Treasure hunters, historians, and the entertainment industry have taken a strong interest in the mysteries.
Conspiracies and theories surround some of the world’s greatest mysteries but, unfortunately, that’s all they are.
The Amber Room
The construction of the golden, jewel-encrusted room began in 1701 and required several tonnes of amber gemstones.
German baroque sculptor, Andreas Schlüter, designed the room, and Danish amber craftsman, Gottfried Wolfram, constructed it.
Known as the “Gold of the North”, amber is a fossilized tree resin from the Baltic Region. Until the Amber room’s construction, using amber in this manner was new and completely unheard of.
Schlüter and Wolfram found new ways of working with amber.
First, they heated and dripped it into an infusion of linseed and honey. Then, they worked it onto wooden panels covered in either gold or silver leaves. Next, they decorated the room with precious jewels.
It was originally set to be in Charlottenburg Palace, home of the first King of Prussia, Friedrich I. After its completion, Peter the Great of Russia became an admirer of the room.
In 1716, Fredrick William I (then-King of Prussia) gifted the Amber Room to Peter the Great, marking a Prussian-Russian allegiance against Sweden.
The room was shipped in 18 boxes, re-constructed in Winter House in St. Petersburg, and became part of the European Art Collection.
In 1755, Czarina Elizabeth ordered the room to Catherine Palace in Pushkin, known as Tsarkoye Selo (Czar’s Village).
Italian designer Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli redesigned the room to fit into the new, larger space, for which he also needed more amber shipped from Berlin.
The Amber Room became the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, one of Russia’s most treasured artifacts that managed to survive the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The Nazi Invasion
On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa. Three million German soldiers invaded the Soviet Union and looted tens of thousands of Russian art treasures.
With the German forces in Pushkin, officials and curators tried to disassemble and hide the Amber Room.
Head Curator Anatoly Kuchumov headed the disassembling of the Amber Room for its journey east. However, he later discovered that, over time, the amber panels became brittle. Removing them would increase the damage, so he suggested hiding the room with a thin layer of wallpaper.
Unfortunately, the Nazis found it.
Hitler already knew of the Amber Room’s history. Since it was a German-made artifact, he wanted it returned to its homeland and enjoyed by its countrymen. The Nazis already knew they needed to look for it.
The German soldiers tore down the room within 36 hours, packed the room in 27 crates, shipped it to Königburg, Germany (now Kaliningrad), and re-assembled it in the Königburg Castle Museum.
Alfred Rohole, the museum curator and amber expert, advised the dismantling of the Amber Room and its placement in crates in 1943. There was a prediction of the upcoming events from August 1944 to 1945, the reason behind the room’s second dismantling.
The Royal Air Force heavily bombed Königburg, including its historic quarter, and destroyed the city. Following the bombing, artillery fire rained down on the city as the Soviets advanced.
The museum was in ruins and the Red Army marched into the city, but they lost the trail of the Amber Room and it was never found.
The common theory is that the 1944 bombings destroyed the crates.
Some believe they’re still hidden in Königburg and others say the crates are at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Moreover, the extreme theory is that Joseph Stalin had the Amber Room and the Germans stole a fake.
The ‘Amber Room Curse’
People connected to the room met untimely ends that resulted in the “Amber Room Curse”.
First, Rohole and his wife died of typhus while the KGB investigated the Amber Room.
Second, General Gusev of Russian Intelligence died in a car crash after speaking with a journalist about the Amber Room.
Third, George Stein, an Amber Room hunter and former German soldier, was murdered in a Bavarian Forest in 1987.
New Amber Room
At Tsarkoye Selo, construction of the new Amber Room began in 1979 and was completed 25 years later.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Shröder, dedicated the new wonder to mark the 300-year anniversary of St. Petersburg. It was also a unifying ceremony of the peaceful sentiment behind the original Amber Room.
The new Amber Room is on display to the public at the Tsarkoye Selo State Museum-Reserve.
The Sarcophagus of Menkaure
The Pyramids of Giza represent three pharaohs. The largest represents Pharoah Khufu, the second largest is for Pharaoh Khafre and the smallest is for Pharaoh Menkaure.
Menkaure was the grandson of Pharaoh Khufu and son of Pharaoh Kahfre. He ruled Egypt in the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (approx. 4000 years ago).
He was a just and pious leader. He opened temples that his grandfather closed when he reigned and gave the population more time for their own work instead of showing complete devotion to him.
There is a darker side to his story. A rumor states that he’s the reason behind his daughter’s suicide.
After his daughter’s death, an oracle predicted he would live for only six more years. Hearing the news, he sought to turn nights into days and extend his reign for more than six years. He lit multiple lamps as the sun set and drank and sought amusements.
Finding the Sarcophagus
In 1837, British adventurer Richard William Howard Vyse found the sarcophagus. His effective method to retrieve it, although extreme, involved blasting holes into the pyramid.
After the excavation, he found a chipped blue and brown basalt sarcophagus that had elaborate decorations and weighed three tonnes.
This was the first time anyone saw such decorations. Previous monuments of Menkaure had no carved decoration, but upon close inspection, Vyse saw the lid of the sarcophagus was broken open and the remains missing.
Inside the coffin, rather than Menkaure’s remains, were the bones of a 2000-year-old individual. Through radiocarbon tests, Vyse discovered that not only were the remains not Menkaure’s, but the lid of the coffin didn’t match Menkaure’s timeline.
In addition to Menkaure’s remains going undiscovered, this is one of the many mysteries that go further.
The Disappearance of the Sarcophagus
Vyse wanted to save the sarcophagus from further damage in the pyramid. It took considerable effort to remove the sarcophagus, but there aren’t any details on how Vyse and his men managed to remove it.
The sarcophagus was put on the Beatrice, an English merchant ship, to set sail from Alexandria in September 1838 to Malta. Soon after, the Beatrice set sail for Liverpool, England, where the sarcophagus was going to be studied and displayed at England’s British Museum in London.
On October 13, 1838, the Beatrice encountered a storm and was lost at sea before reaching Liverpool in the Mediterranean Sea.
The exact spot where the Beatrice sank is unknown. Even the surviving crew members were unsure of the location.
In 2008, Egyptian authorities called Robert Ballard, who discovered the R.M.S. Titanic, to lead the search for the ship. However, the political troubles in Egypt led to the search being cut short.
Additionally, there are concerns about the ownership of the sarcophagus if it’s found. It was an Egyptian artifact aboard a British ship that sank in Spanish waters.
On a positive note, the sarcophagus is made of basalt, which makes it impervious to seawater.
The Ark of the Covenant
About 3000 years ago, Israelites built an elaborate gilded case known as “the Ark”. It was the size of a seaman’s chest, made of gold-plated wood, and topped with two large golden angels. It was carried by two poles inserted through rings on either side of the case.
The Ark contains two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.
After escaping Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinar, where he had his first encounter with God. He left the camp for 40 days and nights to be in the mountains.
Not only did Moses receive the traditional idea for the commandment, but the constitution for the nation of Israel.
The commandments were inscribed on two stone tablets: the first five commandments are the elements of worship of the God of Israel and the second relates to human behavior as a nation.
“Ark” comes from the Latin word arca, meaning “chest”.
The term refers to a vessel of salvation in three ways:
- Noah’s Ark.
- The basket that carried the infant Moses down the River Nile.
- The box that holds the Ten Commandments.
During the Bronze Age, the Philistines invaded and defeated the Israelites several times. The ark was used in battle as protection against the enemy. It was later captured by the Philistines and taken to their chief God Dagon.
Although this might have seemed a victory, problems arose for the Philistines:
- Every morning, the Statue of Dagon was on the ground in front of the Ark.
- People had infections from tumors and boils.
- A scourge of mice destroyed the Philistines’ grains.
Ultimately, the Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites.
Between 597 and 568 BCE, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Israelites. At this time, the Ark, supposedly in the Temple of Jerusalem, vanished. It remains unknown if the Babylonians destroyed, captured, or hid it.
The first claim states that the Ark found its way to Aksum, Ethiopia in the St. Mary of Zion Cathedral. Church authorities said there’s only one guardian of the Ark, who’s the only person allowed to see it.
With no one allowed inside, this claim can’t be authenticated.
The second claim is that the Ark is hidden in a network of tunnels beneath the First Temple of Jerusalem. The site is now home to the Dome of the Rock Shrine, a sacred Islamic site. Therefore, this claim goes untested.
To this day, there isn’t any concrete claims or evidence of where the Ark may be.
Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, a renowned Japanese swordsmith, forged one of the most famous swords in Japanese history, one of the country’s national treasures.
The Great Swordsmith
Masamune is one of Japan’s greatest swordsmiths.
After studying under Shintogo Kunimitsu, he mastered the technique of Soshu sword-making.He made the greatest swords in Japan from the late13th century to the early 14th century.
As his masterful sword-making rose to prominence, so did the samurai.
Masamune discovered a way to create weapons entirely of silver to improve its strength and flexibility.
He brought the metal to high temperatures to rid it of its impurities. However, high temperatures made the swords brittle, so, to combat this, he blended soft and hard steels in layers, which gave his blades a unique wave pattern.
It penetrated the armour of enemies quickly and easily. The lightweight design allowed warriors to wield swords while on horseback.
This technique was ahead of its time throughout the world.
Emperor Fushimi proclaimed Msamune, who was 23 years old at the time, his chief swordsman.
The ‘Honjō Masamune’
This sword was named after the first prominent general who owned it, Honjō Shigenaga.
In 1561, Shigenaga led his troops into battle during the Battles of Kawanakajima. After winning the battle, he kept his sword and later sold it to the Toyotomi clan in the 16th century.
When the clan fell, the swords passed to the Tokugawa Shongunate.
This weapon was a sword of power and highly respected by those ruling the Shoguns. For 700 years, it passed from generation to generation, shogun to shogun.
Towards the end of World War II, Tokugawa Iemasa held Honjō Masamune.
When Japan surrendered, the Allied Forces demanded all Japanese noble families to hand over all weapons, including sword collections. This angered and humiliated the nobles because it was painful to surrender a family heirloom to Americans.
To set a good example and be a voice of reason, Tokugawa Iemasa gave his family’s sword collection, including Honjō Masamune.
Honjō Masamune made its journey across the Pacific in a ship, but was lost soon after.
There are speculations about what happened, but there isn’t concrete evidence to support them.
The Crown Jewels of Ireland
The jewels belonged to the Order of St. Patrick, an elite order founded in 1783.
They Crown Jewels of Ireland, worn by the Grand Master of the Order, consist of:
- A star decorated with Brazilian diamonds, with the center holding an emerald trefoil and a ruby cross on a blue enamel background.
- Five gold, jewel-encrusted collars.
- A diamond badge.
The Grand Master wore a total of 194 jewels. He served as the Viceroy and the Representative of the British power in Ireland.
The Ulster King of Arms and his staff guarded the jewels in Dublin Castle. There was a 24-hour outdoor patrol of policemen and soldiers.
In 1903, a safe was installed in the castle.
After the safe’s installment and the jewels were placed inside, the Order found that the safe was too large to fit through the strongroom’s doorway. So, it remained outside the strongroom and inside the library of Belford Tower.
Seven latch keys opened the safe. The security staff kept five of the keys and Sir Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, kept the remaining two. He carried one on his person and locked the other inside his home desk.
However, given the importance of the jewels, Vicars’s office security was lax.
On a drunken night, he gave the keys to a friend to take out the jewels the next morning. Another story claims that he left one of the keys attached to his office keys, which his maid discovered.
The Jewels Vanished
On July 6, 1907, a cleaning woman assigned to Belford Tower discovered the safe room open, with the inner security door bolted closed and the keys to the library left in the locks.
At first, Vicars remained unalarmed by the discovery. When he sent a messenger to the library, he found the safe empty. The Irish Crown Jewels were missing.
The jewels likely ended up in pieces and sold to wealthy collectors. The alternate theory is that they’re hidden.
The first suspect was Sir Arthur Vicars, who denied his involvement in the crime till his death. After he was accused, he lost his post as Ulster King of Arms.
The second was Pierce O’Malley, Vicars’ assistant, who later proved innocent.
The third was Francis Shakleton, Vicars’ second-in-command, the prime suspect right after Vicars. Many believed that he was the true culprit.
The told stories of untold mysteries led to the discoveries of different parts of history.
In uncovering the truth, we learn more about the world in a different light. While some remain unsolved, it makes one wonder how many more mysteries are out there.
“Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”
-Albert Szent-Györgyi, The Scientist Speculates, ed. Irving Good.