Suspense

Expedition Unknown – Samurai Sword of Power – S01E11

imageThis is an intriguing episode as Josh heads off to Japan in search of a mystical Japanese sword called the Hanjo Masamune. The sword was forged in the 13th century and is said to not only be the finest blade ever made, but had the power to never kill an innocent man. It is said that whoever wielded the Hanjo Masamune would be the ruler of Japan. And that’s exactly what happened. Through the years the sword was handed down through generations. While the story associated with the sword seems the stuff on anime cartoons, the sword itself is in fact real. It existed and was tracked all the way until the end of World War II. At that time, as Japan surrendered, all small armaments, including swords, were to be handed over to the government. The sword was handed over to the police and then promptly disappeared. The location of the sword remains a mystery. Some believe it may have come to the US. Others believe is may be in a temple. Or it could have ended up on the black market and is in the hands of a private collector.

To start his investigation and gather information Josh talks with Tsunenari Tokugawa who is the 18th generation of the family that once ruled over Japan, with the help of the Hanjo Masamune sword. Mr. Tokugawa shows Josh his family mausoleum  that contains the remains of many Shogun generals. These would have been men that most likely wielded the actual sword. Mr. Tokugawa believes the sword is most likely in the hands of an individual collector.

To learn more about selling swords to private collectors, Josh meets with a man who sells swords in this rather murky market. The dealer has some information about the sword including what it may really look like and the blade pattern. If the real Hanjo were to come on the market, it’s blade markings would have to match. Interestingly, swords sold through regular channels come with certificates that prove who the sword was made by and when.

And then to learn about the sword making process, Josh visits Tsunahiro Yamamura who’s a 24th generation of Masamune. That is quite amazing and actually puts his family as slightly older than that of the Tokugawa family.

Mr. Yamamura is a master sword maker and shows Josh that the swords are hand made over several weeks. The steel is heated dozens of times to create strength and purity. Josh is given the honor to actually pound the metal for a new sword being made. Since I’ve always been fascinated with swords and knives, this was quite exciting to watch.

But to really know about the sword, Josh needs to wield one. And with the help of an expert, Josh goes out back and is shown how to make strikes with the blade. He does surprisingly well and it shows just how sharp the blade is. Josh makes incredibly clean cuts through the bamboo mat. Does he a touch of the Samurai DNA?

The next stop is a series of tunnels where the sword may have been kept after being turned in. When the sword was turned over, it may have been kept or perhaps smuggled into these tunnels. Josh meets with Michael Gakuran who has been given permission to explore this area in search of the sword. He and Josh spend some time down there, but don’t actually discover the sword. But as Michael explains, there are miles of tunnels and they’ve barely started searching.

As Josh continues to search for answers, he meets with Tetsuro Shimaguchi who shows him what it’s like to train like a Samurai warrior. He gives Josh just a brief glimpse of the moves, posture, stance and balance it takes. Then, he tries what he’s learned with one of the students. Needless to say, Josh doesn’t stand a chance. But it does show the intense discipline and training it requires to handle this sort of weapon.

It is believed that the sword may have found it’s way into a shrine and since there is one close by, Josh heads to the top of the mountain to have a look around. We really don’t expect Josh to find the sword and this is more of an excuse for him to ride a motorcycle and see the spectacular landscape. Can’t really fault him for that, the scenery is gorgeous.

But there is a monk at the top of the mountain and while the shrine does contain treasures, it’s not the sword and the monk informs Josh he is surrounded by treasures in the form of the trees and mountains. He’s quite right.

Finally, Josh meets with a sword collector who’s family has been in the business since 1874. While we’re certainly not expecting this man to hand over the ancient lost sword, he certainly has something worth looking at. While not the original Honjo Masamune, it is a sword from the same maker. Josh is holding a Masamune sword that is around 600 years old – and it is stunning. This is all hand made from a single piece of steel. The sharpness and quality are amazing. Josh is holding a wonderful piece of Japanese history. And the Honjo is supposed to be even better. Hard to imagine.

We never really expected Josh to find the sword, but what a fantastic journey. Japan has such history and always seems to be cloaked in mystery. Even with this small glimpse into the origins of this sword, it’s a fun journey. The samurai way of life and the code they lived by is something to behold and if there is a true tangible item that encompasses that way of life and represents such power and honor, I truly hope one day it does reveal itself.

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Expedition Unknown – Secrets of the Nazca – S01E10

imageJosh heads out to Lima, Peru to investigate the mystery of the Nazca lines. These are the massive drawings that cover the landscape. In many cases the shape is made from a single line that doesn’t cross over itself. Some of the more famous ones depict a hummingbird, a spider and a heron. All totaled there are nearly 100 shapes that represent animals, figures and geometric shapes. These figures are several hundred feet in length, the heron being over 900 feet. How did a culture make the shapes with such precision and what were they made for? Some believe they’re an astronomical calendar that align with the stars. Others believe they were ceremonial. And even some others believe they were left by or perhaps are guide markers for aliens.

To get acquainted with the area, Josh heads out for a fun filled ride through the desert. The fact there is a lot of sand and dunes means it’s a good place to take a dune buggy and have some fun. And there’s even a little time for some sand boarding down the dunes.

After getting a lay of the land, it’s time to figure out how the glyphs were made. Obviously they’re massive in scale, so could they have been done freehand? After a quick exercise of Josh trying to replicate one, all signs point to no. Something this large wasn’t just put together without some sort of plan. So does this point to the alien theory? Not quite. Josh meets up with a group of researches who have a more down to earth explanation.

The desert isn’t completely flat. There are in fact some rises throughout. Standing on this rise you can get a good view of the surrounding area. Using this, a surveyor would instruct his crew to lay out stakes to represent the major shape. Then using string, they would be able to fill in other parts of the drawing. It would then be a matter of connecting the dots and creating the shape. Josh decides to give it a go and together they make an extremely good replica of the hummingbird. Their shape is much smaller of course, but the theory is sound. It also rules out the alien theory.

And what do the symbols mean? Well, some have been tracked to align with celestial bodies. The hummingbird points to the position of the sun during the summer solstice. The beak of the heron points to the sun at the winter solstice. This would allow the Nazca to know when the winter and summer months were coming so they could plan their crops. This theory only represents a few of the figures.

Josh then heads to the Cahuachi Temple which is the only building left from the Nazca civilization. Out here, there is a very interesting burial ground where bodies have been preserved and even mummified. They were buried with food and offerings. This shows a society that had ritualized burials.

Additionally, Josh talks with some of the descendants of the Nazca who show him some of their ceremonies. Like other cultures, they used local plants to create a hallucinogenic drink that would allow them to communicate with the spirit world. This also shows an organized religious structure and also helps to support that the animals they drew were part of their religious icons.

Next, Josh hops in a plane so he can get a much wider view of the Nazca lines. He’s also off to see these new lines which have recently been discovered after a sandstorm brought them to the surface. It is believed the new lines are actually from the Paracas people and are in fact older than the Nazca lines.

The Paracas lived before the Nazca and were actually invaded by them. The Nazca took over the culture and absorbed a lot of their traditions, including making the lines. The Paracas also had a practice of elongating the head which they reserved for royalty. It’s a very strange practice to be sure and it’s not entirely understood as to why.

While most of the Nazca lines are best seen from above in a plane, some are better observed from the water. Even in this desert there is quite a bit of water and in fact fishing. Josh heads out to find one of the new symbols they call the Candelabra, but is more like a cactus of the area. It is believed this symbol would have been used to mark the location of water. The Nazca would have to learn the art of fishing and water management in order to survive out in the desert and many feel the symbols point to water sources.

To get more information on that, Josh heads out into the desert to discover what exists at the intersection of several of the prominent lines. On the way they discover a necropolis where human remains are literally lying in the sand. In fact, Josh is able to bring up a human skull that sits in the sand. A little further down they discover a pyramid that overlooks the symbols. It is believed this would have been a place of worship and it is also believed that many of the symbols outline the path of water sources.

Water sources in the lifeless desert?  Surely you jest. But taking up the challenge and a shovel, Josh starts to dig down. Oddly, there are plenty of roots, so clearly something used to grow here. And oddly, as he keep going, he begins to pull up wet sand. Yes indeed, there is water in the desert and the idea the Nazca mapped it out seems extremely likely. And to further explore the idea, Josh shows some aqueducts that have been built that channel and funnel the water so it can be used.

When all is said and done, it looks like the glyphs have multiple purposes and uses. They are indeed religious icons that symbolized the religious aspect of the Nazca. They also represent a way to determine a change in the season. And finally, they most likely point to sources of water that would have been essential to their survival out in the desert. And all of this without the help from aliens.

It’s a pretty impressive system and a fascinating culture.

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Expedition Unknown – Mayan Apocalypse – S01E09

imageFor this episode, Josh heads down Mexico way to try and undercover some truth about the Mayan Empire and why the civilization simply vanished. You remember the Mayans right? They had that wacky calendar that said we were all going to be obliterated and wiped off the face of the earth in 2012. Well, jokes on them. We’re all still here. The same can’t be said for the Mayan culture itself though. Looks like they were wrong about our demise and their own.

But new evidence has been brought to light which may answer some questions. At the height of the Mayan Empire there were over 4000 cities with a population of over 20 million people. They thrived and were masters of math, astronomy and the land. But then suddenly, they disappeared. Josh heads down to Cancun to get things started.

Before we go anywhere we must contend with a lost bag that has decided to take a side trip to Washington DC. Additionally, we must visit the exciting Dia de los Muertos festival. The people of Mexico embrace the idea of the afterlife and spirit world in quite a festive style. Not to be left out, Josh goes with some decorative face painting and blends in with the crowd. Good thing this didn’t turn into a Mardi Gras style event.

As Josh heads out to the ruins and makes his way into the thick jungles, climbs the pyramids and looks out into the thick undergrowth, there is something missing. Where is the water? What did the Mayans use for drinking and watering their crops? We know corn was a pivotal ingredient, but how did they grow it. Turns out the Mayan cities sit on top of thousands of water filled caverns called "cenote".

Josh is given the opportunity to head down into these caves which have been formed and eroded by rainfall. The clear water caverns are connected by thousand of miles worth of tunnels. It is also believed that these caverns were considered a place of supernatural power where demons and gods lived. This was the entrance to the Underworld itself. In order to keep the gods happy, the Mayans would perform sacrifices to show their devotion. This would include blood sacrifice as well as throwing offerings into the cenote. Strangely, this offering would many times be children. Is it really a good idea to throw people into your own water supply?

We can see evidence of their presence in the underworld by the pottery they left behind. This also means the water level would have been lower during that time.

Josh then heads to Chichen Itza, which has some of the best preserved Mayan structures. The city covers 1000 acres, has ball courts which seem pivotal to the Mayan people as well as sacrificial alters and temples. It is believed the city was built and designed to worship Chaac, the god of rain. The huge city sits on top of a network of cenote. Because of their skill with astronomy, it has been believed the cities were placed in line with the sun, moon and planets. But it is now believed water was equally, if not more important and dictated where the city would be placed.

One of the cenote, Holtun Cenote, has a small opening they can climb through so Josh and his guide head down. Turns out this small opening is actually a doorway to massive cavern. It also appears this cenote has some astrological significance as every May 23, the sun shines directly into the cavern and can illuminate the whole area. This would also line up with the pyramid itself which doesn’t appear to be any sort of coincidence.

As they venture down into the watery depths, they find quite a few items of pottery. But it’s the bones and skulls that really stir things up. Clearly people came down here on a regular basis. These items didn’t wash up here, but were placed by hand. They also discover a "shelf" that has human and animal remains lined up. This appears to be a sacrificial alter. Since people were obviously able to walk to these locations the water level would have been receding. This points to a severe and lasting drought for the Mayans. These sacrifices were an attempt to bring back the rain. Without the rain, the crops would wither and die and people would starve and die of thirst.

It appears the Mayans kept cutting into the forest to expand their empire and clear a places for crops. As they removed more and more of the trees, the rainfall dwindled. As the rain dwindled so did the people. The success and expanse of the Mayan people appear to have been it’s downfall. They were destroying the very thing they needed in order to survive. So as they build more and more, they ended up with less and less. It also seems that throwing bodies into the water and letting them rot didn’t do much good for the sanitation conditions.

As Josh says, perhaps we should look at this as a cautionary tale. We need to strike a balance. As we continue to use up our resources we will soon be at the point where we don’t have enough to sustain ourselves. And as always, this was a fascinating look at the people and culture of our neighbors.

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Expedition Unknown – Beale Ciphers – S01E08

imageFor this episode, Josh is on the trail of a haul of gold that could be worth more than $65 million. In 1817 a Virginia adventurer named Thomas Beale lead an expedition that found huge plunders of gold and silver. It’s claimed the haul was over 8000 pounds worth of treasure and to keep the treasure safe, Beale devised a way to code three documents that listed the names of the people who found the treasure, the contents and the exact location. These documents were then locked and handed over to an innkeeper for safe keeping with instructions to open the box if Beale never returned. Beale never did return, the box was opened and what they found were the coded messages. These were then handed over to James Ward who then published the coded messages in the Beale documents.

Ward was able to decode and publish the second document which detailed where to start looking for the treasure. He used the Declaration of Independence as his "key". The first letter of each word is given a number and those numbers are listed throughout the page. Josh is hot on the trail and heads down to Virginia to see what he can learn. But first, he needs to make a stop at the world famous Foamhenge, which is a replica of Stonehenge. Say what you will, but it’s really quite lovely.

The center of the search is in Bedford where the Beauford Inn is listed by name in the decoded text. It is believed the treasure is within a 4 mile radius of the Inn. Josh meets up with Mike Evans who has been searching for the treasure and believes it is hidden off an old wagon trail. He uses his trusty plane to try and find a suitable location and then he and Josh head out into the back woods to try and make a discovery. They believe the treasure will be near a waterfall since that is one of the words they’ve been able to decode. With that in mind they search down the river, which turns out to be quite dangerous as the other partner Steve is sucked into quicksand.

Their hopes are raised as they find a horseshoe which would have been from the right time period. This means cargo was shipped through the area. What’s more, they find a coin from the late 1700’s. It seems they might be in the right place and with the right time period in mind. It’s a nice discovery, but they’re not able to come up with any more treasure.

Realizing that James Ward was a member of the Masons, he heads to Philadelphia to see if he can uncover more information. If Ward was a member, did he by chance use any of the Masonic codes or processes for creating his messages. Remember, Washington and Franklin were Masons and were heavily involved in writing in code.

Josh learns the Masons are steeped in codes and that Ward was a member. He may have some of his knowledge to decode the message. But not much more is able to be learned and Josh is back on the trail and meets up with Justin Cannady.

Justin tells the story of an old tin box his family had that broke open one night and revealed a false bottom. Hidden within was an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. There were lots of "drafts" but this one had the initials TJB in the corner and was torn across the top in a peculiar way. Justin believes this tear represents a mountain range. Since there is the Egyptian symbol for water on the back of the document, Justin feels if they find the mountain range, they will be a step closer to finding the treasure.

Justin and Josh head down the river that is within the four mile radius of Beauford Inn to see if anything matches. Oddly, they eventually come across one that might fit the bill. It does appear to be a match to the tears so they head in to investigate. To their surprise, they find a massive cave that could easily contain a huge haul of buried treasure. They repel down and find some evidence that people have been down here before. Josh and Justin discover an old nail and what appears to be the top of a lantern. It’s a huge area, but their search doesn’t reveal any treasure. But it looks like someone was down here at one point so who knows what they will find with more investigation. And what a fantastic discovery on it’s own.

Josh has some nagging questions though. The second document has been decoded, but in the past 100 years no progress has been made on the other two. Why is that? If we have all this massive computing power, shouldn’t we have cracked it by now? Josh heads to the National Cryptologic Museum to meet with Todd Mateer who’s a Cryptanalyst. He developed a program to use the Declaration as the key for the second document. It starts to work, but there are some issues. It doesn’t really line up that well. This means the translation or decoding of the document is inaccurate. In essence the decoded message isn’t really what the document contains.

Mateer takes the first and third documents and does the same analysis using the Declaration. What he finds is that the document has patterns of ABF DEFGH IIJKL MMNOH PP. Mateer believes the first and third ciphers were never meant to be solved. The creator of the first and third documents filled the page with  random numbers. But oddly, these random numbers are from the Declaration going in alphabetical order. This means he went down the list of numbers filling in the alphabet which isn’t a code at all.

So what we have is the person who wrote the code and the person who broke the code are the same person. In this case, that’s James Ward. Based on his findings, Mateer believes the entire Beale legend is a hoax and was put together by James Ward to sell papers. He created this legend, which may have had some basis in fact, and offered the coded letters as proof of buried treasure. He then decoded one cipher and sold his "book" so people could try to solve the other two. There may be no treasure at all and this was dreamed up as a marketing ploy.

Is there treasure or not? It’s strange how some of the clues link together. The map seems to fit. There is a fantastic cave which could easily hold the loot. Josh found the old horseshoe and the old coin. Pure luck or does this point to a bigger treasure waiting to be discovered?

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