In 1836 a missionary in New Zealand learned of a strange artefact that had been in Māori possession for several generations: a bronze bell with an unfamiliar script. The script was Tamil, the bell came from Sri Lanka, and it was hundreds of years old.
From the 15th to the 19th century CE, the Akan used sets of ornate statues as a measurement system for weighing gold dust, but also encoding and reinforcing cultural knowledge at the same time.
In 1687 Ottoman-controlled Athens, the Venetians blew up the Parthenon. The Ottomans built a mosque from its ruins.
When a samurai received a new katana, the sharpness of the sword could be tested by attacking a random civilian or (after that was banned) by slicing a criminal or corpse.
The body of famed astronomer Tycho Brahe was dug up twice (in 1901 and 2010) to find out what killed him. The conclusion: he died of excessive politeness.
Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a seminal text on education and raising children. He also abandoned five of his own children soon after their births.
The national canal network of Britain powered its Industrial Revolution, then fell into disuse, and then rose again in the late 20th century.
King Gustav III of Sweden was warned of assassins at his masquerade ball. He went anyway.
Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli once teamed up to steal the Arno river.
Isaac Newton, giant of math and physics, undercover agent for the Royal Mint, faced off against William Chaloner, the notorious forger, tongue-padder, and dildo-merchant. [2 of 2]
Precious metals could be stolen from coins by clipping, plugging, or sweating them. It’s a good thing Isaac Newton was on the case. [1 of 2]
Sudden bouts of contagious dancing plagued pre-modern Europe – afflicting up to a thousand people at a time.
Île des Faisans is part of France from February to July only. Isla de los Faisanes is part of Spain from August to January only. They’re the same island.
Between 1746 and 1792, seventeen students of Carl Linnaeus set out across the globe to collect plant and animal samples for his new taxonomy. Seven of these apostles died on the trip, and one would betray Linnaeus.
The phrase “Here Be Dragons” actually appears only once on a historical map, on the early 16th century Hunt-Lenox Globe. And actual dragons live there.