Stylish 2,000-Year-Old Roman Shoe Found in a Well

When the Romans pushed their way north into the German provinces, they built (circa 90 AD) The Saalburg, a fort that protected the boundary between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribal territories. At its peak, 2,000 people lived in the fort and the attached village. It remained active until around 260 AD.

Somewhere during the 19th century, The Saalburg was rediscovered and excavated, then later fully reconstructed. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses the Saalburg Museum, which contains many Roman relics, including a 2,000 year old shoe, apparently found in a local well.




If you think the Italians have mastered the craft of making shoes, well, they don't have much on their ancestors. According to the site Romans Across Europe, the Romans  "were the originators of the entire-foot-encasing shoe." The site continues:

There was a wide variety of shoes and sandals for men and women. Most were constructed like military caligae, with a one-piece upper nailed between layers of the sole. Many had large open-work areas made by cutting or punching circles, triangles, squares, ovals, etc. in rows or grid-like patterns. Others were more enclosed, having only holes for the laces. Some very dainty women’s and children’s shoes still had thick nailed soles.

The image above, which puts all of the Roman's shoe-making skill on display, comes to us via Reddit and imgur.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2016.

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Meet Ellen Rubin (aka The Popuplady) and Her Collection of 9,000 Pop-Up Books

It’s unusual to encounter a pop-up book for sale in a thrift store.

Their enthusiastic child owners tend to work them so hard, that eventually even sentimental value is trashed.

Stuck slider bars and torn flaps scotch the element of surprise.

Scenes that once sprang to crisp attention can barely manage a flaccid 45° angle.

One good yank and Cinderella’s coach gives way forever, leaving an unsightly crust of dried glue.




Their natural tendency toward obsolescence only serves to make author Ellen G. K. Rubin’s international collection of more than 9000 pop-up and moveable books all the more astonishing.

The Popuplady—an honorific she sports with pride—would like to correct three commonly held beliefs about the objects of her highly specialized expertise:

  1. They are not a recent phenomenon. One item in her collection dates back to 1547.
  2. They were not originally designed for use by children (as a 1933 flip book with photo illustrations on how women can become better sexual partners would seem to indicate.)
  3. They were once conceived of as excellent educational tools in such weighty subjects as mathematics, astronomy, medicine... and, as mentioned above, the boudoir.

A Yale trained physician’s assistant, she found that her hobby generated much warmer interest at social events than her daily toil in the area of bone marrow transplants.

And while paper engineering may not be not brain surgery, it does require high levels of artistry and technical prowess. It galls Rubin that until recently, paper engineers went uncredited on the books they had animated:

Paper engineers are the artists who take the illustrations and make them move. They are puppetmasters, but they hand the strings to us, the reader.

As seen in Atlas Obscura’s video, above, Rubin’s collection includes a moving postage stamp, a number of wheel-shaped volvelles, and a one-of-a-kind elephant-themed mini-book her friend, paper engineer, Edward H. Hutchins, created from elephant dung paper she found on safari.

She has curated or served as consultant for a number of pop-up exhibitions at venues including the Brooklyn Public Library, the Biennes Center of the Literary Arts and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. See a few more examples from her collection, which were displayed as part of the latter’s Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn exhibition here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

“The Matilda Effect”: How Pioneering Women Scientists Have Been Denied Recognition and Written Out of Science History

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The history of science, like most every history we learn, comes to us as a procession of great, almost exclusively white, men, unbroken but for the occasional token woman—well-deserving of her honors but seemingly anomalous nonetheless. “If you believe the history books,” notes the Timeline series The Matilda Effect, “science is a guy thing. Discoveries are made by men, which spur further innovation by men, followed by acclaim and prizes for men. But too often, there is an unsung woman genius who deserves just as much credit” and who has been overshadowed by male colleagues who grabbed the glory.

In 1993, Cornell University historian of science Margaret Rossiter dubbed the denial of recognition to women scientists "the Matilda effect," for suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage, whose 1893 essay “Woman as an Inventor” protested the common assertion that “woman… possesses no inventive or mechanical genius." Gage wrote that "even the United States census" failed "to enumerate her among the inventors of the country.” Such assertions, Gage proceeded to demonstrate, “are carelessly or ignorantly made… although woman’s scientific education has been grossly neglected, yet some of the most important inventions of the world are due to her.”




Over 100 years later, Rossiter’s tenacious work in unearthing the contributions of U.S. women scientists inspired the History of Science Society to name a prestigious prize after her. The Timeline series profiles of the few of the women whom it describes as prime examples of the Matilda effect, including Dr. Lise Meitner, the Austrian-born physicist and pioneer of nuclear technology who escaped the Nazis and became known in her time as “the Jewish Mother of the Bomb,” though she had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. Instead, “Meitner led the research that ultimately discovered nuclear fission.” But Meitner would become “little more than a footnote in the history of Nazi scientists and the birth of the Atomic age.”

Instead, Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn received the accolades, a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and “renown as the discoverer of nuclear fission. Meitner, who directed Hahn’s most significant experiments and calculated the energy release resulting from fission, received a few essentialist headlines followed by decades of obscurity.” (See Meitner and Hahn in the photo above.) Likewise, the name of Alice Augusta Ball has been “all but scrubbed from the history of medicine,” though it was Ball, an African American chemist from Seattle, Washington, who pioneered what became known as the Dean Method, a revolutionary treatment for leprosy.

Ball conducted her research at the University of Hawaii, but she tragically died at the age of 24, in what was likely a lab accident, before the results could be published. Instead, University President Dr. Arthur Dean, who had co-taught chemistry classes with Ball, continued her work. But he failed “to mention Ball’s key contribution” despite protestations from Dr. Harry Hollmann, a surgeon who worked with Ball on treating leprosy patients. Dean claimed credit, and published their work under his name. Decades later, "the scant archival trail of Alice Ball was rediscovered…. In 2000, a plaque was installed at the University of Hawaii commemorating Ball’s accomplishments.”

Other women in the Matilda effect series include bacterial geneticist Esther Lederberg, who made amazing discoveries in genetics that won her husband a Nobel Prize; Irish astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967, but was excluded from the Nobel awarded to her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish and astronomer Martin Ryle. A similar fate befell Dr. Rosalind Franklin, the chemist excluded from the Nobel awarded to her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of DNA.

These prominent examples are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to women who made significant contributions to scientific history and were rewarded by being written out of it and denied awards and recognition in their lifetime. For more on the history of U.S. women in science and the social forces that worked to exclude them, see Margaret Rossiter’s three-volume Women Scientists in America series: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972, and Forging a New World since 1972. And read Timeline’s Matilda Effect series of articles here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the First “Interactive” TV Show: Winky Dink and You Encouraged Kids to Draw on the Screen (1953)

Nearly everyone born within the past fifteen years naturally thinks of screens as both touchable and responsive to touch. But smartphones, tablets, and the other devices those kids have never known a world without will always look like technological marvels to their grandparents' generation. Growing up in the 1950s as part of one of television's most enthusiastic viewerships, they experienced the rise of that then-marvelous medium and the various concepts it tried out before settling into convention. Some may even remember happy Saturday mornings with CBS' Winky Dink and You, the show that they didn't just watch but actually "interacted" with by breaking out their crayons and drawing on the screen.

First aired in 1953, Winky Dink and You came hosted by Jack Barry, a famous television personality since the beginning of television broadcasting. (He would remain so until his death in the mid-1980s, having bounced back from the quiz show scandals of the later 1950s.) His animated sidekick, the titular Winky Dink, was voiced by Mae Questel, best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. "Winky Dink said he wanted the children to mail away for a 'Magic Window,' which was actually a cheaply produced, thin sheet of plastic that adhered to the TV screen by static electricity," writes Winky Dink-generation columnist Bob Greene. "Along with the plastic sheet that arrived in the mail were 'magic crayons.' Children were encouraged to place the sheet on their TV screen and watch the show each Saturday, so that Winky Dink could tell them what to do."




Winky Dink, and Barry, often told them to draw in the missing parts of a picture, or to connect dots that would reveal a coded message. In the episode above, writes Paleofuture's Matt Novak, Barry invites kids to "draw things on Winky Dink’s family members, like flowers on the button hole of Uncle Slim’s jacket, or an entirely new nose on the old guy. Uncle Slim sneezes in reaction to getting a nose drawn on his face, as you might expect" — by the standards of 1950s children's programming, "comedy gold." Dull though it may sound today, Winky Dink and You dates from an era when television "was still seen as an education force for good," when "Americans weren’t quite jaded enough to believe TV was a passive technology that didn’t actually stimulate the mind."

And though the show managed to move two million magic screens, concerns about X-rays emanating from picture tubes (as well as the likelihood of impatient kids drawing right on the glass) ended its run in 1957. But in a sense, its legacy lives on: a much-circulated quote attributed to Bill Gates describes Winky Dink and You "the first interactive TV show," and it does indeed seem to have pioneered a kind of content that has only in recent years reached full technological possibility. Anyone who has watched young children of the 21st century play on smartphones and tablets will notice a striking resemblance to the activities led by Winky Dink and Barry. Different reboots have been attempted in different eras, but has the time come for a Winky Dink and You app?

(via Paleofuture)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Marcel Marceau Used His Mime Skills to Save Children’s Lives During the Holocaust

In 1972, Jerry Lewis made the ill-considered decision to write, direct, and star in a film about a German clown in Auschwitz. The result was so awful that he never allowed its release, and it quickly acquired the reputation—along with disasters like George Lucas’ Star Wars Holiday Special—as one of the biggest mistakes in movie history. Somehow, this cautionary tale did not dissuade the bold Italian comedian Roberto Benigni from making a film with a somewhat similar premise, 1997’s Life is Beautiful, in which he plays a father in a concentration camp who entertains children with comic stunts and antics to distract them from the horrors all around them.

That film, by contrast, was a commercial and critical success and went on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1998 and three Academy Awards the following year, a testament to Benigni’s sensitivity to his subject, in a screenplay partly based on the memoirs of Rubino Romeo Salmoni. It's a wonder that another real-life story of a comic genius who used his talents not only to entertain children during WWII, but to save them from the Nazis has somehow never been made into a feature film—and especially surprising given the stature of the man in question: Marcel Marceau, the most famous mime in history.




As we learn in the Great Big Story video above, Marceau was 16 years old in 1940 when German soldiers marched into France. His “childhood ended all at once,” says Shawn Wen, author of a recent book about Marceau. His father died in Auschwitz and both Marceau and his brother “were involved in the war effort against the Nazis.” In one story, Marceau dressed a group of children from an orphanage as campers and walked them into Switzerland, entertaining them all the way, “to the point where they could pretend as if they were going on vacation rather than fleeing for their lives.”

In another story, Marceau somehow convinced a group of German soldiers to surrender to him. “It seems as if this natural knack for acting,” says Wen, “ended up becoming a part of his involvement in the war effort.” During the war, Marceau was “miming for his life,” and the lives of others. Mime has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but Wen sees in Marceau’s silent performances a means of bringing humanity together with an art that transcends language and nationality. Learn more about how Marceau began his mime career during the Nazi occupation at our previous post here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490)

da vinci todo list

Most people’s to-do lists are, almost by definition, pretty dull, filled with those quotidian little tasks that tend to slip out of our minds. Pick up the laundry. Get that thing for the kid. Buy milk, canned yams and kumquats at the local market.

Leonardo Da Vinci was, however, no ordinary person. And his to-do lists were anything but dull.

Da Vinci would carry around a notebook, where he would write and draw anything that moved him. "It is useful," Leonardo once wrote, to “constantly observe, note, and consider." Buried in one of these books, dating back to around the 1490s, is a to-do list. And what a to-do list.




NPR’s Robert Krulwich had it directly translated. And while all of the list might not be immediately clear, remember that Da Vinci never intended for it to be read by web surfers 500  years in the future.

[Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio

[Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).

[Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.

Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.

Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)

[Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)

Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders

Draw Milan

Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.

[Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto

Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner

[Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic.

You can just feel Da Vinci’s voracious curiosity and intellectual restlessness. Note how many of the entries are about getting an expert to teach him something, be it mathematics, physics or astronomy. Also who casually lists “draw Milan” as an ambition?

Later to-do lists, dating around 1510, seemed to focus on Da Vinci’s growing fascination with anatomy. In a notebook filled with beautifully rendered drawings of bones and viscera, he rattles off more tasks that need to get done. Things like get a skull, describe the jaw of a crocodile and tongue of a woodpecker, assess a corpse using his finger as a unit of measurement.

On that same page, he lists what he considers to be important qualities of an anatomical draughtsman. A firm command of perspective and a knowledge of the inner workings of the body are key. So is having a strong stomach.

You can see a page of Da Vinci’s notebook above but be warned. Even if you are conversant in 16th century Italian, Da Vinci wrote everything in mirror script.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2014.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Who Was Joan Vollmer, the Wife William Burroughs Allegedly Shot While Playing William Tell?

Popular culture knows William S. Burroughs primarily for three of the things he did in life: using drugs, writing Naked Lunch, and killing his wife. If popular culture remembers that wife, Joan Vollmer, it mostly remembers her for the manner of her death: shot, they say, as a result of Burroughs' drunken imitation of William Tell. But in life she played an important role in the intellectual development of not just Burroughs but other major Beat writers as well, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. As Brenda Knight writes in Women of the Beat Generation, Vollmer "was seminal in the creation of the Beat revolution; indeed the fires that stoked the Beat engine were started with Joan as patron and muse."

When her first husband Paul Adams was drafted into World War II, Vollmer moved in with her fellow future woman of the Beat Generation, and future wife of Jack Kerouac, Edie Parker. Into their series of Upper West Side apartments came a wide variety of substance-abusing artists, Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg included. Vollmer's new coterie, as well as her own amphetamine addiction, so appalled Adams that he left her upon his return from the military. She took up with Burroughs in 1946, later becoming his common-law wife and the mother of their child, William Burroughs, Jr.. In seemingly constant flight from the law, they moved from New York to Texas to New Orleans to Mexico City, where the fateful game of William Tell would happen in 1951.




But did that game of William Tell happen? History has recorded that Vollmer did indeed die by gunshot, but as to exactly how or why it happened, nobody quite knows. Hence the investigations that academics, Beat Generation enthusiasts, and others have conducted since. The Burroughs-themed site RealityStudio has one page on Burroughs and the William Tell Legend and another gathering documents on the death of Joan Vollmer. You can get further in depth by reading "The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened?", a 70-page research paper by James Grauerholz, Burroughs' biographer and the executor of his literary estate.

Despite his considerable interest in Burroughs, Grauerholz doesn't show an outsized interest in absolving the writer of his crime. But he does know more than enough to cast doubt on, or at least add nuance to, the simple story everyone "knows." Burroughs himself, though he gave contradictory accounts of the event at different times, never denied shooting Vollmer. He did, however, blame a kind of demonic possession for it: "I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death,"  he wrote in the introduction to a 1985 edition of his novel Queer. "I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control."

Vollmer's death, in Burroughs' view, "brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out." Sound like self-justification though that may, the fact remains that Burroughs' life freighted him with plenty of conditions to write his way out of. It also went on for 46 years after the end of Vollmer's which, though short, saw her become, as Knight writes, "the whetstone against which the main Beat writers — Allen, Jack, and Bill — sharpened their intellect. Widely considered one of the most perceptive people in the group, her strong mind and independent nature helped bulldoze the Beats toward a new sensibility."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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