Sanxingdui: Discovery of masks and other relics that could be 5,000 years old causes upheaval in archaeological world

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Photo Credit Nishanshaman – CC BY-SA 3.0,

Chinese archaeologists had always believed that Chinese culture slowly expanded from a point along the Yellow River.  This belief was put into question when two massive sacrificial pits were discovered during a dig near the quiet Chinese village of Sanxingdui, which is situated in the Sichuan province of China. The discovery of these pits has turned the archaeological world on its head.

In 1929, a farmer digging a new well discovered a stash of jade relics, which led Chinese archaeologists to excavate the area around the village. Nothing came of these explorations until 1986, when two enormous sacrificial pits were found. Uncovered from the pits were thousands of pottery, jade, bronze, and gold artifacts that were not seen elsewhere in China before.

This exciting find led to a whole new understanding of the development of Chinese culture. The artifacts were dated as being 3,000 to 5,000 years old, and archaeologists knew they were examining a previously unknown ancient culture that had developed thousands of miles from civilizations of a similar age.

The artifacts showed evidence of having been burned or broken before they were carefully buried; however, this doesn’t detract from the magnificence of the find. The dig uncovered sculptures with animal faces, masks with dragon features, human-style heads with masks on, figurines of animals such as dragons, birds, and snakes all beautifully decorated, as well as a sacrificial altar, a bronze tree, rings, knives, and other decorative items.  The most unusual item found was an eight-foot-tall human figure made of bronze.

The archaeologists were surprised to find numerous bronze masks and human heads that have square faces, huge almond-shaped eyes, long straight noses, and exaggerated ears. These were carbon dated and found to be from the 12th to 11th century BC, and the well developed technology used to create these bronzes astounded the scientists. The ancient Chinese metallurgists knew that adding lead to an amalgam of copper and tin gave them a stronger substance that they could use to create large items such as the human and the tree. One of the masks, the largest ever found anywhere, measured an astounding 1.32 meters wide and 0.72 meters tall. The animal-like ears, protruding eyes, and ornate bodies of these masks demonstrated an artistic style unique from any other found in China.

Unfortunately, no written texts have been located at Sanxingdui to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the city.  This Bronze Age civilization, which is now known as the Sanxingdui Culture, has been associated with the ancient kingdom of Shu; the rich artifacts have been attributed to the legendary kings of Shu. There may be few reliable records that link this civilization to the kingdom of Shu, but the Chronicles of Huayang that were written in the Jin Dynasty, which existed from 265-420 AD, tell of the Shu Kingdom being founded by the Cancong. These people were described as having bulging eyes, a common feature of the artifacts found at Sanxingdui.

This amazing civilization was at its prime around 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, and the city was then completely abandoned. The question that is facing archaeologists now is – why?  A theory has been put forward that a major earthquake hit the region, causing landslides that blocked the water supply to the city, so the residents had to leave their city and move closer to the river. This theory has not been proven.[[[The unearthing of these magnificent items caused a major stir in archaeological circles and will fuel research for many years to come.[

The unearthing of these magnificent items caused a major stir in archaeological circles and will fuel research for many years to come.

[By Ian Harvey

Biography: Tenzing Norgay TIBETAN MOUNTAINEER

Tenzing Norgay, (Nepalese: “Wealthy-Fortunate Follower of Religion”)Norgay also spelled Norkey or Norkay, original name Namgyal Wangdi, (born May 15, 1914, Tshechu, Tibet [now Tibet Autonomous Region, China]—died May 9, 1986, Darjeeling [now Darjiling], West Bengal, India), Tibetan mountaineer who in 1953 became, with Edmund (later Sir Edmund) Hillary of New Zealand, the first person to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak (29,035 feet [8,850 metres]; see Researcher’s Note: Height of Mount Everest).

It is not known exactly when, how, or under what conditions the young Namgyal Wangdi came to live in the Khumbu region of Nepal (near Everest), nor is it known when he took the name Tenzing Norgay. Among the ethnic Sherpas, immigrant Tibetans such as Tenzing are known as Khambas and have low status and little or no wealth. Tenzing worked for several years for an affluent family in Khumjung, and, as a teen, he ran away from difficult conditions and settled in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India. At age 19, having married a Sherpa, he was chosen as a porter for his first expedition; in 1935 he accompanied Eric Shipton’s reconnaissance expedition of Everest. In the next few years he took part in more Everest expeditions than any other climber.

Hillary, Sir Edmund; Norgay, TenzingEdmund (later Sir Edmund) Hillary and Tenzing Norgay preparing to depart on their successful summit climb of Mount Everest, May 29, 1953; photograph by W.G. Lowe.The Granger Collection, New York
Tenzing Norgay (right) and Edmund Hillary showing the kit they wore to the top of Mount Everest, June 26, 1953.AP

After World War II he became a sirdar, or organizer of porters, and in this capacity accompanied a number of expeditions. In 1952 the Swiss made two attempts on the southern route up Everest, on both of which Tenzing was sirdar. He went as sirdar of the British Everest expedition of 1953 and formed the second summit pair with Hillary. From a tent at 27,900 feet (8,500 metres) on the Southeast Ridge, they reached the summit at 11:30 AM on May 29. He spent 15 minutes there “taking photographs and eating mint cake,” and, as a devout Buddhist, he left an offering of food.

After his feat he was regarded as a legendary hero by many Nepalese and Indians. His many honours included Britain’s George Medal and the Star of Nepal (Nepal Tara). Man of Everest(1955; also published as Tiger of the Snows), written in collaboration with James Ramsey Ullman, is an autobiography. After Everest (1978), as told to Malcolm Barnes, tells of his travels after the Everest ascent and his directorship of the Field Training Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, which the Indian government established in 1954. Tenzing: Hero of Everest (2003), a biography of Tenzing Norgay by mountaineer and journalist Ed Douglas, is a sensitive appreciation of his life, achievements, and disappointments.

WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

The tiny island with human-sized money

The Micronesian island of Yap has a famously unusual currency: hundreds of giant discs of rocks scattered all over the island, many of them too heavy to move.

Arriving on the tiny Micronesian island of Yap will fill even the most jaded traveller with a sense of awe. The single daily flight comes in over dense forests, taro swamp, shallow lagoons and a web of mangroves, all surrounded by fringing reef. But the real wonderment doesn’t come from the idyllic scenery, nor from the greeting by a Yapese girl in a traditional hibiscus skirt. It’s when you first come face-to-face with a piece of giant stone money.

Hundreds of large stone discs can be found across the Micronesian island of Yap (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Hundreds of large stone discs can be found across the Micronesian island of Yap (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Hundreds of these extraordinary, human-sized discs of rock are scattered all over the island; some outside the island’s few hotels, others in rows close to the beach or deep in the forests. Each village even has a stone money bank where pieces that are too heavy to move are displayed on the malal (dancing grounds).

“My family owns five stone money of a good size,” said Falmed (Yapese just use one name), a taxi driver I flagged down to take me to Mangyol stone money bank in Yap’s eastern province of Gagil.

Five, it turns out, is a good haul, since many islanders don’t own any stones.

The Yapese people have used the rai stones as currency for centuries (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

The Yapese people have used the rai stones as currency for centuries (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

The unique stone currency has been in use here for several centuries, although no-one is quite certain when the concept began. What is known is that each one is different, and they are as heavy with meaning as they are in volume of limestone, carved and voyaged by the Yapese all the way from Palau, an island nation 400km to the south-west. The very first pieces were used as gifts and shaped like a whale – thus named ‘rai’ stones – but they’ve evolved to become currency, including holes carved through the centre to make them more transportable across the oceans.

“My forefather Falmed, he is the one who started to go to Palau first by canoe, and make this connection between Palau and Yap. So I carry his name,” Falmed told me as we hurtled along dirt roads past the sleepy capital of Colonia. Despite his sun-worn T-shirt and rickety car, his lineage is surprisingly significant. His distant forefather Falmed was a high chief powerful enough to commission a boat to Palau where he met with locals and gained access to a quarry site.

“He came back and called a meeting where he told the village to gather tuba, the local alcohol, to trade,” Falmed said. Within a month, he was back in Palau to start carving the stone as money.

The Yapese travelled 400km across the sea to carve the limestone discs from quarries in neighbouring Palau (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

The Yapese travelled 400km across the sea to carve the limestone discs from quarries in neighbouring Palau (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

The issue was that Yap had no durable rock or precious metals with which to make coins. Instead, experienced Yapese sailors, commissioned mostly by wealthy high chiefs, would sail to Palau on bamboo rafts, and eventually, schooners, to load up with limestone from their quarries. Initially small, as techniques and tools improved, the coins became even larger than the people who would painstakingly carve them. When metal tools were introduced by European traders in the late 19th Century, quarrying was made easier, and reports from the 1880s claimed 400 Yapese men could be found working in just one quarry in Koror, Palau – a significant proportion of the population, which would have then been about 7,000 in total.

On their return from Palau, the sailors would give the carved stone money to the high chiefs who would gather from different villages to welcome back the sailors and the stones. The chiefs would keep the larger ones and two fifths of the smaller ones. They would also give names to some stones, usually choosing their own name or that of relatives, and confirm the stones as legitimate by giving a value based on an even older currency system: yar (pearl shell money). The stones could then enter circulation and be bought by anyone.

“If the chief says OK, 50 shell money for each stone money, if I have that I will make the trade and own one,” explained Edmund Pasan, a canoe builder from the northern province of Maap.

Some rai stones measure more than 3m in diameter (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Some rai stones measure more than 3m in diameter (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Today, shell money has been replaced by the almighty US dollar for day-to-day transactions like grocery shopping. But for more conceptual exchanges, like rights or customs, stones remain a vital currency for Yap’s 11,000 residents.

Falmed’s family has only used its money twice, and one was as an apology. “We used it for one of my brothers who made trouble for another family,” Falmed revealed remorsefully. His brother’s marriage had failed. “One of the chiefs, his daughter got one piece of stone money as an apology, and they accepted it. When it comes to high ranks, you have to use stone money.”

When it comes to high ranks, you have to use stone money

The value of stone money has always been fluid, challenging the Western concept that currency value is pre-determined and fixed. The coins are valued by their size – they range from 7cm to 3.6m in diameter – as well as their ornateness and even for the sheer difficulty in obtaining the rock. How much a coin is worth also depends on who you give it to, and what for.

In addition, Yapese factor oral history into each stone’s value, as there’s no written record of what belongs to who. Families rarely move from their villages, and the tribal elders from the around 150 villages pass down information of each piece, meaning they act as a reminder of the past and help to reinforce relationships and transactions that date back to times of warriors and clans. In some cases, the stones have engravings marking battles from more than 200 years ago.

Each village has a stone money bank that displays pieces too large to move (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Each village has a stone money bank that displays pieces too large to move (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Falmed and I finally arrived at the Mangyol stone money bank after a 40-minute drive from Colonia. From large to small, the few dozen stones were lined up in front of a p’ebay, an open structure in the village centre where the community comes together to do their trade, celebrations and sometimes their schooling too.

Falmed explained that the rai are specifically placed, each encoded with secret connections, village relationships, and stories of marriage, conflicts and deep apologies that have seen the stones change hands over centuries. It’s those stories that only the local villagers know that truly determine which is most valuable. There’s no need to make more rai since the island essentially has a permanent number in circulation, and few are ever moved. Even broken ones retain their oral history that give them more value than a new piece. New pieces are occasionally made, though, simply to ensure the skills of past generations are not forgotten.

It’s those stories that only the local villagers know that truly determine which is most valuable

But if the stones are so valuable and so public, I wondered, what’s to stop someone making their own, or simply stealing one?

“Most matters are common knowledge and secrets among local people are rare; thus theft of rai is relatively unknown,” writes Cora Lee C Gilliland of the Smithsonian Institution in her paper The Stone Money of Yap.

Not that some haven’t attempted it. “They tried to do that in Yap, and they laughed about it because they broke,” Pasan later told me with a chuckle. “Then they did it with the stones in Guam, but they are not that strong and are more difficult to get at – it’s much easier to quarry in Palau.”

Each stone’s worth is determined by its size, ornateness and history (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Each stone’s worth is determined by its size, ornateness and history (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

Yap’s neighbours, Guam, Palau and Chuuk, are all heavily affected by European and American colonisation, and all bear conspicuous scars of World War II. Guam remains a US territory with a significant military base on the island that has shaped its culture, while Chuuk Lagoon is home to around 60 sunken wrecks, a result of the devastating Operation Hailstone in 1944.

Yap, though, was largely bypassed by US bombing as the early 20th-Century Japanese occupation came to an end, and the rai stone’s sturdiness and longevity seem to represent the long-lasting authenticity of Yapese culture over the centuries.

“In Yapese culture, if something [important] is going on, and there is nothing else suitable to use, then you use stone money,” said Falmed, who has already ensured the next generation retains his wealth by passing one piece to his son at his first-birthday ceremony.

No matter its location, the Yapese know to whom each stone belongs (Credit: Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

No matter its location, the Yapese know to whom each stone belongs (Credit: Robert Michael Poole)

“When my girlfriend was pregnant, we [came here] from Hawaii,” he explained. “On a child’s first birthday, if a clan is of high rank and has some small stone money, they will cut a chicken and drain the blood on the boy’s head to recognise the moment. It’s a gift, and a lot of people came [to the ceremony].”

Falmed’s son is 12 now and lives in Hawaii. But the stone is in his family house in Yap. And even without written record, everyone already knows whose name is on it.

By Robert Michael Poole 3 May 2018

“The sun began to be darkened”: The strange cloud over much of the world in 536 AD changed history dramatically

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In the summer of 536, a strange cloud appeared in the skies over much of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Sometimes referred to as “a veil of dust,” something plunged the Mediterranean region and many other areas of the world into gloomy years of cold and darkness.

This foreboding change was recorded by the Byzantine historian Procopius. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” Procopius also wrote of disease and war resulting from the blocking of the sun’s light.

A Syrian scribe described the change as “…the sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while ocean was tumultuous with spray.” Gaelic Irish records describe a “failure of bread” in the year 536.

For many years, historians and scientists have wondered what may have caused Procopius and others to record notable differences in weather. Modern research has provided some interesting theories.

Much of the rest of the world seems to have been impacted by the cloud as well, at least in the northern hemisphere. Studies of tree rings between 536 and 551 show less tree growth in China, Europe, and North America. Less solar radiation reaching the earth resulted in lower temperatures and abnormal weather patterns. The results for humans included lower food production output, famine, as well as increased social and political disruption.

There were specific events recorded that were likely related to the ominous cloud. A deadly pandemic swept through the Byzantine Empire in 541-542, that became known as the Justinian Plague. Estimates are that up to a third of the population perished during the outbreak. Procopius described some of the horrible symptoms as fever and swelling all over the body.

In 536 China, there was famine and drought with many deaths, as well as reports of “yellow dust that rained down like snow.” At the same time, Korea faced massive storms and flooding. Unusually heavy snowfalls were noted in Mesopotamia.

Scandinavia seems to have been particularly hard hit. Archaeological evidence indicates that almost 75 percent of villages in parts of Sweden were abandoned in these years. One theory is that this displacement of people was a catalyst for later raids by Vikings seeking more fertile land in other parts of Europe and beyond. A Norse poem of the time reads, “The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. Down from heaven, stars are whirled.”

The severe weather may have impacted other historical trends. Among them is the migration of Mongolian tribes westward, the fall of the Persian Sassanid Empire, and the rise and rapid expansion of Islam.

Some historians mark these specific changes in weather patterns as contributing to the historic transition from antiquity to the beginning of the era of the Dark and Middle Ages. It certainly emphasizes the impact rapid climate change may have had on human populations.

What could have caused such a sudden and dramatic change in weather? Experts are divided, and we may never know the whole answer. One theory is that the climate around the world changed based on one giant volcanic eruption, possibly from Central America. This could have resulted in a layer of ash and dust covering the skies of much of the planet.

Another suggestion is that there were two large volcano blasts within a couple of years of each other, specifically in 536 and 540, causing darkness and cold around most of the world. Clouds of smoke and debris from massive volcanic fires could have spread rapidly.

Evidence of volcanic eruptions was backed up by material found in both the North and South Poles. In both Antarctica and Greenland, sulfate deposits have been discovered dating back to the mid-6th century.

A third theory contemplates the impact of a comet or meteorite crashing into the Earth. Or the possibility of a near miss from a comet passing by that could have left thick dust clouds of particles in the atmosphere. Experts generally think this explanation is less plausible than that of volcanic eruptions.

Whatever the cause, people living at the time noticed and recorded a rapid change in nature. Human populations around the earth were disrupted and to many it would have felt like the world were coming to an end.

 Mark Shiffer

The 16 Most Beautiful Places in Japan You Didn’t Know Existed

Japan is filled with countless places that inspire and enchant visitors. From historic castles and eye-catching floral displays to unusual landscapes that look pulled from a completely different country, here are some of the most beautiful places in Japan you have to see to believe.

Mount Koya

Mount Koya, Japan

Mount Koya | © Kazue Asano/Flickr

Mount Koya is the spiritual home of Shingon Buddhism, a sect founded more than 1,200 years ago by one of Japan’s most important religious figures, Kobo Daishi. The sect’s head temple, Kongobu-ji, is set on the forest-covered mountaintop of Mount Koya. Over 100 other temples have been established around Mount Koya, many of which offer visitors an overnight stay.

Noto Peninsula

Wajima City under a blanket of snow | © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Comprising the northern section of Ishikawa Prefecture, the Noto Peninsula is home to some of Japan’s most stunning coastal scenery and untouched countryside landscapes. Aside from admiring the natural scenery, the peninsula offers a number of spots for fishing, swimming, and camping. Its main tourist center, Wajima City, is home to fewer than 30,000 people and serves as wonderful place to experience Japanese small-town life.

Shikoku Island

One of the great bridges that cross from Honshu to Shikoku | © Yusei/Shutterstock

One of the great bridges that cross from Honshu to Shikoku | © Yusei/Shutterstock

Shikoku is Japan’s fourth largest island, located southwest of the main island of Honshu to which it is connected via two bridge systems. This island is also tied to influential monk Kobo Daishi as the home of the 88 Temple route, one of the country’s most important pilgrimages. Aside from attracting those seeking spiritual fulfilment, the island offers some spectacular coastlines, mountain ranges, and tumbling rivers.

Kiso Valley

Village in the Kiso Valley | © De antb/Shutterstock

The Kiso Valley is home to the Nakasendo trail, one of only five Edo-period highways connecting Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Travelers during this time made this long journey on foot and, as a result, the Kiso Valley is dotted with historic post towns where travelers once rested, ate, and slept along the way. It’s possible to walk a section of this old highway, between mountains and through thick forests, as well as visit some of the well-preserved towns.

Shodoshima

Shodoshima, Japan

Shodoshima, Japan | © Kentaro Ohno/Flickr

Shodoshima has a mild climate and a Mediterranean atmosphere, home to beaches, dramatic coastlines, resorts, and even olive plantations. The second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, Shodoshima is one of the hosts of the Setouchi Triennale contemporary art festival, and outdoor installations from previous festivals can be seen dotted around the island.

Kenrokuen Garden

Park
Kenroku-en garden, Kanazawa , Japan

Kenroku-en garden, Kanazawa , Japan | © Milosz Maslanka

Named one of Japan’s ‘three most beautiful landscape gardens’, Kenrokuen Garden is filled with charming bridges, walking trails, teahouses, trees and flower. Once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen was opened to the public in the late 19th century. Each season reveals a different side of the garden’s beauty, from plum and cherry blossoms in the spring to colourful maple-tree leaves in the autumn.

Matsumoto Castle

Building
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture | © Yanadhorn/Shutterstock

Matsumoto Castle is one of only a handful of original castles remaining in Japan. Initially built in 1504, it was expanded to its current form in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Nicknamed Karasu-jō (Crow Castle), it’s known for its beautiful black-and-white three-turreted main keep.

Nachi Falls

Nachi Falls in Wakayama | © Mie Mie/Shutterstock

Nachi Falls in Wakayama | © Mie Mie/Shutterstock

Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall (with a single drop) in the country, tumbling down 133 metres (436 feet) into a rushing river below. The waterfall is overlooked by the gorgeous Nachi Taisha Shinto shrine, which is said to be more than 1,400 years old. Built in honour of the waterfall’s kami (spirit god), the shrine is one of several Buddhist and Shinto religious sites found around the waterfall.

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route , Japan

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route , Japan | © William Cho/Flickr

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route connects Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture with Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture. The route can be experienced by various types of transportation, including ropeway, cable car, and trolley bus, all of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding Tateyama Mountain Range. The most impressive part of the route is the road between Bijodaira and Murodo, which is bordered by 20-metre-high snow walls from April to May each year.

The Blue Pond

shutterstock_738052129-By okimo

Blue Pond in Hokkaido Prefecture | © okimo/Shutterstock

The Blue Pond in Hokkaido Prefecture, also called Aoiike, is known for its ethereal blue colour. Tree stumps protruding from the surface of the water add to its otherworldly appearance. This artificial pond was created as part of an erosion control system, designed to protect the area from mudflows that can occur from the nearby Mt. Tokachi volcano. The pond’s eerie blue colour is caused by natural minerals dissolved in the water.

Hitachi Seaside Park

Park
Tourists viewing the seasonal flora at Hitachi Seaside Park

Tourists viewing the seasonal flora at Hitachi Seaside Park | © Phurinee Chinakathum/Shutterstock

Hitachi Seaside Park is famous for its fields of baby-blue flowers, called nemophilas, which bloom across the park in the spring. The park encompasses 190 hectares (470 acres), and more than 4.5 million blossoms blanket its fields every April. During the autumn, the park’s rounded shrubs called kochia (bassia in English) turn a bright crimson colour, creating an almost equally mesmerising sight.

Gokayama

Park
Shirakawago Village, Gokayama, Japan

Shirakawago Village, Gokayama, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip

Gokayama is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that also encompasses the nearby village of Shirakawa-gō. Both areas are known for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. These centuries-old houses feature distinct thatched roofs, designed to withstand heavy snowfall. Gokayama is less accessible than popular Shirakawa-gō, and, as a result, its villages are more quiet and secluded.

Tottori Sand Dunes

Tottori Sand Dunes | © Aon168/Shutterstock

Tottori Sand Dunes | © Aon168/Shutterstock

The Tottori Sand Dunes are part of Sanin Kaigan National Park in Tottori Prefecture. Stretching for 16 kilometres along of the Sea of Japan coast, the dunes are the largest in the country. Tide movement and wind causes the dunes’ shapes to change constantly, but they can be up to two kilometres wide and 50 metres high. Camel rides are widely available, causing the area to have an enchanting, desert-like atmosphere.

Sagano Bamboo Forest

Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama | © Kanisorn Pringthongfoo/Shutterstock

Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

The Sagano Bamboo Forest is located in Arashiyama, a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto. Paths wind through towering bamboo groves, with the sun peaking between the green stalks and creating an enchanting effect. The bamboo forest is equally famous for its beauty as for the characteristic sounds created by the bamboo stalks swaying in the wind.

Nishinomaru Garden

Park
Sakura of Osaka Castle at the Nishinomaru garden

Sakura of Osaka Castle at the Nishinomaru garden | © KPG_Payless/Shutterstock

Nishinomaru Garden is a gorgeous lawn garden that offers spectacular views of Osaka Castletowerand the stone wall of its moat. The garden is covered with more than 600 cherry trees and more 95 different types of apricot flowers. It’s a popular spot for cherry blossom viewings in the spring, with night-time illuminations held during the peak blooming periods.

Aogashima Volcano

Aogashima Volcano

Aogashima Volcano | © Charly W. Karl/Flickr

Aogashima is a tiny, tropical island in the Philippine Sea, which is under the administration of Tokyo. The most isolated island in the Izu archipelago, Aogashima is home to an enormous double volcano. The island itself is a volcano and there’s a second smaller volcano found at its centre. With around 200 inhabitants, Aogashima is also the smallest village in Japan.

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By Jessica Dawdy   Updated: 16 April 2018

The Thai queen who couldn’t be saved because an ancient law said it was forbidden to touch a royal

There is an entire catalog of almost unbelievable deaths of royal people. Such as Henry I, who was king of England from 1100 until 1135, a period in which he went through all the different types of turmoils that a king of the medieval age can possibly go through.

He defended his borders from various adversaries, and with his marriage to a Scottish princess, Matilda, he tried to convey a friendliness with the Scots. No matter how grand some of his deeds, he died a rather bizarre death, supposedly caused by a meal of lamprey eels. The king dismissed his doctor’s warnings–they had advised him against consuming the suspicious dish. He contracted a disease and, after a short while, passed away at the age of 67.

Another European king, Alexander of Greece, was just 27 when he died in his own bizarre fashion, in 1920. The Greek king was taking a stroll in his summer palace near Athens when a monkey attacked his pet German Shepherd, Fritz. The monkey was reportedly a Barbary macaque that belonged to a palace employee. The king attempted to break up the fighting animals and ended up a victim himself, as the monkey hurt his leg as well as biting him all over his body. The wounds became infected and less than a month later the king was pronounced dead.

It’s not only in Europe that members of royal families have died in unusual circumstances. One of the most hard-to-believe such stories is of the queen consort of Siam (modern-day Thailand), Sunandha Kumariratana. She was the first of the three wives of Siamese King Chulalongkorn, who is known for introducing some progressive reforms within his kingdom, like abolishing slavery.

At the time of her death, Sunandha Kumariratana already had one daughter and was expecting another child. In May 1880, when Sunandha was just 19 years old, she was on a trip to the royal family’s bountiful Bang Pa-In summer residence, outside of Bangkok. She was accompanied by Princess Karnabhorn Bejraratana, not even two years old, and a group of guards and servants.

But reaching the palace required crossing Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s biggest river. The queen consort and the princess were escorted to a separate boat which was dragged by a bigger boat to carry them over the river. However, the royal vessel capsized in strong currents and both were plunged into the water. None of the royal entourage proceeded to help them. Supposedly everyone followed the lead of the main guard, who did not assist them or urge anyone else to help the drowning royals–all three lives were lost while their attendants just stood and watched.

The guards, and everyone else on the scene, were adhering to an old and rigid Siamese law that did not allow any ordinary person to touch a member of the royal family. Breaking this law was punishable with death.

According to Misfit History, besides the law, any desire to help save the life of the queen could have been diminished by a superstitious belief as well. Allegedly, saving a person who was drowning in the river was associated with misfortune. If someone offered help to the person that meant meddling with the spirits who lived in the water.

After this incident, where three lives could have been easily spared with a little help, King Chulalongkorn proceeded to imprison the attendant who did not give any orders to attempt a rescue. The king greatly grieved the death of his spouse, who is said to be the one he loved the best of all. The funerary procession that was accordingly arranged for the queen was possibly the most expensive funeral in the history of this Asian kingdom.

The king also carried out a great deal of work to complete the royal summer residence, which his revered wife was due to visit on the day of her unfortunate death. In the backyard of the palace, he placed a memorial to Sunandha Kumariratana and the children, a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances that ended their lives all too soon.

 Stefan Andrews