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The Quick 10: How 10 Works of Art Were Discovered

It was this month in 1820 that a peasant farming the fields stumbled across one of the greatest artistic finds in history: the Venus de Milo. Seriously, all I ever find when I'm digging in my yard are pieces of broken toys and copious amounts of cigarette butts. Maybe you'll be luckier than me... read how these 10 works of art were "discovered" and then go and do a little digging of your own. And if you find anything, you have to give me 10 percent for inspiring you. ...No? Well, I tried.

1. The Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820 by a Greek farmer digging in his field. He found a cavity in the ground with the Venus inside; it also contained three statues of Hermes and a marble fragment that didn't belong to any of them. There was some debate over whether the statue belonged to Turkey or France, but Venus ended up being presented to the King of France (Louis XVIII) and she's been in the Louvre ever since.

winged2. Another Louvre treasure, the Winged Victory of Samothrace (AKA Nike of Samothrace), was discovered in 1863. Charles Champoiseau, an archeologist, found her shattered into more than 300 pieces - not including her head and arms, which are still missing today. Almost a century later, a fingerless right hand was found along with one severed finger. Jean Charbonneaux, the curator of the Louvre said he had no doubt that it belonged to Nike, but would probably never have it attached, even if the corresponding arm was found. "A statue without a head and with only one arm looks rather awkward."
3. The Mona Lisa is thought to have been one of da Vinci's last works; he finished it not long before his 1519 death (side note: yesterday was da Vinci's birthday). Afterward, the King of France, who had invited da Vinci to work at a mansion near his castle, bought the painting and kept it in his personal collection until it was given to Louis XVI. Louis moved it to the Palace of Versailles until the Revolution was over, and after that it was sent to where it resides now - the Louvre. But it hasn't been there consistently - Napoleon had it placed in his bedroom; it was hidden away during the Franco-Prussian War and again during WWII, and it has been stolen several times.

sphinx4. The Great Sphinx. Legend has it that the Sphinx was rediscovered by Napoleon's troops in 1798. In fact, the story of the Sphinx's missing nose is sometimes attributed to a stray cannonball from his army, but older depictions show that the Sphinx's nose has been missing for a looooong time. The truth is, people have known about the Great Sphinx for quite some time before Napoleon - we have a written description of "the great colossus" from as early as 1546. It's probably safe to say, though, that Napoleon and his men brought newfound worldwide attention to the Sphinx.

5. The Venus of Willendorf, despite dating back to 24,000 BCE or so, was only discovered in 1908. Austrian archaeologist Josef Szombathy was excavating a paleolithic site near the city of Krems, Austria, when he stumbled upon the old gal. She was carved from a limestone that isn't native to the area, so lots of speculation as to how she got there has been flying around ever since. If you want to see her in person, the Venus of Willendorf is at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

disk6. Coyolxauqui bas-relief. In the '70s, some electrical workers did some accidental excavating while installing power lines in Mexico City. At 8.5 tons, this bas-relief disk of the Aztec moon goddess was quite the find. It's now housed in the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City.
7. The "discovery" of Still Life with Flowers by Van Gogh is like something you dream about. A retired couple in Milwaukee had a reproduction of this piece hanging on a wall in their living room... or so they thought. It turned out to be an original. Can you even imagine?! They sold it for $1.4 million in 1991.

8. The Code of Hammurabi was discovered in 1901 by Gustav Jequier, an Egyptologist and part of the excavation crew of Jacques de Morgan. It had been hidden since about the 12th century BC when it was stolen by the then-King of Elam, Shutruk-Nakhkhunte when he defeated the Mesopotamian Empire (we think).

laocoon9. Laocoön and His Sons was discovered in Rome in 1506 near the Golden House of Nero - it's thought that the statue may have belonged to the Emperor. The Pope at the time, Julius II, was an avid patron of the arts and immediately laid claim to the sculpture. The sculpture was missing its arms when it was discovered, so new, outstretched versions were made and attached. Then, in 1906, an archaeologist discovered a piece of a marble arm that, 44 years later, was determined to belong to the Laocoön. The funny thing is, the new arm proved that the position of his arms were bent, which is what Michelangelo had argued when the replacement arms were made in 1506. Take that, Raphael!!

constantine10. The Colossus of Constantine was discovered in Rome in 1487, but not the whole thing - poor Constantine looked like Dexter had his way with him. So far, the only pieces to surface are his head, the right arm with elbow, both kneecaps, the left shin, the left foot, and two right hands. Two right hands? Yep - it's hypothesized that at some point, the right hand was reworked so Constantine could hold a Christian symbol instead of a sceptre. Based on the measurements of the pieces that have been found, the Colossus was probably about 40 feet tall. Aren't those eyes haunting? Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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