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10 Strange Fashions

zibellino1. Zibellino, which is the Italian word for "pelt." I bet you can guess what it is, or at least get close to it. It's a pelt, but it can be worn in several versatile ways: around the neck, clutched in the hand, or hanging from the waist. Sometimes the pelts were festooned with jewels, making them even more valuable. It's been documented that Elizabeth I had a zibellino with rubies and diamonds.
2. Leading Strings. These were long pieces of cloth that trailed off the back of children's garments so parents could use them like leashes. Here I thought parents leading their kids around on leashes was a somewhat recent phenomenon, but turns out it's centuries old.
3. Panniers. They were metal frames that strapped on around women's hips so their dresses would flow out over them.

I can't imagine how uncomfortable this was, especially to sit. Maybe you just refrained from sitting.

gorget4. A gorget was a steel collar that was worn around the neck but under the clothing to protect men in the military. But during the Renaissance, they meandered over to mainstream fashion. They were worn on the outside of clothes and became quite intricate "“ they were etched, engraved, embossed, bejeweled"¦ you name it. They've gone out of military fashion, although you still see decorative versions from time to time. They were used in the Third Reich, for example, but were largely just used as symbols of power and authority. I'm going to regret saying this after the Glenn Miller/Ben Affleck comment, but doesn't Washington look a little like Will Ferrell in this painting?

5. Scissors Glasses. Popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, scissors glasses were supposed to help with seeing long-distances "“ the glasses had two different lenses for two different purposes. Users of the scissors glasses included George Washington and Napoleon.
motoring6. Motoring Hood. I wish people still wore these to go out driving. They would be especially handy for riding in a convertible, don't you think? And you would only look ridiculous until the fashion caught on. Who wants to go first?
7. Transparent ruffles. When Louis XVI was king of France, the fashion was to have the "neckline" of a top actually fall just below the breasts. They were "covered" by a transparent ruffle, and then could be decorated with jewels and gemstones and rouge as the wearer so pleased. This didn't last too long. And thank God. Can you imagine trying to conduct a business meeting like that?
8. Lovelock. From 1600 to 1650 or so, it was fashionable for men to wear one long strand of hair brushed forward over one shoulder. The rest of the hair was worn collar-length. Weird. Sounds somewhat like a brushed-forward rattail.
patten9. Pattens. They were shoes of the 17th century, with a flat metal circle that served as the bottom of the shoe, followed by a length that varied from shoe to shoe, then a flat metal plate nailed into the wooden sole of the shoe. They were supposed to be good for women who worked outside a lot "“ the tall part kept dress hems off of the ground and kept them cleaner. By most accounts, they weren't terribly comfortable. I know, that's a shocker. The picture makes them look so cozy.
10. James Monroe was notorious for wearing britches, a buffcoat, an old-fashioned wig and a cocked hat. This might not sound that strange, but it was actually very out-of-date by the time Monroe was wearing it as President. The book Secret Lives of the Presidents by Cormac O'Brien likens it to George W. Bush insisting on dressing like Mike Brady. I know, this factoid is slightly out of place, but it's so interesting I thought I should share it.

That's it for our Countdown/Countup! Hope it made the time til you get to hang out with family and friends go by a little quicker. Enjoy your holidays!

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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