Dylan Thuras

Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

"Crop Circles" Reveal an Ancient Burial Site a Thousand Years Older Than Stonehenge

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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Riffing off David's recent post about stoned wallabies making crop circles, here is yet another set of "crop circles," made this time not by marsupials but by the gravesites of prehistoric man. From National Geographic

A thousand years older than nearby Stonehenge, the site includes the remains of wooden temples and two massive, 6,000-year-old tombs that are among "Britain's first architecture," according to archaeologist Helen Wickstead, leader of the Damerham Archaeology Project.

Discovered during a routine aerial survey by English Heritage, the U.K. government's historic-preservation agency, the "crop circles" are the results of buried archaeological structures interfering with plant growth.

Link to the National Geographic article

Spheres of Influence: A Collection of Spherical Sites

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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Recently the most perfect spheres in the world were created as an answer to the "kilogram problem." Made to replace a chunk of platinum and iridium that has defined how much a kilogram weighs for 120 years (the weight of the metal has been changing ever so slowly ) the spheres are about the size of a melon and almost perfectly round. They are likely the most perfectly spherical objects on the planet.

"If you were to blow up our spheres to the size of the Earth, you would see a small ripple in the smoothness of about 12 to 15 mm, and a variation of only 3 to 5 metres in the roundness"

With this in mind we present you a collection of a few of the more interesting spheres found around the world.

Sweden Solar System: The world's largest model of our planetary system centered around the largest spherical building in the world.

The Mapparium: An three story inside-out glass globe built in 1935.

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory: A gigantic spherical neutrino detector built into the largest man made underground cavity in the world.

Costa Rican Stone Spheres: Mysterious spherical rock formations from an earlier era.

Paris Sewer Museum: Giant wooden balls helped keep the Parisian sewers clean.

The Republic of Kugelmugel: A spherical "micro-nation" in the heart of Vienna.

Previously:

Roman Cat Sanctuary

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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From Atlas Obscura's newest team member, the terrific Annetta Black.

In Rome the cats have an ancient temple all to themselves. The site is known as Torre Argentina and was excavated under Mussolini's re-building efforts in 1929, revealing extensive multi-level temple grounds about 20 feet below modern street level. The site is actually composed of several temples as well as part of the famous Pompey's theatre, where in 44 BC Caesar was betrayed and killed on the theatre steps.

Today volunteers care for approximately 250 cats. After the site was excavated, Rome's feral cats moved in immediately, as they do all over the city. The gattare, or cat ladies began feeding and caring for them. Since the mid 1990s the population has grown from about 90 to the current nearly 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, and an extensive spay & neuter program to try to keep the feral population in check. Most of the permanent residents have special needs - they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.

On any given afternoon a small crowd gathers to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps.

Whether the cats rule themselves via Republic or recognize a cat Emperor is, as of yet, undetermined. More on Torre Argentina here.

Natural History Magazine's Picks From the Past

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

If you're looking for a good way to lose a day, I simply don't know any better resource than Natural History magazine's "Picks from the Past" page. The editors have assembled an inspiring selection of articles dating back to the magazine's early days at the turn of the last century. Here are a few of my picks from the picks:

Insects as Food: How they have augmented the food supply of mankind in early and recent times. By John S. Patton (1921)

Rains of Fishes: Do fishes fall in rain from the sky? By E. W. Gudger (1921)

Monkeys Trained as Harvesters: Instances of a Practice Extending from Remote Times to the Present. By E. W. Gudger (1923)

Floating Gold: The Romance of Ambergris By Robert Cushman Murphy (1933)

The Pearl of Allah: The giant clam yielded its treasure only after slaying a native diver trapped when its great jaws snapped shut. Worshipped as the gift of Allah, the 14-pound pearl was finally presented to the author by a Mohammedan chief whose son he saved from death. By Wilburn Dowell Cobb (1939)

Man and His Baggage: All along the rough road from savagery to civilization, man has found it an increasingly complex problem to carry the things needed for life. By Clark Wissler (1946)

The Crowninshield Elephant: The surprising story of Old Bet, the first elephant ever to be brought to America. By George G. Goodwin (1951)

One Man's Meat Is Another's Person: Humans may taste good, but most societies are a long way from cannibalism. By Raymond Sokolov (1974)

The Last Handwoven Bridge, Rebuilt by MIT

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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When conquistadors arrived from Spain they were shocked. Spanning vast canyons, and longer than any existing European or Roman bridge was a type of bridge which they had never seen before: an Incan suspension bridge. Today only one example remains.

Made of woven grass, the bridge spans 118 feet, and hangs 220 feet above the canyon's rushing river. The Incan women braid small thin ropes which are then braided again by the men into large support cables, much like a modern steel suspension bridge. Handwoven bridges lasted as long as 500 years and were held in very high regard by the Inca. The punishment for tampering with one was death.

Over time, however, the bridges decayed, or were removed, leaving this single testament to Incan bridge engineering. This previously sagging bridge is now repaired each year, and christened with a traditional Incan ceremonial bridge blessing. The bridge is in extremely good condition and is a perfect location for all of us wishing to indulge in long harbored Indiana Jones fantasies.

Though the Spanish tried many times to build stone arch bridges all were failures until steel and iron bridges were introduced to the mountainous Peruvian countryside. Today the rope suspension bridges are being studied, and even recreated by MIT students. The students made a 60-foot-long version of the Incan bridge which was stretched between two campus buildings.

More on the Atlas here, more on the story of the bridge here, and about the MIT recreation of the bridge here and slideshow here.

Lovecraft meets Atlas Obscura

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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As one who answers the Call of Cthulhu, I have a special interest in locations that have to do with Lovecraft or the Cthulhu mythos. Risking my grasp on reality and sanity I have assembled three places that display the distinct geometry of evil that occurs when Lovecraft and the Atlas Obscura meet:

The Witch House, Salem

The home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials, which sentenced nineteen "witches" to hang and crushed one man to death in an attempt to make him confess to witchery. It is the only structure left with direct ties to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and referenced in Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House."

Danvers State Hospital for the Criminally Insane

The insane asylum was the basis for Arkham Sanatarium in H.P. Lovcraft's Horror stories and Batman's Arkham asylum but is now a horrifying condo. However a nearby cemetery where the residents of Danvers were buried went unmolested by the condo developers and is worth a visit. The hospital is referenced in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "Pickman's Model."

Atlantic Ave. Tunnel

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel was built in 1844, and is possibly the worlds oldest subway tunnel. The tunnel lay sealed and hidden under the busy Brooklyn street for almost 140 years until it was rediscovered by a twenty year old in 1980. One can take a tour of the site, which the discoverer of the tunnel still gives. Be prepared to enter via manhole in the middle of Atlantic Ave. Referenced (not by name, but Lovecraft was likely referring to it) as the location of devil worshippers in "The Horror at Redhook."

A much more detailed list of Lovecraftian sites can be found here at the HPLA , and great Lovecraftian travelogs here and here.

Mysterious Youtube Videos of Famous Dancer

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer. This week's Talk of the Town section of the New Yorker had an amazing piece about a series of mysterious youtube videos of dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Vaslav Nijinsky is known as the best male dancer of the twentieth century. Unfortunately Nijinsky died retired at 29, and left behind no known footage of his dancing. Yet about a year ago videos of Nijinsky dancing began appearing on youtube, such as a clip from "Afternoon of a faun" seen below. If there is no known footage of him, where was this archival footage coming from? From the New Yorker article:
"Because it turns out, these aren't films. They are computer-generated artifacts, made by Christian Comte, a French artist who has a studio in Cannes. Reached the other day, Comte acknowledged his authorship. "These films are animations of photographs, achieved thanks to a process that I invented," he said. "I work as an alchemist in animated cinema." He uses still photographs and, by employing a computer to alter them--tilt a head, move an arm--fills in the gaps between successive shots."
Link to the New Yorker Article, Comte's youtube account of the strangely mesmerizing videos.

World's Oldest Functioning Planetarium

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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While traveling in Eastern Eastern and Central Europe last year I stumbled on the globe museum in Vienna, Austria. It had some beautiful orreries and tellurions (an astronomical instrument depicting the movement of the earth around the sun) but none of them came close to the impressiveness of the Eisinga Planetarium

Aside from a plaque that reads, "Planetarium," one would hardly be able to tell that inside this seemingly cozy, Dutch house lives the oldest, accurate moving model of our solar system. What is harder to believe still is that the model, built in 1781, is still functioning to this day!

Eise Eisinga, a wood carver and amateur astronomer living in Franeker, Netherlands, decided to build the model in 1774 after a mass panic occurred among the Dutch following an alignment of the planets earlier that year. People were terrified that a plantary collision was imminent. Eisinga hoped his model would help prove that nothing of the sort was going to happen.

The model was built from oak wood, nine weights, a pendulum clock, and over 10,000 hand-forged nails. Each planet continues to orbit the Sun at an appropriate speed (i.e. Earth, once a year, and Saturn, every 29 years). The museum is also home to a variety of old astronomical instruments as well as modern day astronomy equipment.

More on the planetarium here, on the globe museum here, and to the Atlas category "Astounding Timepieces" here.

The Pyramid of North Dakota

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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In the middle of the expansive North Dakota landscape a small pyramid appears, but there is nothing ancient about this pyramid

The Safeguard Program was developed in the 1960s to shoot down incoming Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Built at a cost of 6 billion dollars in Nekoma, North Dakota, the site was a massive complex of missile silos, a giant pyramid-shaped radar system, and dozens of launching silos for surface-to-air missiles tipped with thermonuclear warheads.

However due to both its expense, and concern over its effectiveness and the danger of detonating defensive nuclear warheads over friendly territory, the program was shut down before it was even operational. Today its a military-industrial shell in the middle of nowhere, or in the words of Kaluz who added this great site to the Atlas, "a monument to man's fear and ignorance."

More on the Atlas, and thanks Kaluz for the great submission!

Connections: Atlas Obscura Edition

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

If you've never seen the BBC show Connections with James Burke, you are missing out. Aired in 1979 the show attempted to connect various elements of history of science into a narrative web. I adore the show and in an homage I am going to try and do a few small Atlas version of connections, taking two disparate places, and finding an unexpected connection that links them together. Here goes!

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1. Colossal Squid on display at the New Zealand Te Papa Museum

The San Aspiring, a New Zealand fishing boat, caught the colossal squid in February 2007. "The crew were fishing with longlines - single lines with many baited hooks - for a large species of fish, the Antarctic toothfish. But on one line they caught more than they bargained for! There was a toothfish on the line, but eating the fish was a colossal squid - nearly 500 kg of it." The Colossal squid, featuring one of the largest beaks in nature, is now on display at the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand.

2. Cuban Perfume Museum

In Old Havana stands the perfume museum, a collection of bottles, ingredients, and historical artifacts all related to perfume. The museum has a collection of French perfumes, including Chanel No. 5, as well as great Cuban perfumers Gravi, Sebat├ęs and Crusellas. Most of the Cuban perfumes on display predate 1960, with the exception of one large collection. Suchel Fragrencia is the state perfume and soap maker, and the official state perfume produced in the country. The museum has their complete collection.

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The Connection: Whale excrement

Squid, be they giant or colossal, make up between 50 and 70% percent of a sperm whale's diet. Unfortunately for the whale those sharp, pointy squid beaks can irritate their stomaches. It seems that some whales develop a rather curious response. Their intestines coat the beaks in a fatty goo and expel the resulting substance. (Recent consensus is that it generally goes out the back, unless too large and then it is vomited up.)

Known as Ambergris and used in Chanel No. 5 and other famous perfumes the whale excrement was, and still is, one of the most valued ingredients in scent making. Though it stinks terribly when first expelled "over time, the odour becomes softer and more perfumistic." Ambergris costs upwards of 4000 dollars a pound and is still used today in high end perfumes.

So it is that the smell of the Chanel No. 5 found at the Cuban Perfume Museum is, in part at least, the smell of "the inglorious bowels of a sick whale" caused by the beaks of colossal squid, like the one on display at the New Zealand Te Papa Museum.

Philly's Homegrown Saint

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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If you can't make it to any of the amazing European relics listed below, (compiled by the always awesome Sacred Destinations, which also has a great section on largest Sacred sites in the world) there is Saint on display right here in the states, in Philadelphia the location of our upcoming Atlas tour

Upon his canonization, Saint John Neumann was exhumed and placed on display for worship. First they removed some bones and cut them into small pieces to be set in very small, glass-covered containers - one of which is set in the wooden cross that the priest uses to bless the congregation during devotions. His body was then clothed with Bishop's robes and his face covered in a smooth, white mask mimicking his features. To the side of the Shrine is a small museum dedicated to the life and death of St. John Neumann. This includes old photographs, sculptures, books, jewelry, coffins and especially haunting instruments of self mortification. Behind the alter is St. John Neumann's personal collection of hundreds of relics from saints. These include teeth, bones, skulls and other miscellaneous and fairly unidentifiable bits and pieces.

More on the Shrine of Saint John Neuman on the Atlas, and a link to the Atlas's growing collection of relics.

The Real Lead Zeppelins

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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Paul Collins had a wonderful article in the Jan 09 issue of New Scientist describing the history of metal balloons, and inventor Edmond Marey-Monge who in 1844 planned to launch his "ballon de cuivre" - a brass balloon.

"While Parisians bought their tickets to watch the giant orb take shape, the project also captured imaginations abroad. The merits of metal balloons were debated at length by armchair aeronauts in Britain, including one who wrote to Mechanics Magazine to suggest an "iron balloon" 400 foot (120 metres) wide as "not contrary to the spirit of the times" - though, he allowed, it might "gambol about the Earth's surface with great danger to life and limb of the human race, as well as terror to animal creation generally".

The height of success for the floating, metal crafts was the ZMC-2, or "Tin Bubble", which "could reach a speed of 100 kilometres an hour, and it put in 2200 flight hours before it was decommissioned in 1941." Metal balloons made a short comeback in 1977 at "The Great Lead Balloon Contest." From one of the contest entrants

"The third balloon, the Lead Zeppelin took the prize. It too broke its tether and was last seen heading toward Logan airport - After some laughter on the part of the tower personnel, they began tracking our IFO (Identified Flying Object) and it was last spotted by a commercial aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean headed toward Europe!"

We may in fact see metal Zeppelins again, as plans for futuristic blimp the "Turtle" are for a 200mph, solar powered, gigantic metal ballon.

Link to the wonderful Paul Collins article (his histories are practically reason enough to subscribe to the magazine), a post at the ADL Chronicles the 1977 "The Great Lead Balloon Contest" and a link to a youtube of the Mythbusters who, in 2008, created and floated their very own lead ballon, and to the "Turtle" a planned eco-friendly metal blimp.

The Corpse Flowers of Sumatra

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

Carnivorous plants have always held a special place in my heart. Watching a Venus Flytrap catch its dinner still fascinates me. Recently another type of plant that is just as strange and wonderful as the carnivores has caught my attention; Corpse Flowers.

You might imagine that smelling the world's largest flower would be a lovely experience. You would be very, very wrong.

The Rafflesia arnoldii, a rare and endangered plant known as the "giant panda of the plant world" bears the world's largest flower. A parasitic plant the Rafflesia lives most of its life within the roots of another plant. Eventually a blossom breaks through the root, grows up to three feet wide, and smells almost exactly like a dead body.

Known as a corpse flower or Carrion flower the Rafflesia releases a scent that smells like a rotting corpse, and the flowers petals bear a similar coloration to that of rotten meat. And while the flower smells terrible to humans, it smells like dinner to the carrion beetles and flesh flies which swarm all over the corpse flowers helping them to pollinate.

While the Rafflesia gets big, it has nothing on another corpse flower, the Amorphophallus titanum.

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Translated from the greek Amorphophallus titanum means "giant misshapen penis," and while the Rafflesia has the world's largest flower, the titan lays claim to the largest unbranched cluster of flowers in the world. At full size the titan can reach 9 and a half feet tall and 10 feet in circumference. The titan also generates a great deal of heat, the tip reaching approximately human body temperature, which helps strengthen the illusion of rotting meat that attracts the meat eating insects. It, like the Rafflesia, smells terrible.

Link to the extraordinary flora category in the Atlas which is in desperate need of more plant wonders, a list of titans in cultivation, and to an online carnivorous plant museum. (Apparently some of my other boingboingers have a love of corpse flowers as well, previous boingboing mentions here, here, and here)

World's Rarest Insect found on Rocky Spire

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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Ball's Pyramid is fairly amazing at first glance. However it wasn't until 2001 on a much closer inspection of the island, that scientists realized just how amazing the island, and its inhabits, really were

The remnants of a once massive volcano, Ball's Pyramid juts 1,843 feet out of the Pacific ocean. Discovered in 1788, the barren, rocky spire was thought to be devoid of life until 2001 when a group of scientists discovered what may be the world's rarest insect.

The Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) had not been seen alive in over 70 years. Known as "land lobsters" or "walking sausages," the six inch long insects had once been common on the neighboring Lord Howe Island, but were assumed to have been eaten into extinction by black rats introduced when a supply ship ran aground in 1918.

Yet in 2001 the scientists found a colony of the huge Lord Howe Island stick insects living under a single bush, a hundred feet up the otherwise entirely infertile rock. Somehow a few of the wingless insects escaped and managed--by means still unknown--to traverse 23 kilometers of open ocean, land on Ball's Pyramid, and survive there. Just 27 of the insects have been found on the rocky spire. They are currently being bred in captivity.

Links to Ball's Pyramid on the Atlas and a link to the fact sheet on the Lord Howe Island stick insect.

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Alan Gibb's Eclectic, Electric Art

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

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Riffing off of Xeni's excellent post about Omega Recoil I wanted to bring your attention to the Electrum, the world's largest Tesla Coil.

"Known as Electrum, the four-story (38-ft) Tesla coil was commissioned by a prominent New Zealand art patron Alan Gibbs, and set up on on his farm outside of Auckland, New Zealand in April 1998. Built by artist Eric Orr and high voltage engineer Greg Leyh, the enormous coil puts out over 3 million volts.

A particular delight of the Electrum Coil is the hollow spherical cage on top, where Greg Leyh would often sit during shows. While Leyh is safe within the Faraday cage created by the sphere, if he were to put his hand through the cage, he would be instantly electrocuted."

As interesting as the coil itself is Alan Gibbs, the art patron who commissioned it. Gibbs is one of New Zealand's wealthiest residents and is worth a third of a billion dollars. Called a "James Bond in Jandals" Gibbs has dabbled in everything from cars to telecoms, however the Bond reputation comes from Gibbs' recent project, the Aquada. The Aquada is an amphibious car that travels at over a 100km/h on land and smoothly transitions to 30km/h in water. Along with his other hobbies Gibbs owns what he calls "The Farm," an area rural in New Zealand where he collects and privately displays massive works of art such as the Electrum and Neil Dawson's "Horizons" pictured below.

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There is more info on the Electrum on the Atlas, this is an interesting article about the Aquada, and a link to more pictures of the enormous art on found on Gibb's Farm.