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Why Britain Lost 11 Days in September 1752  

Do you know how many British people were born between September 3 and September 13 in the year 1752? None. Absolutely no one was born, nobody died, and no marriages took place during that period. No wars were fought, no bets were made, no trade deals were signed. As a matter of fact, these eleven days didn't even exist in the British calendar. People went to bed on the night of September 2, 1752, and woke up on September 14. The loss of eleven days was the expected consequence of changing ca...

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2020-08-07 20:32:00

Schuttberg: Germany's Rubble Mountains  

Scores of hills dot the edges of many German cities, but these are not natural. They are known as Schuttberg, or "debris hill". Schuttbergs arose after the end of World War 2, and were created primarily from rubble generated by the destruction of German cities. Allied bombing during the six years of war laid to waste nearly every German city, town and village, destroying millions of homes, public buildings, schools, factories, as well as centuries-old cathedrals, mediaeval houses and other ...

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2020-08-05 13:08:00

A Licence to Watch Television  

In many countries, owing a television involves more than one type of cost. First the device itself, which may cost, depending on your taste, from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Then, there are subscription fees for television channels and online streaming, as well as electricity cost. And lastly, a tax for owning the television set, especially if you live in Europe. The purpose of television licence is to fund public broadcasting services. Many state-owned TV channels are largely

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2020-08-04 20:03:00

Graft Chimera  

On a small traffic island on Rodney Road, in Backwell, in the English county of North Somerset, stands a horticultural curiosity—a cherry tree producing two distinct colors of blossom: pink on one side and white on the other. The dual-color tree is thought to have been planted in the late 1950s. Its name, Strawberries and Cream Tree, was given by the town's children. The Strawberries and Cream Tree in Backwell, North Somerset, England. Photo: Mojo0306/Wikimedia Commons © Amusing Pla...

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2020-08-04 11:21:00

Nikola Tesla's Experimental Laboratory in Colorado Springs  

One of Colorado Spring's most famous visitors was electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, who in the spring of 1899, set up a laboratory on a small grassy hill in what is now Knob Hill. Tesla was drawn to Colorado Springs by the same qualities that brought thousands of tuberculosis patients to the mountain city—the city's thin and dry air. But unlike the city's many residents, Tesla was not looking for a cure. Tesla believed that electricity could be transmitted across vast di...

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2020-08-01 15:51:00

Kinzua Viaduct: The Fallen Bridge  

On 21 July 2003, a fierce tornado struck northern Pennsylvania and destroyed a large section of the Kinzua Viaduct, a historic railroad trestle that was once billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". The Kinzua Viaduct was first constructed in 1882, and at that time it was the highest and longest viaduct in the world measuring 92 meters tall and 625 meters long. The viaduct was built by the Lake Erie and Western Railway as part of a line from Bradford south to the coal fields in Elk Count...

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2020-07-30 17:37:00

Pelorus Jack: The Dolphin Who Piloted Ships  

The northern end of New Zealand's South Island is a chaos of bays and sounds, and within this intricate coastline lies a narrow and treacherous stretch of water called the French Pass. Ships avoid it because the currents here are so strong that it can easily drag a vessel and smash it against the rocks. The very first European attempt to navigate through these narrows was a near disaster. French Admiral Jules Dumont d'Urville was mapping the coast of the South Island in 1827 when he inst...

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2020-07-29 10:53:00

Dementia Villages  

At first glance, Hogewey, a small community situated about 20 km outside of Amsterdam looks like any other Dutch town. Residents go about their lives normally, picking up groceries, going to the movies and catching up with friends. But unknown to them, they are leading an orchestrated life, a false reality. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, and residents are watched every hour of the day. From the shopkeeper to the gardener, from the hair stylist to the dentist, every one is part of the

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2020-07-27 15:07:00

The Relocation of Abu Simbel Temples  

Hundreds of towns and villages have perished due to massive earth-moving projects such as the construction of dams. But the temples at Abu Simbel, in Egypt, were historically and culturally far too important to let that happen. So when the newly built Aswan High Dam and reservoir threatened to swallow the 3,300-year-old temples, the international community banded together for an extraordinary salvage operation. The Abu Simbel temples were originally located along the Nile river, carved out of t

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2020-07-24 12:32:00

Christopher Columbus's House in Genoa  

It would have been wonderful to see the actual house where Christopher Columbus grew up. Unfortunately, the one that stands in Genoa today is only a reconstruction. Nevertheless, it's an incredibly old structure and was reconstructed only a few decades after the original house was destroyed. Christopher Columbus, a figure of both pride and shame, was born in the city of Genoa, Italy, in 1451. His father was a wool weaver who also owned a tavern where young Christopher worked as a helper. Very...

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2020-07-23 16:36:00

Astola Island: Pakistan's Hidden Gem  

About 25 km off the coast of Balochistan, in the Arabian Sea, lies a large uninhabited island about 7 km long and 2.5 km wide, with sheer white cliffs surrounded by warm turquoise water. A narrow white beach runs around the periphery of the island. At places, the cliffs shrink inland to create secluded cloves. It's almost like in the Mediterranean. Astola Island, also known as Jezira Haft Talar (Island of the Seven Hills), has long been Pakistan's secret. This largely unspoiled island has ...

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2020-07-22 19:45:00

Malbork Castle: The Brick Marvel  

The Malbork Castle in northern Poland wears two feathers in its cap. Not only it is the largest castle in the world measured by land area, it is also the world's largest brick castle. The castle was originally constructed in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, a German Catholic religious order of crusaders, after the conquest of Old Prussia, in order to strengthen their own control of the area. Over the next hundred years, the castle was enlarged, embellished and fortified until it had ...

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2020-07-21 15:03:00

Miss Subways: The Tube Beauty Contest  

For thirty five years, between 1941 and 1976, a company called New York Subways Advertising ran a city-wide beauty contest. Any New Yorker and female, and between the ages of 14 to 30 could enter it, but to see the contestants and the winners, one had to go underground and ride the transit. The Miss Subways was not a typical pageant. Each month, women across New York City mailed in their photos and biographies to John Robert Powers' modeling agency, and the lucky winners had their photos pri...

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2020-07-17 20:51:00

Colorado Springs: A City Built Upon Tuberculosis  

One of the leading causes of death in Europe and in the United States during the 19th century was tuberculosis, a disease that has plagued humans since ancient times. Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium that primarily attacks the lungs, causing chronic cough, high fever and significant weight loss. A person suffering from tuberculosis practically wastes away, earning the disease many names such as "consumption" and "white plague". Tuberculosis was an incurable disease, before antibiot...

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2020-07-15 20:26:00

The Bad Beer Brawl: St. Scholastica Day Riot  

On the south-west corner of Carfax, in Oxford, a small, inconspicuous inscription on the side of an old building marks the site of one of the bloodiest pub brawls in history. Before this building was sold to the Abbey National Building Society, it was occupied by the Swindlestock Tavern, a popular watering hole among Oxford University's students and the townsfolk alike. On 10 February 1355, the entire town was celebrating the feast day of Saint Scholastica. Some students were drinking at Swin...

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2020-07-14 10:57:00

The Great Colonnade at Apamea  

One of the main characteristics of the most important cities of Antiquity in the Hellenistic kingdoms, first, and in the Roman territories of the East, later, are the great column avenues. They also existed in Rome itself and other European cities, but the eastern examples are usually larger and many of them are in better condition. The largest of all, and possibly also the first to be built, is the one flanking the thistle of Antioch, which is about 2,275 meters long, that is, just over 2 kilo

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2020-07-13 19:57:00

Thagomizer: Why Stegosaurus' Spiky Tail Was Named After A Cartoon  

Humans and stegosaurus missed each other by more than 150 million years, but people have always wondered how difficult or terrifying life would have been if dinosaurs and humans co-existed. This premise is often explored humorously in cartoons and in movies. Cavemen and dinosaurs frequently featured in cartoonist Gary Larson's The Far Side— a single-panel comic that ran for fifteen years during the 1980s and 90s. The Far Side was known for its surrealistic and dark humor based on uncomfortab...

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2020-07-11 16:31:00

The Balloon Satellites of Project Echo  

The world's first communication satellite was remarkably unsophisticated—a big silvery plastic balloon coated with aluminum, soaring roughly 1,000 miles above the earth. It carried no active communication components, no relays. Just two FM transmitters for telemetry purposes, powered by nickel-cadmium batteries charged by solar cells. The satellite achieved its purpose by passively reflecting any radio signal directed towards its large shiny surface. For eight years it relayed radio and tele...

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2020-07-09 16:00:00

A Hidden Memorial to Lenin in a Forest  

Vladimir Lenin was a controversial Russian revolutionary leader who has been idolized and demonized in equal proportions since his death in 1924. Even during his lifetime, Lenin had developed a cult of personality rivaled only by America's George Washington, according to historian Nina Tumarkin. Tens of thousands of Lenin statues were erected across the Soviet Union and in allied Communist countries. Almost every village had one. His face adorned postage stamps, crockery, posters, and the fron...

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2020-07-09 12:40:00

The Soviet Bomber That Was Reverse Engineered From Stolen American B-29s  

Ask anyone, what won the war against Japan during the Second World War, and the answer would invariably be the 'atomic bomb', but truth be told, it was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that broke Japan's back. Months before Bockscar delivered the final payload of the war, hundreds of American B-29s had flown across the Pacific in thousands of sorties to destroy Japanese cities as well as their ability to fight. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was every nation's envy. It was the most advanc...

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2020-07-07 14:50:00

The Vajont Dam Disaster  

In the valley of the Vajont River, about a hundred kilometers north of Venice, stands an old, disused dam. The vast wall of white, wedged high up in the rocks of the narrow gorge, was constructed to harness the waters of a small mountain river in order to create a lake from which hydroelectric power could be generated to feed northern Italy's postwar development and economic growth. But the engineers and geologists ignored the early warning signs, leading to a disaster of cataclysmic proport

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2020-07-04 12:33:00

The Masked Women of Iran  

Head covering, veils and burqas are common sight among many Muslim communities around the world. There are a lot of different styles and each have their own name, but none of these come even remotely close to the vibrancy of the boregheh mask. These colorful masks are donned by the women of the Hormozgan Province in southern Iran. They are available in a variety of shapes and styles, but the most common ones are rectangular, pinched between the eyebrows to create a sort of vertical wall running

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2020-07-03 11:58:00

The Windmills of Paris  

Windmills of Montmartre, Maurice Utrillo. Paris is not exactly hilly, but there are a couple of high points in the city where one can easily catch the breeze. Back when Paris had a flourishing grain milling industry, these hills were dotted with numerous wind mills—more than three hundred, some say. Enormous quantities of grain arrived from the Americas and mills in the area ground them up into fine flour for local consumption. Bread was the staple food for the poor French peasants. Durin...

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2020-07-02 11:29:00

Büsingen am Hochrhein: The Town Torn Between Two Countries  

Büsingen am Hochrhein is a German town with a lot of Swiss character. That's because this small town on the Rhine is entirely surrounded by Switzerland. That makes Büsingen an enclave, and like many territorial enclaves, Büsingen has absorbed the many forms and conventions of its host nation—perhaps a little more willingly. Residents of Büsingen speak Swiss and prefer to use Swiss francs instead of Euro. In fact, until the late 1980s, Büsingen didn't even accept the Deutsche Mark. E...

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2020-06-30 16:16:00

Dürkheimer Riesenfass: The Giant Cask  

The historic town of Bad Dürkheim lying on the edge of Palatinate Forest on Germany's oldest wine routes, is well known for its vineyards and mineral springs. Every year, on the second and third weekend of September, corresponding to Oktoberfest celebrations around the country, Bad Dürkheim holds the world's biggest wine festival called Wurstmarkt—which actually means "sausage market". The festival takes its name from the spacious sausage market area in the middle of the town whe...

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2020-06-30 12:15:00

The Jailhouse That Got Accidentally Sold  

It takes quite a stretch of imagination to call Harvard a city. With an area just over half a square mile and population of about one thousand, Harvard, in Clay County, Nebraska, is little more than a town. Nobody ever goes there unless they have family, friends, or business. But if you are passing through Clay County, take a detour and make a quick stop at Harvard in order to marvel at a nondescript two-room brick building and chuckle at the historic marker that describes how this small structu

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2020-06-29 20:42:00

The Rzhev Memorial to Soviet Soldiers  

A towering new statue honoring Soviet soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War is to be unveiled tomorrow, June 30, in the city of Rzhev in Tver Oblast by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Funded partially through public donations, the 25-meter tall bronze sculpture stands on top of a 10-meter mound and can be seen from miles away. The dramatic sculpture depicting a soldier of the Red Army standing solemnly with a gun in his hand was completed in April, but due to the current

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2020-06-29 16:02:00

The Polar Bear Jail of Churchill  

Living in Churchill in northern Manitoba, Canada, has its perils. Situated on the banks of Hudson Bay, approximately 1,000 km north of the provincial capital, Winnipeg, Churchill is one of Canada's most remote towns. Few places are inhabited so far north, with the exception of a couple of Inuit communities and research stations. But cold and isolation are not the only challenges its residents face. Their biggest threat is polar bears. A polar bear warning sign in Churchill, Manitoba. Photo:...

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2020-06-25 21:27:00

The Lost Patents  

The United States Patent and Trademark Office was established in 1790, and since then the federal office has issued over 10 million patents for all sorts of inventions. Virtually every patent is available to the public, either on paper or microfilm, or digitized and searchable on the Internet—except the first ten thousand patents. They went up in smoke exactly 184 years ago. At that time, the Patent Office was housed inside the Blodget Hotel Building, in Washington, along with the post office...

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2020-06-24 20:46:00

The Meridian That Stood Up To Greenwich  

Railways, in the late 19th century, ushered in a revolution in transport, but with that arose one unexpected problem. Back then, there was no standardized time, and every town and city kept their own clock which varied from their neighbors sometimes by several hours. This created grave inconvenience for rail travelers, because they couldn't tell at what time a train would arrive at a particular station and how long a journey would be because arrivals and departures on railway timetables were...

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2020-06-23 11:19:00

Turning Night Into Day: Nuclear Explosions in Space  

On August 1, 1958, a few minutes before midnight, an intense flash of white light tore across the night sky illuminating everything it touched for miles around Johnston Island, a tiny atoll located smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The black sky turned blue, and personnel at the air force base instinctively ducked for cover. The source of the light was a nuclear test conducted high up in the atmosphere. It was one of two conducted under Operation Hardtack to study, among other things, t

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2020-06-19 17:30:00

Liverpool's Secret Tunnels Built By An Eccentric “Philanthropist”  

Williamson Tunnels under Edge Hill, in Liverpool. Photo: Friend of Williamson's Tunnels Joseph Williamson was a wealthy businessman, but he was not born into wealth. His father was a poor glassmaker. Poverty forced Joseph to leave his family behind in Warrington and seek employment under the tobacco merchant Richard Tate in Liverpool. Joseph Williamson was only eleven years old at that time. Through hard work, Williamson rose thorough the ranks of the company, married the daughter of Richa...

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2020-06-18 20:15:00

That Time When The US Almost Blew North Carolina  

During the 1950s and 60s, the United States suffered a string of mishaps with nuclear weapons. From lost nukes to accidentally dropping bombs over their own territory, most of these accidents were not serious, posing no threat of detonation. But a couple of them were close shaves. The Goldsboro incident is one of them. On the night of 23 January 1961, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber patrolling the skies over the Atlantic Ocean developed a fuel leak. The pilots were advised to steer their craft tow

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2020-06-17 23:28:00

OncoMouse: The Mouse That Disrupted Science  

In 1988, the US Patent Office awarded for the first time in history a patent for an animal to the Harvard University. The U.S. Patent Number 4736866 was for a small genetically engineered mouse, white and furry, with red beady eyes. His name was OncoMouse. OncoMouse's creators scientists Philip Leder and Timothy Stewart, however, had not created a better mouse. On the contrary, it was much worse. The Harvard scientists had genetically modified the mouse to make it highly susceptible to canc...

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2020-06-16 16:35:00

Bōsai Musen: Japan's 5 PM Chime  

The loudspeaker of Japan's national disaster warning system in Owkudani Hakone, Japan. Photo: WAN CHEUK NANG/ For those living in disaster prone areas, the wail of an outdoor warning siren routinely disrupting your peace is all too common. These loudspeakers, that make up the often county-wide network of disaster warning system, has to be regularly tested, but instead of blaring their horns and needlessly jangling the nerves of the citizens, why can't outdoor warning siren...

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2020-06-16 11:05:00

Dürer's Rhinoceros: A 16th-Century Viral Fake  

Five hundred years ago, Europe saw its first rhinoceros in more than a thousand years. The animal was fairly common during Roman times seen in circuses and gladiatorial events. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, rhinoceros faded away from people's memory, becoming something of a mythical beast alongside dragons and unicorns—until one living example arrived from the Far East. The rhinoceros was a gift from Afonso de Albuquerque, the governor of Portuguese India, to King Manuel I of Po...

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2020-06-13 20:54:00

The Cobbled Hell of Trouée d'Arenberg  

The famous cobblestone road through the forest of Saint-Amand-Wallers, in France. Photo: Radu Razvan/ The forest of Saint-Amand-Wallers, just outside Valenciennes, in northern France, is bisected by a perfectly straight cobbled road. Laid during the time of Napoleon I, in the late 18th century, this crudely constructed rural road connecting the mining village of Arenberg with other villages to the north, is normally used as a short cut by the locals. But once a year, the quiet

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2020-06-12 11:27:00

Monte Stella: Milan's Rubble Mountain  

The city of Milan is as flat as a pancake, save for a little bump in the northwest called Monte Stella. In the vast expanse of Po valley, where Milan is situated, Monte Stella looks little more than a swelling from an insect bite. But for the city's joggers and young people looking for a little elevation in their daily exercise routine, Monte Stella provides the perfect spot. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-06-11 16:22:00

The Healing Soil of Boho  

In the Boho highlands of West Fermanagh Scarplands in Northern Ireland, there is a longstanding belief that the soil from the local churchyard has miraculous curative powers. It was on this churchyard, in 1815, the Reverend James McGirr, who was a faith healer, was buried. On his deathbed, Father McGirr himself had supposedly declared that "the clay that covers me will cure anything that I was able to cure when I was with you while I was alive." Since then, a local custom developed. Whenever...

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2020-06-10 21:58:00

The World's Largest Brick Bridge  

Before the age of steel and concrete, bricks and stones were the only two materials available to architects and bridge designers hoping to span a river or a valley with a structure that was both strong and durable. While these ancient building materials might not match some of the qualities of steel, they suited the needs of the time. Indeed, stone bridges in particular are virtually indestructible. There are thousands of stone and brick viaducts across Europe and Asia that dates back by hundred

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2020-06-09 14:39:00

A 16th Century Math Book With Pop-Up Models  

Euclid's Elements, first published in 300 BC, was one of the most important and influential textbooks ever written in the history of science and it laid the foundations of mathematics. It was one of the earliest mathematical works to be printed after the invention of the printing press, and by some estimates, it is second only to the Bible in the number of editions published since the first printing in 1482. By Queen Victoria's time, The Elements had became a standard textbook in schools, ...

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2020-06-08 20:51:00

Alexis St. Martin: The Man With A Hole In His Stomach  

By the early 19th century, physicians had a clear understanding of the human anatomy (from dissecting cadavers) but knowledge about the role of each internal organ and how they worked in a living and breathing individual was hazy. Doctors had a couple of diagnostic tools at their disposal, such as the stethoscope and the laryngoscope, to poke and prod their patients with, but the scope of these devices were limited. Nobody had ever seen the insides of a living person, save during hastily carried

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2020-06-05 11:43:00

Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov's Two-Headed Dog  

In 1955, at a meeting of the Moscow Surgical Society, a sensational exhibit was presented to the assembled guests. On the platform close to the audience, a large white dog was brought in. The dog looked happy, cheerfully wagging its tail, and unintimated by the large crowd of eager guests in front of him. He seemed particularly unconcerned by the unnatural appendage protruding from the side of his neck. Just a few days before the meet, the dog had undergone a major surgery during which the S

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2020-06-03 21:25:00

Llívia: A Curious Spanish Enclave in France  

A welcome sign on the road to Llívia, a landlock state of Spain inside France. Photo: LMspencer/ Deep in the Pyrenees, surrounded by French territory, the small town of Llívia is the envy of Catalans—for, for the past 350 years, Llívia has been reasonably independent from its Spanish homeland—something which the rest of Catalonia has been struggling to achieve for the past one hundred years at least. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-06-02 21:39:00

The War Rubble of Crosby Beach  

Photo: pshab/Flickr Just beyond the coastguard station at the end of the promenade at Crosby Beach, in Liverpool, is a flat stretch of sand littered with broken bricks, stones, mortar, marble, tilework and more, rendered smooth and round by the action of waves over many decades. It looks like construction rubble, but there is a deep history in these pulverized, glassy bricks. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-06-01 15:42:00

The Unknown Martyrs Who Became Catacomb Saints  

Relics of saint and holy people have always been an integral part of Christianity. There was a time when bones, skins, fingernails, severed heads and even entire bodies of saints were preserved and cherished by the populace. But when the Protestant Revolution gripped Europe in the early 16th century, thousands of these relics were destroyed. The iconoclastic behavior was the most fervent in Northern Europe, especially in Germany, where many Catholic churches were plundered, vandalized and outr

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2020-05-29 20:47:00

Clever Hans: The Horse Who Could Do Math  

In a paved courtyard surrounded by high apartment houses in the northern part of Berlin, a small crowd had gathered to watch an old high school mathematics teacher demonstrate the brilliance of one of his precocious pupil. The sixty-something math instructor stood proudly with a black, slouch hat covering his thinning white hair. To his left, stood the pupil—an impressive Russian trotting horse. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-05-27 16:48:00

Stanley Kubrick's Rejected Monolith  

The iconic Monolith from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was originally not a mysterious black slab. The director wanted it to be transparent. To that end, Kubrick commissioned a local plastics firm, Stanley Plastics to cast the monolith out of a solid block of transparent acrylic. However, when the sparkling clear polymer block was delivered, the notoriously picky director was disappointed by the way it appeared during screen test. Kubrick eventually rejected the prop in favor of

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2020-05-27 12:09:00

Waterloopbos: Where Dutch Engineers Learned to Play With The Sea  

A quarter of Netherlands lie below the sea level. Most of these low-lying areas are land reclaimed from the sea. The region was originally occupied by the estuaries of three large rivers—the Rhine, the Meuse, and the Scheldt, as well as their tributaries. Starting from the late 16th centuries, the Dutch drained the low-lying areas called polder by building an elaborate drainage system consisting of dikes, canals, and pumping stations. The highlight of this incredible engineering is a series of...

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2020-05-25 15:41:00

Pervitin: The Wonder Drug That Fueled Nazi Germany  

When Heinrich Böll, the German writer and Nobel laureate, was a young man in his twenties, like many able-bodied youths of his time, he joined the Wehrmacht, the German Armed Forces of Nazi Germany. During World War 2, he served all over Europe as well as the Soviet Union. On November 9, 1939, while fighting in occupied Poland, Böll wrote to his parents back home in Cologne: "It's tough out here, and I hope you'll understand if I'm only able to write to you once every two to f...

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2020-05-21 21:30:00

Draining of Fucine Lake  

In western Abruzzo, in central Italy, about 80 kilometers east of Rome, lies one of Italy's most fertile plains. The vegetables that are grown here are highly appreciated across Italy for their distinguishing quality and taste. Particularly popular is the Fucino potato which was awarded the "Protected Geographical Indication" in 2014—a quality label awarded by the European Union to agricultural products of excellence closely tied to a particular territory. Surrounded by low hills, ...

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2020-05-20 20:37:00

Tsar Tank  

Before World War I, military tanks were a mere concept. Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of a human-powered armored vehicle, with canons all around it. In the 15th century, a Czech general built armored wagons fitted with cannons and used them effectively in several battles. In the short story, The Land Ironclads, first published in 1903, H.G. Wells imagined hundred-foot long armored fighting vehicles equipped with canons and rifles, and large enough to carry a platoon. Around the upper edges of

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2020-05-19 16:30:00

Aerotrain: The High-Speed Train That Almost Revolutionized Transport  

Some of the fastest trains in service today have a top speed in excess of 200 miles per hour. With the exception of Shanghai maglev, all of them are conventional wheel-on-tracks system, which is remarkable because rolling friction has always been the biggest obstacle to high-speed travel. But if you want to see what the future has in store for rail travelers, just look at the world speed records—out of the top ten speed record holders, eight are maglev trains. The highest speed achieved by a...

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2020-05-15 20:37:00

Remembering Epidemics With Plague Columns  

Military victories are much celebrated, but a victory against a common enemy, such as a disease, is as important, especially in older times when human population was routinely decimated by waves of killer epidemics. In such times, people desperately seeking for cures and respite from the sufferings offered prayers and votive offerings to the Gods. Those cities who could afford erected large churches, such as the Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, constructed after the Italian Plague of 1629-1...

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2020-05-14 16:04:00

Vennbahn: The Railway That Created a Peculiar Border Problem  

Germany and Belgium's border problem. Photo: gunnsteinlye/Flickr Along the German-Belgian border runs an old disused railway track, the Vennbahn. It passes through three countries, starting at the German town of Aachen, goes through Belgian territory and ends in Troisvierges in northern Luxembourg. Along the way it snakes in and out of Germany and Belgium creating a very odd border situation in the region. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-05-12 15:23:00

Turnspit Dogs  

Observe the scene above depicting the inside of an inn at Newcastle, Wales, in the late 19th century. Men and women are sitting around the tables gossiping over drinks and smoke, waiting for the meat to get done. A woman is sitting by the fire tending the rotisserie, but the actual work is being done by a small dog furiously running inside a small hamster wheel hanging from the ceiling. He is the turnspit dog—a short-legged, long-bodied dog breed with a heavy head and drooping ears. Famed zo...

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2020-05-11 20:21:00

The Pearl Rush of Caddo Lake  

Caddo Lake. Photo: Maciej Kraus/Flickr Natural pearls are a rarity today, but a hundred years ago, before British biologist William Saville-Kent first developed the technique of pearl culturing, natural pearls were found in many parts of the world and it was the only kind of pearl people wore. For thousand of years, divers retrieved natural pearls from wild oysters in the Indian Ocean in areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. The pearl fisheries of the Persian G

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2020-05-09 12:16:00

Kruger Shalati: The Train Hotel Over Sabie Bridge  

For several years, it was possible to hop into a train at Komatipoort, on the South Africa-Mozambique border, and ride through the wilderness of the Kruger National Park up to Tzaneen, a large town located outside the National Park. On the way, the train stopped at the railway bridge over Sabie river, where guests disembarked and were escorted by armed rangers right into the bush. After enjoying the park by day, the guests retreated to their carriages at night to sleep before moving on to thei

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2020-05-07 16:36:00

The Bayeux Tapestry  

History is not always written. Sometimes it's carved. Sometimes it's embroidered. In a museum in Bayeux, in Normandy, is such a piece of commemorative work—a 70 meter stretch of fabric embroidered with figures and scenes that tell one of the most famous stories in British history—the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century by William, Duke of Normand,y who became the King of England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings. The Bayeux Tapestry was made soon after the battle, and te...

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2020-05-06 20:03:00

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary  

When cotton first came to Europe from Central Asia during the Middle ages, people were fascinated by the fluffy, fibrous balls that resembled wool. They knew cotton grew on trees, but they were unaware exactly how. Having never seen a flower that fluffy, people just assumed that the cotton came from lambs, but the lambs themselves grew on trees. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-05-05 20:32:00

Black Weddings: Marrying in The Time of Cholera  

Last month, a peculiar wedding ceremony took place at a cemetery in Bnei Brak, a city in Israel, just east of Tel Aviv. With government regulation prohibiting large gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the wedding was a small affair with only a few attendants huddled under a small black canopy, the chuppah. The groom was an orphan and while the identify of the bride was not disclosed, she was probably an orphan herself. The two had never met before, never known each other. These

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2020-05-01 16:06:00

Cosmos 954: The Nuke That Fell From Space  

What goes up must eventually come down, including satellites that are currently orbiting the earth. After their work is done, they will be deliberately tossed back into the atmosphere where they will burn up in the high altitudes. Little, if any, will actually hit the ground. But sometimes a satellite fails and falls back to earth unpredictably, posing hazard to human population, wildlife and the environment. And what if the satellite contained an active nuclear reactor? © Amusing Plan

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2020-04-29 21:01:00

The Allure of Gigantic Excavators  

A young girl stands inside the enormous bucket of "Big Muskie", the world's largest dragline excavator. Photo: Charles Barilleaux/Flickr  Near McConnelsville, Ohio, just off State Route 78, is the Miners' Memorial Park dedicated to the coal mining industry of southeastern Ohio that dominated the economy of this part of America until about fifty years ago. The small park is centered around a single exhibit—a colossal steel bucket that was once attached to the business end of the lar...

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2020-04-28 11:49:00

The Mysterious Hum Nobody Can Explain  

For the past nine years, residents of Windsor city, situated on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border just across Detroit river, have been complaining of a mysterious and persistent low-frequency humming noise. It comes and goes at random intervals, sometimes lasting hours and other times droning on for days. Those who can hear it—for not everyone can—compares the uncomfortable hum to an idling diesel engine or a pulsating subwoofer. Others say it sounds like a continuous distant thund...

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2020-04-25 19:41:00

The Turkish Hotel Built Above an Ancient Ruin  

In 2009, a construction crew digging the foundation for a new hotel in Antakya, Turkey, made an astonishing discovery. They uncovered a vast mosaic dating back to Roman times, along with more than 35,000 artifacts spanning some 2,300 years from at least 13 different civilizations. Construction of the hotel was immediately put on hold, while a six-month excavation took place. The find would have dashed the hopes of any hotelier, but the Asfuroğlu group decided to embrace the challenge, integ...

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2020-04-25 12:29:00

The Artist Who Got Carried Away: The Story of The Peacock Room  

In 1876, the British shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland bought himself a grand house at 49 Princes Gate in the fashionable neighbourhood of Kensington in London. Shortly after, he engaged architect Richard Norman Shaw to remodel and redecorate his home. Redesigning the dining room, however, was entrusted to the gifted architect Thomas Jeckyll, who was known for his Anglo-Japanese styles. Leyland had a large collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain, mostly from the Kangxi era o

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2020-04-23 16:30:00

Ama: The Freediving Fisherwomen of Japan  

In ancient times, the only way to gather food and other resources, such as sponge and pearl, from the sea bed was to hold one's breath and dive to the bottom—a technique known as skin diving or freediving. The longer the diver could hold his breath, the longer he could stay underwater and the more he could collect without having to come up for air. The modern breathing apparatus has made this hazardous profession obsolete. Today, skin-diving is performed mostly as a form of competitive sport...

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2020-04-21 17:00:00

The Shortest Rivers in The World  

Most people imagine rivers to be long meandering waterways flowing down faraway mountains, through the valleys and the plains until it reaches the ocean or a lake. Along its entire route, the river fertilizes the land allowing plants and crops to grow. Animals congregate around its banks, humans build towns and cities. Water from rivers are diverted for flood control, irrigation, power generation, drinking, and even waste disposal. This is true for many rivers on this planet. But there are also

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2020-04-20 19:43:00

The Elevator Shaft That Came Before The Elevator  

The Cooper Union's Foundation Building in Lower Manhattan was completed in 1859. This large six-story brownstone building of Anglo-Italianate style featuring heavy, ornate, round-arched windows was the first building in the world that was designed to accommodate an elevator—four years before such an invention became available for passenger use. At that time, New York was growing vertically and Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science—one of America's lea...

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2020-04-17 16:26:00

The Watts Tower  

On a small triangular plot of land, in a suburb just south of downtown Los Angeles, stands one of the greatest pieces of outsider art—a set of tall towers made of steel, wire mesh and concrete, inlaid with broken pieces of tiles, glass, and pottery, and other found items. Its creator was a semi-literate Italian immigrant named Simon Rodia, who spent 33 years from 1921 to 1954 building this architectural marvel known as the Watts Towers. Not much is known about Rodia's early life except that...

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2020-04-16 10:59:00

The Secret of Coade Stone  

The large lion statue that stands at the east end of Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, holds a secret—it is made neither of stone nor of concrete but from a special mixture of ingredients whose recipe was lost to the world for more than a hundred years. The statue is close to two hundred years old, yet looks brand new with no visible signs of weathering on its surface. The fine details of its modelling still remain clear after centuries of exposure to the corrosive atmosphere ...

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2020-04-13 20:44:00

Rettungsbojen: The Floating Rescue Buoys of The Luftwaffe  

During World War 2, both the RAF and the Luftwaffe lost a large number of pilots at sea. The British used a couple of high speed boats that patrolled the English Channel and picked up downed pilots before they were overcome by the elements. The Germans used the Heinkel He 59 float planes that could land on water, in addition to boats. The German sea rescue service, or Seenotdienst, was more successful than the Allied effort. They had bases all along the coast of Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and

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2020-04-10 17:07:00

The Historic Meeting on Elbe River  

April 25, 1945, is a date few remember. But it was a significant day in the history of the world. On this day, American troops sweeping in from the west and the Red Army advancing from the east joined forces on the Elbe river, near Torgau, about 100 km south of Berlin. They shook hands, exchanged souvenirs and posed for photographs. The meeting was historic because it meant that they had successfully cut the Germany army in two. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-04-09 16:10:00

The Grain Race  

By the end of the 19th century, steam-powered vessels had almost completely replaced sailing ships in the commercial shipping business. But along the longer routes, such as from Australia to Europe around Cape Horn, a sailing ship was as efficient as a steam ship. This route, historically sailed by clipper ships and thus known as the "clipper route", offered captains the fastest circumnavigation of the world, and hence potentially the greatest rewards. Many grain, wool and gold clippers sail...

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2020-04-09 16:10:00

The Green-Haired Mary River Turtle  

The Mary River turtle lives exclusively in the waters of the Mary River in south-east Queensland, Australia. Despite being one of Australia's largest freshwater turtles, it gained scientific identification and classification less than thirty years ago. The Mary River turtle managed to avoid detection for so long possibly due to its extraordinary respiratory system that allows it to breath underwater, therefore seldom requiring to emerge out of the water for air. The turtle performs this unusua...

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2020-04-07 20:40:00

Operation Tat-Type: Why Some American Kids Got Tattooed With Blood-Type  

Photo: Hole in the Clouds The paranoia during the early years of the Cold War was so great that many American school children were made to wear dog tags, like soldiers wear around their necks, to enable identification of bodies in the aftermath of an atomic attack. Later, another bizarre initiative was promoted—tattoo children and young people with their blood-type. Blood-type tattoos was anticipated to save thousands of lives following an atomic bomb attack because this information could e...

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2020-04-06 19:17:00

The Caprivi Strip  

The country of Namibia has a sizeable landmass with an enviable coastline by the South Atlantic Ocean. Yet, a thin sliver of land, no more than 32 kilometers wide, protrude eastward for about 450 kilometers from the north-eastern corner of the country towards Zimbabwe, seeking something it doesn't have. This odd finger-like intrusion is called the Caprivi Strip, after German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, who negotiated the acquisition of the land with the United Kingdom in 1890. © Amus...

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2020-04-03 12:59:00

Nyepi: Bali's Day of Silence  

Every year, towards the end of March, the entire island of Bali in Indonesia, goes into standstill. Flights are grounded, shops remain closed, streets are deserted of traffic and pedestrian. All residents lock themselves up in their houses and switch off their lights. There is no talking, no music, no entertainment. Some even stop eating. This day is called Nyepi, the "day of silence", where devout Hindus meditate and reflect. Balinese Hindu devotees carry an Ogoh-ogoh effigy during a pa...

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2020-04-03 11:19:00

Digitally Reconstructed Medieval Castles  

Europe is known for its magnificent castles and fortresses, but only a few survive in their original form. Since reconstructing them would be financially impossible and culturally abhorrent, a London-based creative agency named NeoMam Studios have decided to digitally restore them to their prime. Using old paintings, blueprints, and textual documents that describe the strongholds, the design team from NeoMam Studios have resuscitated over a dozen castles across Europe. The Poenari Castle in R

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2020-04-01 14:21:00

The Guillotine Haircut  

Women traditionally wore their hair long. So when did short hair become the vogue? Some say it became fashionable only about hundred years ago, but if we are to trace the history of cropped hair, it will take us to 18th-century France, just as the nation was coming out of turmoil of the Revolution. During the later years of the French Revolution, many fashionable young men and women of the upper and middle classes began to cut their hair short. It was called the Titus haircut, or coiffure à ...

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2020-03-30 16:04:00

Forgotten Jobs: Dog Whipper And Sluggard Waker  

Photo: Nelson Antoine/ In 16th-century England, stray dogs disrupting church service became such a big problem that many parishes employed "dog whippers", whose job was to shoo away dogs and prevent these animals from crowding around the church or attacking priests when he was handing out communion bread and wafers on church steps. The dog whipper carried a whip and a long pair of tongs using which he would grab a dog by its neck and physically remove him from the church g...

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2020-03-28 13:00:00

Joseph Bell, The Real Sherlock Holmes  

An illustration of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that appeared in a stamp printed in Alderney, circa 2009. Photo: Olga Popova/ The Ardlamont murder was an open and shut case. A young, wealthy aristocrat, Cecil Hambrough, was out hunting on the Ardlamont estate in Scotland with two associates—Alfred Monson, his tutor, and a mysterious third man named Edward Scott, who was identified only as a friend of Monson—when shots were heard. Estate workers saw Monson and Scott runni...

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2020-03-26 16:17:00

The Quarantine Quarters of Dubrovnik  

Social distancing and quarantine are not new concepts. During the Middle Ages, when Europe and Asia were devastated by deadly outbreaks of plague and small pox, physicians had no idea about viruses and bacteria, but they knew enough to isolate the infected to arrest the spread of the disease. The first official decree to introduce quarantine was by the Republic of Ragusa, now the city of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Located on the Adriatic coast, the Republic of Ragusa had an active port thr

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2020-03-25 12:16:00

Run Out of Toilet Paper? Use a Stick  

Hoarding toilet paper. Photo: DigitalMammoth/ Chances are, you've run out of toilet paper, unless you are the type who bought eight boxes of it. Since the coronavirus outbreak, toilet paper has become a commodity more precious than gold, with shelves that hold them emptying faster than those that stock milk. While researchers, psychologists and even economists are collectively scratching their heads over this bizarre behavior, we, on the other hand, have a practical solution...

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2020-03-25 10:00:00

Fatal Familial Insomnia: The Disease That Kills by Sleep Deprivation  

Everybody suffers from a little insomnia once in a while, but what if you were unable to sleep for months? Early studies conducted on dogs showed that the absence of sleep was fatal in a few days. In one brutal experiment conducted by a couple of Italian physiologists in the late 19th century, dogs were kept awake for two weeks by forcing them to walk, after which they died. Microscopic study of the dogs' brain cells showed degenerative changes in the brain's neurons. In 1964, an Americ...

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2020-03-22 21:56:00

How Coronavirus Emptied The World's Streets  

As millions of people around the world lock themselves indoors in order to prevent transmission of the dreaded coronavirus, the world outside looks eerily abandoned. The absence of humans and smoke belching vehicles is having a profound effect on the environment, not seen, perhaps, since the Industrial Age began. The atmosphere has become cleaner with significant drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution. The normally polluted waters of the canals of Venice have become so clear that one can see the bot

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2020-03-22 11:11:00

The Mulberry Harbours of Normandy  

When the sea goes out in Arromanches-les-Bains, a small village on the coast of Normandy in northwestern France, the large concrete pontoons that lie half submerged in the salty waters expose themselves in their entirety. These concrete structures played a significant role in the history of Europe, facilitating the landing of thousands of Allied troops and their equipment on the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord. Mulberry harbour ruins in Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy, France. P

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2020-03-18 20:14:00

Barnacle Goose: The Bird That Was Believed to Grow on Trees  

In the days before it was realized that birds migrate, ancient scholars struggled to explain why some species of birds appeared and disappeared as the seasons changed. The idea that these little feathered creatures can travel thousands of miles in search of food and warmth was unimaginable. But the notion was not entirely an alien one. Greek writer Homer believed that cranes flew south in winter to fight the pygmies of Africa, a fable that's repeated by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder. Ac...

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2020-03-17 12:45:00

The Kettle War  

Photo: B toy Anucha/ The Kettle War of 1784 was a quintessential David versus Goliath story. A formidable naval fleet of the Holy Roman Empire faces a lone battleship, underpowered and hopelessly outnumbered, yet comes back defeated. In the short battle, lasting less than a day, only a single shot was fired, and the only casualty was a soup kettle. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-03-13 20:39:00

The Earliest Depiction of Jesus Was a Mocking Tribute to Christianity  

In the Palatine museum in Rome there is a collection of ancient graffiti etched on slabs of marble and limestone that once defaced the walls of palaces and public buildings across the Roman Empire. Among these is one that historians call "Alexamenos graffito". It depicts a roughly drawn figure of a man with the head of an ass crucified on a cross. Next to the crucified figure is a smaller figure with one arm extended towards the former. Underneath the figures is a caption, written in equal...

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2020-03-12 16:36:00

The Hanging Cages of St. Lambert's Church in Münster  

If you crane your neck and look up while standing in front of St Lambert's Church in Münster, Germany, you can make out three iron cages hanging from the church's steeple, just above the clock face. The cages are empty, but five hundred years ago they held the mutilated, rotten corpses of three revolutionaries who led one of the most brutal Protestant revolutions in history. Photo: ptwo/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-03-11 15:53:00

Cold War Era Bunkers Under Corsham  

The fear of nuclear apocalypse immediately after the end of the Second World War, caused many westerns countries to invest heavily on underground bunkers where important government officials, decision makers, as well as the general populace could hide should there be a Hiroshima-like attack over ground. In the United Kingdom, the panic-stricken government built hundreds of shelters across the island. They ranged in size from small tunnels to vast underground cities equipped with hospitals, cante

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2020-03-10 20:34:00

Sweating Sickness: The Forgotten Epidemic  

The Sleeping Beauty, by John Collier During medieval times, diseases were a constant threat to people's health, brought about by lack of hygiene and poor understanding of the nature of the illness. The myriad diseases that plagued and perplexed medieval physicians are well understood today, but one that remains a historical and medical mystery is the English sweating sickness. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a mysterious epidemic swept across Europe. Victims of the disease first came down ...

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2020-03-09 17:52:00

Celles, The Village That Didn't Drown  

In the late 1950s, residents of Celles, a small village in the Salagou valley in southern France, received notices for evacuation. Their neighborhood had been chosen by the authorities to become the site for a reservoir, which was to be built supposedly for their own benefit. This region has been traditionally known for its vineyards, but lately, the wine market was crashing and prices were dropping. The local government decided that the best way to ride out the crisis was for the farmers to d

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2020-03-09 12:43:00

Terrible National Pak Reviews Illustrated  

The wonderful thing about online reviews is that you will find both five-star and one-star reviews for the exact same product, and this includes America's most pristine and majestic natural wonders—the National Parks. Most of the bad reviews stem from people complaining about petty stuff. Some didn't like the watery coffee at the visitor center. Others couldn't find a parking spot. For others, the day was too hot or too cloudy. When designer Amber Share read these one-star reviews, she...

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2020-03-07 16:26:00

Bathysphere: The World's First Deep-Sea Exploration Vessel  

On the afternoon of September 22, 1932, listeners across America and the UK tuned their radio sets to an extraordinary live broadcast that was being transmitted from inside a small steel sphere hundreds of feet below the ocean's surface. Locked inside the sphere was naturalist William Beebe and inventor Otis Barton, who designed the device. Through a telephone system supplied by Bell Laboratories, Beebe described the wonderful marine life that swam past his tiny quartz window—"a school of ...

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2020-03-05 15:24:00

Scalae Gemoniae: The Stairs of Death  

Not too far from Tarpeian Rock, a cliff on Capitoline Hill in the center of Rome, where convicted criminals were once flung to their deaths, there stood another gruesome execution site. It was a flight of stairs leading from the Arx of Capitoline Hill down to the Roman Forum below. Near the stairs stood Mamertine Prison, where many of the criminals who met horrific deaths at the stairs were imprisoned. A section of the Gemonian stairs in Rome. Photo: RussieseO/ © Amusin

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2020-03-03 21:49:00

The Indian Perfume That Smells Like Rain  

Rainwater flows down a roof. Photo: Anna Nikonorova/ Love that musky, fresh smell of earth that permeates the air when the first rain of the monsoon hits the parched ground? It is known an petrichor, a pleasant cocktail of fragrant chemical compounds, some produced by plants, others produced by bacteria that live on the soil. These bacteria are the main contributors to the distinct earthly smell. When they die during periods of drought, they release a compound called geosmin w

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2020-03-02 20:20:00

The Newspaper That is Published Only on 29th February  

The French newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur, has been publishing for the last 40 years. Yet, there has been only eleven issues so far. Why? Because it's published only on Leap Day, i.e., 29th of February. La Bougie du Sapeur began as a joke in 1980 between two friends, the polytechnician Jacques De Buisson and Christian Bailly, a press enthusiast and collector of old newspapers. The newspaper's name, literally "The Sapper's Candle", refers to a cartoon character created in the la...

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2020-03-02 11:39:00

Cornfield Bomber: The Fighter Plane That Landed Without Its Pilot  

One of the strangest aviation mishaps that ended happily happened on February 2, 1970. That morning, three F-106 Delta Darts took off from the Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, in Montana, the United States, on a routine training mission, when one of the F-106, piloted by Captain Gary Faust, entered into a flat spin—which happens when an aircraft stalls and rapidly loses altitude while spinning from wing to wing. Once an aircraft enters into flat spin, it is usually very difficult to ...

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2020-02-27 21:16:00

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