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Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, Conservation, Discoveries on Tuesday, 16 April 2013
This edited article about Petra originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 226 published on 14 May 1966.
In 1812, John Burkhardt, a Swiss student at Cambridge University, made an expedition across the desert from Syria to Egypt, crossing what is now the Kingdom of Jordan. During this journey he accidentally discovered Petra, a unique city which had been lost to the world for hundreds of years.
The interest of explorers and archaeologists was at once aroused by Burkhardt’s description of Petra. But in the nineteenth century the journey was hazardous and very few people managed to get there.
When I visited Petra recently, I was driven down the Desert Highway from Amman to Wadi Musa, and from there we set out on the last stage of the journey to Petra on hired horses. For a quarter of a mile we rode on sand and pebbles beside the dried-up bed of the Wadi Musa. Then we entered the Siq, the narrow canyon that for centuries preserved Petra from attack.
The Siq winds on for nearly three miles between cliffs that tower 300 ft. on either side. Here and there a stunted tree clings to a cleft in the rock, but little else grows in this almost sunless gorge. After about half an hour’s ride, we reached one of the most unusual buildings in the world – the Khazneh, the Royal Treasury of the Nabataeans.
The Khazneh is extraordinary because, like most of Petra’s monuments, it was not built, but was carved out of the living rock. Columns in Grecian style – portico, decorative urns and arches – all were patiently cut by hand out of the sandstone cliff by Nabataean workmen more than 1,500 years ago.
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Posted in Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about H.M.S. Victory originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 225 published on 7 May 1966.
Not everyone knows that H.M.S. Victory carried Nelson’s flag at Trafalgar forty years after she had been launched on May 7, 1765, and that she still survives at Portsmouth much as she was when Nelson trod her quarterdeck.
Nelson’s Victory, which was the third warship of that name, was so big that she had to be built in a dry dock at Chatham instead of on a slipway. She was “launched” by filling the dry dock with water and then floating her out. With a tonnage of 2,162, she was 152 feet long, 52 feet wide, and had a draught of 21 feet. Over 300,000 feet of oak were used in her construction. She was armed with one hundred guns: thirty 42-pounders, twenty-eight 24-pounders, thirty 12-pounders, and she had also twelve 6-pounders.
H.M.S. Victory was first in action in the battle of Brest in July, 1778. Three years later, she was again in action against the French, and in 1782 she led the fleet that raised the siege of Gibraltar. Victory was flagship at the great battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 in which British fortunes against Napoleon first took a turn for the better. After an extensive refit H.M.S. Victory became Nelson’s flagship in 1803.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and later the advent of steam warships, there was no further use for her, and for over a century she lay at anchor as flagship of the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. In 1922 her hull was found to be in such bad condition that she was placed permanently in dry dock and completely restored.
Posted in Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Thursday, 21 March 2013
This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 207 published on 1 January 1966.
Osprey, the bird with a bodyguard
Dinosaurs, those giant reptiles of the past, became extinct many millions of years ago and are known to us only through reconstructions in museums. Their disappearance was the result of natural evolution, the never-ending process in which some species develop while others die out.
Many forms of life have evolved, and others died out. This is a natural process. But others have become extinct because of Man’s own stupidity.
The Dodo, for example, existed in great numbers in Mauritius in the seventeenth century. But these birds were hunted to excess, and before the end of that century had been completely exterminated.
Even today much of our wildlife is in danger, but fortunately there are now people and societies sufficiently interested to try to do something to preserve them.
One of the victims of man has been the Red Kite. It is difficult to realize that this bird was once one of the commonest birds of prey. Four hundred years ago it was a familiar sight in the streets of London, feeding on offal and other rubbish.
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Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Conservation, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 12 March 2013
This edited article about the Dead Sea Scrolls originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 188 published on 21 August 1965.
Under the microscope lay a tiny piece of parchment. A scientist watched and waited to record with fraction-of-a-degree accuracy, the temperature at the instant the fibres of the parchment began to shrink.
On the temperature at which shrinkage began depended the reputations of the scholars who differed in opinion about the age of the parchment. Some said it was 2,000 years old, others that it was only half that age.
The dating was vital, because the fragment being examined was from the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls. If science could show that it was 2,000 years old, the scroll from which it came must have been written about the time of the life of Jesus and be the earliest existing record of that period – and so help to clarify a remote chapter of history.
That was why such excitement attended this shrinkage test carried out a few years ago in the laboratories of Leeds University.
The experiment was based on the knowledge that the older a piece of parchment the lower the temperature at which, under strictly controlled conditions, it will begin to shrink after being placed in distilled water. As the soaked fragment was heated electrically the scientist at the microscope watched for the first tiny movement of the fibres of the parchment. When it came the temperature was low enough to provide strong evidence in favour of the parchment skin being of the earlier date.
An electron microscope was also used in the investigation. This instrument gives a magnification of about 25,000 times, far greater than an ordinary microscope. It revealed that the skins used to make the parchment probably came from young goats and lambs – evidence that the ancient scribes made their own writing material from the most readily available sources, and a further indication of genuine antiquity.
The intriguing and difficult work of fitting together thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and translating them is still far from complete, for the discovery of the first of the Scrolls happened only eighteen years ago.
A boy goat-herd of a Bedouin tribe who live in the wild semi-desert land between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, had lost one of his goats. He climbed some limestone cliffs, searching for the animal. The climb in the hot sun tired him and he lay down to rest. His eyes strayed to a two-foot-square hole in the cliff face and he wondered idly why such a hole should be there.
He roused himself, picked up a stone and flung it through the hole. The sound that reached his ears was not a dull thud of stone on rock, but the sharper sound of stone breaking pottery. Mystified, the boy climbed up to the hole and poked his head through. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he saw a cave; and standing on the floor were several large, wide-necked pottery jars, some of them broken.
The boy dashed back to his tribe and told an older friend of the strange cave. Next day they went to the spot and clambered through the hole.
They found eight jars standing along either side of the cave and feverishly delved into them, hoping for treasure. What they found in several of the jars was worth far more than gold – folds of brown leathery parchment wrapped in decomposing rags – the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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Posted in Architecture, Conservation on Wednesday, 9 January 2013
This edited article about building materials originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 810 published on 23rd July 1977.
A traditional thatcher gathering his straw thatch
It is very unlikely that you have ever given any thought to what sort of building materials are used in your district. This is perhaps, hardly surprising because all modern buildings tend to be built from the same materials. In the past, however, when transport was difficult because of poor roads and the lack of suitable haulage vehicles, most building was carried out with locally produced material, which often varied greatly from one area to another.
Sombre granite was used in Yorkshire, and in other northern counties, as well as in parts of Scotland and Cornwall. Yet in Cornwall’s neighbouring county of Devon, particularly in cottage building, the walls were traditionally made of a mixture of clay and straw known as cob, while the houses were mainly thatched.
In Kent, the timbering took the form of weather-boarding, the planks being laid horizontally close together.
In East Anglia, the chief local material for building was flint. Because it was not always easy to make good corners, so bricks, scarce though they were locally, were often used for corners and the surrounds of windows and doors.
Another East Anglian characteristic is pargeting, which consists of filling in the timber frontage with plaster and then moulding it into designs. Some of these designs are very beautiful.
The great limestone belt running from Dorset through the Cotswolds up to Northamptonshire provides building stone which has made many villages and towns famous in that area. The cottages, farmhouses, churches and manor houses there were built all in stone, with stone-tiled roofs, the colour of the stone varying not only from county to county, but from village to village, if one quarry happened to produce a different colour from the next quarry. Some of this stone is almost white, while other quarries produce a yellow stone which mellows into a golden colour.
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Posted in Animals, Conservation, Nature, Prehistory, Wildlife on Thursday, 3 January 2013
This edited article about the rhinoceros originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 804 published on 11th June 1977.
The prehistoric ancestor of the rhinoceros is the Elasmotherium or Woolly Rhinoceros, whose remains have been found in Siberia and even in England
Anyone who has seen a rhinoceros lumbering through the jungles of Africa or Asia might well imagine themselves in the prehistoric world of millions of years ago, when huge, monstrous-looking animals roamed the land. This is hardly surprising as its ancestors date back to 25,000,000 years ago. Although it is now considerably scaled down in size, it is still not unlike those frightening creatures of the prehistoric world. Even though the rhinoceros of today is a pygmy compared with its gigantic ancestors, it is with the exception of the elephant, still the largest animal on land.
Once a native of Europe, it is now confined to Central and South Africa, and to Southern Asia. There are five species, and three of them are to be found in Asia. The two African species vary in certain details from their Asiatic relatives, inasmuch as they do not have the same heavy folds, and have no front teeth in their jaws.
The Indian rhinoceros has one horn, and is distinguished by its thick skin which is folded in places and has something of the appearance of an ancient coat of armour. No rhino has the look of a fleet-footed animal, but the Indian variety has a particularly heavy and clumsy appearance.
The Java and Sumatran rhinoceros are small in size. The Sumatran is the smallest existing member of the group and has two horns.
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Posted in Animals, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 12 December 2012
This edited article about the Wildebeest originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 796 published on 16th April 1977.
The wildebeest, as the early Dutch settlers called the blue brindled gnu (so named by reason of its general blue-grey colour) is one of the larger of the African antelopes. A somewhat comical looking animal it may seem, but there is nothing comical about the powerful horns with which both sexes are armed. The early settlers called it “wildebeest,” because of its skittish manners and general display of stamping and snorting if disturbed.
Oddly enough, when it meets its main enemy in the wild – the lion – the gnu seems relatively submissive, taking flight rather than facing its predator with its powerful horns. If the so-called wildebeest had the temper of the African buffalo, lions would have a thin time of it where the wildebeests are concerned.
The shelter of the herd is necessary for safety when the gnu is in the calf stage. It must keep up with the herd, even if it stampedes. Should it be forced to drop out, it would probably be killed sooner or later, probably sooner, even if well grown.
For the lioness, who does most of the hunting, such a stray is a prize. Nevertheless, the lioness does not depend on the lame or the injured animal for food. Its technique varies from the stalk of the lone hunter to the onslaught of an organised ambush.
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Posted in Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 12 December 2012
This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 795 published on 9th April 1977.
A number of our rarer creatures have been introduced from abroad. Some have re-established themselves, after having become extinct, some have been brought in intentionally, and others have arrived here by accident.
The Red Deer and the Roe Deer are the only true native deer in Britain. The Fallow Deer, now equally common, is thought to have been here since the 12th century. The Chinese Water Deer, on the other hand, are comparative newcomers to this country, as are the Muntjac and the Sika Deer, which are also natives of Asia.
The Chinese Water Deer was introduced into Woburn Park in 1900, but as a result of a number of escapes, it has established itself in some of the wooded areas of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. An increasing number of them can also be found in parts of Shropshire and Hampshire.
It is no bigger than a large dog, and both sexes are without antlers. Instead, they have two prominent tusks, which are larger in the males. It is a shy and retiring creature, and is therefore not often seen.
The Muntjac is about the same size and was also first introduced to us at Woburn Park. There have been a number of escapes, and it can now be found in parts of the Midlands and East Anglia.
The Sika Deer looks like a miniature Red Deer, and was introduced towards the end of the last century into a number of deer parks. Escapes have resulted in it being widely distributed throughout many of the Southern counties, as well as in Northern England and Scotland.
A bird which was at one time extinct in this country is the Osprey, a magnificent fishing hawk with an enormous wing span. Thanks mainly to the depredations of egg collectors, it could no longer be found here by the middle of the 19th century. Fortunately, in 1959, a pair of Osprey arrived and successfully nested in Scotland. Since then many more pairs have succeeded in rearing broods, owing to a continuous watch being kept on them by volunteer ornithologists throughout the nesting season to prevent the eggs being taken by selfish collectors.
The Osprey fishes at regular hours, generally from eight to nine in the morning, and from twelve to two in the afternoon. They are such successful fishers that the young are never short of food. Generally, they only eat the front half of the fish, leaving the rest to decay or become the prey of ravens and kites.
The Avocet is another bird once thought to be extinct in Britain, but which returned in 1947 to the Fenlands, and has since managed to re-establish itself firmly here. It is a coastal wader, conspicious for its stilt-like legs and long, thin, upturned beak with which it prods the shallows for its food which consists mainly of fish spawn, shell-fish, young shrimps and larvae.
Its nest is a mere depression in the sand or mud, or a hollow in the grass near the shore. It lays four eggs at a time, and the young are fully feathered in a few weeks from hatching. They are, however, taken about by their parents and fed for a long time before they are left to start fending for themselves.
On the wing, the Avocet holds its long legs stretched out behind in a line with the beak.
Sharks normally live in warm seas, but occasionally we are visited by Hammerhead Sharks, which wander into the cooler seas around our south-west coast.
They can be recognised by the two extraordinary hammer shaped lobes projecting from its head, each with an eye and nostril at the tip. It is an aggressive and dangerous shark, but fortunately it confines itself to deep waters.
Another monster of the deep is the Moray eel, which may well have given rise in earlier times to stories of sea serpents. The large mouth is nearly always open revealing rows of needle sharp teeth. Happily, it is rare for them to be found around our coasts.
Posted in Animals, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 4 December 2012
This edited article about rare animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 791 published on 12th March 1977.
The Komodo Dragon
Thanks partly to man, and partly to the changing conditions of the environment, certain animals and fishes are becoming ever increasingly rare species.
The most unusual of them is perhaps the Tasmanian Wolf, if only because it is nearly related to kangaroos and wombats, despite its wolf-like appearance.
It differs from dogs and wolves in one interesting aspect. Its tail, instead of forming a distinct appendage, is very thick at the base, and seems to merge into the hind quarters, so that it appears to form part of the body. In this respect it approximates to crocodiles, and other reptiles, which would seem to confirm that its tail is a direct inheritance from reptilian ancestors.
On account of its habit of attacking sheep, it has been relentlessly persecuted by farmers, who have driven it to the mountains. The Tasmanian wolf does not bark but utters instead a mournful kind of whining cry.
Another rare creature is the Komodo dragon which belongs to a species of lizards known as Monitors. Sensational stories accumulated around the Komodo dragon, mostly because of its size which was often greatly exaggerated. The largest of them, in fact, are never more than 10 feet (3 metres) long, which still makes it a terrifying enough monster to meet. Like all monitors it can run at a considerable speed, and when angered, inflates itself, at the same time hissing violently and lashing its tail, a behaviour pattern which should send anyone in its path scurrying for safety, as both its bite and its tail slap can be painful. It preys mostly on small wild pigs, and is to be found on the small East Indian islands of Rincha and Komodo.
In 1938, a fisherman cast out his line off the coast of West Africa and landed a bright blue fish, which was later identified as a Coelacanth, a species long thought to be extinct. Later, several other specimens were caught off the Comoro Islands, situated off Madagascar.
The coelacanths are bony deep-sea fish with a spindle shaped body and rather short head, and closely resemble their ancestors of millions of years ago in form and structure. The fact that they are virtually unchanged after such an enormous lapse of time can perhaps be attributed to the fact that they are a deep sea fish.
Modern coelacanths are bigger than most of the fossil forms which have been found, averaging about 5 feet (1.5 metres) in length and weighing about 100 lbs. Considering that they existed some 350,000,000 years ago, the difference between the two forms is so little as to be staggering.
Although there are about 180 species of woodpeckers distributed over most of the world, a number of them are becoming quite rare, particularly the large handsome, ivory billed woodpecker, which hovers on the verge of extinction because its habitat, the timberlands of Illinois and Indiana, are rapidly being destroyed by man. Now nearing extinction it has confined itself to primeval cypress swamps in a few isolated portions of Florida.
These are only four of the creatures of this earth which man so far has made no real effort to preserve. And there are others.
Posted in Aerospace, America, Aviation, Conservation, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Wednesday, 21 November 2012
This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 786 published on 5th February 1977.
Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless (top) and Curtiss SB2C-1 Helldiver, by Wilf Hardy
The people watching on the ground suddenly fell silent as they listened intently to a sound which most of the older ones amongst them had not heard for more than thirty years, and the younger ones had never heard at all – the unforgettable rhythmic rumble of aircraft engines. Not the sky-tearing scream of modern jet engines, but the deeper, reverberating noise of propeller-driven World War Two bombers winging their way to some enemy target.
As the sound increased, men, women and children turned their faces towards the direction from which it was coming, straining their eyes against the glare as they tried to catch a glimpse of the sinister shapes in the sky.
Almost unbelievably, the dark outlines began to resolve themselves into recognisable silhouettes of World War Two bombers – a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell, an A-26 Invader, plus a hefty B-29 Superfortress.
As the five bombers turned in formation across the vision of the excited spectators, spouts of flame followed by black eruptions of smoke suddenly appeared on the ground less than half a mile away. Were they bombs exploding? If they were, the watchers did not bother to drop flat on their faces, and nobody ran for an air raid shelter. Instead, many of them merely put their eyes to the viewfinders of their cameras to take photographs of the spectacle, and began talking excitedly amongst themselves as two North American Mustang fighters swooped down out of the sky to make a low pass in front of them.
The reason for the strange absence of any panic amongst the hundreds of watchers was that although the aircraft were real enough, they formed part of the Ghost Squadron – perhaps better known by its official name of the Confederate Air Force – the largest single collection of World War Two aircraft in the world. The ‘bombs’ of course, were simply small explosive charges that had been planted previously in the ground.
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