Friday, 29 March 2013

Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

The stone spheres (or stone balls) of Costa Rica are a collection of over three hundred petrospheres in Costa Rica. Some of them are quite small, a few inches in diameter, but some of them are as large as six feet in diameter weighing 14 tons. Most are sculpted from gabbro, the coarse-grained equivalent of basalt. There are a dozen or so made from shell-rich limestone, and another dozen made from a sandstone.

The stones are believed to have been carved between 200 BC and 1500 AD. However the only method available for dating the carved stones is stratigraphy, and most of the stones are no longer in their original locations. The culture of the people who made them disappeared after the Spanish conquest. The balls seem to be randomly placed and have no apparent purpose.

The spheres were discovered in the 1930s as the United Fruit Company was clearing the jungle for banana plantations. Workmen pushed them aside with bulldozers and heavy equipment, damaging some spheres. Additionally, inspired by stories of hidden gold workmen began to drill holes into the spheres and blow them open with sticks of dynamite. Several of the spheres were destroyed before authorities intervened. Some of the dynamited spheres have been reassembled and are currently on display at the National Museum of Costa Rica in San José.

Numerous myths surround the stones, such as they came from Atlantis, or that they were made as such by nature. Some local legends state that the native inhabitants had access to a potion able to soften the rock.

It has been claimed that the spheres are perfect, or very near perfect in roundness, although some spheres are known to vary by 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in diameter until 257 centimetres (104 in). Also the stones have been damaged and eroded over the years, and so it is impossible to know exactly their original shape.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript is an ancient book that has thwarted all attempts at deciphering its contents. It is an organized book with a consistent script, discernible organisation and detailed illustrations.

It appears to be a real language - just one that nobody has seen before. And it really does appear to mean something. But nobody knows what.

There is not even a consensus on who wrote it, or even when it was written or why.

Expert military code-breakers, cryptographers, mathematicians, linguists, people who get paid to find and decipher patterns, have all been left unable to decipher a single word.

As you can imagine, proposed solutions have been all over the board, from reasonable to completely ridiculous. Some say it's an unbreakable code that requires a key to solve. Some say it's a hoax, others believe it's glossolalia, which is when you speak or write something you don't understand but that is being channelled to you by God or aliens..

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Coincidences in History

In 1838 Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only full novel. One scene in the book talks about a whaling ship lost at sea, where four crewmen, having run out of food draw lots to see who will be eaten, the unfortunate decision landing on a young cabin boy named Richard Parker.

Forty-six years later, there was an actual disaster at sea involving the Mignonette. It became famous due to the legal consequences of some gruesome events on board, specifically the way the men drew lots and decided to eat their cabin boy, who was named Richard Parker.

A hundred years before James Cameron and 'Titanic' hit the big screens, American author Morgan Robertson wrote a book called Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, about the sinking of an "unsinkable" ocean liner. The story that has been told over and over again (13 times in film before Cameron, including one by the Nazis), but Robertson's book was first.

The Wreck of the Titan was published in 1898, 14 years before RMS Titanic was finished being built. The Titan was described as "the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men," "equal to that of a first class hotel," and, of course, "unsinkable". Both ships were British-owned steel vessels, both around 800 feet long and sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, in April, "around midnight." Robertson wrote that the Titan crashed "400 miles from Newfoundland" at 25 knots, and the actual Titanic crashed into an iceberg 400 miles from Newfoundland at 22.5 knots.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

My Favourite Presidents

4. Andrew Jackson 

Andrew Jackson, nicknamed "Old Hickory" was elected president in 1828. His nickname was given due to the his habit of carrying a hickory cane around with him, and beating people senseless with it.
Former Democratic Senator and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin feared a Jackson presidency because of his "habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions." Jackson was a big fan of dueling; on one occasion, he challenged a man named Charles Dickinson to a duel. Jackson allowed Dickinson to have the first shot (this was with pistols). However when Dickinson shot Jackson, he simply shook it off,
and then shot and killed Dickinson. The bullet remained inside Jackson for 19 years.

Andrew Jackson was also the first president on whom an assassination attempt was made. A man named Richard Lawrence tried to kill Jackson with two pistols both of which, for some reason, misfired. Jackson then proceeded to beat Lawrence near death with his cane until Jackson's aides pulled him off.

3. John Kennedy

Nowadays, John F. Kennedy is remembered mostly for getting shot in the head. Plagued with a bad back his entire life, Kennedy was disqualified from service in the army, however, determined not to give up he had his dad pull a few strings and snuck onto the navy, where he eventually became a lieutenant.

In August of 1943, while serving as skipper of the PT-109, Kennedy's boat was ripped in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. Kennedy and his crew were tossed into the water and surrounded by flames. Kennedy, despite a chronic back injury and an even more chronic boning-induced-exhaustion, managed to swim four hours to safety while towing an injured crewman by the life jacket strap with his teeth.

2. George Washington
Plenty of people know George Washington as the father of America, but few know about his incredible temper.

As described by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington "was naturally irritable" and when his temper "broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath." One time, in fact, he became "much inflamed [and] got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself." Witnesses agreed that, after these sudden bursts of rage, Washington generally became calm and amiable again.

Washington was always at the front line in any of the many battles he took part in and there are countless stories of Washington returning from battle with bullet holes in his uniform, or without a horse, (it having been shot from under him), but he always remained unharmed. As a general, he believed in the strength of small numbers. Typically both a loner and rebel, Washington preferred a small band of dedicated warriors over large armies and he won plenty of battles when the odds were decidedly not in his favour. He once wrote that "Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all."

1. Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt was a cattle rancher, a deputy sheriff, an explorer, a police commissioner, the assistant Secretary of the Navy, the governor of New York, and a war hero. Out of all of his jobs, hobbies and passions, Roosevelt always had a special spot in his heart for unadulterated violence. In 1898, Roosevelt formed the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as the Rough Riders. He was obsessed with violence, and carried a pistol on him at all times. He was also black belt jujitsu and a champion boxer and kept a bear and a lion at the White House as pets. Roosevelt received letters from army cavalrymen complaining about having to ride 25 miles a day for training and, in response, he rode horseback for 100 miles, from sunrise to sunset, at 51 years old, effectively rescinding anyone's right to complain about anything, ever again.

While campaigning for a third term, Roosevelt was shot by a madman and, instead of treating the wound, delivered his campaign speech with the bleeding, undressed bullet hole in his chest.

Friday, 15 March 2013

New Pope

Religious leaders worldwide have have recently been welcoming the election of Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the new Pope. Cardinal Bergoglio, who will be known as Pope Francis, was elected pontiff on the fifth ballot on Wednesday in the papal conclave in Rome.

The 76-year old is the first pontiff to come from Latin America and his election follows the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI last month. Here are a few things you may not have known about the new Pope;

• He likes to travel by bus.

• He has lived for more than 50 years with one functioning lung. He had the other removed when he was young because of infection.

• He is the son of an Italian railway worker and a housewife.

• He trained as a chemist.

• He is the first non-European pope in the modern era.

• He claims that adoption by homosexuals is a form of discrimination against children but believes that condoms "can be permissible" to prevent infection.

• In 2001 he washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice.

• He speaks fluent Italian, as well as Spanish and German.

• Until now he has been living in a small flat, eschewing a formal bishop's residence.

• He told Argentinians not to travel to Rome to celebrate if he was appointed but to give their money to the poor instead.

• He is believed to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave in 2005.

• He has co-written a book, in Spanish, called Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth).

• Though conservative on church doctrine, he has criticised priests who refuse to baptise babies born to single mothers.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Mistakes in History

Guy Fawkes.
Late last year I wrote a blog post about Fawkes and Bonfire Night. However whilst it may be true that Fawkes planned on blowing Parliament to pieces, people have forgotten why. Fawkes wasn't trying to destroy an evil theocracy, he was trying to install one. Fawkes was a fighter for Spain and the Catholic Church. His goal was to end the slightly more egalitarian Protestant revolution in England by restoring Catholic domination. If the Gunpowder Plot had actually succeeded, Britain would probably look less like an anarchist commune and more like a fascist police state.

One of the most popular Satanist symbols is the upside down cross, as the inverted cross is the most immediately recognizable symbol of defiance against Christianity. However, Satanists have made a big mistake. The inverted cross is actually the personal trademark of Saint Peter, the first Pope, and one of the most revered figures in Catholic lore. When Peter was martyred by crucifixion he was said to have requested to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy of dying the same way as Jesus. As a result, many Catholics actually consider the inverted cross to be a more acceptable thing to attach to your jewellery than a regular right-way-up one. By wearing an upside-down cross, Satanists are unwittingly showing humility and unworthiness before Christ.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


Derinkuyu's underground city was discovered in the 1960s in Turkey, when a modern house above ground was being renovated. Much to the relief of everyone present, the 18-story underground city was abandoned and not swarming with mole people.

Hidden for centuries, Derinkuyu is the largest of hundreds of underground complexes built around the eighth century B.C in the soft volcanic rock of the Cappadocia region, possibly by the Phrygians. It is believed that the underground city at Derinkuyu may have been enlarged in the Byzantine era. There are references to underground refugee settlements built by the Persian king Yima in the second chapter of the Zoroastrian book Vendidad. Therefore many scholars believe that the city may have been built by the Persians. The city was connected with other underground cities through miles of tunnels. What is so phenomenal about this feat of engineering is that is was dug only by hammers and chisels, reaches 60m deep and can sustain 20,000 people.

The city was probably used as a giant bunker to protect its inhabitants from either war or natural disaster and had access to fresh flowing water -- the wells were not connected with the surface to prevent poisoning by crafty land dwellers. It also has individual quarters, shops, communal rooms, tombs, arsenals, livestock, and escape routes. There's even a school, complete with a study room.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Legend of the Trojan Horse

My most recent post got me thinking about more of the biggest mistakes people have made in history. I realised that one such mistake, which probably deserves a place on the list I made is the legend of the Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse is a large wooden horse from the Trojan War in Greek mythology. In the Trojan War, the Greeks were fighting against the city of Troy, located on the coast of Asia, across the sea from the Greek city-state of Sparta.. The war started when Helen, the queen of Sparta, was kidnapped by Paris, prince of Troy. The Grecians waged war on Troy to win Helen of Troy back.

The Greeks could not enter the city or win the war, because in those days most cities had walls of up to 20 feet high surrounding them. Along the wall, inside of the city, a set of stairs wound up to the top. Warriors could stand at the top of the stairs and shoot arrows down at intruders who were trying to get inside the city. There were also holes built high on the wall, which archers could shoot arrows through. If the wall was high enough and strong enough, it could do a pretty good job keeping intruders from coming inside. 

According to legend, the Greeks tried for ten years to get over the wall around the city of Troy, to no avail. Similarly, the Trojans could not drive the Greeks away. One day, Odysseus, one of the Grecian generals, thought of a way to trick them. The Greeks pretended to admit defeat and decide to give up. In those days, whenever one side surrendered, it was custom to give a gift to the 'enemy'. This could have been money, art or slaves. As the Greeks were famous for their art, they decided to build a wooden horse and present it to the Trojans. Odysseus chose a horse so that Poseidon (God of the sea and creator of horses) would ensure them a safe trip back to Greece.

The Greeks left the horse outside the city walls, and set sail. Seeing this, the Trojans dragged the horse inside their city and closed the gates, thinking it was a victory gift from the Greeks. They then had a festival to celebrate their victory. Some Trojans wanted to burn the horse, which would have been a sad fate for the Greek soldiers hidden inside of it, but most of the Trojans, famous for their bragging (or so legend has it) wanted to display the magnificent horse. After the Trojan victory festival ended, the Greeks, who were hiding inside the horse, silently crept out at night while the Trojan people slept soundly, tired from all their celebrations. They opened the gates of Troy and let the Greek army inside. The Greeks easily overpowered the unsuspecting Trojans and took control of the city. Because of the Trojan Horse, the Greeks won the Trojan War.

Today the word "Trojan horse" is used for things that are similar to that story: something that looks good and okay, but in truth has another purpose, usually bad. An example for this is the computer virus Trojan horse.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

5 Biggest Fails In History

Ever feel like a failure? I think its fair to say that a one point all of us feel a little rubbish about ourselves or scared to try something new in fear of failure. To lessen this fear, I have complied a list of 5 of the biggest fails in history. Note this is just my opinion - there are many other failures that I have not included. 

1. The H-Bomb
On May 22, 1957, a B-36 bomber flying 1,700 feet over New Mexico accidentally dropped its cargo just outside of Kirtland Air Force Base, leaving a 12-foot-deep, 25-foot-wide crater in the desert. It's cargo was a 42,000 pound hydrogen bomb, the worst kind of atomic bomb there is, with a 10-megaton explosive yield - making it hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb, named Mark 17, is believed to have been the most powerful bomb in the US at the time..

2. Walk (Around) the Line
After WWI, the French decided to build thousands of miles of military fortifications around their borders. The Line was a huge series or fortresses and outposts, costing several billion francs and ten years to build. However several fortifications along the border with Belgium, an ally, were left open, because the Ardennes were considered to be impenetrable, and the area was ignored. That same area happened to be where Germany invaded in 1940.

3. Saying No to the Beatles
In 1962 a four man band were turned down by Decca Records, who said they had 'no future in showbiz'. Two years later the band, now known as The Beatles, went on to sell $50 million worth of records.

4. Nixon's slip up
In 1977 President Richard Nixon, of the USA, had resigned in scandal. However, despite his wrongdoings being common knowledge among the American public, he'd been granted full pardon by President Ford and never formally admitted to any wrongdoing. David Frost, a British talk show host, who, because his career was going downhill, offered Nixon $600,000 for a series of interviews. For one of the first times ever Nixon was actually faced with answering proper questions, and due to the fact that the interviews were unrehearsed and unformatted, Nixon was completely caught off guard, famously mistakenly saying “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

5. The Mongol's Failure
By the late thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire stretched from Korea to Eastern Europe, making it the largest contiguous empire the world has ever seen. In fact, Mongols are the only people in history ever to have successfully pulled off a winter invasion of Russia. In November of 1274, an estimated 600 ships were sent to Hakata Bay, Japan. They were destroyed by a typhoon after only one day of fighting. Kublai Khan, determined not to be defeated, spent the next 7 years planning for a bigger, stronger attack. In August of 1281 an estimated 900 fleet of ships was sent to Hakata Bay, only to be destroyed by a second, much larger typhoon. The first typhoon occurred well after typhoon season, and the second was on a scale that is only estimated to occur every few hundred years. Convinced of a divine intervention, the Japanese called the two storms “kamikaze,” or divine winds, and the Mongols never tried to invade Japan again.