Category Archives: history

smithsonian.

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Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

The Smithsonian was officially created on August 10, 1846,

and one of the first things on the to-do list was constructing a building.

The 1850 glass lantern slide above

is the earliest-known photo of the Smithsonian Institution Building,

known as the Castle, and the only image of it under construction.

Smithsonian Explorers, c. 1862-63, Smithsonian Institution Archives

From the enchanting to the eccentric, the Smithsonian has an extremely rich past. There was even a group of rowdy scientists who used to live in the Smithsonian Castle. In 1857, a zoologist named William Stimpson formed a club of young naturalists aiming to build the Smithsonian’s collection. Their meetings were held in the Smithsonian Castle, and many of the members lived there.

Stimpson named the group the Megatherium Club, after the giant extinct sloth that once roamed South America. Over the years, the club developed somewhat of a rambunctious reputation among neighbors (they were known to drink beer late at night, and had sack races down the Castle halls). They called themselves “great beasts,” much like the sloth that they named themselves after.

Despite their mischief, these men were a dedicated group of naturalists, and we owe them a great deal for contribution their descriptions, classifications and specimens to American science, the Smithsonian, and many other institutions in the U.S.

 

“science doesn’t have all the answers,

but it is good at spotting the important questions

when they are camouflaged against a background of common sense.”

-richard dawkins

 

 credits: smithsonian museums, smithsonian institution archives, smithsonian magazine

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copper, clay, and complaint.

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Among the artifacts at the British Museum in London is this ancient Babylonian customer service complaint that was inscribed on a clay tablet sometime around 1750 B.C. The complaint is regarding problems with two shipments of copper ore, as the museum notes in their description:

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery; slightly damaged.

A full translation from the book Letters from Mesopotamia by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim has provided a view into the customer’s complaint.  Turns out Nanni was pretty angry:

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

“if you make the customer a promise, make sure you deliver it.”

-merv griffin

credits: british museum, laughing squid, e. lynch, reddit