A Blast From The Past: Episode 18

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A collection of interesting articles from Amusing Planet’s archives.

Illustrated Guide to Italian Hand Gestures

Hand gestures and body language is as vital a communication medium as spoken language itself. Gestures pre-dates any language in the world, in fact, human communication evolved from gestures. It is not uncommon for people to use gestures even to this date to convey thoughts, punctuate an expression and give it a shading that the word or phrase itself lacks. But I wasn’t aware that they were so popular among Italians until I stumbled upon the Illustrated guide to Italian popular gestures by Alfredo Cassano.

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Sniffer Rats Detect Landmines and Tuberculosis in Mozambique

Mozambique is turning to trained rats to sniff-out mines from the country's civil war that still litter the country. The rats have an acute sense of smell and are small enough not to detonate the mines. Every time they detect explosive, they make a clicking sound and receive a bit of banana as a reward. Rats trained under the scheme have already helped clear large swathes of land in mine-infested Mozambique.

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The Fantasy Coffins of Ghana

For the Ga tribe in coastal Ghana, funerals are a time of mourning, but also of celebration. The Ga people believe that when their loved ones die, they move on into another life -- and the Ga make sure they do so in style. They honor their dead with brightly colored coffins that celebrate the way they lived.

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The Secret of the Blood Falls of Antarctica

From a crack in the Taylor Glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica flows a curious blood-red colored water. When it was first discovered by geologist Griffith Taylor in 1911, the color was thought to have come from an algae. The source of the red color was later discovered to be an iron-rich underground saltwater lake that was trapped by the encroaching glacier at least 1.5 million years ago. The temperature of the water is -5 Celsius, but it's so salty that it doesn't freeze.

But the Blood Falls houses another secret, which scientists from Harvard University have started to uncover - it's home to an entire ecosystem of bacteria, trapped for millennia in conditions that are extremely inhospitable to life.

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Badeschiff, the Floating Swimming Pool in Berlin

The Badeschiff is one of Berlin’s most unusual attraction - a floating public swimming pool in the East Harbour section of the River Spree. The Badeschiff allows citizens to swim in a safe and sanitary environment in their river, at least in a figurative sense. The Spree itself is far too polluted to permit safe bathing.

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Pando, the Single Largest Living Organism on Earth

Pando or The Trembling Giant is an enormous grove of Quaking Aspen that is an entire forest out of a single organism. This colony of a single male Quaking Aspen is located in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah, in the US. Each of 47,000 or so trees in the grove are genetically identical and has been determined to be part of a single living organism all sharing a single massive underground root system. Pando is truly massive – it covers an area of 43 hectares, weighs 6,000 tonnes and is more than 80,000 years old.

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Caganers: Figurines of Pooping World Leaders in Nativity Scenes

In Catalonia - a historic territory in the northeastern Iberian Peninsula, mostly in Spain and adjoining portion in southern France – a bizarre tradition is followed. During Christmas, a large model of the city of Bethlehem is created along with the typical nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the Shepherds. But tucked away in a corner of the model is a little figurine of a defecating Catalan peasant. It’s called the Caganer, which means shitter in Catalan.

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