Amazing Nature Almanac – WIF Science

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Strange and Beautiful

Natural Phenomena

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Nature is amazing. There is no doubt about that. People have marveled at nature’s beauty since they came into existence. Not knowing what was happening, these people of old came up with some truly magnificent stories, trying to give a sense to the world around them. Today we are blessed with more knowledge about the world, but nevertheless this doesn’t diminish the magic taking place before our very eyes. If anything, it only makes nature more interesting.

 And while we no longer believe the “sky to be falling” every time it’s raining, or that Thor is smiting his hammer with every lightning strike, there are some natural phenomena out there we common folk still don’t understand. Here are 10 such natural occurrences, explained by our most prized of storytellers: scientists.

10. Snow Rollers

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No, these weren’t made by gnomes during the night, but rather by a series of meteorological events, in a particular order. Snow rollers aren’t a common sight, but when they do happen, and you stumble upon some of them, be sure that a fairly unlikely series of events took place the night before. First and foremost there needs to be two separate layers of snow already present: a first, icy or crusty layer of snow underneath, and a wetter one above. This way, the wet layer has something on which to roll over. Then you need some wind, strong enough to scoop out balls of snow and push them forward, similar to a tumbleweed, but not so strong as to blow it apart.

They will also form in relatively sloped areas, but this is not absolutely necessary. Just imagine yourself making a snowman, and the process is more or less the same. The biggest differences are that one is made by a person, the other by the elements. Also, snow rollers are more often cylindrical in shape, rather than a sphere, and they can vary in size from that of an average snowball, to that of a car. Nevertheless, the many meteorological conditions which need to take place in that exact order, at the exact time, make these snow rollers a very rare phenomenon to behold, and they usually make headlines in the newspapers the following day.

9. Mammatus Clouds

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Looking very ominous, mammatus clouds are sometimes the harbingers of an imminent and powerful thunderstorm. But more often than not, they form just after the storm has passed. Also known as mammatocumulus, they translate to “mammary cloud” due to their appearance as pouches, usually hanging beneath a larger, anvil cloud. As updraft pushes precipitation enriched air to the top of one such anvil cloud, the air begins to spread out, and the heavier precipitation, usually water particles and ice fall back to the bottom, forming these mammatus clouds. As the air falls back down to the ground, it heats up, evaporating the precipitation within it. The more precipitation there is the further down they will sink.

These clouds usually span over an area of several hundred miles in all directions and last for about 10-15 minutes at a time. While they usually form underneath an anvil cloud, they also appear on occasion under altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, cirrus clouds, as well as volcanic ash clouds. Whatever the case, they look amazing and ominous at the same time, especially when sunlight is reflected off of them.

8. Ice Flowers

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This natural phenomenon in particular is as beautiful as it is rare, and only takes places in late autumn or early winter, before the ground freezes over. As the air goes below freezing point, the sap within some plant stems, plants like theFrostweed (Verbesina virginica), begins to freeze and expand, pushing through the plant itself and forming an amazing thin sheet of ice, similar to a flower petal. Certain conditions need to take place for this beautiful phenomenon to appear. As the ground is still unfrozen, water keeps on going up the stem and through the microscopic cracks, the sap escapes and transforms into ice, adding to the ever longer sheet.

In some instances, this phenomenon can happen to wood as well. Wood which hasn’t yet dried completely and is kept in freezing conditions can sometimes present these Ice Flowers. More often than not however, the wood cracks from the pressure within, generating these wonderful patterns which curl and fold into gorgeous frozen petioles, giving this phenomenon both its name and appearance.

7. Columnar Basalt

columnar-basalt

This type of rock formation occurs, as it name suggests, in basalt, which is a lava flow rock. These formations can be found all over eastern Washington state, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the Los Organos on the northern part of La Gomera Island in the Canaries, and many other places around the world. Based on their name, you can clearly see what kind of stories people used to give these, back in the day. Nevertheless, there are columnar basalt formations found even on Mars. The way these form, is similar to how the ground cracks during a severe drought. As the water evaporates, or goes into the water bed below, the ground above contracts and cracks. The same thing applies here, as the lava flow progressively cools over a period of maybe longer than 100 years. The cracks form perpendicular to the original flow direction.

The difference in thickness of these columns depends on the speed at which they cool. While there are cases of a lava beds contracting as a whole, it is more likely for them to crack. The faster they cool, the thinner the columns will be. And while hexagons are most common, polygons with three to twelve or more sides can be observed. Their length, which can be greater than 50 feet, is based on how thick the original lava flow was.

6. Fallstreak Hole

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This particular cloud formation looks as if someone took an enormous cookie cutter and made a hole in what, otherwise, looks like an enormous flat cloud covering the sky. In fact, some people call them Holepunch clouds. Another particular aspect here is that a streak of cloud usually hangs underneath that hole. What’s happening up there is quite interesting, to say the least. For starters, we need to know that air at higher altitudes is much cooler that the temperature at the ground level. In fact, temperatures can go well below freezing point.

But despite this, water vapor and tiny water droplets “refuse” to freeze and remain in a “supercool” state. Water usually begins to freeze due to the impurities inside it: salt, dust particles, all sorts of other minerals, and so on. Cold, distilled water can also begin to freeze instantaneously if a piece of ice is added to it, in a process known as “ice nucleation.” Since water vapor is quite pure, water stays in liquid form even under freezing temperatures. Here, a piece of ice falls from higher altitudes and comes in contact with the water inside this cloud. This in turn sets out a chain reaction, freezing the droplets around, and making them fall to the ground – thus, the cloud streak below the hole. If a plane happens to pass through a cloud at a shallow angle, it can also cause it to freeze and form a cigar-shaped Fallstreak hole.

5. Brinicles

Brinicles are a fairly rare sight to see, not because they rarely happen, but because they take place underwater. In fact, they were only discovered in the 1960s. When seawater freezes, it releases its salt, creating super-salty brine. This percolates through cracks in the ice, into the water below. This brine then sinks because it’s much denser than the surrounding water. That is also the reason you can float in salty water, far better than in a fresh water lake. Nevertheless, this brine is also much colder, and the seawater around freezes on contact. Over time, this creates somewhat of an inverted cone, or funnel if you will, which goes ever deeper towards the bottom. This stalactite is what’s known as a brinicle.

Since brinicles appear in shallower waters, closer to the coast, in a course of some 12 hours it’s able to reach the bottom, trapping everything in ice. Creatures usually living on the ocean floor, like starfish and sea urchins, move far too slow and they get trapped in this newly formed ice, which then spreads along the bottom. Not surprisingly, brinicles are more commonly known as “The Ice Fingers of Death.”

4. Volcanic Lightning

Also known as a dirty thunderstorm, volcanic lightning is a weather phenomenon related to the production of lightning in a volcanic plume. What causes them was somewhat hard to figure out, and is still not yet fully understood. While during a thunderstorm, lightning is caused by colliding ice crystals, which generate enough electricity to cause a lightning bolt, ash clouds are far more difficult and a lot moredangerous to study. At first glance, it would seem counter intuitive to attribute ice as the main culprit behind a “dirty thunderstorm”. Some new scientific studies and better equipment, however, have begun to show us what’s really happening during one such volcanic inferno.

Once an eruption begins, large quantities of positively charged particles are blown into the air, which in contact with the negatively charged air particles around make for an electric discharge. These lightning bolts occur in and around the plume, which is ejected by the volcano itself. At first this theory was mostly based on speculation, but thanks to the very high frequency (VHF) radio emissions technology, scientists were able to get a better look inside one such dense volcanic plume and figure out what’s actually happening. But this is not all when it comes to lightning and volcanoes together.

Another study has tracked the location of lightning strikes some 60 miles from the eruption, and at near-stratospheric heights of about 12 miles above the ground. This seems to be caused somewhat in the same way as in a usual thunderstorm. As the ash cloud is blown by the wind, it thins out, and ice begins to form at its extremities, resulting in further lightning strikes. These studies, while not that surprising, can help a great deal in aviation as they can inform on the way to properly respond to a volcano eruption and the usual flight paths of commercial airliners passing above.

3. Sailing Stones

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Death Valley in California is notorious for its scorching heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. Among the many mysteries and legends linked to this place, none is more fascinating than the “sailing stones” phenomenon taking place within the Racetrack Playa, an exceptionally flat and level scenic dry lake. Some weighing around 700 pounds, the stones which dot the lake bed seem to be moving across the desert floor when nobody’s watching, leaving long trails behind them. This has puzzled scientists for decades now, but now geologists Richard and Jim Norris, believe they have found the answer. Though the phenomenon itself was under scrutiny since the 1940s, only recently did the two geologists actually capture these sailing stones on film. They set up a weather station in the area and fitted stones with GPS trackers. Two years into the project, the stones began to move.

What actually happened was that it rained the day before, and during the night a thin layer of ice had formed over a few inches of liquid water. As day came, the ice began to break apart and, pushed by the breeze, these ice sheets simply dragged the stones with them, scraping a trail on the bottom. By the end of the day, when all the ice had melted, some of the stones moved more than 200 feet. However, the conditions for this phenomenon to take place are hard to come by, and Norris compared the chances of actually stumbling upon it with winning the lottery. This also explains why this seemingly simple occurrence has intrigued people for so long.

2. Penitentes

penitentes

Penitentes are narrow ice formations, commonly found at high altitudes of over 13,000 feet, with low humidity, especially in the Andes Mountains of South America. What’s curious about them is that they usually point towards the sun, ranging from a few inches to six or even 16 feet in height. Their name comes from their resemblance to people kneeling, as when doing penance. More precisely, they resemble the brothers of the Procession of Penance in Spain, who wear hats with very tall, narrow, and white sharp tips (just like the KKK).

Anyway, the existence of these Penitentes was known about as early as the 1800s and were originally believed to have been formed by the wind. But in fact these jagged snow structures are the result of dimples in the original snow sheet. These in turn result in ever larger ablations, through a process known as “sublimation” – where ice and snow melts and vaporizes without turning into liquid water first. This happens more easily at high altitudes due to the reduced pressure of the atmosphere, together with the lower temperatures of the air and the more powerful rays of the sun above. The Penitentes are what remains behind, thanks to their angle towards the sun.

1. Light Pillars

light-pillar

This stunningly beautiful light show usually makes an appearance in cold, arctic regions and can be described as optical phenomenon in which columns of light seem to emanate below or above a light source, in a vertical orientation. This light source can be of natural origins, like the sun or moon, in which case these light columns are called Sun or Lunar Pillars, respectively. Or, they can occur due to the presence of artificial lights as well. These light pillars form when the two astral bodies are close to the horizon and tend to take on the color of the body emanating that light in the first place.

The effect itself is created by the reflection of that light onto the many ice particles suspended in the air or clouds. Because of this, light pillars fall in the category of halos – optical phenomenon produced by light interacting with ice crystals. The reason for why they appear vertical and not as a circle, is because the ice crystals which reflect them consist mostly of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally as they fall through the air. Together they act as a giant mirror, reflecting the light either up or down. Thanks to the slight turbulences in the air, these ice crystals somewhat change their horizontal orientation, elongating the light column even further. The larger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes. In some rare cases, column-shaped crystalscan cause light pillars as well.


Amazing Nature Almanac

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WIF Science

Easy to Learn Languages – WIF Grammar

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Incredibly Easy

Languages to Learn

Everyone but the biggest knuckle-dragging Neanderthal agrees that learning another language is a good thing. Aside from unlocking a whole new way of thinking, it also allows you to appear worldly, sophisticated and (probably) great in the sack. But with only a small percentage of Americans and an even-smaller percentage of British speaking a second language, it seems most of us can never dream of achieving this common goal.

Or so you’d think. Despite what your Spanish-fluent coworker may want you to believe, not every language is difficult to master. For every tongue like Czech, Japanese or Mandarin that’ll leave your head spinning, there are a dozen that you can comfortably pick up over the course of a single, intensive summer. Not too long ago we told you about the hardest languages to master. Well, there’s a flip-side to that coin. Want to start unlocking the secrets of those exotic foreigners? Here are ten languages so easy even amiable doofuses like us could pick them up.

10. Spanish

Spanish is a major, major world language. If world languages were a high school, then Spanish would be the laid-back popular kid all the other kids want to hang with (English would be the frat dude who insists on chanting USA! USA! while everyone’s trying to talk). Most of Central and South America speaks Spanish, as does Equatorial Guinea in Africa and, err, Spain. Simply put, you learn Spanish and you’re unlocking a heck of a lot of the world for yourself.

So why is Spanish so easy for us English-speakers? Well, both Spanish and English incorporate a whole lot of Latin into their vocabulary. The structure is fairly simple, too. While there are some differences (you’d say “the car red” instead of “the red car”, for example), they’re pretty easy to wrap your head around. Then there’s the ease with which you can practice. Just about everybody living in the USA has access to Spanish-language cable TV, so soaking up that sweet vocabulary is super-easy.

9. Portuguese

Compared to other colonial powers, Portugal didn’t leave a particularly important legacy (sorry, Macau and Angola). But it’s greatest impact just happened to be in one of the largest countries in the Americas. Brazil is massive, a regional economic titan that sprawls across nearly 50 percent of South America. It has over 200 million residents, one of the greatest soccer teams on Earth, and more jaw-dropping natural beauty than even yo momma.

All this is supremely easy to access. Portuguese is closely-related to Spanish, with all the advantages that entails. In our high school analogy, Portuguese is basically Spanish’s shy but friendly cousin everyone secretly has the hots for. The flip-side of this is that if you already know Spanish then Portuguese is harder to initially get to grips with. This is because the two languages are stuffed with ‘false friends’, words that sound identical but carry very different meanings. So you might construct a perfect restaurant order in Spanish, only to find you’ve accidentally asked to spend a filthy evening with your waiter’s wife (or whatever).

8. French

We’re gonna let you in on a secret. If a language falls into the ‘romance’ category, then it’s gonna be easy for you to master. And ‘romance’ is a category French doesn’t just belong to; it’s a way of summing up France’s entire cultural ethos.

French is the prettiest, most-sophisticated girl at school. The good-looking dude who knows he’s the coolest in class. It’s a language that once was perhaps the most-important on Earth. Although those days are gone, it’s still Kind of a Big Deal. Want to travel to Morocco, Algeria, the Congo, Belgium, Switzerland or Haiti? Learn French. Want to impress the pants off your next boyfriend/girlfriend? Learn French. We’re not sure how much clearer we can make this. French is freakin’ cool.

Once again, French incorporates a lot of Latin words. It also has a strong history with English. In 1066, William the Conqueror stomped on England and made medieval French the lingua franca of the ruling classes. That influence can still be felt today, in words like encore, serviette and coup d’etat. In total, English incorporated over 10,000 words from French.

7. Italian

Italy never quite acquired the global clout its cousins did. Today, learning Italian pretty much restricts your travels to Italy. Lucky for you, Italy just happens to be one of the most-cultured, historically-important, and beautiful countries on Earth.

Italy is the reason you can learn Spanish, Portuguese and French with such ease. It was the Romans who spread out and brought Latin to these countries, stamping their mark on everywhere from modern-day Britain, to Libya, to Syria, to Germany. Spanish is essentially just a bastardized descendant of ‘Vulgar Latin’, the language used by the grunts and soldiers of the Empire. This means there’s a whole lot in common between the two modern tongues, one especially pronounced if you happened to learn Argentinian Spanish, which has a rhythm more suited to the backstreets of Naples than the sidewalks of Madrid.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to learning Italian is just how much awesome culture you get to unlock. From Dante’s Divine Comedy, to the films of Federico Fellini, Italian is the language of some of the world’s most kickass masterpieces.

6. Swedish

Let’s step away from the sunny climes of southern Europe. Sweden is a completely different kettle of (fermented) fish. A cold, snow-bound country in the darkest reaches of Northern Europe, it’s about as removed from our previous languages as rotten herring is from pasta. Yet, crucially, it isn’t all that removed from English. See, English doesn’t just have Latin roots; it also has Germanic. And Swedish is aprime example of a Germanic language.

For learners, this translates to a language that’s comparatively simple. Aside from shared words (like midnatt for midnight), the two languages have a similar grammar, meaning mastering Swedish is essentially an exercise in remembering lots of vocabulary. As a special extra treat, the verbs don’t change much. So while English speakers would say “Ispeak English, he speaks English,” a Swede would just say “I speak Swedish, he speak Swedish.”

So what are the advantages of learning Swedish? Not many, if you hope to travel the globe; Swedish is spoken by only 10m or so people, nearly all of them in Sweden. If you want to live in one of Europe’s most pristine countries, though, it’s a no-brainer.

5. Norwegian

Norwegian is the closest we have in the modern day to being able to speak Viking. That alone should be reason enough to study it. But if you’re not swayed by manly beards, manly helmets with manly horns, or man-punching your way across the seven seas, then there’s at least one other good man-justification. Norwegian is easy for English-speakers to learn.

Another Germanic language, Norwegian shares all the positives of Swedish, while beingeven simpler. The grammar is close to English, while verbs are easy to master (there’s little change depending on the context). Again, there are a lot of closely-related words. Again, the rhythm and emphasis are not too dissimilar. In a broad study conducted at the turn of the 21st century, the Federal government declared Norwegian one of the easiest languages for Americans to learn.

There is a downside to all this. Not only is Norway’s population under 6 million, about 95% of them speak perfect English. The language is taught at all school levels. Meeting a Norwegian who doesn’t speak English is almost as rare as meeting an American who is fluent in Norwegian.

4. Esperanto

Esperanto is the most widely-spoken made-up language in the world. Yup, even Klingon and Elvish have fewer devotees (perhaps related to Klingon and Elvish being stupidlyhard). Invented in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, it was designed from inception to be crazy easyto pick up. One of Zamenhof’s stated goals was to make a language so simple that learning it would be “mere play.”

To that end, he incorporated different bits from lots of European languages, mashed them all together, simplified them, and called it a language. The result is a tongue that sounds strangely familiar, whether you’ve ever encountered it before or not. Go watch a video of someone talking in Esperanto. Chances are you’ll find yourself vaguely understanding bits and pieces of it.

In lists like this, we wouldn’t usually include a made-up language, because that way madness lies. But Esperanto is in a different league. Around 2 million people have some knowledge of it, and it’s estimated that up to 1,000 families may be ‘native’ speakers. For comparison, that’s more native speakers than even an actual language like Cornish has.

3. Afrikaans

The language spoken by the descendants of Dutch famers in South Africa and Namibia, Afrikaans has a long and turbulent history. For some Boers, it is an integral part of their identity, a way of planting their flag in a culture that has changed seismically over the last 20 years. It’s also the African language English speakers stand the greatest chance of learning. For example, the sentence “what is that?” translates, unbelievably, to wat is dit?

Afrikaans exists somewhere between Dutch and English, while being simpler than both. The grammar is logical and consistent, with none of the weird exceptions English insists on throwing in. The verbs are also super-easy. While in English we use dream, dreamed and dreamt to all mean the same thing in different contexts, Afrikaans would simply use ‘dream’.

Again, Afrikaans isn’t a great traveling language. You’re pretty much restricted to just two countries in southern Africa. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to understand Boer culture or to spend extended time in South Africa, it would almost be crazy not to learn it.

2. Frisian

Quick, hands up who has ever heard of Frisian? By our estimate, roughly 90 percent of you just sat on your hands, shook your heads and muttered something like “Fri-wha?”That’s OK, don’t sweat it. It’s a pretty obscure tongue. So, to quickly bring us all up to speed: Frisian is the native language of Friesland, a part of the Netherlands that Americans basically never go to, due to its lack of pot and hookers. It’s spoken by half a million people, and it’s probably the closest language to English in the world.

Seriously, Frisian and English were basically the same darn thing until comparatively recently. The two languages only started evolving independently 1,200 years ago, a long time in terms of getting over your last breakup, but next to nothing on the linguistic timescale. Even today, Frisians like to drop the old saying “good butter and good cheese, is good English and good Fries” into conversation. In both English and Fries, the sentence sounds identical.

If you’re a native English speaker, learning Fries is a walk in the park. While the written form looks more like Dutch, the spoken form has a near-identical vocabulary, sentence-structure and pronunciation to English. You’re probably reasonably fluent already, without taking a single lesson.

1. Dutch

Dutch is considered by linguists to be the easiest major language for English speakers to understand (Frisian’s easier, but by no stretch of the imagination is it ‘major’). It is spoken in the Netherlands (duh), Belgium, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles, with about 23 million speakers worldwide. It has so much in common with English that you can learn it in almost no time at all.

This is the result of a happy historical accident. While most languages easy for English speakers incorporate Latin or Germanic root words, Dutch incorporates both. This means a staggering amount of Dutch vocabulary sounds extremely familiar to English speakers, with the added bonus that the structure is similar too. Pronunciation is also pretty intuitive, aside from the odd, weird vowel sound. Lastly, the grammar is consistent, logical and doesn’t feature any odd (for English speakers) stuff like genders or cases. For English-speakers, that’s like hitting the Konami Code of language learning.

The only downside with Dutch is similar to Norwegian. Nearly everyone in the Netherlands and Belgium speaks fluent English, meaning chances to practice your stuttering Dutch are basically non-existent.


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– WIF Grammar

Get to Know Mexico – WIF Fun Facts

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Facts About Mexico

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Mexico’s international reputation isn’t exactly the greatest. Plagued by drug violence, hampered by poverty, and constantly getting bashed by US politicians, it can seem like a scary, far-away place where bad things happen. Even in the carefree days before the drug war, lots of Americans just saw it as the land of tequila, siestas and rowdy spring breakers.

 Well, we’re here to tell you that there’s a lot more to Mexico than its popular reputation suggests. A lot more. Stretching over nearly 2m km2, and with a history that goes back to the Aztecs and ancient Mayans, Mexico is a place of endless fascination. It has dozens of indigenous peoples. Its capital has more museums than any other city on Earth. It’s a place of culture, history, and great, historic achievements. Here are ten fascinating facts about North America’s only Spanish-speaking nation that you rarely hear north of the border:

10. It Used to be the 5th Biggest Nation on Earth

Modern Mexico is a big place. While it might pale beside Canada and the USA, it dwarfs the nations of Europe, and is bigger than all but one of Africa’s countries. Ranked, it would be the 13th biggest nation on Earth. But that’s just modern Mexico. The Mexico of the 19th century used to be much, much bigger. Go back to 1821, and you’d find yourself standing in one of the biggest countries in the world.

That map there is independent Mexico at its fullest extent. As you probably remember from history class, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California were all once part of the US’s southern neighbor. But Mexican territory extended further south, too. Modern Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica and Nicaragua were all part of Mexico. Taken altogether, the Mexico that existed at independence was larger than the entire European Union. If it existed today, it would be the 5th largest nation on Earth.

This super-Mexico didn’t last long. Before the 1820s were out, it had lost most of the nations that now make up Central America. About 25 years after that, the Mexican-American War eliminated its territory in the modern US.

9. It Has the Oldest University in North America

Quick, what’s the oldest university in North America? A good number of you just yelled ‘Harvard!’ at your tablet screens. Sure, Harvard is pretty old; it was founded in 1636. But even that august institution is a baby compared to its Mexican equivalent. The National Autonomous University of Mexico, based in Mexico City, was opened in 1553.

To demonstrate just how mind-blowingly old that is, consider this: NAUM was opened when Mexico was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was given its charter by Emperor Charles V, who headed both the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire (dynasty was a complicated thing back then). At that time, Shakespeare was still over a decade away from being born. Isaac Newton was over a century away. Right now, you are closer in time to George Washington’s last breath than NAUM was at its founding.

Not that it was called NAUM back then. It was the Royal and Pontifical University of New Spain. Unlike Harvard, it also hasn’t been in continuous operation. The dictatorship closed it down in 1867, and it wasn’t reopened until the Revolution.

8. There are Over 60 Official Languages

Ask most people to name the official language of Mexico, and they’ll say ‘Spanish’. And they’d be right… to a degree. See, while Spanish is the most widely-spoken official language in Mexico, it’s not the only one. Ever since the government enacted the Law of Linguistic Rights, over 60 indigenous tongues have been recognized as co-official languages.

The largest of these is Nahuatal. About 1.3 million people speak the language, roughly equivalent to the entire population of New Hampshire. This is the language of the Aztec Empire, the language that once dominated the whole of Mexico. But it’s far from being the only one. Over 700,000 people speak the Yucatec Maya language, and another half a million or so speak Mixtec. Over all, nearly 7 million Mexicans speak a language other than Spanish (although most are bilingual).

Interestingly, not all co-official languages are so widely-spoken. While the next 30 most popular are all spoken by between 10,000 – 400,000 people, some like Aguacatec are spoken by less than 30.

7. They Had the Shortest Presidency in World History

William Henry Harrison is famous in the US for his horrendously short presidency. The 9thPresident contracted pneumonia on Inauguration Day and died a single month later. But even WHH’s reign lasted longer than that of Mexico’s 34th president. By one count, it lasted nearly three thousand times longer. Pedro José Domingo de la Calzada Manuel María Lascuráin Paredes was President of Mexico for anywhere from an hour to just 15 minutes. So basically he was president just long enough for someone to get through his name.

The reason for this was the crazy politics of Revolution-era Mexico. General Victoriano Huerta had just overthrown President Madero in a coup. Under Mexico’s constitution, power of a deposed president automatically passed to either his vice-president, attorney general, foreign minister or interior minister. At the time, Lascuráin was foreign minister. To make his coup look less like a coup, Huerta convinced the government to appoint Lascuráin president. The two men then cut a deal, and he moment he was sworn in Lascuráin appointed Huerta his interior minister and then resigned. Power automatically, and legally, passed onto Huerta.

To date, no other world leader has ruled for such a short time. The closest is Diosdado Cabello, who ruled Venezuela for around six hours in 2002. His reign was still over twenty times longer than Lascuráin’s.

6. In Some States, There are Three Genders

Mexico’s relationships with LGBT rights is… complicated, to say the least. While drugs gangs have been known to shoot up gay bars in some states, places like Mexico City have legalized same-sex marriage. Then there’s Oaxaca. The southern state has an approach to trans-people that is possibly unique in North America. Among the indigenous Zapotec people, they’re legally recognized as a third gender.

 Known as Muxes (Moo-Shays), the third gender are people born as men, who choose to live instead as women. Concentrated around the town of Juchitan, they’re treated as a fact of life, in the same way men and women are. They own businesses, are admired for their cookery skills, and even have a yearly ball which the mayor of Juchitan attends. For American readers, this might seem like PC gone mad. But the Muxes are far from a modern invention. They’ve been around as long as the Zapotec themselves.

Pre-Columbian societies in Mexico tended to have a third gender of men who lived as women. While most traditions died off with the coming of the Spanish, among the Zapotec it thrived. In short, the Muxes have been around since long before anyone could say what the acronym LGBT stood for.

5. It’s Home to the World’s Smallest Volcano

So, apparently Mexico has an aptitude for leading the world in the ‘unlikely smallest things’ stakes. After the record beating barely-a-presidency of Lascuráin, the country has since thrown up yet another tiny marvel. Welcome to Cuexcomate, the smallest volcano in recorded history.

Now, pay attention, kids, because just looking at images of Cuexcomate is about as exciting as watching your toenails grow. It’s the facts behind it that make it fascinating. Cuexcomate formed way, way back in 1664, an offshoot of the bigger Popocatépetl volcano. Somehow, it began to grow… and then just stopped. Like a kid who doesn’t get any bigger after their first birthday, Cuexcomate topped out at a mere 43 feet. That’s tiny. You could stack 7 averagely-tall dudes on one another’s shoulders, and the top guy would be able to peer into the crater.

So small is the long-dormant volcano that no-one thought twice about building around it. If you want to visit Cuexcomate, you have to drive out into a suburb of Puebla, work your way around the Volkswagen factory, and locate it among people’s yards.

4. Net Mexican Migration to the US is Actually Negative

Mexican immigration has become a political flashpoint in the US. While we don’t want to get into the politics of it here, it’s worth noting that things may not be quite so explosive as they seem. While plenty of Mexican still travel to the US looking for a better life, plenty more come to the US, look around, then decide to go back to Mexico. We know this because, according to PEW Research, net Mexican immigration to the US over the last decade has fallen to negative levels.

This means there are actually more Mexicans permanently leaving the US than there are arriving. Prior to the recession, it was the other way. The period 1995-2000 saw a net migration of 2.27 million Mexicans to the US. The period 2009-2014, on the other hand, saw a net migration of minus 140,000.

The factors for this are manifold. Better border policing, the Great Recession, and increasing job opportunities in Mexico have all played a part, as has the desire to reunite with family members still in Mexico.

3. Mexico Once Went to War With France Over Pastries

In the annals of warfare, there can’t be many dumber reasons for attacking another state than the fate of a pastry shop. Yet that’s exactly what transpired between France and Mexico in 1838. After a rioting mob ransacked a Mexico City bakery owned by a Frenchman named Remontel, he sued the nation of Mexico for compensation. When Mexico laughed him out, he returned to France and demanded an audience with King Louis-Philippe. Amazingly, he got it. Even more amazingly, Louis-Philippe agreed to help him.

Paris wrote to Mexico and demanded payment of 600,000 pesos, some 600 times the value of Remontel’s shop (to be fair, some of it was for unpaid Mexican debts incurred a decade earlier). When Mexico balked, the French navy invaded. They bombarded  San Juan de Ulua, captured Veracruz, and blockaded the entire country. It was only thanks to a British-brokered agreement that the war ended in early 1839. Remontel got his money. All in all, the Pastry War dragged on for four months, killed over 100 people, and injured nearly 200 more.

2. They Briefly Had the Most-Deluded Emperor in History

Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph has the distinct honor of being just Mexico’s second and final Emperor. A member of Europe’s royal Habsburg line (the guys who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Maximilian was just drifting along when, in 1863, he received a letter telling him the people of Mexico had voted to make him their king. Rather than treat it as we would an email from a Nigerian prince, Maximilian hightailed it to Mexico and declared himself Emperor. Bad move.

The letter had been issued by Napoleon III of France, who was conspiring with conservative Mexicans to place a loyal French puppet on the throne. Unknown to Maximilian, they’d chosen him as their useful idiot. When Maximilian crowned himself emperor, it triggered a civil war in Mexico that lasted three years. Apparently, Maximilian didn’t realize this, and thought he was a beloved, paternal figure who’d finally found his true calling. When the US intervened to push France’s pro-Maximilian troops out, the Emperor even refused to leave, saying the Mexican peasants needed him.

Those same peasants executed him on a hillside outside Querétaro in 1867. The deluded reign of Mexico’s last Emperor was over.

1. Their Capital City is Sinking

At 2,240 meters above sea level, Mexico City is one of the highest capital cities on Earth. Only seven other capitals (out of nearly 200) sit at a higher altitude. Pretty neat, huh? Well, wait till you get a load of this next part. If things keep going the way they are, Mexico City may not hold its coveted 8th position much longer. This is for the simple reason that the capital is sinking at an incredible rate.

Yeah, sinking. Every year, this vast megacity, home to over 21 million people, loses roughly one meter (3 feet) in altitude. In the last 60 years, the entire city has dropped 10 meters closer to sea level. That might not sound like much, so let’s put it this way. The 7thhighest capital city in the world is Sana’a in Yemen. It stands at 2,250 meters above sea level, ten meters higher than Mexico City. Over the course of six decades, the entire Mexican capital sank so low that it passed Sana’a, dropping from 7th to 8th place in the ranking of capitals by altitude.

 The reason for this is simple: water. Mexico City’s residents draw their water from beneath the capital, draining the water table and causing it to subside. As the city’s population keeps growing, it will sink faster and faster, until eventually dropping out of the top 10 highest capitals altogether. While that’s still a way off yet, (Nairobi, the current #10, is nearly 450 meters lower than Mexico City), the simple fact it could happen is mind-blowing.

Get to Know Mexico

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– WIF Fun Facts

Dangerous Places to Live – WIF Travel

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Dangerous Places to Live

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10. The Anomalous Lake Maracaibo In Venezuela

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While there are other lightning activity hotspots in the world, they tend to be more spread out, or only during certain seasons. By far the highest concentration of lightning in one place in the world, goes to the bizarre lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. In this spot, on most nights, you can essentially see lightning flashing over and over again. In the area around the lake, there are roughly 250 lightning flashes per square kilometer a year. During the right time of year, when a storm is really going, you can see up to 28 lightning flashes per minute.

When the lightning flashes are going they can be seen as far as 250 miles away, and some say sailors from long ago used it as a navigational beacon. Interestingly, experts are unsure as to why this particular area is a hotspot for lightning. Some suggested uranium in the bedrock, others suggested wind patterns or other similar ideas. Right now, there isno solid theory to explain what is happening that anyone is willing to stake their reputation on.

9. The Coldest Inhabited Village In The World

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The village of Oymyakon, in Russia, is the coldest known inhabited city in the world, and is easily one of the most extreme environments you can choose to live. The temperature averages -58F during the winter, something most of us cannot even imagine dealing with. When asked how they deal with the cold, the locals responded with typical Russian humor, and credited vodka to their ability to deal with the cold.

Walking outside for a few minutes, even when properly equipped, can cause glasses to become stuck to your face, and cars that are turned off in the cold will not turn back on. Being outside for just a few minutes without the proper gear could quickly lead to frostbite or death, depending on how little gear you have. Indoor plumbing is pretty much nonexistent due to the frozen ground, so people use outhouses. Locals mainly consume raw meat and fish, washed down with liberal amounts of vodka of course.

8. The Colombian Village Where Children Zipline Across A Canyon To Get To School

Some young people will complain about taking the bus to school, and how annoying it can be to sit with the other children. Some parents will half-joke about walking uphill both ways to get to school when they were a small child. However, in some places in the world, getting to school is actually quite a real chore. In some poorer countries, kids walk miles every morning so they can learn, but one small village in Colombia has them all beat.

As seen in the video above, these children are actually ziplining across a canyon every morning so they can get to their school quickly from their village. While it may look kind of fun, the average child or adult would be absolutely terrified, especially at how little safety equipment they are using. It just goes to show that if you truly want something, you will brave almost anything to get it.

7. Honduras, The Murder Capital Of The World

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When most people hear about immigrants coming to the United States to seek shelter, whether they do so illegally, or attempt to seek asylum officially at our borders, they think of people coming from Mexico. However, there are many other South American countries from which people are fleeing to the United States. One of the chief of these is Honduras, often called the murder capital of the world.

Honduras is plagued by the worst kind of gang activity. Those who do have money live in extremely tightly secured houses, with private security, that may as well be fortresses. Most people live in fear, and many people have to join the gangs in some way or simply be killed. Many young people end up killed by gang violence regardless of what choices they make. Hundreds of young people die in the gang wars every year, and less than ten percent of the cases are even investigated at all — the resources simply aren’t there. This allows the murders to continue unabated.

6. Flint, Michigan — Known For Lead Contaminated Water And Sky High Murder Rates

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Flint, Michigan has been in the news recently because of the lead contaminated water. The governor appointed emergency city managers, and the one in Flint forced through a water change to a cheaper source that hadn’t been properly vetted. Even though the governor and the manager were warned by the EPA and others, they did not listen and went ahead. The water was not only contaminated and poor quality, but the change caused corrosion damage to the already old infrastructure, worsening the contamination.

However, this was only the most recent of Flint’s problems. Even before the water crisis, Flint was starting to fall apart in terms of wealth, infrastructure and pretty much everything else. They were once a bustling manufacturing town, but once the industry left, the jobs were gone and most who were stuck there fell into extreme poverty. In recent years Flint has either been the murder capital of the USA, or been in the top three to five. With gang activity ramping up, jobs continuing to disappear and the water problem not going anywhere, Flint may be the most dangerous city in America.

5. Life In A Submarine Is Definitely Not Fun

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Many movies have romanticized submarines, especially classics like The Hunt For Red October. However, in truth submarines are an absolutely wretched place to live in, and those who work in them often do essentially live in them long term. If severely damaged during wartime, submarines may have some survivors, but in many cases it would be the end.

More to the point though, even in times of relative peace, living in a submarine is a terrible prospect. They are incredibly cramped spaces with no view, no fresh air, and no variation in meals. There is nothing to talk about, no up to date television or news and nothing from the surface apart from occasional command updates. Many people start to go insane due to the extreme feeling of isolation and loss of personal space, as everyone has to sleep in tiny communal areas, and no one has their own personal bed except the command staff. While it is unlikely in peacetime for you to die on a submarine, having a bout of temporary insanity is not at all uncommon.

4. Astronauts Always Come Back From Space With Numerous Health Problems

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Being an astronaut and going up into space sounds like an incredibly cool job to have. Some people spend their entire lives aspiring to it and never get there. To even be considered, you have to have a masters degree or higher in a relevant field, have several years of experience, be of near perfect physical fitness, have the right height and weight range, and preferably have military experience, especially if you want to be considered for a command position. If you are interested in being a pilot, you also require a lot of experience flying. Even then, they will only select a handful of people to consider when they are looking for more, and only a few of those people will be trained.

However, the truth is that all of this stringent selection is done because being in space is incredibly taxing on the human body. Just being up for a few months will eat away at the structure of your bones. The general rule of thumb is that for every month in space you are going to need two months to recover your bone density. It can also give returning astronauts serious low blood pressure for some time, and can cause permanent damage to vision due to the strange way low gravity effects pressure on the eyes, among other effects.

3. Working And Living On An Oil Rig Is Incredibly Dangerous

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When people hear about a disaster like Deepwater Horizon, they think of the horrible environmental impact. As the oil continued to flow into the ocean unabated, and it took what felt like way too long to stop it, the loss of life was mostly forgotten in the media. The loss of marine life was talked about, but not much went into the fact that eleven oil rig workers went missing that day and were presumed dead — they were never found.

Working on an oil rig is an incredibly dangerous job, and when safety precautions are ignored — and they have been many times in the past — it is the workers who suffer first. Life isn’t much safer for oil field workers either, and especially in North Dakota’s oil fields, things are not in good shape. The federal authorities are investigating safety standards, after reports that there is roughly one accidental death every six weeks.

2. Any Of The Alleged Cancer Villages That Are Spread All Over The Country Of China

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If you ask the Chinese government, there is no such thing as a cancer village. For the longest time, they even denied the pollution clouds surrounding their major cities, until the international visits during the Olympics made it impossible to deny to the entire world any longer. Anything that may make them look bad, or pressure them to tamp down on industry, is swept under the rug. Unfortunately, this is causing great harm to many Chinese citizens.

All over China, the country is dotted with what some call “cancer villages”. They are so dubbed because within these villages, generally everyone knows a minimum of one person who has serious cancer. These villages are always way too close to industrial plants, and often have strange particles very visible in the air. Even living there for years, the citizens never get used to it. One journalist who risked going to these villages to talk to people found himself coughing up strange brown sediment after being there only a short time — and people were angry about it. Despite the Chinese government’s policy of crackdown against dissent, these people were upset enough that they were willing to speak out about it to outsiders.

1. The Island That Is So Overrun By Snakes Hardly Anyone Dares Set Foot

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The island known as Ilha da Queimada Grande, is owned by Brazil and within close enough distance that it would normally be put to more use. However, the issue is that the island is overrun by golden lancehead vipers, an insanely venomous variety of lancehead only found on this particular island. They evolved with too many other snakes, and too little of their regular prey, forcing them to evolve incredibly strong venom to take out more difficult foes.

This venom can kill a human in under an hour, and that is from just one good bite. Some reports estimate that this island has as many as one snake per square meter. This essentially means that in any given part of the island, you could look in any direction, and see at least one snake a few feet away. Legends say the lighthouse was once manned by a small family, who died when the snakes slipped through the cracks and murdered them. While that particular story is hard to verify, there is an old lighthouse on the island, that is now automated and is maintained once a year by the Brazilian Navy — hopefully they bring flamethrowers when they visit.


Dangerous Places to Live

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– WIF Travel

Natural Disaster Digest – WIF Geography

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Biggest Natural Disasters

in Earth’s History

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The Butterfly Effect principle simply states that, given enough time, whatever event, no matter how small, can and will have tremendous reverberations into the future. And when talking about past disasters, natural or otherwise, we always have to keep in mind that, even though devastating, they are part of what brought us here in the first place. Without them the world and everything in it would have taken a totally different turn, ending up completely different than it is today. The further back in time any particular event takes place, the more indirect influence it has on the present and future, altering them beyond recognition.

 We may try to speculate on how things would have turned out if any particular disaster from our past didn’t happen, but the variables are so small and infinitely numerous, that we may never know the right answer. Similar to weather prediction (which is looking into the future, by the way), we can only make our best guess with the limited information we have. With this being said, let’s take a look at 10 natural disasters from our past, and maybe later imagine how the world would have looked like without them.

10. Outburst of Lake Agassiz, North America

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Roughly 14,500 years ago the planet was beginning to emerge from its last Great Ice Age. And as temperatures began to rise, the Arctic Ice Sheet that gripped much of the Northern Hemisphere began to melt away. Fast forward 1,600 years, and what is now the middle of the northern part of North America (parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario) was under a huge proglacial lake, formed by melting water being trapped by a wall of ice or another natural dam. With an estimated area of 170,000 sq. miles, Lake Agassiz was larger than any currently existing lake in the world, and roughly the size of the Black Sea.

Then, for whatever reason, the dam broke and all the fresh water trapped there escaped into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River Valley. And even if the deluge itself was bad enough, what followed next may be what killed off the megafauna in North America, as well as the Clovis culture. As the insane amounts of fresh water flooded the Arctic Ocean, it severely weakened the Atlantic “conveyor belt” by 30% or even more. This belt cycles warm water up to the Arctic, where it cools, sinks to the bottom and travels back south along the ocean floor. With the new influx of fresh water from Lake Agassiz, the cycle slowed down and the Northern Hemisphere returned to near-glacial temperatures and conditions for about 1,200 years, in a period known as The Younger Dryas. The end of this period, roughly 11,500 years ago, was even more abrupt than when it first started, with temperatures in Greenland rising by 18 degrees Fahrenheit in a just a mere decade.

9. The Siberian Traps Eruption, Central Russia

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Some 252 million years ago, planet Earth looked a lot different than it does today. Life was as alien as life can get and the continents were all pushed together, forming a single, super-continent known as Pangaea. Evolution was following its normal path, with life flourishing on both land and sea. Then, as if out of nowhere, all of it would change in a geological instant. In the far north of Pangaea, in what is now Siberia, a super volcano of Biblical proportions began to erupt. The eruption was so massive and so devastating, it covered an area of almost 1.7 million sq. miles (roughly the size of the continental US) in a one mile deep sea of lava. Only about 500,000 sq. miles of it are still visible today, in a region now called “The Siberian Traps.

This eruption itself and subsequent lava flows, while devastating in their own right, were only a catalyst for an unstoppable chain of events that would kill off 75 percent of life on land and over 95 percent of all marine creatures. This apocalyptic event marked the transition between the Permian and Triassic periods, and is sometimes known as The Great Dying. The immediate effects of the super volcano completely devastated the Northern Hemisphere, turning the air into literal acid and plunging the entire food chain into complete disarray. With the several century-long volcanic winter that followed, 10% of the world’s species had perished. After the dust settled, the planet was immediately thrusted into a massive global warming, raising the global temperatures by 5 degrees Celsius and killing another 35% of all land creatures.

The oceans were next, with much of the CO2 in the atmosphere being absorbed by the water and turning it into carbonic acid. With the increasing temperatures, the oxygen-depleted waters from the ocean floor began to expand and rise from the depths, trapping all marine life “between a rock and a hard place.” The massive amounts of methane hydrate, found even today on the ocean floor, began bubbling to the surface due to the warming waters, and raising the planet’s temperatures by another 5 degrees Celsius. At this point in time, almost all of marine species had died off and only the sturdiest of land creatures managed to survive. This event is the single largest case of a mass extinction to have ever happened on Earth. But at this point we are able to generate four times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as that super volcano all those million years ago, with most of the above mentioned effects already beginning to happen.

8. The Storegga Slide, Norwegian Sea

Some 8,000 years ago, 60 miles off the Norwegian coast to the north, a huge chunk of land roughly the size of Iceland broke off of the European continental shelf and plunged into the depths of the Norwegian Sea. Most likely caused by an earthquake that destabilized the methane hydrates found trapped there, the 840 cubic miles of sediment spread itself over 1,000 miles into the abyssal plain below, covering an area of about 36,700 sq. miles. The ensuing tsunami following the landslide wreaked havoc on all surrounding landmasses at that time.

As the planet was emerging from a previous Ice Age, sea levels were 46 feet lower than they are today. But even so, sediment deposits originating from the Storegga Slide have been discovered 50 miles inland in some places, and 20 feet above current tide levels. With waves exceeding 80 feet and travelling in all directions, Scotland, England, Norway, Iceland, Faroe, Orkney and Shetland Islands, Greenland, Ireland, and the Netherlands were all severely affected by this natural disaster. The last remnant of land that once connected the British Isles to mainland Europe, known as Doggerland, was completely swept over by the deluge, thus creating the North Sea we know today.

This was not the first or the last time this happened, with several other smaller landslides off the Norwegian coast taking place between 50,000 and 6,000 years ago. Companies involved in petroleum and gas exploration take special precautions so as not to trigger another such event by accident.

7. Laki Eruption, Iceland

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Iceland sits directly on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where two large tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. This makes the island nation one of the most volcanically-active regions in the world. In 1783, an 18 mile-long crack on the island’s surface, known as the Laki Fissure, ripped open. Along its length, 130 craters formed, spewing 3.4 cubic miles of basaltic lava over a period of 8 months. Incomparable in size and devastation with what happened in Siberia 252 million years ago, the Laki event featured very similar characteristics, and was the largest volcano eruption of the past 500 years. Thanks to a network of underground tunnels known as lava tubes, the molten rock was able to spread hundreds of miles away from the fissure and raze a total of 20 villages to the ground.

The most devastating effect of Laki however was not the lava itself, but the toxic gases it spewed into the atmosphere. An estimated 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride and 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide were released, poisoning the air and forming acid rains. Three quarters of Iceland’s sheep and over half of all its livestock died as a result. Due to starvation and disease, over 20 percent of Iceland’s population was killed over the following months. Furthermore, the sulfur dioxide was spread over much of the Northern Hemisphere, blocking the sun’s rays and plunging the planet into a mini volcanic winter. Europe was most affected by it, causing crop failures and starvation, leading to the infamous French Revolution.

The rest of the world is affected as well. North America experiences the longest and harshest winter on record, one sixth of Egypt’s population dies of starvation, and the monsoon seasons are thrown into disarray, affecting regions as far away as India and Southeast Asia.

6. The 2011 Tornado Super Outbreak, Central United States

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Tornadoes in general leave few remnants of their existence over long periods of time. Their effects can be devastating, but from an archaeological point of view, not much evidence can be unearthed. However, the biggest and most destructive tornado event in recorded history took place in 2011 over an area colloquially known as “tornado alley” in both the US and Canada. From April 25-28 a total of 362 tornadoes were reported and confirmed across 15 states by the National Weather Service. Violent tornadoes occurred each day, with April 27 being the most active, with a record of 218 tornadoes touching down. Four of these were classified as EF5, the highest ranking possible on the Enhanced Fujita scale. On average around the world, one such EF5 tornado is reported once a year or less.

 In total, 348 people were killed as a result of this outbreak, 324 of which were direct tornado-related deaths. The other 24 casualties were caused either by flash floods, fist-sized hail, or lightning strikes. Another 2,200 people were injured. The most affected state was Alabama, with 252 fatalities. The hardest-hit area was the city of Tuscaloosa in Alabama, where one EF4 tornado, with a diameter measuring nearly 1 mile and wind speeds exceeding 200 mph, ravaged through residential areas of the city. Total material damages have been calculated to be around $11 billion, making the 2011 Super Outbreak one of the most expensive natural disasters to grip the US.

5. The Spanish Flu, All Over the Globe

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As the world was gripped by the horrors of WWI, an even deadlier killer was beginning to make its presence felt throughout the planet. The Spanish Flu, or Influenza, was the deadliest pandemic in modern history, with 500 million people infected worldwide – about a third of the population – and an estimated 20 to 50 million people killed in less than six months. Around a quarter of all US citizens became infected and 675,000 of them died because of it, lowering the average life expectancy by 10 years. As the First World War was slowly drawing to a close in 1918, the Influenza virus was given little attention at first, especially on the battlefield, which quickly became a perfect hotbed for the airborne disease.

For years, scientists believed the origins of the flu began in the trenches of France, and neutral Spain was conducting heavy research on it, earning it the name “Spanish Flu.” The harsh conditions of the battlefield were perfect for such a disease to be created, with large numbers of people being packed together in squalor and often times in close proximity with animals such as pigs. Moreover, the many deadly chemicals used throughout WWI gave ample chance for the virus to mutate.

A decade after the war, however, Kansas was being seriously considered as another possible breeding ground for the N1H1 influenza virus, when it was discovered that 48 infantry men died in a military camp there. More recent evidence indicates to a group of 96,000 Chinese laborers who were sent to work behind the British and French lines. Reports of a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu. However, no direct link had been made between the Chinese illness and the worldwide outbreak. The effects of the pandemic can be felt even to this day, 100 years later, with several other related strains of the virus hitting in 1957, 1968 and again in 2009 and 2010 during the “swine flu” crisis. None of these instances have been as deadly as the one at the end of WWI however, when only the isolated Marajó Island in Brazil’s Amazon River Delta had not reported an outbreak.

4. Last Outburst of Lake Agassiz and the Black Sea Deluge, Eastern Europe

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Once again Lake Agassiz makes it on this list, this time with its final drainage which occurred around 8,200 years ago. After the lake’s last major drainage mentioned above, the ice sheet replenished itself due to the cooling caused by the lake’s fresh waters gushing into the Arctic Ocean. But as the planet began to warm up again 1,200 years later, the lake reappeared. But this time Agassiz seems to have merged with another equally large Lake Ojibway. The joining was short lived, however, with their complete drainage taking place, this time into Hudson Bay. Like before, the planet was plunged into another cold spell, called the 8.2 kiloyear event. However, this event was far shorter than the Younger Dryas, lasting for only about 150 years. Nevertheless, this sudden supply of water into the world ocean, raised sea levels by a staggering 13 feet.

Major flooding took place in all corners of the world, from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Arabia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Many submerged settlements have been found all over the world, which seem to date from this period. This time in history may also be when all the Flood Myths around the world came into being. But the biggest case of flooding came about in Eastern Europe’s Black Sea, which at that time was no more than a fresh water lake. With the fast sea level rise, the Bosporus Strait partially gave in and water from the Mediterranean poured into the lake to form the Black Sea. The speed at which water poured in is still debated to this day, as is the quantity. Some believe that over 10 cubic miles of water entered the strait with 200 times the flow of Niagara Falls. This lasted for three centuries and flooded 60,000 sq. miles of land, with waters rising by six inches per day. Others believe the flooding was more gradual and covered just 770 sq. miles.

3. The Zanclean Flood and the Mediterranean Sea

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Just like the Black Sea above, the Mediterranean was also a lake once. As the African and Eurasian tectonic plates moved closer and closer together over a course of many millions of years, they eventually collided. Their initial point of contact was between the Iberian Peninsula and the northern coast of West Africa some 5.6 million years ago. Isolated from the Atlantic Ocean, the now Mediterranean lake began to evaporatedue to the arid conditions over the course of several hundred thousand years. In most places the sea floor was covered by a mile-high layer of salt. This salt was then blown by the winds, wreaking havoc on the surrounding landscape.

Luckily, 300,000 later the Mediterranean was full once again. The likely cause is believed to have been the continuing shift of the crustal plates, which in turn caused the ground around the Gibraltar Strait to subside. Over the course of several thousand years, an instant in geological terms, the Atlantic dug its way through the 124-mile-long channel. The flow of water reaching the Mediterranean basin was slow at first, but still three times the rate of discharge of the Amazon River today. However, it is believed that once the channel was wide enough, the surge of water was tremendous, filling the remaining 90% of the Mediterranean basin in a course of several months to two years. The water level rise may have been as high as 33 feet per day. This event is known asthe Zanclean Flood. And even today, more than 5 million years later, the Mediterranean is much saltier than the Ocean, due to the narrow strait that connects them.

2. North China Drought, 1876-79

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Between 1876 and 1879 a serious and large-scale drought occurred in China, leaving some 13 million people dead out of the total of 108 million. As the world was emerging from its last period of cooling known as “The Little Ice Age,” a drought in the Yellow River basin area began in earnest in 1876, worsening the following year with the almost total failure of rain. This was by far the worst drought to hit the region in the past 300 years, and definitely caused the largest number of casualties. Shanxi province was the most affected by the famine, with an estimated 5.5 million dead out of a total population of 15 million.

This was not the first time China was faced with a severe drought, and up until the 18thcentury the nation was heavily invested in the storing and distribution of grains in cases of dire situations such as this. In fact, the state on several occasions was effective in preventing serious droughts from resulting in mass starvation. This time however, the Qing state was considerably weakened by the mid-century rebellions and strong British imperialism, and was totally unprepared for a crisis on this scale. Foreign and local relief efforts had been made, but much of rural China had been depopulated by starvation, disease and migration.

1. The Collision Between Earth and Theia

Though this list was not written in any particular order, we’ve decided to end it with a huge, cataclysmic event of literal astronomic proportions, which made our planet what it is today. And even if scientists are not 100 percent certain it happened, there are strong indications that it did. Some 100 million years after our planet had been formed by the gradual collection of asteroids and other space debris, the young Earth was headed on a direct collision course with Theia, a hypothesized planet in our young Solar System. This other planetary-mass object is believed to have been roughly the size of Mars, or somewhat smaller, and which 4.31 billion years ago was flung towards Earth and smashed head-on into it.

 The force of the impact merged the two planets together, forming the Earth we know and love today. The pieces that were blown out from the collision were captured by the planet’s gravitational pull and slowly formed the Moon. The large size of our natural satellite relative to Earth backs up the collision hypothesis. Moreover, scientists analyzing moon rocks from three Apollo missions have compared them to volcanic rocks found in Hawaii and Arizona and discovered no difference in their oxygen isotopes. Another indication of the collision is the unusually large core and mantle of our planet compared to the other rocky worlds in our Solar System, as Theia’s core and mantle mixed with Earth’s.

Natural Disaster Digest

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– WIF Geography

Remote Cities and Capitals – WIF Geography

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Remote Cities and

Capitals on Earth

Many of us spend our days dreaming of getting away from it all. The hustle of the city, the stress of the commute, the noise and pollution… what could be better than escaping all that for one of the remotest spots on Earth?

Well, you may be surprised by what qualifies for ‘remote’. Each of the cities and capitals below is in some way cut-off from the rest of the world. They may be hard to get to, they may be geographically distant, or they may simply be isolated in some profound sense. Yet not all of them would naturally spring to mind when you hear the word ‘remote’. From the super-famous to the super-obscure, here are 10 places on Earth so out-of-the-way they make living in the sticks look like renting in downtown Manhattan.

10. Iquitos, Peru

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One way you can judge a city’s remoteness is by imaging what would happen there if all modern tech suddenly stopped functioning. For people living in London and New York, it would be a major hassle. For people living in Iquitos, Peru, it would quickly turn into Lord of the Flies.

 Iquitos is buried deep in the heart of the Amazon, surrounded by hundreds of miles of impenetrable rainforest. How deep is it buried? So deep that jumping on a boat will take you four days to reach civilization. And forget about roads. Iquitos has only a single outward road, and that dead-ends in a related settlement 65 miles away. With a population of nearly 400,000, Iquitos is the largest city on Earth not connected to the outside world by road.

In this wasteland of vegetation and violent, screaming nature, everything has to be imported. The price of everything from food, to clean water, to luxuries and clothes is sky-high (for Peru). Yet Iquitos isn’t exactly hard to visit. A local airport connects the town to the capital Lima. You just better pray nothing happens to ground all flights in Peru during your visit.

9. Ürümqi, China

urumqi

Ürümqi in China holds the distinction of being the furthest city from coastline anywhere in Eurasia (possibly on Earth). If you fancy a dip in the sea, you’re gonna have to trek over 2,240km to get there. Located in China’s remote northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Ürümqi is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Deserts, mountains, plains… basically, once you leave Ürümqi, there’s almost nothing to break up the monotony.

Another way Ürümqi is remote from the rest of China is culturally. The province it is part of is mostly Muslim, and signs appear in Arabic. People here are generally so suspicious of Beijing and ethnic Han Chinese that major riots sporadically break out, killing dozens.

 On the other hand, Ürümqi doesn’t exactly feel remote. A major outpost on the old Silk Road, it’s still a major transport hub for people travelling through Central Asia. That means visiting there feels less like traveling to one of the remotest cities on Earth, and more like stepping into the world’s largest bus station.

8. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia

petropavlosk

You’d have to be stupid, mad or both to build a town like Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. A city of 180,000 situated on a cold, storm-lashed Russian peninsula, it’s almost hilariously inhospitable to life.

The whole town is surrounded by rumbling volcanoes and impassable mountains that have stopped anyone driving roads through to it. As a result, everything and everyone has to come in on tiny, rickety planes. There’s no settlements close to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky because it’s friggin’ impossible to build any on this hostile stretch of land. Moscow is over 4,000 miles away. The closest significant capital is probably Alaska’s state capital of Juneau. It’d be easier for residents to take a trip down to North Korea than it would be for them to visit their own government.

The town was founded as a base for the Russian navy, and wound up surviving thanks to good fishing. Today, it also gets a smattering of tourists who want to visit the nearby national park, and don’t mind stumping up insane amounts of money to get there.

 7. King Edward Point, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

kingedward

The capital of icy, windswept South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, King Edward Point isn’t a city by any stretch of the imagination. The summer population is below 25, and the winter population drops to about 12. A scientific and cultural outpost administered by the government of Great Britain, it’s a tiny blip of civilization surrounded by an ocean of howling emptiness.

Seriously, here’s the island on Google Maps. That tiny dot to the left? That’s the Falkland Islands, itself a pretty-darn remote settlement. The capital of the Falklands is nearly 500km from the fringes of the nearest country (Argentina). King Edward Point is a further 1,500km away. Although it’s employees are part of the British Antarctic Survey Team, British Antarctic Territory itself is 2,300km away. Stand in King Edward Point and look in any direction and you’re probably facing over 1,000km of terrifying emptiness.

The South Georgian capital is so remote that it doesn’t have a permanent population. The British Government, perhaps hoping to stop people from going mad, rotates its staff so no-one ever spends more than a couple of years living there.

6. Siwa Oasis, Egypt

oasis

In terms of time taken to get there, Siwa Oasis in Egypt isn’t remote. You can catch a bus from Cairo and be there in less than half a day. But it’s what surrounds Siwa Oasis that earns it a place on this list. The town of 23,000 sits slap bang in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

This is an area of the world where the burning heat and mountains of sand mean it’s logistically-impossible for governments to police their own borders. Step outside in the middle of the day and you’re gonna find yourself flash-fried before you can say “burning flesh”. Even if Cairo is within easy driving distance, it feels like it’s in another universe.

Siwa Oasis’s remoteness can be seen in its history. Essentially cut-off from civilization prior to the invention of the automobile, it wound up with a unique Berber culture that’s different from anything else seen in the region. For one thing, it had a strong tradition of homosexuality and forms of gay marriage until King Fuad outlawed it in 1928. Less-surprisingly, it also clung to nomad customs not seen elsewhere for decades or even centuries. It might be an easy visit now, but historically Siwa Oasis has been one of the most-isolated places on Earth.

5. Mêdog, Tibet

medog

Mêdog in Tibet is a long, difficult, hair-raising drive from civilization that involves crossing frequently-impassable mountains and battling horrendous weather. Believe it or not, this is an improvement. Prior to 2013, there was no road connecting Mêdog at all. If you wanted to get there, you had to saddle up a horse and climb some 4,000 feet over two freakin’ mountains.

Why was Mêdog previously so difficult to get to? A lot of that has to do with where its founders chose to settle. Nestled in a narrow valley between towering mountain peaks, the city of 10,000 is both stupidly beautiful and basically just stupid. For decades, the trade-off for Mêdog’s sublime views was knowing that law enforcement couldn’t get out there in an emergency, and that there was no chance of you getting to a hospital if you got ill or hurt. Locals were at the mercy of nature, which sounds kinda cool until you realize it was totally possible to die in Mêdog from something as simple as an infected cut.

Even today, Mêdog is difficult to get to. The road Beijing built is only open 8 months of the year, and even then it is frequently closed by mudslides and snowfall.

4. Perth, Australia
perth

You’re probably wondering what the heck Perth is doing on this list. The 4th biggest city in Australia, Perth has a population of nearly 2 million, a jumping nightlife district, frequent flights to the rest of Australia and road connections to other cities. Yet this misses out two crucial facts. One: Perth is on Australia’s barren West Coast, where almost nobody lives. And Two: Australia is freakin’ massive.

To get to Sydney, you’d need to drive 2,045 miles across a sun-scorched bed of limestone so desolate it looks like something from a sci-fi film. The nearest city of at least 100,000 people (Adelaide) is 1,300 miles distant, only slightly-less than the distance from New York to Houston. And that’s traveling through the Outback, a place so hostile to life that they might as well rename it ‘the Punisher’.

For Australians living in Perth, it’s cheaper and easier to get to Indonesia than it is to almost anywhere else in their own country. If all modes of transport were to vanish tomorrow, residents of Perth would be utterly isolated from the rest of humanity (but, hey, at least their nightlife would still be good).

3. Funafuti, Tuvalu

funafuti

If it weren’t for the advent of affordable air travel, no-one in their right mind would ever go to Funafuti. The capital of the absurdly-tiny island nation of Tuvalu (itself only 26 km²), Funafuti is home to a mere 6,000 people. Little more than a collection of squat houses fringed by palm trees, it sprawls out alongside the narrow road that essentially marks Tuvalu’s entire landmass. The nearest lump of land with a population approaching 1m is Fiji, 1,134 kilometers away. To get to a major city, you’d have to fly to either New Zealand or Hawaii.

Although plenty of Pacific Island states are remote, Tuvalu takes the biscuit. A strip of coral surrounded by endless, roiling sea, it feels like the last place on Earth. To get there, you first have to get to Fiji, itself a pretty remote place. Then it’s hop on a rickety plane, cross your fingers and hope you don’t ditch into the sea hundreds of kilometers from civilization. According to one estimate, Funafuti is so distant it only receives 350 tourists a year – less than one a day. Equally-isolated Kiribati, by contrast, receives as many as 5,000.

2. Nuuk, Greenland

nuuk

Nuuk is the capital of and largest city in Greenland, a sentence which deftly disguises just how breathtakingly remote and tiny it really is. The entire population of Nuuk clocks in at 16,583, a number so small that if the city were in any other country, it’d be known instead as a village. The same sort of thinking applies to its remoteness. By Greenland standards, Nuuk isn’t remote (Ittoqqortoormiit in the east probably takes the prize). But that’s like saying Batman isn’t strong compared to the Incredible Hulk. Compared to you and me, he’s still the freakin’ Batman.

No other capital city on Earth is more northerly than Nuuk. And getting there is a gigantic pain in the derriere. Visitors have to transit via Iceland or Copenhagen, and flights are expensive. Once in Nuuk, getting anywhere else can be a challenge: Greenland is essentially one gigantic ice sheet with terrible weather and non-existent roads. Wander out of Nuuk in almost any direction and you’re soon lost in a wilderness of ice and nothingness. On the plus side, the wages in Nuuk are so stratospherically high that young Danes move here purely to make a killing.

 1. Yakutsk, Russia

yakutsk

Yakutsk is so comically-remote it feels like a joke. It’s the capital of the Yakutia region in Siberia, a region that covers over 1 million square miles, yet houses fewer than a million people. There are enough lakes and rivers in Yakutia for each resident to own one of each. It is divided into multiple administration centers the size of Utah, many only containing one tiny village.

Getting to Yakutsk itself is near-impossible. There’s only one road, which can only be used in winter (when the rivers freeze solid), and breaking down on it would mean certain death. There’s no railway. The river trip is 1,000 miles and can only be undertaken in summer, when the river isn’t frozen. You can fly in from Moscow, over 3,000 miles away, on a 6-hour plane, but most Russians can’t afford to do that.

Once you get there, Yakutsk is mind-blowingly inhospitable. It used to be used as a prison for political dissidents and it’s easy to see why. In a warm winter, the temperature ‘only’ drops to -30C. Most years it hits -50C. In other words, not only is Yakutsk hard to get to, it also makes you wonder why anyone would bother.


Remote Cities and Capitals

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– WIF Geography

Ancient Egypt Handbook – WIF Into History

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WIF Handbook-001

Unusual Facts About

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt has long been a fascinating subject not only to historians, but to average people all over the world. They had many mystical practices that have long kept us intrigued. From their unique burial practices to their awe inspiring pyramids, they have left us with a feeling of mystery and wonder. Architects, Egyptologists, and experts on many different subjects consider the Ancient Egyptians a fascinating subject of study and have long hoped to one day discover all of their secrets. However, while there are many mysteries yet about the Ancient Egyptians, there are also many fascinating things we have already discovered in regards to them that most people are not aware of.

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10. Ancient Egyptians Kept Baboons and Other Monkeys as Pets and for Ritual Significance

baboon

Most people are well aware that Ancient Egyptians did put some historical significance in certain animals — namely cats. Cats are known to be the number one go-to pet for Egyptians. Some are said to have been buried with their owners to accompany them in the afterlife. And while cats were very valued and had a certain religious and ritual significance, they were not the only animal in that category.

While it may not sound quite as dignified, monkeys, especially baboons, were kept around for their ritual significance in magic and religion — which were basically one and the same — and just to enjoy as fun pets. They had to go to great trouble to get their hands on these baboons because they were not native to the area. Historians believe they would have had to be imported by ship. Nevertheless, they became so important that they show up in a lot of religious imagery associated with the gods and found themselves a permanently revered place in Ancient Egyptian history.

 9. They Went to Great Lengths to Remove Body Hair, and Both Genders Often Wore Wigs

wigs

In many depictions of Ancient Egyptians they are shown with very little hair on their heads, but many people may not realize the full extent of the work they went to in removing body hair. Children of both genders would wear a small lock on the side of their head that would be cut off when they reached adulthood. Apart from this, both men and women were bald.

Not only that, but both men and women went to great trouble to remove all body hair constantly from all parts of their body. This was a normal part of hygiene in Ancient Egyptian society, but would have been quite extreme to people today. Of course for women and men fashion was still very important, so wigs were quite common, especially among the upper class.

There are many theories as to why they did this. Most historians figure it was either something to do with the heat of the area, and that the Ancient Egyptians hypothesized that removing all hair would keep them cooler. Some people think that it was simply because they were incredibly obsessed with cleanliness. Most of these theories are quite reasonable, but ancient alien theorists believe they were trying to look like their former reptilian overlords the Anunnaki.

8. The Book of the Dead Was Not Originally a Unified Text

book of the dead

 The Book of the Dead has been featured in countless movies, books and other media at this point, which hasn’t really done much to help people understand what it actually was. Most people think of it as something like the Egyptian version of the Bible or the Koran, but that isn’t really accurate — at least not originally. The Book of the Dead was in the beginning much more like the Wiccan idea of a “Book of Shadows” — a journal you filled with your combined knowledge of all spells you had learned from others, read from other books and found important, your own created spells and wisdom you yourself came up with over time.

For a long time in Ancient Egypt, Books of the Dead were still very personal, they were rarely organized in any particular order, and there was no unifying structure on what should and shouldn’t be included. It wasn’t until the 26th dynasty that any kind of real organization or order was put in place, and even then historians have still not been able to make proper sense of it.

Egyptologists have managed to collate together 192 different spells from books of the dead, but not a single one contains every spell, meaning that there is, as far as they know, not one single unified text anywhere to accept as the official, correct one.

7. The Racial Identity of Ancient Egyptians is Extremely Controversial

egyptians

No matter where you live in the world, there are likely controversial race issues around you. These issues have existed as far back as humans have recorded history, and have often led to bloody wars and massacres. While racial tensions still cause violence around the world, we are at a low point historically, and now many people are taking the battle for race to academia, where heated arguments are had over whether revered historical groups or people belong to a certain race.

 Everyone respects and admires the Ancient Egyptians, so it likely comes as no surprise to many that groups with an agenda will go to great lengths to attempt to define Ancient Egyptians as whatever race helps them make a convenient political point. After a recent DNA test of King Tut’s mummy, some people claimed it was evidence that he was of Western European origin, and others said the results were entirely flawed and rushed.

In the past people have also claimed the Ancient Egyptians were of Nordic stock, and many have speculated and tried to claim with great passion that they were black africans similar to many today. Historians, on the other hand, believe that they were a fairly racially diverse society that looked similar to many artistic depictions of them. Obviously they would have had somewhat darkened skin from the sun, but were not none for being an entirely homogenous group.

6. There Were Way More Pyramids Than People Realize

pyramids

Whenever we hear about the pyramids, we hear about the great Pyramids at GizaEgypt. These pyramids have been visited by countless tourists, have been excavated and explored and suffered damage over the years — they have quite a story to tell. People have speculated endlessly on how they were built, and if it may have even been alien visitors from another planet. These theorists will go to great lengths to make these particular pyramids and the exact positioning of them on the sand to be incredibly significant. Many of these theorists are convinced that the pyramids are also not burial chambers at all.

However, the pyramids were almost certainly burial chambers, and if the theorists realized how many pyramids were built, they may realize how little sense the theories make. The Ancient Egyptians built, at least as far as Egyptologists are currently aware of, somewhere getting close to the neighborhood of 100 pyramids, none of them as large as the ones at Giza but they are all quite sizeable. Huge pyramidal chambers could only be afforded by the richest Egyptian citizens in the ancient days, but they were built for many Egyptians, and were hardly a strange occurrence at all.

The truth is that there are many theories on how the various pyramids could have been built, and many of them are possible solutions. We just don’t know exactly how they did it. They also could have used somewhat primitive, but effective, building techniques that we simply have not thought of ourselves.

5. Some of the Richer Citizens in Ancient Egypt Were Incredibly Fat

fat egyptian

 In the United States and much of the developed world today, obesity has become a very serious health issue. Many people are simply not getting enough exercise and not eating the right foods — or simply overeating in general, and it is causing them serious issues. Apart from the simple strain on the body of excess weight, the massive amounts of sugar intake can cause people to develop a type of diabetes as well.

While most people would think that the Ancient Egyptians were quite thin and muscular, like all societies, the way we look at what is preserved of history can skew our perceptions. Most of what we knew was based on builders and a few rich pharaohs, so it was hard to accurately gauge the true fitness of a person from an ancient society. However, recently remains were found of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, showing that she had been incredibly obese and likely also had diabetes due to her extreme overeating.

While it’s hard to say because surviving mummies are rare these days, if one rich citizen such as a pharaoh could be fat both socially and in terms of resources, it is quite likely that plenty of other richer, more privileged Ancient Egyptian citizens were also fat as well.

4. So-Called “Mummy Parties” Have Caused Much of History to be Lost Forever

mummy party

Many people today bemoan how children or young people will be out distracted running around with a phone trying to catch a virtual animal that they can use to virtually battle people, but the hobbies of the young people of yesteryear would have had them much more horrified. As we have mentioned, many people have long been fascinated with Ancient Egypt, but this got really strange in the early 1900s when Egypt fever was at a pitch in Europe.

 It started slowly, and like many fads quickly grew out of control. People would bring back mummies as souvenirs from travels to Egypt, all to happy to take advantage of the lax laws of the time, and then have parties where they unwrapped the mummy in their home with all their friends around. This obviously permanently damaged precious pieces of history that could have yielded scientists with incredible information in the future with proper DNA analysis.

Some people may just say “it was a different time,” but it is hard to imagine any time period where it would be normal and acceptable to invite your pals over for a fun afternoon of unrolling a several thousand year old dead body. Regardless, it is almost impossible to estimate just how much damage this wanton and careless destruction of Egyptian culture — in the name of enthusiasm — has cost us in terms of our knowledge of them.

3. Ancient Pharaohs Were Sometimes as Crazy as Roman Emperors

hatshepsut

Whenever someone wants to think of an example of tyrants who ruled with a combination of insanity and delusional grandiosity, they tend to immediately name someone like Emperor Nero or Caligula. If they can’t think of a specific name, they just generically compare them to the Roman Emperors. They were known for eating absolutely ludicrous feasts, making all kinds of bizarre personal demands and generally abusing their power and position to an insane degree. However, while the Roman Emperors may have been crazy, the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt came before them, and they were often just as strange or even stranger.

 The Pharaoh Hatshepsut, despite being female, was also known for usually wearing men’s clothes as well as a mock up of a male’s beard, in order to look like a male pharaoh. Some historians also believe she may have wore black and red nail polish, kind of like some teenagers today. While she presented herself as a man to receive proper respect as a ruler, and seemed to enjoy mens clothes, there is also no evidence she was anything but straight.

However, even Hatshepsut pales in comparison to Pepi II when it comes to crazy. Pharaoh Pepi II became Pharaoh at a very young age, and as such it may not be surprising that the power quickly went to his head, and he began abusing it greatly. He personally hated flies, and so to ensure that they would never land on him, he came up with an ingenious and cruel idea to keep them off his body. He kept several slaves nearby at all times, covered in honey, so the flies would bother them instead of him. It seems to have never occurred to him that he could have just as easily spread the honey on inanimate objects instead of people.

2. Not Everyone in Ancient Egypt was Elaborately Mummified

mummy

When many people think of Ancient Egypt they mostly just assume that the society mummified everyone — and that this was just their idea of a burial. However, while the elite certainly wanted the most elaborate process available, with the most pomp and circumstance, many people did not have the means for very much. In today’s world, loved ones of the deceased who aren’t particularly rich often have to go with more budget options instead of the elaborate ones they prefer, even going so far as to use cremation in some causes simply because it is much less expensive.

In Ancient Egypt, they had a similar situation, where while everyone would have loved to have an elaborate ceremony, many of the poorer or less well to do citizens would have to make do with less complete, or more hasty forms of mummification that wouldn’t preserve the body as long or as effectively. These ceremonies would probably involve some prayers and other spells, and would sometimes be a simple burial in the sand. Only those with some means could afford to bury their dead in what was essentially a mausoleum — something very few can afford today.

In many cases, the reason we mostly think of Ancient Egyptians being preserved are because the ones we have to study are the ones that managed to stick around to be studied. We know from inference that apart from the many mummies destroyed by unwrapping parties, that there had to be many that were simply never mummified fully, or buried in any marked grave or structure, and decayed thousands of years ago, lost forever to the sands of time.

 1. Punishments for Breaking the Law Could be Extremely Harsh

punishment

In the Ancient world, punishment could often be harsh, but in Ancient Egypt, it was probably still far harsher in many cases than most people would imagine. Today, punishments mostly consist of being sent to a prison where the state sometimes has you do labor, but rarely if ever makes any real money from it. In the ancient world, labor was considered much more important and resources were very valuable. Those who needed to be punished were either killed outright or were given their due and sent right back to work to continue producing for the collective.

In Ancient Egypt, the crime for stealing in one text is described as “100 blows and five wounds” and some studies carried out on skeletons found in Amarna, an Ancient Egyptian city, have given researchers reason to believe this may have been a real punishment. They have found skeletons with gashes on the shoulder blade area, and believe the men were not attacked, but were likely being punished and were then sent right back to work.

 However, while punishments for stealing could be quite harsh, those for crimes of a sexual nature could be much harsher. Women were often treated more strictly, and if a woman was caught cheating she literally had her nose cut off to spite her face, while a man simply had to take a severe beating of 100 blows. Of course, while this may seem like a double standard, the penalty for a man raping a woman was also very strict — if a man were judged to have raped a freeborn woman, he would be castrated. Like some ancient cultures, many punishments also included the removal of limbs, and execution for serious offenses like grave robbing.


Ancient Egypt Handbook

WIF History-001

– WIF Into History