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National Geographic HistoryNational Geographic History

National Geographic History March/April 2018

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National Geographic Society
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from the editor

It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without King Tut. Today he is ancient Egypt’s most ubiquitous pharaoh, recognized the world over, and the subject of beautiful books, countless articles, unforgettable exhibits, and one catchy Steve Martin song.A century ago this was not the case. The boy king was obscure, at best. His tomb was discussed only in academic circles with varying degrees of skepticism. Howard Carter ignored the skeptics and spent season after season searching for Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. His perseverance paid off with the most memorable archaeological discovery of the 20th century. The photograph on the cover captures the undisturbed mummy of King Tut in his sarcophagus. It marks, perhaps, the last arcane moments of his name before the golden mask made him…

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mapping a new mexico

CORTÉS FIGHTING THE AZTEC AT THE BATTLE OF OTUMBA IN 1520, THE YEAR BEFORE HE TOPPLES THE AZTEC EMPIRE. ANONYMOUS PAINTING (AKG/ALBUM) Across its three-foot length, the Codex Quetzalecatzin is a colorful display of Nahuatl hieroglyphs and motifs clustering with churches and Spanish names. Held in private collections for more than 100 years, the late 16th-century map was recently acquired by the United States Library of Congress. Mesoamerican maps from this era are rare, and this one shows the effects of colonization in northern Oaxaca and southern Puebla in Mexico.Decades after Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés toppled the Aztec Empire in 1521, the old Aztec nobles started to reassert their claims to land. This codex is a survey of the territory and properties held by a powerful Aztec family whose name…

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the short life of a flying ace

May 1892Manfred von Richthofen is born in Breslau to a rich, aristocratic family. His parents will enroll him in military school.August 1914World War I begins. Richthofen sees action in the First West Prussian Cavalry Regiment on both western and eastern fronts.May 1915Richthofen transfers to the Imperial German Army Air Service. In the fall he begins solo pilot training, crashing on his maiden flight.September 1916Richthofen joins the new Jasta 2 squadron, where he tallies more than a dozen wins and begins to cultivate his Red Baron persona.April 21, 1918Eighty kills later, and the uncontested ace of the skies, Richthofen is shot down by Allied fire and dies at age 25. ■…

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the red baron: master of the dogfight

CUTLASS BELONGING TO MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN (INTERFOTO/AGE FOTOSTOCK) The first pilots were pioneers, constantly pushing their planes—and their bodies—to the limit. In a time of conflict, technology advances in leaps and bounds, and when the First World War broke out in 1914, the nascent art of flying was rapidly transformed. Barely a year after hostilities began, a German Fokker monoplane fitted with a synchronized, forward-firing machine gun took to the air, and the revolution of air power and mechanized warfare was almost completed. The forward-firing gun meant it could fire through the propeller without damaging the blades. The first victory using this new weapon was claimed on July 1, 1915. Exactly one year later, when the Somme offensive opened, the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties during the first day…

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“to be master of the air”

MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN THE RED BARON, IN AN UNDATED PAINTING (ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES) THE GREATEST ACE of all time first sat in a plane in 1915. Here, Richthofen describes one of his first experiences of flight:“I had lost all sense of direction above our own aerodrome . . . I began . . . to look over the side at the country. The men looked ridiculously small. The houses seemed to come out of a child’s toy box . . . Cologne was in the background. The cathedral looked like a little toy. It was a glorious feeling to be so high above the earth, to be master of the air . . . I felt extremely sad when my pilot thought it was time to go down…

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FUNERAL OF THE RED BARON. DAILY SKETCH, APRIL 1918 (MARY EVANS/AGE FOTOSTOCK) WHO KILLED the Red Baron? He was wounded in his cockpit by bullets either from a plane or from the ground, but this leaves many questions unanswered: Was he pursued by one or (as some say) two planes? Did a lone rifleman or a machine-gun unit bring him down? Did he die in the air, or was he killed on the ground? With so many contending theories, the identity of the Red Baron’s nemesis will probably never be known. ■…