Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Goliath Tracked Mine

The Goliath tracked mine - complete German name: Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath (light charge carrier Goliat) - was a remote controlled German-engineered demolition vehicle, also known as the beetle tank to Allies.

Employed by the Wehrmacht during World War II, this caterpillar-tracked vehicle was approximately 1.2 meters long, 0.61 meters wide, and 0.30 meters tall. It carried 75–100 kilograms (170–220 lb) of high explosives and was intended to be used for multiple purposes, such as destroying tanks, disrupting dense infantry formations, and demolition of buildings and bridges.

In late 1940, after recovering the prototype of a miniature tracked vehicle developed by the French vehicle designer Adolphe Kégresse from the Seine River, the Wehrmacht's ordnance office directed the Carl F.W. Borgward automotive company of Bremen, Germany to develop a similar vehicle. The vehicle was steered remotely via a joystick control box that was attached to the Goliath by a 650 meter long triple-strand cable. Two of the strands were used to move and steer the Goliath, the third was used for detonation.

Goliaths were used on all fronts where the Wehrmacht fought, beginning in spring 1942. They were used principally by specialized Panzer and combat engineer units. A few Goliaths were also seen on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, though most were rendered inoperative due to artillery blasts severing their command cables.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vampire Squid

The vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis, lit. "vampire squid from Hell") is a small, deep-sea cephalopod found throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. The vampire squid shares similarities with both squid and octopuses. As a phylogenetic relict it is the only known surviving member of its order, first described and originally classified as an octopus in 1903 by German teuthologist Carl Chun.

The vampire squid reaches a maximum total length of around 30 cm (1 ft). Its body varies in color between velvety jet-black and pale reddish, depending on location and lighting conditions. A webbing of skin connects its eight arms, each lined with rows of fleshy spines; the inside of this "cloak" is black. Its globular eyes, which appear red or blue, are proportionately the largest in the animal kingdom at 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter.

The Vampire Squid is almost entirely covered in light-producing organs called photophores. The animal has great control over the organs, capable of producing disorienting flashes of light for fractions of a second to several minutes in duration.

At the shallower end of the Vampire Squid's vertical range, the view from below is like the sky at twilight: The highly sensitive eyes of deepwater denizens are able to distinguish the silhouettes of other animals moving overhead. To combat this, the vampire squid generates its own bluish light in a strategy called counterillumination: The light diffuses the animal's silhouette, effectively "cloaking" its presence from the watchful eyes below.

Like many deep-sea cephalopods, vampire squid lack ink sacs. If threatened, instead of ink, a sticky cloud of bioluminescent mucus containing innumerable orbs of blue light is ejected from the arm tips. This luminous barrage, which may last nearly 10 minutes, is presumably meant to daze would-be predators and allow the Vampire Squid to disappear into the blackness without the need to swim far.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bowie Knife

The most famous version of the Bowie knife was designed by Jim Bowie and presented to Arkansas blacksmith James Black in the form of a carved wooden model in December 1830. Black produced the knife ordered by Bowie, and at the same time created another based on Bowie's original design but with a sharpened edge on the curved top edge of the blade. Black offered Bowie his choice and Bowie chose the modified version.

Bowie returned, with the Black-made knife, to Texas and was involved in a knife fight with three men who had been hired to kill him. Bowie killed the three would-be assassins with his new knife and the fame of the knife grew. Legend holds that one man was almost decapitated, the second was disemboweled, and the third had his skull split open.

Bowie died at the Battle of the Alamo five years later and both he and his knife became more famous. The fate of the original Bowie knife is unknown; however, a knife bearing the engraving "Bowie No. 1" has been acquired by the Historic Arkansas Museum from a Texas collector and has been attributed to Black through scientific analysis.

Black soon had a booming business making and selling these knives out of his shop in Washington, Arkansas. Black continued to refine his technique and improve the quality of the knife as he went. In 1839, shortly after his wife's death, Black was attacked and nearly blinded, after which he could no longer continue his trade.

Black's knives were known to be exceedingly tough, yet flexible, and his technique has not been duplicated. Black kept his technique secret and did all of his work behind a leather curtain. Many claim that Black rediscovered the secret of producing true Damascus steel.

In 1870, at the age of 70, Black attempted to pass on his secret to the son of the family that had cared for him in his old age, Daniel Webster Jones. However, Black had been retired for many years and found that he himself had forgotten the secret.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kelly Gang Armor

Edward "Ned" Kelly was an Irish-Australian bushranger and was considered by some merely a cold-blooded killer, while by others a folk hero and symbol of Irish-Australian resistance against oppression by the British ruling class for his defiance of the colonial authorities

To protect himself and his gang-mates Kelly created four suits of armor, which consisted of an iron helmet and iron back- and breast-plates. Joe Byrne's suit was the only one without an apron to protect the groin and thighs, as a result he died from a shot to the groin. Ned's suit was the only one to also have an apron at the back. The suits' separate parts were strapped together on the body while the helmet was separate and sat on the shoulders allowing it to be removed easily when the need arose. Padding is only known from Ned's armour and it is not clear if the other suits were similarly padded. Ned wore a padded skull cap and his helmet also had internal strapping so his head could take some of the weight. All the men wore dustcoats over the armour.

The Victorian Police had been told three times by informants of the existence of the armour and that it was capable of deflecting bullets but Police Superintendents Hare and Sadlier both dismissed the information as "nonsense" and "an impossibility". Until Ned fell the police questioned whether he was human, one or the other thinking they were against the Devil or a bunyip. Constable Gascoigne, who recognised Ned's voice, told Superintendent Sadlier he had "fired at him point blank and hit him straight in the body. But there is no use firing at Ned Kelly; he can't be hurt". Although aware of the information supplied by the informant prior to the siege, Sadlier later wrote that even after Gascoigne's comment "no thought of armour" had occurred to him.

Following the siege of Glenrowan the media reported the events and use of armour around the world. The gang were admired in military circles and Arthur Conan Doyle commented on the gang's imagination and recommended similar armour for use by British infantry.

After Ned Kelly's capture there was considerable debate over having the armour destroyed, all four disassembled suits of armour were eventually stored by Police Superintendent Hare in Melbourne. Hare gave Ned Kelly's armour to Sir William Clarke, and it was later donated to the State Library of Victoria. Joe Byrne's suit of armour was kept by Hare and now belongs to his descendants. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart's armour are still owned by the Victorian Police force

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). It is about 15 cm in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology.

The disc was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, and features 241 tokens, comprising 45 unique signs, which were apparently made by pressing pre-formed hieroglyphic "seals" into a disc of soft clay, in a clockwise sequence spiraling towards the disc's center.

Many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disc's signs. While it is not clear that it is a script, most attempted decipherments assume that it is; most additionally assume a syllabary, others an alphabet or logography. Attempts at decipherment are generally thought to be unlikely to succeed unless more examples of the signs are found, as it is generally agreed that there is not enough context available for a meaningful analysis.

Although the Phaistos Disc is generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists, a few scholars have forwarded the opinion that the disc is a forgery or a hoax. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi province, near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

The figures vary in height, according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. It is estimated that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.

Only a portion of the site is presently excavated, and photos and video recordings are prohibited in some areas of the viewing. Only few foreigners, such as Queen Elizabeth II, have been permitted to walk through the pits, side by side to the army.

Perhaps the weirdest finds in the dig were the extremely sharp swords and other weapons which were found coated with chromium oxide, that made the weapons rust resistant. Chromium only came to the attention of westerners in the 18th century. The alloys of tin and copper enabled weapons such as bronze knives and swords to avoid rust and remain sharp in spite of 2000 years of degrading conditions.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Olmec Heads

The Olmec were a Pre-Columbian civilization living in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and predate the Aztecs, the Mayas and the Incas. Not much is known about their lost culture, except for the colossal head statues they carved.

Not much is known about these mysterious statues, due to the fact that there are no pre-Columbian texts that even acknowledge their existence. No two heads of the unearthed 17 are alike, and probably represent unique persons. Speculations to the identities of these persons range from ballplayers to religious leaders and heads of state.

The heads range in size from 1.47 to 3.4 meters high. It has been calculated that the largest heads weigh in at 50 tons. The heads were carved from single blocks of stone and then transported dozens of miles to their final resting places. It has been estimated that moving a colossal head required the efforts of 1,500 people for three to four months.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a book handwritten in the early 15th century. It has been described as the "world's most mysterious manuscript". The tome consists of 240 vellum pages, written in a cypher that has defied all attempts at decrypting it.

The book was recovered by the Polish-Lithuanian-American book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich in 1912. It is speculated that the original book had 272 pages, some of which were already missing when Voynich got his hands on the artifact. There is also evidence of someone reordering of the pages after its initial construction. The book has been divided into six sections according to the change in illustrations: Herbal, Astronomical, Biological, Cosmological, Pharmaceutical and Recipes.

The book is currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and is formally referred to as "Beinecke MS 408".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coral Castle & the Perpetual Motion Holder

The Coral Castle is a megalithic stone structure created by the Latvian American eccentric Edward Leedskalnin in Florida. The structure consists of several stones (mostly limestone) weighing an average of 14 tons. Mystery surrounds its construction as its considered to have been built single-handedly by Leedskalnin using magnetism and/or supernatural powers. Nowadays it serves as a tourist attraction.

Edward refused to let anyone observe him while working, though a few teenagers claimed to have witnessed his work, reporting that he had caused the blocks of coral to move like hydrogen balloons. The only tool that Leedskalnin himself spoke of using was a "perpetual motion holder."

Leedskalnin originally built the structure in Florida City around 1923, but decided to take it with him when he moved. It took him three years moving the structure the distance of ten miles to Homestead. He continued work on the Castle until he died in 1951.

Many of the features and carvings of the castle are notable. Among them are a two-story castle tower that served as Leedskalnin's living quarters, walls consisting entirely of 8-foot high pieces of stone, an accurate sundial, a Polaris telescope, an obelisk, a barbecue, a water well, a fountain, celestial stars and planets, and numerous pieces of furniture. The furniture pieces included are a heart-shaped table, a table in the shape of Florida, twenty-five rocking chairs, chairs resembling crescent moons, a bathtub, beds and a royal throne.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Baghdad Battery

The Baghdad Battery, also known as the Parthian Battery, is the common name of Mesopotamian artifacts discovered in 1936 near Baghdad (hence the name.) They were probably created in the Parthian or Sassanid period, between 250 BCE and 640 CE. In 1940, Wilhelm König published a paper speculating that they may have been galvanic cells, batteries, perhaps used for electroplating gold onto silver objects. This interpretation continues to be considered as at least a hypothetical possibility. If correct, the artifacts would predate Alessandro Volta's 1800 invention of the electrochemical cell by more than a millennium!

The pots contain an electrochemical couple of copper and iron, and so if one were to place a suitable acid, such as lemon juice, grape juice or vinegar, an electrical current would form. The voltage, however, would be very low with this particular pair of metals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient mechanical computer built by the Greeks to calculate positions of astronomical objects. It is the world's oldest known analog computer. Recovered in the beginning of the 20th century from the Antikythera wreck, its significance was not completely understood until decades later. It is phenomenally accurate in its calculations of the positions of the moon and planets. Estimated to have been built sometime between 100 and 150 BCE, the technology was lost with the Ancient Greeks.

Similar works didn't start to reappear until the 14th century, which makes the Antikythera mechanism outdate them by over thirteen centuries!
The complexity of the device itself is more similar to the creations of 19th century Europe.

The device is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and even has a project researching it, aptly named The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


While the Chinese are widely known as the inventors of gunpowder, there are some surprisingly early innovations that are more obscure. These are catalogued in the early Ming dynasty book Huolongjing (Fire Dragon Manual in English) written in the 14th century.

The book showcases various gunpowder-powered devices ranging from flamethrowers to grenades to mines, both land and naval. It even has an explanation of the evolution of the 10th century exploding fire-arrow into a winged rocket. It also includes descriptions of various proto-firearms such as the fire lance, which fires flaming shrapnel like some sort of firey shotgun. There's also cannons complete with exploding cannonballs.

Although the western world surpassed the Chinese in terms of gunpowder technology in the 15th century, Huolongjing shows us what had been done with it for centuries before westerners ever laid eyes upon the destructive powder.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tesla's Oscillator

Tesla's Oscillator also known as the Earthquake Machine, was invented in 1898 by Nikola Tesla, the genius innovator of electrical engineering. This small device (178 mm long) could cause metal objects to vibrate violently, even to the point of cracking a steel bar or crashing down a whole structure, such as the steel frame of a bridge. Tesla is said to have attached the device to the frame of his laboratory in New York and forgotten it there, causing an earthquake that spanned several buildings. As the vibrations grew stronger, Tesla was forced to smash the device with a sledgehammer.

Tesla later boasted that he could build a device that would cause a resonance in the Earth's core strong enough to crack the surface. Nobody demanded him to prove this claim.