How to Feed a Megacity Like the Aztecs

WHEN CONQUISTADOR HERNÁN CORTÉS REACHED Tenochtitlan in 1519, he beheld a floating city. The temples and palaces of the Aztec capital gleamed white from an island in the middle of a vast lake, all spread under a searing blue sky. With an estimated population of 200,000, roughly the size of contemporary Paris, the city overflowed with people. Around…

Why an 1875 Map Imagined The U.S. As a Giant Hog

THIS STORY ENDS WITH AN eccentric entrepreneur distributing 2,500 maps of the United States in the shape of a pig to a gala of Civil War veterans. It begins with sewing machines. Grover and Baker sewing machines, to be precise. Read more at Atlas Obscura. Cover image: Porcineograph, Library of Congress, Public Domain.

Canadians Were Better at Clamming 3,500 Years Ago

TWELVE-THOUSAND YEARS AGO, THE GLACIERS receded from modern-day British Columbia, leaving the land to bleed silt into the sea. In the salty shallows hugging the coast, bivalves struggled to survive, growing slow and dying small in the fluctuating temperatures of the newly thawed ocean. Their shells fell to the floor and built up on beaches, forming…

Solved: The Mysterious Origins of Your Coffee’s Worst Nightmare

IN THE 1910S, COFFEE CROPS around the world began to suffer a mysterious ailment. When plucked from the tree, the coffee fruit, usually plump and crimson, was riddled with round holes, and the damaged beans inside were nearly useless. Growers soon discovered that the culprit was a small beetle, the coffee berry borer, which has spread…