The Underground Homes of Matmata, Tunisia

A lot of communities around the world, particularly those in hot climates, traditionally live in caves to escape the heat. The Berbers of Matmata, a small village in southern Tunisia, do so too. However, unlike most underground dwellings, the homes in Matmata are not built on the side of the mountains. Instead, they are created by digging a large pit in the ground, and then around the sides of the pit caves are dug to be used as rooms. The open pit functions as a courtyard, and are sometimes connected to other “pit” courtyards nearby through trench-like passageways forming a large underground maze.

matmata-tunisia-7

Photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr

The Turtle Graveyard of Sipadan

Back in the early 1980s, the famous ocean explorer Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau and his team paid a visit to the island of Sipadan, off the coast of Borneo to film a documentary about its crystalline waters. One of the highlights in this film was a mysterious underwater cave in which they found lots of bones and skeletons of sea turtles. For lack of a better explanation, Cousteau suggested that perhaps old sea turtles just went there to die peacefully. In reality, the turtles enter the cavern by accident and then get lost in the labyrinth of the tunnels. Unable to find an exit, they eventually become disorientated and drown.

turtle-cavern-sipadan-2

Photo credit: Borut Furlan

The Lava Tubes of Undara Volcanic National Park

In the vast savannah of Australia’s North Queensland, 300 km southwest from the city of Cairns, lies the Undara Volcanic National Park where you will find some of the largest and longest lava tubes on the planet.

The Undara lava tubes were formed in a massive eruption that occurred about 190,000 years ago causing lava to flow more than 90 km to the north and over 160 km to the north-west. During this fiery episode, 23 billion cubic liters of lava was estimated to have spewed forth from the Undara Volcano onto the surrounding Atherton Tableland. As the lava flowed, the outer-layer cooled and formed a crust, while the molten lava below drained outwards, leaving behind a series of hollow tubes. The roofs of some of the tubes have collapsed, allowing vegetation to flourish in the damp interiors and shelter wildlife.

undara-lava-tubes-1

Photo credit: www.travelonline.com

The Missile at Madison Quarry Lake

Standing in the middle of an old and abandoned limestone quarry in Madison, in the US state of Alabama, is a 53-foot-tall nuclear missile. The 1962 “Minuteman” missile used to be on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Museum, but because the educational exhibits are updated regularly, it was moved to a warehouse.

In 1995, when the old limestone quarry was turned into a diving park, the owners acquired the non-functional Cold War relic and erected it in the middle of the lack. They also acquired a F-4 Phantom jet, a titan missile nose cone, a pickup truck, a fire truck, and more, and sunk them in the water-filled quarry for divers to explore.

However, it appears that the missile is no longer there.

madison-quarry-missile-2

Photo credit: Alex Kirkbride

The Big Circles of Jordan

The Big Circles are a collection of 12 giant circular stone structures spread across parts of Jordan and Syria. Despite they being over 2,000 years old, very little archaeological attention has been given to them and they remain largely unknown, even among local experts.

The circles were discovered in 1920 by a British pilot named Lionel Rees when he flew across the deserts of what would become Jordan. The pictures Rees took of these immense stone circles became some of the earliest aerial archaeological photographs of these structures. For reasons unknown, Rees findings were ignored and promptly forgotten. It took another 60 years before anyone noticed them again. It was only in the last 10 years, they have started to gain more attention through the work of David Kennedy, a researcher at the University of Western Australia.

big-circles-jordan-6

Photo credit: Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East

The Sapphire Mines of Ilakaka, Madagascar

Ilakaka is a small town in the south west of Madagascar along Route Nationale 7, the main road linking the capital city Antananarivo to the port of Toliara. Twenty years ago, Ilakaka practically didn’t exist with barely 40 residents. In less than ten years, its population soared to 60,000 as people from all over Madagascar began flocking here in search of sapphires.

Sapphire was discovered in southern Madagascar in the late 1990s. Until then, Ilakaka was little more than a truck stop with a small collection of huts and a few dozen residents. When word of the discovery got out, Ilakaka swelled to tens of thousands of residents, and this sleepy hamlet became the sapphire capital of the world supplying nearly 50% of all the sapphires in the world.

ilakaka- madagascar-1

Photo credit: salymfayad/Flickr

Linesville Spillway: Where Ducks Walk on Fishes

The Pymatuning Reservoir in Crawford County, in the US state of Pennsylvania, was once a very large swamp. The Shenango River flowed through this ancient swamp and provided sustenance to industries located downstream in the Beaver and Shenango valleys. But when a devastating flood hit the valleys in 1913, the need to tame the river was felt.

In 1934, a dam and a reservoir was built to conserve waters entering the swamp and to regulate the flow of water in the Shenango and Beaver rivers. A concrete spillway bowl was also built to allow independent regulation of the upper reservoir. The flow of water over the bowl brings a constant supply of natural food into the area, including plant material, insect larvae, crayfish and other invertebrates, drawing a large number of fish to this structure. As soon as this phenomenon was discovered, the Linesville spillway became an impromptu tourists attraction.

linesville-spillway-1

Photo credit: Frankmiklos/Panoramio

The Curious Tree Engravings by Psychiatric Patients at Perryville

At the Perryville Community Park in Perryville, in the US state of Maryland, not far from the Perry Point Veteran's Medical Center, is a group of about a hundred trees with cryptic messages carved into their barks. The trees sit on land that was once part of the Perry Point Veteran’s Administration Medical Center before becoming the Perryville Park. The Medical Center is a psychiatric hospital, and many of its patients are U.S. military veterans. During their stay at the psychiatric hospital and rehabilitation center, some of the patients visited the grounds and left their mark for modern-day explorers to discover.

perryville-tree-engravings-4

Photo credit: Patch.com

George Parrot: The Man Who Became A Pair Of Shoes

George Parrott, who was also known as Big Nose George, was a small time cattle rustler and highwayman in the American Wild West in the late 19th century. He was reputed to have a large nose, hence the nickname.

Big Nose and his gang enjoyed a successful career robbing freight wagons and stage coaches. In those days, all business transactions were done in cash, and coaches often carried large amounts of paper money especially during paydays.

One day back in 1878, Big Nose’s gang decided to try their luck on a Union Pacific train that was carrying payrolls for its employees. They found a lonely stretch of tracks near Medicine Bow River, in Wyoming, loosened a spike in the rails and waited for the train to arrive. But a sharp-eyed railroad employee spotted the tampered rail, repaired the damage and alerted lawmen before the train could arrive.

big-nose-george-4

This innocuous-looking pair of shoes hides a macabre secret. Photo credit: Scott Burgan/Flickr

St. Pierre and Miquelon: The Last French Colony in North America

About 25 kilometers off the coast of Canada, in the North Atlantic, lies a tiny bit of France. It’s a string of islands belonging to the archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which—despite being located nearly 4,000 kilometer away from the mainland— are still under French control. These islands represent the last foothold of colonial France in the Atlantic.

The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were first set foot on by Europeans in 1520, and they became a French colony is 1536. For the next few centuries the islands moved back and forth between the British and French as they squabbled over who should rule over which geographic portion of the foreign continent. Eventually, France gave up all of its North American colonies, which at one stage covered a major chunk of eastern North America; all except the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which are still in French hands.

st-pierre-miquelon-2

The island of St. Pierre. Photo credit: Gord McKenna/Flickr