Tasty History: Chocolate

Hello guys! It has been a really long time since we have had time to write a proper blog entry. But now hat we have got the podcast up and running and the team is reconfigured, it is time to deliver. And, our first topic since the formation fof Nu History couldn’t be more delicious: Chocolate! Whether you like it dark, with milk, hot, cold, as a bar or a drink, I believe there is a chocolate for every kind of person. So, today I will give you an insight into how chocolate came to be. For this, we must first travel thousands of years into the past to one of my favourite historical areas: pre-Hispanic Meso America.

The Origins of Cacao

Just to clarify; chocolate is a product derivate from cacao or cocoa beans. The actual word for chocolate comes from the Aztec xocolatl, which meant bitter water. However, cacao was used way before the Aztecs to create indeed bitter tasting beverages made with cocoa and often used for either ritual or medicinal purposes. In a recent study (2018) published by Sonia Zarillo et al. trace back the earliest recorded used of cacao to 5300 years ago, in the area of Santa Ana, (Ecuador). Coe and Coe also state that the Olmecs had domesticated cacao plants and used its produce for medicinal purposes and religious rituals, and we have ample evidence of this from the area of Veracruz (1900–900 BCE). But the most extensive knowledge of Meso-American culture that we have regarding cacao comes from the Mayan culture, (500-800CE) where there is an abundance of ceramics that depicts its varied uses. It is also the Mayans from who we get the word cacao as kakaw. Kakaw was essentially a gloop of cacao made into a drink and the most renown discovery of this type of product is found at Rio Azul. This is the site where in the 90s the scientists from Hershey Corporation first identified the original chemical signature of cacao. By the time the Aztec empire took control of most of Meso America, things had changed. It seems that the Aztecs didn’t actually grow their own cacao already by the 1400s, and instead they used to obtain it as an import, often paid as a tax from areas they conquered. They also started drinking it cold and branching its uses, so that in Aztec culture cacao was an aphrodisiac according to Szogyi.

Cocoa Beans Comes to Europe

The beans were brought back to Europe by the cargo ships from the Americas. It was in fact Columbus who originally shipped them to Spain, however they got little interest from the public until much later when chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court. Despite it being first found by the Spaniards, the success of cocoa and chocolate in Europe would come from other nations, two main rivals of Spain in fact: the English and the Dutch. Cocoa was prominently imported during the reign of Charles I and during the 16th century, it was actually used as a drug to solve tooth decay and dysentery. Moreover, one of the physicians for Queen Anne, Hans Sloane, seemingly saw Jamaican workers during his visit to the island back in 1680 mixing cocoa powder with breast milk as a form drink, so he decided to borrow the concept (but with cow’s milk) for medicinal purposes once more. At this stage, the history of chocolate takes a dark turn as during the early modern period many African slaves were used in the cocoa plantations that the English, Dutch and French had in the transatlantic colonies. And so, with cheap labour and the invention of the first mechanic cocoa grinder in Bristol (1729) the European obsession with chocolate – and slavery – continued all the way to the 19th century when things changed once again.

Dutch Production, English Consumerism: Cocoa in the 19th Century

The transformation of cacao into the product that we could recognise nowadays only happened in the 19th century thanks to a clever Dutch chemist. Coenrad van Houten came up with the idea of removing cacao butter and added baking powder to the mix all successfully achieved by his creation: the cocoa press (1828). He had previously invented a alkaline solution that made chocolate less bitter to the taste, so the “Dutch Cocoa” invention made it a lot more marketable. Interestingly most the cocoa consumed in the UK during the 19th century was produced in the Netherlands, making this a very profitable industry for the Dutch. In Victorian Britain the first chocolate houses opened in the area of Mayfair and the concept drove English society into an absolute craze. In fact, at the royal apartments in Hampton Court we know that Willian III, as well as George I and II had a dedicated chocolate kitchen. Lizzie Collingham argues however that during this period much of the cocoa powder used in these establishments was heavily adultered with other products. Amongst these feature things like lentils or tapioca, which actually made what they served more similar to a cocoa soup rather than a cocoa drink.  However by then, the price of cocoa dropped becoming more affordable and an easily available product in many houses. Cadbury’s chocolate in the UK was a great conduit for this phenomenon. Still popular today, the first shop was opened in Birmingham in 1824 by John Cadbury. Collingham again adds that the most influential brand that contributed to the popularisation of cocoa amongst the working clasess was not Cadbury, but the now forgotten Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa. Vi-Cocoa distributed a blend of cocoa, kola nut, malt and hops that made it incredibly popular between 1895 and 1910. In her book The Hungry Empire, she says that Cadbury’s target audience would have most likely been middle classes women, whilst Vi-Cocoa was targeting the working class man with an alternative to tea.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Daniel Peters enhanced Victorian chocolate by using powdered milk in the beverages and therefore creating milk chocolate, and instant national favourite. Dutch cocoa balanced bitterness reached a new height when the Swiss chocolatier Rodolpe Lindt (1879) used his conching machine to turn cocoa butter into an improved product, with better texture and flavour. The manufacturing advances of the time also allowed for Lindt’s product to be easier to distribute and reach new markets, so Lindt was a key player in changing chocolate into a food item rather than a drink. Meanwhile in America? Cacao beans were also used as a currency up until the 19th century in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Brazil. Funnily enough, these were easy to fake: empty casks were often filled with soil to pretend they were ripe cacao beans.

So as you can see the journey of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate is a varied and multicultural one. From its origins in America to its developments in Europe kakaw has adopted many forms and purposes. And, although I certainly believe most of us don’t use it as a medicine for tooth decay…I think we can probably agree it is a medicine for the soul and, as recent scientific research confirms, good for our mental health. With this history of chocolate, and the many more to come articles and podcasts regarding food history, I am trying to send a message of hope and unity. I truly believe that food brings people together, and in this day an age of conflict and division, humans and human history could do more with interconnectivity and hope.

I hope you join us on the next one 🙂

The Evolution of European Sword Design – From the Romans to Normans

My aim with this topic is to examine the development of European swords through the Medieval period and into the Renaissance, along the way looking at all the details that change throughout that timeframe. I also intend to look at the possible reasons behind the gradual transformations of the sword, be they caused by changes in technology, society, combat styles, or even fashion.

Today I will tackle the first part of this period up until around the 11th to 12th century. Before we go straight into the Early Medieval period however, we do need to find where our starting point originates. Like many things in Medieval Europe, the influence of the Romans is never too far off, and in the case of swords it is no different. The Roman Empire is famous for its use of the ‘gladius’, a relatively short sword with an acute point optimized for stabbing. While this makes for a very deadly weapon when used in a well organised tight formation of troops, all of which would have used the very large ‘scutum’ shield, this sword isn’t incredibly well suited in other situations. A different type of sword started to enter Roman service that was particularly favoured by Celtic cavalry auxiliaries in the early Imperial period. This was the ‘Spatha’, a longer, narrower sword that is more optimised for cutting, and was seemingly inspired by long Celtic Iron Age swords. Initially the spatha was a cavalry sword, suited to the job due to the longer reach it afforded the wielder; up to 100cm as opposed to the 65-85cm of the gladius. Eventually however, in the later Imperial period from around the 3rd Century AD, and until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the spatha became the primary sword of the infantry. There is still debate on the reasons for this change, with possible theories stemming from the shift in demographic of the Late Roman Army. It appears that more Germanic peoples made up a greater portion of the armies, many of whom even commanded whole legions of their own culture. This may have caused the fighting style to change, with looser formations, lighter more manoeuvrable shields, and these longer swords to take advantage of the greater freedom and space in the melee. Additionally, these Germanic people could have simply chosen to fight with weapons more familiar to them, as the spatha is more similar to Northern European swords of the time. Whatever the reasons, it is ultimately this change that would be the basis for the vast majority of European sword development through the medieval period.

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Examples of gladius and spatha hilts from the 1st to 3rd centry AD

Towards the end of the Western Roman Empire, and until around the 8th Century we have what is known as the Migration Period. Throughout these few hundred years we see very little change in the basic design of the sword from the spatha. The migration period sword is still somewhat different in that the guard and pommel shapes change slightly from the more rounded Roman styles. Initially the guard and pommel pieces seem to become more minimal, with some being simple flat bars, ovals or discs, resulting in swords that have almost no pommel and simply a bar to help retain grip. Early on in this period most of the hilt construction appears to consist of organic materials, generally wood, as well as perhaps some horn and bone elements, very similar to Roman swords. As we move closer to the early medieval period the guards and pommels seem to feature metal more prominently, especially on the more ornate examples that are also heavily jewelled. The metals are mostly gold, silver or copper alloys, although these metals survive much better than Iron, so this could be skewing our statistics. The metal on these swords is mostly in the form of ornate plates covering parts of the grip, or plates in the pommel and guard construction that from a sandwich around a core of organic material.

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Examples of Migration Period sword hilts from 300-400 AD

It is later in the migration period, more specifically going into the Vendel period and the time of the Merovingian dynasty, that these swords start to change again in subtle but significant ways. We start to see pommels changing in shape due to end caps being fitted over the flat bar piece that already exists. The reason for this change is fairly straightforward and is most likely to do with the way sword hilts are constructed. Every sword is made as a single piece in essence, with a thin bar section continuing from the bottom of the blade called the ‘tang’, which is where the sword is held. This keeps the whole sword from having any significant weak points where any joins could be. From there the hilt is basically just slotted onto the tang in order to make the sword more comfortable and easy to hold. With the previous migration period examples the tang was mostly fitted straight to the plate at the pommel end of the hilt, with the affixing method such as rivet or simply the exposed tang being peened. What we get in the later migration period is the appearance of larger end caps on top of this plate, which seemingly started to be used as a way of adding more decorative elements to the hilt without the fragile materials interfering with the strength of the construction. The prominent example of this pommel style is known as the ‘pyramid pommel’. These pommels, and the swords in general, are amazing examples of craftsmanship of the period, with gold elements holding finely shaped garnets in the cloisonné technique, and sometimes added filigree and different textures added under the stones to give different reflections. It is from these end caps that we start to see pommel design turn into the familiar shapes of the Viking age.

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Modern reproduction of the Sutton Hoo sword featuring a typical pyramid pommel

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Gold pommel end caps from the Staffordshire hoard.

Overall it appears that the place of the sword shifted somewhat in the migration period, with it becoming a more high-class weapon that only the very elite could afford. Gone were the days of the large standardised army of the Roman Empire. Small groups and petty kingdoms could scarcely afford to outfit many of their troops with this expensive weapon. Instead we see the spear return to prominence, if it ever left. Much less Iron was required for spears, and they could be far more effective in a basic shieldwall of less disciplined troops than the sword. This could explain why so many examples from this period are so incredibly ornate, when earlier and later swords are generally far more utilitarian.

From the migration period we move into the early medieval period. Possibly also referred to as the ‘Viking age’ or the ‘Carolingian period’. Many of the examples of swords that we will see in this period are commonly known as ‘viking swords’, although very similar styles were used across Europe, such as in Francia and Britain prominently. Again the changes we see are rather minor in overall appearance, but they set some significant precedents that develop later into the medieval period. The first point to be made is that there certainly were the ornate styles of Migration period sword being used well into this time, just as these ‘viking swords’ could be seen after their time of prominence too.  The most striking change we see as we advance in time is that the guards and pommels of swords start to be made entirely of iron or steel. There would still have been many rich examples featuring precious metals and other decoration, but for the most part the organic elements are now confined to the grip alone, which is usually made of leather wrapped wood, or sometimes made of bone, horn, and even wrapped in wire. The hilt styles of these swords appear very similar in shape to earlier examples, with flat bars against the hand on both ends, resulting in a very secure grip on the sword. The pommels are also still made with an added end cap, often still hollow, covering the end of the tang. Although they do start to simplify, with less individual parts until they combine into a single piece as this period comes to a close.

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Wheeler’s typology of viking age sword hilts. The types are in roughly chronological order.

An important part of the development of swords is of course in the quality of the steel being used for the blade. While I couldn’t possibly go into all the details of the metallurgy and smithing processes that combine to make a good sword, now is a good point to mention the basic approach to swordsmithing in this period, as a big change is about to occur. Swords of this early medieval period are famous for having very intricately made ‘pattern welded’ blades. The term ‘damascus steel’ is commonly used for this style of blade construction, but in this case is a misnomer. From the Roman period, through the migration and early part of the Viking age, pattern welded sword blades, and those of other weapons, were very common. This method is essentially a way of making a high quality blade that is strong, flexes but does not bend, and has few weak spots. This was a necessary technique due to large quantities of quality iron not being readily available, as well as the ability to melt steel in order to homogenize it into a uniform structure not being prevalent. So what pattern welding does is it allows you to take pieces of steel of differing qualities and form them into bars or rods and twist them together into various patterns, some of which can be highly decorative as well as functional. The different steels are then ‘forge welded’ together, basically meaning they were heated to a high temperature and hammered into shape until they fuse together. Early forms of this technique had been done for hundreds of years, possibly even by early Celtic smiths, through a method known as ‘piling’ which is mostly just forge welding various pieces together at random or in simple lines. The point here is that by the early Medieval period, pattern welding techniques had been around for centuries and had essentially been perfected. A smith making these complex patterns had reached the peak of forging technology. The significant change that happens in this period is not to do with forging technology, but with smelting technology, which is the earlier stage where the metal is extracted from Iron ore and refined. What actually changed here is the type of furnace being used in this process, going from a type called a ‘bloomery’ to the new ‘blast furnace’, essentially allowing for higher temperatures. This change is commonly thought to have happened around 1000 AD, but it appears to being around 800 AD, so essentially the entirety of the ‘Viking age’ is covered by the slow process of pattern welded swords being replaced by new single steel swords. Many methods did carry on further however, such as the use of forge welding different steels together, notably done to have a softer or more flexible body to the sword, with harder steel on the edges. It is important to mention that the majority of this change comes out of the Carolingian or Frankish Empire, and frequently the high quality swords made there were sought after in surrounding regions, including Scandinavia. This continues to include the famous swords inscribed with the name ‘ULFBERHT’ that seemingly denoted the highly advanced steel being used.

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Excellent examples of pattern welded blades. Made by Patrick Bárta at templ.net

Having covered the material changes of the sword going through the early medieval period, we should finally look at some of the significant changes that occur in the shape of swords and their hilts again before we get to the High Middle Ages post 11th century. The development I mention here is most likely linked to changes in combat techniques that also come from the Carolingian Empire. The whole period I have covered here, from the Roman Empire, through the migration period and the early medieval, has always featured the sword alongside its best friend; the shield. Not just any shield however, but specifically the centre-gripped or boss held shield, a shield held in the middle in a single fist, protected by the metal dome of a ‘boss’, the Viking round shield and the Roman scutum are good examples. Eventually this type of shield gave way to the strapped shield in its various forms, with straps attaching the shield to the forearm. There are several reasons why this change of shield may have taken place, one being the ability to free the hand while still retaining the shield being more suitable for cavalry, an element of the Frankish army that became more prominent in this period, as they were credited with being the origin of the medieval knight. Also, although the centre-gripped shield was more manoeuvrable in certain ways, and more offensive and allowing for greater reach, it could be easily manipulated by the opponent by pivoting the shield around the wielder’s gripping hand. The first strapped shields of this period came in a dome shape which could glance off attacks rather than being pivoted, and the strapping to the arm also helped with this. Ultimately this type of shield would appear to be more useful and sturdy in tight formations of troops, as the face of the shield could more safely be pointed toward the enemy while giving greater cover to the formation from missiles.

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9th Century manuscript image showing dome shields held close to the body.

So why is all this detail on shields relevant to the use of swords? Well the key point here is that these new shields being strapped to the arm were no longer held forward along with the sword hand in combat. Also previous shields would essentially do most of the work in creating openings in the opponent’s defences, and then the sword would be quickly used to exploit them. The strapped shield can no longer function this way, which both leaves the sword hand now more vulnerable, and the sword now being made to do more of the work in combat, rather than just waiting for the time to strike. Dealing with that last point first, the sword would now be more likely to encounter other swords and weapons, and result in opponents entering a ‘bind’, where swords are used to apply pressure on and manipulate each other. This is what you may think of when you imagine proper ‘swordfighting’. So how does the sword adapt to this? First of all we can see the shape of the pommel and guard changing. The pommel will start to become more rounded, and smaller in some cases, allowing the sword to be gripped more comfortably in a point forward position with the blade more in line with the forearm. This allows for the swordsman to exert greater pressure in the bind, as well as attack with the point more easily. The previous method of gripping the sword in more of a right angle to the arm, while seeming more secure in the hand, had a weak point at the grip itself when attempting to apply pressure rather than going for the quick chop. The grip will also change overall by becoming slightly longer, as well as both the pommel and guard starting to curve away from the hand in some examples, all of which gives the hand more room to grip the sword more comfortably in this more forward position. Lastly, to deal with the issue of vulnerability of the hand, the guard of the sword will now truly become a crossguard. Early examples begin to have slightly longer guard pieces, until they eventually become much longer, as well as thinner to help accommodate for the weight as they get larger.

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Examples of late 10th to 11th century swords. Made by albion-swords.com

It is these developments all together that start to bring us towards the ‘arming’ sword of the high middle ages, the most prominent of which we may know of at the period around 1000 AD would be those famously wielded by the Normans, such as in the Bayeux tapestry. The improvement in smelting technology gives the appearance of a single-steel sword, and the new requirements in combat and use of different shields start to lengthen the grip, change the pommel first into slightly rounded or ‘brazil nut’ shapes, before the iconic circular pommel, and then the true ‘crossguard’ comes into existence.

With this important transition taking place, I will stop there. Keep an eye out for my next post on this topic where swords start to evolve more drastically and rapidly throughout the rest of the medieval and following renaissance period, including changes to the overall shape and length of the swords, the first longswords and two-handed swords, and various blade types meant for specific purposes.

The Enchantress of Numbers: Ada Lovelace

I am sure by now you all know I am not the most techy person in the world, but I still find this an interesting area, particularly if it comes wrapped in a majestic, incredible woman with the smarts of a genius. Yes, I am of course talking of the only legitimate child of Lord Byron: Ada Lovelace. I was seriously blown away by her knowledge and contribution to modern-day science, and I think we should be talking more about her! So here we go.

Ada was born in 1815 as the only child fruit of the relationship between Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke; as we know he was a serial polygamous lover and the vast majority of his children were born out-of-wedlock from his lovers and mistresses. This relationship in fact, is very short lived and the couple separate just a few weeks after the birth of their daughter. Byron never got to meet the woman his child became, as he died away in Greece when Ada was only 8 years old. They never really met, so Ada really grew up away from her father’s influence. This probably worked out well for Miss Milbanke as she was seriously concerned her daughter would turn up to be like her father: she thought Ada would inherit some sort of poetic madness just like her stranged husband and that would ruin her…(Genetics, huh?). But interestingly enough, little Ada showed from a very early age an interest in machines. It is because of this reason and her utter bitterness towards Lord Byron that Annabella decided to promote her daughter’s education in the field of science, particularly mathematics. Ada grew under the tutelage of Mary Sommerville, the famous astronomer who  expanded the girls curiosity into rational thinking and the complexity that was the universe. And it is thanks to her tutor that Ada gets to meet the most influential person in her life: her mentor Charles Babbage. Although becoming a reason for gossip at the time, the relationship between then an elderly Babbage and a very young Ada was strictly intellectual. However, it could be argued that they were, indeed, very fond of each others company, but not in the way people thought of it. If one considers her family lineage, and the fact people were very aware this was, in fact, Lord Byron’s daughter, in addition to Ada’s apparent great beauty, perhaps one could understand the nature of said rumours…Nevertheless, you could say that the Lovelace – Babbage companionship was really a family replacement one. Babbage had lost his children; Ada never knew her father, so they found in each other that perfect person to compliment their hearts as well as their minds.

And it is then when Ada’s brilliance really flourishes. Babbage gave her the task to translate the work of Luigi Menabrea on the Analytical Engine of Babbage. But she went so much further than just doing a translation of the work: in addition Ada introduced notes and sketches on how to use this machine. Thus, she created in many ways a new piece of work, 3 times longer than the original. Finished in 1843, Ada’s work was presented as Notes by the Translator…Sketches of the Analytical Engine. This piece also provides an insight into what Ada understood to be the true potential of such piece of equipment. In here she develops the theory that Babbage’s machine could find application beyond numerical calculations. She was convinced that this engine could be used to perform complex tasks by manipulating symbols such as producing basic answers to questions. In essence, a century early, Ada Lovelace conceived in her mind that computing was indeed possible and that any piece of content had the potential to be digitised.  It was Miss Lovelace work that truly inspires Alan Turing’s work in the mid 20th century.

However, this brilliant young mind suffers the fate of such many romantics, yet not in the way her mother thought. Ada Lovelace died at the age of 36, just like her father, but due to a severe medical condition: uterine cancer.

And the Ground Shook in London – 1750 “Year of Earthquakes”

Today I am sharing with you something I was very intrigued by and surprised to find about. I am talking about a series of earthquakes that took place in the UK and that in their own way had an incredible contribution to the world of modern science.

As most of you may know, the UK is not terribly well-known for seismic action, yet earthquakes do happen every now and then. Nevertheless, due to the scarcity of these events and the misunderstanding of the same they were overlooked for many years, as the collective memory of the events did not keep the notion and passed it on to future generations in a way that would be significant or memorable for those to come. Previous seismic action in the UK is known to be responsible for the partial collapse of cliffs at Dover due to a convulsion in the English Channel (1580), which interestingly enough Shakespeare references in Romeo & Juliet. But all of this would change in 1750. It was the 8th of February when at noon several witnesses report seismic movement in London. It has now been estimated by the British Geological Survey that this convulsion was of the magnitude of 2.6, but to the Londoners it felt like something else. Witness reports advise of lamps falling of in the streets, drinks spilling in taverns, and other things one would expect in this situation. It has been identified that the epicentre of this earthquake was in the area of London Bridge. Nevertheless, the incident was dismissed by the large majority of the population under the pretence that it was so incredibly unlikely that an earthquake would take place in England that it most certainly could not be the case. Therefore, the events of 8th of February were simply attributed as explosions or cannon fire…And along came March to shake things up a bit more.

Four weeks later, (4th March 1750) seismic activity was reported again, almost a month to the date, this time with the area affected increasing to five times that of the original earthquake of February. This led to the collapse of two houses in Whitechapel, several chimneys destroyed in the City of Westminster, and the very stones of Westminster Abbey suffering damages, to the point that many scared pedestrians through the building may fall down all together. In his A History of British Earthquakes, Charles Davidson advises that witness accounts report strange behaviour in animals, with cats and dogs hissing and barking for reasons unknown to their owners, horses agitated and refusing to move. So when the original March tremor happened to replicate on the 9th rumours of cataclysm started spreading across the city, panic taking over the Londoners who now believed the day of Judgement was approaching. It seems that many preachers took the opportunity – as often happens in history when a natural disaster takes place – to preach that the city of London would fall for the sins of its citizens. It must have been just chaos and madness. However, a month later the city was standing, and no more earthquakes were felt by the Londoners, and slowly but surely, things resumed to normality. The earthquakes became a weird occurrence for most of the witnesses, but that is not the end of the story.

Many intellectuals were deeply curious as to what had caused these events – funnily they did not believe cannon fire took place in the middle of London…Surprise! Philosophers in particular were interested in the phenomenon and the effect it had on people’s mentalities – we must remember this is, after all, the age of Enlightenment. But more importantly, many scholars influenced by Sir Isaac Newton took to heart the believe that this most have been founded in circumstances that ought to be explained by science. And so, the unlikely origin of seismology as a science and serious area of study takes place in the UK! Andrew Robinson has a recent study concerning two men, John Bevis and John Michell who were inspired by what happened in London in 1750 and started researching the topic individually. Bevis had a background as an astronomer, but he was also a doctor and an electric engineer. Michell, who was part of the clergy, had an interest in many scientific topics, one of which was geology. It seems both of them were interested in investigating the witness reports and news published in London using them as their primary sources to understand the nature of their study. But their research was truly grounded when 5 years later, the city of Lisbon was pretty much torn to pieces by a much greater earthquake, which caught their attention as the reports recalled aspects of what happened in London, but on a much greater scale.

…Ignorant me thought something like this probably came from somewhere in the globe constantly affected by earthquakes as the people would have had to live with it, but I guess it is true that sometimes the most unexpected of things can spark curiosity and the need for a deeper explanation. I guess the other thing to take from this is the corollary that we must not underestimate or dismiss natural phenomena due to their rarity, which given the environmental circumstances of the world we live in is certainly something worth keeping in mind…

Towns at War: Technological Advances in Artillery in Early Modern Period

Today I bring you something completely unlike me – warfare! I worked on this some time ago (2010 I believe), during my urban Europe studies, and for my surprise I really enjoyed it. I think the reason for that is because, even though it about warfare, my approach attempted to put things in context from a cultural and social point of view. I have now gone over my research, and unlike many other topics I investigated at the time, I still feel the same way about this one. So, I thought I’ll share, see what you think of it! Sure Alex will have something to say!

The period from 1500 to 1700 has been conceived as one of the most bellicose times in Europe. Changes in warfare throughout this period impacted the experience for towns, cities and their inhabitants. But first, we need to establish the background of military technology up to this stage. Medieval warfare was based in men power, archers and few machines like catapults or mortars. Armies were not particularly big, except when involved in conflicts of great magnitude such as the Crusades. However, by the 14th century gunpowder artillery began to have a role in war. Although gunpowder had existed since ancient times in China, it is thought that this type of application in artillery was first ‘invented’ by German engineers, and used by the Venetians in their wars against the Genovese. And the bad – or good news –  were that gunpowder was coming to stay. Here is when ‘the Military Revolution’ began. You know I am not always very fond of this pre-established terminology, but this one I believe in. The term was first used in a lecture in 1995, at Queen’s University, (Belfast) by Michael Roberts. He believed that this revolution happened in Europe between the 16th and the 17th century.

M. C. Paul has defined the concept as “a series of changes in tactics and strategy, the scale of warfare and the impact of warfare in society, which began in the United Provinces (Netherlands) in the late sixteenth century and culminated in Sweden during the reign of Gustavus Adolphus in the first third of the seventeenth century”.

The main evidences of this process are the new pieces of artillery and fortifications of the period, but there are other issues that reflect the changes implied in this revolution. ‘Military brokers’ (yeah, brokers like those from the banks or that sell insurance) were used by the different governments in order to rise mercenary armies to fight their foes, but that usually ended up damaging civilian life and property. There were also ‘new’ ways of recruitment, as well as the increasing number of mercenary troops. These new recruits were usually criminals, troublemakers, and people with mental and physical disabilities – in other words “meat-shields”, disposable troops, people who no-one would particularly miss…Or at least not the town councils that recruited them...

Artillery wise, there were some changes that were crucial in its development. The machines were provided with carriage devices that made them easier to transport and display. But the critical change was from stone to cast-iron shot, which was more accurately calibrated and had a density liable to flatten masonry works on fortresses. This was a big threat for towns and their security. The problem here was not any more some few knights trying to get control of their fortresses: this was pure destruction on wheels. Hence, new devices for defense were needed. The first measure that everyone applied in order to protect their communities was to thicken and reinforce the town walls. There were also the additions of gun-loops in the lower parts of the walls, in order to protect the more vulnerable points, such as entrances or gates. These gun-loops did not require a massive reform of the wall surface as they could be easily done by modifying arrow slits to allow a gun barrel pass through it. But this did not always work. La Rochelle (France) exemplifies this best. After the Huguenot massacre in Vassy, the protestant French forces knew that just the reinforcement of their fortifications was not enough. Therefore, they undertook a long process of reconstruction and addition of new defenses, such as the angled bastion. These protected effectively the city during the siege of 1572-73. Many other places followed this model, and  opted for the addition of the diamond-shaped bastion. Nonetheless, the general model of fortification was the ‘trace italienne’, which consisted in a low rampart replacing the medieval wall, or a separate rampart in case the wall was kept, with no bastions as they were seen as a burden. But all this was to change, thanks to a single man and its vision: the French architect Sebastien Vauban. His fortifications included all the devices mentioned before and were considered the most elegant and efficient in Europe, fact that can be appreciated in his masterpiece: the city of Lille.

But, how effective were these fortresses? The truth is that they proved to be quite effective in the innumerable sieges that happened during this period. By the beginning of the 17th century these were insuperable strongholds but the presented one issue: visibility issues. Good news for the attackers – surprise attacks will get top marks, but this was not always a very easy maneuver to perform. Moreover, the visibility problem was easily resolved. Towns added gun-towers to have a better view of their surroundings and to provide effective flanking fire. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to consider this the end of story – it is not, at all. War had secondary effects on towns. All this process of walling up cities created a stronger feeling of independence and community in towns as the walls became their symbol. Furthermore, it created a closer relationship between towns and the rural areas due to the need of ready supplies. But space started running short, and towns begun to build up their houses to have space to live and work, and new plans of edification were generated (radial and gridiron). These made streets narrow and buildings close to each other…Cities became a massive hazard for epidemic infections and that mixed with the social disruption.

Interestingly, and despite all this development, the conditions of a siege remained the same that in other ages of history: famine, crime, disease…John Landers has produced a study with a table that shows the death causes in Sweden between 1620 and 1719 more people died due to disease (88%) than in combat(12%). This is not something new, but actually a rather common effect of warfare. The new urban layout made people fear more artefacts like bombards that could cause a fire and massive demolition inside the town due to their firing arch. People were constricted within their own walls…But along came the 17th century to change this. As cities could not expand and were too crowded the walls were demolished or left to ruin. Frontiers were closed, towns opened, and the fortified ‘bonneville’ changed into ‘la comerce’ –  system that has been preserved up to modern-day urban geography. Also it has to be considered that the urban response was not the same everywhere. Unlike France or Italy, England remained basically unwalled until the Civil War, and there were differences among the south and the north of the country. In Eastern Europe, the process happened a bit later. Places like Russia or  even Germany preferred the reinforced wall system rather than the new one.

I am very supportive of this statement by Hale, about these changes:

“Gunpowder, in short, revolutionized the conduct but not the outcome of wars”.

But we are missing a key fact in here that I have already been hinting at. One can appreciate war from its victims, and gun powder for sure changed the perception of conflict for those who had to suffer it. The destructive nature of canons, firearms, their terrible noise…That was something that shaped people’s minds, and it made them fear. An arrow does not produce much noise, it will not keep you up by night…but a gun shot will. All the urban developments jeopardising urban health and security contributed to this shock too. So, personal opinion? Yes, gunpowder revolutionised warfare, but more importantly, it change the modern world and its people.

Now, if this has made you think, or tickled your fancy, here are my sources. Some may be out of date, and if that is the case, please send us a comment with some more up to date theories!

-Duffy, C., Siege Warfare: the Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494-1660, (London and New York, 1979)

-Hale, J.R., ‘Gunpowder and the Renaissance: an Essay in the History of Ideas’, Renaissance War Studies, (London, 1983), pp. 389-420

-Johnston, A.J.B., ‘Sébastian le Prestre de Vauban: Reflections on His Fame, His Fortifications, and His Influence’, French Colonial History, Vol. 3, (2003), pp. 175-188

-Kinard, J., Artillery: an Illustrated History of Its Impact, (E-Book published by ABC-Clio, 2007)

-Landers, J., ‘The Destructiveness of Pre-Industrial Warfare: Political and Technological Determinants’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, No. 4, (Jul., 2005), pp. 455-470

-Nicholas, D., Urban Europe, 1100-1700, (Basingstoke, 2003)

-Parker, G., The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800, (Cambridge, 1996)

-Paul, M.C., ‘The Military Revolution in Russia, 1550-1628’, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1, (Jan., 2004), pp. 9-45

-Potter, D., Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c.1480-1560, (Woodbridge, 2008)

-Reid, S., Castles and Tower Houses of the Scottish Clans 1450-1650, (Oxford and New York, 2006)

-Thompson, M.W., The Decline of the Castle, (Cambridge and New York, 1987)

-Wolfe, M., Walled Towns and the Shaping of France: from the Medieval to the Early Modern Era, (New York, 2009)

The Earth Isn’t Flat?!

Continuing with our scientific discoveries that changed history and impacted our perception of the world…In case you had not noticed: the Earth IS spherical. Well, I know that may come out as a shocker, but please do remember, this was disputed and not very well understood for centuries! The idea that our planet was entirely flat was conceived by many people-and disbelieved by others, for sure. In fact, it has been pointed out that by the 14th century, no scholar would have happily supported the idea of a flat Earth, despite it perhaps being represented as such. However, we have to consider that artistic representations such as the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronimous Bosch, where the world is depicted on a 2 dimensional flat circle, are mere conventions. It would not be until the Renaissance that perspectives and three-dimensionality really picked up. Moreover, there were certain mythologies such as in the early Mesopotamian culture, where the world was believed to be some sort of floating disk on water and surrounded by air and sky.

These type of concepts is what promoted the flat outline of cartography in the early maps. So, it would seem that we may have understood this matter poorly all along. Stephen Jay Gould pointed this out and suggested there is sufficient evidence to believe that the Greeks knew the spherical profile of the planet. Therefore this would have been knowledge passed out to future generations. Pytagoras was one of the first defenders of this idea back in the 6th century BC, and even though it was not until after Aristotle empirically agreed to this thesis c.330 BC, the concept then was widely embraced within the Hellenistic world. For your information, the way Aristotle became aware of the spherical nature of the world was mainly through astronomy and the observation of the southern constellations positions. Moving in to the Middle Ages, even in the early part of the period, people like Bede, would write treatises including theories about the Earth not being flat, as it is explained in The Reckoning of Time. Moreover, in the Islamic world the Earth had been not only accepted as spherical, but they had also managed to discern a good approximation of its circumference by the 9th century. This all obviously transpired in the 16th century, when Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magallan) and Juan Sebastián Elcano provided a practical demonstration of the round nature of the planet by achieving the circumnavigation of the Earth (1519-1522).

So, where did we get this idea of the planet being flat?! Well, funny that you say that, because it will seem that after realising our mistakes and accepting our error, throughout the 17th century this was used as ammo for the feuding Christian factions in the West. James Hannam notes how this was an argument used by the Protestants against Catholic teachings. This put many men of science at stake, and it created a harsh environment for the education of people. It came to discredit many religious theories, and vice versa many Christians started to question this perfectly valid idea of the actual shape of the world. Tensions started brewing. Nevertheless, the issue only developed further up to the 19th century. With the rise of Darwinism, evolution proved that the Christian doctrine may have been flawed with regards the understanding of human life on Earth. The Western world was torn between science and religion…And you all were blame it on the Middle Ages, huh? “The Dark Ages”. What are the Dark Ages if not another Romanticised concept of a distant past, where people were misguided and believed the Earth was flat…Follow me? Modernity had just as much to do with the damning of scientifically proven facts as did Antiquity.

Granted, the disbelieve was mostly amongst the lay folk and no scientist of note ever even considered it an option. But the quarrel had already begun; and that is how myths come alive. Nevertheless, there were modern men trying to prove, not only that the planet had a globular shape, but precisely that it was not entirely rounded, but more like an ellipsis with slightly flattened poles. This was the quest that Pierre Louis Maupertuis (1698–1759) proceeded to achieve. The French mathematician and philosopher even went on an expedition to Lapland to determine the correct shape of the world. And this concept is nowadays supported by the field of geodesy-the section of mathematics that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth. By these principles, in fact, the Earth is, or rather should be considered as an oblate spheroid- but we will take sphere as a close approximate. Of course, the crazy theories about the flat conception of the planet have been disproved and rebated in the 20th century, and it is mostly safe to say: it is common knowledge the Earth is a sphere. But, there are some that persevere this is not the case. Of course, every case has its followers to the core…I mean, were you aware of the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), better known as the Flat Earth Society? Well, these folks, whose leader was Samuel Shenton, found this group in 1956 in Dover (UK). Shenton’s intention was to get the idea of a flat Earth to the children before the educational system would teach the otherwise. The society found a home in California too, where Shenton’s correspondent, Charles K. Johnson furthered these ideas, taken them to the extreme…He seemed to truly believe that there was some sort of conspiracy to keep us all away from the idea of our mostly liquid, blue, flat paradise…The society did die out by the 1990s, after a fire in its headquarters, and particularly following the death of Johnson in 2001.

So, I guess there is a lesson to learn from our own contradictory nature and understanding of events. There will always be sceptics in the world- being these scientists, men of faith or ordinary people. However, this does not discredit the theories and evidence developed by any scientific, humanistic or philosophic trend. As ridiculous as it may sound to us, the concept of a flat world helps us grasp how much human thought has evolved, and ultimately the sciences, arts and our way of life with it…

Watson & Crick & the discovery of the structure of DNA

James Watson and Francis Crick are very famous amongst the scientific community. In 1962 they both won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for successfully finding the structure of DNA. However before explaining the roles of Watson and Crick I believe it is important to introduce the previous studies of other scientists in this field in order to see how Watson and Crick made their discovery.

In the late nineteenth century a German Biochemist discovered the nucleic acids. Nucleic acids are large molecules where genetic information is stored. They are made up of phosphoric acid, sugar and nitrogen bases. It was later confirmed that the sugar in the nucleic acids can be of two varieties ribose or deoxyribose, RNA and DNA respectively. It was not until the 1940s that it was found DNA carried genetic information by an American scientist Oswald Avery and by the late 1940s it was generally accepted that DNA was a genetic molecule. In 1948 the spring coil theory was put forth by Linus Pauling.

This set precedent for what was to happen in the 1950s. Frances Crick was graduate student, graduating from University College London and was stationed at Cambridge University along with research fellow James Watson who graduated from the University of Chicago and Indiana University. At Cambridge Watson and Crick became interested in earlier work regarding DNA and they specifically wanted to create an actual picture of the molecule. Coinciding with Watson and Crick’s endeavours at Cambridge, DNA research was also taking place at King’s College in London. Franklin and Wilkins were using X-ray diffraction to study DNA. Watson and Crick used their results in order to continue their own research.

In April 1953 they discovered a molecular structure of DNA, the double helix. The double helix is formed by double-stranded molecules of DNA. This model of Watson and Crick’s has accounted for how DNA works, how it replicates and how genetic coding occurs on it. The term double helix grew significantly upon James Watson’s book The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. This discovery has been pivotal in the discipline of Molecular biology and studies still to this day stem from 1953. It is also currently used in the National Curriculum for GCSE Biology students. DNA models of the double helix are used is even used in popular culture on the CBS show The Big Bang Theory and most notably in film the starting credits of the X-Men franchise.

However it is important to mention that it was not only Watson and Crick that brought about the discovery. It should also be acknowledged that Franklin and Wilkins owed much to the discovery in 1953. Wilkins and Franklin used their knowledge of Physics to help solve biological problems like DNA. Unfortunately Franklin died in 1958 before the Nobel Peace prize for Medicine was awarded and perhaps due to this may have been the ‘forgotten discoverer’. Although Wilkins shared the award with Watson and Crick he too has to some extent suffered from the same fate. Some recent reports suggest sexism could be the reason as for why Franklin’s work is often overlooked however this does not explain Wilkins. Looking at all the information as a whole it is easy to simply draw conclusions that some of Franklin and Wilkins work was stolen. However there must be an appreciation for the evolution of others ideas and concepts when it comes down to discoveries, without other peoples work beforehand can we truly discover? See the Guardian’s article for more information- http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/23/sexism-in-science-did-watson-and-crick-really-steal-rosalind-franklins-data

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/oct/07/science.obituaries

Archimedes – Science Megamind

Following our theme of inventions and scientific waves that change history, today we will be dedicating this spot to a very important man in the history of science: Archimedes. He was a remarkable figure that produced multiple contributions to several fields, particularly mathematics, but also physics, engineering and astronomy. With such a profile, he could simply go amiss. Of course, his achievements and personal story are too great to be discussed in one mere update, and I will have to keep things to a brief overview. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this look over his life.

As you probably know already, Archimedes was actually born in Syracuse (modern-day Sicily) c.287 BC. His date of birth is not entirely set in stone, neither is his background-some such as Plutarch link him with Hiero II, ruler of the province at the time. In addition, we know due to Archimedes’ own writing that his father was an astronomer named Phidias, as he explains in The Sand Reckoner- the work he produced in order to determine the upper limit of grains of sand that could fit within the universe. In this treaty he not only figured a way of naming large numbers, but also tried to come to terms with the dimensions and measurements of the universe. Archimedes great knowledge and critical thinking seems to have been developed by his studies and education in Alexandria. Not much is known of his career in the egyptian city, but one can assume he was greatly influenced by the work of Euclid and his geometrical treaties complied in The Elements. Much of his scientific developments is preserved in letters that he exchanged with his friend Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who was also based in Alexandria, and seems he was in charge of keeping the library’s collection. However, Archimedes eventually went back to his natal Syracuse, where he spent the rest of his life. In fact, it is said that he played a vital role during the Second Punic War (c.218-c.201 BC) in the defense of the city. In 214 BC Syracuse was under siege from the Roman army for two years and Archimedes contributed with some of his inventions. This seem to include a system of mirrors to concentrate and redirect sunlight in a way that it would ignite the invaders approaching the coat by boat – yes, the death ray! Yet, the conception of such a mechanism is still highly questioned and scholars look upon it with scepticism.

Moreover, Archimedes came up with ingenious use of physics to aid the fortifications of the city. Here, his famous quote “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the world” comes into play. Thus, it seems that this thought of the lever may have been implemented into weaponry and machines such as the catapult and the claw. However, the defense of the city will not prevail and eventually the Romans would take control of it, which would concur in the genius’ death. It is supported that he was engrossed in his calculations and diagram making, when a Roman soldier disturbed him. Archimedes seems to then have told off the soldier, and this one, offended by the mathematicians dismissal, killed him on the spot. However the accounts that shed some light on Archimedes life and death were written nearly a century after his death, so the accuracy or likelihood of this scenario is difficult to determine. Archimedes was buried in Syracuse; his tomb representing his lifetime of devotion, representing his famous diagram (a sphere in a cylinder of the exact height and diameter). It seems that this was what he wished for his burials as he considered his discovery and calculation of the formula for the volume of a sphere was his greatest achievement. Unfortunately, his burial seems to have been forgotten or not kept well, for it is said that it was Cicero himself who years later came to Syracuse and took upon the responsibility to paying homage to the scientist. Apparently he found the poorly kept grave at Agrigentine gate, cleaned it up, and put it back in the place it deserved within its community and the world.

So after a quick bio of our science superhero, it would be appropriate to have a quick over some of his work-other than those that I have mentioned already. Now, the man produced and developed tones of materials and experiments, and I would not be able to go in lots of details regarding these, as you can pretty much write a thesis on Archimedes contributions to science. But I will provide you with a sample of those who I found more interesting.

As we have previously discussed the principle of lever, I guess it is necessary to then address Archimedes’ screw. The story behind the creation of the screw comes from a ship that was overflowed with water leaking from the hull. Therefore, he mastered this hollow tube with a spiral and a handle at one end to drain out the water. I believe this to be a pretty important scientific contribution, as the screw has since not only helped with drainage and pumping systems, but has played a fundamental role in irrigation, which makes it key for agriculture. Moreover, one cannot forget or ignore the famous Archimedes principle: his work relating hydrostatics and that is widely known by the expression Eureka! This story explains how inspiration came to him while having a bath, as he noticed the amount of water displaced overflowing the bath, which was proportional to the amount of his body which was submerged. In this way, he figured out the issue of floating bodies and their specific gravities.  Another noteworthy contribution is the calculation of pi as expressed in The Measurement of the Circle, which are of invaluable importance in the field of geometry and mathematics. Furthermore, Archimedes Method Concerning Mechanical Theorems is something that could be understood as an idealist dream. In this piece, he establishes the process of discovery in mathematics. This was a way for him to formulate his discoveries and the process behind them, in an attempt to develop a method to apply and further the mathematical field. For sure, he did not promote this as the ultimate proof, but rather as a set of guidelines and principles to satisfy scientific curiosity and desire. In a way, it is more a practical philosophic thesis than anything else. Some defend the idea that if the Method would have not gone lost until its rediscovery 1906 in Constantinople (also known as the Archimedes Palimpsest), the Renaissance mathematicians and scientist that he so inspired and followed much of his other work, perhaps would have then be able to fulfil his mathematical dream.

…Of course, I could continue with the others – Archimedes cattle problem, stomachion, the quadrature of the parabola, etc., but if you want to learn some science…Then, be a proper Greek scholar and go find some for yourself. Allow my quick introduction to serve as inspiration for more Archimedes and science to come. And keep an eye on the rest of our updates for the month!

Democritus and Atomic Theory

So this week we will be looking at what we believe are some of the most vital inventions and discoveries in science throughout history, and when looking at important discoveries or inventions throughout history it is impossible to ignore the significance that the proof of atomic theory has, with it being so fundamental and part of the most ambitious and advanced scientific discoveries to this day, all while still not being exactly figured out yet.

Atomic theory as we know it today is the product of hundreds, or possibly thousands of different insights, with each scientist building upon previous work, mostly in the 19th and early 20th century, until we get to the understanding of atoms and what they do that we have now. But the idea surely had to start somewhere didn’t it? While it is impossible to say with certainty that no one before had ever had the idea that things had some sort of limit to how small they can be, the first evidence we have of anyone having this thought comes from ancient Greece, primarily from the pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus, and perhaps with some credit owed to his mentor Leucippus.

According to ancient reports, Democritus was born in about 460 BC.  His work has survived only in secondhand reports which are sometimes unreliable or conflicting. Most of the best evidence comes from Aristotle, who regarded Democritus as an important rival in natural philosophy. Of what Aristotle wrote about Democritus only a few passages survive, and those are also quoted in other sources themselves. But from these sources it appears Democritus took over and developed the views of his elder mentor Leucippus, of which very little is known about. Although it is possible to distinguish some of the work as that of Leucippus, the overwhelming majority of reports refer to either both Democritus and Leucippus, or to Democritus alone. The developed atomist system is often essentially considered to be Democritus’ own work.

Ancient sources describe Democritus’ atomism as one of a number of attempts by early Greek natural philosophers to respond to the challenge made by Parmenides, another of the philosophers. Today it is accepted that this is the reason for Democritus to start considering the theory of atoms. Parmenides argued that it is impossible for there to be change without something coming from nothing. Since the idea that something could come from nothing was generally agreed to be impossible at the time, Parmenides then stated that change is merely an illusion. In response, Leucippus and Democritus, along with other philosophers developed systems that made change possible by showing that something should not need to come from nothing. These responses to Parmenides suppose that there are multiple unchanging material principles, which persist and merely rearrange themselves to form the changing world of appearances. In the atomist version by Democritus, these unchanging material principles are indivisible particles, the atoms. The atomists are said to have fundamentally taken the idea that there is a limit to the number of times something can be divided, which tackles the paradox of the impossibility of traversing infinitely divisible magnitudes.

The atomists held the view that there were two fundamental parts of reality that make up the natural world, atoms and void. Atoms, from the Greek adjective atomos or atomon, which means ‘indivisible,’ are infinite in number and vary in size and shape, and are perfectly solid. They move about in an infinite void, repelling one another when they collide or combining into clusters by means of tiny hooks and barbs on their surfaces, which become entangled. Other than changing place, they are unchangeable, ungenerated and indestructible. All changes in visible objects of the world are brought about by relocations of these atoms. As Aristotle then described, the atomists reduce all change to the change of place. Macroscopic objects in the world that we experience are really clusters of these atoms and therefore changes in the objects we see such as growth are caused by rearrangements or additions to the atoms composing them. These atoms were considered to be eternal, but the objects made of them were not. They said that our world and the species within it have arisen from the collision of atoms moving about in such whirl, and will all disintegrate in time.

Much of this is obviously a sort of philosophical stab in the dark, with them at the time being completely unable to observe or test the theory without something like an electron microscope. Although we can see that at a base level Democritus had a surprisingly similar idea to the Atomic theory that was developed thousands of years later. Even though we know, or maybe think we know far more today, we also know that we aren’t quite done figuring it out yet. And anyway, when you start considering these things with quantum theory, who even knows what we know? For now all I can say is that Democritus had a good idea and it took about 2300 years before anyone properly looked into it.

Palaeontology History

The nineteenth century is usually an era I avoid like the plague, but a general interest in archaeology led me to writing this post. Away from industrialisation, work houses, Queen Victoria and Napoleon, small but significant discoveries were gaining momentum. Palaeontology, the study of fossils and essentially dinosaurs, picked up alongside vast medical studies in bones and centuries old debris. Many consider the Age of Enlightenment the source of an increase in archaeological digs and searches, yet the study of fossils and bones as a means of understanding the past is nothing new. Ancient Greeks such as Xenophanes in the sixth century BC, and Herodotus in the fifth century BC studied fossils from marine life in areas that used to be below water. Medieval naturalists across Europe and Asia looked at fossils in order to solve how they are formed, something the Persian Ibn Sina became famous for in his book The Book of Healing. During early modern era of Europe, fossil work became part of natural philosophy and was undertook by many as a primary interest. Pre-History was little understood, however links between the past and fossils was becoming clearer when moving into the eighteenth century. The study of science had grown tremendously since the seventeenth century with academies springing up across England and France.

Although Palaeontology as a word was not coined until 1822 by an editor of a French scientific journal, Georges Cuvier began to look at fossils as a form of cataloguing animals that seemed to have reached extinction. This naturally led to the earliest form of Geology to become a branch of science. Palaeontology as an occupation remained fledgling until the nineteenth century when the Academy of Science was noting several more professional geologists and fossil specialists becoming registered. From 1808 the concept of ‘dinosaurs’ was coming into light despite the first dinosaur bone being found in 1676 by Robert Plot, whose bone find is still unidentified. It is noted by archaeologists that marine fossils and bones are found in a denser supply then on land, this could be due to major shifts in the earth. The earth that the dinosaurs walked on was vastly different to the one we walk today. Many historians suppose that the increase in atheism and thoughts on evolution, instead of Creationist Theory, in the nineteenth century expanded the sudden boom in archaeological digs, specifically across Asia and the Americas. It took several decades of searching before the first full skeleton was found in New Jersey, North America of the Hadrosaurus by William Parker Foulke in 1858. This remains the only full skeleton found of this species, although archaeologists and palaeontologists agree that it is closely related to the Iguanodon found in England in 1822 by Gideon Mantell. Pre-History is not an era that is popular among normal academic historians since much of it was subjective until the recent changes in bio-archaeology which makes bones and fossils easier to date. Much of the historiography is led by archaeologists and palaeontologists, historians tend to focus of the chronology of the eras. It was during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that words such as ‘Jurassic’ and ‘Mesozoic’ were beginning to be used to identify periods of time, and to acknowledge when certain dinosaurs tended to exist.

Academically palaeontology has a long history, yet socially the concept is still very young. In a century that was still largely religious the debate between science and religion was heated. Even today there are scientists and religions attempting to reconcile the two fields, as such Robert Asher’s book on Evolution and Belief (Cambridge, 2012) show him trying to accept both his occupation in palaeontology and his faith in his religion. He has made it his life work in studying Darwinism while at the same time trying to create his own theory on how the world began and developed. Charles Darwin is famous for his contribution to Evolutionary theory, his 1859 book On the Origin of Species became the foundation of evolutionary biology, the basis of which was his 1830 expedition on HMS Beagle. By 1879, evolution in science became widely acknowledged as fact. The belief that apes evolved into humans, birds in the same species developed different beaks according to where they are from became a literal antagonist to people whose belief was in God and their respective religions. This was particularly prevalent in the nineteenth century, despite being a prominent scientist, Darwin’s theory was respected but distanced from the Church of England. His theory of natural selection also contradicted God’s will. Religion and Science still hotly debate, this is echoed even in popular culture shows such as The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon, a theoretical physicist, holds disdain from his mother who is deeply religious and believes in the Creation theory. Also in popular culture, Ross Geller put the occupation on the map when David Schwimmer played the palaeontologist for the ten-year run of Friends, where he encountered differences in beliefs with Phoebe.

While England debated, America was digging. Throughout the nineteenth century, several hundred types of dinosaurs, fossils and aquatic discoveries were being made. Biological advances increased in species being named, extinct animals studied and vast catalogues were being created. Many can been seen in Natural History museums all over the world, most particularly those in New York and London. Discoveries in fossils are everywhere, yet the more concentrated finds of dinosaurs are in Africa, Asia and America, with the most well know the Tyrannosaurus Rex being found in 1902 in Montana, America. All continents have yielded a dinosaur bone, the exception was Antarctica which did not unearth a bone until 1987 when an entire skeleton was found. Palaeontology has grown over the decades until the Palaeontology Association was founded in 1957 to become to world leading experts in the field. Although having a societal reputation of being ‘dull’ the palaeontology field is one of the most vibrant in discoveries since finds are still being found. Particularly when technological advances increased the likelihood of several more major discoveries to come. For more information please look at the websites below:

http://www.palass.org/

http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/life-sciences/evolutionary-biology/evolution-and-belief-confessions-religious-paleontologist

http://www.dinohunters.com/History/chronology.htm

http://www.dinohunters.com/Hunters/Foulke.htm