20 December 2012

Ancient Site Under Threat - Mes Aynak, Afghanistan

Like the famous statues at Bamiyan, the ancient Buddhist site at Mes Aynak in Afghanistan - situated on the ancient trading route known today as 'the Silk Road' - is a place of distinct historical and archaeological importance.  And, like the Buddhas at Bamiyan, Mes Aynak is located in an area of modern political and economic complexity. 

And as such, Mes Aynak is a site under imminent threat of destruction. But this time the threat is not so much ideological as economic. The site, which is known to comprise several ancient Buddhist monasteries and adjacent settlements, is rich in sculptural and monumental remains of the finest Buddhist art and architecture. Its cultural significance is immense. In terms of 'world heritage' it is undoubtedly a site of great importance. Yet the meaning of the name – Mes Aynak – belies its problem; the name means “little copper well.” The site is known to sit atop a huge copper mineral deposit (recent geological surveys have shown that Afghanistan abounds in such mineral resources). In November 2007 a lease was granted to a Chinese mining company, granting them the sole rights to turn the entire area into a vast open cast mine. But in order to do so – the ancient remains of Mes Aynak will be completely destroyed, setting a worrying precedent.

Several small teams of foreign and local archaeologists are now racing against time, trying to excavate and document the site. They are working in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances in what is still a very unstable region, risking their lives on a daily basis, trying to salvage as much as they can – but it is an enormous task. On December 25th 2012 they have been told they must down tools and leave so that the mining works can begin.

Whilst no one could argue that Afghanistan is not in dire need of real economic investment and assistance, it seems clear that the exploitation of such natural resources needs to be properly monitored and managed by the Afghan authorities. The copper deposits are certainly a resource which would benefit the much beleaguered country, but surely no matter how much copper is there – it will only ever be a finite resource. Whereas the archaeological remains represent a much more long-lived potential resource, the preservation of which would certainly be of great benefit not just to Afghanistan, but also for the whole world too.

Despite the presence of the mining contractors there are genuine efforts currently under way to try and save Mes Aynak – but these efforts are still only small; more weight and momentum is needed. You can help in this effort.

Find out more in this report recently broadcast on CNN with additional info here. Read about the work of documentary filmmaker, Brent Huffman and his involvement with Mes Aynak here and here. The photos illustrating this blog post were taken by The Times Africa Correspondent, Jerome Starkey (sourced from Wikimedia Commons), and more of his photos of Mes Aynak can be seen here on his Flickr page. UNESCO on Mes Aynak.

You can also sign a petition asking Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai to help save Mes Aynak from destruction here.

UPDATE: Here is an excellent piece just published in the NewYork Times by Andrew Lawler (December 23, 2012). There is also a second petition asking UNESCO to add Mes Aynak to its list of endangered world heirtage sites. Please sign this one too!

FURTHER INFO: In 2011, to mark an exhibition of recent archaeological finds, the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul published this pamphlet illustrating the importance of  Mes Aynak. Plus, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program has published a conference paper from 2012: Cultural Heritage vs. Mining on the New Silk Road? Finding Technical Solutions for Mes Aynak and Beyond.

UPDATE: A recent and very informative article reporting on the current situation at Mes Aynak in Travel Culture Magazine by Michael Soncina (January 8, 2013). More info on the progress of saving Mes Aynak from the British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) website (January 14, 2013). The archaeologists there have been given more time, but pressure to save Mes Aynak still needs to be maintained.

Contested Terrain in Afghanistan - Development, Identity and the Destruction of an Ancient City in Afghanistan by Isaac Blacksin (Kyoto Journal #77)

Emma Graham-Harrison: Mes Aynak Highlights Afghanistan's Dilemma Over Protecting Heritage in The Guardian (May 23, 2013). 

An excellent, balanced, and informed write up by William Dalrymple in The Guardian Mes Aynak: Afghanistan's Buried Buddhist Treasure Faces Destruction (May 31, 2013).

To find the latest news on Mes Aynak search Twitter using the hashtag #MesAynak 

Brent Huffman - Documenting the Last Days of Mes Aynak

24 November 2012

Site Update - New Angles & Tangents

You may have noticed a few recent changes to the side bar over there on the right ...

Now, I'm by no means the most tech-savy of people, but ... I've recently added a few functions which I hope will help make it easier to follow the site. You can now "subscribe" (for free, of course) in order to receive notification when I post new articles on Waymarks either via your web browser's RSS Feed or by email.

And, as a little bird may have told you, you can now follow Waymarks on Twitter too! Likewise, I'll post notification via Twitter of new posts to the blog, as well as other articles and items of note which I find on the web relating to similar areas of interest as are covered here - e.g. history, travel, science, astronomy, books, etc.

You can also see more photos from my travels on the Waymarks Flickr album. I'm no David Bailey by any means, but happily every now and then my little instamatic camera manages to capture an evocative image or two. I've already uploaded a small selection of photos to get the album started and I'm aiming to elaborate on the accompanying captions with a bit more information soon.

A life without books would be no life at all ...

Books will continue to be a big feature of this blog, but in tandem to this I've also added a link to my page on the GoodReads site. Here I post shorter book reviews which might be of interest as, naturally, many of the books I read parallel the interests covered by the articles I post here on this blog. I've also begun a book group at GoodReads - The Historical Exploration Society - which I hope readers of Waymarks might be interested to join or just keep an eye on for relevant book recommendations. (And if you are really interested/bored [!] LibraryThing is where I keep track of some of the books I read for more in-depth research projects.)

As for the blog itself, well, there's plenty more yet to come - I have a number of new articles and travelogues in the pipeline. I also have in mind a series of short features on some of the "souvenirs" I've collected or been given on my various travels - not quite Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in a Hundred Objects perhaps - but certainly another element of exploring the world at large which I find interesting, and which I think will add another angle to some of the journeys I've made and another way of charting the places I've visited ...

I do try to post here at least once or twice a month, but with day-to-day chores (such as the day-job!) and the occasional extended periods of travelling it's sometimes hard to devote as much time as I'd like to the up-keep of Waymarks - so hopefully these additional elements will help to keep the blog a little more current and maybe even make it a little more interactive.

Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback whenever you wish - and last, but by no means least, thanks for following Waymarks.

UPDATE: Waymarks is now on Google+ too.

17 November 2012

The North-West Coast by Rail - USA to Canada

I recently returned from a trip along the north-west coast of the USA to Canada, travelling from Portland, Oregon, through Seattle, Washington, to Vancouver in British Columbia. It was a fantastic journey involving planes, trains, trucks and automobiles, as well as a cable car – and almost a boat ...

This stretch of the North American continent is a truly beautiful part of the world. I began my journey in Portland, Oregon where I made a couple of day excursions – first, to Astoria and Cannon Beach in Oregon, and then, second, over into Washington State to the national park around Mount Saint Helens. Portland is a wonderfully relaxed and laidback city, notable for its many micro-breweries and delicious food stalls, as well as the legendary Voodoo Donuts store. But the main highlight for me has to be the famous and truly vast Powell’s Bookstore. If you are a bibliophile you will almost certainly find yourself truly lost in here, but if so you’ll probably never want to find your way out again, it’s a book lover’s paradise!

Around 96 miles north of Portland, the Port of Astoria is a small city situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, named after John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), who established his American Fur Company here in 1811 to compete with the British Hudson’s Bay Company – he is also an ancestor of John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912), who famously was the wealthiest passenger to perish when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic in April 1912. It was also close to Astoria that the Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered in 1805-1806 (I think I’ll save saying any more on Lewis and Clark for future - more detailed - blog post). However, my real reason for wanting to visit Astoria, I have to confess, was in fact rooted a little more closely to the present day … I wanted to visit Astoria because this is where the 1985 kid’s adventure movie The Goonies was filmed! I was nine years old when this movie came out. I remember going to see it at the cinema and loving every minute of it; consequently, it remains to this day one of my favourite films. So it was quite a nostalgic - if a little surreal - moment to find myself standing outside the Walsh family’s house on the very spot where Chunk performed his legendary “Truffle Shuffle” dance! 

Having made this little pilgrimage to childhood memory I then set off in pursuit of the noisy sounds of sea lions which were echoing loudly up the hill from the docks. Here the piers were full of pungent smelling sea lions all basking in the sunshine, with others periodically slipping into the water where they swam with amazing speed and grace amongst the moored boats. 

Leaving Astoria, heading south down the coast road, the next stop was Cannon Beach. This is a truly beautiful stretch of coastline. Here the restless sea was roaring loudly, kicking up a white haze of mist from the surging breakers of the surf, out of which emerged the distinctive ghostly shape of Haystack Rock.

My second excursion out of Portland was to the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. I remember learning about the famous catastrophic eruption of May 18th 1980 in geography lessons at school, only eight years after the event. This was a major eruption which was preceded by a series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes which weakened the north face of the volcano such that it eventually gave way; the earthquake which triggered the blast measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. This exposed the molten layer of magma beneath and the sudden pressure differential released torrents of gas, steam and ash, along with a rapid flow of lava which actually overtook the initial avalanche of overlying rock and debris, also triggering massive torrential mudflows. The resulting environmental devastation left a wasteland of several hundred square miles, raining ash and debris over eleven States, and claimed the lives of 57 people, as well as untold numbers of animals and trees in the surrounding region. Even today many of these dead and scorched trees are still visible standing on the surrounding hillsides; bleached as dry as bone they make quite a stark and eerie landscape in some places. 

Prior to the eruption scientists from the US Geological Survey persuaded the local authorities to close the Mount Saint Helens area and thereby saved many thousands of lives which undoubtedly would have been affected otherwise. The initial eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere (compare this to the recent ash plume from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which reached around 30,000 feet, causing the closure of the entire airspace of northern and western Europe for several days in early 2010 – if you think of this in terms of the contrails you see overhead from airliners, most long haul flights cruise at an altitude of around 36,000-38,000 feet).

Eventually leaving Portland I boarded the Amtrak Cascades train at Union Station – a wonderful old railway station dating back to 1896. The train journey up to Vancouver in British Columbia (passing through Vancouver, Washington) took 8 hours, and was a wonderful way to see the country as the train travels up to Seattle and then along the coast of Puget Sound. These are the waters - from Oregon all the way up to Alaska - which were explored and charted by George Vancouver (1757-1798), a Captain in the British Navy, in 1792. 

Along the way the train passes under the twin suspension bridges at Tacoma Narrows. This is another place which stuck in my mind from my schooldays as I recall my class being shown a remarkable film as part of a physics lesson on wave frequencies, resonance properties, and elasticity. The 16mm film was shot by a man who owned a local camera shop, and it shows how the bridge began to oscillate in a 40 mile an hour crosswind until it eventually shook itself apart. At the time the newly constructed bridge had only been open for a few months when it collapsed in November 1940. It was eventually rebuilt ten years later, with the second parallel bridge being completed in 2007. There’s a rather striking moment in the film in which a man abandons his car on the bridge and runs to safety. Apparently no one was injured or killed in the collapse, except – sadly – for the car owner’s dog which was so terrified it refused to move and even bit the man when he attempted to pull it from the car in order to try to save it. 


When it was first built the original bridge, which was nick-named “Gallopin' Gertie” by its construction workers, was the third longest suspension bridge in the world. Its 1950 replacement was the first suspension bridge design to be tested in a wind tunnel and also the first to incorporate hydraulic dampeners in its design. Since its completion it has withstood several major earthquakes. The collapse of the first bridge has since become a classic case study which has informed and altered subsequent bridge design technology and still gives cause for scientific debate. 

After Tacoma there was a wonderful view of Mount Rainier. Like Mount Saint Helens this too is a stratovolcano. These are tall conical shaped volcanoes built up of layers (strata) of hardened lava, pumice, and volcanic ash. They are sometimes called ‘composite volcanoes’ due to the manner in which they grow by accreting layers upon layers. They are also prone to sudden explosive eruptions – other famous stratovolcanoes include Krakatoa in Indonesia, Vesuvius in Italy, and Mount Fuji in Japan. Mount Rainer is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on Earth given its type and its location in close proximity to large areas of population – Seattle, for instance, is around 55 miles away.

Finally arriving in Vancouver at Pacific Central Station at almost midnight, I spent the following week exploring the city; visiting the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which has a magnificent and extensive collection of Haida and other First Nation peoples’ art; strolling around Stanley Park, watching the seaplanes taking off from Burrard Inlet; as well as taking a tour of the Molson Brewery. Two day trips of particular note were to Grouse Mountain and to the old Britannia Mine, both to the north of Vancouver. 

Grouse Mountain, some 4,000 feet high, is a popular ski resort in winter it’s also famous for the “Grouse Grind”, a steep two mile hiking trail to its summit. I cheated though and took the cable car up to the top. The day I went inclement weather had begun to set in and so it was a happy surprise to find the cable car suddenly emerging through the unbroken cloud layer to reveal that the top of the mountain was all blue skies and sunshine. At the top of the mountain there is an enclosure where two brown bears, rescued as orphans when they were young, have been raised. I was lucky to find these grizzly bears playfully lolling about in their pool; both were very active, play-fighting with one another rather spectacularly. I seem to have taken so many photos of this very captivating David Attenborough-like view of them, up-close and personal, such that the sequence of shots play almost like a stop-motion animation on my camera! 

The old Britannia Mine has now been converted into a museum, and may well be familiar from The X-Files – which, like so many other locations in and around Vancouver, formed the backdrop to various episodes of the famous cult Sci-fi television series from the 1990s. Copper was discovered here in 1888 and was mined until 1975. Back then the only way to reach the mine was by sea and so the small town which grew up to facilitate the mine must have had quite a pioneer-like atmosphere, now of course it can easily be reached by road. At the museum they take you on a tour into the mine itself riding on one of the old miner's trains, where they then demonstrate how the copper was extracted using different types of drilling equipment over time. They then explain how the ore was processed before it was shipped out across the whole world. The mine itself is huge with passageways running for miles deep into the hillside at a number of different levels extending well below sea level. Our tour guide was a former miner who had worked in the mine for his entire career and so he was able to give us a very clear picture of what that kind of working life had been like, and what had followed after the closure of the mine. Once all the machinery and the processing plant had been shut down in the 1970s the water run-off from the tunnels began to accrue and concentrate levels of acidity and subsequently this began to poison the water off the coast of Howe Sound. A water treatment plant has since been built in order to deal with this problem by reducing and maintaining the levels of contamination, which in itself is quite a feat of engineering.

Sadly, because of the change in the weather I wasn’t able to take a boat trip as planned out into the Georgia Strait to go whale watching – but, one could probably spend a lifetime exploring here, there’s so much to see and do in this part of the world amidst such spectacular natural scenery. I was very sorry to have to leave after what was only a very brief visit. Still, this just means that there’s plenty to go back and explore properly at some point, after all, we never get too old for another adventure!

31 October 2012

"Living Fossils" - Horseshoe Crabs

Earlier this year when I was in Hong Kong I went up to Sai Kung Town, a little fishing port in the New Territories, where I came across a curious sight. Down by the waterfront, which is lined with fish mongers shops and seafood restaurants, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures populating the banked tanks full of gently percolating saltwater. Outside one of the fish monger’s stalls on the wet pavement there was a group of unusual looking creatures – a type of animal which I’d never seen before but knew of and was intrigued by: horseshoe crabs.

Horseshoe crabs are one of the world’s oldest marine animal species. They are thought to have been living in the warm shallow coastal seas for at least the last 300 million years – that’s 100 million years before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth! In that vast period of time the shape of the continents and the oceans have changed dramatically and thousands of other species have come and gone, evolved and perished, but the horseshoe crab has outlasted them all and has changed little itself in all that time. This odd looking creature is arguably one of the most successful – and useful (as I’ve since found out) – species on our planet.

Horseshoe crabs are a type of invertebrate (animals without backbones) classified as Arthropods (joint-legged animals). Other perhaps more familiar animals in this group are lobsters, crabs, insects, spiders and scorpions. Their bodies are divided into three parts: the prosoma, the front part consisting of the head and thorax which is covered by a hard shell or exoskeleton; the opisthosoma, which is attached to the prosoma by a hinge; and, the telson, or sword-like tail which they use to right themselves if they get flipped over onto their backs. They use their legs for feeding as well as moving. They don’t have jaws as such but instead have gnathobases, or bristles located near the base of the legs that they use for walking. The legs which they use for searching out food are called chelicerae. The gnathobases tear and shred the food they eat, usually clams or worms which they grub up from the seabed using their chelicerae as they move along. They have two primary compound eyes located on the top of their carapace or shell, plus several secondary eyes, some of which are located under the carapace too. As they grow they moult their outer shells, increasing in size by 25-30% with each moult. It takes about 8 to 10 years for horseshoe crabs to reach maturity. It’s not known how long they live, but some scientists believe that horseshoe crabs can reach ages over 20 years old.

Given that they have existed for so many millions of years with relatively little change horseshoe crabs are often described as “living fossils.” They are in fact the closest living relative of the trilobite, an ancient marine animal which flourished for around 270 million years before finally disappearing during the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era around 250 million years ago. Trilobites were highly diverse and geographically spread quite widely across the globe. In contrast, horseshoe crabs are limited to certain temperate regions of the Earth’s oceans, although they may have been more diverse and more widespread in the past. Nowadays there are four extant species: Limulus polyphemus inhabits the western Atlantic and Gulf coasts from North to Central America; Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda populate the Indo-Pacific region from the Bay of Bengal to Indonesia and Borneo; and, Tachypleus tridentatus (presumably the sort which appears in the accompanying photos that I took at Sai Kung) are found from the Philippines up to the southwestern seas of Japan.

Like the trilobites, horseshoe crabs are also found in the fossil record. In 2002 a remarkable horseshoe crab fossil was discovered in Bavaria, Germany – in which, not only the horseshoe crab itself but also its final track in the seabed was preserved. The horseshoe crab somehow fell into what was probably an anoxic lagoon (i.e. – there was no oxygen at the bottom), and so the creature having valiantly righted itself then managed to move some 9.7 metres before it finally succumbed to suffocation. The fossil and its preserved “death march” is thought to be around 150 million years old.

Living horseshoe crabs are also remarkably useful animals to humans and have been utilised in various ways for hundreds of years. Most notably they have been used as a source of food, for tool making (their tails making good spear tips), a nitrogen rich fertiliser, and as animal feed. More recently they’ve also been utilised in medicine too. The study of horseshoe crabs has greatly aided eye research and significantly advanced pharmaceutical testing. Plus studies and derivatives of the material which makes up their exoskeletons (chitin – a polysaccharide, or sugar polymer) has also aided practical advances in medical research (anti-bacterial sponges, dressings for burns, artificial blood vessels, contact lenses, blood cholesterol control, to name but a few), as well as improving water treatment and filtration processes, anti-fungal aids to agriculture, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, even toothpaste!

For more information on horseshoe crabs see the University of Delaware's Sea Grant Program website.

Afterword:  (17 November 2012) Earlier this week I went to an excellent RGS lecture given by Richard Fortey, senior paleontologist at London's Natural History Museum and FRS. He was speaking about his latest book "Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time has left behind" (Harper Collins, 2011), in which he discussed a whole host of weird and wonderful (and some quite ordinary) creatures which have managed to survive the various mass extinction events in the Earth's long history. He is an expert on Trilobites and naturally enough began his lecture with a look at the Horseshoe crab.

You can find out more about his books on the GoodReads website.

9 September 2012

Museo Galileo - Florence

One of the many hidden gems in Florence is definitely the Museo Galileo. Overlooking the River Arno, just a short distance from the Uffizi Gallery, and recently renamed from the rather more descriptive title: Istituto di Storia della Scienza, this immaculately presented collection illustrates the transformation of speculative experimental philosophy into the rigorous discipline of scientific enquiry.

The Museum’s collections, founded upon those begun by the princes and dukes of the Medici and Lorraine dynasties which ruled over Tuscany from the 14th to the 19th centuries, are displayed over two floors and comprise a bewilderingly wonderful range of early scientific instruments – from enormous armillary spheres, intricate astrolabes, noturnals, beautiful globes, telescopes, and delicate glass thermometers, to detailed and accurate wax models of the human body and huge electrical conducting apparatus. The displays are all neatly laid out with beautifully clear graphics and explanations in both Italian and English. The centrepiece of the Museum though is the famous lens through which Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) first observed the satellites of Jupiter, naming them the Medicea Sidera, or the Medicean Stars, in honour of his patrons, along with one of his telescopes – a beautiful object, covered in red leather and decorated with elaborate gold tooling.

The first floor is devoted to the Medicean collections and begins with an impressive array of armillary spheres. These instruments represent models of the universe based on the Ptolemaic system (first described in the 2nd century AD), and show the orbits of the planets around the terrestrial globe, the various rings representing the main celestial spheres, showing the equator, the tropics, and the polar circles, as well as the relative positions of the constellations of the zodiac. Such devices were used in the study and instruction of astronomy. In this era, before proper observational astronomy had really begun, astronomy itself was a study aimed primarily at accurately determining the measurement of time. The motions of the heavenly bodies were studied mainly for the purposes of predicting the dates of certain religious festivities by means of accurate calculations – establishing a reliable calendar, and also enabling the refinement of astrological predictions. Other instruments were similarly devised or improved for calculating time, such as astrolabes, nocturnals, sundials, quadrants, and later on clocks too. These devices enabled the user to carry out complicated algebraic calculations simply by manipulating a few mobile parts and thereby negating the need for pen, paper, and time-consuming complex mathematical formulae. These instruments had distinct practical applications too which were quickly seen and taken up by cartographers and navigators intent on pursuing potential mercantile interests in the New World, as well as by military strategists and surveyors, who – for example – quickly saw the potential for enhanced accuracy in ballistics, calculating the parabolas of projectiles, etc., and thereby beginning the transformation of warfare from what was essentially seen as a chivalric art into an applied science, sowing the seeds for the deadly advances of modern technology as implemented in warfare, which we sadly know all too well today.

The Medici collections also comprise a number of maps and globes which demonstrate the evolution of cartography and in particular the famous Mercator projection. Again many of the advances here were to the benefit of navigators who were intent on exploring the realms of the New World in pursuit of trade and empire. And these charts were closely allied to the scientific instruments used for calculating time and position – in particular the quest to determine longitude. Many of Galileo’s experiments and observations, even in the subject of astronomy, were actually made in the pursuit of determining longitude or for enhancing military aims. In Galileo’s view all of these pursuits were unified in one over-arching discipline: mathematics. He summed up his world view thus: “Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.” (Galileo Galilei, 1623). 

Galileo helped move science on from the long established notions of Ptolemy and Aristotle at great cost to himself and yet entirely to our debt even to this day in our modern era. To my mind, the simple fascination with the mechanics of the universe, and the unfathomable depths of all that we do not know, is still embodied in the simplest of observations, the nightly changes in position of the Galilean satellites around the bright dot of Jupiter through a pair of binoculars is enough to inspire awe and wonder in any observer – and it is impossible to do so without thinking of Galileo.

The first floor also contains an impressive array of early thermometers, many of which represent elegant masterpieces of the glassmakers’ skill. These astonishingly tall and frighteningly gracile devices, marked with a series of colour-coded gradations for accurately measuring changes in atmospheric temperature using alcohol rather than mercury, must be a real challenge to safely curate and preserve!

The second floor is devoted to the instruments collected or commissioned under the auspices of the Dukes of Lorraine. Here there are many wax models of human anatomy, as well as larger and more advanced telescopes and microscopes, and eventually various examples of dauntingly elaborate pneumatic and electrical equipment. These objects in particular demonstrate how the somewhat arcane procedures and texts of the early alchemists coalesced into the actual sciences of chemistry, physics, and medicine; and how such experimentation eventually moved into the popular realm of parlour room education and entertainment.

For those interested in the history of science, as well as the overlap between artistic interpretation and empirical evaluation, the Museo Galileo is well worth a few leisurely spent hours of thought-provoking perusal – a little known but highly commendable cabinet of curiosities in one of the most beautiful and venerable old cities of Europe.