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What am I?

This is a Roman dodecahedron and nobody knows why.

Over a hundred of them have been found, sometimes with hoards of coins. So they had a value. They have been found across Europe and Britain, but not in Italy. They would have been pretty work-intensive to make.

They are hollow cast objects with twelve flat pentagonal faces. Each face is pierced with a hole. The holes vary in shape in pairs (the hole opposite is the same size). The corners have knobs braised on. They are made of an alloy. They range in size from one and a half to four and a half inches. Here are some images.

The best guess is candlestick holder, since two were found with wax inside. I’m inclined to this one, though I’d like to know whether they had teeny candles.

Other guesses are to measure the width of something or the size of things at a distance, though there’s an awful lot of variation for that.

Game pieces, but you couldn’t throw them like dice. The differently-sized holes would make them fall not-randomly.

Purely ornamental, like cane toppers. Seems unlikely to me, since they are so uniform in design and construction.

It’s been puzzling me all afternoon. It can go puzzle you for a while.

November 27, 2020 — 7:15 pm
Comments: 18

Guess how we’re going to celebrate?

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act, the law that put the teeth in the 18th Amendment. I speak, of course, of Prohibition. Interesting article about it here.

I know it was a disaster, but to be honest, I kind of admire us for trying. No way human beings would give up the joy of alcohol after who-knows-how-many millennia, but it’s neat that we did something so weird and radical and stupid with such grand American enthusiasm. Yay us.

Nobody quit drinking for long, of course. There were several loopholes.

Sacramental wine. Demand went up by 800,000 gallons a year.

Prescription whisky for them as could afford regular Doctor visits.

You were allowed to drink any alcohol you already owned when the law went into effect, so one wealthy judge reportedly bought a lifetime supply up front.

Poor people began to drink patent medicines and hair dyes and industrial alcohols and all kinds of dangerous and potentially fatal things.

And that’s before we get to smuggling, bootlegging and bathtub gin.

Oh, we drank. And we shall drink again. Good weekend, everyone!

January 17, 2020 — 9:39 pm
Comments: 9

No, it’s not a poop

Did you see this story today? This is the 5,700 year old wad of gum that scientists in Denmark have used to analyze an ancient woman’s DNA.

Based on the findings, she had dark hair, dark skin and blue eyes. I wonder what the relationship is between her and modern Danes and why that combination is rare now?

They also were able to sequence some bacteria from her mouth and ascertain her meal before chewing gum included duck and hazelnuts.

Not exactly gum. It was birch sap, which has some antibacterial properties that help preserve all this junk.

There were some related articles about things they’ve learned about the prehistoric diet from analyzing tooth plaque, but most of the links I hit were behind the paywall. I used to read Science News religiously in the States. Every time I think I’ll break down and buy a subscription, they run another article on global warmening and it gives me a sad.

December 17, 2019 — 8:54 pm
Comments: 6

The Vasa was a Swedish warship launched in 1628. On its maiden voyage, it sailed not quite a mile from port and sank like a rock. It was rediscovered in the 1950s, almost entirely intact (the cannons had been salvaged in the 1700s).

You’ve probably heard of it, but a neat Twitter thread about it floated across my feed tonight, which led me to the museum’s official website. Well worth an hour’s happy browse, I say.

Hello! We survived Monday!

July 29, 2019 — 9:31 pm
Comments: 6


Somebody stole this mako shark jaw from a display case in the Hastings Fisherman’s Museum this week.

The question is…how? Stuck it down his pants?

May 15, 2019 — 9:21 pm
Comments: 8

Note to self: buy more beer

Well! I’ve just gotten a work email (yes, I get them at home) reminding me that next year is the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. We’re going to party like it’s 1620!

March 20, 2019 — 10:13 pm
Comments: 10

The official portrait




There. Done. Better in color.

Our tree always looks like it was decorated by twelve year olds.

Lots of cats, mice and chickens in effigy, though not enough ornaments in general. We’ve lost a lot by attrition over the last few years and our tree is too darned big this year.

Speaking of cats, the old ones don’t care, but little one has developed an unhealthy fascination with those shiny apples. They’re only papier-mâché, so he can’t really hurt them, but as we’ve moved them higher up the tree he’s taken to launching himself at the upper branches.

They’re my favorites, too, and you can’t easily get them any more.

Anyway. It was very nice. We listened to a CD of traditional carols and shared a bottle of wine, which disagreed with us both. Hurrah!



December 19, 2018 — 7:37 pm
Comments: 9

But wait, there’s more…

Divers around the area where the Antikythera Mechanism was found have discovered what they believe to be another piece of it. In fact, there have been continuous diving expeditions to the wreck site, official and otherwise, and all sorts of interesting things have come out of the water (though nothing as spectacular as this).

To refresh: in 1909, Greek sponge divers brought found a bunch of things on a 2,000 year old wreck near the island of Antikythera, including an unremarkable chunk of crap. Many years later, someone thought to x-ray the chunk of crap and discovered it was the corroded remains of a small, incredibly complex gear-driven analogue celestial computer.

The image above is an exploded view via computer model of what they think it looked like. Some of the structure is speculative, but quite a lot of it has been confirmed to be present and to work.

From the first link above (which is a very interesting article; you should read it):

The Mechanism could do not only basic math: with dozens of exquisitely worked cogwheels, it could calculate the movements of the sun and moon, predict eclipses and equinoxes, and could be used to track the solar system planets, the constellations, and much more.

We may never know how many cogwheels the original Antikythera Mechanism had. Assessments based on its functions in predicting the behavior of the cosmos range from 37 to over 70. For comparison, the most advanced Swiss watches have four cogwheels.

They don’t know exactly what the new bit is. It looks like a backplate of some kind. Under x-ray, there’s an etched image of a bull, so it may have something to do with the constellation of Taurus. It may not even be part of the famous mechanism, but it is metallurgically similar. Was there more than one?

There were all kinds of other things on the wreck I hadn’t heard of before; it was a huge ship. Like 50 life-sized statues of Homeric figures, and the wreck happened at a time when they think Homer had gone out of style. Antiques Roadshow, Ancient Greek Edition? Who knows?

And don’t tell me the Mechanism was the one and only calculating machine they had. Complex technologies don’t spring out of nowhere as a one-off. How much mind-blowing stuff has been completely lost to history…?

November 14, 2018 — 8:35 pm
Comments: 9

Alexandra’s last voyage

Rye’s bonfire is tomorrow. We drove past this afternoon as they were building it. It’s traditional to include a boat on the pile (though they usually don’t — even a scruffy old boat is worth something).

I got curious about this one and searched its registration: RX87.

It is a very photographed boat, mostly in recent years picturesquely dilapidating on the shore. Her name is Alexandra. According to this Flickr account “She is the Alexandra was registered RX87. She was built in 1958 at Whitstable for a Rye fisherman then went to Hastings where she ended her days.”

Her working days, that must be. She seems to have ended her days on land on Rye Harbour Road, and she will truly be ending them tomorrow night in flames on the salt flats in front of Rye.

Here she is halfway between then and now, looking scruffy but jaunty in a boat race in 1988. There are only a few scraps of blue paint on her today, but she is red in the oldest photos.

Google offered a glimpse of her in a book called The Coast Road, a 3,000 mile journey round the edge of England, published in 2004.

Maggie points out of the window to a man in a red baseball cap walking the beach. ‘That’s Peter White. He was a fisherman. Until three months back. He was the last to give up.’

Old habits die hard. Peter White is pacing the shore, looking to sea one moment, down at his feet the next, and then across to the small beached, red fishing smack, RX 87, that he owned for most of his working life.

I probably should have read a bit more, but I didn’t. I wonder if that was his real name and if he’ll be there at the end tomorrow. There’s an 85% chance of rain but that won’t stop them.

Good weekend, all!

November 9, 2018 — 8:55 pm
Comments: 11


Another one from a country show. Farmers hereabouts turn these up all the time, ploughing the fields (a neighbor of ours has an impressive personal collection).

The guy identified the approximate age by the style. Forgive me; I don’t remember. Most of them are Medieval.

The asymmetrical one upper left wasn’t corroded into that shape. It was for a horse with an asymmetrical hoof. So I was told.

Even these people’s garbage is interesting…

August 28, 2018 — 9:01 pm
Comments: 3