Did you hear the one about the sailors who landed on an island, built a campfire and then got blown sky-high by a geyser? No? How about the sailors who landed on an island, built a campfire and then the whole island did a deep-dive, taking them with it?
These are just a couple of tales that made the rounds in the middle ages and both are based on the misconception that whales like to float at the surface of the water and so accumulate sand on their backs; sailors in turn mistake the whales for islands and when they make camp, may either find themselves unceremoniously caught up in the whale’s blow-hole eruption or, more commonly, they make a campfire and when it gets too hot, it startles the whale into diving into the depths, taking the sailors with it to their deaths.
Another commonly-told story about the whale…
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On August 16, 1972, Stefano Mariottini, a Roman chemist on vacation in Calabria, was dive fishing in waters just 26 feet deep off the Ionian Sea coast of Riace, Italy (the toe of the boot) when he saw what appeared to be a human arm in the sand. It was so realistic he thought it belonged to a dead person at first. On closer inspection he saw it was attached to a statue on its side and that there was another statue on its back lying next to it. He alerted authorities and police divers returned with oxygen-filled balloons to carefully lift the statues out of the seabed.
The find caused a sensation. Very few ancient bronzes have survived because they were frequently melted down in later eras for their metal. Most of the Greek bronzes we know of no longer exist in their original…
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