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Status: True
Most people think rock music got its start as an identifiable genre in the 1950s with artists such as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley. Not so. As Paul Collins points out in the current issue of The Believer, there was a thriving tradition of rock music during the nineteenth century. In fact, rock music was invented in 1785 by a retired sailor named Peter Crosthwaite in the Lake District village of Keswick. Of course, the nineteenth-century version of rock music was a bit more low-key than its twentieth-century successor, since it involved music played with rocks, as opposed to guitars and drums.

When I first saw Collins's article, I thought he had to be joking. But no, a little research confirmed that Victorian rock music was quite real. I found an article in the Galphin Society Journal (Aug, 1989) about the "Till Family Rock Band," a group that toured quite widely during the 1880s, written by a modern-day member of the family, A.M. Till. He writes:
Their rock harmonicon was constructed from stones from near their home. The first lithophone of this kind, made from stones found in the Lake District was built in 1785, and from that time until the late nineteenth century several so-called 'rock bands' became well known. The late Professor James Blades has written about them in his textbook on percussion, and also, under 'Lithophone', in The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (London, 1984). He also recorded briefly the 5-octave Richardson rock harmonica (constructed in 1840). These instruments have a wonderful, lively tone.
Below is a picture of the Till Family Rock Band, posing with their rocks. They look like rockers to me.
Categories: Entertainment, History
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 05, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Apparently True
Tom Robinson, a mild-mannered professor of Accounting living in Florida, has been identified as a descendant of the fierce Mongol warlord, Genghis Khan. When informed of his ancestor, Robinson expressed admiration for the Mongol leader, but has not yet indicated any plans to begin a campaign of raping and pillaging.

Although it sounds odd, the science behind the claim seems valid enough. It stems from a 2003 genetic study that identified Genghis Khan as the common ancestor of 8 percent of Asian men. A British company, Oxford Ancestors, searched its client database to find more matches with Genghis Khan and identified Tom Robinson as one of his descendants. He is the first man of European or American background to be so identified. Here's how the match was made:
The link is revealed by the Y chromosome, a packet of DNA that determines male sex, which is passed down from father to son. Men who share a Y chromosome are invariably descended from the same man at some point in the past, and the accumulation of mutations can be used to date the common ancestor. Women do not have a Y chromosome, so they cannot be tested in the same way, although millions are likely also to be descended from the warlord.
The Mongolian embassy is going to be holding a reception in Robinson's honor next month. Like I said, the science seems sound enough, but the entire article about this guy reads like an extended advertisement for Oxford Ancestors, which is now inviting the general public (men only) to submit DNA samples to find out if they too are descended from Genghis Khan. It'll cost you only £195.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed May 31, 2006
Comments (16)
I'm getting a little carried away with the newfound ability to upload videos to YouTube, but bear with me. I've only got a few of them to share. Here's a video I took last year (July 2005) at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York, current home of the Cardiff Giant. The guy in historical dress was an actor/storyteller giving a dramatic account of the Cardiff Giant hoax to the school children you can see gathered around. At one point during the video I pan left and you can see a brief glimpse, from the side, of my wife, Beverley (she's the one holding a handbag). If you recall, I used a photograph of the Cardiff Giant for a caption contest I held a few months ago.

Categories: Exploration/Travel, History, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed May 24, 2006
Comments (0)
Status: Believed to be a hoax
Here's an interesting news report from Ireland:
It has emerged that a joke bronze plaque found on Dublin's O'Connell Bridge has been there for three years. The plaque claims to mark the spot where a Father Pat Noise drowned when his carriage plunged into the Liffey, in suspicious circumstances, in 1919. But Dublin City Council says the priest is a fictitious figure, and wants the mystery sculptor to come forward. The plaque is arousing great public interest, and flowers and candles have been left on the bridge in memory of "Father Noise".

The Irish Sunday Tribune (no link) has a few more details:
The plaque, which even contains a picture alleging to be that of the mysterious religious figure, claims to mark the spot on which Fr Noise died "under suspicious circumstances when his carriage plunged into the Liffey on August 10th, 1919." The plaque states that Fr Noise was an "adviser to Peader Clancey."
After being informed by the Sunday Tribune of the plaque's existence, council officials inspected it on Friday afternoon and hope to identify when and how it was placed into a hole on top of the wall on the bridge. The plaque is located on the Ha'penny Bridge side of O'Connell Bridge, near to the traffic lights on Bachelor's Walk.
The plaque claims to have been erected by an organisation called "the HSTI", although the heritage department of the city council said it had never heard of a group by this name.
"Council officials had a look at the plaque (on Friday) but they said they had never seen it before," said a spokeswoman. "It is certainly very unusual for this to happen."
The council said that it was possible the plaque was erected legitimately a number of years ago, although this would seem most unlikely given that nobody seems to have noticed it until last week.
The rough manner in which the plaque is inserted into the wall would also suggest that it was placed only recently. Although it appears expertly made, it is too small for the hole, which has several rough edges.
Council officials will now attempt to pinpoint the age of the plaque and the historical significance of 'Fr Pat Noise' before making a decision on whether or not to remove the memorial.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any pictures of this plaque.

[Update:] Here's a picture of the plaque, though it doesn't let you see it very well.
Categories: History, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue May 09, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Looks like a hoax
image The discovery of massive pyramids in Bosnia was widely reported in the news last month (at which point Beasjt posted about it in the Hoax Forum). The discovery was made by a Bosnian-American businessman named Semir Osmanagic, who has been actively pursuing Chariots-of-the-Gods-style archaeology for the past fifteen years, mostly in Mexico and Central America. (He believes the Mayans were descended from Atlanteans who came from the Pleiades... you can read about it in his book, The World of the Maya, which is online.)

Osmanagic claims the supposed Bosnian pyramids were built by a Bosnian super civilization that existed 12,000 years ago. But since Osmanagic's announcement of the "discovery," mainstream archaeologists have been busy refuting his claims. Anthony Harding of the European Association of Archaeologists suggests that Osmanagic may have found "voids or something similar in the rock," but not pyramids. He also points out that 12,000 years ago "Europe was in the late Upper Paleolithic... and no one was building anything except flimsy huts."

Other archaeologists are equally skeptical. Archaeology magazine reports that: "Curtis Runnels, a specialist in the prehistory of Greece and the Balkans at Boston University, notes that 'Between 27,000 and 12,000 years ago, the Balkans were locked in the last Glacial maximum, a period of very cold and dry climate with glaciers in some of the mountain ranges. The only occupants were Upper Paleolithic hunters and gatherers who left behind open-air camp sites and traces of occupation in caves. These remains consist of simple stone tools, hearths, and remains of animals and plants that were consumed for food. These people did not have the tools or skills to engage in the construction of monumental architecture.'"

Sounds to me like Osmanagic is hoping to exploit Bosnian cultural nationalism by cooking up some farfetched story about an ancient Bosnian super civilization. It's basically the same thing Macpherson did when he wrote his Fragments of Ancient Scottish Poetry and attributed them to a 3rd century bard named Ossian (thereby suggesting that Scotland was producing great literature before England), or that the Piltdown hoaxer did when he engineered the discovery of the missing link between man and ape in England (thereby suggesting that England was the birthplace of modern man). (Thanks to everyone who emailed me about the Bosnian Pyramids.)
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Sat May 06, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Undetermined
image A resident of the town of Colfax (northern California) claims to have found hundreds of ancient Buddha figurines buried in the American River:

Herman Henry says he found about 400 of the Buddha carvings in a washed out sandbar along the River more than a month ago. The thumb-sized, white carvings may be hundreds of years old. And now federal and state investigators are looking into the discovery and are looking for Mr. Henry.

He found them in a state park. It's illegal to remove historical artifacts from a state park, so that's why the police want to talk to him. Of course, there's also the question of how these artifacts can possibly be genuine. There were people from China in northern California hundreds of years ago, but these artifacts seem suspiciously well preserved. State Park Ranger Donna Turner notes, "It's hard for me to believe that there were just 500 of them laying in the middle of the river in the condition that they are in." My hunch is that Henry came up with a wild story to increase the value of some worthless figurines he was trying to get rid of.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 27, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Hoax
image The Raw Feed has linked to a video (in French) in which Belgian archaeologists discuss how they were able to "use computer scans of the grooves in 6,500-year-old pottery to extract sounds -- including talking and laughter -- made by the vibrations of the tools used to make the pottery." The video is fairly good quality and would lead you to believe that it might be real, if it weren't for the premise being pretty farfetched (and not reported anywhere else in the news). Make Magazine reports that the video was created last year as an April Fool's Day hoax, and point out that "This site - 'Poisson d'avril de journal televise', translates to: 'April fools newscast'." (However, I can't find any mention of Poisson d'avril in the site they link to.) Other Make readers point out that the premise (audio extracted from ancient pottery) was ripped off (pun intentional) from a story by Gregory Benford, Time Shards. (Thanks to Schmawy for the link)
Categories: History, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 20, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Possible prank
image Forty years after stealing a "Sami Fleshscraper" from a Norwegian museum, the contrite thief has mailed the item back. Problem is, the museum has no idea what the object is. From the article on Yahoo News:

"For 40 years I have enjoyed this rare tool in my home. In my old age ... I have now decided to return it to the descendants of those who imagined it, built it and used it," the anonymous thief wrote in a typed letter sent to the embassy just before Christmas. The letter was posted from Biarritz in southwestern France and signed by "an ex-thief who was less a thief and more a man passionate about authenticity and real life"... The repentant thief called it a "scratcher", a word he then crossed out and replaced with "Sami fleshscraper" followed by a question mark. Sami refers to the indigenous people of northern Europe, also known as Lapplanders.

This sounds to me like a prank: mail an inexplicable object to a museum, leaving them wondering what in the world it is. Maybe they'll even decide it really is a fleshscraper and place it in the museum.
Categories: History, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Confession of a prank
Back in 1970 a picture was taken showing four young women waving placards with messages such as "Ban the Man" and "Down with Men and Marriage." The picture became a symbol of feminism. But thirty-five years later, the women have confessed that their anti-man protest was just a prank. Margot Ducat explains:

"One day my colleagues - Jo Vincent, Sue James and Shirley Francis - found a wedding dress stuffed in one of the cupboards. Quite why someone left it there we never did find out. Anyway, Shirley tried it on and it was a perfect fit, so we just decided to do something to liven up Surbiton [a London suburb]. It was a rather dull and staid town, so I suggested we telephone the local paper, the Kingston and Malden Borough News, and tell them we were protesting against men. Shirley wore the wedding dress, we made our banners and set off down Victoria Road. Passers-by just gawped in amazement. When it came to being interviewed, we told the press we were militant women's libbers who were fed up with how men seemed to get the best deal out of life. We just made the whole thing up. It was a prank to enliven a very dull day."

Although the article in the Telegraph says that this photograph is very famous and has been reprinted many times, I don't actually have any idea what photograph they're talking about. (And the online version of the article doesn't show the picture.) Anyone know what the image in question is? It's got to be online somewhere.
Categories: History, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 04, 2006
Comments (28)
Status: Scam
According to legend, Plymouth Rock was the first thing the pilgrims set foot upon when they landed in Massachusetts. I think that the rock itself is now on display in Plymouth. But United Press International reports that pieces of the Rock are popping up on eBay where they're fetching as much as $900. The catch is that there's absolutely no way to verify that these really are pieces of the original Plymouth Rock. A lot of people did carve off chunks of Plymouth Rock during the 18th and 19th centuries, but there's no way to differentiate a real piece of Plymouth Rock from a fake piece.
Categories: Con Artists, eBay, History
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 28, 2005
Comments (13)
Status: Never Existed
image Remember the Black Basketball League? Its teams (including favorites such as the Newark Eagles, Harlem Knights, Baltimore Crabs, West Philly Dancers and Cleveland Ebonies) competed from 1920-40, when they were shut out of the all-white league. Consumers can now honor the memory of this league by buying sportswear emblazoned with the team logos. Of course, if you don't remember this league, it might be because historians insist that it never existed. But Eric Williams, the guy who's selling the black league sportswear, isn't letting that minor fact bother him. He explains that:

"These logos had to come from somewhere.. Whether there was a league or not those logos ... that's still nice to represent the 'hood or whatever it was. Those were all the inner cities. (Whether it was) an interim league or a professional league, those leagues and those logos, to me they sound like they exist. The story sounds good to me so I'm rolling with it."

So there you have it. Damn the facts. He's rolling with the story. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for the link.)
Categories: History, Sports
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 16, 2005
Comments (32)
Status: Hoax-facilitating software
Genealogists are in an uproar about new software that allows people to create fake (but real looking) online family trees. The program is called Fake Family. (Because of the controversy, the website of the software maker is now given over to an Open Letter to Genealogists.)

Genealogists argue that the fake information created by this program could easily find its way into real family history databases. They also charge that the only purpose of the software is to create webpages that will lure people with false information, and then profit from advertising links.

The maker of the software, Don Harrold, defends his creation by insisting it's very unlikely that a serious researcher would be taken in by the information Fake Family produces. For instance, the software will often list people as being born in cities before those cities existed. He also makes a curious point:

The people most upset about Fake Family seem to be folks who have a RELIGIOUS reason for being upset. (However, if I was going to be baptizing people who had passed on, I would do more research than just "grabbing names" from a website.)

Does this mean there are people who do genealogical research in order to retroactively baptize their ancestors? Can a dead person be baptized? I had never heard of such a thing.

Anyway, Harrold's basic argument is valid enough. The internet is so full of misinformation that anyone who uncritically uses historical information they find online is asking to be misled. But having said that, it sounds like the purpose of his program is to create spam (spam that clutters search engine results rather than email inboxes). And spam in any form should be condemned.
Categories: History, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 13, 2005
Comments (56)
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