Amazing Celtic artefacts

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Originating in Austria (1000 BC) their culture spread to cover much of Western Europe and even broke into the Middle East. The ancient Greeks envied their wealth and the Romans feared them. These people were highly skilled warriors, were master blacksmiths, and their art work was widely renowned and admired by the ancient world. Here You can see some Celtic treasures, both from battle and from peacetime, which have been unearthed by archaeologists.

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The most bizarre deaths of Victorian age

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Killed by a mouse

In England in 1875 a mouse dashed suddenly on to a work table in a south London factory. Into the general commotion which followed, a gallant young man stepped forward and seized the rodent. For a glorious moment, he was the savior of the women who’d scattered. It didn’t last. The mouse slipped out of his grasp, ran up his sleeve and scurried out again at the open neck of his shirt. In his surprise, his mouth was agape. In its surprise, the mouse dashed in. In his continued surprise, the man swallowed.

“That a mouse can exist for a considerable time without much air has long been a popular belief and was unfortunately proved to be a fact in the present instance,” noted the Manchester Evening News, “for the mouse began to tear and bite inside the man’s throat and chest, and the result was that the unfortunate fellow died after a little time in horrible agony.”

Crushed by his own invention

Sam Wardell couldn’t afford to oversleep. He was the lamplighter in the New York town of Flatbush in the mid-1880s. He lit the streetlights in the evening, and needed to be up early to put them out again at dawn. It wasn’t a job for slobs.

And so, with the boundless ingenuity of the age, he hit on a neat failsafe. He took a standard alarm clock and supercharged it, adding a Wallace and Gromit-style embellishment to ensure he woke in time. First he connected the clock by a wire to a catch he fitted to a shelf in his room. Then he placed a 10lb stone on the shelf. When the alarm struck, the shelf fell and the stone crashed to the floor. Ta-da!

It worked perfectly, and perhaps would have carried on doing so, if Wardell hadn’t toyed with the configuration. One Christmas Eve he invited some friends round for a party and cleared his room of furniture to make space. When they left, he dragged his bed back into the room. He was tired, and didn’t pay much attention to where he put it.

At 05:00 the next morning, the alarm sounded. The shelf fell. The stone dropped straight onto the sleeping Wardell’s head.

Killed by a coffin

Henry Taylor died an ironic death. He was a pall bearer in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery, and was midway through a funeral when he caught his foot on a stone and stumbled. As he fell to the ground, the other bearers let go of the coffin, which fell on poor, prone Henry.

“The greatest confusion was created amongst the mourners who witnessed the accident,” said the Illustrated Police News in November 1872, “and the widow of the person about to be buried nearly went into hysterics.”

Killed by eating her own hair

The doctors were baffled. The patient was seriously ill, that much was clear, but they couldn’t fathom the cause. So when the 30-year-old died, in a village in the English county of Lincolnshire, they asked her grieving relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem. Whatever they imagined they might find, it can’t possibly have been what they actually discovered – a solid lump, made up of human hair, weighing two pounds and looking for all the world like a black duck with a very long neck.

“This remarkable concretion had caused great thickening and ulceration of the stomach, and was the remote cause of her death,” said the Liverpool Daily Post in 1869. “On inquiry, a sister stated that during the last twelve years she had known the deceased to be in the habit of eating her own hair.”

Killed as a zombie

tumblr_lnqpad8llU1qafswuo1_400The funeral was in full swing when the lid of the coffin lifted, and the corpse began to climb out.

This was, needless to say, an unexpected turn of events. White-faced with fear, the priest and the mourners alike ran from the church of their Russian village and scattered to their homes, bolting their doors. The ghoul lurched after them, bursting into the house of an old woman who had not been quite so nimble with her lock.

As the priest collected his senses, he realized the rampaging corpse was actually a coma patient who’d regained consciousness. Too late. The peasants in his parish had plucked up their nerve, armed themselves with guns and stakes and set off for an exorcism. By the time the priest arrived on the scene, the zombie had been successfully returned to the other side, and the body thrown into a marsh.

Torn to pieces by cats

You know how it is. You get a cat, seeking companionship and amusement, and are rewarded with the occasional tea-time display of self-serving affection. It’s charming, so you get another. And one more. Pretty soon, your home makes visitors’ eyes sting. People stop calling by. You let your hair grow wild. You enthusiastically take up muttering.

In 1870, in Iran, a rich eccentric lady had cheerfully embarked on much this kind of path, breeding and buying cats to her heart’s content and passing her days in an agreeable if malodorous blur of purrs.

Then disaster struck. A fire broke out, and as it swept through the house, the cats were trapped behind a door. Two maids were sent to free them, but the blaze had driven the beasts berserk. The instant the door was opened, they flew at the unfortunate young women, tearing, scratching and biting them in a frenzy. Their injuries were so severe, they both died.

Drowned by decorum

We all know the cliches. The Victorians were a bunch of hidebound, thin-lipped, punctilious, moralising, etiquette-obsessed fun-sponges who would reach for the smelling salts at the mere glimpse of a table leg. It’s a wild generalisation, of course. But sometimes – to revert to another cliche – cliches are true.

Here’s proof. In 1892, in Bermuda, a party of sailors were returning to their ship by steamboat, having been on shore leave in the capital. Sailors being sailors, there was a row. The row turned into a fight. One man went overboard. A marine began to strip off to save him, but was ordered immediately to stop by an officer who had spotted a boat with ladies on it nearby.

“The ladies in the boat manifested every description of sympathy with the unfortunate man,” reported the Western Daily Press, “but seemed altogether opposed to the idea of an ordinary man springing into the sea unless duly and sufficiently attired in the garments which fashion rather than common sense has decided to be proper.”

The increasingly frantic efforts of the sailor to keep afloat suddenly concentrated minds. The officer asked for volunteers. Five men at once leapt to the rescue, but the sailor had drowned.

Killed by a drunken bear

In Vilna (now Vilnius), then in Russia, in 1891, there was a man who would have answered b). The bear was large but tame, but it had a taste for vodka. One day it bustled into a village tavern and grabbed a keg of vodka. The owner of the inn, Isaack Rabbanovitch, objected, and tried to snatch it back.

It would be an understatement to say this was an error. In the chaotic scenes that ensued the infuriated animal hugged to death the tavern keeper, then did the same to his two sons and daughter. The villagers found the drunken animal asleep on the floor in a pool of blood and alcohol, surrounded by its victims. The bear was immediately shot.

Laughed himself to death

4336514e1bf43a4a4b1bbccb8a7096ecAlmost 80 years before Monty Python’s Ernest Scribbler created the funniest joke in the world, farmer Wesley Parsons had a deadly gag all of his own. He was joking with friends in Laurel, Indiana, in 1893, when he was seized by fits of uncontainable laughter, and couldn’t stop. He laughed for nearly an hour, when he began hiccupping. Two hours later he died from exhaustion.

Killed by a bet

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In the Spanish region of Navarre in 1879, two Frenchmen struck a bet to see which was the hardiest. The terms were these. After fasting for a day, they’d drink 17 glasses of wine each, then walk from Pamplona to a village six miles away. It was the height of summer, just to make it that extra bit more interesting.

As one was far younger than the other, they hit on a handicap system – for every year’s advantage the twenty-something had over his middle-aged rival, he’d carry a pound of dirt. So off they went. Both lurching towards their goal – one staggering under the extra burden of 16lbs of earth.

They hadn’t gone far, needless to say, when the wager took a dark turn. The elder man collapsed and died. The younger, reported the Manchester Evening News at the time, “escaped death only by the skin of his teeth”.

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Famous people about Mandela from the other side…

GENERAL ELECTION, SOUTH AFRICA - 1994Today we see Nelson Mandela as the main hero of anti racism campaign, but what were saying about him and his campaign people in the 20th century?

“This hero worship is very much misplaced’- John Carlisle MP, on the BBC screening of the Free Nelson Mandela concert in 1990.

“The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land’ – Margaret Thatcher, 1987.

“How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?” – Terry Dicks MP, 1980s.

“Nelson Mandela should be shot” – Teddy Taylor MP, 1980s.

The fuss that Parliament is to make over Nelson Mandela this week will mark a stark contrast with the 20-year Commons silence that followed his imprisonment in 1962.

Hansard Indices, which cover speeches, statements and oral questions and answers in the Commons, as well as written questions and answers, suggest that the first time Nelson Mandela’s name was mentioned in the House was on 9 March 1983, in a question from Labour MP Ken Eastham.

In his autobiography, Conflict of Loyalty, former foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe says that even as late as October 1987, at a press conference following the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Vancouver, Mrs Thatcher was quick to dismiss the African National Congress as “a typical terrorist organisation”. Sir Geoffrey added sadly: “Absolutism still held sway.”

But Mrs Thatcher was expressing a common view on the right of the Tory party.

In the mid-Eighties, Conservative backbench MP Teddy Taylor said: “Nelson Mandela should be shot” – though he later claimed it was meant jokingly. “Unfortunately, I do still regard him as an ex-terrorist,” he said two years ago.

In 1990, when Mr Mandela declined to meet Mrs Thatcher on a trip to London, Conservative MP Terry Dicks asked: “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?”

John Carlisle, Tory MP for Luton North, was furious at the BBC’s screening of the 1990 Mandela concert in London. “The BBC have just gone bananas over this and seem to be joining those who are making Mandela out to be a Christ-like figure,” Mr Carlisle said.

“Many will remember his record and the record of his wife as they take the podium. This hero worship is misplaced.”

That same year, another Tory MP, Andrew Hunter, now chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland, called for an investigation into alleged secret links between Mr Mandela’s African National Congress and the IRA.

Labour frontbencher Brian Wilson yesterday challenged John Bercow, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Buckingham and former political adviser to Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, to offer regret for the abuse that had been heaped on Mr Mandela by the Federation of Conservative Students when he was its chairman.

He said FCS conferences had been littered with slogans like “Hang Nelson Mandela”, and Mr Wilson added: “Mr Bercow must now make it clear that he deeply regrets the behaviour of FCS members.”

Remembering Nelson Mandela

mandela_portraitNelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the South African village of Mvezo. His father, who was Mvezo’s chief, died when he was nine, and the young Mandela was adopted by a high-ranking Thembu regent who groomed the boy for tribal leadership. It was while studying at a local missionary school that he was dubbed Nelson by a teacher, according to the then-common practice of giving African students English names.

At the elite Western-style University of Fort Hare (the only such institution for South African blacks at the time), Mandela was sent home for participating in a boycott of university policies, along with future friend and activist Oliver Tambo and other students. Fleeing a marriage arranged by his guardian, Mandela headed to Johannesburg and worked as a night watchman and a law clerk while completing his bachelor’s degree via correspondence. He then studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, where he became active in the movement against racial discrimination. In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and helped established its youth league (ANCYL). That same year, he met and married his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, with whom he had four children before their marriage ended in divorce in 1957. In 1958 Mandela married his second wife.

In 1948, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party won control of South Africa’s government, and began introducing the formal system of racial classification and segregation that would become known as apartheid. The new regime restricted nonwhite South Africans’ basic rights and barred them from government while maintaining white minority rule. In response, the ANC adopted the ANCYL’s plan to achieve full citizenship for all South Africans through a non-violent campaign of boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and other methods. In 1952, Mandela traveled around the country as leader of the party’s Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, promoting a manifesto known as the Freedom Charter. With Tambo, he also started South Africa’s first black law firm, offering legal services to victims of apartheid.

On December 5, 1956, Mandela and 155 other activists were arrested and went on trial for treason for their resistance to the apartheid regime. All were acquitted in 1961, but not before tensions within the ANC led a militant faction leaving the party in 1959 to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). In 1960, police opened fire on a peaceful black protest in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. After the Sharpeville massacre and the bloody riots that followed, Mandela was forced to go underground to avoid governmental persecution; he subsequently decided that more aggressive methods were needed to confront apartheid’s oppression of nonwhite South Africans. In 1961, he co-founded and became the first leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), also known as MK, a new armed wing of the ANC. As he later said of this transition: “It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”

In January 1962, Mandela traveled abroad illegally, attending a conference of African nationalist leaders in Ethiopia and undergoing guerrilla training in Algeria. Upon his return, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for leaving the country and inciting a 1961 workers’ strike. Things got even worse after a police raid in July 1962 of an ANC hideout in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia found evidence implicating Mandela and other activists in the planning of a guerrilla uprising against the government. After an eight-month trial for sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy captured the attention of the world, Mandela and seven other defendants avoided the gallows but were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment at the notorious Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony off the coast of Cape Town. During his time there, he endured hard labor in a lime quarry, inadequate rations and inhumane punishment for even the slightest of offenses. Despite these travails, he was able to earn a bachelor of law degree from University of London and to smuggle out political statements, as well as a draft of his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” (which would be published five years after his release). While in prison, he remained the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement and became its most visible face within South Africa and throughout the world.

In 1982, Mandela was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland; six years later, he was placed under house arrest at a minimum-security facility. Finally, in 1989, newly elected President F.W. de Clerk broke with the conservatives in the National Party and lifted the government’s ban on ANC, calling for a non-racist South Africa. On February 11, 1990, de Clerk ordered Mandela’s release. Mandela proceeded to lead the ANC in negotiating an end to apartheid with the ruling National Party government, efforts for which he and de Klerk earned the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993. In April 1994, in the first multiracial parliamentary elections in the nation’s history, Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president.

With de Klerk as his first deputy, Mandela formed a multiracial “Government of National Unity” to manage the transition to a post-apartheid national government. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights and political violations committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid between 1960 and 1994, and introduced numerous social and economic programs designed to improve the living standards of South Africa’s black population. In 1996, Mandela presided over the enactment of a new South African constitution, which established a strong central government based on majority rule and prohibited discrimination against minorities, including whites. As president, Mandela resisted calls by some black South Africans by to punish whites for apartheid, instead setting an example of forgiveness and reconciliation, combined with hope for the nation’s future.

His marriage to Winnie Mandela ended in divorce in 1996, and in 1998 Mandela wed the politician and humanitarian Graça Machel, widow of the former president of Mozambique. He served only one term as president before stepping aside in 1999, when he was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, of the ANC. Though officially retired from politics, Mandela remained a leading voice for peace and social justice in Africa and throughout the world. He also embraced the cause of awareness and treatment programs for AIDS, the disease that would claim the life of his son Makgatho in 2005.

Mandela was treated for prostate cancer in 2001 and suffered from other ailments, including chronic lung problems caused by contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment. He had scaled back his public appearances in recent years, prompting fears of his weakening health. Mandela was last seen publicly in 2010 during the World Cup soccer championship, which South Africa hosted.

On June 8, 2013, the 94-year-old Mandela entered Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria in order to be treated for a recurring lung infection. It was the fourth time in less than a year that he had been hospitalized, and comments from South African officials immediately suggested the situation was more serious than with previous hospitalizations. Over the next three weeks, Mandela’s condition deteriorated and he was put on life-support. ANC supporters gathered outside the hospital as Mandela’s relatives, clergy and senior government officials visited the ailing leader.

After a three-month stay, Mandela was released from the hospital in September, but continued to receive around-the-clock medical care at his home in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. In recent days, friends and family began to gather at Mandela’s side, even as a new motion picture celebrating his life, “Long Walk to Freedom,” opened to positive reviews. In announcing Mandela’s death, South African President Jacob Zuma said, “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.” Zuma ordered South Africa’s flags to be flown at half-staff and announced plans for a state funeral.

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BMW manufactured airplanes

bmw_logo_plane-1916In Ocotber 1913 Karl Friedrich Rapp established “Rapp-Motorenwerke” in a former bicycle factory near Munich. Mr. Rapp was an engineer at airplanes. He starts manufacturing his own aircraft engines but unfortunately they suffered form problems with vibrations. Close to Rapp´s factory, Gustav Otto, the son of the inventor of the four-stroke internal combustion engine, sets up a business building small aircrafts. Otto enjoys great success with “Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik”. In 1916, Rapp’s company has secured a contract with Prussia and Austro-Hungary to produce 25 large V12 aircraft engines. Rapp Motoren Werke had problems with the reliability of the engines so they began buying four-cylinder water-cooled aircraft engines from the Gustav Otto factory. In the following months Otto’s company is absorbed. Gustav Otto´s “Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik” merging with “Rapp-Motorenwerke” formed “Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke”, meaning “Bavarian Aircraft Works”. Then Franz-Josef Popp, an Austrian engineer, directed Rapp’s business. He was securing the all-important military contracts. Popp transformed then the existing company into “Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH” (BMW). BMW formally has its birthday at March 7, 1916. Shortly after the merge, Popp realized that the company expanded too quickly and they needed financial help. He turned to Camillo Castiglioni, a Vienna financier, who was head of the Wiener Bankverein. Popp and Castiglioni recapitalized the company.

In 1919, after the armistice was signed, the Allies prohibited German military to produce aircraft engines that’s why BMW turned to boat and truck engines and farming equipment. Meanwhile, in secret, Popp continued to work with his engineering director Friz on aircraft engines. After one year the current BMW logo was made. It was based on the circular design of an aircraft propeller.

imagesThe year of 1928 marks the beginning in terms of the BMW car. BMW buys the car factory at Eisenach/Thuringia and with it the license to build a small car called the Dixi 3/15. The BMW Dixi was the competition for the Austin 7. The BMW Dixi DA/1 (DA standing for Deutsche Ausfuhrung) is essentially the german version. The first Dixis used an open roof and were powered by a 743cc 4 cylinder engine producing 15 horsepower. Top speed was in the neighborhood of 80 km/h. The Dixi 3/15 PS was built under license from Austin and was essentially the same model as the US Bantam and the Japanese Datsun. In 1929 a new improved version was launched, the DA/2, which employed an all-steel body and 4-wheel brakes, and in 1930 the Dixi scored its first wins in motor racing. Total production: 18,976 units.

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A “bikini” was named after a nuclear bomb test in Bikini Island

800px-Operation_Crossroads_Baker_EditThe history of the scanty bikini officially begins in 1946 with the simultaneous invention and marketing of the now familiar two-piece swimsuit by two French fashion designers. In the summer of 1946, when the first post-war experimental explosions of atomic bombs at the Bikini Reef in the South Pacific, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard both introduced the bikini swimsuit to the fashion world. Heim produced his tiny two-piece swimsuit to be sold in his beach shop in the French resort town of Cannes. He christened his innovation the “Atome,” named for the smallest known particle of matter. To advertise his new swimsuit, Heim sent out skywriters above the Mediterranean sky, proclaiming the Atome to be “the world’s smallest bathing suit.”

Unknown person to Jacques Heim, Louis Reard, French designer, had produced a same bathing suit in style and cut. Reard named swimsuit the bikini. To trump Heim’s advertising of the Atome, Reard sent skywriters out above the French Riviera just three weeks after Heim, broadcasting the bikini as “smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.” For reasons unknown, the name bikini stuck as the official appellation of the midriff-baring, thigh-revealing, two-piece swimsuit. Doubtlessly, the name was a perfect tag for the fashion bombshell the bikini would become.

Throughout the summer of 1946, and in later summers, the bikini continued to shock its witnesses. As French women paraded across Paris runways in the revealing swimsuits, men’s reactions were …, well you know.

Many newsmen believed the bikini would never be accepted as appropriate swimwear in the United States and would forever remain as an article of attire worn solely by more extroverted French women. However, the bikini would be introduced into American fashion just one year after its birth in France. Until the summer of 1960, however, many American women shied away from the scanty swimsuit. The wearing of bikinis on public beaches, if not actually banned, was heavily discouraged prior to 1960.

Stonehenge was rebuilt in XX century

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For decades the official Stonehenge guidebooks have been full of fascinating facts and figures and theories surrounding the world’s greatest prehistoric monument. What the glossy brochures do not mention, however, is the systematic rebuilding of the 4,000 year old stone circle throughout the 20th Century.

From 1901 to 1964, the majority of the stone circle was restored in a series of makeovers which have left it, in the words of one archaeologist, as ‘a product of the 20th century heritage industry’. But the information is markedly absent from the guidebooks and info-phones used by tourists at the site. Coming in the wake of the news that the nearby Avebury stone circle was almost totally rebuilt in the 1920s, the revelation about Stonehenge has caused embarrassment among archaeologists. English Heritage, the guardian of the monument, is to rewrite the official guide, which dismisses the Henge’s recent history in a few words. Dave Batchelor, English Heritage’s senior archaeologist said he would personally rewrite the official guide: “The detail was dropped in the sixties”, he admitted. “But times have changed and we now believe this is an important piece of the Stonehenge story and must be told”.

Cambridge University archeological archivist and leading Stonehenge author Christopher Chippindale admitted: “Not much of what we see at Stonehenge hasn’t been touched in some way”. And historical research student Brian Edwards, who recently revealed that the nearby Avebury Monument had been totally rebuilt, has found rare pictures of Stonehenge being restored. He said: “It has been as if Stonehenge had been historically cleansed”.

A million visitors a year are awe-struck as they look back in time into another age and marvel at the primitive technology and muscle-power which must have been employed transporting the huge monoliths and raising them on Salisbury Plain. They gasp as they are told about this strangely spiritual site…

75882957_e8a133bada_oBut now, as if to head off a potential great archaeological controversy – and following interest displayed by historical researcher Brian Edwards and a local newspaper, the brochures will be re-written, to include the forgotten years. The years when teams of navvies sat aboard the greatest cranes in the British Empire to hoist stones upright, replace fallen lintels which once sat atop the huge sarsens. As Mr Edwards – the erstwhile enfant terrible of British archaeology following revelations that nearby Avebury was a total 20s and 30s rebuild by marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller – says: “What we have been looking at is a 20th Century landscape, which is reminiscent of what Stonehenge might have been like thousands of years ago. It has been created by the heritage industry and is not the creation of prehistoric people.”

In 1901, as the builders went to work, The Times letters column was full of bucolic missives of complaint. But the first stage of ‘restoration’ thundered ahead regardless and the style guru of the day, John Ruskin, released the maxim which was to outlive him…. “Restoration is a lie,” he stormed. “Nevertheless the Stonehenge makeover was to gather momentum and more work was carried out in 1919, 1920, 1958, 1959 and 1964. Christopher Chippindale, curator at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Anthropology, and author of Stonehenge Complete, admits: ‘Nearly all the stones have been moved in some way and are standing in concrete.”

A stone was straightened and set in concrete in 1901, six further stones in 1919 and 1920, three more in 1959 and four in 1964. There was also the excavation of the Altar stone and re-erection of the Trilithon in 1958.

The guide book ‘Stonehenge and Neighbouring Monuments’ , and the audio tour of the Henge omit any comprehensive mention of the rebuilding in the 20th Century. Only on page 18 is there a slight reference: “A number of the leaning and fallen stones have been straightened and re-erected.”

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Deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history

Some words about Texas

960x595Across from the Galveston bay is Texas City, a busy working port with convenient access to the Gulf of Mexico and Houston. The city is very important in production and refining petroleum products. The port is with deep water access to the coast that’s why Texas City hosts international shippers hauling everything from electronics to fertilizer.

The town made its headlines in 1947 when a fire on a cargo ship reached the explosive payload and detonated. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in U.S. history. With the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City. The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

World War II times

In times of WWII Texas City had emerged as a strategic vital port for the United States, replacing the supply lines of oil interrupted by enemy submarines on the east and west coasts.

The city population quickly grew while the newly-established refineries and chemical plants ramped up production. The town was playing a main role in supporting the war effort and continued to grow.

texas_city_ap-1

After the war, the strategic mission of Texas City’’s port was changed, but the town continued to be very important in shipping communities.

After the end of WWII, Europe had shifted from the fall of the Third Reich to a focused recovery effort. European farmers lacking vital supplies relied on the United States and other allied forces to provide assistance.

Texas City became a hub for the shipping of ammonium nitrate, used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. The chemical compound is also a strong oxidizing agent and requires great care in handling, especially around combustible items.

This risk prevented the Port Authority of Houston from authorizing the hazardous cargo to clear its docks.– The Port of Texas City was smaller and eager to attract business. The town seized the opportunity, and became a distribution hub for ammonium nitrate.

Industrial disaster

The S.S. Grandcamp was a French-operated 437-foot vessel tasked with assisting the rebuilding of war-torn Europe. In addition to 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate, the ship was carrying ammunition, machinery, and bales of twine. It had just been loaded with supplies and was getting prepared for its journey across the Atlantic.

At approximately 8 a.m. on April 16th, 1947, ship workers noticed smoke emerging from the cargo hold of the docked Grandcamp. First responders attempted to quell the smoke with water and fire extinguishers, but they failed to contain the blaze.

Next, the captain ordered the crew to “”steam the hold,”– a method of fire suppression in which steam is directed toward the fire to contain it while preserving the cargo. But the captain was too late, the hull had already reached extreme temperatures. Witnesses reported seeing the water around the ship boiling and instantly vaporizing upon contact with the hull.

1006havel3Slowly, the cargo hold started to bulge as the steam increased the pressure inside. Just over an hour later, the fire had finally penetrated the cargo hold of ammonium nitrate.

The explosion rocked the port and Texas City. The Grandcamp spewed a mushroom cloud 2,000 feet in the air, blanketing Texas City and most of Galveston. The blast ignited multiple other ships at port, forced a steel barge ashore, and sent a 15-foot surge of water for miles. When the water receded it carried cars and people back into the fiery bay, by now a burning basin covered in oil.

An estimated one thousand buildings were completely destroyed and countless others set on fire from the hurled debris. Citizens as far as 10 miles away were sent to their knees, even witnesses in Houston reported shattered windows.

The shock wave from the explosion was so powerful, it was reported to have knocked planes out of the sky.

More than five hundred homes were leveled and countless others damaged. The two-ton anchor of the Grandcamp was found 2.6 km away in a 10-foot crater. Flaming shrapnel would continue to fall out of the sky over Texas City for several minutes, setting buildings, refineries, and homes on fire.

Experts estimated the blast contained the equivalent of 3.2 kilotons of TNT, rivaling the yield of a non-nuclear bomb.

For hours after the Grandcamp explosion, all available hands were at ground zero assisting with the emergency. Other vessels in port quickly became an afterthought, their captains ordering all available personnel to help the Grandcamp.

Unbeknownst to the emergency responders was one of the nearby ships – also carrying flammable cargo – had caught fire and was in danger of repeating a similar episode.

disaster1A rescue crew combing the port for survivors noticed the cargo hold of the High Flyer emitting flames. The emergency personnel didn’t realize the second ship was carrying ammonium nitrate along with a large amount of sulfur.

The rescue team immediately notified port authorities of the fire, but ignorant of the cargo they neglected to call for evacuation procedures. When the High Flyer crew was finally notified, they alerted the emergency crews and retreated to their ship.

The crew of the High Flyer tried valiantly to get the cargo out of harm’s way before it would be ignited as well. They spent hours trying to free the ship from its anchor and other entanglements, to no avail. When authorities realized the fire was accelerating and the ship would not be freed safely in time, the crew was ordered to abandon ship.

Less than an hour later, the High Flyer exploded, rocking the port for the second time. What wasn’’t obliterated by the Grandcamp explosion was finished off 15 hours later by the High Flyer’s blast.

The second ship was carrying less ammonium nitrate than the first, but the result was no less catastrophic to the port of Texas City. Ship SS William B. Keene, moored next to the High Flyer, was also destroyed in the second blast. Once again, flaming debris rained down for miles.

The High Flyer’s propeller would be found a mile inland, and was cracked in several places –– a testament to the power of the second explosion.

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Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues

large-Bamiyan-BuddhaTwo ancient Buddha statues were destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues. Continue reading “Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues”