Sprawling Maya network discovered under Guatemala jungle

A split image with one side showing an aerial look on Mayan ruins in Guatemala's northern jungle, and the other side showing a digital landscape that strips away the forest canopy to reveal structures under the ground.Image copyrightWILD BLUE MEDIA/CHANNEL 4
Image captionThe Maya city of Tikal was found to be just a fraction of an immense hidden metropolis

Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Maya ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough.

Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications.

The landscape, near already-known Maya cities, is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested.

The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.

Archaeologists believe the cutting-edge technology will change the way the world will see the Maya civilisation.

“I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology,” said Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University.

Mr Houston told the BBC that after decades of work in the archaeological field, he found the magnitude of the recent survey “breathtaking”. He added, “I know it sounds hyperbolic but when I saw the [Lidar] imagery, it did bring tears to my eyes.”

A Lidar image showing hundreds of previously unseen structures.Image copyrightWILD BLUE MEDIA/CHANNEL 4
Image captionMost structures are believed to be stone platforms for pole-and-thatch homes

Results from the research using Lidar technology, which is short for “light detection and ranging”, suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilisation more akin to sophisticated cultures like ancient Greece or China.

“Everything is turned on its head,” Ithaca College archaeologist Thomas Garrison told the BBC.

He believes the scale and population density has been “grossly underestimated and could in fact be three or four times greater than previously thought”.


How does Lidar work?

Described as “magic” by some archaeologists, Lidar unveils archaeological finds almost invisible to the naked eye, especially in the tropics.

  • It is a sophisticated remote sensing technology that uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the earth
  • Millions of laser pulses every four seconds are beamed at the ground from a plane or helicopter
  • The wavelengths are measured as they bounce back, which is not unlike how bats use sonar to hunt
  • The highly accurate measurements are then used to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the ground surface topography

Revolutionary treasure map

The group of scholars who worked on this project used Lidar to digitally remove the dense tree canopy to create a 3D map of what is really under the surface of the now-uninhabited Guatemalan rainforest.

Lidar is revolutionising archaeology the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionised astronomy,” Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist, told National Geographic. “We’ll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we’re seeing.”

Three surveyors looks at a large digital screen showing a Lidar image of a Mayan city.Image copyrightWILD BLUE MEDIA/CHANNEL 4
Image captionThe Lidar images have surprised surveyors

Archaeologists excavating a Maya site called El Zotz in northern Guatemala, painstakingly mapped the landscape for years. But the Lidar survey revealed kilometres of fortification wall that the team had never noticed before.

“Maybe, eventually, we would have gotten to this hilltop where this fortress is, but I was within about 150 feet of it in 2010 and didn’t see anything,” Mr Garrison told Live Science.

While Lidar imagery has saved archaeologists years of on-the-ground searching, the BBC was told that it also presents a problem.

“The tricky thing about Lidar is that it gives us an image of 3,000 years of Mayan civilisation in the area, compressed,” explained Mr Garrison, who is part of a consortium of archaeologists involved in the recent survey.

“It’s a great problem to have though, because it gives us new challenges as we learn more about the Maya.”

In recent years Lidar technology has also been used to reveal previously hidden cities near the iconic ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Hidden insights

Maya civilisation, at its peak some 1,500 years ago, covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, with an estimated population of around five million.

“With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there,” said Mr Estrada-Belli, “including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Most of the 60,000 newly identified structures are thought to be stone platforms that would have supported the average pole-and-thatch Maya home.

The archaeologists were struck by the “incredible defensive features”, which included walls, fortresses and moats.

They showed that the Maya invested more resources into defending themselves than previously thought, Mr Garrison said.

One of the hidden finds is a seven-storey pyramid so covered in vegetation that it practically melts into the jungle.

Another discovery that surprised archaeologists was the complex network of causeways linking all the Maya cities in the area. The raised highways, allowing easy passage even during rainy seasons, were wide enough to suggest they were heavily trafficked and used for trade.

“The idea of seeing a continuous landscape, but understanding everything is connected across many square miles is amazing,” said Mr Houston.

“We can expect many further surprises,” he added.

The Lidar survey was the first part of a three-year project led by a Guatemalan organisation that promotes cultural heritage preservation. It will eventually map more than 5,000 sq miles (14,000 sq km) of Guatemala’s lowlands.

The project’s discoveries will feature in a Channel 4 programme called Lost Cities of the Maya: Revealed, airing in the UK on Sunday 11 February at 20:00 GMT.

Guatemalan jungle with a mound covered in foliage in the background.Image copyrightWILD BLUE MEDIA/CHANNEL 4
Image captionSome sites could not be seen under the jungle foliage
An image of jungle foliage superimposed with a Lidar image of the same location, revealing a mound in the distance is in fact a pyramid.Image copyrightWILD BLUE MEDIA/CHANNEL 4
Image captionBut Lidar technology revealed an undiscovered seven-storey pyramid
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The disease that could change how we drink coffee

coffee farm beans

If you landed in Bogota in the 1960s, one of the first things you would have probably seen outside the airport was a giant billboard. In a slightly menacing tone, it said: “Coffee rust is the enemy. Don’t bring plant materials from abroad”.

It was one of the first warnings about a foe that has been threatening Colombia’s coffee trade ever since.

Coffee rust is a disease with the power to cripple, or even wipe out, the country’s national product, the base of one of its biggest industries, and one of its most important sources of foreign currency. Last year alone, its coffee exports were worth $2.4bn (£1.8bn), and was 7.7% of all goods the country sold overseas. That makes Colombia the third largest producer of coffee in the world. In other words, if rust takes hold there and global supply dwindles, it will affect the price of the coffee we drink everywhere.

That’s why for the past few decades, Colombia’s scientists have been engaged in a little-known battle with the disease, staged from a small laboratory deep inside the mountains of Colombia’s coffee axis.

The question is, can Colombian coffee’s distinct flavours survive intact?

Coffee rust looks like a brown powder on the leaves (Credit: Getty Images)

Coffee rust looks like a brown powder on the leaves (Credit: Getty Images)

Coffee rust has plagued farmers for more than a century. When a tree gets infected by it, its leaves produce a brown, thin powder when scratched, pretty much like iron rust. The disease, caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, also de-colours the bush’s leaves from a bright green to a brownish yellow. In the end, the tree loses all its leaves, as well as its ability to produce beans.

If left unattended, the disease can have dramatic consequences. In the late 19th Century, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia were the major exporters of coffee in the world. In a matter of decades, the disease meant they practically stopped growing it.

Historians suggest that this is part of the reason why Britons prefer tea nowadays. “Sri Lanka moved over to tea production” since coffee was no longer profitable, explains Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Luckily for Asian producers, Britain was eager to switch its taste when their coffee supply vanished.

Beauty vs beast

What makes coffee rust a particular worry for Colombia is that it attacks the type of coffee that the country relies on – and that coffee lovers have got used to drinking.

Coffee comes in two varieties. We could call them ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’.

‘The beauty’ is Coffea arabica. Its seed gives a delicious and delicate brew, that sells at good prices in international markets. This is the variety that made Colombian coffee so famous.

Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world (Credit: Getty Images)

Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world (Credit: Getty Images)

‘The beast’ is Coffea canephora, also known as robusta. It is a tougher tree, with more resistant leaves, that is cheaper to grow and crop. It has a more rough and bitter taste; not very appealing for coffee connoisseurs and not as appreciated by the market as its gentler brother. As a result, it accounts only for a 37% of the world coffee production, according to the International Coffee Organisation.

Unfortunately, coffee rust attacks the ‘beauty’, but not the ‘beast’. Colombia only exports ‘beauties’, so switching has never been an option.

In the 1960s, a team of scientists at a research laboratory called Cenicafe set out to find a solution that drew on the best features of the two varieties – but it wouldn’t be straightforward.

The laboratory

To get to Cenicafe, you have to drive all the way to the top of a mountain; the twisting roads can make you sick if you are not used to them. The lab is nested there to keep its 89-year-worth body of research away from the force of nature: the prior building flooded after a volcano eruption in 1985.

It was set up by the Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (also known as Fedecafe), the coffee industry association in the country, and is considered a global flagship centre for the science of coffee.

“Cenicafe is what have allowed us to remain competitive and lower our risk”, explains Hernando Duque, technical director of Fedecafe. Its research helped domesticate and make viable many of the high-quality varieties that the country grows and the world enjoys.

Today, the laboratory’s work is regarded as the gold standard in the fight against “the most acute threat against coffee in the Americas”, says Michael Sheridan, director of sourcing and shared value at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, a specialty coffee importer in the US.

Beans

To get rated as a premium quality grade, farmers must focus on small details (Credit: Getty Images)

To save Colombia’s coffee, Cenicafe scientists in the 1960s realised that they needed to breed new varieties that could inherit both the distinctive taste and aroma of Colombian ‘beauty’, and the resistance genes of the ‘beast’.

To do so, they had to get those genes somewhere: ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’ don’t usually interbreed.

The solution, they found, would come from the other side of the world.

From Timor with love

At some point in recent history, something weird happened in Timor. Somewhere in this small island on the Indian Ocean, halfway between Indonesia and Australia, the ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born.

The ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born

This naturally occurring hybrid of arabica and robusta was found in 1927, and started to be harvested in 1940. It is not really a great tasting berry, but it had a crucial feature: unlike normal robusta, it can be bred again with arabica varieties, which means that it can transmit its rust resistance to them.

Coffee research centres around the world started to do just that, but there was a problem. The result did not taste very good, what meant that it was going to fail. If cultivators were not going to be paid at least as much money for the new varieties, they simply were not going to change their bushes.

coffee farm

Colombia’s coffee industry employs around 730,000 people, most of them on the deprived rural areas of the country (Credit: Getty Images)

Cenicafe begun its efforts to combat rust begun in 1968, knowing that rust from overseas would arrive in Colombia soon. It started a project to created cultivars of the bush that resist it. It was not just a matter of putting two varieties in a genetic blender. The real work was to interbreed five generations of trees, and select those that provided a better taste and more delicate aroma, as well as a shorter tree, good productivity for growers and resistant to different races of the Hemileia fungus.

In 1980, the centre released its first hybrid of Caturra – the dominant variety grown in the country – and the Timor hybrid. It was called Colombia, and it was good enough for it to be well accepted by growers and buyers, to the point that it still is around in many of the country’s coffee farms.

It was just in time. Three years later, coffee rust was first identified in Colombia.

A moving target

Achieving the Colombia variety was not going to be the end of the war against rust. Hemileia vastatrix has since evolved, and found a way to infest some of the formerly immune coffee bushes. While it maintains partial resistance, the fungus will inevitably break it.

There’s also the menace of climate change. Temperatures in the coldest part of the year are rising, which some scientists believe reduces the time the rust fungus takes to attack the leaves once it gets to the tree. As a result, future epidemics might be longer and more destructive.

With that in mind, Cenicafe has developed other varieties. In 2005, they released a new seed, called Castillo after Jaime Castillo Zapata, the lead scientist behind the development of Colombia. And in 2016, a third variety, named Cenicafe 1, also increased its resistance to other diseases.

The main idea is to make it more difficult for the fungus to fully break the tree’s resistance. This is achieved by including many different genes that offer invulnerability against the pathogen. If one of them is defeated by a new mutation of Hemielia, there are many others left.

coffee flavour tasting

In coffee flavour tasting, a score of more than 80 out of 100 is considered ‘specialty’ grade (Credit: Getty Images)

By increasing the gene pool, coffee scientists also aim at protecting the crops from other risks. “If you reduced genetic diversity, you have less resistance to climate, pests and diseases,” explains Davis.

Lack of diversity has proven disastrous to other commercial crops. Almost all bananas you can buy today in most parts of the world are clones from a single parent plant called Cavendish, initially bred in Britain in the 19th Century.

It was not the tastiest fruit, but it was resistant to the fungus that wiped out the world’s most popular variety in the mid-20th Century, the Gros Michel. The fungus mutated and now it can kill Cavendish, which means that the extinction of the banana as most of the world knows it is on the cards.

Coffee scientists have heard the cautionary tale. In the distant future when rust finally defeats Castillo and Colombia, hopefully other varieties will keep up the fight.

Beyond the seeds

If rust takes hold, there will also be human costs. Colombia’s coffee industry employs around 730,000 people, most of them on the deprived rural areas of the country.

Intelligentsia’s Sheridan spent many years deep inside Colombia as a development worker. He saw how small coffee farmers gamble everything for getting a good yield. They take very high risks, and if something goes wrong, their families pay a hefty toll.

Castillo is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity

That is why he believes varieties like Castillo made coffee viable for many small farmers, who now have a reasonably priced and less risky option. “It is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity,” he says.

The seed is only part of this story though. Getting growers to change to resistant varieties can be difficult. A single coffee bush can bear fruit at peak productivity for up to eight years, what means that most new seeds are not immediately adopted by cultivators once they are released.

Also, many growers have an emotional attachment to the varieties they already grow. They know the quirks of their trees, their ebbs and flows, and the precise ways they behave in the particular environments of their farms. Even when Castillo is grown in very similar way to Caturra, for some farmers planting a new seed can feel like hosting a stranger in your house.

coffee farm beans

If rust takes hold, can Colombian coffee’s distinct flavours survive intact? (Credit: Getty Images)

The change also has a monetary cost. As a team of Latin American coffee researchers wrote in a recent paper about the rust epidemic, variety replacement requires a large initial investment, and returns “no or very low yields for at least the first two years, and thus a greatly reduced income”.

Colombia has put forward a strategy for overcoming these hurdles. Fedecafe offers subsidies and loans to farmers for helping them buy resistant seeds, and technical advice on growing.

Still, the disease can wreak havoc on the industry. A 2008 outbreak still managed to wipe out up a quarter of the year’s crop in Colombia. Since then, the country has accelerated its efforts to make farmers grow Castillo.

Today, per Fedecafe’s figures, 76% of all coffee trees in Colombia are at least partially resistant to coffee rust, an increase achieved mostly by pushing Castillo among growers. And while other countries have seen their crops halved in recent outbreaks, Colombia maintains a single-digit prevalence of the disease.

This is why most people in the coffee world, from growers to scientists to buyers, regard Colombian efforts as the best in the world in the fight against rust. But not all of them – the taste of the new varieties has not been universally embraced.

Key numbers

Once a year, in front of a panel of cuppers (the expert tasters of this industry), coffee farmers put all their hard work on the line. Their goal is to reach a magic number: 80.

Tasters rate a coffee’s flavour with a score out of 100 – assessing fragrance, body, sweetness and more. A rating of 80 is the minimum to be considered “specialty”, and therefore sold at higher prices than the market average. Some buyers are even pickier: they demand an 83, or even an 87. Of course, they pay due premiums for the extra quality.

The coffee farmers’ goal is to reach a score of 80 for flavour

Beyond that, it’s the confirmation of the growers’ mastery in their craft, the score that puts them among the elite of coffee producers.

“It is very difficult to get there,” says Mauricio Castaneda, the eldest son of a family of coffee farmers. “You have to take care of a lot of small details.” In 2016, only 17% of the coffee exported by Colombia reached that mark.

Some people in the coffee market think that Castillo just doesn’t get that high. For years, some coffee cuppers have complained about the slightly lower quality and cup profile of Castillo over Caturra – a claim that could sink the viability of the resistant variety.

It has been a contentious issue inside the coffee community. For instance, for Alejandro Cadena, CEO of Caravela, a coffee trade company, “Castillo is not the most suitable variety for specialised, high quality markets.” He says that sometimes it can have some rubber notes in it, particularly when something was not done right in its process.

This keeps it away from the more high-priced, high-quality market, Cadena contends. “But for more commercial, high-volume, Castillo is an outstanding variety.”

A blind coffee tasting session (Credit: Jose Penarredonda)

A blind coffee tasting session (Credit: Jose Penarredonda)

Some others, like Sheridan, say that this is not really the case. He backs up his claims on a study he performed in the 2014 crop in Nariño, one of Colombia’s coffee growing states, where expert cuppers blind tested both varieties and did not find any significant difference.

While he is cautious to assert that this research cannot be extrapolated to other regions of Colombia and to other years’ crops, he claims that the market is giving many signs of appreciation for Castillo. Top baristas choose it in competitions, and it has a lot of prestige among international buyers. “It’s increasingly difficult in Colombia, when sourcing small holders’ coffee, to find batches that does not have some Castillo in them,” he says.

Top baristas choose Castillo in competitions

Castillo is also near Eduardo Florez’s heart. He is a Colombian entrepreneur who has a stall in the Borough Market in London, where he sells the coffee he roasts in his garage in Brighton. He sources small batches for his business, and has found some very special Castillos. “Once I saw one that had peach notes”, he points out, excited. “Imagine how delicate is that!”

At Florez’s garage, I decided to do my own (non-expert and non-representative) blind cupping. I tasted four samples at Florez’s garage without knowing the variety of each one.

One of them was complex and worth sipping many times: its fruit-like acidity and sweetness were in a dance of sorts, where each flavour did not cancel but complement and enhance each other. Another one, well, tasted like the office ‘joe’: the sort of brew you drink just to keep going. The other two were somewhere between the good one and the plain one.

But the one I liked the most? The one with the fruity flavours and sweetness? It was a Castillo.

By Jose Luis Penarredonda

Simón Bolívar VENEZUELAN SOLDIER AND STATESMAN

Simón Bolívar
VENEZUELAN SOLDIER AND STATESMAN
Simon Bolivar

Simón Bolívarby name The Liberator or Spanish El Libertador (born July 24, 1783, Caracas, Venezuela, New Granada [now in Venezuela]—died December 17, 1830, near Santa Marta, Colombia), Venezuelan soldier and statesman who led the revolutions against Spanish rule in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. He was president of Gran Colombia(1819–30) and dictator of Peru (1823–26).

Early Life

The son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent, Bolívar was born to wealth and position. His father died when the boy was three years old, and his mother died six years later, after which his uncle administered his inheritance and provided him with tutors. One of those tutors, Simón Rodríguez, was to have a deep and lasting effect on him. Rodríguez, a disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, introduced Bolívar to the world of 18th-century liberal thought.

At the age of 16, Bolívar was sent to Europe to complete his education. For three years he lived in Spain, and in 1801 he married the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, with whom he returned to Caracas. The young bride died of yellow fever less than a year after their marriage. Bolívar believed that her tragic death was the reason that he took up a political career while still a young man.

In 1804, when Napoleon I was approaching the pinnacle of his career, Bolívar returned to Europe. In Paris, under the renewed guidance of his friend and tutor Rodríguez, he steeped himself in the writings of European rationalist thinkers such as John LockeThomas HobbesGeorges-Louis Leclerc, count de BuffonJean le Rond d’Alembert, and Claude-Adrien Helvétius, as well as VoltaireMontesquieu, and Rousseau. The latter two had the deepest influence on his political life, but Voltaire coloured his philosophy of life. In Paris he met the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who had just returned from his voyage through Hispanic America and told Bolívar that he believed the Spanish colonies were ripe for independence. That idea took root in Bolívar’s imagination, and, on a trip to Rome with Rodríguez, as they stood on the heights of Monte Sacro, he made a vow to liberate his country.

One other experience enriched his intellect at that time: he watched the extraordinary performance that culminated in Napoleon’s coronation in 1804 as emperor of the French. Bolívar’s reaction to the coronation wavered between admiration of the accomplishments of a single man and revulsion at Napoleon’s betrayal of the ideals of the French Revolution. The desire for glory was one of the permanent traits in Bolívar’s character, and there can be little doubt that it was stimulated by Napoleon. The example of Napoleon was, nevertheless, a warning that Bolívar heeded. In his later days he always insisted that the title of “liberator” was higher than any other and that he would not exchange it for that of king or emperor. In 1807 he returned to Venezuela by way of the United States, visiting the eastern cities.

Independence Movement 

The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority. Napoleon also failed completely in his attempt to gain the support of the Spanish colonies, which claimed the right to nominate their own officials. Following the example of the mother country, they wished to establish juntas to rule in the name of the deposed Spanish king. Many of the Spanish settlers, however, saw in those events an opportunity to sever their ties with Spain. Bolívar himself participated in various conspiratorial meetings, and on April 19, 1810, the Spanish governor was officially deprived of his powers and expelled from Venezuela. A junta took over. To obtain help, Bolívar was sent on a mission to London, where he arrived in July. His assignment was to explain to England the plight of the revolutionary colony, to gain recognition for it, and to obtain arms and support. Although he failed in his official negotiations, his English sojourn was in other respects a fruitful one. It gave him an opportunity to study the institutions of the United Kingdom, which remained for him models of political wisdom and stability. More important, he fostered the cause of the revolution by persuading the exiled Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda, who in 1806 had attempted to liberate his country single-handedly, to return to Caracas and assume command of the independence movement.

 Venezuela was in ferment. In March 1811 a national congress met in Caracas to draft a constitution. Bolívar, though not a delegate, threw himself into the debate that aroused the country. In the first public speech of his career, he declared, “Let us lay the cornerstone of American freedom without fear. To hesitate is to perish.” After long deliberation, the national assembly declared Venezuela’s independence on July 5, 1811. Bolívar now entered the army of the young republic, whose commander in chief was Miranda, and was placed in charge of Puerto Cabello, a port on the Caribbean Sea west of Caracas that was vital to Venezuela. In the short time since their London meeting, he and Miranda had drifted apart. Miranda called Bolívar a “dangerous youth,” and Bolívar had misgivings about the aging general’s abilities. Treasonable action by one of Bolívar’s officers opened the fortress to the Spanish forces, and Miranda, the commander in chief, entered into negotiations with the Spanish commander in chief. An armistice was signed (July 1812) that left the entire country at the mercy of Spain. Miranda was turned over to the Spaniards—after Bolívar and others prevented his escape from Venezuela—and spent the rest of his life in Spanish dungeons.

Determined to continue the struggle, Bolívar obtained a passport to leave the country and went to Cartagena in New Granada. There he published the first of his great political statements, El manifiesto de Cartagena (“The Cartagena Manifesto”), in which he attributed the fall of Venezuela’s First Republic to the lack of strong government and called for a united revolutionary effort to destroy the power of Spain in the Americas.

With backing from the patriots of New Granada, Bolívar led an expeditionary force to retake Venezuela. In a sweeping hard-fought campaign, he vanquished the royalists in six pitched battles and on August 6, 1813, entered Caracas. He was given the title of Liberator and assumed political dictatorship. The war of independence was just beginning, however. The majority of the people of Venezuela were hostile to the forces of independence and weary of the sacrifices imposed. A cruel civil war broke out, and Bolívar himself resorted to extreme measures, such as the shooting of prisoners. His severity failed in its object. In 1814 Bolívar was once more defeated by the Spanish, who had converted the llaneros (cowboys) led by José Tomás Boves into an undisciplined but savagely effective cavalry that Bolívar was unable to repulse. Boves subjected Creole patriots to terrible atrocities, and his capture of Caracas and other principal cities ended the second Venezuelan republic. Narrowly escaping Miranda’s fate, Bolívar fled to New Granada, where he was commissioned in Cartagena to oust a separatist faction from Bogotá (now in Colombia) and succeeded in doing so. He then laid siege to Cartagena but failed to unite the revolutionary forces and fled to Jamaica.

In exile, Bolívar turned his energies toward gaining support from Great Britain, and, in an effort to convince the British people of their stake in the freedom of the Spanish colonies, he wrote the greatest document of his career: La carta de Jamaica (“The Letter from Jamaica”), in which he outlined a grandiose panorama from Chile and Argentina to Mexico. “The bonds,” wrote Bolívar, “that united us to Spain have been severed.” He was not dismayed that the Spaniards had in certain instances won the upper hand. “A people that love freedom will in the end be free. We are,” he said proudly, “a microcosm of the human race. We are a world apart, confined within two oceans, young in arts and sciences, but old as a human society. We are neither Indians nor Europeans, yet we are a part of each.” He proposed constitutional republics throughout Hispanic America, and for the former Viceroyalty of New Granada he envisioned a government modeled on that of Great Britain, with a hereditary upper house, an elected lower house, and a president chosen for life. The last provision, to which Bolívar clung throughout his career, constituted the most dubious feature of his political thinking.

In “The Letter from Jamaica,” Bolívar showed himself as a great internationalist. He looked forward to the day when the representatives of all Hispanic American nations would gather in a central location such as Panama.

By 1815, Spain had sent to its seditious colonies the strongest expeditionary force that had ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Its commander was Pablo Morillo. Since neither Great Britain nor the United States would promise aid, Bolívar turned to Haiti, which had recently freed itself from French rule. There he was given a friendly reception as well as money and weapons.

Liberation Of New Granada

Three years of indecisive defeats and victories followed. In 1817 Bolívar decided to set up headquarters in the Orinoco River region, which had not been devastated by war and from which the Spaniards could not easily oust him. He engaged the services of several thousand foreign soldiers and officers, mostly British and Irish, established his capital at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar), began to publish a newspaper, and established a liaison with the revolutionary forces of the plains, including one group led by José Antonio Páez and another group led by Francisco de Paula Santander. In spring 1819 he conceived his master plan of attacking the Viceroyalty of New Granada.

  • Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Alejandro Sajor
  • General José Antonio Páez.
    General José Antonio Páez.   Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Bolívar’s attack on New Granada is considered one of the most daring in military history. The route of the small army (about 2,500 men, including the British legion) led through the plains, but it was the rainy season, and the rivers had become lakes. For seven days, according to one of Bolívar’s aides, they marched in water up to their waists. Ten navigable rivers were crossed, most of them in cowhide boats. The journey through the plains seemed child’s play, however, in comparison with their ascent of the Andes Mountains that stood between Bolívar and the city of Bogotá. Bolívar had chosen to cross the cordillera at the pass of Pisba, which the Spanish considered an inconceivable approach. An icy wind blew across the heights of the pass, and many of the scantily clad troops died of cold and exposure. The fatigue and loss, however, were more than outweighed by the advantage gained in descending unopposed into New Granada. The Spaniards were taken by surprise, and in the crucial Battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1819, the bulk of the royalist army surrendered to Bolívar. Three days later he entered Bogotá. That action was the turning point in the history of northern South America.

Indefatigably, Bolívar set out to complete his task. He appointed Santander vice president in charge of the administration and in December 1819 made his appearance before the congress that had assembled in Angostura. Bolívar was made president and military dictator. He urged the legislators to proclaim the creation of a new state; three days later the Republic of Colombia, usually called Gran Colombia, was established, comprising the three departments of New Granada (now the countries of Colombia and Panama), Venezuela, and Quito (Ecuador). Since most of that territory was still under royalist control, it was largely a paper achievement. Bolívar knew, however, that victory was finally within his grasp. Early in 1820 a revolution in Spain forced the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, to recognize the ideals of liberalism on the home front, an action that discouraged the Spanish forces in South America. Bolívar persuaded Morillo to open armistice negotiations, and the two warriors met in a memorable encounter at Santa Ana, Venezuela, signing in November 1820 a treaty that ended hostilities for a six-month period.

When fighting was resumed, Bolívar found it easy, with his superior manpower, to defeat the Spanish forces in Venezuela. The Battle of Carabobo (June 1821) opened the gates of Caracas, and Bolívar’s Venezuelan homeland was at last free. In the autumn of the same year, a congress convened in Cúcuta to draft a constitution for Gran Colombia. Its provisions disappointed Bolívar. Although he had been elected president, he thought the constitution was too liberal in character to guarantee the survival of his creation. As long as more-urgent assignments claimed his attention, however, he was willing to put up with its weak structure. Putting the administration in Santander’s hands, he left to continue his military campaign.

The effort to liberate Ecuador lasted about a year. Bolívar was assisted by the most brilliant of his officers, Antonio José de Sucre. While Bolívar engaged the Spaniards in the mountains that defended the northern access to Quito, capital of Ecuador, Sucre marched from the Pacific Ocean coast to the interior. At Pichincha on May 24, 1822, he won a victory that freed Ecuador from the Spanish yoke. On the following day the capital fell, and Bolívar joined forces with Sucre on June 16.

It was in Quito that the Liberator met the great passion of his life, Manuela Sáenz. She was an ardent revolutionary who freely admitted her love for Bolívar and accompanied him first to Peru and ultimately to the presidential palace in Bogotá.

Liberation Of Peru

The territory of Gran Colombia had now been completely recovered from Spain, and its new government was recognized by the United States. Only Peru and Upper Peru remained in the hands of the Spaniards. It was the Peruvian problem that brought Bolívar and the Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín together. San Martín had done for the southern part of the continent what Bolívar had accomplished for the north. In addition, San Martín had already entered Lima and proclaimed Peru’s independence. But the Spanish forces had retreated into the highlands, and San Martín, unable to follow them, decided to consult with Bolívar. On July 26, 1822, the two men met in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador (the Guayaquil Conference). Details of their discussions are not known, but presumably they covered completion of the military struggle in Peru as well as the subsequent organization of liberated Hispanic America. San Martín must have understood that Bolívar alone combined the military, political, and psychological assets needed to gain final victory over the powerful Spanish army in the highlands. Given the situation in Lima, where he faced mounting opposition, San Martín’s presence there could only hinder the performance of that task. On his return from Guayaquil, San Martín resigned his office in Lima and went into exile, allowing Bolívar to assume sole direction of the war. Whether he took that action to give Bolívar a free hand or out of a sense of personal frustration is unknown.

The avenue that would lead to Bolívar’s ultimate ambition was now open. In September 1823 he arrived in Lima. The Spanish army occupied the mountains east of the city, and its position was considered unassailable. Bolívar, however, systematically assembled troops, horses, mules, and ammunition to form an army, and in 1824 he moved out of the temporary capital in Trujillo and ascended the high cordillera. The first major battle took place at Junín and was easily won by Bolívar, who then left the successful termination of the campaign to his able chief of staff, Sucre. On December 9, 1824, the Spanish viceroy lost the Battle of Ayacucho to Sucre and surrendered with his entire army.

Bolivia

Bolívar was now president of Gran Colombia and dictator of Peru. Only a small section of the continent—Upper Peru—was still defended by royalist forces. The liberation of that region fell to Sucre, and in April 1825 he reported that the task had been accomplished. The new country chose to be called Bolivia, a variation on the Liberator’s name. For that child of his genius, Bolívar drafted a constitution that showed once more his authoritarian inclinations: it created a lifetime president, a legislative body consisting of three chambers, and a highly restricted suffrage. Bolívar was devoted to his own creation, but, as the instrument of social reform that he had envisaged, the constitution was a failure.

Bolívar had now reached the high point of his career. His power extended from the Caribbean to the Argentine-Bolivian border. He had conquered severe illness, which during his sojourn in Peru had made him practically an invalid for months at a time. Another of his favourite projects, a league of Hispanic American states, came to fruition in 1826. He had long advocated treaties of alliance between the American republics, whose weakness he correctly apprehended. By 1824 such treaties had been signed and ratified by the republics of Colombia, Peru, Mexico, the United Provinces of Central America, and the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. In 1826 a general American congress convened in Panama under Bolívar’s auspices. Compared with Bolívar’s original proposals, it was a fragmentary affair, with only Colombia, Peru, Central America, and Mexico sending representatives. The four countries that attended signed a treaty of alliance and invited all other American countries to adhere to it. A common army and navy were planned, and a biannual assembly representing the federated states was projected. All controversies among the states were to be solved by arbitration. Only Colombia ratified the treaty, yet the congress in Panama provided an important example for future hemispheric solidarity and understanding in South America.

Bolívar was aware that his plans for hemispheric organization had met with only limited acceptance. His contemporaries thought in terms of individual nation-states, Bolívar in terms of continents. In the field of domestic policy he continued to be an authoritarian republican. He thought of himself as a rallying point and anticipated civil war as soon as his words should no longer be heeded. Such a prophecy, made in 1824, was fulfilled in 1826.

Civil War

Venezuela and New Granada began to chafe at the bonds of their union in Gran Colombia. The protagonists in each country, Páez in Venezuela and Santander in New Granada, opposed each other, and at last civil war broke out. Bolívar left Lima in haste, and most authorities agree that Peru was glad to see the end of his three-year reign and its liberation from Colombian influence. In Bogotá, Bolívar found Santander upholding the constitution of Cúcuta and urging that Páez be punished as a rebel. Bolívar, however, was determined to preserve the unity of Gran Colombia and was therefore willing to appease Páez, with whom he became reconciled early in 1827. Páez bowed to the supreme authority of the Liberator, and in turn Bolívar promised a new constitution that would remedy Venezuelan grievances. He declared himself dictator of Gran Colombia and called for a national convention that met in April 1828. Bolívar refused to influence the elections, with the result that the liberals under the leadership of Santander gained the majority.

Bolívar had hoped that the constitution of Cúcuta would be revised and presidential authority strengthened, but the liberals blocked any such attempts. A stalemate developed. Arguing that the old constitution was no longer valid and that no new one had taken its place, Bolívar assumed dictatorial powers in Gran Colombia. A group of liberal conspirators invaded the presidential palace on the night of September 25, and Bolívar was saved from the daggers of the assassins only by the quick-wittedness of Manuela Sáenz. Although the attempt on his life failed, the storm signals increased. Bolívar’s precarious health began to fail. Peru invaded Ecuador with the intention of annexing Guayaquil. Once more Sucre saved Ecuador and defeated the Peruvians at Tarqui (1829). A few months later one of Bolívar’s most-honoured generals, José María Córdoba, staged a revolt. It was crushed, but Bolívar was disheartened by the continued ingratitude of his former adherents. In the fall of 1829 Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia.

Reluctantly, Bolívar realized that his very existence presented a danger to the internal and external peace of the nations that owed their independence to him, and on May 8, 1830, he left Bogotá, planning to take refuge in Europe. Reaching the Atlantic coast, he learned that Sucre, whom he had trained as his successor, had been assassinated. Bolívar’s grief was boundless. The projected trip to Europe was canceled, and, at the invitation of a Spanish admirer, Bolívar journeyed to his estate near Santa Marta. Ironically, his life ended in the house of a Spaniard, where, toward the end of 1830, he died of tuberculosis.

Bolívar is regarded by many as the greatest genius the Latin Americanworld has produced. He was a man of international renown in his own day, and his reputation has steadily increased since his death. There are few figures in European history and none in the history of the United States who display the rare combination of strength and weakness, character and temperament, prophetic vision and poetic power that distinguish Simón Bolívar. As a consequence, his life and his work have grown to mythical dimensions among the people of his continent.

By Gerhard Straussmann Masur

The baffling Piri Reis Map of 1513: It showed Antarctica centuries before discovery, but without its ice cap

 Late in 1929, Gustav Deissmann, a German theologian, was working in Istanbul at the Topkapi Palace Library. While cataloging antique items he found a gazelle-skin parchment in a stack of discarded items. This parchment had a map drawn on it, and Deissmann was amazed to see that it appeared to show the outline of South America. He rescued the parchment, which is now known as the Piri Reis Map.

The map he studied had been drawn and signed in 1513 by Turkish cartographer Hagii Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, also known as Piri Reis. In addition to being a cartographer, Piri Reis served in the Turkish navy, for which he held the rank of admiral. He stated that he had used 20 different maps and charts as his source documents. Eight of them were Ptolemaic maps (maps of the known world according to the 2nd century Hellenistic or Greek society), four were Portuguese maps, one was an Arabic map, and one was drawn by Christopher Columbus.

Fragment of the Piri Reis map.

 

 

World map of Cosa (1500). Cuba already appears as an island.

This simple piece of preserved gazelle skin has been the basis of intense controversy in the world of cartography. For one thing, the map appears to show Antarctica almost 300 years before it was discovered. Not only does it show Antarctica, but the continent is drawn as a land mass as it would have appeared before it was covered with its ice cap over 6,000 years ago.

Another hypothesis, less accepted, which attempts to correlate the American outline map of Piri Reis with coastal Venezuela and Brazil.

This controversy was precipitated when Professor Charles Hapgood published, in 1965, his theory about Antarctica in the book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Professor Hapgood, based at the University of New Hampshire, had studied the Piri Reis Map with his students and found several things that they could not explain. Not only was there the issue of Antarctica without its ice cap, but they noticed that the map was drawn using the Mercator Projection, a methodology not used by European cartographers until the late 16th century.

Hypothesis that attempts to correlate the lower boundary of the Piri Reis map of the coast of Argentine Patagonia and the Falkland Islands.

Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator devised the cylindrical map projection in 1569. The Greeks had the ability to create cylindrical maps utilizing their knowledge of the Earth as a sphere, along with the astrological and geometric skills to calculate latitude and longitude. The accuracy of the Mercator Projection was not absolute until the chronometer was invented in 1760.

The use of Mercator Projection on the Piri Reis Map could possibly be explained by his use of Greek maps in the creation of his drawing, but there was no explanation for the inclusion of Antarctica without the ice cap.  Professor Hapgood and his students theorized that the Piri Reis map had to have been based on information older than 4,000 BCE. This is long before any known sophisticated civilizations or any well-defined languages; the map introduces the theory of an ancient civilization that had the skills to navigate the world’s oceans, and accurately chart the lands they visited.

Professor Hapgood went on to state that the topographical representation of the area inland from the coast was so accurate that this ancient super-civilization had to have aerial capabilities in addition to their nautical and cartographic abilities. This naturally led to a theory of an alien civilization or one based on the lost city of Atlantis.

Cristóbal Colom landed on Hispaniola.

Those skeptical of the Piri Reis theories point out that the map is a fair representation of the coastline of South America, with modern features of the coast and interior shown. If this is not simply the coast of South America, that would mean South America and Antarctica were joined at Uruguay and that Argentina is a recent addition to the land mass. This argument infers that what is thought to be Antarctica on the Piri Reis Map is the lower portion of the South American continent.

Professor Hapgood then theorized that the Earth underwent a shift in its axis around 9,500 BC, which displaced Antarctica and moved it thousands of miles to the south, where it became covered in ice. Evidence shows that this phenomenon would have been impossible and did not happen.

The jury is still out on the question of whether the Piri Reis Map shows Antarctica or not. If you subscribe to the idea that this portion of the map is Antarctica without its ice cap (which has appeared on other maps), then you must believe that an ancient civilization that had advanced navigational skills existed and produced accurate maps of the globe. If you believe that this depiction is of the lower coast of South America, then you will probably scoff at the idea of an ancient advanced civilization. Until there is absolute proof to support one or the other theory, the arguments will continue.

By Ian Harvey

Аircraft inventor Santos-Dumont believed air travel would bring world peace so he offered his designs free of charge

 

“Oh, yes. Then men would be truly free. From the air, there are no boundaries. There could be no more war because the sky is endless. How happy we would be, if we could but fly.” -Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

On October 19, 1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont, the 28-year-old heir to a wealthy family of coffee producers in Brazil and a recent graduate of aeronautical studies in Paris, made the first successful flight from Parc St. Cloud to the Eiffel Tower in his “Santos-Dumont No.6” dirigible balloon to win the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. The prize consisted of 100,000 French francs, which he used for further research and development in the field of aviation and aircraft construction. He was absolutely sure that air travel would bring long-lasting peace to the world.

Everything he ever did, all his invention and designs, were patent free and freely published for everyone to examine and use to contribute to a greater humanity.

Smithsonian Annual Report – The Air Ship “Santos-Dumont 5” circling the Eiffel Tower. It’s the predecessor to the airship that won the prize later that year.

In 1932, after having witnessed some of his designs used in warfare during São Paulo’s Constitutionalist Revolution, he hanged himself.

Planes of the 135th Aero Squadron line up on Aug. 7, 1918, for the first mission flown over the Front by U.S. built DH-4s. U.S. Air Force public photo

Born on July 20, 1873, in the village of Cabangu in Palmira, Brazil, Alberto Santos-Dumont was raised in a wealthy environment by a highly inventive father. Due to his labor-saving inventions, his father, Henrique Dumont, earned a lot of money for the family and with time came to be known as the”Coffee King of Brazil.”

Being raised by such a dedicated and successful engineer was clearly advantageous for Alberto, for he needed only a couple of years to get from his first flight balloon to the first flight in his very own fixed-wing airplane.

French postal card showing Santos-Dumont flying the “No. 14 bis” in 1905.,

In his early career, he designed, developed, and flew hot-air balloons and early versions of lighter-than-air dirigible aircraft, or what we now refer to as Zeppelins. Inspired by his first successful balloon flights, Dumont believed he could do more and designed a steerable balloon, what later became identified as a non-rigid airship, which would allow people to fly through the air rather than just float along the wind.

The Air Ship “Santos-Dumont No.6” taking off in Paris, France in 1901 so it can make the prize-winning circle around the Eiffel Tower

On August 8, 1901, he made his first attempt to take the trip from the Aéro-Club de France at Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower, though it was unsuccessful. The trip, taken in one of his first sound airships, Santos-Dumont No.5, ended when it failed to fly over the roof of the Trocadero Hotel and crashed, leaving him stuck in the basket hanging from the side of the hotel.

Santos-Dumont pictured inside the basket used in No. 1, 2 and 3.

After making some changes to his design, he managed to complete the round trip just 10 weeks later on October 19. He decided to donate the 100,000 francs in prize money to the poor people of France, and used a further 125,000 francs, awarded to him along with a gold medal from the government of his native Brazil, to develop his research.

 

Alberto Santos-Dumont testing his model No.14  in the field of Bagatelle (Paris, France) in July 1906

And so he did, for only four years later in 1905 he finished his first fixed-wing aircraft design, as well as a model of a helicopter. A year later, on October 23, 1906, Dumont piloted his newest “baby,” the 14-bis, over a large crowd of witnesses at the fields of Paris’ Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. He flew 60 meters, averaging about five meters of altitude. Only a month after that, he managed to travel 220 meters in 21.5 seconds, setting the first world record acknowledged by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

He resumed investing his time in research and development of heavier-than-air aircraft, although he never ceased to work on non-rigid airships as well. His last design is known to be the Demoiselle monoplane. Used at first by Santos-Dumont for personal transport, it started to be massively produced by the Clement-Bayard company after he started working with Adolphe Clément in 1908 and came to be the world’s first recorded series production aircraft.

The Demoiselle could achieve a speed of 120 km/h and could be built in only 15 days and still give a good performance. Author Tekniska museet – CC BY 2.0

It was in this plane Dumont made his final flight on January 4, 1910. He was forced to crash-land when a bracing wire snapped, then in March 1910 he announced his retirement from aviation. He secluded himself in his house, leading many to speculate he had suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork. Later it was confirmed he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, which drove him towards a serious long-lasting depression.

Close up view of Alberto Santos-Dumont seated at the controls of his Santos-Dumont No. 20 Demoiselle. Author Public.Resource.Org – CC-BY 2.0

After WW I started in 1914, his German-made telescope and his unusual accent prompted serious accusations, including that he was a German spy tracking French naval activity. Upset by the allegation and feeling betrayed by the state he had invested so much in, Santos-Dumont burned all his papers and design plans. He spent much of his subsequent years in Swiss and French sanatoriums and health institutions, feeling beaten down both by his illness and the betrayal.

In 1931, Santos-Dumont’s nephew traveled to Switzerland and brought him back to Brazil. Seriously ill and not able to cope with the fact that what he had envisioned and designed was used in the bombing of São Paulo during the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 in his home country, he hanged himself on July 23, 1932 in the city of Guarujá.s

Today he is a national hero in Brazil, where he is recognized as one who preceded the Wright brothers in envisioning a practical airplane. In fact, the United States at one time recognized Dumont as the father of aviation. After his death, his heart was placed in a golden globe and now lies preserved at Brazil’s National Air and Space Museum.

By Martin Chalakoski

Ballpoint pens are sometimes called “biros” after their inventor, László Bíró, a man of “relentless, forward-thinking spirit”

Evidence tells us that the world’s first working fountain pen was designed and used in the Renaissance by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. His journals include drawings that seem to have been written with a reservoir pen that probably worked through both gravity and capillary action. After examining the handwriting in the few surviving journals of the famed Italian polymath, historians have concluded that the writing misses the typical traits of the quill pen.

Quills were, of course, the main tool for writing with ink before the invention of any other more modern-type of pens, and they faithfully served their part throughout most of the Western world from the 6th century to the 19th.

However, things had started to change in Europe by the 17th century. Some started using fountain quills, an invention that incorporated one quill as a reservoir for ink, placed inside the other quill. Sealed with a cork, the ink in the quill would squeeze through a tiny hole to the writing point.

Various contemporary and vintage fountain pens, Author: Ilkin Santak, CC BY-SA 4.0

The fountain pens were upgraded a few more times in the years to come, but through the 19th century, they largely started being replaced by dip pens, that are still in use nowadays for creating illustrations or doing calligraphy or comics, among other things.

The dip pen was able to use waterproof, pigmented, acrylic, or any other type of ink that would destroy a normal fountain pen by clogging it. Dip pens also produced better lines than any of the available fountain pens.

However, the most important turnaround in the brief history of pens relates to the name of László József Bíró, an Hungarian-Argentinian inventor, who became a world-famous inventor for patenting the first modern ballpoint pen that became a commercial success.

Photo of Bíró, c. 1978

The first patent for a ballpoint pen was actually issued in 1888, intending to introduce a novelty by enabling writing on rough surfaces such as wood. This early patent failed to meet commercial expectations and the idea was soon dismantled. Early ballpoints failed to deliver the ink smoothly, with overflow and clogging two of the main issues that investors faced upon attempting to create a good ballpoint pen. However, Bíró’s invention proved a success.

Born in Budapest, Bíró became a journalist and worked as editor of a Hungarian newspaper before World War II. His invention was the result of growing frustration over the amount of time spent on filling up fountain pens or cleaning up smudges from paper pages. As he had noticed that the type of ink used in newspapers dried faster and did not leave any dirty smears, he finally came up with the long-sought invention.

Birome’s advertising in Argentine magazine Leoplán, 1945,
Photo by Revista Leoplán, CC BY-SA 2.5

With the help of his brother György, who happened to be a chemist, he came up with a new ink formula that was viscous enough fit perfectly with the new ballpoint pen designs. Bíró’s ballpoint pen was then presented at the Budapest International Fair in 1931. He continued working on the design with his brother, and both of them also developed a new tip that had a ball that was able to turn freely in a socket. As it turned, it would take the ink from the cartridge, then roll to deposit the ink on the piece of paper. By 1938, Bíró had his invention patented in Paris.

During World War II, the two brothers were forced to leave the country to escape the Nazis, so they moved to Argentina in 1942. That same year, they would issue their patent in the United States as 2,390,636 Writing Instrument. Subsequently, they opened the Biro Pens of Argentina. To date, the ballpoint pen in Argentina is widely known as “birome.” The first greater success of the invention came as the new pens were licensed for production in the United Kingdom, and the first major supplies of pens were distributed to the Royal Air Force aircrew. As the airmen quickly reported, the pens worked much better than fountain pens at high altitudes.

Example of a ballpoint pen work-in-progress – rendering of actor Steve McQueen by artist James Mylne, Author: James Mylne, CC-BY 3.0

Bíró’s patent was bought by Marcel Bich and the pens quickly became the main product of Bich’s world-famed Bic company, one that eventually recorded sales of more than 100 billion ballpoint pens across the world. The ballpoint pen of Bíró outstood any competition in the years to come, and the fact that millions of such pens are still manufactured and sold on a daily basis proves the invention has stood the test of time.

László Bíró died in Buenos Aires in 1985, and nowadays, in his honor, Argentina’s Inventors’ Day is marked on Bíró’s date of birth, the 29th of September. In many more countries around the world, such as the United Kingdom, Italy, or Australia, the ballpoint pens are widely known as “biro.” The pen has further influenced art and graphic design, even introducing a new artwork genre of ballpoint pen artwork.

On  September 29, 2016, the 117th anniversary of his birth, even Google commemorated Bíró with a special Google Doodle for “his relentless, forward-thinking spirit.”

By Stefan A