Helloooooo, Phineas
April 23, 2012 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I love "discoveries" that add to seemingly-cold stories. Misfiled negatives unearthed, unlabeled photos finally identified, new connections made. Stuff like the identification of the first photo of Phineas Gage, or the recently-uncovered Lincoln inauguration photos, or to a much lesser extent (because it's "soft"), this TED talk about finding the face of Leonardo da Vinci. What other incidents/discoveries/ideas like this will enthrall me? And can you point me to a book (or at least a Wikipedia page) about it?

Preferably, these discoveries will be things that are eventually accepted by historians and experts as legit, not conspiracy theories or stuff like that. All my examples are visual because I thought of them first, but I'd love to know about any new idea that has that same feel—some THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (or at least sheds new light on or offers a new perspective) with a side of IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG!

(I realize that the science of history doesn't normally work like this and that the discoveries are typically theories backed up by conviction and lots of research, not necessarily provable either way and generally not super-dramatic. But those rare and amazing wonder-inspiring moments, those are what I want!)

The dreamy time traveler in me thanks you!
posted by peachfuzz to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I'm very sorry if this is inappropriate -- this isn't common history, per se -- but I share your interest, and I feel the urge to self link.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:55 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

There was the long unsettled question of whether Anastasia had died when the Czar's family was murdered, and several imposters, one of whom was fairly widely accepted by the general public as probably being her. Then in 2008/2009 DNA testing finally settled the case and showed she had definitely died in the execution.
posted by lollusc at 10:22 PM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: This is a minor one, but back in early 2008, I was searching through the Library of Congress's Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, at the time doing a search on the word "Explorer". I came across a photo that struck me, then labeled "Dr. J. J. Hays, Arctic Explorer". Doing some googling to figure out who he was, I discovered that the "J.J." was a mistranscribed "I.I.", and that it was actually Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes. I notified the LoC, and they agreed with me, and have since updated the photo information. (After which I added his photo to his then then-photoless wikipedia entry).
posted by fings at 7:45 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

speaking of da vinci...did you see this recent NOVA epsode about the discovery(?) of a new portrait by him?
also this film is about a jackson pollock found at a thrift store for $5.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:51 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: The letter had been transcribed with just one tiny mistake. But that one word made all the difference.

The painting had been catalogued as 'Portrait of a Woman with a Feather in her Hat'. It turned out to be a lot more interesting.

The photograph was 'obviously' faked. Or was it? The truth was anything but obvious.

'For a kick I clicked on the description and viewed the item. I couldn't believe it.'
posted by verstegan at 11:09 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: yes! awesome.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: This sacred object of the ancient Chavin culture was discovered in 1874 while being used as a table in a restaurant in the Andes of Peru. Famous explorer Antonio Raimondi is said to have eaten on it, to then realize what it was.
posted by Tarumba at 2:24 PM on April 24, 2012

Along with other folks, I helped to identify an unlabeled photo of the scientific illustrator Elizabeth Sabin Goodwin in the Smithsonian's archives. It led to her granddaughter sending additional information and artwork to the archives, and a write up in the NYT.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:59 AM on August 27, 2012

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