Archive for the 'Ancient Wonders' Category

Ancient Apocalypse: Zombies and Plagues

A plague so horrible that the dead were disposed of in unusual or violent ways is not just the stuff of zombie movies. Newly unearthed remains at Luxor in Egypt reveal an ancient plague so potent that religious burial rites were completely overlooked before the bodies were incinerated or buried under lime. “We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime…They had to dispose of them without losing any time…”

 

Here, a bonfire where many of the victims of an ancient epidemic in the ancient city of Thebes in Egypt were ultimately incinerated.
Credit: Photo by N. Cijan © Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell’Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS.

 

Remains of ‘End of the World’ Epidemic Found in Ancient Egypt

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor

 

 

“Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an epidemic in Egypt so terrible that one ancient writer believed the world was coming to an end.

 

Working at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru in the west bank of the ancient city of Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Egypt, the team of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL) found bodies covered with a thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant). The researchers also found three kilns where the lime was produced, as well as a giant bonfire containing human remains, where many of the plague victims were incinerated.

 

Pottery remains found in the kilns allowed researchers to date the grisly operation to the third century A.D., a time when a series of epidemics now dubbed the “Plague of Cyprian” ravaged the Roman Empire, which included Egypt. Saint Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the plague as signaling the end of the world. [See Photos here of the Remains of Plague Victims & Thebes Site]“…

 

For the rest, click here.

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Re-examining “the Elephant Man”…

 

There is another account of Joseph Merrick’s life that suggests he may have been better off if he had stayed in the freakshow, living out his days as one of the most respected showmen of his day. The memoirs of Tom Norman, Merrick’s London manager are most certainly biased, but his version presents a compelling challenge to the more widely-known claim that Merrick was better off in the hospital.

 

Was the exploitation of Merrick by the well-heeled society folks of his day just another type of freakshow? Possibly one in which Merrick was debased even more than he was in his former life as a respected sideshow entertainer? It’s an interesting question, and one that we here at the Museum find incredibly fascinating. I think that many of us probably share a deep sympathy for Joseph Merrick — a man with what seemed like an artist’s sensitivity and a beautiful heart and mind.

 

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Image of Joseph Merrick published in the British Medical Journal in 1886.

 

 

Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’ (The Public Domain Review)

 

Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was exploited during his time in a Victorian ‘freakshow’, and asks if it wasn’t perhaps the medical establishment, often seen as his saviour, who really took advantage of Merrick and his condition.

 

“The scenes are among the most heartless in cinema history: a drunken, abusive showman exhibiting the severely deformed Joseph Merrick to horrified punters. David Lynch’s The Elephant Man begins with its lead character being treated little better than an animal in a cage. But it soon finds a clean-cut hero in the ambitious young surgeon Frederick Treves, who rescues the hapless Merrick from his keeper and gives him permanent shelter at the London Hospital. Supported by charitable donations, the victim recovers his humanity: he learns to speak again (in a decidedly middle-class accent), to entertain society guests and to dress and behave like a well-heeled young dandy. Merrick, no more the degraded show freak, reveals his inner goodness and spirituality and dies happy.

 

Lynch’s movie is based largely on Treves’ sentimental chronicle. But that narrative is merely one version of events – and one that in the end tells us more about middle-class morality than it does about Merrick. There is another story that casts a different light on what happened. The memoirs of Tom Norman, Merrick’s London manager, are surely as biased as Treves’. But as one of the most respected showmen of his day, Norman’s account challenges head on Treves’ claim that Merrick was ultimately better off in the hospital than at the freakshow…”

 

See the rest here.

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The self-mummifying monks of Japan

The glorious Atlas Obscura offers this interesting piece about a group of monks from Japan who died in the ultimate act of self-denial…and ultimately became relics -

 

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Sokushinbutsu of Dainichi temple

The self-mummified monks of Japan

 

(Atlas Obscura)

 

“Scattered throughout northern Japan are over two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as sokushinbutsu. Followers of shugend?, an ancient form of Buddhism, the monks died in the ultimate act of self-denial.

 

For three years, the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and—most importantly—it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, wherein he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day, he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.

 

Not all monks who attempted self-mummification were successful. When the tombs were finally opened, some bodies were found to have rotted…”

 

For the rest, and many photos, click here to visit to Atlas Obscura.

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