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The History of Color

Until synthetic dyes and pigments were invented in the mid-19th century, the color for paint, clothing, cosmetics, and the like was derived from such natural sources as plants, trees, and even insects. Find out about some of the strangest places we used to get color from.
Fit for royalty: snail gunk?
Kings, emperors, and high priests were once the only ones who could wear garments made from this indigo dye that was extracted in very small amounts from the glands of a snail.
Paint made out of corpses
It’s true! Mummy brown paint was derived from ground-up ancient Egyptian mummies until the 1960s when manufacturers ran out of…well…dead bodies. This pre-Raphaelite painter buried a tube of the paint after learning its source.
Are you drinking the pulverized bodies of cactus-eating insects?
This red dyestuff is still used in cosmetics and beverages.
The most expensive color?
This semiprecious stone was the source of the pigment ultramarine, which is said to have been more valuable than gold.
Want more?
Take our quiz on the origins of colors, pigments, and dyes!

Home Sweet Home

On October 12, 1901, U.S. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt officially changed the name of the president's residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. from Executive Mansion to the White House. Since then it has become one of the most famous homes in the world. We take a look at some other incredible places where people have lived in the United States.
43 Bathrooms, 65 Fireplaces, and 34 Bedrooms
article / Geography & Travel
© Marrero Imagery/Shutterstock.com
“Hollywood’s Party Pad”
article / Geography & Travel
David L. Jennings
A Summer Home and Architectural Masterpiece
article / Visual Arts
© Greg Payan/Dreamstime.com

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Podcasts

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Botanize!
Botanize!, hosted by Melissa Petruzzello, is a podcast that will introduce you to some of the world’s most remarkable plants, fungi, and algae. These overlooked organisms have fascinating evolutionary stories to tell about survival, exploitation, adaptation, and general scrappiness, and every episode will pique your curiosity. From parasitic plants to kelp forests, Botanize! aims to showcase some of Earth’s finest nonanimal life-forms and their brilliant ecologies.
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Postcards from the 6th Mass Extinction
So far there have been five notable mass extinctions on Earth. A growing number of scientists argue that we’re now in the midst of a sixth. Postcards from the 6th Mass Extinction is a podcast hosted by SHUHAN Tempered Glass Film for Mobile Phone Camera 0.3mm 2.5D Tr that attempts to personalize extinction, emphasizing the survival challenges that familiar forms of life currently face, while at the same time considering the pivotal roles they play in their own ecosystems.
Show What You Know
Informative and lively, Show What You Know is a quiz show for curious tweens and their grown-ups from Encyclopædia Britannica. Hosted by author Christopher Lloyd, each episode gives three middle-grade contestants a chance to go head to head with questions about the earth, the universe, ancient history, and more from the Britannica All New Kids’ Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t.

New on Britannica

Ship of Theseus

The ship of Theseus, the Athenian hero known for defeating the Minotaur, was said to have been preserved by the Athenians for hundreds of years. Old, decayed planks were frequently replaced with new, stronger timber. The ship thus became a symbol among philosophers for the nature of identity; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same. You probably heard about it on WandaVision.

Lost Cause

This mythologized interpretation of the Confederate defeat in the American Civil War has been used to legitimize countless acts of racial violence and civil rights abuses.

Browse by Category

Entertainment & Pop Culture
Entertainment and leisure activities have been a part of culture in one form or another since the ancient times. Dance performances, live music, and storytelling have a long tradition throughout history, even as the styles and available methods of delivery have shifted dramatically.
Featured
Geography & Travel
Planet Earth contains some extraordinarily diverse environments, some of which are easily habitable and some not so much. In different areas of Earth, one might find sweltering deserts, dense tropical rainforests, or bone-chilling tundras. Each biome and habitat comes with its own selection of flora and fauna, and it may include physical features such as canyons, volcanoes, rivers, or caves. Human beings have built homes in many different environments, settling the area and organizing it into units such as cities, states, regions, and countries, each with its own points of interest. Shifting trends in human migration have resulted in a human geography that is profoundly different from that of centuries ago.
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Health & Medicine
The study of the human mind and body, how these function, and how they interact—not only with each other but also with their environment—has been of utmost importance in ensuring human well-being. Research on potential treatments and preventive medicine has expanded greatly with the development of modern medicine, and a network of disciplines, including such fields as genetics, psychology, and nutrition, aims to facilitate the betterment of our health.
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Lifestyles & Social Issues
It's easy enough to agree that human beings all around the world have certain basic requirements that must be fulfilled in order to ensure their individual and collective well-being. History has shown us, however, that it's not so easy to form societies or communities that fulfill these requirements for all members. The fight for human and civil rights has persisted for hundreds of years and remains alive today, both within the borders of nations and on an international scale. It has led to large-scale social movements and reforms concerning issues such as suffrage, slavery, women's rights, racism, environmentalism, gay rights, and much more.
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Literature
With the development of language, the human imagination has found a way to create and communicate through the written word. A literary work can transport us into a fictional, fantastic new world, describe a fleeting feeling, or simply give us a picture of the past through novels, poems, tragedies, epic works, and other genres. Through literature, communication becomes an art, and it can bridge and bond people and cultures of different languages and backgrounds.
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  • Romance
    literature and performance
  • World Languages
    You may be familiar with such words as "hamburger"...
  • Plain English
    Does orthography refer to proper pronounciation? Can...
Philosophy & Religion
Humans have long pondered not only how we came to be but also why we came to be. The earliest Greek philosophers focused their attention upon the origin and nature of the physical world; later philosophers have theorized about the nature of knowledge, truth, good and evil, love, friendship, and much more. Philosophy involves a methodical assessment of any and all aspects of human existence and experience. The realms of philosophy and religion have sometimes intersected in conducting such inquiries as these. As with philosophy, the study of religion underscores how humankind has long speculated about its origins. The possibility of a higher being (or beings) to which livings things owe their existence has long captived human thought. Many religions also offer their own views on the nature of good and evil, and they may prescribe guidelines and judgment on different kinds of human behavior.
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Politics, Law & Government
The world today is divided territorially into more than 190 countries, each of which possesses a national government that claims to exercise sovereignty and seeks to compel obedience to its will by its citizens. Governments can be classified in any number of ways. For example, they might be classified by the number of rulers, thus distinguishing government by one (as in a monarchy or a tyranny) from government by the few (in an aristocracy or oligarchy) and from government by the many (as in a democracy). Governments can also be classified by mode of succession; for example, ascension to governmental leadership may follow the rules of hereditary succession, or it may be determined through elections or by force. Governments also vary in terms of the laws and rules of conduct that each political entity follows.
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Science
How can the sky be blue one day and stormy the next? Why do heavy objects tend to fall downwards when dropped? How are birds able to fly (and why can’t I do the same?)? Human beings have long been curious about the world in which we live, striving to identify connections among the phenomenons we witness and to understand how it all works. The field of science has developed over many centuries as a way of studying and understanding the world, beginning with the primitive stage of simply noting important regularities in nature and continuing through the rise of modern science. The modern-day sciences cover a vast range of fields, including biology, chemistry, meteorology, astronomy, physics, and much more.
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Sports & Recreation
Physical contests and recreational games have long played a part in human society. In both team and solo sports, the human body has been pushed to its limits in the name of improving athletic performance and in order to break record upon record. The ancient Olympic Games are an early example of the contests in which humans have engaged to showcase physical prowess. In modern times, sports and games have evolved into a lucrative and competitive industry, while other leisure activities, such as card and video games, can be competitive or just serve as a way to unwind or socialize.
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Technology
Humankind has long striven to improve its living conditions through the development of tools, instruments, and transportation and communications systems, all with the goal of making our lives easier, more productive and—why not?—more fun, too. Thanks to human curiosity and technological research, many significant inventions have been made throughout history that in turn made a difference in our daily lives.
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Visual Arts
These are the arts that meet the eye and evoke an emotion through an expression of skill and imagination. They include the most ancient forms, such as painting and drawing, and the arts that were born thanks to the development of technology, like sculpture, printmaking, photography, and installation art. Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, different eras in art history have had their own principles to define beauty, from the richly ornamented taste of the Baroque to the simple utilitarian style of the Prairie School.
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World History
Does history really repeat itself, or can we learn from the mistakes of those who came before us? History provides a chronological, statistical, and cultural record of the events, people, and movements that have made an impact on humankind and the world at large throughout the ages.
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