Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Michele Mercati & The Mighty Mighty Thunderstones

Have you heard the new album by Michele Mercati & The Mighty Mighty Thunderstones? It's an awesome new ska-swing band that blends classical trombone and French horn melodies to produce a deceptive cadence and then rush in with guitar accelerando to create stretto effects that are truly breathtaking.

I'm completely making this up. Michele Mercati is not the frontman to a ska-swing band, but if I had been a bit more musically inclined in the mid 1990's I could have rode the wave of Ska to the top with a band name like Michele Mercati & The Mighty Mighty Thunderstones. We could have toured with Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. If we were good enough, we could've maybe opened for the Squirrel Nut Zippers!!!

Leafs from the Metallotheca showing
Mercati's skill at drawing natural history.
Now that I've wasted your time with that, we'll go ahead and discuss Michele Mercati and the thunderstones we briefly mentioned on the Mesolithic Podcast. Mercati was an Italian physician that ran the Vatican Botanical Gardens in the 16th Century. He probably did a good job at attending the plants, but frankly that doesn't interest me in the slightest. His work with thunderstones is what whets my whistle.  He had access to a trove of data, which we take for granted today, but at the time would have given him special privilege to conduct research. So he popped his head into the wunderkammer that had all these thunderstones. A wunderkammer is a "Cabinet of Curiosities" that contained cool stuff that was unclassified and un-categorized. They were popular in the Renaissance. But, Mercati was wandering around through wunderkammer and decided that these stone items that looked like tools and decided that they were in fact tools. He proposed that these tools weren't made of metal because primitive man hadn't discovered metallurgy. This breakthrough helped anthropological studies immensely and got the ball rolling on our modern study of the subject.

It seems pretty obvious today that these items were tools. But, the reason this was such a breakthrough in the 16th century was that these items were thought to be thunderstones. Basically, the rocks they found all over Europe that had indentions on them were thought to have occurred naturally through lightning strikes. This assuaged enough of man's curiosity for the time and the thought stuck around. But, as more and more of these items were being gathered to a place of learned men, this folklore answer wasn't going to last long. Mercati died before his work was published, but his book, Metallotheca had enough good stuff in it to warrant a printing over a hundred years after he died.

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