4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Additions / Significant Revisions to this Database (Recent) Timeline


2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

Early Humans Process Elephant Carcasses for Food Circa 500,000 BCE

On March 18, 2015 archaeologist Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University and colleagues reported that analysis of 500,000-year-old hand axes and scrapers at a Lower Paleolithic site at a quarry in Revadim, Israel, bore fat residue from processing contemporaneous elephant remains also found at the site, and that an elephant rib with clear cut marks was also found at the site indicating that people living there during the Lower Paleolithic era at big game. The research represents the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Paleolithic stone tools: to process animal carcasses and hides. 

Natalya Solodenko, Andrea Zupancich, Stella Nunziante Cesaro, Ofer Marder, Cristina Lemorini, Ran Barkai,  "Fat Residue and Use-Wear Found on Acheulian Biface and Scraper Associated with Butchered Elephant Remains at the Site of Revadim, Israel, " PLOS One  Published: March 18, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118572


"The archaeological record indicates that elephants must have played a significant role in early human diet and culture during Palaeolithic times in the Old World. However, the nature of interactions between early humans and elephants is still under discussion. Elephant remains are found in Palaeolithic sites, both open-air and cave sites, in Europe, Asia, the Levant, and Africa. In some cases elephant and mammoth remains indicate evidence for butchering and marrow extraction performed by humans. Revadim Quarry (Israel) is a Late Acheulian site where elephant remains were found in association with characteristic Lower Palaeolithic flint tools. In this paper we present results regarding the use of Palaeolithic tools in processing animal carcasses and rare identification of fat residue preserved on Lower Palaeolithic tools. Our results shed new light on the use of Palaeolithic stone tools and provide, for the first time, direct evidence (residue) of animal exploitation through the use of an Acheulian biface and a scraper. The association of an elephant rib bearing cut marks with these tools may reinforce the view suggesting the use of Palaeolithic stone tools in the consumption of large game."

"There are three parts to this puzzle: the expansion of the human brain, the shift to meat consumption, and the ability to develop sophisticated technology to meet the new biological demands. The invention of stone technology was a major breakthrough in human evolution," Prof. Barkai said. "Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone.

"At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint handaxes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site."

Through use-wear analysis -- examining the surfaces and edges of the tools to determine their function -- and the Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) residue analysis which harnesses infrared to identify signatures of prehistoric organic compounds, the researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time direct proof of animal exploitation by flint tools.

"Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools. We don't have a time machine," Prof. Barkai said. "It makes sense that these tools would be used to break down carcasses, but until evidence was uncovered to prove this, it remained just a theory" (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150319150753.htm,  accessed, 04-01-2015).  

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30 CE – 500 CE

Frontinus on the Water Supply of Ancient Rome Survived in Only a Single Problematic 12th Century Manuscript Circa 100 CE

De aquaeductibus, or De aquaeductu urbis Romae, written about 100 CE by the Roman senator Sextus Julius Frontinus, provides a history and description of the water supply of ancient Rome, and the laws governing its use and maintenance. It is the earliest surviving official report of an investigation on Roman engineering.

Remarkably, Frontinus's text, which has been extensively read and studied since its discovery in the library of the abbey of Monte Cassino  (Montecassino) on July 9, 1429 by humanist/ bookhunter Poggio Bracciolini, is entirely dependent upon the single manuscript that Poggio discovered, and as Poggio wrote to his friend Niccolò de' Niccoli, the manuscript is so full of mistakes, and is so badly written, that it remains very difficult to read. In spite of these difficulties with the text, access to the information that Frontinus provided came at a strategic time just as Renaissance Rome was reviving and began to require a dependable source of pure water. Over the centuries engineers, mathematicians and classicists have grappled with the difficulties in the text.

The manuscript of Frontinus's De aquaeductibus at Monte Cassino was written about 1130 by Peter the Deacon, librarian of Monte Cassino.

"Errors, of course, are normally to be expected in a text that has been copied and recopied over the centuries. But in this manuscript they are unusually frequent, and there are in addition numerous spaces left blank where the copyist seems to have been unable to decipher the exemplar from which he was transcribing. Readers, beginning with Poggio himself, have been faced with rather serious editorial problems--merely to achieve a modest coherence of grammar and sense. Scholarly landmarks in this critical study are the editions of Giovanni Poleni (Padua 1722) and Franz Buecheler (Leipzig 1858). While many difficulties have been removed, a large number still remain either apparently beyond hope or admitting of no straightforward solution. In most cases, happily, we can be reasonably confident of the general meaning" (A "New" Translation of Frontinus De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae by R. H. Rodgers, accessed 06-12-2015).

Frontinus's brief work was first translated into English as The Two Books on the Water Supply of the City of Rome of Sextus Julius Frontinus, Water Commissioner of the City of Rome, A.D. 97. A photographic reproduction of the sole original Latin manuscript and its reprint in Latin; also, a translation into English, and explanatory chapters by Clemens Herschel,Boston, 1899. Herschel's translation was revised by Mary B. McIlwaine, for the Loeb Classical Library edition of 1925, edited by Charles E. Bennett. The Bennett / McIlwaine translation was in turn revised by R. H. Rodgers for the latest and best edition (Cambridge: Univ. Press 2004).

Both the place and publisher of the 1487 editio princeps of Frontinus (sometimes thought to be printed in 1483) are unstated but inferred by bibliographers. The edition is described bibliographically by the ISTC as if00324000. A digital facsimile is available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link. That library dates the edition between 1487 and 1490.

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800 – 900

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: New Insight into a Major Galenic Work Hidden under Liturgical Writings Circa 850

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest, owned by an American private collector and loaned to the Walters Art Gallery for research by scholars, contains as its undertext a ninth century text of Galen's On Simple Drugs in the Syriac translation by Sergius of Rēš ‘Aynā (Sergius of Reshaina), a 6th century Assyrian (Syriac) physician and priest from Reshaina (modern Ras al-Ayn, Syria) who translated a number of Greek works into Syriac. Syriac, also known as Syriac Aramaic, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Arabia. In the Syriac Galen Palimpsest Sergius's translation of Galen's work is preserved underneath an eleventh-century liturgical text that is a significant source for the study of hymns of Byzantine and Melkite Christianity. 

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest may contain the entire second part of On Simple Drugs (i.e., Books VI–XI), a summation of Graeco-Roman knowledge about medicine, patient care and medicinal plants. Prior to the discovery of this manuscript only Books VI–VIII had been thought to survive, preserved in London, British Library, MS Add. 14661. The Syriac Galen Palimpsest offers many significant variant readings. Moveover, this Syriac translation makes it possible to assess the role that Sergius played in the transmission of medical knowledge from Greek into Arabic, by allowing comparison of the Greek source text of certain passages with the Syriac translations by Sergius and the ninth century physician/scholar/translator Hunayn ibn Ishaq (أبو زيد حنين بن إسحاق العبادي‎), as well as the Arabic version by Hunayn. 

As part of ongoing research on this palimpsest most remarkably Grigory Kessel was able to locate the seven leaves missing from the codex: one at Harvard, one at St. Catharine's Monastery in Sinai, one at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and three at the Vatican Library. The final missing leaf he believed to have been a blank, which was discarded.

Siam BhayroRobert HawleyGrigory Kessel and Peter E. Porma, "The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Progress, Prospects and Problem," Journal of Semitic Studies 58 (2003) 131-148.

(This entry was written on the Oceania Riviera off the coast of Israel in June 2015.)

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1200 – 1300

The Black Book of Carmarthen, Probably Earliest Surviving Manuscript Written Entirely in Welsh Circa 1250

One of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near DolgellauGwynedd, Wales, by Welsh antiquary  Robert Vaughan in the 17th century, the Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) may be the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely in Welsh. It was associated with the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog at Carmarthen, possibly the oldest town in Wales. This and its black binding are the source of its name. Notably the manuscript contains some of the earliest references to King Arthur and Merlin.

The Black Book of Carmarthen is a small (170 x 125 mm), incomplete, vellum codex of 54 folios (108 pages) in eight gatherings. Though it was written by a single scribe, inconsistency in the ruling of each folio, in the number of lines per folio, and in handwriting size and style, suggest a non-professional writing over a long period of time. The opening folia, written in a large textura on alternating ruled lines, are followed by folia in much smaller, cramped script.

"The book contains a small group of triads about the horses of Welsh heroes, but is chiefly a collection of 9th–12th century poetry falling into various categories: religious and secular subjects, and odes of praise and of mourning. Of greater interest are the poems which draw on traditions relating to the Welsh heroes associated with the Hen Ogledd  (Cumbria  and surrounding area), and especially those connected with the legend of Arthur and Myrddin, also known as Merlin, thus predating the descriptions of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth. One of the poems, The Elegy of Gereint son of Erbin, refers to the "Battle of Llongborth", the location of which can no longer be pinpointed, and mentions Arthur's involvement in the battle.

"The poems 'Yr Afallennau' and 'Yr Oianau' describe the mad Merlin in a forest talking to an apple tree and a pig, prophesying the success or failure of the Welsh army in battles with the Normans in South Wales" (Wikipedia article on Black Book of Carmarthen, accessed 04-07-2015).

The manuscript seems to have been first recorded in the 16th century, when it came to the possession of Sir John Prise (Price) of Brecon, a Welsh public notary who acted as a royal agent and visitor of the monasteries during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. It was given to him by the treasurer of St. David’s Cathedral, having come from Carmarthen Priory. In the 19th century William Forbes Skene described the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin as one of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’. It is preserved in the National Library of Wales (NLW Peniarth MS 1).

In April 2015 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the National Library of Wales at this link.

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1700 – 1750

Rumphius's "Herbarium Ambonense" is Posthumously Published 1741 – 1750

Het Amboinsche kruidboek or Herbarium Amboinensea catalogue of the plants of Ambon in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, by Georg Eberhard Rumphius, a German-born soldier and botanist employed by the Dutch East India Company, was edited by Dutch botanist and physician Johannes Burman, and posthumously published in Amsterdam in a 6-volume bilingual Dutch and Latin from 1741 to 1750. The work, which provided the basis for all future study of the flora of the Moluccas, described 2000 species. It presented descriptions of the plants and their habitats, and their economic and medicinal uses, and also recorded native plant names in Malay, Latin, Dutch, and Ambonese—and often in Macassarese and Chinese as well.

That this large work was ever published was truly remarkable, considering the hardships that its author faced during its composition, and the complications that occurred after its completion. Even after going blind in 1670 due to glaucoma, Rumphius persisted in the composition of his manuscript with the help of his wife, Suzanna. However, on February 17, 1674 his wife and a daughter were killed by a wall collapse during a major earthquake and tsunami. His son Paul August made many of the plant illustrations and also the only known portrait of Rumphius. Other assistants included Philips van Eyck, a draughtsman, Daniel Crul, Pieter de Ruyter, a soldier trained by Van Eyck, Johan Philip Sipman, Christiaen Gieraerts, and J. Hoogeboom. 

On January 11, 1687, as the project finally neared completion, a great fire in the town destroyed Rumphius's library, numerous manuscripts, original illustrations for his Herbarium Amboinense, volumes of the Hortus Malabaricus, and works by Jacobus Bontius. Persevering, Rumphius and his helpers first completed the manuscript and illustrations in 1690, but the ship carrying the manuscript to the Netherlands was attacked by the French and sank, forcing them to start over from a copy that had fortunately been retained. The Herbarium Amboinense finally arrived in the Netherlands in 1696. However by then "the East India Company decided that it contained so much sensitive information that it would be better not to publish it." Rumphius died in 1702, so he never had the satisfaction of knowing that his work was published. When the East India Company lifted theembargo was in 1704, no publisher could be found for work the work. Finally, 39 years after Rumphius's death, the work finally appeared in print through the efforts of Johannes Burman who translated it into Latin, and oversaw its publication in a bilingual Dutch and Latin edition. 

In 2011 Yale University Press issued an annotated English translation of the complete work in six volumes by E. M. Beekman, as The Ambonese Herbal, complete with all 811 original illustrations. 

In May 2015 a digital facsimile of the complete set of six volumes was available from Botanicus.org at this link.

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1750 – 1800

François-Xavier Laire Writes the First Catalogue of Incunabula Resembling Modern Bibliographies 1791

The first catalogue to describe 15th century printed books in bibliographical detail resembling modern bibliographies was the catalogue of the library of Archbishop of Sens Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne written by his librarian François-Xavier Laire. Laire's catalogue, issued in 2 volumes in Sens in 1791, and entitled Index librorum ab inventa typographia ad annum 1500 chronologicè dispositus cum notis historiam typographico-litterarium illustrantibus, described the composition of each book, its collation, etc.

Loménie de Brienne owned 1,332 incunabula, including 4 block books, 2 copies (both on paper) of the Gutenberg Bible, the 1459 Fust & Schöffer Psalter, and a copy of the first Durandus, the last two of which were on vellum. Besides his career in the church, Loménie de Brienne became finance minister to Louis XVI, and was instrumental in the downfall of the ancien régime by his attempts to find accomodation to the French Revolution. Financial reverses caused by the revolution forced him to sell his collection, and the catalogue states that the collection was to be sold en bloc, but if no buyer could be found after 6 months, the collection would be dispersed at auction. The sale occurred in Paris in March 1792, and owing to the political disruption that impacted all French libraries at the time, the results must have been mixed. Loménie was arrested at Sens on 9 November 1793, and died in prison in 1784, either of an apoplectic stroke or by poison.

Bigmore & Wyman I, p. 415. Pollard & Ehrman 212. 

(This entry was written in the Mediterranean near Crete on the Oceania Riviera on 06-10-2015.)

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1960 – 1970

Stanford Research Institute Develops Shakey, the First Intelligent Mobile Robot 1966 – 1972

Developed from approximately 1966 through 1972, Shakey the robot was the first general-purpose mobile robot that could "reason" about its own actions. While other robots at the time had to be instructed step by step in order to complete a larger task, Shakey could analyze commands and break them down into basic steps by itself. "Shakey could perceive its surroundings, create plans, recover from errors that occurred while executing a plan, and communicate with people using ordinary English." 

Shakey was developed by the Artificial Intelligence Center at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) in a project funded by DARPA intended to create “intelligent automata” for “reconnaissance" applications. Because the project combined research in robotics, computer vision, and natural language processing, it was the first successful project that combined logical reasoning with physical action. 

"Shakey's overall software design has influenced the design of everything from driverless cars to undersea exploration robots. 

"Shakey's planning methodology has been used in applications ranging from planning beer production at breweries to planning the actions of characters in video games. 

"Variants of Shakey's route-finding software compute your driving directions here on earth, as well as driving directions for the Mars Curiosity rover. (Note that Curiosity is quite a “reconnaissance application”!) 

"Image analysis techniques that enabled Shakey to perceive its world are similarly used to alert today's drivers of cars that may be drifting out of lane" (C[computer]H[istory]M[useum] News, June 1, 2015). 

(This entry was written on the Oceania Riviera off the coast of Sicily in June 2015.) 

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2012 – 2016

A Machine Vision Algorithm Learns to Attribute Paintings to Specific Artists May 2015

In May 2015 Babak Saleh and Ahmed Elgammal of the Department of Compuer Science, Rutgers University, described an algorithm that could recognize the Style, Genre, and Artist of a painting.

"Saleh and Elgammal begin with a database of images of more than 80,000 paintings by more than a 1,000 artists spanning 15 centuries. These paintings cover 27 different styles, each with more than 1,500 examples. The researchers also classify the works by genre, such as interior, cityscape, landscape, and so on.

"They then take a subset of the images and use them to train various kinds of state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms to pick out certain features. These include general, low-level features such as the overall color, as well as more advanced features that describe the objects in the image, such as a horse and a cross. The end result is a vector-like description of each painting that contains 400 different dimensions.

"The researchers then test the algorithm on a set of paintings it has not yet seen. And the results are impressive. Their new approach can accurately identify the artist in over 60 percent of the paintings it sees and identify the style in 45 percent of them.

"But crucially, the machine-learning approach provides an insight into the nature of fine art that is otherwise hard even for humans to develop. This comes from analyzing the paintings that the algorithm finds difficult to classify.

"For example, Saleh and Elgammal say their new approach finds it hard to distinguish between works painted by Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet. But a little research on these artists quickly reveals both were active in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that both attended the Académie Suisse in Paris. An expert might also know that Pissarro and Monet were good friends and shared many experiences that informed their art. So the fact that their work is similar is no surprise.

"As another example, the new approach confuses works by Claude Monet and the American impressionist Childe Hassam, who, it turns out, was strongly influenced by the French impressionists and Monet in particular.  These are links that might take a human some time to discover" (MIT Technology Review May 11, 2015).

Saleh, Babak, and Elgammal, Ahmed," Large-scale Classification of Fine-Art Paintings; Learning the Right Metric on the Right Feature" (http://arxiv.org/pdf/1505.00855v1.pdf, 5 May 2015.

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