Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Account of fishes found in river Ganges (19th Century)

This detailed and meticulous compilation of aquatic life in river ganges was issued by Scottish naturist and physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829) while he was living in India, employed by the British East India Company. With this publication, Francis was describing around 100 unknown species to the scientific community!!. One can imagine Sir Francis Buchanan as the typical multi disciplinary 19th century naturist, having a passionate life exploring unknown and vast extensions, reporting about topography, zoology, history... I can’t avoid thinking in my favorite explorer –and my childhood hero as well-, Percy Fawcett. Hope someday I’ll find material about Sir Fawcett to post in this blog.

Francis Buchanan-Hamilton BIO is available on wikipedia, link here. Article is short, but provides interesting links to The Royal Society or the International Plant Names Index (forgot to mention that he also developed an intense activity regarding botanic science). The other important note in this post is about the virtual library where I found this "Account of fishes found in river Ganges": the botanicus project. This is the first virtual-library project I see in which the scan process is done via OCR or "digital text recognition", even for manuscripts. This means that once the codex is digitized, navigation via "key words" inside the document or through entire database is available, amazing. The weak point of Botanicus Project is scan quality (pdf resolution is poor). Anyway, I'll come back to the botanicus project for sure!

Updated (October, 26): add some new samples (including the rarest fish I've never seen before, don't think scuba diving in Ganges river is a good option)

1st position for rare fish ranking in Ganges...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Buch der Natur (The Book of Nature, 14th Century)

This fascinating manuscript from 14th Century was issued by Konrad of Megenberg, a prolific german scholar who also wrote physics and astronomy treatises during this convulsed century in Europe. The codex is structured in eight chapters, dedicated to the nature of man, astronomy (based on 7 planets model), meteorology, zoology, ordinary and aromatic trees, plants and vegetables, semi-precious stones, kinds of metals and water properties and rivers.
The manuscript has detailed and full color illuminations but my favorite section is zoology, due to the quality of all full-page drawings. Other works by Konrad of Megenberg –apart from science- are focused on heretic movements, very active during 14th Century when the Papal Curia was installed in Avignon.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Theory and Practice of Fortifications" by Captain Cristobal de Rojas, 16th Century

Captain Cristobal de Rojas (1555-1614) was born in Toledo, Spain, and is considered one of the most significant militar architect and engineer, due to the large amount of treatises he wrote about this matter during 16th Century. He specialized on fortifications for defense against pirates and corsairs, after the looting of Santander by "Sir" Francis Drake. His talent was soon detected by his commander, and initiated a long trip to inspect fortifications of Gibraltar, Ceuta, Tarifa, Lisboa, Cadiz... was after the inspection of Cadiz fortification when he made several recommendations that were not considered by the Spanish Royal Navy, even when he insisted passionately to militar authorities and the King. Only three years later this important city was almost destroyed by British Admiral Howard. After that, his talent was recognized by the King Felipe III, and started a military career in which he travelled around the world planning deffenses and fortifications for the Spanish imperium.
The most important treatise of Captain Cristobal De Rojas is “Theory and Practice of Fortifications”, printed in 1598 in Madrid, with Royal Privileges.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bombs and Explosives handbook

I found this handbook of bombs and explosives -17th Century- in the Bavarian State Library during my travels through open virtual libraries around the world. But my investigation about author (Hans G Schirvatt?) concluded with a poor-to-nothing result. The only reference I could find is that all weapons shown in this handbook were used during 17th century first quarter European wars, and were contemporaneous to Flandes war –also known as eighty years war or Netherlands independence war from Spain-.
Was during this war when the use of bombs with temporizers reached an incredible level of perfection, because some episodes –especially for city sieges like Breda- were based on “underground techniques”: an special task force of military engineers dig tunnels to approach enemy troops, put the bombs and grenades with combustion or mechanical based temporizers and escape using the same tunnel, with time enough –sometimes not- to avoid explosion. An authentic massive destruction weapon manual in 17th Century.
Some episodes of the eighty years war here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The indecipherable and mysterious “Voynich Manuscript”

I’ve been obsessed with this manuscript since 2008, when I first found it in the open Beinecke rare book & manuscript library of Yale University. Around a year after, in 2009, University of Arizona made C14 test and revealed that this codex is not a joke, like some experts still assert, and was commissioned (with 95% confidence) between 1404 and 1438. 

Voynich manuscript is written in an unidentified language, apparently based on roman minuscule characters. The manuscript is a mistery although best cryptographers around the world have tried: after second world war best American and british codebreakers –who decoded german “enigma” used as communication protocol for nazi submarine weapon- and later a team of NSA cryptographers. No results so far, so the mistery remains. It’s richly illuminated and this allowed experts to consider following “sections” –like a general purpose encyclopedia-: Herbal, Astronomical, Biological, Cosmological, and Pharmaceutical or Medical. Regarding authorship, is a mystery like the codex itself:  some theories point to Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon (not after C14 tests), Alchemist Edward Kelley, etc. The name “Voynich manuscript” has its origin in Wilfrid Voynich, antiquarian, who acquired the codex in 1912.  

Direct link to Beinecke rare book & manuscript library of Yale University, is here (jpg collection with fair resolution, not complete). Wikipedia’s voynich manuscript article (very detailed) here. University of Arizona announcement of radiocarbon results is here.