20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories

Steve - March 27, 2019

Islands, by their very nature, stand apart from the world around them. Isolated sections of land, nature and life are left to develop and evolve distinctly from the rest of the planet, allowing the creation of unique ecosystems, histories, and traditions. Offering a diversity otherwise unseen, many islands contain mysteries and secrets unbeknownst to the world at large. Whether cryptically concealed or borne boldly for all to see, celebratory or condemnatory, many such islands possess remarkable and surprising secrets.

Here are 20 islands that hide strange secrets in their histories:

 

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An aerial photo of Taal Volcano”, taken by Mike Gonzalez in 2012. Wikimedia Commons.

20. A natural example of a Russian doll, the island of Luzon in the Philippines enjoys a volcanic island with an island in the middle of that island.

Situated approximately 50 kilometers south of the Philippine capital city of Manila, Volcano Island forms an active part of the Pacific Ring of Fire: a region of the Pacific Ocean containing more than 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Itself an island within the island of Luzon, partially filling the Taal Caldera, the landmass was formed out of Taal Lake by ancient prehistoric eruptions dated between 140,000 and 5,3800 years ago. Within this island is the Taal Volcano: the second most active volcano in the Philippines, with a total of 33 recorded eruptions and inflicting an estimated death toll upon for surrounding inhabitants in the thousands.

However, not content to merely be a volcano on an island within an island, the volcano’s caldera itself contains a lake: Yellow Lake, sometimes referred to more simplistically as “Crater Lake”. This lake, believed to have been formed as a result of prior eruptions, incredibly contains another island: Vulcan Point. Once thought to be the largest third order island – that is to say, an island within an island within an island – Vulcan Point lost this title to Treasure Island in Ontario. Despite the bizarre nature of the retreat, visitations are not recommended due to the lake’s high sulfuric content and the risk of death by volcanic eruption.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Dolls hung in Santana Barrera’s chinampa in Xochimilco. Wikimedia Commons.

19. Home to hundreds of dolls hanging from trees, the Island of Dolls in Mexico is a macabre memorial created by a local man believing he was haunted by a dead girl

Xochimilco, a borough of Mexico City, sits on the southern shore of an ancient lake. Decimated during the 13th and 14th centuries by Aztec diversions of water, the remnants of the eponymous lake have been transformed into a canal system accompanied by artificial islands known as “chinampas”. Spanning 170 kilometers of waterways, one such island, located an hour from the city, is Isla de las Muñecas or “The Island of the Dolls”. The most famous of the chinampas, Isla de las Muñecas belonged to Don Julián Santana Barrera, a highly troubled and reclusive figure.

According to local legend, a young girl went swimming and was pulled under by the current. Attempting to rescue her, by the time Santana reached the girl she had already drowned. Recovering a doll floating nearby, Santana hung it from a tree as a mark of respect. However, soon after this event, likely having gone mad, Santana claimed he began hearing footsteps and anguished wails around the island. In an attempt to appease the girl’s spirit, whom he believed was haunting him, Santana hung an ever-increasing number of dolls around his island. In 2001, Santana’s body was discovered, drowned in the exact spot he had found the girl fifty years prior.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Photo of Cape Valdivia, Bouvet Island (c. 2009). Wikimedia Commons.

18. Bouvet Island – the “most remote island in the world” – is so hard to find that it was actually discovered multiple times throughout history

Bouvet Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean, is an uninhabited island dependency of Norway. Situated just outside the limits of Antarctica, 1,700 kilometers north of the Princess Astrid Coast of Queen Maud Land and 2,600 kilometers south-southwest of South Africa, Bouvet Island, spanning an area of 49 square kilometers, is 93 percent covered by a glacier and houses an ice-filled crater of an ancient volcano in its center. Nicknamed “the most remote island in the world”, Bouvet Island was regarded as sufficiently hard to locate that it was actually discovered multiple times by different people.

First encountered on New Years’ Day in 1739 by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier, after whom the island is today named, his two ships, the Aigle and the Marie, recorded incorrectly the coordinates of the island. Lost for almost a century, with Captain James Cook unable to find it and believing it to be fictitious, the island would not be “discovered” again until 1808 by British whaler James Lindsay. Despite American Benjamin Morrell purporting to be the first to make landfall in 1822, in 1825 George Norris claimed the island for Britain under the name “Liverpool Island”. It would take until 1930 for the issue to be resolved, becoming a Norwegian possession.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An aerial view of the archaeological site of Por-Bazhyn (c. 2007). Wikimedia Commons.

17. Deep in the mountains of Siberia, in the middle of an isolated lake stands the remnants of an ancient imperial palace dating from the Uyghur Khaganate

Concealed in the southern Sengelen mountains of the Tuva Republic, a federal subject of the Russian Federation, eight kilometers west of the village of Kungurtuk and close to the Mongolian border is Lake Tere-Khol. In the middle of the isolated body of water sits Por-Bazhyn, a ruined structure encompassing almost the entire island mass. Enclosed by a rectangular wall, measuring 215 meters by 162 meters, the interior of the site is composed of two large yards, a main building complex, and a series of small yards. Including also gate towers, the surviving outer walls still reach 10 meters in height suggesting an immense construction during its period of use.

Believed to date from the Uyghur Khaganate – a Turkic empire that existed between the mid-8th and mid-9th centuries – radiocarbon dating indicates the construction was built between 770 and 790 CE. Speculated from archaeological surveys to have originally served as a palace, and based heavily upon Chinese T’ang architectural designs, the addition of an inscription referencing Bayanchur Khan supports this hypothesis. Falling into disuse, it is believed the remote site was converted into a Manichaean monastery before being devastated by a series of earthquakes during the Middle Ages.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Fidel Castro (left) showing Erich Honecker (center) the location of the island gift of “Ernst Thälmann” on a map (June 19, 1972). Wikimedia Commons.

16. A small island off the coast of Cuba, Ernst Thälmann Island was renamed (and possibly gifted) to East Germany by Castro as a symbolic show of friendship during the Cold War

Known historically as Cayo Blanco del Sur, Ernst Thälmann Island, measuring 15 kilometers in length and 500 meters wide, is an island in the Gulf of Cazones located off of the southwestern coast of Cuba. During a state visit by Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany – the leader of East Germany – in 1972, the Prime Minister of Cuba, Fidel Castro, renamed the island in honor of Ernst Thälmann: the leader of the Community Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic, who was imprisoned without trial after the seizure of power by the Nazi Party and shot on Hitler’s orders at Buchenwald concentration camp on August 18, 1944.

One of the beaches on the island was renamed to “Playa República Democrática Alemana” – German Democratic Republic Beach – on the twenty-eighth anniversary of Thälmann’s execution a public ceremony was held unveiling a bust of the German revolutionary. According to those in attendance, during this ceremony ownership of the island was formally transferred to East Germany. However, in the aftermath of German reunification, when reporters attempted to visit the island they were denied entry and Cuban sovereignty was reasserted. Germany has not attempted to press its claim on the island, but it nonetheless retains the name given in their honor.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
“Temple de Ggantija à Gozo ” (c. 2008). Wikimedia Commons.

15. Predating the Egyptian Pyramids by more than one thousand years, the Megalithic Temples of Malta continue to defy explanation

Gozo, also known as Għawdex and historically as Gaulos, is an island in the Mediterranean Sea and part of the Maltese archipelago. The second largest in said island chain, the rural island has long been closely associated with Greek mythology, in particular as Ogygia: the island home of Calypso, who holds Odysseus captive for many years during his voyage home in the Odyssey. Likely inspiring these ancient religious connections, Malta is home to several megalithic temples that were, until the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, regarded as the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

The eldest of these ancient buildings, the Ä gantija temples on the island of Gozo, believed to have been constructed between 3600 and 2500 BCE, predate the Egyptian pyramids by more than one thousand years. Erected during the Neolithic period, both temples, and an incomplete third, are arranged to face the equinox sun, suggesting their ceremonial use as part of ancient fertility rites. Quite how the giant stones were so precisely manipulated in a time before the wheel remains a matter of debate, with evidence indicating the use of tiny stone ball-bearings as a means of aiding transportation.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Dracaena cinnabari (Dragon’s Blood Tree). Wikimedia Commons.

14. Commonly called “the most alien-looking place on Earth”, the island of Socotra is home to one of the most unique displays of animal and plant life on Earth

Socotra, also known as Soqotra, is the largest of the four islands of the eponymous archipelago located between the Guardafui Channel and the Arabian Sea. A possession of Yemen, the isolated island of Socotra resides approximately 240 kilometers off the eastern coast of Cape Guardafui and 380 kilometers south of the Arabian Peninsula. As a result of this vast separation of Socotra from the mainland, the island is home to an extremely high number of endemic species – those unique to a particular geographical area – with potentially more than one-third of Socotra’s plant life regarded as such.

In the 1990s, the United Nations conducted a biodiversity study of Socotra, identifying almost seven hundred endemic species – a figure surpassed by only four other islands in the world. Among these unique natural wonders found on Socotra is the dragon’s blood tree – an umbrella-shaped tree infused with red sap – as well as a host of endemic animals ranging from birds, crabs, and lizards. Sadly, the ongoing civil war in Yemen has caused deforestation and major biodegradation in Socotra, threatening many of the unique plant and animal life forms found on the wondrous island.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
The so-called “underwater waterfall” of Mauritius. Mauritian Tourist Board.

13. The site of a mass suicide of runaway slaves in 1835, the “underwater waterfall” of Mauritius forms a bizarre part of the African island’s mythology

Mauritius, situated in the Indian Ocean, is an island nation located approximately 2,000 kilometers from the southeastern coast of Africa. Originally claimed by the Dutch in 1598, the oceanic paradise subsequently fell to the French, who then ceded it to the British, before finally becoming independent in 1965. Among the many natural wonders found on Mauritius, in recent years a spectacular illusion off the coast of Le Morne Brabant, a city on the southwestern tip of the island, has drawn particular attention: an underwater waterfall. Observable only from the air, underwater currents mixed with silt run-offs induce the impression that the entire island is being sucked beneath the waves.

Bizarrely, predating the discovery of this phenomenal mirage, the precise spot of the “waterfall” was the focal point of local legend. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius in 1835, the authorities were dispatched to inform a community of runaway slaves that they were now free and could rejoin civilization. Misunderstanding the distant arrival of armed police, the slaves fled to the cliffs whereupon, electing to die freely rather than return to their masters, committed mass suicide into the ocean. Having “chosen the kiss of death over the chains of slavery”, this story has now become infused as an explanation for the geological curiosity within local mythology.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
“Tent of the expedition on the island of Barsa-Kelmes”, by Taras Shevchenko (c. 1848). Wikimedia Commons.

12. Ceasing to be an island entirely in the 1990s due to depleting water levels in the Aral Sea, Barsa-Kelme was the center of a deliberate hoax by local journalists to manufacture an iconic backstory for the inhospitable spit of land

A former island in the Aral Sea, Barsa-Kelmes – literally meaning “the place of no return” in the Kazakh language – was once the largest island in the gradually diminishing Aral Sea. Rapidly decreasing in water capacity due to Soviet diversion via irrigation canals, the island grew from its former size of 133 square kilometers until it joined the mainland in the 1990s. Originally surveyed in 1848, salt deposits on Barsa-Kelmes render dust storms highly hazardous and potentially lethal. This natural feature of Barsa-Kelme, creating an undeniable aura of mystery, provided the background to a remarkable compilation of urban legends.

Starting during the second half of the 20th century, rumors and stories concerning paranormal and supernatural occurrences on the island began to surface. Reaching peak attention in the 1990s, appearing frequently in popular magazines, stories concerning Barsa-Kelme ranged from UFO visitations, to variable temporal anomalies, and the alleged disappearances of expeditions. Despite an ever-increasing absurdity to these stories, major Soviet publications continued to report on them and the site became a hub of paranormal investigations until, in the post-Soviet era, it was finally revealed to have been a longstanding hoax perpetrated by science-fiction author Sergey Lukyanenko.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Palmyra’s North Beach. Wikimedia Commons.

11. The center of a longstanding treasure hunt, the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Ocean is allegedly the home of a secret pirate treasure looted from a Spanish ship

One of the Northern Line Islands – a chain of atolls in the central Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii – the Palmyra Atoll is situated over five thousand kilometers from the nearest continent. Measuring just 4.6 square miles, the small unoccupied island is the only unorganized incorporated territory of the United States of America. Hosting a varying temporary population of between four and twenty-five research staff, the atoll is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This separation has lent the island, first discovered in 1798, association with a number of regional legends and superstitions regarding the disappearances of ships.

In particular, the Palmyra Atoll has become especially connected with the Esperanza: a treasure ship carrying looted Inca gold and precious stones that went missing in 1816 whilst en route to the Spanish West Indies. Caught in a storm, according to the legend the Esperanza was attacked by pirates who pillaged the vessel and set a course for Macao. Striking a reef near the atoll, it is claimed the pirates offloaded their treasure and buried it, before attempting to escape the island via makeshift rafts. A lone survivor of these events, James Hines, was picked up by a whaler, recounting his tale before dying soon after in San Francisco.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons.

10. Nicknamed “Battleship Island”, the Japanese industrial island of Hashima served as a labor camp for the Mitsubishi Company during the Second World War

One of 505 uninhabited islands of the Nagasaki Prefecture, Hashima Island, commonly known as Gunkanjima or “Battleship Island”, is an abandoned island situated approximately 15 kilometers from the city of Nagasaki in southern Japan. Measuring just 16-acres, the small island became populated soon after the discovery of coal on Hashima in 1810. Purchased by Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha in 1890, who extracted 15.7 million tons of coal, several mine-shafts reaching up to one mile in depth were built, including one underground passageway connecting Hashima to a neighboring island beneath the ocean waters.

Becoming the site of Japan’s first reinforced concrete building, designed to protect against typhoons, Hashima rapidly took on the impression of a fortress. With the onset of the Second World War, the fortified island served its most infamous purpose: a labor camp for conscripted Korean and Chinese prisoners. In total, an estimated 1,300 enslaved prisoners died on Hashima as a result of forced labor by the Mitsubishi company. Reaching a peak population in 1959, reductions in global coal usage resulted in the abandonment of the island in 1974. Today, the preserved island remains a monument to history as a World Heritage Site.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An abandoned village on one of the Shengsi Islands. The Atlantic.

9. Reflecting the transience of our own existence, the Shengsi Islands of China have been retaken by nature after only a couple of decades of abandonment

Part of the Zhoushan Archipelago, the Shengsi Islands are a chain of islands located south of the mouth of the Yangtze River. Comprising a total of 394 small islands, just 18 are inhabitable, the largest of which is Sijiao Island measuring just 21.2 square kilometers. Administered by the Chinese government, these isolated islands enjoy a subtropical climate free from the corruption of human influence. In a perfect example of the inevitability of nature, the abandoned fishing village of Houtouwan, situated on the northern side of Shengshan Island and 40 miles east of Shanghai, artistically presents the future of mankind.

Once home to a thriving fishing village, with a population exceeding more than two thousand active fishermen in addition to a wider community, Houtouwan was abandoned in the 1990s due to sustainability concerns. In the years since, greenery has retaken the village in an impressive display of natural reclamation. Houses are coated in fauna, whilst the streets of the previously bustling township are barely visible. Although becoming a tourist attraction in recent years, Houtouwan’s regression into nature reflects the impermanence of our own species in the face of natural planetary forces.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An aerial view of Poveglia Island, Venice. Wikimedia Commons.

8. Seemingly cursed, the “world’s most haunted island” – the island of Poveglia in Venice – has been inhabited by several groups throughout history, all of whom met with troubled endings

A small island located in the Venetian Lagoon, Poveglia Island rests between Venice and Lido in northern Italy. Divided into two parts by a canal, the island first became populated in 421 CE when refugees from Padua and Este, seeking escape from barbarian hordes, colonized the landmass. Abandoning the island in 1379 when Venice was attacked by Genoa, the uninhabited island was rejected by the Camaldolese monks before being transformed into a fortress to protect the city-state. Starting in 1776, Poveglia began operation as a quarantine station for plague victims. Serving this function for more than a century, more than 160,000 patients were imprisoned on the island.

Leaving a lasting impact on Poveglia, with an estimated 50 percent of its soil is composed of the ashes of burnt corpses, in 1922 the island was converted into a mental institution. Following complaints of haunting by asylum inmates, as well as reports of bizarre experiments by the head physician prior to his eventual suicide, this short-lived endeavor ended in 1968. Returning to an uninhabited state, the Venetian authorities have tried, in vain, to find an acceptable purpose for the seemingly cursed piece of land. The most recent efforts, a luxury hotel development, fell through in 2014 after contractual disagreements.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Aerial Photograph of Fort Carroll next to Key Bridge, Baltimore. Wikimedia Commons.

7. Built by a young Robert E. Lee, Fort Carroll was ordered and repeatedly re-modernized by the U.S. Army over decades despite never actually fulfilling its defensive purpose

Named for Charles Carroll, the last surviving signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Fort Carroll is a small artificial island located in the Patapsco River south of Baltimore, Maryland. Housing a now-abandoned hexagonal sea fort, the 3.4-acre island was ordered in 1847 on the instructions of the United States War Department as part of the “Third System” strategy: a program aiming to increase protections for America’s most vulnerable but nevertheless vital ports. Designed by then Brevet-Colonel Robert E. Lee, the future General-in-Chief of the Confederate States of America, construction was concluded in 1852.

Seeing no action during the Civil War, and with its magazines flooded in 1864 by heavy rains, the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 saw the Army undertake a costly modernization of the fort. However, once again, the war was over long-before modifications were complete in 1900. Removing the batteries during World War I, in 1921 the Army officially abandoned Fort Carroll and the War Department declared the island excess property two years later. Vacant for decades, in 1958 the island was sold to Benjamin Eisenberg for $10,000 whose plans to build a casino, like the Army’s hopes for the fort, never materialized.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

6. Offering the inspiration behind Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Henderson Island provided sanctuary to the crew of the Essex after they were sunk by a retaliatory sperm whale

An uninhabited member of the Pitcairn Islands archipelago in the south Pacific Ocean, Henderson Island – also known historically as San Juan Bautista and Elizabeth Island – is most unsuitable for human habitation. Spanning just 37.3 square kilometers, the small isolated speck of land contains little fresh water and its poor soil renders it ill-suited for agriculture. Believed to have housed a small permanent Polynesian settlement between the 12th and 15th centuries, it has been suggested Henderson, like Pitcairn Island itself, was dependent on Mangareva for the necessities to survive and thrive.

Offering refuge to the survivors of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, who arrived on November 20, 1820, after their ship was rammed and sank by a sperm whale – providing the inspiration for Moby Dick – within a week the crew had exhausted natural food sources on the island. Departing in three boats, leaving behind three men who elected to remain instead of risking the journey, all three incredibly survived almost four months until their eventual rescue on April 9, 1821. During their stay, the trio discovered five human skeletons in a cave, with modern analysis confirming these unfortunate souls died of dehydration and were likely survivors of an earlier shipwreck.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An aerial photograph of Ilha da Queimada Grande. Wikimedia Commons.

5. Commonly known as Snake Island, this Brazilian paradise is home to a terrifyingly large venomous snake population estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands

Colloquially known as Snake Island, Ilha da Queimada Grande is an island located 33 kilometers off the coast of Ṣo Paulo, Brazil. A temperate paradise on paper, with grasslands and rainforests aplenty, the island, as its nickname might suggest, retains one minor drawback in attractiveness: snakes. The only home of the critically endangered golden lancehead pit viper Рa highly venomous snake that can prove lethal to humans with a single bite Рin addition to many other variant species, the small island is infested with the reptiles. As a result, Ilha da Queimada Grande is closed to the public and a strict quarantine remains in place except for those with research waivers.

With the island measuring just 430,000 square meters, or 110 acres, in size, the snake population is estimated to appropriately mirror their home with a projected 430,000 snakes inhabiting Ilha da Queimada Grande. With one snake per square meter – the highest proportion of any land mass discovered to date – the island rightly strikes fear into most visitors. According to local legend, a fisherman once landed on the island by accident, with his body discovered at a later date torn apart by snake bites. Another, albeit likely untrue story, tells of a family who fatally bought a house on the island without understanding the horrific truth of their new home.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
An aerial photograph of Miyake-Jima in 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

4. An island volcano, the residents of Miyake-Jima are forced to carry gas masks at all times due to the risk of toxic levels of sulfur dioxide in the surrounding air

An island in the Izu archipelago, situated approximately 180 kilometers southeast of Honshu, Japan, in the Philippine Sea, Miyake-Jima comprises an inhabited volcano: Mount Oyama. Formed during the late Pleistocene period, between ten to fifteen thousand years ago, Miyake-Jima, with a 38.3-kilometer coastline, is home to a variety of rich fauna that endures the constant threat of eruption. In fact, so does the local population, estimated to be 2,451 as of mid-2016. The volcano in the center of the small island has erupted at least 13 times in the last 500 years, including five times since the start of the Meiji period in 1868, and in 1940 was responsible for the deaths of at least 11 people.

These eruptions by Mount Oyama have inflicted lasting consequences for the island and its inhabitants. Following the start of a series of eruptions on July 14, 2000, the island was swiftly evacuated, with residents unable to return until February 1, 2005. However, during this four-year absence and sporadic activity, Mount Oyama had imparted a constant discharge of sulfur dioxide gas into the surrounding environment. Although not permanently inducing levels of dangerous toxicity, all residents of Miyake-Jima are now required to carry gas masks at all times, with alarms ready to alert inhabitants should the toxic gas reach critical levels.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Palm Trees on Clipperton Island in the Pacific Ocean. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Possessing a history of sheltering individuals stranded in the Pacific Ocean, Clipperton Island was briefly ruled over by a deranged lighthouse keeper under the moniker of King Álvarez

An uninhabited coral atoll in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Clipperton Island is an overseas territory of France located more than a thousand miles from any mainland and ten thousand kilometers from Paris. Measuring just 1,500 acres, the island was claimed by the French in 1858 but remained a matter of dispute for many years after Americans illegally settled on the land to mine for guano. By 1914, despite its isolated condition, approximately 100 people, including children, lived on the island. Dependent upon external resupply every two months from Acapulco, with the escalation of the Mexican Revolution the island was forsaken and forgotten.

By 1917, only one male inhabitant – the lighthouse keeper – remained alive, along with fifteen women and children. Proclaiming himself King Álvarez, the deranged man embarked upon a spree of rape and murder before he was killed by one of his victims. Rescued soon after, just eleven people survived the abandonment of the settlement. Not the last stranded persons to reside on Clipperton Island, in 1962 nine crewmen of the MV Monarch were shipwrecked for twenty-three days on the small atoll as were two American sailors for three weeks in 1998. In both cases, all the survivors were successfully rescued without major incident or violent psychotic coronations.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
The Divak Mine. Wikimedia Commons.

2. Home to a colossal diamond mine producing more than one hundred million carats, the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada is reminiscent of science fiction

Hidden in the remote sub-Arctic tundra of the North Slave Region in the Northwest Territories, Canada, approximately 220 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle is Lac de Gras: a 569 square kilometer lake. In the middle of Lac de Gras is a small island, measuring just twenty square kilometers, informally known as East Island. Home to the Diavik Diamond Mine, this unfamiliar patch of isolated dirt was the center of the diamond rush in the last decade of the twentieth century. Initially surveyed in 1992 after the discovery of large mineral deposits, construction begun at the mysterious site in 2003.

Taking until 2010 for underground mining to commence at the colossal site, in the years since extraction began an estimated one hundred million carats of diamonds have been pulled from the Diavik Diamond Mine. Among these finds was a 552-carat yellow diamond – the largest ever found in North America – discovered in October 2018. Continuing to produce approximately 7 million carats, or 1,400 kilograms, of diamonds year each, and with an estimated lifespan of roughly twenty years, the mine is projected to continue to remain one of the leading sources of crystalline carbon for years to come.

20 Islands That Hide Strange Secrets In Their Histories
Map of the East Coast of North America, from the Chesapeake Bay to Cape Lookout, by John White (c. 1585). Wikimedia Commons.

1. The first English attempt to settle in North America, Roanoke Island remains one of the most mysterious incidents of early American history

The first attempt at founding a permanent English settlement in North America, the colony at Roanoke Island was established in 1585 in modern-day Dare County, North Carolina. Suffering immediate setbacks, in no small part due to hostile relations with local natives, the endeavor was swiftly abandoned before a second attempt launched two years later. Landing in July 1587, John White led 115 colonists in settling the previously abandoned site on Roanoke Island. Experiencing precisely the same problems as before, White sailed for England to beg assistance and salvation for the fledgling colony.

Despite garnering sufficient backing for a relief fleet, the Spanish Armada the following year diverted attention and delayed White’s return to his family. During his absence, his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, became the first English-born child in the Americas. Finally reaching Roanoke again in 1590, no trace of the friends and family he had left behind could be found. A single clue – the word “Croatoan” carved into a nearby fence-post – provided little comfort or explanation. It remains unclear precisely what happened to the settlers, with suggestions ranging from total extermination at the hands of natives to relocation, and even potentially assimilation into native communities.

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

“Taal Volcano”, Smithsonian Institution, Global Volcanism Program (2011)

“Enter Mexico’s Haunted ‘Island of the Dolls’ If You Dare: Thousands of Creepy Toys Hang from the Trees to Quell the Tormented Screams of a Ghost of a Little Girl who Drowned There”, Jay Akbar, Daily Mail (August 5, 2015)

“The Siege of the South Pole”, Hugh Robert Mill, Alston Rivers (1905)

“Antarctica”, Jeff Rubin, Lonely Planet (2000)

“Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude”, Heinrich Harke, Archaeology Magazine (December 2010)

“Is an Island Off Cuba the Last Surviving Piece of East Germany”, Meg Van Huygen, MentalFloss (January 24, 2018)

“The Prehistoric Temples of Malta and Gozo”, Mayrhofer Zammit, S. Masterson Publishing (1997)

“Island of the Dragon’s Blood”, Douglas Botting, Steve Savage Publishing (2006)

“Le Malaise Creole: Ethnic Identity in Mauritius”, Rosabelle Boswell, Berghahn Books (2006)

“Palmyra: Isle of Death”, Karl Boyd, Lulu Press (2010)

“Pirates’ Buried Bullion May Be Found on Palmyra”, Newspaper.com

“Japan’s 007 island still carries scars of wartime past”, Diana Magnay, CNN (June 13, 2013)

“Hashima: The Ghost Island”, Brian Burke-Gaffney, Crossroads: A Journal of Nagasaki History and Culture (1996)

“The Abandoned Fishing Village of Houtouwan”, Alan Taylor, The Atlantic (July 29, 2015)

“‘World’s Most Haunted Island’ Up for Auction”, Tom Kington, The Telegraph (April 15, 2014)

“Strange Geographies: The Happy, Haunted Island of Poveglia”, Ransom Riggs, Mental Floss (May 14, 2014)

“A Legacy in Brick and Stone: American Coastal Defense Forts of the Third System, 1816-1867”, John R. Weaver II, McGovern Publishing (2018)

“Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex”, Owen Chase, W.B. Gilley (1821)

“The Loss of the Ship ‘Essex’ Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats”, Thomas Nickerson, Nantucket Historical Society (1984)

“Brazil’s ‘Snake Island’ Is the Place of Nightmares, We’re Pretty Sure”, Emily Thomas”, Huffington Post (July 4, 2014)

“Teikoku’s Complete Atlas of Japan”, Shoin Teikoku, Japan Publications Limited (1964)

“Clipperton: A History of the Island the World Forgot”, Jimmy Skaggs, Walker and Company (1989)

“This 552-Carat Yellow Diamond Is The Largest Ever Found in North America”, Roberta Naas, Forbes Magazine (December 14, 2018)

“Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony”, Lee Miller, Arcade Publishing (2012)

“The Lost Colony of Roanoke: New Perspectives”, Brandon Fullam, McFarland and Company (2017)

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