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Pop Quiz: Ancient Mysteries

Donate How well do you know your Skeptoid? Today's pop quiz focuses on ancient mysteries.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Ancient Mysteries

Skeptoid Podcast #645
October 16, 2018
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Pop Quiz: Ancient Mysteries

Once again we're going to surprise you with a test — it's like that dreaded day when you walk into the classroom expecting to watch a video, but get hit with a surprise test instead. Today we're going to see how well you've paid attention over the previous twelve years of Skeptoid — and if you haven't been with us that long, we're going to see how well you've managed to avoid reading Chariots of the Gods or watching Ancient Aliens. For the subject of today's pop quiz is Ancient Mysteries. We're going to find out if you've been properly applying your skeptical filters to the flood of misinformation that pop culture throws your way.

So let's begin. If you want time to think about each of these, just be ready to hit the pause button before I give the answer, and feel free to take as much time as you need. And don't try to look for a pattern, because I used a legit random number generator to place each correct answer.

1. Nostradamus

It seems pop culture will never be finished conferring astounding powers of prophecy onto Nostradamus, the 16th century plague doctor and writer of cookbooks and almanacs. He is most famous for his astrological writings, claimed by many modern followers to have been incredibly accurate predictions for many of the most important events of the 20th and 21st centuries. Said to have been written in code to protect him from the Inquisition, which of these is true of Nostradamus' writing?

A. Nostradamus did not write in code.
B. Nostradamus encoded his writings with a combination of word order changes and word substitutions.
C. Nostradamus encoded his writings using a system based on numerology.

Reveal the answer

2. The Crystal Skull

Throughout the world there are a number of crystal skulls all shown to have been made at the same time as their most famous representative, known as the Mitchell-Hedges skull, claimed to have been found as part of a Maya treasure recovered from Belize and carved 3600 years ago. Where do we now know the skulls were created?

A. France
B. The United States
C. Germany

Reveal the answer

3. King Tut's Curse

It was 1922 when Howard Carter's party entered the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. Shortly thereafter, according to the stories, the majority of them died in freak accidents or from rare diseases, victims of a curse placed over the tomb. Carter himself was left to live a long sad life watching his comrades die horribly. Which is true about the curse?

A. The story is based on a falsehood; there was no unusual number of deaths.
B. A combination of molds, bacteria, and embalming chemicals now called "tomb toxins" infected the workers.
C. The numbers were skewed by some of the Egyptian workers dying in the subsequent Egyptian Revolution.

Reveal the answer

4. The Mormon Book of Abraham

In the late 1830s, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (they really need a shorter name) Joseph Smith produced what he claimed was an ancient scripture lost from the Bible, which he called the Book of Abraham. It was translated from a set of ancient documents which his representatives found in a traveling museum show and purchased. What were they?

A. Pages from the Codex Hammurabi written in cuneiform
B. Ancient Egyptian burial texts written in hieroglyphics
C. One of the five "Classics of Confucianism" written in Chinese

Reveal the answer

5. The Baigong Pipes

A lake shore and adjacent cave in Tibet are stuck through with what appear to be metal pipes of a complex plumbing system, shown by thermoluminescence dating to have been smelted some 150,000 years ago. This has persuaded some that it is the remains of a construction project from a visiting alien culture. Which of these is true about the Baigong Pipes?

A. They are indeed ancient alien creations.
B. They still remain unexplained.
C. They are petrified bamboo and tree trunks.

Reveal the answer

6. The Antikythera Mechanism

In 1900, an intricate bronze instrument was found on an ancient Greek shipwreck, containing mechanisms like epicyclic gears, a sort of combination calendar and astrolabe, but far more complex. Archaeologists estimated its builders were about 1000 years ahead of where we'd thought they'd been. Which of these effects did the find have on science?

A. The find helped us refine our knowledge of when the Greeks were building advanced devices.
B. The find destroyed the careers of archaeologists and historians.
C. The find caused us to abandon the scientific method as fatally flawed.

Reveal the answer

7. Did Jewish Slaves Build the Pyramids?

Historians and Theologians have long battled over who built the great ancient works of Egypt: Egyptians, or Jewish slaves? According to actual proven history, which of these events happened first?

A. The nation of Israel was formed
B. The Great Pyramid was completed
C. The first evidence of Jews in Egypt

Reveal the answer

8. Puma Punku

Puma Punku is a site at the ancient city of Tiwanaku, located on the high plains of Bolivia. It is notable for intricately carved megaliths claimed to be almost impossibly identical, leading some alternative historians to assert that the ancient Tiwanaku must have had help from visiting aliens, Atlanteans, or some other unearthly source. Which of the following is true?

A. It's an urban legend, the stones actually aren't identical.
B. The pieces are indeed virtually identical, and we don't know how the ancients managed to carve them this precisely.
C. It is believed the precision was achieved by using an early form of molded concrete.

Reveal the answer

9. The Chess Playing Mechanical Turk

In 1770, Austrian engineer Wolfgang von Kempelen built — by royal command — an ingenious device. It was an automaton dubbed The Turk that could play chess with you, and won almost every game. It toured the world for 80 years, only after which was its secret finally revealed. What was the secret to The Mechanical Turk's genius?

A. The Turk concealed a chess expert.
B. The Turk was actually fully mechanical, as claimed.
C. The Turk was controlled by a chess expert from outside.

Reveal the answer

10. The Ark of the Covenant

One of the more interesting of the many histories claiming to tell the fate of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant is that in the Rastafarian religion. This one is traced to a 13th-century rivalry for the throne of Ethiopia, with one family claiming lineage from Moses, and the other claiming lineage from Solomon — evidenced by possession of the actual Ark of the Covenant. In what country does that Ark reside today?

A. Jamaica
B. Israel
C. Ethiopia

Reveal the answer

So how did you do? This is one Skeptoid quiz where if you do well, that's good — which isn't the case with all such quizzes. And paradoxically, the more television you watch, the worse you're likely to do on it; ancient mysteries being one of the most abused of all subjects on the telewaves. If your score is one to boast about, then please do let me know on Twitter at BrianDunning or on Facebook at Skeptoid Podcast.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Pop Quiz: Ancient Mysteries." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 16 Oct 2018. Web. 20 Jul 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Edmunds, M. "Project Overview." The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 26 Jan. 2010. <>

Hausman, G. The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith from Ethiopia and Jamaica. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Hawass, Z. Letter to Mark Rose. Cairo: Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities, 2006.

Mossa, J., Schumacher, B. "Fossil tree casts in South Louisiana soils." Journal of Sedimentary Research. 1 Jul. 1993, Volume 63, Number 4: 707-713.

Nelson, Mark R. "The Mummy's Curse: Historical Cohort Study." British Medical Journal. 21 Dec. 2002, 325(7378): 1482-1485.

Ponce Sanginés, C., Terrazas, G. "Acerca De La Procedencia Del Material Lítico De Los Monumentos De Tiwanaku." Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Bolivia. 1 Jan. 1970, Number 21.

Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World's Most Famous Seer. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1990.

Reininger, A. Wolfgang von Kempelen: A Biography. Boulder: East European Monographs, 2011.

Ritner, Robert K. ""The Breathing Permit of Hôr" Among The Joseph Smith Papyri." Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 1 Jan. 2003, Volume 62, Number 3: 161-180.

Walsh, J.M. "Legend of the Crystal Skulls." Archaeology. 1 May 2008, Volume 61, Number 3: 36-41.


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