Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time Traveler Caught in Photo?

It’s the short description for the photograph shown at the virtual Bralorne Pioneer Museum, from British Columbia, Canada. The image can be seen specifically on this page (scroll down to the middle), among other items of the online exhibit. Did you notice anything out of place? Or perhaps, out of time?

The man with what appears to be very modern sunglasses seems to be wearing a stamped T-shirt with a nice sweater, all the while holding a portable compact camera!

Internet people reached to the obvious conclusion: it’s a time traveller caught on camera on 1940! Finally, we have proof!

If the story seems straight out of a movie and the photo is in itself a great funny find, the most amusing thing i came up with while looking into this – as an Internet person, on the Internet – was the reply for a skeptical, or perhaps somewhat cynical comment on how spurious it would seem the idea that a time traveler would want to visit the reopening of a bridge in some small town in Canada.

Read this on Doc Brown’s voice: “Of course, because we know nothing happened there right? But if we are considering time travel, how can we know if in some other timeline something historical happened right there?”

Indeed! Once you consider time travel, everything changes. But before writing Hollywood scripts, let’s get back to reality and ask again: is the photo evidence of a time traveller?

As noted, the image is indeed available through the official website for Canada’s museums. It was part of the exhibit “Their Past Lives Here” from Bralorne-Pioneer, available to the public since 2004. It was put online since February this year, perhaps before that. And the peculiar “time traveller” image was only noted as such in the end of March, when it was linked on main websites such as Above Top Secret and FARK.

Given the source, we would assume the photo is authentic, and correctly dated to c.1940. Indeed, an Error Level Analysis suggests the image was not digitally tampered with, or at least that if it was, the author was smart enough to normalize the error across the whole thing. It’s a good job, if it was a job. And again, given the source, we would assume it was not a job.

So, how do we explain the man out of time?

Not quite out of time

As members of the ATS, like “Outkast Searcher”, diligently noted, despite looking very modern the man’s outfit and even glasses and camera could be found in the 1940s. Below, similar sunglasses used by actress Barbara Stanwyck on the movie “Double Indemnity” (1944):

The outfit could also be found 70 years ago. Being used as we are to our contemporary fashion, we look at the man and assume he’s wearing a stamped T-shirt, something that would be indeed out of place (or time). But if you look carefully, you can see that he’s actually wearing (or could as well be wearing) a sweatshirt. And sweatshirts with bordered emblems were not uncommon in the 1940s – in fact you can find those in other photos from the same exhibit.

The sweater he also uses seems to be hand knitted, with buttons on the front. Something that was definitely available at the time, if he had some kind grandma perhaps.

Finally, despite some comments about the camera lens being too big for the time, too compact, it looks like a Kodak Folding Pocket model, available since the beginning of the 20th century.

That is: even taking this photo for granted, as depicting an authentic scene, a real man with his curious glasses and outfit in Canada 70 years ago, there’s nothing that can be seen that is actually out of place or time. He looks different from other people, but it has already been suggested that he’s using welding goggles and a glove.

This is not much of a proof of time travel, and more like evidence of the cyclic nature of fashion. These days, even a beggar can be mistaken for a trendy fashion model. Keep reading for more into this and other time travel stories.

Not quite new

Despite being an awesome photo and story, the Canadian time traveller is not the first on the genre. One of the most famous Internet stories deals with Andrew Carlssin, a man from the year 2256 who appeared in Wall Street on 2003. It was published as a news item on Yahoo!, but few people noticed it was in the Entertainment section and that the source was the Weekly World News. In case you haven’t checked the WWN, you should do it now.

There’s also the story of John Titor, an elaborate story where a time traveller joined several online discussion forums! On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, but if you tell elaborate stories about being a time traveller, you may just create an enduring digital myth. Alas, time itself took care of disproving all of John Titor’s stories about the future. Or perhaps that’s a nice thing, since the future Titor invented was pretty gloom.

And some years ago, the photo of a man with a Mohawk hairstyle at a festival before the punk movement made the style popular was also reason for buzz. I remember seeing it on BoingBoing, but now I can’t find it! Was it erased by the time travellers? Will I forget about it soon? In any event, I also remember that people quickly pointed out that although the hairstyle was popularized by punks, it was not unseen before that, dating even from before the Mohawk tribe.

Time travel is an amazing idea, but so far it’s all speculation, fiction, hoax and misunderstandings.

Case closed?

As a matter of fact, no! Despite being clear that the image, even if authentic, would not be evidence of an out of time man, it’s still possible it could be a hoax. After all, photoshop jobs mixing modern figures in old photos are not that complex. A series that has been popular the past few weeks placed contemporary super-heroes in historical photos:

Is it possible that an elaborate hoax could have included a manipulated photograph among the items of a museum exhibit, only to have it put online and finally exposed as “time travel proof” later? Well, it would be quite an elaborate hoax, but it is possible.

Let’s look again at the photo. Pay attention to the right arm of the “time traveller”: you may realize that the arm actually belongs to the man right behind him. Why would another man’s arm be in that position? Is there even space for such a large, tall “time traveller” to stand in there?

These could be indications that the man was inserted into the image without much care for perspective.

Or perhaps it’s just an unusual perspective, and the arm from the man behind just looks like it’s over the “time traveller”, even touching the camera? Or could the arm actually belong to the hipster traveller?

I don’t know.

If this is a digital hoax, why would the hoaxer insert a man that seems out of place, but not actually using anything that couldn’t be found in the 1940s? The camera is definitely old. What looks like a stamped T-shirt is a sweatshirt with emblem. Why not have him use something definitely out of time, like the logo for a company that wouldn’t be created until decades later, such as NIKE or even Microsoft? It would even make an amazing viral marketing for any company that managed to get buzz from this. Why not?

I don’t know.

Once again, it must be clear that even if this photograph is authentic, even if it depicts a real scene from 1940, it would not be the proof of time travel. Alas. Also, I tend to assume that given the source, the photo is indeed authentic, not tampered with. But that arm, it does look strange. I’m not sure. I don’t know.

I tried to send an email to the Bralorne Pioneer museum, but the address was not valid. I’m still trying to find (an easy) way to contact it. If you manage to get an official response from them, do share it. If you discover anything else, do share it. This is an adorable little “mystery”.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Black Hole - a Doorways into Alternate Realities

Like part of a cosmic Russian doll, our universe may be nested inside a black hole that is itself part of a larger universe.

In turn, all the black holes found so far in our universe—from the microscopic to the supermassive—may be doorways into alternate realities.

According to a mind-bending new theory, a black hole is actually a tunnel between universes—a type of wormhole. The matter the black hole attracts doesn't collapse into a single point, as has been predicted, but rather gushes out a "white hole" at the other end of the black one, the theory goes.

In a recent paper published in the journal Physics Letters B, Indiana University physicist Nikodem Poplawski presents new mathematical models of the spiraling motion of matter falling into a black hole. His equations suggest such wormholes are viable alternatives to the "space-time singularities" that Albert Einstein predicted to be at the centers of black holes.

According to Einstein's equations for general relativity, singularities are created whenever matter in a given region gets too dense, as would happen at the ultradense heart of a black hole.

Einstein's theory suggests singularities take up no space, are infinitely dense, and are infinitely hot—a concept supported by numerous lines of indirect evidence but still so outlandish that many scientists find it hard to accept.

If Poplawski is correct, they may no longer have to.

According to the new equations, the matter black holes absorb and seemingly destroy is actually expelled and becomes the building blocks for galaxies, stars, and planets in another reality.

Wormholes Solve Big Bang Mystery?

The notion of black holes as wormholes could explain certain mysteries in modern cosmology, Poplawski said.

For example, the big bang theory says the universe started as a singularity. But scientists have no satisfying explanation for how such a singularity might have formed in the first place.

If our universe was birthed by a white hole instead of a singularity, Poplawski said, "it would solve this problem of black hole singularities and also the big bang singularity."

Wormholes might also explain gamma ray bursts, the second most powerful explosions in the universe after the big bang.

Gamma ray bursts occur at the fringes of the known universe. They appear to be associated with supernovae, or star explosions, in faraway galaxies, but their exact sources are a mystery.

Poplawski proposes that the bursts may be discharges of matter from alternate universes. The matter, he says, might be escaping into our universe through supermassive black holes—wormholes—at the hearts of those galaxies, though it's not clear how that would be possible.

"It's kind of a crazy idea, but who knows?" he said.

There is at least one way to test Poplawski's theory: Some of our universe's black holes rotate, and if our universe was born inside a similarly revolving black hole, then our universe should have inherited the parent object's rotation.

If future experiments reveal that our universe appears to rotate in a preferred direction, it would be indirect evidence supporting his wormhole theory, Poplawski said.

Wormholes Are "Exotic Matter" Makers?

The wormhole theory may also help explain why certain features of our universe deviate from what theory predicts, according to physicists.

Based on the standard model of physics, after the big bang the curvature of the universe should have increased over time so that now—13.7 billion years later—we should seem to be sitting on the surface of a closed, spherical universe.

But observations show the universe appears flat in all directions.

What's more, data on light from the very early universe show that everything just after the big bang was a fairly uniform temperature.

That would mean that the farthest objects we see on opposite horizons of the universe were once close enough to interact and come to equilibrium, like molecules of gas in a sealed chamber.

Again, observations don't match predictions, because the objects farthest from each other in the known universe are so far apart that the time it would take to travel between them at the speed of light exceeds the age of the universe.

To explain the discrepancies, astronomers devised the concept of inflation.

Inflation states that shortly after the universe was created, it experienced a rapid growth spurt during which space itself expanded at faster-than-light speeds. The expansion stretched the universe from a size smaller than an atom to astronomical proportions in a fraction of a second.

The universe therefore appears flat, because the sphere we're sitting on is extremely large from our viewpoint—just as the sphere of Earth seems flat to someone standing in a field.

Inflation also explains how objects so far away from each other might have once been close enough to interact.

But—assuming inflation is real—astronomers have always been at pains to explain what caused it. That's where the new wormhole theory comes in.

According to Poplawski, some theories of inflation say the event was caused by "exotic matter," a theoretical substance that differs from normal matter, in part because it is repelled rather than attracted by gravity.

Based on his equations, Poplawski thinks such exotic matter might have been created when some of the first massive stars collapsed and became wormholes.

"There may be some relationship between the exotic matter that forms wormholes and the exotic matter that triggered inflation," he said.

Wormhole Equations an "Actual Solution"

The new model isn't the first to propose that other universes exist inside black holes. Damien Easson, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, has made the speculation in previous studies.

"What is new here is an actual wormhole solution in general relativity that acts as the passage from the exterior black hole to the new interior universe," said Easson, who was not involved in the new study.

"In our paper, we just speculated that such a solution could exist, but Poplawski has found an actual solution," said Easson, referring to Poplawski's equations.

Nevertheless, the idea is still very speculative, Easson said in an email.

"Is the idea possible? Yes. Is the scenario likely? I have no idea. But it is certainly an interesting possibility."

Future work in quantum gravity—the study of gravity at the subatomic level—could refine the equations and potentially support or disprove Poplawski's theory, Easson said.

Wormhole Theory No Breakthrough

Overall, the wormhole theory is interesting, but not a breakthrough in explaining the origins of our universe, said Andreas Albrecht, a physicist at the University of California, Davis, who was also not involved in the new study.

By saying our universe was created by a gush of matter from a parent universe, the theory simply shifts the original creation event into an alternate reality.

In other words, it doesn't explain how the parent universe came to be or why it has the properties it has—properties our universe presumably inherited.

"There're really some pressing problems we're trying to solve, and it's not clear that any of this is offering a way forward with that," he said.

Still, Albrecht doesn't find the idea of universe-bridging wormholes any stranger than the idea of black hole singularities, and he cautions against dismissing the new theory just because it sounds a little out there.

"Everything people ask in this business is pretty weird," he said. "You can't say the less weird [idea] is going to win, because that's not the way it's been, by any means."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is the alleged burning of a person's body without a readily apparent, identifiable external source of ignition. The combustion may result in simple burns and blisters to the skin, smoking, or a complete incineration of the body. The latter is the form most often 'recognized' as SHC. There is much speculation and controversy over SHC. It is not a proven natural occurrence, but many theories have attempted to explain SHC's existence and how it may occur. The two most common explanations offered to account for apparent SHC are the non-spontaneous "wick effect" fire, and the rare discharge called static flash fires. Although mathematically it can be shown that the human body contains enough energy stored in the form of fat and other tissues to consume it completely, in normal circumstances bodies will not sustain a flame on their own.

History of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Many people believe that Spontaneous Human Combustion was first documented in such early texts as the Bible, but, scientifically speaking, these accounts are too old and secondhand to be seen as reliable evidence.

Over the past 300 years, there have been more than 200 reports of persons burning to a crisp for no apparent reason.

The first reliable historic evidence of Spontaneous Human Combustion appears to be from the year 1673, when Frenchman Jonas Dupont published a collection of Spontaneous Human Combustion cases and studies entitled De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis. Dupont was inspired to write this book after encountering records of the Nicole Millet case, in which a man was acquitted of the murder of his wife when the court was convinced that she had been killed by spontaneous combustion. Millet, a hard-drinking Parisian was found reduced to ashes in his straw bed, leaving just his skull and finger bones. The straw matting was only lightly damaged. Dupont's book on this strange subject brought it out of the realm of folkloric rumor and into the popular public imagination.

On April 9, 1744, Grace Pett, 60, an alcoholic residing in Ipswich England, was found on the floor by her daughter like "a log of wood consumed by a fire, without apparent flame." Nearby clothing was undamaged.

In the 1800's is evidenced in the number of writers that called on it for a dramatic death scene. Most of these authors were hacks that worked on the 19th century equivalent of comic books, "penny dreadfuls", so no one got too worked up about it; but two big names in the literary world also used SHC as a dramatic device, and one did cause a stir.

The first of these two authors was Captain Marryat who, in his novel Jacob Faithful, borrowed details from a report in the Times of London of 1832 to describe the death of his lead character's mother, who is reduced to "a sort of unctuous pitchey cinder."

Twenty years later, in 1852, Charles Dickens used Spontaneous Human Combustion to kill off a character named Krook in his novel Bleak House. Krook was a heavy alcoholic, true to the popular belief at the time that SHC was caused by excessive drinking. The novel caused a minor uproar; George Henry Lewes, philosopher and critic, declared that SHC was impossible, and derided Dickens' work as perpetuating a uneducated superstition. Dickens responded to this statement in the preface of the 2nd edition of his work, making it quite clear that he had researched the subject and knew of about thirty cases of SHC. The details of Krook's death in Bleak House were directly modeled on the details of the death of the Countess Cornelia de Bandi Cesenate by this extraordinary means; the only other case that Dickens actually cites details from is the Nicole Millet account that inspired Dupont's book about 100 years earlier.

In 1951the Mary Reeser case recaptured the public interest in Spontaneous Human Combustion. Mrs. Reeser, 67, was found in her apartment on the morning of July 2, 1951, reduced to a pile of ashes, a skull, and a completely undamaged left foot. This event has become the foundation for many a book on the subject of SHC since, the most notable being Michael Harrison's Fire From Heaven, printed in 1976. Fire From Heaven has become the standard reference work on Spontaneous Human Combustion.

On May 18, 1957, Anna Martin, 68, of West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was found incinerated, leaving only her shoes and a portion of her torso. The medical examiner estimated that temperatures must have reached 1,700 to 2,000 degrees, yet newspapers two feet away were found intact.

On December 5, 1966, the ashes of Dr. J. Irving Bentley, 92, of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, were discovered by a meter reader. Dr. Bentley's body apparently ignited while he was in the bathroom and burned a 2-1/2-by-3-foot hole through the flooring, with only a portion of one leg remaining intact. Nearby paint was unscorched.

Perhaps the most famous case occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old widow, spontaneously combusted while sitting in her easy chair on July 1, 1951. The next morning, her next door neighbor tried the doorknob, found it hot to the touch and went for help. She returned to find Mrs. Reeser, or what was left of her, in a blackened circle four feet in diameter.

All that remained of the 175-pound woman and her chair was a few blackened seat springs, a section of her backbone, a shrunken skull the size of a baseball, and one foot encased in a black stain slipper just beyond the four-foot circle. Plus about 10 pounds of ashes.

The police report declared that Mrs. Reeser went up in smoke when her highly flammable rayon-acetate nightgown caught fire, perhaps because of a dropped cigarette.

But one medical examiner stated that the 3,000-degree heat required to destroy the body should have destroyed the apartment as well. In fact, damage was minimal - the ceiling and upper walls were covered with soot. No chemical accelerants, incidentally, were found.

In 1944 Peter Jones, survived this experience and reported that there was no sensation of heat nor sighting of flames. He just saw smoke. He stated that he felt no pain.

Theories about Spontaneous Human Combustion

- Alchoholism - many Spontaneous Human Combustion vicitms have been alcoholics. But experiments in the 19th century demonstrated that flesh impregnated with alcohol will not burn with the intense heat associated with Spontaneous Human Combustion.

- Deposits of flammable body fat - Many victims have been overweight - yet others have been skinny.

- Devine Intervention - Centuries ago people felt that the explosion was a sign from God of devine punishment.

- Build-up of static electricity - no known form of electrostatic discharge could cause a human to burst into flames.

- An explosive combination of chemicals can form in the digestive system - due to poor diet.

- Electrical fields that exist within the human body might be capable of 'short circuiting' somehow, that some sort of atomic chain reaction could generate tremendous internal heat.

No satisfactory explanation of Spontaneous Human Combustion has ever been given. It is still an unsolved mystery.

What Remains After a Spontaneous Human Combustion Event

- The body is normally more severely burned than one that has been caught in a normal fire.

- The burns are not distributed evenly over the body; the extremities are usually untouched by fire, whereas the torso usually suffers severe burning.

- In some cases the torso is completely destroyed, the bones being reduced completely to ash.

- Small portions of the body (an arm, a foot, maybe the head) remain unburned.

- Only objects immediately associated with the body have burned; the fire never spread away from the body. SHC victims have burnt up in bed without the sheets catching fire, clothing worn is often barely singed, and flammable materials only inches away remain untouched.

- A greasy soot deposit covers the ceiling and walls, usually stopping three to four feet above the floor.

- Objects above this three to four foot line show signs of heat damage (melted candles, cracked mirrors, etc.)

- Although temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit are normally required to char a body so thoroughly (crematoria, which usually operate in the neighborhood of 2,000 degrees, leave bone fragments which must be ground up by hand), frequently little or nothing around the victim is damaged, except perhaps the exact spot where the deceased ignited.

Types of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Some events of Spontaneous Human Combustion are witnessed but some are not.

All reported cases have occurred indoors.

The victims were always alone for a long period of time.

Witnesses who were nearby (in adjacent rooms) report never hearing any sounds, such as cries of pain or calls for assistance.

In the witnessed combustions - people are actually seen by witnesses to explode into flame; most commonly. Here the witnesses agree that there was no possible source of ignition and/or that the flames were seen to erupt directly from the victim's skin. Unfortunately, most of the known cases of this type are poorly documented and basically unconfirmed. Sometimes there are no flames seen by the witness.

Non-fatal cases - Unfortunately, the victims of these events generally have no better idea of what happened to them than do the investigators; but the advantage to this grouping is that a survivor can confirm if an event had a simple explaination or not. Thus, there are far fewer cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion with survivors that can be explained away by skeptics without a second look.

Sometimes victims develop burns on their bodies that have no known external cause. These strange wounds commonly start as small discomforts that slowly grow into large, painful marks.

Sometimes the victim will exhibit a mysterious smoke from the body. In these odd and rare occurences smoke is seen to emanate from a person, with no associated fire or source of smoke other than the person's body.

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Written Language of Ancient Scotland Discovered

Once thought to be rock art, carved depictions of soldiers, horses and other figures are in fact part of a written language dating back to the Iron Age.
  • A new written language, belonging to the early Pict society of Scotland, has just been identified.
  • Stylized rock engravings have been found on hundreds of Pictish Stones.
  • If the writing can be deciphered, it would provide a unique insight into early Scottish history.

The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843.

The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

"We know that the Picts had a spoken language to complement the writing of the symbols, as Bede (a monk and historian who died in 735) writes that there are four languages in Britain in this time: British, Pictish, Scottish and English," lead author Rob Lee told Discovery News.

"We know that the three other languages were -- and are -- complex spoken languages, so there is every indication that Pictish was also a complex spoken language," added Lee, a professor in the School of Biosciences at the University of Exeter.

He and colleagues Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman analyzed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese texts and written Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Ancient Irish, Old Irish and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

Lee explained that writing comes in two basic forms: lexigraphic writing that is based on speech and semasiography, which is not based on speech.

"Lexigraphic writing contains symbols that represent parts of speech, such as words, or sounds like syllables or letters, and tends to be written in a linear or directional manner mimicking the flow of speech," he said. "In semasiography, the symbols do not represent speech -- such as the cartoon symbols used to show you how to build a flat pack piece of furniture -- and generally do not come in a linear manner."

Although Lee and his team have not yet deciphered the Pictish language, some of the symbols provide intriguing clues. One symbol looks like a dog's head, for example, while others look like horses, trumpets, mirrors, combs, stags, weapons and crosses.

The later Pictish Stones also contain images, like Celtic knots, similar to those found in the Book of Kells and other early works from nearby regions. These more decorative looking images frame what Lee and his team believe is the written Pictish language.

"It is unclear at the moment whether the imagery, such as the knots, form any part of the communication," Lee said. He believes the stones also contain semasiographic symbols, such as a picture of riders and horn blowers next to hunting dogs on what is called the Hilton of Cadboll stone. Yet another stone shows what appears to be a battle scene.

Paul Bouissac, a University of Toronto professor who is one of the world's leading experts on signs and symbols, told Discovery News that he agrees "it is more than plausible that the Pictish symbols are examples of a script, in the sense that they encoded some information, which also had a spoken form."

What is known about a writing system, however, "does not amount to deciphering this putative script," Bouissac added.

"We will have to wait for the discovery of what would be the Pictish equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, which made possible the cracking of the Egyptian hieroglyphic code," he said. "This may or may not ever happen."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The ancient Rosslyn Chapel

The ancient Rosslyn Chapel, beloved as the key to mysteries surrounding The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar, has thrown up another unfathomable puzzle: what lies behind the secret of the bees?

Builders renovating the 600-year-old chapel have discovered two beehives carved within the stonework high on the pinnacles of the roof. They are thought to be the first man-made stone hives ever found.

It appears the hives were carved into the roof when the chapel was built, with the entrance for the bees formed, appropriately, through the centre of an intricately carved stone flower. The hives were found when builders were dismantling and rebuilding the pinnacles for the first time in centuries.

Malcolm Mitchell, from Page Park, the architects on the £7 million restoration, said it appeared the chapel had been a haven for the insects as long ago as the 15th century.

“From the research that we have done, this is a unique situation in Europe. We haven’t found any precedent of this type of hive before. We were quite taken aback. It’s very unusual.

“In Scotland, hives are so often made of baskets which can be lifted and moved around. It was particularly a surprise because the hives themselves are the ideal size for bees to inhabit — hollowed out to the size of a gas cylinder — but they were constructed purely as a haven for the bees. They weren’t built to harvest honey,” he added.

“It was just out of kindness and respect to the sacredness of these insects. Reverence to bees insects goes back historically to Egyptian times.”

Although human beings have collected honey from wild bee colonies since time immemorial, at some point they began to domesticate wild bees in artificial hives, made from hollow logs, pottery, or woven straw baskets. The Egyptians kept bees in cylindrical hives, and pictures in temples show workers blowing smoke into the hives, and removing honeycombs. Sealed pots of honey were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Bronze Age hives made of straw and unbaked clay have been dug up near Jerusalem. They were found in orderly rows, three high, each one accommodating around 100 hives. The Greeks also developed bee-keeping as an art, and celebrated it on gold rings and ornaments.

Honeycombs were found abandoned inside the hive in the north pinnacle, but, equally strangely, the hive on the south pinnacle did not have an entry hole for bees and therefore had not been occupied.

Mr Mitchell said: “It’s just another of Rosslyn’s mysteries. The north pinnacle was full of honeycombs which had been abandoned for some considerable years. The honey had all dried up.”

The experts believe the interior of the hives were lined with a coating to prevent the wild bees from gnawing away at the stonework.

Allan Gilmour, from Hunter & Clark stonemasons, the main contractors on the chapel, said: “I’ve never heard of man-made stone beehives. What I have seen is bees creating hives in stone. When we restored the Irvine Town House we found that bees had burrowed into the sandstone and created honeycombs. They had weakened the stone.

“Maybe at Rosslyn the monks had the same problem in the past and created the hive as a sanctuary.”

There is anecdotal evidence that visitors to the chapel, which dates back to 1446, used to be disturbed by bees. Mr Mitchell said some of the staff at the Rosslyn Trust were aware some years ago that there had been bees going into the cavity. The hives have now been reinstated within the rebuilt pinnacles on the roof of the chapel.

Rosslyn Chapel was built on the orders of William St Clair, Prince of Orkney. Begun in 1446. work ceased in 1484 when William died, so that the building was then in the form it remains in today.

Members of the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association said yesterday they had not heard of beehives created from stone. Mrs Una Robertson, the organisation’s historian, said: “I’m not an architect, but it’s the sort of thing that might have come my way. Bees do go into roof spaces and set up home, and can stay there a long time, but it’s unusual to want to attract bees into a building.

“Traditonally, bees were kept in a skep — made out of straw or dried grass. Skeps have been around for centuries. Wooden hives only came in since the 17th century. Bees have been kept in all sorts of containers , but I have never heard of stone.”