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April 23, 2024 11 mins

Today the tour through the Cabinet goes deep beneath the surface to find some curious tales.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales right
there on display, just waiting for us to explore. Welcome
to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Speaker 1 (00:36):
One of the most fascinating things about the natural world
is the interconnectedness. Sands from the Sahara Desert blow all
the way to the Amazon Rainforest, The Scottish Highlands and
the Appalachians were once the same mountain range. Separate bodies
on separate continents can be curiously intertwined. The same can
be said about humans. The choices our ancestors make shape

(00:59):
our lives senties later, and the choices we make today
shape the future. And sometimes separate groups of people with
entirely different goals can form a picture of history without
even meaning to. This story dates back centuries and brings
us to a place where past and future collide. Let's begin.
In twenty eleven, underwater archaeologists from Texas State University splashed

(01:22):
into the Caribbean Sea near Panama. Magnetic sensors had brought
them to this spot. They were looking for something special,
a ship that once belonged to the notorious pirate Captain
Henry Morgan. Over four hundred years earlier, Morgan sailed in
to ransack Panama City, but a storm sent his ship
to the seafloor before he and his crew could touch land. Now,

(01:43):
the archaeologists hoped to find it, but the divers returned
with some curious news. There was a ship, but it
was full of cargo, and this didn't make any sense
if Captain Morgan would have arrived with empty holds to
fill in his raid. The team investigated further and realized
that this wasn't Morgan's ship at all. It belonged to
Spain and it was known as the Incarnacion, which translates

(02:03):
to the Incarnation, and it went down eleven years after
Morgan's shipwreck. The discovery of the Incarnacion was a big deal. Yes,
it was full of loot for researchers to examine, which
is an obvious win, especially since louters used to ransack
ships when they sank, But ocean worms and bacteria would
also degrade the wood. For these reasons, experts hardly know
anything about seventeenth century Spanish shipwrecks. This one, however, sank

(02:28):
about forty feet below the water and its hull was
buried in the sand, so it was more protected against
these common threats, and because of this, when it was
discovered in twenty eleven, it became the first Spanish shipwreck
found in the Americas that contained cargo or an intact hull.
This set in motion a whole new line of research
that is still ongoing today, and it's possible that whatever

(02:49):
answers the Incarnacion provides could effect not just our understanding
of the past, but the choices we make in the future,
and those revelations may come about in surprising ways. In
twenty thirteen, two years after they had stumbled upon the ship,
the American dendro Chronology Conference was held in Tucson, Arizona.
Like most people who hear the word for the first time,

(03:10):
you might be wondering what dendro chronology is. Luckily, for you,
I have googled it. Dendro Chronology is the scientific method
for dating tree rings. Dendro Chronologists can determine the exact
year a tree ring was formed. This field of work
relates closely to another called dendro climatology, which uses tree
rings to study past and present climate. And if you're wondering, well,

(03:33):
what about future climate, You're not alone. Three scientists who
attended that twenty thirteen conference wondered the same thing, especially
when it comes to hurricanes, which are infamously dangerous and destructive.
Being able to predict hurricanes could seriously improve emergency planning.
The scientists were Valerie Cherie, and associate professor at the
University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, Marta Dominga's Delmasa,

(03:57):
a dendro archaeologist from Spain, and great aunt Harley, a
paleoclimatologist from the US. It all started when Grant mentioned
some research that he'd been conducting on pine trees in Florida.
The rings he observed there showed signs of serious trauma,
but he couldn't tell what had caused it. He considered
a few possibilities until landing on a theory hurricanes. Hurricanes

(04:18):
stunt the growth of trees, and their rings show that trauma.
Even hundreds of years later, Grant had tree ring records
from Florida dating back to seventeen oh seven that showed
when hurricanes occurred, but the US government didn't start logging
hurricanes in the Caribbean until eighteen fifty, so he didn't
have enough supporting data to prove his theory. That's where
Marta and Valerie came in. As a dendro archaeologist, Marta

(04:41):
can figure out when centuries old Spanish ships were built,
ships like the Incarnacion. She told Grant that she had
access to Spanish ship travel records that had been preserved
since the seventeen hundreds. Grant, by the way, happens to
be kind of a pirate nerd, so on that night
in twenty thirteen, he and Marta probably clicked. Then Valery
suggested that they compare Grant's tree ring records to MARTA's

(05:03):
shipwreck data, and between these two data sets and some
other relevant ones, the team formed a yearly record of
hurricanes in the Caribbean going all the way back to
the year fifteen hundred. This helped Grant prove his theory
about the Florida Pines, but that wasn't all the team discovered.
The data sets also showed fewer shipwrecks between sixteen forty

(05:23):
five and seventeen fifteen, and those dates stuck out to
Valerie as a natural scientist, they were extremely familiar dates
to her. She realized that this was the exact timeframe
of the Maunder Minimum, a well known period of very
low visible sun spots. Basically, the Sun's radiation is not constant.
During the Maunder Minimum, its energy was lower, which meant

(05:45):
cooler temperatures, cooler waters, and therefore Valerie realized probably fewer hurricanes.
Fewer hurricanes would explain why there were fewer shipwrecks. And
then Grant, pirate nerd that he is noticed yet another
event that occurred almost simult paneously, the Golden Age of piracy.
The team realized that the Golden Age of piracy likely
occurred because of the Mander Minimum. One of the most

(06:08):
prolific pirates that that time was Captain Henry Morgan, and
even though Morgan did lose some ships to hurricanes, he
apparently got lucky. Valerie, Marta, and Grant published their findings,
which have helped fine tune hurricane prediction models. As for
the Texas State team, they're able to study the incarnacions
would and the artifacts that carried to not only glean
information about colonial society, but how the Gulf coastline has

(06:31):
changed over time. The Arizona team's discoveries could help uncover
more of the Gulf's mysteries. There's no telling what else
these teams might find, but I for one look forward
to seeing how their revelations collide. When most of us

(06:59):
hear the word mummy, our minds go to the Pyramids
at Giza, the Nile River, and the Valley of the Kings.
But Egypt doesn't have a monopoly on mummies, and in fact,
one of the world's most unique collections can be found
almost four thousand miles from Cairo, in the basement of
an old church in Dublin, Ireland. And when I say old,
I mean really old. Saint Miken's was originally built in

(07:20):
ten ninety five, when the area was occupied by the Vikings.
The current structure dates back to sixteen eighty six. That's
when the basement crypt was constructed and when it gained
its first occupants. And it's not difficult to see them.
Just tell the groundskeeper that you're there to see the vaults.
He'll lead you past the graveyard to a rusty old
cellar door. Watch your head as you descend down the

(07:42):
steep flight of stone steps, and you'll find yourself in
a medieval crypt. The first thing you notice when you
get down there is how dry and dark it is.
The stone walls seem to close in around you. You
can see why some people think it inspired Brahms Stoker
to write parts of Dracula. Several small rooms break off
from the main corridor, each covered with iron bars. Look
inside and you'll see old coffins haphazardly stacked on top

(08:05):
of one another. Many of them are falling apart, giving
visitors an unobstructed view of the bodies inside. Now, the
corpses in the crypt are old enough that they should
be severely decayed, but for some reason, possibly a combination
of the limestone walls, the dry air inside the crypt,
and methane gas from the surrounding swamp soil, they're unusually
well preserved. Strangely, those same conditions are also causing the

(08:29):
wood coffins to decompose, and this unusual combination has naturally
created the macab viewing gallery that you find inside the
crypt today, and it's also the only reason visitors are
allowed to view the mummies at all. The Catholic Church
doesn't typically go rooting around through its cemeteries in search
of tourist attractions. To do so would be sacrilegious right

(08:49):
not to mention, kind of dishonest to the people who
paid for those tombs. That's why this isn't really an
official tour, and why Saint Miken's doesn't technically charge an
entry fee. The only people who pay to be there
are the mummies. A space in the crypt would not
have been cheap too, so most of the occupants were
probably wealthy. The fanciest coffins there belong to the Earls

(09:10):
of Leetram, several generations of them. In fact, there are
also some famous Irish revolutionaries down there, including the Sheers brothers,
who were executed in seventeen ninety eight for plotting against Britain.
Their coffins are in decent condition, so you can't see
their bodies. That's probably a good thing, though, considering that
the brothers were killed by being drawn and quartered. Now,
if you continue far enough down the crypt, you'll eventually

(09:32):
reach a room that contains the Big Four. These are
the church's best preserved mummies. They stand in a line
of lidless coffins, surrounded by the bone fragments and skulls
of their neighbors. Their true identities are unknown, but the
tour guides have affectionately given them names. First up is
the Unknown. She is a female mummy of no noteworthy qualities,

(09:52):
aside from having claimed the name long before the Willy
Wonka experience made it a meme. Next up is the Thief,
a man whose hand and leg appeared to have been removed,
suggesting that he may have been punished for stealing. The
third figure is now a stand in. It used to
be a small figure called the Nun, but her body
was stolen from the crypt in twenty nineteen. She was
eventually recovered, but her head was not. It's the fourth figure, however,

(10:17):
that is the most visually arresting. The Crusader stood at
six and a half feet tall, making him something of
a giant. When he was alive, he was so tall
that his legs had to be broken before he could
fit into his coffin, and he's significantly older than the
other mummies too, dating back to the Fourth Crusades. That
would make him about eight hundred years old, twice as

(10:38):
old as the crypt itself. How he got down there
is a mystery, but despite his age, he is in
remarkable condition, and one of his hands seems to be
reaching out of the coffin toward the viewer. Some people
say that he's offering to shake hands or beckoning visitors
toward him personally, though I think he looks like he's
waiting for you to give him something. Maybe he's there
as a reminder that while Saint Miken's does it charge

(11:00):
for the tour, donations are always appreciated. I hope you've
enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe
for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the
show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was

(11:20):
created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how Stuff Works.
I make another award winning show called Lore, which is
a podcast, book series, and television show, and you can
learn all about it over at the Worldoflore dot com.
And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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