16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets

Steve - November 26, 2018

As George Orwell poignantly noted in his legendary novel 1984: “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” History is littered with failed attempts at secrecy; from the attempted cover-up of Watergate to the Gunpowder Plot, but what about those that were successful? Not all secrets are designed to be kept forever, and some secrets were not intended to become so even in the first place. Whilst some secrets on this list remain shrouded in mystery, others were revealed in dramatic style after miraculously, and at great pains to those involved, accomplishing their deceptive purposes.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
A gilded bas-relief at Auch Cathedral depicting the Ark of the Covenant. Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 16 of the best-kept secrets in history.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets

L’Homme au Masque de Fer (The Man in the Iron Mask), by Anonymous (c. 1789). Wikimedia Commons.

16. The identity of The Man in the Iron Mask, imprisoned for 34 years in France, remains a secret to this day

The Man in the Iron Mask was a prisoner of Louis XIV of France, arrested in either 1669 or 1670 and held until his eventual death in 1703. Imprisoned at various locations (including some time at the Bastille), the identity of The Man in the Iron Mask remains one of history’s most enduring and best kept secrets. Remaining in the custody of the same jailer for 34 years, Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, great lengths were taken to ensure the identity of the anonymous prisoner – known contemporaneously as “Eustache Dauger” – remained a secret. Nobody was permitted to see the prisoner’s face, which was covered at all times by velvet cloth and a mask, whilst two musketeers allegedly stood guard at the prisoner’s side, ready “to kill him if he removed his mask”. His cell was specially designed with multiple doors, with one closing upon the other opening to ensure that nobody could overhear conversations within.

Finally, after his death on November 19, 1703, all of his belongings, furniture, and clothing were immediately destroyed. They repainted the walls of his cell and anything made of metal, including the mask, was melted down. Several theories exist regarding the identity of The Man in the Iron Mask. Voltaire contended that the prisoner was an illegitimate half-brother of King Louis XIV. Another theory dreamed up by Marcel Pagnol claimed the prisoner was the twin of Louis XIV, born second and thus hidden to prevent a challenge to the succession. And Hugh Williamson argued he was the true father of the consequently illegitimate Louis XIV. Other suggestions range from a disgraced general or the valet of an executed nobleman, to the illegitimate son of Charles II of England.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, by Benjamin West, (c. 1800). Wikimedia Commons.

15. The resting place of the Ark of the Covenant remains a secret, either captured and lost by the Babylonians or hidden to prevent their acquisition of the holy relic

The Ark of the Covenant, as described in the Bible, was a gold-covered chest belonging to the ancient Israelite people after their escape from Egypt. Carved approximately one year after the Exodus, from a design given by God to Moses, Hebrews describe that “the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant”. Carried before the Israelite people, especially before an army going to war, the Ark was carefully concealed from human eyes by a veil of cloth and animal skins; in fact, when a cart driver named Uzzah dared touch the Ark with his mortal hand, God allegedly killed him on the spot for his hubris. Eventually it was housed in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, known biblically as Zion. A special room was constructed during the building of the temple for the Ark: the Kodesh Hakodashim, or Holy of Holies.

In 587 BCE, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II captured and destroyed Jerusalem, along with the Temple of Solomon. It is unclear precisely what happened to the Ark at this time. With Rabbinical history contested, some claim it was hidden to prevent capture, whilst others accept the likely probability of theft by the Babylonians. Second Maccabees, written almost 500 years later, claimed that Jeremiah, “being warned by God” of the impending Babylonian conquest, had his followers bury the Ark in a cave on Mount Nebo “until the time that God should gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy”. Other authors contend the Ark reemerged later in Egypt, Ethiopia, France, England, and Rome – but there is little beyond circumstantial evidence to support these claims. If, as is most probable, the Ark was taken back to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, then it was almost certainly lost during the subsequent sackings of the city and its location, if the Ark still exists intact, its whereabouts remain a mystery.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Naval identity card of Major Martin (c. 1943). Wikimedia Commons.

14. “The Man Who Never Was” formed the centerpiece of an Allied deception during World War II, secretly planting false intelligence to disguise the invasion of Sicily

During the Second World War, intelligence and counter-intelligence subterfuges provided both the Allies and Axis factions significant tactical advantages. Among these secret deceptions was Operation Mincemeat, part of the wider Allied strategic misinformation campaign code-named Operation Barclay. The purpose of Operation Mincemeat was to ingeniously disguise the planned Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, known as Operation Husky, and redirect enemy forces elsewhere. To accomplish this conceit, British Intelligence acquired the body of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless person who had died from eating rat poison in an abandoned warehouse in London. They dressed up the deceased Glyndwr in the uniform of a Royal Marines officer and provided him with identifying credentials as Major William Martin, Glyndwr’s person was also given correspondence from within British military command indicating that maneuvers near Sicily were a feint and that the real target would instead be Greece.

Transporting the body by submarine to the southern coast of Spain, Glyndwr was deposited close to the shoreline whereupon he was discovered by fisherman the following morning. The neutral Spanish government under Franco sought to covertly share the recovered information with the Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization. The messages had been read as secretly planned; concurrently, British decrypts of German communications verified the success of the fake intelligence. Consequently, due to the unknown sacrifice of Glyndwr, the liberation of Sicily proved far easier than anticipated and losses significantly lower.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
A Byzantine ship uses Greek fire against the rebel, Thomas the Slav, in 821; Madrid Skylitzes (c. 12th century). Wikimedia Commons.

13. Greek fire was an ancient flame weapon used by the Byzantine Imperial Navy, resistant to water, but the recipe for which was a guarded secret

“Greek fire” was an incendiary weapon of unknown composition employed by the Byzantine Empire as early as 672 CE. Commonly deployed in naval confrontations, continuing to burn atop the waters rather than being extinguished by them, the flammable liquid was discharged using pressurized nozzles, “siphōns”, akin to the distribution method of a modern-day flamethrower. The discovery of Greek fire was critical to the survival of the Byzantine Empire, with the use of the weapon paramount to the successful defeat of the first and second Arab sieges of Constantinople in 647-678 and 717-718 respectively; Greek fire was also used to great effect by the Imperial Fleet during the Byzantine civil wars, obliterating the opposing ships of Thomas the Slav in 821. However, the weapon also possessed notable limitations, with its successful use depending on favorable winds to direct the flamethrowers.

Despite this recurrent known usage, inspiring “wildfire” in the popular fantasy series Game of Thrones, the precise composition of Greek fire remains uncertain. The formula was a carefully guarded secret of the Byzantine regime, with Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos recorded instructing his son, Romanos II, to never reveal the truth as it had been “shown and revealed by an angel to the great and holy first Christian emperor Constantine” for use by “Christians, and only in the imperial city”. Even with the Arab capture of an intact fireship in 827 they were unable to completely reverse engineer the weapon, only able to launch incendiaries by catapult rather than by siphōn.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Ferula tingitana, a suggested relative of Silphium. Wikimedia Commons.

12. Silphium was an unknown plant, lost to extinction, used in ancient medicine to cure a number of ailments and acted as an early contraceptive

Possessing thick roots coated in a black bark, measuring approximately 48 centimeters in length and with a hollow stalk, silphium was used extensively by ancient societies in early medicine as a plant remedy and folk curative. Among the wide-ranging recorded medical uses of silphium, it includes the treatment of fevers, indigestion, warts, and coughs. Hippocrates noted that “when the gut protrudes and will not remain in its place, scrape the finest and most compact silphium into small pieces and apply as a cataplasm”. Silphium is believed to have also been used as an early contraceptive and abortifacient, with several similar species in the parsley family known to be capable of inducing a miscarriage due to estrogenic properties.

Despite this, the identity of silphium remains unclear. It is commonly believed to belong to the Ferula genus of plant, most likely a now-extinct species of said Ferula. However, archaeobotanists note that, “because we cannot even accurately identify the plant we cannot know for certain whether it is extinct”. The precise cause of the plants extinction, likewise, is unknown. Various theories propose conditions that might have resulted in the disappearance of the ancient remedy; from over-harvesting rendering the soil infertile, to natural changes in climate precipitating desertification, or the increase in animal husbandry in the region decreasing available land.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Onon River, Mongolia, where Temüjin, later known as Genghis, was born and raised. Wikimedia Commons.

11. The Tomb of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, has been kept a secret for almost 800 years at a terrible cost

Genghis Khan, the legendary founder and first ruler of the Mongol Empire, responsible for the deaths of an estimated forty million people, died on August 18, 1227 CE. Although the Genghis Khan Mausoleum exists in the modern-day Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, serving as a central site for the veneration of the Mongol leader, it was only built in the 20th century as a memorial; the true final resting place of the foremost conqueror in history remains a secret to this day. Leaving instruction that he should be buried without marking or physical memorial, it is believed that the body of the Great Khan was returned to his native Mongolia. He was interred, with the location staying a brutally guarded secret.

According to Mongolian legend, the funerary escort of Genghis Khan murdered every living creature, human or otherwise, that it encountered to ensure nothing knew of the location of their deceased lord. Furthermore, upon the completion of the tomb, the slaves who constructed it were put to death and thereafter the soldiers who killed those slaves were subsequently killed. In addition to murder, various additional methods of concealment were reputedly employed to protect the location. Some stories refer to a diverted river, similar to the ancient burials of Gilgamesh or Alaric, whilst others contend that horses were used to stampede the site into obscurity and then a forest was planted atop the tomb. Regardless of the methods used, by the time of Marco Polo, just fifty years later, even the Mongols themselves did not know the location of their revered ruler’s tomb. The chief source of Mongolian history, “The Secret History of the Mongols”, provides no precise information regarding the burial location.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Trinity test of the Manhattan Project: the first detonation of a nuclear weapon (c. 16 July 1945). Wikimedia Commons.

10. The Manhattan Project was maintained in a state of such strict secrecy that most of the people who worked on the nuclear bomb were unaware of that fact

The Manhattan Project was the United States research and development program during World War II that resulted in the creation of the nuclear weapon. Undertaken between 1942-1946, formally disbanded on August 15, 1947, the American program, with support of the United Kingdom and Canada, and led by Robert Oppenheimer in his capacity as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, designed the nuclear bomb first tested on July 16, 1945, in addition to those dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Overall the Manhattan Project cost an estimated $2 billion ($31 billion in 2018) and employed more than 130,000 people during the program’s lifespan.

Despite this immense cost and considerable manpower, the Manhattan Project was kept in a state of near-total secrecy with “probably no more than a few dozen men in the entire country knew the full meaning of the Manhattan Project, and perhaps only a thousand others even were aware that work on atoms was involved”. This was considered of vital necessity to avoid forewarning the Axis powers, especially Germany, of the production of nuclear weapons and induce an acceleration in their own programs; equally, secrecy of the project was the best protection against potential sabotage from external agents. Life magazine reported in August 1945 that the overwhelming majority of the 100,000 employees “worked like moles in the dark”, monitoring “dials and switches while behind thick concrete walls mysterious reactions took place” completely unaware of the true purpose of their work; the curiosity of employees was notably dampened by the threat of a ten year prison sentence for disclosing information regarding their activities.

Also Read: What People Don’t Know About the World War II Race for Nuclear Weapons.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Two Princes, Edward and Richard, in the Tower in 1483, by Sir John Everett Millais (c. 1878). Wikimedia Commons.

9. Whilst it is likely that “The Princes in the Tower” were murdered, it remains a secret precisely who was responsible and for what intended purpose

King Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, commonly known as “The Princes in the Tower”, were the only living sons of Edward IV at the time of their father’s death in 1483. As per tradition of the English monarchs, between proclamation and coronation the presumptive king resides in the Tower of London; the two boys, aged 12 and 9, followed this convention, with their uncle, the Lord Protector Richard, Duke of Gloucester, appointed to oversee their residency. However, in their absence Richard boldly claimed the throne for himself, asserting that the princes were the product of a bigamous marriage and thus illegitimate heirs. On June 25, Richard was proclaimed King of England, being crowned Richard III on July 6, after which date the young princes disappeared and were never seen in public again. It is commonly believed that they were both secretly murdered on the orders of the new king.

Despite this, it must be noted that “no reliable, well-informed, independent or impartial sources” corroborate this opinion other than the physical disappearance of the pair from history. Furthermore, if the princes were indeed murdered, it remains a secret on precisely whose orders the deed was committed; Richard III was not the only individual who stood to gain from their disappearance and consequently, several theories have developed in the centuries since. Ranging from, naturally, Richard himself for the purpose of securing his crown, to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who allegedly sought to ascend to the throne himself as a descendant of Edward III, or even Henry VII, the victor in the civil war against Richard III, who wished to eliminate all potential rivals to his claim.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, the leader of the Culper Ring, with his son William (c. 1790). Wikimedia Commons.

8. The Culper Ring was an immensely secretive and highly successful spy ring during the American War of Independence, acquiring vital intelligence from behind British lines

The Culper Ring was a spy ring formed at the command of General George Washington in the summer of 1778, during the British occupation of New York City in the American Revolutionary War, as a response to the need to penetrate the secure city and gain vital intelligence on the activities and movements of the British Army. Organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge, the spies – notably Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend – ferried information out of New York City and the surrounding region to the Continental Army at great risk to themselves and their families.

The Culper Ring served as the source of countless valuable pieces of information, without which it is arguable that the British would have emerged victorious in the conflict. Among the important intelligence acquired was:
– The British planned a surprise attack on newly arrived French forces under Lieutenant General Rochambeau at Newport, Rhode Island.
– The British planned to counterfeit American currency on genuine press paper.
– Major General William Tryon’s raid in Connecticut in July 1779 was a diversionary tactic in the attempt to compel Washington to divide his forces
– General Benedict Arnold was plotting with Head of the British Secret Service Major John Andre to surrender the fort at West Point.
It has also been suggested that the Culper Ring exposed and thwarted an attempt on Washington’s own life, but this is unverified.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Wikimedia Commons.

7. The Golden Buddha of Thailand was coated in plaster to protect it from being stolen during the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, hiding in public view for 200 years before revealing itself again to the world

The Golden Buddha, known officially as Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon, is a 5.5-ton statue located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Measuring 3.91 meters tall, 3.1 meters in width, and capable of being disassembled into nine separate pieces, the huge representation of Siddhartha Gautama is believed to have been fashioned at some time in the 13th-14th centuries. Whilst it is possible the style of the Sukhothai Dynasty might have been reproduced at a later date, historical evidence places the latest possible creation of the Golden Buddha circa 1750. At least 40% of the body of the statue is pure gold, from the chin to forehead 80%, and the hair and topknot, weighing an immense 45 kilograms, is 99% in purity; consequently, the modern-day cash value of the total gold of the statue surpasses $200 million.

Believed to have been transported from Sukhothai to the Ayutthaya Kingdom in approximately 1403, at some point prior to the destruction of the Ayutthaya Kingdom by Burma in 1767, the statue was coated in a thick layer of stucco and pieces of colored glass. As a result, the Golden Buddha was protected by its camouflage, remaining discarded among the ruins for the next fifty years. In 1805, with the establishment of Bangkok as the new capital city of the Kingdom of Thailand and the construction of several new temples, King Rama I ordered old images of the Buddha be collected and distributed. During the reign of Rama III (r. 1824-1851), the statue, still carrying its secret, was fitted as the foremost icon in the temple of Wat Chotanaram in Bangkok, before being moved to Wat Traimit in 1935 and housed under a tin roof due to lack of space. Finally, in 1954, after a new building was constructed to specially house the giant statue, as the Buddha was being transported it was accidentally dropped and a chunk of plaster was chipped away to reveal the gold underneath; today, with the plaster fully removed, the gold statue, after 200 years in hiding, is safely enjoyed by the Thai people once more.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Berlin Cleopatra (c. mid-1st century BCE). Wikimedia Commons.

6. The famed lovers Antony and Cleopatra were immortalized by Shakespeare, but their precise resting places remain a mystery to archaeologists

Cleopatra VII Philopator was the companion of Julius Caesar, wife of Mark Antony, and the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Siding with the Second Triumvirate during the Liberators’ Civil War (43-42 BCE) in the aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra began an affair with Mark Antony. This affair would produce three children – Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus – and culminate in the divorce of Antony from the sister of Octavian.

This insult, combined with naming their children as future rulers, precipitated the Final War of the Roman Republic, which Octavian won decisively. Following the defeat of their naval fleet at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Egypt was invaded and within a year, defeat and capture for Antony and Cleopatra was imminent. After learning of the suicide of Antony, Cleopatra, fearing a public humiliation and imprisonment, also took her own life. It is popularly believed that the method of her suicide was the bite of a venomous asp. According to the historians Plutarch and Suetonius, in a surprisingly generous act Augustus permitted the deceased lovers to be buried together. Augustus also allowed their children to live, in contrast to the fate of Cleopatra’s other child from her relationship with Julius Caesar, Caesarion. Despite this magnanimity in victory, the location tomb of Antony and Cleopatra has been kept a secret for almost two thousand years; it is unclear whether this was by design and intent or mere coincidence.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Current KFC logo (c. 2016). Wikimedia Commons.

5. The Original Recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, designed by Harland Sanders, remains a secret, sealed in a vault in Louisville, along with vials of spices

The KFC Original Recipe was designed in the 1930s, and perfected by July 1940, by Harland Sanders in response to the popularity of the fried chicken offered at his gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. He removed the gas pumps and transformed his business into a restaurant and motel in the late-1930s. Sanders transitioned through several methods and flavors, shifting from pan frying (which he found to be too slow) to deep fat frying. He thought deep frying produced dry chicken, so he finally settled on using a pressure cooker and his now world-famous recipe consisting of 11 herbs and spices.

Beginning to franchise his chicken in the 1950s under the brand name “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, Sanders was fearful that other food outlets might copy his creation. Consequently, KFC instituted a strict policy of secrecy regarding the Original Recipe. Among the precautions taken was the division of the production of the recipe between multiple manufacturers and suppliers. Half was produced by Griffith Laboratories before being given to McCormick who provided the other half. Furthermore, the company refused to patent their creation, which would require the detailed identification of ingredients and limit ownership to an expiration date, instead opting for total secrecy to protect their brand. Today, a copy of the recipe is sealed inside a high-security safe at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, along with eleven vials containing the necessary herbs and spices.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
“With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888

4. The identity of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer of Whitechapel, remains a secret to this day despite more than a century of investigation

Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Murderer or Leather Apron, was an unidentified serial killer responsible for the murders of at least five women in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The victims, all female prostitutes, were found murdered, with their throats cut – in addition to facial, abdominal, and genital-area mutilation, and the posthumous removal of internal organs. Due to the latter activity, it became widely assumed that the killer possessed a detailed anatomical knowledge and possibly surgical training. It is presumed the murders stopped as a result of the killer’s death, incarceration, or emigration, but this is merely conjecture as the true identity remains unknown to this day.

In total, more than 100 suspects have been suggested as potential “Rippers”, among which in modern “Ripperology” include barrister Montague John Druitt, barbers Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski and Aaron Kosminski, the latter of which was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891, and boot-maker John Pizer. Contemporaneous speculation, in contrast, focused on an entirely different set of suspects ranging from Thomas Hayne Cutbush, a medical student institutionalized in 1891 after suffering syphilitic-induced delusions, and Frederick Bailey Deeming, who would emigrate to Australia in 1891 after murdering his entire family and later claimed in a prison-penned book prior to his hanging to be the Ripper.

Read More:

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
A rare photograph of President Roosevelt in a wheelchair, with Ruthie Bie and Fala (c. 1941). Wikimedia Commons.

3. Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis was so secret that even the heads of state of Europe were not aware of his condition

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future 32nd President of the United States, contracted a paralytic illness in 1921 at the age of just 39 years old; debilitating symptoms soon followed, including bowel and bladder dysfunction, numbness, and permanent below-the-waist paralysis. Diagnosed with poliomyelitis, it is today commonly believed that his symptoms were more in line with the autoimmune neuropathy Guillain-Barré syndrome. Despite being unable to stand or walk without support, Roosevelt refused to allow his disability to impede his life or career, learning throughout the 1920s to walk short distances with the aid of heavy steel braces which locked at the knees, a cane for support, and using his torso to build forward momentum. As a result of this momentous personal struggle, Roosevelt successfully became America’s first disabled President without widespread public knowledge of his condition.

Although he used a wheelchair in private, Roosevelt remained careful to ensure the public did not see their commander-in-chief in such a state. When appearing in public, Roosevelt would often be flanked by aides for support, whilst during major speaking engagements a sturdy lectern would be placed on the stage. Roosevelt would grip the lectern forcefully for support, rendering him unable to use hand gestures and consequently developed his iconic head movements to apply emphasis. Arrivals by car were carefully choreographed, commonly parked in a secluded garage to allow for assistance entering and exiting the vehicle, or driven onto a ramp to ease his movements. If steps were present, they would be covered with a ramp and railings fitted on either side. Roosevelt also made extensive use of Track 61 – a private railway platform located beneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City – with the presidential railroad car always appearing at the rear and preferably arriving in a secluded section of a railway yard.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Athanasius Kircher’s map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (c. 1669). Wikimedia Commons.

2. Despite hundreds of years of investigation, the location of the lost island of Atlantis, if it ever existed, remains a secret

Atlantis is a fictional island described in the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, allegorically serving as a commentary on the hubris of nations, for which shortcoming the island nation fell out of favor with the Gods and was sunk beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is agreed upon that the story of Atlantic offered by Plato is unquestionably fictitious, his account of an island that sunk beneath the waves has spawned considerable speculation that the lost landmass might have actually historically existed. Plato was known to borrow many of his allegories from older storytelling traditions, increasing the likelihood that Atlantis was founded in truth.

Inspired by Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: the Antediluvian World (1882), who believed that many ancient civilizations were descended from a lost central source destroyed during the biblical Great Flood, subsequent investigation and inquiry have produced several hypotheses concerning the fate and location of the island of Atlantis. The majority of these proposed sites are situated in the Mediterranean Sea, with the disappearance of Atlantis revolving around the known Thera eruption that occurred in either the 17th or 16th century BCE. This eruption generated a gigantic tsunami believed to have devastated the Minoan civilization located on the island of Crete, with Atlantis considered to potentially have been another victim of this natural disaster.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Tutankhamun’s death mask. Wikimedia Commons.

1. Despite his international fame, how Tutankhamun actually died at the young age of only 18 remains a mystery

Tutankhamun was an Egyptian Pharaoh belonging to the 18th dynasty, born in 1341 BCE and reigning during the New Kingdom period between 1332-1323. Discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, the intact condition of his tomb immediately ignited worldwide interest in the young pharaoh. Despite a century of scientific and archaeological inquiry, little is known concerning the reign of the teenager. Provoking the most debate has been speculation regarding the death of the 18-year-old pharaoh, with no records surviving concerning Tutankhamun’s passing. Given the condition of the tomb, with microbiologist Ralph Mitchell suggesting that the paint on the walls indicate that the deceased king was entombed prior to the walls drying, it is widely assumed that the young monarch died suddenly and unexpectedly prior to his crypt being completed.

Whilst some claim that Tutankhamun was assassinated, others assert that his death was accidental. Modern medical examination of Tutankhamun’s remains highlight a compound leg fracture inflicted shortly before his death, leading to speculation that the injury developed a fatal infection. Medical analysis has also indicated the presence of malaria and Köhler disease II, either of which might have played a role in his demise. Other theories highlight evidence of sickle cell disease, a partially cleft palate, in addition to a host of other congenital defects and commonplace illnesses of the day. Adding to these already myriad speculations, in March 2018 a new proposal suggested that tomb images depict Tutankhamun leading an army to war in Syria whereupon he may have fallen in battle.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Who Was The Man In The Iron Mask? And Other Historical Mysteries”, Hugh Williamson, Penguin Publishing (2002)

“The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, John Noone (1998)

“Tracking the Ark of the Covenant”, Charles Foster, Monarch Publishing (2007)

“The Quest For The Ark of The Covenant: The True History of The Tablets of Moses”, Stuart Munro-Hay, L.B. Tauris & Co (2006)

“The Man Who Never Was”, Ewen Montagu, Naval Institute Press (1953)

“A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder”, James Partington, Johns Hopkins University Press (1999)

“Silphium”, Chalmers Gemmill, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (July/August 1966)

“Genghis Khan”, Paul Ratchnevsky, Blackwell Publishing (1993)

“The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century”, translated by Igor de Rachewiltz, Brill Publishing (2006)

“The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb”, Francis Gosling, United States Department of Energy History Division (1994)

“Royal Blood: Richard III and the mystery of the princes”, Bert Fields, Harper Collins (1998)

“The Mystery of the Princes”, Audrey Williamson (1978)

“Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”, Alexander Rose, Bantam Dell (2006)

“Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge”, Benjamin Tallmadge, Book on Demand (1858)

“The Tomb of Antony and Cleopatra”, Ishaan Tharoor, Time Magazine (April 23, 2009)

“KFC still guards Colonel’s secret”, Ed Reinke, Associated Press, NBC News (July 23, 2005)

“Colonel Sanders and the American Dream”, John Ozersky, University of Texas Press (2012)

“Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History, Pearson Education (2003)

“The Man Who Would Be Jack: The Hunt for the Real Ripper”, David Bullock, Thistle Publishing (2012)

“The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”, James Tobin, Simon & Schuster (2013)

“The Flood from Heaven: Deciphering the Atlantis Legend”, Eberhard Zangger, William Morrow and Company (1993)

“Tutankhamun: Life and Death of a Pharaoh”, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Okasha Sarwat, New York Graphic Society (1963)