Mummy’s Day

We cover the way people in Victorian Europe used (and abused) Egyptian mummies, whether or not mummies were burned for fuel, Catholic saints who do not decay, natural mummies preserved in ice, moss, and salt, child mummies of the Andes, and Buddhist monk mummifying themselves.

We’ll be using the timing of this episode to talk about bandaged bodies, the preserved passed-on, those desiccated decedents, mummies. Ancient Egypt knew its business when it came to preserving their dead, there’s no two ways about it. By some estimates, over the course of three millennia, more than 70 million people and animals were mummified. While the earliest Egyptian specimen we’ve found dates to 3,000 BCE, the oldest anthropogenically modified mummy, that is a body that someone intentionally preserved through drying, dates back to approximately 5050 BCE, in the high, dry, cold mountains of South America. Even older still is a natural mummy found in the Atacama Desert in modern-day Chile; that person is believed to have died in the year 7020 BCE, over 9,000 years ago. The Atacama Desert is an ideal place for the creation of mummies, as it gets less than an inch of rain, annually.

Mummies were considered very Gothic. In the Victorian era, when Gothic equalled cool, unwrapping mummies became a must-have for any self-respecting party host. “Come to Lord Longsberry’s at 2 p.m., Piccadilly, for the unwrapping of a mummy from Thebes. Champagne and canapés to follow.”

Mummy, often sold as “mummia”, was applied to the skin or powdered and mixed into drinks as a treatment for bruising and other ailments. The belief may have come from ancients such as Pliny the Elder, who wrote that the bitumen used to embalm mummies offered healing powers. Adherents included the French King Francis I, who kept a pouch of powdered mummy on his belt and ate rhubarb and mummy powder every day — because he “thought it kept him strong and safe from assassins.”

Natural mummies are a widespread phenomenon, appearing all over the globe. You’re probably on a first-name basis with the best known, Otzi, the ice man. Also frozen in ice but much more elaborately tattooed is a mummy known as the Siberian ice princess. The remains of the immaculately dressed woman, approximately 25 of age and preserved for two and a half millennia in the Siberian permafrost were discovered in 1993. Where Otzi only had lines, the princess had both arms covered with tattoos of animals, in large, bold designs, which can still be seen as clear as day on her leathery skin.

One of the most heavily-relied-upon preservatives in the world, salt, has also given us natural mummies. Half a dozen mummies have been found in a salt mine in Iran. The first salt mummy, dated to 300 CE; the oldest is truly ancient and has been carbon dated to 9550 BCE.

No salt is needed in the high Andeas mountains and the Atacama desert that lies between them and the sea. The Children of Llullaillaco are three Inca child mummies rediscovered in 1999. Dryness and cold temperatures are both major reasons for the excellent preservation of the mummies for 500 years. Children were usually chosen from nobles families, but were picked primarily based on their “physical perfection”. The mummies have been the subject of controversy, especially with regards to indigenous rights, with their display called “a violation of our loved ones.”

Lunules and Tittles and Barms, Oh My!

From the skin between your thumb and forefinger to the stringy things you have to pick off bananas, today’s episode will teach you dozens of names for everyday items, even if you can’t tell your natiform from your weenus.

Here are your new vocab words, in order of appearance:
acnestis
niddick
feat
glabella
caruncula
philtrum
weenus
rasceta
pericule
lunules
Morton’s toe
minimus
Brannock device
hallux
throat
vamp
aglet
paresthesia
obdormition
dysania
armscyes
nurdle
wamble
borborygmus
crapulence
crepuscular rays
apricity
petrichor
chrysalism
pareidolia
natiform
phosphene
zarf
anecdoche
kenopsia
monachopsis
vellichor
joska
masticate
misophonia
vagitus
accumbation
scurryfunge
muntin
punt
agraffe
ulage
barm
cornicione
phloem bundle
druplets
anemoia
defenestrate
zugzwang
mondegreen
eggcorn
malaproprism
spoonerism
grawlix
agitron
octothorpe
intterobang
griffonage
jot
tittle
apthong
palindrome
semordnilap
contranym
lemniscate
obelus

Steal (pretty) Big

What we remember as the daring heist of one of the world’s most famous paintings was really neither of those. The theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa wasn’t even noticed when it happened.

That story, plus a stolen art technique that made a man world famous, credit stolen for one of the most important discoveries in biology, the man who was namesake the pyramid scheme, and a stolen film role that launched a career.

Thanks for bearing with me through the rough audio quality lately.  I’ve been studying and practicing and I think you’ll notice real improvement starting this week.

A Dish Best Served Loud

A microphone is a good enough platform for getting back at people, but an entire recording studio is even better. Popular music is littered with songs getting back at an ex lover, from Waylon Jennings to Taylor Swift, but a fair number of the tracks you know by heart are actually clap-backs to the people in the mixing booth or the record label offices.

It’s Good to be the King

Mel Brooks said it best, “It’s good to be the king.”  From glass delusion to the missing Romanov children to what will happen when Queen Elizabeth dies.

You’re How Old?!


In the age of bigger, better, faster, more, it’s easy to default to thinking that we invented everything, that the complex things that make up our lives couldn’t have existed in the times we view as primitive. Oh, how wrong we are.

Untold Devastation


There exists a small deserted town, which has been seized by eminent domain and condemned by the state. Why would an entire town that once housed over a thousand residents be shuttered? Because the ground under their feet was on fire.