December 14, 1911: Amundsen reaches South Pole

Norwegian Roald Amundsen becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott.

Amundsen, born in Borge, near Oslo, in 1872, was one of the great figures in polar exploration. In 1897, he was first mate on a Belgian expedition that was the first ever to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903, he guided the 47-ton sloop Gjöa through the Northwest Passage and around the Canadian coast, the first navigator to accomplish the treacherous journey. Amundsen planned to be the first man to the North Pole, and he was about to embark in 1909 when he learned that the American Robert Peary had achieved the feat.

Amundsen completed his preparations and in June 1910 sailed instead for Antarctica, where the English explorer Robert F. Scott was also headed with the aim of reaching the South Pole. In early 1911, Amundsen sailed his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales and set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off–Amundsen using sleigh dogs, and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the Pole and returned safely to base camp in late January.

Scott’s expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, 1912, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad–two members perished–and a storm later trapped Scott and the other two survivors in their tent only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott’s frozen body was found later that year.

After his historic Antarctic journey, Amundsen established a successful shipping business. He later made attempts to become the first explorer to fly over the North Pole. In 1925, in an airplane, he flew within 150 miles of the goal. In 1926, he passed over the North Pole in a dirigible just three days after American explorer Richard E. Byrd had apparently done so in an aircraft. In 1996, a diary that Byrd had kept on the flight was found that seemed to suggest that the he had turned back 150 miles short of its goal because of an oil leak, making Amundsen’s dirigible expedition the first flight over the North Pole.

In 1928, Amundsen lost his life while trying to rescue a fellow explorer whose dirigible had crashed at sea near Spitsbergen, Norway.

The Many Affairs of Crown Prince Rudolf

by Greg King and Penny Wilson

On a snowy January morning in 1889, a worried servant hacked open a locked door at the remote hunting lodge deep in the Vienna Woods. Inside, he found two bodies sprawled on an ornate bed, blood oozing from their mouths. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary appeared to have shot his seventeen-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera as she slept, sat with the corpse for hours and, when dawn broke, turned the pistol on himself.

A century has transformed this bloody scene into romantic tragedy: star-crossed lovers who preferred death together than to be parted by a cold, unfeeling Viennese Court. But Mayerling is also the story of family secrets: incestuous relationships and mental instability; blackmail, venereal disease, and political treason; and a disillusioned, morphine-addicted Crown Prince and a naïve schoolgirl caught up in a dangerous and deadly waltz inside a decaying empire. What happened in that locked room remains one of history’s most evocative mysteries: What led Rudolf and mistress to this desperate act? Was it really a suicide pact? Or did something far more disturbing take place at that remote hunting lodge and result in murder?

Drawing interviews with members of the Habsburg family and archival sources in Vienna, Greg King and Penny Wilson reconstruct this historical mystery, laying out evidence and information long ignored that conclusively refutes the romantic myth and the conspiracy stories. Read an excerpt from Twilight of Empire below.

* * * * *

Portrait of Crown Prince Rudolph (1858-1889). Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia.

“Love,” wrote Rudolf at fifteen, “is certainly one of the most beautiful things in the life of all living things.” A year earlier Latour von Thurmberg had escorted him to a fish hatchery, where doctors explained the facts of life. Abstraction gave way to reality when, according to rumor, Franz Josef tasked an adjutant with procuring a healthy, discreet young woman to shepherd his son through his first sexual encounter.

A perfect storm quickly surrounded Rudolf. “What temptations assail such a young man!” worried one of his mother’s ladies-in- waiting.  Youth, wealth, and rank, he soon discovered, had their privileges. “Female hearts positively dropped into the lap of the Crown Prince,” noted a counselor at the German Embassy in Vienna. Many young ladies considered “surrender to the young, elegant and charming Prince” as nothing short of “a patriotic duty.”

Rudolf, said a cousin, “was mad about women,” and saw no reason to deny himself. The Prince of Wales had recorded of the nineteen-year-old who visited London in early 1878, “For a young
man of his age, it is surprising how much Rudolf knows about sexual matters. There is nothing I could teach him.” Rudolf wasn’t discreet about his interests, and he made few distinctions between
the married and the unmarried; his romantic overtures to Archduchess Maria Theresa, the third wife of his uncle Archduke Karl Ludwig, strained an already bad relationship. Not that Rudolf’s
taste remained consistent for long: After using his position to charm numerous women to bed, he usually grew bored and soon moved on to a new liaison.

A courtier recalled that Rudolf had “very little regard for women, outside their appointed role in the order of things”—in other words as submissive wives and mothers. His approach was cynical.
Women, Rudolf declared, were “eternal victims of self-delusion,” willing to abandon any principles in pursuit of romance. A streak of misogyny infused his perception: “How tedious some women
can be!” he once complained. “Women bore me to death when they are not laughing or singing. As a matter of fact, are they good for anything else?”

Actress Johanna Buska. Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia.

These affairs were physical, not emotional, and Rudolf viewed them through a curiously bureaucratic lens. The names of his sexual partners were entered in a ledger, with red ink used to denote
those women Rudolf had deflowered, and black deployed for other conquests. He developed a system every bit as rigid and snobbish as the court’s Spanish etiquette to reward his partners. Those
belonging to princely families recognized as being of equal rank for the purposes of marriage received a silver box engraved with a copy of Rudolf’s signature and coat of arms; noble ladies admitted to court but not of equal rank were given boxes stamped with his name and coat of arms, while those who lacked entrée received boxes engraved with his name and archducal crown.12 Dispatch of a silver box inevitably marked the beginning of the liaison’s end, usually accompanied by a warm though unmistakably final note: Rudolf asked one woman, whose virginity he had taken to remember him as the person who “introduced you into the mysteries of love.” His “propensity for easing persons from the memory” was true of his sexual conquests: “As soon as they had been presented with their cigarette boxes and been duly entered in his register,” wrote one relative, “the matter was closed for him, for there was little these women could give him. His sexual indulgence was curiosity rather than the urge to satisfy a physical appetite, and curiosity in this sphere was soon satisfied as there was little that was novel in it.”

Some of these liaisons, however, were more serious than others. In 1880, the crown prince supposedly secretly married his distant Habsburg cousin Maria Antonia, daughter of Grand Duke Ferdinand IV of Tuscany, when she became pregnant. As she was dying of consumption, it is said, the emperor had the marriage annulled; Maria Antonia died in 1883, after allegedly giving birth to Rudolf’s son in 1881. An affair with the Viennese actress Johanna Buska is also said to have led to the birth of an illegitimate son in 1881. Rudolf apparently didn’t trouble himself over such developments: Indeed, his grandson Prince Franz Josef von Windisch-Grätz once claimed that his grandfather had more than thirty illegitimate children. Mothers were bribed into silence, their children soon forgotten.

GREG KING is the author of several internationally published works of history, including The Assassination of the Archduke. He serves as Editor-in-Chief of the European Royal History Journal, and his work has appeared in Majesty MagazineRoyalty MagazineRoyalty Digest, and Atlantis Magazine.

PENNY WILSON is the coauthor (with Greg King) of such histories on late Imperial Russia as The Fate of the Romanovs and The Resurrection of the Romanovs. Her historical work has appeared in Majesty MagazineAtlantis Magazine, and Royalty Digest.

The post The Many Affairs of Crown Prince Rudolf appeared first on The History Reader.

The Fascinating Abandoned Island You’ve Never Heard Of

The Most Magical Abandoned Island You’ve Never Heard Of

©Friends of McNabs Island Society

On a recent tip to Nova Scotia, Canada to investigate the cemetery where of many of the victims of the Titanic were buried, a chance conversation in a bar in Halifax, brought up a fascinating island lying abandoned just in the harbour, called McNabs Island. I was told that this island was home to the some of the most enchanting collection of ruins you could wish for; a cove of shipwrecks, abandoned forts, the ghosts of old fairgrounds, the remnants of a soda factory, slowly decaying Victorian houses and their once grand gardens, potters fields filled with the victims of a cholera epidemic, and a place simply and beguilingly know as Hangman’s Beach. To add to the mystery, local legends tell of forgotten mines filled with gold.

First the dinobird, now its ticks found in amber

The rich deposits of amber mined in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have produced another stellar example of Cretaceous creatures frozen in a dramatic and scientifically significant posture. Earlier this year researchers found the remains of a baby avian dinosaur of the enantiornithes species which was uniquely well-preserved having spent 99 million years encased in amber. The discovery shed new light on the animal’s growth and development, and now the same can be said for a long-extinct tick. A nymph tick of the Cornupalpatum burmanicum species has been found in resin caught in the act of grabbing onto the feather of an avian dinosaur.

Modern ticks feast mightily on the blood of mammals, but their ancestors didn’t have the smorgasbord of mammal species to enjoy that exist on the planet today. Mammals only got so numerous, large and varied after the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event 65 million years ago. What animals were their primary source of food in the Cretaceous? Most scientists thought reptiles, amphibians and the little mammals that were scurrying about at the time were likely sources. For one thing, there were enough of them to support an extensive parasitic population, unlike avian dinosaurs.

Researcher Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History thought the avialans worth exploring as prospective tick drive-thrus, and spent years studying ticks trapped in amber for evidence of their environment.

The tick-and-feather pair support a theory that Pérez-de la Fuente had already spent years developing, based on other ticks trapped in amber from the same period. Those ticks didn’t have dinosaur feathers encased with them, but there were little hairs. The hairs resemble those left behind by a type of beetle larva that, today, lives in bird nests.

“We had this indirect evidence about the relationship between ticks and feathered dinosaurs,” Pérez-de la Fuente says, but the researchers didn’t have any direct evidence for the relationship until they saw the tick and feather trapped together in amber. […]

Now, just because there’s a feather and a tick holding on to it during the resin flood that would kill it doesn’t make it incontrovertible proof that they fed off the avian dinosaurs. Other animals lived in nests (viz the above-mentioned beetle larva) and the feather could be an accidental floater that seems more suggestive than it is.

Pérez-de la Fuente acknowledges there is more work to be done to clarify the ancient origins of ticks and their blood-sucking behaviors. For example, one amber specimen contains a tick engorged with blood, but Pérez-de la Fuente and his co-authors couldn’t figure out how to analyze that blood because the tick wasn’t entirely encased in amber, so the iron in the blood was contaminated with minerals.

USE FROG DNA!11 What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, being able to purify and analyze prehistoric blood, even blood that has been contaminated environmentally, would open up intriguing new avenues of exploration. Give the leaps in analytic and DNA technology over the past few decades, it’s not inconceivable that someone will figure out how to study the blood of these kinds of specimens.

Interesting side note: we don’t know exactly where in Myanmar the amber ticks used in the study were found. The specimens were sold online to private collectors, but in something of a watershed event, one collector donated his amber to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the other actually participated in the study. He has an author credit on the newly published study in the journal Nature Communication.

“We actually broke the wall between private collectors and scientists which is very uncommon, especially in paleontology,” Pérez-de la Fuente says. “That by itself is a success.”

May it be the first of many.


Scholars Create Precise Rendition of What Ancient Greek Music Sounded Like

Ancient Greek Music Reconstruction

Image via Realm of History

So far, researchers have managed to learn a lot about ancient Greek culture by interpreting the surviving fragments of age-old pot decorations, mosaics, paintings, and statues. From these discoveries we’ve been able to learn that music played an integral part in the lifestyle of ancient Greece. Artwork dating from around 750 to 400 BC often details scenes of music being played at social occasions, such as parties and funerals. The ancient instruments are known to cover three instrumental families—stings, wind, and percussion—with the most common instruments being the lyre (a string instrument that looks like a small harp) and the guitar-like zither. However, more than 2,000 years later, we’ve only just recently been able to learn exactly how they would have sounded. Thanks to newly discovered ancient documents, a group of scholars have figured out how to recreate precise renditions of ancient Greek music.

Armand D’Angoura musician and classics tutor at Oxford University, explains: “The [ancient Greek] instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced. And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.”

After some decoding, David Creeseone of D’Angour’s colleagues from the University of Newcastle, was able to play and record the oldest surviving complete musical composition—titled Seikilos—an epitaph that was inscribed on an ancient, 2,000-year-old marble column. Listen as Creese sings and plays the notes on his handmade zither-like instrument—an “eight-string canon.”

Listen to David Creese’s precise rendition of what ancient Greek music sounded like.

h/t: [Open Culture]

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