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March 21, 2024 9 mins

Whether we're talking about ancient carvings, or modern coincidences, there are so many curious tales to explore.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Nke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

You go on a blind date with a friend of
a friend, and five minutes into cocktails, discover that they
share your birthday. You dream about someone you haven't thought
about in years, and then get a call that they
have passed away. Your partner asks you to pick up
a specific shampoo brand from the store, and all of
a sudden, you start seeing commercials for it everywhere. Odd

little coincidences like this happen all the time. History is
full of them, but when they appear out of the blue,
it can feel downright uncanny. Take the story of ten
year old Laura Buxton. In June of two thousand and one,
Laura was in Staffordshire, England, celebrating her grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary,
and on a whim, Laura's grandfather suggested that they release

one of the gold Milar balloons that were decorating the grounds.
Laura would attach a note to the balloon with instructions
to contact her. If they were lucky, someone would get
in touch and they'd find out exactly how far their
balloon had gone. Well, that balloon traveled one hundred and
forty miles south before landing in a hedge in the
county of Wiltshire. A farmer found it and read the

attached note, and then he headed next door. As chance
would have it, this farmer was neighbors with an entirely
different girl, also named Laura Buxton. He gave the balloon
to the second Laura, who followed the instructions and got
in touch with Laura number one. The girls and their
parents were all amused by the odd turn of events
and agreed that they should meet in person. And that's

when the coincidences really started to balloon. As it turned out,
Laura one and Laura two didn't just share a name.
They were both in the fifth grade and both had
no siblings. They had the same build, same eye color,
and similar hair color. They each owned three year old
female labradors, rabbits, and guinea pigs. They even dressed the same. Reportedly,

the Lauras arrived to their first meeting in nearly identical
ensembles of pink jumpers and blue jeans. In the year
since their first meeting, the story of the Lauras and
their balloon has proliferated online. Exactly what makes it so
sticky is hard to pin down. On face value, It's
the mundane story of a chance meeting between two girls
with a lot in common, made a bit sweeter by

the fact that they remained friends for years afterwards. On
another level, though, the story taps into our sense of
the supernatural. Like all uncanny coincidences, it makes us feel
that the universe isn't random but meaningful, that there's a
logic governing everything, and we're connected to each other in
ways we can't begin to fathom. After all, in a

meaningless random universe, would the Lauras ever have found each
other at all? The answer, according to some staticians, is
actually yes. This is due to the law of truly
large numbers, which states that with a large enough data set,
any highly implausible result is likely to be observed. In
Layman's terms, it means that with enough people doing enough

things in enough different places all over a long enough
period of time, seemingly unlikely events become extremely likely, even inevitable.
But the story of the two Lauras isn't just about probability,
and we don't have to believe in fate or a
supernatural universe to appreciate the story. The thing that truly
makes it resonates isn't just how unlikely it was that

two girls met. It's the fact that they almost didn't.
If not for that balloon, they could have lived their
whole lives not knowing that the other Laura existed. They
would have missed out on a unique, fun and memorable experience,
not to mention friendship. David Spiegelhalter, a risk researcher at
the University of Cambridge, said that, and I quote, a

coincidence itself is in the eye of the beholder, and
by this he means that the significance of any given
coincidence is born from the fact that someone was present
to witness and draw meaning from it. If the first
Laura hadn't released her balloon and the girls never met,
then they would have just been statistical anomalies. But because
they found each other, having so much in common, became

special and maybe there's a lesson here for us, because
whether you believe in an intentional universe or a random one,
the reality is sometimes we are connected to each other
in surprising ways. But if we never step outside our
comfort zone, if we don't set our balloons loose once
in a while, then you or I will never know
how truly special we are. When we think of ancient Egypt,

our minds go straight to the pyramids. These monuments of
the ancient world are massive structures containing subterranean chambers, long
windowless hallways, and winding corridors. You can imagine the builders,
the priests, and anyone else who had access to these
tombs would have needed some kind of light to get around,
which is why it's strange that in many Egyptian tombs

there's a distinct lack of torches. There's also very little
soot residue on the ceilings, which you would expect to
find if torches had been used during the building process.
So were the ancient Egyptians just groping around in the dark. Well,
if you've ever seen the nineteen ninety nine film The
Mummy starring Brennan Fraser, then you know the answer. The
Pharaohs used intricate systems of mirrors to bring the power

of the sun into their tombs, bouncing the light from
one shiny surface to the next until every chamber was illuminated.
Except that's probably just a bit of Hollywood fantasy. In reality,
Egyptian mirrors were much too crude for such a feat.
But there's another possibility, and it seems even more fantastical.
The idea was sparked by a discovery in a temple

dedicated to the goddess Hathor near the city of Dundera.
In a remote corner of that temple, a series of
hieroglyphic carvings depict a strange scene. A bulb shaped device
is shown sprouting from the floor, with a socket at
one end and a long cable extending from the other.
The socket continues into a long tube rounded at one
end with a curving snake at its center. A priest

stands nearby, aiming the device upwards. It sounds impossible, but
if you see the carvings, they look an awful lot
like modern electric lights, complete with a wire inside. The
snake's body serves as the filament of the light bulb.
But aside from looking similar to a light, there's not
a lot of hard evidence to suggest that's actually what
the reliefs show. You would think that if the Egyptians

had access to electric lighting, they probably would have left
behind some wires or glass bulbs, but nothing like that
has ever turned up. Instead, most Egyptologists believe that the
Dendera reliefs don't show a device, but an Egyptian creation myth.
They was said that at the beginning of time, reality
was covered by a primordial sea. The first thing to
emerge from these dark waters was a single lotus flower.

The flower then gave birth to the sun god autumn Ra,
who went on to create the entire universe. In the
official interpretation of the Dendera carvings, this socket is the
lotus flower from that myth, while the snake inside that
bulb shaped bubble is autumn Ra. It's less exciting than
thinking the hieroglyphs show us an ancient flashlight, but more believable,

and that means that we're still in the dark. Sorry
pun intended when it comes to explaining how the Egyptians
actually lit their tombs. Ultimately, the truth was hiding in
plain sights all along. While ancient Egyptian tombs are short
on torches. They do have plenty of bulls. There's nothing
special about them, which is why archaeologists overlooked them for

so long. But a text by the Greek historian Herodotus
reveals that the Egyptians use these bulls as a unique
kind of torch by filling them with castor oil and salt.
The salt kept the oil from spilling and dropping the wick,
and that's why the bulls didn't need a groove or
a notch that you would typically see in a torch.
The castor oil burns clean, which explains the missing soot

case closed right well probably. However, fringe theorists still cling
to the possibility that the Dendera reliefs our evidence of
ancient Egyptian electricity, and in the nineteen eighties an engineer
named Walter Garn created a working replica of the Dendera
light based on the carvings. When he turned it on,
the glowing filament inside the bulb pulsed and writhed, coiling

and uncoiling a lot like a serpent rising from the
bud of a lotus. I hope you've enjoyed today's guided
tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities, subscribe for free on
Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the show by visiting
Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was created by me

Aaron Mankey in partnership with how Stuff Works. I make
another award winning show called Lore, which is a podcast,
book series, and television show, and you can learn all
about it over at the Worldoflore dot com. And until
next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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