The Strange Victorian Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park

Inside an enclosure at the Crystal Palace Park in London, is a collection of over thirty concrete sculptures of dinosaurs. Built more than one hundred sixty years ago, these sculptures were the first ever attempt anywhere in the world to model dinosaurs as full-scale, three-dimensional creatures. Although the sculptures are wildly inaccurate by modern standards, they are still an important part of history because they show how the Victorians viewed prehistoric life.

These concrete beasts were designed and built by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins in collaboration with Professor Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time, best remembered today for being the one who coined the word “dinosaur”, meaning “terrible lizard”. Hawkins and Richards were asked to build a total of thirty three models of dinosaurs, as well as other extinct animals, in 1852 as part of a new attraction at the recently relocated Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham in south London. The trouble was, Hawkins didn’t have enough fossil evidence to begin with. For instance, for the Iguanodon, the largest and the most impressive of the sculptures, Hawkins had no more than a handful of teeth and a few bones. So he did what anybody with a contract and a looming deadline would have done —he used his imagination.

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A Megalosaurus model at Crystal Palace Park. Photo credit: Peter Reed/Flickr

The Toxic White Beaches of Rosignano Solvay

The dazzling white sand of “Spiagge Bianche”, or “white beaches”, in the town of Rosignano Solvay, in southern Tuscany, has been luring tourists by the thousands for years. But this beautiful stretch of shoreline by the Tyrrhenian sea and its uncharacteristic Caribbean-look hides a dark secret that very few of the sunbathers and swimmers who flock to Spiagge Bianche every summer seem to be aware of. The stunningly white sand here is not natural. It’s chemical waste, and its source stands right next to the beach —an enormous complex of towering chimneys and cooling towers spewing smoke and steam into the air. This is the Solvay chemical plant.

Solvay is a Belgium company founded in 1864 by industrialist and politician Ernest Solvay. It came to Italy in 1912 and opened its first plant —and one of its largest production site— near the town of Rosignano Marittimo, located some 25 km from Livorno. Within a short time, with the Solvay factory driving the development, a new town was born with houses, streets, and places for recreation. This new town was named Rosignano Solvay.

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Photo credit: Simone Wreath/Flickr

A Blast From The Past: Episode 30

From the archives of Amusing Planet.

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, is notable for a population of pre-Incan people called Uros who live on artificial islands made of floating reeds called totora. The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive, and if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island even retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds.

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The Witches' Weigh House in Oudewater

In medieval Netherlands, weigh houses were a common feature in many markets up and down the country. They were run by the local authorities, and traders were required to weigh their goods before they were sold. The authorities would then levy a tax on the goods transported through or sold within the city.

Many a times, people accused of witchcraft would be dragged to a weigh house to be weighed. It was believed that a witch weighed next to nothing. After all, how could they fly on a broomstick? The Heksenwaag (Witches' scale) in the town of Oudewater became famous for such witch trails.

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A witch trial at the Heksenwaag, in Oudewater. Photo credit: Memory of the Netherlands

This Rocky Wall Was Created By The New Zealand Earthquake

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that stuck the South Island of New Zealand on November 14, 2016, have changed the geography of the region, particularly around the epicenter. In the countryside around Waiau, about 30km east of Hanmer Springs, where the shaking was the highest, a section of the earth has lifted vertically forming a long rocky wall, fifteen foot tall.

These impressive pictures were captured by Dr. Kate Pedley, of University of Canterbury's Department of Geological Sciences, when she and her colleagues encountered this massive fracture in the landscape as they were surveying countryside for evidence of faulting.

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Photo credit: Dr Kate Pedley

The ‘Ancient Lights’ Windows of England

In many old brick buildings around London, you’ll find signs saying ‘Ancient Lights‘ marked beneath individual windows. The best example are the back windows of the houses on Albemarle Way, which are visible from Priory Church of the Order of Saint John just off the Clerkenwell Road. You can also find these odd signs near Chinatown and Covent Garden, particularly in back alleyways, and one in Newman Passage and another one in a pub just near Goodge Street tube station. Here is a map of ‘Ancient Lights’ signs around London.

The phenomenon is not unique to London. ‘Ancient Lights‘ signs can be found in Dorset, in Kent and in many places across England. What are they?

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'Ancient Lights' signs below windows in Clerkenwell, London. Photo credit: Mike Newman/Wikimedia

The Spite Towers of Irish Hills

Standing atop a small knoll along the highway between Detroit and Chicago, the Twin Towers of Irish Hills in Lenawee County, in Southeast Michigan, was a beacon to weary travellers when it opened in 1924. The top of the towers are 1,400 feet above sea level, making them the highest point in southeastern Michigan. On a clear day visitors can see for seven miles around the beautiful green Irish hills and its many surrounding lakes.

The towers have an interesting history. In the early 1920s, a new outfit called the Michigan Observation Company was erecting 50-foot tall towers all around the state in order to boost tourism. It came to Irish Hills in 1924, and seeking to erect a similar tower in a high ground property next to the highway, it approached the property owner, a man named Ed Kelley, with an offer. But Ed Kelley wasn’t interested in commercializing his property, so he refused.

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Photo credit: Notorious4life/Wikimedia

Tehachapi Loop

The Tehachapi Loop is an iconic spiral loop, 1.17 km long, that passes over itself as it gains height on the railroad main line through Tehachapi Pass, in south central California. The loop was constructed in the latter half of the 19th century as part of Southern Pacific's main line through southern California, which had to cross the Tehachapi Mountain range. More than 3,000 Chinese immigrant laborers toiled for two years cutting through the solid granite with blasting powder, and then clearing the debris using picks, shovels, and horse drawn carts, to lay the Tehachapi Pass Railroad Line. The line, which climbs out of the San Joaquin Valley and through the Tehachapi Mountains to Mojave in the Antelope Valley, was part of the last and final link of the first railroad line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.

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Photo credit: Roger Snyder

The Million Dollar Point of Vanuatu

Located off the coast of Espírito Santo, an island belonging to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, is a vast undersea junkyard of military trucks, jeeps, bulldozers, tractors, unopened boxes of clothing and cases of Coca-Cola create. It’s called the Million Dollar Point, so named for the millions of dollars’ worth of US military equipment that was dumped in the ocean at the end of the second world war.

The island of Espirutu Santo was used by the Americans during WWII as their primary military supply and support base, and the headquarters for major navy and army units operating in the Pacific. It was the second largest US base in the Pacific after Hawaii and had over 40,000 troops stationed permanently on base. There were two bomber and two fighter airbases and massive aircraft and ship repair facilities. Being a supply base meant that it had everything that was required to sustain troops fighting the war including furniture, clothing, plenty of good food and warm beer.

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Photo credit: www.airvanuatu.com

The Gibbs Farm Sculpture Park

Just north of Auckland, overlooking the expansive Kaipara Harbour, is the private park of New Zealand businessman, entrepreneur and avid art collector Alan Gibbs. After purchasing the 400-hectare property of mostly hilly terrain in 1991, Gibbs invited the world’s most sought-after artists and asked them to decorate the park. Today, the Gibbs Farm is one of the world's leading sculpture parks with contributions from internationally renowned sculptors such as Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, Bernar Venet, and Leon van den Eijkel, to name a few.

One of the most favorite piece called “Horizons” is the work of Christchurch-based artist Neil Dawson. Horizons looks like a sketch of a curved piece of corrugated iron, settled on a hilltop and blowing in the wind. From the distance, the sculpture looks three-dimensional but is actually a one-dimensional piece. Other popular exhibits include a huge megaphone-like red structure by Anish Kapoor, a meandering steel wall by Richard Serra and a series of colorful concrete cubes by Leon van den Eijkel.

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“Horizons” by Neil Dawson. Photo credit: gibbsfarm.org.nz