Stories tagged Columbus


Stranded Columbus crew starving in Jamaica

Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008
Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008Courtesy NASA Kennedy Space Center
Christopher Columbus sailed to the "New World" several times after his 1492 voyage. On his fourth and last journey ship worms so decimated his four ships that Columbus had to put ashore on the North coast of Jamaica and wait for rescue. Initially, the Jamaican natives welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter in exchange for trinkets and whistles. When the natives no longer wished to provide food after more than six months, half of Columbus' crew mutinied, robbing and murdering some of the natives. With famine now threatening, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan.

A bad moon is going to rise

Columbus, like all good sailors, had an almanac containing astronomical tables providing detailed information about the sun, moon and planets. Using its tables, Columbus calculated that on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, a total eclipse of the moon would take place soon after the time of moonrise. Three days before the eclipse Columbus told the chief that

his Christian god was angry with his people for no longer supplying Columbus and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: Three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear "inflamed with wrath," which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.

According to Columbus's son, Ferdinand, when the moon started to eclipse, the natives ". . . with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions, praying to the Admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf." Just moments before the end of the total phase Columbus reappeared, announcing to the natives that his god had pardoned them and would now allow the moon to gradually return. Columbus and his men were well supplied and well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola finally arrived on June 29, 1504.

Total Lunar eclipse Wed. Feb 20 from 9-10 p.m. CST

Click this for information on when the lunar eclipse occurs around the world.The moon will start entering Earth's shadow at 7:43 pm CST Wednesday. Click this next link for an explanation of how and why you see the moon colored blood red, bright orange, or even a gentle turquoise.


Christopher Columbus: He discovered a painful, burning sensation.
Christopher Columbus: He discovered a painful, burning sensation.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Does everyone remember Christopher Columbus?

There was a day when this question never need have been asked; everyone knew who the mighty Columbus was, and spent the beginning of every October making little construction paper ships, and bicorn cats, and all sorts of crazy junk in his honor. Children left and right were being named “Nina,” “Maria,” and sometimes “Pinta,” and there was never any doubt as to just who invented America.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, some began to point out that millions of people had lived in the Americas for thousands and thousands of years before Columbus arrived, and that he probably wasn’t even the first European to show up on North America. And because of these ridiculous little bits of trivia, great Columbus has fallen from his place of honor.

Just this week, though, it looks like Columbus may once again receive the sort of recognition he deserves. Thanks to the hard work of a group of evolutionary biologists, it now looks like old C.C. may be responsible for… wait for it… bringing back syphilis from the New Wolrd, and its ultimate introduction to Europe, Asia, and Africa!

Hooray for Columbus! Let’s see them try to take that away from you!

Syphilis, of course, is a curable – but nasty – sexually transmitted disease. Its symptoms range from lesions and chancres, to serious mental illness (depending on the stage of infection). Syphilis is generally curable by ordinary antibiotics, although historically people have used mercury, arsenic-containing drugs, and, for late stage syphilis, malaria. Malaria, oddly enough, was a somewhat effective treatment, as it caused prolonged high fevers, which, in turn, could cure the syphilis. But then you were stuck with the malaria.

The origins of syphilis have long been disputed. Some argue that it was present in the Old World long before Columbus’ journeys, pointing out that written descriptions of the disease date back to the ancient Greeks. Syphilis’ most popular nickname (but probably not its funniest), however, is “the great imitator,” because of the frequency with which is was confused with other diseases, leading some to believe that these ancient accounts may be describing entirely different infections.

Playing Disease Detectives on a scale spanning centuries and continents, scientists now think they can pinpoint syphilis’ true roots: a South American bacteria that appears to be syphilis’ closest genetic relative. The bacteria, which causes the disease yaws seems to be a sort of “cousin” to syphilis, and the genetic similarities make it very unlikely that syphilis or its progenitor came from anywhere but the Americas. When this information is combined with the fact that the first large, well-documented European outbreak of syphilis occurred in Naples in 1495, just after Columbus and his crews returned to Europe… Well, it doesn’t look great for Christopher.

Or maybe it does, depending on how attached you are to his legacy. I am quite attached, and from now on, on October 12, I will be celebrating the Father of Syphilis. I just need to figure out what sort of craft projects would go with that.

If you’re interested in learning about how we figure out where diseases come from on a more personal scale (how we catch them, how we figure out what they are, etc), check out the brand new Disease Detectives exhibit in the Human Body Gallery at the SMM.


Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus.  Photo from by 2-Dog-Farm.
Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus. Photo from by 2-Dog-Farm.

American Indians were the first people on this continent, having arrived here from Asia no later than about 10,000 BC. But over the years, they had some visitors. We all know the poem:

In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

And visitors to The Science Museum of Minnesota know that Vikings reached America some 500 years before that.

But now comes word of another possible visitor. Archaeologists digging along the southern coast of Chile have uncovered a chicken bone. No big deal, you might think. Except :

  1. chickens aren’t native to the Americas;
  2. chickens don’t swim, and they can’t fly very far. This bird did not get to Chile on its own—someone had to bring it; and
  3. the bone dates to the 1300s or early 1400s, well before Europeans started colonizing the New World.

What’s more startling, DNA recovered from the bone is more similar to that of chickens from Pacific islands than to those from Europe. The scientists who uncovered this bone consider this to be evidence that Polynesians visited America perhaps 200 years before Columbus did.

The Polynesians were the greatest seafaring people in history, colonizing virtually every inhabitable island from Madagascar to Hawaii. It’s entirely possible that they could have made the final leap to South America at the far eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. However, scientists aren’t certain how long they stayed. While there is some evidence of cultural influence – Polynesian and Chilean fish hooks show some similarities – there is yet no evidence of Polynesians living permanently in South America.