#2. Isaac Newton Makes an Obvious Calculus Mistake That Nobody Notices for 300 Years
Sir Isaac Newton dropped a series of game-changing books about physics, math, science, and astronomy that have influenced scientific thought for generations, sort of like the Tupac of theoretical equations. His most famous and important work, the Principia, is a three-volume series of mathematical proofs about his laws of gravity and motion. People based calculus on the stuff Newton wrote in Principia, which is why it came as such a shock to the academic community when an undergrad at the University of Chicago discovered a big fat mistake in one of the equations that had somehow gone unnoticed by legions of scientists, mathematicians, and professors for 300 years.
Write out all the formulas you want, Newton was still wrong.
Robert Garisto was working on a paper for a history of science class (because school subjects based entirely on the discussion of painful minutia are best when they are combined) when he noticed that Newton had mistakenly plugged the wrong number into an equation to find the mass of the Earth -- Newton had used 10.5 seconds in his write-up, but 11 in the actual problem.
Garisto didn't think much of the error when he found it -- he assumed it had been put in there intentionally by his instructor, and that spotting it was part of the assignment. However, not only was the botched equation taken verbatim from Newton's book, but no other scholar in history had ever realized it was there. We're talking about 300 years of meticulous study and discussion, and not one person had ever noticed that Newton had put the wrong fucking number into his own equation.
Maybe that apple hit him harder than we thought.
To be fair, this mistake doesn't disprove any of Newton's theories, and the equation itself is still correct (when you have the presence of mind to use the right numbers). It's just insane that with the amount of attention paid to Newton's writings (and to the Principia in particular) and the level of influence they've had on the entire world, that boneheaded slip-up didn't catch anyone's eye until some 23-year-old nobody turned in a homework assignment in 1987.
#1. Scholars Mistake Random Cracks in a Rock for an Epic Poem
Andrew J Shearer/Photos.com
In the 12th century, a rock bearing what appeared to be slowly fading runic symbols was discovered in Blekinge, Sweden, because ancient Norsemen just wrote shit down wherever they could. The king of Denmark sent a team of skilled translators to figure out what it said, but they were all stumped, claiming that the Runamo Inscription (as it would come to be called) was written in a form of Viking that was just too obscure for them to read. The actual reason they were unable to decipher the inscription is because it isn't an inscription at all -- it's just a bunch of random fissures in the surface of the rock.
Ancient Norse runes or the old sidewalk in front of your house? You decide.
However, this fact eluded people for the next 700 years.
Although nobody attempted another translation until the 17th century, the Runamo Inscription was still accepted as being an authentic but illegible piece of Nordic antiquity. The next person who stepped up to crack the nonexistent code was a leading Danish collector hilariously named Ole Worm, and he claimed to be able to make out a single word -- "Lund," the name of a city in southern Sweden. Presumably the Vikings were planning on meeting up with somebody later and were simply leaving directions.
Then, in the early 1800s, an Icelandic scholar named Finnur Magnusson, who would eventually become famous for habitually identifying meaningless naturally occurring bullshit as authentic runic writing, translated the Runamo Inscription as an epic poem about warrior chieftain Harald Wartooth defeating the Swedish king in the eighth century. This was a potentially huge discovery, because at the time little was known about the famous battle, and the rock would serve as a genuine historical record. That is, if it actually had any writing on it and wasn't just a goddamned rock. Naturally, some people were skeptical, because Magnusson was claiming to have read this ...
Harald Wartooth was no mere one-sword kind of man.
... from an alleged inscription that scholars 700 years prior (only four centuries removed from the actual event) had determined to be written in a form too obsolete to read. So, Sweden sent its own scientists to verify Magnusson's story, which they determined to be categorically false, much to the chagrin of hopeful historians and terrible Icelandic rune experts everywhere.
They made the salient point that nobody would've carved an epic poem on some random dumbass rock in the ground when there were plenty of giant upright flat stones in the immediate vicinity, and beyond that, the "inscription" in question had been carved by geologic events, not by a Viking king. It's the sort of thing that probably seemed obvious in retrospect, but it's better to get it right 700 years late than never.
"Yeah, we spent 700 years trying to read a rock. What about it?"
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't poring over the encyclopedia trying to find errors, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.
For more mistakes nobody noticed, check out 7 Famous Works of Art With Bizarre Mistakes You Can't Unsee and The 7 Most Disastrous Typos Of All Time.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Reasons People Think The NBA Is as Rigged as Wrestling.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why you should still be ashamed of your typos.
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