Sunday, 5 June 2011

How many nostrils have you got?

Four.   Two you can see; two you can't.  This discovery came from observing how fish breath.  Fish get their oxygen from water.  Most of them have two pairs of nostrils, a forward-facing set for letting water in and a pair of 'exhaust pipes' for letting it out again.  The question is, if humans evolved from fishes, where did the other pair of nostrils go?  The answer is that they migrated back inside the head to become internal nostrils called choannae - Greek for 'funnels'.  These connect to the throat and are what allow us to breathe through our noses.  To do this they somehow had to work their way back through the teeth.  This sounds unlikely but scientists in China and Sweden have recently found a fish called - Kenichthys campbelli - A 395 million year old fossil - that shows this process at its halfway stage.  The fish has two nostril like holes between its front teeth.  Kenichthys campbelli is a direct ancestor of land animals, able to breathe both in air and water.  One set of nostrils allowed it to lie in the shallows and eat while the other poked out of the water a bit like a crocodile's.  Similar gaps between the teeth can also be seen at an early stage of a human embryo.  When they fail to join up, the result is a cleft plate.  So one ancient  fish explains to ancient human mysteries.  The most recent research on noses, incidentally, shows that we use each of our two external nostrils to detect different smells, breathing different amounts of air into each to create a type of nasal stereo.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

How many wives did Henry VIII have?

Technically Two, or four if your Catholic. Henry's fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.  This is very different from a divorce.  Legally, it means it never took place.  There were two grounds to the annulment.  Anne and Henry never consummated the marriage; that is, they never had intercourse.  Refusal or inability to consummate a marriage is still grounds for an annulment today.  In addition, Anne was also betrothed to Francis, Duke of Lorraine when she married Henry.  At that time, the formal act of betrothal was a legal bar to marrying someone else.  All parties agreed that no marriage took place.  So that leaves five.  The pope declared Henry's second marriage to be illegal because he was still married to his first wife, Cathrine of Aragon.  Henry, as head of the new Church of England declared in turn that his first marriage was invalid on the legal ground that a man could not sleep with his brothers widow.  The King cited the old testament, which he claimed as 'Gods Law' whether the pop like it or not.  Depending on whether you believe the pope or the king this brings it down to either four or three marriages.  Henry annulled his marriage to Anne Boleyn just before he had her executed for adultery.  This was somewhat illogical: if the marriage never existed then Anne could not be accused of betraying it.  He did the same with his fifth wife, Cathrine Howard. All the evidence suggests she was unfaithful to him before and during their marriage.  This time Henry passed a special act making it treasonable for a queen to commit adultery.  Once again, he also had the marriage annulled.  So that makes four annulments, and only two incontestably legal marriages.  Apart from Henry's last wife, Cathrine Parr (who outlived him), the lady who got off the lightest was Anne of Cleves.  After their annulment, the king showered her with gifts and the official title of 'beloved sister'.  She visited court often, swapping recipes and household gadgets with the other man who had never been her husband.