Rosary, ca. 1500–1525 German Ivory, silver, partially gilded mounts
Each bead of the rosary represents the bust of a well-fed burgher or maiden on one side, and a skeleton on the other. The terminals, even more graphically, show the head of a deceased man, with half the image eaten away from decay. Such images served as reminders that life is fleeting and that leading a virtuous life as a faithful Christian is key to salvation.
Wojtek (1942–1963) was a Syrian brown bear cub found in Iran and adopted by soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. To get him on a British transport ship when the unit sailed from Egypt to fight with the British 8th Army in the Italian campaign, he was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a private and was listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Wojtek assisted his unit in transporting ammunition, never dropping a single crate. Following demobilization on November 15, 1947, Wojtek was given to the Edinburgh Zoo. There Wojtek spent the rest of his days, often visited by journalists and former Polish soldiers, some of whom would toss him cigarettes, which he then proceeded to smoke. Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 22.
Pictured: Wojtek with a Polish soldier, ca. 1945.
Ancient Animal Mummies
Wrapped in linen and carefully laid to rest, animal mummies hold intriguing clues to life and death in ancient Egypt. One hundred years ago, the many thousands of mummified animals that turned up at sacred burial sites throughout Egypt were just things to be cleared away to get at the good stuff. Few people studied them, and their importance was generally unrecognized.
In the century since then, archaeology has become less of a trophy hunt and more of a science. Excavators now realize that much of their sites’ wealth lies in the multitude of details about ordinary folks—what they did, what they thought, how they prayed. Animal mummies are a big part of that.
Mark Your Calendars for 12 of the World’s Weird Rites of Spring
Winter’s over and spring is here, are you ready for the fire, snakes, and elephant processions? Here’s your calendar for how to have the strangest and most wonderful April and May with 12 festivals and celebrations from around the world.
Phantom islands are islands that were believed to exist, and appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but were later removed after they were proved to be nonexistent. Phantom islands usually stem from the reports of early sailors exploring new realms. Some arose through the mislocation of actual islands; errors in geography; navigational errors; the misidentification of icebergs, fog banks, or to optical illusions. Other ”errors” were later thought to be intentional, probably for financial gain in some way or another. [Source]
The image is of a 1623 map depicting an island called Brasil, or Hy-Brazil, just off the West coast of Ireland. Like many other phantom islands, the cartographic existence of Hy-Brasil was based on a combination of flimsy legend, faulty observations, wishful thinking, and outright mendacity. Its first recorded appearance on a map dates from around 1325. Sometimes fantasy became indistinguishable from fact: Hy-Brasil was rumoured to be continuously obscured by mist, except for one day every seven years. It must have been on one of those days in 1674 that captain John Nisbet, piercing a sea fog, anchored before the island, and sent a party of four ashore. The amazed sailors spent an entire day on Hy-Brasil, meeting an wizened old man who provided them with gold and silver. A follow-up expedition by a captain Alexander Johnson also found Hy-Brasil, and confirmed captain Nisbet’s findings. But thereafter, Hy-Brasil reverted to its elusive self. [Source]
While some gardeners might now throw in a gnome statue among their flowers and shrubberies, back in the 18th century wealthy estate owners were hiring real people to dress as druids, grow their hair long, and not wash for years. These hired hermits would lodge in shacks, caves, and other hermitages constructed in a rustic manner in rambling gardens. It was a practice mostly found in England, although it made it up to Scotland and over to Ireland as well.
Gordon Campbell, a Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester, recently published The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome with Oxford University Press. It’s the first book to delve into the history of the ornamental hermit in Georgian England. As Campbell explains in this video for the book:
Recruiting a hermit wasn’t always easy. Sometimes they were agricultural workers, and they were dressed in a costume, often in a druid’s costume. There was no agreement on how druids dressed, but in some cases they wore what we would call a dunce’s cap. It’s a most peculiar phenomenon, and understanding it is one of the reasons why I have written this book.
A female “vampire” unearthed in a mass grave near Venice, Italy, may have been accused of wearing another evil hat: a witch’s.
The 16th-century woman was discovered among medieval plague victims in 2006. Her jaw had been forced open by a brick—an exorcism technique used on suspected vampires in Europe at the time.
The discovery marked the first time archaeological remains had been interpreted as those of an alleged vampire, project leader Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist at the University of Florence in Italy, said when the skull was first revealed in March 2009.
New investigations have now shed light on who this “vampire” was, why people may have suspected her of dabbling in the dark arts, and even what she looked like.
"There is a piece of history to rewrite, to see this individual again after 500 years and also try to understand why the myth of vampire started," Borrini says in a new National Geographic Channel documentary.
Borrini found the vampire skull while digging up mass graves on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo.
Belief in vampires was rampant in the Middle Ages, mostly because the process of decomposition was not well understood, Borrini says.
For instance, as the human stomach decays, it releases a dark “purge fluid.” This bloodlike liquid can flow freely from a corpse’s nose and mouth.
Since tombs and mass burials were often reopened during plagues to add new bodies, Italian gravediggers saw these decomposing remains and may have confused purge fluid with traces of vampire victims’ blood.
In addition, the fluid sometimes moistened the burial shroud near the corpse’s mouth so that the cloth sagged into the jaw. This could create tears in the cloth that made it seem as if the corpse had been chewing on its shroud.
Vampires were thought by some to be the causes of plagues, and the superstition took root that shroud-chewing was the “magical way” that vampires infected people, Borrini said.
Inserting objects—such as bricks and stones—into the mouths of alleged vampires was thought to halt the spread of disease.
To flesh out more details about the Venice vampire, Borrini assembled a team of scientists.
Paleonutritionists pulverized some of the woman’s remains—discovered along with the skull—to look for certain elements in food that settle in the bones and endure after death.
The team found that the woman had eaten mostly vegetables and grains, suggesting a lower-class diet.
DNA analysis revealed that the woman was European, and a forensic odontologist ascertained the woman’s age by examining the skull’s long canine teeth with an advanced digital x-ray device.
The results showed that the woman was between 61 and 71 years old when she died. Borrini was “quite shocked” by this finding—most women didn’t reach such advanced ages in the 16th century, he says in the documentary.
In medieval Europe, when fear of witches was widespread, many people believed the devil gave witches magical powers, including the ability to cheat death.
That means such a relatively old woman—suspected after death of being a vampire—may have been accused in life of being a witch, the researchers say.
But old age alone probably wouldn’t spur an accusation of witchcraft, said Jason Coy, an expert in European witchcraft and superstition at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, who was not part of the new study.
Though average life expectancy in 16th-century Europe was low, around 40, that doesn’t mean most people died at 40, he said via email. It means infant mortality was high, bringing down the average. If people lived past childhood, they stood a good chance of living into their 60s.
So the Venice vampire was old, but not “freakishly so,” Coy said.
Rather, Europe’s misogynistic society specifically linked old women with witchcraft, because people “assumed that old women—especially widows—were poor, lonely, weak, and unhappy, and thus could be lured by the devil’s promises of wealth, sex, and power into forming a pact with him,” Coy said.
At the height of the European witch-hunts, between A.D. 1550 and 1650, more than 100,000 people were tried as witches and 60,000 were executed—the vast majority of them old women.
Germany was the witch-hunt heartland, Coy said. Italy was relatively “mild” in its treatment of witches, although the country was also rife with superstitions and protective charms.
In many historical references of the time, witches were said to eat children—possibly the origin of the Hansel and Gretel story, he added.
"So you could say that there is a tenuous link between flesh-eating zombies like your ‘Venetian vampire’ and witches: They were both feared for breaking the ultimate taboo—eating human flesh."
For the last step in forensic archaeologist Borrini’s work, he called on 3-D imaging experts to produce a digital model of the skull.
He then put markers where muscle attachments would have existed to reconstruct and rebuild the Venice vampire’s face. The result was the face of an “ordinary woman,” which perhaps brings the accused some “historical justice” centuries after her death, he said.
"It’s very strange to [leave] her now," he lamented, "because after this year it’s sort of a friendship that’s created between me and her."
Fairies, Nymphs, & Demons - A Bizarre Collection of Strange Specimens
The specimens of Alex CF feature an incredible collection of cryptozoology. His page features amazing stories behind his collection that include descriptions of demons, fairies, nymphs, and other assorted oddities. His pieces are for sale.