An Ancient Forest

The hardy evergreen trees of the Araucaria genus live in Australia and South America. And recently, an archaeologist teamed up with a group of ecologists discovered that the tree family has a long and intimate relationship with humans, dating back some 1,400 years.

Studying carbon isotopes at archaeological sites in southern Brazil, the archaeologists found that Araucaria forests first began to expand well beyond their natural habitat at the same time as the ancestors of today's indigenous peoples experienced a population expansion. They found no environmental explanation for the Araucaria's territorial expansion. So they concluded that ancient forestry practices were the most likely culprit.

Today, the Araucaria remain a critical source of timber, fuel, and edible seeds for indigenous peoples in Brazil. And they play a central role in indigenous ways of viewing of the world. Araucaria trees are often considered the embodiment of ancestors. Unfortunately, there has been a 95% reduction of the range of Araucaria species due to modern logging. The genus is now considered endangered.

The Boston Socialite Who Helped Shape The American Art World

American socialite Isabella Stewart first visited Europe as a teenager in 1857. While she was there, she was exposed to Italian Renaissance art, and she fell in love. (With the art, in case that wasn't clear.) Shortly after returning to the States, her former classmate Julia Gardner invited Isabella to Boston, where she met Julia's brother John Lowell "Jack" Gardner, 3 years her senior and one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. He was also rather wealthy.

Now named Isabella Steward Gardner, she became a provocative figure in Boston high society, partially owed to her taste in fashion and eccentric behavior. The Boston society pages called her by many names, including "Belle," "Donna Isabella," "Isabella of Boston," and "Mrs. Jack". Isabella and her husband Jack were avid travelers, and from the mid-1870s visited the Middle East, Europe, and Asia for long stretches. It was while in Europe they began amassing a large art collection, though Gardner also purchased work in Egypt and the Far East. They were interested not only in paintings, but also ceramics, silver, stained glass, and architectural elements like doors. By 1896, Isabella and Jack Gardner recognized that their house on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay, although enlarged once, was not sufficient to house their growing collection of art, which by now included works by Botticelli, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. When Jack died in 1898, Isabella set out to build a museum for their vast collection.

She purchased land in what was then a marshy area next to Boston, and hired an architect to build a museum modeled on the Renaissance palaces of Venice that she had loved to stay in with Jack. The museum opened in 1903. And it is still hung to Gardner’s specification. You may know the museum because it was the target of a high-value and never-solved robbery in 1990.

It's a Bird! Its a Plane! Its a Stolen and Copied American Bomber!

The Soviet Tupolev Tu-4 was a strategic bomber used in the 1950s. But it was really a reverse-engineered copy of the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress. You see, Stalin wanted a strategic bomber, and it just so happened that three B-29s were forced to land in Soviet territory in 1944. Stalin jumped on the opportunity -- he ordered clones made, and 20 were ready by 1947. Impressive considering the B-29s were built by non-metric American specifications.

During a Moscow parade in 1947, Stalin revealed his new military machine to the world. When three aircraft flew overhead, Western analysts assumed they were the three captured B-29s. Then a fourth appeared.

The Incans Were Incestuous?

In the Inca Empire, an emperor was expected to marry a family member. There were two rival legends that were supposed to be the origin of the Inca Empire: that Manco Capac (semi-mythical potential founder #1) married his mother, or that four sisters married four brothers and they started the empire (semi-mythical potential founders #2). As a result, nobility and royalty were encouraged and expected to marry within the family. Note this was only true for the ruling class. A commoner who tried marrying a family member could expect to have their eyes gouged out, or even be executed.

We know that Atahualpa, the last undisputed Incan Emperor, was married to his sister. It was listed as one of the reasons the Spanish executed him. Along with resisting their rule and refusing to convert, of course.

Let's Learn About Mexico!

The birthplace of plant domestication in the Americas. The first New World country to gain independence from the Spanish Empire. The eleventh-largest country in the world, by population. Like the United States, Russia, and China, this is a country that any informed citizen should have at least a basic knowledge about.

Do Not Mess With This Urn

I do not know how it ever got into a museum; the archaeologist willing to move this urn has nerves of steel. Large, lidded urns were unique to the K'iché Maya of southern Guatemala. The urns contained the remains of important individuals who either were made into a tightly wrapped bundle and placed in the urn soon after they died, or were buried elsewhere then disinterred and had their bones alone placed in the urn. The majority of such urns come from sacred caves where descendants would make pilgrimages to give offerings and seek advice from their revered ancestors. The image is likely an ancestor who, at death, was transformed into a spirit embodiment of a deity. For it was their special connection to the supernatural and the gods that gave Mayan rulers their authority. And what better connection than to say your ancestors became deities upon their deaths, and that one day, you would too?

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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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