Tag: History

Washington Irving Bishop: The Magician Killed by an Autopsy

Washington Irving Bishop

In Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, on a well-worn headstone, you can barely make out the inscription “The Martyr” above the name Washington Irving Bishop.

The rest of the long epitaph below is too deteriorated to read, but the late Bishop was renowned in his time as one of the great mentalists of the 19th century. Yet it was his curious death that would be his greatest mystery.

Bishop was born in 1855 and although the American started out in the spiritualist world — assisting and then managing the famed medium Anna Eva Fay — he later flipped to the side of contemporary magicians like Houdini in exposing spiritualism as superstition.

His own act was pitched as “thought reading,” and he emphasized that it was not anything supernatural but instead his careful reading of the movement of the human body.

Known as “muscle reading,” he learned his skills from mentalist J. Randall Brown and soon soared to his own fame with a distinctly frenetic performance style, one that had an added drama with his suffering from cataleptic fits.

He kept a note in his pocket that stated his seemingly catatonic state was not death, although the presence of that note on a fateful performance in 1889 would lead to a great debate of what really brought down the mentalist.

It was May 12 and Bishop was at the Lambs Club, a theatrical society that was then at 70 West 36th Street in Manhattan. Bishop was said to have fallen into unconsciousness early in the act, and then recovered to continue.

However, a second attack came from which he did not quickly recover. According to reports, an autopsy took place at 3:45 pm, just a few hours after the supposed death.

This included the removing of Bishop’s brain.

It was May 12 and Bishop was at the Lambs Club, a theatrical society that was then at 70 West 36th Street in Manhattan. Bishop was said to have fallen into unconsciousness early in the act, and then recovered to continue.

Washington Irving Bishop’s grave in Green-Wood Cemetery

However, a second attack came from which he did not quickly recover. According to reports, an autopsy took place at 3:45 pm, just a few hours after the supposed death. This included the removing of Bishop’s brain.

Whether or not that note warning potential physicians of Bishop’s condition was on his body, and why the brain was so quickly removed, were the subject of debate and litigation for years to come.

It’s not clear if the Masons ever came to her aid, although the mason Harry Houdini helped her out later in life by buying what remained of Bishop’s legacy.

The death certificate for the 33-year-old mentalist officially read “hysterocatalepsy”; to his mother it was always murder.

And while Bishop’s legacy in the history of magic may have faded, there remains that worn tombstone in Green-Wood Cemetery that declares him as a “martyr” for eternity, or at least until the marble wears beyond recognition.

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A Fetus Can Turn to Stone in Its Mother’s Body and Go Undiscovered for Decades

A lithopedion extracted 55 years after it formed.

In 1554, in the town of Sens, France, Colombe Charti went into labor. It was her first pregnancy, and she had carried the fetus close to term. But something went wrong. Though her contractions stopped, Charti’s baby was never born.

For three years after that, she lay in bed, recovering, and for the rest of her life she would have strange pains in her abdomen. Her neighbors believed (quite logically) that the baby was still inside her.

After she died 28 years later, her husband enlisted two surgeons to autopsy her body in hope of discovering the truth.

The object that the surgeons found inside Charti was hard and roughly ovoid.

Though at first the surgeons thought it was a tumor of some sort, when they broke through the scaly outer shell, they found shoulders and a head, two arms, knees bent towards the chest, legs and feet, fused together.

It had one tooth, and if it had been born, the fetus would have been a girl with a full head of hair.

The Sens baby is one of the earliest extensively documented cases of a lithopedion—a never-born “stone baby” that calcifies over time.

It’s a very rare condition: There are only 300 or so known cases, going back to prehistory.

Lithopedion most often form after pregnancies in which the fetus grows outside the uterus and is too large to be reabsorbed by the mother’s body. Instead, it dies unborn, and can remain in its mother’s body for the rest of her life.

The oldest known lithopedion, which has been dated to more than 3,100 years ago, was found at an archaeological site in Texas, with its limbs skeletonized and “bound by a thickened, calcified membrane,” the researchers who identified it wrote when they reported the find in 1993.

The first documented case in medical literature dates back to the 10th century, in an influential guide to surgery written by the Andalusian surgeon Al-Zahrawi.

Abdominal pregnancy, in which a fetus grows outside of the uterus or the fallopian tubes, represent only one out of every 10,000 to 30,000 pregnancies. Of those rare occurrences, fewer than 2 percent end up producing lithopedions.

Lithopedions have become even more uncommon as prenatal care has improved. Abdominal pregnancies pose unique risks to both mothers and babies, and they may be terminated early on.

In any case, they are often closely monitored, and a fetus that did not survive would be removed before it could begin to calcify.

Still, there are modern cases, most often the result of pregnancies decades before.

In recent years doctors have treated a 70-year-old woman who carried a lithopedion for 35 years, a 75-year-old with one formed 46 years before, and a 92-year-old woman who had spent 60 years with this condition.

A lithopedion from 1943.

The most famous lithopedion—the one from Sens—eventually disappeared. The surgeon who extracted it eventually sold the specimen to a merchant, and from there it passed through the hands of a goldsmith and of a jewel merchant to King Frederick III of Denmark, who bought it in 1653.

Over the following decades, the lithopedion grew more fragile, and lost an arm and its jaw. In the 19th century, it ended up in the Danish Museum of Natural History, where it was lost or discarded.

Some universities and medical museums still have lithopedions in their collections, though—a macabre reminder of the mysteries the human body can hold and hide during a person’s lifetime.

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First Fossil Lungs Found In Dinosaur-Era Bird

For the first time, researchers found the presence of what they believe to be lung tissue in an avian dinosaur fossil.

About 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China, a bird met its end during a volcanic eruption.

Ashfall buried the animal so suddenly, its soft tissues didn’t have time to decay, and over millions of years, minerals infiltrated these tissues and preserved their form.

Now, researchers have unveiled this breathtaking specimen, which contains the first fossilized lungs ever found in an early bird.

The species Archaeorhynchus spathula lived alongside the nonavian dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

The newfound fossil, which preserves feathers and considerable soft tissue, shows that this primitive bird’s lungs closely resemble those found in living birds.

This suggests that birds’ hyper-efficient lungs, a key adaptation for flight, first emerged earlier than thought, and it underscores how birds—the last living dinosaurs—inherited many iconic traits from their extinct ancestors.

Everything we knew about lungs, about respiration, about evolution of [birds] was just inferring based on skeletal indicators,” says study coauthor Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

“And now we know that we were inferring less generously than we should have.”

A newly identified Archaeorhynchus specimen showing the preserved plumage and lung tissue.

O’Connor presented the discovery on October 18 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the finding will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is an exciting discovery,” says Colleen Farmer, an anatomist and physiologist at the University of Utah who reviewed the study.

Finding bird-like lungs in this group of dinosaurs is to be expected, but it is incredible to uncover hard evidence of this soft structure.

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Continent’s Oldest Spear Points Provide New Clues About The First Americans

For as long as Buttermilk Creek has wound its way through Texas Hill Country, its spring-fed waters have carved through the region’s dark, dense clays, cutting away layers of earth to expose the rock — and the history — below.

Here, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a human settlement stretching back as far as 15,500 years: hammer stones and broken knives, fragments of fractured tools.

And now, scientists say, the Buttermilk Creek complex has offered up the oldest known spearheads in North America.

If the projectile point was the cellphone of the Pleistocene — an omnipresent technology that shaped cultures and defined daily life — the Clovis tools were the iPhone X.

These points, named for the city in New Mexico where they were first found, featured a fluted bottom and rounded sides tapering to a sharp point.

The distinctive spearheads are scattered throughout the rock record between 10,000 and 13,500 years ago, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Venezuela.

The tools are so ubiquitous that for nearly a century, archaeologists thought that the Clovis tradition represented the first people to arrive in the Americas.

But research in recent decades has revealed archaeological sites much older than Clovis, and genetic analyses of modern Native Americans suggest their ancestors crossed a land bridge from Asia to Alaska about 20,000 years ago, then migrated down the Pacific coast between 20,000 and 15,000 years before present.

So who exactly were these early Americans?

The new points uncovered at Buttermilk Creek may offer a clue, said Waters, who directs the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University.

Because tools are so essential to the tasks of survival — hunting, cooking, building, killing — they can say a great deal about the people who wielded them.

In more than 10 years of excavations at his site, Waters and his colleagues have found Clovis points in a rock layer dating to about 13,000 years ago.

Below that, in older rocks, they uncovered scores of stone point fragments, but no whole spearheads. It was difficult to know if they were looking at older Clovis artifacts, or something entirely different.

Then, in 2015, the archaeologists uncovered two perfectly preserved artifacts: One triangular point, which resembles a predator’s sharp tooth, and one lobe-shaped projectile with a tapered, or “stemmed,” bottom.

With these whole points as models, Waters’s team was able to make sense of the 10 additional fragments they collected.

They seemed subtly but significantly different from Clovis and other toolmaking traditions — neither a clear ancestor to the later technology, nor an obvious competitor.

Skye Gilham, a forensic anthropologist who is a member of the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana, said that recent archaeological and genetic research has been helpful in establishing a scientific link between the first Americans and their descendants living today.

Findings like Waters’, which provide evidence for her people’s long history in the Americas, have helped ensure the return of native remains to their communities.

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The Bacterium That Saved Civil War Soldiers

As the sun went down after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, some soldiers noticed that their wounds were glowing a faint blue.

Many men waited on the rainy, muddy Tennessee battlefield for two days that April, until medics could treat them.

Once they were taken to field hospitals, the troops with glowing wounds were more likely to survive their injuries — and to get better faster. Thus the mysterious blue light was dubbed “Angel’s Glow.”

In 2001, 17-year-old Civil War buff Bill Martin visited the Shiloh battlefield with his family and heard the legend of Angel’s Glow.

His mom, Phyllis, happened to be a microbiologist who studied a soil bacterium called Photorhabdus luminescens or P. luminescens — which is bioluminescent, meaning it gives off its own light.

In fact, it gave off a light that was pale blue in color. Bill and his friend Jonathan Curtis wondered if this organism could be the source of Angel’s Glow. Bill’s mom encouraged them to try to find out.

The boys learned that P. luminescens live inside nematodes, tiny parasitic worms that burrow into insect larvae in the soil or on plants.

Once rooted in the larvae, the nematodes vomit up the bacteria, which release chemicals that kill the host larvae and any other microorganisms living inside them.

Bill and Jonathan were slightly stumped to find out that P. luminescens can’t survive at normal human body temperature.

But they figured out that sitting on the cold, wet ground for two days had lowered the wounded soldiers’ body temperature.

So when the nematodes from the muddy soil got into the wounds, the bacteria had the right environment to thrive — and to save the men’s lives by cleaning out other, more dangerous germs.

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Turns Out Bubble Wrap Was Originally Meant To Be Wallpaper

Bubble Wrap is unparalleled in its ability to protect goods and is so satisfying to play with. Hell, people are even wearing it these days.

But before it was made famous for guarding packages and providing endless hours of fun, it was actually just a home decor experiment gone awry.

According to Joey Green, co-author of “The Bubble Wrap Book,” a book that is completely dedicated to the stuff, Bubble Wrap was created after a failed attempt by inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes to make textured wallpaper in 1957.

The two men used two shower curtains pressed together to create textured wallpaper. Green said the two men “attempted to develop a machine to produce plastic wallpaper with a paper backing. Instead, their machine produced sheets of plastic filled with air bubbles.

A spokeswoman from Sealed Air, the company that manufactures Bubble Wrap, confirmed the same story.

The inventors didn’t admit defeat. They found a way to turn their creation into a whole new industry segment: packaging materials that cover, cushion, and protect,” she said.

So there you have it. We’re not sure we’d be able to resist popping and thus destroying Bubble Wrap wallpaper if it were actually a real thing — but there would definitely be loads of fun had in the process.

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Unlocking Mysteries Of The Parthenon

The eastern facade of the time-ravaged, forever elegant lady of the Acropolis – the Parthenon.

It is impossible not to be awed when one stands in the shadow of the great Parthenon and looks up at its elegantly carved Doric columns towering overhead.

The quality of the craftsmanship, the stunning white Pentelic marble, the sheer size of this 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos – the virgin goddess and patron deity of ancient Athens – are all features of a unique, world-class monument that strike us immediately.

However, there is much more to the Parthenon than first meets the eye.

As viewers, we welcome and accept the temple’s outward beauty and seeming perfection, but we don’t often stop to ask ourselves why the building so affects us.

The answer is that the Parthenon’s architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, and its chief sculptural artist, Phidias, have incorporated numerous “hidden” devices within its marble construction and carved decorations that were designed to trick the viewers’ eye, to make us believe we are witnessing something perfectly regular, sensible and balanced in all its aspects.

These almost imperceptible optical refinements and other little adjustments or design tricks allow us to unwittingly take in the details of the Parthenon more easily.

To appreciate them more fully and to not be disturbed by unpleasant optical illusions that otherwise could have been caused by the building’s massive scale and the basic nature of ancient post-and-lintel architecture.

The Parthenon’s eastern pediment tells the story of the birth of Athena, framed by the rising and sinking chariots of Helios (Sun) and Selene (Moon) – a special day in the life of the world.


Looks certainly can be deceiving! Who would believe that, in fact, there are virtually no straight lines or right angles in the Parthenon?

This enormous temple appears at first glance to be a giant rectilinear construction, all of whose lines are straight!

And does it seem sensible to the rational mind that the base of the temple – its stepped pedestal or stylobate – is actually domed, not flat?

The four corners of the pedestal droop gracefully downward, such that if one were to stand on the top step and look lengthwise along the building at someone else also standing on the same step at the opposite end, these two observers would only see each other from about the knees up.

This doming of the temple base was reputedly done to avoid an optical “sagging” of the building’s middle that would have been perceived along its east and west ends and especially along its long north and south sides.

If its lines were actually designed and built to be perfectly straight.

The southern walkway (pteron) of the Parthenon, whose domed curvature pleased the eye and shed rainwater.

Additional refinements in the Parthenon include the slight inward leaning of all the columns in the Doric colonnade surrounding the building.

The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter than the others and lean inward in two directions; that is, diagonally to the corner.

They also are set in such a way that there exists a smaller space, or intercolumniation, between them and the next column.

Meanwhile, the columns themselves are not straight along their vertical axes, but swell in their middles.

This phenomenon, called “entasis,” intended to counteract another optical effect in which columns with straight sides appear to the eye to be slenderer in their middles and to have a waist.

Furthermore, the whole superstructure of the outer facades of the temple, above the level of the columns (the “entablature”), also curves downward at the corners, to mirror the stylobate and carry upward the temple’s overall domed curvature.

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3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Tablet Rewrites The History Of Math

A 3,700-year-old clay tablet has proven that the Babylonians developed trigonometry 1,500 years before the Greeks and were using a sophisticated method of mathematics which could change how we calculate today.

The tablet, known as Plimpton 332, was discovered in the early 1900s in Southern Iraq by the American archaeologist and diplomat Edgar Banks, who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

The true meaning of the tablet has eluded experts until now but new research by the University of New South Wales, Australia, has shown it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, which was probably used by ancient architects to construct temples, palaces and canals.

However unlike today’s trigonometry, Babylonian mathematics used a base 60, or sexagesimal system, rather than the 10 which is used today.

Because 60 is far easier to divide by three, experts studying the tablet, found that the calculations are far more accurate.

Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” said Dr Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science.

It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius. The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.”

This means it has great relevance for our modern world. Babylonian mathematics may have been out of fashion for more than 3000 years, but it has possible practical applications in surveying, computer graphics and education.

The Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived around 120BC, has long been regarded as the father of trigonometry, with his ‘table of chords’ on a circle considered the oldest trigonometric table.

A trigonometric table allows a user to determine two unknown ratios of a right-angled triangle using just one known ratio.

But the tablet is far older than Hipparchus, demonstrating that the Babylonians were already well advanced in complex mathematics far earlier.

The tablet, which is thought to have come from the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa, has been dated to between 1822 and 1762 BC. It is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York.

Plimpton 322 predates Hipparchus by more than 1000 years,” says Dr Wildberger.

It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education. With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own.”

A treasure-trove of Babylonian tablets exists, but only a fraction of them have been studied yet. The mathematical world is only waking up to the fact that this ancient but very sophisticated mathematical culture has much to teach us.”

The 15 rows on the tablet describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles, which are steadily decreasing in inclination.

The left-hand edge of the tablet is broken but the researchers believe t there were originally six columns and that the tablet was meant to be completed with 38 rows.

Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” added Dr Mansfield.

The new study is published in Historia Mathematica, the official journal of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.

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Why 2,000 Year-Old Roman Concrete Is So Much Better Than What We Produce Today


One of the fascinating mysteries of Ancient Rome is the impressive longevity of some of their concrete harbour structures. Battered by sea waves for 2,000 years, these things are still around while our modern concoctions erode over mere decades.

Now scientists have uncovered the incredible chemistry behind this phenomenon, getting closer to unlocking its long-lost recipe. As it turns out, not only is Roman concrete more durable than what we can make today, but it actually gets stronger over time.

Researchers led by geologist Marie Jackson from the University of Utah have been chipping away at the mysteries of Roman concrete for years, and now they have mapped its crystalline structure, figuring out precisely how this ancient material solidifies over time.

Modern concrete is typically made with portland cement, a mixture of silica sand, limestone, clay, chalk and other ingredients melted together at blistering temperatures. In concrete, this paste binds ‘aggregate’ – chunks of rock and sand.

This aggregate has to be inert, because any unwanted chemical reaction can cause cracks in the concrete, leading to erosion and crumbling of the structures. This is why concrete doesn’t have the longevity of natural rocks.

But that’s not how Roman concrete works.

Theirs was created with volcanic ash, lime and seawater, taking advantage of a chemical reaction Romans may have observed in naturally cemented volcanic ash deposits called tuff rocks.

Mixed in with the volcanic ash mortar was more volcanic rock as aggregate, which would then continue to react with the material, ultimately making Roman cement far more durable than you’d think it should be.

“We can go into the tiny natural laboratories in the concrete, map the minerals that are present, the succession of the crystals that occur, and their crystallographic properties,” says Jackson.

roman concrete

Aluminous tobermorite and a related mineral called phillipsite actually grows in the concrete thanks to the sea water sloshing around it, slowly dissolving the volcanic ash within and giving it space to develop a reinforced structure from these interlocking crystals.

“The Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater,” says Jackson.

Making concrete the way Romans once did would be a boon to the modern building industry, but unfortunately the recipes have been lost to the tooth of time, so our only shot at recreating the ancient material is to reverse-engineer it based on what we know about its chemical properties.

“Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with,” says Jackson. “We don’t have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made.”

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The World’s Oldest Piece Of Solid Cheese Was Found In An Egyptian Tomb

A solid white mass found in a broken jar in an Ancient Egyptian tomb has turned out to be the world’s oldest example of solid cheese.

Probably made mostly from sheep or goats milk, the cheese was found several years ago by archaeologists in the ancient tomb of Ptahmes, who was a high-ranking Egyptian official.

The substance was identified after the archaeology team carried out biomolecular identification of its proteins.

This 3,200-year-old find is exciting because it shows that the Ancient Egyptian’s shared our love of cheese — to the extent it was given as a funerary offering.

But not only that, it also fits into archaeology’s growing understanding of the importance of dairy to the development of the human diet in Europe.

Archaeological evidence

Using a technique called “lipid analysis“, sherds of ancient pottery can be analysed and fats absorbed into the clay identified. This then allows archaeologists to find out what was cooked or processed inside them.

Although it is not yet possible to identify the species of animal, dairy fats can be distinguished. It is also challenging to determine what techniques were being used to make dairy products safe to consume, with many potential options.

Fermenting milk, for example, breaks down the lactose sugar into lactic acid. Cheese is low in lactose because it involves separating curd from whey, in which the majority of the lactose sugars remain.

Clay sieves from Poland, similar to modern cheese sieves, have been found to have dairy lipids preserved in the pores of clay, suggesting that they were being used to separate curds from the whey.

Whether the curds were then consumed or attempts made to preserve them by pressing into a harder cheese is unknown.

Fermentation of milk was also possible to our ancestors, but harder to explore with the techniques currently available to archaeology.

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