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Tag Archives: history

Remains of Napoleon’s one-legged general found under Russian dance floor

By Laura Geggel Associate Editor | LiveScience

An excavation in a peculiar place — under the foundation of a dance floor in Russia — has uncovered the remains of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite generals: a one-legged man who was killed by a cannonball more than 200 years ago, news sources report.

Gen. Charles Etienne Gudin fought with Napoleon during the failed French invasion of Russia in 1812. On July 6 of this year, an international team of French and Russian archaeologists discovered what are believed to be his remains, in Smolensk, a city about 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Moscow, according to Reuters.

The researchers said that several clues suggested that the skeleton they found under the dance floor belongs to Gudin, who had known Napoleon since childhood. Both men attended the Military School in Brienne, in France’s Champagne region. Upon hearing of Gudin’s death, Napoleon reportedly cried and ordered that his friend’s name be engraved on the Arc de Triomphe, according to Euronews.

Records from the 1812 Russian invasion note that Gudin’s battlefield injuries required him to have his left leg amputated below the knee, Euronews reported. Indeed, the skeleton in the coffin was missing its left leg and showed evidence of injury to the right leg — details that were also mentioned in those records, the archaeologists said, according to Reuters.

Moreover, it was “with a high degree of probability” that the remains the team uncovered belonged to an aristocrat and a military veteran of both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, they said, according to Reuters.

“It’s a historic moment not only for me, but for I think for our two countries,” French historian and archaeologist Pierre Malinovsky, who helped find the remains, told the Smolensk newspaper Rabochiy Put(Worker’s Journey), according to Reuters. “Napoleon was one of the last people to see him alive, which is very important, and he’s the first general from the Napoleonic period that we have found.”

The general has known living descendants, so researchers plan to test the skeleton for DNA. That way, they’ll be able to say for sure whether the remains are those of Gudin.

Gudin, however, is hardly the only French fatality recently found in Russia. Earlier this year, scientists did a virtual facial reconstruction of a man in his 20s who was slashed in the face with a saber and died during the invasion of Russia.

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1880: The Arm of the Statue of Liberty on Separate Display

C. 1880: THE ARM OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY IN MADISON SQUARE GARDENS, NEW YORK


In order to fund the Statue, elements of it were shipped from Paris to New York and exhibited to the public – such as the the arm and torch, on display here in Madison Square Park, New York.

The arm and torch could be seen in there for six years, from 1876 and 1882 – and for 50 cents, it was possible to climb up to the torch’s balcony.

 

retronaut-content-torch.jpg

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Did Van Gogh shoot himself? Auction of pistol reignites debate.

The auction of a pistol said to have been used by the painter Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself has reignited a debate about who actually pulled the trigger: Did Van Gogh commit suicide, or was he shot by someone else?

The gun will be auctioned in France on Wednesday (June 19), where it’s expected to sell for more than $50,000.

For years, most Van Gogh experts have accepted the explanation that he shot himself in the chest with a pistol in a suicide in July 1890. [30 of the World’s Most Valuable Treasures That Are Still Missing]

Such a gun was found more than 70 years later, in a field near the French farming village of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh died, and it has widely been accepted as the weapon he used to shoot himself.

Van Gogh lived on for 30 hours before dying from the wound. His last words, according to his brother Theo, were “the sadness will last forever.”

In the years since his death, the Dutch expressionist painter, who cut off his left ear in a dispute with the painter Paul Gauguin has become the archetype of a despairing, suicidal artist overcome by depression.

But in 2011, biographers Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh argued that Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself, but was shot accidentally by 16-year-old René Secrétan, who was spending the summer in the village.

According to their biography “Van Gogh: The Life” (Random House, 2011), Secrétan and his brother both befriended and bullied Van Gogh when he stayed at Auvers — and that Secrétan possessed the gun involved.

Based on a number of lingering mysteries about the last hours of Van Gogh’s life, the authors proposed that the artist was shot during a scuffle with Secrétan; then, he implied that he had shot himself, in order to cover for the boys, they wrote in an essay in Vanity Fair.

The theory that Van Gogh was shot by another is disputed by some experts on the life of the artist. But Naifeh told Live Science that he was more convinced than ever that Secrétan shot Van Gogh.

Mystery weapon

The gun being auctioned in Paris next week is a Belgian-made 7mm Lefaucheux revolver — a popular small caliber handgun at that time.

The gun matches the description of the 7mm bullet taken from Van Gogh’s body by his doctor, and it is theorized that its low power may be why Van Gogh didn’t die immediately but staggered back to his hotel with the bullet still lodged in his chest.

The pistol was found by a farmer in 1965 — 75 years after Van Gogh’s death — in a field at Auvers, badly corroded and beyond use. It was then given to the family who owned the hotel where Van Gogh died.

Grégoire Veyrès, the auctioneer for Auction Art who is conducting the sale, told Live Science that an investigation by the writer Alain Rohan determined that the corroded weapon had been buried in the ground for at least 50 years. [In Photos: Van Gogh Masterpiece Reveals True Colors]

Rohan’s investigative work was accepted as valid by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which displayed the gun in a 2016 exhibition about the artist’s mental illness, Veyrès said.

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

Death debated

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

“I believe it highly likely, although not certain, that it is the actual gun,” Bailey told Live Science, adding that the Van Gogh Museum had also stated there was a “strong possibility” that this was the gun he used.

While the 2011 biography by Smith and Naifeh was “excellent,” he said, many Van Gogh experts didn’t accept their theory.

“I am convinced that it was suicide, not murder or manslaughter,” he said. “Van Gogh’s family and close friends believed it was suicide.”

Naifeh, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Smith in 1991 for their biography of the American painter Jackson Pollock, said his discussions with forensic experts had strengthened his belief that Secrétan shot the artist.

“I have only become more convinced that it is more likely that he was shot in a scuffle than that he wasn’t,” he told Live Science.

Naifeh noted that there was no evidence linking the gun either to Van Gogh or to the manner of his death.

“What forensic evidence is there to tie Vincent van Gogh to this gun? And, even if there were forensic evidence tying Vincent to this gun, what does this say about who pulled the trigger?” he asked: “Those are the two big questions, and I do not see any answers.”

Although Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in the world — one of his paintings of a farmed field, completed a year before his death, sold for $81 million in 2017 — he sold only one painting during his lifetime, for 400 francs.

The most expensive Van Gogh painting to date was sold for $82 million in 1990, the “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” from 1890. Gachet was the doctor who would ultimately attend his death later that year.

Original article on Live Science.

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The Victorian-Era Supercomputer And The Genius Who Created It

The London Science Museum finally completed work on the Victorian era’s greatest supercomputer, the Difference Engine No. 2, 120 years after the death of inventor Charles Babbage. This five-ton machine is currently traveling across the pond to San Francisco, and will go on display in America for the first time starting May 10th at the Computer History Museum. Find out everything you wanted to know about Charles Babbage and his wonderful engines in today’s triviagasm.

  • Babbage had a life-threatening fever when he was 8 years old, and the parents ordered that his “brain was not to be taxed too much.” Babbage later thought that this left him free to daydream, which led to his computers.
  • Babbage was later schooled at the Holmwood Academy, which only had 30 students. They also had a massive library, with many books focused on mathematics, which he fell in love with.
  • He worked on calculating machine designs from other inventor/mathematicians like Blaise Pascal, Wilhelm Schickard, and Gottfried Leibniz. All of these men had designed working calculators from the 1500s on. In Shickard’s case, he had invented a calculating machine called “The Speeding Clock” that could work with six-digit numbers and would ring a bell to indicate memory overflow. It was later destroyed in a fire, but a working replica was constructed in 1960.
  • Babbage himself first proposed building a “calculating engine” with much more capacity in 1822, and he went on to design several machines which he called “Difference Engines.” Sadly, they were never built because of their enormous size, cost, and also because Babbage’s personality frequently clashed with investors. Also, in 1827, Babbage’s father, wife, and two of his sons died… all in the same year. He had a resulting mental breakdown which further delayed any construction or design.
  • The first Difference Engine design had over 25,000 parts, would have been eight feet high, and would have weighed 15 tons. It was never fully completed during his lifetime, although different sections were later assembled and shown to work by his son, Henry Provost Babbage, after he inherited them.
  • Babbage revised his designs for the Difference Engine No. 2, although this was never built during his lifetime either. In 1989, the London Science Museum began constructing one from his designs, and it was completed in 1991. It has 8,000 parts of bronze, cast iron and steel, weighs five tons and measures eleven feet long and seven feet high.
  • Only two versions of this Engine exist: the one built for the London Science Museum, and a second one that was built by the museum on special commission for millionaire Nathan Myhrvold.
  • The first completed Difference Engine No. 2 performed its first calculation in 1991, and returned results to more than 31 digits. That’s more than your souped-up pocket calculator.
  • A separate printing unit that Babbage designed was constructed for the Engine in 2000 and didn’t need USB a to b cables or a serial interface. Pretty fancy stuff for the 19th Century.
  • Babbage improved on his Difference Engine ideas again by working on plans for an Analytical Engine that could be reprogrammed by inserting programs on punch cards into the machine. This was the first programmable computer, which later led to other scientists improving on these ideas and eventually to the modern computer.
  • Besides working on engines and calculating machines, Babbage also served as a mathematics professor at Cambridge for many years, won a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, working on railroad rail gauges, invented uniform postal rates, ran for Parliament, worked in cryptography, and also invented the “pilot” (better known as a cow-catcher) that was mounted on the front of locomotives to “push” cows off the tracks to help prevent derailings.
  • Babbage also didn’t suffer from what he called public nuisance very well, either. He published “Observations of Street Nuisances” in 1864, which was a summary of 165 nuisances that he observed over 80 days. He also wrote “Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breakage of Plate Glass Windows” after counting the broken windows on a nearby factory.
  • On a side note, growing up in Dallas, Texas, I used to beg my parents to take me to a little software shop to buy computer games. It was called Babbage’s. Today it’s better known as GameStop, but I still have a soft spot for that geeky little store.
  • To this date, Charles Babbage’s brain is preserved in a glass jar at the London Science Museum, just awaiting the perfect moment for reanimation.

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Walking dead? Medieval villagers zombie-proofed their corpses

Here, knife-marks can been seen on the surfaces of two rib fragments. Cut-marks and chop-marks are the bones suggest the bodies had been mutilated after death.

Here, knife-marks can been seen on the surfaces of two rib fragments. Cut-marks and chop-marks are the bones suggest the bodies had been mutilated after death.  (Historic England)

Zombies are hardly a modern preoccupation. For centuries, people have been worried about corpses rising from their graves to torment the living. Now, archaeologists in England think they’ve found evidence of medieval methods to prevent the dead from walking.

The researchers revisited a pit of human remains that had been dug up at Wharram Percy, an abandoned village in North Yorkshire that dates back to nearly 1,000 years ago. The corpses had been burned and mutilated after death, and the archaeologists offered two possible explanations: either the condition of the corpses was due to cannibalism, or the bodies were dismembered to ensure they wouldn’t walk from their graves, according to the study published April 2 in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Study leader Simon Mays, a human-skeletal biologist at Historic England, said the idea that the bones “are the remains of corpses burnt and dismembered to stop them walking from their graves seems to fit the evidence best.” [See Photos of the ‘Zombie’ Burial at Wharram Percy]

People at the time believed that reanimation could occur when individuals who had a strong life force committed evil deeds before death, or when individuals experienced a sudden or violent death, Mays and his colleagues wrote. To stop these corpses from haunting the living, English medieval texts suggest that bodies would be dug up and subjected to mutilation and burning.

When the jumbled bones were first excavated in the 1960s, they were originally interpreted as dating from earlier, perhaps Roman-era, burials that were inadvertently disturbed and reburied by villagers in the late Middle Ages. The bones were buried in unconsecrated ground, after all —near a house and not in the official cemetery.

However, radiocarbon dating showed that the bones were contemporary with the medieval town, and chemical analyses revealed that the bones came from people who were local to the region.

What happened to the corpses after death could rival scenes from a gory zombie movie.

The bones from Wharram Percy came from at least 10 people between the ages of 2 and 50, according to the new study. Burning patterns from experiments with cadavers suggest that the bodies were set ablaze when the bones still had flesh on them. (A fleshed corpse was thought to be more threatening than a bare skeleton.) The scientists also found cut marks consistent with dismemberment, and chop marks that suggest the skeletons were decapitated after death.

“If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice,” Mays said in a statement , referring to the zombie-safety precautions. “It shows us a dark side of medieval beliefs and provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own.”

Stephen Gordon , a scholar of medieval and early-modern supernatural belief, who was not involved in the study, said he found the interpretation plausible. [7 Strange Ways Humans Act Like Vampires]

“Although, of course, one cannot discount the possibility that cannibalism was indeed a cause, I do think the evidence veers toward a local belief in the dangerous dead,” Gordon told Live Science in an email.

Gordon noted that several examples of revenants, or reanimated corpses , come from 12th-century northern English sources, so archaeological evidence from Yorkshire from around 1100 to 1300 is certainly to be expected.

There are still some mysteries concerning the bones, the authors of the study noted, such as how the human remains ended up together in this particular pit, especially since they span the 11th to 13th centuries. It’s also unclear why, if the corpses were feared, they would be reburied in a domestic context.

What’s more, revenants, at least according to written English sources, were commonly associated with males, but skeletons from both sexes and children were found in the pit. Gordon, however, doesn’t think this should invalidate the walking-dead argument.

“The written evidence in English chronicles and saints’ lives, which focus on male revenants, represents just a small (and highly constructed) snapshot of the realities of everyday belief,” Gordon said in the email.

A bishop of the Holy Roman Empire, Burchard of Worms, writing around A.D. 1000, “alludes to the fact that children who died before baptism, or women who died in childbirth, were believed to walk after death and needed to be ‘transfixed,'” Gordon said. He pointed to another case, from the 14th-century Bohemian chronicler Neplach of Opatovice, in which a female walking corpse had to be cremated. “As such, it is possible that female corpses were indeed believed to walk after death in England.”

The bones from Wharram Percy might not represent the very first revenant burial found in Europe. In several so-called ” vampire burials ” in a 17th-century Polish cemetery, the corpses have sickles around their necks. One interpretation is that the blades were meant to keep the dead from rising.

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Medieval sin-washing well is uncovered

(Historic England)

(Historic England)

In medieval times, pilgrims flocked to England in quest of St. Anne’s Well, which was said to cure ailments and wash away sins. Archaeologists now say they’ve rediscovered that large sandstone well on a private farm near Liverpool using only a 1983 photo and a description, reports the Liverpool Echo.

When archaeologists arrived at the site, there was little evidence of the well at all as “it had become completely filled with earth,” says a rep for Historic England.

Once excavated, however, it was “found to be in reasonable condition,” per an archaeologist. Legend has it that the supposed mother of the Virgin Mary herself descended the medieval well’s three steps and bathed in its 4-foot-deep pool, located near a priory of monks, reportedly giving the water the ability to cure eye and skin diseases, per Seeker and ScienceAlert.

 

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But the well—believed to have healing properties into the 19th century—also features in a more ominous legend suggesting it’s cursed. During a dispute over the well in the 16th century, the prior reportedly cursed the estate manager of a neighboring landowner, whom he believed had a hand in the monastery being seized by the king.

The prior said a “year and a day shall not pass ere St. Anne thy head shall bruise”—then the prior himself collapsed and died, according to an 1877 newspaper recounting of the legend.

The estate manager is said to have disappeared after a night of drinking, only to be found dead in the well with “his head crushed in.” ScienceAlert points out the discovery has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Thanks! Over 1.5 million hits so far this year…

I want to thank everyone.  Earlier in October my humble blog site reached over 1.5 million hits and is close to 1.6 million now.  Thank you all for looking at my blog this year and for enjoying my quirky blend of dogs, cosplay, quantum physics, history, and writing.  It reflects my own warped personality and interests, so it is reassuring to know that over 1.5 million times this year others were interested in the same things.  🙂

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