WTF Fun Fact 13655 – Ice Age Fire Art

Surviving the Ice Age required more than just hunting and gathering – there was fire art. OK, hear us out.

As they gathered around fires for warmth and safety, something more than just physical comfort emerged. This was a time for them to indulge in an artistic pursuit that continues to fascinate us today.

The Paleolithic Animator and Ice Age Fire Art

In recent research published in PLOS ONE, a team led by archaeologist Andy Needham proposed an intriguing idea. They suggested that Ice Age artists used the flickering light of fire to bring their stone carvings to life.

These 15,000-year-old limestone plaquettes, adorned with animal figures, were not just static art. Instead, under the dynamic light of a fire, they appeared to move, animating the etched creatures. Fire art!

Needham’s team studied various limestone plaquettes found at the Montastruc rock shelter in southern France. These carvings, attributed to the Magdalenian culture, showcased a range of animals like horses, ibex, and reindeer.

Interestingly, these plaquettes showed signs of thermal damage, suggesting exposure to fire. But was this intentional?

Experimental Archaeology Sheds Light

To answer this, the researchers turned to experimental archaeology. They created replica plaquettes and subjected them to different fire scenarios. These experiments aimed to replicate the pinkish discoloration seen on the originals. The results? The patterns suggested that the artworks were deliberately placed near the hearth, likely as part of the creative process.

Further exploring this idea, the team used virtual reality to simulate firelight’s effect on the plaquettes. The results were fascinating. The irregular lighting from the fire brought an illusion of movement, making the animals seem like they were alive and moving across the stone surface.

The Role of Pareidolia in Ice Age Fire Art

This phenomenon can be partly explained by pareidolia, where the human brain perceives familiar patterns in random objects. In the flickering firelight, viewers would see incomplete forms on the plaquettes. Their brains would fill in the gaps, creating a dynamic viewing experience.

The Ice Age artists might have used this to their advantage. They could start with natural rock features to shape their animals, allowing the firelight to complete the picture. This interaction between the art, the rock’s natural form, and the dynamic firelight created a captivating experience, unique to the Paleolithic era.

Beyond survival, these artistic endeavors provided a social outlet. After a day of survival tasks, our ancestors likely gathered around the fire, not just for warmth but for a communal experience. Here, they could indulge in storytelling, companionship, and artistic expression.

The act of creating art by firelight was perhaps as important as the art itself. It wasn’t just about the final product but about the process of creation, the gathering of minds, and the sharing of ideas. This communal aspect of Ice Age art adds a deeply human dimension to our understanding of these ancient peoples.

Art as a Cultural Practice

Ice Age art wasn’t merely aesthetic; it was a cultural practice imbued with meaning. The process of drawing, the summoning of spirits, and even acts of destruction (like deliberate breakage or fire damage) could have had significant roles in their society.

These artistic sessions by the firelight might have served multiple purposes – from summoning spirits to strengthening community bonds. The plaquettes, once used, could have been discarded or intentionally destroyed, suggesting a transient nature to this art form.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Ice Age Artists May Have Used Firelight to Animate Carvings” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13653 – Vomitoriums

The ancient vomitoriums apparently had nothing to do with vomiting at all!

The “vomitorium” has long been associated with images of ancient Romans indulging in excessive feasting only to purge themselves to eat more. However, this widespread belief is a historical misconception. The real meaning of vomitorium in Roman culture was quite different and far less grotesque.

Vomitorium are Exits

In reality, a vomitorium was an architectural feature in ancient Roman amphitheaters and stadiums. The word, derived from the Latin vomitus, which means to spew forth, referred to the large passageways that allowed crowds to exit rapidly into the streets.

These passageways were efficient in dispersing large groups of people from the venues, similar to how food is expelled from the stomach.

The false notion of the vomitorium as a place for purging after excessive eating likely stemmed from a misunderstanding of the Latin language.

It was an easy jump from “vomitorium,” a term describing the spewing of crowds, to a place for vomiting. The misinterpretation was possibly fueled by modern literature and an already existing stereotype of ancient Romans as excessively indulgent.

Literary Exaggerations

Classical texts that described Roman feasts and excesses played a role in cementing this myth. Works like Seneca’s Letters and the satirical ‘Satyricon’ by Petronius depicted scenes of lavish Roman feasts and debauchery. These descriptions, often satirical and exaggerated, influenced modern interpretations and led to the vomitorium myth.

Roman feasts, especially among the upper class, were indeed grand. They involved elaborate dishes and communal eating. Entertainment was common, with dancers and musicians adding to the festivities. Women and men dined together, which was a departure from the Greek tradition.

The feasts could include extravagant presentations, but there is no historical evidence to suggest that these gatherings included rooms specifically designated for purging.

Contrary to the image of constant overindulgence, the diets of both wealthy and poorer Romans were predominantly grain-based. The wealthy had more access to wheat and meats, while the poorer sections of society consumed more millet.

This dietary pattern indicates that while the rich could afford more lavish meals, their eating habits were not as extreme as the myth of the vomitorium would suggest.

Debunking the Myth of Vomitoriums

The vomitorium is a great example of how misconceptions can arise from misinterpretations and satirical representations. It wasn’t a space for bingeing and purging but rather an architectural innovation for crowd management.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Purging the Myth of the Vomitorium” — Scientific American

WTF Fun Fact 13649 – God Bless America

Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” is a continuous benefactor to youth in New York City. Written in 1940, this iconic song’s royalties were dedicated by Berlin to a special fund.

Named the “God Bless America Fund,” its sole purpose was to support America’s youth, with a particular focus on the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of New York City. Over the years, this fund has channeled over $10 million into local scouting groups, significantly impacting young lives.

God Bless America Supporting the Scouts

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, led to a renewed popularity of “God Bless America.” As the song echoed across the nation, royalties surged, directly benefiting scouting organizations in NYC. Victoria G. Traube, a trustee of the fund, noted that annual royalties, typically exceeding $200,000, were expected to triple that year. This increase meant more resources for scouting programs, especially in the poorest neighborhoods of New York.

Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of New York City have been beneficiaries of this fund. They’ve historically used these funds to expand programs into underserved communities and offer opportunities to disabled and troubled children. Activities like nature hikes, cookouts, and educational field trips are just some examples of how these funds have been utilized.

A notable aspect of this support is the commitment to inclusivity. Over a year ago, the “God Bless America” fund trustees requested both scouting groups to confirm their non-discriminatory policies, including attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community. Both groups affirmed their commitment to inclusivity, with the Boy Scouts of New York actively working to reverse national policies against gay scout leaders.

Berlin’s Enduring Impact

Irving Berlin’s decision to donate his song’s royalties was more than a financial gesture; it was a commitment to American youth’s future. Linda Emmet, Berlin’s daughter, reflected that her father viewed children as the country’s future and believed in supporting them.

Berlin’s involvement with scouting wasn’t just financial; he was actively engaged on the boards of both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, highlighting his dedication to these organizations.

As “God Bless America” continues to resonate across the nation, its impact on New York’s scouting programs grows. Plans are underway to use these funds to help children, including scouts, cope with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. With at least nine troop leaders lost in the tragedy, the need for support and healing is evident.

Berlin’s vision extended beyond a single song or moment in time. His commitment to America’s youth, especially in fostering outdoor education and life skills through scouting, has left an indelible mark on generations. As “God Bless America” plays on, its royalties will continue to fund adventures, learning, and growth for countless children in New York City, ensuring that Berlin’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of America’s youth.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Irving Berlin Gave the Scouts A Gift of Song” — NYT

WTF Fun Fact 13543 – Final Days of the Pony Express

In the 1860s, the Pony Express emerged as a revolutionary mail service, connecting the East and West coasts of the United States.

This legendary system, although short-lived, played a crucial role in American history, especially during its turbulent Civil War era. Its establishment was a response to the dire need for faster communication across the vast expanse of the country.

Challenges and Downfall

The demise of the Pony Express was a result of several factors, not just the advent of the transcontinental telegraph. Key among these was the deteriorating financial state of its parent company, Russell, Majors, and Waddell. This company had already been financially strained due to various misfortunes, including the loss of a large oxen herd and the impact of the Pyramid Lake War, which led to the destruction of many stations and the loss of essential resources.

The operating costs of the Pony Express were substantial. It needed about $1,000 daily to function, but its income fell short. Despite an initial charge of $5 per ounce for mail (later reduced to $1), the service was too expensive for the general public, limiting its use to newspapers and businesses. The company’s total expenses amounted to $700,000 against receipts of about $500,000.

Internal conflicts within the company and external pressures further aggravated the situation. The arrest of William Russell on charges related to stolen government bonds was a significant blow. Alexander Majors’ preparation for bankruptcy sent shockwaves through the business community, undermining confidence in the company.

Transition and Closure of the Pony Express

Despite these challenges, the Pony Express continued to operate, albeit at a loss. The government attempted to salvage the situation by merging the Pony Express with the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, but the effort was short-lived. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861 made the Pony Express obsolete, leading to its closure two days after the telegraph’s completion.

In its 18 months of operation, the Pony Express completed 308 runs, covering around 616,000 miles. This distance is equivalent to circling the Earth over 30 times. It successfully delivered 34,753 letters, losing only one mail bag throughout its operation. The primary issue, however, remained its financial non-viability.

Historical Significance

Despite its financial failure, the Pony Express is remembered for its significant impact. It was a testament to the courage, determination, and ingenuity of its founders and workers. The service played a vital role in keeping California and the West connected to the rest of the country, especially as the nation was on the brink of war. It filled an urgent need of its time and etched its name in the annals of American history.

The Pony Express’s closure marked the end of an adventurous and bold experiment in American communication history. It paved the way for more sustainable and technologically advanced means of communication, signifying the nation’s progress. Yet, the story of the Pony Express continues to captivate the imagination of many, symbolizing the relentless American spirit.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Pony Express – Final Days” — Encyclopedia Britannica

WTF Fun Fact 13629 – NASA’s Lost Tool Bag

In the vast emptiness of space, a lost tool bag from a NASA spacewalk has become an unlikely stargazer’s delight. On November 9, 2023, the bag became untethered from astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara during repairs on the International Space Station (ISS). Now orbiting Earth, the tool bag presents a unique sighting opportunity, shining bright as a star in the night sky.

Astronomical Mishap to Stargazing Marvel

What began as a minor mishap has evolved into a spectacle for amateur astronomers and curious onlookers alike.

The tool bag, initially following close behind the ISS, has started to lose altitude and drift ahead. Observations on November 11 showed the bag five minutes ahead of the ISS. Predictions suggest it will soon be nearly ten minutes in the lead.

Catching a Glimpse of the Celestial Tool Bag

This orbital oddity offers a new kind of sighting challenge. It can still be spotted with the aid of binoculars, appearing around magnitude +6. Those hoping to witness this sight should plan to observe the trajectory of the ISS, and then shift their gaze ahead of its path. With careful timing, the tool bag will make its journey across the stargazing canvas.

Despite its current visibility, the tool bag’s time in orbit is finite. As it continues to descend, it is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere between March and July of 2024, ultimately disintegrating. This event will mark the end of its accidental journey and remind us of the delicate nature of space operations.

The incident has sparked a renewed conversation about space debris and its implications. While the bag of tools poses no immediate threat, it underscores the broader issue of objects lost in space, highlighting the need for meticulous practices during extravehicular activities.

The Skyward Saga of a Tool Bag

From a practical instrument for space repairs to an object of curiosity circling our planet, the tool bag’s story captivates the imagination.

It serves as a reminder of our reach into space and the traces we leave behind. For now, as it glides silently above, the tool bag offers a fleeting connection to the vastness of space, a tiny beacon reminding us of humanity’s continuous quest beyond Earth’s bounds.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Lost tool bag from spacewalk caught on video” — EarthSky

WTF Fun Fact 13619 – Jacobean Space Travel

Over three centuries before space travel to the Moon’s surface, England was the site of a little-known, audacious space proposal. The architect of this early space program was Dr. John Wilkins, a 17th-century scientist and theologian. Wilkins, also Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law, dreamed of a lunar voyage, crafting plans for a spacecraft propelled by an extraordinary blend of wings, springs, and gunpowder.

Wilkins’ Revolutionary Concept

In 1640, at the young age of 26, Wilkins penned a meticulous description of the machinery necessary for interstellar communication and even commerce with extraterrestrial beings. His proposal marked the first earnest contemplation of space flight, grounded in the era’s most credible scientific documentation.

Wilkins’ era, as delineated by Professor Allan Chapman of Oxford University, was a golden period of scientific revelation. This era rested between the astronomical breakthroughs of Galileo and Copernicus, who unveiled a universe with potentially habitable worlds, and the subsequent realization of the vacuum in space.

Wilkins hypothesized that Earth’s gravitational and magnetic influence spanned only 20 miles upward. Beyond this boundary, he posited, space travel to the Moon would be feasible. His vision was fueled by the era’s spirit of exploration, mirroring the terrestrial voyages of renowned explorers like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.

Divine Space Travel

Wilkins, balancing his scientific pursuits with theological insights, argued from a divine perspective. He believed that if God created other worlds, it was within divine providence to inhabit them. His design for a ‘flying chariot’ was a blend of clockwork, spring mechanisms, feather-coated wings, and gunpowder boosters – an embodiment of ingenuity and ambition.

However, by the 1660s, Wilkins’ theory began unraveling. Scientists like Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke demonstrated the vacuum of space, contradicting Wilkins’ assumptions. Wilkins also later understood the distinction between magnetism and gravity, realizing the impracticability of his ‘sphere of magnetic virtue.’

Wilkins’ notions of space travel also included some unconventional beliefs, like the reduced need for food in space. He reasoned that gravity’s pull on Earth necessitated food consumption to replenish the constantly emptying stomachs, a premise that would not apply in the vacuum of space.

Jacobean Space Travel, Grounded

Wilkins’ theories, while never tested, represented a remarkable leap in thinking. His vision, though grounded by later scientific revelations, paved the way for future explorations and opened a dialogue about space travel’s possibilities.

This early foray into space exploration, termed by Professor Chapman as the ‘Jacobean Space Programme,’ laid the foundational ideas that would much later catapult humans into space. Wilkins’ pioneering spirit, albeit based on flawed premises, showcased the boundless curiosity and ambition that drive human endeavors beyond Earth’s confines.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Cromwell’s moonshot: how one Jacobean scientist tried to kick off the space race” — The Independent

WTF Fun Fact 13616 – Belly Flop Science

In a splash of scientific curiosity, researchers from Brown University have dived into the mechanics of the belly flop. They’ve emerged with insights that could ripple through the field of marine engineering. Their research didn’t just skim the surface. The air-to-water impact dynamics resonate beyond the poolside into naval design and safety.

The Sting of Impact: A Fluid Problem

Assistant Professor Daniel Harris explained the painful truth behind the belly flop’s notorious smack. The sudden halt of a body moving from air to still water creates a formidable reaction force. This results in the body’s shockingly painful reception. This resistance, familiar to any brave soul attempting a belly flop, also poses serious considerations for naval engineering, where structures frequently endure similar high-impact forces.

The research team conducted experiments that replicated the belly flop using a blunt cylinder that vibrated upon impact. Previous studies have often focused on rigid bodies hitting the water. But Harris’s team explored the effects when the object is flexible, allowing for shape change or deformation under force.

Springing into Safer Belly Flop Landings

The researchers attached a soft “nose” to their impactor, buffered by a system of springs designed to soften the blow. It works much like a car’s suspension system. The assumption was that a more flexible system would distribute the impact over a longer period. This would reduce the maximum force felt during the splashdown.

However, their findings defied expectations. Instead of consistently cushioning the blow, the flexible system sometimes intensified the impact force. The culprit? The springs themselves. If not perfectly tuned, the springs’ softness could lead to increased vibrations, adding to the slamming force rather than mitigating it.

The key to a less painful impact lies in the delicate balance of the springs’ stiffness and the height from which the object is dropped. The springs must be just soft enough to absorb the impact gently without causing additional rapid oscillations.

The experiments, while causing a few wet lab coats, have paved the way for innovative approaches to entering water smoothly. Taking cues from nature, the researchers are now exploring how diving birds maneuver to lessen the blow of water entry. Their aim is to design a robotic impactor that mimics these biological techniques for blunt objects.

Implications Beyond the Belly Flop

This study, supported by the Office of Naval Research and Naval Undersea Warfare Center, has far-reaching implications. By understanding the vibrational interplay between structure flexibility and impact forces, engineers can develop safer, more resilient marine vessels and structures. They’ve effectively turned the dreaded belly flop into a lesson in sophisticated design and safety.

The research not only offers a recipe for less painful pool antics but equips marine engineers with the knowledge to better navigate air-to-water transitions.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Want the secret to less painful belly flops? These researchers have the answer” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13601 – Runaway Tortoise Reunion

The tale of a runaway tortoise and his incredible journey back to its family after three and a half years of wandering in Putnam County, Florida, serves as a heartwarming reminder about never losing hope.

The Great Escape: Runaway Tortoise on the Move

Upon its discovery, the runaway tortoise was promptly brought to Florida’s Wildest Animal Rescue, where the team initiated a search on social media to locate the tortoise’s owners. “A truly unbelievable story, it just goes to show you to never give up hope,” remarked the shelter on their Facebook, delighted at the chance to play a role in such a heartwarming reunion.

When Gabby from Florida’s Wildest Animal Rescue spotted the tortoise’s photo shared by its owners in April 2020, she immediately recognized it. Distinctive features, like specific shell markings from an old dog bite, helped Gabby confirm it was the same tortoise. “As soon as I saw her photo I knew I had her tortoise,” Gabby recalled. Although the tortoise was found a mere five miles from where she made her grand escape, the journey wasn’t kind to the adventurous reptile.

Runaway Tortoise’s Health After Its Adventure

After spending years on the road, the tortoise returned in less than perfect shape. Gabby observed, “The condition of the tortoise isn’t great, she has a little shell rot on her shell, and a lot of the spurs on her legs are missing.” Despite these setbacks, the tortoise showed resilience and even ate under Gabby’s care. Yet, the importance of a vet visit was clear. A thorough check-up would be crucial to ensure the tortoise had no underlying infections or health concerns.

Sulcata Tortoises: Curious and Clever Creatures

Sulcata tortoises, widely known as African spurred tortoises, are among the world’s heftiest tortoises, sometimes tipping the scales at over 100 pounds. These curious creatures are a beloved pet choice in the United States. Yet, their sharp intelligence and innate curiosity often lead them into mischief. Gabby explains their reputation: “They burrow under fences, they’re also so strong they even have the potential to knock them down.” She aptly dubbed them “escape artists.”

However, not all runaway tales have jubilant conclusions. While this tortoise’s journey culminated in a heartening reunion, countless other stories remain unfinished. The ordeal underscores the importance of maintaining secure environments for these inquisitive creatures, ensuring they remain safe within their confines.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Runaway Tortoise Found Five Miles From Home—Over Three Years Later” — Newsweek

WTF Fun Fact 13584 – Owls Don’t Have Eyeballs

Owls don’t have eyeballs. At least not in the traditional sense.

If Owls Don’t Have Eyeballs, What Do They Have?

Owls possess elongated, tubular eyes that are fixed in their sockets. This unique design provides them with exceptional vision, especially in low light.

The reason behind this peculiar eye shape is all about maximizing light intake and enhancing their depth perception. With their long, tube-shaped eyes, owls can collect and process a significant amount of light. This feature is vital for a creature that does most of its hunting during twilight hours or in the dark of the night.

Now, since owls can’t move their eyes within their sockets like humans can, they’ve developed an incredible neck flexibility. An owl can rotate its head up to 270 degrees in either direction. Imagine turning your head almost entirely backward! This ability allows them to have a wide field of view without needing to move their bodies.

The Trade-Off

There’s always a trade-off in nature. While owls can see far and wide with their tubular eyes, their peripheral vision is limited. That’s where their keen sense of hearing comes into play. Together with their exceptional eyesight, their auditory skills make them formidable nocturnal hunters.

An owl’s retina has an abundance of rod cells, which are sensitive to light and movement. These cells help the owl detect even the slightest movement of prey in dimly lit conditions. And while they have fewer cone cells, responsible for color vision, recent studies suggest that owls can see some colors, particularly blue.

Given the size and prominence of an owl’s eyes, protecting them is crucial. Owls have a third eyelid known as a nictitating membrane. This translucent lid sweeps across the eye horizontally, acting as a windshield wiper to remove dust and debris. It also helps in keeping their eyes moist.

The unique eye structure of owls has fascinated scientists and researchers for years. By studying how owls see, we gain insights into improving visual technologies, especially those required to function in low-light conditions.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Do Owls Have Eyeballs: The Unique Vision And Skills Of Owls” — DiscoveryNatures