Top 10 Historical Events That CAN'T Be Explained

Top 10 Historical Events That CAN'T Be Explained
VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
The unexplained will always be fascinating! For this list, we'll be looking at the verifiable events throughout history with unknown origins or explanations, or that have yet to be conclusively explained. Our countdown includes disappearances, extinction, a peculiar plague and more!

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 historical events that can’t be explained. For this list, we’ll be looking at the verifiable events throughout history with unknown origins or explanations, or that have yet to be conclusively explained. If there’s a mysterious historical event you demand which you’re mystified didn’t make our list, explain your takes in the comments!

#10: Miracle of the Sun

On October 13, 1917, thousands gathered in Fátima, Portugal to witness a miracle, supposedly prophesied by 3 shepherd children. Many of those assembled there and as far away as 11 miles reported seeing strange solar activity, with the sun seeming to dance across the sky, grow larger, or change color. There were also reports of visions of religious figures. The Catholic church has labeled it a miracle. Skeptics are quick to point out the contradictory nature of the accounts, as well as the lack of corroborating evidence from elsewhere in the world. The general consensus is that people saw what they wanted to see. Or they may have just been dehydrated and stared at the sun too long…

#9: The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

In 1937, famous aviator Amelia Earhart was attempting to circumnavigate the world. But on July 2nd, contact was lost with her as she flew towards Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, and she and her navigator Fred Noonan were never heard from again. Many theories have run rampant in the years since as to her ultimate fate. Did she run out of fuel and crash into the ocean? Were she and Noonan forced to land on another island and unable to escape? Or was she perhaps captured by the Japanese, who controlled several nearby islands? So far, no one knows the answer.

#8: Extinction of the Neanderthals

Modern humans weren’t always the only humans. Up until 40,000 years ago, one species of fellow humans were the Neanderthals, whose fossils have primarily been found in Eurasia. But why our peers with sloping foreheads died out is still debated today. Ideas range from internal factors, like their smaller population size, to external threats like climate change or our ancestors encroaching on their territory. Neanderthals may also have interbred with modern humans so much that they stopped being a distinct species and became just another part of ours. All of the above may have been factors. We may never know - at least without some very explicit cave paintings.

#7: Disappearance of the USS Cyclops

In February 1918, the U.S. Naval vessel Cyclops was overladen with cargo on a trip from Brazil to Baltimore. After an unscheduled stop in Barbados, it departed, but never reached its destination. No wreckage has ever been found. Given that it occurred during WWI, early speculation suggested that the Cyclops was attacked by the Germans, or that its German-born captain had turned traitor. However, Germany denied any knowledge of the ship at the time or since. Given that it had too much cargo, the most accepted explanation is that it sank during a storm, but the 300+ crew and passengers, not to mention the ship simply vanishing without a trace remains mysterious. Another Bermuda Triangle victim?

#6: The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Nine Soviet hikers, led by Igor Dyatlov, were hiking in the Ural mountains in February 1959 when they all met a bizarre fate. For an unconfirmed reason, all of them cut open their own tents and ran out into the snow without adequate clothing. Although most died of hypothermia, several of them died from trauma injuries to their heads and chests. Theories have included everything from animal attacks to military involvement. The most common explanation is an avalanche or snow slab in the night, which caused the injuries and led to a panic. Still, the mystery has persisted due to the lack of conclusive evidence and the remote area where the deaths occurred.

#5: Dancing Plague

Europe was home to many plagues in the past, but this is arguably the strangest. As far back as the 7th century and as recently as the 17th, groups of people suffered bouts of seemingly uncontrollable dancing. These dancing episodes could last for days, weeks, or even months, even leading to numerous deaths. Medical explanations include everything from fungal poisoning to St. Elmo’s fire, which can cause hallucinations and convulsions, to mass hysteria. Some have even suggested the dancing was staged. Whether the plague was a true disease or shared stress getting an outlet, the dancing plague has people tapping their chins, if not their feet, all these years later.

#4: The Abandonment of the Mary Celeste

In 1872, the American brigantine ship the Mary Celeste was on a voyage from New York City bound for Italy. On December 4th, the vessel was found deserted, with the logs indicating it had occurred at most 9 days prior. The lifeboat was missing, and various items missing indicated an evacuation. However, despite some damage to the sails, there were ample provisions still in the hold. Many have long wondered what could have driven the crew to abandon ship. Piracy seems unlikely, but foul play, like a ransom or insurance scam are popular theories. A frightening weather event or oceanic phenomenon are also frequent suspects. Given that none of those aboard were found or heard from again, we’ll likely never know.

#3: The Great Leap Forward

No, not the great Chinese famine. Rather this prehistorical event is the comparatively rapid development of behaviors that we see as characterizing modern humans - speaking in language, creating art, burying our dead, making stone or bone tools, and so on. All these things began happening around 40 to 50 thousand years ago, which is relatively recent. Were humans simply not living in dense enough populations until this point for these practices to spread? Or were there evolutionary factors? Although some argue that these behaviors had been accumulating long before that point, the causes of behavioral modernity are still not fully understood.

#2: Disappearance of Roanoke Colony

One of the oldest American mysteries, this goes back to 1590. Established on the coast of current day North Carolina, the Roanoke Colony was found abandoned after its expedition leader John White returned with needed supplies from England after several years away. He discovered all the colonists missing and the word “Croatoan” carved into the colony’s defensive wall. White assumed this indicated they left for Croatoan Island, but what became of over 100 colonists is still unknown today. Despite little evidence of battle, some suggested the colony was attacked by native tribes or by the Spanish from the sea. Others believe the settlers became integrated with the local inhabitants. Regardless, their fate remains one of colonial American history’s most enduring enigmas.

#1: Bronze Age Collapse

The late Bronze Age Collapse is a period beginning during the 12th century BCE, in which multiple major civilizations in the Mediterranean experienced sudden, rapid declines, with multiple economic collapses and other major setbacks. Dozens of explanations have been raised over the last few centuries. Volcanic disasters, climate change, or the rise in iron making may have contributed to economic faltering. Even the depredations of mysterious raiders known only as “sea peoples” have also been blamed. It may have been any or all of these. No matter the cause though, within a short period, most of the region’s major civilizations were either gone or drastically reduced in power.