Ancient Chinese Elixir of Immortality Found - In A Tomb
A wealthy individual living in the Chinese city of Luoyang during the Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE to 8 CE) was buried with an assortment of fine bronze, jade, and ceramic objects. Among their burial goods was a jar containing a yellow liquid which smelled alcoholic. Amazingly, it had survived over 2,000 years without seeping away.
Although initially thought to be rice wine, a chemical analysis has revealed the liquid to be a mixture of potassium nitrate and alunite. These minerals are the main ingredients of the legendary “elixir of immortality” mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. Given that it was found as part of a burial, the elixir did not work.
Still, this is a major find. It is the first hard evidence that one of the various “immortality medicines” written about in ancient Chinese texts were actually made. And perhaps drunk, too.
Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an. It peaked in usage during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely -- along with knowledge of how to make the color.
It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!
Archaeologists in the ancient city of Nakum in northeastern Guatemala recently made a big discovery. Beneath a vast ritual platform dating from around 100 BCE to 300 CE they discovered a foot-long, barrel-shaped ceramic tube with covers at each end. It is nearly identical to wooden beehives still made from hollow logs by Maya living in the region today. Their discovery is the only known Maya beehive. Since most beehives would probably have been wooden, they probably would not have survived.
Brightly colored pottery is a hallmark of the Paracas culture (900 - 100 BCE) of southern Peru. They would mark unfired pieces with animals, supernatural figures, and patterns, then add color after the firing process to fill in the design. A new study, recently published in Antiquity, analyzed the chemical composition of the Paracas paints and binding agents. The study found that an organic white pigment on pottery from the Cahuachi site was made from an unusual material: reptile urine! It is unknown -- and a bit difficult to guess -- how the substance was collected and then processed.
Morocco -- and indeed, all of northern Africa -- used to be considered part of the European cultural world. The region, then called Mauretania, was colonized by Phoenicians, then Phoenicia's descendent Carthage. After the Punic Wars there were a number of independent kingdoms in the region. They were weak, and the later ones were client-kings for Rome. Mauretania was eventually officially annexed by the Roman Empire in 46 CE and made a province. The region was conquered by the Vandals in the 400s CE, along with Spain. The whole time, Mauretania and its Berber tribes were considered the very edge of European culture, but European nonetheless.
It was the Arabic Empire that changed the cultural makeup of Morocco. The region was conquered by Muslim Arabs around 685 CE and incorporated into the new Umayyad Caliphate, ruled from Damascus. Its native Berber tribes slowly converted to Islam. Ever since, the country has been considered part of the wider Middle East sphere.
The Celtic Chieftainess Who Impressed The Romans (Before Boudicca)
Chiomara was the wife of Ortiagon, a chieftain of the Galatians, a group of Greco-Gauls who had settled in Asia Minor. Unfortunately for them Asia Minor was now neighbors with the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire had a history of gobbling up their neighbors. According to the ancient (Roman) sources, Chiomara was captured by the Romans in 189 BCE after consul Gnaeus Manlius Vulso’s army defeated the Galatians. The ancient historians are clear that Chiomara did not fight in the battle, but was captured along with other Galatian women and slaves.
After her capture, she was raped by a centurion. The centurion then demanded a ransom from Chiomara’s husband Ortiagon. Chiomara, who had been captured with her slave, was allowed to dispatch her slave with the demand for ransom. Ortiagon sent two Galatians to deliver the ransom. At some point when the centurion was releasing Chiomara to the Galatians, he turned his back, either counting the gold or embracing her. Chiomara quickly gave the Galatians a signal to kill the centurion. She then wrapped the Roman’s head in her robe and delivered it to her husband, saying “Only one man alive should have me.” She was brave, resourceful, a survivor. Chiomara was so impressive that her enemies wrote about her -- which is why we know her name today.
This arch and the attached façade are the only remains of the once-great metropolis of Ctesiphon. Perched on the banks of the Tigris River, for eight hundred years, Ctesiphon reigned as the capital of first the Parthian and then the Sassanian Empire. But the city quickly declined after the Arabic conquests in the mid-600s CE, and was completely abandoned by the 700s. As new empires rose and fell, and the world moved on, Ctesiphon slowly crumbled into the desert.
The distinctive Chupícuaro style was recovered from a site covered by a reservoir in 1948 to supply water for Mexico City, where later salvage operations found a number of Chupícuaro style artifacts. The Chupícuaro region is northwest of Mexico City, about a four hour drive. It had longstanding cultural and trade connections with the Valley of Mexico beginning as early as 200 BCE, indicated by similarities in ceramic figural art traditions from both regions.
This ceramic female figure is a beautiful example of Chupícuaro mortuary figures dating to between 300 BCE and 100 CE. Burials of members of the Chupícuaro elite typically included a large number of female figures. Their worldview linked death with fertility, as a central precept of the Mesoamerican ideology of death, transformation, and regeneration. Death was not the end, but part of the cycle. This sculpture's striking body paint is typical of Chupícuaro figures. Her short pants (or possibly body painting) feature a combined vertical and horizontal patterning that suggests a highly developed weaving tradition. Sadly, actual examples of the region's weaving have sadly has not survived.
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!