Category Archives: History

Why Area 51 is Thought by Some to House Aliens


Kathy asks: Why do people think Area 51 contains alien bodies? Area 51 is now so ingrained into popular culture that it’s virtually synonymous with Aliens; it’s impossible to mention one without the other somehow creeping into the conversation, but why are the two so intrinsically linked? Why do we automatically picture little green men any time someone so much […]

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The History of Circumcision


Mark asks: When did people first start cutting the foreskins off penises? Having served variously as a mark of virility, servility and gentility, circumcision has throughout the centuries, worn many symbolic hats. While anthropologists disagree as to the definitive origins of circumcision, the earliest hard evidence comes from the first ancient Egyptian mummies of considerable vintage, around 2300 BC. That […]

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The Stocks


Dan Lewis runs the wildly popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.. For a few centuries ending in the late 1800s, stocks were common in town centers in the United States and Europe. The device, used as a way to humiliate those who violated cultural norms […]

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Nero Didn’t Fiddle While Rome Burned


Myth: Nero played music while Rome burned to the ground. The infamous phrase—“Nero fiddled while Rome burned”—has come to mean a person who is neglecting their duties, probably by doing something frivolous. Nero is painted as an emperor who didn’t care about his people, but it’s likely that he didn’t deserve such a bad reputation.  This is extremely similar to […]

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How Hieroglyphics were Originally Translated


Today I found out about the history of the Rosetta Stone and how hieroglyphics were first translated. Hieroglyphics were elaborate, elegant symbols used prolifically in Ancient Egypt. The symbols decorated temples and tombs of pharaohs. However, being quite ornate, other scripts were usually used in day-to-day life, such as demotic, a precursor to Coptic, which was used in Egypt until […]

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“Big Ben” is Not the Famous Clock Tower, but Rather the Name of the Great Bell Inside the Tower


If you’ve ever been to London, or even seen a picture of London, you’ve probably seen the giant clock tower at the corner of the Palace of Westminster. This tower is one of London’s major icons, ranking right up there with red double-decker buses, the London Eye, and Platform 9 ¾. Contrary to popular belief, the clock tower itself is […]

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When the Canadian Government Used “Gay Detectors” to Try to Get Rid of Homosexual Government Employees


We are all familiar with the colloquialism “gaydar” which refers to a person’s intuitive, and often wildly inaccurate, ability to assess the sexual orientation of another person. In the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to use a slightly more scientific, though equally flawed, approach- a machine to detect if a person was gay or not.  This was […]

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