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Ancient Mysteries

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For centuries, philosophers, scientists, and charlatans have attempted to decipher the baffling mysteries of our past, from Stonehenge to the lost continent of Atlantis. Today, however, DNA testing, radiocarbon dating, and other cutting-edge investigative tools, together with a healthy dose of common sense, are guiding us closer to the truth. Now historian Peter James and archaeologist Nick Thorpe tackle these age-old conundrums, presenting the latest information from the scientific community–and the most startling challenges to traditional explanations of mysteries such as:

• The rise and fall of the Maya
• A lost cache of Dead Sea Scrolls
• The curse of Tutankhamun
• The devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah
• The Nazca Lines and the Vinland Map
• The existence of Robin Hood

These true mystery stories twist and turn like a good whodunit, as James and Thorpe present the evidence for and against the expert theories, shedding new light on humankind’s age-old struggle to make sense of the past. Ancient Mysteries will entertain and enlighten, delight the curious and inform the serious.

651 pages, Paperback

First published November 2, 1999

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About the author

Peter James

5 books5 followers
Peter James is a British author and historian specialising in ancient history and archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean region. He graduated in ancient history and archeology at the University of Birmingham (England) and does postgraduate research at University College London.

James has advanced several controversial theories about the chronology of Mediterranean civilizations, the Middle East, and Egypt. His theories are not generally accepted by mainstream historians or Egyptologists.

In his best known work, Centuries of Darkness, he challenges the traditional chronology of mainstream archaeology. In particular, he advances the idea that the Greek Dark Ages never occurred, arising solely from a misreading of key elements of Egyptian history. This theory is in part a revision of Immanuel Velikovsky's Revised Chronology. Ongoing criticism and discussion of the evidence is listed on the authors' own website.[1]

In The Sunken Kingdom: The Atlantis Mystery Solved, James hypothesizes about the location of Atlantis. By first claiming that references to mythological Tartarus by Plato were in fact meant to identify a Lydian king by the name of Tantalus, he goes on to identify Atlantis with a hypothetical lost temple city called Tantalis, corresponding to modern-day Manisa in Turkey.

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Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,098 reviews348 followers
December 12, 2011
It's important to note that this book is the exact size, shape, and weight of a phone book. Not the easiest thing to lug around.

The focus is on things in the field of archaeology that are mysterious, or were at one time. So we have a wide range from pyramids to ice men. The "ancient" in the title is a bit misleading. The actual timeline for weird stuff extends to 1492, so quite a bit here is actually medieval.

This book tops 600 pages, and nobody was more surprised than me to discover that there's very little in the way of fluff here. It's all content. It comes from having a lot of different topics in one book, many of which need quite a few pages to get anything like thorough coverage. And it is pretty thorough. I also didn't find it at all dry, but I do find all of this pretty fascinating. You'd need more than a passing interest in the subject of weird stuff to get through it all, though.

Of course, if it had been 600+ pages of ancient astronauts, mystical buildings, and Atlantis presented as fact, I would have had a much harder time of it. The authors did a good job of being as neutral as you possibly can while still flatly stating some of this nonsense as, well, nonsense. I also give them a lot of credit for pointing out the covert racism in the assumption that there's no way that the ancient Egyptians or Mayans could build their pyramids without help from Europeans or aliens, but that ancient Europeans did fine building their monoliths without help.

The book itself is very readable, but not exactly something to be read quickly. The topical divisions would make it very easy to read just the chapter on Glastonbury Tor, for example, then put it down again for awhile. For a real enthusiast, it's a great resource.
3 reviews
June 28, 2012
Very well written examination of the most significant historical mysteries by smart people. If you've ever read any Graham Hancock or Chariots of the Gods or something similar, you really should read this one. Many of the frankly ridiculous ideas presented in those other books are well addressed here. And this isn't an attack on those works for the most part - it is a look at what we really know by objective authors. If you have any interest in Ancient Mysteries you should give this book a try - it brings light to these mysteries without pulling all the magic out of them.
Profile Image for Steven.
64 reviews9 followers
December 26, 2017
I loved this book when I first read it years ago. I had thought I was picking up a book of pseudoscientific nonsense but was pleasantly surprised when they systematically went through and debunked the wildest theories about some of the worlds great structures and phenomenon while providing some great background on each.
Profile Image for Todd Stockslager.
1,642 reviews26 followers
June 3, 2015
Review title: What If's and mighta beens of history

James and Thorpe have compiled a catalog of compelling conundrums of history and archaeology. While books like this often veer toward naive acceptance or super critical scientific skepticism of these apparently unbelievable events, places, people, or discoveries, these authors steer a middle-ground, considering the craziest of ideas, but usually debunking them with logic, research, and scientific evidence. This process of consideration, comparison, and resolution gives this book a zing of excitement and interest that the writers handle well to keep the user reading avidly.

The usual suspects are here--Atlantis, the pyramids, Easter Island, early discoveries of America, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. While many of these stories will be known by general readers, James and Thorpe pull in varied research and ideas in their search for the truth behind the mysteries. They are also ready and willing to say "We don't know" when the research isn't conclusive.

The most interesting story for me was the lesser-known one of the Glastonbury Spiral in the southwest part of England, at the center of a region of mysteries (including Stonehenge, Glastonbury Abbey, and others discussed separately in the book). The spiral is a tor or hill thought to be either natural or shaped by millennia of farming into terraces--but the authors present compelling evidence that the hillside is a man made maze that spirals up the hill to a holy area that may have played a role in the life (and death) of a historical King Arthur, and may even be the mythical Avalon.

Another shocking story is the Amazons, that mysterious tribe of female warriors who have been typically dismissed derisively, but probably have a historical basis far from the river that bears the name of the tribe. There are 600+ pages of this kind of history here.

The only things that might have improved the book are better maps to enable readers to locate the mysteries in today's world. And an updated edition would be welcome. The 1999 date means the theories of China's treasure fleet being an early discoverer of America are missing here, as are Jared Diamond's Collapse, where he explains Easter Island and the Mayans from his excellent study of societal collapses as symptoms of environmental failure.
Profile Image for Daisy.
61 reviews1 follower
February 24, 2010
Scientists believed that when comets hit the Earth around 65 million years ago, the comet dust that had left over on Earth had formed a layer blocking the sun's path, thus creating the Ice Age.

The story of the lost continent of Atlantis was based entirely on the story of one person: Plato. He described that the city of Atlantis was a paradise and it disappeared in one day.

This book also talks about the mystery of Maya civilization. The Mayans started out as tribal people with no clear ruler for them. Then, it reached its peak during the age called Classic Maya where they developed an understanding for calenders and mathmatics. Nobody really knew how the Mayans disappeared, this book assumed peasant revolt and food shortage, as natural disaster and diseases were not likely at that time.

Scientists today suggested that ancient wonders such as the Stonehenge were built with a geometry pattern and an understanding in solar and lunar calenders.

There was one story in the Bible that says Joshua led the Jews out into Palestine, where they fought against another group of people. According to the Bible, Joshua prayed to God and God had made the Sun and Moon stood still and destroyed the enemy. It was suggested by scholars that in the description of the story, God had sent down firestones, it could be interepted as comic meteroites, in turn, the fall of meterioties could affect the gravatational pull of the Earth, thus making the sun to stay longer.

Many knew about the story of the Amazons, whom the Spanish had claimed to see back during the colonization period, they even named the river in the Brazilian jungle Amazon river. However, the real location of the Amazons are around Greece and Russia and Russian archaeologists had found female warrior graves around those locations.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lauren.
666 reviews9 followers
May 17, 2018
I really didn't enjoy this book. I was expecting a mildly diverting bathroom reader, and instead got a series of term papers-I felt this had more depth than expected, but it jumped all of the world with "mysteries" that it was incongruous. The relation between mysteries was tenuous at best, and it was just far too much information.

Additionally, the representation of ALL of the viewpoints was also exhausting, and this book basically turned into a slog.

There are better books about the world's mysteries. Don't waste your time with this one.
Profile Image for Isidore.
436 reviews
September 17, 2011
In a field where one usually has to choose between rigid orthodoxy and uncritical jabber, this book seems like the embodiment of sweet reasonableness. One does not have to agree with all their conclusions to admire them for having tried so hard, where so many others have disgraced themselves, one way or the other.
Profile Image for Vanessa Baldwin.
95 reviews8 followers
December 28, 2011
Really enjoyed this but had to return it to the library before I finished it, so will probably end up buying it in order to take my time. It's not cheesy or new age or conspiracy theory stuff, just historical and rational.
Profile Image for Meghan.
26 reviews2 followers
December 2, 2008
Excellently factual, a very reputable guide to interesting archaeological and historical phenomenon and myth.
Profile Image for Lele.
43 reviews2 followers
September 24, 2017
La prima cosa da dire su questo libro è che non tratta archeologia alternativa (o archeologia misteriosa, fantarcheologia, criptoarcheologia, o come volete chiamarla), nonostante in alcuni store venga piazzato nel settore "Astrologia ed esoterismo". Credo che il fraintendimento sia nato per gli argomenti trattati, molti dei quali sono noti cavalli di battaglia per questa materia (un esempio su tutti Atlantide).
Si tratta invece di una serie di saggi di argomento principalmente archeologico e storico, che vanno a indagare alcuni monumenti, eventi, personaggi e credenze che hanno fatto e fanno tuttora discutere. In essi viene spesso citata anche l'archeologia alternativa - in virtù più che altro della sua diffusione - ma puntualmente viene demolita in favore di teorie più scientifiche e razionali. Ogni argomento è trattato analizzando cronologicamente le varie teorie che nel tempo si sono succedute, fino ad arrivare alle teorie e alle scoperte più recenti, fornendo in coda al libro una nutrita bibliografia delle fonti.
Ovviamente, data la natura del libro, il tutto è presentato in modo abbastanza riassuntivo, ma le fonti sono una buona guida all'approfondimento.
Un'ultima nota riguardo al titolo: lo trovo come minimo fuorviante, dato che il libro non tratta solo argomenti relativi all'antichità, ma spazia anche nel medioevo e arriva fino all'era contemporanea.
Profile Image for Marilù.
110 reviews11 followers
March 18, 2021
James e Thorpe hanno fatto un buon lavoro nel reperimento di tutte le informazioni, non è semplice scrivere un libro del genere e affrontare le questioni più misteriose della storia di H. sapiens (e anche prima).
Interessantissima tutta la parte su Omero e sulle evidenze che effettivamente l'Odissea non sia affatto ambientata nel mediterraneo, bensì nei mari del nord europa - James e Thorpe portano delle evidenze schiaccianti.
Tuttavia, il loro approccio spesso riduzionistico dei misteri e i loro attacchi espliciti contro certi autori "complottisti" mi hanno un po' destabilizzata, anche se ogni autore ha giustamente il suo modo di intendere la realtà.
Profile Image for Sehar.
158 reviews
August 11, 2022
I thought I wasn't going to like this book, mainly because of the authors repeated, acerbic digs at Graham Hancock, whom I have always enjoyed reading, but this is actually a very educational read. I've always wanted to read the conventional counterpoint to some of the theories espoused by Hancock and bauval. The scope of the book is very impressive. I think I will try and read ancient inventions too.
Profile Image for Andreas Schmidt.
691 reviews5 followers
September 15, 2017
Fa luce sui misteri (o presunti tali) del passato. E ovviamente non manca di prendere in considerazione certe teorie moderne (come Impronte degli Dei, di Hancock). Una lettura consigliata se e solo se si ha già una certa conoscenza dei temi trattati.
Profile Image for Allie.
119 reviews
October 24, 2018
I got this back in high-school before Ancient Aliens was a thing. Weird, dubious, amazing. I will forever love this book.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,126 reviews85 followers
February 8, 2008
This is a fun one! James and Thorpe investigate a wide range of popular mysteries about the ancient world: was there a Great Flood? Was there an Atlantis? How were the pyramids built? Was Robin Hood a real person?
The authors cleverly draw you into the mysteries, outlining various theories and then, just when they've got you almost believing that we're descended from Atlanteans, they pick the whole thing apart. They come down pretty hard on some pseudo-archeaologists, particularly Graham Hancock (author of Fingerprints of the Gods), but not unwarrantedly, and they are also quick to point out when other archaeologists and experts have shortsightedly ignored information that falls out of their area of expertise. Some of this wasn't new, but much of it was, and it made for fascinating reading.
Profile Image for Crystal.
22 reviews
September 3, 2009
This bok is a great summative overview of many interesting "mysteries" of the ancient world. Co-authored by an archaeologist and a historian, it offers very plausible explanations for such things as the pyramids, Atlantis, and the Naztec lines (including a great many other topics) based on scientific data. (Sorry, no plausible alien theories are given...)
Profile Image for Kyle.
87 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2009
All in all a fun book. Good for just flipping open and browsing through every now and then. It does a nice job of presenting more than one theory for each mystery, and not trying to tell you 'this is how how it is.' A good thing, since I can't stand conspiracy theorists.
Profile Image for Dan Gladwell.
24 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2009
Good clean Ancient Mystery type stuff.
However, the unique thing about this book is that they present multiple points of view and explanation to all the "mysteries". It's very uniquely presented and warrants multiple read throughs!
Profile Image for Abigail.
1,258 reviews7 followers
February 4, 2011
Really fun read and very interesting. Authors do a great job of impartial examination into the subjects. All of the topics are well cited and researched, great choice if you're a "History's Mysteries" junkie.
Profile Image for Andrew.
502 reviews14 followers
August 17, 2012
A book that covers a wide variety of history's "mysteries" and unknowns about ancient civilizations. Not much knew, but a decent compilation of theories and knowledge - some well-known and others lesser known.
Profile Image for E.J. Cullen.
Author 3 books6 followers
January 14, 2011
Interesting, but, at base too large a topic to afford coherence, as any community college adjunct could (and would) tell you.
Profile Image for Amber.
93 reviews
October 12, 2012
I've read parts of this book here and there. It's really interesting. There's info on Atlantis, Stonehenge, Lay Lines, how the Pyramids were built and a whole lot more.
Profile Image for Zach Opsitnick.
84 reviews
July 15, 2015
Not a bad read, but it didn't go into too much depth about these mysteries and left me with more questions than I had when I started.
Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews

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