Gross But Interesting

Rüppell's Vulture are believed to be the highest-flying birds. Okay, interesting bird fact, but what is so gross about this? The species' highest-flying status was confirmed because a Rüppell's vulture was ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft).

Correcting A Historical Myth

The statement "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" is often falsely attributed to Voltaire, the French philosopher during the Enlightenment in the 1700s. The statement is actually much, much younger. It comes from an essay by a racist, neo-Nazi, Holocaust denier, and white separatist American named Kevin Strom which was first published in 1993.

A Ridiculous Yet Funny Calculation

Astronomer Thomas Dick believed that every planet in the solar system, as well as each planet's rings, moons, and satellites, was inhabited by people. In his 1838 book Celestial Scenery Mr. Dick worked out that they contain 21 trillion inhabitants in all. He started from the assumption of “280 inhabitants to a square mile, which is the rate of population in England.” You will be unsurprised to learn that Mr. Dick was an Englishman.

A New History of How Humans Settled the Caribbean

For decades it was believed that the Caribbean islands were settled in a stepping-stone fashion by Amerindians migrating north from South America. This would mean that the southernmost islands were settled first, then each next northern island in succession, as the Amerindians moved north into the Caribbean.

After reviewing 2,500 radiocarbon dates from 55 islands, researchers are now telling a different story. Trinidad, the closest island to South America, was indeed the first to be settled around 7,000 years ago. But humans did not settle next in the next northern island. Instead, the radiocarbon dates point to a more ambitious migration: they rode currents north across open sea to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hispaniola. Once the larger islands were settled, there was no migration for thousands of years, until people slowly filled in the rest of the habitable land in the Caribbean by following the chain of islands southwards.

Mummified Baboons Help Locate Mysterious Ancient Land

Studying mummified baboons has been used to help locate Punt, ancient Egypt's trading partner. Punt is something of an ancient mystery as the Egyptians did not record its location anywhere. It seems to have been simply assumed that everyone knew where Punt was, like knowing where Australia is today.

This is where baboons come in. First, it is important to know that ancient Egypt did not appear to have native monkey populations. Yet the Egyptian god Thoth, who represented the moon, wisdom, and writing, was sometimes shown as having the head of a baboon in pictures and statues. And critically for this most recent study, the ancient Egyptians also buried baboon mummies in tombs. So ancient Egypt did not have native baboons but they had a major need for imported baboons for religious purposes. The most special of these baboons appear to have been Hamadryas baboons. Ancient Egyptians would travel great distances, and pay a significant amount, for the special Hamadryas baboons.

Punt is known to have been a major trader of baboons in general, and Hamadryas baboons in particular. Tracing the origins of numerous baboon mummies found in ancient Egyptian temples and tombs, and depictions of their transport mainly by water but sometimes by land, researchers now think the Hamadryas species was sourced from a region spanning Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and some of Somalia and Yemen. The latest study analyzed the tissue of 155 modern baboons from 77 locations, and also looked at two mummified Hamadryas baboons dating to 3000 years ago. Analyzing their chemical signatures, and comparing them to modern baboons, the findings show both the Hamadryas mummies had come from what is today Ethiopia, Eriteria, or Somalia. This corroborates the scholarly hypothesis of where Punt was probably located.

Interestingly, the Hamadryas mummies had been treated rather better than five mummified baboons of another species, traded across Africa several hundred years earlier. We may be closing in on Punt. But what made the ancient Egyptians revere the Hamadryas baboons compared to other baboons remains mysterious.

A Historic End

Jabo Ibehre, an English premier-league footballer, had his career ended in an extremely unusual fashion. One might even say it was a first in history. Ibehre had an impact crash in October 2019 during a practice game. Footballers run into each other all the time in games and no one paid much attention. But after two days it was still hurting, with the impact site seeming to be oozing, so Ibehre decided to go see a doctor. The verdict: he had teeth "hovering" in his knee. His opponent's teeth had somehow become lodged in Ibehre during the confusion of the crash. Ibehre's body was fighting the invader, but infection had developed. This sounds comical but it was actually very serious. The doctors said it could have resulted in amputation if Ibehre had waited just another day or two before getting checked. Ibehre's knee required surgery following the injury and was unable to recover sufficiently to continue playing at a professional level. So Ibehre's professional sports career was ended due to getting his opponent's teeth lodged in his knee.

This does not meet the usual "history" criterion of being at least 20 years old. But it is just so strange that it deserves to be remembered. And really, the odds are good that no other professional sporting career will be ended by ... getting bitten? ... in the next 20 years.

A Sordid Presidential Story

Nan Britton, the mistress of US President Warren Harding throughout his time in office, came public in 1927 claiming that he was the father of her daughter, Elizabeth. Harding had died in 1923 and was not around to contradict her anymore. It also did not help that Harding had never had children with his wife, despite her having a son by a prior marriage. Unsurprisingly skepticism about Nan's claim was rampant. Nan maintained her story until her death in 1991. Finally, in 2015, DNA testing was done to settle things once and for all. The DNA found that Harding had indeed fathered Elizabeth. She is now his only known child, and her children are Harding's only known descendants.

Would Not Want To Get Hit By This

This fine stone carving was slipped onto a wooden shaft to form a mace, a sophisticated club used for war. Since it is such a fine example of stone carving, we do not know if it was intended to see battle, or if it was always for ceremonial uses. From Peru's Salinas culture on the northern coast. Circa 200 BCE - 100 CE.

Kerala's Odd Taxes That Reinforced The Caste System

Until 1924, the Kingdom of Tranvancore (in present-day Kerala state of India) had a "breast tax" on lower-caste and Dalit women. It was traditional in the area to bare one's breasts as a sign of submission and respect, and thus, all lower-caste and Dalit women had traditionally gone bare-breasted in public as a sign of their submission to higher castes. In comparison, Brahmin women only bared their breasts to images of deities.

So what was the breast tax? Well, if lower-caste or Dalit women wanted to cover their breasts in public in Kerala, they had to pay the breast tax. Even worse, the tax was assessed as soon as they started developing breasts and could vary based on their size. (To be fair, lower-caste and Dalit men paid a "head tax" for all men as well.)

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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