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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

Pilâtre de Rozier And The World's First Aviation Accident  

In 1783, French professor Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier created history by becoming the first man to fly in a balloon untethered. Two years later, he made history yet again by becoming the first person to die in an air crash. Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was born in Metz, a city in northeastern France, to a tavern keeper and his wife. On the recommendation of one Viollet, a friend of his father, Rozier was enrolled at the Royal College of Saint Louis, a school run by the Benedictines, ...

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2021-05-12 16:22:00

How Ancient Romans Kept Time  

That days have 24 hours is a long-established convention, which is also related to the rotational motion of the Earth. Pliny the Elder expressed it as a fact that left no room for doubt: The world thus formed is not at rest, but rotates eternally with indescribable speed, each revolution occupying the space of 24 hours: sunrise and sunset leave no room for doubt. If the sound of this vast, incessantly revolving mass is of enormous volume and therefore beyond the capacity of our ears to perce

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2021-05-11 11:57:00

Gnomonic Blocks, or Multi-faceted Sundials  

In the park of the Abbey of Epau, in Yvre-l'Evêque in France, you can admire a curious monument in the shape of an obelisk. Built by the Benedictine monk Bedos de Celles between 1631 and 1640, the sculpture consists of four sides, perfectly symmetrical, and oriented along the cardinal directions, with several curious protrusions and shapes. Each of these shapes has a purpose: they are sundials, a total of thirty in all. Sundial of the Groirie in Yvre-l'Evêque. Photo: Selbymay/Wiki...

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2021-05-10 23:21:00

The Great Seal Bug: How The Soviets Spied The US For 7 Years Via a Children's Gift  

In 1946, a group of Soviet school children from the Young Pioneer organization presented to the American ambassador to the Soviet Union, William Harriman, a carved wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States, as a token of appreciation, amity, and solidarity for their alliance in the Second World War, and as promise of continuance of this friendship. The seemingly harmless gift was hung in the study of the ambassador's Moscow residence, where it stayed for seven years until it was

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2021-05-07 13:01:00

Fonthill Abbey And Its Eccentric Creators  

At Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire, England, where now stands a small four-story tower with an attached two-story wing, there once stood one of the most extraordinary houses ever built. The Fonthill Abbey was a house built at a fantastic scale. The central tower rose to a dizzying height of 280 feet, the tallest ever put on a private house. The front doors were 30 feet high and windows were taller still at 50 feet. The curtains that hung from the four arches in the central room were 80 feet long.

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2021-05-05 11:19:00

Le Jamais Contente: The First Car To Go 100kmph  

Imagine a metal cylinder less than 4 meters long, on four wheels, with the driver mounted on top like one rides a horse. No seat belts, no roll cage, or any modern safety measures, hurtling down the road at 100 kmph. That's Le Jamais Contente, literally "The Never Satisfied"—an electric vehicle and the world's first road vehicle to go over 100 kilometers per hour. The feat was accomplished by the fearless Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy. The date: April 29, 1899. Camille Jenatzy in J...

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2021-05-04 15:07:00

The Duck-less Statue of Sir Nigel Gresley  

There is a bronze statue of British railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley towering over passengers as they pass through London King's Cross railway station. Sir Gresley was the engineer behind the Flying Scotsman, the first steam locomotive to break the 100 mph barrier and the famous Mallard, that still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world. Sir Nigel Gresley might not be as admired as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but his contribution to the development of the steam l

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2021-05-03 16:48:00

Women And Children Last: The Infamous Sinking of La Bourgogne  

The sinking of the French ocean liner SS La Bourgogne on the morning of 4 July 1898 was one of the most disgraceful of disasters in maritime history due to the cowardly and criminal behavior of the crew. Instead of the heroic sacrifice that has often been the shining moment in such a terrible tragedy, the crew of the steamer "fought like demons for the few lifeboats and rafts", drawing out their knives and threatening passengers with it. Out went for a toss "Women and children first!", f...

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2021-04-30 10:12:00

High Arctic Relocation: When The Canadian Govt Forcibly Relocated Inuit to Claim Sovereignty in The High Arctic  

In the summer of 1953, the Canadian government uprooted seven Inuit families from their homes in Northern Quebec, and dropped them high in the arctic, some 2,000 km away, with the promise of better living and hunting opportunities, and with the assurance that if things didn't work out, they could return home after two years. But promises were broken. For decades, the relocated Inuit families suffered immense hardship, fighting extreme cold, hunger and sickness, yet unable to escape because the...

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2021-04-28 21:18:00

Nazi Amphitheaters  

Near the summit of a large wooded hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, stands an open-air theater called a Thingstätte. Built during the Nazi rule for performances, public meetings and propaganda presentation, the Heidelberg Thingstätte was Hitler's attempt to emulate the theatrical culture of the ancient Greeks, a civilization that the Nazis looked up to, by building amphitheaters across the Third Reich. About 400 were planned, but only about 40 were built...

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2021-04-27 20:27:00

The World's Loudest Plane Was So Loud It Caused Seizures  

The aviation industry's transition from propellers to jet engines saw the emergence of a new kind of engine called the turboprop. A turboprop engine is a turbine engine but instead of generating thrust from exhaust, the engine drives a propeller. In 1955, the US Air Force developed an experimental aircraft called the XF-84H, manufactured by Republic Aviation. The purpose of the XF-84H was to determine whether it was possible for a fighter airplane to ditch the catapult and takeoff from a car...

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2021-04-23 16:02:00

Istanbul's Cast Iron Church  

Although it looks like stone, the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church with its richly ornamented façade on the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Turkey, is made of iron. It was cast in Vienna, floated down the Danube and across the Black Sea on barges, and bolted together here in Istanbul in 1871. It is possibly the largest prefabricated cast iron structure in the world. The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church in Istanbul is the largest prefabricated cast iron structure in the world. Photo: Daphnusia...

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2021-04-21 21:39:00

Sarah Jacob: The Girl Who Starved to Death to Prove Herself  

There have been quite a few cases where people claimed to have survived without food. These people call themselves "breatharians" for they purportedly live on air and light alone. Breatharianism is a hoax, and it is impossible to believe in anything otherwise. The human body needs nourishment to survive, and many practitioners of breatharianism secretly eat food. Others have died attempting to follow a food-free lifestyle. One of the most fascinating and tragic of these cases date back to th...

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2021-04-19 23:04:00

Russia's Hand-Tossed Satellites  

On November 3, 1997, cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and Anatoly Solovyov were spacewalking outside the Mir space station to remove an old solar panel that was to be replaced three days later during another outing. The solar panel was retracted on command, removed from the Kvant module, and stowed on the exterior of the core module. Before returning inside, Vinogradov took hold of a small satellite named Sputnik 40 and waited until the station had oriented itself to give a clear view of the satellite

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2021-04-16 23:30:00

Anatomical Theaters  

Since ancient times, the primary way to teach and learn anatomy have been to dissect human cadavers. Generations of surgeons have learned and mastered the craft, first by watching live surgeries, and then practicing specific skills such as suturing on animals. The standard practice in medical schools is to stand some feet away from the operating table, while making sure not to get in the way of the surgeons, the assistants and the instruments. Some colleges and institutions have special observat

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2021-04-14 15:16:00

Elephant of The Bastille  

Between 1814 and 1846, there stood a colossal plaster elephant in the heart of Paris, at the site of the former Bastille prison. For much of this time it presented a sorry spectacle. One tusk had fallen off, and the other was reduced to a powdery stump. Its body was black from rain and soot, and large cavities had opened in its torso where rodents, stray cats and vagrants took shelter. The plinth was overgrown by dandelions and thistles. This was not the sight Napoleon Bonaparte had intended w...

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2021-04-12 15:22:00

Why The Soviet Union Lied About Yuri Gagarin's Historic Space Flight  

Exactly sixty years ago, on April 12, 1961, Vostok 1 took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome taking along cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the first ever human spaceflight. The flight's mission was to reach the upper atmosphere, make one orbit around the earth, then come back to earth for a safe landing. Despite an initial delay due to the hatch not closing properly, the launch countdown proceeded as planned and Gagarin was able to take off on a craft that few trusted. Half of all Soviet launches till dat...

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2021-04-08 15:58:00

The Chapati Movement of 1857  

The year was 1857. A storm was brewing in British-occupied India. There was growing resentment among the Indians against the rule of the East India Company, and the social reforms the British were trying to push onto the indigenous people. The taxes angered them, the loss of lands incensed them. The sepoys or Indian soldiers were growing restless over the social divide among their ranks on the basis of caste. There was also concern that the Company was trying to impose Christianity on the popula

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2021-04-07 11:36:00

King's Holly: The 43,600 Year Old Plant  

Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's lomatia or King's Holly, is an unusual plant. It bears flowers, yet produces neither fruit nor seeds. The King's holly propagates by dropping a branch, and letting the fallen branch take root and grow into a new plant. Unsurprisingly, all existing members of Lomatia tasmanica, numbering just 300 plants, are found within a narrow corridor of land just over one kilometer in length. Because the reproduction is vegetative, all the plants in this co...

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2021-04-06 13:15:00

Zwentendorf, The Nuclear Power Plant That Was Never Turned On  

The Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, located on the bank of the Danube River, about 20 miles northwest of Vienna, is Austria's only nuclear power plant. It was completed in 1978, loaded with fuel, and ready to start up. But then, the country decided that it didn't trust nuclear energy anymore, and the project was mothballed. It is the only completely finished nuclear reactor that never went online. Photo: Isaak/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-04-02 11:34:00

How Rubber Ducks Are Helping Scientists Chart The Oceans  

In early January 1992, the container ship Evergreen Ever Laurel departed Hong Kong for Washington. Among the millions of things that Ever Laurel was carrying was a consignment of plastic children's bath toys manufactured in China for the Japanese toy company The First Years Inc. Four days later, on 10 January 1992, the freighter ran into a storm in the North Pacific. Hurricane-force winds and waves thirty-six feet tall rocked the 28,900-ton ship from side to side. Under the strain of the pitch...

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2021-04-01 11:12:00

The Remote Swedish Town That Drives The Automobile Industry  

Every car goes through a battery of tests before they are rolled out into the market. Some of these tests include driving in extreme conditions such as in ice and freezing temperatures. Arjeplog, an icy outpost located about 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, is where many European and Asian automobile manufacturers conduct their tests. The region has lots of lakes, whose frozen surface provides an idea test bed for automakers and suppliers to see how their cars react to the brutal w

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2021-03-30 16:01:00

Hunley: The Submarine That Wouldn't Come Up  

On 17 February 1864, the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley attacked and sank a 1,240-ton United States Navy ship, the USS Housatonic, and entered history books as the first combat submarine to sink a warship. Shortly after, the Hunley itself sank and disappeared from existence. But it wasn't the first time the submarine had sunk. 1864 painting of H. L. Hunley by Conrad Wise Chapman. Photo: Wikimedia Commons © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-03-26 20:23:00

Copenhagen's Potato Row  

In the heart of Copenhagen, not far from the harbor, are a series of closely laid streets with houses smashed together like rows of potato plants in a field. Officially it is the Farimagsgade district, but the Danes call it Kartoffelrækkerne, literally "potato row". The term has another origin: this land, before it became an estate, was an actual potato field. The potato rows were built in the 1870s and 1880s by the Workers' Building Association to provide cheap and hygienic accommoda...

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2021-03-26 11:18:00

The Mercy Dogs of World War 1  

Dogs have accompanied men to war since ancient times, as scouts, sentries, trackers and messengers. But the most unique role they ever played was that of the "mercy dog" in World War 1, seeking out wounded soldiers in no man's land where medics can't reach them, comforting the mortally wounded and offering companionship and respite to those dying for their country. French medical dog tracks down a wounded man. Postcard, 1914. Photo: Frankfurter Allgemeine © Amusing Planet, 2021...

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2021-03-23 15:31:00

DC-X: The Rocket That Beat SpaceX by 20 Years  

Twenty years before modern spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin began designing rockets that launch and land vertically, the DC-X had already done it. Manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, the DC-X, short for Delta Clipper Experimental, was a single stage reusable rocket that was conceived to demonstrate the vertical takeoff and vertical land capability that was previously only possible in the realms of science fiction. Indeed, the DC-X looked something straight from the future. An e

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2021-03-19 12:30:00

Maliwawa Figures: A Rock Art Style Like No Other  

Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, has a remarkable range and number of rock art sites, rivalling that of Europe, southern Africa and various parts of Asia. Several thousand sites have been documented and each year new discoveries are made by various research teams working closely with local Aboriginal communities. Today, in the journal Australian Archaeology, we and colleagues introduce an important previously undescribed rock art style. Consisting of large human figures and animals, the

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2021-03-18 18:45:00

The Disease That Turns Muscles Into Bones  

Behind a glass enclosure at the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians in Philadelphia is a terrifying exhibit—two human skeletons. Their bones appear to have melted and fused together. One of the skeletons has its back covered by sheets of bone, locking the spine to the skull, and the skull to the jaw. Additional ribbons of bone join the spine to the limbs, and immobilize the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and jaw. The upper arms are welded to the ribcage, and the pelvis is fused to the ...

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2021-03-17 15:34:00

Guarapari's Radioactive Beaches  

About 50 km south of Vitória, the state capital of Espírito Santo, in southeastern Brazil, lies the coastal town of Guarapari, a popular tourist destination. Know for its sandy white beaches, Guarapari is a popular holiday escape for holiday makers from the landlocked Minas Gerais state as well as people from Vitória and Vila Velha. While Brazil has a long coastline and hundreds of miles of beaches, Guarapari is one of very few places where the sand is naturally radioactive. Praia dos Padr...

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2021-03-16 21:09:00

Heroic War Pigeons  

World War One, and to some extent, the Second World War, was a strange blend of archaic and modern technology. The First World War, in particular, saw many technological innovations such as machine guns, grenades, submarines, warplanes and tanks, and despite the advances in radio and communications technology, many field commanders preferred to use carrier pigeons to convey important messages. Radio sets were too heavy to carry into battle, and field telephone lines snapped easily. With a homing

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2021-03-15 20:11:00

When California Was Thought To Be An Island  

If California were a country its economy would be the fifth largest in the world. Yet the tech boom is not the starkest way California has ever stood apart from its neighbours. That would surely be the maps depicting it as an island, entire of itself. Map of California as an island, by Joan Vinckeboons, ca. 1650 The intriguing story of how the maps came to be deserves a little mapping itself. In the 1530s Spanish explorers led by Hernan Cortes encountered the strip of land we now know as ...

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2021-03-12 12:26:00

How a Failed Dam Legalized Marrying The Dead  

Sitting low among the hills, just north of the city of Frejus, in southern France, not far from the French Riviera coast, are the broken remains of the Malpasset Dam. This river barrier, completed in 1954, was built to regulate the flow of the Reyran River, and store water for agriculture and domestic use. The Reyran River is very irregular. It remains completely dry for most of the year including the hot summer months, but in winter and spring, this 27-km-long river becomes a raging torrent. A

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2021-03-10 13:01:00

The Octagon Houses of Orson Fowler  

Orson Fowler wanted to design the best house, but he detested the traditional boxy shapes. Too many right angles, he thought. In his mind, the circle was the most natural shape, but since a circular house was difficult to construct out of wood, he made a compromise—the octagon. Fowler started a craze for eight-sided houses, that lasted throughout the second half of the 19th century, with the publication of his book, The Octagon House: A Home for All, in 1848. "The octagon form is more beaut...

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2021-03-09 15:11:00

Conrad Haas: The 16th Century Rocket Pioneer  

In 1961, a professor at the University of Bucharest, made a surprising discovery in the archives of the city of Sibiu, in Romania. It was a manuscript around 450 pages long filled with drawings and technical data on artillery, ballistics and detailed descriptions of multistage rockets. What's fascinating about the discovery was that the documents were created in the mid-16th century—four hundred years before the first practical multi-stage rocket took flight from the White Sands Proving Grou...

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2021-03-05 23:11:00

Dazzle Camouflage: Hiding in Plain Sight  

Unlike a submarine that can lurk beneath the waves, or an artillery tank that can camouflage itself among trees and the surrounding terrain, there is no hiding for a smoke-belching ship in the open waters of an ocean. So how does one go about camouflaging a ship during wartime? That was the question that troubled Britain during World War 1. Germany's U-boats were creating havoc in the Atlantic sinking merchant ships in alarming numbers. Ideas that were proposed included covering them with mi...

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2021-03-04 23:12:00

Pisonia: The Tree That Kills Birds  

An overwhelming majority of plants depend upon birds and insects for seed dispersal. Plants attract pollinators by releasing aromatic compounds into the air, or by producing sweet nectar that birds and insects feed upon. Species of the Pisonia plant are no different. They entice small birds to build nests on its branches, and when the birds brush against these seed-laden branches, the Pisonia's sticky seeds get stuck to the birds' feathers. After some time the seeds fall off, ideally when th...

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2021-03-03 15:05:00

The Lakeview Gusher: The Mother of Oil Spills  

In the early days of oil drilling, when tools were basic and technology was lacking, every new oil well sunk into the ground ran the risk of a blowout. A blowout occurs when a high-pressure pocket of crude oil or natural gas is breached causing the oil or gas to shoot up the well and exit with an explosive force and create a "gusher". Before the invention of blowout preventers, gushers were seen as natural consequences of oil drilling, an icon of oil exploration, and a symbol of new-found we...

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2021-03-01 22:59:00

The Pumps That Keep Germany Dry  

The Ruhr valley in North Rhine-Westphalia was once Germany's industrial heartland producing coal and steel, the two very essential raw materials of industrialization itself. Coal was mined here for at least four hundred years, usually from shallow drift mines along the Ruhr river. But with the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the demand for coal and steel increased and the deeper-lying coal seams were reached out for the first time. Within a matter of decades, Ruhr's c...

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2021-03-01 14:50:00

Boot Scrapers  

In the days before automobiles, when streets were meant for horses and their carts mostly, walking through mud and excrement was an unavoidable part of life in the cities. However, what was unacceptable then, and is still now, is treading into homes with muddy boots. But a simple doormat was not enough to get rid of the filth that stuck to ones shoes. What was needed was a shoe scraper. These were made of cast iron or wrought iron and were attached at the entrances of many decent homes, churches

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2021-02-27 21:26:00

Hitler's Monster Railway  

Hitler's megalomaniac plans for Germany included a monumental new railway. This railway was supposed to connect the most important cities in Greater Germany with trains 7 meters high, carrying up to 4,000 passengers, at speeds of 200 kilometers per hour. Breitspurbahn, or broad-gauge railway in German, was typical of every project the small-mustached sociopath had ever dreamed of—massive in scope and cost. The origin of this dream can be traced back to the 1930s when Adolf Hitler asked the ...

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2021-02-24 17:18:00

The Great Smog of 1952  

Londoners are no stranger to the cold, but on the morning of December 5, 1952, the sting of winter was felt worse than ever. The cold had the British capital on a grip for weeks, and that morning a temperature inversion had caused the chilled and stagnant air to get trapped close to the ground, causing temperature to drop even further. As the city began to wake up, coal fireplaces were lighted in homes and businesses across the city to take the chill out of the morning air. Smoke from these he

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2021-02-22 16:44:00

Johann Josef Loschmidt And Avogadro's Number  

Johann Josef Loschmidt is a name that might not ring many bells, yet everyone who took chemistry in junior college had surely come across Loschmidt's groundbreaking contribution to science. Loschmidt calculated the exact number of elementary units (atoms or molecules) that one mole of a substance contains—a number that bears the name of an Italian scientist, which is unfortunate, because even this celebrated Italian scientist didn't know its value. That number is Avogadro's number, or ...

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2021-02-19 13:22:00

The Mad World of Hat Making  

Hat-making in the 18th and 19th centuries was a hazardous business, because it involved the use of many chemicals, one of which was the toxic substance mercury. Working in poorly ventilated rooms, hat-makers breathed in so much mercury fumes that a good number of them were driven out of their wits by mercury-induced brain damage. Mercury poisoning among hat-makers is widely believed to be the origin of the proverbial saying "mad as a hatter". Even the character of the Hatter in Lewis Carroll...

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2021-02-17 19:27:00

The Ingenuity of The 'Ha-Ha'  

What's in a wall but a simple structure to keep intruders out, you might say. But a surprising amount of thought goes behind the construction of some. One example is the crinkle-crankle wall, popular in the county of Suffolk, in east England. The alternating curves of the crinkle-crankle wall prevents the wall from toppling over without the need for buttressing. Another unusual wall is the quirkily named "Ha-Ha" that's found in many 18th century country estates around Britain. Photo: ...

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2021-02-16 21:08:00

Flettner Rotor: Sailing Ships Without Sails  

In 1926, a 2,000-ton steel-hulled schooner named Buckau made an extraordinary crossing across the Atlantic. Although the Buckau was technically a sailing ship, it had no sails—at least, not conventional ones. Rather than thin masts and billowing sheets of white, the Buckau had two huge cylinders that rose from its deck and spun. By a physical phenomenon called the Magnus Effect, the spinning poles generated a propulsive force that carried the ship forward. It's the same force that footballe...

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2021-02-15 12:24:00

Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous  

The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and in eastern Europe, with a great ensemble of historic buildings, gilded palaces, and baroque bridges and churches. Founded by Peter the Great as a "window to Europe" Saint Petersburg's has a very cosmopolitan character, unique among Russian cities, but behind all the gilt and glory lurks a darker past, going back by less than eighty years, when Hitler had the city bombed, besieged and starved during the Second Wo...

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2021-02-12 22:07:00

The Curious Tale of The Laocoön And His Sons' Missing Arm  

The story of Laocoön, the Trojan priest who was attacked and killed along with his two sons by giant serpents for attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse, is well-known in Greek mythology. Laocoön's tragic tale has been retold by numerous Greek poets such as Apollodorus and Quintus Smyrnaeus. The latter gave a detailed description of Laocoön's grisly fate in his epic poem Posthomerica. Laocoön was also mentioned by the famous Greek tragedian Sophocles, and by the Roman poet V...

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2021-02-11 11:00:00

The Largest War Memorial in The World is a 243 Kilometer Highway  

When the First World War ended, the soldiers who had participated in it and were lucky enough to survive, returned to their homes. As in all wars, some adapted better than others on their return, but many found themselves with the unpleasant situation of being unemployed. In the case of the Australian soldiers, those who landed on April 25, 1915 in Gallipoli and forced the Ottoman army to surrender in October 1918 with the capture of Gaza and Jerusalem, of the more than 300,000 sent to the fron

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2021-02-10 15:20:00

When Israel Erased Color From Television Broadcasts  

The first television broadcast in Israel was black and white, but unlike most nations, it wasn't due to the lack of technology to broadcast in color. As a matter of fact, when television first came to Israel in 1968, the world was already switching to color broadcast. But Israeli authorities were not sure. They thought color broadcast was a frivolous expense that should best be avoided. So despite having the capability to broadcast in color, Israel's only national channel deliberately erased...

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2021-02-08 19:32:00

London's Protected Views  

Many prominent landmarks in London, such as St Paul's Cathedral, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Tower of London, The Palace of Westminster, and others are visible from key locations around the city. St Paul's Cathedral, for instance, is visible from across the South Bank of the Thames as far away as Richmond Park. Although topography certainly plays a part here (St Paul's Cathedral being located at the highest point of the city), the unobstructed views that some of Lon

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2021-02-05 10:14:00

Giuseppe Ferlini: The Pyramid Destroyer  

If there is something that characterizes archeology, it is the care, the almost exquisite touch that is given to the sites and that makes a tool as simple and limited as a brush the protagonist of the excavations, making the archaeologist have to spend hours and hours in the sun, setting aside just a few inches of sand or dirt to make sure that no small piece is missed. But it was not always like this; In its beginnings, archeology sought to exhume remains of other civilizations at all costs and

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2021-02-04 11:58:00

William Walker: The Man Who Saved Winchester Cathedral  

More than a century ago, Winchester Cathedral, which is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and the longest of all Gothic cathedrals, was saved by the heroic work of a diver, who worked tirelessly to reinforce the foundations of this historic structure, and thus preserve one of the largest and most iconic buildings in all of England. The man was William Walker who saved Winchester Cathedral from collapsing into ruins, and by doing so he became a hero in the folklore of Winchester and for th

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2021-02-02 20:35:00

How Astronomer Percival Lowell Mistook His Own Eye For Spokes on Venus  

Percival Lowell, the American astronomer whose name bears an observatory in Arizona, made several very significant observations of the planets. His biggest contribution being the hunt for Planet X beyond the orbit of Neptune. Although his search was unsuccessful, Pluto was eventually discovered near the place Lowell had predicted the missing planet would be, using the very observatory Lowell founded to study Mars. The red planet fascinated Lowell, and it was his observations of Mars and the in

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2021-02-01 15:30:00

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab  

The 1950s were exciting times. There was much enthusiasm and optimism around the use of atomic energy, which was seen as the solution to all energy problems in the future. Power would be so cheap and plenty that humans could achieve things at scale that was not economically and practically possible in the past, such as irrigation of deserts and interstellar travel. While many people feared the dawn of the Atomic Age due to the destructive power of the atomic bomb, there were many others who beli

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2021-01-28 23:18:00

Shoeburyness Boom: A Cold War Era Defense Across The Thames  

At first glance, the concrete piles lying off the coast of southeast Essex, near the town of Shoeburyness, looks like the exposed columns of an old pier, but in reality is a defensive structure erected across the mouth of river Thames to prevent ships from crossing into. At one time, this so called "boom" extended all the way to the other side of the water channel to Sheerness in the Isle of Sheppey. The Shoeburyness boom across Thames estuary. Photo: Andy119/ © Am...

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2021-01-27 13:51:00

The Silver Tree of Karakorum  

Of all the things described in William of Rubruck's account of his travels through 13th-century Asia, perhaps none is so striking as the remarkably ornate fountain he encountered in the Mongol capital which — complete with silver fruit and an angelic automaton — flowed with various alcoholic drinks for the grandson of Genghis Khan and guests. Devon Field explores how this Silver Tree of Karakorum became a potent symbol, not only of the Mongol Empire's imperial might, but also its dow...

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2021-01-26 16:18:00

Mäusebunker: Berlin's Mouse Bunker  

Sitting squarely in the middle of Berlin is a monstrous-looking building with façade of solid grey concrete, punctured by long ventilation turrets that sticks out in all direction like some sort of a beached battleship. This is Mäusebunker, or "Mouse Bunker", a Brutalist former animal research laboratory that at some point held over 45,000 mice and 20,000 rats along with a variety of other rodents. Officially the Central Animal Laboratory of the Free University of Berlin, the Mäusebunker...

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2021-01-25 20:34:00

Spindletop: The Gusher That Launched The Oil Industry  

Although the modern oil industry is said to have begun with the drilling of the first oil well by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania, it was the discovery of oil at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas, that pushed the world into the age of crude oil. The exact date when this happened is January 10, 1901. That day, an enormous geyser of oil exploded from a drilling site at Spindletop Hill coating the landscape with a thick slimy mess for hundreds of feet. Nobody had seen a gusher so powerful and so plentifu

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2021-01-22 10:27:00

The Helfaut-Wizernes Dome  

In the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France, close to the commune of Helfaut and Wizernes, lies a large Nazi bunker built during the Second World War. The most prominent feature of this bunker complex is an immense concrete dome, from which the complex derives its name—La Coupole, or "The Dome" in English. La Couple, codenamed "Bauvohaben 21", was built to serve as a launch base for V-2 rockets directed against London and southern England, and is the earliest known precursor to ...

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2021-01-20 12:32:00

Why The Soviet Union Exchanged Warships For Pepsi  

The American soft drink giant Pepsi has a long presence in Russia dating back to the early 1970s when Russia was still a part of the Soviet Union. It was the first capitalistic product to gain entry into the communist market. At that time rivalry between the two countries was high, so how did an American soft drink company get its foot in the door to build a major market in Russia? Bottles of Soviet Pepsi at a Moscow-based plant, 1991. Photo: Vladimir Akimov/Sputnik © Amusing Planet, 2

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2021-01-18 15:04:00

San Francisco's Hidden Cisterns  

Scattered around San Francisco are a total of 177 large cisterns buried beneath the streets. Their presence is visible at many intersections in the shape of large brick circles embedded in the pavement. These cisterns hold the city's emergency water supply, to be used should the city's domestic water supply fail in the event of a nasty fire. San Francisco is the only city in the world to have such a system. The cisterns form an integral part of the city's Auxiliary Water Supply System tha...

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2021-01-14 11:03:00

The Cave of Swimmers  

Thousands of years ago, the Sahara was surprisingly green with rich vegetation, trees and lakes that covered almost all of what is now sandy desert. There were vast open grasslands, forests, rivers, lakes and wetlands, that allowed a variety of animal species to survive. Antelopes, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, spotted hyenas, zebras and more roamed the savannah, while crocodiles baked in the river banks and hippos rolled in the mud. Evidence of the Sahara's amiable past is record...

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2021-01-12 11:30:00

The Victorian Mail Order Business  

In the beginning of the 19th century, a large Welsh town called Newtown on the River Severn became the center of the woolen industry. Like other towns in the upper Severn Valley, Newtown's population exploded within a short period, as mills jostled for a place by the riverside. Weavers paid extortionate rent to flannel manufacturers to live on the lower floors, the top floors being occupied by sophisticated machines such as the spinning jenny, that spun threads from wool in large open workshop...

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2021-01-11 11:00:00

Hells Bells  

Deep down El Zapote cenote, a 50-meter-deep water-filled sinkhole in Quintana Roo, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, stalactites take a different form. Instead of the usual elongated, pointed shape hanging from the roof of caves, the stalactites in El Zapote are conical and hollow resembling bells or lampshades. Divers call them "Hells Bells", after the song by the Australian hard rock band AC/DC. Photo: Eugenio Acevez/ Jerónimo Aviles © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-01-08 10:26:00

Talakadu: The Temple City Devoured by Sand  

The ancient city of Talakadu situated on the banks of the Kaveri river, about 45 km east of Mysore, was once the capital of the Western Ganga dynasty which ruled over Karnataka in southern India about a thousand years ago. The once flourishing city with over 30 temples now lies in ruins, devoured by sand when the Kaveri river shifted course. The loss of Talakadu is an unfortunate ecological disaster, but there are many who believe that an ancient curse is to blame. An excavated temple in Tala

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2021-01-07 11:44:00

Anderson Shelters: The Backyard Bunkers That Saved Britons From Luftwaffe Bombings  

In 1938, before the Second World War had even begun, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain placed Sir John Anderson in charge of air raid preparations. As the Lord Privy Seal, Anderson's responsibility was to organize civil defense such as air raid wardens, rescue squads, fire services, and the Women's Voluntary Service. He was also responsible for providing public shelters. Anderson commissioned engineers William Paterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison to design a small and cheap shelter tha...

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2021-01-05 22:02:00

The Granaries of Acorn Woodpecker  

Woodpeckers are fascinating creatures. They hammer their bills into wood with force so ferocious that it would lead to concussion in any animal. But woodpeckers are equipped with excellent natural shock absorbers that protect their brains against damage caused by rapid and repeated powerful blows, such as a tightly packed brain that prevents it from sloshing around the skull, which itself is composed of compressible sponge-like bone to absorb the energy of the impact, as well as an elongated ton

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2021-01-05 21:40:00

The Night The Moon Exploded  

In the early evening of 18 June 1178, five monks from Canterbury in southern England, reported having witnessed an unusual phenomenon in the sky. According to the monk Gervase, chronicler of the Abbey of Christ Church, the men were looking at a new crescent moon when they saw the upper part "split in two." Gervase wrote: From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which ...

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2021-01-04 18:09:00

Why Julius Caesar Built a Bridge Over The Rhine And Destroyed it 18 Days Later  

In the early summer of 55 BC Julius Caesar had already begun his conquest of Gaul three years earlier. At that time the eastern border of the new provinces was located on the Rhine. The Germanic tribes on the eastern side of the river launched incursions to the west under the protection provided by this natural border. But on the other side of the river there were also tribes allied with Rome, like the Ubians. They offered Caesar ships for the legions to cross the river and attack the Germanic

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2020-12-29 15:55:00

Balmis Expedition: How Orphans Took The Smallpox Vaccine Around The World  

The biggest hurdle to mass vaccination in the 19th century was keeping the virus alive out of the human body as the precious pus was being transported in sealed tubes to distant communities ravaging under smallpox. At a time when refrigeration, sterile containment, and asepsis were nonexistent, attempts were made to obtain the vaccine lymph dried onto silk threads or sealed between glass plates, but such methods proved unreliable on lengthy journeys and in warm climates. So when the need arose t

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2020-12-21 16:42:00

The Barbegal Mills: The Largest Concentration of Mechanical Energy in Antiquity  

About 12 kilometers north of the city of Arles, in the Provence region of southern France, is the small town of Fontvieille. It is a commune of just 3,500 inhabitants who live from agriculture and tourism, but until the 5th century AD it was also the place where the greatest concentration of mechanical energy was found in the entire ancient world. At the end of the first century A.D., the most important Roman hydraulic complex was built there, consisting of two aqueducts and 16 mills, today cal

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2020-12-18 11:11:00

Medieval Russians Built Churches in One Day to Ward Off Epidemics  

In the middle ages, many Russian communities, especially in the Novgorod and Pskov regions, believed in building churches as response to calamities raging at that time, most often epidemics. The tradition known as obydennye khramy requires that the church be completed within the course of a single day. These one-day votive churches were built by communal labor and were simple in design and small in size. Construction usually began at night and ended before sunset of the following day. By nightfa

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2020-12-17 10:57:00

Pitch Drop Experiment: The World's Longest Running Lab Experiment  

The pitch drop experiment began in 1927 when Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, set out to demonstrate to his students that some substances that appear to be solid are in fact very high viscous fluids. He used tar pitch, or bitumen, a derivative of coal once used to waterproof boats, in an experiment to prove his point. At room temperature, pitch appears to be solid and can even shatter if hit with a hammer, but despite its look and feel, pitch can a

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2020-12-16 20:47:00

SS Baychimo: The Unsinkable Ghost Ship  

Ships aren't meant to sink, but sometimes you have to wonder what miraculous forces kept a vessel afloat. The SS Baychimo was such a ship. For nearly four decades after it was abandoned, this 1,300-ton cargo ship sailed the Arctic without fuel or crew, until it disappeared just over fifty years ago, but some believe she is still out there drifting among the frozen icebergs. SS Baychimo was launched in 1914, originally as Ångermanelfven, after one of Sweden's longest rivers, Ångerman. She ...

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2020-12-15 16:54:00

Franz Reichelt's Fatal Jump  

The British Pathe film archive has a chilling video of a man jumping to his death from the Eiffel Tower. The man in the short video is shown wearing some sort of an oversized suit. Standing on the ledge of the tower's first level, he hesitates for a few long seconds and then takes the plunge. He plummets straight down to the ground below. The man who took the fatal leap was Franz Reichelt, an Austrian-born French tailor, who owned a successful dressmaking business in Paris. Shortly after ope...

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2020-12-14 10:46:00

The Fighter Plane That Shot Itself Down  

Fighter aviation has come a long way from the crude old days when pilots shot down their own planes as often as the enemy's. In those early days pilots had to shoot their machine guns through the spinning blades of their aircraft's propellers. Many pilots ended up shooting holes through their propeller blades. This problem was solved with the invention of a synchronization gear, which prohibited the guns from firing when the spinning propeller was in the way of the muzzle. Modern fighter pl...

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2020-12-10 15:02:00

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa  

Until the late 19th century, the shores of Rotomahana, in northern New Zealand, were adorned by one of the most spectacular travertine terraces called the Pink and White Terraces. They were the largest travertine terraces in the world, created by the deposition of minerals from the nearby hot water springs. So wonderful were these terraces that they were called the 'eighth wonder of the natural world' and were New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction. On the morning of 10 June 1886...

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2020-12-10 15:00:00

The Fake Dome of The Church of St. Ignatius  

One of Rome's lesser-known attractions, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Italian), lies just a block away from the Pantheon. This incredible 17th century baroque church has a towering façade that dominates the Piazza, and a lavishly decorated interior that's considered one of the best in the entirety of Rome. The first thing most visitors do when they step inside this church dedicated to the founder of the Jesuit order is look up at the sumptuo...

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2020-12-08 11:31:00

Henley-On-Todd: The Waterless Regatta  

Every August, Alice Springs, a large town in the heart of Australia's Northern Territory, holds an unusual boat race on Todd River, a river that's rarely wet. The "boats" are bottomless which enable the "rowers" to poke out their legs and run over the hot sands. The annual event sees hundreds of participants run along the dry riverbed in quirky boats fashioned out of metal frames in the shape of yachts, kayaks as well as regular rowing boats. The final event of the day, known as the ...

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2020-12-08 11:29:00

Saint Guinefort: The Holy Greyhound  

Around the second half of the 13th century, a Dominican friar known as Stephen of Bourbon, began travelling the width and breadth of southern France documenting medieval heresies, superstitious, and heretical beliefs, which he complied into one long treatise on faith called the De septem donis Spiritu Sancti ("On the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit"). On the subject of superstition and idolatry, Stephen relates an incident which occurred in the diocese of Lyon. While preaching there against s...

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2020-12-03 16:35:00

Gara Medouar: The 'Spectre' Crater  

The 1999 Hollywood movie The Mummy is set in Egypt, but was filmed largely in Morocco. Marrakech became the Cairo of 1926, the year the story takes place, and the lost city of "Hamunaptra" was set inside a vast horseshoe-shaped geological feature called Jebel Mudawwa, or Gara Medouar, located near Sijilmasa, in the southeast of the country. Gara Medouar appeared again in the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001. The exotic location then became the evil lair of the Bond villain Franz Oberhauser i...

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2020-12-02 12:55:00

Sunomata Castle: The Castle That Was Built on a Single Night  

Sunomata Castle stands at the confluence of the Sai and Nagara rivers, in the city of Ōgaki in Gifu Prefecture. It's a typical Japanese castle with a strong foundation of stone and a multi-storied wooden building on top with a gable roof and decorated eaves. As far as castles go, Sunomata is very small, but it has a big story. Legend has it that the Sunomata Castle was built during the course of a single night. Sunomata Castle, also known as Ichiya Castle (or the "one night castle"), was...

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2020-12-01 14:25:00

The Yukon Square Inch Land Rush of 1955  

Marketers give away freebies all the time to generate buzz and promote their products. Usually these freebies are cheap trinkets like toys, keyrings and trading cards that cost next to nothing to produce. But back in the 1950s, a Chicago advertising executive named Bruce Baker came up with a stranger-than-fiction marketing gimmick for the Quaker Oats Company. Instead of toys, Baker decided that the cereal manufacturer should give away land, real land in gold-rich Yukon county in Canada, with eve

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2020-11-27 20:19:00

Hostile Façades  

The old city of Segovia, about 90 km north of Madrid, is best known for its aqueduct, but this historic city is full of architectural curiosities, such as the ornamental façades and geometric textures on the walls of many of the houses, the strangest of which is Casa de los Picos, or the "House of Peaks". The façade of this house is covered entirely by granite blocks carved into pyramid-shaped reliefs. There are more than six hundred pyramids jutting out of the walls giving the impression ...

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2020-11-26 20:16:00

The Great Glass Slab at Beth Shearim  

In a cave adjacent to an ancient cemetery near Beit She'arim, an old Jewish town in northern Israel, there lies a huge slab of glass approximately 6.5 feet wide, 11 feet long and 18 inches thick. It weighs 9 tons. Although chemical analysis confirm it's glass, the slab doesn't look anything like the delicate, translucent material. Rather, it looks like a large block of limestone, for it is completely opaque and bluish-gray. When the slab was discovered in the 1960s during an exploratio...

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2020-11-25 21:10:00

The Wine Cellars of Hercegkút  

The Tokaj wine region in northeastern Hungary has been producing wine since Roman times. Tokaj's wines were historically prized throughout Europe, thanks to a gift of numerous bottles that the prince of Transylvania presented to King Louis XIV. Delighted with the precious beverage, Louis XIV declared it the "Wine of Kings, King of Wines". Subsequently, Tokaj's wine became the main drink served at the Versailles Court, where it became known under the name of Tokay. Hobbit's home like...

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2020-11-25 11:19:00

The Great Bed of Ware  

For much of human history, sleeping arrangements were very informal. You heaped a pile of straw or leaves on the floor, covered it with animal skin or a large linen cloth, and tucked yourself in with a cloak or a blanket. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that people started to afford a bit of luxury. Mattresses were stuffed with feathers, wool, or horse hair, depending on the level of comfort desired, with feathers being the softest and the costliest of stuffing. Considerable attention was give...

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2020-11-24 11:00:00

Charles Crocker's Spite Fence  

Back when San Francisco's luxurious destination Nob Hill was just another neighborhood in the newly incorporated city, a young German immigrant named Nicholas Yung built himself a modest three-story house at the top of what was then California Hill. Away from the hustle and bustle of the burgeoning city swamped by gold prospectors, California Hill's steep climb afforded the undertaker and his wife Rosina a peaceful, isolated existence with stunning view of the Bay to the east and the Golde...

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2020-11-21 15:10:00

The Lost Villages of The Port of Antwerp  

In the middle of the Port of Antwerp, in Belgium, surrounded by an endless sea of shipping containers, stands an old church tower on a small patch of grass. Out of place and out of time, this centuries-old tower in the middle of a modern container port is all that remains of the former village of Wilmarsdonk that was wiped away in the 1960s, along with three others, to make way for the expansion of the port. The tower of the St. Laurence church of Wilmarsdonk standing in the middle of the bus

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2020-11-19 15:12:00

George Cayley: The Man Who Invented Flight  

History credits Orville and Wilbur Wright for flying the world's first aircraft, but it was Yorkshire Baronet Sir George Cayley who first proposed, propounded and published the principles of modern aerodynamics. It was George Cayley, who, more than a century before the Wright Brothers took flight, set forth the concept of the modern airplane as a fixed-wing flying machine as opposed to the comical flapping winged machines that many of his predecessors had imagined. It was George Cayley who pro...

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2020-11-17 21:35:00

How Alexander Turned The Island of Tyre Into a Peninsula  

The city of Tyre in southern Lebanon is one of the oldest cities in the world. Originally founded by settlers from the nearby city of Sidon in the 3rd millennium BCE, Tyre became politically independent when Egyptian influence in Phoenicia declined, and later it surpassed even Sidon to become the most important Phoenician trade center and seaport having commercial ties with all parts of the Mediterranean world. The city is situated on a small bulbous peninsula that juts out from the Lebanese co

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2020-11-16 12:43:00

Pericles' Funeral Oration, The Most Famous Speech in History  

The Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens began in 431 BC and would last for almost 28 years. In the end, Sparta prevailed, but its hegemony would not last long, since first Thebes and then Macedonia, would end up imposing themselves on the Greek world. At the end of the first year of the war, the Athenians, as was their custom, gathered for a ceremony to honor and remember the fallen. As Thucydides recounts, it consisted of a procession that accompanied the ten coffins (cypress coffers,

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2020-11-13 16:02:00

Australia's Great Artesian Basin  

Australia is dry, hot, unimaginably infertile and the most inhospitable of all inhabited continents. Yet, underneath the parched land, lies one of the world's largest source of groundwater—a vast underground aquifer, trapped within layers of impermeable rock and clay, containing an astounding 65,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water, enough to fill the Great Lakes of Northern America nearly three times over. Even the world largest freshwater lake, Lake Baikal, is 2.7 times smaller than the Gre...

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2020-11-11 22:51:00

The Dambusters Raid of 1943  

On the night of 16-17 May 1943, a squadron of the Royal Air Force conducted a daring mission deep into German territory to destroy two dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany. The subsequent flooding destroyed two hydroelectric power plants and several factories and mines, crippling Germany's steel and coal production. The mission was codenamed Operation Chastise. One of the targets, the Möhne dam in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the largest in Europe. It was built to he...

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2020-11-10 20:08:00

How Mining Engineers Helped NASA Get to The Moon  

The outrageous plot of NASA hiring a group of miners for a space mission may remind you of a certain Hollywood movie, but back in the mid-1960s when the space organization was trying to reach the moon, they did, in fact, look towards coal miners and their tools for inspiration. Back then, NASA had just completed designing the Saturn V, the behemoth of a rocket weighing nearly 3,000 tons that would take the first men to the moon, but they had yet to figure out how to deliver this monstrous rocket

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2020-11-06 18:41:00

The Nottingham Cheese Riot of 1766  

1766 was a bad year for farmers. Crops failed all across Europe, and prices of wheat, flour, corn and other foodstuffs shot up as a consequence. English producers and dealers were tempted to ship much of their supplies to profitable foreign markets, and there were loud cries of protests everywhere. Dozens of food riots broke out across England where goods were seized by force. A satirical cartoon depicting a fat 'forestaller' being dragged along by a rope round his neck by a chain of

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2020-11-05 09:51:00

Rushton Triangular Lodge  

The Triangular Lodge near Rushton, in Northamptonshire, England, is an unusual building. This three-sided house was built in the late 16th century by Sir Thomas Tresham, a devout Catholic, as a way of expressing his faith. The number three, symbolizing the Holy Trinity, is apparent everywhere, from the triangular shape to the use of the trefoil window designs, to the number of floors, the various dimensions and symbolic letters, dates, and numbers which are all multiples of three. Photo: Awe

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2020-11-05 09:50:00

The Turin Erotic Papyrus  

The Turin Erotic Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll-painting that has long been a subject of intense interest among Egyptologists, because it deals with the subject of sex rather graphically. The Turin Erotic Papyrus is believed to be created during the time of Ramesses III (roughly 1184-1153 BCE), which makes it about a thousand years older than the Kamasutra, the only other great treatise on sex from the ancient world. The original papyrus is in tatters. © Amusing Planet,

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2020-11-04 12:10:00

New York Moving Day: Mayhem on The Streets  

The first day of May used to be absurdly chaotic for New Yorkers, for it was "Moving Day"—the once a year tradition when nearly a million tenants across the city swapped homes.  Up until the end of World War 2, all leases expired simultaneously on May 1, causing everyone to change their residences, all at the same time. The landlords gave their tenants a 3-month notice informing them what the new rent would be after the end of the quarter. That day, February 1, was sometimes called "R...

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2020-11-03 10:03:00

Banda: The Secret Island of Nutmegs  

In the Banda Sea, roughly 2,500 km east of Jakarta lies the Banda Islands, a part of Indonesia. For thousands of years, this group of ten islands were the world's only source of nutmeg and mace, which is derived from nutmeg's shell. Before the arrival of Europeans, Banda was ruled by the nobles called orang kaya, who traded with the Indians and the Arabs, who in turn sold spices to the Europeans for exorbitant prices. In those days nutmeg was worth more by weight than gold, as the spice wa...

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2020-11-02 09:38:00

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