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1. Drake’s Plate of Brass
Once considered a major archaeological discovery, Drake’s Plate was an inscribed brass marker found in 1936 in Northern California, where it was thought to have been left in 1579 by explorer Francis Drake and the crew of the Golden Hind when they landed on the California coast and claimed the territory for England. The artifact went on to be featured in school textbooks and exhibited around the globe. However, in 1977 researchers conducting scientific analysis on the plate in the lead up to the 400th anniversary of Drake’s landing learned the artifact was a fake, produced in modern times. It was unclear who was behind the hoax until 2003, when historians announced the plate had been created as a practical joke by acquaintances of Herbert Bolton, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the school’s Bancroft Library from 1920 to 1940. Before the pranksters could reveal the truth, Bolton, who’d long been interested in Drake, judged the plate authentic and acquired it for the library.
In 1999, National Geographic magazine touted the discovery of a feathered dinosaur fossil named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, stating: “With arms of a primitive bird and the tail of a dinosaur, this creature found in Liaoning Province, China, is a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds.” Just months later, however, it was revealed that the celebrated Archaeoraptor fossil was a phony, made from pieces of unrelated fossils. An investigation determined the pieces were found in 1997 by a fossil-hunting Chinese farmer digging in a pit. He glued the fragments together then sold the fossil to a Chinese dealer, who in 1999 sold it to the director of a dinosaur museum in the U.S. for $80,000. From there, National Geographic got wind of the seemingly momentous fossil and went on to publish its story. After news broke that Archaeoraptor was a fabrication, the media nicknamed it the Piltdown Bird, a reference to the Piltdown Man, a hoax involving fossil remains found in England in 1912 that were purported to be the missing evolutionary link between apes and early man.
3. Tiara of Saitaphernes
In 1896, the Louvre Museum in Paris paid Russian antiquities dealers a reported $50,000 for a gold tiara hailed as a masterpiece of the Hellenistic period and believed to have been a gift from the ancient Greek colony of Olbia to a Scythian king, Saitaphernes. Scholars soon started questioning the authenticity of the tiara, which featured scenes from “The Iliad,” but the museum denied the charges that its acquisition was a forgery. Eventually, however, Louvre officials learned the tiara likely had been produced by a modern goldsmith from Odessa, Ukraine, named Israel Rouchomovsky. Seeking proof, they brought him to Paris in 1903 and had him replicate a portion of the tiara. Rouchomovsky claimed he’d been clueless that the art dealers who commissioned the headpiece from him a few years before the museum purchased it had intended to commit fraud. Rather than ruining Rouchomovsky, the attention from the scandal boosted his career and sparked a demand for his work.
4. Cardiff Giant
In 1869, workers digging a well at a farm in Cardiff, New York, uncovered what seemed to be the body of an ancient, 10-foot-tall petrified man. The discovery quickly caused a public sensation, and some scientific experts were duped into thinking the so-called Cardiff Giant was historically significant. In fact, the giant was the brainchild of George Hull, a Binghamton, New York, cigar manufacturer and atheist, who was traveling for business in Iowa when he became embroiled in a debate with a minister about a passage from the Book of Genesis: “There were giants in the earth in those days.” Hull decided to devise the giant as a way to poke fun at people like the minister who interpreted the Bible literally; he also figured he could make some money in the process. In 1868, he hired sculptors in Chicago to produce a human figure from a massive slab of gypsum. The finished product was shipped to the Cardiff farm of a man Hull knew, William “Stub” Newell, and buried there. The following year, Hull directed Newell to hire workmen to dig a well in the location where giant had been buried. After the figure was unearthed, crowds flocked to see it and Newell charged admission. Some scientists speculated the find was a petrified ancient man, while others theorized it was a centuries-old statue made by Jesuit priests. Before long, however, esteemed paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh declared the giant “of very recent origin, and a most decided humbug,” and in 1870 the hoax was exposed when the sculptors came clean.
5. Calaveras Skull
In 1866, miners in Calaveras County, California, unearthed a human skull buried more than 100 feet deep in a mine, under volcanic deposits. The skull wound up with Harvard University professor and California state geologist Josiah Whitney, who announced it was evidence of the presence of humans in North America during the Pliocene age, some 5 to 2 million years ago. However, rumors soon began circulating around Calaveras County that local men had planted the skull as a practical joke. By some accounts, Whitney (now the namesake for the highest mountain in California and the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney) was specifically targeted by the locals, who resented him. In 1992, radiocarbon dating indicated the Calaveras Skull was probably about 1,000 years old.
6. Etruscan Warriors
Between 1915 and 1921, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired three larger-than-life-size Etruscan terracotta warriors thought to have been created in the 5th century B.C. The museum put the statues, allegedly retrieved from a recently discovered site in Italy, on display in 1933 when it opened a gallery featuring Etruscan art. Although the warriors’ authenticity was challenged by some experts, a number of others deemed the figures the real deal. However, in 1960 newly developed methods of scientific testing demonstrated the warriors, for which the Met had paid a hefty sum, were of modern origin. The following year, authorities learned that a group of Italian men had produced the forgeries decades earlier, based in part on photographs of tiny statues of Etruscan warriors exhibited at other museums.
7. History of the Bathtub
In 1917, a New York newspaper, the Evening Mail, published a story by esteemed journalist H.L. Mencken titled “A Neglected Anniversary,” in which he wrote that Americans had failed to commemorate the recent 75th anniversary of the invention of the modern bathtub. He provided a variety of supposed facts about the tub, stating it had been invented in Cincinnati and that Millard Fillmore was the first president to put one in the White House, in 1851. Mencken even reported that taking baths once was outlawed in certain parts of the U.S. because doctors considered them hazardous to people’s health. In reality, Mencken’s history of the bathtub was a hoax, intended to highlight the American public’s gullibility. However, in the years that followed, the article was reprinted in multiple newspapers and its fabricated facts showed up in reference books. Even after Mencken admitted in print in 1926 to the deception, a number of people continued to think his concocted history of the tub was true.
George Mason University's historical hoaxes
Students of George Mason University, as part of Professor T. Mills Kelly's course, "Lying about the past", have created two popular hoaxes: the "Edward Owens hoax," and the "Reddit serial killer hoax." It is a goal of the course to create a sweeping internet deception. As Prof. Kelly stated in the course's syllabus:
What's our goal? Buzz, of course! Viral! We want our hoax to be picked up and spread around the Internet like wildfire!
Separate Truth From Fiction with These 7 Accounts of Historical Hoaxes
Found in Northern California in 1936, Drake&rsquos Plate was an inscribed brass artifact believed to have been a treasure left behind by explorer Francis Drake. Followed by his crew from the vessel Golden Hind, they were stated to have abandoned the piece when they landed on the California coast, ready to claim the territory for England. The plate soon became a part of history, going so far as to be mentioned in school textbooks, as well as exhibited around the world.
This all came to an end, however, by 1977 when researchers doing scientific analysis on the plate learned the artifact was fake, and that it was actually produced in a more contemporary era.
It wasn&rsquot until 2003 that historians revealed the plate had come into being as a practical joke. Colleagues of Herbert Bolton, a UC Berkeley history professor, knew he would be fascinated by such a timeless piece, as he had long been a fan of Drake&rsquos history. So the pranksters created this âmasterpiece&rsquo and, before they could reveal their secret, Bolton had accepted the plate as authentic and acquired it for the library where he also worked.
6 Archaeological Forgeries That Could Have Changed History
When a museum acquires a large collection of donated antiquities it is not unusual for curators to find that at least a few of them are fake. While the forgery of artifacts is commonplace there are some forgeries that have become extremely famous, often because their authenticity would have had history-changing results. From crystal skulls claimed to be from the lost city of Atlantis (or aliens) to a runestone said to have been carved by Vikings and even a "missing link" hoax, here are six artifacts, widely believed to be forgeries, which could have changed history.
Donation of Constantine
A forged document, the Donation of Constantine has been copied and recopied since the eighth century. The original is lost but the documents that survive today claim that Roman emperor Constantine I gave Pope Sylvester I, and all of his successors, ultimate authority over lands controlled by the Roman Empire. "We-giving over to the oft-mentioned most blessed pontiff, our father Sylvester the universal pope, as well our palace, as has been said, as also the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy or of the western regions and relinquishing them, by our inviolable gift, to the power and sway of himself or the pontiffs his successors-do decree," the Latin document says (translation by Ernest F. Henderson).
When exactly the forgery was created is a matter of debate. But, during the Middle Ages, it was used as evidence that the pope held authority over the rulers of Europe, aiding the pope in political negotiations. In the 15th century Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla denounced the document, publishing a lengthy discourse on why it is a forgery.
Valla knew that he was running a risk in doing so. "How they will rage against me, and if opportunity is afforded how eagerly and how quickly they will drag me to punishment!" he wrote at the start of his book (translation by Christopher B. Coleman). However he found support from rulers in Europe who were tired of the pope using the document as a reason to interfere in their affairs.
The painting, drawn in the 1520s by an artist working in Raphael's workshop (not necessarily Raphael himself), is based on the forgery and depicts Constantine giving all his lands to Pope Sylvester. The event never took place. The painting is located in Vatican City. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.)
In 1912 Arthur Smith Woodward, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, and Charles Dawson, an amateur antiquarian, reported the discovery of a new species of early human at Piltdown in England. They believed the early human, which was named Eoanthropus dawsoni, could date back 1 million years.
At the time it was uncertain if early humans lived in Britain 1 million years ago and this discovery would have provided proof of it.
The findings drew skepticism, and in time, Eoanthropus dawsoni was revealed to be nothing more than a mix of orangutan and modern human bones. The discovery drew a great amount of publicity. The question of who did it and why is still uncertain a new investigation by Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum and colleagues is now underway to try to find answers.
Ironically modern-day archaeologists have found evidence of early humans in Britain. When it was that the first humans walked the British Isles is still uncertain, but it could well have been more than 1 million years ago.
This painting depicts a group of scientists peering over the bones. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.)
In 1898, a farmer named Olof Ohman uncovered a stone engraved with runes near the town of Kensington in Minnesota. Over the past century a number of scholars and amateurs have analyzed the stone, some believing the Kensington Runestone (shown here) was carved by a band of 14th-century Vikings on a journey into Minnesota. [Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Seamen]
Although the Vikings did establish colonies in Greenland and a short-lived 11th-century settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, this stone would be the only evidence that the Vikings ever traveled to Minnesota.
Today, most scholars believe the stone was created in the 19th century, noting that the runes on the stone do not match runes from the 14th century or other medieval time periods. In fact, they seem to resemble a type of runic code used by travelers in 19th-century Sweden, wrote Henrik Williams, a professor at Uppsala University, in an article published in 2012 in the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly. Williams cautions that care should be taken in determining who wrote it and what their motivations were. The intention of the stone's inscribers may not have been to deceive people into believing that the Vikings reached Minnesota, Williams wrote. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.)
Crystal Skulls, supposedly from Central America, began appearing on the antiquities market in the 19th century. Claims have been made that these skulls were made by the Olmec, Maya, Toltec and Aztec civilizations. Fringe theorists have contended that the skulls were made by people from the lost city of Atlantis or extraterrestrial aliens who landed on Earth in ancient times.
Not a single one of these crystal skulls has been found in archaeological excavations, and recent research indicates they were created by forgers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the forgers probably just wanted to make a buck, while others may have been interested in promoting various fringe theories, experts speculate. The 2008 movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" focused on the idea that these skulls were made by aliens.
This photo shows a crystal skull kept in the British Museum. It is not ancient but would have been made in the 19th or 20th century. It was made by humans, not an alien. (Photo by Rafał Chałgasiewicz, CC Attribution 3.0 Unported.)
Early Christian lead codices
In March 2011, a group of individuals (including some scholars) announced they had found several lead codices that could date to the first century A.D., making them the oldest Christian texts known to exist. (The full press release can be seen here.)
The claim garnered worldwide media headlines however within weeks scholars had determined the codices were forgeries. "I noticed there were a lot of Old Aramaic forms that were at least 2,500 years old. But they were mixed in with other forms that were younger, so I took a closer look at that and pulled out all the distinct forms that I could find," Aramaic translator Steve Caruso told Live Science. Caruso (shown here) found that the codices contain numerous inconsistencies and anachronisms, as well as signs that it was hastily copied. Scientists don't know who created the codices, or their motives for doing so. (Image courtesy of Steve Caruso.)
Gospel of Jesus's Wife
The discovery of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife was first announced by Karen King, a professor at Harvard University, in September 2012.
Written in Coptic (an Egyptian language), the fragment contains the translated line, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'" and also refers to a "Mary," possibly Mary Magdalene. If authentic, the papyrus suggests some people in ancient times believed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
Many scholars now believe that it is a fake.
The owner has insisted on remaining anonymous and claims to have purchased the papyrus from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in 1999 who, in turn, got it from Potsdam, in East Germany, in 1963. A Live Science investigation revealed that Laukamp was a co-owner of the now-defunct ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Florida. Laukamp died in Berlin in 2002 and has no children or living relatives. The man charged with representing his estate, Rene Ernest, says that Laukamp had no interest in antiquities, never collected artifacts and did not own this papyrus. Furthermore, Laukamp was living in West Berlin in 1963 and couldn't have crossed the Berlin Wall into Potsdam.
Tests show that the papyrus itself dates back around 1,200 years and that the ink could have been made in ancient times. Scholars studying the papyrus's background and language have noted a number of unusual features, which have led most of them to conclude that it is a forgery. However King and a few other researchers still believe the papyrus could be authentic, and new scientific tests are being prepared for publication. (Photo courtesy of Harvard Divinity School.)
Separate Truth From Fiction with These 7 Accounts of Historical Hoaxes
In the year 1869, workers were busy constructing a well on a farm in Cardiff, New York. While they were digging, they uncovered what appeared to be the ancient body of a 10-foot-tall, petrified man.
Naturally, the discovery spurred a massive reaction from the public, and scientific experts jumped on the bandwagon, claiming the &ldquoCardiff Giant&rdquo was historically significant. However, the giant was actually just the mischievous workings of George Hull, a cigar manufacturer and proud atheist. While Hull was traveling through Iowa for business, he got involved in a heated debate with a minister about a passage from the Book of Genesis that stated: &ldquoThere were giants in the earth in those days.&rdquo
Intent on making a point to people who interpret the Bible too seriously, Hull hired sculptors in Chicago to create a human replica using gypsum. Once the product was finished, he shipped it to his friend, William &ldquoStub&rdquo Newell, and buried it on his farm. Within a year, Newell would take Hull&rsquos advice to dig a well on his land and find the body.
Once the &ldquogiant&rdquo was resurrected, Newell&rsquos farm was a sensation, and he began charging admission to see it. The discovery was short-lived, however, when Othniel Charles Marsh, a paleontologist, declared the giant as a hoax. By 1870, the sculptors also confessed to the prank, ending the conspiracy of the Cardiff Giant.
10 of the Biggest Lies in History
According to myth, a young George Washington confessed to cutting down a cherry tree by proclaiming, "I cannot tell a lie." The story is testament to how much respect Americans have for their cherished first president and honesty in general. Unfortunately, in the annals of history it seems there are 10 dishonest scoundrels for every honorable hero like Washington.
Supposedly, the truth can set you free. But for many, deceit holds the key to money, fame, revenge or power, and these prove all too tempting. In history, this has often resulted in elaborate hoaxes, perjuries, and forgeries that had enormous ripple effects.
In the following pages, we'll go over some of the most colossal and significant lies in history. Although such a list can't be comprehensive, we sought to include a variety of lies that influenced politics, science and even art. As a result of these, lives were lost, life-savings destroyed, legitimate research hampered and -- most of all -- faith in our fellow man shattered.
Without further ado, let's delve into one of the oldest and most successful lies on record.
If all is fair in love and war, this might be the most forgivable of the big lies. When the Trojan Paris absconded with Helen, wife of the Spartan king, war exploded. It had been raging for 10 long years when the Trojans believed they had finally overcome the Greeks. Little did they know, the Greeks had another trick up their sleeves.
In a stroke of genius, the Greeks built an enormous wooden horse with a hollow belly in which men could hide. After the Greeks convinced their foes that this structure was a peace offering, the Trojans happily accepted it and brought the horse within their fortified city. That night, as the Trojans slept, Greeks hidden inside snuck out the trap door. Then, they proceeded to slaughter and decisively defeat the Trojans.
This was unquestionably one of the biggest and most successful tricks known to history -- that is, if it's true. Homer alludes to the occurrence in "The Iliad," and Virgil extrapolates the story in "The Aeneid." Evidence suggests that Troy itself existed, giving some validity to Homer's tales, and scholars have long been investigating how historically accurate these details are. One theory behind the Trojan horse comes from historian Michael Wood, who proposes that it was merely a battering ram in the shape of a horse that infiltrated the city [source: Haughton].
In any case, the story has won a permanent place in the Western imagination as a warning to beware of enemies bearing gifts.
9. Han van Meegeren's Vermeer Forgeries
This lie resulted from a classic case of wanting to please the critics. Han van Meegeren was an artist who felt underappreciated and thought he could trick art experts into admitting his genius.
In the early 20th century, scholars were squabbling about whether the great Vermeer had painted a series of works depicting biblical scenes. Van Meegeren pounced on this opportunity and set to work carefully forging one such disputed work, "The Disciples at Emmaus." With tireless attention to detail, he faked the cracks and aged hardness of a centuries-old painting. He intentionally played on the confirmation bias of critics who wanted to believe that Vermeer painted these scenes. It worked: Experts hailed the painting as authentic, and van Meegeren made out like a bandit producing and selling more fake Vermeers. Greed apparently overcame his desire for praise, as he decided not to out himself.
However, van Meegeren, who was working in the 1930s and '40s, made one major mistake. He sold a painting to a prominent member of the Nazi party in Germany. After the war, Allies considered him a conspirator for selling a "national treasure" to the enemy [source: Wilson]. In a curious change of events, van Meegeren had to paint for his freedom. In order to help prove that the painting was no national treasure, he forged another in the presence of authorities.
He escaped with a light sentence of one year in prison, but van Meegeren died of a heart attack two months after his trial.
8. Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme
When Bernie Madoff admitted that his investment firm was "just one big lie," it was an understatement [source: Esposito]. In 2008, he confessed to having conned about $50 billion from investors who trusted him with their savings. Madoff used the formula of a Ponzi scheme to keep up the fraud for more than a decade.
This classic lie is named after the notorious Charles Ponzi, who used the ploy in the early 20th century. It works like this: A schemer promises investors great returns, but instead of investing the money, he keeps some for himself and uses the funds from new investments to pay off earlier investors.
Madoff may not have invented this lie, but he took it to new lengths. For one, he made a record amount of money from the scheme. But he was also able to keep it going much longer than most Ponzi schemers. Usually, the scam falls apart quickly because it requires the schemer to constantly find more and more investors. It was also an especially shocking lie because Madoff, as a former chairman of NASDAQ, had been an accomplished and respected expert in the financial field. Compare this to Chares Ponzi, who was a petty ex-con by the time he launched his scheme.
7. Anna Anderson, Alias Anastasia
With the onslaught of the Russian Revolution, the existence of a royal family was intolerable to the Bolsheviks. In 1918, they massacred the royal Romanov family -- Czar Nicholas II, his wife, son and four daughters -- to ensure that no legitimate heir could later resurface and rally the public for support.
Soon, rumors floated around that certain members of the royal family had escaped and survived. As one might expect, claimants came out of the woodwork. "Anna Anderson" was the most famous. In 1920, Anderson was admitted to a hospital after attempting suicide and confessed that she was Princess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the royal family. She stood out from other claimants because she held a certain resemblance to and surprising knowledge of the Russian family and life at court.
Although a few relatives and acquaintances who'd known Anastasia believed Anderson, most didn't. By 1927, an alleged former roommate of Anderson claimed that her name was Franziska Schanzkowska, not Anna and certainly not Anastasia [source: Aron]. This didn't stop Anderson from indulging in celebrity and attempting to cash in on a royal inheritance. She ultimately lost her case in the legal proceedings that dragged on for decades, but she stuck to her story until her death in 1984. Years later, upon the discovery of what proved to be the remains of the royal family, DNA tests confirmed her to be a fake. In 2009, experts were able to finally confirm that all remains have been found and that no family member escaped execution in 1918 [source: CNN].
6. Titus Oates and the Plot to Kill Charles II
By the time he fabricated his notorious plot, Titus Oates already had a history of deception and general knavery. He'd been expelled from some of England's finest schools as well as the navy. Oates was even convicted of perjury and escaped imprisonment. But his biggest lie was still ahead of him.
Raised Protestant by an Anabaptist preacher, Oates entered Cambridge as a young man to study for Anglican orders. After misconduct got him dismissed from his Anglican post, he started associating with Catholic circles and feigned conversion [source: Butler]. With the encouragement of fellow anti-Catholic Israel Tonge, Oates infiltrated enemy territory by entering a Catholic seminary. In fact, he entered two seminaries -- both of which expelled him. But it hardly mattered. By this time, he had gathered enough inside information and names to wreak enormous havoc.
In 1678, Oates concocted and pretended to uncover a plot in which the Jesuits were planning to murder King Charles II. The idea was that they wanted to replace Charles with his Catholic brother, James. What ensued was a three-year panic that fueled anti-Catholic sentiment and resulted in the executions of about 35 people [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].
After Charles died in 1685, James became king and had Oates tried for perjury. Oates was convicted, pilloried and imprisoned. He only spent a few years in jail, however, as the Glorious Revolution swept through England in 1688. Without James in power, Oates got off with a pardon and a pension.
After Charles Darwin published his revolutionary "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, scientists scrambled to find fossil evidence of extinct human ancestors. They sought these so-called "missing links" to fill in the gaps on the timeline of human evolution. When archaeologist Charles Dawson unearthed what he thought was a missing link in 1910, what he really found was one of the biggest hoaxes in history.
The discovery was the Piltdown man, pieces of a skull and jaw with molars located in the Piltdown quarry in Sussex, England. Dawson brought his discovery to prominent paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, who touted its authenticity to his dying day.
Although the discovery gained world renown, the lie behind Piltdown man slowly and steadily unraveled. In the ensuing decades, other major discoveries suggested Piltdown man didn't fit in the story of human evolution. By the 1950s, tests revealed that the skull was only 600 years old and the jaw came from an orangutan. Some knowledgeable person apparently manipulated these pieces, including filing down and staining the teeth.
The scientific world had been duped. So who was behind the fraud? Many suspects have surfaced, including Dawson himself. Today, most signs point to Martin A. C. Hinton, a museum volunteer at the time of the discovery. A trunk bearing his initials contained bones that were stained in exactly the same way the Piltdown fossils were. Perhaps he was out to embarrass his boss, Arthur Smith Woodward, who refused to give him a weekly salary.
Like the conspiracy invented by Titus Oates, this scandal was built on a lie that dramatically affected national politics and was perpetuated for years by hatred. Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French Army in the late 19th century when he was accused of a treasonous crime: selling military secrets to Germany.
After his highly publicized trial, authorities sentenced him to life imprisonment on Devils Island, and anti-Semitic groups used him as an example of unpatriotic Jews. However, suspicions arose that the incriminating letters were in fact forged and that a Maj. Esterhazy was the real culprit. When French authorities suppressed these accusations, the novelist Emile Zola stepped up to accuse the army of a vast cover-up.
The scandal exploded into a fight between so-called Dreyfusards, who wanted to see the case reopened, and anti-Dreyfusards, who didn't. On both sides, the debate became less about Dreyfus' innocence and more about the principle. During the dramatic 12-year controversy, many violent anti-Semitic riots broke out and political allegiances shifted as Dreyfusards called for reform.
After Maj. Hubert Joseph Henry admitted to forging key documents and committed suicide, a newly elected Cabinet finally reopened the case. The court found Dreyfus guilty again however, he soon received a pardon from the president. A few years later, a civilian court of appeals found Dreyfus innocent, and he went on to have a distinguished army career and fought with honor in World War I. Meanwhile, the scandal had changed the face of politics in France.
In January 1998, citizen journalist Matt Drudge reported a sensational story that turned out to be true. The president of the United States, Bill Clinton, had an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. As suspicions mounted, Clinton publicly denied the allegations. As if this lie weren't big enough, it turned out that Clinton had lied under oath about the affair as well -- which was perjury and grounds for impeachment.
Here's how the truth came out. Paula Jones was an Arkansas state employee when then-governor Clinton allegedly propositioned her. She later sued him for sexual harassment. In an effort to prove that Clinton had a pattern of such behavior, lawyers set out to expose his sexual affairs. They found Linda Tripp, a former White House secretary and confidant of Lewinsky. Tripp recorded telephone conversations in which Lewinsky talked of her affair with Clinton. Lawyers then probed Clinton with specific questions and cornered him into denying the affair under oath.
During the highly publicized scandal, prosecutor Kenneth Starr subpoenaed Clinton, who finally admitted to the relationship. Based on Starr's report, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton for not only perjury but obstruction of justice. Despite the scandal, Clinton maintained relatively high approval ratings from the American public, and the Senate acquitted him of the charges. However, in the eyes of many Americans, his legacy remained tarnished.
Two decades before the Clinton scandal, another U.S. president was caught in a web of lies, and the controversy had devastating effects on the country as a whole.
In the summer before President Richard Nixon's successful re-election to a second term, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, housed in the Watergate Hotel. As details emerged over the next year, it became clear that officials close to Nixon gave the orders to the burglars, perhaps to plant wiretaps on the phones there. The question soon became about whether Nixon knew of, covered up or even ordered the break-in.
In response to mounting suspicions, Nixon denied allegations that he knew anything. In front of 400 Associated Press editors, famously proclaimed, "I am not a crook." He was talking about whether he had ever profited from public service, but that one quote came to represent his entire political career.
It was a lie that came back to haunt him. When it was revealed that private White House conversations about the matter were recorded, the investigative committee subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon's refusal on the basis of "executive privilege" brought the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that he had to relinquish the tapes.
The tapes were exactly the smoking gun needed to implicate Nixon in the cover-up of the scandal. They revealed that he obviously knew more about the matter than he claimed. Upon the initiation of impeachment proceedings, Nixon gave up and resigned from office. The scandal left a lasting scar on the American political scene and helped usher Washington outsider Jimmy Carter into the presidency a few years later.
1. The Big Lie: Nazi Propaganda
By the time Nazism arose in Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was nothing new -- not by a long shot. The Jewish people had suffered a long history of prejudice and persecution. And although Nazis perpetuated centuries-old lies, this time those lies would have their most devastating effects. Like never before, anti-Semitism was manifested in a sweeping national policy known as "the Final Solution," which sought to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth.
To accomplish this, Adolf Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched a massive campaign to convince the German people that the Jews were their enemies. Having taken over the press, they spread lies blaming Jews for all of Germany's problems, including the loss of World War I. One outrageous lie dating back to the Middle Ages claimed that Jews engaged in the ritual killings of Christian children and used their blood in the unleavened bread eaten at Passover [source: Landau].
Using Jews as the scapegoat, Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what they called "the big lie." This theory states that no matter how big the lie is (or more precisely, because it's so big), people will believe it if you repeat it enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies [source: Hoffer]. Because a big lie is so unlikely, people will come to accept it.
This theory helps us understand so many of the lies throughout history. Although we've barely scratched the surface of all those lies that deserve (dis)honorable mentions, you can satiate your historical curiosity by browsing the lists on the next page.
5 Calaveras Skull
Remember that time you needed to make a fast profit and, for reasons that made perfect sense at the time (say, you were staring too hard at the pile of ribs you ordered while getting wasted on tequila), your chosen method of monetary advancement was to create a straight-up archaeological forgery? Don't be ashamed, man -- we've all been there. The point is that whatever hoaxing method you chose, chances are skulls weren't even on the list. They're not exactly easy to fake -- in the time it takes to gain the necessary skill set to manufacture a convincing one, you can sew herring tails on dozens of monkey carcasses and P.T. Barnum your way into drunken glory, or at least a number of interesting watch lists.
Still, there are plenty of people who are fully prepared to give forgin' face bones a go, judging by how often they pop up in the annals of accurate-ish archaeology. Some of these fakes, like crystal skulls and the Piltdown Man, have been decent enough to fool people for a while.
6 John Keeley's Mysterious Machine
In 1872, one John Keeley claimed to have built a machine in Philadelphia that could generate incredible amounts of energy from a comparably infinitesimal amount of water. With only one gallon of water as fuel, Keeley boasted that he could propel a steamship from New York to Liverpool. With this exciting claim, he managed to attract enough investors to set up his own electric company and work on his miraculous device.
It's pretty obvious from the fact that we're still driving gas-guzzling SUVs that Keeley's motor didn't really work. What's amazing is that nobody found out it didn't work until he'd been profiting from it for 24 years.
Why No One Should Have Bought It:
Keeley somehow managed to hide his fraud by keeping everyone confused about what exactly his machine did and how it worked, throwing around terms like "sympathetic equilibrium," "etheric disintegration" and "quadruple negative harmonics." All the while, he was conducting demonstrations of his device, pouring water into it and showing how it could bend iron bars like Superman.
Of course, he never managed to turn his machine into a marketable product, much to the frustration of his investors, and Keeley ultimately died before he could bring his life's work to fruition. Naturally, this was a golden opportunity for scientists to study Keeley's machine and find out how it actually worked.
The answer? It was powered by a generator that Keeley was hiding in his basement, attached to the machine by a system of belts and pulleys that he was hiding behind a false wall. You have to give him credit for gambling on nobody guessing the most obvious explanation for two decades.
Whew, it's a good thing the world has learned its lesson about this sort of thing! And there's no way this next entry is going to prove that statement laughably wrong!
Related: 5 Horrifying Ways the Universe Has Repaid Good Deeds
4 Vrain Lucas
For another take on forgery, let us examine the case of Vrain Lucas, perhaps the most ambitious forger in history. In 1851 Vrain met Michel Chasles, a French mathematician, Chasles was intrigued when shown letters Vrain claimed he had found. He claimed they were written by such noteworthy names as Joan of Arc and Charlemagne. When Chasles offered to buy the documents, the real forgery began. Vrain wrote letters from Julius Caesar, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Mary Magdalene, Alexander the Great and more. The letters shared one thing that kept Chasles buying, they all spoke highly of France. Perhaps being the patriot that he was kept him from realizing some obvious errors, first all the letters were written in French and all were on the same watermarked paper, even ones supposedly written before paper was invented. Thousands of letters and eighteen years later Chasles finally caught on and Vrain was sentenced to 2 years in jail. His greatest forgery would go undelivered, a letter from Jesus, written in French, of course. 
Four horrifying medical procedures we’re glad history forgot
In 1969, Vincent Gigante began walking the streets of New York in a bathrobe, urinating on himself and babbling incoherently, behavior that earned him the nickname “The Oddfather.” Turns out, it was just an act to avoid conviction for murder and other crimes attributed to his mafia crime family.
It worked for quite a while. While some suspected Gigante of faking it, others speculated that the former boxer had taken too many hits to the head. Psychiatrists diagnosed him with a number of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. As a result, he avoided a bribery charge in 1973. In 1990, when he was indicted for racketeering, his acting job held off the trial for seven years while the court attempted to determine his mental state.
Even after his 1997 conviction and imprisonment, Gigante continued his fakery. By mumbling to himself and stomping on imaginary cockroaches in his cell, among other antics, he managed to avoid confessing to crimes or testifying against others. Gigante finally admitted to the pretense in 2003, after prosecutors presented a taped conversation in which he talked about his phony insanity bit.
William Hogarth/Wikimedia Commons
1 Naked Came The Stranger
There is no doubt that the American literary scene was crap in the 1960s. Numerous novels were being published that were all about sex, drugs, and more sex. It seemed as though no one was capable of thinking outside of their genital area.
Journalist Mike McGrady saw the problems rather clearly and decided to hoax the publishing industry. He contacted 25 other writers in 1966, all men, and asked them to take part in writing a smutty novel. They were to each write a chapter in the book and were warned that, &ldquoGood writing will be blue penciled into oblivion and there will be an unremitting emphasis on sex.&rdquo
Each writer had no clue what the other writer was doing, but eventually all the chapters were turned in, and McGrady cobbled the book together. He got his sister-in-law to pose as the book&rsquos author, and the manuscript was submitted to publishers under the name of Penelope Ashe.
Amazingly enough, the book, Naked Came The Stranger, got a $135,000 US book contract and has since become a cult classic as one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled off on the publishing industry. 
Elizabeth, a former Pennsylvania native, recently moved to the beautiful state of Massachusetts where she is currently involved in researching early American history. She writes and travels in her spare time.