Josh Gates

Expedition Unknown – Coumbus Unearthed – S02E08

imageOur previous episode concludes with Josh and a small group of men making an impressive discovery in a field containing a significant number of artifacts from the time period Columbus would have run aground. There are pottery items from the Taino people, the natives Columbus would have met when he landed. But there is quite a mystery about those people. When Columbus lands, he is on good terms and is welcomed. However, that may have soured and Columbus forced them to find gold and other wealth he promised to his benefactors.

The link between the Taino and Columbus can be found in cave paintings. In the beginning of the drawings there are no horses, those were brought over by men like Columbus. And before Columbus arrives, there were over a million Taino people. A couple of decades later only a few hundred survive. Is this merely a coincidence or did Columbus bring disease and oppression with him? Clearly there is no definitive answer.

After his return home, Columbus is given the opportunity for multiple trips to continue looking for China. He ping-pongs around the world, but in reality, doesn’t seem to land in North America. He comes close, but did he set a foot on the continent? A curious thing.

But as we question where Columbus may have gone, there is still the question of where he is buried. It is claimed his Will requested he be buried in Santo Domingo. There is a large memorial to Columbus and those who guard over it are absolutely sure he’s in their sarcophagus, yet they won’t let anyone test the remains for confirmation. They have nothing to prove and won’t allow any more testing. As we see, the grave is guarded with military effort. In fact, Josh and his team are kicked out of the church because filming isn’t allowed and they’re getting too close.

To follow up on the dodgy story, Josh heads to a cathedral where his remains are supposedly kept as well. Josh is given permission to go into the subterranean crypts and discovers the platform where Columbus would have rested. There are no traces of Columbus, but I think it’s incredibly neat there is a crypt under the church.

The other resting place of Columbus is Valladolid. Seville is where he actually died and was interred for a time. Josh meets Javier and Andrea who have a copy of his Will and nothing states he should be buried in Santo Domingo. Since the remains were in Seville for quite some time, the small team puts together an idea of where they would have been stored. In a bit of irony, it appears that site is currently occupied by a casino, restaurant and other businesses. Like the tunnels in Britain, Josh is able to enter the catacombs simply by entering the sub-basement. He finds some old bones, but they are most likely from an animal and have nothing to do with Columbus.

Without much to go on from this angle, Josh goes to a museum that has the actual contract giving Columbus permission to go exploring for China. It gave Columbus rights to all sorts of things including the previously mentioned titles and lands. But even within these records, there is nothing declaring his final resting place.

It is also in Seville, where the University of Granada was previously given the opportunity to test the remains located in Santo Domingo. Despite what we may think, the remains they had access to were meager at best, a mere 150 grams of material most of which was ash, not a complete skeleton. Dr. Miguel and his team didn’t have enough material and it was too degraded to be of use. Interestingly, it is stated that since Columbus never sat for a portrait, the images we see of him are artist renditions and not necessarily pictures of the real man. Is nothing about this guy real?

In the end, Josh is no closer to finding the truth about Columbus than when he started. There is confusion over the sinking of one of his ships, there is confusion about his relationship with the native people, there is confusion about whether or not he reached and set foot on North American soil and there is just as much confusion about where he is buried and if those remains are even his. It seems we may not know a whole about Columbus at all.

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Expedition Unknown – Secrets of Columbus – S02E07

First of all, congratulations to Josh on the news he’s going to be a father!

imageIn 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue

Or so the story goes. Josh is out to discover details about the life of Christopher Columbus. Where did Columbus come from, where is he buried, where is the wreckage of the Santa Maria and did he really discover America?

Not much is known of Columbus and his early life. He appears on the stage as a fully formed man without a past or early childhood. He emerges as a map maker and navigator with the main ambition of finding a new route to China by going West. Of course, neither Columbus or anyone else knew what lay in the way of going such a route. But Columbus sets out on his journey and becomes one of the most celebrated figures in maritime history. He is made an Admiral and becomes governor of the lands he has discovered.

In order to get some background about the ships of the time, Josh is able to get aboard a replica of the Santa Maria and to be honest, it’s surprisingly small. Considering the distance they were to travel and the supplies they would need to carry, these are pretty meager boats. And as we see, even in only slightly choppy water, the boat rocks in a wild fashion. Had the original sailors hit any sort of severe weather, this boat would have been a goner.

Josh then heads to Haiti where the boat supposedly ran aground. The story goes a little something like this. Columbus hands over the helm while he goes to get some rest. The helm is then turned over again, this time to a young boy. With his inexperience, the boat crashes into the reef. But that story seems a little off considering how skilled a navigator and seaman Columbus was. Why would he turn over the boat when so close to a reef?

After the ships runs aground, Columbus strips the wood from the decks and builds fort La Navidad. He leaves a large envoy of men behind while he sails back for reinforcements. Columbus made friends with the native Taino people, but their relationship deteriorated so when Columbus returned, his men were dead and the fort destroyed.

Some believe the Santa Maria was wrecked on purpose to give Columbus a reason to come back to this New World. If everything had gone according to plan, there might not be another voyage or commission. A good theory, so the goal is to find the wrecked ship and learn more. But where is the wreckage?

Josh meets with Jean Claude who has looked for shipwrecks for 40 years and the Santa Maria for 15. He knows of over 200 wrecks in the area. He takes Josh out into the waters and they do indeed discover a wreck, but alas, it’s too new and the wrong type of ship. But wait, there’s more. They find another wreck and while it’s closer to the correct time period, it’s still not the right kind of ship, but it’s worthy of more investigation. This clearly shows plenty of ships have crashed in this area.

He then meets up with Manuel Rose, a researcher who believes the Santa Maria was wrecked on purpose. Josh and Manuel head inward on the shores of where the ship would have run aground and where the Fort of La Navidad would have stood. They meet a local man who almost immediately takes them to a large cannon sticking out of the ground. It’s not the type of cannon they’re looking for, but clearly there was a shipwreck here and possibly a small settlement. Again, there are all sorts of maritime relics in this area, so the chances of them finding something that belonged to Columbus are actually pretty good. Hopefully a research time will be able to catalog this are as well.

From there, Josh meets Alain Norstein who believes he is well on his way to discovering the settlement of La Navidad, however, it’s inland from the coast and is basically a field. We have to admit, the landscape has changed quite a bit in the 500 years since Columbus was at sea, and just because something is land now, doesn’t mean it’s always been that way.

Using basic tools, the men are sifting through the area and make a pretty nice discovery. They unearth pottery from the Taino people which suggests this would have been a significant settlement. Another impressive series of artifacts that hopefully will be cataloged in the future.

So at this juncture, there are quite a few leads about the sunken ship, but it all remains a mystery. Columbus may have wrecked the ship on purpose, may have oppressed the native Taino people who turned against his crew and he may have been a touch on the manipulative side to get what he wanted – further rights at exploration.

While they may be close to discovering the wreckage of the Santa Maria, what about the actual remains of Columbus himself? Where is his final resting place? On that front, it seems he’s buried in two different places.

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Expedition Unknown – The Real Robin Hood – S02E05

imageOur next adventure takes us to England to answer the question, "was Robin Hood real and where is he buried?" The original story of Robin Hood is a series of ballads that date back to the 1200s. Our interpretation of Robin Hood is a bold and virtuous man who stood up against injustice, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. But that’s the reworking of the story, not really the original. Josh gets a look at the source material and the real story is quite violent, with Robin Hood robbing from anyone who crossed his path regardless of their stature and giving to the poor didn’t work it’s way into the story until much later. Oddly, I just finished reading the Adventures of Robin Hood by J. Walker McSpadden and my impression was that Robin Hood was pretty much an ass. He was arrogant, rude, full of himself and picked on anyone he saw wandering along the road. The first impression is certainly not one of a noble hero.

To try and learn more, Josh heads to Nottingham where the story takes place and indeed goes to meet the current Sheriff of Nottingham. Jackie Morris currently fills that role, but as she says, it’s more ceremonial these days, although a few decades ago she could have dispatched Josh to the dungeons.

Speaking of dungeons, Tim Pollard takes Josh into the ruins of Nottingham castle where Robin Hood was supposedly imprisoned, but ultimately escaped through the tunnels. Turns out there is indeed a network of tunnels under the castle and all through the surrounding area.

To prove the point, Josh visits with Peter Hammond who owns a fashionable clothing shop. But, his shop has a basement and even what might be called a sub-basement that takes them into a series of caverns and tunnels. They are currently mapping this network with 3D imaging, and have found lots of pottery and glass that are close to the time period of Robin Hood. So it does appear you could make a tunnel escape.

From the tunnels of Nottingham it’s off to the legendary Sherwood Forest to get more of a sense of what it would have been like to be an outlaw in that area. Unlike what we see in the movies, it would have been cold, wet, dark and poor living conditions. Sherwood was also the main path between the lands and so would have been traveled by plenty of wealthy men who bandits would have preyed upon. It was not the glamorous life portrayed in the movies.

It sort of seems like the real Robin would have been more of a bandit and scoundrel, but where did he end up? If we find the man, perhaps we can trace more of his origins. Turns out there are a couple of spots on the list of where he might be buried. As the legend goes, he ended up at Kirklees Priory where he needed medical attention. The medical treatment of the time would be blood letting and it’s suggested that he was bled too much either through revenge or by neglect. Either way, he grew worse and the time of his end was drawing near. It is then said he shot an arrow out the window and that’s where he wanted to be buried.

On the grounds of Kirklees Priory is a grave site attributed to Robin Hood. With permission, Josh brings out some ground penetrating radar, but doesn’t find anything to suggest a body is buried at the site. It’s merely a monument. Undeterred, they get an aerial view of the area to see which building might have served as the "hospital". From there, they shoot some arrows off into the distance to get a perimeter of where Robin might be buried. Again, the ground penetrating radar shows nothing. There is nothing to suggest a body is buried at the site.

So now what?

Josh heads to Loxley, where he is shown the grave of Roger Godberg, who might be the inspiration for Robin Hood. It is suggested that Roger was an arsonist and murderer. We don’t have the details of those claims, but it is suggested that he would have lived at the same time as Robin Hood, would have served time in Nottingham castle, was wanted by the sheriff, was an outlaw, possibly died at Kirklees Priory and had his body moved to Loxley. In essence, his story shares similarities with the tales of Robin Hood. So, is he a match? Well, they can’t go digging up the body, it’s on sacred ground, but out comes the ground penetrating radar and the scan does show the grave site is occupied. Is it Roger? Is Roger, Robin? Does it all fit together or is this wishful thinking?

The current story of Robin Hood, is one that’s larger than life. A man who fought against oppression, took from the rich and gave to the poor, and risked his life to save his friends. The original story however paints Robin a bit differently, one more prone to violence and one who was out to serve himself. And as with any story, it’s hard to know what, if any of it, is based on fact. Was there a Robin Hood? Did he perform great deeds? Or was he a scoundrel and outlaw who preyed on more than just the rich?

Fanciful tale? Biography? Legend? Fiction?

As with a lot of fairy tales, the version we have now is more exciting and more noble than the original and maybe we should be happy about that.

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Expedition Unknown – Hunting Vampires – S02E04

imageFor this episode Josh is heading out to Romania and Bulgaria in search of one of the oldest legends, the vampire. We know the vampire tale has it’s roots in Transylvania with that of Vlad Tepes and the much fictionalized and romanticized tales of Dracula. But, with each legend there is some kernel of truth, so where does that start with the vampire? For this part of the world, that story starts with the Strigoi, an undead creature who feeds upon the energy of the living. The people of this area still believe in the power of the vampire, so much so, that just recently a group of men dug up the grave of a man who they thought was turning into a Strigoi, pulled out his heart, cooked it, and used the essence to create a potion to cure the townspeople that had fallen ill and had seen visions of the man in their dreams. It’s all pretty damn strange.

The adventure starts in Bucharest with Josh riding a sweet motorcycle with a coffin as a sidecar. He travels to the local market that happens to be amidst the ruins of an old cemetery. Vendors are selling just about every trinket you can imagine and of course there is plenty of imagery and tribute to Vlad Tepes.
Josh meets with Oliviu, who takes him down into the ruined Tepes castle. Now, despite what some people would like to say as they go hunting for evil spirits, Dracul means dragon, not devil or evil. And Vlad didn’t stick people on spikes so he could feast on their blood, he wanted to scare the crap out of anyone who would invade his country. He had a small army and thought it would be best to instill fear into the advancing armies. If you saw people impaled on spikes as you approached to invade and thought it might be your fate, you might turn back.

But anyway, Oliviu talks about the Strigoi and how the legend is deeply entrenched in the minds of the farmers and people who live outside the city. In fact, Josh is told to head just out of town to the abandoned church where a Strigoi is supposedly living. Who could pass up an opportunity to hang out in a spooky cemetery with a supposed vampire lurking around?

Josh arrives just as it’s getting dark and the church is indeed a ruin. The ceiling is collapsing and the cemetery has been abandoned. However, he discovers that the sarcophagus is actually open. As he peers inside, what should greet him? Oh yes, a cat leaps out of the tomb and scurries off into the night. With pants soiled, Josh realizes that the myth of the Strigoi is just a bogeyman that people conjure up in scary places.

Some take it to an extreme though, and Josh heads to Craiova, where the villagers dug up the body. The story goes that once Petra Tomo died, people of the village got sick and saw visions of him in their dreams. This was enough to mark him as a vampire. So the villagers dug up the body, cut out the heart, cooked it to make a potion that the affected townspeople drank. Right after that, they were all better again and the anti-vampire ritual was deemed a success.

Josh ends up seeing the police record of the crime and says it’s incredibly violent. The men were given a suspended sentence of 6 months for desecrating a grave. Oddly, Josh heads out to the cemetery where the man was dug up. While having a look, some angry villagers arrive on the scene and it looks like another violent incident is about to break out. Turns out, one of them is related to a man who actually took part in the deed and agrees to take Josh to meet him. Oh this looks bad indeed as the translator bails out and leaves Josh on his own to go into the woods to meet some guy who is perfectly capable of digging up the dead and eating them.

Turns out the man was convinced Petra Tomo was turning into a vampire since he had blood around his mouth and that his skin and hair were still growing after he was dead. Of course, this is normal decomposition for a body and has nothing to do with vampires. But that doesn’t matter to the locals and not only does he not have any regret about what happened, he explains it’s not the first time that sort of thing has happened. He’s adamant he did the right thing and a bit offended Josh is second guessing him.

From here Josh heads to Bulgaria to participate in an anti-vampire ritual of a village. He meets with Ivo, an anthropologist and together they head out into the woods to pick some herbs to be used in the ceremony. They look for the verbena plant which is poisonous so the roots will grow down and poison the body, keeping it from rising up. Of course, to get to the plant, they have to cross a bridge that first made it’s appearance in The Temple of Doom. Without falling to their death they grab some plants and relocate them to the very meager and sorrowful grave in an abandoned part of town. Once done, they head to find the villagers to let them know the deed is done and find them working on their own ceremony.  The villagers are dancing across hot coals in the shape of a cross. This will help ward away the evil of the vampire.
Now that Josh has seem some of the hysteria first hand, he heads to meet Nickolay, an archaeologist who has found the grave of a man who was believed to be a vampire. Why does he make such a claim? The man had a metal spike shoved this his neck which secured him to the coffin he was buried in. This was clearly done on purpose and after he was dead. This wold have been to prevent him from rising up.

Since Josh is dealing with men of science, they agree to let him take some DNA samples to be analyzed. Turns out the man suffered from porphyria. This is a condition that among other things makes people sensitive to light and which can cause the gums to recede which gives the impression of fangs. In simple terms, it is the condition that causes the maladies that people have been associating with the vampire. It’s just a medical condition they don’t understand. This is the correlation people have made with mental disorders and being possessed by the devil. Unfortunately, all these desecrations are taking place over something they don’t understand. The townspeople have seen something gruesome, so this is a response to that fear.

There really is no basis for the vampire, just misunderstanding and a lack of medical knowledge. But the myth is certainly alive and well and judging by the attitude of the people, that myth isn’t going anywhere.

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