Tag Archives: 19th century

Shoebill

Shoebill

Shoebill

The Shoebill, Balaeniceps rex also known as Whalehead is a very large bird related to the storks. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill.

The Shoebill is a very large bird, averaging 1.2 m (4 ft) tall, 5.6 kg (12.3 lbs) and 2.33 m (7.7 ft) across the wings. The adult is mainly grey, the juveniles are browner. It lives in tropical east Africa, in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia.

The Shoebill was added rather recently to the ornithological lists; the species was only discovered in the 19th century when some skins were brought to Europe.

It was not until years later that live specimens reached the scientific community. The bird was known to both ancient Egyptians and Arabs however. There exist Egyptian images depicting the Shoebill while the Arabs referred to the bird as abu markub, which means one with a shoe. Clearly, this refers to the striking bill.

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Buried Alive

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Buried Alive

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The Legend:
Some poor schmuck is committed to his or her eternal resting place, even though they aren’t quite ready to take that final dirt nap. Scratch marks are later found on the coffin lid along with other desperate signs of escape.

The Truth:
This not only happened, but back in the day it happened with alarming regularity. In the late 19th century, William Tebb tried to compile all the instances of premature burial from medical sources of the day. He managed to collect 219 cases of near-premature burial, 149 cases of actual premature burial and a dozen cases where dissection or embalming had begun on a not-yet-deceased body.

Now, this may seem ridiculous, but keep in mind this was an era before doctors such as the esteemed Dr. Gregory House gained the ability to solve any ailment within 42 minutes. If you went to the doctor with the flu in those days, he’d likely cover you in leeches and prescribe you heroin to suppress your cough. Their only method for determining if a person had died was to lean over their face and scream “WAKE UP” over and over again. If you didn’t react, they buried you.

The concern over being buried alive back then was so real that the must-have hot-ticket item for the wealthy and paranoid were “safety coffins” that allowed those inside to signal to the outside world (usually by ringing a bell or raising some type of flag) should they awake 6-feet under. Though, answering that bell sounds like a good way to get ambushed by a zombie if you ask us.

Unfortunately safety coffins aren’t in vogue anymore, so if you’re at the cemetery and hear a muffled voice calling out “OK guys, joke’s over. Let me out!” it might be a good idea to inform someone with a shovel quickly.

Of course, that last sentence was merely facetious, there’s no way something like this could still happen today. Uh, well, except for this story about a Venezuelan man waking up during his autopsy. On second thought, you might want to consider adding a line in your will that states you’re to be buried with a gas-powered auger in your casket when you go.

Nathan Birch also writes the disgustingly cute webcomic Zoology.

Tikal – Lost cities Of The World That You Can Still Visit

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Tikal – Lost cities Of The World That You Can Still Visit

Once the capital of the Mayan civilisation and the seat of rulers such as Stormy Sky and Great Jaguar Paw, Tikal was mysteriously abandoned in about AD 900 and for more than a thousand years was swallowed up by dense vegetation.

Guatemalan locals knew about the city, once containing 4,000 buildings and 90,000 inhabitants, but European explorers only discovered it in the 19th century.

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