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Did you know the sacrifice of almost 140 children was recently unearthed in Peru?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The sacrifice, performed by the ancient Chimú civilization, occurred in 1450 and also included the bodies of close to 200 young llamas. 

This is the largest known mass child sacrifice, the second being 42 children in an Aztec temple in modern-day Mexico City. 

The children, ranging in ages from 4-14, were organized according to age, which suggests the involvement of priests. Their heads were arranged with their heads facing the sea and the heads of the llamas facing the mountains. 

It is assumed the sacrifice occurred in response to heavy rainfall in the normally arid climate brought on by El Niño. The may have believed the sacrifice would appease angry gods. 

Knife marks were found on the ribs and sternum of the children and llamas, suggesting their hearts had been removed, a practice known to occur among Mesoamerican cultures. Archaeologists are unable to tell if the hearts were removed before or after death.

Did you know a computer program taught itself to play chess without any human input?

Marcos Hernandez Creative Penn Podcast, Marcus Du Sautoy

Other game engines use handcrafted rules written by professional players; AlphaZero

was only given the basic rules of the game. By playing millions of games against itself using a process of trial and error, AlphaZero was about to learn the games chess, shogi, and go without the use of opening books and endgame tables.

From the DeepMind website: “At first, it plays completely randomly, but over time the system learns from wins, losses, and draws to adjust the parameters of the neural network, making it more likely to choose advantageous moves in the future.” 

It took nine hours for AlphaZero to learn chess, twelve hours to learn shogi, and thirteen daysto learn go, highlighting the complexity of the ancient Chinese game.

AlphaZero is a follow up of AlphaGo, the artificial intelligence developed by DeepMind which was the first computer program to beat a human professional Go player of the highest rank. In AlphaGo’s second game of a five-game match, it played a highly unorthodox move which went against centuries of common knowledge. This move, move 37 in game two, set the computer program up to later win the game. 

By removing human input and letting AlphaZero learn for itself the program is able to teach modern human players what’s possible.

Did you know a Spanish mission in Texas was destroyed by Comanche warriors?

Marcos Hernandez The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) by Robert Caro

The Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba is the only mission in Texas ever completely destroyed by Native Americans. It was established in 1757 in an attempt to introduce members of the Apache tribe to Catholocism. 

The Apache are Native Americans whose traditional enemies were the Comanche people. The Comanche people believed the new Spanish mission had allied with the Apache and attacked, destroying it less than a year after it was founded.

A fortified base, the Presidio de San Sada, was created when the mission was founded for it’s protection. Located three miles away, the Comanche attack left the fort untouched.

The Spanish response did nothing to diminish the power of the Comanche. A Spanish force of 500 men were forced to retreat after attacking a town, fortified by a stockade and a moat, filled with Comanche armed with European guns.

The Presidio San Saba remained operational for another decade, in territory controlled by the Comanche, before it was abandoned. 

Did you know 960 Jewish rebels chose suicide over being captured by Romans?

Marcos Hernandez SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

The First Jewish War occurred from 66-73 and was one of three major rebellions by the Jews against the Roman Empire. The Jewish rebels overtook the Roman forces in Masada, a fortress built a century earlier by Herod the Great, and settled there.

The siege of Masada began in 72. The Romans built a siege ramp, then a siege tower with a battering ram, and breached the fortress’s walls in April 73. The Romans were greeted by death: all but five (two women and five children) of the Jewish rebels had committed suicide rather than fall under Roman rule, 960 in total.

There is some dispute as to the historical accuracy of the siege. The first issue is there is only one historian, Josephus, who mentions the siege at all. The other, more glaring, issue is the archaeological evidence doesn’t exist and doesn’t support the historians claims.

Modern Israel sees the siege in two differen lights. On the one hand, Masada has become a symbol of their national identity and the struggle against an oppressive empire. On the other hand it can be seen as a symbol of Jewish radicalism, of people who chose to commit suicide (forbidden in their religion) rather than compromise.

Did you know a warrior queen led British Celtic tribes against the Roman Empire?

Marcos Hernandez SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Boudica was a queen of a tribe called the Iceni on the island of Great Britain. Her husband ruled as an ally of Rome but when he died the Roman Empire took his kingdom instead of allowing it to be passed on to his daughters. 

Boudica chose to revolt. Her forces sacked three Roman settlements, one of them modern-day London, killing over 70,000 people. The Roman governor was able to stop the revolt but not before Emperor Nero was forced to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from the island. 

Roman Senator/Historian Tacitus reports that Boudica poisoned herself to avoid capture.

Boudica became a folk-hero, revered for her rebellion. In 1902 a statue of Boudica was erected in London, next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. Ironic, considering London is one of the cities sacked during her revolt.

Did you know Roman Emperor Nero enforced the death sentence of four hundred slaves?

Marcos Hernandez SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Nero ruled the Roman Empire from 54-68, his time in power best known for it’s tyrrany and extravagance. 

When a Roman Senator was murdered by one of his slaves the rest of the Roman Senate demanded the execution of his remaining slaves, according to Roman law. The fact that there were four hundred slaves didn’t change their sentence. 

The populace, upon hearing of the sentence, demanded the release of the slaves. In order to stop a potential mob, Nero deployed the Roman army to enforce the sentence and all four hundred slaves were killed.

What did the ancient Romans do with four hundred dead bodies? The logistical problems alone seem to be a deterrent in such a mass execution but since the officials were the ones calling for the murder of the slaves the people of the city were fighting a losing battle.

The entire situation brings to mind when Eisenhower sent in the US Army to enforce the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. This isn’t to equate the murder of hundreds of slaves to the integration of a high school; rather it brings to light the responsibility of those in charge to uphold sentences passed down by another branch of government. 

It’s hard to imagine Nero had any qualms whatsoever with the mass execution, given his reputation.

Did you know Jesus wasn’t the only first century man attributed with performing miracles?

Marcos Hernandez SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Vespasian was Emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD.  In 69, after being declared Emperor by the Roman Legions in Egypt, Vespasian saw two men, one blind and the other lame. According to reports, the blind man was able to see after Vespasian spat on his eyes and the lame man was able to walk after Vespasian touched him with his heel. The deity who supposedly gave Vespasian these powers was Serapis, a god popular in Alexandria. These miracles only served to cement his position as Emperor among the Egyptians. 

While Vespasian was in Egypt his troops defeated the occupant of the throne, Vitellius, and the Roman Senate declared him Emperor.

Vespasian was the fourth Emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors (civil war was responsible for the rapid changes) and his reign last until his death. His reign was the first in the Flavian Dynasty, which includes his two sons Titus and Domitian, and was the first time a Roman Emperor was directly succeeded by his son. 

Construction of the Colosseum began during Vespasian’s reign.

Did you know John F. Kennedy was awarded a medal for his actions in the Pacific Theater of WWII?

Marcos Hernandez An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

In August 1943, future President John F. Kennedy was commanding officer on PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat, and in charge of 12 men. They were stationed in Rendova Island, an island in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. The night of August 1 his boat, one of fifteen, was sent out to torpedo Japanese destroyers but along the way got separated. Not a single destroyer was hit by any of the PT boats that night. 

Alone and in the darkness, idling to avoid detection, PT-109 was struck by a Japanese destroyer and cut in two, killing two of the thirteen men onboard.

Kennedy rescued three of his men by bringing them to the floating bow of their broken boat. The eleven surviving men drifted at sea for twelve hours awaiting rescue.

After no signs of rescue the men swam through shark and crocodile infested waters for four hours to tiny Plum Pudding Island. There were islands closer than this but all were occupied by Japanese forces.

Plum Pudding Island had no food or water so Kennedy made a 2 hour swim to try and flag down an American vessel but had no success.

Two days later the men, including those injured in the crash, swam to nearby Olasana Island. Here there were coconuts but still no water. On Naru Island, a one-hour swim away, Kennedy found a canoe with candy, crackers, and a fifty gallon drum of water. He paddled the canoe back to his men. 

While the men were hopping from island to island, coastwatchers who had witnessed the explosion of the PT-109 were looking for possible survivors. Two coastwatchers found the shipwrecked unit and took a message from Kennedy, scratched into a coconut, to their base on Rendova island. A rescue was organized and the men were finally rescued 7 days after they left to sea.

Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the collision. The coconut which had his message scratched on it was preserved in a glass paperweight and Kennedy kept it on his Oval Office desk during his presidency.

Did you know John F. Kennedy was the recipient of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography?

Marcos Hernandez An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

The Pulitzer Prize is generally regarded as the most prestigious prize in journalism. There are currently 21 categories which are awarded the Pulitzer, ranging from photography to music. 

There were 14 Pulitzers awarded in 1957, less categories than the current number because of the introducton of new categories for online content. That year, the Pulitzer for biography was awarded to John F. Kennedy, at the time a Massachusetts Senator. His work, Profiles in Courage, is a series of short biographies about eight Senators who did what they though was right despite suffering criticism and losses of popularity as a result.  

The list of men profiled in the biography include John Quincy Adams, Sam Houston, and Robert Taft (son of former President William Taft).

There were rumors about the actual authorship of the biographies. ABC reported that a ghostwriter, Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen, actually wrote the entirety of the book but when Kennedy’s lawyers showed up at ABC the network issued a retraction and an apology. 

 The Kennedy Library is home to Kennedy’s handwritten notes, showing his contribution to the work. It is now accepted that Kennedy and Sorensen co-wrote Profiles in Courage.

Did you know there was a secret room built on the rock of Gibraltar for men to stay voluntarily confined for up to seven years?

Marcos Hernandez Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

Operation Tracer was a World War II Allied military operation designed as a backup plan in case Gibraltar fell into Axis hands. 

A room was built as an observation post from which enemy movement could be reported to the United Kingdom. The room included views of both the Bay of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The volunteers included an executive officer, two physicians, and three wireless operators. The original plan was for a one year stay but provisions for up to seven were provided for the men. 

In August 1943, once it was evident there would be no need for the Operation, the secret room was blocked off and the provisions were removed.

A documentary about the excavation of the secret room, released in 2012, is called Operation Tracer – Stay Behind Cave