Sunday, 31 August 2014


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11 of the Oldest Snack Foods We're Still Eating
By Kate Erbland,
Mental Floss, 29 August 2014.

The shelves of your local grocery store may be crowded with new-fangled taste sensations like coffee-flavoured potato chips and candy bars stuffed with hip ingredients like bacon (always, always bacon), but plenty of snack foods we still consume in mass quantities have got some major staying power. Turns out, your great-grandparents might have chowed down on your favourite treat long before you were even born, and that very same grab-and-go snack will likely be around long after you’re gone. That’s something to chew on.

1. Pretzels

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Pretzels are widely considered to be the world’s oldest snack food (although they’ve got a little bit of a friendly competition going with another entry on this list). Pretzel historians - yes, pretzel historians - hold that the modern pretzel’s predecessor was first made in the 6th century by an Italian monk, a crafty baker who actually used it as a treat to reward his youngest church attendees. That might be why the word “pretzel” is from the Latin word “pretzola,” which loosely translates to “little reward.”

2. Popcorn

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Popcorn and pretzels may happily pair at a party, but the two crunchy snacks have long been caught in a terrible debate over which treat is actually the world’s oldest snack. History holds that Native Americans used to indulge in the snack, with archaeologists reporting finding popcorn ears that they can date all the way back to being snacked on some 5,600 years ago. Clearly, no one was using a microwave at the time, but it’s believed that Native American would throw their ears right on a fire, in order to pop out kernels in impressive fashion.

3. Triscuits

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Nabisco initially touted their Triscuit crackers as being “baked by electricity!,” a snazzy way to make a relatively timeless-tasting snack sound extremely modern. The shredded wheat cracker was first invented back in 1903 in Niagara Falls, where it really was cooked up using electricity. For its first two decades in existence, Triscuits were much bigger than their current counterparts: they were 2 ¼ inches by 4 inches. By 1924, they had been shrunk down to their familiar 2-inch by 2-inch size.

4. Oreo Cookies

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Nabisco - formerly known as the National Biscuit Company - also pioneered “milk’s favourite cookie” pretty early on. The first Oreo was made in 1912 in Nabisco’s factory located in the Chelsea section of New York City. Weirdly, the Oreo came after the Hydrox cookie, and Nabisco created it solely to compete with Sunshine’s own sandwich cookie, which was first made in 1908.

5. Cracker Jack

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Popcorn’s age may be in question, but one of its most famous related products will suffer no such indignities. The roots of Cracker Jack can be traced all the way back to 1871 Chicago, when German immigrant Frederick William Rueckheim started cooking up and selling his own popcorn. Legend holds that Rueckheim and his brother Louis introduced the sweet and crunchy treat we know as Cracker Jack to the audience at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893, though no actual evidence has ever been produced to back that claim up. Still, by 1896, Cracker Jack was being produced for sale, eventually becoming a favourite of popcorn lovers and baseball fans everywhere.

6. Lay’s Potato Chips

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Lay’s - which has gone through a staggering number of name changes during the course of its long existence, including the incredibly clunky “Lay’s Lay Lingo Company” and “H.W. Lay Lingo & Company” - introduced their classic chip in 1932. The invention of the continuous potato processor in 1942 allowed the chips to be made in massive quantities, soon pushing the chip empire into the stratosphere.

7. Fritos

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Although Fritos haven’t yet reached their hundredth birthday, they’re still a pioneer of non-potato chip technology and innovation. Corn chip obsessive Elmer Doolin purchased the chip recipe from a fellow San Antonio, Texas resident in the early 1930s - Doolin was particularly keen to find a chip that wouldn’t go stale too quickly - and started mass producing his chips in 1932. Doolin knew his snacks: he also invented Cheetos!

8. Twinkies

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“The Golden Sponge Cake With Creamy Filling” was invented in 1932 when industrious baker James Alexander Dewar conceived of an idea to use cream-filling machines that previously only stuffed shortcakes with in-season strawberry cream to fill cakes with banana cream the rest of the year. Yes, the first Twinkie held banana cream, though banana rationing during World War II forced the switch to vanilla cream, a switch that proved popular enough to stay on as the official Twinkie flavour.

9. Jell-O

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Jell-O’s key ingredient, gelatin, has long been used to hold together desserts and other sweet treats, and “jelly moulds” were a hot dessert during the Victorian era. But because gelatin was hard to make, it didn’t catch on with a big audience until Peter Cooper patented powdered gelatin in 1845. In 1897, Pearle Bixby Wait trademarked his own powdered gelatin dessert, called Jell-O. New flavours soon followed, and the rest is (jiggly) history.

10. Marshmallows

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Marshmallows have been around since ancient Egypt, and were often used to soothe sore throats (complete with sweeteners like honey mixed in to help with the work). By the 19th century, French confectioners mixed things up by whipping the marshmallow medicine, turning it into a real treat. By 1948, the extrusion process made it possible for marshmallows to be made in an automated environment, thanks to machines that gave them the cylindrical shape they’re now most recognizable for.

11. Necco Wafers

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One of America’s very first candies, the New England Confectionary Company (“Necco” - get it?) first manufactured the wafers in 1847, envisioning the thin treats as their signature item. The slim snack owes its history to Oliver Chase, who invented a cutting machine that allowed the slices to be made so thin.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted.

Top image: Selection of sweet and hearty pretzels (Germany). Credit: Sundar1/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mental Floss. Edited. Top image added.]


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10 Misconceptions About ‘Barbarians’
By Jo Rodriguez,
Listverse, 31 August 2014.

History is written by the victors - and the victors are often large, arrogant empires not particularly inclined to look favourably on other cultures. It therefore became commonplace for entire peoples to be thought of as “barbaric.”

We’ve mentioned before how the term itself came from the ancient Greeks, who dismissed foreign languages as sounding like “bar bar bar.” A relentlessly xenophobic society, the Greeks believed that people were either Greek or barbarian. Later, the term came to designate any tribe or nation that did not conform to certain codes and customs. From Rome to China, humanity has long tried to vilify and degrade people who were in some way different.

10. The Vikings Were Cleanliness Fanatics

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For a long time, the popular view of the Vikings was as a vile, ruthless group who murdered their way across Europe, reeking of filth and cruelty.

Well, as it turns out, the “filthy” Vikings were actually more concerned about hygiene than most Europeans of their age. For one thing, they bathed regularly - a rarity at the time. They made elaborately decorated combs and other grooming items, and many Vikings bleached their hair blond to conform to certain cultural ideals of beauty. They even designated Saturday, or “Iaugardagur” as a “day for washing.”

Norse settlements in Iceland actually had a law which called for the most severe punishments for offenders who intentionally made someone dirty as a means of disgracing them.

9. Rome Actually Flourished Under The Goths

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History books tell us of “The Glory of Rome” and how it was brought to an end by either the Visigoths sacking Rome in A.D. 410, the Vandals sacking Rome in A.D. 455, or Odoacer deposing the Western Emperor in A.D. 476.

In truth, Rome pretty much survived. Roman culture, traditions, practices, laws, and even political structure (the Senate) were left at least partially intact. Under the rule of the Ostrogoths, particularly Theodoric the Great, the city flourished. The Ostrogoths were formerly pagan, but converted to Arianism (a heretical Christian sect). Still, people were actually open and tolerant of these differences and Arian Goths lived peacefully with other Christians and Jews. Roman arts and literature were fully embraced.

But nothing good lasts forever. Thanks to their pagan roots, the Ostrogoths believed that Theodoric’s dynasty, the Amals, were of a sacred bloodline descended from the gods themselves. When Theodoric’s grandson, Athalaric, died young, the Gothic Kingdom fragmented.

The Eastern Roman Empire, which espoused traditional Christian beliefs, hated the idea of the heretical Ostrogoths ruling over Rome. The Emperor Justinian also had his eyes set on reclaiming the Western Roman Empire. In A.D. 535, Justinian sent his best general, Belisarius, to retake Italy. The campaign lasted decades and served only to depopulate much of the peninsula. Eventually, a new wave of invaders, the Lombards, easily took control. So it was that the ambitions of the Eastern Roman Empire served as the death knell of its Western counterpart.

8. The Greeks Considered Even Their Relatives Barbarians

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We’ve discussed how the Greeks coined the term “barbarian” in reference to foreigners. Oddly enough, they also referred to their own neighbours and kinsmen in the same manner, either as an insult or simply because they found their dialect too confusing.

For instance, when Stratonicus, a harp player from Athens, was asked who the greatest barbarians were, the famous musician nonchalantly replied: “the Eleans.”

Were the Eleans from faraway lands like Persia or Africa? Nope, they lived in Elis, in the Peloponnese, where the first Olympic Games were held. Even the prominent orator and statesman Demosthenes denounced Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander the Great’s father, as a barbarian, since “he not only isn’t a Greek and is quite unrelated to Greeks: he isn’t even a barbarian from a respectable place, but a miserable Macedonian!”

7. The Greeks Actually Borrowed A Lot From Barbarians

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The Mycenaean Civilization flourished in Greece during the Bronze Age. Their system of writing is known today as “Linear B.” It followed an even older writing system known as “Linear A,” which was developed by the Minoans, an ancient civilization which prospered on the island of Crete. The Mycenaeans, known as “first true Greeks,” actually borrowed heavily from the Minoans in culture, art, and language.

Centuries later, the Greeks ended up borrowing the Phoenician alphabet. Historians differ as to whether the Greeks started borrowing from the seafaring Phoenicians during the ninth century B.C., or as early as the 12th century.

As for numbers, Greek mathematicians such as Archimedes and Euclid have gained eternal fame. But it seems that the Greek system of numbering was borrowed as well. Recent evidence shows a striking similarity between Greek alphabetic numerals and Egyptian demotic numerals. Dr. Stephen Chrisomalis has suggested that trade between the civilizations led the Greeks to realize that the Egyptian system was superior, leading them to partially adopt it around 600 B.C.

Yes, for all the disdain the Greeks had for “barbarians,” it seems they and their ancestors were more than happy to adopt their ideas.

6. The Origins Of Chinese Ethnocentricity

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Many people are quick to assume that Chinese ethnocentrism, or rather xenophobia, may have come from recent history. It would be easy to note how Communism divided East and West, or how the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century sparked anti-Western sentiments. However, it’s worth noting that these perceptions have been ingrained in Chinese culture for thousands of years.

Such beliefs can be traced all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 B.C.), which made a clear distinction between the traditional Chinese subjects of the Zhou and those outside its borders. In many ancient texts, non-Chinese are described as part animal, akin to “birds and beasts.”

Confucius also reportedly said that “the barbarians with a ruler are not as good as the Chinese without one.” Mencius criticized a scholar for adopting the ways of a foreign teacher, telling him: “I’ve heard of using what is Chinese to change what is barbarian, but I’ve never heard of using what is barbarian to change what is Chinese.”

A slightly contrasting neo-Confucian view argued that the Zhou should peacefully assimilate these foreign cultures and raise them to an equal status. In this view, “no matter where under Heaven or on Earth, if a man possesses ritual and righteousness, he is a part of the Middle Kingdom.”

5. Japanese Views On Foreigners

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Japan is a nation which has a near-homogeneous society - 98.5 percent of its residents are ethnic Japanese.

When the Portuguese sailed up to Tanegashima Island in Southern Japan in 1543, the locals were astonished at the oddity before them. A later account described how the newcomers “eat with their fingers instead of chopsticks. They show their feelings without self-control. They cannot understand the meaning of written characters. They are a harmless sort of people.”

This culture clash led to Westerners being labelled “Nanban,” literally “Southern Barbarians” (for they arrived from the south). When the Dutch arrived, they were still considered Nanban, but prefixed with “Komo” or “red hair” - apparently the Dutch traders were all redheads.

Trade between the West and Japan continued harmoniously until Japanese isolationism closed off the island nation. It was only later, when the Meiji Restoration aimed to Westernize the country, that the term “Nanban” virtually disappeared and the Japanese began to move away from thinking of foreigners as uncivilized.

There is still a common term associated with Westerners that has sparked debate in modern Japan. That word is “gaijin,” taken to mean “outsider or non-Japanese.” Some consider it neutral, but for others it has become a derogatory term - you could have lived in Japan your entire life and know all of its traditions and customs, yet still be considered an outsider.

4. The Celts Were An Advanced Civilization

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We’ve talked about the Celts before. However, it bears mentioning that the Celtic civilization, which was long derided and maligned by the Greeks and Romans, was perhaps more advanced and sophisticated than its counterparts.

The Celtic peoples once stretched from the British Isles to the borders of Russia. Recent discoveries have revealed that Celtic ingenuity inspired the Romans - and by extension the modern world. Got a car? Well, the word itself was derived from the Celtic “karros,” for the Celts were widely famed as expert chariot-makers.

The mysterious Celtic druids were apparently not only involved in mysticism, but in mathematics and geometry. Mathematical principles were adopted by the Celts, who were frequent trading partners of the Greeks, well before Rome dominated the land. Later, Roman soldiers encountered some of the “uncivilized barbarians” speaking fluent Greek.

Combining their knowledge of mathematics with astronomy, the Celts created “a map of the ancient world constructed along precise celestial lines: a huge network of meridians and solar axes that served as the blueprint for the Celtic colonization of Europe.” To communicate, they devised “vocal telegraph” stations, where teams would yodel in order to relay messages across vast distances. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Celts had walled settlements where 10,000 inhabitants could live in peace, trading precious items from the farthest corners of Europe.

3. Attila Wasn’t So Bad

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The “Scourge of God” inspired fear and terror throughout the continent. His fits of rage were legendary, his decimation of Roman armies contributed to the Empire’s demise. But was he really as bad as we thought?

Some historians have disputed Attila’s bloodthirsty acts. Was he truly a madman, or was he simply giving Roman ambassadors an awe-inspiring sight? Although long said to have killed his brother to become sole ruler of the Huns, Attila was known to have given his brother’s widow a governorship. He also doted on his son and was apparently loved by his subjects - both Huns and Romans. He had Roman scribes and subordinates who served him out of loyalty rather than fear, preferring his governance to the crippling taxes and restrictions within the more “civilized” empires.

Attila was also a man of his word. True, he demanded a huge tribute from Rome to dissuade him from attacking - but he kept to this agreement and there was peace for a time. For all the talk of the riches he plundered, he reportedly lived a life of simplicity. When entertaining Roman ambassadors during a lavish banquet, Attila himself was seated on a wooden stool, his cup was wood, and his clothes and horse were unadorned. In contrast, the Roman ambassadors wore fine clothes and elaborate jewellery.

He was also perhaps a romantic at heart. When Honoria, sister of the Western Roman Emperor, disliked an arranged marriage, she sought the aid of the Hunnic leader. She sent a ring to Attila, who took it as a sign of Honoria’s proposal. He also demanded half of the Empire as a dowry (the Scourge of God couldn’t simply ask for cattle).

His sudden death due to a massive nosebleed on his wedding night was attributed to a lifelong struggle with the condition - he just happened to have a particularly terrible one while drunk. Either that or he was murdered. Regardless, his death resonated deeply with the Huns. They cut off their hair, gashed their faces, and wailed loudly. Attila was, by all accounts, a controversial figure whose life is still shrouded in mystery. Were all stories of him true, or were they just exaggerated by historians throughout the ages?

2. We Still Use Words Named After Them

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Historically, certain “barbarian” tribes have become associated with particular types of behaviour - descriptions that have evolved into derogatory terms still used today.

Most famously, the Vandals who sacked Rome in A.D. 455 gave rise to our modern term for a destroyer of property. When the Avars migrated into southeastern Europe in A.D. 567, they demanded tributes from the Byzantine Empire. This popularized the term “avaritia” - which eventually became “avarice.” Since the Slavic people were frequently sold as slaves, they gave rise to the modern word for slavery.

Another controversial example comes from the world of medicine. For decades, the term used for people with Down syndrome was “Mongoloid.” The term was coined by Langdon Down, who believed his patients resembled Asiatic barbarians. Since that came to be considered embarrassing for everyone involved, the condition was eventually renamed after Dr. Down himself.

1. The Mongols Have Rainfall To Thank For Their Conquests

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Make no mistake about it, while the Mongols may have changed history, there are still a number of misconceptions about their conquests. For one, it has long been believed that a severe drought led to their expansion out of the traditional Mongolian homelands. Genghis Khan and his nomadic followers allegedly fled the deteriorating conditions, pushing in all directions just to find a place that was more habitable.

However, recent studies have shown that it was no drought that led to the Mongol conquests - it was consistent heavy rainfall. For around 15 years during the early 13th century, central Mongolia suddenly had a period of abnormal moisture and warmth. This relatively temperate weather meant abundant harvests. The Mongols reaped their crops, and eventually the riches of the world, for the rain gave them limitless fuel for their horses, livestock, and warriors.

Another misconception is that the Mongol armies were the exception to the rule and managed to successfully invade Russia during winter, a feat Napoleon and Hitler would fail at centuries later. But this is a faulty comparison.

Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 took place during what climatologists call the “Little Ice Age,” when the northern hemisphere went from cosy to downright frigid. Hitler’s invasion in 1941 coincided with one of modern history’s most brutal winters.

In contrast, the Mongols invaded during the “Medieval Warm Period,” when weather conditions were temperate. So pretty much from the onset, the Mongols had it quite a bit easier than later would-be conquerors.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


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21 GIFs That Explain Mathematical Concepts
By Lisa Winter,
IFL Science, 26 August 2014.

“Let's face it; by and large math is not easy, but that's what makes it so rewarding when you conquer a problem, and reach new heights of understanding.” - Danica McKellar

As we usher in the start of a new school year, it’s time to hit the ground running in your classes! Math can be pretty tough, but since it is the language in which scientists interpret the Universe, there’s really no getting around learning it. Check out these gifs that will help you visualize some tricky aspects of math, so you can dominate your exams this year.

1. Ellipse:

Via: giphy

2. Solving Pascal triangles:

Via: Hersfold via Wikimedia Commons

3. Use FOIL to easily multiply binomials:

4. Here’s how you solve logarithms:

Via: imgur

5. Use this trick so you don’t get mixed up when doing matrix transpositions:

6. What the Pythagorean Theorem is really trying to show you:

Via: giphy

7. Exterior angles of polygons will ALWAYS add up to 360 degrees:

8. If you’re studying trig, you better get pretty comfortable with circles. Check out this visualization that shows what you’re really looking at when you deal with pi:

Via: imgur

9. If an arc of a circle is the same length as its radius, the resulting angle is one radian:

10. Visualizing sine (red) on the Y axis and cosine (blue) on the X axis. The relative position of the circle is shown in black:

Via: imgur

11. This shows the same thing, but a bit more simply:

Via: reddit

12. Here’s how sine and cosine apply to triangles:

Via: imgur

13. Cosine is the derivative of sine:

Via: reddit

14. Tangent lines:

15. Flipped on its side, the shape begins to make more sense:

Via: imgur

16. Converting a function from Cartesian to Polar coordinates:

17. Drawing a parabola:

Via: giphy

18. The Riemann sum is the approximate area under a curve:

Via: giphy

19. Hyperbola:

Via: giphy

20. Translating that into 3D, you get a hyperboloid. Believe it or not, it’s made with completely straight lines:

Via: tumblr

21. Seriously. You can even make it do this:

Via: tumblr

BONUS: If you need help remembering the quadratic formula, sing it to the tune of “Pop Goes The Weasel” and you will remember it for the rest of your life. “X equals opposite B, plus or minus the square root of B squared minus 4AC, all over 2A.”

[Hat tip: Distractify, Business Insider and Sheepolution on Imgur

[Source: IFL Science. Edited.]


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The Outernet: Free Internet From Outer Space?
By KeriLynn Engel,
Who Is Hosting This, 26 August 2014.

The invention of Internet has ushered in a revolution: a new information age that has changed the way we live our lives day-to-day.

Internet users now have access to resources and information that were out of reach before, with the ability to access almost unlimited knowledge online. Those who had no voice can now share their opinions with a global audience, and those who can’t afford higher education can now attend free courses online from schools like MIT or Harvard.

If you’re reading this now, you’re reaping the benefits of the new information age. But you’re in the minority: only about 35% of the world’s population has reliable, unrestricted Internet access.

The rest are being left behind. Access to the Internet has been deemed so important, the UN Human Rights Council has declared Internet access a basic human right. They know what a difference in quality of life it makes: households without Internet access lag behind in income, employment, and other areas.

How do we bring this basic right to the billions of people around the world who lack it?

An organization called the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) has begun to work on a solution that will freely broadcast information around the globe in a modern version of shortwave radio.

The broadcasts will be sent from space using a network of mini-satellites called Cubesats, which measure only about 10 cm (4 inches) across. The first prototype is set to launch in January 2015, and if all goes according to plan, the network could be in place as early as June 2015.

Since the information is all one-way, users in censored countries can bypass censorship while retaining their privacy. Users who are barred from the Internet due to high monthly costs or lack of infrastructure can receive the broadcasts for free on smartphones, Raspberry Pi mini-computers, Linux-compatible tuners, and other inexpensive mobile devices. In the future, the network could be used to provide complete Internet access around the globe.

With the success of the Outernet, the information age revolution will spread beyond a privileged minority to the rest of the globe. The Outernet project is one step forward in spreading basic human rights around the globe, and bringing humanity closer together than it’s ever been before.

Outernet Infographic
Infographic courtesy of Who Is Hosting This

Top image via Globe Backyard.

[Source: Who Is Hosting This. Edited. Top image and some links added.]

Saturday, 30 August 2014


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10 Wild Facts About The Amazon Rainforest
By Simon Griffin,
Listverse, 30 August 2014.

Everyone is familiar with the Amazon rainforest. Odds are most of us have done a school project on it in the past (or possibly you’re doing one right now). It’s one of the most distinctive places on the planet, as well as one of the most beautiful. But while we all know the basics of the Amazon, it is such an expansive ecosystem that it holds some incredible secrets within its depths. From things that are simply astoundingly beautiful to things that could change the world, here are just 10 reasons why the Amazon is amazing.

10. Fragile Ecosystem

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Ecosystems in general can be extremely fragile, with the smallest occurrence rippling out and drastically changing the environment. The introduction of the cane toad to Australia is one of the most famous examples of how much damage can be done by a single species. A more recent example would be how the reintroduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone National Park physically changed the course of the rivers there. While most ecosystems can be considered delicate, the biodiversity levels of the Amazon leave it more susceptible to being thrown off-balance. The best way to illustrate this is with the example of the Brazil nut.

The Brazil nut can only be pollinated by one species of bee, known as Euglossine, as they are strong enough to open the lid on its flowers. As is the case with most bees, this is done mostly by the females, meaning the tree acts as a food source for them and they pollinate the plants. But the bee population is even more dependent on the tree: Male bees need the scent of the tree’s orchids to attract females for mating. So if the females didn’t pollinate the plant, there would be no way for the males to get the scent, and the bees would die out with the plant.

As if that isn’t specific enough already, the Brazil nut’s infamously tough shell can only be broken by a few animals, including the agouti, a rodent that breaks open the shell and buries the seeds in other parts of the rainforest. Any attempts to grow these trees in orchards have always failed. With so much damage being done to the rainforest, this is just one example of how easy it is for this biome to fall like dominoes.

9. The Bodele Depression

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Thousands of years of evolution in such a diverse biome has led not only to an ecosystem that requires extreme levels of synchronization, such as we saw with the Brazil nut, but also one that has a very high demand for nutrients. We can clearly see from the rainforest’s bountiful array of life that it meets this demand, but it does so from a very unexpected source.

The Bodele Depression is located in Chad, in the southern half of the Sahara Desert. It’s not a particularly large area of land, measuring in at less than 0.5 percent of either the Amazon or the Sahara. However, despite being a relative dwarf, the Bodele Depression is the source of about 3.6 million metric tons (40 million tons) of mineral sand that blows over the Atlantic and into the Amazon basin every year, fertilizing the land. Overall, it is estimated that over half of the Amazon’s dust comes from this tiny spot in the Sahara 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) away, and that without it, the rainforest as we know it today would not exist.

8. Extinctions

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The Amazon rainforest has one of the greatest levels of biodiversity on the planet, if not the greatest. It is estimated that 1 in 10 of all animal species lives in the Amazon rainforest. On top of that, just one hectare (2.5 acres) of the Amazon rainforest can contain up to 750 species of trees and 1,500 species of higher plants.

But experts say that 80,000 acres is lost every minute in the Amazon. This deforestation also leads to the daily extinction of 135 plant and animal species, which amounts to an appalling 50,000 extinctions a year. As this list progresses, you’ll see why that statistic is even more horrifying than it already seems.

When people think of rainforests being cut down, they generally picture large corporations rolling in with big machines to cut down as many trees as possible and turn them into paper, furniture, and so on. In reality, commercial logging, both legal and illegal, accounts for less than 3 percent of deforestation in the Amazon. The real driver of deforestation is cattle ranching, which accounts for anywhere between 60–80 percent of deforestation that occurs in the Amazon.

7. Mysterious Rings

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Photo credit: Nemoi

With so much land being deforested, it was only a matter of time before something unexpected was unveiled. As trees continue to be cut down, more and more mysterious ditches have been found across Brazil and Bolivia. The square, circular, and linear ditches are up to 5 meters (16 ft) deep, and left archaeologists baffled as to who built them, how, and why. As always, one theory put forth to explain their purpose was that the ditches had a religious significance, which is perfectly possible. Another theory is that they were used for drainage. A third theory is that they were there for defense. While a ditch in the ground may seem like a pretty lame defense, almost identical formations have been found all over Ireland (pictured above), that are the result of ditches being dug and the excess earth being used to build mounds beside the ditch, making forced entries extremely difficult.

Some of the ditches were over 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) long, and scientists from the University of Reading were trying to figure out how many people would have been needed to build such structures, and how they could have done so, as there was no evidence that people living in that area over 2,000 years ago would have had the tools to build such formations. The mystery was solved when the team examined pollen sediments and discovered it was grass pollen and evidence of maize, pointing to previous savannah and farming in the area. Their exact purpose, however, remains a mystery.

6. Economics

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Obviously, nobody with a conscience is going to be in favour of dealing irreparable damage to the rainforest, but when it comes down to it, some people are willing to do almost anything to make a quick buck, no matter how much devastation they leave in their wake. There’s no doubt that the Amazon is a literal organic treasure trove, so levelling it to use the land as a cattle ranch would be like coming across El Dorado and levelling it to use as a cattle ranch.

We know that there are already far more hectares used for pasture than the cattle know what to do with, and while logging is a considerably smaller contributor to deforestation than most people think, it does still occur. But the reality is that it would be much better to leave the rainforest intact, not just from an environmental perspective, but from a purely economic perspective as well. Researchers found that the value of one hectare in the Amazon was worth US$148 if used for cattle, US$1,000 if used for timber, and $6,330 if used for sustainable practices, such as fruit or latex harvesting.

5. The River

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The Amazon is undoubtedly one of the most famous rivers in the world, and for a number of good reasons. Depending on how you measure, the Amazon could be considered to be by far the biggest river on the planet. It starts in the Andes, just 192 kilometres (119 mi) from the Pacific Ocean, into which it originally drained. But as the mountains rose, its course changed, and now it runs 6,437 kilometres (4,000 mi) across South America and into the Atlantic.

While this means that the Nile River is actually 400 kilometres (250 mi) longer, the Amazon discharges a substantially greater amount of water. On average, the Nile discharges about 300 million cubic meters (1 billion cubic ft) of water a day. While that itself is an unfathomable amount of water, it absolutely pales in comparison to the Amazon’s daily output of 776 billion gallons. And that’s just in the dry season. In the wet season, the Amazon discharges an inconceivable 2.7 trillion gallons of water a day.

Because of the absolutely colossal amount of water draining out of the river and into the sea, the water as far out as 100 kilometres (60 mi) into the Atlantic Ocean is brown, which helped ships with navigation before they saw land. To put that in perspective, that’s 400 times the length of Central Park, or 15 times the length of Manhattan.

4. Medical Potential

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With such extreme levels of biodiversity, and life forms so peculiar they may as well be alien, it should come as no great surprise that the Amazon rainforest is believed to hold a myriad of potential cures and treatments to a wide range of health problems. The US National Cancer Institute has identified 3,000 plants with anti-cancer properties, over two-thirds of which grow in rainforests. As if that isn’t enough, it has been estimated that rainforest plants are to thank for a quarter of all Western pharmaceuticals, as well as a quarter of anti-cancer drugs alone.

As impressive as these statistics are in their own right, they become even more amazing once you know that only less than 1 percent of rainforest plants have been properly studied. There is more rainforest in the Amazon than the rest of the world combined, meaning that it has more medical potential than anywhere else on the planet. But at the rate it’s disappearing, we have already wiped out cures for a number of ailments, and continue to do so every day.

3. Pestalotiopsis Microspora

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We’ve seen that the biodiversity of the Amazon has a lot to offer in terms of medical benefits, and can even offer economic benefits without having detrimental effects on the wildlife. But the Amazon can also offer us practical solutions to life’s problems in other areas.

Pestalotiopsis microspora is just one of a number of plastic-eating fungi that were brought back from the Amazon by Pria Anand, a student at Yale University. Overall, she examined 59 samples. While several specimens showed the ability to degrade plastic, Pestalotiopsis microspora can do so after being grown anaerobically, which means without oxygen. This is extremely significant as many places where plastic is found in large quantities, such as landfills or oceans, do not provide sufficient oxygen for most fungi. While things are still very much in the early stages, this fungus could provide us with a way to solve one of the biggest problems facing the environment today.

2. Global Regulator

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The gargantuan scale of the Amazon River has clearly been established, but how big a deal is it really on a global scale? Well, the Amazon River holds about 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, so that should give you an idea of how much life depends on it. We have also mentioned that the Amazon makes up more than half of all rainforests, but that doesn’t really paint a clear enough picture of its importance. Well, rainforests currently cover about 6 percent of the world’s surface, down from 14 percent. The Amazon covers 6.7 million square kilometres (2.6 million sq mi) across nine countries, made up of nearly 400 billion individual trees. These trees are estimated to produce about 20 percent of the world’s oxygen.

While we wouldn’t exactly choke where we stand if it was gone, deforestation in the Amazon does have catastrophic effects for the whole planet. The Amazon holds about 90–140 billion metric tons of carbon, which is three or four times the amount released into the atmosphere each year. In fact, deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of annual global emissions, which is more than the transport sector of the entire world. And obviously, if the rainforest is levelled in the next 40 years, there will be considerably fewer trees to absorb the markedly higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere. And once those trees are gone, it can take hundreds of years for them to grow back, if that’s even possible. We are literally making the problem bigger while also reducing our ability to address it.

1. The Amazon’s Secret River

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Everybody knows the Amazon River, and we’ve already established that it dwarfs pretty much every other river on the planet. It is such an impressive triumph of nature that it’s easy to understand why few people heard about the discovery of another river in the Amazon as recently as 2011. You might be thinking that, even though the Amazon is a pretty big place, and often covered by a thick canopy, it must be a pretty small river to have evaded being seen all this time. As it turns out, the Hamza River, as it has come to be known, is roughly the same length as the Amazon River, which is 6,000 kilometres (3,728 mi). It also ranges from about 200-400 kilometres (124–248 mi) wide, which is wider than the mouth of the Amazon River itself.

As many of you may have guessed by now, the Rio Hamza is an underground river. Its discovery was made using old oil wells and computer simulations to reveal its presence 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) deep underground. Of course, despite being considerably wider than the Amazon River, the Hamza isn’t a river as we traditionally imagine them. It is more like an extremely wide trickle of water as opposed to the sweeping waters of the Amazon above. However, while its flow is only about 3 percent that of the Amazon, it still discharges 46 times the Thames.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]