Technology helps tourists to visualize ancient Rome

Touring ancient sites in Rome? Maybe a virtual reality headset will help you imagine things as they were thousands of years ago. From CBS News: Cutting-edge technology is helping bring ancient Rome back to life.

The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.

Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.

“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.

Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]

The history of red

I am inordinately fond of red, so I did take notice when I found that somebody has written a history of the colour. The somebody is Michel Pastoureau, and the book is Red: The History of a Color.

The Paris Review has given us an excerpt: The Red of Painters. And here is an excerpt of the excerpt!

The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.

Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline. [continue]

Did Stone Age people build a large labyrinth in Denmark?

From Science Nordic: Did Stone Age people build a large labyrinth in Denmark?

A series of Stone Age palisade enclosures have been discovered in Denmark in recent years and archaeologists are still wondering what they were used for.

One of the latest additions is a huge construction, discovered by archaeologists from the Museum Southeast Denmark. The fence dates from the Neolithic period and seems to frame an oval area of nearly 18,000 square meters.

“It was actually somewhat overwhelming to experience that it is possible to reveal the traces of such a huge building from the Neolithic period. There are many suggestions for what they could’ve been used for, but to put it simply, we just don’t know,” says archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth who leads the excavation.

One of the most remarkable things about the fencing at Stevns is the way the entrances have been constructed. The fence is in fact built in five rows that extend outwards, and the opening in each row appears to be offset from the others. [continue]

The church that transformed Norway

If you didn’t already have Trondheim on your ‘must visit’ list, perhaps this discovery will change your mind. From archaeology.org: The Church that Transformed Norway.

When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]

What we can learn from traditional arctic diets

From good.is: What We Can Learn From Traditional Arctic Diets.

Up in the arctic, life struggles to thrive. A rocky and frigid landscape supporting little more than meager shrubs, grasses, and some berries in the summer, it’s proven too hostile for more than a few animal species that have specially evolved to polar environs. Yet despite the harsh conditions, thousands of years ago human beings managed to etch out a life for themselves in the snows. These peoples’ ability to live in these regions is mostly due to a diet that to most of us seems narrow and anemic, but in truth has proven itself one of the most robust and healthy in the world.

Arctic diets vary vastly from region to region, according to the local environment’s flora and fauna. But at their most extreme, they consist of almost nothing but meat and fish, often from animals rich in fat (think polar bears, seabirds, and whales). For those of us who grew up learning the American Food Pyramid, or even the unholy devilcraft that is the new “My Plate” system, such a meat-heavy diet sounds borderline suicidal. But when eaten raw, these animals’ organs provide ample nutrients, including the vitamins we temperate-zoners draw mostly from plants. Blubber is also surprisingly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats and natural fermentation provides arctic diets with the benefits of probiotic foods. The result is a food regimen that provides everything a human needs, as well as one of the greatest natural defenses against diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and perhaps even seasonal effective disorder, illustrating that in any diet, there are no essential food groups, just essential nutrients. [continue].

How fascinating is that? I love reading about traditional diets, and have, over the years, changed my own diet quite a bit in order to cut out all processed food. These days I try to eat the sort of foods that humans ate before industrialization and nutritional stupidity. Are any of you doing that, too?

I ate reindeer meat in Norway, though I haven’t tried reindeer blood. Perhaps on another visit I will see if there are any Sami communities that welcome visitors like me.

BTW, I found the good.is article through a link in Weekend Link Love – Edition 439 at Mark’s Daily Apple. That Weekend Link Love post is the one thing I read every single week at Mark’s Daily Apple, as there is always at least one really interesting thing there.

Searching for California’s lost Viking ship

From Newsweek: Searching for California’s Lost Viking Treasure Ship.

In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast.

Among those who say they’ve come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. In 1933, she was hiking with her husband in the Anza-Borrego Desert, not far from the border with Mexico. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge.

To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple’s camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He’d found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn’t reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. [continue]

Medieval heating system lives on in Spain

Did you get up and light the fire this morning? Is there snow all about? You might like to read No Tech Magazine’s article on a medieval heating system that lives on in Spain.

In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood.

Remarkably, the gloria is alive and kicking. Several villages, especially in the wider region around Burgos, still have houses with subterranean fireplaces of which some are in working order.

In January, my friend Pedro took me to his uncle’s house in Hontangas, a tiny village at some 100 km from Burgos. The uncle, now in his late sixties, fires the gloria once every morning during the “nine months of winter”. [continue]

Russian millionaire plans for Romanov empire on Pacific islands

OK, this is the strangest bit of news I’ve seen in a while. From the Guardian: Russian millionaire details plans for new Romanov empire on Pacific islands.

A Russian millionaire is in advanced talks with the Kiribati government to lease three uninhabited islands and establish an alternative Russia and revive the monarchy.

Russian Anton Bakov and his wife Maria are planning to re-establish the Romanov Empire on three remote islands in the south Pacific nation of Kiribati, and invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the impoverished island’s economy.

The Russian monarchy was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and Bakov, a businessman and former Russian MP, has devoted himself to reviving it – which over the years has included exploring options for a base in Montenegro and the Cook Islands. [continue]

The mind boggles.

Against willpower

From Nautilus: Against Willpower.

Ignoring the idea of willpower will sound absurd to most patients and therapists, but, as a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept of willpower, and concerned by the self-help obsession that surrounds it. Countless books and blogs offer ways to “boost self-control,” or even to “meditate your way to more willpower,” but what’s not widely recognized is that new research has shown some of the ideas underlying these messages to be inaccurate.

More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths—like the idea that willpower is finite and exhaustible. To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Ned Block, willpower is a mongrel concept, one that connotes a wide and often inconsistent range of cognitive functions. The closer we look, the more it appears to unravel. It’s time to get rid of it altogether. [continue]

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:

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!

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]

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.

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]

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]

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?

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/ .

School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park

Who can resist things that land on the intersection of history and geekiness? From the Guardian: School for teenage codebreakers to open in Bletchley Park.

Its first operatives famously cracked coded messages encrypted by the Nazis, hastening the end of the second world war.

Now Bletchley Park is planning a new school for the next generation of codebreakers in order to plug a huge skills gap in what is fast emerging as the biggest security threat to 21st-century Britain. [continue]

How Bucharest rolled entire churches to safety

From the Guardian: The great escape: How Bucharest rolled entire churches to safety.

It must be startling to look out of your window and see a centuries-old church rolling by. Even more so if you are in communist Romania in the 1980s, where news is state-controlled and everyday items rationed. And yet, between 1982 and 1988 almost a dozen churches, as well as other buildings, were moved hundreds of metres in order to save them from destruction, as dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu went about radically redesigning the heart of Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

That a communist country would go out of its way to save churches is strange enough, but the method of saving them, when other countries would probably have tried to dismantle the buildings and reassemble them elsewhere, makes the achievement all the more impressive.

“We were awestruck at those operations, comparing them with the landing on the moon for a country like Romania,” says Valentin Mandache, an architectural historian who witnessed the moving of several of the churches when he was still a young student.

At the centre of it all was Eugeniu Iordăchescu, a civil engineer who had the radical idea to place whole buildings on the equivalent of railway tracks and roll them to safety. [continue]