The Map Of… Everything!*

This “Histomap,” created by John B. Sparks, was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931. It is now housed by The David Rumsey Map Collection and they, thankfully, host a fully zoomable version here online.

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This giant, ambitious chart fit neatly with a trend in nonfiction book publishing of the 1920s and 1930s: the “outline,” in which large subjects were distilled into a form comprehensible to the most uneducated layman.

The 5-foot-long Histomap was sold for $1 and folded into a green cover, which featured endorsements from historians and reviewers.

* “World” being highly subjective. History being “4,000 years”.

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Space Spots Somma-Vesuvius

This was the view out the International Space Station’s cupola on Jan. 1, 2013, around 09:37 UTC, looking nearly straight down the gullet of Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius.

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The. World’s. Most. Dangerous. Volcano.

Vesuvius (“Vesuvio” in Italian) is probably not only the most famous, but also one, if not the most dangerous volcano on Earth. The first eyewitness account of a volcanic eruption that has been preserved has come to us from Vesuvius: In 79 AD, after a century-long slumber, the volcano woke up with terrifying power in an eruption that buried several Roman towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum under several meters of ash. Today, parts of these cities have been excavated and are among the most remarkable archaeological sites of the world, allowing us to have an excellent view on Roman life and culture, where time and life had been frozen in a moment.

Geologically, Mt. Vesuvius, or more correctly the Somma-Vesuvius complex, is about 400,000 years old, as dating of lava sampled drilled from over 1,300 m depth have shown. Present-day Vesuvius is a medium-sized typical stratovolcano volcano reaching a height of 1,281 m a.s.l. It comprises the older volcano, the Somma, whose summit collapsed (likely during the 79 AD eruption), creating a caldera, and the younger volcano, Vesuvius, which since then has re-grown inside this caldera and formed a new cone. Although in a dormant phase at present, Vesuvius is an extremely active volcano and particular for its unusually varied style of activity: it ranges from Hawaiian-style emission of very liquid lava, extreme lava fountains, lava lakes and lava flows, over Strombolian and Vulcanian eruptions to violently explosive, Plinian eruptions that produce large pyroclastic flows.

When one thinks about Vesuvius volcano today, one aspect is eminent: due to the dense population surrounding it, and ever climbing higher and higher up on its slopes, it is certainly among Earth’s most dangerous volcanoes. It is estimated that ore than 500,000 people live in the zone immediately threatened by a future eruption. When this happens is not known; it is possible that Vesuvius has entered into one of its typically century-long lasting phases of dormancy, but volcanoes can be unpredictable. The situation in the Gulf of Naples is further complicated by the presence of another highly active, and potentially as dangerous volcano: the Campi Flegrei, located immediately under a large part of the modern city of Naples.

Europe’s Ticking Time Bomb

Image: NASA via Cmdr Chris Hatfield

Amulet You Wear This…

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A brownish-colored, dry-looking organ — a heart — obsessively pierced by several nails and pins, all varying in size, has a quiet, disturbing visceral impact. It is a charm, created by someone who assembled these charged elements in order to inflict their desires. At first sight, the fragile object seems to come from the dawn of humanity, evoking pagan practices or some exotic civilizations, eons away from our modern days.

Displayed for the first time to the public in 1917, the mummified heart was once the property of Edward Lovett, an eccentric British erudite and wealthy chief cashier in the bank of the City of London who, in his spare time, was the most relentless archivist of his era. A member of the Folklore Society since 1900, Lovett had one very unusual obsession: once off work, he would spend his free time strolling through the slums of Edwardian London to collect evidence of magic and medicinal practices, vernacular beliefs that the century of industrialization and rational sciences hadn’t eliminated. From his urban explorations, conversations with street sellers, sailors, and working class witches, Lovett accumulated an astonishing array of charms, an incredible collection of odds and ends that proved superstitions were an invisible, yet persistent, practice, even in modern England.

The pinned heart is the most fascinating of these amulets and it has, according to Lovett, a very intriguing story. In his 1925 book Magic in Modern London, the folklorist described the incredible story of the mummified relic:

“December – 1911: A cow keeper, who was one of the old school and originally came from Devonshire, had the misfortune to incur the intense wrath of a man of vindictive temper. He threatened to bewitch the poor man’s cows, and two of then died. The cow keeper there upon, took the heart of one of the dead animals, stuck it all over with pins and nails and hung it up in the Chimney of his house… such action is supposed to be of such a serious nature that it brought about an arrangement of a more or less satisfactory character.”

Of course, the concept of attracting good fortune or protection using animal remains seems a bit naive and outdated in the early 20th century, even for Lovett’s contemporaries. But as a matter of fact, this heart was one of many examples of charms and amulets made from carcasses that he found during his metropolitan adventures.

Preserved moles’ paws would be carried in tiny bags to calm toothaches or eradicate cramps, while the tips of rabbits’ tongues would protect against poverty. Bones and skulls would be often carried as amulets, carved or adorned with sterling and worn as necklaces. These often fragile artifacts were materialized solace, shaped out of humans’ hopes and fears.

Source: Laetita Barbier

“Into The Fatal Bowels Of The Deep”

A 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery has been identified beneath a second car park by archaeologists from the University of Leicester, who believe the remains date back to 300AD. Researchers found 13 sets of remains of mixed age and sex as well as hairpins, belt buckles and other personal items at the site on Oxford Street.

In February remains found beneath Greyfriars car park were revealed to be those of the last Plantagenet monarch, Richard III.

Project officer John Thomas said: “We have discovered new evidence about a known cemetery that existed outside the walled town of Roman Leicester during the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD. The excavation, at the junction of Oxford Street and Newarke Street, lies approximately 130m outside the south gate of Roman Leicester. Unusually, the 13 burials found during the recent excavations, of mixed age and sex, displayed a variety of burial traditions including east to west and north to south-oriented graves, many with personal items such as hobnailed shoes.”

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Romans came to the area now known as Leicester in around 47AD and fortified the area, which was called Ratae Corieltauvorum. It is still possible to see traces of the Roman presence in Leicester. The Jewry Wall, near St Nicolas Church, is thought to have formed part of Roman Leicester’s public baths.

During the dig archaeologists also found a jet ring bearing what is possibly an early Christian symbol. “Roman law forbade burial within the town limits so cemeteries developed outside the walls, close to well-used roads,” added Mr Thomas.

Previous excavations on Newarke Street have revealed numerous Christian burial grounds near the present site. Unusually, the recent excavations display a variety of burial traditions. One grave possibly even suggests a Pagan burial, with the body laid on its side in a semi-foetal position and the head removed and placed near the feet, alongside two pottery jars that would have held offerings for the journey to the afterlife.

“It is possible from the variety of burials found that the cemetery catered for a range of beliefs that would have been important to people living in Leicester at this time,” said Mr Thomas.

The site is earmarked for development.*

* No, really?!