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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

The Great Raft of The Red River  

Before the arrival of the Europeans, "log jams" formed by the accumulation of fallen trees and driftwood on rivers and streams were a common phenomenon across North America, but none was as enormous as the one that existed on the Red River. At its peak, this log jam—known as the Great Raft—extended for 165 miles (265 km) clogging the lower part of the river in what is now Northwest Louisiana and Northeast Texas. The Great Raft began forming sometime around the beginning of the last mille...

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2018-03-19 19:01:00

How Bermuda's Chronic Water Shortage Shaped The Islands' Iconic White Roof  

Bermuda's brilliantly white rooftop houses are iconic of the islands, but they aren't just for show—they serve an important purpose. Without these terraced limestone roofs life in Bermuda would not have been possible. There are two things Bermuda is famous for—hurricanes and the lack of fresh water. Bermuda is situated directly in the path of hurricanes, although their impact is less severe compared to what the Atlantic Coast experiences. Also, owning to Bermuda's small size many hurri...

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2018-03-17 12:35:00

Osaka Stadium's Housing Expo  

Where the magnificent Namba Parks stand today at Naniwa-ku, in Osaka, Japan, once stood Osaka's baseball stadium. Opened in 1950 with a capacity of 32,000 people, the stadium was home to the Nankai Hawks baseball team, but when the Hawks moved to Heiwadai Stadium in 1988, the stadium was sold to Fukuoka City. For the next two years, Osaka Stadium became the temporary home of the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who played about a dozen games here. The last official baseball game was held on August 2, 1990....

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2018-03-17 12:34:00

Project Riese: The Secret Nazi Tunnels in Poland  

Eighty kilometers to the south of Wroclaw, underneath Poland's oldest mountain range, the Owl Mountains, lies a massive underground complex and tunnel system built by the Nazis. The exact purpose of these tunnels is not known, nor is its true size because the complex was never completed. More than nine kilometers were excavated, but only a small section was reinforced by steel and concrete before the Nazis were driven out of the region by the arriving Red Army. Some say the tunnels were meant ...

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2018-03-13 20:59:00

The Monument That Was Also A Science Lab  

The Monument to the Great Fire of London that stands near the northern end of London Bridge is a pretty well known landmark. It's a tall Doric column decorated with dragons near the base and topped with a golden orb. Its height—202 feet—corresponds to the distance from its base to the bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire started. On the inside of the hollow column is a spiraling staircase that stretches all the way to the top, and out on to a viewing platform. Completed in 1677, the Monum...

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2018-03-10 15:37:00

The 4-Ton Steel Ball That Produces Artificial Earthquakes  

In the wooded hillside of Hainberg, near Göttingen, Germany, stands an old seismological station. The Wiechert Earthquake Station was built in 1902 by the noted German physicist and geophysicist, Emil Wiechert, to carry out research in the emerging field of geophysics. Wiechert built several seismographs there to record tremors. These instruments have been recording data uninterruptedly since then, becoming the world's oldest, still functioning seismograph. Emil Wiechert was interested in lea...

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2018-03-09 12:01:00

The Good Hitlers of Circleville  

The city of Circleville, situated thirty miles to the south of Ohio's largest city, Columbus, has a few things to boast. The Circleville Pumpkin Show, which the city has been hosting for more than a century, is the biggest festival in the United States dedicated to the fruit, attracting several hundred thousand visitors over multiple days, as well as unusually large-sized pumpkins. Pumpkins weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds frequently turn up at the pumpkin weighing contest, with the current ...

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2018-03-07 15:39:00

Rolligon: The Vehicle That Makes Running Over Yourself Fun  

The following image appeared on the December 1957 issue of "Mechanix Illustrated". It shows a woman smiling while being run over by a mammoth truck with unusually large wheels. The woman appears to be of average build—not the strongman (or strongwoman) type that we see on the TV sometimes, performing stunts such as this as a show of strength. She appears to be enjoying herself and apparently unharmed. The accompanied caption identified the vehicle as a Chevrolet-manufactured "Albee Rolli...

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2018-03-06 14:44:00

The World's Loneliest Tree, And How it Holds Clues to a New Epoch  

In the remote Campbell Island, situated more than 600 km south of New Zealand's mainland, grows a solitary Sitka spruce that has gained distinction as the loneliest tree on earth. Its nearest neighbor is over 220 km away, on the Auckland Islands, while the nearest member of its own species is on another hemisphere altogether, across the Pacific. So how did this lonely Sitka spruce come to be where it is? Campbell Island is one of New Zealand's most southern island. It is located in a region ...

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2018-03-03 15:32:00

Wyld's Great Globe  

The famous British cartographer and former Member of Parliament, James Wyld, had a brilliant plan to promote his mapmaking business. The Great Exhibition was slated for 1851, at Hyde Park in London, and would be visited by prominent industrialists, scientist, and artists from around the world, as well as members of the Royal family. Wyld figured if he could create a huge model of the earth with an accurate depiction of earth's geography, for the exhibition, it could further his chances of scor...

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2018-03-01 21:09:00

The Chapel of Prosthetics, New Orleans's St Roch Cemetery  

Beyond the tombstones, at the back of St. Roch cemetery in the US city of New Orleans, Louisiana, lies the shrine of St. Roch, dedicated to the 14th century Catholic saint, who was known to have miraculous healing powers. Legend has it that when Saint Roch arrived in Italy, Europe was in the midst of yet another plague epidemic. Saint Roch visited hospitals throughout the country taking care of the sick, and many is said to have been cured by his healing touch. The shrine at St. Roch cemetery is

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2018-03-01 12:53:00

The Ruins of St. Paul's Church, Macau  

The city of Macau in Southern China might be best known for its casinos and luxury hotels, but its most treasured icon is actually a church, or what remains of it. The Church of St. Paul, also known as "Mater Dei", is a 17th-century Portuguese church dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. It was constructed from 1602 to 1640 by Jesuit priests who travelled to the Far East to spread Catholicism. Indeed, the Jesuits first entered China through the Portuguese settlement on Macau, and the Ch

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2018-02-28 12:12:00

Wojtek: The Bear That Drank Beer And Went to War  

Archibald Brown, the British official at the port of Naples, looked at the roster in his hand and called out the name—"Corporal Wojtek", but nobody came forward. It was mid-February 1944, and Brown was at Naples to help process a unit of Polish soldiers that had just arrived by ship from Alexandria, Egypt, to join forces with the Allies in their fight against the Germans and the Italians. One of his duties was to check crew manifests and speak with freshly arrived soldiers. Brown consulted...

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2018-02-26 12:53:00

The Triple Bridge of Pontarfynach  

About 15 km outside Aberystwyth, in Wales, is a small village named Pontarfynach, meaning "the bridge on the Mynach". As the name suggest, the village's most prized attraction is a bridge. The bridge is unusual as it consist of not one but three stacked bridges, each one built upon the previous bridge. The original and the lowest bridge was built in the 11th century. When that was thought to be unstable, a second stone bridge was built over the gorge directly atop the original bridge. That...

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2018-02-26 10:53:00

Bir Tawil: The Land No Country Wants  

Wedged between the borders of Egypt and Sudan is a small parcel of land that is truly unique in this world. It is one of the last unclaimed land on earth. Neither country wants it, and it is easy to see why. This 2,000-square-kilometer trapezoidal piece of land called Bir Tawil lies in one of the most desolate regions of North Africa. The region is mostly sand and rock, with no roads or permanent inhabitants or natural resources. Claiming this region would contribute nothing to either country'...

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2018-02-24 10:24:00

The Delicate Art of Cobweb Paintings  

Who could have thought that the delicate, fine, silky threads of a spider's cobweb could be woven into a canvas strong enough to withstand the abrasive strokes of an artist's brush? But the hundred or so paintings that survive today in museums and in the hands of private collectors bear testimony to this incredibly ingenious, painstaking and time-consuming craft that the Austrian monks of the Tyrolean Alps practiced in the 16th century. Cobweb painting, sometimes also called gossamer paintin...

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2018-02-22 21:34:00

Whale Graveyards  

Movement of the earth's crust over millions of years have drastically changed the geography of the planet such that what is land now was once the seabed and where stands a mountain today was once a vast ocean. It's not uncommon, hence, to find whale fossils and those of ancient marine animals high and dry up on mountaintops and in the middle of deserts. Whales also wash ashore on beaches, get stranded and die. The flesh rot away leaving a skeleton on the beach. The beaches of Falkland Island...

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2018-02-21 12:22:00

The Immovable Ladder of Jerusalem's Church of The Holy Sepulchre  

Underneath one of the arched windows of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City of Jerusalem, there is an old wooden ladder casually leaning against the wall on the upper ledge. At first glance it appears that the Church is undergoing renovation and the ladder was put there by a workman for repair works on the wall. You can clearly see the ladder under the double window on this photograph taken very recently in 2017. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2017. Photo credit: Gary Bembrid

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2018-02-19 16:23:00

The Ships Buried Under San Francisco's Streets  

Beneath the streets of San Francisco's financial district lie the remains of dozens of sailing ships that once brought people to San Francisco during the gold rush of the mid-19th century. These ships were beached near what was then a small Mexican village called Yerba Buena. In those early days, the waters of San Francisco Bay came all the way up to where is now Montgomery Street—the site of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. Once the city started to grow, the cove was filled in and the downt...

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2018-02-17 12:24:00

Fermont's Inhabitable Wind Break  

The town of Fermont, situated near the Quebec-Labrador border, is a Canadian mining town. It was founded in the early 1970s by the Quebec Cartier Mining Company to exploit the vast deposits of iron ore on Mont Wright, located about 25 kilometers to the west from the town site. It is the only mining town in the region. Fermont is situated above the 52nd parallel which places it in the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. Needless to say, Fermont has a harsh subarctic climate with long, severe w...

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2018-02-16 19:59:00

Why is Water Pouring Out of This Tree in Montenegro?  

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently shared a video about a unique natural phenomenon in a village called Dinoša, located in southeastern Montenegro—a small country on the Adriatic coast. There is a mulberry tree standing in the meadow there that turns into a fountain whenever it rains heavy. From a hollow on the tree trunk water can be seen gushing abundantly. Apparently, the rains had flooded the underground springs and the additional pressure created pushed water up the tree trunk...

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2018-02-16 19:57:00

Alexander Fleming's Microbial Art  

Alexander Fleming is widely known as the brilliant microbiologist who gave the world the miraculous life-saving drug called antibiotic. But he also had an artistic side that is perhaps less well known. Fleming was a member of London's Chelsea Arts Club, where he tried his hand at watercolor and created compositions that were amateurish at best. But his artistic talents didn't lie in watercolors or pencil sketches but in another medium—living organism. Fleming was one of the first scientist...

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2018-02-15 12:49:00

Rat Kings: The Mysterious Conjoined Creature  

On a cold January morning in 2005, in the village of Saru in southern Estonia, farmer Rein Kıiv and his son made a curious discovery. On the sandy floor of their shed, they found a cluster of 16 rats with their tails inexplicably tangled into a knot. The rats were squeaking and struggling to escape but the harder they pulled the tighter the knot became. The animals were apparently trying to dig themselves out of a narrow burrow but in the struggle some of them got buried under the sand. Seven o...

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2018-02-12 23:50:00

The Rocks That Give Birth  

In the Freita mountain range in northern Portugal, close to a village called Castanheira, is a huge block of granite that periodically ejects small pebble-sized stones. This rare geological phenomenon is locally known as Pedras Parideiras, which translates into English as "the rock that gives birth." The "mother-rock" is a granitic outcrop measuring roughly 1,000 meters by 600 meters. The rock's surface is incrusted with small nodules shaped like biconvex discs that are between 2 and 1...

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2018-02-09 23:33:00

The Seaweed Houses of Læsø Island  

On the island of Læsø, located off the coast of Denmark, there are houses with roofs made of seaweed. These roofs are up to a meter thick, and the way they hang over the walls the house appears to be wearing a cloak. Apart from their humongous size, they look a lot like thatch but seaweed is far more durable. Some of these roofs are over 300 years old. They are a unique feature of the island of Læsø. Photo credit: Jörg-Dieter Langhans/FlickrRead more » © Amusing Planet, 2018.

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2018-02-08 21:46:00

Why Are These Postage Stamps Cut in Half?  

Would you cut a ten dollar bill in half and use as two five dollar bills? Of course not. It's silly to even suggest something like that. Likewise, cutting a postage stamp in half would invalidate it immediately and the stamp would cease to be legal. But there was time, not very long ago, when the post office used to honor bisected stamps. Unless you are into philately, you might not have heard about or seen a bisected stamp. These are stamps that are cut mostly diagonally across and used in

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2018-02-08 12:41:00

The Building That Was Mailed Through The Post  

The inauguration of domestic parcel post service by the United States Postal Office in 1913 was an epochal event in the lives of thousands of Americans, especially those residing in far-flung areas of the country. All of a sudden, commodities such as foodstuff, medicines and other modern goods not easily available in rural areas were as close as the next post office. Customers were able order goods and products from businesses located hundreds of miles away in distant cities and have them delive

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2018-02-06 15:28:00

Vinegar Valentines: The Victorian Tradition of Sending Anonymous Hate Mail  

In the late 19th century, Valentine's Day was more than an occasion for lovers to express their love for each other by sending greetings cards and presenting gifts. It was also the day for haters to hurl abuses and insults to those they didn't love. Known as vinegar valentines, these cards carrying caricatures and satirical rhymes intending to vilify, mock and hurt the recipient was available in stores across America and Europe alongside beautiful valentine cards adorned with hearts and fl...

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2018-02-05 23:21:00

The Basement Cemetery of The New Haven Green Church  

The New Haven Green in downtown New Haven, a city in Connecticut, USA, is a small park of about 16 acres. Being surrounded by buildings of the Yale University, courthouses, the New Haven Free Public Library and numerous municipal and commercial structures, the park stays typically busy throughout the day. During public events such as classical music and jazz concerts, and art festivals, which the Green regularly holds, the crowd can swell to hundreds of thousands. For some who are aware of the p

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2018-02-03 15:31:00

The Magnificent Mudbrick Mosques of West Africa  

All around the Muslim world, mosques have a typical architecture characterized by a minaret, a dome, arches and mosaics or stucco decorations. These design elements were brought by the Arabs when they migrated and took control of foreign lands through conquest. But in areas where the spread of Islam was more gradual, brought by merchants and traders, mosque architecture conforms more to vernacular design determined by local skills and availability of materials. Nowhere else this manifests more t

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2018-02-01 16:00:00

Priest Holes: Secret Chambers That Hid Mediaeval Priests  

In mediaeval England, when feuds were violent and justice swift and brutal, it was common for castles and mansions of the powerful and the wealthy to have secret chambers or hidden passageways that allowed the owners to hide or escape from pursuers in the event of a surprise attack. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the number of such secret chambers and hiding-places increased sharply, especially in the houses of the old Catholic families. The 16th century was a time of strong religious te

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2018-01-30 21:31:00

Yaodong: China's Pit Houses  

For more than four thousand years, on the Loess Plateau in northern China, people have been residing in caves known as yaodong, which is Chinese for "house cave". Some of these cave dwellings are carved out of the hillside, while others are dug vertically down to form a sunken courtyard from which rooms are excavated horizontally. The latter is the most unusual of which few equals exist in this world. The pit houses of Matmata in Tunisia come the closest. The Loess Plateau, located around th...

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2018-01-29 23:39:00

Women Who Become Men: The Sworn Virgins of Albania  

In the remote mountains of northern Albania are villages where there are women who live and act like men. They have short hair, wear baggy pants, and have a male name. They drink and smoke in the company of men, carry guns, and take up manly livelihoods such as shepherds or truck drivers. But they are not transsexuals or cross-dressers. These women have chosen to lead a man's life not to express their sexuality but to escape the oppressive dominance of the patriarchal system. They are called s...

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2018-01-27 13:00:00

Rainbow Colored Mountains  

Soil is typically brown, but when mixed with the right minerals in right quantities, it can yield a fascinating range of colors. You can see such coloring in the walls of the Great Canyon in Arizona and the desert in Utah, but in some places the colors are such extreme and varied that it's almost surreal. Danxia landform One of the best examples of colorful landform is on Mount Danxia, in Guangdong Province, in China. The Danxia landforms are made of strips of red sandstone alternating with ch...

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2018-01-26 15:49:00

Fore-edge Painting: Hidden Artworks on The Edges of Books  

The following video created by an archivist at Cornell University's Library, New York, shows a 1925 copy of Rudyard Kipling's "Kim". The book appears to be a typical hard bound with a decorative spine and gilded fore edge. The person handling the book in the video then holds the block of pages between the thumb and the rest of the fingers and bends it to fan out the edges slightly. All of a sudden, a lovely painting of a landscape pops out of the book's edge. This form of for...

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2018-01-25 10:17:00

The House That Was Moved Across The Atlantic  

Sometimes a house just needs to be moved no matter what's the cost. Usually, these are historic structures that are in danger of demolition or flooding and has to be relocated to a safer spot. A professional house mover will first dig around the foundation of the house, raise it on hydraulic jacks, mount them on wheels and then roll them down the street carefully to the new location, typically a few hundred meter away or a few miles at most. At other times, if the structure permits and the rel...

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2018-01-24 09:58:00

Tipu Sultan's Mechanical Tiger  

The sun is the hottest when the clock strikes one in the small town of Seringapatam, not far from the city of Mysore, in present day Karnataka, a state in India. Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who was leading two army units of the British East India Company, knew that the defenders of the fortress of Seringapatam would be taking a break for refreshment at this hour. That's when he planned to strike. The date was May 4, 1799—the final day of the final confrontation between the British East India C...

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2018-01-22 12:28:00

Stuckie The Mummified Dog  

Fifty years ago a dog went up a tree chasing a racoon or something. He never came down. Fast forward twenty years. A group of loggers cut down a chestnut oak somewhere in a forest in the state of Georgia, the United States of America. When they sawed off the trunk, they discovered the mummified corpse of a dog entombed inside. Apparently, the dog had chased his prey down a hollow in the tree where it became stuck and then died of starvation. Dry conditions inside the hollow of the tree allowed

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2018-01-22 12:26:00

The Negro of Banyoles  

It's one thing to keep the mummified body of a thousand year old pharaoh or a monk in a glass case in a museum, and another to stuff the dead body of an African warrior and display it like a trophy along with wild animals. As recently as eighteen years ago, you could have seen him at the Darder Natural History museum in the city of Banyoles, near Barcelona, Spain. He was about four and a half feet tall, slightly stooped, shoulder raised, with a spear in one hand and a shield on the other. His ...

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2018-01-20 13:10:00

Tianducheng: A Fake Paris in China  

These two photographs of the Eiffel Tower look very similar, but they aren't the same, which you can probably tell from their different surroundings. One of the Eiffel Towers is the original standing in Paris. The other is a replica located in Tianducheng, in the suburbs of Hangzhou in China. Replicas of famous monuments are common around the world, but there is something pervasive and obsessive about Tianducheng. Spread over 31 square kilometers, this luxurious housing estate, opened in 2007,...

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2018-01-18 13:03:00

Netherlandish Proverbs  

Hanging at the Gemäldegalerie art museum in Berlin, Germany, is an unusual painting. Measuring 64 inches by 46 inches, this 16th century oil-on-oak-panel painting is populated by a swarm of miniature men, women, children and animals performing a range of extraordinary and bizarre acts—two men defecating out of a window, a man biting into a wooden pillar, another man banging his head against a wall, a man burying a calf, a man attempting to scoop up spilled porridge, and a woman tying into a b...

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2018-01-17 10:10:00

London Railings Made From World War 2 Stretchers  

Many housing estates throughout London are surrounded by black steel and mesh railings with peculiar notches around the edges. Although at first glance they appear to be some quirky architectural design, the notches have a purpose—or rather, had a purpose. These steel railings originally functioned as stretchers used to carry the wounded during the Second World War. The curves or the notches you see were the legs upon which the stretchers were laid on the ground. After the war was over many of...

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2018-01-16 09:18:00

The Legacy of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid  

A two-hour bumpy ride from Uyuni across Bolivia's high plains will take you to the small town of San Vicente. At the entrance to this remote settlement is a sign that proclaims: "Welcome to San Vicente. Here lie Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid." The notorious outlaw duo, made famous by the 1969 movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, allegedly met their death in a gun fight at this old miners' settlement high in the southern Bolivian Andes, not far from Uyuni's famous salt flat...

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2018-01-13 10:45:00

Fort Conger: Robert Peary's Arctic Hut  

In 1899, when famous arctic explorer Robert Peary reached Ellesmere Island, in Canada, he found the ruins of a hut erected by a previous arctic expedition in the island's northeastern shore. The hut was a three-room building built with long, wooden boards, and covered with tar paper, but such type of construction was notoriously difficult to keep warm during the freezing polar winters. Peary found the building utterly unfit for habitation, and so he had the building torn down and rebuilt sever...

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2018-01-11 11:03:00

The Witches' Market of La Paz, Bolivia  

Along a narrow cobblestone street in an old quarter of La Paz, in Boliva, old women dressed in traditional Andean garb of colorful ankle-length dresses and bowler hats sit with their wares spread out in front of them. This is the famous Mercado de las Brujas, or the Witches' Market. It has everything a witch could desire—amulets, talisman, herbs, good luck charms, dried armadillos and frogs, ceramic figures of naked couples, aphrodisiac formulas, owl feathers, dried turtles, starfish, snak...

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2018-01-11 11:01:00

Elbphilharmonie: A Spectacular New Concert Hall in Hamburg  

Exactly one year ago, on January 11, 2017, a new concert hall opened in Hamburg, Germany. Like a ship on dry dock, the new glassy construction resembles a hoisted sail and is set upon a giant brick warehouse, surrounded on three sides by water of Hamburg's historic harbor. Since the first public performance, the Elbphilharmonie has won accolades in cultural circles because of its iconic architecture as well as for its brilliant acoustics and sound clarity. The old warehouse upon which the mode...

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2018-01-09 11:07:00

Athabasca Sand Dunes  

Stretching for approximately 100 kilometers along the southern edge of Lake Athabasca, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, are some of the most northerly active sand dunes on Earth. Unlike most dunes, which are associated with dry and arid region, the Athabasca Sand Dunes are located in the middle of a wetland and a boreal forest, making it one of the most unique sand dunes and a geological oddity. The dunes are spread across more than 30,000 hectares, and due to their unusual ecosystem, t

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2018-01-09 11:06:00

The Soledar Salt Mines  

Some 250 million years ago, a part of Ukraine was under a shallow ocean. When the ocean dried up, it left behind a huge deposit of salt which got buried underneath due to upheavals in the earth's crust. A large concentration of this salt is located under a small city called Soledar, a Russian word meaning "gift of salt". For a long time, this area was known for brine springs, caused by the solution of underground salt deposits by ground water. This brine was used to produce salt since the ...

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2018-01-08 11:00:00

Honoring Animals Used in Research And Testing  

The United States' National Academies of Sciences estimates that as many as 22 million vertebrate animals are used every year in the United States alone for research and testing. About 85 percent of these animals are rats and mice. These tiny, furry creatures have been one of the go-to animals for biomedical researchers around the world for studies relating to everything from cancer to the effects of space travel on the human body. The scientific community is well aware of the invaluable role ...

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2018-01-03 10:28:00

Akademgorodok: Siberia's Silicon Valley  

Tucked away in a remote forest of birch and pine in the heart of Siberia, 3,000 km away from Moscow, at a place where winters are six months long with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degree Celsius and summers are swaddled with mosquitos, is a city built for scientists and researchers. This frozen wasteland is more suited for polar bears than scientific endeavors, but Nikita Khrushchev felt the distance from Moscow was necessary so that the country's sharpest scientific minds could work toge...

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2017-12-29 15:35:00

The Russian Woodpecker  

Anyone who listened to shortwave radio or was a ham radio operator from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s will be familiar with a sharp, repetitive "rat tat tat tat" noise that permeated the airwaves disrupting communications and television signals the world over. Nicknamed the "Woodpecker", the signal came from a massive array of antennas hidden deep in the woods—two located near Chernobyl in Ukraine, and a third one on the Russian Pacific coast, near the island of Sakhalnsk. These ante...

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2017-12-28 20:37:00

The Fortified Villages of Khevsureti  

Tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains in the north of Georgia, is the historic province of Khevsureti. Its men were once renowned in martial arts, and especially for their warfare with the Muslim population of the Northern Caucasus including the Chechens, the Kists, and the Dagestans. Due to the geographic, ethnic and religious complexity and lack of industrialization in the Greater Caucasus, the tribes of the North Caucasus used to frequently attack and rob the mountain-dwelling Georgians. In

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2017-12-27 19:53:00

Britain's Thankful Villages  

War memorials are a familiar sight in towns and villages across Britain, somberly remembering the sacrifices made by millions of ordinary young men in the First World War. But there are a handful of villages where, until recently, there were no war memorials. Do not be mistaken for these villages did their part in the war, sending their men to fight for their country shoulder to shoulder with others from every other village in the land. But by some extraordinary strokes of good fortune, none of

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2017-12-22 16:32:00

Poles of Beauty  

An image recently published by one of my favorite blogs, Astronomy Picture of the Day, made me realize that our planet earth posses perhaps one of the dullest looking poles of the solar system. Just a white, irregular and featureless patch of snow and ice. In comparison, this is what the north pole of Mars looks like. The latte-like spirals around the pole are frozen carbon dioxide that precipitates out of the thin Martian atmosphere every winter and is deposited over the frozen pole cap made u

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2017-12-20 15:23:00

Checkpoint Charlie  

For nearly thirty years until the end of the Cold War, Berlin lay divided both physically and ideologically by the infamous Berlin Wall that snaked through the now united German capital. The wall was erected mainly to prevent East Germans from defecting to the West. Citizens from East Germany were strictly forbidden to travel to the other side. West Germans and citizens of other countries, however, could visit East Germany after applying for a visa. The 155-km long wall had nine border crossing

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2017-12-19 11:24:00

Ethiopia's Churches In The Sky  

The ancient Kingdom of Axum, now a part of Ethiopia, was one of the first nations in the world to adopt Christianity. The religion took strong foothold in 330 AD when King Ezana the Great declared it the state religion and ordered the construction of the imposing basilica of St. Mary of Tsion. Legend has it, that it here that Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, brought the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. By the fifth century, nine saints from Syria, Constan

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2017-12-15 15:58:00

How Clowns Trademark Their Face By Painting On Eggs  

Every clown's face makeup is unique, or at least, they should be, for there is an unwritten rule within the clowning community that no clown should copy another clown's look. In order to copyright the specific facial designs of a clown, Clowns International—the world's oldest clown society—maintains a register of clown faces. But instead of keeping photographs or sketches of the clown's makeup, details are painted on ceramic eggs and decorated with collars, bow ties, wigs and miniatu...

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2017-12-14 21:18:00

Toronto's Camouflaged Electric Substations  

More often than not, industrial infrastructures are an eyesore, especially when they are smack in the middle of a beautiful city like Toronto. So for the past hundred years, Canada's second-largest municipal electricity distribution company, Toronto Hydro, has been disguising substations into quiet little houses that blend right in with the neighbourhood. Some appear like grand Georgian mansions or late-Victorian buildings, while others look like humble suburban homes. Even the most sharp-eyed...

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2017-12-12 12:13:00

Cultybraggan: Britain's Last POW Camp  

The Cultybraggan camp located near the Scottish village of Comrie, in Perthshire, is one of the last remaining World War 2 Prisoner of War Camp in the UK. Spread over nearly 14 hectares, this former camp site contains approximately 90 huts built of corrugated iron—the famous Nissen huts, named after the founder, Peter Norman Nissen. These huts became common in POW camps across Britain and were supposed to be temporary structures. But in Cultybraggan camp, they have stayed the same having been ...

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2017-12-09 15:26:00

Decorating Fences With Trash, The New Zealander Way  

New Zealanders have a unique way of discarding their trash—they hang them on fences. Bras, boots, toothbrushes, bicycles, everything that has had their useful life over gets hung en masse on roadside fences. Perhaps, the most famous of them is the Cardrona Bra Fence in Central Otago. The fence began one morning in 1999 when four women's bras were found attached to the wire fence alongside the road and fluttering in the breeze. Rumor is that a group of women were celebrating the new year at ...

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2017-12-08 16:12:00

The Dark Legacy of Gruinard Island  

Halfway between the villages of Gairloch and Ullapool in the North-West Highlands of Scotland, sits a small oval-shaped island named Gruinard. From the shores of the mainland, the island appears very quiet and peaceful. But in the 1940s, it was a different story. It was here on Gruinard Island, during the Second World War, a team of scientists from the military research facilities at Porton Down demonstrated to Winston Churchill the lethality of anthrax, and the feasibility of using the deadly

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2017-12-07 15:11:00

Leiden's Love Affair With Poems And Equations  

Scattered throughout the city of Leiden, in The Netherlands, are over one hundred poems carefully hand-painted on the exterior walls of buildings. These include the works of Rimbaud, Shakespeare, W. B. Yeats, Marina Tsvetaeva, Dylan Thomas, Derek Walcott as well as local writers. Most of them are in Dutch and English. A couple of them are in Turkish, Moroccan, Chinese, Surinam, and other languages. The Wall Poems project started in 1992 and was funded partly by the private Tegen-Beeld foundation

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2017-12-06 20:29:00

Chateau de Chenonceau: The Chateau Built Over A River  

Château de Chenonceau, located near the small village of Chenonceaux in France, is one of the best-known chateau of the Loire valley. The chateau is special in part for being constructed over the River Cher, which on fair days is so calm and placid that it appears as a lake. The chateau's other specialty is that it was built, maintained, protected, loved and fought for by an almost uninterrupted succession of women spanning four centuries. Château de Chenonceau is therefore popularly known a...

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2017-12-06 20:26:00

The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility  

The cold hard stare of Lenin penetrating the icy air is the only thing you'll come across the vast frozen landscape in this part of Antarctica for hundreds of miles. His plastic bust was left here, erected on the roof of a research station, by the members of the Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition. Today, it is the only visible part of the now defunct station. The rest is buried in snow. The Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition arrived at this remote location on 14 December 1958. This place is call...

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2017-12-05 23:20:00

The German Hyperinflation of 1923  

There was a time when an average German carried billions of marks in their pockets but could still buy nothing. A loaf of bread cost 200 billion marks. A week's pension would not buy even a cup of coffee. The mark was freefalling and its value decreasing by the minute. Restaurants stopped printing menus because by the time the food arrived the price had gone up. One guy drank the first cup of coffee at 5,000 marks. The second cup cost him 9,000 marks. The stories from those days were horrifyin...

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2017-12-04 23:12:00

The Fungus That Makes Mummies  

In 1647, construction workers carrying out repairs on the Church of Saint Andrew in the small city of Venzone, in the province of Udine, Italy, accidentally broke open a tomb in the churchyard. Inside was found the perfectly dried body of a man who appeared to be of average height and possibly rotund during his living days. His body had now shrunk to only 33 pounds, or about 15 kg. But curiously, it hadn't decomposed. Over the next four centuries up to present times, a total of 42 bodies have ...

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2017-12-04 13:19:00

The Abandoned Hotels of Kupari  

Affixed to the wall near the city gate in the town of Dubrovnik on Croatia's beautiful Dalmatian Coast, is a map showing the scale of damage the city suffered during the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). The black triangles denote damaged roof, the red boxes denote fires, and the black dots denote direct artillery hits. The damage has been repaired today, but from high points around the city one can clearly see where the bombs fell from the brightly coloured new roofs. While Dubrovni...

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2017-12-01 20:29:00

Derbent: Russia's Oldest City  

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia's oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia, and the second-most important city of Dagestan. From a small early Bronze-age settlement to one of the biggest medieval cities of the Eastern Europe, the city of Derbent has a unique urban structure. It is situated ...

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2017-11-30 22:09:00

The Mega Hotels of Mecca  

A mammoth new hotel is rising in Saudi Arabia's holy city Mecca. When completed it will have 10,000 rooms spanning more than 1.4 million square meters, and 70 restaurants catering to the most affluent of pilgrims from the Gulf and abroad. Resembling a traditional fortress, the hotel Abraj Kudai consist of a ring of 12 towers soaring 45 stories into the sky. Atop its central tower will be one of the world's largest domes. Surrounding this dome will be five helipads. The world's biggest h...

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2017-11-29 16:07:00

The Rise of Vertical Cemeteries  

According to the Population Reference Bureau, there are approximately 101 billion dead people on earth with 7 billion more to join them within the next century. With the dead far outnumbering the living, it's no surprising that space at cemeteries has become premium. Many European countries have been reusing graves for centuries. In the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, when space runs out, a fresh layer of soil is laid out on top of the existing graves to make room for new bodies. When the last...

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2017-11-28 20:44:00

Copenhagen's Urban Birdhouses  

Thomas Dambo—you may remember him from a couple of months ago, where he constructed giant troll-like wooden sculptures and hid them around the city of Copenhagen—has been doing other stuff as well, such as building birdhouses for the city's avian population. Under the title of "Happy City Birds", Dambo and his team has built over 3,500 birdhouses since 2006 and installed them across the city grouping them on tall poles, or against buildings, or spacing them out on trees. The idea for ...

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2017-11-27 21:30:00

Modern Potemkin Villages  

In 1787, Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, was scheduled for a grand tour of the newly acquired lands of Crimea and New Russia—now part of Ukraine—which she gained by defeating the Ottoman Empire and after signing peace treaties with the Cossack Hetmanate. The trip was to be arranged by Gregory Potemkin, the governor of the region, who was clearly Catherine's favorite and one of her numerous lovers. The region had been devastated by the war, and one of Potemkin's major task...

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2017-11-25 12:33:00

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin's Color Photographs of Pre-Revolution Russia  

Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky was a Russian chemist and photographer, best known for his pioneering work in color photography during the early 20th century. His priceless color photographs documenting the waning days of the Russian Empire before the First World War and the Russian Revolution are today some of the most prized possession of the United States Library of Congress. In the beginning of the 20th century, color photography was still in its infancy. It was the German photochemist A

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2017-11-25 12:28:00

The Coffin Ships of The Great Irish Famine  

During the Great Famine of Ireland in the mid-19th century, tens of thousands of starving Irish families fled the country and emigrated to Canada and the United States. Most of the ships that sailed during the famine years were overcrowded and poorly built and had a horrible reputation of unseaworthiness. "Lasting up to six weeks, the Atlantic crossing was a terrible trial for those brave, or desperate, enough to attempt it," says the website of the Dunbrody Famine Ship museum in New Ross, ...

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2017-11-22 13:39:00

Victorian Era Murder Figurines  

During the late 18th century, the potteries in the Staffordshire region of England began churning out detailed ceramic figures commemorating everything from classical artwork to political movements and current events, from folk heroes to celebrities. Staffordshire figures were in great demand for the Victorian consumers seldom had affordable artwork and objects to decorate their homes with. In 1793, a French revolutionary leader by the name of Jean-Paul Marat, who was one of the most radical vo

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2017-11-21 12:26:00

The Hairy Secret Behind Indian Temples  

Where do hairs for fashion wigs and hair extensions come from? The answer is: everywhere, but the majority of them come from China and India, where human hair is a lucrative business. In India, China, and eastern Europe, small agents tour villages coaxing poverty-stricken women to part with their hair for a small payment. Sometimes, husbands would force wives into selling their hair and slum children would be tricked into having their heads shaved in exchange for toys. There was one incident in

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2017-11-18 16:19:00

Lebanon's Thinnest Building Was Built Out of Spite  

Locals call the building "the Grudge" and rightly so. This extremely narrow building standing on a mere 120-square-meter piece of land in Beirut was built specifically so that one man can block another man's view of the ocean. According to the prevailing lore, these two men were brothers, who each inherited a plot, but were unable to arrive at a mutual agreement on how to develop their respective properties. One of the brothers owned a minuscule plot of land, and was bitter for receiving t...

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2017-11-18 16:18:00

The International Church of Cannabis  

The psychedelic interior of this 113-year-old converted Lutheran church in Denver's Washington Park neighborhood is appropriate, for it's the International Church of Cannabis. It's a unique community where members, who call themselves Elevationists, use cannabis for spiritual purposes and to positively influence their lives. "The International Church of Cannabis' mission is to offer a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacr...

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2017-11-16 11:46:00

The Potteries of Staffordshire  

The art of pottery making has been known since ancient times. However, the first true porcelain was made in China only during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). For more than a millennium the Chinese artisans managed to keep the recipe a secret, allowing expensive Chinese porcelain to be exported to Europe, until a breakthrough was made in a German factory in Dresden in the early 18th century. Within a few years, porcelain factories sprung up around Bavaria and in Naples and many other places. I...

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2017-11-15 11:54:00

The Forgotten Communist-Era Monuments of Bulgaria  

From the end of the Second World War until the fall of communism in 1990, Bulgaria was a communist state ruled by the Bulgarian Communist Party. Then called the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the country allied closely with the Soviet Union and was heavily influenced by Soviet policies and politics. Like the rest of the Eastern Bloc, the leaders of the People's Republic of Bulgaria too were eager to leave the mark of communism by building hundreds of monuments across the country. After

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2017-11-13 16:04:00

The Diving Horses of Atlantic City  

For nearly half a century, Atlantic City, in New Jersey, United States, was home to an attraction almost too fantastical to believe—an apparently fearless horse with a young woman on its back would leap off a tower some 40 feet high into a pool of water below. The stunt took place at Atlantic City's popular venue Steel Pier, where trained horses took the plunge up to four times a day and seven days a week. The idea of the diving horse was invented in Texas by ''Doctor'' Wil...

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2017-11-11 13:04:00

The Double-Barreled Cannon of Athens  

In front of the City Hall of Athens, in Georgia, United States, stands an unusual cannon from the American Civil War. It's a double-barreled cannon, but unlike other multiple-barrel cannons of the past, the double-barreled cannon of Athens was designed to fire two solid cannonballs connected together by a length of iron chain. The two barrels pointed slightly away from each other, so that when they are fired together the cannonballs would spread to the full length of the chain and mow down ene...

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2017-11-10 12:21:00

The Art of Mediaeval Book Repairing  

In the early Middle Ages, books were made from animal hides known as parchment, rather than from paper. Preparing the parchment was a delicate business. The freshly skinned hide is first washed to remove blood and grime, and then soaked in a strong alkali solution to loosen out the hairs. After staying in the de-hairing solution for more than a week, the skin is attached to a wooden frame and stretched tight like a drum. While the skin is drying, the parchment maker would take a sharp knife and

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2017-11-10 12:19:00

Michelangelo's Hidden Drawings at Medici Chapels  

In a concealed room beneath the New Sacristy of the San Lorenzo Basilica in Florence, Italy, the great Italian sculptor and architect Michelangelo once went into hiding. He was fifty five at that time. Michelangelo had enjoyed the patronage of the Medici family, which lorded over Florence in the early 16th century, for much of his life. But relations turned sour when the Medici were thrown out of power and Michelangelo went to the aid of his beloved city which ousted the Medici in 1527. The repu

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2017-11-08 15:08:00

Lyon, The City of Murals  

For the last four decades a group of muralists in the French city of Lyon has been transforming the city into a massive outdoor art gallery. Huge murals painted in the trompe l'oeil style cover walls all over Lyon depicting historical events or famous people or mundane moments of everyday life. As of now, there are more than 150 murals across Lyon. Lyon's love affair with mural art started in the early 1970s, when a group of local students decided to bring art out of the confines of gallerie...

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2017-11-07 21:36:00

The Abandoned Canfranc Railway Station  

Sitting at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains on the Spanish side of the French-Spanish border is an immense railway station. Built with iron and glass, the station's art nouveau building stretches a quarter of a kilometer long, and its façade is decorated with more than three hundred windows. Inside the building there was once a luxurious hotel, an infirmary, a restaurant and living quarters for customs officers. Aside from the platform and the main building, there was a large locomotiv...

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2017-11-07 11:05:00

People Matching Artworks  

Austrian photographer Stefan Draschan spends hours hanging around museums looking for curious coincidences where visitors perfectly match the paintings they were looking at. The project began accidentally one summer in 2014, when Draschan saw a guy sitting in front of a Georges Braque in Berlin. It was his first match. Six months later in Munich, he saw another guy who looked like the huge Greek vase behind him. When he discovered a woman sitting in front of a Vermeer in Vienna, Draschan had a

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2017-11-06 23:34:00

Puzzlewood: Tolkien's Inspiration For Middle Earth  

The "The Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel of the same name were shot almost entirely in New Zealand, but the inspiration for the mythical realm of Middle-earth came from Tolkien's homeland, England. One of the places that Tolkien is said to have been inspired is Puzzlewood, an ancient woodland near Coleford in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. This primordial forest covers 14 acres of mossy rocks, twisted roots and woodland bridges, with a ma...

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2017-11-06 12:53:00

Newton's Apple Tree in Lincolnshire  

The story of Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple is one of the most famous anecdotes in science. The young Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree in his garden when a fruit fell on his head, and in a sudden stroke of brilliant insight, he came up with the theory of gravity. The story is most likely embellished—at least the part where the apple hits Newton's head—but there is also some truth to it. The first written account of the apple falling incident appears on the notes of John...

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2017-11-03 22:04:00

Ise Jingu: The Japanese Shrine That's Torn Down And Rebuilt Every 20 Years  

The Ise Grand Shrine, also known as Ise Jingu, located in the city of Ise, in Japan, is one of Shinto's holiest and most important sites. The shrine complex contains over a hundred shrines distributed over an immense area, but its two most important shrines are Naiku—the inner shrine, and Geku—the outer shrine. The inner shrine is believed to date from the 3rd century and is held in higher reverence than the outer shrine, due to it being the purported home of the Sacred Mirror of the Emp...

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2017-11-03 11:38:00

The Painted Monasteries of Romania  

In northern Romania, in a region historically known as Bukovina, are a collection of eight Byzantine-era churches renowned for their beautiful, colored frescos that adorn their walls, both on the inside and outside. Built during the waning days and immediately aftermath of the Byzantine Empire, each of these painted monastery is distinctive in color and in its frescoed Bible stories. Through these frescoes of saints and prophets, scenes from the lives of Jesus Christ, and stories of man's begi...

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2017-11-02 15:27:00

The Art of Well Dressing  

Every year throughout summer many villages in Derbyshire and Staffordshire decorate their wells and water sources—a custom known as well dressing. Villagers take large wooden boards, coat them in clay and press flower petals, twigs, seeds and other natural objects to create scenes from the Bible or fairy tales. These boards are then used to adorn local wells and springs. While the true origins of well dressing have been lost in time, it likely began as a pagan custom of offering thanks to gods...

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2017-11-01 15:30:00

The Udny Mort House  

Much of what we know about the human anatomy comes from dissecting human cadavers. The practice goes back to classical antiquity. The Greeks and the Romans carried out human dissection, and so did ancient medicine men in India. In Europe, the practice flourished in the 18th and 19th century with a new found medical interest in detailed anatomy, thanks to an increase in the importance of surgery. Back then, and prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses were those condemn

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2017-10-31 13:14:00

Madam Coudray's 18th Century Manikin For Midwife Trainees  

This crude fabric doll of a small child emerging out of a fabric womb was one of the first life-sized obstetrical manikin used by Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray, a pioneering French midwife of the 18th century, to teach the practice of childbirth and midwifery to rural women. Angelique du Coudray was born in 1715 into an eminent French medical family in Clermont-Ferrand. Not much is known about her early years, except from the fact that at the age of twenty-five, she completed her...

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2017-10-30 20:38:00

Sheela-Na-Gig: The Mysterious Medieval Carvings of Women Exhibitionists  

The Church of St Mary and St David at Kilpeck in the English county of Herefordshire is famous for its Norman carvings of writhing snakes and mysterious beasts. But the most extraordinary of all is that of a sheela-na-gig. Sheela-na-gigs are medieval stone figures of a naked woman spreading her legs. She is shown using her hands to pull open and proudly display her exaggerated genitals. What makes these figures so puzzling is the fact that they occur predominantly in medieval religious buildings

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2017-10-28 22:53:00

The Rock Houses That Inspired Tolkien  

In 1777, a certain Joseph Heely of Birmingham published a guide book to the three great West Midland gardens of the mid-18th century with a very long-winded title—Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and The Leasowes with critical remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening. In the book Healey describes an incident where he was walking along the edge of a cliff when he was caught in a thunderstorm. Healey scanned the area for a shelter and noticed some smoke rising out of a c...

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2017-10-27 12:57:00

Medieval 'dos-à-dos' Book Bindings  

Back in mediaeval times, when people didn't have Kindles to carry a thousand books, some book binders bound two separate books together in a single volume so that the reader had one less book to carry. In those days, reading wasn't a very popular past time and the only books the majority of the populace read were religious in nature. Two books that were frequently bound together were the New Testament and the Book of Psalms, because both were needed during church services. They became very c...

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2017-10-25 16:06:00

Japanese Milk Delivery Boxes  

For many western countries, doorstep milk delivery is a thing of the past, but in Japan, millions of people still rely on the milkman for fresh milk everyday. Many traditional Japanese homes have milk delivery boxes, which are wooden boxes nailed outside the house where the milkman can drop bottles or cartons of milk—just like postmen drop mails in the mailbox. Some of the newer boxes are made of plastic and has Styrofoam insulation on the inside. Some milk shops even include a recyclable cool...

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2017-10-25 14:55:00

The Forgotten Soviet-Era Murals  

Telling stories through mosaics and murals is a tradition that goes back to antique times. During the Soviet era, murals were used extensively as a medium of propaganda, spreading ideas and slogans through brightly colored artwork on the walls of factories, schools, government buildings, and housing blocks all across the Soviet Union. Murals often depicted hardworking men and women in heroic proportions. Those on government buildings, schools etc. glorify Soviet workers, scientists, soldiers, mi

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2017-10-24 15:13:00

The Sacred Grove of Bomarzo  

Once upon a time there was a young nobleman who, after the death of his beloved wife, became so distraught with grief and anguish that he decided to build a garden in her memory to give vent to his aching heart. That young nobleman was the Duke of Bomarzo, an Italian named Pier Francesco Orsini, better known as Vicino, and his wife was Giulia Farnese, who died in 1560. The strange and melancholy garden he constructed is called Sacro Bosco, or the "Sacred Grove", and it still stands in

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2017-10-24 11:02:00

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