Ruins of the Unmuseum

Mike GristCanada, Greece, Iraq, World Ruins 1 Comment

The Unmuseum (AKA the Museum of Unnatural Mystery) is like an online Ripley’s Believe It or Not, stuffed full of myth, ruin, and intrepid history ranging from tales of pterosaurs in Texas to mechanical computers built before the birth of Christ.

It’s the perfect place for armchair Indian Joneses, or thriller writers seeking the next Dan Brown conspiracy plot.

Site curator and author Lee Krystek has been building his unmuseum online for well over 10 years. Back in 2000 it got some great reviews and was listed in a top 50 best sites list by Popular Science, however it’s look hasn’t been updated since then. While its stories are as fascinating as ever, its graphics and layout could use a refresh.

Serviceable but a little hokey…

Here are excerpts from a few of its most fascinating stories of ruin:

The Antikythera Mechanism

A mechanical computer that existed two-thousand years before the age of electronics. Who built it?

Krystek tells each story from its adventuresome beginning to long-sought-after conclusion, which really gets you involved in chasing the mystery down through time. In this case the story begins with a deep sea dive to recover artifacts from a shipwreck:

One of the less impressive finds was the lump of material that Stais was looking at. It appeared to be a mass of wood which was now decaying since it had been brought to the surface and started drying out. The rot seemed to have exposed something that Stais hadn’t seen before: a bit of metal. Not just a bit of metal, a bit of metal that was round with teeth. A gear. Stais couldn’t believe his eyes. A metal gear from a shipwreck before the birth of Christ? What was this thing?
What Stais had stumbled upon was the remains of one of the world’s oldest-geared devices – an analog computer – almost two millennia in age. Over the next century it would upset the archeological world’s understanding about the kind of technology the ancients were capable of producing.

Text and image from the Unmuseum. See the full story here.

The Mystery Pit of Oak Island

It was because of my post 7 huge holes in the Earth that I first learnt of the Unmuseum, as one of its curators/fans shared a link to the Oak Island Mystery Pit. I took a look, and got hooked. Just reading about the search for incredibly well-hidden treasure, as yet still unfound, made me want to up sticks and head out to get digging myself.

A young man spots a depression in the land with a hanging marker above it, and on a whim decides to dig for treasure with his friends.

The island McGinnis, Smith and Vaughan were on was one of 300 small isles in the Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was peanut-shaped and about three-quarters of a mile long and 1,000 feet wide.
Cutting away the smaller trees, the three young men started digging in the depression. After two feet they hit a floor of carefully laid flagstones. This type of slate was not found on the island and the group figured it had been brought there from about two miles north. Below the stones they saw that they were digging down a shaft that had been refilled. The walls of the shaft were scored with the marks of pick axes, more evidence that this structure was the work of men.
At the ten foot level they hit wood. At first the group figured they’d hit a treasure chest, but quickly realized that they had found a platform of oaken logs sunk into the sides of the shaft. Pulling up the logs they discovered a two-foot depression and more of the shaft. Continuing to dig, they finally reached a depth of twenty-five feet. At that depth they decided they could not continue without more help and better planning. Covering the pit over, they left. One thing the three were sure of, though, was that something must be at the bottom of the pit. They concluded that nobody would have gone to the trouble of digging a shaft deeper than 25 feet unless he had something very valuable to hide.

Text and image from the Unmuseum. See the full story here.

The Baghdad Battery

And finally, another anachronistic relic I’d never heard of; an ancient ceramic jar fitted out to function as an electrical battery.

The little jar in Baghdad suggests that Volta didn’t invent the battery, but reinvented it. The jar was first described by German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig in 1938. It is unclear if Konig dug the object up himself or located it within the holdings of the museum, but it is known that it was found, with several others, at a place called Khujut Rabu, just outside Baghdad.
The jars are believed to be about 2,000 years old and consist of an earthenware shell, with a stopper composed of asphalt. Sticking through the top of the stopper is an iron rod. Inside the jar the rod is surrounded by a cylinder of copper. Konig thought these things looked like electric batteries and published a paper on the subject in 1940.
World War II prevented immediate follow-up on the jars, but after hostilities ceased, an American, Willard F. M. Gray of the General Electric High Voltage Laboratory in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, built some reproductions. When filled with an electrolyte like grape juice, the devices produced about two volts.

Text and image from the Unmuseum. See the full story here.

That’s it for now, but there’s plenty more at the Unmuseum, including a great series on the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, and wonderful stuff about tomb-raiding and cursed mummies. Enjoy.

All images and quoted text from The Unmuseum.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably enjoy more of my World Ruins articles-

World Ruins Gallery.

You may also be interested in my galleries of Japanese ruin, AKA haikyo-

Ruins / Haikyo galleries:

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And galleries of fantasy ruins-

Fantasy Ruins:

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You might even enjoy my offbeat surreal dark fiction here.

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