The ancient, the dead and the possibly metrosexual

"As if he had been poured in tar, he lies on a pillow of turf and seems to weep the black river of himself. The grain of his wrists is like bog oak, the ball of his heel like a basalt egg."

So says the great Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney of the Grauballe Man, one of more than a thousand well-preserved, ancient corpses found in peat bogs throughout Northern Europe over the past two hundred years or so. It's the bogs' unique conditions and chemical composition -- the acidity of the water, cold temperature and the lack of oxygen "“- that tends to preserve the skin and organs of those interred in them, sometimes for as long as 10,000 years. There are lots of things experts can divine from studying these strange biological "“ and sociological "“ time capsules, from the diet of the deceased (by studying the contents of the stomach) to the way that they died (many were violently killed: stabbed, bludgeoned or strangled; the remarkable Tollund Man was found with a noose still wrapped around his neck).

However, there's one thing in particular experts find puzzling: many of the bog people appear to have groomed themselves with great care. It's not uncommon for the boggies to have nicely-manicured fingers (pictured), artfully placed tattoos or even trendy hairdos. The 2300-year-old Clonycavan Man, discovered in an Irish peat bog in 2003, sports a well-coiffed mohawk held in place by a gel made from plant derivatives from southern France "“ ie, imported hair product.

From this, experts have deduced that either 1) Northern European Iron Agers were of a more, shall we say, metrosexual bent than other civilizations, or 2) the fact that all these well-groomed ladies and fellows were murdered ritualistically means that the bog people were either criminals who were allowed to get fancied up before their deaths, or more likely they were of high social standing, and bumped off for political reasons. Either way, it's fascinatingly weird.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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