The Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs of Myra’s Lycian Necropolis
The ancient town of Myra in Turkey may sound familiar to you, because St. Nicholas (one of the Santa Claus origins) was the bishop of Myra. Another claim to fame for the region is the many ancient ruins one can see there.
Perhaps most striking of all the ancient ruins in Myra are the rock-cut tombs of the ancient Lycian necropolis. Two burial sites, the river necropolis and ocean necropolis, with frontages resembling classical temples, are hewn from the cliffs towering above the town.
You can imagine the years of work that went into carving these tombs out of the cliff faces.
The Most Famous Mummies in the World
One of the most important archaeological finds, and certainly one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century, are the hundreds of well-preserved mummies that have been found buried in the sands of the Tarim Basin in the far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
According to scientists, these mummies, three in particular, are among the most important human remains ever found: the much-celebrated Yingpan Man with his gold-foil and white mask and beautiful robes; an infant wrapped in a woolen blanket, wearing a blue and red bonnet of lightly felted wool; and the spectacular woman known as the “Beauty of Xiaohe,” a 3,800 year old mummy whose beauty is startling and is considered to be one of the most well-preserved, exquisite mummies ever discovered.
The reason these mummies are so historically important, and have created such a controversy, is their high degree of preservation which has allowed scientists to see far more detail than would normally be expected in a burial site. These mummies are not Asian-looking, but rather light skinned, round-eyed, with long noses, red or blond haired men, women and children.
The Caves of Faith
The Magao Grottoes (Thousand Buddha Caves) sits at the cliffs of the Soughing Sand Hill about 16 miles southeast of Dunhuang in the Gansu province of China. It is an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road.
It was first dug in the year 366 AD and kept evolving for over a millennium. The caves house over 2400 colorful clay statues and 4500 square meters of wall paintings (murals). These grottoes contain the most beautiful Buddhist inspired artwork in the world. If you are a traveler, these caves should definitely be in your top ten places to visit.
(Source: National Geographic)
“City of Ghosts”
High on the Ming Hill, Fengdu, the “City of Ghosts,” is situated at the northern end of the Yangtze River. It attracts tourists from all over and even many visitors from within China as it is the place to learn about Chinese ghost culture and the afterlife.
The city has been around for nearly 2,000 years, filling it with a spooky sense of the past. Its origin story begins back in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), when two officials decided to run away to the area and live out their lives, where they eventually, the story goes, became immortal. Yin and Wang, the names of the officials, were combined during a later dynasty to mean “King of the Underworld.” Locals deemed this a gathering place for spirits. The Ghost City that developed is a complex of Buddhist and Taoist temples adorned with macabre demon statues dismembering humans as they guard the entrance to the netherworld.
Most of the popular landmarks in the City of Ghosts bear names that reference the afterlife: “Last Glance at Home Tower,” “Nothing-to-be-Done Bridge,” “Ghost Torturing Pass.” Covering the sites are statues and other artistic depictions of ghosts and devils, terrifying works that represent what happens to those who haven’t lived good lives after theirs is taken from them.
The giant face seen in the pictures is called The Ghost King, and it holds a Guinness World Records title as the biggest sculpture carved on a rock. At 138 meters tall and about 217 meters wide, The Ghost King can be seen from all around the city.
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of more than 150 skulls from an ancient shrine near Mexico City this month—evidence of one of the largest mass sacrifices of humans.
The rituals included sacrifices to the rain gods as power struggles gripped the parched region suffering from a severe drought. The victims were first killed and dismembered. The body parts may then have been thrown into the lake, while the heads were carefully arranged and buried. Incense was burned during this ceremony and foods such as ritually burned maize were presented as additional offerings.
(Source: National Geographic)
The Penis Tombstone Cemetery
Thousands of tourists come to visit Khalid Nabi cemetery in Tehran, Iran every year. It is a historic cemetery over a thousand years old. The reason tourism is so high at this cemetery is because people simply want to see and get there picture taken next to a stone penis.
The tombstones are symbolic representations of male and female genitals. The symbolism could come from the phallic religion practiced in India and central Asia, but few know for sure the meaning behind the designs.
More than 600 head stones make up the bizarre cemetery in northeastern Iran. Despite its long history, the site was only added to Iran’s national heritage list a decade ago due to the unique “shape” of the grave markers.
The Gruesome History of Shrunken Heads
The ancient indigenous tribes of Ecuador and Peru were the people that transformed history with the practice of making shrunken heads. The heads were called tsantas.
The victim was often alive, in the midst of a bloody battle, when he lost his head. As much flesh from the back and chest as possible was carefully preserved when the head was chopped off. This way, the head would not resemble a withered, contorted raisin later on. If no flesh was recovered, then a vine was used to stretch the skin.
Once the battle was over, the tribesmen would take their bloody, severed heads down to the creek. There, they would make slits up the back of the head and remove the skin from the skull. Once the skull was freed from the skin, it was discarded in the river.
True shrunken heads are scarce and many simply did not survive the natural elements and passing of time. However, trade interests in shrunken heads spiked violence in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian areas at the end of the 19th century. People were beheaded simply for their attackers to make money.
Ancient Wari Mummy
Archeologists working at Peru’s Huaca Pucllana ruins pulled a mummy from a tomb in 2008, thought to be from the ancient Wari culture that flourished before the Incas. Besides the female mummy, the tomb contained the remains of two other adults and a child.
It is the first intact Wari burial site discovered at Huaca Pucllana in the capital Lima, and researchers believe it dates from about 700 AD. The Wari people lived and ruled in what is now Peru for some 500 years, between 600 AD and 1100 AD. Their capital was near modern-day Ayacucho, in the Andes, but they traveled widely and are known for their extensive network of roads.
The Mysterious Cave City and Monastery of Vardzia, 1185 AD
One of the most little known marvels of the world is the ancient cave city of Vardzia. It is every bit as impressive as the Roman Colosseum or the Pyramids of Giza. Built astride and into the sheer cliff face of a mountain, it resembles something of a hybrid of ancient Petra in Jordan and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings of the U.S…or, for those familiar with the Tolkien works, a Minas Tirith in ruins.
Known as the cave city or monastery of Vardzia, it was dug into the side of Mount Erusheli near the town of Aspindza and the Mtkvari river in southern Georgia during the late 12th century. During this time the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185 AD. When completed this underground fortress extended 13 levels and contained 6000 apartments, a throne room and a large church with an external bell tower.