Ancient Origins Magazine


From the lush Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the fiery forges of Asgard, Ancient Origins Magazine scours the planet to reveal the history of the ancient world.

Discover ancient technologies, lost civilizations, and strange mysteries that still puzzle us today. Experience the power and people, the weapons and wisdom of the ancient world. With boundary-breaking research, nothing is left out!

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AO Magazine - May 2020
Ancient Origins Magazine May 2020

In faintly preserved Paleolithic rock etchings made by early humans, in the lines of millennia-old historical texts, and among intricate illustrations of medieval manuscripts, we find displays and descriptions of all manner of strange and astonishing people, both real and unreal.  The archaeological record also yields its fair share of ‘odd bodies’ – abnormally elongated skulls, gem-encrusted teeth, bizarre hybrid burials that combine animals and humans into grotesque beasts reminiscent of the mythological chimeras of ancient cultures, and surprising artificial body parts, including peg legs with horse hooves, and a warrior knight with a dagger hand!

In this issue, we take you on a journey through the weird and wonderful world of odd bodies, odd burials, and odd people. Some are purely mythological, like the part-human, part-animal therianthropes and headless Blemmyes of medieval folklore; some are unexplained, like the stigmatics that bear the marks and wounds of Christ’s crucifixion; and others are rooted in reality. Yes, wearing dead man dentures and stretching one’s head into alien-like contortions were once in fashion!

When it comes to strange bodies of the ancient world, there is perhaps none as perplexing as that of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, ruler of Egypt’s prosperous 18th Dynasty. Represented in numerous art pieces, Akhenaten’s slender neck, long face with sharp chin, narrow, almond-shaped eyes, spindly arms, rounded thighs and buttocks, and drooping belly, have long puzzled scholars – were his features genetic or aesthetic?  Guest contributor Jonathon Perrin offers a new explanation that may solve the riddle.

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AO Magazine - April 2020
AO Magazine - April 2020

Think of the word ‘magic’, and it may conjure up images of wands, witches, or the wizarding world of Harry Potter. But in ancient times, magic wasn’t about an awesome display of fantastical feats. It was a way for people to make sense of and take control their lives. Magic, overlapping with notions of science, medicine, and religion, was a resource for navigating an uncertain world.

It was everywhere – magic was a source of protection, a means for healing, a way to enact justice, a method for predicting and controlling future events, and a practice to farewell the dead and ensure their safe onwards journey. From birth until death, magic permeated all aspects of life and was called upon to accomplish things beyond the scope of human abilities.

In this edition, we illuminate the ancient and medieval world of magic – mythological tales of the Tengu, mischievous tricksters of Japanese legend; Middle Eastern folktales of magical flying carpets, made famous by Walt Disney’s Aladdin; and magic rings of power that have made numerous appearances throughout history. Did an Ancient Egyptian ring protect archaeologist Howard Carter from the mummy’s curse, when many others were struck down?

But where does superstition end and reality begin? Did Merlin the Magician, the famous wizard of King Arthur’s court, really exist? And is there any truth to the bizarre accounts of Icelandic ‘necropants’ made from the skin of a dead man?

Whilst some tales may be closer to fiction than fact, expert contributor Brian Hoggard reveals solid archaeological evidence for the mysterious and eerie rituals for magical house protection, including witch-bottles, concealed shoes, horse skulls, and even dried cats!

An issue on magic wouldn’t be complete without a spotlight on John Dee, the Master of Magic himself, occult magician and astrologer of the English Royal Court, nor without delving into the dark and frightening world of grimoires and the dangers of dark magic.

But welcome to your ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’ class; we’ve included some healing herbs and spells that the ancients relied upon to combat dark forces. Enjoy this magical issue!

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AO Magazine - March 2020
AO Magazine - March 2020

Gold. It is history’s most coveted asset. It has inspired some of humanity’s greatest achievements, stirred passions for power and glory, commanded veneration, and provoked greed, slavery, and even murder. There is no other object that has played such a significant role in shaping human history as this illustrious metal.

It began its journey as a symbol of omnipotence, equated with gods, purity and immortality, and it was buried with the dead – a certain entry into heaven. But make no mistake, gold’s most central role in history has been as a powerful and unbreakable symbol of wealth, status, and power. It has adorned the heads of kings and the necks of queens; it has shone from the tops of pyramids and it has been displayed to cheering crowds by victorious rulers in triumphal processions.

In this issue, we trace the colorful and dramatic story of gold through the ages, from mythological tales with morals, like the story of King Midas and his golden touch and the way Golden Apples reflect some of humanity’s biggest vices, to the ambitious quests of ancient alchemists and civilizations to acquire the pure, shining substance.

We also reflect on the way gold transforms individual lives, as treasure hunters confront the highs and lows of striking it rich, and the impact gold hoards can have on a whole culture, such as the discovery of the magnificent South African Mapungubwe Gold Collection.

Finally, join us as we trek alongside explorers searching for the legendary lost city of El Dorado and get a special peek inside the labs of some of the best scientific minds looking for information on the supposed burial shroud of Jesus. Answers to these mysteries shine bright in the distance.

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AO Magazine - February 2020
AO Magazine - February 2020

How do you keep a king humble when they rule one of the most powerful kingdoms of their era?  Once a year, you strip them of their regalia, force them to their knees and slap them hard in the face. At least, that was the tradition in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago. Times have certainly changed, though many would say our modern-day politicians could do with a good dose of Mesopotamian humbling!

Today, our leaders rarely maintain absolute, unquestioned power; prime ministers, presidents and even dictators are usually ‘moderated’ to some degree. This was not always the case in the ancient world – monarchs, pharaohs, warlords, conquerors and tyrants possessed immense power, whether for better or for worse.  A strong ruler, like Roman Emperor Augustus, could advance a nation and bring it to the forefront of culture and technology. An unrestrained emperor, like Nero or Ivan the Terrible, could cause the downfall of some of the greatest empires and civilizations of their time. 

In this issue, we shine a spotlight on some of the most famous and infamous rulers in history; we take an eye-opening look at outrageous emperors and mad monarchs; we examine rulers who were almost lost to history through the ‘punishment of non-existence’; and we question the long-accepted historical narrative – are Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and the First Emperor of China really deserving of their ‘bad boy’ image?  

From the strong and courageous to the brutal and ruthless, the world has been forever changed by powerful rulers throughout time.

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AO Magazine - January 2020
AO Magazine - January 2020

As the world looks on with shock and horror while Australia is ravaged by fires, we are reminded that at times our modern technology is simply not enough. From infrared sensors to satellites, drones, waterbombing planes, navy vessels, and thousands of firefighting tools at our disposal, nothing but Mother Nature, it seems, has the power to bring the fires to a close. So how did ancient people survive such disasters without technology to aid them? The truth is they did have technology, albeit in a different form. For tens of thousands of years, the indigenous people of Australia applied advanced land management techniques to create fire-resilient landscapes.

Today, sophisticated knowledge of the ancients is fading into obscurity as modern tech takes over, but in some parts of the world, it is being revived and used to solve present-day problems. Aztec floating gardens are being utilized in Mexico to achieve sustainable farming; in Iran, ancient Nashtifan windmills harness strong winds to grind grains, and in West Africa, one man even stopped a desert using centuries-old agricultural techniques.

Modern tech is now emerging as a powerful tool in the discovery, investigation, and preservation of ancient sites. Nowhere has this become more apparent than in Peru, where drones have been used to map more than 600 archaeological sites across the country. We talk to the COO of a drone technology company that is playing a key role in that process.

In this issue, we consider the advanced age-old wisdom that was used to solve everyday problems, while highlighting some awesome ancient inventions that changed our world forever, like paper, printing, wheels, rockets, and even forks, as well as surprising ancient tech that is just down-right cool, like solar-powered laser beams, spider-woven cloaks, and chess-playing mechanical robots! 

Just as we still grapple with machinery and computers today, our forebears, too, had to wrestle with uncooperative technology. For one particular medieval inventor, more than just his ego was hurt when his alchemically-enhanced flying machine failed to perform for the king! If only parachutes had been invented!

The twists and turns of such advances and setbacks are played out in the surprisingly ancient game of Snakes and Ladders. It may have been only a childhood game for you, but it is full of hidden messages.

In viewing the long history of humanity, we come to realize that we have actually never been without technology. The ancients weren’t technophobes or Luddites; quite the contrary. They enthusiastically harnessed tech to make their lives better (or at least more interesting!)

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AO Magazine - December 2019
AO Magazine - December 2019

Over the centuries, historians have told us in detail about the rise and fall of civilizations, the leaders and rulers of our world, dramatic battles and magnificent monuments, but the history of children and childhood has been strangely absent.

The invisibility of children in history and archaeology is sometimes attributed to the scarcity of historical records relating to children, and artifacts that once belonged to them. Perhaps too has been the view that children are somewhat peripheral to the most important historical subjects.

In the last few decades, however, an understanding of childhood through the ages has begun to emerge, and researchers have started to shine a spotlight on this vital aspect of human history.

The archaeological and historical record provides opportunity for the exploration of numerous aspects of childhood – an ancient, ceramic baby bottle, a child-size weapon, tiny fossilized footprints, child ‘doodles’ in medieval manuscripts, nursery rhymes, and mythological tales – they all have stories to tell about the children of our past, and in this issue we examine these records and more, offering a glimpse into what life was really like for children throughout history.

Like children traversing a river by leaping from raised stone to stone, we hop, skip, and jump across fascinating topics.  We speak with Daniel Farkas, the CEO of Drops, a language learning app that strives to preserve Ainu history by harnessing tech to teach their language before it disappears completely. Author Jonathan Perrin uncovers the connections between a heretic Egyptian Pharaoh and the most symbolic color in Judaism. And we examine the ancient origins of New Year’s resolutions, which may have been easier to adhere to in past – when giving up was akin to breaking your vows to a god.

We have found the children; they were there all along, hidden in plain sight. They were the tiny, resilient creators of history, eventually passing it down to us, the children of the future. In that way, it would seem that WE are the ‘heirs of history’, and we must pass it on as humans have done since our time began, striving to create a better world for the little ones that come after us.

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AO Magazine - November 2019
AO Magazine - November 2019

For millennia, humans’ innate curiosity about their world has sparked a desire to explore, leading men and women to cross vast seas. In doing so, they faced untold dangers and hardships: merciless weather, unpredictable winds and waves, sea raiders and pirates, fragile vessels, rough conditions, and weeks or months in an immense, unknown expanse.

In this issue, we explore some of what has been Lost at Sea – pirate treasures, a ship’s crew, castaways, bottles with hidden messages, and even a mysterious set of floating blocks containing cryptic inscriptions which, for over a century, have been washing up on beaches across Europe.

History is replete with stories of both heroics and tragedies of seafarers as they set off on quests to discover new lands, to trade, (or to raid) across unchartered waters.  Maritime historian Professor David Abulafia takes us on a journey through the human history of the ‘Boundless Sea’, as ancient people around the world set a course across the vast oceans.

Faced with uncertainty and isolation on these treacherous voyages across the world, a rich mythology emerged. Legendary creatures lurked in the depths of dark waters, and a myriad of mermaids and sea maidens lured sailors into the sea, never to be seen again.

Surviving maritime perils, we come ashore and explore some weird and wonderful accounts from history: the jaw-dropping Buddhist ritual of Self-Mummification, the lost Roman invention of unbreakable, flexible glass, and historical coincidences whose odds were so incredibly small that they appear almost miraculous!

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AO Magazine - October 2019
AO Magazine - October 2019

Today, the subject of ghosts is treated with fun and laughter – ghoulish costumes, stories told around campfires, and teenagers scaring themselves over a Ouija board.  But thousands of years ago, the supernatural realm was looked upon with both reverence and fear, and it played a central role in the cultural and religious practices of civilizations around the world.

In keeping with our name, Ancient Origins, we delve into the very beginning of Halloween traditions – have you ever wondered why on October 31, people carve out pumpkins, wear costumes, or go door-to-door begging for sweets? The roots of these practices go back thousands of years to the Emerald Isle of Ireland and the ancient pagan festival of Samhain.

In this issue, we dig deep, unearthing ancient beliefs about malevolent phantoms, corpse brides, and ancestor spirits. We dare to enter Loftus Hall, whose historic walls have seen invasion, capture, plague, famine, and personal tragedies, and which today has earned itself the title of ‘Ireland’s Most Haunted House’.

We learn from Medieval England that there is more than one way to keep a dead body from coming back to life! It was a time when the very real belief in zombies led people to decapitate, burn, or otherwise mutilate corpses to prevent them from rising from their graves.

And what’s Halloween without werewolves? Normally the domain of folklore and fairy tales, in this issue we hear what happened during a real modern-day werewolf hunt; the search for the Beast of Barmston Drain.

But October is about more than just Halloween. In America, there is the national holiday of Columbus Day… but who really was Christopher Columbus? Guest expert and author Manuel Rosa sets the stage for a paradigm shift in how the world sees the real man behind the name.

For many, October is a time for Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the spiritual victory of light over dark, and knowledge over ignorance.

Speaking of light, we turn to a mysterious ancient Jewish sect that flourished in Palestine two thousand years ago. They are known as the Essenes, but they called themselves the Sons of Light. Guest author Jonathon Perrin exposes a strange connection to another ancient cult of light— that of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.

But light cannot exist without darkness, and so into the dark we venture with author Dr. Heather Lynn who takes us back 5,000 years to the Mesopotamians who left detailed records about demons that caused havoc and sickness, and high priests who worked to cure citizens of terrifying possessions. 

Spooky stuff indeed! Happy October!

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AO Magazine - September 2019
AO Magazine - September 2019

In ancient times, the typical response to crime was revenge, and blood feuds between families, communities, and even nations could endure for centuries.  Nearly 5,000 years ago, King Hammurabi of Babylon made the first known steps in history towards establishing a code of laws that would reduce crime and put a stop to the endless blood feuds, and in those days, “an eye for an eye” was the way to go. It was felt the punishment for a crime should equal the severity of the crime itself – no more, no less.

In crime-ridden civilizations of the past, it was not just ancient people behaving badly, but the gods and demi-gods of legend who took the dark path too, and for angering them, the punishment was much more severe. Think eternal damnation and eons of pain and punishment!

Since then, humanity has attempted to grapple with crime and establish law and order, sometimes succeeding, and at other times failing miserably. But we must look on the bright side; nowadays women are no longer forced to wear metal mule masks for gossiping, men are not required to prove their ‘equipment’ works in divorce courts, thieves don’t get their noses sliced off before being sent to a city of noseless criminals, execution is no longer at the pointy end of a kangaroo bone, and a person’s guilt does not hinge on the way they chew their rice!

In humanity’s defense, in an unfair world, we’ve always tried to bring balance, and so we cannot forget some of our glorious achievements, such as the amazing wonders of the ancient world, and the marvelous golden ratio, or ‘divine proportion’ that helped make them so.

The dead get a final say, as we try to crack the ancient cold cases of bog body murders, where criminals and kings faced the same fate.

Dr. Roberto Volterri takes us through the strange experiments on the eyes of murdered corpses – will we one day be able to view the last, terrifying image – perhaps the killer itself – captured in a victim’s last moments? The implications are immense!

Finally, we visit with Richard Beeby & Sarah Smart who are helping bring back ancient burial traditions with their Mid-England Barrow; within which both the dead and the living can find peace.

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AO Magazine - August 2019
AO Magazine - August 2019

Every corner of the Earth has now been mapped, photographed, measured and scanned and— courtesy of Google—we can explore every inch of it, from the streets of Rome to the jungles of Guatemala. But beneath our feet is a world that remains largely unseen. Google’s cameras have yet to reach the subterranean world – the endless tunnels, caves, caverns, and even cities! Perhaps that’s what makes ‘the underworld’ so captivating.  It’s a little slice of our planet that remains hidden, silent, and mysterious.

Caves have always held an attraction for humans. They have witnessed our evolution, serving as shelters, homes, refuges, and strongholds. But beyond physical need, those dark and silent spaces have served as a gateway to the ‘otherworld’. In ancient legend and mythology, they are places where the dead cross to the afterlife, and where gods and beasts dwell. 

In this issue, we visit the place where humankind first left their mark – Sterkfontein caves in South Africa – where over two million years ago, individuals from five species of pre-humans ventured underground, but never escaped alive. We dig into the world beneath Mexico’s City of the Gods, the vast labyrinth of caves and tunnels that extend below the great site of Teotihuacan. We examine the land of subterranean cities – Cappadocia, in Turkey – where for thousands of years, people carved out their lives; tombs, temples, and towns deep below the surface. And we delve into one of the most enigmatic cave systems in the Americas – Cueva de Los Tayos in Ecuador – with a first-hand account of Ancient Origins’ own expedition into this intriguing and, at times, dangerous network of caves.

We escort you through the deepest realms, journeying to the underworld, populated by gods, beasts, and characters of ancient legend; from guardians of hell in Greek, Norse, Hindu and Chinese mythology, to gods of justice, and demons of death. From the deepest chasms, we soar to the highest mountains, turning to Tibet where a very unique form of funerary rite takes place – sky burial. In these high-altitude ceremonies, human corpses are offered to vultures as a final, honorable service to nature.  

Dr Eran Elhaik, geneticist and expert on paleogenomics, has made world history by developing the first DNA test to compare modern-day people’s DNA to that of ancient people who lived thousands of years ago. Will you soon discover that you are related to a Roman gladiator…or a famous Egyptian Pharaoh? Speaking of fame, the infamous Elizabeth Bathory was a 16th-century countess recorded as one of the most prolific serial killers in history. But was she instead the victim of political betrayal?You be the judge!

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AO Magazine - July 2019
AO Magazine - July 2019

Most of us look back in horror at the practices of ancient healers – boring holes in the skull to treat head injuries, anesthetic-free amputations, and mercury-laden contraceptive concoctions.

Despite the lack of technology available in the past, it is also tempting to scoff at some of the commonly-held beliefs about everyday maladies: cavities caused by tooth worms, seizures induced by demonic possession, and female ‘hysteria’ the result of a ‘wandering womb’ that could glide freely about the body, causing havoc.  

But for all its inaccuracies, ancient medical practices were in many cases innovative and practical, and in other cases, simply astounding.  We know, for example, that many cases of trepanation – the earliest form of brain surgery, dating back 10,000 years – were actually successful!

In this issue, we explore the intuitive medicine of the Native American tradition, as well as the advanced medical practices of the Stonehenge builders. We delve into ancient beliefs in Mesopotamia concerning the origins of disease, and we hear from a master brewer about the long tradition of brewing beer infused with healing herbs. We also examine some of the ways ancient people dealt with devastating war injuries.

But it’s not all blood, gore, and disease. Among the quirkier accounts of medical practices, we have bathing in donkey milk, consuming bottles of snake oil, and smelling (and even tasting!) urine. And surprisingly, some of it really worked!

Also in this edition, we look at another surprising accomplishment of the past – the Maya construction of the Bridge to Yaxchilan, the longest bridge of the ancient world.  And the award-winning structural engineer behind its discovery tells us exactly how they did it.

The Ancient Origins Magazine wouldn’t be complete without a bit of the weird and unknown, and with that in mind, we introduce you to bestiaries, the books of beasts that graced medieval shelves. We also present the Tamam Shud Enigma, a cold case with ancient connections that has never been solved – can you crack the code?


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AO Magazine - June 2019
AO Magazine - June 2019

It is said that history is written by the victors, but what if it were written only by the victims? Such is the case with our knowledge of the Vikings. Their brutal savagery, their raiding and terrorizing, and their relentless, bloodthirsty attacks were recorded almost exclusively by their victims – the understandably terrified monks whose monasteries they destroyed and looted. But this must give us cause to question whether we really have the whole picture. 

There is no doubt that for coastal settlements in medieval Europe, the Vikings meant bad news. But do they really deserve their bad boy reputation, or did they just suffer from poor public relations?  

Were the Vikings really any more violent than other warriors of the period? During the same period, Christian rulers, like Charlemagne, were decapitating non-converters in their thousands, and Arab armies were raiding, invading, and plundering their way across Asia Minor. Violence hardly made the Vikings unique in the 9th and 10th centuries!

In this issue, we aim to bring together a more complete picture of the Vikings, from their invasions to their inventions, and from terror to technology. We unravel their complex beliefs about magic and the afterlife and delve into their culture, society, and even their accomplishments—presenting a picture of the Vikings that is more than beards, beer, and berserk barbarians. 

We go deep with Maritime Archaeologist Massimiliano as he and his research team rescue a Viking-style shipwreck that’s nearly 1,000 years old, using the very latest scanning technology to preserve the one-of-a-kind treasure.

Also in this edition, we delve even more into that which is hidden – the occult. Well-known horror writer HP Lovecraft penned the Necronomicon – or did he? How can a dangerous grimoire exist and yet not exist? Dr. Roberto Volterri exposes the true origin of the infamous and controversial tome.

Ancient secrets are not only for initiates. Time-honored knowledge is passed down from fathers to their children, as it has been done since time immemorial. For Father’s Day, we are reminded of fatherly advice given 4,600 years ago, from a Sumerian King to his son, that is still applicable today.

And more burning questions are answered in the strange and alarming tale of Spontaneous Human Combustion!

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