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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

The Clay Licks of Amazon Rainforest  

Macaws and parrots of the Amazon rainforest have developed a particular taste for clay. They collect in large numbers on exposed river banks to peck at the dirt, creating a dazzling spectacle that entertains thousands of onlookers. Red-and-Green Macaw at a clay lick in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. Photo credit: jorgeluizpsjr/ © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-19 15:14:00

The Chrysler Air Raid Siren Was So Powerful it Could Induce Rain  

The Chrysler Air Raid Siren was the size of a car. It measured twelve feet long and six feet high, and weighed an estimated 3 short tons. The gigantic siren was powered by a 180 horsepower eight-cylinder gasoline engine, that drove a two-stage air compressor and a rotary chopper. The compressor pushed 2,610 cubic feet of air a minute, at nearly 7 PSI, through a rotating chopper that sliced the air into pulses to create sound. The compressed air exited through six giant horns with a velocity of 4

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2019-08-17 15:22:00

How Mediaeval Husbands Chastised Wives Who Talked Too Much  

By putting a muzzle on them, of course. Known as Scold's bridle, these devices of torture and public humiliation were used mostly in England and Scotland during the 16th and the 17th centuries. "Scold" is an archaic word that means a woman who nags or grumbles constantly, a woman who "disturbed their neighbours' peace with gossiping, 'chiding and scoulding' or unruly behaviour", according to the British Library. Women who ran afoul with the neighbours, defied their husbands an...

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2019-08-17 15:19:00

Vivipary or Why My Tomatoes Are Mutating?  

Sometimes a seed will start developing and germinate while they are still inside their parent, the fruit. The seed first breaks through the seed coat and then out of the fruit wall while still attached to the parent plant. This condition is known as vivipary, and it gives the affected fruit a creepy and alien look. Vivipary in tomato. Photo credit: Kathy Clark/ © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-16 11:02:00

The Radioactive Energy Drink That Kills  

Ebenezer Byers was a well known American socialite, son of industrialist Alexander Byers. In his youth Eben showed promising talent at sports, finishing runner-up at the US Amateur Golf Tournament in 1902 and 1903, before becoming champion in 1906. Eben eventually became the chairman at his father's steel and wrought iron company, while continuing to pursue sports into his late forties. Eben travelled frequently around the US to watch teams play. In 1927, while returning on a chartered train f...

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2019-08-15 10:42:00

Project Isabela: How Goats Helped Eliminate Goats From The Galapagos  

The Galapagos Islands, off the west coast of Ecuador, are a treasure trove of unique ecological specimens. The islands' extreme isolation and favorable climate owning to its location on the equator have allowed a number of species to evolve peculiar characteristics suitable to their environment. The iguana, for instance, is a land-dwelling reptile. But those on the islands of Galapagos have learned how to swim and can now forage for food in the sea. Equally perplexing are the flightless cormor...

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2019-08-13 21:13:00

The Giraffes of Dabous  

In northern Niger, about half-way between the towns of Agadez and Arlit, and a few miles west of the tar road connecting these two places lies a stony outcrop at the top of which is an exceptionally detailed petroglyph of two life-sized giraffes. This region, known as Dabous, is home to a large number of prehistoric carvings depicting cattle and wild animals, hinting to a period of time when Africa was much wetter than it is today with lush vegetation, trees and lakes, that allowed these animals

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2019-08-13 10:24:00

Tomb of Cyrus: The World's Oldest Earthquake Resistant Structure  

Natural calamites like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes have always been considered "acts of god", yet for centuries our ancestors have refused to bow down to the wrath of the higher beings. Dikes were used to protect homes from floods, and shelters themselves were an act of defiance against the natural elements. Historical and archeological research have revealed that ancient civilizations also had sound knowledge of building earthquake-resistant structures. The tomb of Cyrus the Great...

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2019-08-10 13:17:00

Lake Titicaca's 150-year Old Steamship That Runs on Dung  

The BAP Puno. Photo credit: Peruvian Navy. Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is situated high up in the Andes on the borders of Peru and Bolivia. The water body occupies a deep valley in the mountains some 190 kilometers long and 80 kilometers across at its widest point. Located at an elevation of over 3,800 meters, Lake Titicaca carries the distinction of being the highest navigable lake in the world because of all the commercial vessels that ply between the Peruvian and Bolivi

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2019-08-09 19:40:00

Republic of Cospaia: The Italian Hamlet That Became an Independent State For Four Centuries Due to Surveying Error  

Nuzzled next to Tuscany, in northern Umbria, lies a small Italian village called Cospaia. For nearly four centuries, this territory of just over three square kilometers was an independent republic, without any government, or laws, or taxes, or anything that makes a nation. This peculiar political situation arose during Renaissance, which makes it even more remarkable for at that time Italy was a mismatch of Papal states, family estates, and foreign kingdoms, embroiled in petty vendettas and trad

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2019-08-08 15:43:00

Jakarta's Rooftop Villages  

Rooftops make great gardens, especially in dense urban environments where every available space has been utilized for living and for commercial purposes. In many cities around North America, Asia and in Europe too, where outdoor space is scarce, architects and builders are turning rooftops into playgrounds with swimming pools and vegetable gardens. But in Jakarta, Indonesia, one developer has converted the rooftop of a shopping mall into an entire suburb of sorts with tiny homes, paved streets,

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2019-08-06 21:44:00

The Vitrified Forts of Scotland  

Throughout the Bronze and the Iron Ages, Europeans have constructed hilltop forts and enclosures made of stone. About two hundred examples of these show signs of intense heat damage. These stone walls were burned at such high temperature that the rocks have partially melted and fused with each other. They are known as vitrified forts, and for the past 250 years they have been a source of mystery for archeologists. At first, the vitrification was thought to be scars from past battles, except for

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2019-08-05 20:28:00

The 40-Foot Studebaker President  

Few companies escaped the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that plunged the United States and much of the western world into an abyss of economic recession. One of the worst hit was the automobile industry—because obviously it was hard to sell cars to people who were out of work. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-05 11:30:00

The Bridge of Breasts  

At one point in the distant past, Venice had a busy red light district in the very commercial heart of the city—the Rialto area. Prostitution was not only legal but the city actively encouraged it, because these working women, who were known throughout Europe for their wit, charm and elegance, drove a swarm of men—important and powerful men of their day such as bankers, princes and merchants—to Venice driving trade in the city. The city also used prostitution to keep in check all drunk yo...

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2019-08-05 09:57:00

Prague's Streets Paved With Jewish Gravestones  

Millions of people walking through the beautiful cobbled streets in the Czech capital Prague are unaware that they are treading upon old gravestones looted from forgotten Jewish cemeteries. They look like normal paving stones and indistinguishable from the rest, because the smooth, polished side of the granite block—the one that carries the inscription—is always laid face down. Photo credit: BBC © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-02 21:24:00

Project A119: The Secret Plan to Nuke The Moon  

Long before the United States President John F. Kennedy delivered the inspiring "We choose to go to the Moon" speech in front of a large crowd that had gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, the United States Air Force had already made its decision—they were going to the moon. The only difference was the choice of payload. While President Kennedy envisioned Americans walking on the lunar surface, the bigwigs of the US Air Force fantasized a large mushroom cloud, one that would ...

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2019-08-01 16:07:00

Barge Haulers on The Volga  

Before the era of steam engines, the process of moving a boat or a barge up a river was extremely difficult. The usual method was to tow them using beasts of burden, such as horses or mules, along a towpath on the banks of a river or canal. Sometimes a team of human pullers did the job when animals were not available. During the time of the Russian Empire, barges loaded with cargo were often towed up the Volga and its tributaries with the help of laborers known as burlaki. The work was grueling

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2019-07-31 21:38:00

The Egg War of Farallon Islands  

The California Gold Rush of the 1850s induced another rush for a commodity, which, although not precious, became such rare and expensive that people literally killed each other for it. That commodity was eggs. The rush for gold triggered one of the largest mass migration in American history that brought some 300,000 fortune-hunters from all over the world to the then thinly-populated ex-Mexican territory of California. Ships poured into San Francisco bay, and this small seaside settlement of abo

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2019-07-30 21:52:00

Memorial to The First Icelandic Glacier Lost to Climate Change  

Next month, August 2019, a team of researchers and geologists from Rice University in Houston, along with members of the Icelandic Hiking Society and participants of the Un-Glacier Tour, will trek to Borgarfjörður, in western Iceland, to hold a funeral of sorts for a large glacier that once sat heavily on the mountainside. This glacier, known as Okjökull, once spanned 38 square kilometer but now has shrunk to barely one square kilometer of ice—too small to be called a glacier. Five years ag...

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2019-07-30 21:36:00

Tempest Prognosticator: Predicting Storms With Leeches  

Some animals have the instinctive ability to predict changes in the weather. Frogs croak when a storm is approaching, birds return to their nest, cows, sheep and ants become restless. George Merryweather, a 19th century English doctor and inventor, observed that medicinal leeches he used to work with behaved differently when the weather got worse. Housed in small glass jars of water, the leech would lie relaxed at the bottom when the weather was fine, but several hours before the skies became c

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2019-07-29 17:18:00

Australia's Mouse Plagues  

Rats and mice are big problem in Australia, especially around the grain-growing regions in the south and in the east. Every few years, mouse population reaches gigantic proportions ravaging crops and gardens, and invading homes and business establishments, especially hotels and restaurants. Even urban areas, such as Sydney, harbor a huge rodent population—between 500 million to a billion, according to one estimate. That's one hundred rats for every resident at the lower end of the scale. Me...

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2019-07-29 16:53:00

The British Cemetery on American Land  

For its size, the island of Ocracoke on the Outer Banks, off the coast of North Carolina, has a surprising number of cemeteries—more than eighty, cramped together on a sandy outcrop some 25 kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide for the most part. Most of these cemeteries are small and owned by individual families, although some hold dozens of graves. An interesting cemetery is the British Cemetery, containing the graves of four British sailors. Photo credit: Melissa/Flickr During Wo...

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2019-07-27 12:45:00

Ffordd Pen Llech: The World's New Steepest Street  

A sleepy little seaside community in northwest Wales will soon find itself swamped by tourists. Just a few days ago, the Guinness World Records awarded the title of "the steepest street in the world" to a short winding thoroughfare in Harlech, a town of 1,400 residents, located within the Snowdonia National Park. The title was previously held by Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand. The road named Ffordd Pen Llech is one of two roads surrounding Harlech Castle, the town's other important...

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2019-07-26 16:19:00

Helepolis: The Failed War Machine From Which Rose a Wonder of The Ancient World  

At the entrance to the harbor of the city of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name, there once stood a colossal statue made of iron, brass and stone. Dedicated to the Greek sun-god Helios, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood more than a hundred feet tall and was a symbol of pride for the Rhodians who had successfully defended their city against an attempted siege by the Kingdom of Macedonia. In the late 4th century BC, after the death of Alexander the Great, the Kingdom of Rhodes developed stro

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2019-07-25 21:15:00

Jap Herron: A Novel Mark Twain Wrote After His Death  

Mark twain died in 1910. Seven years later he wrote his last novel, Jap Herron—so claims St. Louis journalist and author Emily Grant Hutchings. Mrs. Hutchings claimed that Mark Twain, who had been dead for seven years, came to her from beyond the graves and dictated to her the book, as well as two short stories, through an Ouija Board—an apparatus that can be allegedly used to communicate with the dead—and with the assistance of a spirit medium, Mrs. Lola V. Hays. An Ouija Board. Photo c...

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2019-07-25 13:22:00

The Relief Map of Guatemala  

guSandwiched between Mexico on the northwest and El Salvador and Honduras on the east, the country of Guatemala may be small but it has a diverse topography. The northern half of the country is a vast lowland with hot and humid tropical climate, but the southern half is mountainous with snow-capped peaks and deep valleys. This dramatic contrast between the highlands and lowlands can be best appreciated at the center of Guatemala City, on this century-old topographic relief map of the country. P

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2019-07-24 21:06:00

The Japanese Fishing Boat Whose Lethal Encounter With An Atomic Bomb Inspired Godzilla  

Tucked away in a corner of Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo, a ten-minute-walk away from Shin Kiba Station, is a tall A-frame building. Sitting inside on concrete floors and held aloft by metal supports is a weathered 94-foot long fishing boat. Today the boat is largely-forgotten, but sixty five years ago, this unremarkable 140-ton boat was the symbol of protest against nuclear weapons, and an inspiration for a very enduring pop culture icon. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-07-23 12:18:00

Crannogs: Neolithic-Era Artificial Islands  

The Neolithic people of Great Britain were prolific builders. Just look at the British Isles—they are studded with countless ancient megaliths, hill forts, monumental graves, ritual sites and structures that archeologists have been collectively scratching their heads over for centuries. In Ireland and to some extant, in Scotland, a wholly different kind of structure is found that are as inexplicable as the rest. They are tiny artificial islands known as crannogs built by pounding wooden piles ...

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2019-07-22 14:51:00

The Rotating Solariums of Jean Saidman  

The importance of sunlight to human health is well understood, and that understanding developed in the late 19th century when it was discovered that sunbathing aided the production of vitamin D which helped prevent rickets. Soon, heliotherapy—treating patients by exposing them to sunlight—became a well-established remedy for treating various conditions of the skin, cancer, tuberculosis of the bones, among other things. Exposure to sunlight is also known to have a positive effect on a person...

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2019-07-22 12:27:00

The Islands of Loosdrecht Lakes  

Narrow elongated islands seen in an area called Scheendijk in the Loosdrecht Lakes, The Netherlands. Photo credit: George Steinmetz The Loosdrecht lakes are a system of shallow, interconnected lakes in The Netherlands lying in the province of Utrecht, south of Amsterdam. In medieval times this region was a large peat blog that was too soggy for agricultural purposes. Some attempts at draining the bog was made, but in the 17th century any plans for agriculture was abandoned and the bogs were mi

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2019-07-20 14:50:00

The Mahogany Ship: An Australian Maritime Mystery  

One of Australia's most enduring maritime mysteries is a shipwreck known as the "Mahogany Ship". It was first spotted in 1836 by a party of three whalers who themselves had got shipwrecked on the south-western coast of Victoria, close to the modern town of Warrnambool. While walking along the coast back to Port Fairy, the sailors discovered the wreck of a large ship half buried in the sand dunes. They described the ship to be made of hard dark timber, like mahogany. What's unusual abou...

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2019-07-18 12:52:00

The Aqueduct of Loukous  

In the Greek municipality of North Kynouria in Peloponnese, near the villa of Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Greek aristocrat and a Roman senator, stands an old aqueduct bridge crossing a small ravine. The aqueduct carries water from a spring located about one and half kilometer to the northwest. The water is rich in dissolved minerals, and over two thousand years of water dripping from the sides of the aqueduct have built up thick deposits that hang like stalactites in a limestone cave. Photo cre

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2019-07-18 11:02:00

Wainhouse Tower: The Tallest Folly  

Wainhouse Tower, standing high on a hill in the King Cross area of Halifax, is the tallest structure in Calderdale and a prominent landmark that can be seen for miles around. It has been called the world's tallest folly because it never got to be used for the purpose for which it was constructed. It's also associated with an interesting legend. The tower was commissioned as a chimney by John Edward Wainhouse, who owned the local dye works, in order to comply with the new smoke abatement act ...

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2019-07-17 15:37:00

Via Cava: The Cave Roads of Tuscany  

In southern Tuscany, there is a mysterious network of old pathways deeply entranced into massive rocks appearing like narrow canyons flanked by stone walls, some of which rise up to twenty meters tall. Some of the pathways connect burial sites and tombs, others lead straight to towns such as Sovana, Sorano and Pitigliano and to nearby fields and streams. Chisel marks are visible all over the rocky surface indicating the laborious process by which these passages were excavated, but for what purpo

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2019-07-17 10:53:00

Bernd And Hilla Becher's Industrial Photography  

For over 40 years, starting from the early 1960s, German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed over two hundred industrial plants and buildings in Europe and North America. This included everything from water towers, coal bunkers, blast furnaces, gas tanks, coke ovens, oil refineries, grain elevators, storage silos, and warehouses. Each of these structures were photographed in an obsessively formalist way that defined a style and made them one of the most dominant influences in contempora

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2019-07-16 12:12:00

The Legend of Bingen's Mouse Tower  

On a small island in the Rhine river, outside Bingen am Rhein, in Germany, stands a 10th century stone tower with a macabre legend associated with it. The story goes that in the year 970, there was a terrible famine in Germany, so severe that people devoured cats and dogs just to stay alive, yet thousands died of starvation. At this time, the archbishop of Mainz was a cruel and wicked ruler named Hatto II, a despicable miser, whose dominant idea in life was to increase his treasures by fair mean

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2019-07-15 21:55:00

Dresden's Tobacco Mosque  

Standing on the banks of the Elbe river, in the German city of Dresden, is a monumental building with a multicolored glass dome and high-rise minarets reminiscent of a mosque. Its magnificent Islamic decoration and distinctive architectural character stands out from the typical Baroque buildings that Dresden is known for. Since its inception, more than a hundred years ago, the building has been known as the "tobacco mosque". © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-07-15 21:26:00

Beautiful Siberian Lake is Actually a Toxic Waste Dump  

The electric blue waters of this pond in the Russian city of Novosibirsk has become the backdrop of many Instagram fans lately. Photographs of women in bikinis posing by the lakeside and visitors riding inflatable unicorns on the azure waters have gone viral on social networks. But authorities warn visitors not to be deceived by its appealing turquoise shade, because the lake is actually a toxic reservoir where chemical residue from a nearby power plant is dumped. The lovely color that reminds

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2019-07-03 11:34:00

Linnaeus's Flower Clock: Keeping Time With Flowers  

Who needs a watch to tell time when we got flowers? Many species of flowering plants open and close their flowers at specific times throughout the day. The first person to make a recorded observation of this phenomenon was Androsthenes, an admiral of Alexander the Great, who noticed that a tropical Tamarind tree raise their leaves during the day and droop them down during the night. Many people made similar observations—Pliny the Elder, in the first century, and Albertus Magnus, the thirteenth...

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2019-07-03 11:12:00

The World's Southernmost City  

The southern part of South America is fractured into a number of small islands collectively known as Tierra del Fuego. Located roughly between 52° and 55° latitudes, these islands constitute some of the most distant landmasses on earth measured from the equator. The region is sparsely populated, but there are two major population centers here—Ushuaia and Río Grande—both located on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, the largest island of the archipelago. This island is shared by Argentina a...

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2019-07-02 10:58:00

That Time When America Air-Dropped Pianos For Troops in Battlefields  

You thought pianos dropping from the sky is a gag for cartoons? Then hear this story out. During World War Two, all kinds of production involving metals, such as iron, copper, and brass, that was non-essential to the war effort were halted by the American government, because these metals were needed to make guns, tanks, and artillery. Many musical instrument makers were affected by the new regulations, which meant that either they had to manufacture something else the military could use, or wait

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2019-06-29 14:04:00

Hellburner: The 16th Century Weapon of Mass Destruction  

In the age of sail, when ships were made of wood, fire was the number one enemy of sailors, and this fearsome tool was used in diabolic ways at times of war to sink enemy ships. A devious method pioneered by the ancient Greeks was to set on fire one of their own ships, loaded with combustible material such as tar and turpentine, and push it towards the enemy fleet. Such a fireship could wreck havoc upon the enemy with terrifying rapidity. In the 7th century, the Greeks discovered that naptha wh

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2019-06-27 21:33:00

The World's Longest Dinosaur Trackway  

In the French village of Plagne, in the Jura Mountains, 200 kilometers east of Lyon, there is a set of huge footprints made 150 million years ago. The footprints belonged to a sauropod, the largest class of dinosaurs, that had very long necks, which helped them reach the foliage on top of tall trees, long tails and four thick, pillar-like legs. An adult sauropod easily weighed 100 tons, although this particular individual probably weighed about 35 tons. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-06-27 12:32:00

The Triumphal Arch of Emperor Maximilian I  

Like many rulers, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had a fascination for large monuments, but instead of actually building them he romanticized them on paper. One of his most famous commissions was The Triumphal Arch, composed of 195 woodcut prints which, when arranged, formed a grandiose arch standing twelve feet high and ten feet wide. Maximilian commissioned other ambitious woodcut projects but The Triumphal Arch is the only one that was completed during his lifetime, and it remains one o

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2019-06-26 12:33:00

The Longest Papal Election in History  

The main attraction in the ancient city of Viterbo, in central Italy, is a 13th century palace built to serve as the country residence for the pope. The Palazzo dei Papi, or the Papal Palace, also provided popes with a place to escape to whenever things turned violent in Rome, as it often did because of rivalry between the two dueling factions—the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, supporting the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively. One of the grand halls in the palace, known as the Concla...

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2019-06-25 20:54:00

The World's First Parachute Jump  

On December 26, 1783, a crowd gathered outside the observatory in Montpellier, a French city near the south coast on the Mediterranean Sea. They were about to witness the world's first successful jump in a parachute. The observatory was housed inside a tall mediaeval tower known as "Tour de la Babotte". It is one of only two towers that survive from a time when Montpellier was encircled by ramparts. The tower is some 26 meters tall, and for a while it had been used as an observatory to st...

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2019-06-24 20:39:00

Hermits As Garden Ornaments  

Between the 17th and the 19th centuries, a certain reproachful and voyeuristic trend emerged among wealthy British landowners. Not content with inanimate garden ornaments such as gnomes and bird baths, these people hired real, living and breathing persons, to live as hermits in make-believe hermitages erected on the lavish grounds of their estates. Most of them were required to make scheduled appearances on the grounds in appropriate clothing whenever the employer was entertaining guests. They w

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2019-06-21 20:21:00

Thomas Edison's Forgotten Passion: Building Concrete Houses  

Of all things Thomas Alva Edison is known for, concrete is not one of them. It was one of Edison's less successful ventures, but not one without significance. Towards the end of 19th century, Edison, like many businessman and builders of the time, was captivated by the possibilities of cement. Edison believed that concrete was the future and the answer to all housing problem, and he decided to act on this impulse in a big way. Concrete houses in Gary, Indiana constructed using methods devel

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2019-06-20 20:20:00

François Coignet's Reinforced Concrete House  

In a quiet suburb, north of Paris, by the River Seine, stands a derelict four-story building. Its windows and doors are broken, some are barred by bricks, and large patches of plaster have fallen off the walls. It is apparent that nobody has lived here for quite sometime. Creepers cover the outer walls, and small branches and shrubs pour out from inside the house through the upper windows. Despite the barbed wire fencing, the property has been vandalized as evident from the graffiti covering the

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2019-06-19 10:51:00

The Galloping Horse Problem And The World's First Motion Picture  

"The 1821 Derby at Epsom" by Theodore Gericault Horses have appeared in works of art throughout history. They have appeared in prehistoric cave paintings, such as those in Lascaux, in temples and tombs of ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, and as monumental statues during classical antiquity. These depictions showed great knowledge of equine anatomy. George Stubbs, an 18th-century English painter, helped further this knowledge by dissecting horse carcasses to learn more about the a...

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2019-06-17 14:55:00

Cunningham Sanitarium  

On the shores of Lake Erie, in Cleveland, the United States, there once stood a giant steel sphere sixty-four feet tall. Inside the sphere were 38 rooms where Dr. Cunningham's patients spent up to two weeks at a time breathing air at twice the atmospheric pressure. Dr. Cunningham believed that the higher air pressure introduced oxygen in abundance into the body system and aided in the therapy of various diseases. This is known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-06-15 11:00:00

Mocha Dick: The Whale That Inspired Moby Dick  

About thirty kilometers off the coast of Chile is a small teardrop-shaped island called Mocha, inhabited by the indigenous Mapuche people. The island was well known among sailors, especially pirates and privateers, who used the island as their supply base, exchanging steel and manufactured goods for livestock, corn and potatoes. English and Dutch privateers would often stop at the island, load their ships with supplies, and after a brief stay, sail up the Pacific coast sacking Spanish ships and

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2019-06-13 20:39:00

Taiwan's Giant Wall of Propaganda Spewing Speakers  

Just off the southeastern coast of mainland China, lies a group of two islands collectively called Kinmen. For over seventy years, these islands have occupied a unique position in the delicate relationship between China and Taiwan. Kinmen Islands' location is the most peculiar. The islands sit in a small bay practically surrounded by the Chinese mainland, yet it is governed by Taiwan, which lies approximately one hundred miles away across the Taiwan Strait. The political status of Taiwan itse...

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2019-06-12 10:17:00

The Avian Honeyguides of Africa  

South of the great Sahara Desert in North Africa, there lives a bird called the greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) that has developed a special symbiotic relationship with the local honey hunters. The honeyguide eats beeswax, and although it is excellent at finding bees' nests, it's unable to sneak past the stinging bees alone. Instead, it approaches humans and makes a loud chirping noise to attract their attention. Then it flies in the direction of the nest. Over the centuries, local...

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2019-06-11 10:12:00

The Great Aurora of 1859  

On the evening of September 2, 1859, after the sun went down on the western hemisphere, a spectacular show of light began on the skies above. Streams of luminous cloud in blue, green, purple and sometimes red shot upwards from the horizon in the north and filled the entire sky. Many people thought that there was a large fire burning somewhere. Others took it as a sign from the heavens of some great disaster that's about to befall man. Few realized what they were looking at, because many of th...

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2019-06-07 15:05:00

Churches of Peace: The Churches That Defied The Holy Roman Emperor  

In the towns of Jawor and Świdnica, in the Silesia neighborhood of Wroclaw, Poland, stand two magnificent timber-framed churches. The Holy Roman Emperor who ordered them built never expected to see them completed. In fact, he never wanted them built in the first place, for they were Protestant churches. But against all odds and under tremendous political and physical constraints, the Protestants displayed extraordinary resourcefulness, managing to complete three churches of such scale and comp...

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2019-06-07 15:04:00

Pretty in Pink: The Muralla Roja  

This innovative pastel-colored postmodern apartment complex is a popular landmark in the coastal town of Calpe, Spain. It is called Muralla Roja, which means "the red wall", although it is mostly pink with a bit of baby blue. Muralla Roja was designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, and built in the early 1970s. The building was built like a fortress drawing inspiration from the architecture of the North African kasbah. The silhouette of this high-walled, vertical structure is said to ...

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2019-06-06 13:11:00

Telefon Hírmondó, The Telephone Newspaper  

When cell phones were first introduced, they were unattractive, brick-like devices that could do nothing more than make voice calls and send and receive text messages. In order to entice customers to this new technology, network operators offered subscribers various value-added services, such as the ability to get news updates, infotainment, match scores, weather updates, and so on, on their phones through text messages. For a nominal fee, a customer could subscribe to any or all of these value

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2019-06-06 13:05:00

Vellir: This Icelandic Geyser is in The Middle of a River  

Iceland has many geysers but none is stranger than Vellir, also known as Árhver, because it is located smack in the middle of a flowing river. Located not far from the town of Reykholt, Vellir consist of a cone of cemented clay and gravel which can be clearly seen when the water level in the Reykjadalsa river is low, but at high water levels, the cone usually remains submerged. There are several other vents on small flats in the middle of the river, but only Vellir is more active with constan...

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2019-06-04 21:55:00

Porto Flavia  

On the west coast of Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, there was once an unusual port. It's a small opening on the rock face of the limestone cliffs above the sea, that led directly to the Masua mines, where zinc and lead ores were extracted, via a 600-meter-long tunnel. Ores were brought by conveyor belts to the mouth of the tunnel, from which a mechanical arm loaded the ore directly onto waiting ships. The ingenious harbor was built in 1924 by engineer Cesare Vece...

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2019-06-04 11:24:00

Kyshtym: The Nuclear Disaster That Was Kept Secret For 30 Years  

Thirty years before the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded, in what became one of the most devastating nuclear accidents in history, there was another major mishap at yet another Soviet nuclear power plant. It was hushed up by officials for more than three decades. The accident took place at Mayak, one of Russia's biggest nuclear facilities, located near the town of Kyshtym in the Chelyabinsk district in the Southern Ural mountains. The facility was built shortly after the end of the Secon...

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2019-06-01 09:59:00

How Kazakhstan Became The Entire Soviet Union For 4 Days  

1991 was a notable year in the geopolitical history of the world. It was the year the Gulf War started marking the beginning of America's constant military presence in the Middle East. That same year Cambodia made peace with Vietnam bringing an end to a decade-long war. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia collapsed, and clashes between Serbia and the other Yugoslav republics launched another war which ran through the rest of the decade. 1991 also saw India abandon its policies of socialism and self-suffici...

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2019-05-30 21:25:00

The Hanging Coffins of China And Philippines  

The ancient Bo and Guyue people of southern China did not bury their dead. Instead, they hung their coffins from tall cliffs. This peculiar burial custom was prevalent not only among the Bo and Guyue people of China, but among many other minority groups in several Asian countries such as Philippines and Indonesia. The precise reason for this kind of burial is not known. It is possible that the Bo people believed that placing the coffins high up the side of a mountain will enable the deceased to

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2019-05-30 15:18:00

The Warship That Couldn't Stay Afloat  

During the American Civil War, the Union Navy designed a class of warships called "Casco" that could submerge its hull at will to make the boat smaller and a harder target to hit. At least, that was the idea. Until the middle of the 19th century, all ships, including warships, were made of wood. Steam-propelled, ironclad warships first saw action in the Battle of Hampton Roads, also known as the Battle of Ironclads. The Confederate fleet had one ironclad ram named Virginia, and on the Union ...

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2019-05-28 12:10:00

Gilbert Hill: Mumbai's Forgotten 66 Million Years Old Heritage  

Concrete buildings aren't the only thing that rises vertically in the metropolis of Mumbai, India's most populous city. In a suburb, north of the city, there is a huge column of basalt rising 200 feet towards the sky. Surrounded on three sides by tall apartment complexes of nearly the same height, this monolith called Gilbert Hill is practically invisible to anyone but the nearest neighbors. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-05-27 10:19:00

Martha Gellhorn, The Only Woman Who Landed in Normandy on D-Day  

On the eve of the Normandy landings in June 1944, there were over a thousand war correspondents all over Europe reporting back to the millions of British and Americans back home. A handful of these journalists and photographers were also women. Unfortunately, the government had prohibited women from going to the front lines, so while these women correspondents could cover stories from the war zone, they could not go in with the troops. Understandably, many female war correspondents were not hap

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2019-05-24 16:49:00

Trevor, The Loneliest Duck  

On an island far far away, there once lived a duck named Trevor. Nobody knew where he came from, because until his arrival there was no duck on the island. He had appeared mysteriously on this remote rocky island after one violent storm. Located in the South Pacific, about 2,400 kilometers northeast of New Zealand, this island called Niue is a country of its own, the entirety of which is confined inside a single 260-square-kilometer coral atoll. But Niue is far from cramped. It has a population

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2019-05-24 10:11:00

The Shoe Fitting Machines That Blasted You With Radiation  

Finding the right fit for your shoes is not that difficult. All you need to do is take a short walk through the store in the new pair. Squeezing the front end of the shoe, or sliding the index finger behind the heel is another common practice. But back in the 1920s through the 50s, many shoe stores across America and Europe had live x-ray viewing machines, like those in airports for checking luggage, only smaller. These machines clearly showed the bones and flesh of the feet as well as the outli

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2019-05-22 20:45:00

Ethiopia's Church Forests  

Ethiopia is almost completely depleted of its forest cover. In the early 1900s, nearly forty-five percent of the country was covered by forests. But the demand for agricultural land to feed the country's growing population saw this forest being gradually sacrificed for farmlands, until more than ninety percent of this vast tropical forest had disappeared. The remaining forest is not contiguous but scattered in tens of thousands of small groves, mostly in the northern part of the country. At th...

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2019-05-21 15:15:00

Train Through a Football Stadium  

Going to any sporting event to watch your favorite teams play, as opposed to staying at home and watching the live broadcast, has its perks. Stadium is all about the experience—the noise, the crowd, the shouting, the occasional disruption—it all adds to the thrill. So imagine how thrilling the experience must be for spectators watching the TJ Tatran Čierny Balog club play against visiting teams, when the game is disrupted by an old steam train chugging right through the stadium between the ...

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2019-05-20 21:13:00

Soviet Televisions  

This is the KVN-49, a black-and-white television set produced in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the first set to be mass-produced in the country. It was a popular model. In just over a decade, over 2.5 million KVNs were sold throughout the country. One striking feature of the television set is the large magnifying lens in front of the screen. The lens is made of plastic and is filled with a clear liquid such as distilled water or glycerol. Obviously, the purpose of the lens is to magnify th

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2019-05-17 20:55:00

How Japanese Bamboo Helped Edison Make The Light Bulb  

Thomas Alva Edison's invention, or shall we say "perfection", of the light bulb helped brighten up homes of people all across the world, but he is especially revered in Japan. Cleveland-based newspaper The Plain Dealer says Japanese people represent the largest percentage of visitors to Edison's childhood home in Milan, Ohio. Edison shares an unlikely connection with Japan. His admirers are at every corner of the country, but the relationship is especially deep with the citizens of Ya...

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2019-05-17 10:37:00

The World's Oldest Printed Book  

The Diamond Sutra is an ancient Buddhist sermon that generation of Buddhists have memorized and chanted since at least the fifth century. The sutra, which meditates on the illusory nature of the material world—the central theme of Buddhism, was originally written in Sanskrit in India, from which it was translated to Chinese in 401 AD. It is said that the teachings of The Diamond Sutra "cut like a diamond blade through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real and everlasting." A copy of...

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2019-05-15 16:10:00

The Talking Statues of Rome  

For the past five hundred years, the people of Rome have voiced their resentment against the authorities through a unique medium—short compositions and satirical verses ridiculing the government, the pope and his behavior. These humorous expressions of political discontent were posted anonymously on various prominent statues around the city where people met and discussed matters relating to their personal lives as well as the state. The prominence of the statues gave these anonymous voices exp...

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2019-05-14 13:12:00

The Goliath Transmitter  

Communication with submarines is difficult because radio waves do not easily travel through salt water. The obvious solution is to surface and raise an antenna above the water, but surfacing makes the submarine visible to enemy ships and hence vulnerable. Another solution is to use a buoy carrying the antenna that is floated to the surface. The buoy is tethered to the submarine which remains well below the surface. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-05-13 16:27:00

The Ice Block Expedition of 1959  

In the autumn of 1959, a 3-ton block of ice made an 8,500 kilometer journey on the back of a pickup truck from the edge of the Arctic Circle to the Equator in central Africa. The journey which took four weeks to complete involved driving through the vast desert of the Sahara in fifty degree heat. During this entire time no refrigeration was used. The trip was a publicity stunt organized by a Norwegian company called Glassvatt, that manufactured insulating glass wool, to show how good their prod

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2019-05-10 21:41:00

Gustave Doré's Victorian London  

Our visual image of Victorian London is largely fixated on its sordidness—cramped streets, dark alleys, desolate slums, overcrowding, and illicit dens. Two people are responsible for creating in our heads such pictures of destitution and filth—one is Charles Dickens, whose works largely revolved around grinding poverty, and the other is French illustrator Gustave Dore. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-05-10 12:12:00

The Cranes of River Clyde  

A giant cantilever crane looms over a car park adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn at Glasgow City. During its heydays, this crane used to load cargo and steam locomotives onto waiting ships to be exported around the world. The crane is no longer operational, yet its arm still bears the name of its former owners—Clydeport. Known as the Finnieston Crane, it is one of only four such cranes still standing on the River Clyde, upon which Glasgow is built. They are the cherished symbols of the city&...

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2019-05-09 13:18:00

Operation Sailor Hat  

On the coast of Kahoʻolawe, the smallest of the eight main volcanic islands of Hawaiian, is a large crater left behind by a violent test conducted by the US Navy in 1965. Back then, starting from the beginning of World War 2 until the 1990s, Kahoʻolawe was used as a training ground and bombing target by the US armed forces. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen trained on Kahoʻolawe for the brutal assaults on islands such as the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and New Guinea in the Western...

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2019-05-08 11:44:00

Cycling Through Water  

Through a large pond in the De Wijers nature reserve in Limburg, Belgium, runs a cycling lane that goes right through the waters instead of going over it. The 212-meter concrete path was built below the water level and dips low enough to put riders at eye level with the water. Two five-feet high embankments on either side of the bike path keeps the water of the pond away, while underground tunnels under the bike path ensures that amphibians and other aquatic life in the pond could freely move be

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2019-05-07 21:57:00

The Lost Tomb of Genghis Khan  

The death of Genghis Khan is shrouded in secrecy. The Great Khan died in the summer of 1227, during a campaign against the Tanguts, along the upper reaches of the Yellow River, in Yinchuan. But the manner of his death is unknown. It is reasonable to believe that he died of injuries sustained during the battle. It is also reasonable to believe that those wounds came not from an enemy arrow, as asserted by Marco Polo, but from falling off his horse during hunting, according to The Secret History

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2019-05-06 20:34:00

Trümmerfrauen: The Women Who Helped Rebuild Germany After World War 2  

After the end of World War 2, one of the main tasks was to clear the urban areas of ruin and start rebuilding Europe—Germany in particular, where the damage was extensive. Allied bombing had laid to waste nearly every German city, town and village, destroying millions of homes, public buildings, schools, factories, as well as centuries-old cathedrals, mediaeval houses and other historic structures. It is estimated that the war produced over 400 million cubic meters of rubble that needed to be ...

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2019-05-04 15:39:00

The Hand of Glory  

At the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire is a strange artifact—a dismembered hand, dried and shriveled. It once belonged to a man who was hanged from the gallows for an unknown crime. The hand was cut off at his wrist when the lifeless body was still hanging. The hand was then dried and pickled in salt. The "hand of glory" is thought to have magical powers. Back in the shadowy days of black magic, witchcraft and the occult, sorcerers, shamans, and witch doctors kept such bizarre and otherw...

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2019-05-03 12:01:00

Berezniki: The Russian City Swallowed By Sinkholes  

The city of Berezniki, in Russia's Ural mountains, is slowly sinking into the earth. The city of more than 150,000 individuals was built directly on top of a potash mine, which was standard practice during Soviet times. After nearly a century of extraction, deep voids were left underneath the city. The ceilings of these huge underground caverns are supported only by walls and pillars of soluble salt. In 2006, when a freshwater spring began flowing into the mine some 720 to 1,500 feet below the...

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2019-05-03 10:20:00

The Rockets of Mysore  

Rockets were originally invented not to send things into space, but to shoot enemies with. Their effectiveness in warfare was demonstrated for the first time by the Chinese in the 13th century, when they used them against the Mongol invaders and successfully kept them away for months. These early rockets, known as 'fire arrows', were similar to bottle rockets we use today in firework celebrations, only larger. A short tube was filled with gunpowder, closed at one end and attached to a long ...

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2019-05-01 12:26:00

Alexander Mitchell: The Blind Engineer Who Gave Sight to Seafarers  

Sandbanks are a hazard to marine traffic. Often found near coastlines, near the mouth of a river and around ports, these shallow, submerged beds of sand keep changing their shape and position posing great navigation risk to ships. Because the sand tends to drift with the tides, it is difficult to anchor a warning lightship on a sandbank, much less get a firm foundation for a permanent lighthouse. The problem of erecting a lighthouse on sandbanks and shoals greatly disturbed Alexander Mitchell (

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2019-04-30 12:13:00

Hanoi's Motorcycle Deliveries  

Two-wheelers are the most popular mode of transport in Vietnam, especially in big and dense cities such as Hanoi. Motorbikes and scooters suit Hanoi's narrow streets and tiny alleys that connect one quarter with the next, allowing commuters to avoid the congested main roads. Motorbikes in Hanoi are used to carry everything—from a four-member family to cartons of eggs stacked to dangerous heights. Street vendors and delivery guys use bikes extensively. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-04-29 21:39:00

Human Decomposition in Japanese Artwork  

In traditional Buddhist teachings, contemplating about death is an integral part of meditation. Buddha himself said that death is "the greatest of all teachers", for it teaches us to be humble, destroys vanity and pride, and crumbles all the barriers of caste, creed and race that divide humans, for all living beings are unescapably destined to die. Many Buddhist cultures also practice sky burials, where human corpses are left out in the open, such as mountain tops and forests, to be eaten b...

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2019-04-26 16:26:00

Why Victorian People Loved Posing Next to Aspidistra Plants  

Potted plants have been a part of households for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all kept houseplants in their sprawling estates. The Romans, in particular, were fascinated with showy flowers and often decorated their homes with the largest and brightest variety of roses and violets. After the fall of the Roman empire, decorative gardening largely disappeared from Europe, and was replaced by a more utilitarian approach of growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Hou

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2019-04-25 15:19:00

The Crooked Trees of Hafford  

Approximately twenty kilometers northwest of the town of Hafford, in Saskatchewan, Canada, and just over five kilometers south-west of Alticane, is a grove of trembling aspens with dramatically twisted trunks and branches as if somebody took them by both hands and wrangled them into knots. The Crooked Trees has been a local attraction since at least the 1940s. According to Rick Simmonds, who owns the property upon which the crooked cluster of trees sit, the site is visited by five thousand visit

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2019-04-25 10:30:00

Las Médulas: The Largest Roman Gold Mine  

This incredible serrated landscape of red mountains and green chestnut trees is the result of two centuries of destructive mining carried out by the Romans. Known as Las Medulas, this historic mine located near the Spanish town of Ponferrada was the largest open-pit gold mine in the entire Roman Empire. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-04-24 17:13:00

The Dam Climbing Alpine Ibex  

Alpine Ibex are big mountain goats that live among the peaks in the European Alps where predators cannot reach. They occupy the steep, rocky terrain above the tree line between two to three thousand meters above sea level. But they can't live there at all times, because there is no food up there. During spring and summer, the Ibex live among the conifers and the meadows where there are plenty of grass to feed. Before the first snow falls, the Ibex has to fatten up and build reserves to help s...

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2019-04-23 11:11:00

The Adorable Custom of 'Telling The Bees'  

The bee friend, a painting by Hans Thoma (1839-1924) There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen the family. Failing to do often resulted in further loss, it was said, such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only death...

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2019-04-19 16:10:00

Luna 15: The Soviet Probe That Tried to Gatecrash America's First Moon Landing  

Two hours before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were scheduled to leave the surface of the moon after their historic moonwalk, an unmanned Russian probe called Luna 15 crash landed on the lunar surface just 540 miles away from Eagle. The Luna missions began in 1958, before the Apollo program was even conceived. Its mission was to send a series of robotic spacecraft to the moon—either an orbiter or a lander. The ultimate goal was to bring lunar sample back to earth. Luna 15 was the fifteenth o...

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2019-04-18 16:05:00

Ugly Belgian Houses  

There is a near universal appeal among Belgians to build their own house, which is reflected in the popular saying—"every Belgian is born with a brick in his stomach." The result of this becomes obvious when you drive through any Flemish suburb. Every house is different from its neighbor. Worse still, every house is a hotchpotch of different architectural styles. It's like a "nightmarish architectural Legoland", says Hannes Coudenys, who has been photographing these architectural sha...

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2019-04-18 13:00:00

Prinkipo Orphanage: Europe's Oldest Wooden Building  

This rickety wooden building, practically on the verge of collapse, is the largest wooden building in Europe and the second largest in the world. It stands on top of a small hill on Büyükada—a tiny island off the coast of Istanbul. The Prinkipo Greek Orphanage, also known as the Rum Orphanage, was originally conceived to be a luxury hotel and a casino. But when it couldn't obtain a permit, the building was turned into an orphanage. It operated for sixty years taking care of Greek Orthodo...

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2019-04-16 13:20:00

Fake Tree Observation Posts of WW1  

Camouflaging has always been a part of warfare, but it was only during the two world wars that things got really creative. During the First World War, both sides kept constant watch of the enemy lines for movement, but that was not an easy task. Anyone who stuck his head above the trench parapet for more than a few seconds was shot. So the French started disguising observation posts as trees. Then they taught the British how to do it. Later, the Germans started using them too. © Amusing

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2019-04-15 16:07:00

The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz  

In 1993, while rummaging through a junk shop in Vienna, Austria, artist Oliver Croy made an extraordinary discovery—hundreds of beautiful, handcrafted architectural models each neatly wrapped in rubbish bags. Croy was so attracted by the skilled workmanship that he acquired the entire lot—nearly four hundred of them. Croy found out that the models were created by man named Peter Fritz, who worked as a clerk at a Viennese insurance company. Nothing more was known. Who Peter Fritz actually wa...

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2019-04-15 11:01:00

Why is Batman's Gotham City Named After a Nottinghamshire Village  

Gotham is a fictional city in the DC Universe but its namesake is not. Located across the Atlantic in South Nottinghamshire, this quiet, little village with a handful of houses, a church and a couple of shops, is completely unlike the city of crime and corruption it lends its name to. For starters, Gotham is actually pronounced "goat-um" (which means goat village) and not "goth-em", the way we pronounce the fictional city Batman calls home. While Batman's Gotham is a teeming metropolis...

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2019-04-12 14:40:00

Somalia's Hand Painted Storefronts  

Many businesses and shopkeepers in Somalia—which is one of the world's poorest nations—cannot afford luxuries such as backlit signs and vinyl posters to advertise their products and services. They instead rely on local artists to decorate their storefronts. Low literacy rate requires that these hand painted signs be accompanied with visual depictions of the products they sell. Photo credit: Feisal Omar/Reuters © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-04-11 16:22:00

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