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The History Blog

11 Things Lost, Then Rediscovered, At Museums

The History Blog
The History Blog

Museums often have millions of items in their collections, so it’s not surprising that things occasionally get misidentified or even lost—but it must be a nice surprise to rediscover them. Here are just a few examples of specimens and artifacts that were lost, then found, in museums.

1. BEETLES COLLECTED BY DAVID LIVINGSTONE

In October, while he was searching the collections in an effort to catalogue some of it online, Max Barclay, the Natural History Museum in London’s Collections Manager of Coleoptera and Hymenoptera, found a wooden box with 20 beetles pinned inside and labeled “Zambezi coll. by Dr. Livingstone.” That would be Dr. David Livingstone, who collected the insects during his Zambezi expedition of 1858–64, which was the first to reach and explore Lake Malawi in Africa. The museum’s beetle collection, Barclay said, “includes almost 10 million specimens, assembled over centuries. ... I have worked here for more than 10 years and it was a complete surprise and incredibly exciting to find these well preserved beetles, brought back from Africa 150 years ago almost to the day.”

The beetles were among a collection of 15,000 insects left to the museum by Edward Young Western when the lawyer and amateur entomologist died in 1924; he may have acquired the specimens from one of the members of the expedition at a natural history auction in the 1860s. Although the specimens were technically the property of the government, they were never published, so selling them quietly would have been relatively easy.

The specimens aren’t just a cool find; they also have scientific value: Researchers at the museum can use the historical specimens “to study the effect of changing environments on plants and animals around the world,” Barclay said.

2. A 6500-YEAR-OLD SKELETON

Technically, Dr. Janet Monge, curator-in-charge of Physical Anthropology Section of the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, had always known about the mystery skeleton, which sat in a wooden box in basement storage. It had been at the museum as long as she had. But no one understood its significance until this summer, when researchers were working to digitize records from Sir Leonard Woolley’s 1929-30 excavation at the site of Ur in Southern Iraq.

Dr. William Hafford, Ur Digitization Project Manager, and his team found records indicating which unearthed objects went to which museums. According to a press release, half of the artifacts stayed in the newly formed nation of Iraq, and the other half was split between the two museums that had run the excavation, the British Museum and the Penn Museum. Among a number of items on the list were “one tray of ‘mud of the flood’ and ‘two skeletons,’” the press release notes. “Further research into the Museum's object record database indicated that one of those skeletons, 31-17-404, deemed ‘pre-flood’ and found in a stretched position, was recorded as ‘Not Accounted For’ as of 1990.”

Woolley’s field notes contained photos of the archaeologist “removing an Ubaid skeleton intact, covering it in wax, bolstering it on a piece of wood, and lifting it out using a burlap sling,” according to the press release. Monge told Hafford that she had no records of a skeleton like that, but did have a mystery skeleton in a box—and after the box was opened it was clear that the 6500 year old skeleton was the one unearthed during Woolley’s excavation.

Scientists have named the skeleton—which once belonged to a “well-muscled male, about age 50 or older,” standing 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches—Noah, because he lived after a great flood that covered Southern Iraq.

3. BARNACLES FROM CHARLES DARWIN

In the decade before he published On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin corresponded with Japetus Steenstrup, then head of the Royal Natural History Museum in Denmark (the precursor to the current Natural History Museum’s Zoological Museum), who lent the scientist some fossilized barnacles in November 1849 for his Species research. “It is a noble collection, & I feel most grateful to you for having entrusted them to me,” Darwin wrote Steenstrup when he received the box of barnacles in January 1850. “I will take great care of your specimens.” (According to the History Blog, when the packages were late, Darwin was so concerned that he actually put an ad in the paper offering a reward for their return.)

When she was studying the correspondence between the two scientists, Hanne Strager, the head of exhibitions at The Natural History Museum of Denmark, noticed in the correspondence that Darwin mentioned a list of 77 additional barnacles he had sent as a gift when returned the borrowed barnacles to Steenstrup in 1854. That list was found in Steenstrup’s papers, and the museum was able to locate 55 of the barnacles, with the original labels—not an easy task, because they had not been kept together; as The History Blog notes, there wasn’t a reason to keep them together: “On the Origin of Species was five years away. The barnacles were seen as specimens like any other, not the curated collection of a great pioneering scientist. They were spread throughout the museum collection according to their species.” The museum has since put the specimens on display. Most of the missing barnacles come from one genus, and were probably lent out to another institution or scientist who never returned them.

A number of Darwin specimens have been lost and then rediscovered, including a beetle he discovered on an expedition to Argentina (which was named Darwinilus sedarisi in the scientist’s honor 180 years later); the taxidermied remains of a tortoise he captured in the Galapagos and kept as a pet; and a Tinamou bird egg he collected during the HMS Beagle expedition.

4. THE EARLIEST TYRANNOSAURID

This exceptionally well-preserved fossil, found in Gloucestershire, England, during an excavation in 1910, ended up in the collections of the Natural History Museum of London in 1942. It was misclassified for a number of years—its discoverers thought it was a new species of Megalosaurus—but eventually it was recognized as an unknown genus and dubbed Proceratosaurus. In 2009, scientists used computed tomography scans to determine that the dino is the oldest known relative of the Tyrannosauridae. It lived around 165 million years ago.

"If you look at [Proceratosaurus] in detail, it has the same kinds of windows in the side of the skull for increasing the jaw muscles," Dr Angela Milner, associate keeper of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, told BBC. "It has the same kinds of teeth—particularly at the front of the jaws. They're small teeth and almost banana-shaped, which are just the kind of teeth T. rex has. Inside the skull, which we were able to look at using CT scanning, there are lots of internal air spaces. Tyrannosaurus had those as well."

"This is a unique specimen,” Milner said. “It is the only one of its kind known in the world."

5. A LONG-BEAKED ECHIDNA

Up until last year, scientists believed that the endangered, egg-laying long-beaked echidna had last lived in Australia 11,000 years ago—until the Natural History Museum in London found a specimen from their collections. According to its tag, the echidna was collected in Australia in 1901; the handwriting belonged to naturalist John Tunney, who visited north-west Australia to collect specimens for Lord Walter Rothschild’s private collection (Rothschild apparently kept common echidnas, among other exotic animals, as pets; here’s a photo of him riding a tortoise).

The only known population of long-beaked echidnas live in the forests of New Guinea, but this discovery might mean that the creature isn’t extinct in Australia at all, and is still living undetected in some remote part of the continent. The region where Tunney collected this specimen is still so hard to reach that to get to parts of it requires a helicopter. Scientists plan to look for the long-beaked echidnas. "Finding a species that we … [thought] was extinct for thousands of years and still alive, that would be the best news ever,” Roberto Portela Miguez, curator of the Mammals department at the Natural History Museum in London, told iTV.

6. ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE’S BUTTERFLIES

Interns are routinely saddled with less than desirable projects, and on the surface, Athena Martin appears to be one of those interns: During a four week internship at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the 17-year-old’s assignment was to go through 3340 drawers of butterflies searching for specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a Victorian naturalist who came up with the idea of evolution and natural selection independently of Darwin. The museum knew that there were specimens of Wallace’s in its collection, but didn’t know which specimens were his, or what species he had collected.

Martin’s task was not an easy one—it required her to read the tiny, handwritten labels pinned beside each insect—but it paid off: The intern discovered 300 of Wallace’s specimens, including a Dismorphia, which Wallace collected in the Amazon from 1848-52. It’s a particularly exciting find because his boat caught on fire during the return journey and most of the specimens were lost at sea. “I was a bit confused when I first found the Amazon specimen,” Martin said in a press release, “because I thought there might have been a labelling error due to the unusual location in comparison to the other specimens I was finding. It wasn't until I showed the specimen to [my supervisor James Hogan] that I found out that it was from the Amazon.”

The butterflies weren’t the only Wallace specimen lost and then found: In 2011, Dr. Daniele Cicuzza of the Cambridge University’s Herbarium found fern specimens—33 species, 22 genera and 17 families—that Wallace had collected on Gunung Muan Mountain in Borneo.  

7. A BEAR CLAW NECKLACE FROM THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION

Sometimes, doing an inventory of what’s in storage can be very interesting, as two collections assistants at Harvard’s Peabody Museum found out in 2003. The duo was photographing artifacts in the Oceania storerooms when they came upon a grizzly bear claw necklace in excellent condition. They soon realized that the necklace had been incorrectly identified—it wasn’t Oceanic at all. Further research revealed that the necklace came from the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, and was one of just seven surviving Native American artifacts that were definitely brought back by the explorers. It had been missing since it was catalogued in 1899.

The primary purpose of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's two-year journey from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean was to map the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, but they also studied the area’s plant and animal life and tried to establish relations with Native American tribes. It was perhaps in one of those meetings that they received the bear claw necklace, which was probably given to the explorers by a chief. "Bear claw necklaces, which relate to the bravery and stature of warriors, were treasured by Indian people,” Gaylord Torrence, curator of Native American art at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, said in a press release. “They are rare from any time period. The newly discovered bear claw necklace acquired by Lewis and Clark is quite probably the earliest surviving example in the world."

The necklace—which contains 38 bear claws—had a convoluted path to the Peabody. After the expedition, it was donated to the Peale Museum in Philadelphia; when the Peale closed in 1848, the necklace went to the Boston Museum, owned by the Kimball family. When that museum suffered fire damage in 1899, 1400 objects from its collection went to the Peabody Museum at Harvard, including the bear claw necklace. However, the Kimball family apparently changed its mind and decided to keep the necklace, even though the Peabody had already catalogued it. A Kimball descendant donated the necklace to the Peabody in 1941, and a staff member catalogued it as an artifact from the South Pacific Islands.

8. INSECT FOSSILS FROM THE JURASSIC

In the 1800s, geologist Charles Moore excavated hundreds fossils from sites in the southwest of England, including a quarry called Strawberry Bank near Ilminster. Most of Moore’s collection—which contained as many as 4000 specimens—was bought by Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) in 1915, 34 years after the geologist’s death. But part of the collection was given away to the Museum of Somerset (then the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society), where it was put in storage and forgotten for almost a century. In 2011, these specimens—which includes insect fossils dating back to the Jurassic—were rediscovered when BRLSI received a grant to restore Moore’s fossils. "These packages haven't been unwrapped since 1915 and some are in wrappings dating back to 1867 so it's quite exciting to unwrap them for the first time,” Matt Williams, collections manager at BRLSI, told the BBC. “Amongst them I have been discovering unknown Strawberry Bank specimens.”

9. A HUMAN JUVENILE MANDIBLE

In 2002, scientists in the Department of Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History were reorganizing the European archeological collections when they found a juvenile mandible, which had come from Solutré, an Upper Paleolithic site that was excavated beginning in 1866. This particular specimen, unearthed in 1896, had somehow not been noticed, but in 2003, the pieces were analyzed, and according to a paper published in Paleo, “The specimen is comprised of approximately 60 percent of a juvenile mandible, broken post-mortem into two fragments …  The resulting age range for this individual is 6.7-9.4 years, with an average of 8.3 years.” Radiocarbon dating revealed that the mandible was much more recent in origin than the ground in which it was found; it dates to 240 AD and 540 AD. In the paper, the scientists write that it’s safe to assume “the human mandible, no. 215505, represents a much later burial which intruded into bona fide Upper Paleolithic strata. … While this result lessens the significance of the individual specimen, it does begins to offer some insight into the nature and stratigraphy of the archaeological levels of Solutré as is represented in collections at the Field Museum of Natural History.”

10. AN EMPEROR PENGUIN

Photographs taken of the University of Dundee’s D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum when it first opened in the early 1900s show a beautiful Emperor Penguin specimen on display. The bird made it through the demolition of the old museum in the 1950s, then disappeared. It turned up in the ‘70s, when it served as the mascot for the Dundee University Biology Society. The penguin got lugged around on nights out and even propped up the bar at one of the students’ regular drinking destinations. Eventually, those late nights and bar-prop duties took their toll: The hard-partying penguin’s condition deteriorated, and in the ‘80s, it was sent off to a natural history museum to be restored. And then it disappeared again.

The bird wasn’t found for another three decades, when it turned up in The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum collection in April 2014. “We have finally been able to have the planned conservation work carried out and our penguin is looking as good as new in its new home in the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum,” Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University, said in a press release. The bird was promptly put back on display.

11. A TLINGIT WAR HELMET

In 2013, staffers at the Springfield Science Museum in Massachusetts were selecting objects for a new exhibition called “People of the Northwest Coast" when Curator of Anthropology Dr. Ellen Savulis came across a very interesting artifact. Described in records as an "Aleutian hat," it was ornately carved from a single piece of dense wood. None of the information she could find about hats made by Aleutians matched the object she was studying. So she called Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, to ask him about it. When he viewed images, Henrikson knew that it was a war helmet made by the Tlingit people of Southwest Alaska. Based on its decoration, he deduced that it was likely made in the mid-19th century or earlier.

The helmet entered the museum collection sometime after 1899 and was labeled "Aleutian hat," and was entered into the museum's collection records under that name. Forty years later, it received a permanent collection number, then sat in museum storage until Savulis discovered it. "It’s very rare," Henrikson said in a press release about the discovery. "There are less than 100 Tlingit war helmets in existence that we know of. I’ve been studying them for over 20 years and I’m sure I’ve seen most of them.”

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
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Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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6 Surprising Facts About Nintendo's Animal Crossing

by Ryan Lambie

Animal Crossing is one of the most unusual series of games Nintendo has ever produced. Casting you as a newcomer in a woodland town populated by garrulous and sometimes eccentric creatures, Animal Crossing is about conversation, friendship, and collecting things rather than competition or shooting enemies. It’s a formula that has grown over successive generations, with the 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system—which is all the more impressive, given the game’s obscure origins almost 15 years ago. Here are a few things you might not have known about the video game.

1. ITS INSPIRATION CAME FROM AN UNLIKELY PLACE.

By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008. Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED FOR THE N64.

Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume that this is where the series began—the game actually appeared first on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Doubutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and was never localized for a worldwide release.

3. TRANSLATING THE GAME FOR AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE WAS A DIFFICULT TASK.

The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, they could include characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.

Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience would prove to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort that writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing that they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Doubutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.

4. K.K. SLIDER IS BASED ON ON THE GAME'S COMPOSER.

One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.

5. ONE CHARACTER HAS BEEN KNOWN TO MAKE PLAYERS CRY.

A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo's former president, the late Satoru Iwata.

“We really weren't sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people," Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don't like being shouted at in his rough accent.”

“It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared,” Iwata agreed. “I've heard that some of them have even cried.”

To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti’s been designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.

6. THE SERIES IS STILL EVOLVING.

Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and no fewer than four main games (or five if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android. It's a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises.

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