Curiosities Coming to Light at the Harvard Museum

The Harvard Museum is renowned institution dedicated to anthropology. Recently, it’s going through some big changes to re-establish its role in the field of study. For one day only some of its odder holdings will be showcased to celebrate the museum’s 150th anniversary.


It’s called “All the World is here: Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Invention of American Anthropology” and the exhibit opens in April. It will feature approximately 600 objects!

Some of the curiosities that will be featured will be Lewis and Clark’s grizzly bear claw necklace, the infamous Fiji mermaid, and prehistoric earthwork. However, some items, like the mermaid, will soon be re-established so they can be permanently viewable by the public.

The museum currently houses over 1 million artifacts, but only a fraction are currently on active display. This is a push to show-off and share with the public all the museum has to offer.

Jeffrey Quilter, the Peabody’s director, says These collections are never dead. They’re constantly being revitalized by people who come back with new ways to study them.” This is a certainly a lively way to prove that.

It is interesting to note that P.T Barnum curiosities still provide wonder for those who view them, just as they did when they were actively carted around the world.

Human Sacrifice, Hierarchies, and Mimetic Theory

Human sacrifice seems pretty abhorrent to us nowadays, but back in the ancient day it was a fundamental  part of societies. Link

In a study of ninety-three cultures across Asia, Oceana, and Africa it has been concluded that sacrificial practices helped establishing authority and set up the class based systems we still recognize today. For each of the cultures studied, the researchers recorded the presence (or absence )of human sacrifice and the level of social hierarchy. Unsurprisingly, cultures that had little differences when it came to wealth and status were labelled as being egalitarian while those with strict hierarchies passed down generations, as having high social stratification...and a higher likelihood to prize sacrifice.

Sacrificial victims were typically of low social status (like slaves) while the scarifiers were often highly regarded individuals such as priests and chiefs. This instilled a sense of fear in the lower classes that prevented them from causing a stir or rising against the ruling class.

Often sacrifice was viewed as some kind of "social catharsis."

I'm sure if he was living today, Rene Girard would have probably yelled "of course!" In 1961, he published the seminal work "Deceit, Desire, and the Novel" in which he explores this idea as one of the lynch pins of society throughout the ages.

Girard posits that we "borrow" our desires from others. No, you don't really want Fuji water because of some chemical reason...but because you've been conditioned to think it's better to drink by other people. You don't desire the object, you desire to be the model- to have the power of knowing what to desire and what not to desire. Sound strange? Well, of course it is - it is a theory after all.

So, wait - what does this have to do with sacrifice? Well this theory is based on the idea that desire is a struggle which ultimately leads to violence. Girard himself says, "If there is a nomrla order in societies, it must be the fruit of an anterior crisis." Let's say there is something wrong in this ancient society - not enough rain, a plague on the crops, a sickness that won't stop circulating. Someone who is "the other" in some way (even if it is as unavoidable as hair color) will be blamed and sacrificed. The ruling class, who at least has some sway over the masses, riles others against this baseless "other" until the sacrifice is made. Once the sacrifice has been made and things get better, the victim is then sacrelized  and, you guessed it, if things go wrong again they'll sacrifice a similar "other".

But what happens if the sacrifice doesn't "work"? Well, they just decide that it wasn't enough to sacrifice one person and go after more...

This image is from wikimedia commons and is licensed under creative commons.

One of the World's Most Mysterious Books is Being Cloned

The Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious compilation of drawings of strange plants, naked figures, elegant prose, and other wonder-inducing facets, has stumped the best cryptographers in the world. The manuscript was carbon dated and is believed to have originated some time between 1404 and 1438. The manuscript itself is named after famed antiquarian, Wilfrid Voynich who acquired it around 1912 from a collection of books belonging to the Jesuits in Italy, and then exposed it to the public.

However, we still don't quite know who penned the original. Many believed it was the work of 13th century English Franciscan, Roger Bacon, who was so deeply interested in alchemy and magic it eventually secured him a jail cell. As previously noted, because it was carbon dated to be from the early-mid 1400s, this is impossible.

On top of not knowing the exact date, or author...we have no idea what the intent was. The strange drawings and prose lead some to believe it may be the key to eternal youth, an elaborate joke, or even something left behind by an alien. Or, is it simply a collection of herbal medicine and cures? Though, it should be noted, none of the plans drawn have ever been identified.


The book is currently housed under lock-and-key (okay, and a vault) in Yale University's Beinecke Library and is allowed to emerge from the shadows only once in a blue moon.

Siloe, a small publishing house deep in northern Spain, decided they wanted to get their hands on this elusive and intriguing manuscript.After a 10-year fight for access, it has secured the astonishing right to clone the document.

Director of Siloe, Juan Jose Garcia, says "Touching the Voynich is an expereince...It's a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time..it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe."

But just because Siloe got access, don't count yourself lucky enough to get a hold of it as an individual just yet. Siloe most likely was finally awarded access because it specializes in making facsimiles of old manuscripts. However, you might be able to get your hands on a reprint - they have the rights to make exactly 898 replicas of each work it clones. You might have to spend a pretty penny though, as Siloe is currently pricing the copies, once completed, at about 7,000 to 8,000 euros. Oh, and there are already almost 300 pre-orders!

The process will be a long one, though. It will take about 18 months to make the first facsimiles.The book contains over 200 pages, including several large fold-cutouts, so it is not an easy process.

And their intense attention to detail makes this process, and the finished product, even more realistic.They will be specially treating the paper with a paste developed by the company and give it a special treatment to make it feel like the stiff, hard parchment of the original. The pages will also be artificially ages and all the imperfections will be re-created.

Jokingly, Garcia quotes one of his business partners as saying..."the author of the Voynich could also have been a sadist, as he has us all wrapped up in this mystery".

An Adventurous Mummy

Manfred Fritz Bajorat's body, missing since 2009, has finally been found in a yacht off the coast of the Philippines. It is not unclear just how long Bajorat's body has been at sea, but it is estimated to be years. link

His body was discovered by two fishermen who stumbled upon the boat in late February. They noted that the mast had been broken and much of the cabin was underwater.

Bajorat's corpse was near the radio and telephone. He may have been attempting to make a mayday call, but that is just speculation. However, one thing is for sure: he's been mummified. Or, well, naturally mummified. The dry ocean winds, warm temperatures, and salty air have worked to do this.

Police are now working to retrace his last voyage(s) and reach out to anyone who may have known him.


The above image is unrelated to the story and is from Flickr User Ierdnall it is licensed under Creative Commons.