Rebels, Canals & Poisons (oh my)
Bat news & ancient friendship rings
The riverboat cruise I went on while visiting my parents in Georgia didn't cover much new ground for me, but I did learn about the waving girl, Florence Martus. Her father was the lighthouse keeper, and she waved at local ships for around 40 years. Apparently, when she got famous, she burned her ship logs and journals; they were private and she didn't want historians and gossip mongers reading them after she died. Anywho, here's some other fun stuff I dug up while I was out of town:
- I overhauled and expanded the whole woodworking edition after reading this explanation of how people used a drawknife for finishing wood surfaces before the invention of sandpaper.
- Here's a neat piece explaining how greater mouse-eared bats deter predators by buzzing like hornets. It's the first known case of Batesian mimicry in mammals; acoustic mimicry is very rare, and the bats sound even more like hornets to owls than they do to us. I wish I'd known about it when I wrote the bats edition!
- The first city walls in Germany were either built to protect people against Roman incursions... or to protect against raids from neighboring tribes that wanted to monopolize trade with the Romans.
- Apparently, the fact that citrus prevents scurvy was lost and rediscovered seven different times between 1400 and 1907. When I was investigating the difficulty of inventing a carnivorous diet that can lead to scurvy. Incidentally, if you missed it, there's a great link that touches on the "Kumquat Haderach" in the comments of that edition.
- This news article about the discovery of friendship ornaments in the stone age discusses how two hunter-gatherers from Europe would wear parts of the same mass-produced slate ring ring even if they travelled to different locations or were buried separately. It's a really sweet follow-up to the Jewelry edition.
The arid Nasca region of Peru is home to puquios, which are a series of spiraling holes that funnel wind underground into canals to help push water through a sophisticated hydraulic system that helped the native people survive years-long droughts. I wish I'd thought to look into underground canals for the artificial waterways and irrigation tunnels edition.
I found out about this from June 20th edition of The Prepared, a fantastic engineering newsletter, which also touched on Nan Modal, a megalithic city built on artificial basalt and coral islets; the waterways are essentially the opposite of canals, but the feats of engineering involved are still incredible, and structurally the city resembles Venice in that the water serves as a connector, not a barrier.
Shortly after I wrote the rebellions edition, about revolts triggered by environment & oppression, Kate Heartfield wrote a piece on revolutions and why they fail for Dan Koboldt's Fact in Fantasy blog. It's a fascinating look at how many revolutions cause huge political upheaval but often fail in their stated aims.
As another follow-up to the rebellions edition, early Aztec rulers typically faced rebellion — usually in the form of refusal to pay taxes — as soon as they took power, to the point where "coronation campaigns" became normal.
After last week's dams edition, my dad told me about the incredible story of the Dambusters raid. During WWII the Royal Air Force wanted to destroy the industrial heartland of Germany, and so spent years researching how to destroy three heavily-protected dams in the Ruhr valley. Specifically, they needed a bomb that could skip across the surface of the reservoir (rather than getting caught in anti-submarine nets) and then "spin down" the dam wall instead of exploding on contact with the water or bouncing off. The pilots had to fly close to the ground, at night, avoiding church spires, power lines, and enemy positions.
Nearly half of the squadron died in the raid, but although it failed on a strategic level — it didn't cause the systemic economic and industrial crash they were hoping for — it wound up being a propaganda coup for British forces, mostly because of how devastating the flooding was for civilians.
William Buckner (who writes one of my favorite newsletters, Traditions of Conflict) put together a comprehensive survey of poison use in hunter-gatherer societies that I really wish I'd known about back when I was putting together the toxins and fishing editions. It describes a South Asian practice of tossing a particular type of seed into water to drive fish out of their hiding places. There was also different type of poison that just outright stuns fish so that they float to the surface of a stream, and a discussion of how the Pomo, natives from California, had fishing chiefs who were typically different from hunting chiefs, which made me think about unusual forms of government like duarchies. Other highlights include an explanation of how Mbuti arrows are cheaper and more effective than metal tipped alternatives, and how poisoning watering holes is a useful technique for stupefying game.
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