Adrienne Mayor

Rivers as Weapons in Ancient War

by AdrienneMayor March 6, 2014
Rivers as Weapons in Ancient War

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) Semiramis, queen of Assyria (seventh century BC) boasted in an inscription that she had extended her borders with courage and cunning: “I compelled rivers to run where I wanted, and I wanted them to run where it was advantageous.” Diverting rivers is an age-old environmental tactic in the […]

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The Big Race: Black Hills Geomyth

by AdrienneMayor February 6, 2014
The Big Race: Black Hills Geomyth

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) The Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred to the Lakota Sioux, are surrounded by the fossil deposits of masses of extinct creatures, from Cretaceous dinosaurs and marine reptiles that died out 65 million years ago to mammoths of the Pleistocene (1.7 to 10,000 years ago). The remarkable fossilized […]

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Cuvier and the “Living Mastodon”

by AdrienneMayor January 6, 2014
Cuvier and the "Living Mastodon"

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the father of modern paleontology, was the first European naturalist to articulate a scientific theory of extinction, based on his studies proving that mastodons and mammoths were the prehistoric ancestors of living elephants. (Mastodons and mammoths went extinct 10,000-6,000 years ago.) This crucial advance in […]

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Scorpions in Antiquity

by AdrienneMayor December 6, 2013
Scorpions in Antiquity

By Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) “Scorpions are a horrible plague,” declared Pliny, “poisonous like vipers except that they inflict even worse torture by killing their victims with lingering, painful death that lasts three days.” “Everyone detests scorpions” chimed in Aelian, another natural historan of ancient Rome. In the desert of the Middle East […]

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A Giant Roman Emperor: Maximinus

by AdrienneMayor November 6, 2013
A Giant Roman Emperor: Maximinus

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) In AD 235 a giant became the most powerful man in the Roman Empire. Maximinus of Thrace (Bulgaria) was a simple shepherd when his impressive size and strength attracted the attention of the Roman emperor in AD 202. Maximinus wrestled 16 of the emperor’s burliest soldiers. Then, only […]

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Alexander the Great and the Giants

by AdrienneMayor October 6, 2013
Alexander the Great and the Giants

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) Alexander and his men waded across the raging Hydaspes River during a violent lightning storm to surprise the vast army of 35,000 men commanded by king Porus of India (326 BC). Already taken aback by Porus’s 200 war elephants, the Macedonians were awe-struck by the prodigious height of […]

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Poisoning Enemies in the Ancient Mideast

by AdrienneMayor September 6, 2013
Poisoning Enemies in the Ancient Mideast

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) The insidious tactic of poisoning one’s enemy—noncombatants and soldiers alike—is nothing new, only the technologies have changed. Choking clouds of dust with the effect of tear gas and rains of red-hot burning sand with the effect of phosphorus bombs are two examples of chemical weapons and biological strategies […]

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Removing Bad Tattoos in Antiquity

by AdrienneMayor August 6, 2013
Removing Bad Tattoos in Antiquity

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) Today’s unwanted gang tattoos, names of ex-lovers, outgrown cartoons, misspelled mottoes, and other mistakes on skin are printed over with complex designs or erased by long sessions with a laser. Painful — but not as painful or risky as the procedures invented by ancient Roman doctors for removing […]

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Rabies: Ancient Biological Weapon?

by AdrienneMayor July 6, 2013
Rabies: Ancient Biological Weapon?

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) Rabies spread by bites of infected dogs has been deeply feared since antiquity. The main vector is domestic dogs, but wild animals such as foxes and bats can transmit the disease to humans. Rabies is almost invariably fatal. The earliest record of canine rabies appears in Mesopotamian cuneiform […]

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Who Were the First Recreational Mountain Climbers?

by AdrienneMayor June 6, 2013
Who Were the First Recreational Mountain Climbers?

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and ascended Mount Nebo (Jordan) to gaze on the land he would never reach. Jesus took three disciples to a mountaintop to commune with the ghosts of Moses and Elijah. Empedocles, the ancient Greek philosopher, climbed the active volcano […]

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Drunk on Horse Milk: Fermented Koumiss

by AdrienneMayor May 6, 2013
Drunk on Horse Milk: Fermented Koumiss

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonder & Marvels contributor) Amazons, those fabled women warriors of the steppes, were working mothers too busy to breastfeed. According to the ancient Greeks, they nourished their infants with mare’s milk. Since Homer, nomadic tribes from the Black Sea to Mongolia were known as “mare-milking Scythians.” That notion was exotic enough, but […]

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Ancient Amazons as Sailors?

by AdrienneMayor April 6, 2013
Ancient Amazons as Sailors?

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) The Amazon strides along, dressed in a tunic and leather boots, carrying her crescent shield and trusty battle-axe. At first glance the image on the ancient coin looks like a typical ancient Amazon, those mythical warrior women modeled on nomadic archers of Scythia, the immense territory stretching from […]

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Flying Snakes in Ancient Egypt?

by AdrienneMayor March 6, 2013
Flying Snakes in Ancient Egypt?

By Adrienne Mayor (Wonders and Marvels contributor) Egyptian tales of flying snakes captured the curiosity of the Greek historian Herodotus (ca 460 BC). These winged drakontes were said to live under frankincense (Boswellia) trees in the Arabian Desert. To gather the incense, the Arabians burned styrax (resin of the Liquidambar tree) because the smoke drove […]

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Alexander the Great and the Rain of Burning Sand

by AdrienneMayor February 6, 2013
Alexander the Great and the Rain of Burning Sand

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonder & Marvels contributor) In 332 BC Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army suffered the effects of a fiendish chemical incendiary that caused horrendous casualties. During Alexander’s seven-month siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre (now Lebanon), the Phoenicians realized that they needed a powerful antipersonnel weapon to “conquer such a […]

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sea Monster

by AdrienneMayor January 6, 2013
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sea Monster

by Adrienne Mayor (Wonders & Marvels contributor) Sea monster sightings have been reported in the Mediterranean since antiquity. Aristotle (fourth century BC) remarked that experienced Greek sailors occasionally encountered unknown sea creatures. The monsters fell into two types: some resembled massive beams of black wood; others were like giant red shields with many fins. A […]

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