From really expensive NFTs to newly discovered shipwrecks to breaking news in the world of K-Pop—along with the latest discoveries in space, science, archaeology, and more—here are a few things we learned in 2021, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.
1. Egyptologists recently discovered a 3400-year-old “lost golden city” near modern-day Luxor.
Archaeologists actually made the discovery in September 2020 but announced their findings this spring. The royal city is remarkably well-preserved; Salima Ikram from the American University in Cairo called it “an Egyptian version of Pompeii.”
The area was located within the capital city of Thebes, and dates to the reign of Amenhotep III, a pharaoh during a time of prosperity and power in Ancient Egypt. The city was abandoned by Amenhotep’s successor, Akhenaten, and we don’t know why. With features including a cemetery, homes, and buildings apparently devoted to artistic and industrial production, the area should provide valuable insights about life in Egypt at the time.
2. Paleontologists discovered a new type of sauropod in 2021—and it may be the largest dinosaur species ever identified in Australia.
Nicknamed “Cooper,” the massive Dino could have been as long as a regulation basketball court and weighed anywhere from 25 to 80 tons. At the upper end of that estimate, that’s roughly 10 times the weight of an average T. rex.
3. Archaeologists working in Morocco discovered what may be the world’s oldest jewelry.
Thirty-three perforated shells, dating back around 150,000 years, may have been worn in bracelets or necklaces.
4. That wasn't the only ancient Moroccan fashion uncovered in 2021.
A different team of researchers discovered bone tools in a Moroccan cave that they say were likely used in the production of clothing around 100,000 years ago. If they’re right, the tools would represent the earliest evidence yet found of Homo sapiens producing clothes from the pelts of animals.
5. Scientists found what Smithsonian called “the oldest known human burial in Africa.”
Seventy-eight thousand years ago, a toddler was buried in an area of Africa corresponding to present-day Kenya. When scientists published their findings this year, they identified the grave as “the oldest known human burial in Africa,” according to Smithsonian magazine. The body was found curled into the fetal position. Evidence suggests it may have been wrapped in a shroud and rested on some kind of pillow, representing a type of care which may shed some light on how death was viewed at the time.
6. The discovery of a mass grave of Christian soldiers from the Crusades was also announced in 2021.
Much less care was demonstrated in the mass burial of crusading Christian soldiers at a site in modern-day Lebanon whose discovery was announced this year. Researchers determined that at least 25 individuals were buried in two large graves in the port city of Sidon. Trauma to the remains indicated that “heavy bladed weapons such as swords and axes” may have cut short the lives of the buried men. Other evidence, like the identification of a coin near the bones dating to the mid-13th century, as well as historical knowledge of two major attacks on the city during that time period, help to draw a fuller picture of how the mass graves came to be.
Given how long the various Crusades lasted and how many people must have lost their lives during the military engagements, you might think that we’re constantly finding the bodies of lost Crusaders, but that isn’t true. As Piers Mitchell, the co-author of the paper discussing the findings, said, “it is incredibly rare for archaeologists to find the soldiers killed in these famous battles. The wounds that covered their bodies allow us to start to understand the horrific reality of medieval warfare.”
7. There was a new discovery regarding an ancient clay tablet.
An ancient clay tablet known as Si. 427 has been sitting in an Istanbul museum for over a century. It was discovered in central Iraq and is estimated to be from between 1900 and 1600 BCE. And this year, an Australian mathematician announced it’s actually the world’s oldest known example of applied geometry. Researcher Dr. Daniel Mansfield called the tablet a “cadastral document” that would have been used to define land boundaries. The surveyor who created it apparently used “pythagorean triples” to make accurate right angles over a thousand years before Pythagoras was born.
8. Picking up a metal detector could lead to finding millennium-old Viking jewelry.
That’s what happened to retired police officer Kath Giles when she was enjoying her hobby on the Isle of Man. Giles actually made the discovery at the end of 2020, but her findings—including a gold arm ring and a silver brooch—weren’t made public until early in 2021. The island seems to be fertile ground for treasure-hunters: The hoard was Giles’s third significant discovery there since taking up metal detecting only three years earlier.
9. If you stumble upon an ancient Roman mosaic beneath your family farm, it will be protected by the UK government.
This year, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport designated a mosaic found in Rutland, England, a Scheduled Monument, along with the area surrounding the mosaic. That means the roughly 11-by-7-meter artwork, which depicts the mythological battle between Achilles and Hector and is the only one of its type found in the UK, is legally protected. Excavations at the site will resume in 2022.
10. One artifact might actually be Europe's oldest-known map.
A paper was published this year shedding new light on an old stone slab; it turns out that the Bronze Age artifact, sometimes called the Saint-Bélec slab, may be Europe’s oldest-known map, at around 4000 years old. Researchers created 3D surveys of the stone and made measurements based on the images. By comparing the representations on the slab to various geographic areas, they determined that it was showing an area in the valley created by the River Odet in modern-day France.
Lines carved into the stone seem to represent rivers, and the slab’s three-dimensional shape may represent the topography of the region. Though it’s difficult to know why this early map would have been made, researchers “hypothesize that the Saint-Belec slab was used … for managing the territory and controlling the land.”
11. An international team of scientists announced the discovery of the oldest and most complete modern-looking crab.
The crab was found encased in amber and is approximately 100 million years old.
12. Mummified parrots, hundreds of years old, were found in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
This is significant, according to a paper published this year, because the animals aren’t indigenous to the region. That means people brought the birds from the Amazon, across sometimes difficult conditions, over the Andes Mountains—likely in caravans driven by llamas.
13. and 14. Two discoveries could change what we know about when humans arrived in the Americas.
Conventional wisdom once said that human beings first came to the Americas around 13,000 years ago, traveling across the Bering Land Bridge near present-day Alaska. Two discoveries published in 2021 helped lend further credence to the emerging belief that humans have actually been on this side of the world for much longer.
A team led by Andrew Somerville of Iowa State University was looking at animal bones found inside a cave in Mexico. Collections of bones in a single location can be evidence of human activity. They dated the specimens—which included deer and rabbit bones—to around 30,000 years old. If further research shows that there is a human connection to the animal bones, it would demonstrate that early humans were in the Americas and hunting local animals tens of thousands of years before we once thought possible.
And a team with the U.S. Geological Survey used radiocarbon dating in an attempt to identify the age of human footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. By dating seed layers above and below the trace fossils, the researchers were able to peg the footprints to roughly 23,000 years ago, which would make them the oldest footprints ever found in the Americas.
15. A very Old Winery was discovered this year.
Those early Americans may not have been drinking wine, but the people of the Byzantine era certainly were. And this year, in central Israel, archaeologists discovered a 1500-year-old winery that may have produced some of the most celebrated wines of the era. Known as “Gaza wine,” after the port city from which it was exported, this white wine was celebrated in the literature of its time.
16. Thanks to an analysis made public this year, we may have identified the earliest known human victim of a shark attack.
The remains of a man found at an ancient burial ground in Japan showed trauma that could have, ostensibly, been delivered by metal weapons. But experts believed the man lived during the Jōmon period, when metal weapons wouldn’t have been available. Using a number of tools, including CT scans of the man’s wounds, researchers determined the unlucky man was the victim of a shark attack.
17. Archaeologists found a very old chicken egg.
A remarkably well-preserved chicken egg was found with just a small crack in it during the excavation of the town of Yavne, Israel, this year. It was kept in relatively pristine condition by the human waste it was found in. Lucky! Unfortunately, the egg was further cracked once it was brought back to the lab by researchers. Dr. Lee Parry Gal, who forward.com credited as “a leading expert on poultry in the ancient world,” said about the cracked specimen, “There was barely some yolk left inside, but it’s more or less empty.”
18. We collected rocks from the surface of Mars.
In August 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover attempted to collect the first-ever rock sample from the surface of Mars. The rock fell to pieces, and risked taking the mission with it. In September, however, Perseverance successfully extracted a cylindrical core from a rock that is “slightly thicker than a pencil.” The rover will hold onto it and further rock extractions until the aptly named Mars Sample Return program helps our rover friend deliver the goods back to Earth.
19. Heinz made "Marz Ketchup."
Not to be outdone, Heinz finally answered the astronomical question at the forefront of everyone’s minds: “If I lived on Mars, would I have access to ketchup?” The answer: probably! This year, the company unveiled a batch of ketchup made under agricultural conditions meant to mimic those humans might find on Mars. This involved using LED lights instead of sunlight to grow tomatoes in “analog Martian regolith,” which is dirt from the Mojave Desert that approximates Mars’s surface. The research took place at the Red House, a greenhouse at the Florida Institute of Technology. Marz Ketchup—the actual name Heinz used—was a success, but sadly, it is not currently for sale.
20. Scientists discovered a new planet with interesting characteristics.
For starters, it’s one of the lightest planets discovered among the nearly 5000 exoplanets known today. Its mass is about half that of Earth’s. And the planet, which is about 31 light years from Earth, revolves around its sun so quickly that researchers at the Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center determined its year lasts about eight hours. Guess that makes New Year’s resolutions easier to keep.
21. Scientists also found a very large comet.
In June 2021, scientists discovered the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, otherwise known as BB, possibly the largest comet ever observed. It’s approximately 100 kilometers across, which, to give some context, is 10 times larger than Halley’s Comet. Comet BB is farther from the sun than Uranus, making it the second-farthest comet ever recorded. New research is exploring how to trace objects like this back to their origins.
22. A meteorite crashed into a woman's bedroom in 2021.
On a slightly smaller scale, a meteorite crashed through a home in British Columbia this year. The space rock, which was estimated to be about the size of a small cabbage, broke through Ruth Hamilton’s ceiling and landed on her bed...while she was sleeping. After being woken up by the sound of a crash, Hamilton called the police and then discovered the meteorite between her pillows. Professor Peter Brown noted that “The chances of a meteorite big enough to penetrate a roof and hit a bed are about one [in] 100 billion per year.”
23. NASA launched its DART mission in 2021.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission is meant to prevent asteroids from hitting Earth and essentially involves launching a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to alter its course. If we can nudge a giant rock slightly to the left, for example, it could help Earth avoid a direct impact. The mission is testing this theory out on a harmless asteroid that’s about 6.5 million miles away, but which is supposed to be a “perfect testing ground” for DART. Sometime next year, we’ll see if it works.
24. NASA announced that astronaut Jessica Watkins will be heading to the International Space Station next year.
That makes her the first Black woman to join the station’s crew. Watkins will be launching in April 2022, alongside three other astronauts.
25. William Shatner went to space.
A different kind of history was made this year by Captain Kirk himself. In October, William Shatner, along with three other passengers, flew aboard the New Shepard into the edge of space.
Shatner, who is now the oldest person ever in space at the age of 90, marked the occasion by tweeting a poetic quotation from Isaac Newton: "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, diverting myself in now & then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
26. Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson also flew to space in 2021.
And while we’re on the subject of rich people flying into space, let’s remember that both Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson flew to space this year. Depending on your definition of space, that is. Branson, aboard a Virgin Galactic space plane known as V.S.S. Unity, entered what the FAA and NASA consider space on July 11. At an elevation a little more than 50 miles above sea level, though, Branson didn’t reach the so-called Kármán line, which many international organizations consider the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and “outer space.” For what it’s worth, Bezos did make it past the Kármán line on July 20, aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
27. NASA launched the Lucy probe into space in 2021.
Its mission: To study the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter. It’s basically going to function as a space archaeologist, studying the composition of these objects in an attempt to track their history. The probe got its name from the famous early-hominid fossil from Africa. That Lucy taught us about the origins of our species, and this Lucy will teach us about the origins of the universe.
28. We learned the location of Harriet Tubman’s childhood home in 2021, and it took a lot of work to do so.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought 2600 acres of land in Maryland, including the land owned by Tubman’s father, Ben Ross. Experts knew that Ross built a cabin on that land, and started digging for artifacts. And digging. And digging. Julie Schablitsky, the chief archaeologist of Maryland’s State Highway Administration, said that “After about a thousand holes, I was getting pretty frustrated.”
Schablitsky caught a break after deciding to use a metal detector—a 50-cent coin from 1808 helped direct future efforts. Eventually, the historical sleuths came upon pieces of brick, nails, glass, and other artifacts that made them confident they’d found the site of the cabin. Schablitsky was even able to share photos of the artifacts with Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece, Tina Wyatt.
29. We found out more about what Sicilians ate during the Islamic rule of the Middle Ages.
Scientists analyzed organic residue on pottery found in and around Palermo dating to roughly a millennium ago. They found a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and animal products—perhaps an indication of the city’s role as an economic and cultural center of the region. They even noted regional differences in cuisine, like the fact that city-dwellers were less frequent consumers of grapes and dairy products than their rural counterparts.
30. Scientists analyzed an early Kosher diet.
We know that Jews have eaten according to Kashrut, or Jewish food laws, for thousands of years. But this year we got the first scientific analysis of artifacts demonstrating an early Kosher diet.
Scientists in the UK analyzed the available evidence from two homes inside a medieval Jewish community in Oxford—including a latrine and traces left on cooking vessels—to verify that residents ate meat from geese, cattle, sheep, and goats, but not pigs (though pork was available in the region, based on analysis of a nearby site outside the Jewish Quarter).
Even the fish bones found in the homes corresponded to species that are permissible in a kosher diet, like herring. It may not be the most surprising finding on the list, but it demonstrates the possibilities unlocked when experts combine the written historical record with archaeological science.
31. Technology also provided a new tool for researchers looking into an interesting ecological phenomenon on Easter Island.
For hundreds of years, we’ve known that some people on the island (and, more recently, some horses) occasionally drink directly from the ocean. That’s not generally a great idea if you want to, you know, live, since salt water isn’t potable. But there’s something special going on in the area.
Because of the way rainwater drains through the island’s porous bedrock, fresh water is able to come out in ample quantities at locations known as coastal seeps. The water there may be mixed with salty ocean water, but it’s “basically fresh,” according to Binghamton University’s Robert DiNapoli. And now, scientists discovered they can use thermal imaging drones to identify those coastal seeps around Easter Island. Because satellite images can’t provide the necessary evidence, the pre-drone method of identifying the seeps involved walking around and taking a measurement every 10 meters or so.
32. Engineers at Northwestern University built a “microflier” out of an electronic microchip that is the size of a grain of sand.
The device doesn’t have an engine or motor, so maybe it would be more accurate to call it the world’s smallest glider, but it was designed to fall slowly and disperse over a large area, catching the wind like a maple tree’s propeller seed. The tiny flyer could be used in the future to make observations on air pollution and airborne disease, among other applications.
33., 34., 35., and 36. There were some important internet speed-related developments in 2021.
A team at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Tokyo set a new record for the fastest internet speed ever recorded: 319 terabits per second. (The average Japanese internet user is not coming anywhere close to the lightning-fast speed achieved in that high-tech laboratory, but hopefully the new record indicates some of the promise of the internet of the future.)
That record is more than 2 million times faster than the United States’s average fixed broadband speed of a puny 131 megabits per second.
And that number actually represents an improvement for the U.S. After ranking 25th out of 39 nations tested for mean broadband speed back in 2013, the U.S. is up to 13th, according to a Speedtest.net global index.
The top performer in mean speed is Monaco, incidentally, and when it comes to the median speed—which probably gives a better idea of what to expect in a given country—the reigning champion is Singapore.
37. Physicists at Harvard documented a never-before-seen state of matter known as a quantum spin liquid.
Physicist Philip W. Anderson theorized about its existence almost 50 years ago, but it was never actually observed until 2021. It’s not a liquid in the way we usually think of liquids. It’s considered a liquid because, as Harvard’s press release noted, the electrons in it “don’t stabilize when cooled, don’t form into a solid, and are constantly changing and fluctuating …. In one of the most entangled quantum states ever conceived.” Scientists hope that the discovery will eventually lead to “the realization of reliable quantum computers,” in the words of postdoctoral fellow Giulia Semeghini.
38. There was also an important development involving black holes.
The light from behind a supermassive black hole was directly detected for the first time this year. Light can’t escape a black hole, but, because black holes can warp space, the light can effectively bend around the black hole and be observed. This is the first time we’ve managed to do so, even though Einstein predicted this behavior back in the 1910s.
39. People came up with some creative names for a group of black holes in 2021.
In April 2021, astronomers working on the European Space Agency’s Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, asked the internet what we should call a group of black holes. Thousands of people eventually weighed in, and we learned the LISA team’s top 10 choices for this new collective noun: cacophony, graveyard, horde, perforation, swarm, colloquium, disaster, sieve, brood, and doom.
40. There was a new development in pacemakers.
Some patients only need a pacemaker for a short period of time—people recovering from heart surgery, for example. But removing a temporary pacemaker entails its own surgery in which a wire is inserted into the patient, which can lead to infection or other complications. This year, we learned about a new way to potentially avoid that trauma when scientists developed a wireless pacemaker that eventually dissolves inside the patient. The “biocompatible” materials comprising the device get absorbed into the body in around five to seven weeks.
41. Scientists printed a soft robot hand.
If you think of robots as blocky metal oafs, the future may surprise you. Scientists at the University of Maryland were able to 3D print a soft robot hand that could respond to gradations of intensity on a single pressure input. The team tested its robo-hand by having it play (and beat) the first level of Super Mario Bros. Future development in soft robotics could lead to better prosthetics and other biomedical devices.
42. Robots also reproduced in 2021.
A team at the University of Vermont and other research institutions made computer-designed “Xenobots” out of frog cells—what they call living robots. Now, researchers have learned that, with the right design, those Xenobots can be made to gather many individual cells together to create copies of themselves, again and again. As Dr. Michael Levin said, “We’re giving them a chance to reimagine their multicellularity.”
43. Skeet Ulrich didn't initially think Scream was so funny.
Scream has some genuinely frightening moments, and it’s also, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. But this year we learned that Skeet Ulrich, who played Billy Loomis in the first flick, didn’t originally see the laughs. As Ulrich told Entertainment Weekly, when he saw some of his co-stars giving a comedic twist to the material during filming, he thought, “What are they doing? … This isn’t funny. This isn’t supposed to be funny.” To Ulrich’s credit, with hindsight, he was able to say, “man, was I wrong.”
44. Jeremy Strong also doesn't think Succession is a comedy.
A great New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong—Succession’s Kendall Roy—includes an intriguing anecdote from Kieran Culkin. “After the first season, [Strong] said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.’ And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding.”
The show does cross genres and tones, and Strong’s performance is fantastic, however he arrives at it. Still, the idea that the real-life Kendall doesn’t see the hilarious satire as a comedy is pretty perfect.
45. Squid Game made people want to learn to speak Korean.
Succession may dominate a certain corner of Twitter, but Netflix’s Squid Game was almost certainly a bigger hit this year. And we learned that the show actually caused an international spike in Korean language learning. Or, at least, in people registering to learn Korean on the language-learning app Duolingo.
46. We learned why director Bong Joon-ho didn't go to the movies much as a kid.
It’s not like South Korea came out of nowhere to make its mark on international culture. For a relatively small country, geographically, it produces a plethora of great filmmakers, from Lee Chang-dong to Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, we learned the unexpected reason the Parasite director wasn’t always able to go to the movies as a kid. As Bong said, “my mom was a bit freakish about cleanliness.”
47. and 48. There were important developments in the world of K-Pop.
Toward the end of 2021, we learned that BTS will be taking a break from performing at the beginning of 2022.
We also learned this year that BTS may not be the world’s biggest K-pop act anymore. It’s a bit tricky to quantify popularity, but the girl group Blackpink has surpassed BTS in YouTube views on recent videos.
49. There was one Office scene John Krasinski wouldn't film.
We also learned this year that John Krasinski once refused to shoot a scene written for the American version of The Office. That’s not to say the Quiet Place director is a diva. In Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office, Krasinski admitted that he refused to portray Jim cheating on Pam, because he was concerned how the show’s passionate fans would react. As he said, “there’s a moment where if you push them too far, they’ll never come back.”
50. An iconic movie garment was rediscovered.
51. and 52. We learned about the existence of a “lost library” of British literature—and that Sotheby's postponed its sale.
The so-called Honresfield Library included original poems written by Emily Brontë in her own handwriting. We also learned that, if the public outcry is great enough, auction house Sotheby’s is willing to postpone the sale of cultural treasures. A group of British institutions have teamed together to try and raise enough money to buy the library, with an end goal of placing the artifacts at museums and other institutions.
53. Another literary treasure was found this year within the binding of another book.
During the 16th century, paper was so valuable that it wasn’t unusual to repurpose a manuscript or printed material. And one book published in 1528 used, in its binding, a 12th-century poem called the "Siege d’Orange." Though scholars had known about that poem’s existence, it was considered completely lost to time. The 47 lines found by Dr. Tamara Atkin represent just a small part of the complete work, but that’s still 47 lines more than we’ve had for many years.
54. We might get to see an unpublished Jack Kirby novel.
A slightly more recent lost text is Jack Kirby’s novel, The Horde, which was never published. This year, we learned that might change. Kirby is known for his work with Marvel and DC Comics, but he also wrote what he called “A Visionary Novel” in the mid-1970s. Mile High Comics CEO Chuck Rozanski found a manuscript for the novel amongst “the personal archives of a highly-respected comics executive,” which Rozanski says he “paid a small fortune” for. Ultimately, it will be up to the Jack Kirby estate to decide whether to seek publication for the novel.
55. In November 2021, a manuscript written by Albert Einstein and Michele Besso raked in $13 million.
The papers, which we wouldn’t have today had Besso not held onto them, are one of the very few documents showing some of the early work that went into formulating Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The price is the highest yet paid for an autographed scientific document, according to Christie’s auction house.
56. Rare copies of the U.S. constitution go for big bucks ...
That same month, Ken Griffin—CEO and founder of the hedge fund Citadel—paid an even steeper price for a copy of the U.S. Constitution: $43 million. The document was one of only 13 known surviving copies of the 500 that were printed in September 1787 for internal government use.
57. ... and a crypto-consortium might have driven up the document's purchase price.
A group called ConstitutionDAO raised $47 million in cryptocurrency in an attempt to buy the historic document. The group had to drop out of the bidding when it became clear they wouldn’t have enough money to “Insure, store, and transport” the Constitution at a purchase price north of $40 million.
58. Another cryptocurrency crowdfunding scheme purchased a copy of Alejandro Jodorowksy’s manuscript for his never-completed film version of Dune.
Well, sort of. DuneDAO raised over $700,000, but an investor who bid on the group’s behalf actually laid out $3 million to win the auction. If the group manages to raise the other $2.3 million, they’ll pay back that bidder, "Soban Saqib," and the group will collectively own … not the manuscript, exactly, but “a say in what the group does with the money,” as Yahoo! Finance reported.
59. It was a wild year for cryptocurrency, and finance, in general.
We learned that meme stocks could fluctuate astronomically. GameStop’s stock price rose some 1500 percent in two weeks, driven by retail investors—many of whom were members of Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets—doing something called a “short squeeze,” effectively going up against short-sellers who had bet against the video game retailer. The stock has since gone down from an all-time high at $483 per share to less than half of that price, with plenty of winners and losers along the way.
60. The world of Crypto has seen even more outlandish highs and lows.
61. We learned people were willing to pay big bucks for NFTs.
Someone even paid over $7 million for CryptoPunk #3100—an 8-bit image of what appears to be a guy or maybe an alien.
62. Someone bought a sealed copy of Super Mario 64 for a whopping $1.56 million dollars.
The copy is in near-pristine condition, receiving a 9.8 A++ rating Wata score. That price nearly doubled the previous highest amount for a single video game, from just a few days earlier, when a 1987 copy of The Legend of Zelda sold for $870,000. And, according to The New York Times, a month later a copy of Super Mario Bros sold for $2 million.
63. We learned that the world’s largest single LEGO model (in terms of total number of bricks) is now a LEGO Titanic.
The LEGO version of the legendary ship is made up of 9090 bricks.
64. Munich, Germany, put LEGO to good use in 2021.
The city began collecting 22,000 LEGO blocks for a very good cause: In anticipation of the 2022 European Championships, an international multi-sport tournament, the city will be building a series of wheelchair ramps out of the colorful bricks. They’re not meant to be a replacement for ramps made of more traditional materials, but are intended to draw attention to disability access.
65. The location of the Cutter Bear shipwreck was located in 2021.
The Cutter Bear sank in 1963 after an illustrious career. It performed Arctic rescues, was used in World War I and II, and was the first U.S. government ship to be commanded by a Black man, “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy, the son of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman. Though the wreck was spotted in 2019, it took a couple of years for experts to be “reasonably certain” that they had identified the Bear, as they announced this year.
66. Performer Josephine Baker got a posthumous honor.
Possibly instigated by a change.org petition, France decided to induct Josephine Baker in Paris’s pantheon, alongside luminaries like Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Voltaire. Though her body remains buried in Monaco, Baker is the first Black woman to be so honored by the French government.
67. A different kind of honor was bestowed upon the microstate San Marino, which is surrounded by its neighbor Italy.
When Alesandra Perilli won a bronze medal in trap-shooting at this year’s Tokyo Olympics (which, because of COVID, were, strangely, the 2020 Olympic Games), San Marino became the smallest country, by population, to have won an Olympic medal.
68. Rosary beads once belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, were stolen from Arundel Castle in 2021.
Mary’s Catholicism was kind of a big part of her bio—she was even said to be clutching the rosary shortly before her beheading—so the artifact has historical as well as economic significance.
69. We learned a new word in 2021.
All of us non-Gen-Z’ers out there have another new word to learn: Yassify. It’s essentially the act of taking an image and applying an ungodly amount of beauty filters on it. The result is really… something. The likes of Twitter and Instagram were flooded with yassified jpegs, many coming from a popular Twitter account called Yassify Bot which posts daily images, such as yassified Girl with the Pearl Earring, and yassified moon from A Trip to the Moon.
70. Clippy made a comeback ... kind of.
Microsoft’s Clippy, the beloved-slash-hated digital assistant, has returned. But if you’re expecting your PC to suddenly be filled with useless tips from a sentient paperclip again, that’s not the case. After a Microsoft Tweet teasing Clippy’s return, it was announced that he would be joining the new line of Microsoft emojis and sticker packs. Not exactly “coming back” the way some people thought.
71. A team in Amsterdam revealed a new 3d-printed stainless-steel bridge.
It’s currently the largest metal object printed in 3D, and the printing company’s CEO said he believes it will “remain the largest metal printed object for years to come.”
72. A much smaller (though also laudable) engineering project involving a tortoise was completed in 2021.
Life was made a little more wonderful for George Bailey the tortoise, who suffers from a metabolic bone disease that’s prevented him from walking properly his entire 11-year life. That is, until a New Hampshire company fitted George with a custom wheelchair. Walkin’ Pets usually designs walking assistance devices for cats and dogs, but they were able to hook George up with a two-wheeled, stretchable harness.
73. It was discovered that some monkeys will go fishing for their food.
The snow monkey, otherwise known as the Japanese macaque, was found to literally scoop fish out of icy Japanese rivers. We’ve found these monkeys opportunistically eating fish in the past, like when they wash up on shore. But this is the first instance of seeing them intentionally catching fish.
74. We also discovered that pigs aren't the only truffle hunters.
Truffle spores are spread when animals find them underground, consume them, and spread their seeds through fecal matter. Pigs, famously, are one of a handful of mammals who are skilled truffle hunters. But research from the University of Florida this year shows that there are at least two species of birds that are a part of the truffle-hunting gang. Two types of ground-dwelling birds in Patagonia had truffle DNA and viable truffle spores in their feces. Watch out, pigs, the birds are coming for your jobs.
75. We found out that some bees have teeth ...
A little-known species of tropical bee evolved to grow a tooth for biting flesh; it’s thought that the bees needed to turn to new sources of nourishment because of intense competition for nectar. The bees were also found to have a gut that more closely resembles that of vultures than other bees. Goodbye murder hornets, hello flesh-eating vulture bees.
76. ... and some bees "scream."
And speaking of murder hornets, researchers discovered that bees warn their friends of impending hornet attacks by letting out horrific screams. In response to Vespa sorer, a sister species of murder hornets, bees produce a call known as an “antipredator pipe.” The process actually involves the vibration of wings, not the actual yelling of tiny bee lungs.
77. Scientists in China have identified a specific bacteria found in the gut of certain bees that can improve memory.
Bees that were found with higher levels of Lactobacillus apis had stronger and longer-lasting memories than bees with lower levels. Studies like this could eventually shed light on the relationship between human beings and our own microbiomes.
78. There was at least one important cat-related discovery.
In the past, researchers found that introducing a shelter cat to a family can reduce stress and anxiety for children with autism. That’s great, but it raises the question: How does this arrangement affect the felines? Well, research this year indicated that the cats also exhibited reduced lower levels of cortisol after being adopted into a family including a child with autism, showing the cats were less stressed after adoption, too.
79. Until 2021, it was believed that hummingbirds did not have the ability to smell.
Hummingbirds are really small, which means the part of their brain dedicated to smell is really, really small. And they’ve never exhibited any preference for flowers containing nectar, while other bird species do. This year, though, it was discovered that hummingbirds can smell insects, and, more interestingly, use that scent to help stay out of danger. The study’s co-author, Erin Wilson Rankin, said, “This is pretty exciting, as it is the first clear demonstration of hummingbirds using their sense of smell alone to make foraging decisions and avoid contact with potentially dangerous insects at a flower or feeder."
80. A monkey played video games with its mind.
A video released this year by Neuralink, one of Elon Musk’s brainchildren, showed a monkey playing the game Pong with its brain. The macaque, named Pager, was first taught how to play the game with a joystick. Soon, it moved to using its brain alone, with the help of a neural device implanted in its brain. While the footage is pretty cool, it’s not necessarily a huge leap forward—other monkeys have played games like Pong with their brain in the past. But Neuralink has apparently managed to remove wires from the equation, which could eventually have important implications for prosthetics and other situations where wires aren’t practical.
81. A new species of snake was found this year thanks to Instagram.
A man in India named Virendar Bhardwaj uploaded a photo of a snake at his home. It was soon discovered that this snake has never been described in scientific literature. With the help of a scientist at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, that will soon change.
82. A photo of cheese led to an arrest.
When a drug dealer from Liverpool shared a photo of some appealing Stilton cheese on the secretive messaging service EncroChat, he probably should have cropped out his hand. Police, who were monitoring the messages, were able to identify the man from his fingerprints, which were fully visible in the blue cheese beauty shot. As Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said in a statement, “Carl Stewart was involved in supplying large amounts of class A and B drugs, but was caught out by his love of Stilton cheese.”
83. We learned about a man in Belgium who committed an illicit act with much lower, and higher, stakes.
The farmer moved a stone on his property about seven feet, reportedly to make it a bit easier to maneuver his tractor. What he didn’t know is that the stone was one of many marking the boundary between France and Belgium. The man had effectively changed the borders of two countries, though it doesn’t seem authorities are interested in creating an international incident out of the innocent transgression.
84. You can't write just anything on Apple's Airtags.
The little devices can be handy for locating lost keys, and the company will even engrave four-character labels on them for free. But this year we learned that some words are strictly verboten, including poop and boob.
85. We learned that a lot of people like to work from the comfort of their beds.
According to a survey of more than 1500 remote workers conducted in June, 38 percent of respondents regularly work from bed, while 65 percent of those surveyed said they only occasionally work from bed.
86. New research from Rockefeller University shows that the negative symptoms associated with isolation aren’t unique to humans.
Fruit flies were observed to eat too much and sleep too little after being chronically isolated from other flies. Interestingly, even one other fly’s company was enough to stem the tide of these unhealthy behaviors. So the next time you find yourself eating pizza alone in your apartment at 3 a.m. for the third time in a single week, remember that it’s biology. And maybe call a friend.
87. Some koalas got vaccinated in 2021.
Perhaps koalas could do with a little more isolation—chlamydia is rampant amongst the adorable marsupials. But in 2021, researchers in Australia announced a promising chlamydia vaccine for koalas. For a species whose population has been steadily declining for years now, this is very good news.
88. One beetle mite seems to have been asexually reproducing for generations.
Sexual reproduction may come with some risks, but it’s been the number one means of species survival for a couple billion years now. Sustained asexual reproduction in animals has long been thought to be incredibly rare, if not impossible. But scientists from Switzerland and France released a study this year about a certain beetle mite species that seems to do just that. O. nova are a tiny species of beetle mite that have been observed to successfully reproduce without sex over many generations. The next step for researchers is figuring out what makes these beetle mites so special.
89. There was a breakthrough in lizard tail regeneration.
When a lizard loses its tail, the appendage that grows in the lost tail’s place is actually a cartilage tube, missing the spinal column and nerves that make up the original tail. This year, though, scientists were able to use stem cells to help a lizard regenerate a near-perfect true tail. The research hopes to help inform efforts to improve healing in humans.
90. We learned that delicious Charcuterie can have some serious side effects.
A salmonella outbreak earlier this year was traced back to antipasto meats like salami and prosciutto. The CDC’s recommendation? Heat the meat.
91. There was some questionable candy corn released in 2021.
The candy company Brachs announced a Thanksgiving candy corn in 2021, and if you were hoping for pumpkin pie flavoring (which is really just cinnamon, nutmeg, and some other spices), you may be disappointed to find chewy pieces with turkey and green bean flavor profiles.
92. Prices at Dollar Tree stores are going up.
We learned this fall that Dollar Tree is going to start selling some of its products at prices exceeding one dollar. Inflation, supply chain issues, and increased manufacturing costs are reportedly to blame.
93. We learned about the first successful double arm and shoulder transplant in 2021.
94. We learned more about our nervous system in 2021.
Do you know how our bodies sense heat and cold, or recognize different levels of pressure when touching and being touched? We got a greater understanding of these complex sensory phenomena thanks to the work of David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian. The two men were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine this year for their work in identifying specific receptors in our nervous system that respond to these different types of stimuli. It’s a couple of important pieces to the puzzle of how we interact with our surroundings.
95. There was a super cool development in the study of super cooling atoms in 2021.
The books on your shelf are stationary—they are most definitely not moving. But if we were to look at them through a quantum lens and see their individual atoms, they would be teeming with motion and vibrations.
Scientists have spent years trying to ground objects to a near true standstill. They do this by super-cooling these objects so their atoms can reach pure quantum states. They’ve been successful in the past, but have mostly worked with nanogram-scale objects, collections of a few million atoms. But this year, for the first time, researchers at MIT were able to cool a human-scale object to this near quantum state. The object had “an effective mass of 10 kilograms” and comprises about 1 octillion atoms. Super-cooling objects to a quantum state allows us to observe the effect of gravity on a massive quantum object, a big breakthrough in our understanding of physics.
96. The Ramanujan Machine was developed to help create mathematical conjectures.
In the world of math, the white whales of discovery are mathematical theorems. But in order to get a theorem, you need to prove a conjecture, a mathematical conclusion, or proposition. How does one make a conjecture?
Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology have developed an algorithm that may accelerate this process. The Ramanujan Machine, named for a famed (human) mathematician, uses AI and computer automation to generate conjectures. It does this by focusing on mathematical constants (like pi, for example). One of the professors leading the project said, "Our results are impressive because the computer doesn't care if proving the formula is easy or difficult, and doesn't base the new results on any prior mathematical knowledge, but only on the numbers in mathematical constants. ... It's important to point out that the algorithm itself is incapable of proving the conjectures it found—at this point, the task is left to be resolved by human mathematicians.”
97. The whitest paint ever created was made in 2021.
White paint might not seem like an important technological breakthrough, but when it’s the whitest paint ever created, capable of reflecting 98 percent of sunlight and cooling surfaces considerably, it’s worth taking note.
A few things led to the high performance of the paint, including the fact that the pigment particles used in it were different sizes. Because different size particles scatter different types and amounts of light, having a range of particle sizes maximizes the paint’s ability to reflect sunlight. Reflective paints like this can hopefully be used to lower the energy consumption associated with air conditioning by keeping buildings cool in a greener...or, whiter...way.
98. We learned in 2021 that California will soon provide free period products in schools.
The products, including tampons and pads, will be available in all public schools serving grades 6-12, state colleges, and community colleges. It’s part of an expansion of a 2017 law and will see the hygiene products installed by 2022.
99. Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins might have set a world record in the 100-meter race in 2021.
Hawkins's time was 1 minute and 2.95 seconds. If that doesn’t sound like a world record, maybe it helps to know that Hurricane Hawkins is 105 years old. She’ll be meeting her rival, Diane Flash Friedman, at the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale in 2022.
100. And that wasn't the only incredible centenarian news in 2021.
A woman by the name of Edith Murway-Traina turned 100 in 2021, making her the oldest competitive female powerlifter. Murway-Traina started lifting at the age of 91 and has been setting records ever since, including a 149.9-pound deadlift.