Friday, October 31, 2014

Great Pumpkin! 9 Fun Facts About the Halloween Gourd

by Tia Ghose

a giant pumpkin
A giant pumpkin. The world record for the heaviest pumpkin was bested in 2013 when Tim Mathison brought his 2,032 pound (921.7 kg) gargantuan gourd to a weigh-off in Napa, California.
Credit: csterken

Autumn is a time for leaf peeping, jack-o'-lanterns and pumpkin pie. The bright orange globes are the quintessential symbols of the season, and spooky jack-o'-lanterns have become a staple of Halloween celebrations everywhere. But long before pumpkin spice lattes became the fall favorite at coffee shops, the fleshy gourd was a symbol of American family farms and a bountiful harvest. From their ancient roots to the biggest pumpkin ever grown, here are nine crazy facts about pumpkins.
1. Ancient plant
Pumpkins are perhaps the oldest domesticated plants on Earth, with archaeological and botanical evidence suggesting that people cultivated pumpkins as far back as 10,000 B.C., said Cindy Ott, an American studies professor at Saint Louis University in Missouri, and the author of "Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon," (University of Washington Press, 2012). The first cultivated pumpkins, which were small, hard gourds that bear little resemblance to the fleshy orange giants of today, likely originated in the highlands of Oaxaca in Mexico, Ott said. [In Images: Peculiar Halloween Pumpkins]
2. Same plant, different name
The scientific name for pumpkins is Cucurbita pepo, with "pepo" meaning "to ripen in the sun." Though Americans consider pumpkins, squash and zucchini to be different foods, they are in fact all the same genus and species, and can be bred with one another. The Europeans who first saw the strange fruits thought they looked a lot like melons, so they called them "pompions," which is French for melon, Ott said.
3. Survival fruit
When the British colonists arrived in North America, they quickly learned to rely on the pumpkin as a survival food because European staples weren't readily available. Pumpkin could be substituted for wheat and barley in beer and was a fast-growing and hardy crop, Ott said.
4. First recipe
Though Thanksgiving is now synonymous with pumpkin pie, the original colonists considered pumpkin more of a savory ingredient, and it's not clear they even ate it on Thanksgiving Day. Most preparations used pumpkin, in addition to corn, in meat stews, Ott said. The first mention of pumpkin pie seems to have been a recipe for "pumpkin pudding baked in a crust," which appeared in the first American cookbook, "American Cookery," published by Amelia Simmons in 1796, Ott said.
5. Farm feed
The pumpkin was never considered a particularly luxurious food, and by the 19th century, when European foods became more readily available, the pumpkin was mainly known as a cheap substitute food or as feed for livestock, Ott said. The only people who grew them were small family farmers, and few people ate pumpkins.
"It was considered food of last resort and food of desperate times," Ott said.
6. Sentimental food
Around the 19th century, when most Americans had stopped eating pumpkins, the squash became associated with nostalgic and romantic images of small American family farms, Ott said. Pumpkins began cropping up in paintings of rustic farms, people wrote sappy odes to the orange fruit and it became an even stronger symbol of the fall harvest and bounty, Ott said.
7. Jack-o'-lanterns
Though the image of a grinning orange face may seem to be the epitome of Halloween now, the pumpkin only recently took up the mantle of jack-o'-lantern. Halloween has its roots in the Celtic holiday of Samhain, when the spirits of the dead walk the Earth for a night and people make lanterns out of turnips to scare the evil spirits away. [10 Ghost Stories That Will Haunt You for Life]
But when Irish immigrants came to the United States, pumpkins as the symbol of small American farms merged with the spooky Halloween tradition. It's not clear when the jack-o'-lantern practice first emerged, but by 1867, an article in the magazine Harper's Weekly shows a spooky image of two boys carving a "pumpkin effigy," the first image of a jack-o'-lantern in its modern-day form.
8. Pie market
The vast majority of pumpkin in the United States is produced and consumed in the fall, and one company, Libby's, produces almost all of the canned pumpkin in the country, Ott said. Because it doesn't make economic sense to ship pumpkins cross-country, most of these pie pumpkins — which, from the outside, look like cantaloupes — are grown in Illinois near the Libby's canning factory, Ott said.
9. Giant pumpkin
Though the average pumpkin in the supermarket may weigh about as much as a bowling ball, competitive pumpkin growers have taken the fruits to new extremes. Giant pumpkin enthusiasts trade tips, such as spiking the soil with fish feed, in order to grow pumpkins of truly gargantuan proportions. In 2013 for instance, a California man broke the world record for the largest pumpkin. At 2,032 pounds (921.7 kilograms), the overgrown squash was nearly the size of a small car.
"These giant pumpkin growers say you can almost see and hear the plant grow, because they grow tens of pounds in a day," Ott said.

Live Science
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History Trivia - All Hallows Eve

October 31

Historian Nicholas Rogers on the origin of All Hallows' Eve: while some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin. The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". 
A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf.


The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year".


The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.

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History Trivia - Romulus Augustulus proclaimed Western Roman Emperor

October 31

 834 1st All Hallows Eve (Halloween) observed to honor the saints.

475 Romulus Augustulus was proclaimed Western Roman Emperor. His deposition by Odoacer in 476 traditionally marks the end of the Western Roman Empire, the fall of ancient Rome, and the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe.

1517 Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther published his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation.  

1541 Michelangelo Buonarroti finishes painting The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ancient shipwreck discovered near Aeolian Islands

Jason Dearen

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The divers descended 410 feet into dark Mediterranean waters off Italy, their lights revealing the skeleton of a ship that sank thousands of years ago when Rome was a world power. A sea-crusted anchor rested on a rock. The ship's cargo lay scattered amid piles of terra cotta jars, called amphora.
Highly trained technical divers with a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers -- GUE for short -- are helping Italian researchers to unlock an ancient shipwreck thought to date to the second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Able to descend hundreds of feet further than most divers, they aide the archaeologists by swimming about the wreck fetching artifacts -- as no robotic submersible can.

On this dive, they swam past the large amphora used to carry wine, olive oil and other cargo on Mediterranean trade routes centuries ago -- feeling as if they were transported to another time.
"It felt very much like a ghost ship awaiting the boarding of ancient mariners," said Jarrod Jablonski, one of the divers with the exploration group based in the Florida community of High Springs.
Many of these divers honed their deep-water diving abilities in Florida's labyrinths of underwater caves. Now GUE provides the technical divers needed to access cargo and other artifacts from a ship though to have sailed around 218-210 B.C. -- when Rome and Carthage were fighting for naval superiority in the Mediterranean.
Called the Panarea III, the ship was discovered off the Aeolian island of Panarea in 2010 by American researchers using sonar and a remotely operated submersible in waters about 40 miles north of Sicily.
Archaeologists said the ship is a wooden vessel about 50 feet long that could have hit rough seas and broken up on rocks before plunging to the sea bottom -- possibly a wealthy merchant's cargo ship or one used to supply the Roman military.
"This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about daily life on the ancient ship as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade," said Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site. "Of course, there are other similar shipwrecks that can offer similar study cases. But this has the peculiarity to be in a very good preservation condition."
The ship was so far underwater that it has been safe for centuries from looters and entanglement in fishing gear.
As Jablonski and seven other GUE divers explored the wreck in September, Italian archaeologists shadowed them in a small submarine, shining a bright light on the trove of Greco-Roman artifacts. As researchers in the sub pointed to objects, the divers retrieved them, swimming to the sub's window for viewing. A thumbs-up, and the items were attached to balloons and sent to the surface.
At such depths, diving is tricky work.
Nitrogen becomes increasingly toxic to humans below 100 feet. Divers below 200 feet experience feelings similar to becoming drunk, making working with tools or fragile objects clumsy. But the GUE divers use specially prepared mixes of gases, which eliminate the problem of diving so deep. But the gases must be balanced carefully at each depth, or they could die or become extremely sick.
The divers must slowly descend. They can only work for about 30 minutes before making a 4-to-5 hour ascent to protect against illness.
"Technology hasn't substituted the human hand, with its articulated five fingers, for uncovering and cleaning artifacts," Jablonski said, explaining why they make these risky dives for researchers.
Archaeologists said they rewards are great despite the risks to the divers.
"The fact that they are diving in that deep water, it is pushing the limits of the technology in a way I welcome very much," said Felipe Castro, a professor of nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University not with the project.
The divers found many important pieces needed to tell the ship's story, said Alba Mazza, an Italian archaeologist with the University of Sydney in Australia. Of note were the ship's anchor and a sacrificial altar with Greek inscriptions that provide clues to the ship's origin. The size and shape of the amphora help them understand what the ship was carrying.
Experts believe it could have been a supply ship for Roman legions or that it belonged to a wealthy merchant, possibly from the Italian region around Naples, which Mazza described as "very rich and wealthy, with lots of nice wine in that area."
Another possibility Mazza and Tusa are investigating is whether the ship was a supply vessel in the fleet of Claudio Marcello, a Roman consul who conquered Sicilian city of Syracuse in 212 B.C.
GUE divers were paid through corporate contributions to its "Project Baseline," an endeavor in which divers and citizen scientists throughout the world submit data from myriad underwater sites that future researchers can use to compare and track changes. In addition to working on the wreck, Project Baseline divers around the world are surveying reefs and caves, including a deep sea cave off France.
In the case of the Panarea III shipwreck, the data collected from the site can be used by the Italian government or others in the future.
Much more research is needed before the team can be sure about many of its early hunches about the Panarea III, but with help from GUE the crew plans to return next year to the site for more dive work.
Jablonski can hardly wait.
"Reaching the dive site was a mystical experience and very much like reaching through a window in time," he said.

Fox News

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Ancient Stone Circles in Mideast Baffle Archaeologists

by Owen Jarus

The Big Circle called J1 is about 390 meters (1,280 feet) in diameter, with an open area created by bulldozing in its interior.
The Big Circle called J1 is about 390 meters (1,280 feet) in diameter, with an open area created by bulldozing in its interior.
Credit: David L. Kennedy, copyright is retained by the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East imageAPAAME_20040601_DLK-0041

Huge stone circles in the Middle East have been imaged from above, revealing details of structures that have been shrouded in mystery for decades.
Archaeologists in Jordan have taken high-resolution aerial images of 11 ancient "Big Circles," all but one of which are around 400 meters (1,312 feet) in diameter. Why they are so similar is unknown but the similarity seems “too close to be a coincidence" said researcher David Kennedy.
The Big Circles (as archaeologists call them) were built with low stone walls that are no more than a few feet high. The circles originally contained no openings, and people would have had to hop over the walls in order to get inside. [See Aerial Images of the Mysterious Big Circles in the Mideast]

Their purpose is unknown, and archaeologists are unsure when these structures were built. Analysis of the photographs, as well as artifacts found on the ground, suggest the circles date back at least 2,000 years, but they may be much older. They could even have been constructed in prehistoric times, before writing was invented, scientists say.
A mysterious stone circle, called a Big Circle as seen from above in Jordan. This circle has been labeled J3.
A mysterious stone circle, called a Big Circle as seen from above in Jordan. This circle has been labeled J3.
Credit: David L. Kennedy, copyright is retained by the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East image APAAME_20040601_DLK-0107
Though the Big Circles were first spotted by aircraft in the 1920s, little research has focused on these structures, and many scientists are not even aware of their existence, something these archaeologists hope the new aerial images will help to change.
The "most important contribution is simply to collect and make known a large group of rather remarkable sites," writes Kennedy, a professor at the University of Western Australia, in an article published recently in the journal Zeitschrift für Orient Archäologie.
In addition to the 11 photographed circles, researchers have identified another similar circle in Jordan, which appears to have been only partially completed, Kennedy noted. Old satellite imagery also reveals  two circles, one in Jordan and another in Syria, which have both been destroyed. The circle in Syria was destroyed within the last decade and the one in Jordan a few decades ago. A separate research team, from Durham University, investigated the Syria circle before it was completely gone.
While there are many smaller stone circles in the Middle East, what makes these 11 Big Circles stand out is their large size and ancient age, Kennedy said.
Kennedy has been leading the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project (AAJ) since 1997 and also co-directs the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME).
Building the Big Circles
The circles would not have been hard to build, Kennedy said. They were constructed mainly with local rocks, and a dozen people working hard could potentially complete a Big Circle in a week, Kennedy told Live Science in an email. [Gallery: Aerial Photos Reveal Mysterious Stone Structures]
However, building the circles in a precise shape would have taken some planning. "In the case of those circles that [are] near-precise circles, it would have required at least one person as 'architect,'" Kennedy said, adding that this architect could simply have tied a long rope to a post and walked in a circle, marking the ground as he or she moved around. "That would also explain the glitches [in the circles] where the land was uneven," as the architect wouldn't have been able to keep walking in a perfect circle at those spots.
The purpose of the Big Circles is a mystery, Kennedy said. It seems unlikely that they were originally used as corrals, as the walls were no more than a few feet high, the circles contain no structures that would have helped maintain an animal herd and there's no need for animal corrals to have such a precise shape, he said.
One of the circles contains three cairns, or rock piles, on its edges that may have been used for burial. However, Kennedy said, "my inference is that the cairns [were built] later, when the enclosure was no longer significant."
Solving the circle mystery
In order to solve the mystery, archaeologists must conduct more actual fieldwork, Kennedy said, noting that aerial images are helpful but can't replace excavation.
Archaeologists Graham Philip and Jennie Bradbury, both with Durham University in England, have examined a Big Circle they found near Homs in Syria. While the circle was "badly damaged" when the researchers found it, they completed their fieldwork before land development completely destroyed the structure.
This Big Circle was positioned in such a way that it could give someone standing inside it a "panoramic" view of a basin that would have held crops and settlements, the researchers reported in a 2010 paper in the journal Levant. This "may have played an important part in the location of the enclosure," the two archaeologists wrote in the Levant article.
Recent satellite imagery shows that the circle near Homs is now virtually destroyed, Kennedy wrote.
Megalithic landscape
While the purpose of the Big Circles remains unknown, the research by Kennedy and his team shows that the creations were part of a landscape rich in stone structures.
His team has found thousands of stone structures in Jordan and the broader Middle East. They come in a variety of shapes, including "Wheels" (circular structures with spokes radiating out); Kites (stone structures that forced animals to run into a kill zone); Pendants (lines of stone cairns that run from burials); and walls (mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for more than a mile — or up to several thousand meters — and have no apparent practical use).
The aerial photography program his team is conducting, combined with satellite imagery from sites like Google Earth, has led to many discoveries, Kennedy said. "As soon as you get up a few hundred feet, it all comes into focus. You can suddenly see the shape of what you've been looking at," Kennedy said in a YouTube video made by Google as part of their Search Stories series.
Live Science

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Vlad the Impaler: The Real Dracula's Dark Secrets

by Elizabeth Palermo

dracula, vlad the impaler, translyvania, vampires, vlad, vlad tepes, vlad Dracula, wallachia, real vampire
This portrait of Vlad III, painted in the early 16th century, hangs in the museum at Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria.
Credit: Public domain

Count Dracula might be a fictional character who makes the blood curdle on Halloween, but his historical namesake is not. Vlad III, known in his heyday as Dracula — or Drăculea, in old Romanian — was a medieval prince with a figurative thirst for blood.
As his other nickname, "Vlad the Impaler," suggests, Vlad had a penchant for brutally punishing his enemies. However, much of what modern historians know about Vlad III comes from pamphlets and other texts printed in the 15th century, both during and after Vlad's reign. The historical accuracy of these texts — many of which were written by Vlad's enemies — can't be confirmed.

Was Vlad III a monster, or a medieval ruler like any other? The world may never know for sure. But there are several lesser-known facts about the real Dracula that help explain why he may have earned such a nasty reputation. [The Real Dracula: All About Vlad the Impaler]
Vlad the vengeful
Imagine spending your tumultuous teenage years as a political hostage whose fate hinged on the actions of your father, the ruler of a war-torn region in a different country. That's what Vlad III's adolescence was like.
In 1442, Vlad III and his younger brother, Radu, were handed over to Sultan Murad II, then-ruler of the Ottoman Empire. The young men were held hostage to ensure their father, ruler of the principality of Wallachia, remained loyal to the Ottomans during their ongoing war with Hungary.
During their captivity, Vlad and his brother were tutored in science, philosophy and the arts. They were also allegedly schooled in the arts of war, receiving lessons in both horsemanship and swordsmanship from their Ottoman captors, according to Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, former professors of history at Boston College, who wrote several books about Vlad III.
Some historians have argued that Vlad also learned the art of impalement during his time as a hostage, but that can’t be proven, according to Florin Curta, a professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida. The Ottomans didn't invent impalement, and there's no way of knowing whether Vlad saw them deploy this gruesome punishment on their prisoners, Curta told Live Science. [Busted: Medieval Torture's 10 Biggest Myths]
Regardless of what he learned from his captors, Vlad didn't take kindly to being held prisoner. On the contrary, his kid brother adjusted well to captivity, forging a friendship with the Sultan's son, Mehmet II, and eventually converting to Islam.
But Vlad felt little more than enmity for his captors, according to Elizabeth Miller, a research historian and professor emeritus at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. This enmity may have been his motivation for siding with the Hungarians against the Ottomans when he eventually became ruler of Wallachia in 1448, Miller told Live Science.
Vlad the terrorist
Vlad's cruelty is well documented in historical texts, but what often goes overlooked is how he combined this cruelty with cunning to terrorize his enemies.
For example, his preferred method of execution, impalement, wasn't just a sadistic way to get rid of his opponents; it was also a good way to scare them away, according to Curta.
In 1462, Mehmet II (at the time, the Ottoman sultan), invaded Wallachia. When he arrived at the capital city of Târgoviște, he found it deserted. The rotting remains of Ottoman prisoners of war, each impaled on a spike, were the only soldiers there to greet him. Mehmet didn't retreat right then and there, but he certainly didn't gain any headway, Curta noted.
Vlad and turks
This painting, "Vlad the Impaler and the Turkish Envoys," by Theodor Aman (1831-1891), allegedly depicts a scene in which Vlad III nails the turbans of these Ottoman diplomats to their heads.
Credit: Public domain
At one point during Mehmet's campaign to conquer Wallachia, Vlad III dressed his soldiers in Ottoman garb and led them on a midnight raid of the sultan's camp. Their goal was to kill the sultan as he slept in his tent — a goal they failed to accomplish. However, they did succeed in creating mass confusion among the Ottoman soldiers, according to Curta. The Ottomans stayed up until morning, slaughtering one another in the belief that their comrades were really the enemy in Turkish clothing.
"Impaling was used as a form of terror— to terrorize the enemy coming to invade one's country," Curta said. "He had to do a lot of things with very limited resources. He actually used efficient methods to fight against his enemy without having that many men at his disposal."
Miller echoed that sentiment, noting that many historians have labeled Vlad's tactics against the Ottomans as "psychological warfare." In other words, these historians believe that the notorious Dracula may not have been exceptionally cruel, but rather doing what he had to do to fight a military force much greater than his own, Miller said.
Vlad the vampire
Many historians have implied that Stoker's fictional Dracula was inspired by Vlad III, and some have even gone as far as to suggest that Vlad himself drank human blood. In their book about the similarities between Stoker's Dracula and Vlad III — "In Search of Dracula" (Mariner, 1994) — Florescu and McNally cite a 15th-century German poem that paints Vlad as a blood drinker. The poem suggests that Vlad liked to dine among his impaled victims, dipping his bread in their blood, the authors wrote.
But this interpretation of the poem — the original version of which can still be seen at Heidelberg University in Germany — is tragically flawed, according to Miller. [Famous Fangs: Tales of Our Favorite Vampires]
"This story was invented for the purpose of [Florescu and McNally's] argument," Miller said. What the poem actually says is that Vlad liked to wash his hands in the blood of his victims before he ate dinner, she added.
While admittedly still pretty gross, washing your hands in human blood and drinking human blood are two distinct things — not that either of these accusations can be historically proven. Yet, there is an actual link between Stoker's Dracula and a mythical bloodsucking creature that allegedly inhabits the region adjacent to Vlad III's home principality of Wallachia.
In the northern Balkan Mountains, in modern-day Serbia and Hungary, there are many folktales about a creature known as "moroi," according to Curta. The tales stem from the fact that in that region, most people practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and in that faith there is no notion of purgatory — the place where souls go for "purification" before being assigned their place in heaven or hell — as there is in the Roman Catholic faith, he added.
This lack of purgatory left some Orthodox Christians wondering what would happen to a child who died before he or she was baptized and assured a place in heaven, according to Curta.
"There was a very strong set of beliefs that these children would roam around for a while before actually going to hell or paradise," Curta said. "And in the process, they would feed on the blood of the cattle — not of the humans — which is why, in the Balkans, people would put a pot of milk at the gate of the stable. That way, the moroi would feed on that milk rather that on the blood of the animals."
Stoker's bloodsucking tale may have been influenced in part by such folklore, Curta said. However, these tales have nothing at all to do with the historical figure, Vlad the Impaler.
Live Science
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Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: Pumpkin Stop Motion of the Shower Scene

Yuliya Tsukerman

This Halloween, I set out to recreate the shower scene from Psycho using only carved pumpkins. "Psych-o-Lantern" is the result! Each frame was slashed, stabbed, and sliced out of a real pumpkin. For stills and more, visit
and Instagram @leviathanbell

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