From ahools — enormous carnivorous bats in Indonesia — to the grootslang — a deadly snake-elephant hybrid hiding deep in South African caves — nearly all civilizations spin tales of dangerous creatures. Scientists believe these animals are just myths, but there’s a passionate group of international explorers who staunchly believe cryptids are hiding among us.

Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, the most famous cryptid is the Yeti or Abominable Snowman. This creature walks upright and is believed to live in Asian mountain ranges. Desperate for proof, researchers have trekked across Russia, China, and Nepal, hoping to answer if the legend of the Yeti is more than just a story?

Here’s what we’re dealing with: the Yeti is thought to be extremely strong. It’s covered with either dark gray or auburn hair. Though the North American Bigfoot dwarfs this creature, it still stands at around six feet and a few hundred pounds.

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The Yeti legend originated from the Himalayas. In the folklore stories, this cryptid is always portrayed as dangerous and serves as a powerful lesson for those peoples to avoid other mysterious beasts that prowl the area.

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Eventually, the Yeti figure spread to the rest of society. When journalist Henry Newman interviewed British mountaineers for an upcoming article, they described huge, deep footprints in the snow.

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Their local guide explained these came from “metoh-kangmi,” or “man-bear snow-man.” Henry didn’t do his due diligence as a writer, and mistakenly translated “metoh” as “filthy,” which he changed to “abominable” because he liked the sound of it. Thus, Abominable Snowman.

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Once the Abominable Snowman became a widespread tale, many explorers claimed to see the creature and attempted to provide proof. No one has been completely successful, but it hasn’t stopped them from trying.

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Mountaineer Reinhold Messner searched for the Yeti by spending several months in Nepal and Tibet. The tracks he spotted belong to bears he claimed in his novel, My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery.

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler

Because the Yeti is so elusive, the only evidence for it — like the Loch Ness monster — is obtained from firsthand accounts. However, a few lucky adventurers have captured pictures of what they believe are Yetis.

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Another explorer, Sir Edmund Hillary, brought back a scalp he thought could belong to the Yeti in the 1960s. This was actually from a serow, which is a goat-like creature endemic to Southeast Asia. Swing and a miss.

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Time hasn’t stopped these expeditions. Even in 2011, Russia was determined to be the nation who proved the Yeti was undeniably real. The government gathered a group of Bigfoot experts in Siberia and got to work.

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John Bindernagel, one of the Bigfoot experts with a very fun last name, made quite a bold claim. He saw trees twisted in nature and concluded it had to be Yetis doing it, so they could build nests for themselves.

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John’s group also claimed to find grey hair on some moss, which they presented as undeniable evidence. Another one of the Bigfoot experts disagreed. Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropologist at Idaho State University, spoke against John.

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Jeff said he thought the tree branches were faked by someone else in the group — the trees had cuts that were too clean to be made by an animal and this evidence just happened to be found right next to a popular trail.

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This great Russian Yeti conference turned out to be some kind of PR stunt to encourage tourism to the mining region. Apparently, Siberia is known for its hospitality, so they could have advertised that instead. That didn’t squash the Yeti hunt though.

Researchers still haven’t given up their Yeti dreams. In 2013, Oxford University geneticist Bryan Sykes, right, reached out to Yeti-truthers across the globe and asked them to send him samples from their Yeti-proof-specimens.

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Brian received 57 samples of either hair, teeth, or tissue. His team tested 36 of these and compared them to known animal DNA sequences. Many of the “Yeti” samples were from cows, horses, or bears. Not all were common creatures though.

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Samples from Bhutan and India belonged to a Pleistocene polar bear. This beast lived around 40,000 and 120,000 years ago and provided insight into when polar bears and brown bears were separating as species. That’s pretty cool, but it wasn’t a Yeti.

There’s conflicting evidence about whether these samples were even from the ancient polar bear. Scientists Ronald H. Pine and Eliécer E. Gutiérrez claimed Brian’s hairs were from modern brown bears. There are so many hair arguments, we can bear-ly stand them. (Insert groan here.)

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In 2017, a different group of scientists analyzed nine more samples. They looked at bone, teeth, skin, hair, and feces from monasteries and caves in the Himalayas and compared them to regional animals.

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They’d managed to gather eight Asian black bear, Himalayan brown bear, and Tibetan brown bear samples. The last was a dog. So, there still isn’t 100% undeniable evidence of the Yeti.

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Researchers and true believers aren’t giving up their quest. People used to believe giant squids were a myth until their bodies washed up on beaches. These persistent people may get lucky, too. Just look at the Yeti’s cousin in the United States.

It was a quiet July day near Mount St. Helens, Washington, on the northwest coast of the United States. Fred Beck and a group of four other miners were going about their daily duties, in what would later be called Ape Canyon.

The team of five men knew the area well. They’d been there for six years, since 1918, prospecting for gold on a claim called Vander White, and they had a well-established cabin set up there, with plenty of supplies and equipment.

Since it was a remote location, the men carried rifles with them during the day, just in case they ran into bears — or something else. As Fred told the story, they’d been seeing large tracks by the creek, and hearing strange whistling sounds at night.

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On this particular day, Fred and one of his fellow miners, Hank, were hiking down to the stream for water. It was after dinner, and the sun was sinking low when they approached the low bank.

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At first, everything seemed normal, according to Fred’s retelling years after. The water burbled quietly, the trees rustled, the cicadas hummed — and then Hank yelled, and raised his gun, pointing it a hundred yards away across a small gully. Fred followed his gaze.

There, standing near a pine tree and looking straight at them, was a giant creature. It looked about seven feet tall, with blackish-brownish fur or hair. Sensing danger, it ran behind the tree as Hank shot towards it.

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Fred fired his rifle, too, three times — but the creature fled into the forest. The two men hiked back uphill to the cabin and told the others what they’d seen. Everyone agreed that the creature was a threat.

They decided to head to the nearby town for safety for a while, but since it was getting dark, they made up their minds that they’d wait and head out first thing in the morning.

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As dark fell, the men went to sleep, but a few hours later they awoke to a huge thud against the side of the log cabin. It was around midnight, and Hank, who was sleeping on a makeshift bed on the floor, was hollering.

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Whatever had hit the cabin had hit it so hard that the clay packed between the logs had crumbled and fallen onto Hank. The men jumped up and peeked out the holes in the wall to see three creatures in the shadowy moonlight, tampering with the miners’ equipment.

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The creatures began pushing on the cabin walls and pelting small rocks at its sides. In response, the miners fired at them out of the cracks made in the wall. When the rock-throwing and body-slamming subsided, the miners stopped shooting.

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“If they saw we were only shooting when they attacked, they might realize we were only defending ourselves,” Fred recounted later. However, his theory didn’t entirely work out. At one point, one of the creatures reached an arm inside between the logs.

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Much to the miners’ alarm, it grabbed an axe that was near the hole in the wall. But before it could wreak any more damage, Fred leapt to the wall and wrenched the head of the axe upright, making it too wide to fit through the hole.

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Through the rest of the night, the miners braced the door and held the creatures at bay. By dawn, the creatures seemed to have gone, and when the men peeked out, one lone creature stood on the canyon rim. They shot at it, and it toppled over the edge.

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When they returned to town, they told everyone about it. Sight-seers and scientists came back to the men’s cabin to see evidence of the creatures, but they never reappeared. It was only decades later, in 1967, that video evidence appeared to show a specimen of the beings.

Down the coast from Ape Canyon, Bob Gimlin and Robert Patterson were out for a ride on horseback through the woods, testing out a rented 16mm camera, when they came upon a creature walking through the woods.

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The resulting minute-long footage, known as the Patterson-Gimlin film, has been intensely scrutinized and debated for subsequent decades. Patterson claimed it to be a real Bigfoot encounter, never wavering even on his deathbed in 1972.

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However, in later years, suspicions arose around claims from Philip Morris and Bob Hieronimus that the former had created a gorilla suit for Robert Patterson, and Bob Hieronimus had been the actor to wear the suit as part of a publicity stunt Patterson thought up.

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Stories like the Patterson-Gimlin footage and the Ape Canyon escapade abound throughout American culture. However, witness testimony is often unreliable, and most of the more modern Bigfoot sightings or evidence claims have been unfortunately debunked.

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So what do you think? Until scientists find real DNA evidence, we may never know the truth of what — or who — lies hidden in the mountains. Meanwhile, with every passing year, scientists are getting closer and closer to identifying Loch Ness’ long-held secret.

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See, before we relied on sonar equipment to tell us stories about Loch Ness, we relied, like most ancient people, on local lore. The Scottish Highlands are wrapped up in centuries of stories that may or may not be true, some more bizarre than others.

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What we know for sure is that the Highlands were once populated by tribal farmers that the Romans called the Picts. The Picts are today known for two things: Their artistic creations and their admiration of animals, two passions that were often intertwined. 

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Pictish animal depictions can still be found in Scotland today, mostly carved into stones in the region around Loch Ness. From snakes to horses to seagulls, most of the animals are easy to decipher…except for one.

There’s one creature that appears repeatedly in Pictish art, and historians are still at a loss as to what it even is. Dubbed the “Pictish Beast,” the creature looks something like an elephant and a seahorse combined. One feature stands out above the rest.

More than anything, it’s the creature’s elongated “neck” or “beak” that has made people question whether the beast is merely a creation of the Pictish people or something more. The common depiction of the creature with flippers points in a familiar direction…

It points right towards Loch Ness, where an elusive long-necked and flipper-having creature allegedly lives. Around 1,500 years ago, it wasn’t eccentric to believe that something magical lived inside even the smallest, most unassuming body of water.

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If you look at an ancient map of Scotland, you might see some bodies of water labeled “Loch-na-Beistie.” Back then, people thought these lakes and streams were home to creatures like “kelpies,” or mysterious, often evil water horses.

In this way, bodies of water have always contained mysteries in Scotland. It may sound silly to us now, but what if you heard about the existence of a dangerous aquatic monster from the person you trusted the most? In A.D. 565, that’s exactly what happened.

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Saint Columba, the man who brought Christianity to Scotland, was walking along Loch Ness when he saw a large creature about to attack a swimmer. Columba raised his hands and commanded the monster to flee…which it did, leaving the swimmer unharmed.

By 1933, Loch Ness had been turned into a can’t-miss tourist destination. Radio shows were interrupted for updates about the lake monster, and a British circus offered 20,000 pounds for anyone who was able to capture the creature. Everyone wanted a glimpse…

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So when the London Daily Mail hired a famous big-game hunter (and actor) named Marmaduke Wetherell to catch the beast, people arrived in droves, lawn chairs in hand, to watch the action unfold. Days went by as Wetherell searched, with expectations higher than ever.

After a few days of the search, though, Wetherell hadn’t even captured a ripple on the lake’s surface. That’s when he miraculously discovered the huge, 20-foot-long footprints of a four-toed animal, which he immediately sent off to the Natural History Museum in London for analysis.

The analysis results, though, revealed a disappointing truth: The footprints actually belonged to a hippopotamus. No one knows if a desperate Wetherell manufactured the footprints himself or if someone else did, but the point was, Nessie was still just an unconfirmed legend…

And when the phony footprints were revealed, the once-excited tourists started to wonder if everything was a hoax. In 1934, though, a new photo emerged that brought the public’s interest in the so-called monster to new heights.

Nowadays known as the “surgeon’s photo,” this photo of Nessie became the most famous evidence of an unidentified creature living in the loch. Taken by respected London doctor R. Kenneth Wilson, few people believed it was a hoax…until 1994, that is.

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And 60 years after the photo was published by the Daily Mail, a 1975 newspaper clipping was uncovered that made historians and Loch Ness experts think twice about the validity of the surgeon’s photo, and all because of the author of the newspaper article.

Historians realized that the surgeon’s photo was actually a cropped version of an original photo, which hardly anyone knew existed. The thing is, the author of the article seemed to know about the two versions…and the author’s name was Ian Wetherell, Marmaduke’s son.

Historians knew they had to speak with Wetherell, but he had died by the time they read the article in 1994. So, they talked to his stepbrother, Christian Spurling, who at 93 years old confessed to a shocking plot organized by his stepfather, Marmaduke Wetherell.

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According to Spurling, Marmaduke’s career as a hunter and actor was tarnished after the hippo-tracks fiasco, and he sought revenge. To do so, he created the fake Nessie as seen in the surgeon’s photo taken by Dr. Wilson — an acquaintance of Wetherell.

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With that, the Loch Ness monster went from an as yet unproven phenomenon to a bedtime story…one that kept adding chapters. You see, by the 1970s, better underwater technology meant better equipped expeditions on the loch… 

Instead of scrappy local groups investigating the waters, people from Oxford, Cambridge, and the BBC arrived with bigger and better technology. Most revolutionary was the use of sonar equipment, a military technology used to detect movement underwater.

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Though each expedition made by Oxford, Cambridge, and the BBC were inconclusive, they all picked up huge moving objects that they couldn’t explain. In an effort to get to the bottom (literally) of Loch Ness’ many mysteries, the BBC organized Project Urquhart.

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Project Urquhart was dedicated to studying the biology of the loch. The expedition’s sonar technology detected a large moving target that they followed for a few minutes before they lost contact. A different expedition yielded even more compelling results.

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During a separate 1997 expedition, two scientists detected another moving target, which they estimated to be the same size of a small whale. With all these sightings, it’s getting harder and harder for scientists to ignore the unusual activity under Loch Ness’ surface…

Loch Ness is over 700 feet of deep, dark water, so locating this mythical beast is a tall order…one geneticist and self-described monster-hunter, Professor Neil Gemmell, was fascinated by. He believed he could be the one to finally get some 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.

It was that “surgeon’s photograph.” 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tahsin Ceylan

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.