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March 28, 2017

How recent science is solving historic myths

The fundamental purpose of science is to provide answers. By process of systematic study, scientists prove, or indeed disprove, theories about why things happen. As human beings have evolved over the centuries, it would in some ways appear that the number of mysteries left to solve has perhaps decreased. Today, we know and understand things about how the universe works in a way that would be unrecognizable to our ancestors just a couple of generations ago.

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In reality however, the number of questions has not decreased; it is more that the nature of the questions has changed. In fact, most scientists would agree that every answer worked out only opens up a range of new questions and potential avenues of exploration.

Historic myths

 

One area in which the scientific world is having a particularly interesting impact on is the exploration of historic myths. Over the years, the recording of history has becoming significantly more sophisticated, and today we have an unprecedented level of technology that allows us to capture even the smallest details about how we live our lives.

This technology is a relatively recent phenomenon however, and for generations, human beings relied on storytelling to pass on information, lessons and records. Such a process is fundamentally flawed, as stories can be embellished or influenced, consciously or otherwise, by who is telling them. It is a widely agreed concept among academics that history is written by the winners, for example.

As a result, there are numerous fascinating areas for to be explored, questions to be answered and mysteries solved, and the world of science and history are coming together to do exactly this.

Popular stories

These are a few of the most intriguing mysteries that scientific methods have been applied to solve:

  • The ‘Cardigan Billy’ picture. As reported on baedaily.com, scientists used the same modern-day facial recognition techniques that confirmed the death of Osama Bin Laden to prove that a 137-year-old photo does in fact show legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. The photo, which shows Billy the Kid playing a game of croquet with the Lincoln County Regulators in the summer of 1978, is now estimated to be worth around $5 million. This is remarkable considering that it was purchased for a couple of dollars in a junk shop. The new owner insisted the cardigan-wearing figure was indeed Billy the Kid and has been proven right by science.

  • Of all the sciences, archaeology has perhaps done most over the years to solve historical mysteries. One of these is the question of why Palmyra, a key trading hub in the Roman Empire, was located in the middle of the Syrian desert and how it continued to function and thrive in such a tough environment. Teams from Norway and Syria have worked together and are believed to have solved the mystery by uncovering a system of water reservoirs. This network was used to collect and channel the yearly rainfall that came from seasonal storms and use it to grow crops, providing a stable source of food even during the most hot and arid seasons.

  • The Nazca Civilization. Scientists have also recently been able to apply our improved understanding of meteorology and human influence on climate change to propose a theory about what happened to the Nazca people of Peru, who seem to have disappeared around the year 500 AD. Current thinking is that the Nazca, who were responsible for the famous giant Nazca lines, brought about their own destruction through deforestation. Great swathes of huarango trees were cut down to allow for farming, and this had an irreparable impact on the environment. Without the trees, the quality of soil dropped so dramatically that it became impossible to grow food. As a result, the land simply became untenable as a living location and this, combined with a major El Nino weather event, led to a catastrophic end for the Nazca.

 

What does the future hold?

Reaction to the solving of such myths is, not surprisingly, mixed. On the one hand, people are generally inherently interested in knowing the truth and are pleased when science can provide them with this in the most unequivocal way. They are delighted with the enhanced knowledge this offers and are keen to know more. Contrastingly, other parties would prefer certain mysteries to remain unsolved and feel like science somehow removes the magic of such stories.

Despite this, the momentum behind such projects continues to grow, and as there is no shortage of myths and legends left to explore, we can almost certainly look forward to some fascinating new research for some time yet.

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