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Benchmarks: October 2, 1574: Dutch unleash the ocean as a weapon of war

In 1574, the city of Leiden in the Netherlands was brought to its knees: By August of that year, about 6,000 of the city’s roughly 15,000 inhabitants had either starved to death, been killed by the Black Plague or had succumbed to dysentery. Plague doctors in their crow-beaked masks roamed the streets amid famished and diseased citizens drinking foul water from canals. No one knew when, if ever, help would come, for beyond Leiden’s walls the Spanish army was laying siege and cutting off all supply routes into the city.

02 Oct 2016

Bad weather hampered Mongol invasion of Europe

In 1241, the armies of the Mongol Empire, continuing their campaign through Asia and Europe, invaded western Hungary. Before long, however, the Mongols withdrew their forces, beating a sudden retreat that has long baffled historians. Now, drawing on high-resolution climate data from tree rings, researchers may have found a clue as to why: It seems wet weather created adverse conditions for the Mongol army, eventually forcing it to retreat from what was to become historically its westernmost advance.

 
25 Sep 2016

Artists draw inspiration from fire and ash

Volcanoes have been shaping human culture and art for millennia — from Roman art to Victorian paintings and literature to modern poetry.
28 Jul 2016

Volcanoes and historical politics

As well as influencing art and faith, volcanoes are often portrayed as the very manifestation of the human condition. Expressions of anger are readily described as “volcanic.” They have become a metaphor for anything of suitable magnitude or wrath. One such painting sees a volcano become the embodiment of the French Revolution.

28 Jul 2016

On the trail of Hannibal's army - and elephants - in the Alps

In the third century B.C., during the Second Punic War between the Romans and Carthaginians, Carthaginian general Hannibal led a massive army over the Alps to invade Italy from the supposedly impenetrable north. It is one of the most famously brazen moves in military history, but the exact route that Hannibal’s army — which included tens of thousands of foot soldiers and cavalrymen, thousands of horses and nearly 40 elephants — took through the mountains has long been a mystery. Now, a team has found microbial evidence that a large number of horses crossed the Alps from France into Italy over the 3,000-meter Col de la Traversette pass around 218 B.C. But not everybody is convinced that the Traversette pass route matches detailed historical accounts of Hannibal’s journey.

24 Jul 2016

Illustrating Geology: Great images that transformed the field

“The Map” is perhaps the single-most recognized depiction within geology, but it is just one of many historically transformative images in a field that relies heavily on illustration and visualization to help convey information and shape our understanding of the natural world.

17 Jul 2016

Geology shaped outcomes of Civil War battles

About 10 years ago, Scott Hippensteel decided to trace the footsteps of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. His relative, William H. Tritt, fought with the Union in the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which, on Sept. 17, 1862, attacked Confederate soldiers entrenched in the infamous Sunken Road, a wagon-worn dirt road atop an embankment that farmers used to bypass the town. As Hippensteel walked the rolling topography himself, he quickly realized the tactical advantage the landscape afforded: The Union men became visible to their enemies only in the last 150 meters or so of their approach. Because of the single-shot rifle technology of the time, each Confederate soldier would have only had time to fire a few shots at their attackers, facilitating a more vigorous assault by the Union. The Union forces suffered heavy losses in driving the Confederates from the Sunken Road, but their ultimate success pierced the middle of the Confederate line at Antietam and led to the roadway being renamed “Bloody Lane.”

01 Jul 2016

Benchmarks: June 4, 1783: The era of aviation launches with the first balloon flight

In the small French town of Gonesse in August 1783, a large, spherical and nebulous object painted with red and yellow stripes fell from the sky and began fluttering about on the ground. The town’s peasants, fearful, attacked the object with pitchforks, and then tied it to a horse’s tail to be dragged through the streets.

04 Jun 2016

Radar reveals unmarked graves

The occasional excursion to Death Valley or mineralogical study of bloodstone notwithstanding, geoscientists don’t often delve into the macabre in the course of their work. But when the administrators of two cemeteries in western New York came calling in 2014, researchers from Buffalo State College ended up using their geophysical field skills to hunt for centuries-old graves.

23 May 2016

Geologic Column: A Jurassic romance

What do "Jane Eyre," Bevin Boys and icthyosaur-hunting paleontologists have in common? Reader, I’ll tell you.

12 Feb 2016

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