Levitating Caesar, a Wild Honeymoon, and a Whole Lotta Death

This week on History Around the Web, find out how Elizabeth Bennet afforded all those books, how King’s used a bit of magic to wow their subjects, and how ancient people built things (without the help of extra terrestrials, okay):


Vintage Pictures From a Dramatic, Five-Year Honeymoon Around the World

One imagines Eleanor and Harris Phelps must have traveled with a great deal of luggage. Things tend to pile up during half a decade of world travel: clothes, toiletries, visas, curios … and, in their case, more than a thousand souvenir photographs.

Old real life drama is the best drama. Eleanor and Harris Phelps were wealthy high-society New York scions in the later 1800’s. Eleanor came from Old Money and married the ambitious lawyer Harris, much to the chagrin of her family. After marrying for real (They initially eloped because clearly these two are wild and rebellious), they went on a whirlwind romp around the world and took as much photo-graphical evidence as they could. Back then, it seemed an easy feat for the wealthy–the pair got up to all corners of the world. But, naturally, what good would a wild ride be without some serious drama? Apparently, the honeymoon phase ended rather abruptly when Eleanor enjoyed some flirtations with a few officers in Tehran and Harris wasn’t having any of that (Despite the fact that his wife was paying for the whole trip, but I digress). They fought, made up, and continued on their trek but not without being chased across the border into Russia because this story needs a bit more color if it’s going to ever get optioned for a Netflix series (PLEASE). The drama doesn’t end there…lawsuits, kidnapping, war. Seriously. This needs a small-screen retelling. Check out the article for the full story!

How does a preindustrial society put a 13-ton hat on a statue?

As if the Easter Island statues weren’t enigmatic enough, a few of them are wearing hats-6.5-foot-wide, 13-ton cylinders of cindery red volcanic rock called scoria. The hats are as much of an enigma as the statues themselves. For starters, archaeologists aren’t actually sure they’re supposed to be hats at all.

Say it with me folks, “stone ramps not aliens”. Repeat, repeat, repeat!

Archaeologists Dig Up Mass Grave of Soldiers Crushed by Napoleon’s Troops

DEUTSCH-WAGRAM, Austria -Just under the topsoil of the farm fields in this small town northeast of Vienna, there are traces of one of the biggest battles of the Napoleonic Wars. According to some estimates, 55,000 soldiers died when Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops clashed with the Austrian army during the Battle of Wagram between July 5 and 6, 1809.

Man, the Napoleonic Era was particularly gruesome. One of the biggest battle sites is finally getting a good sweep by Archaeologists, and the results are about has bone-chilling as you’d expect. They’ve discovered around 50 skeletal remains so far, with data suggesting the age range being from 16-30, with traces of scurvy, inflammation from exhaustion related to long marches, pneumonia, and other infectious diseases. There’s also an interesting comparison between bodies found at a battle a few weeks prior to this one–suggesting particular wearing as there is evidence of respiratory ailments among the skeletons found at the Battle of Wagram site. With another 54,950 or so of skeletons to find, I’m sure we’ll have even more interesting observations to come.

How Lizzie Bennet Got Her Books | JSTOR Daily

There are plenty of mentions of novels and popular literature in Jane Austen’s books. But books were expensive in the early nineteenth century, and women weren’t necessarily encouraged to read them. How, then, did her heroines get their book fix? Literature scholar Lee Erickson uncovers the frivolous (and serious) secrets of circulating libraries.

A $100 for a book?! No thanks, I’d rather go to a library. Thank goodness the Regency era had some kind of proto-Netflix-esque subscription membership based…thing. According to scholarship, these were like if Barnes & Noble also doubled as a Golf Club, a place were wealthy folks could hang around socially while hob-nobbing with the latest reads. And while women weren’t exactly encouraged to read at the time, making an event of the whole thing was something they could surely write-off to their husbands or fathers. Elizabeth Bennett was probably not as unwell-off as she seemed.

Why Do Genes Suggest Most Men Died Off 7,000 Years Ago?

Modern men’s genes suggest that something peculiar happened 5,000 to 7,000 years ago: Most of the male population across Asia, Europe and Africa seems to have died off, leaving behind just one man for every 17 women. This so-called population “bottleneck” was first proposed in 2015, and since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what could’ve caused it.

A lot of men died off according to genetic evidence and researchers weren’t exactly sure why. The latest study and theory suggests the reason being that men in clans were murdering the hell out of each other, decimating entire familial lines. I mean, yeah, that’d probably do it.

The Marvelous Automata of Antiquity | JSTOR Daily

Walking into the throne room of the palace of Constantine VII, visitors were treated to an elaborate special-effects spectacle. First, they passed a golden tree, with gilt leaves fluttering and branches bedecked with twittering golden birds. Next, they came to the throne, framed by two gilded lions, their tails thumping the ground.

Practical effects being used to astonish and dismay have been around for a loooong time. Check out this article for some well-known examples from antiquity, including a levitating Julius Caesar!


Ancient Egypt: The Miracle of Contraception Part 1


Ahhh, contraception. One of the most well conceived scientific conceptions of all time…see what I did there?

Women have been trying to wrestle control back from their ovaries since the dawn of civilization. What with a near consistent almost worldwide patriarchy and, if Game of Thrones is to be believed, the hourly struggle for a dude to keep his breeches laced up, the threat of unwanted pregnancy has always haunted the female psyche. Sometimes a woman wants to do other things, guys. Like be a super Senet master or…uh…something else. Nah, but for real, as hard as it is to believe, contraception and preventing pregnancy has been around longer than the idea that women’s purpose is to marry and baby-make.

Even though the debate rages today on just how much freedom a woman is “allowed” to exert over her body, know that if ever one so much as uses the word “tradition” to explain why any form of birth control should be prevented from a modern day and supposedly educated populace, swift kick that fool in the jugular, yah get me?

Because if they don’t already know, the Egyptians have been getting down for ever. I mean, really, what else is there to do on the Nile’s off season?

The Ancient Egyptian recipe for preventing pregnancy (Because frak you, Isis!):

First of all, ladies, in the off chance that your conservative minded government prevents access to the methods I will describe below or if you get stuck with a “blessing from God” in the disguise of a sex crime, you’ve got the best natural and free birth control possible–Breastfeeding!

Women were known to extend their breastfeeding for many years! During lactation, progesterone fails to build up like in a normal menstrual cycle and thus ovulation can be prevented by keeping that kid dependent on the boob! Side note: Perhaps this is why royalty had wet nurses? Not just for social standing implications but to encourage every opportunity of producing an heir?

If the thought of childbirth turns you off though, luckily we have a papyrus from 1850 BC known as the “Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus” which details other means of birth control. (Check it out here)

“Another prescription hin of honey, sprinkle over her womb, this is to be done on natron bed.”

This was a substance mixed with honey and sodium carbonate which was applied inside the vagina. Couldn’t find any modern opinions on if this one in particular worked but than again I admittedly didn’t look hard enough.

One other substance they did use was an acacia gum which was also placed inside the vagina. This does, in fact, contain spermatocidal properties. Compounds of the substance produce lactic acid anhydride which is today used in some preventive jellies. Point goes to Egypt!

The most interesting and somewhat shocking suggestion given by the papyrus for a pessary (for those without a vagina, doctorate, or a girlfriend–a pessary acts as a physical barrier between the cervix and any invading sperm) is as follows:

“For preventing […] crocodile dung, chopped over HsA and awt-liquid, sprinkle […]”

Ignore the jumbled untranslated Egyptian text because, yes, that says crocodile dung.

As I try not to imagine dealing with that whole business, science at least puts my mind a little at ease with why anyone would consider such a thing.

It has been suggested by some modern historians that not only would the feces most likely effectively block seminal fluid at the os of the cervix but that it could also change the pH level.

Not good enough an excuse?

Well, John Riddle puts forth the suggestion that inserting feces into a woman’s vagina would, in fact, be an excellent form of contraception because…well, it would keep the boys away, wouldn’t it?

There’s also the idea that such a practice may refer to an incident in Egyptian mythology where the deity Set attempted to harm Isis while she was pregnant. He was typically associated with a crocodile (Not to be confused with Sobek) so, crocodile =/= pregnant.

Either way, I guess they had their reasons.

Any of these sound good to you, ladies? D:

Fact check it, yo!

Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. John Riddle. 1994.

Economic Transformations and General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth.“Historical Record on the Control of Family Size.” Richard G. Lipsey, Kenneth I. Carlaw, Clifford T. Beker. 2005.

Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. 1850 BC. http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/med/birthpapyrus.html