6 discoveries that were made by non-professionals

Doing science for the sake of a hobby is much more exciting than collecting football scarves.

  1. Troy was found by an accountant and broker

Photo from “Autobiography” 1892 edition. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Johann Heinrich Schliemann was born into a poor family and spent his youth living with relatives and grabbing any part-time job. Deciding that something had to be done about it, Schliemann furiously took up self-education, learned English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Russian, and went to work as an accountant in an Amsterdam trading office.

By the age of 36, he had gone from being an office worker to a stockbroker with a million dollar fortune. Schliemann’s wealth was brought about by the successful Crimean War in 1854: he seized the market for saltpeter, sulfur and lead and got rich on the arms trade.

But business was of little interest to the man: from childhood he was obsessed with Homer and ancient civilization, and even learned ancient Greek on his own. Schliemann actually devoted his entire life to finding the cities he had read about in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Since 1868, he traveled around Greece and Turkey, organizing archaeological research with his own money (of which he had a lot). In 1870, he began excavations in the Turkish Hissarlik and by 1873 discovered a total of nine buried cities, one of which was the famous Troy.

Ruins of Troy, drawing 1835. Image: Wikimedia Commons

These settlements, which belonged to different eras, were called “Troy’s Layers”: Troy 0, founded in the Neolithic, Troy I, Troy II, and so on. The city described by Homer was named Troy VII‑A. It existed in 1300-1200. BC e. And it was here that evidence of the Trojan War was discovered: unburied corpses, throwing shells of slingers, Aegean arrowheads.

True, Schliemann did not find a huge wooden horse and a skeleton of a big man with an arrow in his heel.

But instead of them, he dug up a large number of gold jewelry and dishes – the so-called “Priam’s treasure”, which included 8,833 items. Thanks to his findings, the businessman and accountant received the title of “father of pre-Hellenistic archeology.” Schliemann was also awarded a doctorate from the University of Rostock in Germany.

  1. Bacteriophage viruses were discovered by a distiller and orderly

Portrait of Felix d’Herelle, circa 1905. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Born in Canada, Felix d’Herelle dreamed of adventure since childhood. His family, who had emigrated to Canada, returned to Paris after the death of their father. Felix graduated from high school there, and that was his only education. The guy was obsessedwith traveland at the age of 16 he traveled half of Europe on a bicycle, and at 17 he traveled around South America.

When he was 24, d’Herelle moved to Canada again. Felix did not have any professional skills, but he suddenly discovered his interest in microbiology, equipped a laboratory at home and took up research simply out of interest.

For some time, Felix also worked as an orderly on a geological expedition in Labrador, despite the fact that he did not study medicine. But, of course, such part-time jobs could not feed the family.

Felix was faced with an acute question that most of us probably face – where to get the money. D’Herelle tried to go intobusinesswith his brother by investing in a chocolate factory, but it soon went bankrupt and the happy businessmen were on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, with the help of a friend of his late father, d’Herelle received a grant from the Canadian government to study the fermentation and distillation of maple syrup into schnapps – and suddenly his experiments were crowned with success.

He later moved with his family to Guatemala and got a job as a bacteriologist in a hospital in the capital – again without a formal education. Felix treated people for malaria and dengue, and at the same time invented the process of making whiskey from bananas.

The Mexican government was impressed by the self-taught achievement and hired him to find a way to make agave schnapps.

Under the command of Felix, a distillery was built in Mexico City, distilling a desert plant into alcohol.

Soon d’Herelle returned with his wife and daughters to Paris. The First World War had just begun, and Felix began to produce medicines for the needs of the army. And it was at this time that the self-taught microbiologist made the discovery that made him famous. He discovered that there were viruses that killed bacteria and named them bacteriophages.

Adsorption of bacteriophages on the surface of a bacterial cell. Image: Wikimedia Commons

d’Herelle’s bacteriophages made a splash because there were no antibiotics in those days. Felix successfully treated dysentery, cholera and even plague with viruses. For the sake of his research, he traveled to India, China and Egypt. And in 1928 he received recognition and became a professor at Yale University in New Haven.

Later, however, bacteriophages were forgotten for some time, because it is not easy to find the right virus to treat a specific disease. It was easier and cheaper to use the newly appeared antibiotic -penicillin.

But these days, the discovery of Felix d’Herelle is remembered again , because the number of strains that are resistant to antibiotics is increasing, and humanity needs new ways to deal with them.

  1. The planet Uranus was discovered by a violinist

William and Caroline Herschel. Lithograph ca. 1896 Image: Wikimedia Commons

Frederick William Herschel was born in Hanover in 1738 but moved to England at the age of 19. He received his musical education playing the violin and oboe. And later he became an outstanding composer and even conducted the orchestra of the city of Bath in Britain – this was his main profession.

But, in addition to music, he, along with his sister Caroline Frederick, studied mathematics, optics and astronomy – just for the sake of his own curiosity. Later, another brother, Alexander, who worked as a mechanic, joined their studies.

The three of them, Frederic, Alexander and Carolina, made their own telescopes – and they created more than 60 of them.

Just an innocent family hobby.Maybe they could have just played Monopolyinstead , but that hadn’t been invented yet.

Together with Caroline, Frederick regularly engaged in astronomical observations. They discovered two moons of Saturn, Mimas and Enceladus, discovered the seasonal changes in the caps on Mars, and compiled a catalog of 2,500 stellar nebulae. For the latter, by the way, Carolina received a gold medal and honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain.

Herschel discovered the existence of doublestars, for the first time estimated the size and shape of our Galaxy. But perhaps Frederick’s most famous discovery is the giant planet Uranus.

Uranus. Natural color image of Voyager 2 (1986). Image: Wikimedia Commons

Herschel at first mistook Uranus for a comet, but later realized that it was a full-fledged planet, and a rather large one at that. For this, he was awarded the highest honors in the English scientific community, became the court astronomer of King George III, moved with his family to a respectable area near Windsor Palace and received a considerable salary.

It’s funny that Herschel never came up with the name Uranus , and for a long time this celestial body was called “Herschel’s planet” or “Planet George” – in honor of the king, whose astronomer was Frederick. The astronomer Johann Bode later gave the name to the giant, simply deciding: if all celestial bodies are named after the deities of ancient mythology , then Herschel and George in the sky are clearly superfluous.

  1. Plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs were discovered by a simple housewife

Mary Anning, 1842 painting Image: Wikimedia Commons

On August 19, 1800, when Mary Anning was 15 months old, her father’s neighbor Elizabeth Haskings, along with two of her friends, went to a horse show, taking the girl with them. The ladies with the child settled down under a large elm tree. Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke out , lightning struck the tree , and all three women died. Mary survived.

It was by this incident that Mary Anning’s acquaintances in subsequent years explained her outstanding intellect.

Mary’s father was a carpenter, but out of curiosity he collected various fossils: prehistoric ammonite shells, vertebrae of extinct animals, and the like. After his death, the family sold off most of the collection to improve their financial situation. But Mary inherited her father’s interest in antiquities.

She was not educated, although she could read and write. But already at the age of twelve she discovered and described the skeleton of an ichthyosaur. And at an older age, she was the first in the world to find two almost completeplesiosaurskeletons and the first remains of a pterosaur outside Germany.

Mary Anning’s drawing of an almost complete Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus skeleton found in 1823. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Mary was also the first to guess that coprolites, often found in the habitats of ancient monsters, were fossilized feces. Prior to this, scientists gentlemen of Britain naively believed that these were undigested fragments of food stuck in the stomachs of prehistoric animals.

Now Mary Anning is deservedly considered one of the pioneers in the science of paleontology. But in the 19th century, gender equality was somehow not particularly thought about, and therefore it did not receive recognition during its lifetime. Her discoveries, with which she applied to the Geological Society of London, were attributed to her male colleagues.

  1. The onset of global warming was proved by a steam engineer

Guy Stuart Callendar in 1934. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The father of Guy Stuart Callendar, born in 1898, was a professor and thermodynamicist. Guy followed in his footsteps, studying the properties of steam at high temperatures and pressures. And in the end he became an engineer designing steam turbines, and achieved significant success in this work.

But in history, he was noted not as a technician, but as an amateur climatologist, the first to predict the approach of global warming. After his main work, Callendar investigated the history of the Earth’s climate , relying on the works of the greatest meteorologists of the 19th century.

He collected data from temperature measurements around the world and compared them with old records. As a result, Callendar correctly associated the greenhouse effect in the planet’s atmosphere with an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide. Modern research shows that his calculations are amazingly accurate, especially considering that he did them without a computer – they had not yet been invented.

Someone collects caps, and someone collects statistics of meteorological measurements for the 18th century. Well, it’s just a hobby.

From 1938 to 1964, Callendar, who did not have the appropriate education, published more than 35 major scientific articles on global warming, the infrared radiation of the planet, and anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

And his works, initially met with skepticism by the scientific community, later convinced most meteorologists of the need to study the concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere. And now the effect of carbon dioxide on climate is called the “Callendar Effect”.

Perhaps if a man hadn’t dabbled with numbers after work, we still wouldn’t have thought about switching to renewable energy sources. And you would wonder why the Earth’s polar caps are evaporating.

Callendar, by the way, believed that global warming would ultimately be good for humanity, because it would improve conditions for agriculture and delay the next Ice Age.

  1. An ancient rock calendar was deciphered by a furniture maker

Bennett Bacon carving a wooden dragon with a jigsaw. Image: Artworkersguild.org

Have you ever wondered why ancient people painted deer, mammoths and other living creatures on the wallsof caves ? Scientists have long believed that this is a primitive art form, created simply from nothing to do. But a Briton named Bennett Bacon found another explanation for the cave drawings.

Bennett’s main activity is the restoration of antique furniture. He is even a member of the London Furniture Guild. But purely for fun, a man studies variousarchaeologicalfinds related to rock art, in particular, photographs from the collection of the British Library.

Bennett looked for repeating patterns and patterns – and found them. The man compared the dots and marks on the rock paintings with the lunar calendar and found that they are associated with the reproductive cycles of animals depicted by ancient people.

That is, the hunter-gatherers of the Ice Age drew animals and fish for a reason – they tracked the time when it was better to hunt them.

With his observations, Bennet turned to scientists from Durham University, and they, rechecking the data, were simply amazed – how could they not notice what the man from the street found? Be that as it may, Bennett’s findings were published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

So now, thanks to the furniture maker, we know that rock painting is not some kind of art, but purely utilitarian notes for hunters. Something like “June 1 – February 28: hunting season for wild boar, roe deer, hare. Don’t forget the spear.”


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