Tag Archives: Ancestors

Freaky Friday: Escape Tunnels, Maybe

by Richard

The world is a strange and wonderful place, dudes. It really is. Take, for instance, the network of tunnels running underneath Germany and Austria.

Nobody knows why they were built. We’re a little unsure about when they were built. But they’re there and a group of amateur archeologists are exploring them.

This is the kind of thing that amazes me. Because there’s no mention of these tunnels in any kind of written record. Nobody said nothing about no tunnels. It was kept a secret from, I guess, everyone who didn’t need to know. The thing about secrets is, normally, three people can keep a secret only if one of the three is dead.

What I’m saying is it’s hard for a large group of dudes and dudettes to keep a secret. There’s usually at least one dude who blabs, which is why the whole conspiracy thing always rings false to me. But that’s beside the point.

Let’s talk tunnels and galleries buried beneath the earth for unknown reasons. Radiocarbon dating of wooden doors found in the tunnels say they were dug probably between the 5th and 6th centuries.

All of the radiocarbon dating analyses completed to date indicate that the tunnels were built in the Middle Ages, challenging the validity of the prevailing school of thought. It holds that the tunnels were built during the Migration Period (known as the “Völkerwanderung” in German) in the 5th and 6th centuries, when entire tribes left their homes and abandoned the cemeteries of their ancestors. The assumption was that the tunnels and galleries were created so that the dead could still be venerated.

And then, sometime around the year 1200, the tunnel entrances were filled in with rubble and then abandoned.

At least 700 of these chambers have been found in Bavaria alone, along with about 500 in Austria. In the local vernacular, they have fanciful names such as “Schrazelloch” (“goblin hole”) or “Alraunenhöhle” (“mandrake cave”). They were supposedly built by elves, and legend has it that gnomes lived inside. According to some sagas, they were parts of long escape tunnels from castles.

In reality, the tunnels are often only 20 to 50 meters long. The larger passageways are big enough so that people can walk through them in a hunched position, but some tunnels are so small that explorers have to get down on all fours. The tiniest passageways, known as “Schlupfe” (“slips”), are barely 40 centimeters (16 inches) in diameter.

The ground beneath the southern German state of Bavaria is literally perforated with these underground mazes — and no one knows why.

The world is a strange place. Let’s keep it that way.

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Ugh! Me Make Fire

Yes, all right, this has absolutely nothing to do with out stated mission, but I think it’s pretty cool. See, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that in the relatively recent past, there was another species of hominid living on the planet, side by side with out ancestors. I’m talking about Neanderthals.

Until about 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals still lived in Europe and Asia. The current thinking is that our ancestors simply out competed our nearest relatives and wiped them off the map. Not necesssarily through wars, but because we were simply better at communicating, talking, hunting, making tools, that sort of thing. We got all the good grub and spread out. The Neanderthals didn’t and died out. Simple as that.

Here’s the deal, though. Apparently, scientists have finished completely mapping the Neanderthal genome, mostly from bones unearthed in Croatia, and found that Neanderthals shared with humans the gene associated with speech and language. Which means they could have talked just as well as what we’re laughingly calling modern humans.

After mapping the Neanderthal genome, the entire genetic sequence responsible for everything that happens in your body, the blueprint for how you develop and what you look like and how you function, it seems we share between 99.5 percent and 99.9 percent of genes. They were more like us than we thought. Because these human cousins lived around modern humans, there was some speculation there might have been intermixing of the two species. However, the recent study of the Neanderthal genome suggests otherwise.

And now they’re gone.

There’s just something so sad and poignant about all this. To think of the last of a nearly human race squatting over a meager meal, the last of its kind. Huddling alone in the dark, watching with envious eyes as true humanity emerges from the night, grasping a firey branch that lights its way into the light of day.

And then that Neanderthal driving the SUV cuts me off and I curse his name.

— Richard

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