Mysteries In History

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-11-15
  • Publisher: Abc-Clio Inc

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This work is an engaging exploration of the process of historical research, following historians as they search for solutions to the greatest mysteries of all time.

Author Biography

Paul D. Aron is senior editor for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Table of Contents

Preface xiii
Acknowledgments xv
Origins and Early Civilizations
Were the Neandertals our ancestors?
Scientists continue to debate whether modern humans evolved from Neandertals, interbred with them, or wiped them out
When did the first people arrive in America?
Even Native Americans weren't truly native; they had to come from somewhere
Did Noah's Ark exist?
Some explorers claimed to have spotted its remains on Mount Ararat
What happened to the Harappans?
Some blamed northern invaders for destroying the cities near the Arabian Sea, But the northerners arrived after the cities were abandoned
Did Atlantis exist?
Did Plato invent it, or might earthquakes and tsunamis have swallowed the island civilization?
Who was Theseus?
The story of the slaying of the minotaur may not be as fantastic as it once seemed
Who built Stonehenge?
Credit has gone to, among others, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Druids... but stonehenge was built more than a millennium before any of them reached England
Why did the pharaohs build the pyramids?
Most Egyptologists were convinced they were tombs. The problem was, nobody could find any bodies
Was there really a Trojan War?
Could there have been a queen named Helen, a hero named Achilles, and a horse full of soldiers?
Classical Traditions, Major Religions, Giant Empires, 1000 BCE--500
Who was Homer?
Even the Greeks were not so sure that their greatest poet actually existed
Who wrote the Bible?
The scholarly consensus is that it was the work of more than one man---and possibly woman
Did Jesus die on the cross?
There are many theories to explain the empty tomb, among them that Jesus faked his own death, that his body was eaten by dogs, and that the story was devised by one set of his followers to discredit another
What were the Nazca lines?
The most notorious explanation was that they were runways for UFOs. But how else to explain markings that can only be made out from the air, yet were drawn thousands of years before men could fly?
Did Alexander the Great kill his father?
Some historians believe his conquest of the world began at home
Why didn't Attila invade Rome?
The Huns halted their assault on the empire right after a mysterious meeting with Pope Leo I.
Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 500--1000
Did St. Brendan discover America?
Before Columbus, before Leif Ericsson, an Irish monk told of his voyage to the ``promised land of the saints.''
Who was King Arthur?
And where was Camelot?
Why did Mayan civilization collapse?
Their complex hieroglyphics provided tantalizing clues
Who built the statues on Easter Island?
To prove it was American Indians, a Norwegian scientist traveled from Peru to Polynesia...by raft
Did Leif Ericsson discover America?
A twentieth-century Norwegian set out to prove that the Norse found---and settled---America
Hemispheric Interactions, 1000--1500
Why did the Anasazi abandon their cities?
Their civilization seemed to have vanished into the sands
Why did Cahokia fall?
Huge mounds near St. Louis were once the center of a flourishing civilization. By 1400, the people who built them had disappeared
What was Joan of Arc's sign?
It convinced the French to follow her and the British to burn her
Who invented printing?
Everyone agreed it was Johann Gutenberg. But then why did his partner sue him...and win?
Did Richard III kill the princes in the Tower?
Was he the monstrous villain portrayed by Shakespeare? To find out, scientists exhumed the princes' skeletons
Why did Constantinople fall?
Mohammed II seemed to have more than Turkish cannons on his side
Did Columbus intend to discover America?
Most historians believe he was searching for a new route to the Far East, but some are convinced he was out to find a New World
The First Global Age, 1450--1770
Where did Columbus land?
He thought he was in India. Where, precisely, was he?
How did Cortes conquer the Aztecs?
He had a few hundred men, fourteen horses, and three cannons
Did Martin Guerre return?
It seemed so. Then, in the middle of one of the most celebrated trials of the sixteenth century, another man showed up, also claiming to be the long-lost Guerre
Did Mary, Queen of Scots, murder her husband?
Was she an adulterer and a murderer? Or a pawn in a deadly game of politics?
What happened to the Lost Colony?
Before Jamestown or Plymouth Rock, there was Roanoke...until all 116 colonists disappeared
Who wrote Shakespeare's plays?
Francis Bacon? Christopher Marlowe? Queen Elizabeth? Or that man from Stratford?
Did Pocahontas save John Smith?
Pretty much everyone thought Smith was a liar, until some twentieth-century discoveries led historians to take another look
What caused the Salem witch-hunt?
Something possessed the town of Salem, even if it wasn't the devil
Was Captain Kidd a pirate?
The critical evidence for his defense conveniently disappeared...only to surface two hundred years after he was hanged
Age of Revolutions, 1750--1914
What started the Boston Massacre?
It was a rallying point for the American Revolution, yet John Adams defended the British soldiers in court...and won
What caused the mutiny on the Bounty?
Captain Bligh may not have been the villain of the story
Was Mozart poisoned?
Was he done in by Antonio Salieri, a lesser musician jealous of Mozart's genius?
Was Sally Hemings the mistress of Thomas Jefferson?
The Federalist press charged Jefferson had a long-running affair and five children with one of his slaves
Was Aaron Burr a traitor?
Was he plotting to invade Mexico or to set himself up as emperor of a new country?
Was Napoleon murdered?
The exiled emperor thought his British captors were poisoning him. Others suspected his own countrymen
What were Joseph Smith's golden plates?
The search for the origins of Mormonism was interrupted by a modern murder mystery
How did Davy Crockett die?
No one on the American side lived to tell what happened at the Alamo. Reports from the Mexican side indicate Crockett did not go down fighting
Who was Emily Dickinson's ``master''?
Her love poems sent scholars in search of the man---or woman---who inspired them
Who lost (and who found) the Lost Order?
When Lee's plans fell into McClellan's hands, it led to the bloodiest day of the Civil War
Were the Dahlgren Papers forged?
Letters found on the body of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren spoke of a Union plot to kill Confederate President Jefferson Davis
Why did Custer attack?
Did the general ignore orders to wait for reinforcements? Or did cowardly and treacherous subordinates do him in?
Who was to blame for Wounded Knee?
The final battle of the Indian wars left many disturbing questions. So did another bloody confrontation at the same site, eighty-five years later
What destroyed the Maine?
The U.S. Navy determined it had been blown up by a Spanish mine. Others were not so sure
Crisis and Achievement, 1900--1945
Why did Freud abandon his seduction theory?
The entire Oedipus complex seemed to be crumbling after the director of the Freud Archives pronounced Freud a fraud
Could the Titanic have been saved?
Just miles from the sinking liner sat another ship, whose officers saw the Titanic's distress signals and did nothing
What sank the Lusitania?
A German torpedo, of course. But some suspected a conspiracy to draw America into World War I
Did Shoeless Joe throw the World Series?
Say it ain't so
Were Sacco and Vanzetti guilty?
Were they murderers? Or were they framed because they were radicals and immigrants in a word that tolerated neither?
Who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby?
Did the state of New Jersey execute an innocent man?
Did any of the Romanovs survive?
DNA proved the bones from a Siberian swamp belonged to Nicholas and Alexandra and three of their daughters. But the bones of their son and a fourth daughter have not been found
Did Hitler murder his niece?
The investigation into her death has led historians into the very dark recesses of Hitler's mind
Was Amelia Earhart a Spy?
What happened to Amelia Earhart?
Who was to blame for Pearl Harbor?
Was FDR so eager to get America into the war that he betrayed his own forces?
Why did Hess fly to Scotland?
Both Hitler and Churchill contended the deputy fuhrer was mad. But many believed there was more to the story
Why didn't the Allies bomb Auschwitz?
How much did they know about the Holocaust, and what could have been done to stop it?
Why did Truman drop the bomb?
Many claimed the Japanese were ready to surrender... before Hiroshima
Promises and Paradoxes, 1945--
Were the Rosenbergs guilty?
Were they Russian spies, or victims of anticommunist hysteria? Or both?
What has J. D. Salinger written?
At the height of his fame, he stopped publishing his work
Who killed JFK?
Among the accused: the CIA, the KGB, the FBI, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, and anti-Castro Cubans. Not to mention Lee Harvey Oswald
What happened at the Gulf of Tonkin?
The battle that led America to escalate the Vietnam War may never have taken place
Who killed Malcolm X?
The authorities concluded it was the work of Black Muslims, but some suspected the authorities themselves
Who won the Tet Offensive?
The communist attack eventually led the United States to withdraw from Vietnam. Yet many in the military saw it as an American victory
What did Nixon know about Watergate?
What were the Watergate burglars after? Who ordered them to get it? And who erased the 18 1/2 minutes?
Who killed Jimmy Hoffa?
And was there a connection to the plots to assassinate Kennedy and Castro?
Was Howard Hughes's will a forgery?
Would he leave a fortune to a milkman who once lent him a quarter?
What did Reagan know about Iran-Contra?
Oliver North was very good at following orders. Whose orders were they?
Was Gorbachev part of the August coup?
To Westerners, the aborted right-wing coup featured Gorbachev as innocent victim and Yeltsin as democracy's savior. Russians have been more skeptical
Was O. J. Simpson guilty?
The last ``trial of the century'' really was
About the Author 447

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