Interesting Facts about Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

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Picture NickelThe United Nations World Heritage List includes Monticello in its rankings along with such international sites like the Great Wall of China and the Tower of London.  In fact, it is the only American residence making the prestigious list.  The following article offers a wide array of facts, trivia and information about Thomas Jefferson and his beloved home Monticello.

The Monticello estate includes Jefferson’s house and the five thousand acre plantation that was also home to as many as 135 slaves.

Jefferson began the construction in 1768 by leveling the spot for the foundation of his home.
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The I Ching – A History

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I ChingThe I Ching, also called the Book of Changes, originated during an important time in Chinese history – the overthrow of the Shang dynasty by the Chou dynasty, which also collapsed. It was a time of much social unrest and confusion. The wise men and women of the time made up stories that they fashioned into an oracle to help the people deal with all the changes.

The original stories were not all written down; many were oral. But as the chaos settled down the stories were collected and organized into a book, called at first the I Chou and later the I Ching. This book has been used continuously in China since that time.

The I Ching made its way to the West in the early part of the 20th century through the efforts of a Protestant missionary named Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm, who had spent many years in China, had seen other translations of the book. However, they didn’t seem to reflect the way the Chinese were using the original version, so he decided to do his own translation.
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A Siberian Mystery

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On June 30th 1908, there was an explosion in central Siberia.  That fact alone may not seem particularly remarkable, but when other aspects of the explosion are taken into consideration, you may wonder how an event so big on a global scale could remain a total mystery, even to this day.

Even the bombing of Hiroshima was small by comparison.  In fact, whatever caused the Siberian explosion was 1500 times more powerful.  Small wonder then that the shockwave it created went twice around the Earth before finally subsiding.

For about two months after the blast, the Northern hemisphere experienced incredible changes to the night time skies.  For instance, it was then quite possible to take clear photographs at night – without the aid of a flash; people could read before going to bed, without needing to switch on a light to do so; and the skies at midnight were composed of colours so amazing that they put the aurora borealis to shame.
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Intriguing Mysteries of History

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* On February 17, 1920, a young woman was pulled out of a canal in Berlin. She spent several months in a mental hospital and over a year after her suicide attempt, she identified herself as Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas of Russia.

The mysterious young woman gave information about the royal family and Anastasia’s life that could only have been known by someone who was closely associated with the family. Besides that, she had scars from a bullet and bayonet wound and a foot deformity that had been described by Anastasia’s doctor a short time before the royal family were murdered.

The young woman took the name Anna Anderson to escape media attention. She approached the surviving relatives of the royal family who rejected her claim that she was Anastasia. She could not or would not speak Russian, yet she understood it fully when it was spoken to her.
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First Successful “Temporary Insanity” Plea in the United States

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InsanityUS Representative Daniel E. Sickles is the first defendant known to have won an acquittal of a first degree murder charge with a plea of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.  In 1859 he shot and killed Philip Barton Key, the son of composer Francis Scott Key, in broad daylight in front of many witnesses. Key was unarmed. It was widely known at the time that Key was carrying on an affair with Sickles’ wife. Screaming that Key must die for having “dishonored” his house, Sickles fired two bullets into him. The jury sympathized with Sickles. Key had been his close friend. When it appeared that Key was on the verge of losing his job as US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Sickles used his influence to save Key’s job.  Although there was no doubt that Sickles killed Key, it was felt by many that Key brought about his own demise. The culture of the time saw Sickle as a man wronged who stood up for his honor. The trial lasted twenty days.  The verdict was returned after an hour of deliberation “ œnot guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

Mayan Chocolateers and Other Chocolate Facts

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ChocolateChocolate could well be called the food of gods and kings.  Early Mayan writings record pictures of gods with cacao pods and bowls of cacao beans.  Elite members of upper Mayan society had ornately carved vessels depicting these same cacao pods. Chocolate drinks were important to Mayan ceremony as well and used to seal contracts and marriages.  The Aztecs borrowed Mayan chocolate tradition and also celebrated the primitive confectionary.

Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to come in contact with this precious stuff that was typically drunk.  The first imports to Europe were regarded as healthy drinks and the chocolate was believed to be infused with medicinal properties.  Cacao beans became so valuable to the Spanish that they were even at times used as currency.  Chocolate drinks then went on to become the beverage of wealthy continental European aristocrats who woke up to their customary cups of chocolate.

Chocolate fared a bit differently in England where it entered the country at roughly the same time as sugar, coffee and tea.  Here, at least, anyone could afford the new commodity from the New World.  Of course, of all countries, Switzerland is often most closely linked to chocolate.  By the 1800s, Switzerland’s people consumed more chocolate than anywhere else.  Today, it’s even estimated that the Swiss eat about annually about twelve pounds per person.  Switzerland, if you may remember, is also the birthplace of Nestle. 
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Fascinating Facts about the Japanese Geisha

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GeishaThe world of the Japanese Geisha is mysterious as it is glamorous.  Recent books like Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha are returning this pleasure girl to a popularity she has not enjoyed since World War II.  The following article chronicles the history of this illustrious group of women.

Some have likened them to European courtesans, but the Japanese Geisha was something quite unique unto herself despite some of the obvious similarities.  To call them prostitutes would be insulting-to the Japanese, they were artists skilled at conversation, singing, dancing, music, and, of course, love-making.  Secrecy surrounded the Geisha’s talents.  Many might have supposed that her sexual skills made her so needed by her clientele, but it is now thought that her ability to converse and sooth the ego of her lover was what set her apart from other women.

The arts practiced by the Geisha were expensive and only the upper class Japanese man could afford her.  Geisha girls went through years of training and endured daily elaborate preparations to become the playthings of the wealthy.  But thousands of years before the Geisha entertained men from their pleasure quarters, Kyoto was the center of a culture that equated love with art and beauty. 
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The A-Z of the 80s

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Aerobics: Aerobics was a major part of the fitness craze that swept the western world in the 80s. Stars like Jane Fonda, Olivia Newton-John and Victoria Principal from Dallas led the charge in neon Lycra, sweatbands and legwarmers – Fonda’s workout book and video were bestsellers while Newton-John’s pumping music video for Let’s Get Physical reminded everyone that fitness equated with sexiness and improved your chances of getting laid. Principal’s intentional pun in the title of her exercise video, The Body Principal, put the emphasis for sexiness where it would remain for the following decades – on the body. While exercise is still a priority for many people, the aerobics craze eventually suffered the malady that hit many of its devoted followers – burn out.

Brat Pack: When movies in the 80s zeroed in on youth, a new generation of actors sprang up almost overnight. The hottest young stars were a group of inspired performers known as the Brat Pack (harking back to Sinatra and friends, who were known as the Rat Pack). They included Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. The movies that brought them fame included St Elmo’s Fire, Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. The Brat Pack dominated Hollywood and the gossip columns through the 80s, but many had careers that burned out as fast as their movie characters.
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Women Behaving Badly

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Bad WomanAre women really the fairer sex? Here are some examples of women ‘behaving badly’.

Charlotte de Berry’s career as a pirate began in the 1600’s when she dressed up as a man to follow her husband into the Royal Navy. Charlotte’s ruse was discovered when the ship they were on was attacked and it was discovered that she was really a woman. She was made to take a ship back to England. Along the way, the Captain of the ship bound for home assaulted Charlotte and in revenge, she lead the crew in a mutiny and lopped off the Captain’s head, whereupon she usurped his position and decided instead of going home, it would be more fun to be a pirate and raid ships along the African Coast.

Madame Popova operated a service in Russia in the late 1800’s specializing in helping married women get rid of cruel husbands. She used poison, her own hands, weapons or sometimes assassins to get rid of over 300 victims during her ‘career’ in murder-for-hire. The jig was up when one of the women she helped ratted her out and she was put in front of a firing squad.
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Fascinating Facts About Ancient Nubia

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NubiaNubia is the ancient name of the land directly south of Egypt.  This ancient kingdom straddled the Nile River between the first and sixth cataracts where navigation has traditionally been a tricky affair at any time.  By land, Nubia was surrounded by deserts.  In ancient times Nubia was a literal goldmine for the Egyptians who at times dominated the land and at other periods were rivals of it.  The following article shares many fascinating facts about the ancient land and peoples of Nubia as well as several aspects of archaeological significance.

Today, area of ancient Nubia is sporadically populated.  Lower Nubia lies in Egypt while upper Nubia is owned by Sudan.

At one time, Nubia was comprised of lands that included all of present-day Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
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Fantastic Facts about Inventions throughout History

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InventionsFrom the wheel to the rocket and all the remarkable inventions in between, the following text lists some highlights from the world of inventions.  Although not discussed chronologically, these facts are loosely organized by type.

Cuneiform is the earliest form of writing.  It was invented by the Sumerians between 4000 and 3000 B.C.

The chariot, or horse-drawn cart, was invented in Mesopotamia c.2000 B.C.  They used spoked wheels instead of the older planked ones making for a faster trip.
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Mysteries of Early American History

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American History MysteryJohn Wilkes Booth

There are many theories on the burial spot of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. One says Booth was taken to England for burial after he was surrounded and killed while hiding out in a barn. Another theory is that he is buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore, Maryland.

The third and most mysterious mystery is that Booth was not killed when he was trapped in the barn, but escaped and made his way to Utah. He died there and is allegedly buried in his family’s cemetery in Coalville.
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Where There’s A Will There’s A Way

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WillsKing: Alfred the Great ( 849-901) – “I desire to leave to the men that come after me a remembrance of me in good works.”

Most of us shuffle off this mortal coil, having carefully set down what we leave where, and to whom. Some depart with nary a word put to paper, leaving them intestate, and their relatives in-a-snit. Wills serve a useful purpose in making sure that what we couldn’t take with us, goes to who we want it to.  Some of course, have more to leave than others.

Benjamin Franklin distributed a considerable amount of the most common items: property and cash, much of which went to charitable causes. Along with the bonds of several people, his beloved books and telescope, he left some more interesting bequests. To his son in law, the watch chain of the 13 States. To his daughter, “The king of France’s picture, set with four hundred and eight diamonds, I give to my daughter, Sarah Bache, requesting, however, that she would not form any of those diamonds into ornaments either for herself or daughters, and thereby introduce or countenance the expensive, vain, and useless fashion of wearing jewels in this country; and those immediately connected with the picture may be preserved with the same.” And most movingly, this gift to George Washington: ” My fine crab-tree walking stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty, I give to my friend, and the friend of mankind, General Washington. If it were a Sceptre, he has merited it”
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The Paper Chase – Forgeries for the Masses

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Forgery“Without lies humanity would perish of despair and boredom” – Anatole France

Whether it’s for personal gain and glory, revenge, or just plain silliness, pen pushers have been faking the words and intentions of others, for hundreds of years.  People being what they are (gullible) it’s hard to say how many historical items or stories are actual frauds and forgeries.


-For a brief period in 1795, William Henry Ireland, aged around 18 years, enjoyed fame and probably some fortune, for his “discovery” of an amazing array of Shakespearean documents, including letters, promissory notes, receipts, deeds, and even a lost tragedy. Its hard to say whether he was driven by an attempt to become the new bard, or by his book publisher / antiquarian father, who oft reminded William that he would give away his entire collection for one example of Shakespeare’s writings.
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Never Mind The Turkey Leg, Where’s the Bromo?

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MedievalDid you ever wonder why Henry VIII was forever pictured with a turkey leg in his hand?  Or maybe why he was so grumpy, especially with his wives?  All you need do is look at the menu of a  medieval feast, to find out not only why he was so dyspeptic but why he was so distanced from his courtiers…because he became so broad of girth from food and dropsy, that he couldn’t belly up to the table.

Let’s sit down and open up ye olde medieval menu. Nope, don’t bother looking at the dinner setting. There aren’t any. Well into the 16th century folks ate off trenchers: the precursors of plates, being a slab of wood, metal, or earthenware, but more often plain bread. You just whacked a slice off the loaf on the table, and piled your food on it. Not only did the bread have food value, it soaked up gravy, could be eaten, and was often tossed to a favorite dog or passed out to beggars at the gate. The chief guests or lords had theirs cut for them, and according to their status, a diner might have anywhere from one to four trenchers provided during the meal.
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Joan of Arc

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Joan of Arc“Witch” was she- simple maiden or winsome witch? The young French girl, who began hearing voices at age 13 while living near Lorraine, France was given a daunting task: to save France and put Charles VII on the throne. It had more allure than milking the cows, but despite what she believed to be the words of God, Joan tarried until she was sixteen, before taking up men’s clothing as ordered, and asking Charles to put her in charge of his armies. For once, a man did what he was told, and in 1429, she routed Orleans at the head of the French soldiers.

Joan literally became a living Saint, venerated and credited with miracles. But was she part of a cult?

Yes …sort of. Although not in the way people think of boiling cauldrons, eye of newt and black cats. Joan is credited by such scholars as Sir James Frazer, as being part of the Cult of the Dying God, a pre-Christian dogma that dates back as far as Neolithic times. Put simply, a god was able to incarnate as a regular person, or even an animal, but would have to die, to ensure continued life and fertility. (The perks of the “life” didn’t quite make up for the outcome.) That belief existed well into the Christian era, and in some primitive areas, as far as the 20th century.
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Fascinating Facts About Explorers

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ExplorersOne of the earliest peoples to explore the Mediterranean area for trade purposes were the Phoenicians-expert shipbuilders.

Between 1100 B.C. and 700 B.C. the Phoenicians had explored the entire Mediterranean; they even sailed into the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Egyptian began to build wooden ships after 2700 B.C. for trading with neighboring countries along the Mediterranean coast. 

Egyptians also traded far down the Red Sea along the coast of eastern Africa; Punt was a favorite trading partner where Egyptians could obtain frankincense, myrrh, ebony and ivory.
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The Ideas of Thomas Edison

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BulbThomas Edison is one of the world’s most famous inventors and geniuses.  He is responsible for some of the technical wonders that today we take for granted — a long lasting, practical version of the light bulb immediately springs to mind.  Almost every aspect of this man’s life was exceptional. . . read on to find out more!

While one of the most productive inventors with over 1,300 patents under his belt, Edison only had three months of formal schooling when he was 7 years old.  After that, his mother took over his education and taught him at home. While working as a telegraph operator for a railroad, the partial deafness he began to experience actually aided him in his job, blocking out extraneous noises.  Because some of his earliest inventions were related to telegraph transmission, it isn’t difficult to conclude that his first job brought him inspiration to improve the system.  After his work on the telegraph, his invention of the phonograph astounded the world and made him famous. 
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The Fascinating Story of the Middle Ages

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Middle AgesThe Middle Ages have long held a great fascination for both historians and laypeople alike, and it is certainly easy to understand why.  Many of our most cherished myths and folktales can be traced directly to this unique period of history.  In addition, many of the most loved works of literature have been written during the Middle Ages, or directly inspired by the events of the period.

The Middle Ages is defined as the period of time between classical civilization and the modern times.  In Western Europe the Middle Ages are generally understood to stretch from the 5th century, when the Roman Empire was divided into the western and eastern empires, and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which would forever change the world of religion and the world in general.

The term medieval is often used to refer to this time period, and the medieval period, with its lords and ladies, kings and knights and tales of dragons, continues to hold a certain fascination even in these enlightened modern times.
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The History of the Guillotine

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GuillotinePre Guillotine

Guillotine type beheading machines were used well before the French Revolution, when they were arguably at their most popular, but nobody can say for definite when or where they were first introduced.  It is widely believed that very similar machines were used in Germany, Britain and Italy long before the turn of the 14th century but there is no documented evidence to support this theory.

First proven evidence of a guillotine type machine was on April 1st 1307, with a beheading in Ireland when the beheading machine was thought to have taken the place of the sword.  The Halifax Gibbet was the first regularly used machine in Great Britain and was introduced from 1400.
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History’s Mysteries

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History Mystery* In 1985, a dive tour operator discovered underwater structures that resembled pyramids off of the coast of Yonaguni-jima, Japan. The underwater pyramids have marks on them that indicate they may be manmade. Tools used to hew the structures have been located in the area. American geologists deny that the pyramids were made by an ancient civilization. They believe, though there is contradictory evidence, that the structures are natural formations. If that is true, what were the tools found in the area used for? Who is right, the American geologists or Japanese scientists who believe the pyramids indicate the presence of an ancient Japanese civilization that would re-write history? Will we ever know the answer to the mystery of the pyramids?

* Teamster kingpin, Jimmy Hoffa, went to a Detroit restaurant to meet someone on July 30, 1975. He was never seen again. No body was ever found and no one knows who he went to meet. What happened to Jimmy Hoffa on that July day so long ago? Will the mystery of his disappearance ever be solved?
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Strange Names and Fearsome Diseases of Colonial Times

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DiseaseYellow Fever was known as the “American Plague”.

Syphilis was considered having “Bad Blood”.

“Brain Fever” was what we know today as Meningitis.

“Rose Cold” is simply Hay Fever or nasal congestion from allergies.
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Legacies of Plague

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PlagueThe Black Death in the Middle ages has left behind a few legacies.

Quarantine is derived from the Italian word “quaranti”, meaning “forty”. This came about after Venice decided to fight against the contamination of plague by requiring trading ships to wait a period of forty days before being allowed into the port. This was longer than the time taken by the disease to develop. But they could not prevent the  plague-flea ridden rats that swam ashore and spread the infection.

The Pope passed a law requiring people to say “God bless you” to someone who sneezed. This was because cold and sneezing were symptoms of the plague, and plague was believed to be the result of God’s wrath descending on mankind. By saying ” God bless you”, God’s wrath was though to be evaded.
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Mysteries of History

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Jigsaw* Mountain gorilla researcher, Dian Fossey, was hacked to death at her research station in 1985. Was her murder committed by poachers, or was she the victim of a more sinister plot? Who could have hated this woman, whose goal in life was to study and preserve the silver-backs, so much that they would have murdered her in such a vicious manner? Will her murder ever be solved?

* Jack the Ripper slashed and killed at least five prostitutes in London in 1888. His precise mutilation of the victim’s bodies leads many to believe the murders were committed by a doctor or other person with surgical knowledge. Others believe that Jack the Ripper was a member of the Royal Family. Who was Jack the Ripper? Will we ever know the truth about this person?

* The Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, dragons, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids, giant squid and dozens of other creatures are all part of myth, folklore and legend. Do these creatures really exist? Those who say they’ve seen them believe they do. At one time the Komodo dragon was thought to be a myth. Today, we know that it really exists. Do the other creatures mentioned here also roam the Earth, their existence only known to a selected few? You decide.
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The Borgias – A Study in Dysfunction

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The young bridegroom lay sprawled across his bed. Barely healed from the vicious stab wounds that had already brought him close to death, it was clear he would not recover from this attack. He had been strangled.

Alfonso, Prince of Naples, had fallen victim to one of the strangest and most obsessive relationships in history – the love of Cesare Borgia, the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, for his beautiful sister Lucrezia.

If there had been gossip magazines in the 16th Century, the Borgias would have grabbed all the headlines. The Italian Renaissance was a time rich with poetry, art and invention, but it was also the time of the `secular’ popes. These fathers of the Catholic Church fathered illegitimate children, murdered their enemies, and broke most of the Ten Commandments, believing themselves to be spiritually immune from sin.
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Facts About Western Astrology: History Trivia

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AstrologyMost of the earliest civilizations practiced some form of star worship in order to understand the natural world or to predict future events.  The roots of what we understand as western astrology seem to come from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Chaldeans and Assyrians-in the area of Mesopotamia.  From there, the study of astrology spread to India, but most significantly, it was assimilated by the ancient Greeks, becoming the form we recognize today.

One of the world’s oldest horoscopes was cast for a baby born on April 29, 410 BC in Mesopotamia.  About this time, the culture of this area began to believe that the position of planets and stars at the time of an individual’s birth had a direct impact on the course of that person’s life.

The Greeks and Romans formalized Middle-Eastern astrology with their pantheon of gods who were each associated with planets.  Zeus became Jupiter; Ares, Mars; Aphrodite, Venus; Hermes, Mercury; and Kronos, Saturn.  Apollo was associated with the sun and Diana with the moon.
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Who Invented That? Ancient History Trivia

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Who InventedThe first evidence of the use of fire (c.600,000 BC) comes from China in the caves of Choukeoutien near Beiing.  Fire was used to cook and probably to ward off dangerous animals or lure them into traps.

20,000 BC saw the first use of needles made from bone.  As nomadic peoples moved to colder regions, they naturally needed something warmer than a loincloth to keep warm.

The human desire to be well-groomed seems to date around 8000 BC.  Combs have been discovered in Scandinavia made from antlers.  It wasn’t until 3000 BC Egyptians could see their pretty faces in metal mirrors however.
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