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Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops. - H.L. Mencken, American essayist

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.)

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all. - Carl Sagan, 1987

When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service! - John Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1852

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. - Albert Einstein

North America's Pacific coast shows the most linguistic diversity in the New World, with an extraordinary variety of distinct languages dotting the region. Many linguists are doubtful that this could have happened in just 13,000 years, which is how long ago Clovis-First theorists claim people arrived here. Some linguists say this diversity is a sign that the West Coast was the first area to be occupied - indicating an Asian origin - and that it must have happened at least 20,000 years ago. Others say that even that generous time frame can't account for the sheer number of languages that have sprouted up.

In July 1996, two college students found a brown skull and some bones poking out of the mud along the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. At first police believed the remains belonged to a recent crime victim, but a coroner determined that the man had been dead for 100 to 150 years. Further suspicions arose when anthropologist James C. Chatters found the point of a spear embedded in the skeleton's right hipbone. It was only after radiocarbon dating that the truth emerged: Kennewick Man had died about 9,500 years ago.

Later, two other anthropologists - Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution and Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee - compared the skull with several thousand skulls from modern humans and concluded that Kennewick Man resembled an Ainu more than a European. The Ainu, believed to be the first inhabitants of the Japanese islands, were originally hunter-gatherer-fishermen. Today the Ainu are a small minority of the population on Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. From the bones, researchers estimate that Kennewick Man was approximately 5' 9" inches tall and died when he was around 55 years old.

There's plenty of archaeological evidence that casts doubt on the Clovis-First theory, but not all of it is reliable. The Calico Early Man Site in southern California is one of the best examples of a pre-Clovis culture that was later debunked.

In 1949, a group of amateur archaeologists found stone implements that appeared to be crafted by humans. A uranium-thorium dating process used on the surrounding soil suggested that the tools found in the same layer might be as many as 200,000 years old. Many respected archaeologists have confirmed the authenticity of the finds, and today digging still takes place at the site. The general consensus, however, is that the stones are not artifacts, but "geofacts," the product of thousands of years of geological activity.

Up through the nineteenth century, scientists thought that the universe was an orderly, tame place inhabited by stars, planets, a few wandering comets and chunks of rocks called asteroids. Since then, an explosion of new celestial bodies has been discovered, each weirder than the last - galaxies, nebulae, quasars, pulsars, white dwarves, supernovas, neutron stars and so forth. But the most mysterious and bizarre of all are the unseeable black holes.

What is a black hole? White dwarves, neutron stars, pulsars and black holes are all the highly condensed remains of a burned-out star. When ordinary-sized stars, like our Sun, run out of fuel, their gravity forces the star's matter to collapse in on itself, forming an incredibly dense chunk of burnedout matter - a white dwarf. Many larger stars end their lives in a magnificent explosion so violent and powerful that it jams all the star's free electrons inside protons, so that all that's left is an even denser pack of neutrons-a neutron star. If that neutron star spins, it is a pulsar. Some larger dying stars, though, collapse in on themselves with such incredible force that they form the densest mass of matter of all. The gravitational field of such a chunk of matter is so powerful that not even light can escape. This is a black hole.

A black hole is a region of space. At its center lies the dense mass of a collapsed star with its monstrous gravitational field. Anything coming near that collapsed star will be pulled into the star, no matter how fast it is traveling. Even a photon of light, traveling at light-speed, cannot escape, unless it starts out some minimum distance away from the black hole. Outside that distance, fast-moving objects can escape. Inside that distance, nothing escapes. A sphere around the black hole's central core at that minimum distance is called the event horizon. That horizon marks the edge of the black hole. Like a galactic vacuum cleaner, a black hole sucks in all matter, light and energy that carelessly wander too near.

How dense is the material at the core of a black hole? A cubic inch of earth weighs a few ounces. A cubic inch of a white dwarf weighs hundreds of tons. A cubic inch of a neutron star weighs millions of tons, a whole mountain on Earth compressed into one tiny cubic inch. A black hole is hundreds of times more dense than a neutron star.

A black hole cannot be seen because light cannot escape from the clutches of its gravitational field. But the effect of a black hole's gravity can be seen in the movements of nearby stars. If the motion of a star suggests that some great gravitational force is pulling on it, but no other stars are visibly present to account for that pulling, a black hole is suspected.

The general idea of a black hole was first theorized in 1783 by English physicist John Mitchell. Mathematically, black holes were first predicted by Einstein's relativity equations in 1933. They were named black holes in 1967 by American physicist John Wheeler. The first black hole ever discovered was found in 1970 in the Cygnus constellation, 6,000 light-years from Earth, and was named Cygnus X-1.

Since their first discovery, cosmologists and physicists have gazed with awe and eager anticipation at black holes. What is inside a black hole? What happens if someone enters a black hole? Are black holes really tunnels, short cuts, through the fabric of space and time? Are they the long-sought cosmic mass-transit system? Do black holes eventually die? If so, what happens to them? Are they links to other universes? Was it an exploding black hole that created our universe? Certainly, these unseeable holes in space are current mysteries of the first order.

According to legend, a fabulous treasure haul was buried on Robinson Crusoe Island in 1715 by Spanish sailor Juan Esteban Ubilla-Echeverria. The bounty is said to have been discovered a few years later by British sailor Cornelius Webb, who reburied it on another part of the island. By some estimates the haul would include 800 barrels of gold ingots, silver pieces, gems and other riches worth up to $10 billion. Naturally, the promise of such fabulous wealth has attracted scores or treasure hunters to the island in the past.

All our ancient history . . . is no more than accepted fiction. - Voltaire


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