When Workers Drained A Holy Lake In Cambodia, This Ancient Turtle Emerged From The Depths

Image: DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

It’s March 2020, and archaeologists are busy at work draining the Srah Srang reservoir. This magnificent body of water sits next to something even more splendid: Cambodia’s world-famous Angkor Wat temple and palace. And while the bed below the depths yields a variety of intriguing artifacts dating back many hundreds of years, something truly astonishing finally appears from the mud. It seems to be a massive turtle – and, incredibly, the researchers believe that the ancient relic may be many centuries old.

Image: Stefan Fussan/CC BY 2.0

The archaeologists responsible for the startling find came from APSARA – a Cambodian agency responsible for the conservation and maintenance of the 400-acre Angkor complex. And it’s Chea Socheat who has led the research team working at the 12th-century man-made reservoir. This water feature includes a temple named Kandal Srah Srang, which is visible for part of the year but entirely submerged throughout Cambodia’s annual rainy season.

Image: Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

And experts believe that the Srah Srang reservoir – which is about 2,300 feet long and almost 1,000 feet wide – may have been built as a place of worship for Kama. Kama is the Hindu deity of creativity and love and believed to have been the first child of Chaos – the god who, it’s said, enabled all of creation. Certainly, the lavishly decorated surroundings – which include a jetty complete with snake-like balustrades and a pair of carved lions – suggest that this is a location of some significance.

Image: Sam Panthaky/AFP via Getty Images

Accordingly, archaeologists have uncovered various intriguing objects at the Kandal Srah Srang temple, including a couple of tridents and various pieces of crystal. Also among the finds was a depiction of a naga – a legendary beast that’s said to be part snake and part human. The temple itself was originally constructed during the tenth century and then remodeled sometime around 1200.

Image: John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images

And it seems that officials from APSARA were in no doubt about the significance of these discoveries at Kandal Srah Srang. In May 2020 a representative of the organization, Long Kosal, told the The Phnom Penh Post, “We are so happy we found these antiquities. They’ll help us understand the history, purpose and arrangement of the Kandal Srah Srang temple.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Aleksejs Bergmanis/Getty Images

However, the item that arguably received the most press coverage was the aforementioned mysterious turtle. So, why was the strange artifact so important? Well, we’ll get back to that shortly, but first let’s find out more about the Angkor Wat complex itself. The construction of what would eventually become more than 400 acres of exquisite Khmer architecture originally began during the 12th century.

Image: Education Images/Getty Images

Suryavarman II, the head of the Khmer kingdom at the time, was the one to initiate the project which, in its early days, was intended as a tribute to the Hindu deity Vishnu. By the end of the 12th century, however, it had become a Buddhist place of worship. And the temple site itself is set in northern Cambodia – just a few miles from the nation’s fifth most populous city of Siem Reap.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images

Angkor Wat was built, then, during the Khmer dynasty, which reigned over much of South-East Asia until the middle of the 15th century. And the stunningly ornate temples, palaces and other buildings that occupy the complex are perhaps the crowning jewels of the civilization’s legacy. Angkor Wat is notable, too, for being arguably the biggest religious site on the planet.

Image: Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Initially, though, Suryavarman II’s purpose in commissioning this enormous edifice was to create a magnificent tomb for himself. And there was yet another use for the vast array of buildings at Angkor Wat; hundreds of years ago, they also served as the administrative base of the Khmer empire. But while experts believe that the complex took nearly four decades to construct, a Buddhist legend claims instead that the deity Indra played a crucial part in the endeavor – and required just a single night to complete it, too.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images

Still, regardless of whether Angkor Wat was made by god or man, it was an extraordinary feat of design and engineering. According to messages inscribed on some of the buildings, the original project involved more than a quarter of a million craftsmen and laborers, who worked with the assistance of thousands of elephants. And experts now believe that the buildings there were crafted using sandstone blocks that had been transported to the site via waterways.

Image: Jakub Hałun/CC BY-SA 4.0

It should be known, though, that while the whole site is often loosely referred to as Angkor Wat, that name should – strictly speaking – only apply to the temple at the center of the complex. This magnificent edifice boasts five tapering towers, which are a reference to the summit of the mythological Mount Meru – home to the Hindu deities.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: David Wilmot/CC BY 2.0

After Suryavarman II’s death, however, Angkor Wat’s fate may have looked less secure. Yaśovarman II succeeded the monarch until 1166, when a government officer overthrew him in a palace uprising. And after that, it seems that anarchy ensued for around a decade. The Cham people, whose kingdom was within the borders of present-day Vietnam, exploited the situation in any case by taking control of the Khmer kingdom.

Image: Theme Inn

Then, in 1177, the man who would later rule as king Jayavarman VII mustered an army and threw the invaders out of Angkor. But it seems that Jayavarman felt that in allowing the Chams to occupy Angkor Wat, the Hindu deities had been of little help. As a result, he decided instead to devote the Angkor Wat complex to Buddhism.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: David Wilmot/CC BY 2.0

Jayavarman VII ruled until around 1220, and after that the Khmer kingdom and the buildings of Angkor Wat both appear to have slid into a long-lasting decline. Yes, while the complex was never completely deserted and remained a center for devout Buddhists, its splendid buildings were neglected. Then, when the Ayutthaya people of modern-day Thailand seized Angkor Wat in 1431, the Khmers subsequently moved their capital to Phnom Penh, which remains Cambodia’s principal city in the present day.

Image: Xaume Olleros/Getty Images

However, Angkor Wat would come to further attention in the late 16th century, when António da Madelena, a monk from Portugal, stumbled across the site. And in 2017 the BBC quoted da Madelena’s words as recorded by his countryman Diogo do Couto, with the religious man apparently saying, “[Angkor Wat] is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen – particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Easter Monkey

But it would be another 270 years or so before the Western fascination with Angkor Wat’s extraordinary architecture truly flickered into life. The catalyst was a Frenchman, Henri Mouhot, who first visited the site during an expedition to South-East Asia in 1859 and 1860. Unfortunately, Mouhot would pass away – apparently of malaria – at Angkor Wat in 1861.

Image: Lukas Kastner/Getty Images

Still, before his untimely demise at the age of 35, Mouhot had time to write up observations about the site that were published after his death. The explorer said of Angkor Wat, “One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo – might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Diego Recuenco/Getty Images

“It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and [it] presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged,” Mouhot’s description of the complex continued. Seemingly displaying his Euro-centric bias, Mouhot seems to have been flabbergasted that South-East Asians could have built something so magnificent.

Image: via Javierfv1212/CC0 1.0

Yet while Mouhot’s account of Angkor Wat brought it to the attention of the world, his glowing praise came well before the site became a mass tourist attraction. Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863, and from the beginning of the 20th century the colonialists made piecemeal efforts to restore Angkor Wat to its previous glory.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Cambodia then gained its independence from France in 1953 and was ruled by King Norodom Sihanouk. During his time in power, Sihanouk also variously held the positions of president and prime minister as well as that of monarch. But dark days came for the Cambodians in 1975, when Khmer Rouge guerillas seized control of the country.

Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

Now under the sway of the ruthless Khmer Rouge tyrant Pol Pot, the nation endured four years of bloodshed. Around one and a half million Cambodians lost their lives under the brutal grip of the Khmer Rouge, with society being disrupted from top to bottom. This tragic period lasted until 1979, when an invasion by Vietnamese troops overturned the murderous regime.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Anonymous

A Vietnam-supported government then ruled Cambodia until the early 1990s, when full independence and democracy were introduced. And during the turmoil of the Pol Pot years, restoration work on Angkor Wat was at a complete standstill. The site became a battlefield at one point, in fact, with bullet marks still visible on some of the sandstone buildings.

Image: Pierre Andre Leclercq/CC BY-SA 3.0

Then, in 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave Angkor World Heritage Site status. Even so, it would be several more years before the world began to flock to the complex. Journalist Jonathan Glancey was one of those who made the journey in the 1990s – so, before the current influx of tourists.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Hong Wu/Getty Images

Describing his experience to the BBC in 2017, Glancey wrote, “When I came here [to Angkor Wat] in the mid-1990s, I would have been one of around 7,500 annual visitors; last year, there were 2.5 million [visitors], [with] very many from China.” That’s right: in the 21st century, the splendor of Angkor Wat has seemingly made it a must-see for travelers from across the globe.

Image: Victor Fraile/Corbis via Getty Images

And in recent decades, our knowledge about the extent of the sprawling Angkor Wat complex has greatly increased. Starting in 2007, archaeologists Jean-Baptiste Chevance and Damian Evans have been employing NASA radar technology in order to create a true picture of what was once at the site.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Gunawan Kartapranata/CC BY-SA 3.0

During their investigations, then, Evans and Chevance showed that the urban spread of Angkor Wat was much wider than was previously known. The pair even uncovered a lost city called Mahendraparvata, which would have once been connected to the temple complex 25 miles away. And the aerial mapping exercise has revealed other sophisticated elements of the area around Angkor Wat, including what Glancey has described as “a sprawling city at least as big as Berlin.”

Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Describing the discovery made by Evans and Chevance, Glancey wrote, “This, perhaps, was the first low-density city – a phenomenon normally associated with the railway age, the car and the spread of suburbia. [It was a] vast-reaching conurbation, its parts linked by an ambitious network of roads and canals, reservoirs and dams carved from the forest.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images

So, with Angkor Wat now firmly ensconced as one of the great wonders of human civilization, it’s perhaps no surprise that archaeological exploration of the huge site continues today. And that brings us back to the discoveries of the dig we mentioned earlier at the Srah Srang reservoir. As you’ll remember, the water feature was drained in March 2020 to allow an examination of its bed.

Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

And as previously outlined, researchers uncovered various fascinating artifacts, including that carving of a naga. But one find seemingly topped all the others. From the reservoir’s muddy bottom, an ancient sandstone rendition of a turtle emerged, with the object thought to have been created in the tenth century.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

More specifically, this turtle was revealed as the archaeologists excavated at the site of the Kandal Srah Srang temple. The place of worship had once stood on a man-made island in the middle of the reservoir, with the researchers having determined its location before draining the waters so that they could investigate the location in detail.

Image: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

And it’s since been determined that the sandstone turtle comes in at 37 inches in length and 23 inches in width. Describing the significance of the artifact, Socheat told Smithsonian magazine, “The turtle is known as one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. Sometimes, turtles are placed as a votive object in a temple’s foundations or at its center.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Socheat continued, “As for the turtle we found, we don’t know its purpose yet. However, according to our preliminary assessment, the turtle was probably prepared to be placed at the temple’s foundation. It could also be a valuable stone, which was placed for the celebration of any religious ceremony during that time.”

Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Indeed, turtles held an important position in the iconography of several ancient Eastern cultures. Chinese and Indian civilizations, for example, regarded the turtle as symbolic of the universe. And stone sculptures of turtles are in fact ubiquitous among the buildings of Angkor Wat, appearing frequently as freestanding statues such as the Srah Srang animal or in etched reliefs mounted on buildings.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Writing in the Khmer Times after the discovery of the Srah Srang turtle, historian Chhem Rethy of the Asian Vision Institute pointed out, “Beyond [their] roles in the sacred legends of Angkor, turtles serve many other purposes in the belief system of modern Cambodia.” He added that releasing turtles into the wild as a way to show religious devotion is still a common practice today.

Image: Asit Kumar/AFP via Getty Images

Regrettably, though, as Rethy has noted, turtles in modern Cambodia and elsewhere in the region are also victims of wildlife crime, with their flesh valued for food and their body parts used in traditional medicine. It’s believed, you see, that eating turtles can guarantee a long life. And this illegal poaching of turtles naturally presents an existential threat to the animals.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, as Rethy pointed out, the Turtle King, Kurma Raja, was formerly worshipped as a guardian of Angkor culture. Speaking about the newly discovered turtle, he claimed to hope that “this symbol of our glorious past may inspire a revival of spiritual respect towards Kurma Raja by modern Cambodians and contribute to the protection of this endangered species.”

Image: Gerd Eichmann/CC BY-SA 4.0

Meanwhile, Socheat told the Khmer Times, “Although previous studies were conducted about the [Kandal Srah Srang] temple, there has been no in-depth research about it [or] where various objects have been buried. Our recent discovery can help explain the history of the temple, including the religious ceremonies that were once performed here.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Yet although the turtle is carved in a smooth and featureless style, it does have one visible anomaly. Specifically, cuts in the center of the carved animal’s shell make a rectangular shape that looks very much like a lid. And upon closer examination, it turned out that this feature was indeed the covering of a small recessed chamber in the turtle’s back.

Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

Speaking to The Phnom Penh Post, Socheat said, “We opened the turtle shell and found water and solid mud in it. Until we cleaned everything out of there, we only saw mud and dirt. We did not attempt to dig more out of it as we were afraid of damaging the original shape. The hole in the turtle where the artifacts were found is four inches wide and two inches deep.” The relics themselves remain mysterious, though, and Socheat has asked for international help in identifying them.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Apsara Authority

So, thanks to the efforts of modern researchers, the breathtaking complex of palaces, temples and water features spread across the Angkor Wat site continue to yield their secrets. And while the location may have a checkered history, it remains an eloquent witness to the sophistication of the ancient Khmer people – not to mention their reverence for turtles.

Image: Thomaswm

In another part of the world, though, an even more famous landmark was drained back in the ’60s. And after workers had dammed Niagara Falls in a bid to help stop erosion there, they received a disturbing surprise. Something shocking, it seemed, had been hidden among the rocks.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bob Olsen/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s June 1969, and a team of engineers has succeeded in a Herculean task. Against the odds, they have stemmed the flow of Niagara Falls, thus silencing one of the most famous attractions on planet Earth. But as the water dries up for the first time in thousands of years, a secret is revealed on the rocks below – and it’s a horrific one, too.

Image: surangaw/Getty Images

Today, the mighty roar of Niagara Falls draws millions of tourists to the area every year. And for many, the churning waters are a constant reminder of just how powerful Mother Nature can be. But over five decades ago, the famous torrent became a mere trickle while engineers investigated what was happening behind the scenes.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: GetUpStudio/Getty Images

On that occasion, man trumped nature in a staggering show of what engineering can achieve. And as the waterfall began to recede, visitors gathered to witness a spectacle that had never been seen before. But what was revealed after Niagara Falls was stopped in its tracks? Well, as it turned out, something sinister had been hiding beneath the spray.

Image: J.S Johnston/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images

The story of Niagara Falls began around 18,000 years ago, when advancing ice sheets carved great swathes into the landscape that would become North America. Then, when the ice melted, it sent a cascade of water flowing into the Niagara River. And over time, this torrent eroded nearby cliffs and created the natural wonder that we know and love today.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

Now, Niagara Falls sits on the border of the United States and Canada and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. That said, it’s not known exactly how long humans have been aware of its existence. And while there are no written records of such events, it’s likely that the region’s indigenous communities were the first to marvel at the wonder of the falls.

Image: Louis Hennepin

But although the French explorer Samuel de Champlain first heard rumors of a vast waterfall in the region at the beginning of the 17th century, it wasn’t until 1678 that Niagara was first recorded by Europeans. That year, a priest named Father Louis Hennepin witnessed the astonishing spectacle while on an expedition into what was then known as New France.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Musée McCord Museum

Then, five years after stumbling across the falls, Hennepin published A New Discovery, in which he described his incredible find. There, the name Niagara – thought to come from the Iroquoian word “onguiaahra,” meaning “the strait” – appeared for the first time. And with Westerners now aware of the cascades, more and more travelers started to flock to the region.

Image: Library and Archives Canada

In the 1800s railroad passenger numbers increased, too, and Niagara Falls began to develop as a tourist destination. Soon, a wide variety of amenities had sprung up to cater for the influx of visitors – many of whom were honeymooning couples. But it wasn’t just local hoteliers who saw potential for profit in the mighty attraction.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Internet Archive Book Images

By the end of the 19th century, you see, industrialists had realized that the water tumbling over the falls had a value all of its own. By harnessing the force of the torrent, in fact, they could power their factories and mills. So in 1895 a hydroelectric generating station – the first major facility of its kind that the world had ever seen – opened in the region.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

But although the station was innovative, it could only carry electricity some 300 feet. Thankfully, then, in 1896 the famous inventor Nikolas Tesla took things to the next level. By using his knowledge of alternating current, he was able to divert power more than 20 miles away to Buffalo, New York.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Print Collector/Contributor/Getty Images

Tesla made history with his alternating current induction motor, in fact, while his Niagara experiments marked the earliest use of a system that still carries electricity around the world today. And more than 100 years later, hydroelectricity is still generated by the falls, with the plants there able to produce up to 2.4 million kilowatts of power.

Image: DrMaestro/Getty Images

Today, Niagara Falls is divided between two nations, with both a U.S. and a Canadian side. And between them, the two communities host around 30 million tourists every year. During peak times, visitors watch water tumble down at a rate of six million cubic feet per minute.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: The New York Historical Society/Getty Images

Interestingly, though, the amount of water coming over the falls significantly decreases at night. You see, a treaty from 1950 allows local companies to divert more of the flow into their power plants at times when the spectacular view will be least affected. And that’s not the only time that the volume of Niagara Falls has altered over the years.

Image: Lingbeek/Getty Images

In 2019, for example, the attraction took on an entirely different appearance when unusually cold temperatures saw it freeze over in places. And although some water still made it over the edge of the cataract, great quantities proceeded to turn into clouds of vapor long before it reached the basin. But while this has happened a number of times over the years, experts insist that the flow never actually stops.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: inhauscreative/Getty Images

So has Niagara Falls ever really ground to a halt? Well, part of it has. Technically, the famous landmark is actually three separate waterfalls. As well as the iconic Horseshoe Falls, which span the border between the United States and Canada, there are two smaller cataracts situated solely on U.S. soil: the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.

Image: JeinPark/Getty Images

By 1965, however, citizens of Niagara Falls, New York, had grown concerned that the natural wonder on their side of the border was beginning to lose its charm. In particular, a growing deposit of talus – the rock that accumulates at the base of a waterfall – was a major worry. Apparently, the talus was preventing water from descending in a sheer drop – and, according to some, affecting the aesthetic appeal of the American Falls.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: artherng/Getty Images

On January 31, 1965, an article highlighting the issue appeared on the front of the Niagara Falls Gazette newspaper. In the piece, local journalist Cliff Spieler argued that persistent erosion may eventually eradicate the American Falls altogether. And soon after that, a campaign to save the landmark began, with the crusade aiming to put pressure on the government to come up with a solution.

Image: baumsaway/Getty Images

Hoping to tackle the issue, the American and Canadian authorities thus looked to the International Joint Commission (IJC) – an organization that oversees regulations relating to shared waters. But while the experts buckled down to find an answer, a temporary operation was launched to eliminate any detritus from the waters above the falls.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Joe Fielder/CC BY 3.0

In order to achieve this, it was first necessary to deflect the flow of water over the American Falls. And so on November 13, 1966, a clever plan was put into action. Upriver, the International Water Control Dam was pushed into overdrive, its gates wrenched wide open to allow the current in. At the same time, the hydro-generating stations were also upped to complete capacity.

Image: Patrick Donovan/Getty Images

Owing to these measures, the amount of water flowing over the falls was reduced from 60,000 gallons per second to just 15,000. And as the river receded, workmen duly waded out and began clearing away the debris. In the meantime, officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, also grabbed the opportunity to take a closer look at the exposed bed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: surangaw/Getty Images

Keen to come up with a long-term plan to protect the American Falls, the USACE team also snapped aerial photographs of the scene. After six hours, however, the diversions were closed and the flow of the river returned to normal. And, as it happens, this short exercise laid the groundwork for a far more ambitious operation that would take place down the line.

Image: Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

Then, two years after the campaign to save the American Falls first gained traction, the IJC initiated the American Falls International Board. And soon, the board realized that an even more ambitious approach was required. If the problem of erosion was to be solved, it seemed, a way of completely dewatering the falls had to be found.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ravi Chip/Getty Images

Ultimately, this undertaking fell to a group of engineers from USACE. And, soon, a plan began to form. Indeed, while the 1966 approach had succeeded in reducing the volume of water moving over the American Falls to 25 percent of its usual flow, more drastic action was now needed. So, officials drew up a plan for a type of temporary structure known as a cofferdam.

Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Typically, these dams are constructed inside bodies of water when a certain section of, for example, a lake needs to be dried out. In the case of the Niagara River, however, the engineers sought to take a different approach. Instead, their cofferdam would take the form of a 600-foot barrier stretching across the current.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Dong Wengjie/Getty Images

USACE also handed a contract of almost half a million dollars to the Albert Elia Construction Company. And in exchange for its fee – the equivalent of almost $4 million in today’s money – the firm took on the task of making the cofferdam. But it wasn’t just responsible for drying out the falls, as it happens.

Image: Free-Photos

In particular, the Albert Elia Construction Company was also tasked with scouring the riverbed while it was exposed. On top of this, its workers were also directed to remove any loose boulders from the surface of the falls and to introduce a sprinkler system that would deliver moisture to the rock.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Vladone/Getty Images

So, on June 9, 1969, the operation began. But as workmen attempted to construct a dam across the raging rapids, they found themselves in a precarious situation. If someone fell into the water, for example, there would have been nothing to stop them from plunging over the edge of the falls. Ultimately, then, it was decided to install a lifeline in the middle of the river that would connect Goat Island and the mainland.

Image: Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

Apparently, the idea was that any workers unlucky enough to plummet down towards the river would have had something to grab onto before being pushed over the edge. Fortunately, though, no incidences of this lifeline being used were recorded at the time. And gradually, over the course of three days, the dam began to take shape.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: The Print Collector/Getty Images

However, it was no simple task. In fact, over the course of construction, in excess of 1,200 trucks carried multiple loads of earth and rock to the American Falls and dumped them upstream of the cataract. And so by the end of the operation, almost 28,000 tons of material had been shifted to the site.

Image: James St. John/CC BY 2.0

Finally, on June 12, 1969, the workmen completed their task by plugging up the final breach in the cofferdam. Stretching all the way from the mainland to Goat Island, the structure successfully accomplished the seemingly impossible. And for the first time in more than 12,000 years, the American Falls ran dry.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Despite this impressive feat, however, some locals worried that halting the falls would impact tourism in the region. And it was a valid concern; after all, five million visitors helped the local economy every year. Others believed, by contrast, that the unique opportunity to see what was beneath the water would actually attract crowds.

Image: William England/Getty Images

Ultimately, visitor numbers did decline during 1969 after the drying up of the falls. Nevertheless, those who did make it to the area were rewarded with a spectacular sight. And as the waters receded, several coins appeared on the riverbed – prompting delighted tourists to scoop these up as souvenirs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images

In fact, curious visitors had begun arriving the day after USACE successfully turned off the falls. According to reports, the braver among them took tentative steps out onto the riverbed, with some even approaching the edge of the waterfall. However, most at the scene appeared content with a glimpse of the cofferdam that had achieved such an apparently improbable task.

Image: The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

But alongside all the novelty and excitement, something gruesome was revealed beneath the weight of the American Falls that year. On the riverbed, observers spotted two sets of remains from a man and a woman who had each met their fate somewhere in the fearsome waters.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Eric Meola/Getty Images

According to contemporary reports, the deceased male had jumped into the channel above the American Falls on the day before the waters had dried up. In fact, observers at the time initially assumed that he was part of the official operation. But when the young man, clad in green pants and a similarly hued shirt, plunged into the current, the onlookers ultimately realized that something was amiss.

Image: Vincent Boisvert/Getty Images

Given the timing of the man’s fatal leap, the authorities didn’t have to wait long to be able to recover his body. During the next day, then, four police officers scanned the now-dry riverbed in search of human remains. But while they ultimately located the deceased, whose name has not been recorded, they made another grim discovery along the way.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bruce Yuanyue Bi

While scouring the riverbed, the officers also stumbled upon the remains of a woman wearing a red-and-white striped garment. And, apparently, her body was significantly decomposed, indicating that she had been in the water for quite a while prior. But who was she, and how had she ended up in the falls?

Image: DGlodowska

Hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery, authorities removed the remains and ordered that an autopsy take place. But again, the identity of the woman has not been recorded. What was revealed at the time, though, was the tragic fact that she had been wearing a wedding band. And on the inside of the ring, there was a heartrending inscription: “Forget me not.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Hailshadow/Getty Images

Sadly, these two were far from the only people to have lost their lives at Niagara Falls. It seems surprising that the operation did not reveal more bodies hiding beneath the water, in fact. After all, there are many people who – unwittingly or otherwise – have tumbled from the top over the years. These days, experts estimate that up to 40 deaths occur every year as a result.

Image: G Blakeley/Getty Images

And although many of the deceased are people who had attempted to take their own lives, a number of accidents have also contributed to the death toll at Niagara Falls. Since 1829 a series of daredevils have also attempted to survive the terrifying plunge – although only a handful have actually succeeded.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Three Lions/Getty Images

Among the most famous of these adventurers is 63-year-old teacher Annie Edson Taylor, who in 1901 survived a plunge over the falls while encased in a wooden barrel. And upon emerging from her stunt relatively unscathed, she reportedly exclaimed, “No one ought ever do that again.” Yet not everyone has taken Taylor’s advice, as many have since followed in her footsteps – to varying degrees of success.

Image: Orchidpoet/Getty Images

In 1984, for example, Canadian stuntman Karel Soucek managed to survive a trip in a barrel over the falls. Sadly, though, he died the following year at the Houston Astrodome in Texas while trying to relive his famous stunt. And in 1990 American Jesse Sharp attempted to tackle the cascades armed with just a canoe – but he was never seen again.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Robert Leach

For those watching the draining of the American Falls, the discovery on the riverbed was a stark reminder of the water feature’s deadly power. But it was business as usual for the authorities, who took out the remains and continued with the operation. Apparently, the first step was to get rid of the loose rocks located on the face of the waterfall.

Image: PublicDomainPictures

In order to do so, workers were encased in cages attached to cranes and dangled over the lip of the falls. And at the same time, engineers put in a sprinkler system designed to continually moisten the layer of shale on the face of the waterfall. According to experts, the rock had been drying out, making it more vulnerable to erosion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: The Print Collector/Getty Images

Meanwhile, workers set about drilling into the riverbed at the top of the American Falls. Then, once the team had reached the 180-foot point, they began setting up tests to measure the absorbency levels of the rock. Elsewhere, surveyors seized the opportunity to chart the contours of the surface of the falls.

Image: The Print Collector/Getty Images

As geological surveys continued at the falls, construction commenced on a walkway that would allow visitors to travel safely along the riverbed. And on August 1, 1969, this attraction opened to the public for the first time. But even though the walkway proved popular, it was not enough to boost visitor numbers to normal levels.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, on August 19, researchers began studying the deposit of talus at the foot of the falls. By drilling holes deep into the rocks, it seems, they hoped to learn more about the formation. However, it soon became apparent that the clean-up operation would not be as simple as the specialists had hoped.

Image: via Wikipedia

In fact, engineers studying the American Falls concluded that the talus played a vital role in supporting the cliff face behind. Faced with the challenges of removal, then, the authorities initially put forward an alternative plan. By constructing a permanent dam, they reasoned, they could boost the water level in the basin and submerge the offending rocks.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

But creating a dam would be far from a flawless solution, as it would weaken the American Falls significantly. Consequently, the authorities ultimately decided that they would leave the talus as it was. But the entire operation was not completely in vain, as engineers utilized the unusual situation to perform vital conservation work on the cliff face.

Image: Hailshadow/Getty Images

Over the course of six months, teams got to work with anchors, bolts and cables to stabilize the American Falls. Elsewhere, they introduced sensors designed to alert the authorities if a landslide was imminent. And the crew’s work has apparently had a significant impact on conserving the waterfall for many generations to come, too.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Eventually, in November 1969, the work was done. And after the cofferdam was destroyed using dynamite, the American Falls returned to its former glory. At the time, moreover, the IJC felt that it had taken steps towards protecting the natural wonder rather than turning it into something artificial.

Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

Ironically, though, the Niagara Falls of 1969 was very different to the one that European explorers had discovered centuries earlier. Early industry had taken such a toll on the region, in fact, that conservation efforts were already under way by the 1800s. The businesses dependent on the power of the cascades, however, merely relocated downstream.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

And by the beginning of the 20th century, a significant amount of water was being redirected from the falls to power various establishments – thus convincing many that the natural beauty of the cascades was diminishing. A debate therefore began as to how to best balance industry with conservation.

Image: George Barker

According to the industrialists, their plants were actually helping to conserve the falls by limiting the amount of water pouring over the lip. And while erosion had typically been occurring at a rate of four and a half feet per year, the businesspeople believed that a decreased water flow would help prevent this from happening.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Orchidpoet/Getty Images

Then the United States and Canada reached an agreement. Ultimately, you see, both nations wanted industrial activity to continue in the region but with the illusion that it was not affecting the mighty flow of Niagara Falls. So, how could they continue to divert the river without creating a noticeable impact on the famous attraction?

Image: Luke Abrahams/Getty Images

Well, in the end, Canada and the U.S. agreed to an innovative solution. During evenings and in winter, they’d divert as much as 75 percent of the water destined for Niagara Falls. At peak times when visitors were more likely, however, that amount would be reduced to 50 percent. In the meantime, experts artificially altered the lip of the famous Horseshoe Falls in order to create the illusion of a powerful flow.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: CHBD/Getty Images

Amazingly, these diversions still exist today, meaning tourists see only a fraction of the water actually meant for Niagara Falls. Nevertheless, the cascades remain one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. And soon, visitors may get another chance to see what secrets are hiding beneath the spray.

Image: Kate Brown

In 2016 the Niagara Frontier State Park Commission announced plans to dry out the American Falls again in the near future. More than a century earlier, you see, two stone bridges had been built to span the gap between the mainland and Goat Island. By 2005, however, these structures had deteriorated to the point where restoration was no longer an option.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Anjelika Gretskaia/Getty Images

So, in order to replace the bridges, the commission announced, it would be necessary for engineers to once again stop the flow of water over the falls. To begin with, then, authorities planned to construct another cofferdam in 2019. Yet they failed to secure the necessary $30 million in funding, meaning the project ultimately had to be postponed.

Image: sanjay jogi

According to officials, though, the project is still very much on the cards. They believe, too, that thanks to the power of social media, this future dewatering could be more beneficial for tourism than the previous attempt had been. But with an unknown number of people missing and presumed dead in the area since 1969, the falls may yet have more gruesome secrets to reveal.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT