5 Things from History You Won't Believe You Can Experience
With each passing day we become less and less hopeful that anybody is going to invent time travel. That means that, for most of us, the only way to experience history is take a trip to a museum, visit a historical landmark, or watch The Patriot on HBO. But there are a few ways to actually live it -- to touch, eat, and drink the past. You just have to know where to look ...
Listen to the Chilling Sound of the Confederate War Cry
When you think about the Civil War, you're probably picturing it as a slideshow of violence, racism, and terrifying tin-print photographs of severe-looking people who were apparently born without any bones in the lower half of their faces. We don't, for instance, know what the war sounded like, since it was fought in an era when television would have been considered witchcraft. That means you'll never know what it was like to hear the infamous Rebel Yell, the terrifying battle cry of the Confederates.
But some digging into the archives from the early days of radio and television turned up actual Civil War vets doing the cry, for old time's sake. This site has an audio embed of an old-timer (who, again, lived to fight against Abraham Lincoln's government) howling like a madman. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian turned up actual TV footage of a bunch of old Confederates doing the same:
Realizing that the men who fought on the losing side of the nation's most divisive conflict would soon be crumbling away into dust and would not be favored well by the history books, 1930s documentarians had decided to gather the veterans for one last hurrah, and to record some of their peculiar rituals. The battle shout of the Confederate Army has been described as "a sort of fox-hunt yip mixed up with a sort of banshee squall." We'd say it sounds more like an entire shelter of stray dogs being simultaneously euthanized, but what else would you expect from the rabid holler of a group of ancient men reenacting the sound they made while fighting for their right to get rich off of free labor.
"OK, next show is in the midnight hour, and I want to hear more! More! More!"
The sound quality of the group yell isn't great (it was recorded in the 1930s, after all), but when the veterans split up to do their individual renditions, it becomes clear that a big part of the Confederate war strategy was to convince the Union army that they were battling werewolves.
See "no bones in lower face," above.
And that's the Rebel Yell as performed by a bunch of crypt blankets who spent most of the air in their lungs walking up to the microphone. Imagine that sound as performed by 28,000 angry Southerners between the ages of 13 and 23, and there can be no doubt -- Item 1 on Robert E. Lee's battle plan was "werewolves," underlined.
Taste Some 5,000-Year-Old Butter
Refrigeration is a fairly recent innovation -- prior to that, if you wanted to keep your perishable food for longer than a single evening, you either had to shove it into a barrel of salt or bury it in a snowbank. People living in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia came up with a third option -- wrap that shit up and toss it into a peat bog. For thousands of years people in those areas of the world regularly buried foodstuffs in the bacteria-free environment of the bogs for preservation. That included giant containers of butter, because nothing tastes better on a stale crust of bread than a sweaty hunk of swamp cream.
"Mmmm, you can really taste the dead bodies!"
We're still discovering wooden urns full of "edible" bog butter dating as far back as 5,000 freaking years. Modern refrigerators can't keep butter longer than nine months. That's some pretty clever thinking for people who lived in houses made of sticks and poop.
The butter itself is reportedly like a cross between ordinary butter, cream cheese, and the physical manifestation of Paula Deen's REM brain waves. The taste has gotten mixed reviews from those brave enough to try it. A bunch of kids from Barnaderg National School in Ireland taste-tested a 300-year-old batch and said it wasn't so bad:
This is the worst field trip anyone has ever conceived.
But others have compared the taste to everything from "a dried-out Cheshire cheese" to "resembling athlete's foot" to tasting like "old spermaceti," which is liquid from a whale's brain. We don't want to know how the baselines for two of those comparisons were established.
Despite the fact that bog butter is technically a historical artifact, several people are working to bring this adventurous condiment back to modern tables. Swedish butter artisan Patrick Johansen and Nordic Food Lab culinary researcher Ben Reade wrote a painstaking set of instructions for reproducing the butter in the comfort of your own kitchen, if you ever feel the need to eat like a 5,000-year-old peasant. Or, if you're a fan of the more traditional practice of turning European serf food into overpriced cuisine, Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton is now in the process of re-creating a 4,000-year-old sample of bog butter he had the exclusive opportunity of tasting. It is unclear whether he intends to toss in clumps of cow hair to achieve maximum authenticity, but it is our responsibility to assume that he will.
Listen to 2,000-Year-Old Indie Music
Something we often forget when studying the most influential minds of Western literature, including Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, and Euripides, is that their works were originally written as songs. It would be like if future generations learned about the great philosophers of the 20th century by reading Pearl Jam lyrics completely free of musical context.
Luckily, Oxford University Fellow and Tutor in Classics Armand D'Angour has been hard at work re-creating the ancient melodies of these classical thinkers by studying songs inscribed into stone columns dating back as far as 450 B.C., and you should absolutely listen to the results here as we tell you more about his work. It's refreshing to learn that the practice of scrawling song lyrics into random pieces of civic property is actually a time-honored tradition that can be traced back to ancient Greece.
"For a good time, travel three weeks east to Athens and submit an inquiry
with the local constabulary as to the whereabouts of Jenny."
The most complete composition that has been discovered so far was found carved into a marble column and is from approximately A.D. 200. It's a heartfelt tune written by a guy named Seikilos about his dead wife, and it goes a little something like this:
All you need to take away from this is that, using Ancient Greek musical notation, you can create a "COCK" chord.
That jumbled pile of nonsense may look like the word puzzle from the back of a cereal box, but those little squiggles you see above the vowels were the Greeks' way of notating musical intervals and pitch. Here's what it looks like when converted to modern musical notation:
This is followed by a 20-minute lyre solo.
It still probably looks like a bunch of gibberish to most of us, but the more musically inclined among you should be able to make sense of it. Now, put that together with a translation of the lyrics (which, as it turns out, are some of the most pop-song-sounding lyrics ever constructed):
While you're alive, shine
Never let your mood decline
We've a brief span of life to spend
Time necessitates an end
Back that with an authentic reproduction of a period-accurate eight-string musical instrument called a canon (which sounds like a weapon but is actually closer to a zither), and the result is a haunting, vaguely Middle Eastern elegy that wouldn't sound out of place on a Sufjan Stevens album.
Visit a 1700s British Fishing Village ... in America
Smith and Tangier are a pair of tiny islands 12 miles offshore in the middle of the vast Chesapeake Bay of Maryland and Virginia, reachable by two ferries that run daily. If you miss those boats, your choices are "swim back to civilization" or "spend the weekend in a Twilight Zone episode and possibly never return," because the two islands have been frozen in time for the past 300 years.
"It's some sort of relativity thing. We tried to have Christopher Nolan explain it, but he just
wound up making a movie instead."
Due to their remarkable isolation and lack of tourism, many things on the islands have remained pretty much the same as when they were first settled back in the 1600s. Case in point: the way the islanders talk. The islands boast several hundred full-time residents, mainly watermen and their families. Their speech has a brogue or twang that sounds vaguely like an English or Irish accent, which many visitors find difficult to decipher, considering people in coastal Virginia generally do not speak like colonial fisherman:
An author named Tom Horton sent some tapes of Smith Island residents to Stanley Ellis, a dialect consultant in England. When comparing Smith Island speech to that of the southwestern Devon and Cornwall areas of the country -- to which many Marylanders and Virginians trace their roots -- the linguistics professor found "beautifully similar" nuances between the two dialects. Basically, there's still an area of the United States where people have natural British accents, and not just the fake Johnny Depp kind.
However, if you want to go hear it firsthand, you'd best do it soon, because within a hundred years or so, Smith and Tangier Islands could straight-up disappear. It isn't just the fact that the islanders lose more and more residents each year (what with kids growing up and moving away to places with automobiles and cellphone reception) -- the islands sit a mere three feet above sea level, and the water line is constantly rising. The islands are eroding at the alarming rate of nine acres per year. As if that weren't enough, the goddamn islands are also sinking. They're basically two dirt ice cubes left floating in an untended drink, slowly disintegrating into the liquid around them. If that all sounds like a story Kevin Costner tried to convince people was worth listening to, just ask the residents of nearby Holland Island, which was steadily swallowed by the Chesapeake over the past several decades.
You'll have to ask loudly.
Drink Centuries-Old Booze (and Get Drunk Really Fast)
The art of beer-making changed forever one day in 1516, when Germany enacted a law stating that beer could contain only water, barley, and hops (legislating the ingredients of beer is one of the most German things you could ever possibly do). Consequently, many ancient and colorful beer recipes were forever lost to the sands of time. At least until craft brewery Dogfish Head decided to resurrect some historical hooch with its Ancient Ales line.
The secret is to serve it in a glass that has been used by at least 7,000 other diseased people.
The first entry in their classical lineup, Midas Touch, was reproduced from ingredients recovered from millennia-old chalices discovered in the actual tomb of King Midas, who, as it turns out, was totally a real person (the story about everything he touched turning to gold was likely a case of jealous hyperbole). The beer is described as "somewhere between wine and mead" and packs an alcohol percentage of 9.0, more than twice what you'd get in, say, a Bud Light.
If you drink enough, it turns your liver into gold.
In order to help them re-create these archaic brews, Dogfish Head hired an archaeologist, Patrick McGovern -- or Dr. Pat, as he's more affectionately known around the brewery. Dr. Pat is quite possibly the world's first beer archaeologist, a fact that will top his resume forevermore. By studying the residue from ancient pottery and drinking vessels, he's able to discern the ingredients needed to re-create the booze that kept history comfortably shit-faced.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Dogfish Head and Dr. Pat also released a drink based on a 9,000-year-old Chinese concoction reproduced from "preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province." The resulting Chateau Jiahu is a fermented medley of rice, honey, and fruits with a sobriety-demolishing ABV of 10.0.
That explains the tramp stamp.
Possibly their most insane creation (so far) is a beer pieced together from clues deciphered from Egyptian hieroglyphics. Called Ta Henket, the potion is "brewed with an ancient form of wheat and loaves of hearth-baked bread, and it's flavored with chamomile, doum-palm fruit, and Middle Eastern herbs." To make sure the beer is as authentic as they could possibly make it, the brewers even traveled to Cairo and set out Petri dishes to collect a specific yeast strain native to Egypt. Budweiser, meanwhile, is trying to delight beer drinkers with their ingenuity by mixing Clamato juice into cans of Bud Light.
Justin is writing a free horror novel here, or read more sexy articles from him on Business Handshakes. You can find John Mulroy on Twitter. Evan V. Symon wants to interview you for Cracked, so if you've had an awesome experience, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more ways that we're actually kind of living in the past, check out 20 Annoying 'Modern' Trends That Are Older Than You Think and 7 Modern Conveniences That Are Way Older Than You Think.
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