Islamic Sicily Produced Wine

Grape residue has been detected in medieval containers unearthed in Sicily. Analysis of residues in the jars found molecules very similar to those produced by modern winemakers who use ceramic jars to ferment wine. This suggests wine was produced on the island during the Islamic period, from the 800s to 1100s CE.

Based on the new finds, it is thought that Muslims who ruled Sicily in the 800s CE produced and exported wine to boost trade and therefore their incomes. It seems unlikely the wine was produced for local consumption. This is because Muslims are prohibited from getting drunk, and by some interpretations of the Koran are prohibited from drinking any alcohol, meaning that alcohol consumption plays little role in Islamic life.

Especially exciting is how it was determined that the containers had held wine. “We had to develop some new chemical analysis techniques in order to determine that it was grape traces we were seeing and not some other type of fruit,” reported Léa Drieu of the University of York. The new test for grape products in ceramic containers could help researchers investigate wine production throughout the Mediterranean region.

The grave of Kilij Arslan I, a Seljuk sultan of Rum who reigned from 1092 to 1107 CE, was discovered during investigations ahead of construction work in eastern Turkey by a team of researchers from Dicle University. The team members also found the grave of the sultan’s daughter, Saide Hatun.

Kilij Arslan I was the re-founder of the Anatolian state the Sultanate of Rum (the Turkish pronunciation of Rome) after a period of disorder in the Seljuk Empire. Technically his grandfather had founded the Sultanate of Rum but it was Kilij Arslan I that re-established its independence after his father lost the sultanate. Although Kilij Arslan I always swore loyalty to the Seljuks he was effectively an independent ruler of an independent state on the border between the Seljuk Empire and the (deeply declining) Byzantine Empire. Kilij Arslan I also has the distinction of being the first Muslim ruler to fight the crusaders. He harrassed, then ambushed and crushed the undisciplined People's Crusade in 1096, as it attempted to make its way from Europe to Jerusalem.

Expect more information to come out about these tombs as further excavations and analyses are carried out. It is not every day that a new and historically active monarch's tomb is found!

The death of William the Conquerer, aka William of Normandy, aka the first Norman king of England, died in an unusual way. It is attributed to an "internal rupture" he suffered when he fell on his horse's pommel in the course of his siege of Mantes. Which organ did he rupture? No one knows. Alternatively, he may just have fallen ill, and it happened to have occurred while on one of his military campaigns. Which is much less exciting.

Ancient China’s Deadly Sport

Ancient China had its own form of mixed martial arts. Called lei tai, it was a no-holds-barred mixed combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, boxing and wrestling. Killing your opponent was allowed. The sport was played by having a man on a rail-less platform who would invite anyone who wished to challenge them. If a challenger won, they became the man on the platform. But if a man beat enough opponents they would win acclaim as a “champion.” One famous champion, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam, fought over 150 people over 18 days to become a champion.

The modern form of lei tai appeared during the Song Dynasty. It is still practiced, though in a modified form that makes deaths less likely.

Coastal Amazonian Diets Analyzed

An international team of researchers studied the diets of people who lived between 200 CE and 1000 CE on Brazil’s Amazon coast. Using statistical models and analysis of the chemical composition of their bones, the results suggested that people ate mostly terrestrial plants and animals. This is surprising since they were studied specifically based on their living in coastal areas. Rodents such as those from the guinea pig family, the agouti, and the paca; the brocket deer; and catfish are all thought to have been consumed, in addition to wild and cultivated plants such as cassava, corn, and squash.

Stainless Steel Has A Longer History Than Previously Known

Stainless steel as we know it today was invented in the early 1800s, when European scientists observed iron-chromium alloys resisting corrosion by certain acids. It is sometimes known as chromium steel, since it is the chromium mixed in which stops the iron from rusting. Now, archaeologists have found what they think is evidence of low-chromium crucible steel in the 11th century (1000s CE) in what is now Chahak in Iran. This low-chromium steel would have been used to manufacture weapons like knives and swords.

While the earlier metal alloy is not exactly the same as stainless steel as we know it today, the alloy does show evidence of chromium being mixed with pig-iron to create an alloy called crucible steel. This is the earliest we have ever had evidence for creation, intentionally, of low-chromium steel. And investigation of the Chahak alloy's properties could help identify crucible steel artifacts which might have been made in and around Chahak.

The Epic Life of A Viking Explorer

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir was a Norse explorer, born in Iceland, but remembered for her participation in the Viking expeditions to what is today Canada. She became known as the ‘far-traveller' and she is talked about in two Old Norse sagas, The Saga of Erik the Red and The Saga of the Greenlanders.

Gudrid is described in The Saga of the Greenlanders as “a woman of striking appearance, and wise”. Both sagas start Gudrid's story with her and her father sailing west to join Erik the Red’s newly-founded colony in Greenland. According to The Saga of the Greenlanders Gudrid, her husband, and several others were shipwrecked. Then they were rescued by Leif the Lucky, son of Erik the Red. A sickness came through the Greenland colonists that winter and Gudrid's husband died. The Saga of Erik the Red does not mention a shipwreck or Gudrid already being married. Instead, when Gudrid arrived Greenland was in the grip of a famine. Though a Christian, she took part in a pagan ritual, and assisted a seeress in chanting songs to sway spirits and end the famine.

Both sagas agree that after arriving in Greenland, Gudrid married Thorstein, son of Erik the Red and younger brother of Leif the Lucky. That winter a deadly sickness struck again. Gudrid and her husband sickened, and her husband died. But once again, Gudrid survived. She then married an Icelander, Thorstein Karlsefni, who travelled with her to Vinland. After they landed, Gudrid gave birth to a son, Snorri. If the sagas are truthful Snorri was the first baby born to a European on the North American continent.

Gudrid's story continues after the Vinland attempt at a colony is abandoned. She becomes a revered matriarch in Iceland, who many famous Icelanders trace their ancestry to. She even makes a pilgrimage to far-away Rome. The Saga of the Greenlanders ends with a list of Gudrid's descendants. Some historians argue that the saga should more rightly be named "The Saga of Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir" given how important she is in the history.

Early House Cat Remains Found in Kazakhstan

An almost-complete cat skeleton discovered at a medieval village site in southern Kazakhstan has been analyzed, and the researchers concluded it was likely kept as a pet. The village was located along the Silk Road and was home to Oghuz, who were Turkic pastoralists. There were multiple indicators suggesting the Oghuz had kept this cat as a pet. The cat had healed through several broken bones suggesting it was cared for by others while recovering. Also, because it lost all its teeth, it was likely unable to feed itself without human help. In addition, the cat's remains were found because they were buried -- unlike other animal bones at the site which were discarded. Analyses of the chemical composition of the cat's bones show the cat ate a higher-protein diet than dogs whose remains have been found at the site, and other cats that lived during the same time period. Keeping a pet cat was thought to be unusual for the Oghuz. This particular pet cat's presence suggests cultural exchanges facilitated by the Silk Road which passed by the village.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    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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