Galileo’s fingers go on display

Tourists in Florence can now learn more about the city’s most famous resident at The Museum of the History of Science, which has just reopened as the Galileo Museum.

Galileo (1564-1642) was one of the greatest scientists of the Renaissance. He made significant advances in physics and mathematics and made history when he turned a newfangled gadget called the telescope towards the night sky and discovered that Jupiter has moons and Venus has phases. These observations strengthened his conviction that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe and in fact revolved around the Sun. The Catholic Church felt threatened by this idea and put him on trial for heresy. Galileo spent his final years under house arrest.

The museum preserves the lens from his famous telescope as well as other artifacts from Galileo’s life and times, including some rather macabre ones. When Galileo’s body was being moved to a new tomb in 1737 an admirer cut off three fingers off the right hand (the thumb, index, and middle finger, if you must know), a vertebra, and a tooth. The thumb, middle finger, and tooth went missing for many years but recently turned up at an auction. They’re now back home in Florence and are the most unusual artifacts in the Galileo Museum.

Besides the body parts of a persecuted genius, the museum has an impressive collection of scientific instruments. The displays explain how these instruments helped expand humanity’s knowledge. Science museums are fascinating places, and if you can’t make it to Florence this year, check out these science museums in London and Northern California.

“Galileo Galilei showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope”, fresco by Giuseppe Bertini, 1858.

Paris catacombs vandalized, closed for repair

Paris’ catacombs, underground passages full of neatly stacked human bones, have been temporarily closed to the public after being vandalized.

A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office would not go into detail on the extent of the vandalism, which took place over the weekend, but said that the site would be closed because in its current state it was hazardous to visitors. According to the AP, a photo in a Paris newspaper showed “bones and skulls scattered along the walking paths”. There was no word on when the catacombs would reopen, but as they are a major tourist attraction visited by over 250,000 people each year, it seems that the city would do its best to clean the mess and repair any damage as soon as possible.

The catacombs open to the public are just one part of an 186-mile network underneath the city. The bones of over 6 million Parisians are contained here, having been moved to the site in the 18th and 19th centuries after the city’s cemeteries became overcrowded and contributed to the spread of disease.

Weird things in the woods

The website for hunters has a page devoted to weird things hunters have found in the woods. Browsing the comments where people describe what they’ve found on their outings reminded me of the cow bone in our freezer.

I think it’s a cow bone. My son saw it on the side of the road in Montana between Anaconda and Philipsburg. He popped out of the car to get it while we were waiting at a road construction site road block for our turn to pass. It’s in a plastic bag in our freezer until we do something with it. Bleach it?

Once I found a cow skull in New Mexico when I was hiking with a friend who said he knew where to find cow skulls. I was looking for a skull for my brother, although, I can’t recall exactly why.

Bones aren’t all that can be found in the woods or elsewhere in the middle of nowhere. One person wrote on the weird things page that he found a bathtub filled with dirt nailed to a tree. He suspected it was for growing “wacky tobacky.”

Another person found $100 tucked in a pair of women’s underwear. That’s something. Someone else found remains of a moonshine still.

One of my great uncles once told me to be careful when I was visiting him in Knott County in southeastern Kentucky where he lived. I was heading out on a walk in the woods so he warned me about not coming upon a place where people are growing pot. According to him, pot was growing everywhere in those Kentucky hills. My uncle was a bit of an alarmist so I’m not sure about the accuracy of his statement, but it stuck with me.

Sometimes one can find the remains of hunters in the woods. Not the hunters, actually, but what they’ve left behind. Near where my father lives in New York state, there are two hunters’ cabins that are in the process of decay. Each summer when we visit, my son insists that we head through the woods to access the progress of ruin.

The roof of one of the one-room structures is almost all gone, and the floor has broken through in places, but the stove is still there with a pan still on it. I always wonder who used it and why did they stop coming.

This topic of weird things in the woods is one that could bring about a spine tingling novel or a short story. When we come across a thing in the woods like a bone or two –or a shoe, or a cheap plastic comb, we wonder about the story that happened before we arrived. “What happened here?” we ask. In the above photograph, this abandoned Navy bus is rotting in the woods near Bangor, Maine. The text underneath the photo also begs the question, “What in the world is it doing in the woods?”