A physician’s job has always been to heal the sick and give advice on how to stay healthy. There were medical treatments, to be sure – leeching, purging, and my personal favorite – eating ground up powdered mummies. Yes. You read that correctly. For thousands of years, eating the ground up mummified remains of long-dead embalmed human beings was considered good medicine. That’s what they taught at them ancient medical schools. The demand for powdered mummies was so great that sometimes hucksters would simply grind up dead beggars and plague victims and sell them as mummies.
The history of medicine is the history of the placebo effect. This mummy-eating practice died out in the 16th century was was replaced by other equally useless procedures – such as the lobotomy to cure mental illness. Hey, let me shove this ice pick through your eyeball and mash up parts of your brain like I’m mashing a potato. The inventor of this procedure received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine. This was the cutting edge of medicine circa 1949. Any criticism of this mashed-brain strategy could be legitimately met by “Did YOU win a Nobel Prize, buddy?”
“The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?’ ” says Sugg. The answer, at first, was Egyptian mummy, which was crumbled into tinctures to stanch internal bleeding. But other parts of the body soon followed. Skull was one common ingredient, taken in powdered form to cure head ailments. Thomas Willis, a 17th-century pioneer of brain science, brewed a drink for apoplexy, or bleeding, that mingled powdered human skull and chocolate. And King Charles II of England sipped “The King’s Drops,” his personal tincture, containing human skull in alcohol. Even the toupee of moss that grew over a buried skull, called Usnea, became a prized additive, its powder believed to cure nosebleeds and possibly epilepsy. Human fat was used to treat the outside of the body. German doctors, for instance, prescribed bandages soaked in it for wounds, and rubbing fat into the skin was considered a remedy for gout. [continue]
Most people regard hierarchy in human societies as inevitable, a natural part of who we are. Yet this belief contradicts much of the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens.
In fact, our ancestors have for the most part been “fiercely egalitarian”, intolerant of any form of inequality. While hunter-gatherers accepted that people had different skills, abilities and attributes, they aggressively rejected efforts to institutionalise them into any form of hierarchy.
Instead of foraging in the past for inspiration, Mr. Haatuft asked himself a hypothetical question: “If western Norway were a region of France, what would the chefs here brag about?”
His theory is that the prestigious classic cuisine of France is “farm food that was beautified and refined” to suit the tastes and whims of rich people. In Norway, he said, there was never enough wealth to transform food into cuisine. (That changed after oil production began in the North Sea in the 1970s, making modern Norway one of the world’s wealthiest nations.)
Traditional Norwegian food is famously bland, with infinite recombinations of fish, potatoes, flour and milk. But those porridges and dumplings were often spiked with intense tastes like smoked lamb and reindeer, salt-fermented salmon, goat salami and pickled root vegetables. The country has top-quality dairy products, berries that grow sweet in the 18-hour days of summer and complex aged cheeses. Extraordinary fresh seafood is harvested from the cold waters of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, and preserved using time-honored traditions that are just as complex as French charcuterie.
“A French chef here would brag about the smoked mackerel,” he said. “He would clean out the dark parts to make it beautiful. He would add butter to make it rich and smooth, and make the flavor of the ingredient shine.”
That is precisely what Mr. Haatuft does at Lysverket. [continue]
Several years ago, I switched to a low-carb paleo diet. This did me fantastic amounts of good, but there was one problem: leg cramps at night. Sometimes I’d wake several times a night with really, really painful cramps in my calves. I’d have to get up right away, put weight on the affected leg, and even then – oh, the pain!
The environment for sleep itself changed dramatically between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ekirch writes, going from straw pallets on the floor to wooden frames with pillows, sheets, blankets, and mattresses filled with rags and wool. Sixteenth-century clergyman William Harrison recalled people in his childhood sleeping with “a good round log under their heads, instead of a bolster” and wrote that pillows “were thought meet only for women in childebed.”
Still, when beds were introduced people took to them eagerly. Quoting historian Carole Shammas, Ekrich writes that we might think of the early modern era as “The Age of the Bed.” Beds were the first and most valuable piece of furniture families acquired, accounting for a quarter of the value of a modest household. They were also often infested with bugs and shared by several people. [continue]
I use more index cards than anyone I know, and Carl Linnaeus has fascinated me since I first heard of him years ago. So imagine my delight at finding this article: How the index card cataloged the world.
The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.
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In 1767, near the end of his career, Linnaeus began to use “little paper slips of a standard size” to record information about plants and animals. According to the historians Isabelle Charmantier and Staffan Müller-Wille, these paper slips offered “an expedient solution to an information-overload crisis” for the Swedish scientist. More than 1,000 of them, measuring five by three inches, are housed at London’s Linnean Society. Each contains notes about plants and material culled from books and other publications. While flimsier than heavy stock and cut by hand, they’re virtually indistinguishable from modern index cards.
The Swedish scientist is more often credited with another invention: binomial nomenclature, the latinized two-part name assigned to every species. Before Linnaeus, rambling descriptions were used to identify plants and animals. A tomato, for example, was a mouthful: Solanum caule inermi herbaceo foliis pinnatis incisis. After Linnaeus, the round fruit became Solanum lycopersicum. Thanks to his landmark study, Systema Naturae, naturalists had a universal language, which organized the natural world into the nested hierarchies still used today—species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, and kingdom. [continue]
How cool is that?
If you happen to wonder why I use so many index cards, take a look at Introducing the Hipster PDA over at 43folders.com. I came across that page years ago, and adopted a variation of that approach for organizing things. It’s not the only method I use, but it is highly useful and satisfying.
Have you heard about Mastodon? It’s a social network that is growing like crazy, and it’s not like the annoying networks you’ve come to hate. I joined a while ago, and like it a lot. I published a page about Mastodon here, to give readers an idea of what it is and why I like it.
Sometimes when I don’t have the time or inclination to publish a blog post on Mirabilis.ca, I share interesting things I’ve found over there, on my Mastodon account. So if you like Mirabilis.ca content and wish for more, you might like to come hang out on Mastodon.
So, yeah. If you would like to be part of a social network that is friendly, non-commerical, and just generally a good thing, maybe give it a try. On Mastodon, I am @firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me there, if you like. I’d love to have your company.
A Walrus article, Rise of the Robots, claims that “Automated trucks will transform an industry and put millions out of work.”
Hermann is just one of the thousands of truckers who can be found on BC’s roads at any given time. In Canada, more than 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people—it’s the second most common occupation reported by men. In 2010, truck transportation contributed $17.1 billion to our country’s GDP. It’s a similar scene in the United States, where about 3.5 million people drive trucks for a living.
But the job isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the hours spent yakking on the CB radio, the straight runs across the country. And many drivers predict that the days of watching the miles slip by under glinting chrome grills will soon be over altogether. Today, investors in Silicon Valley are pouring millions of dollars into making the first autonomous trucks, which will be able to drive and manage themselves, making humans unnecessary. “If they can get a computer to do my job,” Hermann says, “they can get a computer to do any job.” [continue]
Do you know any people who drive trucks for a living? I do, and it is troubling to think about what will happen when their jobs disappear.
It is hard to imagine Eric Bloodaxe and other feared Viking kings and chieftains wearing blue linen underwear. However, if the research carried out at the University of Bergen is correct, we should get used to the idea.
Textile fragments from Viking graves in the counties of Rogaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Hordaland in Western Norway have now been analyzed.
Research carried out by textile conservator Hana Lukešová and professor of nanophysics Bodil Holst at the University of Bergen has produced remarkable results: Vikings did use linen underwear, often dyed blue. [continue]
A study by archaeologists has revealed certain people in medieval Yorkshire were so afraid of the dead they chopped, smashed and burned their skeletons to make sure they stayed in their graves.
The research published by Historic England and the University of Southampton may represent the first scientific evidence in England of attempts to prevent the dead from walking and harming the living – still common in folklore in many parts of the world.
The archaeologists who studied a collection of human bones – including the remains of adults, teenagers and children excavated more than half a century ago, and dated back to the period between the 11th and 14th century – rejected gruesome possibilities including cannibalism in times of famine, or the massacre of outsiders. The cut marks were in the wrong place for butchery, and isotope analysis of the teeth showed that the people came from the same area as the villagers of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire – a once flourishing village which had been completely deserted by the early 16th century. [continue]
Skulls buried in a half-circle, facing southeast. A decapitated skeleton, with its head buried between its thighs and the feet cut off. Skeletons where the skulls have been removed and heads buried separately, upside down.
These might sound like the ingredients of a Hollywood horror movie, or perhaps a pagan ritual, but they are not. Instead, they are all examples of ways that Norwegian society from 500 years ago tried to guarantee that criminals and other bad people got the punishment they deserved, not only on Earth but also in the eternal afterlife.
All of these examples have been excavated over the last 20 years in Norway from an area southwest of Oslo, in a town called Skien. Archaeologists recognize an area in the town as one of first Christian burial grounds. Later, the same area was a place where criminals were executed. [continue]
Over hundreds of years, Russians have developed thousands of variations on four simple swear words that can mean anything under the sun. This collection of curses is large enough that Russians can have entire conversations using almost nothing but swears. Entire plays and novels have been written in swear words. This language is called “mat.” Mat includes a huge collection of idiomatic phrases — more than 10,000 by one estimate — including filthy ways of telling someone off, ignoring something, expressing frustration, etc.
The Russian government has tried to crack down on mat for hundreds of years – they see it as a language of dissent and resistance to authority. You can take any period in Russian history and look at the government’s attitude towards mat as a good barometer for the state of freedom of expression in general. President Putin‘s government banned mat from concerts, movies and public presentations – if we taped our show in Russia, our contestant would have been fined at least $40.
It’s not easy changing someone’s mind, especially if what you’re trying to change is something like their settled opinion. Only rarely does persuasion succeed in replacing one belief with its opposite, even among scientists. As the late philosopher of biology David L. Hand once wrote, “The objectivity that matters so much in science is not primarily a characteristic of individual scientists but of scientific communities. Scientists rarely refute their own pet hypotheses, especially after they have appeared in print, but that is all right. Their fellow scientists will be happy to expose these hypotheses to severe testing.”
When you’re persuaded, though, it can be memorable. The feeling of having your view change when you didn’t want it to, or weren’t expecting it to, is, at first, a little disorienting, like putting on a new pair of strong prescription glasses. But you quickly find that you appreciate the resulting clarity. [continue]
Back in 1984, the main premise seemed — even to me — fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship? In the book, the Constitution and Congress are no longer: The Republic of Gilead is built on a foundation of the 17th-century Puritan roots that have always lain beneath the modern-day America we thought we knew. [continue]
A Heiltsuk village site on B.C.’s mid-coast is three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza and among the oldest human settlements in North America, according to researchers at the Hakai Institute.
The excavation on Triquet Island has already produced extremely rare artifacts, including a wooden projectile-launching device called an atlatl, compound fish hooks and a hand drill used for lighting fires, said Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria.
The village has been in use for about 14,000 years, based on analysis of charcoal recovered from a hearth about 2.5 metres below the surface, making it one of the oldest First Nations settlements yet uncovered. Dates from the most recent tests range from 13,613 to 14,086 years ago.
“We were so happy to find something we could date,” she said. What started as a one-metre-by-one-metre “keyhole” into the past, expanded last summer into a three-metre trench with evidence of fire related in age to a nearby cache of stone tools.
“It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit, what we are calling a bean-shaped hearth,” she said. “The material that we have recovered from that trench has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.” [continue]
They looked like most park visitors, practicing tai chi, dancing in the courtyards and stopping to take in the scent of ancient cypress and juniper trees. But hidden in their oversize shopping bags and backpacks was a secret: sheet upon sheet of crumpled toilet paper, plucked surreptitiously from public restrooms.
Now the authorities in Beijing are fighting back, going so far as to install high-tech toilet paper dispensers equipped with facial recognition software in several restrooms. [continue]
Long before the advent of agriculture, hunter-gatherers began putting down roots in the Middle East, building more permanent homes and altering the ecological balance in ways that allowed the common house mouse to flourish, new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates.
“The research provides the first evidence that, as early as 15,000 years ago, humans were living in one place long enough to impact local animal communities—resulting in the dominant presence of house mice,” said Fiona Marshall, study co-author and a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s clear that the permanent occupation of these settlements had far-reaching consequences for local ecologies, animal domestication and human societies.” [continue]
The unknown victim, nicknamed Ötzi, has literally been in cold storage in her museum for a quarter-century. Often called the Iceman, he is the world’s most perfectly preserved mummy, a Copper Age fellow who had been frozen inside a glacier along the northern Italian border with Austria until warming global temperatures melted the ice and two hikers discovered him in 1991.
The cause of death remained uncertain until 10 years later, when an X-ray of the mummy pointed to foul play in the form of a flint arrowhead embedded in his back, just under his shoulder. But now, armed with a wealth of new scientific information that researchers have compiled, Inspector Horn has managed to piece together a remarkably detailed picture of what befell the Iceman on that fateful day around 3300 B.C., near [continue]
If you’re a Canadian who is concerned about privacy and digital rights, you’ll want to read the Vice article that shows “…the government is looking to restart a warrantless access program that had been declared unconstitutional.” How annoying is that?
The sisters caring for cognitively impaired elderly nuns in a Midwestern convent spoke to their care recipients in a way that sounded strikingly different to linguistic anthropologist Anna Corwin.
The nuns rarely used “elderspeak” — a loud, slow, simple, patronizing and common form of baby talk for seniors.
Instead, Corwin reports, they told jokes, stories and blessed the sick nuns, all the while speaking to them like they were completely capable, even though their ability to communicate was significantly diminished.
“It is beautiful watching these nuns,” Corwin, a professor at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said in a phone interview. “They accept decline. They value a person in a sort of inherent way.” [continue]
A new musical opened on Broadway last week, “Come from Away,” about Gander, a small town in Newfoundland that rallied to care for some seven thousand travellers stuck there after their planes were grounded in the aftermath of 9/11. The play celebrates a variety of Canadian habits and customs, of which seemingly compulsive niceness is the main focus. But it also incorporates a wide range of vocabulary specific to Newfoundland or Canada in general, starting with the play’s odd title, a term used in the Atlantic provinces to refer to an outsider.
You won’t find “come from away” or “screech-in”—a mock ceremony depicted in the musical that confers Newfoundland “citizenship,” featuring extreme drunkenness and the osculation of a raw cod—in the Oxford English Dictionary. But the scholarly and scrappy second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (D.C.H.P.-2), released online last week, includes these and many more examples, common and obscure, of Canadian English. [continue]
When we hear about the ways humans are affecting wild animals, it’s often in terms of numbers: populations, habitat area, or even fatalities. But off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, people are having a very different kind of influence: in response to human activity, local bottlenose dolphin populations are forming entirely new social groups. [continue]
While popularised by Guillaume Apollinaire’s wonderful Calligrammes from 1918, the art of making images through the novel arrangement of words upon the page can be traced back many centuries. Some of the earliest examples of these “calligrams” are to be found in a marvellous 9th-century manuscript known as the Aratea.
Each page of the Aratea has a poem on the bottom half — written by the 3rd-century BC Greek poet Aratus and translated into Latin by a young Cicero — describing an astronomical constellation. This constellation is then beautifully drawn above the poetry; the drawings however are themselves made up of words taken from Hyginus’ Astronomica. The passages used to form the images describe the constellation which they create on the page, and in this way they become tied to one another: neither the words or images would make full sense without the other there to complete the scene. Also, note the red dots on each picture: these show where the stars appear in the sky. [continue, see illustrations]
Suppose your cousin leaves DNA evidence at a crime scene… and then police arrive at your door, because your DNA is similar to your cousin’s, and police found your DNA in a genealogical database. Does that seem like a good thing to you, or something from dystopian fiction?
It was a high-profile crime in New York City—a jogger was murdered while running in a local park, and detectives had few leads. As the months passed and the crime remained unsolved, the victim’s family began pushing for wider use of familial DNA, or searching DNA databases for partial matches to DNA evidence that might represent a family member of the killer (the technique has been successfully used). Detectives eventually identified a suspect without it, but the idea of familial DNA testing is not going away. [continue]