27 September 2010

Campy Roman Moments with Soft Cell

Marc Almond as a spoiled Roman aristocrat. He does it amazingly well.

I like the extremely non-PC Nubian slave.

Just to be extra crazy, here's the Chipmunks version!

22 September 2010

Nubian Antibiotic Beer

From the archaeological optimism department: a recent paper shows that ancient Nubians used antibiotics - and delivered them in beer! Analysis of bones from the Ballana culture of lower Nubia from ca. 350-550 AD, contained significanct concentrations of tetracycline, (first produced as a modern cure in 1948). The paper, by George Armelagos and Mark Nelson, is in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Nelson, a leading expert in tetracycline and other antibiotics, became interested in the project after hearing Armelagos speak at a conference. “I told him to send me some mummy bones, because I had the tools and the expertise to extract the tetracycline,” Nelson says. “It’s a nasty and dangerous process. I had to dissolve the bones in hydrogen fluoride, the most dangerous acid on the planet.”

The results stunned Nelson. “The bones of these ancient people were saturated with tetracycline, showing that they had been taking it for a long time,” he says. “I’m convinced that they had the science of fermentation under control and were purposely producing the drug.”
Tetracycline binds with calcium and phosphorus, which is pretty much what our bones are made of - so if you take it, part of it stays with you.

I have found my chance to share images like this with you. I am taking it.

This is not totally new news - Armelagos has been working on this research since 1980. By 2000, his team had pretty conclusively demonstrated that the tetracycline was delivered via beer. The mechanism is neat: ancient Egyptians and Nubians used bread as a source of yeast for fermentation. They would leave out some bread dough, collect local yeast from the air, half-bake the bread (leaving the center sticky so the yeast could breed), and then put the bread in a soup of malted grain to start brewing.

An ancient brewery setup.

The other thing that floats around in the air with that yeast is strepomycetes bacteria. Normally these aren't very interesting, but when they're trapped in environments they don't like - especially moist and acidic ones, like in the inside of a half-baked bread loaf, or a fermenting vat of beer - the streptomycetes start producing tetracycline! Which means that when your beer is done, it's full of antibiotics. Armelagos wrote a very readable article about the science and experimental archaeology they used to figure this out (in Natural History, from way back in 2000).

I have to admit, I would be more keen to take antibiotics if they were delivered this way.

Of course, when Armelagos was first sorting this out in the 80s, people were skeptical, saying it was impossible, the tetracycline must have been introduced to the bones later. Typical unwillingness to believe that ancient people could have figured out anything clever, like colonizing the Americas, performing brain surgery, or building astronomical observatories. This assumption that amazing inventions can only be made with petroleum-powered machines is a kind of industrial age narcissism. I think that the technologies invented after 1800 have in most cases just made it easier for humans to do things they already knew how to do a very long time ago.

It's a bit early for a beer here in my time zone, but we'll see if I don't get into a little 'experimental archaeology' later.

14 September 2010

Auto-tuning History

The slightly annoying, slightly genius guys who brought us 'Auto-Tune the News' are now dabbling in auto-tuning some great historical speeches with a feature called 'Time Travel in Song'. I like their version of Winston Churchill's 'Great Declaration' of December 1941 (I'd skip the other ones, they don't improve on the originals).

There's a certain trancy element that makes Churchills combativeness and stoicism into something almost pastoral. It's not a rocker, but it's kinda nice.

For those of you unfamiliar with auto-tune, it's a software program that can turn pretty much any speech into singing. A lot of singers with bad voices use it to get on key, but it's also open to other (ab)uses.

06 September 2010

Music to Dig By: Two Takes on Joan of Arc

I've always liked OMD's Maid of Orleans. What would it be like to be in love with a ethereal and sometimes bloody saint? They got the video just right.

Leonard Cohen's version explores the same theme, but focuses more on Joan's longing to consummate her passions. Joan is fire here, rather than ice. Here Cohen sings with Jennifer Warnes:

The film clips are from the 1928 silent film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc', itself a cinema landmark (these scenes are eerily modern for a silent).

Just in case that was getting too deep for you, here's some more Whoopi. This time, she's trying to use her bladder problems to avoid martyrdom! Clever.

04 September 2010

Some hot ancient deaths

Over at Street Carnage, Peter Glackin writes an open mic rounding up his favorite deaths in the ancient world. It's worth a read both for the gory details and his correct attitudes about these guys' personal characters. Here's your teaser on Crassus:

M. Licinius Crassus.
Remember Crassus? He’s that guy from Spartacus who crucified 6,000 slaves along over 100 miles of road. He was a dick. He was also exorbitantly wealthy and checks in consistently at number five in Forbes’ Wealthiest Historical Figures list. Want to know how he made that money? Before Rome was a city of marble, it was a city of brick. And wood. And flammable everything. And slumlords. This led to rampant tenement fires that affected pretty much everybody living in that shithole city, so it became urgent during the Late Republic to find a way to fix this. Enter the philanthropist Crassus. He fixed up a merry gang of fire-fighting slaves to act as Rome’s first fire brigade, and subsequently put out many, many fires throughout the city quickly and efficiently. However, there was a catch: When he showed up to direct his slaves, he would halt them first, then saunter up to the owner/super of the building and haggle for the flaming building with him. Basically, the landlord could choose between losing his entire property (and tenants) or selling it to Crassus for the modern equivalent of a Coke and a smile, all while he watched his livelihood slowly burn to the ground. This motherfucker acquired so much property and made so much money doing this, he makes Dick Cheney look like Ty Pennington.
To find out how Crassus (and Vercingetorix and Pausanias) bites it, read on here. Glackin is spot on about the guy - like most of the 'noble Romans' who 'defended the republic', he was a top-notch a*hole.

03 September 2010

Helen of Troy's Bladder Control Secrets

Whoopi Goldberg = Helen of Troy = urinary control pads. I'm not sure I totally understand this equation. But it's one of a series, so stay tuned!