On this day in 565, the Loch Ness Monster was sighted for the first time.

The Irish monk St. Columba is said to have made the first sighting of the Loch Ness “monster” on this day while helping establish Christianity in the wilds of Scotland.

The legends, folk tales, accurate observations or complete hoaxes — your choice — that have come down to us as “Nessie” have bedeviled zoologists and everyone else who has tried to establish the existence of this cryptid over the centuries.

Descriptions of Nessie have depended almost solely on visual sightings and film and photographic evidence, which is of dubious quality at best. She (if that’s what the monster is) has been variously identified as a plesiosaur, an exceptionally large eel, a long-necked seal and even a swimming elephant.

While most photos, eyewitness sketches and some physical evidence seem to suggest the plesiosaur, paleontologists believe that the aquatic dinosaur was a cold-blooded reptile requiring much warmer water than is found in Loch Ness, where the average temperature is around 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

Serious searching for Nessie began in the mid-20th century, and a number of technologies — cameras, submersibles, sonar — have been employed since, all in vain. The Loch Ness monster remains as elusive, and as integral to the Scottish tourist industry, as ever.

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There is a new film of JFK right before his assassination that has just surfaced. According to the website JFK.org:

This newly-discovered home movie of the fateful Kennedy motorcade was recently donated to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The photographer, George Jefferies, filmed President and Mrs. Kennedy on Main Street at Lamar in downtown Dallas less than 90 seconds before the assassination. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, assigned to protect Jackie Kennedy, can be seen riding on the left rear bumper. The donor, Wayne Graham, is the son-in-law of Mr. Jefferies.

Click here to view the video footage.

Chili

Inhabitants of the New World had chile peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago, according to new research that examined the bowl-scrapings of people sprinkled throughout Central America and the Amazon basin.

Upcoming questions on the research agenda — and this is not a joke — include: Did they have salsa? When did they get beer?

The findings described today in a 15-author report in the journal Science make chile pepper the oldest spice in use in the Americas and one of the oldest in the world.

The researchers believe further study may show the fiery pod was used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen, as it shows evidence of having been domesticated, a process that would have taken time. If so, that would put chile pepper in the same league (although probably not the same millennium) as hoarier spices such as coriander, capers and fenugreek. Read the rest of this entry »

A village of small houses about three kilometers from Britain’s mysterious Stonehenge that may have sheltered its builders has been found, local media reported Wednesday.

The ancient houses have been excavated by a group of archaeologists studying the stone circle in England at a site known as Durrington Walls, where it is also the location of a wooden version of the stone circle, said Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University at the National Geographic Society.

“Eight of the houses, with central hearths, have been excavated, and there may be as many as 25 of them,” said Parker Pearson, “the village was carbon dated to about 2600 B.C., about the same time Stonehenge was built.”

Both Stonehenge and Durrington Walls have avenues connecting them to the Avon River, indicating a pattern of movement between the sites, according to researchers.

“Clearly, this is a place that was of enormous importance,” said Julian Thomas of Manchester University.

Stone tools, animal bones, arrowheads and other artifacts were uncovered in the village. Remains of pigs indicated they were about nine months old when killed, which would mark a midwinter festival.

The researchers speculated that Durrington Walls was a place for the living and Stonehenge — where cremated remains have been found — was a cemetery and memorial, media reported.

The megalithic ruin known as Stonehenge stands on the open downland of Salisbury Plain west of the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, in Southern England. It is not a single structure but consists of a series of earth, timber, and stone structures that were revised and re-modelled over a period of more than 1400 years. Source

European history was altered by a bacterial infection in someone’s stomach, according to a report from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The stomach in question belonged to Napoleon, and the infection led to ulcers, which likely caused the French dictator to get cancer and die. Even if Napoleon had managed to escape from house arrest on the island of St. Helena, where the British stuck him after the 1815 battle of Waterloo, he would have been too weak to mount a comeback, the researchers added.

The study also cast doubt on the theory that Napoleon was poisoned with arsenic.

Dr. Robert Genta at UT, along with Canadian and Swiss scientists, essentially took the notes from the autopsy conducted at Napoleon’s death and threw it a battery of modern tests. The autopsy descriptions show that Napoleon’s stomach was filled with a dark material that resembled coffee grounds, an indication of gastrointestinal bleeding that likely was the immediate cause of death, according to Genta. The doctors then compared the descriptions against modern images of 50 benign ulcers and 50 gastric cancers. They determined that no benign cancer could look like the lesion described in the autopsy.

“It was a huge mass from the entrance of his stomach to the exit. It was at least 10 centimeters long. Size alone suggests the lesion was cancer,” Genta said in a prepared statement.

Genta also noted that contemporaries noted that Napoleon–who was rather tubby in his lifetime–lost 20 pounds toward the end. An ironic ending for a man who has a pastry named after him.

source

Before the great pyramids, ancient Egyptian kings left less grandiose monuments to themselves: fortresslike sanctuaries enclosed by mud-brick walls. Inside these mortuary complexes, people presumably gathered to worship and perpetuate the memory of their departed ruler.

The crumbling, almost vanished remains of such structures, archaeologists say, attest to the political hierarchy and religion of the newly unified Egyptian state, beginning more than 5,000 years ago. As symbols of the early power of kings and their roles in the cosmic order, these mysterious funerary centers are considered ancestral in purpose to the classic pyramids of Giza. Read the rest of this entry »

From a new analysis of a human skull discovered in South Africa more than 50 years ago, scientists say they have obtained the first fossil evidence establishing the relatively recent time for the dispersal of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa.

The migrants appeared to have arrived at their new homes in Asia and Europe with the distinct and unmodified heads of Africans. Read the rest of this entry »

On this day…

December 19, 2006

in 1998 President Clinton was impeached.

After nearly 14 hours of debate, the House of Representatives approves two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Clinton, the second president in American history to be impeached, vowed to finish his term.

In November 1995, Clinton began an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old unpaid intern. Over the course of a year and a half, the president and Lewinsky had nearly a dozen sexual encounters in the White House. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon. That summer, she first confided in Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp about her sexual relationship with the president. In 1997, with the relationship over, Tripp began secretly to record conversations with Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky gave Tripp details about the affair.

For more info on this and other things that happened on this date, visit Today in history

A rib bone and a piece of cloth supposedly recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake are probably not hers, according to experts trying to unravel one of the mysteries surrounding the 15th century French heroine.

Eighteen experts began a series of tests six months ago on the fragments reportedly recovered from the pyre where the 19-year-old was burned for heresy.

Although the tests have not been completed, findings so far indicate there is “relatively little chance” that the remnants are hers, Philippe Charlier, the head of the team, told The Associated Press on Saturday. read more…

Discovery rewrites history of ancient Mediterranean civilizations

Compared to the well-studied world of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the civilizations that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean just before Homer’s time are still cloaked in mystery.

Even the basic chronology of the region during this time has been heatedly debated. Now, a resolution has finally emerged — initiated, quite literally, by an olive branch.

Scientists have discovered the remains of a single olive tree, buried alive during a massive volcanic eruption during the Late Bronze Age. A study that dates this tree, plus another study that dates a series of objects from before, during and after the eruption, now offer a new timeline for one of the earliest chapters of European civilization.

The new results suggest that the sophisticated and powerful Minoan civilization (featured in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur) and several other pre-Homeric civilizations arose about a century earlier and lasted for longer than previously thought. read more…