Ancient Persia’s Pony Express

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Remember that phrase that everyone thinks is the motto or slogan of the United States Postal Service? It actually describes an ancient Persian system of mounted couriers used to speed messages throughout their vast empire. Yes, the Persians made use of a highly efficient relay-style delivery system more than two millennia before the Pony Express appeared in the American Old West.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is an historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. Click here to read an excerpt.
An invading Persian warrior becomes obsessed with Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology, including methods for communicating over vast distances that are familiar in modern times. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world pulls him deeper into layers of mysteries as its sly princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden?
Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


400px-Pony_Express-1Even though it set speed records for mail delivery and became a well-loved and thoroughly romanticized piece of historical lore, the Pony Express was only in operation for 19 months. In that brief time, it failed to secure a lucrative government mail contract and never turned a profit. Between hostile Native Americans and the completion of the transcontinental telegraph system, the Pony Express was driven out of business and became obsolete in October of 1861.

640px-nyc-post-officeSo, just how did that famous phrase come to be associated with the U.S. Postal Service? The unofficial motto is inscribed in granite over the entrance of the James A. Farley building at Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street in New York City, right in the middle of Manhattan. Back in the early twentieth century, the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White was chosen to design the New York General Post Office building. Construction began in 1912 and it was opened to the public in 1914. The building was doubled in size in 1934 and its name was changed to honor Postmaster General James A. Farley.

Relief_HerodotusWilliam Mitchell Kendall was one of the architects. Kendall, who frequently read classic Greek literature for pleasure, had grown up in a wealthy household with a father who was a scholar of the classics. He selected a passage (translated by Professor George Herbert Palmer of Harvard University) from book 8, paragraph 98, of The Persian Wars by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c 484–c 425 BCE). The Post Office Department agreed that Kendall’s slight modification of the original translation was suitable for the building, and approved it.

Herodotus: “It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.”

“The method of carrying messages Herodotus describes was a Persian invention and enabled the messengers to travel swiftly. In this fashion King Xerxes sent a message home to Persia that the Greeks had destroyed his fleet off Salamis in 480 BCE.”—George Stimpson, A Book About a Thousand Things.

So, that famous, unofficial motto carved in stone on a famous building in New York City describes ancient Persian couriers. Think about that the next time your mail is delayed due to inclement weather.

Sources

https://uspsblog.com/how-is-new-york-city-related-to-famous-postal-quote/

http://www.bartleby.com/73/1439.html

https://www.infoplease.com/askeds/post-office-motto

https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/mission-motto.pdf

http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-pony-express

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Dwarka: India’s Atlantis

Move over Atlantis, we need to make room for the lost city of Dwarka.

dwaraka-recreationWhen Plato wrote about a utopian island kingdom as an allegorical tale, he had no idea that our modern pop culture would become riddled with references to the “lost continent of Atlantis” thousands of years later. The idea that Atlantis might have been a real place that collapsed into the sea at the height of its power and influence has captured the modern imagination—and kept it in a chokehold for generations.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is an historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. Click here to read an excerpt.
An invading Persian warrior becomes obsessed with Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world pulls him deeper into layers of mysteries as its sly princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden?
Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Krishna1Another legendary city known for its lavish architecture and utopian lifestyle is Dwarka, translated as “Gateway to Heaven” in Sanskrit. According to the ancient Hindu Mahabharata texts, Dwarka was founded by Krishna, the blue Hindu god of compassion, tenderness, and love. The city is described as having 900,000 royal palaces, all made of crystal and silver and decorated with emeralds. It featured an elaborate system of boulevards, roads, market places, assembly houses, and temples. The ancient texts describe how the evil King Salva declared war and attacked Dwarka with a flying machine using lightning-like energy weapons. Lord Krishna counterattacked, firing his weapons described as arrows “roaring like thunder and shining like the rays of the sun.” Their devastating battle left most of the city in ruins.

dwarka_underwater-compressorUntil recently the very existence of Dwarka was thought by many to be merely legend. In 2001 the Indian government recovered materials from an underwater archaeological site in the Gulf of Khambhat. Pottery, sections of walls, beads, sculpture, and human bones and teeth from the site were carbon dated and found to be nearly 9,500 years old. Marine archaeologists have mapped sandstone walls, street grids, and remains of a busy and important seaport at 70 feet under water.

Dwarka-Gulf-of-Cambay-India-1024x576What has been investigated so far corresponds closely to descriptions of Dwarka in the Mahabharata. Many semicircular, rectangular, and square stone structures, as well as stone anchors have been documented, indicating a thriving overseas trade coming through this port city on the west coast of India. Scientists believe the area was submerged as ice caps melted at the end of the last ice age nine to ten thousand years ago.

DwarkaMapExplorations of the Dwarka site are challenging long-held scientific beliefs. For instance, mainstream science holds that ancient Indian culture goes back some four to five thousand years. Yet these ruins are at least nine thousand years old, dating back to a time when the area submerged under water. The city must have existed before the flooding by centuries—if not by millennia—for it to have grown and expanded to become the bustling seaport that it became.

DwarkaNow that these remains have been discovered under water, there is evidence that the legendary Dwarka did exist. It was a real city populated with living citizens suggesting that Indian civilization may be twice as old as scientists have believed. Whether or not it was also the dwelling place of lord Krishna and his aerial battle with king Salva was an historical occurrence is still a matter of some debate.

But what if further scientific study proves that this submerged city is without doubt the same Dwarka as the one described in the Mahabharata? And that the battle between Krishna and King Salva was an historic fact and it was fought with futuristic, high-tech weapons? We might start paying more attention to the ancient alien theorists. We should definitely start reading more history.
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The Origin Key Only $0.99 + Free Excerpt!

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, the first book in my sword-and-science fantasy adventure series, is discounted to only $0.99 through June 1st! It’s for anyone who  enjoys history with a dash of fantasy interwoven with compelling mystery. This sweeping adventure chronicles a warrior’s quest for vengeance in an isolated Himalayan kingdom. Confounded by a sly princess desperate to keep her people’s ancient secrets hidden, he must recover a deadly device called the Origin Key before a murderer can use it to conquer and destroy.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key


Get your e-book copy of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key for only $0.99 – but hurry, this price is only good through June 1st!

On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.


Like to sample before you purchase?
Try this excerpt! This chapter takes place near the beginning of the book. It tells how Prince Rasteem and Princess Laneffri first meet, neither realizing the other’s true identity.

Mounted troops rode into the valley and squads on foot went door to door inside the massive wall in a meticulous search.

As comfortable in the saddle as he was leading infantry on foot, Rasteem sat astride Kurush, a glossy reddish-brown stallion with black mane and tail. Handlers from the king’s stables had said he was too high-spirited to be a suitable war horse, just like army officers had believed Rasteem was too reckless and temperamental to become a good soldier. Rasteem and Kurush proved them all wrong.

When he was younger, Rasteem’s outbursts often eclipsed his brother Zardegerd’s. Time and tragedy molded Rasteem into a composed and prudent leader who channeled his uncontrollable temper into ferocity in battle. He had turned his impatience into thoughtful awareness.

Most of the time.

Rasteem rode at a slow trot across a somewhat desolate corner of the kingdom. Kamran was on horseback beside him as they approached another dwelling. The other side of the valley was a bright patchwork of trees, verdant fields, and orchards. Farms there were nourished by fresh flowing water from canals and irrigation trenches. This corner of the kingdom was home to scattered goat and sheep herders. Their livestock grazed on the scant vegetation in the rocky hills. Streams and smaller brooks brought water from the valley’s winding river, but shade was scarce.

At the first dwelling they visited, an old man and woman cringed and wailed while two soldiers kept them corralled with drawn swords and menacing expressions. Rasteem and Kamran went inside, watching as soldiers rifled through the two-room, thatch-roofed hut. What they found inside surprised Rasteem. He ordered his men to be quick and thorough, respectful of the peasants’ meager possessions.

He saw flagstone floors instead of hard, packed earth. There were stacks of glazed ceramic dishes and metal serving utensils, not crude wooden bowls and spoons. Cupboards and chests stored clothing and belongings. The outbuildings were also neat and tidy. Stalls and fodder for the animals, feed for chickens pecking at the hard ground, stacks of raw wool, and farm tools didn’t interest the prince.

The soldiers found nothing suspicious in the hut or the outbuilding. They headed for the next dwelling and found the same type of clean, orderly home. The shrill cries of a woman and two young boys accompanied the search there. To Rasteem’s relief, the third house they visited was empty, long abandoned.

He decided to split his squad and send the men in pairs so they could search faster. He and Kamran headed for the next nearest cottage. They were back in their saddles when a loud rumbling came from the boy’s direction. Rasteem looked at him.

“I’m hungry.” Kamran complained. “I should have raided the larder at that first house.”

Rasteem chuckled. “That bottomless pit of a stomach will betray you one day when you need stealth and silence—like it did on our last hunt. Remember?”

“I would have killed that panther! It would have been my second, one more than Tujee.” Kamran and Zardegerd’s second son were friendly rivals, always trying to surpass each other. Tujee had gone into battle once, but Kamran had earned bragging rights by killing an enemy in his first experience with war. If Tujee hadn’t sprained his ankle during Rasteem’s training session, he would have been in Dodrazeb with Zardegerd and Kamran would have stayed in Argakest.

Kamran became thoughtful. “Why is Uncle Zardegerd convinced Chudreev the Viper is from here? Why doesn’t he listen to you?”

“Because the only Chudreev we could discover, the only one anyone had ever heard of is the king of this valley.”

“But… it was you… you’re better…,” Kamran stammered. “You tracked Grandfather’s attackers and found Dodrazeb.”

Rasteem blew out a long, slow breath. “Zardegerd commands the army while Father cannot. We take our orders from him.” His eyes narrowed. “Zardegerd will be the King of Kings one day, sitting on the Throne of Light—I only offer advice. It is our place to be warriors always loyal to the rightful king.”

“I know—I don’t mean—it’s just that—” Rasteem waited for Kamran’s thoughts to catch up to his mouth. “He usually listens to you.”

“He’s right about one thing. We must find and dispatch the murderers’ leader. We can’t tolerate incursions into the Empire that threaten the king’s life.”

“So the most likely explanation is that this Chudreev is the one.” Kamran was still curious. “Why do you think it might not be him?”

“These Dodrazebbians are not warlike, weren’t prepared for our assault. They don’t dress like the marauders who attacked Father, and they use different weapons. The vandals are shorter and darker, more like the nomads who plague the Empire’s northern provinces.”

Kamran paid sober attention to the lesson. “You didn’t expect to find Chudreev Pranaga here even before our attack?”

“I thought we might find a king named Chudreev—just not one stupid enough to orchestrate an attack on Father,” Rasteem explained. “I’m not convinced the Chudreev of Dodrazeb is the right one. But Zardegerd is. So here we are.”

Brilliant sunshine beat down on them. Rasteem and Kamran slowed their horses to a walk as they neared the next deserted-looking cottage. The back of the dwelling and the dilapidated outbuilding next to it abutted a steep, rocky outcropping dotted with brambles and sparse tufts of vegetation. Its thatched roof needed repair. A crooked door dangled from a loose hinge.

A broad, shallow stream flowed past a cluster of trees near the house and meandered beyond it. The trees beckoned passersby to enjoy a respite from the heat and dust. Sunlight poured through the branches onto the cool water, making the ripples sparkle.

“It looks empty,” Rasteem observed. “We should keep going.”

“Uncle, aren’t you thirsty?” Kamran asked.

“Roasting inside your armor?” A sly grin tipped up one corner of Rasteem’s mouth.

“Well…” Kamran tried to wipe sweat from his brow, hindered by his helmet.

“All right, then. The horses will be grateful for a drink as well.” Rasteem dismounted and led Kurush to the stream. Alert and watchful, Kamran waited as he had been trained before taking a turn at the water’s edge.

Rasteem knelt, dipped his cupped hand into the stream, and drank a handful of water. He plunged his head beneath the ripples, savoring its bracing coolness. He stood up and flicked wet hair away from his face with a satisfied sigh. Surveying the small house again, he shifted his gaze upward to check the sun’s position. “Come on, boy! Be quick.”

Kamran pulled off his helmet to immerse his sweaty head in the water and enjoyed several greedy gulps. When he was done, he threw his head back and shook his dripping curls. “I wish it was deep enough to—”

Rasteem grabbed his arm and turned him to face the small cottage. “Listen to me, say nothing,” he whispered.

Kamran nodded, wondering why his uncle didn’t want to be overheard by the trees.

“Do you see smoke coming from the chimney?” Rasteem asked.

Kamran squinted at the distant thatched roof and shook his head. The horses took a long drink while the soldiers appeared to be engaged in casual conversation.

“Pay attention. I can smell the fire someone has started in there.”

Kamran sniffed the air and detected a faint aroma that might have been a campfire while he studied the sky above the small dwelling. He watched a few faint gray wisps emerge from its chimney and disperse on the breeze. A small, steadier column of smoke soon diminished to intermittent wisps that faded away. “I see it now!”

Rasteem seized the opportunity to emphasize the importance of strategy. “Does that hovel look inhabited?”

“No,” Kamran whispered.

“Then why is someone lighting a fire? Do you still see smoke?”

“No. They must have put the fire out—someone is hiding in there!” Kamran hissed. “And… and they’ve seen us, but they don’t know if we’ve seen them.”

Rasteem smiled. “Here’s our plan. We will ride toward the place as if we intend to search it. When we get closer, I’ll say it appears to be empty and we should move on. Follow me riding past it and stop when I stop. Understand?”

Baffled, Kamran asked, “Why don’t we just drag them out?”

“If they’ve seen us, they’re prepared for an attack.”

“If they think they haven’t been discovered, their guard will be down.” Excited, Kamran almost forgot to lower his voice.

“Exactly.” His uncle’s approval was worth everything to Kamran.

Rasteem didn’t share his conclusion that only one or two men were hiding, a valuable lesson for Kamran with little risk of injury. He didn’t expect the occupants to put up much of a fight.

Kamran jammed his helmet back on and they mounted their horses. Rasteem led them toward the little dwelling at a trot, stopping on the hard-packed earth outside it. Light did not penetrate beyond the broken dangling door into pitch-black darkness.

“It’s another empty one,” Rasteem announced. He gave the place a bored glance. “I’m ready to get back to camp.”

They rode around the steep hill behind the ramshackle old cottage. They dismounted, approached the barren hillock, and peered around it. There was no sign of activity.

Rasteem whispered, “Stay several paces behind me. When I go through the door, wait outside. If anyone gets past me, stop them.” Kamran’s eyes glittered with excitement.

Rasteem drew his shamshir and took a deep breath. He sprinted toward the side of the hut, confident he could take the occupants by surprise. He knew Kamran could be adept at stealth, appearing from nowhere to defeat his cousins in mock battles.

He signaled Kamran. With a burst of speed, he hurtled toward the doorway. The boy followed, sword drawn, hanging back as ordered. Rasteem tore the rickety door from its one loose hinge and launched himself through it with a roar.

Rasteem surveyed the dark interior as his cry swelled. Trying to take in every detail at once, he missed one crucial item: a thin rope stretched across the doorway at ankle height.

The trip wire sent Rasteem crashing toward the floor. A shrill scream echoing inside his skull, he twisted and tried to roll onto his back before hitting the dusty flagstones. Something heavy hit him, sending a jolt of pain through his right shoulder blade. The force knocked him forward onto his stomach and sent his sword flying out of his hand.

Angry at failing to anticipate the trap, Rasteem let loose another roar and flipped onto his back. He could just make out a dark, solid shadow framed in the open doorway. Fearing for Kamran’s safety, he kicked out one foot and tripped his adversary. As the shadow started to fall, he sprang up and grabbed for its throat. When sharp teeth clamped onto his outstretched hand he roared again in pain. Something hard struck the back of his head with an explosive crack and enough force to make sparks dance before his eyes.

With deep pain radiating from his thumb and a throbbing lump on his head, Rasteem saw the shadow dissolve into sunlight streaming through the doorway.

He shook his head to clear his vision and heard a gasp. Instinct advising him to duck, he avoided another wallop from a heavy weapon. Rasteem pounced toward the sound and heard Kamran shout outside the hovel. Blaming himself for endangering the boy, unsteady on his feet, the warrior groped in the dark.

Rasteem made contact with a warm body. He closed his fingers around a hank of hair, twisted it, and pulled his assailant toward him. They struggled, high-pitched screams overlapping his grunts. Something heavy clanked against the flagstones. Holding tight to the flailing whirlwind, Rasteem pushed it toward the door. He wanted to continue the fight in sunlight so he could see what had happened to Kamran.

He crossed the threshold onto the hard-baked earth outside. He didn’t see the boy. What he did see made him loosen his grip on his prisoner.

“A woman!

She preyed on his surprise and wrenched free. She swung around to run away, her long, thick braid of black hair whipping. Rasteem seized the braid with one hand and jerked, bringing her to a dead stop. She screamed again. He grabbed her with his other hand and pulled her to his chest, pinning her hands at her sides. He wrapped the braid several times around his hand and forced her to look up at him. As she wrestled to escape, he saw a mark on her skin behind her left ear resembling a coiled snake. Putting the discovery aside for later, he began an interrogation.

“Who are you? Why are you hiding?” He intended to get answers—by force if necessary. He eyed his captive, trying to understand how a mere woman could have come so close to besting him.

Her long, loose plain muslin tunic and ill-fitting trousers were dirty, the embroidered slippers on her feet tattered and muddy. Under streaks of grime and soot, her face twisted into a snarl, exposing pearl-white teeth. Rasteem had no desire to feel how sharp they were.

“Barbarian devil!” she hissed. The metal scales on Rasteem’s armor tore at the thin fabric of her tunic, pressing into her flesh as she writhed.

“Kamran!” He yelled, trying to look in all directions at once. He spotted the boy’s shamshir in the dirt between the hovel and its dilapidated shed. Cold dread returned.

“How many of you are there?” He jerked the braid still wound around his hand. She cried out again and stared at him with raw hatred, her dark eyes glistening. He felt her heart beating against her ribs, sure it was more from struggling against him than from fear. Rasteem had the feeling she was every bit as dangerous as any lion he had ever cornered in a hunt.

“What will you do with Dodrazeb now?” she demanded.

Astonished by her insolence, he scowled. “The same thing I’ll do with you—whatever I please.” Looking for any sign of Kamran, Rasteem spat out, “If he is harmed, I swear I will—”

“You will what?” A sneer twisted her mouth. Before Rasteem could decide her punishment, they both heard a loud groan. It came from somewhere near the small ramshackle outbuilding.

“Kamran!” Rasteem pulled the woman with him toward the sound.

A helmet rose from behind a pile of debris crowned by a broken stool. Vulnerable without his sword—it still rested where he had dropped it in the hovel—Rasteem braced for another attack until Kamran’s face was visible beneath the helmet. Rubbing the back of his neck, the boy came to his feet.

Kamran took a halting step toward Rasteem and his prisoner. “I wasn’t expecting a wo–”

“Behind you!” Rasteem saw movement in the shed.

The second of distraction was all the prisoner needed. She yanked her braid from his hand and pushed against his chest to get away.

As the woman made her move, a screaming girl in threadbare, dirty clothes burst out of the shed, hands clamped around a rusty pitchfork raised over her head. Rasteem grabbed his prisoner’s arm before she could escape and Kamran avoided the pitchfork’s sharp tines at the last moment. He sprang aside, tripped over an old bucket, and fell face-first on the ground.

Rasteem’s prisoner pulled her right leg back and kicked hard, smashing her knee into his crotch. His face contorted, he let her go and grabbed his groin, reeling, unable to make a coherent sound. Eyes rolling up into his head, he dropped to his knees and fell over sideways.

The woman bolted toward the girl, shouting in a language the soldiers didn’t understand. She dragged her accomplice into the shed without looking back. Kamran scrambled to his feet and recovered his shamshir, intending to give chase. Then he saw his uncle writhing in the dirt.

Rasteem screwed his eyes shut and managed a ragged breath. Incapacitated by the unbearable, radiating pain from the woman’s blow, he tried not to whimper.

Kamran ran to his side. “Uncle! Where are you injured? What did she do to you?” The boy’s alarm escalated when Rasteem moaned instead of answering.

“Was it a dagger?” Panicked, Kamran searched for an unseen wound. “Rasteem! What can I do? How can I help you?”

Rasteem managed a tortured whisper. “… let them get away…”

Did In Search Of… Beget Expedition Unknown?

My tastes in entertainment have matured as TV’s efforts to sensationalize myths and tell titillating tales have evolved. Still, nothing prompts my imagination quite like ancient unsolved riddles, a big factor in my decision to write historical fantasy novels.

GPRWaWGHjRSMMbwIt’s fun to speculate that there are bizarre truths behind mysterious stories. From Sasquatch to ESP to UFOs, I’ve always been a fan of weird stuff. Give it a paranormal twist—throw in some vampires or poltergeists—and I’m riveted. Package it all as a quasi-documentary/semi-reality TV show with Leonard Nimoy as host, and you have one of my favorites from the 1970s. The incredibly popular In Search Of… presented speculation and conjecture as possible explanations for enduring mysteries such as the identify of Jack the Ripper or the truth about the lost continent of Atlantis.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


8066bf599bbddaa4481542b5d4effb8cIn Search Of… was informative, fun, and nerdy, providing some ambiguous answers and leaving the door open for other (more plausible) explanations. It was lightweight entertainment, but it turned me on to some real enduring mysteries: Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, the Nazca Plains, the mystery of Roanoke Colony, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and so much more.

expedition-unknown-josh-gates-nazca-peru-005.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Today I am an avid fan of Josh Gates and his series Expedition Unknown. Gates, a scholar with an appetite for exotic food and amazing adventures, is a man-mountain of globe-trotting curiosity. He’s an archaeologist with an infectious enthusiasm for the bizarre who seeks the truth about ancient and historical mysteries. To get at the real story behind whatever myth or legend he’s investigating, Gates employs scientific research methods presented as heart-pounding adventures filmed around the world.

josh-gates-on-location-21.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Expedition Unknown has taken Gates to some of the most remote and dangerous locations on the planet. Indiana Jones would be impressed by his ability to access and explain never-before-seen artifacts while getting into some precarious circumstances. On each mission, Gates interacts with the people and shares impressions of the culture he’s visiting. He also indulges in the local cuisine, a segment that should come with a warning for the squeamish.

TEXU302H_Attila-the-hun_251287_912112.1457498.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Combining elements of travelogue with lessons in history and sociology, Gates takes the viewer on a journey of discovery filled with humor. Turn him loose in a tourist souvenir shop and he becomes a stand-up comedian. Put an obstacle in his path and he entertains viewers (and his camera crew) with groan-worthy one-liners.

Gates peels away the thin veneer of supposition, superstition, and sensationalism to reveal the solid truth at the core of legends and mysteries. Mostly, though, he makes history fun and accessible through investigating both familiar and little-known unsolved puzzles. What a marvelous way to exploit television’s ability to entertain and teach at the same time.

Sources

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/expedition-unknown/articles/meet-josh-gates

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_Gates

https://www.facebook.com/joshgatesofficial/

http://www.therobotsvoice.com/2009/01/the_10_most_awesome_in_search_of_episodes.php

https://willmckinley.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/in-search-of-leonard-nimoys-1970s-reality-show/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Search_of…_(TV_series)

 

The Lost Kingdom of Rheged

lost-kingdom-rheged-discovered-britain_3

Pictish carvings

Archaeologists studying ancient Pictish carvings began excavations at Trusty’s Hill in Galloway, Scotland in 2012. While the study of such symbols is both a fascinating and important endeavor, research at the Trusty’s Hill site has revealed something even more astonishing: the long-lost kingdom of Rheged. The dominant kingdom in northern Britain until the seventh century, Rheged’s actual location has been disputed for centuries.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to peel back its layers of secrets as its desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding from the rest of the world for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Researchers initially chose the Trusty’s Hill site because Pictish symbols were carved into a rocky outcropping near its entrance. Such Pictish carvings are more common further north, but quite rare as far south as Galloway. The Picts were a loose confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland during Roman occupation of the British Isles. While their exact origin is unknown, the Picts were eventually absorbed by other Gaelic cultures of the region.

trustys-hill

Fortification at Trusty’s Hill, dating to around 600 CE

Archaeologists discovered timber and stone fortifications, a royal hall, and a blacksmith’s workshop. This type of structure is known as a “nucleated” fort, a stronghold from which the local royals would have ruled the surrounding countryside. Dating to around 600 CE, the fort had numerous defensive reinforcements and enclosures in the same style as other high-status settlements of the period in Scotland.

In fact, this was not a simple farming village, but a far more important regional center that managed the surrounding farms and natural resources on a large scale. There is also evidence of leatherworking and wool spinning operations at the site, along with a metal workshop that produced high-quality objects in gold, silver, iron, and bronze. Archaeologists studying the site believe that the Pictish symbols flanking the entrance indicate that royal ceremonies took place at the fort.

Ronan Toolis and Christopher Bowles tell the story of the amazing discovery in their book The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged (Oxbow Books, 2016). Bowles said, “This was a place of religious, cultural and political innovation whose contribution to culture in Scotland has perhaps not been given due recognition. Yet the influence of Rheged, with Trusty’s Hill at its secular heart…and Urien its most famous king, has nevertheless rippled through the history and literature of Scotland and beyond.”

Rheged and its powerful warrior king, Urien, inspired some of the earliest medieval poetry composed in Britain, by the poet Taliesin. Some Arthurian legends say that Urien married Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur’s sister, but the marriage was not happy. In one version of the story, Morgan plotted to use the sword Excalibur to kill Urien and Arthur and take the throne herself with her lover.

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Location of Trusty’s Hill in Galloway, Scotland

Previously, historians thought Rheged might have been located in Cumbria, a county in northwestern England. Surviving early medieval historical records show King Urien’s dominance in southern Scotland and northern England before a rival group wiped out the settlement in the early seventh century. The site was destroyed by fire, suffering sustained burning for weeks or even months as evidenced by many sections of the timber-reinforced stone rampart found to be fused together. As the researchers concluded, “The deliberate and spectacular destruction of Trusty’s Hills is a visceral reminder that the demise of this kingdom in the early seventh century AD came with sword and flame.”

http://preview.history.com/news/lost-dark-age-kingdom-discovered-in-scotland

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lost-dark-age-kingdom-kingdom-of-rheged-hidden-1400-years-scotland-discover-ronan-toolis-christopher-a7543541.html

http://www.realmofhistory.com/2017/01/25/lost-kingdom-rheged-discovered-britain/

http://www.livescience.com/57591-lost-dark-ages-fort-found-scotland.html

http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2017/01/lost-dark-ages-kingdom-of-rheged-possibly-found-in-scotland/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheged

http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsBritain/BritainRheged.htm

http://www.scotsman.com/news/lost-dark-age-kingdom-discovered-in-galloway-1-4342467

The Glorious Ruins of Ani

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The ruined church of the Holy Redeemer.

Location, location, location… As history teaches, any ancient settlement that survived and flourished for a significant period of time did so because it was located in a strategically defendable spot that provided easy access to water, fertile land for growing crops, space for herding livestock, and other amenities that attracted large numbers of people to live together. But in ancient times there were downsides to developing a thriving city in a great location as well. A bustling center of commerce attracted hostile invaders looking to plunder. A strong, established, and prosperous city invited unwanted attention from political rivals seeking to expand their influence and territory.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion of Dodrazeb, a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to remain hidden draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What is she so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


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The Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins, thought to have been built between 1000 and 1200 AD, near the height of Ani’s importance and strength. The Akhurian River below acts as the modern border between Turkey and Armenia.

The Armenian city of Ani in present-day eastern Turkey is a prime example of a magnificent medieval city that fell into ruin over the centuries. At the height of its prominence, Ani boasted numerous palaces, places of worship, and military fortifications that were some of the most technically and artistically advanced structures anywhere. The city is located on a triangular site at an elevation of 4,390 feet, protected on the east by a deep ravine and the Akhurian River, and on the west by the steep Bostanlar valley.

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A gate in the medieval walls of Ani.

Unlike many other prominent ancient cities, Ani did not spring up along any established trade routes. It was Ani’s size, power, and wealth that made it an important trading hub, attracting business from the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Arabs, and smaller nations in Russia and Central Asia. Ani is first mentioned in the 5th century by Armenian writers who referred to it as “a strong fortress built on a hilltop and a possession of the Armenian Kamsarakan dynasty.”

As the Armenian Bagratuni Dynasty expanded, they acquired Ani. Between 953 and 977, King Ashot III transferred the capital there from Kars. In 992, The Armenian Church moved its seat to Ani. By the beginning of the 11th century, Ani was renowned as the “City of Forty Gates” and the “City of a Thousand and One Churches.” Its population was well over 100,000 and it housed the royal mausoleum of Bagratuni kings.

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Ani cathedral with Armenia’s Little Ararat in the background.

Ani’s downfall began soon after it achieved its apex of power. A quarrel between two sons of King Gagik I (989-1020) left one brother in control of Ani while the other ruled over other parts of the Bagratuni kingdom. Decades of escalated disputes led to attempts to capture Ani, but the city repulsed several attacks by Byzantine armies. In 1046 Ani surrendered to the Byzantines, spurred by many pro-Byzantine citizens among its cosmopolitan population. Then in 1064, an army of the Turkish Muslim Seljuk Empire attacked Ani. After a 25-day-long siege, they captured the city and killed many citizens.

In 1072, the Seljuks sold Ani to the Shaddadids, a Muslim Kurdish dynasty, who were tolerant of the city’s overwhelmingly Armenian and Christian population for several decades. But eventually the Shaddadid governance became too rigid, and the population appealed to the Christian Kingdom of Georgia for help—more than once. The Georgians captured Ani five times: in 1124, 1161, 1174, 1199, and 1209. During brief periods of peace, prosperity returned to Ani and its defenses were strengthened and many new churches were built.

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The Ani Cathedral, in the Turkey-Armenia border province of Kars, Turkey.

The Mongols tried to capture Ani in 1226, but didn’t succeed until 1236. When they captured and sacked the city, the Mongols also massacred large numbers of its population. Later ruled by many different Turkish dynasties, Ani was devastated by a massive earthquake in 1319. No longer the grand and important city it had once been, control of Ani passed through many hands as its population shrank. Reduced to a small town of no particular consequence, it became a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1579. The site was abandoned by 1735 when the last monks left the monastery in the Virgin’s Fortress.

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Damaged frescoes of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents.

Eager to share their discovery, European travelers in the first half of the 19th century described the ruins of Ani in popular travel and academic journals. By then most of the structures were nothing but piles of rubble, but the grand public buildings and portions of the city’s double wall had survived. In the early 20th century, archaeologists professionally excavated large sectors of the city. Buildings were uncovered and measured, the whole site was surveyed for the first time, and emergency repairs were undertaken on buildings that were most at risk of collapse. A museum was established to house the tens of thousands of items found during the excavations. In 1918, during World War I, archaeologists saved thousands of the most portable items from the armies of the Ottoman Empire fighting their way across the region. Everything left behind was later looted or destroyed. Ani reverted to Armenian control when Turkey surrendered at the end of World War I, but Turkey recaptured it in 1920.

The archaeological site of Ani was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 15, 2016.

Sources:

http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/01/the-ancient-ghost-city-of-ani/100668/

http://www.kuriositas.com/2011/01/ani-ghost-city-of-1001-churches.html

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/five-towns-abandoned-after-disasters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ani

Ancient Underground Cities

derinkuyu_graphicThe Cappadocia region of central Anatolia in Turkey earned a World Heritage site designation some time ago for its underground cities. They’ve been there for millennia, but most were forgotten when they were no longer needed for protection from invaders. In 1963, Derinkuyu became a popular tourist destination shortly after a man discovered a man-made passageway linked to subterranean tunnels while renovating his home.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to peel back its layers of secrets as a desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Cappadocia - Kaymakli Underground CityIn 2013, a public urban building project unearthed a complex of hand-carved rooms and tunnels beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle. The newer find in Nevşehir Province includes artifacts and hidden rooms interconnected by miles of tunnels that may date to 3,000 BCE. The new site appears to be even larger than Derinkuyu, an impressive 18-story underground city that once housed around 20,000 people. Millions of years ago, the region was buried under layer upon layer of volcanic ash. The hardened volcanic rock, known as “tuff,” provided a natural building material that was easy to work with. Because the caves are carved from natural rock, archaeologists can’t date their first use, but most agree that the Anatolian Hittites are the original builders.

derinkuyu-underground-city-roomWhen the region’s ancient inhabitants retreated to their subterranean homes, everyday life continued as usual. They carved out sprawling underground cities that featured apartments, stables, worship centers, ventilation shafts, tombs, water tanks, kitchens, and communal rooms. Some contained functional freshwater wells and stone doors for added protection. There are also arsenals for storing weapons, wineries, chapels, schoolrooms, staircases, and bezirhane—linseed presses for producing lamp oil to light the underground city. Hidden escape routes offered residents a last chance for a getaway.

1_460973772cappadocia-adapt-1900-1Over time, the need for hidden shelter varied. When dangerous invaders threatened, Cappadocians went underground, blocked the access tunnels with stone doors, and sealed themselves in with livestock and supplies until the threat passed. They lived comfortably in the year-round consistent temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In peacetime, people returned to building and living on the surface, using the subterranean city as cold storage for food and stables for livestock.

Sources

http://www.history.com/news/vast-underground-city-found-in-turkey-may-be-one-of-the-worlds-largest

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150325-underground-city-cappadocia-turkey-archaeology/

http://thehigherlearning.com/2014/08/25/a-man-just-discovered-an-ancient-underground-city-underneath-his-house/

http://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/05/09/derinkuyu-the-underground-cities-of-cappadocia/