Of all the unanswerable mysteries in this world, few are debated (and hoaxed!) more than the Loch Ness Monster. Pop culture has taken the mythical monster and transformed it into something tourists from around the globe will travel to see…even if it means staring at a calm, waveless lake for hours on end.
But every once in a while, someone comes along hoping to shed new light on a centuries-old mystery. One professor was fascinated by the mythology surrounding Nessie and decided that, once and for all, he would expose whatever secrets were lurking beneath Loch Ness’ surface…
The Scottish Highlands are known for lush, green scenery and centuries-old castles, but what really attracts tourists has nothing to do with nature or architecture. Scotland’s greatest mystery lies just beneath the surface of its legendary lake.
Loch Ness is over 700 feet of deep, dark water, and it’s the rumored home of the mythical Loch Ness Monster. A geneticist and self-described monster-hunter, Professor Neil Gemmell was fascinated by the myth and believed he could be the one to get answers.
But before answers could be found, Gemmell had to ask himself some key questions: How did Nessie come to be? What does it look like? What truly lives in Loch Ness’ murky underwater world?
Believe it or not, the existence of a larger-than-average underwater creature in Loch Ness was recorded all the way back in 500AD. A man was swimming when he was apparently “mauled and dragged underwater” by a “water beast.” From then on, the sightings only increased.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, local interest in an underwater beast hit its peak. The tourism in the area was increasing, and in 1934, a vacationing man was looking out at the loch when he saw something odd…so he grabbed his camera.
The ensuing picture, known as the “surgeon’s photograph,” captured a blurry, long-necked creature peeking out of the water. Suddenly, Nessie’s long neck and bumpy back was famous worldwide. This became the definitive Nessie sighting — but it also sparked years of controversy.
The scientific community has always resisted the existence of the Loch Ness Monster due to a lack of evidence, and it wasn’t long after the surgeon’s photo was published that it was exposed as a hoax. Obviously, this was a huge blow to enthusiasts everywhere.
You see, back then, photographic evidence was really the only surefire way to provide evidence that something had happened. All believers had to go on were local tales and childish drawings. Thankfully, times have changed.
Professor Neil Gemmell knew that even some myths should be investigated, so he decided to find out the truth once and for all…and since it’s the twenty-first century, he was able to do a lot better than photographic evidence.
Leading a team from New Zealand’s University of Otago, Neil took water samples from three different depths of the lake. Each sample contained DNA that Neil hoped would shed some light on the murky mystery — DNA that was comprised of seemingly-normal materials.
Neil’s team sent the DNA samples, which reportedly contained skin, scales, feathers, fur, and fecal matter, to labs in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and France. Neil’s investigation couldn’t have come at a better time, as Nessie sightings have recently reached a record high.
“Sightings are now at a level that were being recorded in the 1990s,” said Gary Campbell, recorder of the official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register. “The internet has meant that Loch has never been more watched — and from anywhere in the world.”
With so many people intent on uncovering the loch’s secrets themselves, the Scottish economy rakes in millions a year thanks to Nessie. In 2019 alone, there have already been twelve people claiming to have seen the Loch Ness Monster with their own eyes.
One man, Richard Cobb, saw something large break through the surface of Loch Ness in late July 2019. “I never believed in Nessie, but now I’m not so sure. What I saw was just weird,” he said. “There was something in there for sure.”
In June 2019, a boat skipper logged a large creature on his sonar close to one of Nessie’s “favorite lairs.” It was a 25-foot long object — definitely not your average fish. “It was exceptionally big. I would like to think it was Nessie,” he said.
Hundreds of Nessie sightings have been debunked as otters, swans, and floating debris. Gemmell hopes that the results from his investigation will be undeniable, but he knows how staunchly some people believe in even the most outlandish of theories…
Some people think that Nessie is really just an enormous catfish or eel, while others believe it to be a large Greenland Shark. One of the more eccentric beliefs is that the “monster” is a slightly evolved plesiosaur that somehow avoided extinction.
Fans of the mystery are craving answers. On Facebook, 18,000 people have signed up to “storm” Loch Ness in September 2019. They hope enough people in Loch Ness will get the creature to resurface so they can, as the group put it, “find dat big boi.”
But Gemmell hopes that his findings will answer any questions people have before any “storming” ensues. “We’ve tested each one of the main monster hypotheses and three of them we can probably say aren’t right and one of them might be,” he said mysteriously.
He described his findings as “significant” and “a bit surprising,” and expects to release them in September. “We’re delighted with the amount of interest the project has generated,” he said. “Monster or not, we’re going to understand Loch Ness and the life in it in a new way.”
While Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts wait for the results of Gemmel’s study, some are turning their attentions to Lake Van, the largest body of water in all of Turkey: it’s also hiding a secret “monster” within its depths.
Despite being situated over 5,000 feet above sea level, Lake Van never freezes. The lake’s high salinity keeps the water flowing year-round, though this phenomenon has come at the price of Lake Van’s biodiversity.
Because of these high salt levels, only one type of fish – the Pearl Mullet – is known to live in the lake’s brackish waters. However, according to local legend, these mackerel-sized fish aren’t the only creatures lurking beneath the waves of Lake Van.
For over a century, locals have reported sightings of a monster that calls Lake Van its home. Most of these claims have proven unfounded over the years, though in 1997, Ünal Kozak managed to capture the creature on film.
In the video, a large, almost squid-like monster emerges from the water before slowly disappearing beneath the waves. Yet like similar “sightings” of legendary creatures, the legitimacy of Kozak’s discovery continues to be a point of contention among scholars.
Even so, the possible existence of such a creature hasn’t deterred archaeologists from exploring the the lake. Just recently, in fact, an expedition led divers to the very bottom of Lake Van, though what they found there was unlike anything they’d seen before.
On the day in question, a group of researchers assembled by Van Yüzüncü Yıl University arrived at the lake shore to debunk another age-old myth: that the lost city of Atlantis was actually somewhere beneath Lake Van. Believe it or not, this idea wasn’t so farfetched.
Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi
The land surrounding Lake Van was once home to the Urartians, an ancient civilization that flourished in Turkey during the Iron Age some 3,000 years ago. Yet despite their centuries-long presence in the area, very few remnants from the days of these ancient people still remain.
While conquest surely played a role in the disappearance of most Urartian structures, some scholars believe the rising tides of Lake Van sunk these relics beneath the water. Locating these structures would be no easy task, however, so the team opted to bring in a little extra help.
Morgan Stone Grether Photography
A veteran underwater photographer, Tahsin Ceylan was pegged to lead the expedition’s dive team in search of the lost Urartian kingdom. With his years of diving experience, coupled with his extensive knowledge of Lake Van, Ceylan was surely the team’s best bet for uncovering this long-forgotten piece of history.
But when it finally came time to take the plunge into the lake, even Ceylan couldn’t help but feel a little wary over the thought of the legend of the Lake Van Monster. Sure, he’d dived here hundreds of times before, but would this be the day he finally came face-to-fin with the terrifying creature?
The team seemed to echo their guide’s fears, and as they dove deeper into the lake, it became increasingly difficult to shake this unnerving thought. After all, in a body of water as large and murky as this one, almost anything could be lurking just a few feet below.
Once they’d reached the bottom of Lake Van, Ceylan and his team quickly set to work combing the sands for any sign of Urartian artifacts. Almost instantly, one of the divers spotted an enormous shadow that made everyone’s blood run cold.
Shrouded in a veil of deep blue, what the diver saw sat in total stillness, almost as if it were made of stone. The divers summoned their courage and swam toward the sight, but what they found wasn’t a monster.
National Geographic / YouTube
It was a castle! The towering structure was in remarkable condition, its walls and foundation intact. It had certainly been down here for quite some time, but was this castle truly a relic from the long-forgotten Urartian empire? They needed to know more.
As Ceylan and his team continued exploring the ruins, one of the divers stumbled upon a revelatory etching on one of the walls: that of a lion. This all but confirmed the castle was Urartian, as the civilization had used symbols such as these to identify themselves as a kingdom for centuries.
After snapping photos of the structure, the divers returned to the surface to share their findings with the rest of the team. The researchers were thrilled at the discovery, though upon learning of the lion symbol, things quickly became complicated.
The Anatolia Post
Despite the Urartians using this motif throughout their history, some of the scholars believed the lion symbol looked more medieval than ancient. If this was the case, then the castle would date back to the Middle Ages rather than the Iron Age.
The structure itself also supported this theory, as the stones used to build it were a mix of both Urtartian and medieval. This led scholars to deduce the kingdoms of the Middle Ages likely repurposed materials from these ancient ruins to build their own fortresses.
The archaeological community remained split over the true origin of the castle beneath Lake Van. In the meantime, historians turned their attention to a new discovery made in the U.S. — one that might be even more extraordinary than the lost Urtarian kingdom.
Beneath the calm waters of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, divers found a massive secret, one that lay hidden for hundreds of years. It would excite just about any historian, they knew.
Flickr / Christian Loader
It’s the wreck of the Whydah, a massive ship built to hold 150 men and several hundred tons of cargo. It went missing off the coast of New England in 1717, and many assumed it was lost forever.
However, explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah in 1984, and he has been digging up artifacts from the site ever since. His exploits make him one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time.
Wicked Local Yarmouth
Barry has long been on the hunt for a treasure that will make him a legend. He once believed he found the remnants of the Santa Maria from Christopher Columbus’ original 1492 voyage, but tests later determined it was a different vessel.
The Whydah, however, was a monumental find. It was the flagship of one of history’s greatest pirates: Black Sam Bellamy. This captain was known as the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea,’ and for good reason.
For one thing, Bellamy only targeted wealthy merchants and tried to use as little violence as possible. His crew members received equal pay and respect, even those who were Native Americans or former slaves.
In fact, the Whydah was originally the property of slave traders until Bellamy seized it by force and freed the captives aboard.
Valparaiso University, Wikimedia Commons
Most famously, Bellamy pulled off the biggest heists in pirate history. Historians estimate that he plundered the modern equivalent of $120 million throughout his career.
These daring exploits made Bellamy one of the most talked-about pirates of his time. He rose above his criminal origins to become a bona fide folk hero.
Unfortunately, Bellamy didn’t have much time to enjoy his success. A massive storm sank the Whydah, claiming untold amounts of treasure and most of the crew, including Bellamy himself.
Centuries later, Clifford and his colleagues have unearthed countless relics and treasures from the wreck, and they established the Whydah Pirate Museum to share Bellamy’s story.
Even though Clifford’s team has been studying this site for decades, he still felt like they were only scratching the surface. Then, one diving mission in late 2016 changed everything.
The explorers located a large chunk of debris from the Whydah that had many artifacts trapped inside of it. They hauled it up to dry land for a closer look.
It presented a virtual treasure trove, with genuine coins and seafaring equipment jutting through the rough surface. But this motherlode contained one thing the scientists didn’t expect to find… human bones.
They came across a femur just a short distance away from what appeared to be Bellamy’s pistol. Could it be the remains of the late great Captain himself?
Wikimedia Commons / WellCome Images
Clifford knew they needed proof, so he recruited a team of forensic scientists. They extracted DNA from the bone and compared it to that of one of Bellamy’s descendants in the United Kingdom. At last, the results came in…
Flickr / vâniamoreira1
But it was not a match. This bone likely belonged to an anonymous crew member, but certainly not to Captain Bellamy. The elusive Black Sam slipped away from authorities once again.
The bad news sunk Clifford’s theory faster than the Whydah. Nevertheless, the bone gave researchers the chance to learn more about the typical sailor from that era.
Clifford can still take pride in his ongoing excavation of the Whydah. After all, no other famous pirate ship has been studied so closely. Nobody can question his accomplishments or contributions to history.
Besides, the mysteries of the Whydah are still out there in the briny deep, and Bellamy’s final resting place may even surface someday. All it will take is the right person to find it.