July 9, 1996 — LeAnn Rimes releases Blue

LeAnn Rimes didn’t exactly come from nowhere – by the time she released Blue in 1996, she’d been performing and recording for five years. In fact, Blue was her fourth album, and looking likely to be her last – none of its predecessors had charted. But since then, Rimes had changed labels, and decided to go for broke with this album. She moved away from the country sound of her earlier work to a more pop sensibility. This was recognised as the gamble it was, and hopes were not high.

But Blue defied expectations. It went on to become the number one album on the US country music charts, and actually entered the pop charts at number three (which was also the highest point it would reach there). Her two Grammy’s won the following year in the Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance categories, were both on the strength of this album.

1993 — Encarta is first published by Microsoft

Of all the events I’ve classified as Dateless here – meaning that, for one reason or another, no way existed to date them accurately, this is the most peculiar. But the information does not seem to be anywhere on the web – even Microsoft’s own site does not record the release date of this, the earliest version of their cd-rom encyclopaedia, Microsoft Encarta.

Encarta is in many ways a bridge between traditional encyclopedias such as the Britannica, and internet based encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. While its editing policies and hard-coded nature are in the tradition of the Britannica, its searchability represented a massive advance, as did its use of hyperlinking between articles and the inclusion of animations or archival footage to help illustrate articles.

If anyone reading this owns any copy of Encarta, I’d be curious to know whether Encarta’s entry for itself lists its original release date.

April 11, 1890 — Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, dies

Joseph Merrick (often incorrectly called John) was one of the most notoriously deformed human beings ever to live. Among other unusual features, he had thick, lumpy skin with enlarged lips, and a bony lump growing from his forehead. One of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged, and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in Merrick becoming perpetually lame.

He made a living (of sorts) as a circus freak for many years (about the only work he could get – Merrick had no illusions about how others regarded his appearance, although those able to look beyond that generally reported him to be friendly and well-mannered, if understandably shy), until a Dr Frederick Treves arranged for him to reside in a hospital in London. It was here that Merrick spent the last six years of his life, being examined by the finest medical minds that the Victorian Era had to offer, and remaining (even to this day) enigmatically undiagnosable. Merrick was only 27 when he died, apparently from injuries caused in his sleep by his enlarged head bones. Most of what is known about him today comes from the writings of Treves, which were unfortunately rather subjective.

circa 625 BCE — Deuteronomy is composed

Traditionally, Deuteronomy, the fifth book in The Bible, was held to have been written by Moses (along with its four predecessors). Modern scholars believe that the book was actually written much later than Moses would have been alive – eight to nine hundred years later, in fact.

Different sections of Deuteronomy were written at different times, and not in chronological order, either. The majority of the book was a very detailed legal code, including all sorts of prohibitions, punishments and proscriptions. Some of these are purely religious in nature, others detail crimes and sentences, and still others concern civil matters such as marriage. And, of course, it called for the complete destruction of the Amalekites.

circa 2630 BCE — Imhotep designs and begins construction of the first Pyramid in Egypt

Imhotep was an Egyptian polymath who was what we would later call a Renaissance man. Of course, Imhotep had a 4000 year head-start on Leonardo. He served the Third Dynasty pharaoh Djoser as vizier, although the complete list of his titles ran:
Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.

His most notable work to modern eyes is the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, in which the pharaoh Djoser was buried. It was the first pyramid, and comparatively small and primitive, but for its time it was an engineering marvel.

After his death, Imhotep was deified, one of very few Egyptians to whom this occurred (other than the pharaohs).

circa 300,000 BCE — Mousterian tool kit evolves among Neanderthals

The earliest known example of tool making by a hominid species, the Mousterian tools were created by members of the species homo neanderthalensis. They were primarily a flint-based technology, consisting mostly of cutting and scraping tools. Their name derives from Le Moustier in France, where such tools were discovered. However, it is unlikely that Le Moustier is the actual site of the tools’ origin, as similar tools have been found throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Wherever they were invented, they clearly disseminated widely and – one assumes – swiftly.

The advent of tool making is the beginning of humanity’s technology-enabled conquest of the world. Up until this point, our ancestors were one species among many – a little smarter than most, but not especially better adapted than any other. Tool making changed that, making hominid species deadlier and more efficient hunters, and leading in time to the technological civilization that anyone reading this lives in today.

circa 3,900,000 BCE — Australopithecus evolves

Australopithecus was an early proto-hominid that evolved in Eastern Africa around 4 million years ago. It consisted of a number of sub-species: A. anamensis, A. afarensis, A. sediba, and A. africanus; and two more sub-species whose genus is disputed: A. robustus and A. boisei. Over the course of two million years or so, the various Australopithecenes ranged across Eastern and Southern Africa.

The Australopithecines evolved about 2 million years after the split between the ancestral roots of humanity and chimpanzees (our closest relative), and one or more of the various sub-species of Australopithecus is likely to have been the progenitor of the Homo Genus, to which modern humanity (homo sapiens sapiens) belongs.

circa 65,500,000 BCE — The Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event wipes out the dinosaurs

Everyone loves the dinosaurs. A lot of people – if the Jurassic Park films are to be believed – would like to see them come back. But without their extinction, we wouldn’t be here today.

Even now, it’s still not clear what exactly caused the extinction event – but the best known hypothesis is that of Luis and Walter Alvarez, which states that a meteoric or cometary impact caused a nuclear winter-like effect that altered the climate drastically, wiping out something like 75% of all species alive at the time. The effects were particularly felt by larger species – which included most dinosaurs.

In the wake of the event, now open evolutionary niches were occupied by mammals and birds, including our own ancestors.

circa 284,000,000 BCE — Bolosaurid Eudibamus is the first known biped

The earliest known bipedal vertebrate, eudibamus cursoris was a small parareptile. The sole specimen that has been found (in Thuringia, Germany) measured about 25 cm long – about the size of a house cat. Reconstructions of it give it an appearance resembling a cross between a tiny velociraptor and a modern iguana.

The sole specimen of it known to science was discovered in 2000 by a paleontological team including David S. Berman, Robert R. Reisz, Diane Scott, Amy C. Henrici, Stuart S. Sumida and Thomas Martens. The species is believed to have existed for a span of about five million years or so.

circa 335,000,000 BCE — The supercontinent Pangaea forms

Pangaea was a super-continent – an agglomeration of multiple continents – that came into being about 335 million years ago. It was composed of all the continents we know today fused into a single landmass, surrounded by a single ocean (called Panthalassa) – and was the most recent time such a thing occurred. In fact, it was slightly larger than the combined areas of the modern continents, as supercontinent formation tends to lead to lower sea levels.

Its existence was first theorised by Alfred Wegener, the originator of the scientific theory of continental drift, in his 1912 publication The Origin of Continents (Die Entstehung der Kontinente). It was later proven by both geologists and paleontologists, with evidence to support the hypothesis being found in the magnetic resonance of rocks in various continents, and also by the distribution of fossils demonstrating that a land connection must have existed.

Pangaea (the name comes from the Greek Pan meaning All and Gaea meaning Earth) existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, and its best known inhabitants were the dinosaurs. It began to break up approximately 75 million years after it formed, although the continents would not reach anything approximating their modern positions until only about 35 million years ago, when the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia.