Image from Livre des profits ruraux (late 15th century France)

The Landlord Asks for a Christmas Rose

Bizarre customs of landholding—from demands for flowers to ritualized flatulence—reflect the philosophy that developed under the feudal system.
Cat Mummy

Why Ancient Egyptians Loved Cats So Much

Ancient Egyptians' love of cats developed from an appreciation of their rodent-catching skills to revering them as sacred creatures.
A contraption used to extract the silk from a spider

The Tangled History of Weaving with Spider Silk

Spider silk is as strong as steel and as light as a feather, but attempts to industrialize its production have gotten stuck, so to speak.
Otto Marseus van Schrieck - Stilleben mit Insekten und Amphibien, 1662

A Recipe for Flies and Frogs

And other wonders of spontaneous generation.
Close up of an eye

Finding a Murderer in a Victim’s Eye

In late 19th-century forensics, optography was all the rage. This pseudoscience held that what someone saw just before death would be imprinted on their eye.
Chestnuts

When Chestnuts Were an Everyday Food

Even if you haven't actually roasted chestnuts on an open fire, you probably associate them with winter. But once they were a common year-round food.

Better Living Through Nudity

In England in the 1920s and ‘30s, nudism was ideological and utopian. Then the Nazis coopted the concept for their eugenicist Nacktkultur movement.

Do We Have to Tell Them the House Is Haunted?

On the law and mythologies of haunting, from antiquity to today.
Relics from the Franklin Search Expedition

When Clairvoyants Searched for a Lost Expedition

When Captain Sir John Franklin's Arctic expedition went awry, clairvoyants claimed to be able to contact the crew members. Why did people believe them?
"The Macaroni. A real Character at the late Masquerade", mezzotint by Philip Dawe, 1773

The Gender-Bending Style of Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni

The outlandish "macaroni" style of 18th-century England blurred the boundaries of gender, as well as class and nationality.