10 Fake Archaeological Finds

1. The James Ossuary

Paradiso [English Wikipedia], Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This limestone coffin was discovered in Israel in 2002 and was thought to be the ossuary of Jesus' (the Jesus) brother James. The ossuary itself dates back to the first century, but the carving on it that claimed that the remains were the brother of Jesus is a modern forgery made to look old by the addition of a chalk solution.

2. The "oldest" star map

In 1999, a disc depicting the stars and planets was found by two amateur metal detectors in Germany. They claimed it was 3,600 years old and tried to sell it to German museums. A professor examined the disc and pronounced it no more than two or three hundred years old.

3. The Calaveras Skull

William Henry Holmes, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In February, 1866, some miners in California found a human skull buried beneath a layer of lava. It fell into the hands the State Geologist of California, who said the skull proved that humans, mastodons and elephants had coexisted at some point in time in California. However, tests conducted at Harvard showed that the skull was of recent origin and one of the original miners admitted the whole thing was a hoax.

4. Etruscan terracotta warriors

The poor Metropolitan Museum of Art got taken several times by the Ricardis, a family of art forgers. In 1915, the family sold a statue called Old Warrior to the Met. In 1916, they sold a work called the Colossal Head, which "experts" decided had been part of a seven-meter (about 23 feet) statue. The Big Warrior was sold to the Met in 1918 for $40,000. It wasn't until 1960 that tests showed manganese in the glaze, an ingredient that had never been used by the Etruscans. A sculptor who had been involved in the forgeries then came forward and signed a confession that the pieces were all fakes.

5. Forged Persian Princess

In 2000, a mummy was discovered in Pakistani Baluchistan that was apparently Rhodugune, a daughter of King Xerxes I of Persia. The mummy was displayed at the National Museum of Pakistan in November 2000. Studies eventually showed that the coffin was maybe 250 years old, the mat underneath the body was at most five years old and the woman had died only two years before. The body remains unidentified and unburied to this day.

6. Piltdown Man

In 1912, pieces of a skull and a jawbone were found at Piltdown near Uckfield, East Sussex, England. They were thought to belong to a form of early man, but by 1953 scientists agreed that the specimen was actually the skull of a man with the jawbone of an orangutan.

7. Tiara of Saitaphernes

Israël Rouchomovsky, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This regal artifact was bought by the Louvre in 1896 because they believed it had belonged to Scythian King Saitapharnes. Experts at the museum declared it to be somewhere between late third-century B.C. or early second-century B.C., but quite a few experts challenged those dates. It turned out that a skilled goldsmith had been commissioned to make the tiara for an archaeologist friend. The goldsmith was so good that it passed muster. The museum was extremely embarrassed when they learned the truth and hid the tiara away for years.

8. Mississippi State Capital Forgery

In the 1920s, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History bought a collection of Native American artifacts. Oddly, included in this grouping was an Egyptian mummy. In 1969, a medical student asked the museum for human remains to study and the museum allowed him to study the mummy. He discovered that it was mostly made of papier-mâché, with a few animal rib bones thrown in to make it appear authentic. Whoops.

9. Cardiff Giant

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This 10-foot-tall petrified "man" was "discovered" in 1869 by workers digging a well in Cardiff, N.Y. The giant was made from a block of gypsum and shipped to a farm in Cardiff, where it was buried for a year before being "discovered" by the well builders. P.T. Barnum offered to buy it and was turned down, so he had his own built and claimed his was real and the Cardiff Giant was a fake. They were both proved fake on February 2, 1870.

10. Michigan Relics

The Michigan Relics were found by James Scotford in 1890. The relics included a clay cup with symbols and carved tablets. Scotford and Michigan's Secretary of State, Daniel Soper, showed thousands of objects "found" in 16 counties of Michigan. The Detroit News even reported that they have found copies of Noah's diary. Archaeologists agree that the artifacts were made with contemporary tools, and, oddly, no more were found after Scotford and Soper died.

Live Smarter
Nervous About Asking for a Job Referral? LinkedIn Can Now Do It for You

For most people, asking for a job referral can be daunting. What if the person being approached shoots you down? What if you ask the "wrong" way? LinkedIn, which has been aggressively establishing itself as a catch-all hub for employment opportunities, has a solution, as Mashable reports.

The company recently launched "Ask for a Referral," an option that will appear to those browsing job listings. When you click on a job listed by a business that also employs one of your LinkedIn first-degree connections, you'll have the opportunity to solicit a referral from that individual.

The default message that LinkedIn creates is somewhat generic, but it hits the main topics—namely, prompting you to explain how you and your connection know one another and why you'd be a good fit for the position. If you're the one being asked for a referral, the site will direct you to the job posting and offer three prompts for a response, ranging from "Sure…" to "Sorry…".

LinkedIn says the referral option may not be available for all posts or all users, as the feature is still being rolled out. If you do see the option, it will likely pay to take advantage of it: LinkedIn reports that recruiters who receive both a referral and a job application from a prospective hire are four times more likely to contact that individual.

[h/t Mashable]

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Essential Science
What Is a Scientific Theory?
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In casual conversation, people often use the word theory to mean "hunch" or "guess": If you see the same man riding the northbound bus every morning, you might theorize that he has a job in the north end of the city; if you forget to put the bread in the breadbox and discover chunks have been taken out of it the next morning, you might theorize that you have mice in your kitchen.

In science, a theory is a stronger assertion. Typically, it's a claim about the relationship between various facts; a way of providing a concise explanation for what's been observed. The American Museum of Natural History puts it this way: "A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts."

For example, Newton's theory of gravity—also known as his law of universal gravitation—says that every object, anywhere in the universe, responds to the force of gravity in the same way. Observational data from the Moon's motion around the Earth, the motion of Jupiter's moons around Jupiter, and the downward fall of a dropped hammer are all consistent with Newton's theory. So Newton's theory provides a concise way of summarizing what we know about the motion of these objects—indeed, of any object responding to the force of gravity.

A scientific theory "organizes experience," James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, tells Mental Floss. "It puts it into some kind of systematic form."


A theory's ability to account for already known facts lays a solid foundation for its acceptance. Let's take a closer look at Newton's theory of gravity as an example.

In the late 17th century, the planets were known to move in elliptical orbits around the Sun, but no one had a clear idea of why the orbits had to be shaped like ellipses. Similarly, the movement of falling objects had been well understood since the work of Galileo a half-century earlier; the Italian scientist had worked out a mathematical formula that describes how the speed of a falling object increases over time. Newton's great breakthrough was to tie all of this together. According to legend, his moment of insight came as he gazed upon a falling apple in his native Lincolnshire.

In Newton's theory, every object is attracted to every other object with a force that’s proportional to the masses of the objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is known as an “inverse square” law. For example, if the distance between the Sun and the Earth were doubled, the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Sun would be cut to one-quarter of its current strength. Newton, using his theories and a bit of calculus, was able to show that the gravitational force between the Sun and the planets as they move through space meant that orbits had to be elliptical.

Newton's theory is powerful because it explains so much: the falling apple, the motion of the Moon around the Earth, and the motion of all of the planets—and even comets—around the Sun. All of it now made sense.


A theory gains even more support if it predicts new, observable phenomena. The English astronomer Edmond Halley used Newton's theory of gravity to calculate the orbit of the comet that now bears his name. Taking into account the gravitational pull of the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn, in 1705, he predicted that the comet, which had last been seen in 1682, would return in 1758. Sure enough, it did, reappearing in December of that year. (Unfortunately, Halley didn't live to see it; he died in 1742.) The predicted return of Halley's Comet, Brown says, was "a spectacular triumph" of Newton's theory.

In the early 20th century, Newton's theory of gravity would itself be superseded—as physicists put it—by Einstein's, known as general relativity. (Where Newton envisioned gravity as a force acting between objects, Einstein described gravity as the result of a curving or warping of space itself.) General relativity was able to explain certain phenomena that Newton's theory couldn't account for, such as an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury, which slowly rotates—the technical term for this is "precession"—so that while each loop the planet takes around the Sun is an ellipse, over the years Mercury traces out a spiral path similar to one you may have made as a kid on a Spirograph.

Significantly, Einstein’s theory also made predictions that differed from Newton's. One was the idea that gravity can bend starlight, which was spectacularly confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1919 (and made Einstein an overnight celebrity). Nearly 100 years later, in 2016, the discovery of gravitational waves confirmed yet another prediction. In the century between, at least eight predictions of Einstein's theory have been confirmed.


And yet physicists believe that Einstein's theory will one day give way to a new, more complete theory. It already seems to conflict with quantum mechanics, the theory that provides our best description of the subatomic world. The way the two theories describe the world is very different. General relativity describes the universe as containing particles with definite positions and speeds, moving about in response to gravitational fields that permeate all of space. Quantum mechanics, in contrast, yields only the probability that each particle will be found in some particular location at some particular time.

What would a "unified theory of physics"—one that combines quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity—look like? Presumably it would combine the explanatory power of both theories, allowing scientists to make sense of both the very large and the very small in the universe.


Let's shift from physics to biology for a moment. It is precisely because of its vast explanatory power that biologists hold Darwin's theory of evolution—which allows scientists to make sense of data from genetics, physiology, biochemistry, paleontology, biogeography, and many other fields—in such high esteem. As the biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky put it in an influential essay in 1973, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Interestingly, the word evolution can be used to refer to both a theory and a fact—something Darwin himself realized. "Darwin, when he was talking about evolution, distinguished between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution," Brown says. "The fact of evolution was that species had, in fact, evolved [i.e. changed over time]—and he had all sorts of evidence for this. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain this evolutionary process." The explanation that Darwin eventually came up with was the idea of natural selection—roughly, the idea that an organism's offspring will vary, and that those offspring with more favorable traits will be more likely to survive, thus passing those traits on to the next generation.


Many theories are rock-solid: Scientists have just as much confidence in the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, plate tectonics, and thermodynamics as they do in the statement that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Other theories, closer to the cutting-edge of current research, are more tentative, like string theory (the idea that everything in the universe is made up of tiny, vibrating strings or loops of pure energy) or the various multiverse theories (the idea that our entire universe is just one of many). String theory and multiverse theories remain controversial because of the lack of direct experimental evidence for them, and some critics claim that multiverse theories aren't even testable in principle. They argue that there's no conceivable experiment that one could perform that would reveal the existence of these other universes.

Sometimes more than one theory is put forward to explain observations of natural phenomena; these theories might be said to "compete," with scientists judging which one provides the best explanation for the observations.

"That's how it should ideally work," Brown says. "You put forward your theory, I put forward my theory; we accumulate a lot of evidence. Eventually, one of our theories might prove to obviously be better than the other, over some period of time. At that point, the losing theory sort of falls away. And the winning theory will probably fight battles in the future."


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