Posts from the ‘History’ Category


A human female skull from Peru with cranial binding. 

Details from Bone Clones:

Dated over 2,000 years old, this skull is an extreme example of binding and elongation. Cranial binding is the shaping of the skull when a child is very young, usually an infant. This wrapping is often done with rope or cloth by itself or against a wooden board. This results in the misshaping, flattening (see our cradle-board skull, BC-222) or, in this case, elongation. This wrapping or binding, is thought to be the oldest form of body modification, dating back 9,000 years. This particular skull is from Peru, but this practice has occurred in other regions as well.

[Thanks to Vaughan Bell for the pointer]


“Because of what you have done,” the President told the astronauts, “the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility it required us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth.”

Men Walk On Moon – the original New York Times moon landing front page story, July 21, 1969.

From The Maddow Blog: Doing some research recently on African-American voting patterns, I came upon this map of American ancestry from the U.S. Census (pdf): And it reminded me of a mindblower of a political explanation that I meant to share here. This is long, so meet me after the jump… Looking at the map above, you notice the swath of African-Americans (purple) running through the southeast. Something I hadn’t heard of but is apparently relatively common knowledge is that that pattern in the population is referred to as the Black Belt. That may seem a little coarse, but it actually refers to the color and richness of the soil. I looked for maps of soil color, but if such a thing exists, I wasn’t able to find it. The clearest picture of soil distribution matching that pattern was this map of “soil orders“ suggesting ultisols and/or vertisols having something to do with that color: This National Science Foundation lesson on soil orders offers a more detailed version and settles the question. Vertisols are definitely black. (pdf) (Ultisols, not so much (pdf).) Our friend, the google, shows how that pattern manifests today in the form of farms making use of that rich soil that comprise that lighter colored swirl. View Larger Map Farms are actually the point, because while Black Belt may have been a reference to black soil, that’s not to say the Black Belt doesn’t also have racial meaning. Pretty much every source one checks cites this explanation from Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery:
…The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense—that is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber the white.
That “political sense” Washington refers to includes an electoral sense as well. Slave-descendant voters in Black Belt counties leave a blue Democratic voting stripe through otherwise red states, seen especially vividly in this New York Times county map of the 2008 election results: I also ran into this voting pattern described as “the cotton vote.” As data became available from the 2008 election, aligning a map of the blue strip of Obama-voting Black Belt counties with a map of cottom production from 1860 (!) revealed a remarkable correlation: I already think that’s mindblowing, but that’s not even the mindblowing part. The mindblowing thing is that what’s really responsible for this phenomenon of modern politics is the still-forming North American coastline of 100 million years ago. From Deep Sea News earlier this summer:
“During the Cretaceous, 139-65 million years ago, shallow seas covered much of the southern United States. These tropical waters were productive–giving rise to tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons which overtime accumulated into massive chalk formations. The chalk, both alkaline and porous, lead to fertile and well-drained soils in a band, mirroring that ancient coastline and stretching across the now much drier South. This arc of rich and dark soils in Alabama has long been known as the Black Belt.”
Behold! Your late Cretaceous coastline and future Democratic strongholds: Oh, what? You’ve still got some unblown mind left? I have a little more. The map above represents 75 million years ago. Dr. Ron Blakey of Northern Arizona University actually offers us several maps in the late Cretaceous range. But why would that time period be particularly relevant? I find two explanations. One is that the Cretaceous was a boom time for the sort of plankton that would eventually become the Black Belt.  The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era. Below is a map of the Chicxulub Crater, the crater left by the asteroid 65 million years ago, showing its location at the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. It looks like a topographical map, but actually it’s a Bouguer gravity anomaly map. The best explanation I could find for gravity anomaly maps is from this Earth Observatory page from NASA. I think the idea is that the impact created ridges of higher density, which show up as gravity anomalies. As ever, any insights and expertise you can offer on anything in this post is greatly appreciated. Also, the more I researched this, the more I ran into people who’d already done portions or variations of it. I tried to include as many links as I could to previous work. Credit also to Allen Gathman for the cotton vote connection. Article By Will Femia
This has to be one of my favorite posts in a long time. It encompasses such a variety of fields, from politics to history to several fields of science. All of them interesting, and each important as much individually as to the whole. A bit of a long post, but every bit of it interesting and well worth the read! 

Paleo-politics: The really long view


How to Build a Planet: Heavy Metals Are Key Ingredients

Image: An artist conception of a newly formed star surrounded by a swirling protoplanetary disk of dust and gas, where debris coalesces to create rocky ‘planetesimals’ that collide and grow to eventually form planets. A new study suggests small rocky planet may actually be widespread in our Milky Way galaxy. Credit: University of Copenhagen, Lars A. Buchhave

Planets may not be able to form without a heaping helping of heavy elements such as silicon, titanium and magnesium, a new study suggests.

Stars that host planets have higher concentrations of such “metals” — astronomer-speak for elements heavier than hydrogen and helium — compared to iron than do planetless stars, the study found.

“To form planets, one needs heavy elements,” said lead author Vardan Adibekyan, of the Centre for Astrophysics of the University of Porto in Portugal.

Connected at birth

Planets coalesce from the disk of dust and gas left over after the birth of their parent star. According to the leading theory of planet formation, the core accretion model, small particles clump together, growing larger and larger until they produce protoplanets.

Scientists have long suspected that stars with higher metallicities are more likely to have planets orbiting them. Iron has long been a primary indicator.

“Usually, in stellar physics, people use the iron content as a proxy of overall metallicity,”

Full Article

Look a little gross? That’s because this lump is not only a brain, but one that is almost 2,700 years old. It was preserved after its home skull was dropped into an oxygen deprived pit of water, probably the result of its owner being hanged and then decapitated.

Scientists described it as “odorless…with a resilient, tofu-like texture.” Yum!


how did we find out our galaxy is a spiral? It’s not like we flew out there and took a look. Grab a cup and find out…

Seeing the Milky Way Spiral in a Coffee Cup

The fact that we know it resembles the Milky Way is pretty clever given that no one has ever come remotely close to getting such a stunning view of the galaxy we live in. It’s a testament to human logic that has granted us the knowledge of the shape of our galaxy and it’s a story that starts back at the beginning of civilization.

Back when our ancestors, the view would have been stunning with the ghostly glow of thousands of visible stars arching overhead…

coffee is a funny thing…

I always forget that for most of history, the Milky Way was visible across our sky just about anywhere in the world. With an inspiration like that, it’s not hard to see how so many religions popped up.


War Sand

As much as 4% of sand on Normandy’s beach is made up of miniscule fragments of steel, the remnants of shrapnel from WWII’s D-Day. It’s a story that’s part geologic wonder, and part reminder of what will be left of our civilization when we’re gone. More at BLDGBLOG.

4% of a beach is still a LOT of steel. To be fair to steel’s durability, the coast is a pretty rough place to hang out. All that sand came from shells and rock, which didn’t disintegrate by itself.