8 Ruined Cities That Remain a Mystery to This Day

The world is full of ruined cities, but some have such mysterious rises and falls that they haunt our imaginations. Even if we know who built them, certain aspects of the city may simply defy comprehension in the modern age. Here are 8 ancient cities that we may never fully understand. Photo via Franck Goddio 1. Çatalhöyük, Turkey

In 7,500 BCE, this city in the Mesopotamian region (now Turkey) held thousands of people and is believed by many to be one of the world's earliest urban settlements. But the culture of the people here was unlike anything we know today. First of all, they built the city like a honeycomb, with houses sharing walls. Homes and buildings were accessed by doors cut into the roofs. People would stroll on the streets across these roofs, and climb down ladders to get to their living quarters. Doorways were often marked with bulls' horns, and dead family members were buried in the floor of each home. It's not clear what happened to the culture of the people who lived in this city. Their architectural style seems to be unique, though archaeologists have found many fertility goddess figurines in the city that resemble others found in the region. So it's likely that when the city was abandoned, its culture radiated outward into other cities in the Mesopotamian region.

Ancient graves suggest that family didn't really matter 9,000 years ago

Çatalhöyük is one of the world's most ancient settlements, founded in what is now Turkey around 7,500 BCE. New analysis of the village's dead reveals something strange about this ancient village: nobody cared very much about family ties. First discovered in the 1950s, Çatalhöyük was once home to about 10,000 people and covered roughly 100,000 square meters. It represented the most dramatic departure yet for humans from the nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence that had defined our species and our evolutionary ancestors for millions of years. The agriculturalists of Çatalhöyük lived in mud-brick houses, all of which were crammed tight together without any streets in between. Instead of doors, residents would climb ladders and then enter the houses through the roof. As you might imagine, these houses were a defining aspect of the lives of their various residents, who decorated the walls with elaborate artwork and buried their dead under the floor, with each house containing about thirty corpses beneath them. It's those bodies that drew the attention of US military anthropologist Marin Pilloud and Ohio State's Clark Spencer Larsen, who set about trying to determine just how the corpses were related. After nearly a hundred centuries, there's no DNA evidence left to tie the various bodies together, but Pilloud and Larsen hit upon the next best thing: teeth. Generally speaking, family members will share similar features in their teeth, and in the absence of other means can be used as a way to establish in a general way who was related to who. And that's where things get weird - according to their analysis of 266 corpses, people generally weren't buried with their relatives. Only a single house from Çatalhöyük defied that rule, with every other building a mishmash of unrelated corpses. This is particularly intriguing because strong family ties are often considered the defining characteristic of hunter-gather societies, a way of life that Çatalhöyük residents had only relatively recently left behind. Pilloud explains: "It speaks a lot to the type of social structure that they might have had. It doesn't look as if there was a strong genetic component to determining who would be buried together. I'm not trying to argue that biological relationships would not have been perhaps meaningful to the people at Çatalhöyük. [It] wasn't the sole defining principle much like we presume it was in the hunter-gatherer era."

This new research offers some of the most persuasive evidence yet for a particularly interpretation of how society was organized at Çatalhöyük. Instead of arranging people in terms of blood relations, the houses were defined in terms of what tools and food resources its members could claim ownership. In this view, the houses were divided into several homes, and while these smaller units might have been organized as families, the house as a whole was more concerned with who was best equipped to handle various tasks, regardless of biological relationship. Pilloud continues: Before you were hunters and gatherers, in loose groups that were very highly mobile. Now you're all tied together, and you're all living in close quarters. They might have called on other groups of individuals, outside of their biological family, to do things like take the herd to the pasture or to help with the harvest, things that might have required more people." Stanford archaeologist Ian Hodder, who has directed excavations at Çatalhöyük since 1993, says this is evidence that the shift to a more complex agricultural society required the village's inhabitants to rely on stronger bonds that mere biological kinship: "Membership of the house was not based on biological kin but on a wide range of processes by which people could join the house. What distinguishes each entity is their co-ownership of a series of resources. I think that as society becomes more sedentary and complex that kinship itself doesn't seem to be sufficient to hold it together. This is suggesting that they've got [a] sufficiently complex level that they needed something more complex than kinship." 2. Palenque, Mexico

palaces. What the scientists found was more evidence that the region suffered from drought during the typically rainy summers — but the drought was fairly mild.000 years ago. and climate change.000. Guatemala. There were probably fewer hurricanes in the ocean driving rainstorms to land. Palenque was in its heyday during the classical period of the Maya civilization." Is it really possible that a mild drought. Now. civilizations in Europe have endured everything from plagues to the Little Ice Age. Like many Maya cities. which revealed water levels in local lakes. it had temples. What really destroyed the Maya civilization? One of the biggest debates in archaeology is what destroyed the extensive. as well as chemical traces that show likely rainfall over the decades of the collapse. highly-advanced Maya civilization 1. Belize and Honduras. from about 700-1100 CE. Though descendants of the Maya are still thriving in Mexico and Central America. and marketplaces. Medina-Elizalde and Rohling suggest: . no matter how many centuries it lasted. no one is sure why the great cities of the Maya fell into ruin and were finally abandoned in the 1400s. dominated parts of Mexico. then vanished with little explanation. Theories for why this and other Maya cities were abandoned include warfare. Palenque is emblematic of the mystery of the entire Maya civilization — which rose up. and one of the most widely-believed theories is that some kind of climate catastrophe drove the Maya to abandon their cities in droves. offering reams of historical information about kings. It's known that the empire went through a long collapse from roughly 800 to 1. could really topple an empire? After all. famine. But why? We have only educated guesses. In a paper published today in Science. two Earth scientists have carefully analyzed rock samples from the Yucatán. battles. located near what is today known as the Chiapas region. leaving behind a network of pyramids and monumental architecture in the Yucatán jungles. researchers Martín Medina-Elizalde and Eelco J. has some of the most detailed sculptures and inscriptions from the Maya civilization. and people did not abandon the cities. But Palenque. and daily life. Rohling call it "a succession of extended drought periods interrupted by brief recoveries.As one of the largest and best preserved of the Maya city-states.

And these problems. it's possible that it didn't take much of a drought to usher in a catastrophic series of crop losses or other environmental problems. could foment dramatic social upheavals. In other words. then this would imply that the ecological carrying capacity of the Yucatán Peninsula is highly sensitive to precipitation reductions. as suggested by archaeological evidence.If these repeated episodes of drier climate had a significant role in the fate of the Classic Maya civilization. since in coming decades the Yucatán Peninsula is likely to experience "modest reductions in precipitation" like those during the collapse of the Maya civilization. in turn. . The scientists note that this does not bode well for the future of the region.

They had advanced agricultural techniques. and new LiDAR studies of regions . Ultimately. had enormous wars throughout much of their history. and indeed. spread out across huge swathes of the Yucatán. we have to consider the possibility that it wasn't simply a mild drought that destroyed the Empire. or were there complicated political issues involved as well? Other archaeologists explain that the Maya were at war for much of the collapse period.Were the Maya brought down by a small shift in climate. The Maya probably weren't just passive victims of climate change. They were a powerful polity. but that the Empire also destroyed itself the way many great European and Asian powers have — by waging war until their resources were depleted and no willing soldiers were left.

and would have been far more complex than mere food shortages due to drought.caused massive amounts of former agricultural land to become forests again. absorbing lots more carbon dioxide and cooling the planet. and it's certainly possible that a combination of more than one of these could have played a role in sparking the Little Ice Age.around Maya center Caracol reveal that they remolded much of the land in the area to make way for farms. and just the general variability of climate over time. but the precise cause of it all has remained elusive. . Earth mysteriously got colder. and then the widespread death of indigenous Americans after European contact . and bodies of water like the Baltic Sea and Manhattan Harbor froze over. one of the more intriguing proposals is that the massive waves of death that struck the human population . Communities from Greenland to the Alps were swallowed up by glaciers. it's possible that the Maya might have survived the drought if it hadn't been for war taxing their resources. Volcanoes caused a "little ice age" in Europe 500 years ago. British.we know its effects kicked in around 1550. In other words. Part of what makes this mystery so difficult to solve is that no one knows exactly when the Little Ice Age got started . say scientists From 1550 to 1850. roads. They're all intriguing theories.first with the Black Death in the 14th and 15th centuries. and Icelandic scientists think they may have located the main culprits behind the Little Ice Age: a quartet of massive eruptions by tropical volcanoes. Now an international team of American. changes in the Earth's orbit. including particularly weak solar activity. but it's likely that Earth's climate was quietly cooling down long before that. the Mayan Empire's demise may have resulted from a mix of social and environmental factors. Indeed. there was a fifty-year period in which the four volcanoes went off. But what caused this Little Ice Age? A lot of explanations have been put forward to explain this mysterious cooling. and homes. shooting up enough ash and aerosol particles into the atmosphere to make summers to blot out sunlight and make summers cooler. Around 1300. Given their technological sophistication.

That in and of itself was just a temporary effect. from volcanic eruptions-there appears to be a cumulative cooling effect. mixing with the regular ocean water. these volcanocooled summers would cause sea ice to expand. with the upshot being that less and less warm water could make its way back to the Arctic. This in turn would have wreaked havoc on ocean currents in the Atlantic.like a series of massive volcanic eruptions. artists generally interpreted the world as one gigantic ice skating rink. and historian Wolfgang Behringer has suggested that the revival of witch-hunts was a reaction to the otherwise mysterious loss of agriculture. The Little Ice Age seems unreal to us today. supporting the idea that this was a global phenomenon. No. people could walk on ice from Manhattan to Staten Island. According to the scientists' computer simulations. and makeshift inns were set up on the frozen Baltic Sea as people sledged from Poland to Sweden. sending huge glaciers hurtling down the then relatively temperate Greenland coast. say . As the sea ice reached the North Atlantic. For more on The Little Ice Age.the Norse colonies in Greenland were among the first wiped out by this period of cooling. Across the world. lead author Gifford Miller explains the team's findings: "This is the first time anyone has clearly identified the specific onset of the cold times marking the start of the Little Ice Age." To support their model. and advancing glaciers destroyed mountain communities. sparking devastating famines. An Ice Age was now on its way. In a statement. In Europe. But this transformed world also left some remarkable images and stories of how the world dealt with this unprecedented cold. the Sun is not about to plunge us into a new Ice Age . If the climate system is hit again and again by cold conditions over a relatively short period-in this case. We also have provided an understandable climate feedback system that explains how this cold period could be sustained for a long period of time. which caused the less salty surface water to stop mixing with the denser water below. The problem is that the ice had almost no salt in it. which definitely suggests some short-term climate catastrophe . but it kicked off a chain reaction that would almost freeze Europe solid 250 years later. Crops failed in the colder temperatures. it would have melted. the scientists have identified over 150 samples of dead plant material from newly uncovered ground on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.washed over the world around that time. Scientific paper in Geophysical Research Letters. check out Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History. as you can see in the painting up top created by Hendrick Avercamp in 1608. Analysis of the annual layers of sediment trapped in an Icelandic glacial lake also show signs of a cooler climate in the late 1200s. Carbon dating revealed that a huge number of the plants had died between 1275 and 1300. and it brought its fair share of tragedy .

But even if a grand minimum can cool the Earth. the effects of the grand minimum would need to be about ten times stronger than the simulations suggests they ever possibly could be for them to have any chance of overriding the effects of climate change. with the more sensational conclusion being that we're headed for a mini ice age all our own. not the least of which is the fact that not all climate scientists are convinced that grand minima can actually cool the Earth . Climate scientists recently simulated what would happen to the Earth if a grand minimum started now and lasted until 2100. All signs point to the Sun entering a period of mini-hibernation. This has been picked up by a number of news outlets. this cycle may be so weak that it spawns an even more anemic cycle. A Little Ice Age might sound rather nice under the current climate circumstances. Moreover. The magnetic fields that create these sunspots have been weakening for some time now. meaning the predicted maximum in 2022 will be barely noticeable. The Sun should be on an 11-year sunspot cycle. There are a number of problems with this idea.5 degrees. and the winds that should be found beneath the visible surface of the Sun have not been detected. perhaps even entering what's known as a grand minimum in which sunspots are not seen again for decades. and it looks like the 2013 maximum is going to be one of the weakest on record. a period of general cooling that is sometimes known as the Little Ice Age. But don't believe reports that this spells doom for humanity. The last known grand minimum was the Maunder Minimum between 1645 and 1715. While even that might have some minor effects. a good thirty years longer than the Little Ice Age.it's possible that the Little Ice Age was coincidental to the Maunder Minimum. we're still way behind where we should be for this solar cycle. But despite a few dramatic examples of sunspot activity. So then. but unfortunately the Sun won't be able to bail us out of this mess. with the solar wind the slowest it's been in 50 years and the sunspot cycle reduced to nothing more than the occasional belch. They found that global temperatures would at most drop by about 0.3 degrees Celsius. it's nothing compared to the predicted temperature increase from global warming. its effects would be very minor relative to existing climatic pressures.The Sun has been unusually quiet lately. in which huge disturbances on the Sun's atmosphere become more and more pronounced until they reach a maximum of activity in 2013. as greenhouse gases are predicted to raise global temperatures anywhere from 2 to 4. .

the people of Cahokia were at their civilizational height between 600-1400 CE. Cahokia. Louis. United States Located across the Mississippi River from what is today St. Nobody is certain why the city was abandoned. and that they diverted tributaries of the Mississippi several times to water their fields. Cahokia was for hundreds of years the biggest city in North America. 10 Civilizations That Disappeared Under Mysterious Circumstances .3. Like the Maya.000 people for hundreds of years. nor how the region was able to support such a high-density urban civilization of up to 40. Its inhabitants built enormous earthen mounds — some of which you can still visit today — and vast plazas which served as markets and meeting places. There is strong evidence that the inhabitants had very sophisticated agricultural practices.

There are records going back hundreds of years of explorers discovering huge temples encrusted with jungle. the Maya made extensive use of writing. an elaborate calendar. an area stretching from Mexico to Guatemala and Belize. we've lost it. and its peoples scattered to small villages. its great monuments. One of the largest Mesoamerican civilizations. 1. the civilization's peak was during the first millennium AD. which resulted in famine and abandonment of the city centers. a great deal of evidence points to climate change in the Yucatán combined with internecine warfare. . Though it's often said that the Maya civilization began a mysterious decline in roughly the year 900. the answer is unknown. and trade routes? Often. when their greatest architectural feats and massive agricultural projects covered a vast region in the Yucatán — today. Here are ten great civilizations whose demise remains a mystery. cities and roads swallowed up by the central American jungles. or giant pits full of treasure that were once grand palaces. Though the languages and traditions of the Maya still survive up to the present day.For almost as long as we've had civilization. and sophisticated engineering to build their pyramids and terraced farms. agricultural centers. The Maya The Maya are perhaps the classic example of a civilization that was completely lost. Why did people abandon these once-thriving cities. math.

It's likely that this ancient civilization. multistory. Iran and Afghanistan.2. But its grand walkways (with sophisticated roadside drainage). and massive. spread over a region that encompassed parts of today's India. like the Maya. Thousands of years ago.000 years ago. almost 10 percent of the world's population. Indus Valley Civilization One of the great civilizations of the ancient world is called simply the Indus or Harappan civilization. metallurgy shops. suffered from gradual changes in rainfall patterns that made it difficult for its peoples to raise enough food for their massive population. Climate change ended one of the great ancient civilizations . Pakistan. it may have boasted up to 5 million people. brick hives of houses were abandoned over 3.

Many of the urban arts. These onceunstoppable torrents of water had rendered the area uninhabitable for permanent settlements. and instead people migrated Eastward. such as writing. and would not have supported large cities. and what can we learn from its demise? Top image: Comrogues on Flickr A recent. the ensuing society relied on crop surpluses brought about by manageable monsoons. faded away. Contemporary with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.. This may have produced smaller surpluses. But as the monsoons reduced. but agriculture continued and actually diversified. bringing about its eventual downfall. However. and these monsoon floods became unreliable. and it seems that this major civilization sprung up in a perfect climactic window — which then closed. The Indus Valley at this point was in the process of gradually declining monsoons. but would have been reliable.The Indus or Harappan Civilization was one of the greatest societies in the ancient world. For 2. but smaller agricultural communities were sustainable and flourished. its population is thought to have made up 10% of the world at one point. Yet. between 3900 and 3000 years ago.thus cities collapsed. Dorian Fuller of University College London said in a press release: "We can envision that this eastern shift involved a change to more localized forms of economy: smaller communities supported by local rain-fed farming and dwindling streams. the cities crumbled and the people disappeared.000 years. This caused a shift away from the large cities and the surpluses that the Harappans needed to continue. the rains continued to lessen. they left in their wake ultra-fertile soil. major interdisciplinary undertaking has delved into the geology of the region in this period.. What went wrong. and the rich soils they brought." .

Catalhöyük Often called the world's oldest city. famed in part for its enigmatic. but their methods weren't sustainable. During the time they settled Easter Island. the researchers unearthed what caused the collapse of an immense and sophisticated urban culture thousands of years ago. Easter Island The people of Eastern Island represent another classic "lost" civilization. and then had to move on. satellite photos and topographic data collected by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). and archaeological data. they used up all the island's trees and agricultural resources. 3.000 years ago in what is today south-central Turkey. What's . 4. which is that the Easter Islanders were incredibly sophisticated.000-7. Catalhöyük was part of a large city-building and agricultural civilization thriving between 9. enormous stone statues of human heads (called Moai) lined up along the island's coastline. How did this thriving Polynesian civilization disappear after centuries of monument-building and navigating hundreds of miles of ocean waters to go from island to island? Jared Diamond sums up what many scientists now believe in his book Collapse. possibly between 700-1200 AD.By combining millennia-old soil samples.

000 strong at many points in its 2. and buried the bones of their honored dead beneath the packed dirt of their floors. and that people left for greener (and healthier) pastures elsewhere on the Mississippi River. Its population might have been as much as 40. that was possibly 10. copper. but some archaeologists say the city had always had problems with disease and famine (it had no sanitary system to speak of). Often. and farmers.interesting about Catalhöyük is its structure. and got to their homes via ladders and sidewalks that traversed their roofs. Called Cahokia today. the biggest so far north in Mesoamerica. but they nevertheless left behind ample evidence of a sophisticated society. full of art and and public ritual. At its height between 600-1400 AD.000 people. you can still see its remains in Illinois. the city sprawled across 6 square miles. were brilliant artists. with houses built next to each other and entered through holes in the roofs. architects. which is quite unlike most other cities since. They even diverted a branch of the local Mississippi and Illinois rivers to suit their needs for irrigation. creating incredible art with shells. The civilization was pre-Iron Age and pre-literate. these people decorated the entrances to their homes with bull skulls. some of whom would have lived in outlying villages. It's believed that people farmed everything from wheat to almonds outside the city walls. It contained no roads as we know them.000 year existence. Why did people eventually abandon the city? It is unknown. Göbekli Tepe . and contained almost a hundred earthen mounds as well as an enormous grand plaza at its center. the so-called Mississippians had build a great city surrounded by huge earthen pyramids and a Stonehenge-like structure made of wood to track the movements of the stars. 6. and stone. Cahokia Long before Europeans made it to North America. 5. The people of this great city. and was instead built sort of like a hive. It's not entirely certain what led people to abandon the city starting in the 1200s.

and is located in today's southern Turkey. What were people worshiping there? When did they come? Were they there to do something other than worship? We may never know. It was not a permanent residence. circular walls and steles. It is the first permanent human-built structure that we have ever found. the place probably served as a temple for nomadic tribes in the area. A series of nested. but archaeologists are working hard to find out.000 BCE. carved evocatively with animals. though it's possible a few priests lived there all year. or monoliths. Göbekli Tepe was probably built in 10. and probably represented the pinnacle of the local Mesopotamian civilization of its era.One of the most mysterious human structures ever discovered. The mysterious remains of one of the world's first organized religions .

in southern Turkey. Archaeologists believe they've found the oldest temple ever built. It is both an utterly alien and utterly familiar place. possibly for the first time. it is perhaps the world's first example of a vast. Mann explains what we're seeing in Vincent J. And by "recent. Charles C.Homo sapiens may have had religion since the dawn of our evolution. dramatically remolding the landscape.600 years ago. but building vast monuments to our beliefs is a relatively recent development." I mean 11. Musi's incredible photos: . In National Geographic. monumental architecture project. Called Göbekli Tepe. And these photographs of it reveal a world where spiritual beliefs are.

To [archaeologist Klaus] Schmidt. the T-shaped pillars are stylized human beings. . smaller ring. Every few decades people buried the pillars and put up new stones-a second. filled in. an idea bolstered by the carved arms that angle from the "shoulders" of some pillars. The site may have been built. The figures represented by the pillars may be guarded by them. inside the first. The stones face the center of the circle-as at "a meeting or dance. of a religious ritual. or incorporating them as totems . hands reaching toward their loinclothdraped bellies. they installed a third. and built again for centuries. ferocious lions. leaping animals on the figures. As for the prancing. or appeasing them. Then the whole assemblage would be filled in with debris. . perhaps. and an entirely new circle created nearby. . Sometimes. he noted that they are mostly deadly creatures: stinging scorpions." Schmidt says-a representation. charging boars. later.

in which our ancestors spent tens of thousands of years as foragers. They cannot make big permanent structures. They can't maintain a separate class of priests and craft workers. and they obviously did that. a few dozen people. . Our picture of foragers was always just small. mobile groups. and general social bonding took place. Maybe cities started with monuments devoted to dancing. It also offers the possibility that humans first learned to settle down by creating monuments where worship. because they can't carry around all the extra supplies to feed them. This sheds a new light on early human development. He added: These people were foragers. feasting. Then here is Göbekli Tepe. we thought. monumental architecture. because they must move around to follow the resources.Schmidt said the amazing this about this find is that it proves that nomadic people are capable of creating vast.

The Turquoise Mountain . from 1000-1200 AD. A marvel of architecture and Hindu culture. unexplainable remains they've discovered at Göbekli Tepe via National Geographic 7. 8. The city flourished during the late middle ages. Angkor Most people have heard of the magnificent temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Now most of it lies beneath the jungle. But it was only one small part of a massive urban civilization during the Khmer Empire called Angkor. There are a lot of good reasons why Angkor may have fallen. and may have supported up to a million people. some archaeologists believe it may have been the biggest urban site in the world at its height. the city is mysterious mostly because we still aren't certain how many people lived there. ranging from war to natural disaster. Given all the roads and canals connecting its many regions.Read more about the weird.

A medieval monument to religious pluralism. Such is the case with the Minaret of Jam.Though not every crumbling monument represents a lost civilization. and Muslims. some of them do. a gorgeous architectural feat built in the 1100s as part of a city in Afghanistan. called Turquoise Mountain. where archaeological remains suggest that it was a cosmopolitan area where many religions. hidden in the mountains of Afghanistan . lived together harmoniously for hundreds of years. Christians. including Jews. It's possible that the incredible minaret was part of the lost medieval capital of Afghanistan.

Writing on the minaret is a detailed transcription from the Koran that celebrates the life of Mary. Christians and Jews.One of the great wonders of the medieval world is a very tall. Often called the Minaret of Jam. What's remarkable is that the writing on the minaret and archaeological remains nearby strongly suggest that the city harbored a population of Muslims. the monument was almost a millenium ago illuminated by a torch at its top. highlighting the connections between Islam and other religions. heavily ornamented minaret nestled in a green valley at the edge of the Jam river in what is now Afghanistan. which is another hint that people of different religions were living peacefully together. and surrounded by a thriving town with small industries and outlying farms. Nearby there is a Jewish graveyard. mother of Jesus. Was this lost city once a bastion of medieval tolerance? .

Several years ago. Today. it is a very remote outpost in Afghanistan's Ghor province. UK architecture critic Dan Cruikshank described his difficult journey past police and insurgents to reach the minaret and film it for a BBC special. This map shows its location. surrounded by a few farms and little else. though it was declared a world heritage site. . and preservation groups are working to prevent the tower from falling over (earthquakes in the area have caused it to lean). It is almost impossible for outsiders to get to the area. that spanned all of what we know now as Afghanistan as well as parts of eastern Iran and northern India.Some archaeologists believe the region around the Minaret of Jam was once called Firuzkuh and was the summer capitol of the Ghurids (‫)سلسله غوریان‬. a Muslim empire in the 11th and 12th centuries.

But. tells of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. I saw that it is in this material that the building's most striking message is written. It seems the Ghorids placed the text here to appeal for harmony and tolerance in the land. rather than their differences. There is a panel bearing the date of construction: 1193/4. Christianity and Islam have in common. As I stood before it. called Maryam. both venerated in Islam. he said seeing this incredible monument was still worth the risk: The minaret is made of hard yellow brick. a message that is more relevant now than ever. This chapter. . Its shaft is a dazzling display of virtuoso brickwork. the lower portion bears the entire 19th sura of the Koran. more importantly. with geometric forms incorporating Islamic eight-pointed stars and Kufic lettering. But. It's a text that emphasises what Judaism. and of prophets such as Abraham and Isaac.

a monument to humans' constant struggle to live in peace together. has preserved the structure from earthquakes and neglect. combined with the fine brickwork. Read more. It still stands today. against all odds. The minaret is the second largest of its kind in the world. I found a stupendous. Marilyn Terrell!) 9. with two spiral staircases winding around each other to form a double helix. and see more pictures. via Dark Roasted Blend (thanks for the tip. Niya . This strong construction. engineered construction.Inside.

from wealthy merchants and religious pilgrims to scholars and scientists. filling the playa with a lake and making it possible for a large culture to bloom. Nabta Playa From 7000 and 6500 BCE.Now a desolate spot in the Taklamakan Desert of Xinjiang province in China. In a sense. The people who lived there domesticated cattle. and Europe. Many groups traveled the Silk Road. Africa. 10. Though the Nabta civilization is today located in an arid region. and left behind stone circles that offer evidence that their civilization included astronomers as well. a trade route that linked China with Central Asia. it arose at a time when monsoon patterns had shifted. For the past two centuries. exchanging ideas and creating a complex. Traders afterwards preferred sea routes for trade with China. 1600 years ago Niya was a thriving city in an oasis along the famous Silk Road. created elaborate ceramics. Niya is a relic of the lost civilization of the early Silk Road. archaeologists have uncovered countless treasures in the dusty.000 mile Silk Road passed. but its importance as a trade route waned as the Mongol Empire collapsed in the 1300s. .Archaeologists believe the peoples of Nabta Playa were likely the precursor civilization for the great Nile cities that arose in Egypt thousands of years later. enlightened culture everywhere the 4. The route underwent many changes. an incredible urban community arose in what is today the Egyptian Sahara. shattered remains of what was once a graceful town full of wooden houses and temples. farmed.

and later. bandits. Pompeii. a church. which could provide a model for future communities trying to survive an apocalypse. and a wine-making facility. and air shafts kept the place ventilated while people lived inside for months at a time. Massive rocks could be rolled across the entrances. ancient underground city that dates back to the early Byzantine Empire.000 people. Italy . sandy volcanic rock of the central Turkish region of Cappadocia. kitchens. Locals dug tunnels and rooms beneath their homes. 5. long shafts were dug to connect Derinkuyu with other underground cities in the area.4. For centuries. Turkey Derinkuyu is an enormous. anti-Christian Muslims. The was city was sealed up at some point after the 10th century. plus livestock. when it was five stories deep with room for 20. Eventually. and was only reopened to the public in 1969. Derinkuyu. It's unknown when the city was begun — some sources say as early at the 7th century BCE — but it wouldn't have reached its greatest size until the period between 500-1000 CE. people had fled to the area to find a safe haven from anti-Christian Romans. deep into the soft. An entire underground civilization was thriving here during the middle ages.

from historical records. So what's the mystery? ecause Pompeii was perfectly preserved in the exact configuration it had in 79 CE. We know that the city was partially destroyed by an earthquake years before the volcano erupted. The mysteries of everyday life are often greater than the mysteries of how a civilization collapses. inexplicable art. Vesuvius in 79 CE. which was entombed in ash after the catastrophic eruption of Mt. and that many of its greatest homes were already abandoned by the time the final blast erased the city forever. that Vesuvius started smoking and causing quakes in the days leading up to the fatal eruption. and living arrangements that are unlike anything you'd see in a modern city.There are ample historical records that document the Roman vacation town of Pompeii. The Lost City of Pompeii: Pictures of an Alien World. We even know. It's one thing to read historical accounts of ancient Rome. Frozen in Time . and another thing to walk the streets of a Roman city unchanged since the height of the Empire. there are hundreds of historical details that are utterly alien to contemporary eyes — including decorative penis statues. weird graffiti.

graffiti. the more it seems that the origins of Western culture are nothing like Western culture today. public mosaics depicting extremely graphic sex. and sometimes their terrified facial expressions. As their bodies decomposed.800 years later. and penis decorations on street corners. based on the time capsule of Pompeii. complete with bank receipts. That ash killed over 1. in the exact poses they struck when they noticed their impending doom. explorers and archaeologists discovered Pompeii again. recreating the positions of the bodies. which was eventually forgotten. people were killed instantly. When the ash poured down over the city. The most famous aspect of Pompeii's ruins is no doubt the hundreds of plaster casts that archeologists have made of the volcano's victims. Beneath layers of muddy ash was a snapshot of everyday life in a Roman town.In the year 79 AD. But 1. "for rent" signs. . The disaster that had wiped out this bustling town also preserved it like an insect in amber. they left perfectly-formed hollows in the ash. What was daily life really like in the Roman Empire? Here's what we know.000 people instantly and buried the town. which was buried in a thick layer of broiling ash in a matter of seconds. But none was hit harder than vacation town Pompeii. Historians can inject these hollows with plaster. The more we learn about Pompeii. Vesuvius erupted with superheated ash that rained fiery death on several Roman cities nearby. Italy's Mt.

and probably many people who were too poor to travel elsewhere. and Romans were avid tourists. which indicates that a lot of residents left after the earthquake and never came back. Pompeii wasn't hit without warning. The volcano had been erupting for almost a day before the deadly ash rushed into the city on winds that some scientists estimate to have been 900 degrees. There were also public baths. and many of its villas and apartments were obviously designed for wealthy visitors. is in a beautiful region of Italy. Those who remained were the holdouts. . including a generously-sized brothel where anthropologists have found a lot of hilariously obscene graffiti. Many homes were still in ruins at the time the ash hit. A vacation spot Pompeii. the city had been emptying out for nearly two decades after a devastating earthquake (also caused by Mt. It had plenty of public spots for parties. gladiators' barracks. That quake had reduced a lot of the city to rubble.Contrary to popular belief. thousands had already fled. an arena. and even a hotel. So the city was a resort town. founded as early as the 7th century BCE. By that time. restaurants. Indeed. Vesuvius) hit it in 62 AD. the unlucky.

Pompeii was walled. Most businesses were on these main streets. Like many Roman towns. and many houses had heat created by sending hot air through hollows in the walls and under the floors. floor-to-ceiling windows on the second floors open to the air. So how did a centuries-old. and dark blue marks temples. yellow marks businesses. Many of the buildings in the most modern parts of town were two stories high. which he then inexplicably reburied rather than investigating. with big. the first people in the modern era to discover the city seem to have taken a few peeks at its pornographic frescoes and reburied them. orange marks private houses. in the mid eighteenth century. pale blue marks public buildings. adventurers and scientists began unburying the city in earnest. beautiful city get buried not just by ash but by forgetfulness? It's likely that Pompeii was lost in the cultural shift from Roman values and ideals to Christian ones in the Western world. Two hundred years later. When you entered through the arched gates. Green areas are unexcavated. The city was first uncovered in the sixteenth century by an architect working on digging a canal nearby — he reported seeing some decorated walls. and took the form of storefronts attached to insulae (apartments) and villas (palatial houses). It disappeared geographically. In fact. Perhaps he was motivated by time constraints. but also became socially unintelligible as the centuries wore on. There was an elaborate system of pumps for distributing running water throughout the city. you would find yourself on or near one of the three main streets that bisect the town. you can see the outlines of the city.In this map. HIC BENE FUTUI . or perhaps — as some historians argue — he was unsettled by seeing a world where everything we consider private was on public display. though there were plenty of smaller shops on side-streets. prosperous.

Si qui futuere voluit Atticen.Outside one shapely building on a main street in Pompeii. "If any is sitting here. If he is someone who wants to fuck Attike. whose pictures of the brothel you can see here. legat hoc ante omnia. a bronze coin used in Rome. let him read this before anything. quaerat a(ssibus) XVI. So Attike must have been one expensive lady. But it was hardly the only place in the city where you'd find sexual references. so perhaps there's no surprise that people have scribbled comments like that on its walls. ." or "Here you'll get a good fuck." It's a brothel. Oxford archaeology professor Andrew Wilson. he needs 16 asses" That's asses as in the As. you can see this piece of graffiti: "Hic bene futui. explains that Pompeii's suburban baths contain this bit of graffiti: Si quis hic sederit.

pitching and catching at the same time. Rome. the man is in the middle. Ah.These same baths are full of incredibly detailed paintings of different sexual positions. of a threesome with two men and a woman. where inevitably the woman would be in the middle. Take a look at this Pompeii street decoration of four perky. Here's one of my favorites. Similar . It's interesting to compare this image to threesome porn of today. Here. disembodied penises floating around a chalice. Threesome etiquette isn't the only cultural difference between Roman sexuality and our own.

" comparable to a picture of a cornucopia or flowers. Historians are quick to point out that these are "fertility symbols. but many other parts of private life were open too. They flaunted the very same body parts that the Christian church would later call dirty. but still doesn't change the fact that Romans were used to thinking of penis pictures as nice decorations. Sexual imagery we would keep hidden was out in the open.penis imagery was found in most houses. which the owners could rent out. It seems that several of these storefronts were rented to sex workers. shameful. or so archaeologists guess based on the way decorations in one room would suddenly become extremely pornographic (though sexual imagery was everywhere. I mentioned earlier that villas and insulae usually had storefronts in them. . Here is one such house. and best kept hidden. actual pictures of explicit fucking seemed limited to the brothels and baths). but something that happens in public storefronts attached to your home. where one particular room (marked on the floorplan) was full of explicit pictures of sex. sometimes disembodied and sometimes attached to satyrs or the mythological figure Priapus. One conclusion we can draw from this is that Pompeii's residents considered sex work to be like any other kind of work — not the kind of thing you hide away. That's true. Other rooms in the house didn't have paintings like this. A very different idea of privacy The Romans of Pompeii had a notion of public and private life very different from what we see in many Western cultures today.

bedrooms — generally located off the atrium — were often small and windowless. such as the so-called "House of the Tragic Poet. whose homes were built mostly as public spaces. Some have inspired a lot of speculation. was called the atrium." a small home packed with tons of art (including this incredible tile floor with "cave canem. which was sometimes open to the public too. . Archaeologists know a great deal about the houses of Pompeii and the people who owned them at the time of the volcano disaster. as we learned earlier). is devoted almost entirely to public areas. As Kleiner puts it. according to Latin architectural writings. They were subordinated to the public spaces of the house. The main part of the house. but it was literally open to the sky as well. would include two or more storefronts (possibly containing sex workers. Western homes today are considered private sanctuaries. Privacy as we know it now — the kind where you shut your door and close the windows on the world — didn't exist in Pompeii. the "ideal" Roman house. That idea would have been alien to the Romans.Yale history professor Diana Kleiner explains the ideal layout of a Roman house. It was a big public room where the homeowners would conduct business around a large pool designed to collect rainwater from a pool-sized hole in the ceiling. Not only was the center of the house open for public business. which we see at Pompeii. These private areas were obviously not places where people expected to spend any length of time. By contrast. Indeed." or "beware of dog" written on it). which would have been open to the street. Another large part of the house would be devoted to a big garden.

one of the largest in the city. daughter of Spurius. advertises baths and rooms: To let. . from the thirteenth day of next August to the thirteenth day of the sixth August thereafter. fitted up for the best people. and secondstory apartments in the property owned by Julia Felix. rooms over shops.Others are fascinating because they remind us how similar Romans were to today's city dwellers. The house of Julia Felix. shops. for the term of five years. Renting out rooms and baths after the 62 earthquake had left many people homeless made good business sense. the Venus bath. Like her neighbors. Julia Felix considered large parts of her house to be public.

As we excavate the city from the ash that smothered it. we have a chance to visit an alien world — a world before Christian morals dominated the West.An alien history The people of Pompeii had many things we would recognize from modern city life. . and where the line between public and private was often hard to find. But they also lived in a culture that was so different from ours that simply seeing the decorations on their houses would be shocking to many sophisticated urbanites. including heated houses and advertising.

I highly recommend historian Diana Kleiner's Yale lecture series.It was also a time when people casually kept slaves. which dominated parts of the regions now known as Peru. endured into the present almost unchanged. Though we know a lot about Inca technology. available on video. And we don't understand how they ran a vast empire without ever building a single . Peru A lot remains mysterious about the Inca Empire. its layout. you can see them all in detail at AD 79. while pretty pictures of penises have vanished from our street corners? Cultural memory is a weird thing. and women who ran their own businesses like Julia Felix were exceedingly rare. and burned its libraries of quipu records (the Inca language was "written" with knots and rope). destroyed its cities. Though people in Western countries can trace the origins of their societies back to the Roman Empire. Chile. it's likely that we wouldn't feel at home in the culture that gave birth to ours. Still. Machu Picchu. Oxford archaeologist Andrew Wilson has a great set of lecture slides devoted to love and sex in the Roman Empire. We come from an alien world. architecture and advanced agriculture — all of which are in evidence at major Inca city Machu Picchu — we still can't read what's left of the tapestries that contain their written records. Discovery Channel has a nice timeline of the Vesuvius eruption. Bolivia and Argentina for hundreds of years before the Spanish invaded. it would be familiar. Ecuador. a website devoted to Pompeii and other cities in the region affected by the disaster. like "beware of dog" signs. which deals a lot with Pompeii. Why have some traditions from that time. and all the homes and businesses that have been excavated over the past two and a half centuries. Further reading: If you want an introduction to the entire city. 6. For an introduction to Roman architectural history.

and no commerce of any kind within its boundaries.all connected by a vast highway system whose complexity rivaled any in the Old World. The Inca Empire may be the only advanced civilization in history to have no class of traders. which are often built around central market squares and plazas. the Inca Empire was the largest South America had ever known. How did such a successful civilization exist without a recognizable economy? Maybe one day we'll discover the answers. and our understanding of Incan culture of that era. Chile. Rich in foodstuffs. Famously. textiles. How did they do it? Many aspects of Incan life remain mysterious. they had no marketplaces at all. and coca.marketplace. the conquistador Francisco Pizzaro led just a few men in an incredible defeat of the Incan army in Peru in 1532. In fact. come from just a few observers . and one mestizo priest and Inca historian named Blas Valera.mostly Spanish missionaries. But the real blow came roughly a decade before that. The greatest mystery of the Inca Empire was its strange economy In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. in part because our accounts of Incan life come from the Spanish invaders who effectively wiped them out. when European invaders unwittingly unleashed a smallpox epidemic that some epidemiologists believe may have killed as many as 90 percent of the Incan people. Bolivia. Our knowledge of these events. incorporating lands from today's Colombia. Inca territory stretched across the Andes' mountain tops and down to the shoreline. the Inca were masters of city building but nevertheless had no money. Centered in Peru. gold. Argentina and Peru . Ecuador. This dramatically different from most other cities. who was born in Peru two decades after the fall of the Inca Empire. . That's right — Machu Picchu and other Inca cities contain no markets.

designing and raising enormous pyramids. Gordon Francis McEwan writes: With only a few exceptions found in coastal polities incorporated into the empire.and building cities to match. and the development of individual wealth acquired through commerce was not .were carefully chosen to thrive in the average temperatures for different altitudes. and creating enormous temples like Pachacamac along with mountain retreats like Machu Picchu. Incan society was so rich that it could afford to have hundreds of people who specialized in planning the agricultural uses of newlyconquered areas. In The Incas: New Perspectives. Incan architects were equally talented. there was no trading class in Inca society. Designers used a system of knotted ropes to do the math required to build on slopes. They also farmed trees to keep the thin topsoil in good condition. irrigating with sophisticated waterworks such as those found at Tipon.Wealth Without Money Documents from missionaries and Valera describe the Inca as master builders and land planners. the Incas managed without money or marketplaces. And yet.from potatoes and maize to peanuts and squash . capable of extremely sophisticated mountain agriculture . despite all their productivity. They built terraced farms on the mountainsides whose crops .

So the Inca did engage in trade. The production. every Incan was required to provide labor to the state. raw materials. In other words. A few products deemed essential by the Incas could not be produced locally and had to be imported. nobles who died could still own property and their families or estate managers could continue to amass wealth for the dead nobles. including food. sophisticated culture developed scientifically and culturally without ever inventing markets. Instead of paying taxes in money. . In these cases several strategies were employed. and needed to purchase nothing. there was no need for a standard currency or money. Not Markets One of the outstanding questions for scientists and historians who study the Incas is why this wealthy. With no shops or markets. The secret of the Inca's great wealth may have been their unusual tax system. as were other prominent members of Incan society. distribution. tools. they were given the necessities of life. In exchange for this labor. Of course. One possibility is that life was so difficult to sustain in their environment that all their innovations revolved around agriculture rather than economics. and clothing. not everybody had to pay labor tax.not among themselves. the Inca Empire was optimized to prevent starvation rather than to foster trade. the temple at Pachacamac was basically a well-managed estate that "belonged" to a dead Incan noble. . such as establishing colonies in specific production zones for particular commodities and permitting long-distance trade. In another quirk of the Incan economy. and there was nowhere to spend money or purchase or trade for necessities.possible . but only with outsiders . Food. Each citizen of the empire was issued the necessities of life out of the state storehouses. Indeed. It's as if the Inca managed to invent the idea of corporations-as-people despite having almost no market economy whatsoever. and use of commodities were centrally controlled by the Inca government. Nobles and their courts were exempt. .

and where climate fluctuations were a constant hazard.A few years ago. Chepstow-Lusty and his team suggested that the Incas focused their technological and cultural institutions around food production and land management. archaeologist A. The development of major irrigated terracing technology may have been increasingly necessary in these regions to obviate conditions of seasonal water stress. This may have been necessary in a region where droughts had likely wiped out a previous civilization (the Wari). Perhaps more remarkable. probably in response to a climatic backdrop that was relatively warm. and found evidence for thousands of years of agriculture in the area. but the peoples in the area would be well aware that this temperate spell could end at any time. while others have called it an authoritarian monarchy. 7. a group of archeologists took core samples in Cuzco valley in Peru. Such developments were exploited by the Inca of the Cuzco Valley. AD 1200. In a paper summarizing their findings. rather than market economies. A healthy agricultural surplus supported their economic and political potential. the Inca probably created an empire like many others. And its slaves and laborers built the dramatic works dreamed up by pre-Columbian civil engineers. AD 1400. is the idea that an empire could achieve so much without ever spending a dime. The outcome of these strategies was greater long-term food security and the ability to feed large populations. Thonis. In truth. Its leaders were distracted by civil war and internecine squabbles among the nobility. The rise of the Inca Empire coincided with a period of relative climate stability. pure labor structured their economy. enabling them to subjugate other local independent states and to effectively centralize power in the Cuzco region by ca. Some have argued that the Inca Empire was the ideal socialist state. thereby allowing efficient agricultural production at higher altitudes. Egypt . who were emerging as the dominant ethnic group of the region as early as ca. it's likely that the technologies that granted them agricultural surplus (extra food and textile materials) helped them with their expansive empire-building.J. What's remarkable is that evidence suggests those slaves and laborers were probably well fed. dry and essentially stable. most likely of llamas. AD 1100. including animal husbandry. So how do you become a continent-dominating empire without cash? In the case of the Incas. in this era where markets are associated with civilization. Food was their coin. Chepstow-Lusty and his colleagues write: The scale of anthropological manipulation and transformation of the landscape in the south-central Andes appears to have increased after ca.

In the 8th century BCE. this legendary city was the gateway to Egypt. Great Zimbabwe. and huge buildings. Wealth poured into the city from distant lands. The city was home to as many as 30. Recently rediscovered by archaeologist Franck Goddio. a port town that was full of incredible monuments. Zimbabwe One of the great mysteries of southern Africa is the enormous. when it was the heart of an international trade region that stretched as far as China and India. 8. Above is a video reconstruction of what the city might have looked like in its heyday. Thonis began its slow decline after the rise of Alexandria in the 300s CE. Clearly. but by the 8th century CE the city was gone. it was technologically advanced. walled city known today as Great Zimbabwe. nor what all its industries were. there are some unknowns here — it's not clear how far the city's influence stretched. rich merchants. but it was also rich in gold from local mines and vast herds of cattle.000 people. Now it is entirely submerged in the Mediterranean Sea. The BBC describes the greatest remaining monument from the city: . and was at its peak from 1200-1450. It may have been the victim of liquefaction after an earthquake. Still. But eventually that slide became literal. the city is slowly being excavated. as the city drowned in the sea that was once the source of its wealth. Nobody is certain how it happened. though.

Annalee Newitz is the author of the book. Like many cosmopolitan cities of its era. Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction. Famines caused by overgrazing may have contributed to its demise. Large quantities of gold and ceremonial battle axes. it predominates locally. The building method used was dry-stone walling. demanding a high level of masonry expertise. Inside there are concentric passageways. Some of the site is built round natural rock formations.e.i. . The actual structure comprises a huge enclosing wall some 20 metres high. Great Zimbabwe suffered a mysterious decline. Follow her on Twitter. or perhaps a shift in preferred trade routes. along with other objects have been found there. If we understood more about the city's local industries and trade partners. we might understand better what led to its downfall. along with a number of enclosures. One of these is thought to be a royal enclosure.The Great Zimbabwe monument is built out of granite which is the parent rock of the region . Scatter.

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