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4 Crazy Things Found in Drawers

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Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Humanity has been meaning to clean out its junk drawer since 1824. That, at least, is when the charming poem "Articles Found in a Kitchen Drawer" first appeared in a London magazine, and the inventory remains recognizable even today:

A rusty bent skewer, a broken brass cock,
Some onions and tinder, and the draw'r lock;
A bag for the pudding, a whetstone and string,
A penny-cross bun and a new curtain-ring:—
A print for the butter, a dirty chemise,
Two pieces of soap and a large piece of cheese;
Five tea-spoons of tin, a large lump of rosin,
The feet of a hare, and corks by the dozen;—
A card to tell fortunes, a sponge and a can,
A pen without ink, and a small patty pan...

Sometimes, though, drawers do turn up something better than old rubber bands and disused phone chargers. There's the occasional fortune in Spanish gold—and maybe even a Nobel Prize or two—to be found.

DRAWER #1: A Millennium-Old Runic Enigma

No matter how old the junk in your drawer is, you're unlikely to top one family in the French village of Auzon. A visiting professor in the 1850s discovered that they possessed the pieces of a peculiar old broken sewing box of heavily carved whalebone, some of which they'd simply tossed into a drawer. Now displayed in the British Museum, it's proved to be very old junk indeed: more than 1000 years old, in fact. Dubbed the "Franks Casket," the carvings on it are a dizzying mix of verse in Old English runes and Latin ciphers. Its panels depict Roman and Germanic mythology alike, along with a Christian Adoration of the Magi thrown in for good measure. Although the lettering dates it to 8th century Northumberland, the meaning of its enigmatic artwork has had scholars arguing for more than a century.

But how did it wind up in a junk drawer? It appears to have been looted during the French Revolution from the shrine of Saint-Julien in Brioude, where nobody had taken much notice of it. And until one of the family's children naughtily removed the silver hinges and fittings, the box had done perfectly good household duty—not at holding an ancient mystery, but at holding thimbles and spools.

DRAWER #2: Newton's Golden Guinea

Auctioneers aren't necessarily thrilled when you ask if coins you found in an old drawer are worth anything. Chances are, they're not—and that's what Gorringes Auction House staffer Leslie Gillham was about to explain in 2012 to an anonymous local retiree in the Kentish town of Tunbridge Wells.

"She gave me two silver crowns and I thought 'shame you haven't got any gold coins,'" he explained to the Kent News afterward. "Then she produced the 5-guinea piece, which made my eyes nearly pop out of my head."

The coin, found in her late husband's handkerchief drawer, was a rare 1703 Vigo 5-guinea piece. Only 16 are known to exist. Though a guinea was traditionally worth about £1 and minted from West African gold (hence the name), Vigos were struck from gold captured in 1702 from a Spanish fleet in Vigo Bay. The haul was modest—4500 pounds of silver, and a mere 7.5 pounds of gold—but the Royal Mint, then overseen by Isaac Newton, used the handful of Spanish gold to mint a special run of guineas to "Continue to Posterity the Remembrance of that Glorious Action."

As to how one appeared in a handkerchief drawer, the widow hadn't a clue. It may have already been there when she inherited the bureau from her parents, because her husband didn't collect coins. His spouse certainly gained some modern coinage, though: The guinea sold last December for £296,160 ($476,871).

DRAWER #3: Radioactive Fame

February 26, 1896, began inauspiciously for Henri Becquerel. A professor of Physics at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, Becquerel was inspired by the recent discovery of X-rays to experiment with some photographic plates—namely, to see if uranium salts emitted X-rays after exposure to sunlight. There was just one problem: The sun wasn't cooperating. Paris was overcast, and Professor Becquerel dejectedly wrapped up his plates and the uranium and shoved them together into a desk drawer. The plates, he figured, would at best show "very weak" images. But when he finally developed them a few days later, he was stunned to find that "silhouettes appeared with great intensity." Despite sitting in a dark desk drawer for days, something exposed the film. The logical explanation was that the uranium itself was emitting radiation even without any external excitation—an unheard-of phenomenon.

Carefully controlled follow-up experiments by Becquerel proved his hunch right—and inspired Marie Curie and her husband Pierre to research what Marie would dub radioactivity. The "failed" experiment in a Paris drawer brought worldwide fame: In 1903, Becquerel and the Curies were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize.

DRAWER #4: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Lost Years

Authors, Ernest Hemingway once mused, were best advised to meet Hollywood studios at the state line: "You throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came." But his fellow Lost Generation icon F. Scott Fitzgerald spent years in the 1930s writing for studios, where the Great Gatsby author was paid handsomely to write one ill-fated script after another. Visiting Metro Goldwyn Mayer's offices in 1985, University of Nebraska assistant professor Wheeler Winston Dixon found their basement contained desks still stuffed with Fitzgerald's notes—"they had the actual legal pads there, intact," Dixon recalls in amazement. Among their boxes of castoffs, he discovered Fitzgerald's six-page outline for the ending of his famously unfinished script to Infidelity, a 1938 Joan Crawford vehicle that got scrapped for portraying, well, infidelity.

These days the notes are safely archived at the University of South Carolina, far from MGM's basement—and Dixon is now a Professor of Film Studies at University of Nebraska. Fitzgerald's screenplay and concluding notes remain something of an undiscovered treasure, Professor Dixon insists: "I still think to this day, if you gave it to a really good screenwriter, it'd be a brilliant script."

See Also: 9 Crazy Things People Found Inside Their Walls

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Find Italy's Earliest Wine—And It's Thousands of Years Older Than We Thought
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Uncork a Barolo in honor of ancient traditions: Italians have been making wine for far longer than we thought. A new analysis of storage jars found in a cave in Sicily's Monte Kronio pushes back Italy’s wine-making history by thousands of years, as CNET alerts us.

Archaeologists from the University of South Florida and several Italian institutions report in Microchemical Journal that wine making in the region could date back as far as 3000 BCE. Previously, researchers studying ancient seeds hypothesized that Italy's wine production developed sometime between 1300 BCE and 1100 BCE.

Making grapes into wine has been a part of human history going back to the Stone Age. Georgians have been drinking wine for 8000 years. Grapevines spread through the Caucasus and the Middle East before making their way to Europe.

This new discovery was possible thanks to chemical analysis of unglazed clay pots found in a Monte Kronio cave. The Copper Age pottery still bore residue from the wine. The researchers were able to identify traces of tartaric acid and sodium salt left from the wine-making process. They're still working on figuring out whether it was red or white, though, as University of South Florida researchers explained in a press statement.

In 2013, archaeologists planted a vineyard and began making wine using ancient Roman techniques to see what wine actually tasted like in the Roman Empire. Foul as that wine may have been, it seems that Roman wine was the result of an even longer wine-making tradition than we knew.

[h/t CNET]

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