This 15th century brassiere (right) looked remarkably similar
to a long-line bra from the 1950s
Until the modern invention of the brassiere with cups, women had to bolster their busts with either unsupportive bands of cloth or constricting corsets—so the common knowledge went. But hidden away in an Austrian castle, long lost to the sands of time, a few scraps of linen waited for their chance to rewrite undergarment history. Excavations at Lengberg Castle in 2008 revealed a vault that architects had crammed with filler during a 15th-century renovation. Among the twigs and straw, the scrap material also contained the remains of discarded shoes and clothing. The more than 2,700 textile fragments included linen shirt scraps, underwear—and what looked like modern bras, complete with distinct cups and decorative lace.
At first, archaeologists were skeptical because there was no other proof that bras with cups existed before the 1800s. However, the undergarments were discovered amongst typical medieval clothing, and eventually, carbon dating confirmed that the brassieres dated back 600 years.
A pair of underwear also discovered at Lengberg Castle
So did medieval ladies really wear lacy bras and underwear like this skimpy pair? Well, that’s only half right: the sexy panties belonged to a man. The bras, on the other hand, prove that even during the medieval era, women did not have to rely solely on breast-bands. In the words of Meister Reuauß, a satirical 15th century poem, “Many a woman makes two bags for the breasts with / it she roams the streets.” The full poem, and more details about medieval lingerie, are available at the page dedicated to this finding at the University of Innsbruck website.
Images and translation courtesy of Beatrix Nutz / University of Innsbruck
You want to make tea from my what now?
Birth control can be a hassle—but as a review of the history of contraception reveals, modern methods don’t hold a candle to the hoops that people used to jump through to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Gents, ever complained about the mandate to, as a U.S. government film instructed soldiers during World War II, “put it on before you put it in”? Perhaps you’d prefer a condom made of fish or animal intestine that ties on with a ribbon, like the ones men used in the 1600s. You could store it in a box by the bed to reuse again and again! Oh, but if you grab the contents of that box for protection when you sneak out to visit a possibly pox- or clap-ridden prostitute, just remember: while sperm can’t fit through the pores in an animal intestine, viruses can. (At least you’d be saving the woman from having to chug mercury, a last-ditch 17th century method of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.)
And ladies, grossed out by the notion of shielding your cervix with animal dung? Try some fruit instead: one 1550 BC recipe for a vaginal suppository included acacia fruit, which has been shown to prevent pregnancy in lab mice—that is, when they eat the seeds. And in the 18th century, Casanova fashioned a cervical cap from half a pulped lemon (perhaps to avoid responsibility for child support), and the combination of blockage and acidity made this a fairly effective method.
Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult.
Penguins are undeniably adorable. What other animal waddles around in a little tuxedo? But don’t let that cute exterior fool you: on a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring.
Levick travelled to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition, where he spent 12 weeks in the world’s largest Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare, observing the birds, taking photographs, and even collecting nine penguin skins. After his return, Levick used his daily zoological notes as source material for two published penguin studies, one for the general public and a more scientific one to be included in the expedition’s official report. Intriguingly, this second account includes vague references to “’hooligan’ cocks” preying on chicks. Levick merely writes, “The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”
Now, modern-day researchers have discovered that Levick did in fact describe the hooligans’ crimes in the paper, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.” This paper was expunged from his official account, probably because it was too disturbing for Edwardian mores. Levick himself covered some explicit passages of his personal notes with coded versions, rewritten in the Greek alphabet and pasted over the original entries. Although the paper was withheld from the official record, researchers at the Natural History Museum did preserve it in pamphlet form, printing 100 copies labeled, “Not for Publication.” But most of the originals have been lost or destroyed, and no later works on Adélie penguins cited this paper until recently, when researchers in the Bird Group at the National History Museum at Tring discovered one of the original pamphlets in their reprints section.
Dried blood on a handkerchief, a $700,000 gourd and one dead king. A forensic murder mystery?
Nope, just another genetics paper. I mean, it is gourd season, what did you expect?
The dead king in question is Louis XVI (the last of the French kings), who was ceremoniously beheaded on January 21st, 1793. After the beheading, attendees rushed the stage and dipped their handkerchiefs in the royal blood.
Over two hundred years later, some of that blood may have been found–dried to the inside of a decorative gunpowder gourd. The story goes that one of the attendees rushed home and stuffed the bloody handkerchief into the gourd for safekeeping.
In a study published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, researchers analyzed some of the dried blood scraped from the inside of the gourd to find out if it really could be the king’s blood. They checked the Y chromosome to see if the blood-donor was male, and checked for the presence of a blue-eye gene, HERC2. The blood was indeed from the correct time period and belonged to a blue-eyed male–so far, the evidence fits the blue-eyed king. More genetic information about the family will be needed to confirm the identity, the study’s lead author told Wired’s Dave Mosher:
It’s amazing what artifacts you can find buried in the ice. (No I’m not talking about that leftover turkey that’s been in your freezer since last Thanksgiving. Though if you consider that an historical find, more power to you.)
Last month Discoblog brought you the story of the century-old whiskey that British explorer Ernest Shackleton left on Antarctica, which New Zealanders recovered and plan to replicate. Now scientists have analyzed a soup can found in the Canadian Arctic that dates to around the time of the famous Franklin Expedition, and could point to how its members met their doom.