9 Unsolved Ancient Mysteries That Still Have Historians Perplexed Thousands Of Years Later

Published September 6, 2022
Updated September 23, 2022

From the stone heads on Easter Island to the fate of the Ark of the Covenant, these ancient mysteries have baffled historians for years.

Easter Island Statues

Yves GELLIE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesA scene from the film “Rapa Nui” — a reconstruction of the history of Easter Island, Chile.

Each year, new scientific research and archaeological discoveries help us gain a deeper understanding of human history. Researchers have discovered civilizations once lost, unheard of religions, and strange creatures that once roamed the planet.

But there are still secrets tucked away in the annals of history that we’ve yet to uncover, and many more about which we only have a limited understanding.

Unfortunately, history was rife with people killing each other, burning cities, and effectively erasing one another from existence, meaning that modern day researchers are still left wondering, in many cases, what really happened.

Why, for example, were the Easter Island Heads built? Was the Ark of the Covenenant even real — what happened to it, if it was? Why are there so many massive stone jars in the fields of Laos?

We may not know the answers, but these ancient mysteries continue to fascinate and astound people across the world.

Why Were The Nazca Lines Drawn?

Nazca Lines

Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty ImagesThe Nazca geoglyphs cover an area of around 400 square miles, visible only from the air.

In a region of Peru roughly 200 miles southeast of Lima is a series of straight lines etched into the landscape. Some of these lines run as long as 30 miles, forming geometric shapes and animal designs ranging from 50 to 1,200 feet in length.

Per National Geographic there are in total over 800 lines, 300 geometric figures, and 70 plant and animal designs.

The peculiar thing about the Nazca Lines? They can only be clearly seen from high up above, and as a result they went largely unnoticed until the early 20th century, when commercial airplanes first flew over Peru.

After studying the lines, also known as geoglyphs — drawings on the ground created by removing rocks and earth, effectively making an outline or “negative” image — in 1941, American professor Paul Kosok called the lines “the largest astronomy book in the world.”

His work was followed by a German researcher named Maria Reiche. She studied the Nazca Lines for over 40 years, living in a small hut nearby to preserve the site and keep vandals away, earning her the name “The Lady of the Lines.”

Reiche believed Kosok’s theory that the lines were in some way astrological in nature. But that theory came into question in the 1970s as more people began to pay attention to both the lines and the area around them.

The Monkey Nazca Lines

MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty ImagesThe Monkey geoglyph, possibly representing the Amazon forest where monkeys lived — also a prominent source of water, with heavy rainfall.

The region receives, on average, roughly 20 minutes of rainfall each year. There is also very little wind and erosion, meaning the Nazca Lines’ designs have remained intact for anywhere from 500 to 2,000 years.

Researchers have theorized that the lines may have in fact been used in rituals, quite likely in an attempt to appease a deity and ask for water, which would have been desperately needed to the Nazca people.

Johan Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence wrote in his book , “It seems likely that most of the lines did not point at anything on the geographical or celestial horizon, but rather led to places where rituals were performed to obtain water and fertility of crops.”

Many of the animal symbols depicted in the Nazca Lines, too, have been found in other archaeological sites in Peru: hummingbirds, spiders, and monkeys, each of which had some symbolic connection to water or fertility.

Naturally, there is also the question of how they were drawn, given that they are massive depictions that can only be seen from high above the surface.

But even with the combined knowledge of the region’s archeology, ethnohistory, and anthropology, researchers can’t say with 100 percent certainty what the lines’ purpose were.