from the world's big
Ground-penetrating radar allows the non-invasive virtual excavation of Falerii Novi.
- Using ground-penetrating radar, layers of an ordinary field in Italy are pulled back to reveal a lost Roman town.
- Without disturbing a single artifact, an incredible level of detail is uncovered.
- The buried town, Falerii Novi, has been quietly awaiting discovery since it was abandoned at the start of medieval age.
Technology and patience<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4NzE4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzQxMTY4MH0.DIOloya9PvQywFEed7II9NiUJzaCUv5aqslmE4bQTDo/img.jpg?width=980" id="f1a3f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="71904c4627c2cc05a5ef7ca3f904cdb4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="ground-penetrating radar equipment scanning the field" />
Image source:Frank Vermeulen/University of Cambridge<p>Falerii Novi was unearthed using <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926985118305846" target="_blank">ground-penetrating radar</a>, or GPR. With each pass across that field, the bike pulled a rolling frame outfitted with a GPR instrument that bounced radio waves off of whatever lay beneath it. The device took a reading every 12.5 centimeters, eventually imaging the entire 30.5-hectare area. Without disturbing a single ancient artifact, GPR generated a remarkably detailed look at the lost city, with its various different layers depicting changes that occurred over time.</p><p>In the end, the researchers were confronted with 28 billion GPR data points to be processed, an almost impossibly huge task. Each hectare takes about 20 hours to work through, and the team is currently developing automation techniques that will allow them to fully explore the data collected by the GPR.</p><p>Corresponding author of the study recently published in <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/groundpenetrating-radar-survey-at-falerii-novi-a-new-approach-to-the-study-of-roman-cities/BE7B8E3AE55DB6E03225B01C54CDD09B#fndtn-information" target="_blank">Antiquity</a>, Martin Millett of Cambridge's Faculty of Classics, is <a href="https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/roman-city-rises" target="_blank">clearly excited</a> by the project:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities."</em></p>
Falerii Novi<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4NzIwNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODE4NjMxMH0.eVrydFSBZs3xLaAhgAA1XFnUeIaI6FGtmggJ4N519BI/img.jpg?width=980" id="263e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6446619be28f954d75a17884b6af1690" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A preliminary version of the Falerii Novi map" />
A preliminary version of the Falerii Novi map
Image source: University of Cambridge<p>Quite a bit was already known about the walled town of Falerii Novi. It was first occupied in 241 BC, and lasted until around 700 AD., the early days of the medieval period. It's located about 30 miles north of Rome. The town, which was about half the size of Pompeii, has been the subject of other scanning research before, but has never been so thoroughly revealed until now.<br></p>
What's new/old?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4ODQxNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODQwNzE4NX0.L_sXdQqYN191hbSqBu3_DRmEKCoid5yf5v10Jw_gA-c/img.png?width=980" id="bd6e5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9eee6cf0614e5eb43e0c7b8e7e3845c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Falerii Novi" />
Image source: L. Verdonck/University of Cambridge<p>The visible Falerii Novi contains a number of surprises.</p><p>In a broad sense, the town's layout appears less standardized than archaeologists would expect for an ancient Roman community, with a number of notable features.</p><p>There's the mysterious pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex located at the town's northern gate at the upper edge of the image above. Experts have no idea what these buildings are, though they conjecture that they may have been some sort of massive monument overlooking the city's edge.</p><p>In addition, for a small city, the temple, market building and bath complex are unexpectedly elaborate.</p><p>GPR also revealed the existence of an intriguing network of pipes that may have been a large public bathing system featuring an open-air natatio, or pool. The pipes terminate at a large rectangular building and run not just along the town's streets, as might be expected, but also under its city blocks.</p>
Looking forward<p>With the Falerii Novi project serving as such a stunning reason to keep using this technology for archaeology, Millet envisions many more such projects: "It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya. We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come."</p>
Coke, meth, ecstasy, amphetamines: each drug has a different 'capital'
- A large-scale survey of wastewater across Europe shows which illicit drugs are popular.
- The use of four main drugs was up across the board last year, but regional variation persists.
- Cocaine is popular in the west and south, meth in the east and north.
How to trace illicit drug use<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg5OTU0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTcyOTY0N30.30spP-N0wta7YgGOuDlsnKb4TQl0qPrk4AokBb8nAtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="f06d4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31a7d5811a4904ad4a43f7af38856e76" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="MDMA is a widely used and popular recreational drug. It has a significant number of street names, including adam, doves, E, ecstasy, flip, happy pill, love drug, love pill, molly, party drug, roll and XTC." />
Some examples of MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy, in pill form.
DM Trott / The Drug User's Bible - CC BY-SA 4.0<p>Europe's drug capitals? Antwerp for cocaine use, Stockholm for amphetamines. Prague tops the list for crystal meth, Amsterdam for ecstasy. So says a study by the EU's official drug monitory body, analysing sewage samples from 68 cities in 23 European countries. The standardised surveys of urban wastewater, conducted since 2011, are a good indicator of regional preferences in illicit drug use, and their evolution over time. </p><p><span></span>It's not easy to establish the size of Europe's appetite for illicit drugs. Most users would prefer not to discuss their habit, and seizures of drugs shipments provide only a very partial picture. Fortunately for the scientists, urine doesn't lie. </p><p><span></span>Since its original use in the 1990s to monitor the environmental impact of liquid household waste, wastewater analysis has rapidly improved, and is now able to provide near real-time data on the quantity, the geography and the evolution over time of illicit drug use. </p><p><span></span>The most recent study, published earlier this month by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), took samples in March 2019 at treatment plants processing sewage for a total of 50 million Europeans, concentrated in the continent's major urban centers.</p><p><span></span>The sewage was tested for traces of four illicit drugs: cocaine, MDMA (popularly known as ecstasy), amphetamines and methamphetamines (a.k.a. crystal meth). These leave clearly detectable biomarkers in sewage, unlike cannabis or heroin.</p><ul><li>Compared to previous years, consumption was on the increase for each of the four drugs. </li><li>Residues for all four drugs were higher in larger cities – a reflection of the fact that this is where younger people tend to congregate.</li><li>Three out of four cities reported higher levels of amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy use during the weekend, indicating recreational use. </li><li>Crystal meth use tended to stay even over the whole week, indicating more chronic, problematic use. </li></ul>
Cocaine: popular in west and south<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg5OTM2Ni9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjQwMjE5Nn0.og-wSfKUcP1_-IFG-NtGVCGAz33guprwuakT5QcsfVs/img.png?width=980" id="89748" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d78416b59f629925633f17c2e0ad12d2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The Belgian port city of Antwerp tops the list for highest average cocaine use" />
The Belgian port city of Antwerp tops the list for highest average cocaine use
Ecstasy: from 'niche' to mainstream<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg5OTM2Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMTE3MTE5NX0.n9QX7pOzsAxPAlL3pRBOHTvDcN3npRn7Db9QunIGLOA/img.png?width=980" id="ab7f4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ffa44bf57f34282bdc207312a0ea549" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Ecstasy is now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings." />
Ecstasy is now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings.
Meth: breaking out of its Czech heartland<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg5OTM2OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTUzMTE0Nn0.5FDHAxrd1D2YU7u4739UOuXaO5XxQ_l1X9lToPT3KeE/img.png?width=980" id="9224b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2f2ce59541fc184a569398076b904b0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bPrague is Europe's meth central." />
Prague is Europe's meth central.
Amphetamines: popular in the north<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg5OTM3MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDAzOTE1M30.cggP9f38dw3huiYrYnlzOduarJn5NfTxZ04ruroxwKk/img.png?width=980" id="0af15" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1a34b0c581f08e71b205a7669a785731" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bGermany, Belgium and Sweden occupy all but two spots in the amphetamine top 10." />
Germany, Belgium and Sweden occupy all but two spots in the amphetamine top 10.
Thousands of people are experiencing severe pulmonary issues from vaping, and some are dying.
- Scientists now believe that the primary culprit in this health crisis is vitamin E acetate, though research continues for other toxic factors.
- Vitamin E is a gooey thickener often used in black-market cannabis-based vaping products.
- Vapers who feel like they may have pneumonia should consult a physician immediately.
The patient in Detroit<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4NTYwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjY0MzY1NX0.nMJ3e_PGjaGAZhLZZ6mkrdQzOpIGo5Pw6fgqAlWFNHs/img.jpg?width=980" id="76c62" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b3f851c1c51829cdf57cc83c4c221610" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
mage source: James R. Martin/Shutterstock<p>Not much information regarding the individual described by Nemeh has been released, since he's a minor. What we do know is that his family has described him as an otherwise-healthy young athlete.</p><p>The teen was admitted to the first of three hospitals, St. John Hospital, September 5 with what seemed to be pneumonia. His breathing, however, became increasingly difficult until he was put on a ventilator September 12. He was soon transferred to Children's Hospital of Michigan to be connected to an <a href="https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/what-is-ecmo.pdf" target="_blank">extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device</a> (ECMO) in order to maintain heart and lung functioning. Still failing, he was transferred to Henry Ford for a six-hour, double-lung transplant on October 15, without which, doctors say, he would certainly have died.</p><p>"There was an enormous amount of inflammation and scarring in addition to multiple spots of dead tissue. And the lung itself was so firm and scarred, literally we had to deliver it out of the chest," recalls Nemeh.</p>
THC and vitamin E acetate<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MjAyOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU4ODQwMX0.2dXHcl0I1I50k5ZV-onGs-cEP2DHSZ0shSRJMd0Mzl8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=171%2C347%2C333%2C1&height=700" id="4a085" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="59ef23123cb005117607f305cb6a4d9f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Vitamin E acetete
Image source: ibreakstock/Shutterstock<p>When the medical community first became aware of the pulmonary problems, it was unclear what aspect of vaping was causing them. Likewise, it was unclear whether it was tobacco or THC vaping that was causing the problems, or both.</p><p>Scientists from the CDC tested for the presence of potential culprits in victims' lung fluid, looking for plant oils, petroleum distillates including mineral oils, or any other suspicious contaminants common to the individuals' cases.</p><p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6845e2.htm?s_cid=mm6845e2_w" target="_blank">What they found</a> — though there could still be additional substances involved — was vitamin E acetate, or tocopheryl acetate. Collecting 29 lung-fluid samples from 29 people who had been sickened or who had died of lung issues, <em>all</em> 29 contained vitamin E acetate. The CDC's Dr. Jim Pirkle says that's "pretty much unheard of," and constitutes a "very strong signal" that vitamin E acetate is at the very least part of the reason for vapers' pulmonary damage.</p><p>CDC officials have concluded that most of the patients had vaped cannabis-based products. This is supported by state testing — New York's reports finding "very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all" of the samples from cannabis vapers they tested. While the federal FDA remains cautious about putting all the blame on vitamin E acetate, they, too, have found it to be prevalent in afflicted vapers' lungs. Medical authorities are continuing to test for other possible factors in the frequency of pulmonary illnesses among vapers.</p><p>Legitimately manufactured and sold cannabis-based vaping products don't necessarily contain vitamin E acetate. However, the sticky, honey-like substance is commonly used as a thickener in black-market THC products. Unlike THC itself, vitamin E acetate lingers in users' lungs. These unregulated, illicit cannabis-based vaping products, say experts, have indeed been linked to most of the cases medical professionals are seeing.</p><p>"This is a preventable tragedy," says Nemeh. While vaping is presumed by many to be safer than smoking, this current public health crisis makes clear that caution is advised, especially when buying vaping products off the street.</p>
An unexpectedly revealing find in Mongolia solves a longstanding riddle.
- Normal geological evidence isn't precise enough to confirm paleontologists' suspicions.
- The new fossils find is covered by a fine veneer of red sand deposited in a single season.
- Scientists can infer whose eggs they were.
Why paleontologist have been wondering<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyNjE3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwODU4MjQ5MH0.GR99pbuGxZjyCyKz_N0vV5wCLeizX2wsimf7RjXgIXs/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=669%2C568%2C76%2C2&height=700" id="d7d90" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61226ef9e0f1e21b40796029af05b9ec" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><a href="https://www.tripcuba.org/guama-crocodile-colony-matanzas" target="_blank">Crocodiles</a> lay eggs together in nests that they guard and protect as a colony. There are also a variety of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_colony" target="_blank">modern birds</a> that do this: seabirds such as auks and albatrosses, wetland birds like herons, and even some blackbirds and swallows. As descendants of dinosaurs, experts have wondered how far back this goes. Since the first dinosaur eggs were unearthed <a href="https://nature.ca/notebooks/english/dinoeggs.htm" target="_blank">in France in 1859</a>, paleontologists have been finding them in hundreds of locations around the world, and in 1978, the first evidence of a nesting colony was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/297675a0" target="_blank">discovered</a> in western Montana. Such clutches contain anywhere from 3 to 30 eggs.</p><p>Dating of such fossils is typically imprecise, however. A layer of rock covering a find may take millions of years to lay down, and can only suggest approximate ages of individual fossils. Though radiocarbon dating using Carbon-12 isotopes has a margin of error of <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/carbon-dating-crucial-scientific-technique-jeopardy-thanks-our-pollution-heres-easy-way-fix-it-180961345/" target="_blank">just decades</a>, that's still not quite close enough to establish that the eggs were actually contemporaneous.</p>
The thin red line<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyNjE3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjYxNTQ2N30.h9XLEQjxnt0JKAhxy9Kr7dwiVAIFqBSe-1At5VraVms/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=35%2C341%2C148%2C144&height=700" id="5d534" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="150dfd434f4774ed6e3fef41250743ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Gobi desert is the site of countless dinosaur fossils
Image source: Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock<p>It took some extraordinary good luck to finally solve the riddle. In 2015, a group of paleontologist including some from Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum and the University of Calgary came across a large deposit of dinosaur eggs in China's southeast Gobi Desert, in the Javkhlant formation. There were 15 nests and over 50 eggs about 80 million years old in a 286 square-meter formation.</p><p>What made the find so unusual, and ultimately dispositive, was the thin veneer of red rock, likely deposited in a single breeding season, that covered all of the eggs. It's believed to be sand deposited by flooding from a nearby river. "Because everything is relatively undisturbed, it likely wasn't a massive flood," <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02174-7#ref-CR2" target="_blank">says</a> François Therrien. Adds Darla Zelenitsky, another co-author, "Geologically, I don't think we could've asked for a better site." Equally compelling, some <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/dinosaur-mongolia-royal-tyrrell-museum-university-calgary-1.5215360" target="_blank">60 percent of the eggs</a> had already hatched and had the red sand inside them.</p><p>This "was a demonstration that all of these clutches were actually a true dinosaur colony and that all those dinosaurs built their nests in the same area at the same time," asserts Therrien.</p>
Whose eggs were they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyNjIwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5MjMxMH0.8l9FAyesM2cAIm8Z0PFNdmopYbsfSHoPvIyMuSfGYJc/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=16%2C195%2C214%2C85&height=700" id="8aa42" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f3a0c76e8b1e76e1c88e9807ef40988a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A mock-up, not real hatchlings.
Image source: Jaroslav Moravcik/Shutterstock<p>The find also offered up some insights into who these eggs belonged to. The texture and thickness of the eggs suggests their parents were non-avian theropods, a group that includes velociraptors. Not that these particular theropods were necessarily so fleet of foot.</p><p>"These animals were relatively big," Therrien tells <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/dinosaur-mongolia-royal-tyrrell-museum-university-calgary-1.5215360" target="_blank">CBC News</a>, "They were around seven to nine meters in length, so way too big to fly. And they would have been covered with feathers, but very primitive types of feathers… hairy and light. They would not have had wings and would have been unable to fly." Such dinosaurs had, he adds, "a long neck, small head, but they have very, very large hands and very, very long claws on their four limbs," likely for defense.</p><p>The scientists were also able to infer something about the dinosaurs' parental behavior by comparing the rate of successful hatches to modern animals such as crocodiles and birds that guard their eggs. The survival rate strongly suggests that the colony protected their progeny throughout the incubation and hatching process, rather than abandoning them. Says Therrien, "If we compare that to modern animals, we see a very high hatching success like that around 60 percent among species where one or several parents guard in their colony. Basically, if the adults leave — abandoned the nest — we have a much lower hatching success because the eggs either get trampled or get predated upon."</p><p>"Sometimes you can extract a fascinating and detailed story about the ecology and behavior of these animals simply by looking at the rocks themselves," he notes.</p>
"Brasilia, the biggest paper town ever."
- Why does Brasilia, built in the 1950s, pop up on a 1920s map of South America?
- We put the question out there, and the answers — some more credible than others — came flooding back.
- Thank you, internet hive mind: you've solved a cartographic mystery!
Cartographic mystery<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDkxNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODY1NDY2Nn0.9vzclh1WKNs0CSoV_-eqsf0Gii1MEwuUlz6wvv796YE/img.png?width=980" id="e5291" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b698859ecdf6c1e2ad1a5c60569ca3b3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="1920s map of South America, showing Brasilia, which was built only in the 1950s." />
1920s map of South America, showing Brasilia, which was built only in the 1950s.
Image source: Rob Cornelissen<p>Last week, we <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/brasilia-mystery-map" target="_blank">reported</a> on a cartographic mystery that had us baffled: a map of South America, dateable to the 1920s, showing Brasilia — even though work on Brazil's planned capital only started in 1956. Short of plausible answers, we asked you. And fortunately, you're cleverer than us. </p>The answers fall into two categories:<ul><li>The map dates from the 1950s (or thereafter), which explains why Brasilia is on the map. But there are good reasons why the map <em>appears</em> much older.</li><li>The map <em>does</em> date from the 1920s (or thereabouts), but there are good reasons for Brasilia to already be on the map. </li></ul>
Outdated borders<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDkxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTM0MTM2Mn0.C_NWMurVvZ-qSmh8JeZqzjyh806ELHhdR3UWidy-jfE/img.jpg?width=980" id="beb11" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7d609238fa4ef8303dfd86d5642bad57" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Neuer Sammel-Atlas, published by the Berliner Morgenpost in 1957, showing Germany's pre-1938 borders." />
Neuer Sammel-Atlas, published by the Berliner Morgenpost in 1957, showing Germany's pre-1938 borders.
Image source: Norbert Adam<p>Let's explore option one first. For starters, the inclusion of Weimar Germany (as a size comparison) in itself is not enough to conclusively link the map to the 1920s. West Germany didn't formally accept the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/166-neisse-border-if-you-can-get-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oder-Neisse border</a> (i.e. the eastern border of East Germany with Poland) until 1990, so many West German maps continued to show the 1919–37 border well into the 1980s.</p><p>So, if we imagine that the map is post 1956, that would explain why Brasilia is on it. But why the outdated borders throughout South America? </p><p>Theory one: the map is meant as a contemporary map, hence the inclusion of Brasilia, but it uses a much older base map, hence the older borders. Reasons? The publisher was lazy or dishonest; newer material was not available or too expensive. Here is a well-crafted story that merits inclusion in its entirety:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The map was produced after 1960, as a partial update or re-release of an atlas from the 1920s. Perhaps the 'nostalgia' of an older map was a feature, for instance for a coffee-table book. When the intern tasked with preparing the map did a quick skim for major changes or errors, they simply checked for the presence of all the capital cities. Seeing that Brazil's capital was missing, they added it to the map, and sent it off for printing."<br></p>
Suspicious curves<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDkyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMDk0MDkwOX0.j_Vk-0BsCiGru9U3EdiMba87c0xp17MaiZIPQ3jgLq8/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e261" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9590a3b19c2f7bf847a1ef62c22328aa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Excerpt of South America map showing Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro" />
Is there something 'off' about the curvature and typeface of 'Brasilia'?
Image source: Rob Cornelissen<p>I can smell the ink and hear the roar of the presses, can't you? Some convincing-sounding clues for this theory:</p><ul><li>Rio is written in the heavy sans-serif typeface as the other capital cities, suggesting it is indeed still the capital of Brazil.</li><li>The curvature of "Brasilia" is suspicious: it looks like it was added later.</li><li>Compared to other names on the map, the typeface of both "Brasilia" and "Bundesdistr" is a bit off. </li></ul><p>Theory two: the map was an experiment, for scholarly or artistic reasons, to recreate a map of South America as it was in the 1920s — but the mapmakers forgot to erase Brasilia. Thus unwittingly leaving a temporal anomaly on the map for us to wonder over. </p>
Beach Capital<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDkyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDA2Nzk4MX0.mU21ZTNlcG30pu7yQIPcVL2xyKrIm_fIE3ncL-zdKlI/img.jpg?width=980" id="69d68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f1a1f83121e9d0d95f18630cfe848a29" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A view of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, when Rio de Janeiro was still Brazil's capital." />
A view of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, when Rio de Janeiro was still Brazil's capital.
Image source: Werner Haberkorn / public domain<p>However, the majority of opinion — and the weight of historical evidence — points to the second option: the map does date from the 1920s, and there are good reasons for Brasilia to be where it is. Even though at that time Rio was still the nation's capital, and the area now occupied by Brasilia nothing but wilderness. </p><p>Many countries throughout history have planned and constructed new capitals for themselves — from ancient Egypt (Akhetaten, 1346 BCE) to, most recently, the Pacific island nation of Palau (Ngerulmud, 2006). Brazil might be unique in the time it took the nation to build the darn thing. More than a century elapsed between the first mention of Brasilia and its inauguration as the country's new capital. Here's a thumbnail overview:</p><ul><li>In 1763, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of Brazil, then still a Portuguese colony. But already then, tentative suggestions were made to move the capital inland, as a safeguard against seaborne invasion (the British and Dutch being the most likely candidates). </li></ul>
Bosco's vision<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyNDY5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDgxNTk0Nn0.G7aQzCsx43EZuYScAu9xX6cOQeb4N-ttQq-kx-ykaU8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=103%2C118%2C37%2C110&height=700" id="11858" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="504aa75482f9f2e7c9207ead2d9ed410" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Don Bosco had a vision of a city where Brasilia is now. Here, the Don Bosco Sanctuary in Brasilia.
Image source: Claudio Ruiz; CC BY-SA 2.0<ul> <li>In 1813, Hipólito José da Costa — the '"Father of the Brazilian Press" — wrote a number of articles suggesting the capital be moved inland, "next to the river rapids that flow north, south and northeast."</li></ul><ul> <li>In the 1823, José Bonifácio, one of the "patriarchs" of Brazilian independence, first proposed "Brasilia" as the name for the planned inland city. His other suggestion was "Petropolis," after Emperor Pedro I of the newly-independent country. Bonifácio's proposal to the General Assembly came to nothing when the emperor dissolved parliament.</li></ul><ul><li>In 1883, according to legend, Don Bosco — the founder of the Salesian order and later sanctified — <a href="https://hom-ing.me/sonho-visao-de-dom-bosco/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">had a dream</a> in which he foresaw a futuristic city at a location corresponding to that of Brasilia. The legend was eagerly adopted by promotors of the inland capital project. There are references to Bosco throughout Brasilia, and a city parish bears his name. </li></ul>
Quadrilatero Cruls<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDk0MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzEyOTU0NX0.Cj_O2ARAnjtvANlXzgZhBpO6kTmevEjJyYoqeqtoBIA/img.png?width=980" id="3e1ed" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b2b5a468c7a27f691bf2831dfdbb23d5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Carta da via\u00e7\u00e3o ferrea do Brazil em 1913" />
The Future Federal District, as shown on a 1913 railway map of Brazil.
Image source: Library of Congress<ul> <li>In 1891, Article 3 of Brazil's first republican constitution stated that "an area of 14,400 square km in the Central Plateau of the Republic is reserved for the Union, and will be demarcated at another opportunity, in order to establish a Future Federal Capital."</li></ul><ul><li>In 1892–3, an expedition led by the Belgian-born astronomer Louis Cruls demarcated an area as prescribed by the constitution, in a perfect rectangle. The "<a href="https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Figura-8-Sobreposicao-do-Retangulo-Belcher-do-Quadrilatero-Cruls-e-dos-municipios_fig4_38976961" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quadrilátero Cruls</a>" became synonymous with the "Future Federal District" and appeared on maps under either name.</li></ul>
Foundation stone<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyMDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjU4MTcyMn0.KrwOcnOvwf10_wQZQb2MltHzDhORCcSs7cqHLlhoDzg/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ad51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="26d7c14eadc69270d65dd151f9c1bd3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Pedra Fundamental de Bras\u00edlia, capital do Brasil, no morro do centen\u00e1rio em Planaltina - DF." />
The foundation stone for Brazil's future capital was inaugurated in 1922.
Image: Nevinho, CC BY-SA 3.0<ul> <li>On 18 January 1922, President Epitácio Pessoa of Brazil issued Decree 4494, setting aside an area in the east of the state of Goiás for the future federal capital of Brazil.</li></ul><ul> <li>At noon on 7 September 1922 — exactly 100 years after Brazil's independence — a foundation stone ("Pedra Fundamental") for the new capital was inaugurated at what is now known as Morro do Centenario, ("Centennial Hill") on the Serra da Independência, nine km from the town of <a href="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g3167136-Planaltina_Federal_District-Vacations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Planaltina</a>. </li></ul><ul><li>The memorial obelisk is engraved as "the Foundation Stone of the Future Capital of the United States of Brazil," but doesn't mention any name for the city. After decades of planning, it was the first actual construction on the site. However, the project stalled for another 34 years. </li></ul>
Made in Brazil<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTEyNDc0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjY5ODg0NH0.4TJ7dDp20KOFE1QGNaKoQ2yDRQNmHEJo2CcyxymOdj4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C259%2C0%2C51&height=700" id="bda03" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b10b0454b04a087349771bf86736737a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Brasilia today: a metropolis of four million.
Image: Agência Brasil, CC BY-SA 3.0<ul> <li>In January 1956, straight after his election as president, Juscelino Kubitschek, started with the construction of the capital. He was not only finally fulfilling Article 3 from the 1891 constitution, but also one of his campaign promises. Brasilia would be built about 30 km from the Pedra Fundamental. The remarkable speed in which it was finished is due in no small part to all the planning that had gone before.</li></ul><ul><li>On 21 April 1960, Brasilia was officially proclaimed a city, and the nation's capital. Government officials and foreign ambassadors visiting the city created its first traffic jam. At the time of its inauguration, Brasilia had around 100,000 inhabitants. Today, the agglomeration counts over 4 million inhabitants. </li></ul>It is very likely that the map dates from 1922 or shortly thereafter, when it seemed — for a short while — that the project for Brasilia would finally be taking off. A further indication of this is that the Federal District included on the map is the perfect quadrangle measured by Cruls (and still current at the time), and not the smaller, asymmetric FD as was delineated in the 1950s. <span></span><span></span><br>Including the new capital may have been a way to "future-proof" the map — but it ultimately goes to show that mapmakers should stick to the facts on the ground. As a result of their miscalculation, Brasilia on the 1920s map turned out to be, as one reader suggested, "the biggest <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/643-agloe-the-paper-town-stronger-than-fiction" target="_blank">paper town</a> ever."