Getty Images
Getty Images

"Shipbuilding" by Elvis Costello

Getty Images
Getty Images

Written by Elvis Costello & Clive Langer (1983)
Performed by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

The Music

In 1982, British producer Clive Langer was working on a song to pitch to singer Robert Wyatt. Inspired by Wyatt’s take on Billie Holiday’s classic “Strange Fruit,” Langer wrote a moody, minor key melody. Stuck for suitable words to his tune, Langer played it for his friend Elvis Costello. Within a few days, Costello had written a poetic and emotional lyric about the Falklands War.

Costello has said that he came at the song from the perspective of workers in British naval yards during the build-up to the war. The early 80s was an economically depressed time for Britain and the idea was that, while people in small harbor towns would be glad for new shipbuilding jobs, it was all at the expense of the boys who were being sent off to die in battle.

Robert Wyatt recorded the song in 1982, but Costello’s version, released a year later on his Punch The Clock album, is better-known. Costello’s “Shipbuilding” is also remarkable for being one of the last recorded performances by legendary jazz trumpet player Chet Baker.

The History

At the height of its imperialist reach, the British Empire controlled India, Australia, several African countries, and over a dozen islands around the world. Hence the old expression, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”

But by the early 1980s, there were only a few territories left that hadn’t fought and gained their independence from the British. The Falklands was one of them. A tiny collection of islands off the coast of Argentina, with a population of just under 3000, the Falklands had been under British rule since 1833.

But in the second half of the 20th century, Argentina made a claim on the Falklands. There were a few failed incursions in the 1960s and 70s. Then, in early 1982, President Leopold Galtieri, the head of Argentina’s new ruling military junta, started beating the drums of war. Newspaper articles spelled out a plan of attack. Galtieri gave speeches to stoke patriotic fervor. And on April 2, 1982, he sent troops to the Falklands. As with many declarations of war, this one was designed to whip up national pride while drawing attention away from serious domestic issues—in this case, human rights and economic problems.

Within two days, the Argentine army had overpowered a small troop of British Royal Marines and seized the Falklands capital of Port Stanley.

The British Response

Getty Images

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried diplomatic pressure on Argentina, but when that failed, she ordered a naval task force to take the islands back. Led by aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible at sea, with Sea Harrier fighter planes providing cover from the air, the British army moved into the Falklands in mid-April.

The war lasted about two months. It wasn’t much of a contest. After the British sank an Argentine submarine and a light cruiser, the Argentine fleet remained in port for the duration of the war. And because the runway at Port Stanley was too short for modern fighter planes, the Argentine air force had to fly from the mainland, which put them at a disadvantage.

As the British advanced onto land, their troops outmaneuvered the Argentine commandos, defeating them in several key towns. By mid-June, British forces had the islands blockaded at sea and encircled on land. Attacks on Port Stanley lasted a week before the Argentine army surrendered.

In the war, Britain suffered 258 dead and 777 wounded. Argentina lost 649 and had 1068 wounded.

Though the Falkland Islands remain under British control, a recent open letter from Argentinian President Cristina de Kirchner to British Prime Minister David Cameron stirred trouble, calling for the islands to be returned. The British have rejected the idea of any negotiation, saying the Falkland Islanders have chosen to be British. Their statement said, “There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend. The Islanders can’t just be written out of history.”

The Islanders will hold a referendum in March 2013 to determine their political status.

Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]


More from mental floss studios