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The Earliest Description of a Zoo? April 30, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
The Earliest Description of a Zoo?

There is a long-standing argument among historians and archaeologists about the world’s earliest zoo. Candidates come from across Euro-Asia, from the Mediterranean to China, and include the exciting recent digs at Hierakonpolis (Hawk City), where now well over 100 animals, ranging from hippos to baboons and wildcats to dogs, have been disinterred.  However, archaeology always […]

Botched Beheadings April 29, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Botched Beheadings

The guillotine was originally invented as an act of humanitarianism to liberate criminal kind from the axe. It made sense, after all, to remove a criminal’s head from his or from her shoulders if that criminal had to be killed. But the procedure was messy. Two important things could go wrong while removing said head […]

Amazons #4: The Amazons Fight the Spaniards April 28, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Amazons #4: The Amazons Fight the Spaniards

It will be remembered that the year is 1542 and that a small Spanish party is making its way down the Amazon under the command of Francisco de Orellana. There follows the fourth and the most dramatic of the Amazon episodes in the work of Gaspar de Villar (for 1, 2 and 3 follow the […]

Blood Rain at Stoke Edith April 27, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Blood Rain at Stoke Edith

Skyfalls are normally a tedium of frogs and snails and red lobster’s tails. But this one caught Beach’s attention because of the sheer horror of the cottager and because of the very seventeenth-century reaction: get a justice of the peace, swear to it and then bring out an absurdly portentous-sounding pamphlet, A Very Strange, But […]

The Children of Bjelaja-Zerkow April 26, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
The Children of Bjelaja-Zerkow

A horrid story from August 1941 at Bjelaja-Zerkow in German occupied Soviet territory. In this town the SS murdered as many as nine hundred Jewish residents. That is nightmarish enough, of course, if unfortunately an all too typical act in the war in the east. What allows Bjelaja-Zerkow to climb a little higher in the […]

Amazons 3#: Owned by the Amazons April 25, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Amazons 3#: Owned by the Amazons

In 1542, the party led by Francisco de Orellana, travelled down the Amazon hearing rumours of a mysterious female nation of warriors: these rumours were recounted early on in two villages, and we have already covered these episodes in the previous days (1, 2). However, by June of that year the Spaniards believed that they […]

Grotesque Mesalliances April 24, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Grotesque Mesalliances

There is a school of thought that says arranged marriages work and, even for die-hard romantics like Beach, there are millennia of proof that they can. But there are also cases from every static, traditional society that leave you shaking at the potential horror of an institution that allows a father or brother to choose […]

‘Bloody Foreigners’ and English April 23, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Medieval, Modern
'Bloody Foreigners' and English

The British are often characterized as being insular, stand-offish and suspicious of outsiders.  And Beach has recently been fascinated by how this parochialism (which is at least partly based in fact) has left traces in the English language and more particularly in the words that English uses for nationality. It should be said, first of […]

Amazons 2#: ‘They’ll Kill You’ April 22, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Amazons 2#: 'They'll Kill You'

The women warriors of the Amazon basin appear for the first time in a European account in 1542 when Gaspar de Carvajal, a friar on the expedition of Francisco de Orellana was passing down the river that would soon be named for them. Beach has already described an earlier Indian description of these women from […]

Witches in Nineteenth-Century Hastings April 21, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Witches in Nineteenth-Century Hastings

Ever since this blog began Beach has been fascinated by stories of nineteenth-century witchcraft. Here is one described by that old curiosity shop writer Charles Mackay. Note that we’ve not been able to find any connection between the author and the town of Hastings on England’s southern coast. Can anyone help: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT […]

Fairies, Children of the Forest and Game of Thrones April 20, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Medieval
Fairies, Children of the Forest and Game of Thrones

Beach’s students this semester constrained him to read Game of Thrones and the subsequent avalanche of books which followed on. Are these books any good? Mixed feelings. However, one thing is certain, this blogger’s normal irritation at fantasy fiction wasn’t activated: perhaps because most of the novels are about humans being nasty to each other […]

Amazons 1#: First Contact April 19, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Amazons 1#: First Contact

In 1542, a small party led by Francisco de Orellana, a thuggish conquistador (was there any other sort?) was making its way down a huge South American river towards the sea. In the depths of this dangerous region, where no white man had ever gone before, the Spaniards began to hear strange stories of… Well, […]

When Cats Killed Men April 18, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
When Cats Killed Men

Can a cat kill a human being? In the modern world you would need to invent a rather elaborate scenario involving microbes, extreme allergies or a long flight of stairs to make that one work. But in ancient Egypt cats regularly murdered their human neighbours: though first their human neighbours had to kill them. Diodorus […]

Vision Quest 1#: Blood Loss April 17, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Vision Quest 1#: Blood Loss

Around the world different peoples have pioneered different methods to ‘open the doors of consciousness’ through what doctors call hallucinations. Possible keys to said doors include mushrooms, toad poison and smoked grasses (of various descriptions). Beach knew about all these but he was surprised, recently to read about blood loss causing hallucinations. The science behind […]

Weighing Witches April 16, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Weighing Witches

***dedicated to Theo*** How do I know if, c. 1750, old Mother Shipley down the road is a witch. Obviously the dying chickens, my children’s illnesses, the unpleasant cackling, the noises in the night are all clues… But we are in the eighteenth-century so how do we introduce science into this? In other ages witches […]

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