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Subject: ‘Minerals’

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The curious compliment of calling someone ‘the salt of the earth’

Posted in Bible, Interesting Words, Language, Minerals, Trade on Monday, 19 August 2013

This edited article about the language of the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 376 published on 29 March 1969.

Salt traders, pictuire, image, illustration
Prehistoric salt trading colony, Hallstadt, Upper Austria

If there is too much salt in our food, it will make us thirsty. And many sailors believe that if they were shipwrecked they should not drink sea-water for fear of it driving them mad with thirst.

So to refer to someone whom we greatly admire as “the salt of the earth” may not seem much of a compliment. Yet the words are often heard. Supposing you were watching a lifeboat putting out to sea in rough weather to help a ship in distress; you might hear someone in the admiring but anxious crowd of onlookers say: “Wonderful men, those! They are the salt of the earth!”

Salt is, in fact, much more valuable than most of us realise. Without sufficient salt in our diet we become ill, so vital is it to the health of human beings. Salt is also an essential part of most animals’ diets, and many country cow-sheds have a “salt lick” by each stall.

We learn about common salt in chemistry lessons. This substance is indeed so cheap and so widely available as to deserve the description “common”.

But in some countries even today, and formerly in many others, salt is anything but common. On the contrary, it is rare and expensive. I remember seeing large blocks of salt being carefully weighed at a market in a remote part of Africa. They were being used in payment for other goods instead of money.

If that seems strange, think of our saying that a person who works really hard is “worth his salt”. This is a saying that goes back a very long way, to the days of the Romans, who received part of their wages in salt (“salary” means “salt-money”); and to the days of sailing ships, when, especially on long voyages, a ration of salt was an essential part of a sailor’s wages! Many old sea stories also remind us of the days when food could not be sealed in cans or kept in refrigerators and had to be preserved in salt, either dry, or in a solution of “brine”. Today, in many parts of the country, people still pack beans and other vegetables between layers of salt, as a way of storing them for winter use. So perhaps we should think of salt more gratefully than we sometimes do, especially when we realise how essential it is yet how scarce it can sometimes be.

In the time of Jesus Christ, salt was highly prized because it was the only known means of preserving food. Jesus spoke of his chosen followers, the disciples, as “the salt of the earth” (Matthew, chapter 5, verse 13), meaning that they could do among their fellows many of the useful and necessary things that salt did in their homes. But he added a warning that salt which had lost its flavour and strength was only fit to be thrown away. This was a warning to all who follow him to maintain the true worth and flavour of their faith.

Vickers Oceanics and their versatile undersea workhorses

Posted in Disasters, Exploration, Historical articles, Minerals, Sea, Technology on Friday, 10 August 2012

This edited article about mini-submarines originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 761 published on 14th August 1975.

Vickers mini-sub, picture, image, illustration

The Vickers mini-sub by Wilf Hardy

It was a routine job. Pisces III, a tiny submarine with just enough room for its crew of two, was working on the sea bed at a depth of about half a mile.

Pisces was burying a newly laid transatlantic cable. Its manipulator arms held a nozzle which directed a powerful jet of water that cut a trench in the sea bed.

When the trench was formed, the cable sank into it. In time, it would be filled in with seabed material.

Eight hours passed. Then the two pilots in Pisces III brought their craft to the surface to the mother ship, Vickers Voyager.

As the Voyager began winching in the sub, waves lashed at the towline, which was momentarily slack. They snaked it around the hatch lock of the sub’s rear buoyancy sphere, pulling off the hatch cover.

More than a ton of water cascaded into the sphere. Its weight snapped the towline, and Pisces III dived into the depths, hitting the bottom at 1,575 ft. (about 470 metres).

This happened on 29th August, 1973, when Pisces was operating some 150 miles (240 km) off Cork, Ireland, and for 76 hours the two pilots crouched in their little craft, becoming progressively weakened by their diminishing oxygen supply.

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The historic Dead Sea lies in an arid landscape of salt and gypsum

Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Geography, Geology, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Sea on Tuesday, 12 June 2012

This edited article about the Dead Sea originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 725 published on 6 December 1975.

Dead Sea, picture, image, illustration

The Dead Sea

From the city of Jerusalem eastward to the north shore of the Dead Sea is a mere 15 miles (24km). Yet it is like a journey to a different planet. At the point where the River Jordan makes its way through its Delta into the sea, the visitor is confronted with one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world.

Northward the river winds its way down its age-old valley; to the west are the hills and mountains of Judea, while eastward rises the steep, forbidding face of the Jordanian highlands. And stretching away to fill the southern end of the Jordan valley is that strange, almost sinister, stretch of water known as the Dead Sea.

The surface of the sea, with its varying shades of intense blue, is often shrouded in mists as its still waters evaporate in the stifling heat. Swiftly changing patterns of light play upon cliffs and outcrops, reflected in the rich reds and other colours of the rock. The shores glitter as if with frost or snow; but it is with salt crystals, not ice crystals, that they are covered.

Travellers descending to the Dead Sea from the highlands are conscious of a sense of oppression. In their eardrums they may even sense the same painful sensations we feel in an aircraft when it rapidly changes altitude.

This is hardly surprising, for at its surface the Dead Sea is about 1290 ft (393 m) below the level of the Mediterranean Sea; and its bed, at its deepest, is another 1300 ft (396 m) down. It is the lowest lying sea, or lake, on the surface of the Earth.

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The benefits of taking cod liver oil and eating your greens

Posted in Fish, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Plants, Science on Thursday, 19 April 2012

This edited article about vitamins originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 690 published on 5 April 1975.

Health promotion, picture, image, illustration

A poster from the 1940s promoting healthy food consumption

Doctors were puzzled. In Britain’s smoky industrial cities, children were suffering from a disease which made them very ill and left them with bent bones.

But in the fishing ports, the youngsters seemed miraculously free from this ailment. What was the reason? In time, the doctors found the answer.

The fishermen’s children were eating bread dipped in fish oil, and it was the oil which was keeping them free from the dreadful illness, called rickets, which was spoiling the health of the city children.

Rickets is caused by a lack of calcium which is necessary for the building of strong bones. This cannot be obtained unless there is vitamin D in our food. Fish oil is rich in vitamin D, and that is why the fishermen’s children who ate it were fit and the city children, who were denied it, were sickly.

If we eat a balanced diet, we will get all the things we need to be healthy, including all the substances called vitamins, from the Latin word vita for “life”. They are tiny chemical compounds and were discovered in 1911 by Casimir Funk, a Polish scientist.

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The oceans were salted by the earth’s freshwater rivers

Posted in Geography, Geology, Minerals, Rivers, Science, Sea on Wednesday, 18 April 2012

This edited article about the sea originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 689 published on 29 March 1975.

seafront waves, picture, image, illustration

Waves crashing on the seafront by Clive Uptton

Most of us think that the sea consists entirely of water. But in every hundred pounds weight of sea water there are about three and a half pounds of solid materials. Most of them are salts of one kind or another.

If all the salts could be taken out of all the world’s oceans and spread over the continents, they would form a crust several feet thick.

Another surprising thing is that sodium chloride, which is the chemists’ name for the salt we sprinkle on our food, makes up only three-quarters of the salts dissolved in sea water.

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Dust has many unlikely uses and effects

Posted in Farming, Geography, Geology, Minerals, Nature on Friday, 6 April 2012

This edited article about dust originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 684 published on 22 February 1975.

Brick dust seller, picture, image, illustration

Brick dust seller in Portman Square; it was used for cleaning knives and cost a penny a quart

Most of us think of dust as just dirt that has to be swept up in the house or as something that gets into your eyes on a windy day.

But dust is much more than gritty dirt or an irritating speck in the eye. It is one of the most important things in our lives. It can do us good and it can do us harm.

Without dust, we would have no food, because the shape and size of dust particles making up soil decide whether or not crops will grow. This is because particles of earth, which are really dust, can hold, on their surface, a lot of moisture, heat and air. Without these three things, plants could not grow.

The dust particles in the earth attract specks of the minerals that plants need. The moisture on the dust then dissolves the minerals to feed the plant roots.

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East-Ender Barney Barnato became the Diamond King of Kimberley

Posted in Africa, Geology, Historical articles, History, Industry, Minerals on Monday, 26 March 2012

This edited article about Barney Barnato originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 676 published on 28 December 1974.

Barney Barnato, picture, image, illustration

Barney Barnato realised he had walked all the way to Kimberley

Everyone knew there were diamonds in South Africa. Not just ordinary diamonds, but massive gems that were just waiting to be picked up like pebbles from a beach. Men had made themselves rich for life in just half an hour. Wilder and wilder grew the stories from the diggings and soon every ship that arrived at Port Elizabeth and Cape Town was packed with prospectors eager to lay their hands on any sort of transport that would carry them the 600 miles to the get-rich-quick township of Kimberley.

It cost £40 to hire a coach that would cover the distance in comfort, £12 for a place on a bone-shaking ox wagon. But so far as 20-year-old Barney Barnato was concerned, both were hopelessly beyond his means. He had landed in South Africa in the summer of 1873 with barely enough money for food, let alone transport, yet he wandered up and down the sand-covered streets with cheerful optimism. The son of a poor Jewish family that had scraped up a living buying and selling old clothes off London’s Commercial Road, he was used to bargaining. Sooner or later he’d find someone who’d come down to his price.

Finally he succeeded.

“Ja. I take you for five pounds.” The Boer wagon driver studied his customer with amusement, seeing a youngster who was only five feet three inches tall, with golden hair and wearing small, wire framed spectacles. Then he added hastily, “But your food you find yourself. Also I have only six oxen, and they are old. So when there is bad going you walk, yes?”

“That’s all right. So long as you show me the way.”

It was an agreement, and Barney Barnato stuck to it. Even though, when he finally arrived at Kimberley two months later, he realised it had been bad going all the way and he had walked the whole six hundred miles.

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Exploitation of the Belgian Congo ended with an independent Zaire

Posted in Africa, Animals, Geography, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Missionaries, Rivers, Trade on Thursday, 22 March 2012

This edited article about Zaire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 673 published on 7 December 1974.

H M Stanley in Africa, picture, image, illustration

Henry Morton Stanley explored the Congo and with King Leopold II of the Belgians  he largely invented the country known as the Belgian Congo. Picture by C L Doughty

During the last two decades, many regions of Africa have gained their independence, and Britain, who had a large part of her empire in this continent, gave back the power of self-government peacefully to many states.

The Congo, now called The Republic of Zaire, has had a turbulent and violent history. Henry Morton Stanley was the first man to explore the main Congo River, and after his great journey, the Congo Free State was founded in 1879 by King Leopold II of Belgium. King Leopold II and Stanley literally created the Belgian Congo. These two men were both similar in character, ambitious, with great tenacity and boundless energy.

Leopold became one of the richest men in the world through the exploitation of the country’s wealth, particularly its vast resources of rubber and ivory which were then the main exports. He ruled with a rod of iron and during his reign, it has been estimated that between five and eight million Congolese lost their lives or were killed, either in the plantations or hunting elephant. If an African did not satisfy his boss, often his foot or arm sometimes both, were cut off.

The Congo was plunged into anarchy when the army mutinied just after receiving its independence from Belgium in 1960. Before the mutiny, the then Belgian Congo was turned into a blood bath when the Congolese butchered many of their Belgian ‘white masters’. For several years the native population had been plotting and planning to overthrow the foreign domination of their country. Right through this mainly dense forest area of Africa, which covers 905,000 square miles, the various tribes sent messages to each other by their bush telegraph, (the talking drum). Each village had their tribesmen signallers who passed information backwards and forwards through this hostile land.

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Colonial conflict and mineral wealth shaped the future of South Africa

Posted in Africa, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Politics, Trade, War on Thursday, 22 March 2012

This edited article about South Africa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 672 published on 30 November 1974.

Diamonds, picture, image, illustration

Diamond mining near Pretoria in South Africa

Africa is a continent of contrasts; not only its people but its regions also are startlingly different. This is illustrated by the harsh deserts of North Africa and the breathtaking beauty of South Africa with its soaring mountains, vineyards, and rugged cliffs sloping down to secluded beaches which make it as near perfect a Garden of Eden as could be found anywhere in the world.

From the temperate Transvaal Highveld to the sub-tropical lands of Natal, this is a country that can rightly claim to have one of the most magnificent climates on Earth, with months of uninterrupted sunshine. Since South Africa lies south of the equator it celebrates Christmas during the height of its summer; winter comes between June and July.

The Republic of South Africa juts southwards between two oceans, the turbulent Atlantic in the west and the calmer, warmer Indian in the east. These two great oceans meet at the Cape of Good Hope, so named by the Portuguese who, five centuries ago, discovered this route to India.

Two hundred years later, Dutch traders decided to cut the voyage in two by establishing a supply depot at the cape.

In 1652, three ships of the Dutch East India Company dropped anchor in the beautiful bay at the foot of Table Mountain. Their commander, Jan van Riebeek, founded a colony, and they were the first citizens of what has now become the Republic of South Africa. Within ten years, a large white settlement had been established. In those days the countryside was all bush land; wild game roamed where the modern skyscraper-lined streets of Cape Town are today.

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Spilled salt has traditionally signalled impending misfortune and betrayal

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Minerals, Sea, Superstition, Trade on Friday, 24 February 2012

This edited article about superstition originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 650 published on 29 June 1974.

Arms of the Salters Company, picture, image, illustration

The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Salters, one of London’s great twelve livery companies, which was first licensed by Richard II in 1394,  by Dan Escott

Although we may regard it as commonplace, salt has always been a precious commodity. It improves the flavour of food, it cleanses, it preserves and it possesses medicinal properties.

In certain places, in the past, its value has been increased by its scarcity. A Roman soldier stationed in Britain traditionally received part of his pay in salt – hence the word salary, for the Latin word for salt is sal. To be told he was “not worth his salt” meant he was not worth his wages.

From the earliest times, it has been a symbol of friendship. To eat someone’s salt after it was placed on the head of the sacrificial victim was a bad omen. This was the origin of our own superstition.

Nowadays we often forestall the risk of bad luck by throwing a pinch of salt over the left shoulder with the right hand. Nobody quite knows why. Originally this, too, was a propitiatory “sacrifice.” Incidentally, if the thrown pinch scatters in someone else’s direction, he takes over the bad luck.

A salt-cellar overturned between friends forecasts a quarrel. In Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper,” Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, is identified by the salt-cellar he has overturned.

Salt is still regarded as a valuable gift in some places. Scottish first-footers carry it with them on New Year’s Eve. Occasionally, too, it is still put into coffins. Satan is believed to hate it because of its connections with purity and immortality.

Another old Scottish custom of throwing salt on top of the mash when brewing “to keep the witches from it” sounds like a superstition, but like many others its origin was practical. By limiting the fermentation, salt had the effect of improving the quality of the liquor.