Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts

Khalid Elhassan - December 30, 2019

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Witch hunts were more of a Renaissance thing than a medieval phenomenon. National Geographic

13. Were the Middle Ages Full of Witch Hunts?

Were witches getting burned left, right, and center, during the Middle Ages? Compared to the present, medieval people were extremely superstitious. However, their superstitions were not expressed in witch hunts. While there were some witch trials in medieval Europe, they were relatively rare, and were usually done by the secular authorities, not directed by the church.

Indeed, throughout most of the Middle Ages, the standard message disseminated by churchmen regarding magic was that it was silly nonsense that did not work. The European witch craze was more of a sixteenth and seventeenth-century phenomenon. It took off after Heinrich Kramer wrote the infamous Malleus Mallificarum in the late fifteenth century, in an attempt to convince a then-disbelieving public that witches were real. When it first came out, the church actually condemned the book and warned inquisitors not to believe what it says.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
The Oregon Trail. Encyclopedia Britannica

12. Which is Older: The Oregon Trail, or the Fax Machine?

The roughly 2200 mile long Oregon Trail connected the Missouri River to Oregon. It began as rough tracks and trails blazed and cleared through the wilderness by fur traders, in progressive stages, between 1811 to 1840. Initially, the segments were only passable to travelers on foot or horseback.

By 1836, the trail section between Independence, Missouri, and Fort Hall, Idaho, had been cleared to accommodate wagons, and the first migrant wagon train made that journey. Thereafter, wagon trails were gradually cleared westward, until, in 1843, they reached the Willamette Valley in Oregon. From then on, the wagon route came to be known as the Oregon Trail. Is it older than the fax machine?

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
The Oregon Trail. Encyclopedia Britannica

11. Nineteenth-Century Pioneer Symbol

The Oregon Trail became one of nineteenth-century America’s iconic symbols, as it pumped a seemingly inexhaustible torrent of land-hungry migrants from the settled east to the open spaces of the west. Wagon trains of pioneers inexorably pushed the new country’s frontier ever westward, displacing Native Americans from their ancestral lands, and exploiting the newly seized territories for agricultural and mining usages.

Between the 1830s and 1860s, the Oregon Trail was used by about 400,000 farmers, ranchers, miners, and other settlers and their families, who loaded their goods and hopes upon wagon, and trekked west in pursuit of their dreams. The trail’s use finally went into decline when the first transcontinental railway was completed in 1869, as trains made for a faster, cheaper, and safer journey.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
The fax machine was around when people were trekking the Oregon Trail. Imgur

10. The Fax Machine is As Old as the Oregon Trail

It sounds unbelievable, but the fax machine is as old as the Oregon Trail. In 1843, the Oregon Trail was finally completed by an enterprising wagon train of about 1000 migrants. After a difficult trek, they cleared a final segment to make the trail passable by wagon all the way from the Missouri River to Oregon. That same year, a Scottish inventor named Alexander Bains secured a British patent for what he termed the “Electric Printing Telegraph“.

The invention relied on a clock to sync the movement of two pendulums to scan a message line by line. Using a metal pin arrangement in a cylinder, Bain devised a system whereby on-off electric pulses would scan the pins, send a message across wires, and reproduce it at a receiving station far away. That device became the forerunner of the modern fax machine. It eventually led to the first commercially practical telefax service between Paris and Lyon in 1861 – 11 years before the invention of the telephone.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
The College of Cardinals in conclave, to elect a new pope. Fine Art America

9. Did They Have Elections in the Middle Ages?

Medieval Europe had elections. They were not as common as they are today, and there was no universal suffrage, but there were elections. People back then routinely elected aldermen, members of parliament, bishops, abbots, popes, and sometimes even kings. There were important differences between then and now, not least among them just how narrow was the slice of the population that got vote. However, there were also striking parallels, chief among them the belief that elections conferred legitimacy.

Views on elections were ambivalent in the Middle Ages. On the one hand, the medieval belief in elections was based on biblical examples, such as the Old Testament accounts of the Israelites electing Judges and Kings. Also, kings sometimes died without issue, the papacy was not hereditary, and town burghers needed to select people to fill local government positions. On the other hand, elections were also seen as occasions for strife, and potential starting points for riots, rebellions, or civil war.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Woolly mammoth fossil. Wikimedia

8. Which Happened First: the Building of the Great Pyramids, or the Extinction of Woolly Mammoths?

Woolly mammoths flourished during the Pleistocene epoch. The extinct pachyderms were roughly the size of modern African elephants, with males reaching shoulder heights greater than 11 feet, and weighing in at around 6 tons. Females reached nearly 10 feet at the shoulder, weighed around 4 tons, and calved newborns that weighed around 200 pounds at birth.

The furry pachyderms are most commonly associated with the Ice Age. Their shaggy coats, comprised of outer layers of long guard hairs atop a shorter undercoat, made them well adapted to the harsh winter environment. Other evolutionary adaptations included short ears and tail, to minimize frostbite and heat loss. That enabled them to thrive in the Mammoth Steppe – the earth’s most extensive biome during the ice age, extending from Canada and across Eurasia to Spain, and from the Arctic Circle to China. Were they still around when the Great Pyramid was built?

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Woolly mammoth, left, vs American mastodon. Wikimedia

7. When Did Woolly Mammoths Go Extinct?

When, exactly, did woolly mammoths go extinct? The Ice Age ended about twelve thousand years ago, circa 9700 BC. It is widely assumed that woolly mammoth must have vanished into extinction sometime around then, if not sooner. However, contrary to popular perceptions, woolly mammoths did not vanish that far back.

While no man ever saw a live dinosaur, mankind and its hominid ancestors did share the planet with woolly mammoths for hundreds of thousands of years. Woolly mammoths, in fact, were still around while the Ancient Egyptians were busy building the Great Pyramids.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Woolly mammoths were still around when the Great Pyramid was built. Imgur

6. The Last Surviving Woolly Mammoths

Most woolly mammoths were hunted by humans into extinction, and disappeared from the continental mainland of Eurasia and North America between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago. The last mainland population, in the Kyttyk Peninsula in Siberia, vanished about 9650 years ago. However, small populations survived in offshore islands, such as Saint Paul Island in Alaska, where woolly mammoths existed until 5600 years ago.

The last known population survived in Wrangel Island, in the Arctic Ocean, until 4000 years ago, or roughly 2000 BC. That was well into the era of human civilization and recorded human history, and centuries after the Great Pyramid of Giza, whose construction concluded around 2560 BC, had been built.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Medieval drinkers. Elizabeth Chadwick

5. Did People in the Middle Ages Really Drink Booze Instead of Water?

A common trope accepted by many as fact has it that people in the Middle Ages only drank beer and wine instead of water, because water was too contaminated with deadly pathogens. That is not true. Just like it has been throughout all of humanity’s existence, water was the most popular drink during the Middle Ages – for the simple reason that it was free.

It is true that people in the Middle Ages did not have the kinds of water purification treatments that the water coming out of our faucets nowadays usually goes through. While contamination was a problem, medieval people – like all humans since our species first walked upright – knew enough to spot and avoid obviously contaminated water. For example, people had enough common sense and common knowledge to know that swampy, muddy, and cloudy water was not good for drinking.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
A medieval well. 2 Cool 4 School

4. Water Was Actually Recommended In the Middle Ages

Medical texts and health manuals in the Middle Ages actually praised water as being good for you – so long as it came from good sources. Indeed, authorities in the Middle Ages went to great lengths to supply people with drinking water. For example, London constructed ‘The Conduit‘ in the 1200s, using lead pipes to bring fresh water from a nearby spring to the middle of the city, where people had free access to it.

Those who could afford it drank wine, but they usually mixed it with water to dilute its power. For those who could not afford wine on a regular basis, beer and ale were plentiful and cheap. However, beer and ale back then were far weaker than they are today. Also, considering the long days and hard labor medieval workers put in, whether in the fields or shops or other employment, beer and ale did more than just quench thirst. They also provided a significant intake of calories throughout the day to keep people going.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Betty White. Closer Weekly

3. Betty White and Sliced Bread

Actress and comedian Betty White is an entertainment dynamo or Energizer Bunny, who has been performing for over 70 years. She was a television pioneer, and her accomplishments include being the first woman to produce a sitcom. She is perhaps best known for her Emmy-winning roles as Sue Ann Nivens in the popular and groundbreaking sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and as Rose Nylund in the even more popular and groundbreaking sitcom, The Golden Girls.

As of 2019, Betty White’s career has spanned 76 years, during which she won a Grammy, 8 Emmy Awards in various categories, 3 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and 3 American Comedy Awards. She is in the Television Hall of Fame, and has her own star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today, Betty White holds the record for the longest television career of any female entertainer. But is Betty White the greatest thing sliced bread?

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
An early bread slicing machine in St. Louis, 1930. Wikimedia

2. “The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread”

The greatest thing since sliced bread” dates to 1928, when loaves of bread that had been sliced with a machine, then packaged for convenience, made their first appearance. It began when Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1880 – 1960), an inventor and engineer, created the first automatic bread slicing machine for commercial use. He sold his first machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, which became the first bakery to sell pre-sliced bread loaves.

The new-fangled sliced bread was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped” – a bold assertion that contrasted greatly with the experience of actual consumers. Among other things, in the days before preservatives, sliced bread went stale faster than its intact counterpart. It had an aesthetic problem as well: customers simply thought the sliced loaves were sloppy-looking. A stop gap solution was to use pins to hold the sliced loaves together, and make them appear intact inside the packaging.

Cleopatra Lived Closer to the Computer Age than to the Pyramids, and Other Atypical History Facts
Which is older? Kiss Casper

1. Betty White Is Actually Not the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Improvements to the slicing machine made the loaves appear less sloppy, and sliced bread eventually gained in popularity until it became an American staple. By then, the early and over-the-top advertising puffery had caught on with the public, and made the introduction of sliced bread a marker and frame of reference in the popular lexicon for subsequent claims of greatness.

So, could Betty White possibly be the greatest thing since sliced bread? Well, America’s sweetheart and a most beloved grandmotherly icon was born on January 17th, 1922. That was about six and a half years before the Chillicothe Baking Company sold its first loaf of sliced bread, on July 7th, 1928. Since her birth predates sliced bread, it follows that Betty White could not be the best thing sliced bread. Thus, as a matter of straightforward historic fact, the answer must be in the negative: Betty White is not the best thing since sliced bread. However, sliced bread can make the argument that it is the best thing since Betty White.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

BBC – Trial by Ordeal: When Fire and Water Determined Guilt

Buzzfeed – 16 Strange and Surprising Facts About Medieval England

Cracked – 44 Important Parts of History You’re Picturing Wrong

Encyclopedia Britannica – Albert Einstein

Harvard Magazine, July-August 2003 – Who Built the Pyramids?

Historia Cartarum – What Does a Stick of Eels Get You?

History Extra – 8 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Medieval Elections

Houston Chronicle – Historical Events You Had No Idea Happened at Around the Same Time

Huffington Post – 8 Surprising Historical Facts That Will Change Your Concept of Time Forever

Live Science – Albert Einstein: The Life of a Brilliant Physicist

Mental Floss – France Stopped Using the Guillotine as Star Wars Premiered

National Geographic – Doggerland, The Europe That Was

National Geographic, November 1st, 2016 – Here’s What Happened the Last Time the Cubs Won a World Series

Ranker – Were Medieval People Really Drunk on Beer and Wine All the Time?

Time Magazine, July 7th, 2015 – How Sliced Bread Became ‘The Greatest Thing’

Times of London, January 13th, 2018 – Our Grandfather John Tyler, the US President Born in 1790

National Geographic Channel – Woolly Mammoths Wiped Out by Grass Invasion?

Wikipedia – Maudie Hopkins

Wikipedia – St Scholastica Day Riot

World Atlas – Did Woolly Mammoths Still Roam Parts of the Earth When the Great Pyramids Were Built?

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