Secret tunnel may solve the mysteries of Teotihuacán

From the Smithsonian Magazine: A Secret Tunnel Found in Mexico May Finally Solve the Mysteries of Teotihuacán.

In the fall of 2003, a heavy rainstorm swept through the ruins of Teotihuacán, the pyramid-studded, pre-Aztec metropolis 30 miles northeast of present-day Mexico City. Dig sites sloshed over with water; a torrent of mud and debris coursed past rows of souvenir stands at the main entrance. The grounds of the city’s central courtyard buckled and broke. One morning, Sergio Gómez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, arrived at work to find a nearly three-foot-wide sinkhole had opened at the foot of a large pyramid known as the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, in Teotihuacán’s southeast quadrant. (…)

And as far as he was concerned, there wasn’t anything beneath the Temple of the Plumed Serpent beyond dirt, fossils and rock. Gómez fetched a flashlight from his truck and aimed it into the sinkhole. Nothing: only darkness. So he tied a line of heavy rope around his waist and, with several colleagues holding onto the other end, he descended into the murk.[continue]

Your legacy on earth may be a plant

From Nautilus: Your legacy on earth may be a plant.

Most people don’t realize how easy it is, when it comes down to it, for almost all signs of their existence to be wiped from the landscape. Fields turn into forests in less than a generation, if properly neglected. Houses are overtaken with creepers and birds’ nests and their roofs grow mossy and sag groundward after enough heavy rain. Within ten minutes’ drive of our house, there were no fewer than five home sites that had gone to seed, and sometimes to earth, with nothing left but a foundation and thousands of daffodils.

This last detail turns out to be a telling sign of former habitation. “If you find daffodils in a wild area, you can usually find chimneys,” says Robert Warren, an ecologist at Buffalo State University. Warren lived for years in North Carolina, another place where daffodils are thick where there used to be homes—the flowers just keep going on their own, for decades after they’re no longer tended. The old residents “got them through the Sears-Roebuck catalog—the bulbs,” says Warren. When he goes hiking, he likes to try to read the landscape, looking for signs of an area’s history in the vegetation. [continue]

Wow, what a cool article.

How a 15-year-old discovered an ancient city. Or not.

From the BBC: How a 15-year-old discovered an ancient city.

What was your biggest achievement at the age of 15? Well, a Canadian teenager has outshone the experts after discovering a lost Mayan city. William Gadoury, from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec, made the discovery by comparing star charts with satellite images. The new city, discovered in a Mexican jungle, is thought to be the fourth biggest Mayan city, and has been named ‘Mouth of Fire’ by the teenager. [continue]

So that’s what appeared in the news. This comment, posted by Xnipek on reddit, is quite fine.

Continue reading

Water meadows

Caught by the River has a lovely post on water meadows.

In his excellent book The History of the Countryside, Oliver Rackham describes four ways in which we lose our landscape: the loss of beauty, of freedom, of wildlife and vegetation, and of meaning. There’s also a fifth way in which we can lose our landscape: by forgetting.

Water meadows – true water meadows that is – were found alongside many rivers in England, but it was the chalk rivers of the South that lent their unique qualities particularly well to the creation of what has been called the pinnacle of intensive farming before the industrial revolution. In a historical context intensive is a term which, when compared to the mechanised, economically driven farming that holds sway over much of our countryside today, rather pales into insignificance. True water meadows were not just meadows alongside rivers that were flooded in times of high flows, but meadows that were purposely flooded or drowned – the men carrying out the flooding were called drowners – using an artificially dug channels. They ranged from simple gravity fed systems to a complex plexus of sluices, hatches, drains, mains, carriers and channels. The idea was not to flood the meadows with standing water which would kill the grasses, but to have a constant stream or trickle of water flowing into, across and then out of the meadow. By drowning at particular times of year, and preventing frosts, Spring growth on a water meadow occurred earlier. Livestock would benefit from the ‘early bite,’ and a harvestable hay crop also occurred earlier. [continue]

How breakfast became a thing

From priceonomics: How breakfast became a thing.

You’ve probably heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

What you may not know is the origin of this ode to breakfast: a 1944 marketing campaign launched by Grape Nuts manufacturer General Foods to sell more cereal.

During the campaign, which marketers named “Eat a Good Breakfast—Do a Better Job”, grocery stores handed out pamphlets that promoted the importance of breakfast while radio advertisements announced that “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” [continue]

A natural wonder, lost to a volcano, has been rediscovered

Oh, look what the BBC published today! An article about the “stunning terraces of Lake Rotomahana” and how bits of them can be seen again.

In the early hours of 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera, a volcano on the North Island of New Zealand, erupted with astonishing force. The explosions may have been heard as far afield as Christchurch, more than 400 miles (640km) to the south-west.

The eruption killed 120 people, most of them Maoris – native New Zealanders – living in small villages in the surrounding countryside. But it is not just because of its high death toll that the Tarawera eruption is firmly lodged in the collective memory of New Zealanders. Most people also remember the eruption because it robbed the island nation of a treasured natural wonder: the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana.

The terraces were the two largest formations of silica sinter – a fine-grained version of quartz – ever known to have existed on Earth. They were located on opposite shores of Lake Rotomahana, situated six miles (10km) to the south-west of Mount Tarawera. And they were extraordinarily beautiful. [continue]

How 18th century France made the modern media circus

From the History Co-operative: Dangerous Liaisons: How 18th Century France Made The Modern Media Circus.

But rather than compiling all the examples on historical record, instead we should consider a particular time and place: The Old Regime in France, and in particular, Paris around 1750. This particular time period and place was difficult to discover news because the government did not allow what we consider to be news; reading newspapers, profiles of public affairs and prominent figures, simply did not exist.

For the time, to discover what was really going on, one went to the tree of Cracow. A large, leafy chestnut tree, it was the heart of Paris by way of the Palais-Royal Gardens. At the time, no doubt, it had acquired it’s name from the intense discussions that took place underneath its branches during the time of the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735), and although the name suggests rumors, it was a place of intelligence. News mongers flocked here; spreading information about current events and the goings on of the Crown by word of mouth. They claimed to know such tales from private sources (personal letters, servants, eavesdropping were popular sources of the time) about what was really happening among the powerful of the time. But whether it was immediately true or not, the people in power took them seriously, because the government of France worried about what the Parisians were saying. It was common for foreign agents and informers to frequent the tree, either to pick up the latest news, or to plant it there for spreading. Throughout Paris there were other hotspots so to speak: benches in the Luxembourg gardens, speaker’s’ corner on the Quai des Augustins, cafes and boulevards where peddlers were known for incorporating the latest into song. In Paris, at any given time of the day, to hear the news you simply walked out into the street, and tuned in. [4] [continue]

The Hadza

From National Geographic: The Hadza.

I’m hungry,” says Onwas, squatting by his fire, blinking placidly through the smoke. The men beside him murmur in assent. It’s late at night, deep in the East African bush. Singing, a rhythmic chant, drifts over from the women’s camp. Onwas mentions a tree he spotted during his daytime travels. The men around the fire push closer. It is in a difficult spot, Onwas explains, at the summit of a steep hill that rises from the grassy plain. But the tree, he adds, spreading his arms wide like branches, is heavy with baboons. There are more murmurs. Embers rise to a sky infinite with stars. And then it is agreed. Everyone stands and grabs his hunting bow.

Onwas is an old man, perhaps over 60—years are not a unit of time he uses—but thin and fit in the Hadza way. He’s maybe five feet tall. Across his arms and chest are the hieroglyphs of a lifetime in the bush: scars from hunts, scars from snakebites, scars from arrows and knives and scorpions and thorns. Scars from falling out of a baobab tree. Scars from a leopard attack. Half his teeth remain. He is wearing tire-tread sandals and tattered brown shorts. A hunting knife is strapped to his hip, in a sheath made of dik-dik hide. He’s removed his shirt, as have most of the other men, because he wants to blend into the night.

Onwas looks at me and speaks for a few moments in his native language, Hadzane. To my ear it sounds strangely bipolar—lilting and gentle for a phrase or two, then jarring and percussive, with tongue clicks and glottic pops. It’s a language not closely related to any other that still exists: to use the linguists’ term, an isolate.

I have arrived in the Hadza homeland in northern Tanzania with an inter­preter, a Hadza woman named Mariamu. She is Onwas’s niece. She attended school for 11 years and is one of only a handful of people in the world who can speak both English and Hadzane. She interprets Onwas’s words: Do I want to come? [continue]

If you’d rather have the text only all-on-one-page print version of the article, select this link.

No wool, no Vikings

From No wool, no Vikings.

Gray clouds hang low over the Trondheim Fjord, a huge, convoluted indentation in the central Norwegian coast. A gusting wind blows the tops off the waves, tosses rain in my face, and fills Braute’s great square sail. It heels over, water splashing over its leeward gunwale and through the oar-ports, soaking everyone on that side of the long, open, Viking-style wooden boat.

Braute is sailing out from Fosen Folk High School, located in Rissa, on the north shore of the fjord. I’m sharing a hard wooden bench with some of the school’s students—mostly young Norwegians, with a sprinkling of foreigners. They’ve just spent nine months studying traditional skills that date back to the Viking Age, from boatbuilding and sailing to traditional farming and wool working.

On this, the last trip of the school year, we’re heading for Utsetøya, a little island near the mouth of the fjord. That’s where the school’s small flock of sheep, which provides both meat and wool, runs wild for most of the year, hemmed in only by the sea. Most of Fosen’s student body is crammed aboard Braute and two other Viking-style boats, along with staff, food, mounds of camping gear, and one shivering Canadian journalist. The plan is to camp on the island for several nights, check on the flock, and collect next year’s supply of raw wool.

It’s the end of May, but it’s cold. Viking life must have been like this—frigid, wild days in an open boat, constantly watching the waves and clouds to avoid disaster. Wool was as much a part of that life as the sea and the ships. The Vikings were great sailors and fearsome warriors, but they couldn’t have left port without wool. It provided the raw material for their clothes, their blankets, even the sails that harnessed the wind for their ships. [continue]

Why we should add food to the cultural canon

From aeon.co: Why we should add food to the cultural canon.

One summer afternoon in the city of Sumter in South Carolina, three men – a farmer, a scholar, and a landscape architect – stood in a field boiling watermelon juice. They had pressed the juice themselves from Bradford watermelons, a favoured fruit of the antebellum South. The Bradford has white seeds, deep ruby flesh, and a rind so soft it can be scooped with a spoon. It had been thought extinct since the early 1900s, when watermelons with tough rinds suitable for shipping displaced it. But it had been quietly growing for more than 100 years in the backyards of eight generations of Bradfords, endangered but not dead, like the African southern white rhino.

Glenn Roberts (the farmer), David Shields (the scholar) and Nat Bradford (the architect, and heir to the 180-year-old Bradford watermelon breed) had been labouring under a blistering sun for most of that August day in 2013, cutting open watermelons in the dusty field, straining the seeds out, pressing and heating the liquid in a sorghum evaporator – a huge steam pan lofted over a propane-fired field oven – until it flared to a fiery red. Finally, towards evening, it was ready: a molasses that had not been made since the end of the Civil War.

Shields recalls the taste as a revelation on the tongue. ‘It had a base note of sugary molasses and a middle range of this deep watermelony thing and a sort of honeysuckle top note. And I thought to myself, of all the lost melons of yesteryear, this is the one I wished would return. And it has. It’s the taste of the past but it’s also the taste of the future.’ [continue]

Northwest Coast Archaeology is back!

One of my favourite blogs, Northwest Coast Archaeology, has been dormant for nine months. But today the blogger there (Quentin Mackie) published a new post: Life from Ash and Ice: A documentary film about Mt. Edziza. If you’re interested in the archaeological history of the northwest coast of North America, Quentin’s blog is worth reading.

Combating book theft in medieval times

From medievalbooks.nl: Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times.

Considering these two practical theft-prevention techniques – chaining your books to something unmovable or putting them into a safe – the third seems kind of odd: to write a curse against book thieves inside the book. Your typical curse (or anathema) simply stated that the thief would be cursed, like this one in a book from an unidentified Church of St Caecilia: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act” (source and image). Some of these book curses really rub it in: “If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgement the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ” (source). [continue]

(Link found here on the Schneier on Security blog.)

Bathing machines

Whizzpast.com’s post,Victorian Beach Life: Photos of 19th Century Bathing Machines in Operation, is good fun.

The gist of the blessing bathing machines brought life in the budding modern industrial era is fairly simple. The passenger enters a horse or human drawn carriage, which is transported some distance out into the water. The van’s human cargo changes into whatever shapeless sack was deemed suitable at the time. [continue]

There are lots of photos.

The Victorian anti-vaccination movement

From The Atlantic: The Victorian Anti-Vaccination Movement.

The dewy chill over Leicester, England, in March 1885 did not deter thousands of protesters from gathering outside nearby York Castle to protest the imprisonment of seven activists. Organizers claimed as many as 100,000 people attended, although historians estimate it was closer to 20,000.

The cause they rallied against? Vaccination.

This movement has faded from popular memory, obscured by the controversy of more recent anti-vaccination efforts, which gained momentum in the 1990s. However, the effects of the Victorian anti-vaccination movement still echo in the debate over the personal belief exemption, which was banned in California in June.

On the day the Leicester protesters gathered, vaccination was mandatory in England. Nearly a century before, Edward Jenner, a Scottish physician, had invented a method of protecting people against the raging threat of smallpox. The treatment was called variolation, and it involved [continue]

In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood

From The Guardian: In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood.

The brave and resourceful small girl in Arthur Ransome’s 1930 classic, Swallows and Amazons, is called Titty. But not, we learn, in the new film version being made by the BBC. There she will be renamed Tatty, to avoid “too many sniggers”.

It’s not the first time this indignity has befallen Titty, who was named after the traditional English fairytale, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, in a more innocent age. (According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “tits” only started being associated with breasts in about 1928.) She was rechristened Kitty when the story was televised by the BBC in 1963, though she re-emerged with her original name in the 1974 film adaptation, and in a later radio broadcast in 2012. [continue]

One wonders how many words have undergone a similar transformation. A few years ago The Beaver, a magazine about Canadian history, had to change its name. Remember? The NYT wrote about it: Web Filters Cause Name Change for a Magazine.

Britain’s most famous 1700s sailor spent 4 years disguised as a man

From Atlas Obscura: Britain’s Most Famous 1700s Sailor Spent 4 Years Disguised as a Man.

In 1747, when she was 22, Hannah Snell left home in search of her missing husband. Instead, she found fame. Over the next five years, she became a a sailor and a fighter, all while posing as a man. When Snell returned home and revealed her true gender, far from paying a price for deceit, she became an instant celebrity across Britain.

Snell grew up in landlocked Worcester, England, the daughter of a dyer who had nine children. By the time she was 17, her parents had died, and she had moved to London, to the house of an older sister. It was in the big city that she met James Summs, a Dutch sailor, and married him.

Summs, it seems, was a scoundrel. [continue]

Wow. Can you imagine?

How snobbery helped take the spice out of European cooking

From NPR: How Snobbery Helped Take The Spice Out Of European Cooking.

In medieval Europe, those who could afford to do so would generously season their stews with saffron, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Sugar was ubiquitous in savory dishes. And haute European cuisine, until the mid-1600s, was defined by its use of complex, contrasting flavors.

“The real question, then, is why the wealthy, powerful West — with unprecedented access to spices from its colonies — became so fixated on this singular understanding of flavor,” Srinivas says.

The answer, it turns out, has just as much to do with economics, politics and religion as it does taste. [continue]

This ancient liquor popular among Vikings may be the answer to antibiotic resistance

From Business Insider: This ancient liquor popular among Vikings may be the answer to antibiotic resistance.

Scientists in Sweden are launching their own mead — an alcoholic beverage made from a fermented mix of honey and water — based on old recipes they say could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Together with a brewery, the scientists, who have long studied bees and their honey, have launched their own mead drink: Honey Hunter’s Elixir.

Lund University researcher Tobias Olofsson said mead had a long track record in bringing positive effects on health.

“Mead is an alcoholic drink made with just honey and water, and it was regarded as the drink of the gods and you could become immortal or sustain a better health if you drank it,” Olofsson said. “It was drunk by the Vikings for example and other cultures such as the Mayas, the Egyptians, and it was a drink that was regarded as a very beneficial drink.”

Honey production is key to the research. In previous research published in 2014, Olofsson and Alejandra Vasquez discovered that lactic-acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees, mixed with honey itself, could cure chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant to treatment.

They said their research had proved that these bacteria had the power to collaborate and kill off all the human pathogens they have been tested against, including resistant ones. They are doing so by producing hundreds of antibacterial antibiotic-like substances. [continue]

Well. Alcohol + Vikings + history + medicine. So much cool stuff in one article!

Ancient human with close Neanderthal ancestor found in Romania

From the CBC: Ancient human with close Neanderthal ancestor found in Romania.

You may not know it, but you probably have some Neanderthal in you. For people around the world, except sub-Saharan Africans, about 1 to 3 per cent of their DNA comes from Neanderthals, our close cousins who disappeared roughly 39,000 years ago.

Scientists said on Monday a jawbone unearthed in Romania, of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago, boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.

The finding also indicates that interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred much more recently than previously known. [continue]

Well!

The photo published with the article is pretty cool, btw.

The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque

From The Public Domain Review: The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque.

At the end of the seventeenth century a new literary genre or subgenre emerged in England, one that might be characterized as the nocturnal picaresque. Its authors, who were moralists or satirists or social tourists, or all of these at the same time, and who were almost invariably male, purported to recount their episodic adventures as pedestrians patrolling the streets of the metropolis at night.

These narratives, which often provided detailed portraits of particular places, especially ones with corrupt reputations, also paid close attention to the precise times when more or less nefarious activities unfolded in the streets. As distinct from diaries, they were noctuaries (in his Dictionary of the English Language [1755], Samuel Johnson defined a “noctuary” simply as “an account of what passes at night”).1 These apparently unmediated, more or less diaristic accounts of what happened during the course of the night on the street embodied either a tragic or a comic parable of the city, depending on whether their authors intended to celebrate its nightlife or condemn it as satanic.

The nocturnal picaresque, composed more often in prose than verse, was a distinctively modern, metropolitan form that, like several other literary genres that emerged in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, comprised [continue]

‘Commando’ archaeologists to rescue threatened artefacts in Middle East

From news.com.au: ‘Commando’ archaeologists to rescue threatened artefacts in Middle East.

The British Government is helping bankroll a team of “rescue archaeologists” to lead efforts to save priceless artefacts in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale will host a summit on the issue later this year and is setting up a cultural protection fund to underpin the action.

After pressure from the British Museum among others, the UK is signing up to The Hague convention on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict.

IS has deliberately demolished ancient mosques and destroyed treasures dating back to ancient Persia and Graeco-Roman times on the grounds that they “promote idolatry”. [continue]

Lost posture: Why some indigenous cultures may not have back pain

From NPR: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain.

Believe it or not, there are a few cultures in the world where back pain hardly exists. One indigenous tribe in central India reported essentially none. And the discs in their backs showed little signs of degeneration as people aged.

An acupuncturist in Palo Alto, Calif., thinks she has figured out why. She has traveled around the world studying cultures with low rates of back pain — how they stand, sit and walk. Now she’s sharing their secrets with back pain sufferers across the U.S.

About two decades ago, Esther Gokhale started to struggle with her own back after she had her first child. “I had excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night,” she says. “I was walking around the block every two hours. I was just crippled.” [continue]

She’s sure not crippled anymore. Now Esther teaches other people what she learned. Go look her up on Youtube if you’d like to see what she teaches.

A few years ago I stumbled upon Esther Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Worth every penny. Esther’s book taught me things I didn’t know about posture and lifting. I was captivated by her story.

I follow Esther’s advice. It’s not the only thing I do for my back, but it’s an important part of being supple and pain-free.

(Link to the NPR article found here at Mark’s Daily Apple.)

How a history of eating human brains protected this tribe from brain disease

From The Washington Post: How a history of eating human brains protected this tribe from brain disease.

The sickness spread at funerals.

The Fore people, a once-isolated tribe in eastern Papua New Guinea, had a long-standing tradition of mortuary feasts — eating the dead from their own community at funerals. Men consumed the flesh of their deceased relatives, while women and children ate the brain. It was an expression of respect for the lost loved ones, but the practice wreaked havoc on the communities they left behind. That’s because a deadly molecule that lives in brains was spreading to the women who ate them, causing a horrible degenerative illness called “kuru” that at one point killed 2 percent of the population each year.

The practice was outlawed in the 1950s, and the kuru epidemic began to recede. But in its wake it left a curious and irreversible mark on the Fore, one that has implications far beyond Papua New Guinea: After years of eating brains, some Fore have developed a genetic resistance to the molecule that causes several fatal brain diseases, including kuru, mad cow disease and some cases of dementia.

Ancient DNA reveals how Europeans developed light skin and lactose tolerance

From The Conversation: Ancient DNA reveals how Europeans developed light skin and lactose tolerance.

Food intolerance is often dismissed as a modern invention and a “first-world problem”. However, a study analysing the genomes of 101 Bronze-Age Eurasians reveals that around 90% were lactose intolerant.

The research also sheds light on how modern Europeans came to look the way they do – and that these various traits may originate in different ancient populations. Blue eyes, it suggests, could come from hunter gatherers in Mesolithic Europe (10,000 to 5,000 BC), while other characteristics arrived later with newcomers from the East. [continue]