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Ancient

620 – Paleo by Comparison: the Million-Year-Old Map

Cartography is an ancient urge. Humans made maps long before they invented writing.

But whereas the origin of the written word can be pinpointed with some certainty to the Middle East at the end of the fourth millennium BC [1], no such archaeological consensus exists over the age and location of the world’s oldest map.

The problem, with each candidate piece of scratched or painted rock: Is it ritual abstraction, or realistic depiction? In other words, when does the shaman become a mapmaker?

The answers to that question vary wildly. The oldest examples of mapmaking are also the most debatable, probably because cartographer and augurer are still joined in Siamese twinship.

Take the Çatalhöyük wall painting, dated to the late seventh millennium BC. Does it really represent a map of the neolithic settlement it its Anatolian surroundings? Or are those rooftops really just an abstract pattern, and that erupting volcano nothing more than a leopard skin? [2]?

The oldest indisputable examples of cartography depict heavenly bodies, in large part because their position is still verifiable today. A drawing in France’s Lascaux cave, dated to 18,500 years ago, clearly shows the Pleiades [3], as well as the so-called Summer Triangle [4].

Even though other ancient examples of maps could still be unearthed, the scientific consensus is that cartography has an outer age limit – roughly the same one for burial rites, cave paintings and other expressions of symbolic thinking. The emergence of this ‘behavioural modernity’, either as a sudden shift in human genetics or as a gradual accumulation of skills, is thought to have culminated about 50,000 years ago with the advent of language.

Along comes an amateur archaeologist with a stunning find that could pulverise that age limit. What if the world’s oldest map is at least ten times older than that putative onset of abstract thought. How about a map that is anywhere from half a million to one million years old?

paleo 1

The amateur is David King, a passionate Yorkshireman who prefers to call himself an ‘intuitive archaeologist’: “[I don’t] possess academic qualifications, but I have been collecting, analysing and researching one site at the head of the Colne Valley [5] in England”. Over two decades, Mr. King has collected over 10,000 paleolithic artefacts in the area.

The map in question seems to be engraved on a 4.5-inch tall pebble. It takes only a small leap of the imagination to recognise the coastlines of Europe in the shapes incised into the stone. But matching the mapwork with the object’s supposed age – up to a million years, Mr. King contends – is several bridges too far for current science. And for most scientists.

Mr. King has had the map stone for over a decade, but in all those years was unable to have ‘official’ palaeontologists concede that it might be a man-made artefact. “They all say that it is a coincidence or a ‘natural’ occurrence, and that prehistoric man […] was incapable of such a feat […] The fact remains that it has been done […] Even a child with a limited grasp of geography can recognise the Western European coastline on this map”.

In fact, Mr. King contends, the stone surface presents “an accurate,detailed and concise map of the coastlines,lakes and river systems from north Europe all the way down to South Africa.”

If, as Mr. King’s non-intuitive colleagues maintain, the shapes displayed on the pebble are mere coincidences, they are pretty big ones. He lists some of the correspondences:

paleo 2

* “The mighty River Eridanos [6] flowed […] until about 700,000 years ago from the Baltic to the North Sea and marks the northernmost limit of the map, although Greenland could also be seen”.

* “In England, the Rivers Thames, Bytham [7] and Medway are shown, although Scotland is cut off and the Welsh coast is above water.The Bytham was known to have been obliterated by the Anglian Ice Age [8] as are several of the marked rivers in northern Germany,the Paris Basin appears to be flooded possibly between the Seine and the Somme”.

* “In Germany, the Rivers Rhine, Ems and Meuse and the lost rivers are marked. [S]trangely, the red ‘warrior figure’ is original and possibly a painted image… It does not scrub off!”

* “The west coast of France is remarkably accurate, with the Rivers Loire,Garonne,Rhône among others marked and the area south of Marseilles in shown above water (there are cave drawing off the coast there now 120 feet under water)”.

* “In Spain, the River Ebro is clearly marked, and [archaeological] finds there have been dated at before the geomagnetic field change 780,000 years ago [9].The Ebro appears to join up with the Rhône at a delta now under the sea”.

* “In Portugal the Rivers Tagus, Guadiana and others are shown”.

* “The Straits of Gibraltar are easily identifiable as is the north coast of Africa, although the Med looks rather different.Bearing in mind that this is a seismically active area and the African tectonic plates are sliding underneath the European plates,the changes over more than half a million years would have been considerable. It still looks recognisable today though”.

* “Lake Victoria and the River Nile appear to be shown too and [the map] appears to mark a land path north from East Africa to Europe crossing land that is now sea to join the Rivers Rhone,Ebro and Garonne”.

paleo 3

Mr. King speculates that the map stone is the receptacle of many generations’ worth of navigational knowledge, acquired as man left drought-stricken Africa for the more promising shores of Europe: “It must have been by boat or raft, probably bamboo, as [this] grows abundantly around rivers and coastlines. […] I expect that they moved slowly around the coast and navigable rivers,using natural safe harbours, settling in suitable areas where adequate water [and] food could be found,while some moved on to the next safe harbour […] Intimate knowledge of the coastlines and rivers [was] generated into a mental ‘map’ that probably first manifested in ‘written’ form on easier to use materials like clay, wax, wood or leather, but of course they would not have survived the passage of such a long period of time and no trace of them would remain today. After many,many generations,the accumulated knowledge was able to be transcribed onto stone with incredible accuracy”.

“[The artefact] must have been in much greater relief when made, the coastlines appear to have been incised and painted black  (probably manganese dioxide) with the landmasses left in relief…it could even have been used to print copies onto beeswax, resin or clay”.

A fantastic story, but is it too good to be true? Mr King has a hard time convincing the scientific establishment of his theory that the earth-stone is an artefact, made by very, very, very early humans: “So far, not a single British archaeologist or anthropologist will even entertain the idea that it could have been made by Early Man, and [they] have never investigated further… [A]nd yet they freely admit they know so very little about pre-Neanderthal humans in Britain from 475,000 to 900,000 years [ago]!”

Perhaps because the oldest human artefact ever found, the so-called Venus of Hohle Fels [10], is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, which is about the same age bracket for the world’s oldest cave painting yet discovered [11].

“[A]lthough very little is known of pre-Neanderthal humans [in the UK], I believe I have evidence that the European subspecies of Homo erectus (whether Homo antecessor or Homo heidelbergensis) that  first came out of Africa around 1.2 million years ago was far more knowledgeable, intelligent, highly evolved and resourceful than is currently understood […] I doubt anyone today could make such an artefact as this by hand – but does this really mean it can’t have been made by man in deep time?”

“I believe this map holds many secrets and begs so very many questions that I have probably only touched the tip of an iceberg. So please tell me if you find more, I must have missed so much!”

The reason Mr. King refuses to believe this paleo-map is a coincidence, are other examples of stone maps he found at the Colne Valley site. “One map not only shows the rivers, but also two springs, crossing points, three distinct doglegs and landmarks, [in all] 33 points of reference to the existing topography”. He is working on a book to explain his findings in detail – even though established scientists will probably continue to ignore them: “I feel I have walked into an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, discovered a lost world and been given a ‘gift’ from above… And yet so far, nobody seems that interested when I try to pass the knowledge on.The vanity of these people, they think they know everything and because they have a few letters after their names, they refuse to accept that experienced amateurs such as myself have any part to play in future discoveries… Hasnt science always been so!”

Many thanks to Mr. King for sending in these pictures of his find. More on them on his website, Colnianman Museum.

_______

[1] The oldest extant examples of written language are over 5,000 years old, and from Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Writing then originated independently in China approximately 3,200 years ago, and in Central America around 2,600 years ago.

[2] Older examples of ‘map-like’ features carved in stone were found in the Czech Republic and Spain. Dated to 25,000 and 14,000 years ago respectively, the carvings could also represent a merely ‘spiritual’ landscape.

[3] A.k.a. the Seven Sisters, this star cluster in the constellation Taurus (Latin for bull) is one of the most striking objects in the night sky in the northern hemisphere.

[4] A triangular star pattern visible in the northern hemisphere, connecting the three brightest stars in the constellations Aquila (Latin for eagle), Cygnus (Latin for Swan) and Lyra (Latin for lyre), i.e. Altair (from the Arabic for [flying] eagle), Deneb (from the Arabic for [hen’s] tail) and Vega (from the Arabic for falling [eagle]), respectively.

[5] A valley in West Yorkshire, to the east of the main ridge of the Pennine Hills. The River Colne rises near Marsden, flowing east towards Huddersfield, where it is joined by the Holme, then towards Bradley, where the Colne itself joins the River Calder. The term ‘Colne Valley’ is mostly used to describe the area between Marsden and Huddersfield, but less frequently also includes the section towards Bradley.

[6] Named after a Greek mythical river flowing in distant Europe, Eridanos is also the name given an actual river, which flowed from 40 million years ago to the Middle Pleistocene.

[7] The Bytham was a Pleistocene-era river running from the Midlands east towards the North Sea. It may have provided Britain’s first inhabitants with a convenient ‘invasion route’, some time between 500,000 and 700,000 years ago. The river’s ancient course was identified only in the 1980s.

[8] The name used in Britain for a period of severe glaciation during the Pleistocene, lasting from 478,000 to 424,000 years ago. Its equivalent names are, among others, the Mindel Stage (in the Alps) and the Esterian Stage (in northern Europe). At the height of the Anglian Stage, glaciers reached all the way down to Hornchurch, in northeast London – further south than at any time during the Pleistocene.

[9] The Brunhes-Matuyama Reversal, about 780,000 years ago, is the latest of the geomagnetic field changes that frequently flip the polarity of Earth’s magnetic north and south. Such reversals occur on average every 450,000 years, and the geological period between them is called a chron. The reversal process can take up to 10 millennia, and involves a lot of wandering by both poles. A recent study suggests that a ‘mini-chron’ occurred around 41,000 years ago, when polarity was reversed for no longer than 250 years.

[10] A full-figured Venus figurine carved from the tusk of a woolly mammoth, found in 2008 near Ulm in southern Germany. The same cave in the Swabian Alb also yielded a 35,000-year-old bone flute – the world’s oldest instrument – indicating that figurative art and music were being practised as far back as 36 millennia ago.

[11] Artwork in the El Castillo cave in northern Spain, discovered in 1903, has recently been dated to 40,800 years ago.

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Ancient

5 historical figures who laid the foundation of our civilization

We will never know the names of the real builders of civilization, since writing appeared much later than many of the most important inventions. A simple example is booze: absolutely all people, having switched to agriculture, immediately began to grow components for the production of alcohol. 

Some loved beer, others wine, but everyone drank. Who came up with this – we do not know, but this man left an indelible mark on the appearance of our entire species. Forever and ever. We will never know the names of the first worshipers, and even the names of the first gods.

In the end, we will not be able to find out who was the first in history to decide to build a house for himself, but it was the permanent dwelling that became the prerequisite for the creation of larger associations, up to states. We can only talk about those people, information about whom came to us in the form of written sources, that is, about those who lived no later than four and a half thousand years ago. Meet: before you are five outstanding personalities who laid the first bricks of our civilization.

1. Sargon Akkadian

Sargon had a rather low social starting point. According to legend, his mother was a priestess and gave birth to a child in secret. To preserve the secret and the life of the future king, the mother let the baby in a reed basket along the Euphrates River.

The gardener caught the basket and decided to raise the child. First, Sargon became a cup-bearer at the Kish court (this is such a city – Kish), a little later he took the place of a gardener and, finally, reigned on the throne of Akkad. Such a dizzying career is explained by the patronage of the goddess Ishtar. Here we are talking about events that occurred more than four thousand years ago, and therefore it is extremely difficult to separate reality from fiction. For a long time, Sargon’s personality itself was considered mythical, but the findings of recent decades have shed little light. First, such a person really existed, and he was a king. Second, it looks like he really came from the lower strata.

In any case, no hints to the contrary have been found – on the contrary, several new texts confirm the origin. There is also a third important detail: Sargon is a pseudonym, translated as “true king.” And here a logical question arises: why would anyone call themselves that, why exactly “true”? To approve the status. That is, the bearer of this pseudonym was probably not born to the king. One way or another, Sargon united Sumer and Akkad, creating a dominant center of power throughout Mesopotamia. This center only existed for a few centuries, which is not very impressive. However, during this time the Akkadian language spread over large areas, subsequently becoming the main language of Assyria and Babylon.

2. Scorpio I

The history of Egypt is so long and confusing that scientists periodically have to change the boundaries of the study area. First, the 3,000 years, during which Egypt no doubt existed, was divided into 30 dynasties – just for convenience. The general picture was slowly building up, but new finds were made. Then they introduced the conditional “zero” dynasty, and later – and “twice zero”, or “dynasty 00”. Today, the first full-fledged ruler of Ancient Egypt is Pharaoh Scorpio I – and this is a normal name. His father, for example, was Pharaoh Bull; Pharaoh Furious Catfish and even Pharaoh Khvatala are also known.

However, in those days this title did not yet exist, but for the convenience of all the rulers of Egypt they are called pharaohs. The tomb of Scorpio was discovered only in 1988 – it appeared before archaeologists in a looted form, nevertheless, things were found that could not be stolen in any way. Thousands of years ago, a message has come down to us about the glorious conquests of Scorpio, as well as a list of the conquered cities. It was this Scorpio that the writers of The Mummy Returns had in mind – he was played by Dwayne Johnson. The public liked the character, and as a result we got a spin-off “Scorpion King”, which became an independent franchise.

3. Minos

The Minoan civilization was the first to master writing in the Mediterranean region. It is called so in honor of the first king Minos, who was born from the union of the Phoenician princess of Europe and the supreme god Zeus. Later, Europe, who already had three children, married the King of Crete Asteria.

After his death, Minos claimed the throne, arguing this with his own destiny, which he felt all his life. In addition, Minos assured everyone that, if necessary, he could appeal to the gods, and they would help. Ancient sources contain information about the existence of two kings with this name – Minos I and his grandson Minos II, but this is not reflected in mythology. Perhaps here we are talking about a false Minos or about an heir who really existed, but objectionable to the royal court.

One way or another, the Cretan king laid the foundation for a great civilization, many myths (including about the Minotaur) and, possibly, all Hellas as we know it today. In addition, it is believed that it was the death of the Minoan civilization as a result of the tsunami that hit the island that gave birth to the myth of Atlantis.

4. Huang-di

The history of China begins with the Yellow Emperor Huang-di, who descended from the sky on the moon, holding onto his mustache. Long is a Chinese dragon. It is described like this: the head of a camel, horns of a deer, the neck of a snake, carp scales. Here Huang-di descended to the ground from him and gave people many useful things like a bow and arrow, boats with oars and clothes with shoes.

Sounds like a classic myth, but there’s more to it. Under Huang-ti, the first unified state in China was created, a system of inventory control, a calendar, and soon a full-fledged writing system was invented, but the main thing was the division of land into allotments, which is much more like the motives and actions of an ordinary person. The real name of this historical character has been lost forever in the centuries; the time of his reign dates back to the third millennium BC. After a long struggle and victory over the other leaders of the tribes, Huang-di created a single state of Kunlun.

Perhaps the name Yellow Emperor was taken to facilitate the establishment of contacts with tribes in the Yellow River basin, the name of which translates as “yellow river”. One way or another, for the next thousand years, yellow will become the color of imperial clothing.

5. Puzur-Ashur I

Almost nothing is known about the origin of Puzur-Ashur I; his name means “the secret of Ashur”. Taking advantage of the moment and the weakness of the royal court of the city of Ashur, he seized power and proclaimed a new dynasty. Subsequently, by annexing several more cities, Puzur-Ashur I will create one of the most powerful states of its time – Assyria. It turned out to be a cruel state, but the times were not easy – the beginning of the two thousandth BC. They built the country as best they could – and they did.

Assyria is the first state in history (at least known to science) with a long border. That is, not just a few cities, united for a while for the sake of conducting joint hostilities, harvesting or building some kind of temple complex, but a state with uniform laws and borders. There were few laws, but the punishment for failure to comply with any of them was almost always death. Or something from the classics: cutting off the nose, ears, fingers, and so on.

However, there were also advantages: the conquered peoples were invited to become Assyrians – for this, clay tablets were even created for keeping records. It was required to take a new Assyrian name, follow the laws of the country, pay taxes and worship the god Ashur. At the same time, the old personality seemed to cease to exist, and for many, this option became a good alternative. For example, it was a quick way to write off all accumulated debts or even change social status.

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Ancient

The flood during the Sumerian civilization

“And behold, I will bring a flood of water on the earth, to destroy all flesh, in which there is the spirit of life, under heaven; everything on earth will lose its life. But with you I will establish my covenant, and you will enter the ark, you, and your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you … ”.

This is how the epic story of Noah began in the Old Testament – a righteous man chosen by God to build a huge ship and save all kinds of living creatures. However, the myth of the great flood that destroyed sinners was not an invention of the ancient Jews.

"Winter.  Global flood".  Nicolas Poussin.
“Winter. Global flood”. Nicolas Poussin. Source: wikipedia.org

The Sumerian civilization is rightfully considered one of the most mysterious in world history. For several thousand years the cities of Lagash, Ur, Uruk (there are hundreds of names) were economic and cultural centers between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Permeated by a system of irrigation canals, the river valley was a granary for a large population.

Map of Ancient Sumer.
Map of Ancient Sumer. Source: medium.com

The winter months were accompanied by heavy rains and overflow of rivers. This is evidenced by the names of the tenth (December-January) and eleventh (January-February) months according to the Babylonian calendar – “drowning” and “beaten by the wind.” Agricultural cycles played a huge role in the life of Sumerian society.

However, the word “flood” could be used not only in relation to natural disasters. For example, the ancient Sumerian texts call the punishment of the king of the Akkadian dynasty Naram-Suena, the son of Sargon the Ancient, “flood”. The god of air and storms Enlil sent punishment to the ruler of the state for his unrighteousness.

The punishment itself had many stages, the most difficult was the plundering of the capital of the country of Nippur by the tribe of Kutii. Laments for Nippur became the mainstay of urban winter rituals. In them, the punishment of the gods is called “flood”, although, apparently, there was no talk of a water disaster.

Image of Naram-Suena on a stele from the city of Susa.
Image of Naram-Suena on a stele from the city of Susa. Source: wikipedia.org

In 1872, 32-year-old British engraver and Assyrologist George Smith, among the artifacts from the Ashurbanipal library, found a fragment of a clay tablet with a description of the legend of the Flood.

The find created a furor in European society – there were rolls over with the famous Old Testament legend about the righteous man Noah, who built the ark and survived a natural disaster. The following year, Smith was able to go on an expedition to Nineveh to find the missing fragments of the epic.

The trip was sponsored by Edwin Arnold, publisher of The Daily Telegraph. The search was crowned with success, and already in 1875 Smith published the results of his search in Assyrian Discoveries: An Account of Explorations and Discoveries on the Site of Nineveh, During 1873 to 1874.

George Smith.
George Smith

The legend said about the anger of the gods against people for their unrighteousness, the already mentioned Enlil again initiated the punishment. It rained for many days and nights. However, there was one survivor – the king of the city of Shuruppak Ziusudra, warned by the god of wisdom Ea about the approaching dark times.

Utnapishtim
Utnapishtim Source: Ziusudra) and the god Enki (Ea)

Indeed, in the 1930s, an expedition from the University of Pennsylvania led by archaeologist Erich Schmidt discovered a cultural layer in Shuruppak, consisting of deposits of clay and silt, which indicated flooding. The flood, dating back to the 5th and 4th millennia BC, also caused damage to the larger cities of Sumer – Uru, Uruk and Kish.

Ziusudra, who ruled in Shuruppak, according to legend, for several tens of thousands of years, built a huge ship to save his family, property and living creatures that lived on Earth:

“Everything that I had› I loaded there:

I put all the silver on the ship;

And he brought all the gold;

And I drove all the creatures of God there.

As well as family and relatives.

And from the fields and from the steppe

I brought all the insects there;

And he brought all the artisans to the ship. “

Noah's Ark.
Noah’s Ark. Source: ulltable.com

The cataclysm lasted 6 days, after which the water began to subside, and the ship ended up on the top of Mount Nisir – this is how Ararat was called in ancient times. The gods bestowed immortality on Ziusudra, and the human race again descended from him. The tradition is strikingly similar to the story of Noah. This allowed scholars to assert that the Semitic biblical legends were based on Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian myths.

This, however, did not end the story of the Sumerian righteous man. The last time, but under a different name, he appears in the epic about Gilgamesh – the heroic ruler of the city of Uruk. Utnapishtim (this is how Ziusudra was called in the Akkadian epic) tells the king how he achieved immortality. However, no plaque was found that would tell about the end of the conversation between the two powerful heroes.

Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh. Source: tainy.net

It is possible that the motives of the Sumerian, and then the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian culture penetrated into the Jewish culture as a result of the famous Babylonian captivity of 598-582. BC. The former captives who returned after the conquest of the capital of the state of the X Chaldean dynasty by the Persian king Cyrus the Great and absorbed the mythological layer of the ancient civilization, apparently recorded the Old Testament legends in the Torah. 

Many stories reflected in the Bible are somehow connected with the Babylonian traditions, which, in turn, are inextricably linked with the Sumerian culture.

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Ancient

A settlement was found in Iceland, which is mentioned in fairy tales

In 2013, archaeologists studied the Icelandic sea bay of Arnarfjordur, on the territory of which, during the Middle Ages, the Vikings supposedly lived. In the course of scientific work, scientists discovered a pile of ash, which clearly remained after the complete combustion of the ancient house. 

Due to lack of funding, the excavation had to be postponed until 2017, but, in the end, the researchers managed to find the remains of a 10th century farm settlement. At the moment, it is known that it consists of a hut, a 23-meter earthen house, three small houses, a workshop and a cowshed. 

The furnaces installed in the buildings were larger than usual, so scientists believe that thousands of years ago the inhabitants of these places were actively engaged in blacksmithing. The most interesting fact is that the life of the people of this region was told in one of the medieval sagas, which bordered on fairy tales.

Kraken – one of the monsters of Scandinavian legends

Viking houses

An unusual place was described in the Ancient Origins edition. In the excavated houses, archaeologists managed to find the remains of large furnaces with cracked stones. Based on the finds, the researchers put forward the theory that the Vikings who lived in the Arnarfjordur Bay were engaged in the extraction of iron and the manufacture of various tools. 

Unfortunately, the remains of these tools have not yet been found by archaeologists. In the future, they plan to use flying drones to find land plots, under which the remains of thousand-year-old Viking buildings and tools made by them may also be hidden. Everything that they manage to find will help to study the historical sagas, which talk about the life of the Scandinavian peoples in the period from 930 to 1030.

Excavation in Arnarfjordur Bay

The first inhabitants of Iceland

One of these sagas is Landamabok, written in the XII century. It is considered the oldest written source ever discovered, detailing the early days of Iceland. This historical work will give a list of the first inhabitants of Iceland: there are about 3,000 names and about 1,400 place names. According to Landnamabok, one of the first settlers of a place called Svinadalur was a certain Eyvindur Audkula. 

In 1300 AD, the ruler of these lands was Bjarnason Auðkýlingur. The places described in this saga have many similarities with the aforementioned Arnarfjordur Bay. Most likely, this work tells about local residents.

Frame from the series “Vikings”

Scandinavian monsters

But if this work tells about real people and events, then where does the fairy tale? The fact is that the historical work also deals with sea monsters that were seen in Icelandic waters. It is noteworthy that not only the people who first settled in Iceland in 874 AD believed in mythical creatures. 

Our contemporaries allegedly see them from time to time. According to Ancient Origins, about 4,000 sightings of sea and lake monsters have been recorded in Iceland over the past hundred years. Moreover, about 180 monsters were met in the Arnarfjordur Bay.

The Nekki is another Scandinavian scum. Something between a mermaid and a mermaid

Rumor has it that some people have been able to see huge monsters like the Loch Ness monster, whose existence has recently been again talked about. Most likely, all of these messages are used to attract the attention of tourists. In the Icelandic village of Bildudalur, which is just located on the coast of Arnarfjordur, in early 2010, even the Sea Monster Museum was opened. 

All the exhibits presented in this institution tell about monsters from Scandinavian legends. In addition to viewing the exhibits, visitors can also listen to stories from fishermen. In general, Iceland is famous for its mystical component and tourists can learn a lot about magic, monsters and other evil spirits.

The excavations in Arnarfjordur Bay should ultimately help historians to separate fiction from real facts in historical documents. 

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