Expedition Unknown

Expedition Unknown – Blackbeard’s Hidden Gold – S02E03

image For this episode, Josh is literally right down the road in Greenville, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina looking for Blackbeard’s treasure. Now, we all know that Blackbeard was indeed a real pirate, that was first hired as a buccaneer, but then turned into a pirate once privateering was brought to an end. Blackbeard may be one of the most well known and perhaps feared pirates and his final days ended in a blood-soaked showdown, but what about all the treasure he took? Where did that end up? It was rumored he had made a fortune from privacy and was able to buy plenty of land on which he should have retired on. When the end came, the treasure was lost, or more to the point, no one has any idea where it is. But there are plenty of people scouring the beaches and even the wreckage in search of what could be quite a fortune.

As usual, Josh starts off the investigation at the market or rather a pirate festival where he meets up with historians who have focused their research on Blackbeard. They go over some of the places where the treasure could be located and the next stop on the voyage is Cayman Brac. Josh meets up with some treasure hunters who are exploring the caves of the area which would have been most suitable for the storing of loot. They caves are flooded with water and only accessible at low tide. With shovel and lantern in hand, Josh heads in. As far as novels go, it perfectly fits the hiding place. As they search and dig around, they do indeed come across something. Quick to see what they have, they unearth a coin that turns out to be from around the 1800s. Not the time period they’re looking for, but, it certainly makes the point that other items could be buried there. And if there is one coin, there surely is more, so who knows what they might be on the verge of discovering in that cave.

The next part of the investigation moves from the land and caves to the open water of the sea. Josh gets with another treasure hunter that believes the treasure went overboard. Josh suits up and heads into the water. They find some remnants of another ship and then come across the Cayman Abyss, a drop off that goes down 20,000 feet. If the current went the wrong way, if there was a treasure, it’s lost forever.
In the same area they manage to find an old Russian ship that was scuttled decades before. While this is a great discovery and clearly not the right kind of ship, it’s a pretty impressive find, but there are no signs of treasure and really, no signs on anything related to Blackbeard. I’m clearly no expert, but looking for treasure here seems way off course. But it’s all about the thrill of the hunt.

And with that, Josh is off to Greenville NC where they store parts of the ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. It was in 1718 that Blackbeard sort of lost his mind a little and held the town of Charleston hostage. He set up a blockade and refused to let goods in or out. After negotiating, he agrees to sign a treaty with the governor, but on his way, the Queen Anne runs aground and he destroys the ship.

The team in Greenville is actually cleaning more than 400,000 items that have been recovered so far, including anchors, cannons and tens of thousands of smaller items. But the actual wreckage is out toward the Outer Banks in Beaufort. And more than likely, they have only pulled up half the wreckage. With a great deal of excitement Josh is off to the wreck side and down he goes. Clearly we’re not going to see open treasure chests or anything like that, but we do get to see another one of the massive anchors and more of the cannons. While the water looks clear from the boat, once he’s a couple of feet down, the visibility is horrible. It’s quite impressive they’ve been able to find as much as they have.

There is even more to this story. Blackbeard wrecks the boat then takes off on the Adventure to Bath, NC where he gets a pardon and decides to retire. He uses his money to buy a plantation and even gets married. But the life of leisure doesn’t quite suit him and within a couple of months he’s off again for his last stand.

Since he just bought all the land and is showing off his wealth, it is sort of believed he might have the money with him. But when Captain Maynard comes upon him, there’s no asking questions about treasure and Blackbeard is shot 5 times and stabbed 20 (or so the story goes). Needless to say, he didn’t make it out alive. But it’s believed that some of his treasure has made it over Springer’s Point. With special permission he and yet another treasure hunter break out metal detectors to see what they can find. After locating lots of junk they home in on something big. They scramble only to find a big rock. Yet again, nothing that supports Blackbeard’s treasure would be in the area.
Meanwhile, back in Bath, Josh meets with historian Kevin Duffus, who has a different take on Blackbeard’s treasure. To summarize, in 1718, Blackbeard wrecks his ship, escapes to Bath and there is an economic boon. This could be from the gold Blackbeard supposedly had, but what if that wasn’t the treasure? Duffus believes the treasure was in fact, slaves. Blackbeard was certainly involved in the slave trade and he may have either sold them in the Carolinas or pressed them into service to help build Bath.

It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense given the time period and the area. It would also explain why no one has been able to find said treasure. Or perhaps it’s still waiting to be discovered.

So what’s the truth? And when it comes to anything related to Blackbeard, that’s the question. There is more legend and myth about this pirate than anything else. The stories are so over the top, so larger than life that you really can’t believe anything. But even if the minor details can be believed, was his treasure a chest full of gold coins or was it actually the human lives that would have been used to rebuild the area?

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Expedition Unknown – Genghis Khan’s Tomb – S02E02

For our next exciting expedition, Josh heads out to Mongolia in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan and one of the first things we learn is that his name should be more properly written as Chinggis Khaan. To be honest, I was unaware that Khaan had gone out of his way to make his burial place a secret. Sort of seems like if you take the time to conquer such a vast empire, you might want to have a few monuments to point out how badass you are.

There are quite a few stories about Khaan’s death that state he wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave and anyone who saw the funeral procession was to be killed. Stories even go so far as to say that a river was diverted to cover the burial spot. For someone who lived such a grand life, Chinggis wanted his deeds to live on rather himself as a person. Or perhaps, he didn’t want enemies digging up and desecrating his remains as an act of revenge.

But as we move into Ulaanbatar, it’s pretty obvious that Chinggis is worshipped and revered at nearly god like levels. His image and name are everywhere – statues, monuments, bars, vodka. Khaan is attributed with uniting the nomadic tribes, establishing trade routes and offering people complete religious freedom. Even if his methods were a bit rough, it was more than what a lot of people had before him.

Josh arrives in time for the Festival of the Three Games which includes Archery, Wrestling and Horseback riding, the 3 things Chinggis instilled in all his warriors. It should come as no surprise that Josh is going to give the wrestling a try although he spends more time in the dirt than anywhere else. At least the guy takes it easy on him and doesn’t outright pull his arm out of the socket.

After the festival and while visiting the massive 130 foot tall statue of Khaan outside the city, Josh is told of an archeological dig in search of the tomb. He heads out across the muddy plains to Karakoram, the former capital city that Khaan established and is said to be where the funeral procession started. Josh helps to excavate the site where they find some skeletal remains. Ominous stuff to be sure.

But this isn’t the only site where they think Khaan might be buried. There is another on the Burkhan Khaldun mountain that shows what could be three temples. However, it’s not a place you can just walk into and start digging. It’s actually considered to be a holy mountain referred to as the Forbidden Zone and there is no access without permission from the tribe that guards the gate. This tribe believes they are acting on orders from Chinggis himself to keep the location of his burial place secret. Oddly, the protectors of this area don’t say it’s actually the burial site and quite frankly, they don’t want to know. They believe that Khaan’s resting site should remain a secret and not become common knowledge.

With that, Josh and the team have to ask for permission to even be allowed on the mountain, but the gatekeeper isn’t sure of their intentions and says he will ponder the matter. Perhaps it was for dramatic effect, or perhaps he just wanted some new drinking buddies, but as the sun goes down, the gatekeeper invites Josh and crew in for a drink and before the night is over, they’re all good buddies and Josh gets permissions to press on.

In the morning, the gatekeeper says he will need to accompany them to the mountain to make sure they don’t get up to any funny business. No digging or excavating is allowed. To be blunt, they can look, but not touch. The tribesmen are very serious that nothing is to be disturbed.

Turns out the survey photos were correct and they discover stone bricks from a wall and ceramic tile from a roof. These are certainly older than the time of Khaan, but it does lead to some other discoveries. Josh finds multiple spear heads in the base and roots of a tree. These are warrior spears, but they appear to be from the wrong time period as well. But the question remains, there are no other temples in the area so why was one built here? What is the significance of this mountain and this location? Does this location have something to do with Khaan and a temple built on it? Or was the temple built first and they are applying the worship of Khaan after the fact?

With the weather turning bad, they manage to get a chopper to come in so they can take high resolution photographs of the mountain. Not sure why they didn’t call up the services of the chopper earlier, but, they scan the mountain several times and there is some sort of man-made bump at the top. They aren’t allowed to land, even if the weather did allow it, so some photos is the best they can do. There aren’t defining characteristics so this bump could literally be anything and so the mystery continues.

Is Josh and these teams of researchers within arms reach of Khaan’s tomb? Or are the stories true and it’s actually under a river or in some other completely nondescript location where nobody would think to look? And if the researchers are close, what happens if they actually find something? The men of the tribe seem like they would take some rather drastic strides to keep that information from getting out. Dare I say, finding Khaan’s tomb  might result in a throat cutting.

Khaan certainly took steps to disappear after his death and with all the stories and deliberate attempts to keep the location secret, perhaps even misdirection, it looks like the final resting place of Chinggis Khaan will remain a secret for quite some time to come.

Expedition Unknown – The Quest for King Arthur – S02E01

imageI’m not sure where I’ve been or why I didn’t know about these episodes earlier, but the second season of Expedition Unknown completely passed me by. I’ve been waiting to hear news about a new season starting only to find it has come and gone. Well, no matter! My musings might be a little on the late side, but it’s always fun to catch up with Josh and see where and what he’s up to.

For the first episode, Josh is off to England, Scotland and Wales in search of answers surrounding the mystery of King Arthur. We should all know the story by now about Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and ruling over the land as the future king. However, is there any truth to these stories? Is this merely a fun and fanciful tale, or does the Arthur legend have roots in real events and real people?

In hopes of getting some answers or perhaps muddying the waters even more, Josh heads to Tintagel Castle, the rumored birthplace of Arthur himself. On these grounds is said to be the cave where Merlin finds Arthur and now standing atop the cliff is a fortress built by the Earl of Cornwall. It is said the castle was built to commemorate Arthur and his uniting armies against the invading Saxons. And it is believed that during the 6th century when Arthur would have been alive that he would have looked more like a Roman solider than the traditional knight in shining armor.

Around the grounds of the castle they’ve discovered what looks to the ruins of very old structures and some tablets that refer to "Arthur". Does this mean there was indeed a true and real Arthur and he is buried somewhere on the site? Well, no one really knows, but most likely not.

There was however a rumor started at the Glastonbury Abbey, which claimed they found the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere complete with nameplates. However, it is considered this whole story is nothing but a hoax used to try and cash in on the Arthur legend when the monestary was going bankrupt and needed funds. But it goes to show that whether or not Arthur is real, he is revered and people want him to be real.

Something a little more tangible can be found over in Lester where some cave explorers have found what they believe could ultimately be the burial tomb of Arthur and the knights. In some versions of the story, it is said that Merlin swept away the remains of Arthur and created a tomb. Some believe the massive 50 miles of underground tunnels will ultimately reveal the burial chamber. Josh gets suited up and makes an exploration. While many of the massive chambers look like they could be tombs or temples and they have been able to discover the skeletal remains of at least one person, they aren’t able to find anything definitive that shows signs of human interaction or intervention. In fact, they haven’t been able to locate any burial chambers or artifacts such as armor, shield, sword of even religious objects.

Further down the road in Edinburgh, Scotland, Josh continues his Arthur investigation, but first it’s time to stop off for a quick bite of haggis along with a glass of Scotch. Seems like an excuse to nip off to the pub, but there is method in his madness.

On the grounds of Stirling Castle there is something that has come to be known as the King’s Knot or "table round" and many believe it refers to the Knights of the Round Table. With that idea in mind, there are researchers using ground penetrating radar to map the area. Since it’s a historical site, they’re unable to actually dig into the ground even though they’ve been able to determine objects and ground disturbances just under the surface.

Again, it makes for a neat story, but if you’re not able to do any excavation even when you might be on top of some evidence, there’s not much you can do with this story.

While that doesn’t make Arthur, Scottish, researcher Adam, says that Arthur was actually a Scotsman as they have been able to find historical records describing some events they believe are the kernel of the idea that is now the Arthur legend. Adam believes that Arthur was Celtic and would have lived in the ways of the Druids, that is to say, he would have been a Pagan rather than a Christian. And what evidence does have to support this claim?

He believes that the sword in the stone story is the literal act of standing in the ancient footprints on the stone of men who has come before you and taking the sword to declare that you intend to defend the land. This was more of a ritual or ceremony not a real sword stuck in a stone. Adam also contends that Camelot comes from the words for Twisted and Marsh. It’s not really a place, but a description of where Arthur lived, indeed the lands surrounding that particular area of Scotland.

Adam then takes Josh to a location where he believes they have found the ruins of ancient buildings. Buried beneath all the debris, roots and moss are walls that would have made the foundation of structures that looked out over the marsh. To him, this is where the royal court of Camelot would have been built.

However, once again, they aren’t able to find any real evidence to support these claims. In fact, throughout the entire trip it is merely speculation and wishful thinking that make people think Arthur is real and within the area they’re searching in. But at this point, none of the scholars or cave explorers or researchers have found anything that actually shows Arthur to be a real person other than the name appearing in some stories. I would have to say that Arthur, even with the original spelling, isn’t exactly the most unique name out there, so saying Arthur is a real person would obviously be true at some point.

As is normally the case, legends are rooted in some sort of fact. While the real person and the real event most likely won’t live up to the commercialization of the story, there is usually some nugget of truth out there somewhere. Really about the only thing people can agree upon, and even that isn’t rock solid, is that Arthur would have been alive around the 6th century and would have been a Pagan and that the stories about knights in shining armor would have been invented much later to make the story more appealing and to align it with the Templars and the Crusades. And it appears a monk may have dressed up the story a wee bit to further that glamour.

But even so, the Arthur legend is alive and well and perhaps if the story was real and went from being history to legend, it may be possible to turn that legend back into history and find the true nature of Arthur. Until then, it will still be a really cool story about honor, courage, loyalty, myth and magic, and that’s probably cooler than the truth anyway.

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Expedition Unknown – The Great Bell of Dhammazedi – S01E12

imageFor this rather unusual investigation, Josh is off to Myanmar to search for a massive gold bell that was stolen and then lost. The bell was cast in 1484 out of gold and silver and is believed to weigh 300 tons and be 18ft tall. No small feat that a Portuguese warlord named Filipe de Brito e Nicote stole the bell, rolled it down the hill and loaded it onto a small ship.

However, the joke was on him as both his ship and his cargo all sank. The bell has been lost ever since. Oddly, the bell has been lost in a river, so why is it so hard to find? The river is insanely muddy where the visibility is zero. Also, the river is quite a bit deeper than many charts say. Add to this the current and the fact the bell could be completely covered in mud or debris and basically the divers have no idea what they may have their hands on. They could literally be touching the bell and not even know it.

It almost seems like a lost cause, but there are plenty of groups out there searching for it and the government is working to support the effort. And enter Josh to offer his hand and shed some light on the story.

As usual, Josh starts off his investigation and his visit with a trip to the market. And it is once again filled all sorts of strange, unusual and exotic goods. Josh even tries his hand, or rather head, at carrying a basket of goods around. His balance needs a bit of work, but many locals try to help him get the hang of it.

Josh starts off in Bagan where he heads to Mount Popa, one of the two thousand temples that pepper the landscape. This is a temple dedicated to the Nat spirits. These spirits are believed to watch over and protect the bell. It is believe the Nat spirits are angry over the stolen bell and prevent people from finding it. The goal is to ask the spirits for permission to search for the bell. It’s not quite what you would expect and there is plenty of drinking and smoking to appease the spirits. The dancers believe they channel the energy of the Nats wherein the can pass along good will and blessings. It’s an odd ritual to be sure, but it’s part of the culture and respected by the local people.

After the blessing it’s off to Yangon, which was formerly known as Rangoon. Bells pepper the city and are used throughout for prayers. Josh heads to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is quite literally covered in gold. This is where the bell was stolen from and ironically, there is a scale replica of the bell that was stolen and lost in the river. However, it was recovered and has been returned. So if it can happen once, it can happen again.

Before going to join the hunt for the bell, an offering and blessing needs to be made. This is taken quite seriously as a Buddhist monk comes down to the docks to bless the boat, the crew and the mission. I have to admit, the research vessel leaves a little something to be desired. It looks like a rotting boat that will most likely come apart before they make it 100 yards away from shore. But it stays afloat and they head to the center of the intersection where the three rivers meet where they believe the bell went overboard.

But if you think the boat is a bit makeshift, wait until you see the diving gear. It’s literally an old gas mask with some handmade straps fed by a tube that’s hooked to an air compressor. To say it’s dangerous is a staggering understatement. And the thing is, the water is like mud and they can’t see a thing down there. All they can do is feel around and see what sort of debris they can discover.

The locals have been putting in the effort to find the bell, but several lives have already been lost. This is no easy task under the best of conditions and it’s pretty obvious, these are not the best of conditions.

There is another group doing their own investigation further upstream, so Josh takes the local train and heads up to join him. Damien Lay is the leader and his team has a bit more technology on their side. However, their boat isn’t a whole lot better and the technology consists of some better scuba gear and sonar. That’s about it. In no way do they have millions of dollars worth of equipment like submersibles and robotic arms.

Damien heads into the incredibly murky water and feels something large and dome shaped. But since he can’t see anything, he really has no idea what he’s found. Josh is encouraged to give it a go and since he will be one of only a handful of Westerners to ever look for the bell, it’s a pretty big honor.

It’s a few tense moments as Josh heads into the water and the current pulls him away from the boat. They also lose radio contact and have to drag him back. He does indeed look a little out of sorts, but manages to pull up a small piece of metal. It’s newer than the wreckage they are looking for, but it just goes to show the type of junk they have to contend with. Even the sonar has a hard time picking up objects so are they in the right place and if it is, how exactly will they know? And if they do find it, how exactly will they get it out?

It’s a pretty wild endeavor to be sure. You would think such a massive bell would be easy to locate in such a shallow river. But everything seems to be against them. The river is deeper than people believe. The current could easily be shifting the bottom of the river not only changing the contour, but completely covering the bell with mud. And the water is so muddy and dark that even if they were in the right spot how would they know?

Hopefully in time technology will help locate the bell and the search teams can put it back in the pagoda where it belongs.

Great Bell of Dhammazedi

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