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  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Fronczak missing Chicago boy case: FBI reopens probe

    The FBI has reopened an investigation into the disappearance of a newborn boy stolen from a Chicago hospital in 1964.It comes after DNA tests showed that the child who was returned to the missing boy's parents is not their son.Paul Fronczak, 49, was raised by Chester and Dora Fronczak after detectives found him abandoned in New Jersey in 1965....

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Crossrail unearths evidence humans lived on Thames in 7,000 BC

    Rare evidence that humans lived on the River Thames 9,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists working on the Crossrail project.A Mesolithic tool-making factory featuring 150 pieces of flint was found at the tunnelling worksite in Woolwich.Archaeologists said prehistoric Londoners were using the site to prepare river cobbles which were then made into flint tools.Gold has also been discovered at its site in Liverpool Street....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Treblinka survivor recalls suffering and resistance

    Wearing a military beret, medals and walking with a stick, 90-year-old Samuel Willenberg led a crowd of people through a clearing in the pine forest, stopping sporadically to point out: "And the platform was here, the trains stopped here."Nothing remains of Treblinka extermination camp apart from the ashes of the estimated 870,000 mostly Jewish men, women and children that the Nazis gassed and buried underground.On a bright summer's day, with storks nesting nearby, it is hard to imagine the horror that occurred here.Samuel Willenberg is the last survivor of the Jewish prisoners' revolt in the camp and he had returned for the 70th anniversary....

  • Originally published 08/02/2013

    Ice core data supports ancient space impact idea

    New data from Greenland ice cores suggest North America may have suffered a large cosmic impact about 12,900 years ago.A layer of platinum is seen in ice of the same age as a known abrupt climate transition, US scientists report.The climate flip has previously been linked to the demise of the North American "Clovis" people.The data seem to back the idea that an impact tipped the climate into a colder phase, a point of current debate.Rapid climate change occurred 12,900 years ago, and it is proposed that this is associated with the extinction of large mammals - such as the mammoth, widespread wildfires and rapid changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation....

  • Originally published 08/02/2013

    The ancient Chinese exam that inspired modern job recruitment

    Getting an office job can be a complicated process. There are the headhunters and references, psychometric testing and endless interviews....The Chinese had developed an examination system from hell that you had to pass to get into the imperial service. In place since the 7th Century, it consisted of a cascading series of dawn-to-dusk tests for which you had to memorise 400,000 characters of Confucian text and master the fiendishly rigid "eight-legged essay". The pass rate? A mere 1-2%.But the Brits were impressed, and some thought that exams could help them make a better fist of running the Empire.Charles Trevelyan, the permanent secretary to the Treasury 1840-59, was horrified by the Barnacle types in the civil service, once describing a colleague, as a "gentleman who really could neither read nor write, he was almost an idiot"...

  • Originally published 07/30/2013

    Inca mummies: Child sacrifice victims fed drugs and alcohol

    Scientists have revealed that drugs and alcohol played a key part in the months and weeks leading up to the children's deaths.Tests on one of the children, a teenage girl, suggest that she was heavily sedated just before her demise....The mummified remains were discovered in 1999, entombed in a shrine near the summit of the 6,739m-high Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina.Three children were buried there: a 13-year-old girl, and a younger boy and girl, thought to be about four or five years old.Their remains date to about 500 years ago, during the time of the Inca empire, which dominated South America until the Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th Century....

  • Originally published 07/29/2013

    Does Caligula deserve his bad rep?

    Our modern idea of tyranny was born 2,000 years ago. It is with the reign of the Caligula - the third Roman emperor, assassinated in 41 AD, before he had reached the age of 30 - that all the components of mad autocracy come together for the first time.In fact, the ancient Greek word "tyrannos" (from which our term comes) was originally a fairly neutral word for a sole ruler, good or bad.Of course, there had been some very nasty monarchs and despots before Caligula. But, so far as we know, none of his predecessors had ever ticked all the boxes of a fully fledged tyrant, in the modern sense.There was his (Imelda Marcos-style) passion for shoes, his megalomania, sadism and sexual perversion (including incest, it was said, with all three of his sisters), to a decidedly odd relationship with his pets. One of his bright ideas was supposed to have been to make his favourite horse a consul - the chief magistrate of Rome....

  • Originally published 07/23/2013

    Beyonce compares Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till

    Beyonce has urged supporters of Trayvon Martin to be inspired by the protests that followed the death of another black teenager, Emmett Till. She is only one of a number of Americans who have drawn a parallel between the two cases - though others point out there are major differences. So who was Till?After attending an event in New York in memory of teenager Martin, who was shot dead in Florida, the pop singer wrote a message on her website."We have made so much progress and cannot allow hatred and racism to divide us," she wrote. "When we all join together, people of all races, we have the power to change the world we live in. We must fight for Trayvon the same way the generation before us fought for Emmett Till."In the summer of 1955, the 14-year-old Till was far from home when his life ended in a most violent way, apparently for whistling at a white woman....

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Amid Greek austerity, plunder of priceless treasures

    The financial crisis in Greece has already had far-reaching consequences for many people, but now it is claiming a new casualty as some of the country's ancient treasures become a target for thieves.Detective Gergios Tsoukalis puffs nervously on his cigar. In the passenger's seat of a taxi, he grapples with four different mobile phones as he tries to co-ordinate the arrest of yet another antiquities smuggler.As the driver pulls into the port, he sees ahead of him that plainclothes police officers have already pounced on the unassuming man, who is completely shocked by the early-morning operation....

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Remembering telegram's rich history

    The closure of India's 163-year-old telegraph service has sparked a feeling of nostalgia in newspapers.The government on Sunday night ended the service, triggering a last-minute rush at telegraph offices as people came to send a "nostalgic last telegram" to their loved ones."Curtains came down on Sunday night on the 163-year-old telegram service in the country - the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians - amid a last minute rush of people thronging telegraph offices to send souvenir messages to family and friends," the India Today website reports....

  • Originally published 07/11/2013

    Alfred Hitchcock joins UNESCO register

    Alfred Hitchcock's nine surviving silent films will join artefacts such as the Domesday Book in representing the cultural heritage of the UK.Hitchcock's films - the British director's earliest works - premiered at the British Film Institute last summer following extensive restoration.They have now been added to the Unesco UK Memory of the World Register.The register "reflects the richness of UK culture and history, from medieval manuscripts to ground-breaking cinema"....

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Malcolm Gladwell: Could One Man Have Shortened the Vietnam War?

    Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist and authorListening well is a gift. The ability to hear what someone says and not filter it through your own biases is an instinctive ability similar to having a photographic memory.And I think we have a great deal of trouble with people who have this gift. There is something about all of us that likes the fact that what we hear is filtered through someone's biases.There are many examples of this phenomenon, but I want to focus on the story of Konrad Kellen, a truly great listener.During the Vietnam War, he heard something that should have changed the course of history. Only it didn't. And today no-one really knows who Kellen was - which is a shame because his statue should be in the middle of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC...

  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    Woman who took Stone of Destiny back to Scotland dies

    A leading figure in a plot to return the Stone of Destiny to Scotland more than 60 years ago has died.Kay Matheson was one of a group of four students who took the relic from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950.The stone was taken back to Scotland from where it had been removed by Edward I in 1296 as a spoil of war.Ms Matheson, who drove a car carrying the stone through police road blocks, died in Wester Ross at the age of 84....

  • Originally published 07/03/2013

    Queen opens Sir Walter Scott's house

    The Queen has officially reopened the former home of author Sir Walter Scott in the Scottish Borders after its multi-million pound restoration.Abbotsford House, near Melrose, will open to the public on Thursday.The royal visitor was given a tour of the house, which shut for major renovations nearly two years ago.The Abbotsford Trust hopes the historic building can become both an "important cultural centre and tourist destination" for the region....

  • Originally published 07/01/2013

    Lindisfarne Gospels in exhibition

    The 1,300-year-old Lindisfarne Gospels have gone on display in the north-east of England for three months.The major Durham University exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see them outside the British Library in London.An e-book version of the manuscript with "zoomable" digital pictures has been produced by the library.Head of history and classics Dr Scot McKendrick said it "extends the reach and accessibility" of the Gospels and hoped it would be "very inspiring.""It's one of the great frustrations of exhibiting books - we all know there is lots more wonder beyond that one opening that you see," he said....

  • Originally published 06/24/2013

    Mysterious Voynich manuscript has 'genuine message'

    The message inside "the world's most mysterious medieval manuscript" has eluded cryptographers, mathematicians and linguists for over a century.And for many, the so-called Voynich book is assumed to be a hoax.But a new study, published in the journal Plos One, suggests the manuscript may, after all, hold a genuine message.Scientists say they found linguistic patterns they believe to be meaningful words within the text.Whether or not it really does have any meaningful information, though, is much debated by amateurs and professionals alike....

  • Originally published 06/23/2013

    Should African-American history have its own museum?

    This week, the US Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about the legality of affirmative action programmes that allow universities to consider race as a factor in admissions.Detractors argue that affirmative action is unnecessary in modern America and contributes to discrimination. Proponents say the programmes remain a vital way to counter centuries of racism and inequality in America.Just blocks away from the Supreme Court in Washington DC, a similar debate is going on about a shawl, some shards of glass, and other historic artefacts.They're items designated for the National Museum of African American History and Culture....But does giving each group its own museum - separate from the main Museum of American History - further segregate those who should be part of the American "melting pot" experience? Does it give special treatment to marginalised groups?Virginia Congressman Jim Moran objected to the museum on those grounds.

  • Originally published 06/20/2013

    British Museum launches gay history guide

    The British Museum has launched a guide focusing on elements of homosexuality to be found in its collection.A Little Gay History draws on objects ranging from ancient Egyptian papyri and the erotic scenes on the Roman Warren Cup to images by David Hockney.Written by curator Richard Parkinson, it explores artistic portrayals of what it means to be gay and the difficulties in finding records of same-sex desire.The guide is accompanied by an audio trail featuring Simon Russell Beale....

  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Yuri Gagarin air crash details emerge

    New details have emerged about the air crash on 27 March 1968 that killed Yuri Gagarin - the first man in space.Fellow cosmonaut Alexey Leonov claims an "unauthorised" plane flew too close to Gagarin's fighter jet, sending it into a spin.Gagarin and his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died when their MiG-15 went down near the town of Novoselovo, about 90km from Moscow.Secrecy surrounding the crash has led to vigorous speculation down the years....

  • Originally published 06/17/2013

    Napoleon's telegraph changed the world

    Napoleonic semaphore was the world's first telegraph network, carrying messages across 18th Century France faster than ever before. Now a group of enthusiastic amateurs are reviving the ingenious system.Before the web, before the computer, before the phone, even before Morse code, there was le systeme Chappe. Not for the first time or for the last, at the end of the 18th Century France made an important technological advance - only to see it overtaken by newer science.In this case, it was the world's first ever system of telegraphy.According to most accounts, the very word "telegraph" - distance writing, in Greek - was coined to describe Claude Chappe's nationwide network of semaphore....

  • Originally published 05/30/2013

    A Tudor ship's secrets revealed

    More than 30 years after it was raised from the seabed - and almost 500 years since it sank - the secrets of Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, are being revealed to the public - along with the faces of its crew.Just yards from where it was first constructed from 600 oak trees near Portsmouth's naval docks in 1510, the wreck of the Tudor warship now stands on view in its new £35m home.Where once stood a proud, cutting-edge ship built for war, now lies a reconstructed array of wooden decks and pillars, withered by their hundreds of years at the bottom of the Solent....

  • Originally published 05/14/2013

    Making of Europe unlocked by DNA

    A study of remains from Central Europe suggests the foundations of the modern gene pool were laid down between 4,000 and 2,000 BC - in Neolithic times.These changes were likely brought about by the rapid growth and movement of some populations.The work by an international team is published in Nature Communications.Decades of study of the DNA patterns of modern Europeans suggests two major events in prehistory significantly affected the continent's genetic landscape: its initial peopling by hunter-gatherers in Palaeolithic times (35,000 years ago) and a wave of migration by Near Eastern farmers some 6,000 years ago. (in the early Neolithic)...

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    Newark tunnel 'legend' to be investigated

    A team of historians and archaeologists plan to use radar to find out whether tunnels beneath a Nottinghamshire marketplace exist.Newark and Sherwood District Council said the tunnels are rumoured to run beneath the marketplace in Newark but have never been investigated.The council is funding the initial work, which will cost between two and three thousand pounds....

  • Originally published 03/20/2013

    Home towns struggle with legacy of Stalin and Hitler

    The birth towns of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler are divided on the issue of how to deal with the legacy of the dictators who slaughtered millions.In some ways it would be hard to imagine two more different places than Gori in Georgia and Braunau am Inn in Austria.Gori, with its crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks, is set in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains.You can still see scars from the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, when Russian troops entered the town.It is poor. Even in winter, pensioners try to earn a few pennies, helping cars to park.Braunau, by contrast, is a comfortable little Austrian town, with a beautifully preserved medieval centre.Cross the bridge over the Inn river, close to the main square, and you find yourself in Germany, in Bavaria - one of the wealthiest parts of Europe....

  • Originally published 03/14/2013

    What Japanese history lessons leave out

    Mariko Oi is a reporter for the BBC.Japanese people often fail to understand why neighbouring countries harbour a grudge over events that happened in the 1930s and 40s. The reason, in many cases, is that they barely learned any 20th Century history. I myself only got a full picture when I left Japan and went to school in Australia.From Homo erectus to the present day - 300,000 years of history in just one year of lessons. That is how, at the age of 14, I first learned of Japan's relations with the outside world.For three hours a week - 105 hours over the year - we edged towards the 20th Century.It's hardly surprising that some classes, in some schools, never get there, and are told by teachers to finish the book in their spare time.When I returned recently to my old school, Sacred Heart in Tokyo, teachers told me they often have to start hurrying, near the end of the year, to make sure they have time for World War II....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    Ancient languages reconstructed by computer program

    A new tool has been developed that can reconstruct long-dead languages.Researchers have created software that can rebuild protolanguages - the ancient tongues from which our modern languages evolved.To test the system, the team took 637 languages currently spoken in Asia and the Pacific and recreated the early language from which they descended.The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Richard III facial reconstruction

    A facial reconstruction based on the skull of Richard III has revealed how the English king may have looked.The king's skeleton was found under a car park in Leicester during an archaeological dig.The reconstructed face has a slightly arched nose and prominent chin, similar to features shown in portraits of Richard III painted after his death.Historian and author John Ashdown-Hill said seeing it was "almost like being face to face with a real person"....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Last-stand Neanderthals queried

    We may need to look again at the idea that a late Neanderthal population existed in southern Spain as recently as 35,000 years ago, a study suggests.Scientists using a "more reliable" form of radiocarbon dating have re-assessed fossils from the region and found them to be far older than anyone thought.The work appears in the journal PNAS.Its results have implications for when and where we - modern humans - might have co-existed with our evolutionary "cousins", the Neanderthals....