The Giant’s Shoulders #72: The Seven Wonders

The 2nd century BCE marked an unusual milestone in the history of civilization.  As the Greeks had conquered most of the civilized world, its citizens were more or less free to travel widely through Europe and the Middle East, to see different cultures and their accomplishments.  Soon, travel guides — the Fodors of their time — were written, providing a list of “must see” attractions throughout the world.

Today, of course, we refer to these as the Seven Wonders of the World.  Not every list was the same, but the most commonly-listed attractions were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia,  the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The Seven Wonders of the World, as imagined by Maarten van Heemskerck in 1572.  Via Wikipedia.

The Seven Wonders of the World, as imagined by Maarten van Heemskerck in 1572 (w/ exception of Gardens picture). Via Wikipedia.

Of course, nothing lasts forever —  all seven wonders existed at the same time only over a short span of sixty years.  Then, one by one, they succumbed to natural disasters and deliberate destruction, and now only the Great Pyramid of Giza survives.

Blog carnivals can’t last forever, either! The Giant’s Shoulders has been ongoing for six years now, an eternity in internet time, and the decision has been made to bring it to a close.  This will be the final edition, and what better way to send it off than to take a tour of the history of science along with the Wonders of the World?

The Pharos of Alexandria, as imagined by Maarten van Heemskerck.

The Pharos of Alexandria, as imagined by Maarten van Heemskerck.

The lighthouse, as imagined in an 1854 book*.

The lighthouse, as imagined in an 1854 book*.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria (280 BCE — 1323 CE): Exploration and discovery.  The lighthouse (also known as the Pharos) was built in the city of Alexandria under the direction of the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy I, who took over Egypt’s rule after Alexander the Great’s death.   It must have been a truly magnificent site welcoming people to the harbor, with estimates of its height ranging from 393 and 450 feet. As a guide for ocean-going vessels, the lighthouse is a perfect symbol to represent those blog posts dealing with exploration and discovery, both on Earth and beyond!  The structure lasted an incredibly long time, but a series of earthquakes eventually reduced it to ruin.  However, in 1994 the underwater remains of the toppled tower were discovered by archaeologists, and many artifacts, including pieces of the lighthouse, have been brought to the surface!

Lewis and Clark Only Became Popular 50 Years Ago, at Smithsonian.  Everybody knows about Lewis and Clark, right?  Well, Natasha Geiling explains how the explorers were almost forgotten for 150 years after their expedition.

Longitude in Lisbon, at Board of Longitude Project.  Rebekah Higgit describes a visit to an exhibit in Lisbon about the First Longitude Act.

Eugen Sänger: Germany’s Other Rocket Genius, at Vintage Space.  Lots of people are familiar with Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who helped launch the U.S. space program (and had a song made about him).  Amy Shira Teitel tells us about another German rocket pioneer, and his precarious life.

Fresnel and the Lighthouse, at Physics Buzz.  Augustin Jean Fresnel was a pioneer of optics.  One of his inventions, the unusual Fresnel lens, was motivated by the need for better lighthouses.  A podcast with Theresa Levitt at Physics Buzz tells the story.

How Jules Verne Invented Astronautics, at io9. Here, Ron Miller makes the case that Jules Verne’s visionary novel From the Earth to the Moon didn’t just predict space travel, but caused it.

Hunting Gorillas in the Land of Cannibals: Making Victorian Field Knowledge in Western Equatorial Africa, at The Appendix. Elaine Ayers looks at the expedition, and claims, of a Victorian era African explorer.

The Colossus of Rhodes, and its ruin, as imagined by Heemskerck.

The Colossus of Rhodes, and its construction, as imagined by Heemskerck.


The Colossus, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Colossus, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Colossus of Rhodes (292 BCE — 226 BCE): Physical science and math.  Ptolemy I, who was responsible for the lighthouse, also aided the city of Rhodes in repelling an invading force.  The people of Rhodes sold the abandoned siege equipment and used the money to erect a massive 100 foot statue of their patron deity Helios, the sun god.  Contrary to legend, the statue did not stand astride the entrance to the harbor, as depicted by Heemskerck and others, but was on one side of it.  Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight, even after it was felled by an earthquake in 226 BCE.  Sadly, the people of Rhodes declined to rebuild it, as the Oracle of Delphi made them fear that they had offended Helios.  The pieces of the statue were apparently melted down and sold off over time, so that now even its original location is the subject of debate.  The sun god Helios, however, seems the perfect symbol for blog posts on mathematics and the physical sciences.

Carnot and thermodynamics, at yovisto blog.  In this post we are treated to a biography of Sadi Carnot, the physicist often said to be the “father of thermodynamics.”

Alexander Graham Bell Made a Wireless Phone That Ran on Sunshine, at Motherboard.  Long, long before we had cell phones, fiber optics and wireless communication, Alexander Graham Bell made a phone that used light to communicate!  Ben Richmond tells the story.

Gold, Secrecy and Prestige, at Chemical Heritage Foundation.  Michal Meyer reviews a book on the history of alchemy and its connection to modern chemistry.

The Phases of Venus and Heliocentricity: A Rough Guide, at Renaissance Mathematics.  Thony Christie tells the story of how the phases of the planet Venus helped settle the dispute between those who viewed the Earth as the center of the cosmos, and those who viewed the Sun as the center.

Cosmos Reboot Wrap-Up, at Uncertain Principles.  The new version of “Cosmos,” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, covered a lot of history of science.  Chad Orzel discusses the final episode of the new series, and its ups and downs.

A Century On, This Math Prodigy’s Formulas Are Finally Unravelled, at The Crux.  As a prime example of “history being relevant today,” Amir Aczel describes how mathematician have finally solved the mystery of some of math genius Ramanujan’s powerful formulas.

Criterion of Reality, 1880 and 1935, at Ptak Science Books.  What quantities may be considered “real” in physics, and what do we mean by “real?” John Ptak compares some answers that were published over fifty years apart in the science journals.

Ghosts and Neutrinos, 1930, at Ptak Science Books.  Also at Ptak Science Books, John shares a letter by physicist Wolfgang Pauli in which he is one of the first to speculate about the existence of an unseen particle: what is now known as the neutrino.

Cosmic blunders that have held back science, at Physics World.  Hamish Johnston summarizes a new article on the arXiv that discusses big historic blunders in understanding that have held back the progress of astronomy.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, as imagined by Heemskerck.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, as imagined by Heemskerck.

The Mausoleum, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Mausoleum, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (353 BCE — 1402 CE): Medicine and health.  The Mausoleum was a tomb built for Mausolus, a governor in the Persian empire, at the site of present day Bodrum, Turkey.  As you may have noticed, the word “mausoleum” comes from Mausolus’ grant edifice, which was reportedly 148 feet tall and adorned with Greek sculptural reliefs on all four sides.  It is not clear how, or when, the mausoleum was ruined, but it seems mostly likely that a series of earthquakes brought it down, like many of the ancient wonders.  As a monument to man’s mortality, the mausoleum seems the perfect symbol for blog posts on medicine and health.  The ruins of the mausoleum were rediscovered in the 1850s by archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton, who studied ancient texts to determine the most likely location of the structure.

Moulage and the medical student, at clinical curiosities.  Here Anne Hanley explains how the wax models of Joseph Towne have helped medical students for over a century.

For a Muddled Memory, at Early Modern Medicine.  Wouldn’t we all like to have better memories?  This isn’t a new desire, as Jennifer Evans explains: a book from the 1600s gave lots of advice on how to boost retention.

The Sick Rose, at Wellcome Library.  In a guest post, Richard Barnett explains why he developed a sense of unease while writing his book on the history of medical illustrations, The Sick Rose.

Alexander Shulgin, ‘Godfather of ecstasy’, dies aged 88, at BBC News.  Michelle Roberts writes an obituary for the man who essentially developed ecstacy — and tested it on family and friends in the 60s.

‘Dr. Ecstasy’ Alexander Shulgin Is Dead, Leaving a More Euphoric and Weird World, at Motherboard.  Another take on Shulgin’s life, by Michael Byrne.

Madness and Sadness, at Early Modern Medicine.  Jennifer Evans shares a series of correspondence between a doctor and a man seeking help for a friend’s mental illness, highlighting the sad state of treatment in the 1700s.

Bethlem Bed Shortages in the Eighteenth Century, at The Sloane Letters Blog.  We regularly hear about shortages of hospital beds these days, but it turns out that the problem was even more complicated back in the 1700s!  Lisa Smith explains.

Strange case: ‘At all events the blade fell’, at The Quack Doctor.  Egads! Caroline Rance shares a tale of a man who was a little too obsessed with the guillotine — and it cost him.

‘[S]he is in a highly hysterical state. She’s a woman who resists’, at History of Medicine in Ireland Blog.  Valeria Cavalli finds hints of attitudes towards women’s psychological health in the mid-1800s from an unlikely source: ghost stories!

An engraving based on a drawing of Heemskerck of the Statue of Zeus.

An engraving, based on a drawing of Heemskerck, of the Statue of Zeus.

The Statue of Zeus, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Statue of Zeus, as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia (435 BCE — 425 CE): Personalities.  The Statue of Zeus was constructed for the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece, by the sculptor Phidias.  To quote Wikipedia, it was “a sculpture of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, it represented the god Zeus sitting on an elaborate cedarwood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones.” Little is known about the statue, or even its eventual destruction, which likely occurred when the temple burned in 425 CE.  As the Statue of Zeus represents a larger than life personality, this wonder seems the perfect way to introduce blog posts focusing on the people of science.

Tom Hughes: Remembering a Non-Lifer, at MIT.  Rosalind Williams writes a nice tribute to Tom Hughes, a preeminent historian of technology.

What was Alan Turing really like? at BBC News.  Much has been written about the accomplishments of codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing, but what was he like as a person? Vincent Dowd finds out via his family friends.

Edmund Dickinson, at History of Alchemy.  Here we have a podcast about Edmund Dickinson, an alchemist and court physician!

Teaching Experimental Philosophy V: the case of James Bradley, at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy.  James Bradley was a leading English astronomer; however, Peter Anstey takes a look at a different side of him: his teaching of experimental philosophy.

The Astrophysicist of Tiananmen, at Motherboard.  Alex Pasternack looks at the life of Fang Lizhi, the astrophysicist who helped ignite the protests at Tiananmen Square.

Halley falls ill, at Halley’s Log.  An excerpt from the life of Captain Edmond Halley, in which he suffered from a mysterious ailment on Barbadoes.

Extraordinary Photos of Everyday Life in Oak Ridge, the Secret City, at io9.  Oak Ridge was a top-secret city which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers and helped build the Manhattan Project.  Vincze Miklós shares some photos from the war era.

On the Shoulders of a Giant, at HuffPost Science.  Mario Livio takes a look at the famous story of Newton and the apple, as told in second-hand correspondence at the time.

Abiding Grace, at The Newton Papers. Sarah Dry tries to learn more about a woman who had a significant role in the history of Newton’s documents.

Mary Somerville, Queen of Science, at Letters from Gondwana.  Ferwen gives a biography of Mary Somerville, one of the earliest women given official credit for her scientific achievements.

Who sharpened Occams’ razor? at Irish Philosophy.  The philosophical concept of Occam’s razor is famous, but it turns out that Occam never explicitly wrote about it! Cathy investigates the true origins of the concept.

Heemskerck's imagining of the Temple of Artemis.

Heemskerck’s imagining of the Temple of Artemis.

The Temple of Artemis (Diana), as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Temple of Artemis (Diana), as imagined in an 1854 book.

The Temple of Artemis (323 BCE — 268 CE): Anthropology and paleontology.  The Temple of Artemis, in Ephesus, has a long and checkered history that far predates its naming as a wonder.  A number of temples were formerly situated on the site that ended up being destroyed by flood and earthquakes.  The third and most grandiose phase was begun in 323 BCE, and it survived at least until 268 CE, when it was damaged or destroyed completely by an invading Goth force.  The ruins of the temple were rediscovered in 1869 by archaeologist John Turtle Wood, though precious little was recovered. Today, the site is marked by a single column that was fashioned from unrelated pieces found at the site.   Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, and so the temple dedicated to her seems an appropriate place to share posts on anthropology and paleontology.

Mary Anning’s contribution to French paleontology, at Letters from Gonwanda.  Ferwen looks at the important role Mary Anning played in the field of paleontology.

What are relatives good for? at Slate.  Eric Michael Johnson looks at the fifty year old contributions of Bill Hamilton to the ideas of kin selection, and the argument that rages over them today.

Natural born killers: brain shape, behaviour and the history of phrenology, at The Conversation.  In the 1800s, many believed that it was possible to determine a person’s personality from the shape of their head!  James Bradley looks at the history of phrenology, now known to be a pseudo-science.

On Curing the Disability and Disease of Left-Handedness (1935), at Ptak Science Books.  Speaking of pseudo-science, even in the early 20th century some believed that left-handedness was a disease! John Ptak shares a book on the subject.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, at imagined by Heemskerck.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, from a 19th century engraving.

The Hanging Gardens, from an 1854 book.

The Hanging Gardens, from an 1854 book.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (600 BCE — 1st century CE?): Biology.  The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is the most mysterious of the ancient wonders, as its exact location has never been established and even its existence, or at least nature, has been called into question!  Despite the name, the gardens were not “hanging” in any familiar sense of the word, but rather seem to have been a series of terraces flowing with life.  The lack of detailed descriptions of the garden in any source of the era suggests to some researchers that stories of the garden represent an “ideal” garden of the east, or that the garden may be completely fictional, exaggerated after multiple second-hand tellings.  Nevertheless, the gardens are a great symbol to introduce posts on biology in the carnival.

Casting about: Darwin on worms, at Natural Selections.  DarwinLetters describes how Charles Darwin studied and championed the humble earthworm, often maligned as a pest in his time.

The First Religion Devoted to Evolution, at io9.  Evolution and religion?  Jon Phillips explains how biologist Julian Huxley attempted to found the faith of “evolutionary humanism.”

Two recent books about Alfred Russel Wallace from James T. Costa, at The Dispersal of Darwin.  Michael Barton takes a look at two recent books published about Alfred Russel Wallace, an important figure in the history of evolution.

And the winner of Wikipedia’s influence list is … an 18th century botanist. Hear hear, at The Guardian.  The surprise announcement that Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist, came out at the top of Wikipedia’s “influence list” gives Patrick Barkham an excuse to explain why!

The Great Pyramid, as imagined by Heemskerck.

The Great Pyramid, as imagined by Heemskerck.  Note how utterly wrong he got it, having only written accounts to guide him!

The pyramids, from an 1854 book.

The pyramids, from an 1854 book.

The Great Pyramid of Giza (2560 BCE — present): the world.   Only one ancient wonder of the world still remains today: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Constructed as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu, it stands 481 feet tall.  The Pyramid would  have looked much different when constructed than it does today; it originally had casing stones covering it that would have made it look smooth and elegant; only a few of these stones remain today.  The complete pyramid complex also included two mortuary temples to Khufu and three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s wives.  The Great Pyramid, and all the pyramids, have been the subject of much speculation over the years, some quite absurd, attempting to answer the question: how did they build it?   Recently, some researchers suggested a very mundane answer to one piece of the puzzle: wetting the sand in front of the stones made them easier to drag.   As the only surviving ancient wonder, the Great Pyramid here represents all topics in the carnival that we have yet to discuss.

Warren Weaver, Planned Science, and the Lessons of World War II, Pt. 1 (and part 2), at Ether Wave Propaganda.  Will Thomas discusses the fierce debate after World War II over how much the federal government should plan and fund scientific research.

Caliche: the conflict mineral that fuelled the first world war, at The H Word.  Daniel Gross enlightens us on a surprising and little-known aspect of World War I: the battle in Chile over precious nitrates.

Collaboration in the Production of Recipe Books, at The Recipes Project.  Recipe books? In a history of science carnival?  These books were recipes for all sorts of things, however; Simone Zweifel describes one aspect of their creation.

Science grows on the fertilizer of disagreement, at The Renaissance Mathematicus.  Here Thony Christie takes a critical look at some of the “story time” popular presentations of the history of science.

A Science Museum Inside a Barge Is Currently Floating Through Europe, at Motherboard. Want to see some science up close? Nadja Sayej describes a floating museum currently traveling through parts of Europe.

Many happy returns! Trinity House celebrates 500 years, at The Board of Longitude Project.  Lena Moser shares some information about Trinity House, which celebrated 500 years of making water navigation in the UK safe.

Catching up with #TalkNerdy, at True Anomalies.  Recently, scientist and historian of scientist Meg Rosenburg earned her PhD!  Her you can hear her recent podcast with Cara Santa Maria and read about some of the topics they discussed.

Bombs filled with bats carrying incendiary devices, at Boing Boing.  War leads to many weird innovations, and Lawrence Wilkinson shares one of the weirdest.  The title is explanation enough, I think…

How Can You Make Science News Better? Ask a Historian or Sociologist of Science, at Drexel News Blog.  Rachel Ewing argues that historical context is important in understanding the science news today.

Investing in science: grand visions, messy realities, at The H Word.  Finally, as the UK tries to determine the future of its science policy, James Sumner asks what they can learn from its past.

Maarten van Heemskerck,  Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World.  Via Wikipedia.

Maarten van Heemskerck, Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World. Via Wikipedia. See if you can spot them all!

And with this, we bring the final edition of The Giant’s Shoulders to a close!  There is a lesson, however, even in the demise of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — there are always new wonders being created! In recent years, new lists of World Wonders have been compiled, and though the modern constructions don’t have quite the same gravitas at the ancient ones, they are no less awe-inspiring.  Similarly, though this blog carnival is drawing to a close, there will continue to be wonderful writing on the history of science around the web.  Hopefully, the lists of carnival participants will give the interested reader some new places to explore.

(I have posted some final thoughts, and thanks, regarding this blog carnival at the carnival website.)


* The book in question is T.A. Buckley, The Seven Wonders of the World (Carlton & Phillips, New York, 1854).

This entry was posted in General science, History of science. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Giant’s Shoulders #72: The Seven Wonders

  1. Peter Mander says:

    Since your shoulders are no longer available, may I suggest CarnotCycle as a vantage point for seeing further – at least into the world of classical thermodynamics:

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