About 500 years ago, some genius had the idea to strap improvised rocket packs to the backs of small animals to create the world's next super weapon. It was only recently that University of Pennsylvania researchers uncovered the plot.
U Penn's Mitch Fraas is behind the project, having recently received an email that linked him to a series of bizarre illustrations picturing "rocket cats" and so on. Turns out, U Penn had the manuscript of illustrations in its collection, which, in turn, meant Fraas had no choice but to do some digging.
"I didn't think it was a rocket pack, but was intrigued—they look surreal," he told the Daily Mail.
After much examination, Fraas found that he still had no idea what the purpose behind such an odd looking concept would be—until, that is, he began translating the associated German text around the illustrations.
Turns out the manuscript was actually a guide to siege warfare, and those be-backpacked kitties are meant to burn down hard-to-access castles and the like, dying in the process. Considering, for example, the section titled "To set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise':
"This section details how to use doves and cats loaded with flammable devices to set fire to enemy positions.
On cats the text paints a grisly picture of attaching lit sacks of incendiaries onto the animals to have them return to their homes and set fire to them.
'Create a small sack like a fire-arrow … if you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place.
'And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.'"
Good news is, though, that it looks like the idea was never put into practice—at least not in the form Fraas found in the manuscripts. Above all else, however, Fraas findings prove that animal-based warfare is nothing new, and, in fact, our idea to train dogs and the like to work as service animals in warfare and policing may very well stem from the same place.
But, you know, without strapping rockets to adorable animals. We leave that to video games these days.