Clay head by an Ife Yoruba artist. Nigeria, circa 1100 to 1400 CE.
An international team of researchers examined the ratios of stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes in collagen and dental enamel samples obtained from the remains of some 130 individuals who were buried in Mongolia between 4500 BCE and 1300 CE. The analysis suggests that during the Bronze Age, the Mongolian diet was based on milk and meat and supplemented with local plants. From about the 200s BCE to the late first century CE, during the Xiongnu Empire, some people continued to eat the Bronze Age animal-based diet, while those living in political centers began to eat more millet-based diets. Grain consumption and thus the practice of agriculture appears to have continued to increase into the period of the Mongolian Empire of the Khans. Empires based in Mongolia thus presided over a mixed population of both pastoralists and farmers. Their varied food strategies gave the empires strength in diversity.
Shen Kuo (1031–1095), a scientist from the Song Dynasty, noticed fossilized bamboo in a region which in his day did not have bamboo. Based on the fossil Kuo hypothesized that climate, which had been considered as static, could change.
Great Britain is at similar forest-cover levels as it was during the Middle Ages! Which is a whopping... 13%. Ouch. Still, that's up by 5% since 1919, when records of forest cover began. How do we know that's similar to the Middle Ages? The Domesday Book, King William the Conqueror's great tax census, recorded that 15% of his domain was forested in 1086, and censuses show that was down to 6 to 10% by 1300.
A 1,000-year-old bag found in southwest Bolivia has a very impressive collection of items to use with mind-altering substances. It includes two snuff tablets, a snuff tube with attached braids of human hair, a pouch made from three stitched-together fox snouts, and spatulas made from what appears to be llama bones. Analyses have revealed the items contain traces of tobacco, coca, the raw materials for a psychoactive snuff called vilca or cebil, and ayahuasca. Interestingly, the plant materials came from a variety of ecosystems suggesting either a wide-ranging traveler or a large trading network. The bundle was found in a cave in 2010 and radiocarbon dates to between 905 and 1170 CE. That date range matches the declining period of the Tiwanaku culture, which had once dominated much of the southern and central Andes. For the Tiwanaku, hallucinogens were an important aspect of religious observance.
The Maya at Chichen Itza were known to practice human sacrifice a thousand years ago. Who they were sacrificing, though, has long been a mystery. A recent isotope analysis of tooth enamel from sacrificial victims thrown into the city’s Sacred Cenote shows that there was some variety in who was sacrificed. Some grew up locally, while others hailed from the Gulf Coast, the Central Highlands, and as far away as Central America.
How the mix of individuals were chosen, and how those from further away ended up in Chichen Itza, remains unknown -- there is always something more to investigate!
Great Zimbabwe was a massive stone city in southeastern Africa that was a thriving trade center from the 1000s and 1400s. But when Europeans first learned of it in the 1500s, they were certain it wasn't African at all. Listen to the podcast all about it, by "Stuff You Missed In History Class."
Drone-mounted lasers appear to have detected details of the architecture of an ancient island settlement off Florida’s Gulf coast, using 3D mapping technology. Archaeological remains were first noted on Raleigh Island in 1990. In-person exploration of the area in 2010 revealed the presence of a settlement dating from 900 to 1200 CE.
Unfortunately, the island’s dense foliage impeded traditional land-based surveys of what remained. That’s why this drone-based laser survey, almost ten years later, is so important.
Among other details we now can see 37 residential areas “enclosed by ridges of oyster shell” that are up to 12ft (4m) tall. Archaeological digs at 10 identified residential areas found evidence that beads made from large marine mollusks were produced in these settlements. Stone tools, used to make the beads, were also found. The beads were likely for import among inland chiefdoms. In areas that were far from the coast, such as the lower midwest of the US, mollusk beads and even sizable sea mollusks were imported, where they were used as social capital in economic and social interactions between groups.
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