretty, it does actually produce flowers. The flowers look very similar to a daisy; white with long petals and a pale yellow center. These flowers usually bloom in the fall. Now, if you’re into weird plants that don’t add very much color to a room, you can choose to buy a Lithops and grow it in your home. With enough light and ventilation along with minimal water, these plants do great.

7. Welwitschia Mirabilis

When it comes to most living things, water and food are a necessity. However, for the Welwitschia mirabilis, 3 inches of water during an entire year work just fine. An inch of this usually comes from rain while the other 2 inches are provided by the ocean fog. However, the lack for water may explain this plant’s appearance- it’s dry, rugged, flimsy look most definitely fits the mold. The plant only grows 2 leaves during its entire lifespan, which is about 1,000-2,000 years, but they often split after growing to be up to 13 feet, which makes the plant seem like it has more. With such a lifespan, the plant has earned the name as the “living fossil.”

The plant was first discovered in 1859 by Friedrich Welwitsch, which explains the plant’s name. These plants usually grow well in Angola and Namibia; however, they are not widely found in Namibia due to locals who dig them up and collect them. The minefields in Angola keep them plenty safe. The biggest Welwitschia plant is 4.6 feet tall and 13 feet wide.

6. Victoria Amazonica

From experience, you probably know that lily pads and water lilies aren’t huge plants. They are maybe the size of a human hand, if not a smidge bigger. In contrast, the Victoria amazonica plant can hold a human hand, as well as the rest of a 300lb human body. That’s right; they’re like stepping stones in the water. The plant is the largest water lily ever discovered, and everything about it is big. The root itself is more than 26 feet long and the leaves and flowers can grow to be about 10 feet in diameter. This plant is not only large, but it changes colors. When its flowers bloom the first night, they are a pure white color. The next day they are pink. Despite its beauty, the plant is covered in piercing spines, except the flower, roots, and the pad itself.

Native to the Amazon River basin, the plant was first introduced to Europe in 1837 by John Lindley, and during this time people were nothing less than fascinated. It earned the name of the “giant water platter” but its scientific name was given in honor of Queen Victoria. The plant was so popular that there were competitions to see who could properly harvest the plant first. In 1849 the Duke of Devonshire proved to be the winner.

5. Hydnora Africana

Native to southern Africa, the Hydnora africana, a parasitic plant, is one that might permanently change your mind about sniffing flowers. It is probably most known for its disgusting scent, which is often compared to the smell of feces. The scent is disgusting but necessary for the plant’s survival, so that it can attract dung beetles, carrion beetles, and other pollinators. The plant traps these bugs and they are eventually released once it reopens. Not only does the plant smell bad, it also has no aesthetic properties to it either. It’s a dull brown/grey plant that has no leaves and truly looks like it has no life to it. The plant grows underground but the only part one can see is the fleshy flower that grows above ground.

The plant was first discovered and transplanted to California in 1973 by Sherwin Carlquist. Crazy as the idea seems, this plant is actually edible. The fleshy pulp-like flower can be eaten, which is often where all of the plant’s seeds are located. But who really goes close enough to this plant to take a bite out of it, let alone get past its smell?

4. Nepenthes

The Nepenthes plant is found in Indochina, Australia, and throughout the Malay Archipelago. It thrives in high humidity locations with average rainfall and a lot of light. With a name like monkey cup, how couldn’t it be a bit bizarre? The name is quite fitting as numerous people have observed monkeys drinking out of the plant. The plant was first described in 1658 as being about 3 feet high with 7 inch long leaves that hold a hollow flower. The hollow flower that is described is often full of a liquid that the plant produces on its own. The liquid is sometimes drunk by mammals, but its real purpose is to drown its prey. There is also a “lid” so to speak that covers the top of the flower that covers the liquid. There are high flowers, which hang from the vines, and low flowers which are closer to the ground.

Now, if you thought the Venus flytrap was bad for eating insects, you’ve heard nothing about the Nepenthes plant. This plant eats spiders, insects, scorpions, and centipedes; it has also been known to capture lizards, frogs, and even snails. Though not very common, it has occurred. If you’re interested in owning a Nepenthes plant you can purchase seeds and grow it in a greenhouse, but keep in mind, you’ll be responsible for manually feeding it insects (mostly crickets). Who doesn’t want a pet plant?

3. Dracunculus Vulgaris

Sometimes called the Stink Lily or the Dragonwort, the Dracunculus vulgaris gets its name from its shape. The plant has a long spadex that is often a black or very deep purple color that is surrounded by the spathe. The spadex is often referred to as the dragon that is hiding in the spathe. The plant is most often found in the Balkans, including Crete, Greece, and the Aegean Islands. However, researchers have been able to take it from these locations and harvest it within the U.S. in states such as Tennessee, Oregon, and California. They have also been taken to Puerto Rico.

The plant gets one of its nicknames from the smell that it gives off, which has been compared to the smell of rotting flesh. The smell attracts pollinators so that the plant can continue to grow. The good thing is that the smell is only temporary and does eventually go away. The Stink Lily is a very hardy plant that grows more each year. Plants can have more than 40 blooms at one time.

2. Rafflesia Arnoldii

The Rafflesia arnoldii is another plant on the list that isn’t known for its beauty or elegance, but for its order and size. It is extremely rare and it isn’t a plant you can just grow anywhere, placing it higher on this list. Like the Dracunculus vulgaris, it’s smell is very similar to rotting meat and this scent is needed to attract certain insects that will eventually pollinate the plant for further growth. The plant was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, a man who founded the colony of Singapore. You’ll find this plant in the Borneo and Sumatra rainforests as well as in the Indonesian Archipelago. Adding to it’s uniqueness, the Rafflesia arnoldii is considered to be the plant with the largest flower, which can weigh up to 24lbs and be as wide as 3 feet.

You won’t be able to walk through the rainforest and find many of these. The growing process for the plants take months and the flower itself only stays in bloom for a few days. At the same time many consider this plant to be on its way to extinction. Though the flower itself is highly interesting, the smell is sure to keep anyone away. The plant always grows 5 very thick petals that are generally a burnt-orange/red color.

1. Amorphophallus Titanum

If you know some Latin or you’re just knowledgeable in the English language, you probably know exactly what the word phallus means; but let’s put it altogether. Amorphos means misshapen, phallus means penis, and titan means big. Yes; this plants name is big misshapen penis. How couldn’t this top the list? If the scientific name doesn’t persuade you, its nickname surely will: corpse flower. The name comes from the fact that the plant lets off an odor that is said to smell exactly like rotting and dead flesh. The Amorphophallus titanum is a plant that is only indigenous in the Sumatra rainforests, though it has been transplanted, harvested, and grown around the world. The plant reaches a towering 10 feet and closely resembles a calla lily but with a spadex growing through the middle of it. Though the smell isn’t pleasant to human noses, it serves its purpose: attracting carrion beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies.



Top 7 Most Extreme Paths

El Caminito Del Rey (Spain)
Adrenaline-junkies have been flocking to southern Spain to experience the 110-year-old El Caminito Del Rey. And you don't need to be an experienced climber either, the only requirements are that walkers should be at least twelve years old and have a good head for heights. The trail, also known as the King's Pathway, was originally built in 1905 for workers to travel between two hydroelectric power plants but was closed-off in 2000 after two walkers fell to their deaths.

Huashan Cliffside Path (China)
Huashan is located near the southeast corner of the Ordos Loop section of the Yellow River basin, south of the Wei River valley, at the eastern end of the Qinling Mountains, in southern Shaanxi province. It is part of the Qin Ling Mountain Range that divides not only northern and southern Shaanxi, but also China. There are two walking trails leading to Huashan's North Peak (1614 m), the lowest of the mountain's five major peaks. The most popular is the traditional route in Hua Shan Yu (Hua Shan Gorge) first developed in the 3rd to 4th century A.D. and with successive expansion, mostly during the Tang Dynasty.

The inherent danger of many of the exposed, narrow pathways with precipitous drops gave the mountain a deserved reputation for danger. As tourism has boomed and the mountain's accessibility vastly improved with the installation of the cable car in the 1990s, visitor numbers surged. Despite the safety measures introduced by cutting deeper pathways and building up stone steps and wider paths, as well as adding railings, fatalities continued to occur.

School 5,000ft Cliff Path (China)
The children of Gulucan village in West China take their lives in their hands every day with a walk to school which involves navigating a narrow path carved into a 5,000-ft cliff-side. It is the only way they can get to the school, which with its five concrete rooms is known as the best construction in the village.

Roche Veyrand (France)
France is home to around 120 via ferratas, ranging from easy to extremely difficult routes. Roche Veyrand is definitely a fine example of one of these quite difficult and challenging tracks. The path is located in St Pierre d'Entremont, in the Rhône-Alpes region, which stretches in the south-eastern part of the country.

Ebenalp Path (Switzerland)
A journey back in time to the prehistoric caves on the Ebenalp at Wildkirchli is a once in a lifetime experience for young and old. The path leads from the Ebenalp mountain station to the site in just under 20 minutes.

Yueyang's New Paths (China)
Meet China's amazing army of "spidermen" who are risking their lives to build a scenic trail 300 metres above the ground. With little more than a safety harness and a ledge to support them, the men are building hundreds of metres of cliff paths - only a metre wide and without a guardrail - in Yueyang, in Hunan province.

The concrete for the paths is mixed at ground level and winched up in a make-shift cable car.Zhang Bin, head of the path construction team, said: "Workers building plank paths along cliffs should at least be psychologically stable."

The Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
For those who want to experience an unforgettable adrenalin rush, you need to refuse to settle with anything short of the best. For the passionate bike riders who are willing to travel to The Cliffs of Moher there is a treat in store, the most dangerous bike ride trail on this planet.

Towering at a top height of 700 feet above the Atlantic ocean, the Cliffs of Moher located near the charming town of Doolin in Co. Clare Ireland offer a truly enriching experience for the brave and adventurous at heart.



Top 10 Most Fantastic Hybrid Animals

Animal crossbreeds are not always the result of human intervention: when two creatures of different species mate, intriguing 'accidents of nature' occasionally happen. Were there ever hybrids born from a mating with a human and an ape? The answer is no. Rumors about 'humanzees' are persistent, but hypothetical.

10. The Mule and the Henny (Horse and Donkey)

These are probably the most well-known hybrid animals. Both mules and hennies (also known as 'hinnies') are born when a horse and a donkey mate. The difference is that a mule is born from a male donkey (a jack) bred to a female horse (a mare), whereas a henny is from a male horse (a stallion) bred to a female donkey (a jenny). The henny has shorter ears than a mule because it takes after the horse father. Hennies are much more rare than mules: 90% of the breedings are unsuccessful.

9. Wholphin (Dolphin and False Killer Whale)

The 9-month-old wholphin Kawili'Kai in September 2005.

Even though 'wholphin' sounds like a really spectacular hybrid, it is not as amazing as it sounds. A wholphin is born from a mating of a dolphin mother and a false killer whale father. A false killer whale is basically just a larger version of a common dolphin. Although Wholphins have been reported to exist in the wild, there are currently only two in captivity, both at Sea Life Park in Hawaii.

8. The Cama (Camel and Lama)

Meet Rama, the world's first Cama.

A cama is a hybrid between a camel and a llama, produced via artificial insemination by a breeder in Dubai attempting to create a animal with the size and strength of the camel, but the more cooperative temperament of the llama.The Dromedary camel is six times the weight of a Llama, hence artificial insemination was required to impregnate the Llama female. Though born even smaller than a Llama calf, the Cama had the short ears and long tail of a camel, no hump and llama-like cloven hooves rather than the dromedary-like pads.

7. Hybrid Pheasant (Pheasant and Grouse)

Hybrid male pheasant in Europe, intermediate between Mongolian Ringneck and Caucasus group phenotype.

An animal that is certainly not picky when it comes to mating, is the common pheasant. Due to captive breeding and hybridization between subspecies and with the Green Pheasant, there are many color forms of the male Common Pheasant, ranging in color from nearly white to almost black. Hybrid pheasants are not the only type of gamebird hybrids: there are also goose, duck and turkey hybrids, amongst others.

6. The Zorse/Zebrula (Zeebra and Horse)

The zorse: crosbreed from a mating or a horse and a zeebra.

A zorse or zebrula is the offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare; the rarer reverse pairing is sometimes called a hebra.The zorse is shaped more like a horse than a zebra, but has boldly striped legs and, often, stripes on the body or neck. Like most other interspecies hybrids, it is infertile.

Zorses are preferred over purebred zebras for riding and drought for several reasons, although they are still not as easily handled as purebred horses and should not be ridden or purchased by novices. Their more horselike shape, particularly in the shoulder region, makes it easier to obtain harness.

5. The Liger (Lion and Tiger)

The liger is the largest cat in the world.

The Liger is a hybrid cross between a male lion and a female tiger. A liger resembles a tiger with diffused stripes. They are the largest cats in the world. A similar hybrid, the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is called a tigon. Ligers may inherit rosettes from the lion parent. These markings may be black, dark brown or sandy. The background color may be correspondingly tawny, sandy or golden.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, accredited zoos frown on the practice of mixing two different species and have never bred ligers. Keeping the two species separate has always been standard procedure. However they have admitted that ligers have occurred by accident.

4. The Beefalo (Cow and Bison)

The beefalo was created with a view towards beef production.

Beefalo are a fertile hybrid offspring of domestic cattle and the American Bison. The breed was created to combine the best characteristics of both animals with a view towards beef production. Creating the Beefalo has proved to be a serious setback to wild American Bison conservation. The current American Bison population has been growing rapidly and is estimated at 350,000, but this is compared to an estimated 100 million in the mid-19th century.

3. Grizzly– Polar Bear Hybrid

Polar/Brown Bear Hybrid, Rothschild Museum, Tring, UK.

A Grizzly polar bear hybrid is a hybrid that has occurred both in captivity and in the wild. In 2006, the occurrence of this hybrid in nature was confirmed by testing the DNA of a strange-looking bear that had been shot in the Canadian arctic. Previously, the hybrid had been produced in zoos and was considered a "cryptid" (a hypothesized animal for which there is no scientific proof of existence in the wild). Polar bear hybrids with Grizzly bears have been reported and shot, but DNA techniques were not available to verify the bears' ancestry.

2. Leopon (Leopard and Lion)

The leopon: basically a big lion with spots.

A leopon is the result of breeding a male leopard with a female lion. The head of the animal is similar to that of a lion while the rest of the body carries similarities to leopards. They have been bred in zoos in Japan, Germany, and Italy. The leopon has the size and strength of a lion. But, unlike the lion, they have extraordinary climbing abilities like the leopard. The female leopons may be torn between the solitary nature of the leopard and the social nature of a lioness.

1. The Iron Age Pig (Pig and Wild Boar)

The iron age pig - bred for the specialty meat market.

The Iron age pig is a hybrid between domestic Tamworth pigs and wild boar. They were originally created in order to reconstruct the European prehistoric pig that existed in ancient Europe thousands of years ago. The hybrids are tamer than wild boar but less tractable than domestic swine and generally become specialist pork sausages. Most of them are bred for the specialist meat trade.



Five guesses on Emperor Qin Shihuang's tomb

Qin Shihuang holds a central place in Chinese history for being the first emperor who united the country. He is also well known for his part in the construction of the spectacular Great Wall and his splendid terracotta army.

To ensure his rule in the afterlife, this emperor commanded more than 700,000 conscripts from all parts of the country to build him a grand mausoleum as luxurious as any of the palaces he had in mortal life. Legend says that numerous treasures were placed in the tomb.

As time passed, no one knew exactly what was put in the grand palace. Recently, Guo Zhikun, a specialist in the history of the Qin (221 BC-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 AD) dynasties, gave a press conference in Xi'an, the capital city of west China's Shaanxi Province. He disclosed his academic research results focusing on the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang, making bold guesses about the mysterious tomb complex that fascinates the whole world.

Guess 1: How tall was the tomb mound?

According to Guo, the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang is actually composed of two parts: the tomb mound, a hillock above the tomb, and the underground palace, the chamber containing the emperor's coffin.

Most historical records indicate that the original tomb mound was 115 meters in height and 2,076 meters in girth. Exposed to the wind and sun for thousands of years, the mound has been greatly weathered down. The current girth is 1,390 meters, and the base of the mound covers an area of 120,750 square meters.

There has been a decades-long argument about why the mound's height dropped so sharply in recent years. Guo said that most people attributed it to the erosion from wind and rain and to manmade changes. However, another opinion has emerged recently. According to Duan Qingbo who leads the archaeological team at the mausoleum, the height of 115 meters recorded in most historical documents was just a figure copied down from the original blueprint. It is believed that the construction was left unfinished due to a nationwide uprising of peasants. After the emperor's corpse was placed in the chamber, the tomb mound project began. Later, about half of the laborers were transferred to the construction site of another palace building. When the peasant army approached the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the second emperor of the dynasty, who had taken the throne from his dead father, hastily organized the remaining workers on the construction site to fight against the rebels. No more soil were added onto the hillock later.

Guess 2: How many gates does the underground palace have?
Opinions also differ on how many gates the underground palace contains. Some said there were two, one made of stone and the other of bronze. Others said that there were six, because Emperor Qin Shihuang had always considered the number "six" auspicious.

How many gates does the underground palace have then? After reading through piles of ancient documents, Guo Zhikun said that the exact number was recorded clearly in Records of the Historian, a great historical book written by Sima Qian. In it, the author wrote, "When the emperor died, he was placed in the underground palace. Then, the middle gate was closed and the outer gate was shut down. All workmen were entombed. No one escaped."

Guo explained that the emperor's coffin and all his burial articles were placed inside the middle gate. When the palace was shut down, workmen were busy working in it. Within seconds, however, they were entombed along with the emperor and became burial sacrifices themselves.

From Sima Qian's description, Guo inferred that the underground palace had three gates: an outer gate, a middle gate and an unmentioned inner gate. In addition, in Sima Qian's record, the middle gate was "closed", which meant it had two planks, and the outer gate was "shut down", which meant it slide down vertically. Guo believed the middle door was locked automatically once it was closed. It was designed deliberately to prevent any breakthrough from inside or any invasion from outside. Besides, Guo guessed the unmentioned inner gate had the same mechanism as the middle one and the three gates were located on a straight line.

Guess 3: How many treasures lie buried?

The tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang was filled with fine vessels, precious stones and other rarities according to Sima Qian's record. Liu Xiang, another famous scholar before Sima Qian, wrote in one of his passages, "Since antiquity, no one has ever been buried in such a luxurious manner as Emperor Qin Shihuang."

All the sketchy but intriguing words made us curious about the mysterious wealth buried in the magnificent underground palace. In Records of the Historian, one can find descriptions about a golden wild goose, pearls and jade. But what else lies down there?

In the late 1980s, a large bronze chariot equipped with life-size horses was unearthed outside the west wall of the underground palace of Emperor Qin Shihuang. These elaborately decorated burial articles fascinated the world about the treasures hidden in the emperor's tomb chamber.

"Emperor Qin Shihuang was fond of music. He must have all kinds of musical instruments buried with him," guessed Guo. Recently, a pit for sacrifices was found between the inner wall and outer wall of the tomb complex. Covering 600 square meters, the pit was 40 meters wide from east to west and 15 meters long from north to south. Most of the articles excavated were pottery figures of courtiers, musicians and acrobats. In recent years, a variety of traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as Bianzhong (bronze chimes), were unearthed. Guo felt confident that the underground palace must have a whole collection of musical instruments. Besides, Guo guessed that there might be many valuable ancient books in addition to treasures and jewels.

Guess 4: Does the automatic-shooting crossbows function well?
Ancient Chinese tended to bury treasures with them. Not surprisingly, tomb robbery was once rampant throughout the country. To prevent outside invasions, Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered a full range of precautions. It is said that besides poisonous mercury, booby traps with automatically ejected arrows were installed in the tomb chamber to deter would-be robbers. Anyone who dared to break in would certainly die a violent death.

However, all those alleged lethal weapons have been buried under earth for thousands of years. Would they still function adequately now? Most people believe that the crossbows would still shoot arrows if they are triggered. Guo also agreed so after he carefully studied ancient smelting technology recorded in historical books.

In a modern test, a coating of chromate was found on the surface of weapons excavated along with the terracotta warriors. This coating served to make bronze weapons rust-resistant. Thus, it is highly likely that the automatic crossbows may function well even after thousands of years.

Guo speculated that these crossbows were the first automatic burglar-proof devices in the world. "Craftsmen were ordered to fix up these crossbows in such a way so that any thief breaking in would be shot." He quoted a line in Records of the Historian to support his prediction.

Guess 5: Is the corpse of Emperor Qin Shihuang well preserved?

Although it is widely believed that the underground palace has not been disturbed in past years, some people hold the opinion that the emperor's body had putrefied.

According to historical records, the emperor died during an inspection tour. It was summer so the body couldn't be kept for long. In fact, records state that the body had started to stink even before it was carried back to the capital.

In one of his works, Guo pointed out that it is possible the emperor's corpse might be relatively well preserved. He had three reasons supporting his assumption. First, during the Qin era, it was common practice among aristocrats to put mercury in their tombs to prevent corpses from decaying. Second, when the emperor died, all prominent officials were accompanying him, along with an imperial doctor with superb medical skills who was summoned to his deathbed. Third, modern tests on the soil of the tomb mound show unusually high concentrations of mercury. Guo pointed out all these conditions indicate the possibility of preservation for his body.

Guo: All the guesses have to be testified by archeological finds.

At the press conference, Guo's new book, Guesses on the Underground Palace of Qin Mausoleum, was introduced to the public. "When I wrote this book, I consulted scores of famous archeologists via letters, E-mails or face-to-face communications. They all gave me tremendous help." Guo Zhikun said that his assumptions were based on the results of previous research. If they turn out to be correct, the credit should be given to all scholars engaged in this field.

As technology advances, maybe one day we can open the grand palace and discover all the answers to these questions.



Pompeii: Buried Sin City

Imagine living in the richest city of ancient times. Resources are bountiful and life is grand. Every amenity and luxury surrounds you, and unlike in other cities during this time, simple plumbing and convenience is everywhere.

Such was the life for those who lived in Pompeii, Italy in the late part of 70 AD. There was even ancient pornography and gentlemen entertainment, brothel houses to suit every taste.

Those who woke up, began their day, and were sitting down to eat lunch on August 24, 79 AD had no clue that Mount Vesuvius would begin a tyranny of volcanic eruptions that would not stop for 24 hours. It would not spare those who lived in Pompeii, and neither would it spare those in the smaller, nearby towns in Herculaneum and Oplontis. A torrent of lava and ash raced down the massive mountain at 100 mph, burying everyone in its path before they could even react let alone escape.

In an event of biblical proportions. The people's fear, despair and whatever they were doing at that moment was perfectly preserved in ash and hardened lava. This has given archaeologists a perfect time-line of the event as well as a historical look at this ancient culture – a window into the lives of those who lived at that time.

Note how these ash figures are desperately trying to cover their mouths, shield their unborn children, or trying to keep themselves from being crushed by the onslaught of debris and volcanic rocks.

Doctors had their surgical tools clutched in their grasps in the hope of helping others; the "dominas", or women of the house, held on dearly to jewels and heirlooms; and slaves were found with iron rings around their ankles. Such items gave archaeologists valuable insight into who the bodies belonged to and what their shortened lives were about.

The city of Pompeii was for the elite Romans who could afford the seaside life of luxury and fortune. Yet, within hours, this beautiful city was partially buried under masses of volcanic ash, cooling lava and rocks.

Pompeii had aqueducts unheard of in this period of history which channeled the water to 25 city fountains. It had an amphitheater, at least four public baths, many private estates, and numerous businesses that catered to the persnickety tastes of the wealthy who lived there.

The streets of Pompeii resembled many cities around today. There were streets, highways and bustling traffic coming and going all of the time. And the nightlife was second to none.

The people of Pompeii appear to have worshiped a phallic god. Many objects in Pompeii had some erotic symbolism or art work bestowed upon it. Here's a sign outside a Pompeii bakery.

The bakery sign above reads "Hic habitat felicitas", meaning "Here lives happiness" or "Here lives good fortune". The good fortune was believed to be anywhere the phallic god was worshiped and depicted.

At least 20,000 people inhabited Pompeii. The highest point of fortune, activity and population growth was realized at the moment the disaster struck. Near the edge of town, many people lived in villas or small groups of house boats (like palatial gated communities) similar to that of Venice.

Those who lived in Pompeii were quite used to earthquakes and less seismic volcanic eruptions. It was similar to a modern day Los Angeles. The people's houses seemed to ebb and flow with the everyday annoyances of Mother Nature. This was why scientists believe that the majority of people did not flee or seek shelter. They thought this would be like any other day.

In 62 AD, a terrible earthquake transpired that burned the city down to the ground. However, much of the city was rebuilt. Imagine how grand it must have been before that earthquake!

One of the main concerns that those living in the city had was preserving their beloved (and infamous!) art. Scientists were able to recover many of the pieces that had been restored after the earthquake or were from a time period before the deadly eruption.

The reconstruction of the city was hampered by earthquakes that came more and more frequently. Nowadays, we would understand this as being a precursor to a horrific volcanic eruption. They were not aware of this at the time, of course.

Ironically, the eruption occurred after the festival observing the god of fire, Vulcanalia. Scientists believe that the main cause of death for those in Pompeii and the surrounding area was heat and/or ash suffocation. It is estimated that the temperature for at least 10 miles around Mount Vesuvius was 250 °C. Even if people had been in their homes or in a building, there would not have been any way they could have survived heat that excruciatingly high. Worse, the people were buried under as many as twelve layers of soil, up to 82 feet deep in total, which rained down heavily for at least six hours.

The excavation of Pompeii around the turn of the 20th century unearthed many erotic images of over-sized penises, even on the household items. This was so disturbing to those who found these items that they were either destroyed, reburied or locked away in the National Museum of Naples, Italy for over 100 years. The art has only made viewable by the public since 2000, and no minors are permitted to see the items unless an adult accompanies them.

Some, like this writer, speculate that Pompeii was the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of the city was divine and forthcoming. Some Christian tourists often don't visit this wonderful and colorful part of history because of the sexual nature of the ruins.

To be fair, prostitutes in Pompeii made three times more than the average laborer or worker in the city. The sexual acts were particularly cheap for the males (or johns) in this city – in contrast to all other European towns. The inscriptions above the brothel houses, which were quite large and roomy, are too graphic to repeat. Children weren't shielded from the constant imagery of phalluses at the time. In fact, it was common to put depictions of children and phalluses together because of fertility and the phallus god being one and the same.

There was one survivor of the Pompeii volcanic disaster. Pliny the Younger accompanied his father by boat to inspect the plume of volcanic ash coming from the mountain. At this point, no danger or harm ensued, and those in Pompeii had no idea what was about to occur. It had been Pliny and his father's good fortune to see the eruption as it began while bathing on the outskirts of town. Pliny the Younger retold his account of the events that fateful day in writing, watching helplessly as his hometown was quickly engulfed in volcanic debris. Here's a quote from that eerie tale:

"I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it."

The Pompeii disaster of 79 AD was one of the worst days in history. We have a lot to learn about the fragility and short-lasting tenure of humanity.