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OpenLearn Live: 9th September 2015

Updated Wednesday, 9th September 2015

The gold dollar that isn't gold, or a dollar; long-serving monarchs and more free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live is an experiment in learning across the day. You can subscribe to our Twitter feed @OpenLearnLive.

Yesterday, we struggled pronouncing sugilite, heard from a Chinese School teacher, and followed some bird migrations

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Today's Posts

Long-serving monarchs: Pepi II Neferkare

The two long-serving monarchs we've already met today (and, indeed, the Queen) have verified lengths of reign - we know when they came to power, and how long they have remained. There are rulers for whom greater claims are made, but based on less solid detail, and the longest claim of them all is for Pepi II Neferkare.

Pepi II Neferkare - from a statue in Brooklyn Museum Creative commons image Icon Sailko under CC-BY-SA under Creative-Commons license

That the length of Pepi II's reign is open to dispute isn't surprising; he was in power in Egypt over four thousand years ago. Records which have survived from the time mention the 65th year of his reign; beyond that, speculation and later reports suggest that he might have achieved a reign 94 years, or even 112 years.

While more modern monarchs with long reigns tend to find their continuing presence stablises their nation, that wasn't the case for Pepi II. With a changing world, and talent leaving his capital, Ancient Egypt - the Old Kingdom - needed strong and vibrant leadership at a time when it was being ruled by an elderly man well into his dotage. His reign plunged his dynasty into a decline from which it wouldn't recover; a weakened monarchy collapsed in the face of new challenges.

Fragments of an Ancient Egyptian story which survives tells of a physical relationship between the Pharoah and one of his soldiers, General Sasenet. Historians disagree on whether the tale - one of the earliest written records of homosexuality - is a true story or just the very first piece of slashfic.

Find out more about the OU course Exploring the Ancient World

BBC Two, tonight, 9pm: The Ascent of Woman

Tonight on BBC Two, there's the second episode in our series exploring the role of women in the ancient world. Tonight, Amanda Foreman explores how Confucian and Buddhist societies empowered some women, while enshrining ideas of beauty that would constrain others.

Find out more about Ascent of Woman

More on Buddhism

More on Confucius

Long-serving monarchs: King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Extraordinary though her reign's span is, Queen Elizabeth isn't the current longest-serving monarch. That honour goes to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, whose reign began in 1946 and continues today - a period of over 69 years.

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Creative commons image Icon Government of Thailand under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license

He came to power following the death by gunshot of his brother,  King Ananda Mahidol, in what was considered an act of regicide. Bhumibol Adulyadej's reign has carried through a period of turbulent Thai politics - military coups, both attempted and succseful and periods of dictatorship in which the monarchy's role remains a topic of debate amongst constitutionalists and historians. There have been sixteen different constitutions, charters and temporary constitutions during his reign; Bhumibol's presence unfiying and smoothing transitions during these changes has perhaps been vital in keeping the nation functioning. So significant a figure has he become that a bout of ill-health in 2009 sent Thai stocks tumbling.

But his influence on the lives of his subjects isn't just financial or political - he has a cultural sway, too. In 2014, when he was seen in public wearing a notable garment, he sparked a craze in Thailand for pink shirts.

Interested in how constitutions form and work? Explore social sciences with The Open University

Listen over lunch: Bringing Up Britain

If you were expecting to hear Bringing Up Britain on Radio 4 this morning, you'll know that it wasn't there - instead, there was a special edition of From Our Own Correspondent looking at stories from the humanitarian crisis around Europe. The planned episode will now be broadcast next week... but in the meantime, why not catch up with something from the BUB archive?

Might we suggest the bedrooms and battlegrounds episode? Mariella Frostrup and guests look at how bedrooms change their role as children grow up - and how they can become the site of trauma for kids who suffer night fears.

Listen to Bedrooms and Battlegrounds on iPlayer Radio

More about Bringing Up Britain

Try our free course on parenting

Long-serving monarchs: Sobhuza II

At roughly half past five today, Queen Elizabeth passes the length of reign achieved by Queen Victoria and, at 63 years, 216 days, she becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

She has a way to go, though, before she becomes the longest-serving monarch ever - that honour goes to Sobhuza II.

Sobhuza II Creative commons image Icon National Archives under a Open Government Licence under Creative-Commons license

Sobhuza II led Swaziland for 82 years, 254 days; a reign which stretched while Victoria was on the British throne, and ended when Elizabeth was Queen. His long time as monarch was helped, in part, by his longevity; but also he got an early start, becoming King of Swaziland at the age of four. Four months, that is. His grandmother ruled as regent during his childhood; he formally adopted his role at the age of 21. He negotiated his country's independence from the United Kingdom. When he lost the argument with London, and was created as a constitutional monarch in the post-Independence Swaziland, he adopted a different approach. He formed a political party; contested and won all the seats in the new parliament; In 1973, he repealed the British-imposed constitution and installed himself again as a supreme leader. Swaziland flourished under his time in power; during his reign, much of the nation's natural resources was brought back under local control.

Sobhuza II died on 21st August, 1982.

Find out about how you can study history with The Open University

Meet the minerals: Pyrite

This week, we're using our start-up segment to meet some interesting minerals. Yesterday, it was sugilite. Today, we're looking at pyrite.

Pyrite sun - also known as pyrite dollar Creative commons image Icon Rob Lavinsky - under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Because of its yellow-metallic colouring, and how shiny pyrite is, it can often be mistaken for gold - hence the popular name "fools gold", although some people also call it "brass". Even although actual brass isn't in any way like pyrite - pyrite is actually an iron sulfide, FeS2.

Although it's not gold, pyrite isn't without value. Between the 15th and 19th century, it was central to the production of sulphuric acid; more recently, its semiconductor properties have seen it been used in high-power lithium batteries, and it has been suggested that it could have a role to play in a future generation of solar panels.

It's been less successful as a building material. The presence of pyrite in other rock used for construction can lead to buildings becoming discoloured. A high level of pyrite in imported concrete used for drywalling in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina didn't survive the Louisiana climate well; in Ireland, the problems caused by pyrite in underfloor material was so bad, and so widespread, it caused a crisis known as "the pyrite epidemic" and destablised the Republic's builder's insurance company, HomeBond.

In the natural world, the formation of pyrite can lead it to be discovered in amazing shapes - cathedral pyrite forms with Gothic arch style shapes on its face; in clay the pyrite can form in spheres; and, as in the example above, forming between two seams of coal can create a flat disc of pyrite - these are known as pyrite dollars or pyrite suns.

Beautiful to look at; useful, but not welcome in your walls. Pyrite might be fool's gold, but it's way more interesting than actual gold.

Intrigued? Try our free course Minerals and the crystalline state.





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