Often called “Ireland’s Stonehenge,” Newgrange is a prehistoric stone monument constructed around 3200 BCE by the Neolithic inhabitants of what is now County Meath. The mound is truly monumental, covering about two acres! Under the grass-covered dome is a 62-foot tunnel which leads to a central chamber, where stone basins house cremated remains. Newgrange appears to have been used as a burial place or ritual site for about a thousand years before falling into disuse and slowly being forgotten. It was only rediscovered in 1699.

One reason why historians continue to debate Newgrange's purpose, despite the archaeological evidence of both cremated and unburnt human remains, is the monument's architecture. Newgrange's prehistoric builders designed it so that every winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — the rising sun shines through a “roof box” near the entrance, filling the main passageway and the inner chamber with light.

Why build something so architecturally sophisticated if it were only entered to lay down the dead? Many archaeologists, therefore, think Newgrange was a ritual site as well as a tomb.

Shoelaces did not become widely popular until the 1900s, although we have archaeological examples dating to at least 5,500 years ago.

The First Planned Town Was Older Than You'd Expect

The ancient Egyptian city of Kahun was the first planned city in the world. It was erected for the overseers and workmen employed in constructing the nearby pyramid of Al-Lāhūn, built by Sesostris II (reigned 1844–37 BCE), and it was abandoned when the pyramid was completed.

It was excavated by the English archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie (1888–90), revealing a crisscross of streets laid out in a regular pattern. Houses were built of mud brick covered by beamed, flat mud roofs, with open courts and porticoes, and the earliest examples of a supporting wooden column.

Savanna Ecosystem May Have Been Assisted By Early Humanity

Africa’s savannas, such as the Serengeti, are renowned for their biodiversity. Defined as a tropical grassland with warm temperatures year-round and with its highest seasonal rainfall in the summer, trees are small or dispersed allowing sunlight to reach the ground a grasses to grow. A new study proposes that human intervention may have been instrumental in creating these ecosystems 3,000 years ago. Soil analysis from Neolithic sites associated with nomadic herders in southern Kenya shows that dung from corralled livestock created nutrient-rich “hotspots” across the prehistoric landscape. This led to an increase in fertile grasses thousands of years ago that, even today, attract a diverse array of wildlife.

What is Animism?

Many of us are not taught about this very popular religion in school. Well, "religion" may be the wrong word. Way of viewing the world?

How Buddha's Aunt Convinced Him To Allow Women To Become Nuns -- With An Ancient Protest March

Buddha founded a monk's order in his lifetime. But he refused to start an order for women, even though his aunt Gotami -- who had nursed him and raised him as her own -- asked three times. So she decided to lead a walk of women who wanted to become nuns. Though in her seventies, Gotami and 500 supporters shaved their heads, donned a monk's yellow robes, and walked more than 100 miles to the Jetavana monastery where the Buddha taught.

When they arrived, covered in dust and with abused feet, Buddha again refused. No reason was given. The monk Ananda, one of the Buddha’s principal disciples and his cousin, offered to speak to the Buddha on the women's behalf. He is said to have asked the Buddha first directly to start a women's order. The Buddha said no. So Ananda asked whether women were unable to become enlightened? Could they attain the bliss of statehood? The Buddha replied that yes, a woman can become enlightened. So why can they not become nuns? With those words, Ananda changed the Buddha's mind, and the first order of Buddhist nuns was formed in the Buddha's lifetime.

So you don't give the Buddha too much credit, nuns were considered inferior to monks in several regards. There were eight conditions the new order of nuns had to follow: Nuns, no matter how senior, must defer to monks, even new ones. They could never chide or advise a monk, and yet had to seek the counsel of the male order and abide by the rules of both the male and female orders. Nuns also had to study two years before being ordained, compared to a year for monks, and had to live within six hours travel of a male order. The rules seem ridiculous and sexist, today. But Gotami had gotten what she wanted, through the power of peaceful protest.

Why Did Humans Evolve Less Hair?

Human's homo ancestors were likely much hairier than we are. Think chimpanzees and gorillas, not hairless cats. Why did humanity evolve to lose their body hair? There are many theories, including Darwin's that it was because our ancestors preferred less-hairy mates (in biological terms, sexual selection pressure), and that less hair meant less parasites and therefore a better chance of surviving.

The most popular theory today is that we evolved less hair to assist with regulating our body heat (in biological terms, thermoregulation). During some evolutionary phase after our ancestors became bipeds, they were regularly walking or running in open, drier habitats. Such activities in such an environment would make overheating a serious risk. Reducing body hair, to reduce heat trapping, and increasing sweat glands, for more effective evaporative cooling via perspiration, would therefore be evolutionarily favored.

This is the largest notched disk known to survive from ancient China. One face of the disk has inscribed, perpendicular lines. In his "Gu yu tukao," the Qing-dynasty scholar Wu Dacheng (1835–1902) hypothesized that the markings could be associated with an astronomical instrument called xuanji, described in early ritual texts as a kind of armillary sphere or model of heavenly bodies.

Notched disks like this one are rare, and only a few have come from known archaeological contexts. The documented burials span the late Neolithic through the Western Zhou period (circa 1050–771 BCE), suggesting that treasured examples may have been preserved for long periods of time prior to burial. Unfortunately, this particular disk comes without a known archaeological context. Based on a similar disk find, it is estimated to be from the Shang dynasty, sometime between 1600 and 1050 BCE.

Courtesy of the Freer Sackler Gallery's open content collection.

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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!

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