CLOSE
Original image
T. Sutherland and D. Havell via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Who Cleaned Up the Carnage After Napoleon’s Battles?

Original image
T. Sutherland and D. Havell via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Picture this: you’re at home, minding your own business, when two enormous armies roll into town and start hacking and shooting each other to pieces. When the smoke clears, the battlefield by your house is strewn with the mangled bodies of people you’ve never met. To you, this probably sounds like a nightmare. But to the people who lived near the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars, it was an opportunity. 

A brief history refresher: At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte pretty much declared war on everyone. For 12 years, the self-styled emperor and his army slashed their way across Europe, battling forces from more than 20 different countries. By the time of Napoleon’s 1815 defeat at Waterloo, his invasions and the resulting battles had claimed somewhere between 3.5 and 6 million lives. Of those casualties, at least 2.5 million were soldiers. That’s a lot of bodies. 

It’s also a lot of boots, and a lot of guns, and a lot of jackets. Staring down the barrel of wartime scarcity, soldiers and civilians alike wasted no time in stripping the battlefield’s bodies completely bare. Whose side the late soldiers had taken was no longer of any concern; sturdy shoes were sturdy shoes, and it would have been a waste to just leave them lying around. Many of these items were later sold or kept as souvenirs, explains historian Shannon Selin on her blog, but just as many likely wound up on the feet of local farmers and the backs of their children. Necessary for survival or not, the looters’ work resulted in bizarre and gruesome landscapes blanketed in hundreds of dead, naked bodies. 

The plundering didn’t end there. These were the days before minty toothpaste and fluoridated water, which meant a lot of missing teeth, which meant a lot of people wearing dentures. Dentists (such as they were) could and did make false teeth from porcelain, ivory, and other animal products, but human teeth were by far the most popular for their apparent comfort and realistic appearance. Consequently, healthy human teeth were both in high demand and low supply in most places. On the battlefield, however, a determined scavenger could pick them from the mouths of the deceased like fruit from a tree.

A set of "Waterloo Teeth". Image Credit: Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

To their credit, the survivors frequently made attempts to bury or burn their dead, but the numbers were overwhelming. Many bodies were left to the mercy of the elements and nonhuman scavengers like vultures and wolves.

But even in their decay, the fallen still had more to give to those willing to take. Long after the violence had ended, enterprising companies sent workers to the battlegrounds to collect any remaining bones. Those bones were then ground down and sold as fertilizer.

Napoleon may have had grand and romantic ideas about his conquest, but the consequences to ordinary people were anything but.  

[h/t Shannon Selin]

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
Original image
iStock

A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Why You Should Never Flush Dental Floss Down the Toilet
Original image
iStock

Dental floss may be good for our teeth, but it’s bad for our sewer systems—which is why you should never flush the stringy product down the toilet.

Home toilets are designed with our convenience and hygiene in mind, but some people have taken to using them as de facto trash cans, flushing wet wipes, paper towels, feminine products, and other items. While gone from your bathroom in the blink of an eye, these waste products don’t just disappear into some magical abyss: They end up mucking up our pipes and pumps, causing problems at wastewater treatment plants and, in some extreme cases, merging with congealed oils, grease, fat, and waste to form noxious blobs called fatbergs.

Meanwhile, some wastewater treatment plant employees claim to have discovered everything from baseballs to cash to underwear—indicating that people are flushing far more than just household and sanitary products.

Compared to the objects above, dental floss—which is made from thin strands of nylon or Teflon—seems like it should be the least of any sewage worker’s concerns. And as you ready for bed, it’s probably far easier to toss your floss into the toilet than to remember to regularly empty the tiny trash can under your sink.

But since dental floss isn’t biodegradable, it doesn’t dissolve in its watery grave. Instead, it can combine with clumps of hair, toilet paper, wipes, sanitary products, and other gross stuff to form large clumps that clog sewers and pumps, sanitary companies told HuffPost. These blobs can also combine with tree roots and grease, cause sewage spills, and harm the motors in septic systems.

These instances aren't just inconvenient, they're also costly, as they result "in the need for local agencies that own and operate sewer systems to spend more money on maintenance to keep the sewers and pumps clear,” a spokesperson for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County told HuffPost.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t floss regularly, but from here on out, the only things you should be flushing down the toilet are human waste and toilet paper.

For a clear idea of what other kinds of things shouldn’t be going down our drains, check out the video below, which was created by the City of Spokane Department of Wastewater Management and shared in partnership with the Water Environment Federation.

[h/t The Huffington Post]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios