Four Historical Myths That Were Proven True
Atlantis, the Holy Grail, the secret scary cut of The Land Before Time — history is full of mythical places, objects and events. Sometimes, we can trace those myths back to a real thing; like, there probably was a big flood in the Middle East around the time Noah supposedly built his ark, just nowhere approaching the scale that would require one. But occasionally, we uncover evidence that a historical myth was just flat-out true the whole time. Such as…
The idea of Amazon women sounds like the sexual fantasy of some weirdo (specifically Homer): a tribe of tall blonde lady warriors who shun men and cut off one breast to better wield a bow and arrow. For most of history, it was assumed to be just that, or possibly propaganda intended to warn Greek women of the dangers of stepping outside traditional gender roles. It’s unclear how effective that might have been, considering the Amazonian lifestyle sounds way cooler than that of the average Ancient Grecian.
In the 1990s and 2000s, however, archeologists found gravesites from a few different nomadic tribes containing bodies very similar to the Greeks’ descriptions of Amazon women, right where they said they were, dating back right around the same time. They included women and girls of several generations, some as young as 12, whose bodies showed evidence of riding horses and shooting arrows. They probably weren’t all lesbians, and it’s hard to tell how many boobs a skeleton has, but one of the tribes’ few surviving descendents is blonde. They were even taller than usual for the time, though “taller than usual” constituted about 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8, which isn’t even a good Tinder profile lie.
The Nemi Ships
Men might spend a lot of time thinking about Ancient Rome today, but nobody thought about it more than Benito Mussolini. Naturally, he was interested in the rumors surrounding Lake Nemi, whose fishermen had been pulling ancient artifacts out of it for centuries. According to legend, they came from a massive shipwreck that had sunk to the bottom, but the lake is tiny, less than a square mile in area, and surrounded by land on all sides for miles. Why would such a ship even be there?
Mussolini didn’t know the answer, but he was determined to get to, ugh, the bottom of the rumor. In 1929, he ordered the lake drained, and engineers found not one but two gigantic ships, one measuring 240 feet long. It turned out they’d belonged to no less a legendary figure than Caligula himself, who used them for the ancient equivalent of yacht parties, which explains why such enormous ships were sitting in such a tiny lake. Ostentatious nonsense was kind of Caligula’s thing.
The Milky Seas
For centuries, sailors have documented incidents when they were just sailing along, doing sailor things, when they suddenly hit a patch of bright, opaque water. It was described as “milky” or “cloudy,” like sailing on snow, but such encounters were so rare and brief that they were dismissed as “tall tales.” You’d think if those guys were gonna make something up, it would be cooler than thick water, but sailors saw all kinds of weird shit. Mermaids, flying ships — why not milk?
In 1985, however, scientists looking for bioluminescent marine life found it in spades when they had the amazing luck to come across one of these swaths of milky seas. It turns out their color is the result of bioluminescent bacteria, and they are indeed so rare and brief that it took us until 2022 to get a picture of one. It only occurs once or twice a year, and far away from the shore, meaning you’d have to be way out in the ocean to have seen one, claiming to have seen something few sailors ever see. Most witnesses probably just blinked comically and muttered to themselves about too much rum.
Speaking of weird shit sailors see, the kraken is regarded as an aquatic Bigfoot, except Bigfoot is real. It’s literally a character in a Disney movie. Well, sirens and Bill Nighy may not really exist, but the kraken was probably a giant squid, whose name truly fails to convey its size. Even today, giant squids can be as long as 55 feet, or about a five-story building, and ancient specimens may have been even larger. They have eyes the size of basketballs. Don’t act like you could keep your pants clean in that face-off.
Sure, they don’t tend to swim close enough to the surface to ensnare any ships, but their corpses do float. That’s usually how we find them: washed up on a beach or caught in a net. Again, imagine you’re a sailor who doesn’t believe in sober living and a beast the length of a semitruck appears to have threaded its tentacles through one of your nets, and try not to panic about being dragged into a watery grave. This was before camera phones, too, so the only people who could back you up are your likewise disreputable crew. They’re like a bunch of deep-sea Bill Murrays — even if you saw one, who would ever believe you?