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Up the Garden Path by Nigel Roth

Dernière mise à jour : 3 mars 2021

In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais rode thirteen kilometers in an hour, not on a real horse, which could’ve covered that distance in about thirteen minutes, but on his Laufmaschine, or vélocipède.

With its wooden construction, wheel bearings housed in brass bushings, back-wheel brake, and a self-centering mechanism, this was the ‘dandy horse’ that would eventually become the bicycle.

Its hefty nineteenth-century twenty-two-kilogram weight will eventually be reduced to the astonishing twenty-first century two-point-eight kilograms of Gunter Mai’s custom-made road bike.

You’d expect to find Drais’ Draisine, for the name went through several changes over the years, in a museum, and Mai’s nameless creation on the dry, clear roads of the Arizonan desert.

Where you wouldn’t expect to find an almost-new four-hundred-dollar mountain bike would be attached with a security lock on the outside of my front gate, stopping me from opening it to walk out of my garden.

And yet, that is exactly where my son and I discovered it.

He said it reminded him of the German theologian Gustav Adolf Deissmann, who, under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Education, found something just as mysterious written on the skin of a gazelle, who had donated its hide posthumously. Hidden until 1929, when Deissmann found it by accident, it was a map, confirmed to be the work of the Ottoman admiral and cartographer, Piri Reis, and spectacular in its importance.

At the time, it was the only known copy of the world map of Christopher Columbus, and showed, uniquely, that South America had been positioned correctly in 1513. It depicts Europe and North Africa, the coast of Brazil, The Azores, Canary Islands, and even Antilia, thought to be mythical today. What’s even more odd is that it maps Antarctica, which was recorded as ‘discovered’ three-hundred years later, and depicts the continent’s topography as being ice-free, which may have given experts a clue to it's validity.

Deissmann apparently removed his find to a place of safety, just as I have the bike that materialized on my front gate.

And it now sits, the embodiment of modern cycle mechanics, on display, in my hallway, as does the Antikythera mechanism, which is what it made my friend think of when I mentioned it.

He said that the Antikythera horologium is such an incredible piece of technology, that nothing like it was seen until the fourteenth century. It is such an amazing work of craftsmanship, that most scholars assume that the artefact must have had predecessors, though none have been found. This one was discovered forty-five meters down beneath the ocean, and is made of a perfectly aligned set of gear wheels, mounted inside a box.

Based on archaeologists' and historians' knowledge of the Greeks and their scientific accomplishments, the Antikythera horologium shouldn’t even exist, because it's as brilliant as an eighteenth century clock of the highest level of complexity and workmanship. And thus, maybe somewhat suspect.

Anyway, I drove to the police station and discussed my bicycle find with the duty sergeant, explaining how I didn’t need to hammer the lock off, as it was mysteriously already loose.

He said, with a nod of his helmeted head, it reminded him of Max and Emma Hahn, who, in the spring of 1934, found a four-hundred-million year-old hammer on a stroll, and went straight to a team of archaeologists, after only needing to very gently crack it open on the sideboard.

The hammer was encased in rock dated to the Ordovician, a bizarrely ancient time, even before my Mother was born.

The archaic hammer was so old that a section of the handle had begun to transform into coal, which extended it’s date further, to five-hundred-million years old. These numbers are dizzying, and somewhat unbelievable, and much contention around the hammer and its origin continue to disturb the sleep of scientists to this day.

But they don’t worry the creationists, of course, who preached merrily about how the atmospheric quality of a pre-flood earth must’ve been to blame for the hammer’s perceived age, and the giants that used it. And, having subsequently claimed the artefact for themselves, have restricted its further scientific examination to the chagrin of truth and the fervour of religious misadventure. And, the suspicion of everyone else.

What we apparently do know about the hammer, is that it is made of an iron to a purity that's unachievable without technological assistance, rather like the bike sitting in my hallway.