How Unsolved History Works

On the Case

On a previous episode, the "Unsolved History" crew investigated the infamous Red Baron.
On a previous episode, the "Unsolved History" crew investigated the infamous Red Baron.
CONFIRM CREDIT BEFORE USING THIS IMAGE Photo courtesy The Discovery Channel

Once the producers arrive at a suitable subject for each episode, they consult history experts to get a full understanding of the relevant facts and theories. Then they put together a list of lingering questions and, given the available evidence, figure out how to arrive at potential answers.

The show is largely driven by high-tech investigation tools. To piece together the true story of the Boston Massacre, for example, the researchers figured out the exact dimensions of the old State House at the scene of the event with the aid of laser measuring devices. By matching this data with a 1770 diagram by Paul Revere, they were able to put together a model of the massacre, including the positions of the soldiers and four of the five victims.

A high-powered laser system also figures prominently in the Red Baron episode. The researchers positioned the laser on a tripod at the exact spot in Vaux-Sur-Somme, France, where machine gunners finally took down the flying ace. Next, they put a single-engine plane in the air, following the Baron's exact route, and gauged the difficulty of hitting the moving target with the laser beam.

Additionally, the crew worked with the Canadian Air Force to build a special chamber recreating the cold, low-oxygen conditions of a World War I era fighter plane flying at 20,000 feet. In these conditions, a highly trained fighter pilot in top physical shape experienced hypoxia, a shortage of oxygen to the brain, which caused total disorientation. The recreation clearly demonstrated the immense difficulty of even the simplest maneuvers in a World War I plane, let alone the dogfight acrobatics of the Red Baron and other fighter pilots of the era.

The USS Maine, destroyed in 1898 The USS Maine, destroyed in 1898
The USS Maine, destroyed in 1898
Photo courtesy The Discovery Channel

Ballistic recreations also figure prominently in the series. For the episode investigating the destruction of the USS Maine, the crew built an exact replica of part of the ship and recreated the 1898 explosion that sank the original. For the "Pickett's Charge" episode, they experimented with live ammo to figure out how well a wooden fence on the battlefield would have blocked the Confederate attack.

In the O.K. Corral investigation, the team calculated the exact range of a vintage 10-gauge shotgun in order to pinpoint the positions of many of the gunfighters. Additionally, they used a state-of-the-art police training simulator to shed light on the psychological experience of a gunfight, as well as a "life shirt" monitoring vest to estimate the physical stress (increased heart-rate and respiration) of a gunfighter under fire. To fully understand what happened that day, they reconstructed the gunfight on a Wild West movie set and also created a detailed computer map of the town. Finally, police investigators supplemented all this high-tech data with good old-fashioned detective work -- a step-by-step walk-through of the shoot-out, culled from recorded eyewitness testimony.

In future episodes, the show's creators plan to bring in a wide variety of different technologies, including fingerprinting, DNA evidence and computer modeling -- whatever is most suited to the case at hand. If you love science or history, or you just love a good mystery, this is definitely a show to mark on your calendar.

For more information about "Unsolved History" and related topics, check out the links below.

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