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      Experience: I’m a full-time Henry VIII impersonator

      news.movim.eu / TheGuardian · Friday, 29 March - 10:00

    Some schoolkids are clearly nervous. One asked if I’d ever killed a child

    I’ve always been interested in the past. At school, I threw myself into history lessons. I turned one of my mum’s bedsheets into a toga so I could pretend to be a Roman, and spent holidays learning hieroglyphics long after lessons on ancient Egypt had finished.

    When I was eight, we did the Tudors at school, and my aunt took me to the Tower of London, not far from where I grew up in Thurrock, Essex. I was spellbound. Back home, I’d pore over my mum’s Encyclopaedia Britannica, try to copy Hans Holbein portraits, and watch documentaries about Henry VIII over and over. There was just something magical about the Tudors.

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      Beethoven’s genome, sequenced for first time, yields clues on cause of death

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 22 March, 2023 - 16:35 · 1 minute

    (7) Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

    Enlarge / Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820 (credit: Beethoven-Haus Bonn)

    Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the greatest composers of all time, but he was plagued throughout his life by myriad health problems, most notably going mostly deaf by 1818. These issues certainly affected his career and emotional state, so much so that Beethoven requested— via a letter addressed to his brothers—that his favorite physician examine his body after his death to determine the cause of all his suffering.

    Nearly two centuries after the composer's demise, scientists say they have sequenced his genome based on preserved locks of hair. While the analysis of that genome failed to pinpoint a definitive cause of Beethoven's hearing loss or chronic digestive problems, he did have numerous risk factors for liver disease and was infected with hepatitis B, according to a new paper published in the journal Current Biology. The researchers also found genetic evidence that somewhere in the Beethoven paternal line, an ancestor had an extramarital affair.

    “We cannot say definitely what killed Beethoven, but we can now at least confirm the presence of significant heritable risk and an infection with hepatitis B virus,” said co-author Johannes Krause , an expert in ancient DNA at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. “We can also eliminate several other less plausible genetic causes.” The fully sequenced genome will be made publicly available so other researchers can have access to conduct future studies.

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      New theory re-ignites debate about identity of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 15 March, 2023 - 21:14 · 1 minute

    Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo (c. 1510) at the Royal Library of Turin, Italy

    Enlarge / Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1510) at the Royal Library of Turin, Italy. (credit: Public domain)

    Could Leonardo da Vinci's mother, Caterina, have been a slave kidnapped from the mountainous Caucasus region of Central Asia? That's the latest hypothesis re-igniting a long-running debate about the identity of this mysterious woman largely lost to history. Historian Carlo Vecce of the University of Naples told reporters at a Tuesday press conference that he discovered a previously unknown document supporting the claim. He's also written a historical novel about Caterina's life ( Il Sorriso di Caterina or Caterina's Smile ) based on his research.

    It's well-established that Leonardo was born in 1452, the illegitimate son of a Florentine notary named Ser Piero d’Antonio and a woman named Caterina. Ser Piero went on to marry a woman named Albiera Amadori, followed by three subsequent marriages after her 1464 death. His various unions produced 16 children (11 of whom survived their early years), in addition to Leonardo, who grew up in his father’s household and received a solid education.

    As for Caterina, many historians have identified her as a local peasant girl and eventual wife of a kiln worker named Antonio di Piero del Vacca (nicknamed "L'Accattabriga" or "the quarrelsome one"). But that's all we know of her. So naturally, over the years, various alternative identifications have been suggested. Perhaps the most controversial, proposed in 2014 by Italian historian Angelo Paratico, is that Caterina had been a Chinese domestic slave imported from Crimea by Venetian traders and sold to a Florentine banker.

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      Apple, Atari, and Commodore, oh my! Explore a deluxe home vintage computer den

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 11 March, 2023 - 12:00 · 1 minute

    A view of Brian Green's home computer lab, full of vintage treasures.

    Enlarge / A view of Brian Green's home computer lab, full of vintage treasures. (credit: Brian Green )

    In a world where millions of people carry a 1990s-grade supercomputer in their pockets , it's fun to revisit tech from a time when a 1 megahertz machine on a desktop represented a significant leap forward. Recently, a collector named Brian Green showed off his vintage computer collection on Twitter, and we thought it would be fun to ask him about why and how he set up his at-home computer lab.

    By day, Green works as a senior systems engineer based in Arkansas. But in his off hours, "Ice Breaker" (as he's often known online) focuses his passion on a vintage computer collection that he has been building for decades—and a bulletin board system ( BBS ) called "Particles" he has been running since 1992.

    Green's interest in computers dates back to 1980, when he first used an Apple II+ at elementary school. "My older sister brought home a printout from a BASIC program she was working on, and I was fascinated that you could tell a computer what to do using something that resembled English," recalls Green. "Once I realized you could code games, I was hooked."

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      Rare, pristine first edition of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus up for sale

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 9 March, 2023 - 21:00 · 1 minute

    Nicolaus Copernicus revolutionized science with the publication of <em>De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium</em> in 1543.

    Enlarge / Nicolaus Copernicus revolutionized science with the publication of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1543. (credit: Sophia Rare Books)

    Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus revolutionized science when he challenged the 1,400-year dominance of Ptolemaic cosmology with the publication of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium ( On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres ) in 1543. His manuscript suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the Solar System, thereby altering our entire view of the Universe and our place in it. Now, a rare, pristine first edition is up for sale for $2.5 million.

    The high price tag is a testament not just to the historical importance of the work, but also to the clear provenance and excellent condition of this particular edition, according to Christian Westergaard of Sophia Rare Books, who is handling the sale. (He will be exhibiting the edition at the upcoming New York International Antiquarian Book Fair next month.) A similar copy with just a couple of repairs and a contemporary binding sold at auction for $2.2 million in 2008. But most first editions of De Revolutionibus that come up for sale have dubious provenance, fake bindings, facsimile pages, stamps removed, or similar alterations that decrease the value.

    Noted Copernican scholar Owen Gingerich spent 35 years tracking down and examining every surviving copy of the first two editions of De Revolutionibus, ultimately locating 276 first-edition copies (of about 500 originally printed) around the world, most of them part of institutional collections. There are only a handful of editions from Gingerich's census (maybe 10 to 15) in the hands of private collectors, including this one. "It's the holy grail for me," Westergaard told Ars. "If you're going to handle a book in this price range, you want good provenance. You don't want it to suddenly be reported stolen from some library. You want it to be in Gingerich's census. In my opinion, this copy has it all."

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      Remember that ancient Roman “dildo”? It might just be an old Roman drop spindle

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 8 March, 2023 - 19:40 · 1 minute

    The phallus-shaped object

    Enlarge / This phallus-shaped object went viral last month, but it might not be an ancient Roman dildo after all. (credit: Vindolanda Trust)

    Odds are good you read at least one of the umpteen media stories last month about a possible 2,000-year-old "dildo" unearthed near the remains of a Roman auxiliary fort in the UK called Vindolanda. Well, it's either a dildo; a pestle used for grinding cooking, cosmetic, or medicinal ingredients; or something meant to be inserted into a statue and rubbed for good fortune (a common Roman practice). That's what the authors of a February paper in Antiquity concluded, anyway. But now we have another possible explanation to consider: The phallus-shaped artifact might be a drop spindle used for spinning yarn.

    As we've reported previously , the Vindolanda site is located south of the defense fortification known as Hadrian's Wall . An antiquarian named William Camden recorded the existence of the ruins in a 1586 treatise. Over the next 200 years, many people visited the site, discovering a military bathhouse in 1702 and an altar in 1715. The Rev. Anthony Hedley began excavating the site in 1814, but he died before he could record what he found for posterity. Another altar found in 1914 confirmed that the fort had been called Vindolanda.

    Serious archaeological excavation at the site began in the 1930s under the leadership of Eric Birley , whose sons and grandson continued the work after his death, right up to the present day. The oxygen-deprived conditions of the deposits (some of which extend 6 meters, or 19 feet, into the earth) mean that the recovered artifacts are remarkably well-preserved. These include wooden writing tablets and over 100 boxwood combs, which would have disintegrated long ago in more oxygen-rich conditions.

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      Were bones of Waterloo soldiers sold as fertilizer? It’s not yet case closed

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 10 August, 2022 - 20:00 · 1 minute

    <em>The Morning after the Battle of Waterloo</em>, by John Heaviside Clark, 1816.

    Enlarge / The Morning after the Battle of Waterloo , by John Heaviside Clark, 1816. (credit: Public domain )

    When Napoleon was infamously defeated at Waterloo in 1815, the conflict left a battlefield littered with thousands of corpses and the inevitable detritus of war. But what happened to all those dead bodies? Only one full skeleton has been found at the site, much to the bewilderment of archaeologists. Contemporary accounts tell of French bodies being burned by local peasants, with other bodies being dumped into mass graves. And some accounts describe how scattered bones were collected and ground up into meal to use as fertilizer.

    It's that last claim that particularly interests Tony Pollard, director of the Center for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. He has examined historical source materials like memoirs and journals of early visitors, as well as artworks, to map the missing grave sites on the Waterloo battlefield in hopes of finding a definitive answer. He recently provided an update on his efforts thus far in a recent paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology.

    Napoleon had initially been defeated and deposed as emperor of France in 1813, ending up in exile on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. He briefly returned to power in March 1815 for what is now known as the Hundred Days . Several states opposed to his rule formed the Seventh Coalition, including a British-led multinational army led by the Duke of Wellington, and a larger Prussian army under the command of Field Marshal von Blücher. Those were the armies that clashed with Napoleon's Armée du Nord at Waterloo.

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      X-rays reveal censored portions of Marie Antoinette’s letters to Swedish count

      Jennifer Ouellette · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 1 October, 2021 - 21:31 · 1 minute

    1775 portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty. X-ray analysis of letters between the queen and a Swedish count revealed words that had been blacked out, rendering them illegible—until now.

    Enlarge / 1775 portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty. X-ray analysis of letters between the queen and a Swedish count revealed words that had been blacked out, rendering them illegible—until now. (credit: Public domain)

    Most people associate Marie Antoinette with the affair of the diamond necklace , " Let them eat cake !" and the onset of the French Revolution . The French queen and her royal husband, Louis XVI , were guillotined in 1793, 10 months apart. But her colorful life also included a possible clandestine love affair with a Swedish count, and historians have been diligently working to decipher the surviving letters between the two for years.

    The letters were cyphered, as was the custom at the time for politically sensitive correspondence. Fifteen of the surviving letters in the collection of the French National Archives also have significant portions redacted, amounting to some 108 illegible lines in all. Thanks to cutting-edge x-ray imaging techniques and data processing methods, the redacted portions of eight of those letters have finally been revealed, according to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances. The research is a collaboration between the National Archives, the French Museum of Natural History, and the Fondation de France.

    Marie Antoinette and Count Hans Axel von Fersen of Sweden met as teenagers at a masquerade ball, when she was still Dauphine of France, and he became a frequent visitor to Versailles thereafter. Her royal husband famously proved unable to consummate the marriage for the first seven years.

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      Forensic tracking could verify uranium cube came from Nazi nuclear effort

      Jennifer Ouellette · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 27 August, 2021 - 00:29 · 1 minute

    Extreme close-up photograph of a bluish cube.

    Enlarge / This is likely one of 664 uranium cubes from the failed nuclear reactor that German scientists tried to build in Haigerloch during World War II. (credit: John T. Consoli/University of Maryland )

    For decades, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has been home to an unusual artifact from World War II: a small cube of solid uranium metal, measuring about two inches on each side and weighing just under 2.5 kilograms. Lab lore holds that the cube was confiscated from Nazi Germany's failed nuclear reactor experiments in the 1940s, but that has never been experimentally verified.

    PNNL scientists are developing new nuclear forensic techniques that should help them confirm the the pedigree of this cube—and others like it—once and for all. Those methods could also eventually be used to track illicit trafficking of nuclear material. PNNL's Jon Schwantes and graduate student Brittany Robertson presented some of their initial findings this week at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (a hybrid virtual/in-person event).

    University of Maryland physicist Timothy Koeth is among the outsider collaborators in this ongoing research. He has spent over seven years tracking down these rare artifacts of Nazi Germany's nuclear research program, after receiving one as a gift. As of 2019, he and a UMD colleague, Miriam Herbert, had tracked down 10 cubes in the US: one at the Smithsonian, another at Harvard University, a handful in private collections—and of course, the PNNL cube.

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