Writing history is a lot like developing a pick-up line: the smoother and catchier it is, the easier it is to retell to friends and future lovers. Believe it or not, some of the most widely accepted historical "truths" are actually very inaccurate. Although the purpose of this article is not to turn each of us into a skeptical conspiracy theorist, it may hopefully teach us a valuable lesson: nothing should ever be accepted at face value. Unless he's just THAT smooth, that is.
The Earth Is Flat… Or Not.
Although the majority of the human race isn't convinced by theories of a pancake-shaped Earth, a dedicated organization of individuals stand firm behind this side-scrolling mentality. Dubbed the Flat Earth Society, this group of "intellectuals" defend their theories with warped physics and government conspiracies. Although Christopher Columbus and NASA proved their beliefs incorrect, faith propels these visionaries forward.
According to their website, the sustained perseverance of the flat-Earth believer will ultimately convince the "Round Earther" that the "reign of error and confusion is over." Until that day comes, however, many of us will continue to travel around the world without fear of falling off of the edge.
When Harry Met T-Rex
Despite decades of B-rated movies attesting to the contrary, humans and dinosaurs did not share a prehistoric planet Earth. Many "creationists" have fabricated scientific and religious proof of human/dinosaur interaction. According to the creationist's official website, dinosaurs have been spotted as recently as 1976, when a sheriff in San Benito, Texas spotted a flying 'Pterosaur.' Although dinosaurs were believed to have disappeared from the earth over 65 million years ago, the extinction event that erased them from history had apparently left a few lucky survivors behind. Creationists claim that coverup attempts directed towards dinosaurs are also directed towards Christianity as well. Theories of evolution are believed to be the enemy of both dinosaurs and divinity. Until a feisty Tyrannosaurus makes his presence known, however, many people will remain unconvinced.
Christmas in Spring
Although the previous "truths" have only have fooled small groups of individuals, this example may have the entire world duped. Before gift cards and shopping sprees, the Christmas holidays were primarily seen as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. The lore surrounding the nativity marks December 25th as the official birthday of this Christian icon. Regardless of any religious implications, historians do agree that Jesus was a religious prophet who was eventually executed by the Romans. The actual events surrounding this sacred evening in Bethlehem, however, may not have occurred exactly as we've been told. An increasing number of biblical scholars believe that Jesus was born in the early spring season. In addition, scholars have found differing accounts of Mary and Joseph's supposed journey to Bethlehem: according to certain gospels of the Bible, Mary and Joseph were already in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth and did not have to undertake a harrowing journey. Whatever the truth may be, December 25th is as good a day as any for Christians to celebrate the birth of their savior. And for the rest of us to gorge ourselves with great food and pass out in front of the TV beneath a pile of brand new socks and sweaters.
Don't Tread On Me
Ask any U.S. citizen if their beloved home country has ever been occupied by foreign troops and the answer will most likely be "no." Spend a few days finding an intelligent U.S. citizen and ask this question again: if you're lucky, they might respond with, "Yeah, only once. The British burned down the White House during the War of 1812." Spend a lifetime hunting down a shrewd historian and repeat the question: if the stars have properly aligned, you might actually hear the truth.
Although the British did invade U.S. soil during the War of 1812, this was not the last time foreign powers would take military action on U.S. soil. During the Second World War, the Japanese captured and occupied Kiska, a small landmass in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska. Japanese forces occupied Kiska for over a year. After a significant defeat on the island of Attu, the Japanese secretly retreated off of American soil. American and Canadian forces invaded Kiska two weeks later and suffered hundreds of casualties at the hands of Japanese booby traps.
The Real Count Dracula
Ignore anything you've previously read or seen involving Bram Stoker or Bela Lugosi; the original "Count Dracula" was no vampire. Vlad Dracul III, a fanatical Wallachian prince who fought savagely against the Ottoman Empire, is known less for his nocturnal exploits and more for his cruel and sadistic punishments imposed on prisoners of war and unruly Wallachian citizens. Having been raised in a family of military leaders, Vlad was no stranger to combat. After assuming the Wallachian throne in 1456, Vlad waged war on the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to avenge his murdered brother and father. His prisoners were often impaled on wooden pikes, earning him the nickname "Vlad the Impaler." Woodcuts from Vlad's reign show him ambling through the "Forest of the Impaled", a grisly collection of murder prisoners skewered on wooden pikes. Legend states that invading Ottomans called off their attack after seeing 20,000 impaled Turkish prisoners placed on pikes around Vlad's castle. Vlad was eventually killed in battle against the Turks in 1476. In the early 1900s, Vlad's coffin was exhumed for research purposes. Oddly enough, no body was to be found. Whether or not Vlad became a bloodthirsty vampire is still unknown.
Who Discovered America?
"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." This is historical fact. His accidental "discovery" of America, however, may need a few revisions. Although many people believe that Christopher Columbus' voyage to the "New World" made him the first explorer to set foot on North America, the Vikings made their way to the continent over 400 years before the celebrated Italian. According to Norse legend, Thorfinn Karlsefni led a small convoy of ships out of Greenland to what is now called called Newfoundland. In 1960, remains a 1000 year old Viking settlement were discovered in Newfoundland by archaeologists Helge and Anne Ingstad. Whether or not this settlement was created by Karlsefi remains to be decided. Nevertheless, these ruins predate Columbus' voyage by half a millennium. One can only imagine what would have occurred if Christopher Columbus and Thofinn Kalsefni had accidentally happened upon one another. Judging by the majority of recorded history, it probably wouldn't have ended peacefully.
The Real Thanksgiving
Although seasonal holiday shops would have us believe that Native Americans and pilgrims sat down at a large, primitive picnic table for the first Thanksgiving feast, history begs to differ. Although the pilgrims did share a meal with the Wampanoag tribe, turkey and pumpkin pie were noticeably absent. A devastating winter season had nearly destroyed the pilgrims' settlement. Unfamiliar with farming practices in the "New World", the pilgrims were unable to grow food for harvest. Squanto, a Wampanoag tribesmen, saved the pilgrim settlement by teaching them farming and fishing practices. Although legend states that the Wampanoag invited the pilgrims to their annual "Thanksgiving" feast, the shared meal between the former English and Native Americans was actually a first for both groups. Believe it or not, the pilgrims did not dress in in their instantly recognizable black and white garb for this occasion. Typical attire for a half-starved colony member would most likely utilize a brown and green color combination. Sadly, there wasn't a quality football game occurring anywhere in the continent following their hearty meal of corn and dried fruit.
George Washington and His Famous Cherry Tree
George Washington "cannot tell a lie." Others can, apparently. As the story goes, a young George Washington confessed to chopping down a prized cherry tree in order to preserve his integrity and righteousness. Mason Locke Williams fabricated this brilliant example of morality and honesty for his acclaimed biography of America's first president. His celebrated opus, "A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits, of General George Washington" was filled with grandiose recounting of the American icon's life events. Many historians justify Williams' actions, claiming that his fantastical tales are used simply as tool to enhance Washington's "colorless" life. It remains to be discovered how a life of combat and nation-building can be considered boring.
Let Them Eat What?
"Let them eat cake." This notorious phrase has become a symbol of the profound disconnect between aristocracy and impoverished laborers. Often attributed to Marie Antoinette, this famous quotation was actually used by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to describe the late Maria-Therese, wife of King Louis XIV. Although Marie Antoinette is often criticized by historians for a careless and flippant attitude towards her starving subjects, many historical documents paint this young woman in a very different light. In a letter to her family in Austria regarding a food shortage in France, Antoinette stated, "It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness." Hardly worth being decapitated for, surely.
Who Cares About July 2nd?
Our forefathers, apparently. Although July 4th,1776 is widely believed to be the day in which the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain, the Continental Congress actually voted in favor of independence on July 2nd. As the official Declaration of Independence was composed on July 4th, the historical significance of July 2nd has been all but forgotten by American citizens.
Technically, the Declaration of Independence was not made official until the forefathers signed the document on August 2nd, 1776.
Although July 4th may only be one of three historical dates relevant to America's quest for independence, it's a great day to fire up the grill and spend time out in the sun.
Robin Hood's Commute to Nottingham
The legendary duals with the Sheriff of Nottingham may have occurred after a lengthy horse ride. Contrary to popular belief, Robin Hood's home does not lie within the beautiful confines of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England. Although the exact location of Robin Hood's downtime has yet to be determined, historians believe that the legendary bandit may have positioned his base of operations in Yorkshire, England. As many small towns and villages are named using lingo related to the heroic thief, pinpointing his actual stomping grounds has proved to be very difficult. As long as Kevin Costner continues strutting around with his bow and arrow on DVD, however, many people are content believing the lie.
Blame It On The Apple
Elementary school science would have us believe that Isaac Newton suddenly developed the Universal Law of Gravitation after an apple fell on his head. Although the apple did fall, the path from bruise to brilliance was a bit more complicated. William Stukely, author of the celebrated "Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life", discusses the apple incident in detail. Having been told the story by Isaac Newton himself, Stukely described his conversation with the brilliant scientist by saying, "After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden to drink tea, under the shade some apple trees….he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself." The apple, therefore, may not have struck his head at all. Regardless of where it landed, the fall produced several questions for Newton instead of sudden answers. Thanks to this small fruit, we now have a better grasp on the physical properties of our planet.
Vikings And Their Spiked Helmets
For many people, the word "viking" conjures images of blood soaked men in horned helmets and women with strange steel cones covering their chest regions. Although the blood may have been present, the horned helmets and metal breast implants were much less common. Although archaeologists have found evidence of pointed Viking helmets, artifacts and archaic images imply that these head ornaments were used for ceremonial purposes rather than battle armor. Many ancient Roman writings describe helmets "made to resemble the heads of wild beasts" worn by Nordic enemies. None of these descriptions, however, date far enough back to adequately describe Viking attire. In all honesty, a battle axe toting Viking is probably intimidating enough without any gaudy combat bling. Let's leave the horned helmets and cone bras at the opera, shall we?
The Invention Of The Light Bulb
With or without Thomas Edison, the light bulb would probably have been introduced to the general public around the same time period. Although Joseph Swan, a British inventor, filed a patent for an identical light bulb design one year before Thomas Edison, Edison's ownership of General Electric allowed him to instantly provide power for his "new" device, demonstrating a functional light bulb to the general public. As Swan published his findings and methods on the path to producing his light bulb, Edison had access to this valuable resource while refining his own invention. Although Edison has since become a historical icon and Swan has fallen into obscurity, the combined efforts of these men produced one of the most valuable inventions known to man. Here's to collaboration!
Although Building a Pyramid Is a Drag, At Least You Get Your Own Cool Burial Plot
Images of tyrannical pharaohs and miserable slaves dance through our imagination when we think of the construction of the pyramids. The interaction between ruler and laborer, however, was much more professional. Archaeologists have discovered tombs constructed specifically for the celebration and burial of the artisans and laborers who constructed the ancient pyramids. It is believed that 20,000 workers labored for over 20 years building the pyramids at Giza. The pyramid builders and agricultural workers who supplied food and other commodities for their efforts account for roughly 80% of the population of ancient Egyptian civilization. It only seems appropriate that the pharaohs reward their lifelong servants with a modest tomb of their own.