Secret room in UK mansion tied to King James I assassination attempt

From Live Science: Secret Room in UK Mansion Tied to King James I Assassination Attempt.

Agile scientists equipped with 3D laser scanners have revealed the secrets of a hidden room, known as a “priest hole,” in the tower of an English Tudor mansion linked to the failed “Gunpowder Plot” to assassinate King James I in 1605.

A new study reveals how the secret double room was constructed in the tower of a gatehouse at Coughton Court in Warwickshire, as a hiding place for priests during the anti-Catholic persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Catholic priests faced execution as traitors under the English laws of the time, and they were often tortured to reveal their accomplices, according to Christopher King, an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and one of the lead researchers of the study. [See More Photos of the Secret “Priest Hole” at Coughton Court]

Despite being outlawed, many priests chose to [continue]

Thanks to Floccinaucical for pointing out this article in the Elsewhere for February 5, 2017 post. That’s where I spotted it.

Want more? The National Trust has info on their Coughton Court site. The most interesting of those pages, I think, is One house, one family, one faith…. It gives an overview of the house’s history, and features a photo of the priest hole.

For more on priest holes in general, see:

Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?

Have you come across any of Gary Taubes’ writing? If you’ve got the slightest interest in nutrition, history, and health, he is worth your attention. Here’s a recent article of his from the Guardian: Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?

Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Could the taste of sugar on the tongue be a kind of intoxication? What about the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Overconsumption of this drug may have long-term side-effects, but there are none in the short term – no staggering or dizziness, no slurring of speech, no passing out or drifting away, no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only more extreme variations on the apparently natural emotional rollercoaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, it makes children happy, at least for the period during which they’re consuming it. It calms their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and leaves them excited and full of joy until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dose, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis. [continue]

For more of Taubes’ writing, see the links he provides to his works.

The hi-tech war on science fraud

If you’re concerned about fraud in scientific literature, you’ll like this article from the Guardian: The hi-tech war on science fraud.

One morning last summer, a German psychologist named Mathias Kauff woke up to find that he had been reprimanded by a robot. In an email, a computer program named Statcheck informed him that a 2013 paper he had published on multiculturalism and prejudice appeared to contain a number of incorrect calculations – which the program had catalogued and then posted on the internet for anyone to see. The problems turned out to be minor – just a few rounding errors – but the experience left Kauff feeling rattled. “At first I was a bit frightened,” he said. “I felt a bit exposed.”

Kauff wasn’t alone. Statcheck had read some 50,000 published psychology papers and checked the maths behind every statistical result it encountered. In the space of 24 hours, virtually every academic active in the field in the past two decades had received an email from the program, informing them that their work had been reviewed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before: a massive, open, retroactive evaluation of scientific literature, conducted entirely by computer.

Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics. [continue]

A wall worth building: making clam habitat great again

From Hakai Magazine: A Wall Worth Building: Making Clam Habitat Great Again.

On a small island off Canada’s west coast, a group of people is rebuilding ancient clam gardens.

For thousands of years, indigenous people all along the Pacific Northwest coast have cultivated clams by manipulating beaches to encourage the growth of more and bigger shellfish. These clam gardens supply a reliable and abundant source of nutritious food year round. [continue]

You’ll like the video, I think.

Related content on Mirabilis.ca: Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars?

From the Guardian: What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars?

The perceived wisdom is that Uber has disrupted taxis and that private automobiles are next, but what if we’ve misread what is happening in our cities?

Traditional thinking would suggest that UberPool, which allows users to split the cost of trips with other Uber riders heading in the same direction, will always be inferior to public transport. Sitting in the backseat of a Prius may be more comfortable than standing on a crowded bus or train, continues this reasoning, but carpooling can’t substitute for mass transit at rush hours without massively increasing congestion.

This is wrong. In the last six months, Uber has begun offering shared rides for as little as $1 (81p), introduced optimised pickup points that algorithmically recreate bus stops, and started testing semi-autonomous vehicles it hopes will solve its increasingly contentious labour issues.

Never mind the black cabs; Uber is out to disrupt the bus. [continue]

Iceman Oetzi’s last meal was ‘stone age bacon’

From phys.org: Iceman Oetzi’s last meal was ‘Stone Age bacon’.

Oetzi the famous “iceman” mummy of the Alps appears to have enjoyed a fine slice or two of Stone Age bacon before he was killed by an arrow some 5,300 years ago.

His last meal was most likely dried goat meat, according to scientists who recently managed to dissect the contents of Oetzi’s stomach.

“We’ve analysed the meat’s nanostructure and it looks like he ate very fatty, dried meat, most likely bacon,” German mummy expert Albert Zink said at a talk in Vienna late Wednesday. [continue]

The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology

From The Conversation: The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology .

The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.

The story begins in 2004, when archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson began his search for this lost medieval town in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, near where now only a small village bears the name. In the face of scepticism from academic archaeologists, Wilson’s years of work have been vindicated with the discovery of a moated manor house, a round stone tower, ancillary buildings, and a wealth of smaller finds including pottery from the 1200s. [continue]

What fun!

Siegfried and the dragon legend linked to dinosaur footprints?

From Wonders and Marvels: Siegfried and the Dragon Legend Linked to Dinosaur Footprints?

A fearsome dragon was featured in medieval Scandinavian and Germanic legends about the hero Sigurd/Siegfried. The story is the centerpiece in the epic saga Niebelungenlied, in which the Siegfried kills Fafnir, who had been transformed into a hideous dragon by a powerful curse.

In the legend, Fafnir guarded a hoard of golden treasure. The dragon was so huge that the very ground shook when he walked. At Drachenfels (“Dragon Rock”), Konigswinter on the Rhine, a large statue of a typical dragon lurks near the ruins of a castle built on the summit of the hill in about 1150. A cave below was believed to be Fafnir’s lair.

According to the story, the hero Siegfried tracked the Dragon to his lair, by following a trail of the dragon’s enormous footprints sunk deep in the earth.

Notably, conspicuous fossil trackways of two types of massive dinosaurs are found in Germany. In 1941, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated that observations of Triassic dinosaur tracks in sandstone near Siegfriedsburg in the Rhine Valley of western Germany might have been the inspiration for the legend about the dragon Fafnir’s footprints. [continue]

The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals

From phys.org: The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals.

Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.

Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say.

“It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here,” says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.

The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred. [continue]

We are Canadians — but we were nearly Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders

From the CBC: We are Canadians — but we were nearly Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders.

No one will say “Happy Efisga Day” next July 1.

But as we look ahead to Canada’s 150th year, we are reminded that we are Canadians because — as the story goes — Jacques Cartier coined the term in 1534 from a lost-in-translation conversation during his first meeting with the Iroquois.

We could have been Cabotians, Tuponians or Hochelaganders.

Here are some of the other names that were considered when this country was just a fledgling dominion. [continue]

A floating home in the wilderness

Have you heard about Freedom Cove? It’s a floating home on the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Tofino. But “floating home” doesn’t do it justice. These guys have a four greenhouses and a garden, for instance, all on floats in the middle of the cove. Mashable describes it as a floating sanctuary that provides artistic inspiration:

Walking through their home for the first time is a bizarre experience. You enter through a front gate made of two whale ribs. You sit and relax in the living room, with a hole cut in the floor so Wayne can catch fish from his couch. The whole house, tethered to the land and floating on armored foam, is always moving with the ebb and flow of the tide. [continue]

OK, that fishing-from-the-couch thing sounds really fun.

What do you think? Could you live like in a floating home like this one?

Here are some more articles about Freedom Cove, some with fantastic photos.

Queen Elizabeth I’s vast spy network was the first surveillance state

From Atlas Obscura: Queen Elizabeth I’s vast spy network was the first surveillance state.

In a lowly tavern in an English town in the 1580s, a group of men met to organize the assassination of their monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. The head of the operation, Anthony Babington, planned to rescue and crown Mary of Scotland, an alternative heir to the English throne who had been imprisoned in the castle dungeon for 20 years. He detailed the plan to Mary as a cipher—a secret note in code— and snuck it to her in a shipment of beer. But Mary had no idea that his note had been opened and then resealed by a double agent posed as a courier, who was waiting for her reply. When Mary wrote back, the agent exposed the plot, and both she and Babington were executed.

Long before NSA surveillance, Queen Elizabeth had her own “Watchers,” a network of agents who intercepted letters, cracked codes, and captured possible dissenters to protect the crown in secret. The queen’s network of spies formed the original surveillance state in the U.K., and she started it for good reason. [continue]

Wouldn’t she be envious of the state’s spying apparatus now! So much easier when you can just snoop up on all electronic communication.

Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives

Did you see this? From the NYT: Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives.

Inuit who live in Greenland experience average temperatures below freezing for at least half of the year. For those who live in the north, subzero temperatures are normal during the coldest months.

Given these frigid conditions, anthropologists have wondered for decades whether the Inuit in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic have unique biological adaptations that help them tolerate the extreme cold.

A new study, published on Wednesday in Molecular Biology and Evolution, identifies gene variants in Inuit who live in Greenland, which may help them adapt to the cold by promoting heat-generating body fat. These variants possibly originated in the Denisovans, a group of archaic humans who, along with Neanderthals, diverged from modern humans about half a million years ago. [continue]

Ancient underwater garden discovered in Canada

From sciencemag.org: Ancient underwater garden discovered in Canada.

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest known garden in the Pacific Northwest—and it was underwater. The site, about 30 kilometers east of Vancouver, Canada, on land belonging to the Native American group Katzie First Nation, was once part of an ecologically rich wetland. It was divided into two parts: one on dry land, where people lived and built their homes, and one that was underwater. In the underwater section, people had arranged small stones into a [continue]

Is Gravatar exposing your email address?

Do you use Gravatar to display a custom image next to your comments on various blogs? Or do you have a blog at wordpress.com? If so, Gravatar has your email address, and it might be easy for a hacker to figure out what that address is.

Wordfence explains the problem, and why it matters.

For example: A user may be comfortable having their full name and profile photo appear on a website about skiing. But they may not want their name or identity exposed to the public on a website specializing in a medical condition. Someone researching this individual could extract their Gravatar hash from the skiing website along with their full name. They could then Google the hash and determine that the individual suffers from a medical condition they wanted to keep private. [continue]

Archaeologists document Dene caribou fences in N.W.T

Interested in the history of Canada’s north? This is for you, from the CBC: Archaeologists document Dene caribou fences in N.W.T.

Researchers are documenting Sahtu Dene caribou fences in the Northwest Territories, marking a physical record of Indigenous history in the area.

Tom Andrews, an archeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, is documenting a kilometre-long wooden fence believed to have been used about 100 years ago in the Sahtu region.

“It’s a real smart hunting strategy that’s probably been used for thousands of years,” Andrews said.

Hunters used the fence to corral caribou, making it easier for them to hunt them in large numbers. [continue]

How colour terms arise

From the Boston Globe: Roses are red; violets are — red? How color terms arise”.

Since the turn of the 20th century, scientists have examined how humans around the world name colors in an attempt to answer one question: Does our language shape our worldview, or does our worldview shape our language?

Hannah Haynie, a postdoctoral associate at Colorado State University, teamed up with Yale University linguist Claire Bowern to find out. Their study analyzed a sort of evolutionary tree built from massive data found in field notes, dictionaries, and 20th-century records. The tree visualizes how color names potentially changed over time in the Pama-Nyungan language family, a group of indigenous Australian languages dating as far back as 6,000 years.

“It’s just like how, if you look at genes in people, you can look back at how they were transmitted along a tree,” Haynie said. “This brings a bunch of different sciences together to look at how language, our minds, and our world interacts together.” [continue]

Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

From TheLocal.no: Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

On January 1st, the Church of Norway and the Norwegian government will formally divorce after nearly 500 years together. (…)

When 2016 becomes 2017, Norway will formalize the separation of church and state that was set in motion eight years ago by parliament. As of January 1st, the Nordic nation’s 1,250 priests and bishops will no longer be government officials appointed by the king. And the Church of Norway will no longer be an agency of the state, but an independent business. [continue]

Independent business? Surely they mean charity.

I had forgotten that the Norwegian Lutheran church was so closely tied to the state.

The secret language of salmon skin coats

Just back from a walk in the cold rain, during which my rain jacket soaked through. Maybe a salmon-skin coat would be better? This article from From Hakai Magazine has me wondering: The Secret Language of Salmon Skin Coats.

Along the lower reaches of the Amur River, where the water empties into the Pacific Ocean, the climate—unlike most of Siberia—is wet. To keep dry, the indigenous Nivkhi shrugged on fish skin coats like the one pictured here. These ingeniously constructed coats are a testament to the people’s holistic approach to natural resources; they also tell the story of a worldly culture and a wild place.

A merchant working for a trading house in Vladivostok, Russia, collected this coat sometime between 1874 and 1898. Adolf Wassiliwitch Dattan, an imperial commercial agent with the German firm Kunst and Albers, amassed hundreds of indigenous artifacts over the years he was stationed in the Amur region. He donated his collections to several European museums, including the National Museum of World Cultures in Leiden, Netherlands, where this example of Nivkhi artistry is on display.

Fish skin is light, flexible, strong, and easy to work—the Gore-Tex of its day. Matchless as rainwear in milder seasons, layering fur close to the skin kept people cozy in winter. A Nivkhi woman—for only women sewed—prepared 100 salmon skins for this particular coat. She would have scraped away the flesh before washing the skins in salt water (women keeping the craft alive today use soap), then drying and beating the skins before piecing together the coat with thread fashioned from fish skin or sinew. “When it gets wet, [the thread] expands and fills the hole made by the needle, making the seams watertight,” says Cunera Buijs, the museum’s curator of Arctic regions. “It’s so clever.” [continue]

Do you think there would have been any lingering fish scent?

Why I’m hiring graduates with thirds

Ha! I love this, and have been meaning to blog it for ages. From Rory Sutherland’s article in The Spectator: Why I’m hiring graduates with thirds this year.

Let me explain. I have asked around, and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds (if anything the correlation operates in reverse). There are some specialised fields which may demand spectacular mathematical ability, say, but these are relatively few.

So my game theoretic instincts suggest that if we confine our recruitment efforts to people in the lower half of the degree ladder we shall have an exclusive appeal to a large body of people no less valuable than anyone else. And such people will be far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.

The logic is inarguable: the best people to hire (or date) are those undervalued by the market. [continue]

Doctors confirm 200-year-old diagnosis

From the Beeb Doctors confirm 200-year-old diagnosis.

Doctors have confirmed a diagnosis made more than 200 years ago by one of medicine’s most influential surgeons.

John Hunter had diagnosed a patient in 1786 with a “tumour as hard as bone”.

Royal Marsden Hospital doctors analysed patient samples and case notes, which were preserved at the museum named after him – the Hunterian in London.

As well as confirming the diagnosis, the cancer team believe Mr Hunter’s centuries-old samples may give clues as to how cancer is changing over time. [continue]

Perhaps I’ll stop by the Hunterian Museum next time I’m in London.

Victorians’ Christmas parlor games will leave you burned, bruised, and puking

An Atlas Obscura article makes it clear that the Victorians were insane.

Indeed, in the early years of Queen Victoria’s rule, Christmas rivaled Spring Break for sheer bawdiness and self-destruction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bonkers Victorian parlor game of Snapdragon.

Traditionally played on Christmas Eve, players of Snapdragon must find themselves a broad, shallow bowl, and then prepare to risk their health. Into this bowl should be poured two dozen raisins. If raisins are hard to come by, almonds, grapes or plums will suffice. You should then pour a bottle of brandy into the bowl so that the raisins bob up and down like drowning flies. Place the bowl on a sturdy table, turn the lights down low, and then, with appropriate panache, ignite the brandy.

To play Snapdragon, arrange your family and friends around the blazing bowl so that their faces are lit in a demonic fashion and then, one by one, take turns plunging your hands into the flames in order to try and grab a raisin. If you can accomplish this, promptly extinguish the flaming raisin by popping it into your mouth and eating it. [continue]

Oh my. That rather out-does beer pong.

The Independent’s Christmas fun: Victorian parlour games page explains snapdragon, and goes on to tell us about other games, like this one:

If family relations have become slightly fraught over Christmas, you may be looking for a game involving rather more explicit violence, in which case you’ve come to the right paragraph: Moriarty is the game you’re after. [continue]

That article has lots more you’ll want to read.

Christmas parties these days are pretty tame events, all in all.

Prehistoric porridge? First pots for plant cooking found

From the Beeb: Prehistoric porridge? First pots for plant cooking found.

Prehistoric people may have cooked wild grains and plants in pots as early as 10,000 years ago, according to new evidence.

Scientists say the food was “a kind of porridge”, acting as the staple diet when there was no meat from hunting.

The pottery fragments were found at two sites in the Libyan Sahara, which was then green and fertile.

The ability to prepare plants and grains in pots would have been a big advance at the time.

Dr Julie Dunne, of the University of Bristol, said: “This is the first direct evidence of plant processing globally, and, remarkably, shows that these early North African hunter-gatherers consumed many different types of plants, including grains/seeds, leafy plants and aquatic plants.” [continue]

Very merry seventeenth century punch recipe found in Yorkshire

Oh, just imagine making a batch of this stuff! From the Guardian: Very merry seventeenth century punch recipe found in Yorkshire.

A recipe for a very merry Christmas drink for 17th century monks, beginning with ten pints of brandy, has been rediscovered by a Durham university academic, in the archives of Ampleforth Abbey in north Yorkshire.

The recipes – there were two similar versions, one for a punch, one for a drink known as “shrub” – were written down for English Benedictine monks who were in exile in France after the dissolution of the monasteries. Both were flavoured with orange and lemon peel, with added sugar and water, and involved days of steeping and mixing the ingredients. [continue]

The Guardian article’s link to the Monks in Motion site is wrong. The correct address is:
https://www.dur.ac.uk/mim/ .