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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Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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