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What comes to those who persist?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

The discovery on this date in 1922 of rubble-filled stairs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings led to the 20th century’s most famous archaeological discovery: King Tut's tomb. It almost didn't happen.

Many explorers thought the valley's treasures, mined for decades, were all found. But Britain's Howard Carter acted on a hunch. Clearing the top of a doorway, sealed with plaster, Carter discovered the undisturbed seals of a royal necropolis.

When he eventually entered the tomb, carrying a candle, Carter was asked: “Can you see anything?” “Yes,” he replied. “Wonderful things. Wonderful things!”

Earlier, Carter had strenuously advocated to a patron to let him work one more season on the dig. His perseverance was rewarded with a treasure-laden crypt that had eluded grave robbers for 3,000 years.

Time (finally) for Harriet Tubman

The unveiling of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill in 2020 was scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave U.S. women the right to vote. Plans to put the courageous abolitionist’s likeness on the bill were delayed earlier this year, but she has nonetheless captured the spotlight in American theaters.

The movie Harriet, which opened Friday, breathlessly portrays Tubman, a bold conductor of the Underground Railroad—a network of safe houses and routes from the southern United States to Canada—that helped U.S. slaves escape to freedom. Although the movie has a few Hollywood touches, Harriet covers the facts of her struggle, the audacity of her risk taking and the significance of her work in the American narrative. Born Araminta “Minty” Ross around 1820, Tubman used the Underground Railroad to escape from Maryland to Pennsylvania, then returned to Maryland 13 times and led at least 70 slaves to freedom. During the Civil War she helped the Union Army as a nurse, scout, and spy, and even led an armed expedition into Confederate territory. After the war, she directed her efforts toward women’s suffrage.

Why only now, 106 years after her death, is there a film about Tubman? “It’s only recently the industry found it viable to make a film with a black female protagonist,” director Kasi Lemmons told the Houston Chronicle.

Today in a minute

New burial, new hope? The reburial of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco away from a controversial memorial may help Spain get past lingering wounds from its bloody civil war, the Washington Post reports. At the request of Spain’s current government, Franco’s remains were moved last week to a family burial site from the Valley of the Fallen, a burial ground built with forced labor by political prisoners.

One crazy election: Americans who think the 2000 and 2016 presidential votes were wild should see what happened in the U.S. balloting in 1824. Andrew Jackson had the most popular and electoral votes by far, but lacked a majority. Congress—in February (!!)—put John Quincy Adams on top. Jackson called Adams’ victory corrupt and got his revenge in an overwhelming triumph four years later.

CSI, please? Forensic detectives are exploring the circumstances—5,300 years ago—around the slaying of a man whose mummified body was found on an Alpine slope in 1991. Ötzi the Iceman died from an arrow shot into his back, but plant traces found in and around his body indicated he was climbing rapidly before his murder. From stomach samples, scientists also determined he ate a final meal of dried ibex and deer meat with einkorn wheat.

Underrated: Before Martin Luther, there was Desiderius Erasmus. The Conversation argues that Luther’s Reformation would not have happened without Erasmus, particularly the Dutch humanist and theologian’s adroit use of the printing press as an agent of change. Erasmus also paved the way for another Luther “idea”: that the Bible belongs to everyone, even commoners.

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Coal’s legacy. Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, has grown rapidly in recent years, as nomadic herders have left the countryside and settled on the city's outskirts. Living in gers (yurts) or simple houses, they use coal stoves for both heating and cooking. Ulaanbaatar’s air is one of the world’s most polluted, especially during the cold winter months. Said one doctor: "I no longer know what a healthy lung sounds like."

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What she's reading

The New Yorker's Paige Williams, author of the fossil-hunting thriller The Dinosaur Artist, is enthusiastic about a work of modern history, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey's She Said, which chronicles Harvey Weinstein's cretinous legacy. "This extraordinary book, which gives spine to the Times's pledge to report 'without fear or favor,' tells the story behind the landmark articles that fueled the #metoo movement—and provides a valuable tutorial on how exceptional journalism works," Williams says. "Kantor and Twohey—who had the daunting job of working from the outside in, breaching the dizzyingly insular, spin-happy entertainment industry—represent the best of our profession. They and their team, including the legendary investigative editor Rebecca Corbett, are worthy leaders in journalism's escalating ground war for fact. Their ability to stand up to powerful figures the likes of which will do anything—lie, bully, cheat—to avoid having their wrongdoing exposed is nothing short of emblematic of the courage and intelligence necessary to preserving the security of the country. The American public—ignorant of how real journalism works, which is to say with care, rigor, and honor, and with allegiance to fact above all—never needed a book like this more."

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One last glimpse

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Stopped. Pulitzer-winning writer Paul Salopek is walking the world, tracing the path from the earliest civilizations in Africa through the Middle East and farther east, so far. But he’s not always walking. Sometimes, he’s being stopped by authorities, and even detained. Above, a map of the hiccups in his journey (and more about his quest is here).

This newsletter has been curated by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. And thanks for reading!