Monthly Archive: March 2016

The Passport Is Surprisingly Ancient

The first mention of anything like modern-day passports comes from a Bible verse—Nehemiah 2:7-9. The Mongols issued one of the earliest passports in the form of an iron medallion presented to foreigners who were in Mongol territory and under the protection of the Khan. It wasn’t until nearly World War I that the more familiar format (which included details like height and eye color) was implemented. British government officials fought that idea for decades, claiming it was “degrading.”

The Unique Witches Of Medieval Sicily

Across most of Europe, witches were known for communing with the Devil and cursing their neighbors. Sicilian witches, though, were thought to commune with the fairy world. Most of the ills that were visited on mortals came from angry fairies, and Sicily’s fairy witches acted as go-betweens for the mortal and the fairy world, resolving disputes and curing illnesses.

How Pets And Children Can Keep Women In Abusive Situations

In the US alone, over 42 million women have been assaulted and/or stalked by a husband or boyfriend at some time in their lives. Up to 60 percent of their children are also likely to suffer abuse from their fathers. Victims may feel that they have to return to their abusers to protect their children because women rarely get sole custody and abuse can escalate toward the children otherwise. According to the Humane Society, 33 percent of abused women also stay in harmful relationships to protect their pets and 25 percent return to their abusers for the same reason. The PAWS Act was recently introduced in the US Congress to provide money for emergency shelters for pets of abuse victims.

When Monopoly Helped Allied POWs Escape In World War II

Boredom proved to be quite a problem in World War II prisoner-of-war camps, and the Germans allowed charity groups to pass on board games to the Allied prisoners in an attempt to keep them placid. A fake charity (actually M19), distributed innocent-looking Monopoly games to prisoners. Inside the board itself, the tiny hotels, and other pieces, prisoners found German money, maps printed on silk, and escape kits. These kits helped thousands of men to escape.

Can Science Measure Morality Or Courage?

A Belgian statistician invented the BMI scale in 1832, and he didn’t stop there. A proponent of “social physics,” Adolphe Quetelet believed that everything could be measured and compared, and that statistics was the key to unlocking the mysteries of social phenomenon. He spent years trying to develop scales for measuring things like morality and courage.

Your Height Could Influence How You’ll Die

A series of studies that have looked at the correlation between height and death have come across some startling statistics. While shorter people are statistically more likely to die from heart disease or stroke (possibly because of the size of the arteries), taller people have a higher chance of being diagnosed with cancer. Taller women are at a higher risk of developing blood clots than shorter ones, but many other factors—including things like lifestyle and genetics—make the whole matter incredibly complicated.

The Different Types Of Processed Foods (And What They Really Are)

When it comes to nutritional content and preparation, food comes in three different categories. Minimally processed foods—like fruits and veggies—have only minor things done to them such as washing, peeling, and removal of seeds or stems. Processed foods have undergone some process that changes their basic nutritional structure, like pasteurization. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, numerous processed foods are combined into ultra-processed foods, and that’s when things can get dangerous. Not all vitamins and minerals were created equally, especially when it comes to products that claim to be things like “fortified.” Studies now show that we get about 60 percent of our energy from ultra-processed foods, and almost 90 percent of that comes from added sugar.

Gold-Capped Teeth Have Been Around A Long, Long Time

As disgusting and un-hygienic as much of history has been, there’s one thing that many cultures have had in common—the practice of dental implants and tooth decorating. While the Maya blinged out their teeth by drilling holes and inserting minerals and stones, evidence suggests that the Celts followed the Etruscan example of sporting gold teeth. The Vikings, on the other hand, went a little simpler and just etched a series of lines into their teeth.

The Mysterious Alchemist Named Basil Valentine

Basil Valentine was supposedly a Benedictine monk born in 1394. He wrote a number of works on the medical properties of antimony (which undoubtedly killed more people than it cured) and the keys to discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, but no one’s sure who he was or if he even existed. It’s been suggested that the name is a pseudonym for other scientists and chemists of the 14th and 15th centuries, but that’s debated, too. Some of his works mention things like tobacco and the land that would become America, so we’re not even sure when these enigmatic works were written.

The Surprisingly Religious History Of Butter

For something that’s mostly overlooked until you make toast, butter has a rather ancient history. Much of it is the stuff of sacred religious rites and beliefs. In ancient Tibet, the bodies of lamas were boiled in butter before being embalmed, and butter lamps and sculptures celebrated the victories of the Buddha and were thought to help focus the mind during meditation. It was a part of Hindu sacrificial rituals, mentioned numerous times in the Bible, made from milk collected by mythical Icelandic milk thieves, and used by the Bretons as a currency and a medicine.