The Tarim Mummies

Who is this? His angular features and recessed eyes suggest that he’s Caucasian, and genetic tests support this, but he was found in the Tarim Basin of western China in 1910. Many such mummies have been found there, desiccated by the desert and sometimes still bearing blond or red hair. Who were they, and where did they come from?

It had been commonly believed that civilizations developed independently in East and West, but these finds suggest that Western nomads may have reached China by 1,000 B.C. or earlier, traveling from Europe, the Mediterranean, or even Iran.

Ancient Chinese books describe tall figures with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Apparently they weren’t legends.

Good Boy

A terrier, known to Professor Owen, was taught to play at hide and seek with his master, who summoned him, by saying ‘Let us have a game;’ upon which the dog immediately hid his eyes between his paws, in the honourable manner, and when the gentleman had placed a sixpence, or a piece of cake in a most improbable place, he started up and invariably found it. His powers were equalled by what was called a fox-terrier, named Fop, who would hide his eyes, and suffer those at play with him to conceal themselves before he looked up. If his play-fellow hid himself behind a window-curtain, Fop would, for a certain time, carefully pass that curtain, and look behind all the others, behind doors, etc., and when he thought he had looked long enough, seize the concealing curtain and drag it aside in triumph.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

Fathomless Genius

On Aug. 11, 1966, a fishing boat came upon a badly bruised man floating in the water off Brest, France, clutching an inflatable life raft. He identified himself as Josef Papp, a Hungarian-Canadian engineer, and claimed he had just bailed out of a jet-powered submarine that had crossed the Atlantic in 13 hours.

The media laughed at this, but Papp insisted he had built a cone-shaped sub in his garage that could reach 300 mph using the same principle as a supercavitating torpedo. He even wrote a book, The Fastest Submarine, to answer his critics … but somehow this failed to explain how the sub worked, or why plane tickets to France had been found in his pocket, or why a man matching his description had been seen boarding a plane to France hours earlier.

For what it’s worth, Papp did patent a number of other inventions, including a fuel mixture composed from inert noble gases. So maybe he was telling the truth.

The Hard Way

In 1896, New Jersey clam diggers Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo decided to make a name for themselves by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. On June 6 they set out from the Battery in an 18-foot oak rowboat with a compass, a sextant, and a copy of the Nautical Almanac. They reached England’s Isles of Scilly in 55 days, a record that still stands.

Ironically, on the way home their passenger steamer ran out of coal. The pair launched their boat and rowed back to New York.