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The Head of a Roman

For the past few weeks, many news outlets have reported that the skull of Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, ca. 23-79 CE), the Roman naturalist and statesman who died at Pompeii, has been identified.  The latest story, in the New York Times, expresses some skepticism but admits the skull could have been Pliny’s. To …

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Instructions for a voyage, 1609

A few weeks ago I looked at some manuscripts of the French intellectual and antiquarian Nicolas-Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France.  I describe Peiresc as an “intellectual”; he was one of those universal scholars we find in early modern Europe who were interested in everything.  Peiresc’s fame, such as it …

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The Possibility of Giants

Various large bones, discovered across Europe from around 1500 onward, raised the possibility among Renaissance naturalists and intellectuals that very large humans – some five or even ten meters tall – once existed in the past.  The idea of giant ancestors already was prominent among scholars: the hugely popular works of Annius of Viterbo, particularly …

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The Nun with Blue Teeth

I’m always looking for skeleton stories.  But it’s not often that I come across an article in the scientific literature that includes references to the ancient Greek physician and herbalist Dioscorides (ca. 40-90 CE) or the medieval abbess and scholar St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).  So this open-access article in Science Advances, “Medieval women’s early …

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