black death

August 30th, 2011

Remember the Black Death? The disease that killed at least a third of Europe and set in motion the social and economic changes that eventually ended the Middle Ages?

Turns out it’s still around.

The Black Death hit Europe and other parts of the world every century or so after its first appearance; it even hit India in the early twentieth century. But it has gotten less and less virulent over the centuries. Maybe because it’s gotten weaker, maybe because it mutated, maybe because most people now have resistance to it. But this study shows strong evidence that the current bubonic plague is indeed the same one that devastated the medieval world.

That’s right – the Black Death is still out there.

washington monument

August 24th, 2011

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Eastern Seaboard yesterday thankfully caused minimal injuries and fairly little damage, but not everything got off scot-free. One of the quake’s victims was the Washington Monument, which suffered apparently minor cracking at its very top.

The Monument is closed for the moment while the Parks Service investigates and repairs the damage, but it doesn’t sound too serious.

Other monuments in the past haven’t been so lucky. A few severe earthquakes early in the last millennium heavily damaged the Great Lighthouse and left it a heap of rubble. It had already stood for well over a thousand years, which is a pretty good run. The Colossus, another one of the ancient Wonders of the World, didn’t last nearly so long – an earthquake toppled it less than a hundred years after its construction. The Mausoleum’s destruction is less clear, but an earthquake seems the likely culprit as well. Likewise for the Hanging Gardens (if they existed!).

Only three Wonders escaped death by earthquake – the Statue of Zeus and the Temple of Artemis were both burned and looted. And the Pyramids, of course, still stand.

The Washington Monument is in good company.

the trunks of stuy town

August 10th, 2011

In the Talk of the Town on August 8th (New Yorker subscription required), Nick Paumgarten wrote about very, very vintage trunks found beneath Stuy Town. Tenants have been storing their luggage beneath the complex since the 1940s, and for whatever reason, most of them are still there even though the tenants have moved on or, mostly, passed away.

The trunks are a relic of an earlier time; Paumgarten mentions Cunard line stickers and grand hotels, memories of the era of transoceanic liners that dominated before jets.

The new owners of Stuy Town want to clean out the trunks and use the dozens of storage areas for something more valuable. Maybe, if the tenants let them get away with it, they’ll hawk the trunks on Storage Wars and some enterprising individual will buy a complete cut of Metropolis, or the truth behind where the Nazis found the Holy Lance.

Or maybe they’ll just find musty old clothes and sixty year old advertisements – but isn’t that something, too?

new trailer for tinker, tailor, soldier, spy

June 30th, 2011

Deadline Hollywood just posted a new teaser trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, based on the fantastic 1974 John le Carré thriller. Check it out:

The movie, starring Gary Oldman and a number of great British actors, comes out on November 18th. Tinker Tailor is one of my favorite le Carré novels, and so far this looks like it will be a great adaptation.

a goldeneye worthy of an ancient 007. the world’s first artificial eyeball…

November 8th, 2010

In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world’s earliest artificial eyeball in a necropolis of a bronze age settlement in Iran, thought to have been worn by a female resident of the Burnt City. The artificial eye is a hemisphere with a diameter of just over 2.5 cm (1 inch). It consists of very light material, probably bitumen paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gilding and is engraved with a circle at its center to represent the iris. The eye includes gold lines patterned like the rays of the sun. A hole has been drilled through the eyeball, through which a golden thread is thought to have held the eyeball in place.

Microscopic research has revealed that the eye socket of the female remains bear clear imprints of the golden thread, suggesting that the woman must have worn the eyeball during her lifetime. With her shining golden eye she must have been a striking figure, perhaps a soothsayer or an oracle. The woman with the artificial eye was 1.82 m tall, over 6 feet.

pompeii ‘house of the gladiators’ collapses

November 8th, 2010

The archaeological world suffered a blow on Sunday when the “House of Gladiators” in Pompeii collapsed, perhaps due to weather damage. Many have felt the Italian government is to blame for allowing the ancient city to fall into disrepair. Read more here.

no preservative like molten lava

October 25th, 2010

Pompeii: Life in a Roman village 79 CE reveals daily life steeped in mystery
Check it out.

event tonight

October 19th, 2010

Looking forward to my talk this evening at the Harmonie Club in Manhattan. Mainly because — given our baby’s schedule — it’ll be nice to see my wife with her eyes open.

“Harmonie Club reception honors Daniel Levin, October 19th. For invitation details, please contact Sarah Gerard at”

lost vivaldi concerto found

October 7th, 2010

A lost Vivaldi flute concerto has been found in Scotland, leading to its first ever performance in January. Flautists are sure to flout this fault.


September 23rd, 2010

Trying to take down Iran’s infrastructure, or potentially their nuclear facility? There’s an app for that.