If you should have an urge to impress and entertain those forlorn folks sitting in queues at the Traffic Department or dentists’ waiting rooms, here are some amazing facts they’ll remember forever.

Drink ’n Dive
Ten years ago, an old shipwreck was discovered in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. From it, divers retrieved 168 sealed wine bottles, and those labels still legible bore the date 1840.

So, what do you do when you find bottles of wine that old? Of course you do, which is exactly what the crew did, and not only found it palatable, but rather pleasant nogal.

News spread and soon Croatia became the first country to develop underwater ‘wine cellars’ in 2011, and since then wine producers around the globe are happily chucking crate-loads of their cherished produce into the sea.

The fjord-like coastline in parts of Croatia presents the ideal conditions though. Temperatures remain at around 15 degrees all year, and at 20 to 40 metres down, the sheltered inlets ensure the bottles remain undisturbed for a few years. Good thing too, seeing as they sell upwards of an eye-watering R1 500 a bottle over there – barnacles included.

Anyway, a few local producers have recently started experimenting in the art of underwater maturation among the rocky coves in Walker Bay, but the ‘cellar’ locations are obviously kept highly secret. However, our intrepid Persistent Abalone Poachers (PAP), under immense pressure from marine conservationists, just love the concept.

Passion Killer
The sometimes unpredictable experiments we endure today concerning contraception and birth control are nothing new, and various methods to avoid unintended offspring go way back through the ages. An ancient Egyptian papyrus, dated 1850 BCE, describes what must be the earliest recorded technique (apart from abstention) to prevent surprise pregnancies.

This method wouldn’t go down too well these days, as I’m sure the ladies will agree. It required them to… um… internally apply a ‘concoction of honey, soda, a dollop of crocodile excrement, and some sort of gummy substance’. Crocodiles were plentiful, but where on earth did they find the soda? Understandably, things can get twisted or lost in translation, so unfortunately (or not), little was revealed about the composition of the rather disturbing ‘gummy substance’.

Well, I don’t know about other male readers, but that deterrent would work for me, and I sure as heck would stay well away from there.

Gold Fingers
Ancient Egyptians almost crippled their own economy by burying their leaders with huge quantities of gold, silver and priceless artefacts. Luckily, entrepreneurial grave-robbers would salvage the stock market by returning the loot into circulation – for a meagre finder’s fee, of course.

One man, however, single-handedly achieved what the grave-robbers were avoiding – he crippled the market in Cairo and brought the economy to its knees.

In 1307, Mansa Musa became ruler of the vast West African Mali Empire. It was the size of Western Europe, and he accumulated his vast wealth through gold, salt and slavery. By today’s standards he’d be worth over $400 billion – the world’s richest person ever.

Being lavish in his generosity, his gifts towards those less fortunate (everyone?) made a favourable impression among all his people at home. He made an international impression though, when he embarked on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, because this was no dash across the Sahara with a handful of camels. No. He took the scenic route from his capital on the Niger River, and schlepped north through Mauritania and Algeria, then along the coast to Cairo.

His caravan consisted of 60 000 men including a personal retinue of 12 000 slaves, each clad in brocade and Persian silk, and carrying 20kg gold staffs – which must have cheered them up. Eighty camels each carried 300 pounds of gold, and this deluge of bullion into Cairo’s marketplace devalued it so much that it took 12 years for the economy to stabilise.
Hotels, I would imagine, did very well though.

Anyway, he returned home to build a vast trading empire and, among other institutions, the ancient Archives/Library/University/Mosque in Timbuktu, destroyed by al-Qaeda in 2012, but that’s another story.

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