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Lost Histories

Exploring the World's Most Famous Mysteries

Lost Histories by Joel Levy
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Looks at some great mysteries of the past, telling the stories of the tomb raiders and glory seekers who have sought to solve them. This work also examines legends and historical facts to sort truth from myth.
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Title: Lost Histories
Author: Joel Levy
In an average history book most people, places and things can be located. We know where they happened, where they were buried, where they now lie, where you can see them if they have survived. Inevitably, however, many have got lost in history: concealed beneath the dust, vanished below the waves, hidden by fading memory and competing legends. What is left are mysteries. Everyone loves a good mystery. So much the better if the mystery is real – if it concerns real people or places, or things that really happened. Today it is increasingly hard to know whether the mystery you are being peddled is genuine or simply a house of cards; a pile of baseless speculations heaped upon misreported facts and reified fictions. To some extent history has always been a story, a narrative woven from selected events and selective interpretations, but too much of it is now more like a trashy potboiler.

Ideally much of this airport novelstyle history would be clearly distinguished and labelled as ‘pseudohistory’, or at least ‘alternative history’, but this rarely happens. What is needed, in the words of historian Kevin McClure, is a campaign for real history. I wouldn’t necessarily claim that this book is part of that campaign, but it does attempt to treat historical mysteries without resorting to the pitfalls and clichés of pseudohistory. In fact my initial aim was to cover only topics that fell within the (admittedly arbitrary) remit of ‘real history’ – ie events that ‘really’ happened and people, places and things that genuinely existed – but that was never a realistic goal. Firstly, any book on things that are missing in history must at least consider tackling the 300-pound gorillas of the field – popular subjects such as the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant, or topics du jour such as the treasure of the Knights Templar.

Secondly, there is of course no clear dividing line between legend and history, as many of the articles in this book clearly demonstrate. Instead what I have tried to do is look at evidence from the mainstream and outside it and consider the plausibility of competing claims and interpretations, to arrive at balanced conclusions about where things might be and whether they still exist or ever did. Each article explains the nature of the historical mystery, and in particular the popular conception of the subject versus the reality, looks at the background, discusses what might remain to be found, examines the efforts that have already been made and assesses the evidence to suggest the most likely solution to the mystery.

Each topic is fascinating in its own right, and there is something here for everyone, from the high adventure of the quest for the Holy Grail to the more intellectual pursuit of the true identity of Shakespeare’s lost plays. Most excitingly, some of these mysteries may lend themselves, at least in part, to investigation and solution by dedicated amateurs or even pure dumb luck – it’s always possible that you yourself could stumble upon a buried treasure or happen across a long-forgotten grave. If this should happen, though, remember that the true value of any such find is historical and not material, and that this value can only be preserved through expert, professional investigation/excavation, so make sure you call in the authorities before digging for glory.

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