Fishermen in Argentina's Greater Buenos Aires region keep making an unusual catch: prehistoric shells of armadillo ancestors. In October of 2019, a group of fishermen found a mostly intact shell which has been dated to over 10,000 years old. On Christmas Day of 2015, Jose Antonio Nievas found a shell in mud by a stream in his farm.
Both turned out to be glyptodonts' shells. Glyptodonts were not a single species, but an animal genus containing seven known species, among them the ancestors of modern armadillos. Glyptodonts had large, heavy shells and armored tails which they could use as clubs. They emerged in South America no earlier than 35 million years ago, and went extinct around the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. Whether or not their extinction was related to humans’ arrival on the continent around the same time... well, that’s still up for debate.
Aegina was a very important Greek city-state that is almost totally forgotten today. Partially because they were a big player in Greece before Athens, and most of what we know about Aegina is from Athenian records and archaeological studies.
As an island, Aegina was situated between Attica and the Peloponnese, making it a useful island for traders since prehistoric times. There is archaeological evidence of Minoan and Mycenaeans trading with or living on the island. It was really during Archaic Greek period (900s BCE - 480 BCE) that the city-state became a naval powerhouse. It was the first mainland European power to mint its own coins, within 30 or 40 years of the invention of coinage in Asia Minor. It was one of just three city-states, and the only mainland Greek one, trading at and owning a share of the mighty emporium of Naucratis in Egypt. It was a hub for grain from the Pontus region -- food is power, and Pontic grains was so important that Athens would later enforce a monopoly on it.
But to really understand how much of a big-time Aegina was, look at its weights system. The Aeginetic standard of weights and measures (developed during the mid-600s) was one of the two standards in general use in the Greek world. It is like the British Empire making other countries measure in pounds and miles.
Marsh mallow, or Althea officinalis, is a plant indigenous to Eurasia and Northern Africa. We know ancient Egyptians mixed marshmallow sap with nuts and honey. Though no one knows what it tasted like! For thousands of years, to make a sweet remedy for sore throats or simply a sweet, marsh mallow's root sap was boiled, strained, whipped, and sweetened. Marshmallows had to be created by hand, poured and molded into something similar to what we eat today. Because marshmallows were so time-consuming to create they remained available only to the elite.
In the late 1800s two revolutions happened in marshmallow history, which together created the new "starch mogul" system. First, confectioners started using marshmallow molds made of modified cornstarch. At the same time, they replaced the mallow root with gelatin, creating a much more stable form of marshmallow. The new starch mogul system was pioneered in France. It quickly crossed the Atlantic, catching on the USA in the early 1900s. The marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole was invented in 1917, along with putting marshmallows in hot cocoa. And in 1927, a recipe for s'mores appeared in a Girl Scouts handbook.
In 1948, the American Alex Doumak created and patented the extrusion process, once again revolutionizing marshmallow-making. His process involves taking the marshmallow ingredients and running them through tubes. Afterwards, ingredients are cut into equal pieces, and packaged for sale. In the 1950s the newly cheap marshmallows were hugely popular in the US.
Forty years ago, a Buddhist monk found a human mandible bone at Baishiya Karst Cave, perched 10,000 feet above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. The bone they found has now been dated to 160,000 years ago. And analysis of the proteins caught in its teeth demonstrate that the mandible belonged to the Denisovan branch of the hominin family.
This is the first evidence for Denisovans found outside of southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave. That cave is just 2,300 feet above sea level. It is also about 1,750 miles northwest of Baishiya Karst Cave. The mandible therefore revealed the Denisovans were widely distributed, and able to adapt to extremely high altitudes.
This is likely related to the mutation, found in previous Denisovan genetic studies, that assists survival in low-oxygen environments such as the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau. The same mutation has been found in present-day Tibetans. And given that the Denisovans once lived in the area, perhaps a long-ago intermarriage introduced the gene to the Tibetans? It seems more likely than the exact same gene randomly mutating twice.
In 1849, part of a fossilized arm bone belonging to an extinct giant turtle was found in a New Jersey streambed. It belonged to an Atlantochelys mortoni, who lived during the upper Cretaceous period, about 75 million years ago. From tip to tail it would have been ten feet (3 m) long! That's larger than any living turtle species. And in 2012, the other half of the arm bone was found by an amateur paleontologist in New Jersey. Which is especially amazing since the 1849 specimen was the first example of the genus and the species, and the older bone was also without a match of any kind.
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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!