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The Spill: A Glimpse at the Past

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A Digital Unveiling of a Secret 17th Century Letter

The problem with finding documents that are hundreds of years old or older is that opening them could destroy them. But a new method of using X-ray imaging means researchers can read these old documents without fear.

French merchant Jacques Sennacques in Lille wrote to his cousin Pierre Le Pers at the Hague on July 31, 1697 to ask for a “legalised excerpt of the death of sieur Daniel Le Pers.” The letter was never delivered, and so it was never opened. But researchers are now able to read it.

Using X-ray microtomography scans of the letter, an international team of researchers diligently examined the paper. Slice by slice, they created a 3D image to open. They then used a computer program to organize the images in order as if the paper had been unfolded. The letter had been closed, as many in those days were, by using “interlocking.” Interlocking is a folding process that creates its own envelope.

The Unlocking History research group is made up of historians, conservators, and scientists from many organizations and universities in multiple countries. They say this breakthrough will let them study many historical documents without destroying additional clues.

A collection of 2,600 letters from 1689 through 1706 was donated to the postal museum in 1926 by the chief postmasters of the Hague, Simon de Brienne and Marie Germain. The collection describes the valuable history these letters provide. They “bear witness to the fragility of lines of communication at a time when Europe was torn by war, economic crisis, and religious differences” and where people “moved frequently, sometimes in haste, leaving no forwarding address because they did not have one, or they were not at liberty to divulge it.”

What a great tool for uncovering more details of life in the 17th Century.

Fukushima’s Ten-Year Mark

The Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 was the worst in 30 years. After a 9.1 magnitude undersea earthquake caused a tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima, Japan, lost power and the emergency backup generators didn’t work. This caused a meltdown in three reactors. It was the worst accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Months later, the accident was ruled “foreseeable,” and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was blamed. A Japanese court ruled in 2017 that the government was also “negligent” because it did not force TEPCO to be more prepared.

The Associated Press reports: “Proper equipment has now replaced ragged plastic hoses held together with tape and an outdoor power switchboard infested by rats, which caused blackouts. Radiation levels have declined, allowing workers and visitors to wear regular clothes and surgical masks in most areas.”

Tokyo University professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa wrote in a recent report of the disaster: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”

The Latest COVID-19 Stimulus Passed!

Last week, Mr. Joe Biden officially signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The plan will direct financial aid to millions of Americans. Each eligible person will get $1,400. Those in line for relief who have a direct deposit account will be the first to receive the payments. Also crammed into the bill is an extension of the $300 per week unemployment insurance and the expansion of the child tax credit for an additional year.

There will also be money set aside for restaurants, small businesses, K-12 schools, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNA), which many people still call “food stamps.”

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