Pin money became an English phrase to describe extra cash set aside by wives to run the household at the turn of the twentieth century, When pins were rare enough to be sold on just two days of the year, January 1 and 2.
Although through time pins became more commonplace and far less expensive, the British courts still enforce any prenuptial agreement or property lien demanded by the wife as the “pin money charge.”
Mosses and fungi probably appeared about 400 million years ago. By about 200 million years ago, the earth sprouted sweeping forests of giant cycads, conifer trees, huge horsetails, and ferns. But the first flowering plants did not appear until the dinosaurs, sometime in the middle of the Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago.
Before this, most of the trees had been gymnosperms, or plants with cones. Magnolias are among the oldest of all flowering plants, appearing about this time, along with orchids. With flowers came many insects, including butterflies, ants, termites, and bees. The flowering plants provided food for these insects, who spread the pollen from flower to flower to produce the seeds that would keep the flowers reproducing.
A fossil is the hardened remains or an imprint of a plant or animal that lived a very long time ago. Some fossils are thousands of years old, others are several hundred million years old. Most plants and animals died and then decayed without ever leaving a trace. But some were buried under mud, rocks, ice, or other heavy coverings before decaying. The pressure of these layers over thousands of years turned animal and plant remains into rock.
Usually fossils preserve the organism’s hard parts: the bones or shells of an animal and the seeds, stems, and leaf veins of plants. Sometimes the fossil is the actual animal part, like a bone or tooth, that has hardened into rock. Some fossils, called trace fossils, show the imprint of parts of the animal or plant. Occasionally these imprints act as a mold, and the sediment that fills the imprint hardens and becomes a cast of, for example, a dinosaur footprint. Sometimes bones or trees are preserved by minerals that seep into the part’s pores and then harden, or petrify, that part. Arizona’s Petrified Forest contains numerous examples of giant trees that were petrified millions of years ago.
The Greeks borrowed celebrating birthdays from the Egyptian pharaohs and the cake idea from the Persians. Then early Christians did away with birthday parties for a while until the custom re-emerged with candles in Germany in the twelfth century.
Awakened with the arrival of a birthday cake topped with lighted candles, which were changed and kept lit until after the family meal, the honoured child would make a wish that, it was said, would come true only if the candles were blown out in a single breath.
As a system of voting, the ancient Greeks placed beans in a jar. They called these small beans or balls “ballota,” which gives us the word ballot. A white bean was a “yes” and a brown bean was a “no.”
The beans were then counted in secret so the candidates wouldn’t know who voted for or against them. If the container was knocked over, and the beans were spilled, the secret was out of the jar.
The combine harvester saves the farmers time and labor. Before modern machinery, harvesting crops was a painstaking process. Gathering and removing mature plants from the field had to be done by hand. Farm workers used sharp-bladed, long-handled scythes and curved sickles to cut down cereal crops like wheat. Even the fastest reaper could only clear about a third of an acre a day. Because rain could ruin harvested wheat, workers called sheaf-makers quickly tied it into bundles, so that it could be safely stored if the weather turned stormy. During the long winter months farm workers used jointed wooden tools called flails to thresh or beat the dried wheat in order to separate its edible grain seeds from its stalks.
But in 1786 a machine that threshed wheat by rubbing it between rollers was invented, replacing human threshers. And around 1840 a reaping machine—whose revolving wheel pressed grain stalks against a sharp blade that cut them down— replaced human harvesters. Today, farm machines called combine harvesters do this work in much the same way. These machines are very efficient and combine all three jobs of cutting, collecting, and threshing a crop. A single combine harvester can process five acres of wheat in less than an hour!