Tag Archives: history

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
La Llareta (up to 3,000 years old; Atacama Desert, Chile)

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
Spruce Gran Picea #0909 – 11A07 (9,550 years old; Fulufjället, Sweden)

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
Welwitschia Mirabilis #0707-22411 (2,000 years old; Namib-Naukluft Desert, Namibia)

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
Antarctic Moss #0212-7B33 (5,500 years old; Elephant Island, Antarctica)

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
Jōmon Sugi, Japanese Cedar #0704-002 (2,180-7,000 years old; Yakushima, Japan

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history
Underground Forest #0707-10333 (13,000 years old; Pretoria South Africa) DECEASED

Artist Rachel Sussman Photographs the Oldest Living Things in the World before They Vanish science plants nature history

Since 2004, Brooklyn-based contemporary artist Rachel Sussman has researched, collaborated with biologists, and braved some of the world’s harshest climates from Antarctica to the Mojave Desert in order to photograph the oldest continuously living organisms on Earth. This includes plants like Pando, the “Trembling Giant,” a colony of aspens in Utah with a massive underground root system estimated to be around 80,000 years old. Or the dense Llareta plants in South America that grow 1.5 centimeters anually and live over 3,000 years. This is the realm of life where time is measured in millennia, and where despite such astonishing longevity, ecosystems are now threatened due to climate change and human encroachment.

Sussman’s photographs have now been gathered together for the first time in The Oldest Living Things in the World, a new book published by the University of Chicago Press. Sitting at the intersection of art, science, and travelogue, the book details her adventures in tracking down each subject and relays the valuable scientific work done by scientists to understand them. It includes 124 photographs, 30 essays, infographics and forewords by Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Carl Zimmer.

You can learn more about Sussman’s project in her 2010 TED Talk. (via Hyperallergic)

Update: Rachel Sussman was just named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow.

The Mini Museum: A Desktop Museum with Dinosaur Fragments, Apollo 11 Spacecraft, the Moon, and More

The Mini Museum: A Desktop Museum with Dinosaur Fragments, Apollo 11 Spacecraft, the Moon, and More museums history

The Mini Museum: A Desktop Museum with Dinosaur Fragments, Apollo 11 Spacecraft, the Moon, and More museums history

For the past 35 years designer Hans Fex has been collecting some of the Earth’s most rare historical specimens including a fossil of a palm tree from Antarctica, wrap from a mummy, coal from the Titanic, dinosaur bones, and even a piece of the Apollo 11 command module. Working with specialists recommended by museum curators, research scientists and university historians, he has now amassed some 33 special objects that he’s broken down into tiny fragments and inserted into translucent resin case he calls the Mini Museum. Because the collected specimens are absurdly unique, the project is currently going crazy over on Kickstarter where you can see detailed information and photos of every single object appearing in the museum.

Some additional specimens include the foundation of Abraham Lincoln’s House, the Berlin Wall, the London Bridge, mammoth hair, 60 million year old insect amber, and part of a t-rex tooth.

900-Year-Old Coded Viking Message Carved on Wood Fragment Finally Solved, It Says “Kiss Me” [Updated]

 900 Year Old Coded Viking Message Carved on Wood Fragment Finally Solved, It Says Kiss Me [Updated] wood Vikings history codes
Photo by Jonas Nordby via forskning.no

For the past several years researchers have been trying to crack a Viking rune alphabet known as Jötunvillur, a perplexing code dating back to the 11th or 12th century that’s been found in some 80 inscriptions including the scratched piece of wood found above. Recently runologist (!) Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo managed to crack the code and discovered the secret message etched into this particular 900-year-old object reads “Kiss me.” Via Medievalists.net:

For the jötunvillur code, one would replace the original runic character with the last sound of the rune name. For example, the rune for ‘f’, pronounced fe, would be turned into an ‘e’, while the rune for ‘k’, pronounced kaun, became ‘n’.

“It’s like solving a puzzle,” said Nordby to the Norwegian website forskning.no. “Gradually I began to see a pattern in what was apparently meaningless combinations of runes.”

However, those thinking that the coded runes will reveal deep secrets of the Norse will be disappointed. The messages found so far seem to be either used in learning or have a playful tone. In one case the message was ‘Kiss me’. Nordby explains “We have little reason to believe that rune codes should hide sensitive messages, people often wrote short everyday messages.”

The act of coding secret messages appears to have been a leisure activity amongst the Vikings, as some of the other translated inscriptions turned out to be playful taunts at the person doing the decoding. The story was originally reported on forskning.no. (via Erik Kwakkel, Neatorama)

Update: Ida Kvittingen wrote to clarify several aspects of this piece that appears to have been lost in translation from the original article in Forskning.no. Specifically:

The inscription “kiss me” is NOT written using the jötunvillur code. This is a well-known code called cipher runes. Nordby did not crack this code, it was deciphered by others years ago. In my article, it is used as an example of how people often used codes in everyday messages. [...] Only 9 of the 80 or so runic writings that Nordby investigated are written using the jötunvillur code.

For further information you can see more the article in an English version on ScienceNordic.

This 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways

This 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways history books

This 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways history books

This 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways history books

Sure, the Amazon Kindle might have dynamic font adjustments, and it can hold thousands of books, but can it do this? Printed in the late 16th century this small book from the National Library of Sweden is an example of sixfold dos-à-dos binding, where six books are conjoined into a single publication but can be read individually with the help of six perfectly placed clasps. This particular book was printed in Germany and like almost all books at the time is a religious devotional text. The National Library of Sweden has a fantastic photo collection of historical and rare books where you can find many more gems like this, and this, and this.

Update: And if you really like amazing old book discoveries, you should be following Erik Kwakkel, the Medieval book historian at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who originally unearthed this story. (via Neatorama)

London in 1927 & 2013: A Shot-By-Shot Video Comparison of London, 86 Years Apart

London in 1927 & 2013: A Shot By Shot Video Comparison of London, 86 Years Apart London history

In the mid-1920s cinema technician, filmmaker, and cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene traveled across the UK with a new color film camera to create his famous collection of films, The Open Road. The filmmaker’s trip culminated in London with scenes that captured the daily life of Londoners as well as several iconic cityscapes. The films were restored in 2005 by the BFI and circulated widely online.

Fast forward 86 years later. Starting early last year filmmaker Simon Smith, armed with his own camera, traversed the footsteps of Friese-Greene to make his own film. The result is uncanny. Smith matched the original films shot by shot, mimicking the timing and angle almost perfectly for nearly 6 minutes of footage. While the differences between London of 1926 and 2013 are easy to spot when viewing the films side-by-side, what’s more amazing are the similarities. While clothing styles and car designs changed a bit, it’s almost impossible to tell some of these shots apart if it weren’t for the quality of the film. Watch it and see. (via Stellar)

Polish Concert Pianist Builds a ‘Viola Organista’ Based on a 500-Year-Old Leonardo Da Vinci Sketch

Polish Concert Pianist Builds a Viola Organista Based on a 500 Year Old Leonardo Da Vinci Sketch Leonardo Da Vinci instruments history
Viola Organista built by Slawomir Zubrzycki

Polish Concert Pianist Builds a Viola Organista Based on a 500 Year Old Leonardo Da Vinci Sketch Leonardo Da Vinci instruments history
Codex Atlanticus by Leonardo Da Vinci, (page 93r)

Buried in the pages of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous 15th century notebooks, amongst the sketches of flying machines, parachutes, diving suits, and armored tanks, was a curious idea for a musical instrument that merged the harpsichord and cello. The Italian Renaissance polymath referred to it as the viola organista. The general idea for the instrument was to correlate keyboard fingerwork with the sustained sound of a stringed instrument, but among the dozens of ideas pursued by the gifted artist and inventor, this was one he never explored further. Nearly 100 years would pass before an organist in Nuremberg would build the first functional bowed keyboard instrument, and many others would try throughout history to realize Da Vinci’s vision with various levels of success.

Now, after an estimated 5,000 hours of work over three years and nearly $10,000 invested in the project, Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has unveiled his own version of the viola organista. Not only is the new instrument gorgeous, it’s fully functional and Zubrzycki demonstrated it in public for the first time at the 5th International Royal Krakow Piano Festival a few weeks ago. Above is a video of that performance where you can hear how beautiful the strange instrument sounds. Via the Hindustan Times:

The flat bed of its interior is lined with golden spruce. Sixty-one gleaming steel strings run across it, similar to the inside of a baby grand. Each one is connected to the keyboard complete with smaller black keys for sharp and flat notes. But unlike a piano, it has no hammered dulcimers.Instead, there are four spinning wheels wrapped in horse tail hair, like violin bows. To turn them, Zubrzycki pumps a peddle below the keyboard connected to a crankshaft.

As he tinkles the keys, they press the strings down onto the wheels emitting rich, sonorous tones reminiscent of a cello, an organ and even an accordion. The effect is a sound that da Vinci dreamt of, but never heard; there are no historical records suggesting he or anyone else of his time built the instrument he designed.

Here’s an additional interview with Zubrzycki, where you can see the instrument up close (click the “CC” icon for English captions):

You can learn more about Zubrzycki and the history of the viola organista over at the History Blog.

This Programmable 6,000-Part Drawing Boy Automata is Arguably the First Computer and It Was Built 240 Years Ago

This Programmable 6,000 Part Drawing Boy Automata is Arguably the First Computer and It Was Built 240 Years Ago history automata
The Writer was built in the 1770s using 6,000 moving parts by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot

Designed in the late 1770s this incredible little robot called simply The Writer, was designed and built by Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz with help from his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. Jaquet-Droz was one of the greatest automata designers to ever live and The Writer is considered his pièce de résistance. On the outside the device is deceptively simple. A small, barefoot boy perched at a wooden desk holding a quill, easily mistaken for a toy doll. But crammed inside is an engineering marvel: 6,000 custom made components work in concert to create a fully self-contained programmable writing machine that some consider to be the oldest example of a computer.

In this clip from BBC Four’s documentary Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams hosted by Professor Simon Schaffer, we go behind the scenes to learn just how this remarkably complex 240-year-old device was designed and constructed. The entire clip is well worth a watch, in fact here’s another bit about Merlin’s gorgeous silver swan automata:

In my youth the “automata” of choice was either a Tomy Omnibot or a demonic Teddy Ruxpin, cheaply manufactured plastic robots, both which played casette tapes and were destined to break within a few weeks (if you lost or broke the remote control to the Omnibot it was effectively useless). Not to suggest the machines above were mass-produced as children’s toys, but it’s amazing to think such incredibly crafted machines like the Writer and the Swan were built in the eighteenth century around the time of the American Revolutionary War, the age of James Cook, and the invention of the steam engine. (via Colossal Submissions)

Update: Some also argue that the 2,100-year-old Antikythera mechanism used to calculate astronomical positions is a contendor for the first analog computer. (thnx, Elliot)

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Albertus

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Valerius in Weyarn

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Hand of St. Valentin

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Benedictus

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones

In 1578 word spread of the discovery in Rome of a network of underground tombs containing the remains of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many skeletons of these supposed saints were soon removed from their resting place and sent to Catholic churches in Europe to replace holy relics that were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Once in place the skeletons were then carefully reassembled and enshrined in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armor as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife.

Over the past few years photographer Paul Koudounaris who specializes in the photography of skeletal reliquaries, mummies and other aspects of death, managed to gain unprecendented access to various religious institutions to photograph many of these beautifully macabre shrines for the first time in history. The photos have been collected into a book titled Heavenly Bodies released by Thames & Hudson early next month. (via Hyperallergic)

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