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Stranger than fictionAlmost every day, historians and archaeologists reveal more and more secrets of the past, but several mysteries still puzzle researchers after decades — or sometimes even centuries — of investigations.
Here are 10 of the most enduring stories of mysterious deaths and disappearances that still puzzle historians.
The Mary CelesteSlide 2 of 21
The Mary CelesteThe American merchant ship Mary Celeste was found drifting at sea on Dec. 5, 1872, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) east of Portugal’s Azores Islands, in the eastern Atlantic. The ship, under partial sail when it was intercepted by a Canadian vessel, was carrying a nearly full cargo of casks of industrial alcohol, as well as enough food and water to last for many months. But one of the lifeboats on the merchant ship was missing, and there was no sign of the crew, although their belongings were found still in their bunks.
The Mary Celeste had sailed from New York, almost a month before it was sighted, bound for Genoa in Italy with 10 people aboard: seven crewmen and the ship’s captain, the captain's wife and the couple's two-year-old daughter. But no sign of them was ever found.
In 1884, a few years before the first Sherlock Holmes mysteries appeared in print, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published a fictional first-person account by a survivor of a ship called the "Marie Celeste." In Doyle's story, the crew was murdered by a vengeful serial killer among the crewmen. The story became more famous than the original case, and was even presented as a true account in some newspapers, including the Boston Herald, according to a report in a 1913 report edition of The Strand magazine. Several researchers have speculated that the real Mary Celeste was abandoned because the crew feared an explosion from alcohol fumes leaking from the casks in the hold. Others speculate that the ship was attacked by Moroccan pirates, who carried away the people onboard but left the cargo.
In 2007, documentary filmmaker Anne MacGregor suggested the ship may have been abandoned after it took on water in bad weather and the captain saw an opportunity to make for land in a lifeboat. But the occupants of the lifeboat appeared to have been lost at sea, while the abandoned Mary Celeste was able to ride out the storm.Slide 3 of 21
Mallory and Irvine on EverestSlide 4 of 21
Mallory and Irvine on EverestOn June 4, 1924, British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine set out from an advanced base camp high on the North Col of Mount Everest, in an attempt to become the first people to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain. They were sighted 4 days later by another member of their expedition, climbing on the mountain’s North-East Ridge, about 800 vertical feet (245 meters) below the summit. But then clouds closed over the ridge, and the two men were never seen again.
Historians and mountaineers have long speculated that Mallory and Irvine may have survived the climb to the summit of Mount Everest, at an altitude of 29,029 feet (8,848 meters), but then died during their descent from the mountain, probably on June 9, 1924.
In 1933, Irvine's ice ax was found high on the mountain, confirming the mountaineers had reached an altitude of 28,097 feet (8,564 m). In 1999, an expedition found Mallory’s remains, on Everest's North Face, at an altitude of nearly 27,000 feet (8,230 m). Some climbers have claimed to have seen another body in the area — possibly that of Irvine — but while the finds are intriguing, the question of whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before they died remains a subject of debate.Slide 5 of 21
The last flight of Amelia EarhartSlide 6 of 21
The last flight of Amelia Earhart
When American aviator Amelia Earhart set out to become the first woman to fly around the world, she was already one of the most famous women in the world. Five years earlier, in May 1932, she had made a name for herself as the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic. And in 1935, Earhart made the first solo flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. As such, the world was watching in July 1937, when the plane carrying Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on their round-the-world attempt went missing over the Pacific Ocean.
Earhart and Noonan took off on July 2, from Lae in Papua New Guinea, bound for Howland Island, their next refueling stop, around 2,550 miles (4,110 km) away, across the ocean. As they approached what they thought was Howland Island, Earhart was able to make radio contact with a U.S. Coast Guard ship stationed to guide them in. But, Earhart's last radio messages indicated she was unable to locate either the ship or the island. [In Photos: Searching for Amelia Earhart]
The U.S. Coast Guard ship began a search immediately, joined by U.S. Navy ships in the days that followed. No remains of the aircraft were found, and the official search effort — at that time, the largest and most expensive in U.S. history — was called off after two weeks.
Still, historical researchers have never given up on trying to find Earhart. Among recent efforts to find out just what happened to America’s pioneering aviator, researchers equipped with underwater robots have been exploring the waters around Nikimaroro Atoll, an island in the Kiribati region, for clues that they hope may lead them to the wreckage of her aircraft.Slide 7 of 21
The Baroness of the GalapagosSlide 8 of 21