In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais rode thirteen kilometers in an hour, not on a real horse, which could’ve covered that distance in about thirteen minutes, but on his Laufmaschine, or vélocipède.
With its wooden construction, wheel bearings housed in brass bushings, back-wheel brake, and a self-centering mechanism, this was the ‘dandy horse’ that would eventually become the bicycle.
Its hefty nineteenth-century twenty-two-kilogram weight will eventually be reduced to the astonishing twenty-first century two-point-eight kilograms of Gunter Mai’s custom-made road bike.
You’d expect to find Drais’ Draisine, for the name went through several changes over the years, in a museum, and Mai’s nameless creation on the dry, clear roads of the Arizonan desert.
Where you wouldn’t expect to find an almost-new four-hundred-dollar mountain bike would be attached with a security lock on the outside of my front gate, stopping me from opening it to walk out of my garden.
And yet, that is exactly where my son and I discovered it.
He said it reminded him of the German theologian Gustav Adolf Deissmann, who, under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Education, found something just as mysterious written on the skin of a gazelle, who had donated its hide posthumously. Hidden until 1929, when Deissmann found it by accident, it was a map, confirmed to be the work of the Ottoman admiral and cartographer, Piri Reis, and spectacular in its importance.
At the time, it was the only known copy of the world map of Christopher Columbus, and showed, uniquely, that South America had been positioned correctly in 1513. It depicts Europe and North Africa, the coast of Brazil, The Azores, Canary Islands, and even Antilia, thought to be mythical today. What’s even more odd is that it maps Antarctica, which was recorded as ‘discovered’ three-hundred years later, and depicts the continent’s topography as being ice-free, which may have given experts a clue to it's validity.
Deissmann apparently removed his find to a place of safety, just as I have the bike that materialized on my front gate.
And it now sits, the embodiment of modern cycle mechanics, on display, in my hallway, as does the Antikythera mechanism, which is what it made my friend think of when I mentioned it.
He said that the Antikythera horologium is such an incredible piece of technology, that nothing like it was seen until the fourteenth century. It is such an amazing work of craftsmanship, that most scholars assume that the artefact must have had predecessors, though none have been found. This one was discovered forty-five meters down beneath the ocean, and is made of a perfectly aligned set of gear wheels, mounted inside a box.
Based on archaeologists' and historians' knowledge of the Greeks and their scientific accomplishments, the Antikythera horologium shouldn’t even exist, because it's as brilliant as an eighteenth century clock of the highest level of complexity and workmanship. And thus, maybe somewhat suspect.
Anyway, I drove to the police station and discussed my bicycle find with the duty sergeant, explaining how I didn’t need to hammer the lock off, as it was mysteriously already loose.
He said, with a nod of his helmeted head, it reminded him of Max and Emma Hahn, who, in the spring of 1934, found a four-hundred-million year-old hammer on a stroll, and went straight to a team of archaeologists, after only needing to very gently crack it open on the sideboard.
The hammer was encased in rock dated to the Ordovician, a bizarrely ancient time, even before my Mother was born.
The archaic hammer was so old that a section of the handle had begun to transform into coal, which extended it’s date further, to five-hundred-million years old. These numbers are dizzying, and somewhat unbelievable, and much contention around the hammer and its origin continue to disturb the sleep of scientists to this day.
But they don’t worry the creationists, of course, who preached merrily about how the atmospheric quality of a pre-flood earth must’ve been to blame for the hammer’s perceived age, and the giants that used it. And, having subsequently claimed the artefact for themselves, have restricted its further scientific examination to the chagrin of truth and the fervour of religious misadventure. And, the suspicion of everyone else.
What we apparently do know about the hammer, is that it is made of an iron to a purity that's unachievable without technological assistance, rather like the bike sitting in my hallway.
A bike, by the way, that I was able to see clearly from my drawing room window, as could my neighbor, with his curtain-twitching eagle-eyes.
He said it was like coming upon the walls at Sacsayhuaman, near Cuzco, the last thing you'd expect to see.
The walls, he explained, bemused advancing conquistadors, who’d only come to conquer a dim people on their way to murdering them with their breath.
They found them made of three concentric circles like an onion, each around three-hundred and fifty meters long, and six meters in height. They were built without mortar, and are so finely carved and closely connected that scientists have found it hard to replicate the tightness of the joints.
Since stumbling across them, the question of how they got there, and who on earth was able to sculpt so many, so perfectly, has baffled experts. They certainly had more technological know-how than the guy who ‘locked’ his bike to my gates. If, in fact, they are what they purport to be.
I didn’t really come across the bike, as the wall-finders did, because its bright orange presence was somewhat obvious in the English greenery, and having removed it from the gate I trundled it along the garden to my front door, admiring the smooth-turning wheels as I went, and where I planned to keep it safe until the idiot returned.
Those wheels reminded my eldest daughter, she mused casually, of the mysterious stone disks found in caves deep in the Bayan Har Mountains.
Those were found in 1938, by Chinese archaeologist Dr. Chi Pu Tei, and hidden under thick layers of archaic dust. There were hundreds of them, and it soon became obvious that they looked like wax records, with a circle in the center and spirally grooves all around. When the Chinese researcher Tsun Um Nui delved deeper with magnification, he found that the discs actually contained thousands of hieroglyphs, which, when translated, told a surprising story.
The text, he said, included the following line, "The Dropa came down from the clouds in their aircraft. Our men, women and children hid in the caves ten times before sunrise. When at last we understood the sign language of the Dropas, we realized that the newcomers had peaceful intentions."
And in came the Dropa people who arrived, it was claimed, in a spacecraft that crash-landed and had to adapt to life on Earth when they couldn't find a good local mechanic with knowledge of intergalactic space travel.
Funny enough, Tsum Um Nui’s translations were not met with the kind of enthusiasm he may have expected, and he went into self-imposed exile in Japan, where he expired quietly.
And, unlike the bike adorning my hallway, the stones were never seen again, as if they never existed, or just took off and flew back to the planet Dropa, on wings that the handlebars of my mysterious bike reminded my youngest daughter of.
Wings, she ventured, very much like those of the Saqqara Bird, discovered by Dr. Khalil Messiha in 1898. As archaeologists were excavating the Pa-di-Imen tomb in Egypt, Messiha discovered an artifact made of sycamore wood, and shaped like a seaplane.
While historians know that Egyptians were aware of the principles of aviation two thousand years ago, the bird-plane still presents a strange development. The object resembles no known species of that time and region.
While some say it shows that ancient Egyptians invented the first aircraft, others say it's more likely to be a glider of sorts, as the technology to propel it into the air was not, as far as we know, available. Others shrug, and smile.
Technology, for example, like a battery, which the mountain bike in my hall has in dynamo form, according to the UPS courier, who spied it when he delivered a parcel.
It was like, she said, with a waving of her electronic signature device, of the Baghdad battery, a two-thousand year-old clay vessel, with a copper cylinder inside, and an oxidized iron rod inside of that, which some say is the oldest ever known, while others with more rational minds say is just an ancient cup, which is exactly what it looks like.
But it remains, like many of these odd discoveries, and that bike leaning up against my wall, a mystery. And, as the police told me they didn’t record stolen bikes in my town anyway, it will probably remain that way forever, for future people to ponder over with an eye for a good story.
picture by Haydan As-soendawy