A magical glimpse into history

Earth_timeline The age of the earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years. It took quite a time for life to appear… the earliest fossils found go back to 3.5 billion years ago. But it took quite a while for life as we know to get started. Dinosaurs appeared a mere 230 million years ago, the latest 5% of earth time. And humans? We only started to appear 2.4 million years ago… just the last 0.1% of earth time. To use the clock analogy, that’s the last 46 seconds on a 12 hour clock face.

For much of human prehistory we’ve got remarkably little to go on but a few bones here and there. To quote Ian Tattersall, Curator of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, from Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’

“You could fit it all into the back of a pickup truck if you didn’t mind how much you jumbled everything up”

Of course as we get nearer to the current day the amount of evidence increases. But in 1826 something magical took place which changed the way we view the past forever. The first permanent photograph was produced by a French inventor with the tricky name of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Unfortunately the first image, produced on a polished pewterplate covered with a petroleum derivative, was accidentally destroyed. But who could imagine the impact photography would have on the world, and more important on viewing history. Not only are we now more careful about retaining documents, but we can also see into the past. We’ve only got just under 200 years worth of historical images to view… how valuable will that be in a thousand years, in ten thousand years?

So here’s a series of photographs from the past, courtesy of that wonderful web site Listverse. A magical glimpse into history!


This photo was taken around 1848 and shows a hilltop house with a lawn surrounded by a picket fence. It also shows a blurred horse-drawn carriage in the foreground. Believe it or not it’s a photo of New York, Manhattan’s Upper West Side in fact.

Taken by Nicéphore Niépce, this is the first photograph ever taken which still exists. He called his method heliography (sun writing) and this photograph took 8 hours of exposure time (hence sunlight on both sides of the building).

This photo was taken on April 18th, 1906. It’s the most famous photograph of the devastation caused by San Francisco earthquake, taken by Arnold Genthe on a borrowed camera.

This is the only indisputable photo of Billy the Kid , said to have been taken in January 1880 in front of Beaver Smith’s saloon gambling hall in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. He was relatively unknown during his own lifetime but became a legend a year after his death when his killer, Sheriff Patrick Garrett, published a biography titled The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. According to legend Billy the Kid killed 21 men, one for each year of his life.

This photograph from 1840 was the first that intentionally has a human as its main subject. What’s interesting is that it shows a part of history which is now long gone… a regular footman and a carriage.

This 1838 photograph is the first ever taken that captures the image of a man. The man is not clear and is slightly blurred (no doubt due to the long exposure required). He can be seen in the foreground – fortunately he stood still long enough (getting his shoes polished) for the 10 minute exposure to include him.

And finally the following set of photos are history in the making… the first showing the conditions troops had to endure in the First World War.

More mud…


  1. John Jnr6:31 pm

    This has nothing to do with allotments! Stop bloody rambling!

  2. Don't tell your mum... she'll think I've got time on my hands and find me something to do!

  3. A very interesting and informative article on the history of the world and how photgraphy has changed the way we look at history.

    But as John Jnr said what has it to do with allotments? Apart from the fact taht allotments have a deep historical past (if only I could remember what it is)

    I hope you don'tmind but I have added your blog to my favorite bookmarking site digg.com
    so that other may find you blog.

  4. Well, it's all to do with the blog description 'other bits of life that manage to crowd in'. Sometimes that means other things of interest.


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