Today, the Queen of the United Kingdom's Crown Jewels are safeguarded in the Tower of London’s Jewel House, under the watch of armed guards. But during World War II, select gems from the priceless collection were stored in a biscuit tin and buried on Windsor Castle’s grounds, according to Business Insider.
The unorthodox hiding place was recently revealed in a new BBC documentary, The Coronation, which looks back on Queen Elizabeth II’s rise to the throne in 1953. British news commentator Alastair Bruce, who interviews the Queen in the hour-long special, says he stumbled across the story while perusing once-confidential letters between royal librarian Sir Owen Morshead and Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth.
Fearing that the Nazis would seize the royal jewels, George VI ordered the treasure-filled tin to be buried underneath a secret emergency castle exit. The jewels—including the Black Prince's Ruby and St. Edward's Sapphire, both taken from the Imperial State Crown—were accessible only through a trapdoor.
The freshly tilled earth was a chalky white. To avoid notice from the German Luftwaffe, tarps were used to conceal the dug-up grounds at night. The Nazis weren’t the only ones left in the dark: Princess Elizabeth, then 14 years old, had no idea where the gems were buried, although she did know they’d been hidden at Windsor.
This story—along with other musings on royalty from Queen Elizabeth—is shared in The Coronation, which airs on the Smithsonian Channel on January 14.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
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On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.
1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.
Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.
2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.
The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.
3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
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People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.
4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.
The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.
5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.
The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.
6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.
7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.
Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.
8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.
A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.
9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
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Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.
10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.
During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.
"We gon' run this town tonight!" —These goats, probably.
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While residents stay indoors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the deserted streets and flower gardens of Llandudno, Wales, have become a playground for a people-shy herd of wild Kashmir goats.
The animals live on the Great Orme, a nearby stretch of rocky limestone land that juts out over the Irish Sea, and they’re known to sojourn in Llandudno around this time when rainy or windy weather makes their high-ground home more treacherous than usual. This year, however, the goats are being especially adventurous.
“They are curious, goats are, and I think they are wondering what's going on like everybody else,” town councilor Carol Marubbi told BBC News. “There isn't anyone else around, so they probably decided they may as well take over.”
The goats have spent their jaunt balancing atop stone walls, trotting through the town center, and munching on flowers and hedges in people’s yards. But nobody seems to mind—Marubbi told BBC News that the locals are proud of the animals and happy to watch them gallivant through the streets from their windows.
While the herd has been living on the Great Orme for more than a century, the goats aren’t native to the region. According to Llandudno’s website, Squire Christopher Tower bought two goats from a large herd in France that had been imported from Kashmir, India. He then used them to breed his own herd in England. Sometime during the 18th century, he gifted two of them to King George IV, who developed another herd at Windsor. The goats’ wool was used to produce cashmere shawls, which became particularly popular during Queen Victoria’s reign in the mid-19th century. She then gave two goats to Major General Sir Savage Mostyn, who took them to his family estate, Gloddaeth Hall, in Llandudno.
It’s unclear why or how they were eventually let loose on the Great Orme, but they managed to acclimate to their new environment and thrive in the northern wilderness.
Today, there are more than 120 goats in the herd, and it certainly looks like they’re enjoying their all-inclusive vacation.