Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.
If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.
The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing. Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members' tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.
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.
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.
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.
"The life of a good book is far longer than the life of a man. Its author dies, and his generation dies, and his successors are born and die; the world he knew disappears, and new orders which he could not foresee are established on its ruins; law, religion, science, commerce, society, all are transformed into shapes which would astound him; but his book continues to live. Long after he and his epoch are dead, the book speaks with his voice."
Gilbert Highet, on Juvenal. Highet (1906 – 1978) was a Scottish-American classicist, academic, writer, intellectual, critic and literary historian. Juvenal (1st century - 2nd century CE) was a Roman poet who published at least five books of verses. They lived 1,800 years apart, proving the truth of Highet's quote.
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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!