7 Historical Facts That Have Changed Over Time

History should be completely factual, without any room for debate. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Regardless of what you may have learned in school, some historical facts have been “modified” over time to reveal more accurate information. This can be a little disappointing when you come to rely on textbooks and teachers to present the full truth, but the fact of the matter is that some historical facts simply don’t pass the test of time. The following historical “facts” have been reinterpreted over time, often changing what we have come to know as undeniable truisms.

  1. Pluto is no longer a planet

    In school, we were taught that there were nine planets in the solar system: Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Pluto. However, in 2006, that notion shattered when Pluto became recategorized as a “dwarf planet.” This came about when scientists converged over what defined an actual planet versus any other nuance in the solar system. They decided on a few solid criteria — a planet is an object that orbits the sun, is large enough to have become round as a result of the force of its own gravity, and dominates its planetary neighborhood. Sadly, Pluto didn’t dominate by any means, and is now one of over 40 different dwarf planets. Pluto barely trumps its own moon in size and has a somewhat weak orbit. It isn’t as special as we once thought it was, and textbooks everywhere are having to rewrite Pluto out of the mix.

  2. The flat earth myth

    For quite some time, there were several misconceptions about the Earth, namely concerning its shape. At least that’s what your textbooks would have you believe. It is still widely believed that Columbus was the first to discover that the world was round, and that scholars before him all speculated that the world was either flat or disc-shaped. In fact, the idea of a spherical earth was around long before that. The ancient Greeks not only knew that the earth was round, but calculated its circumference somewhat accurately. Washington Irving, a 19th century author, perpetuated the myth of a flat earth when he wrote the fictional portrayal of Columbus via History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828. In his account, Columbus was criticized by churchmen for wanting to sail across the Atlantic because they believed he would fall off. In reality, Columbus was likely heavily supported in his decision to voyage to the Americas, which would have been seen as a lucrative investment, and nobody ushered him against it on the grounds of a flat earth.

  3. Y2K didn’t cause havoc

    Much like the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world scare, computer programmers sent the rest of the world into hysterics when the year 2000 emerged in the horizon because they feared that all technology would fail as a result of digits rolling over to “00” rather than the four digit “2000.” This would supposedly cause a massive crash, ending our link to technology and cutting off things like electricity, heat, and running water. People prepared for the Y2K scare the way you would for an impending bomb apocalypse, hoarding food, water, and batteries. The crisis extended to the government, and delegates from 120 countries organized a National Y2K Coordinators Meeting. Computer programmers with the know-how financially benefited from being able to prepare company computers for the upcoming year. FEMA even created a pamphlet addressing Y2K preparation. Yet, when January 1, 2000 rolled around, very little technology was actually negotiated. There were no major shutdowns and even basic technological devices seemed to operate smoothly when the New Year struck.

  4. Witches in Salem weren’t burnt at the stake

    The prevailing view about the Salem witch trials is that supposed witches were burnt at the stake. This has been continually depicted literature, films, and even textbooks. However, according to Richard Trask, Town Archivist for Danvers (known originally as Salem), Massachusetts, English law was enacted in New England at the time. It dictated that witchcraft was a crime subject to hanging, not burning at the stake. In continental Europe, witchcraft would have been punishable by burning at the stake in accordance to the church for the crime of heresy. However, English law had different stipulations.

  5. “Let them eat cake” wasn’t said by Marie Antoinette

    Marie Antoinette, the Austrian-born queen of France during a chaotic time in the country, has often been accredited for uttering the phrase “Let them eat cake” in reference to the poor French citizens that were going hungry. Antoinette was crowned at the tender age of 18 and quickly had to grow up to face the numerous political issues within the country, eventually leading to her execution. However, regardless of her flamboyant taste for pricey dresses and confectioneries, Antoinette never spoke the phrase “let them eat cake,” as she is so often described for saying in textbooks. Rather, Maria Theresa, the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV more than a century before Marie Antoinette’s reign in France, was far more likely to have spoken the words that made Antoinette look so callous in the face of poverty. Additionally, Jean Jacques Rousseau brought up the famous phrase in his 1776 publication ‘Confessions,’ but Antoinette would have only been 11 years old at the time, and certainly not the queen of France in any capacity. Historians later postulated that Rousseau’s reference to “the great princess” who spoke the quote was probably Theresa.

  6. There is no Brontosaurus or Triceratops

    Before the Brontosaurus was “discovered,” scientists found the bones to a lackluster dinosaur they called Apatosaurus. However, over time scientists found another set of bones belonging to the Apatosaurus, but they were so much more a complex finding that they mistakenly believed that they had found an entirely new dinosaur, hence naming it the Brontosaurus. At that point, the Brontosaurus had become so ingrained in modern culture that it was near impossible to change the name. The Brontosaurus represented the Sinclair oil company and was already too beloved and memorable a dino to be changed back to the original Apatosaurus. A similar circumstance happened involving the Triceratops. Scientists realized long after the discovery of the Triceratops that it was actually just the young bones of a Torosaurus. In fact, a lot of what we originally believed about dinosaurs has been contested by scientists over time. We also now speculate that most dinosaurs were covered in feathers and more closely resembled large, predatory birds than giant lizards.

  7. Discrepancies with global warming

    When Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, global warming became a buzz topic for not just environmentalists, but anyone even remotely concerned for the future of the earth and the role greenhouse gases play on the atmosphere. Nowadays, global warming is met with much more skepticism. A notion that was previously regarded as a scary dose of truism has been reduced to speculation, oftentimes laughable in its inaccuracy, mainly because global warmings prevailing argument centers around the changing, extreme weather conditions. For example, heat will supposedly cause the polar ice caps to melt, causing the extinction of polar bears and a flood that will essentially kill of thousands of humans. Steven Goddard, who has devoted his profession to studying global weather patterns throughout time, notes that weather is in fact no worse or chaotic than it’s been in the past. In fact, weather conditions in the past have been much more unpredictable and lethal than they are now. Likewise, according to Randall Hoven of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, winter sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere has actually grown in the past eight years, and hasn’t seen shrinkage since 1999.