There Are 72,000 Tons of Diamonds Hiding Throughout This Town in Germany

iStock.com/Kharichkina
iStock.com/Kharichkina

The tiny town of Nördlingen, in the German state of Bavaria, has a quaint kind of storybook charm about it. But what's hiding in the village's buildings and foundation might make it one of the glitziest places on Earth: Nördlingen is bejeweled with the equivalent of 72,000 tons of diamonds, according to Smithsonian.

The diamonds, which are strewn throughout Nördlingen, aren't just any gemstones either; they formed roughly 15 million years ago, when an asteroid traveling at a speed of approximately 15.5 miles per second struck the Earth. Geologists estimate that the space rock measured about one kilometer wide (the same size as modern-day Nördlingen) and weighed close to 3 billion tons. Upon making contact, it created intense heat and pressure—enough to produce a coarse-grained rock called suevite, which consists of glass, crystals, and diamonds.

When settlers arrived at the site millions of years later in 898 CE, they had no idea they were building their homes and businesses on land that had the highest diamond concentration of any place on Earth, as the diamonds scattered throughout the area were too small to see with the naked eye. For years, Nördlingen locals assumed the crater's origin was volcanic. It wasn't until the 1960s that it was confirmed to have come from an asteroid.

Not knowing any better, residents used the suevite as a building material to construct their town. As a result, many of Nördlingen's most famous structures—including St. George's Church and a protective perimeter wall leftover from the Middle Ages—have a high carat value.

Today, residents of Nördlingen know they're living atop tons of diamonds, but they're not about to tear apart their town to sell off the materials. The diamonds in suevite are tiny—less than 0.2mm across—and are therefore practically worthless, even in such high concentrations. But the German town has found different ways to profit from their unusual claim to fame. Tourists come from around the world to appreciate Nördlingen's glimmering architecture and tour the Ries Crater Museum, which displays local samples and those from other craters around the world.

[h/t Smithsonian]

You Could Win an Inn on Swan’s Island, Maine, for Just $99 and an Original Essay

A lighthouse in Swan's Island, Maine.
A lighthouse in Swan's Island, Maine.
Timothy Krause via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For just $99 and a short, well-crafted essay, you could live out all your Gilmore Girls-inspired dreams and own a quaint New England inn.

The Harbor Watch Inn, located six miles off the coast of Maine on Swan’s Island, has two regular motel rooms with basic appliances, two rooms with full kitchens and balconies overlooking Burnt Coat Harbor, and a furnished one-bedroom apartment that the owner could either live in or rent out.

The island itself is pretty much the epitome of a sleepy New England town. It’s only accessible by ferry, 350 people live there all year, and the website specifies that “there are no McDonald’s, no strip malls, and no movie theaters.” There is, however, a lighthouse, a marine museum, hiking trails, and quiet, uncrowded beaches that might make you want to become the 351st permanent resident.

If owning your own piece of the tiny, water-locked paradise sounds like heaven, you can enter for a chance to win the Harbor Watch Inn here through March 31. In addition to answering a few questions about your experience, skills, and feelings about the small-town atmosphere, you’ll have to explain in 350 words or fewer why you believe you’ll succeed as an innkeeper and what you’d change about the inn.

For anyone willing to pen multiple essays and pay the $99 application fee several times over, go for it: According to a press release, there’s no limit to the number of applications one person can submit. They’ll all be evaluated by a panel of judges—led by retired school teachers—and the winner will be announced by mid-May. Not only will that winner get the property, they’ll also be awarded $25,000 to help them improve the inn and establish their business.

Contests like this one have gained popularity in recent years as a way to sell businesses to people who wouldn’t be able to afford them otherwise, but they don’t always go exactly according to plan—find out about the Humble Heart Farm, The Hardwick Gazette, and five other property prize stories here.

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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