The Americas' Linguistic Diversity

There were dozens of language families, each the equivalent of the Indo-European family, before 1492. This map is a "simplified" one. In today's California, for instance, languages that are spoken by neighboring tribes are as different as French and Chinese.     Why did the Americas develop such linguistic diversity? Many linguists suspect that at least some of these separate families date back to separate migrations of different tribes from Asia who originally spoke unrelated languages. Linguistic and archaeological data hint at more than one migration from Asia into the Americas, all of them through Alaska.     Extra Fun Fact: see “Eskimo-Aleut” in northern North America? It is not colored because there is no evidence those languages are related to any other indigenous American languages!

In 1287 CE, China's great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan received word that his navy had been crushed in Vietnam. Nearly 400 of the emperor's prized ships, part of a massive invasion force, had become trapped in the Bach Dang River, where Vietnamese soldiers set them afire with flaming arrows and burning bamboo rafts. But how did Tran Hung Dao, king of Vietnam’s Tran Dynasty, do it?     According to texts from the period, Vietnamese forces cut down hundreds of trees, sharpened their ends, and placed them in a "stakeyard" across the Bach Dang River. Then, small ships lured Kublai Khan's fleet into the area just before the tides turned. As the water ebbed, long lines of stakes emerged several feet out of the water, barricading the river and preventing escape.     Today archaeologists are mapping the surviving remnants of the stakeyard. At least some of the stakeyard lies in local rice paddies, whose mud helps preserve the wooden stakes. They archaeologists also found that stakes weren't the only barriers -- the Vietnamese forces cleverly used existing islands and other natural obstacles in their barrier.

The Imperial Tomb of Western Xia Empire Are Surprisingly Un-Imperial

The tomb are called "the pyramids of China" by locals. But anyone who has seen pictures of ancient Egypt's pyramids would be underwhelmed. About 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) to the west of the modern city of Yinchuan, lies the enormous burial complex of the Western Xia dynasty. The burial complex is quite large, with the tombs taking up 40 square kilometers, or 25 square miles. The sheer size of the complex is a testament to the power of its long-ago empire.     The Western Xia dynasty existed from the 1000s to the 1200s. Then it was annihilated by the up-and-coming conqueror, Genghis Khan, because the Western Xia refused to aid Genghis Khan in his conquest of Khwarezm (on the far left of the map in the image gallery). Genghis Khan systematically destroyed Western Xia cities, slaughtering its population, destroying all its written records, and razing its architecture and cultural artifacts for good measure. He did his job well: until the 1900s, historians were unaware that Western Xia had existed! When put into context the imperial tombs become impressive simply for surviving.     When first built, the tombs were more slightly more imposing. They were surrounded by two layers of walls, with watchtowers, pavilions, and halls for sacrifices. The mounds themselves had five or seven stories tall, and each story was covered with colorful glazed tiles. But the buildings are unrecognizable now. And with the tiles lost to time, the tombs' inner earth is exposed to the elements. The last survivors of an empire wiped from the map, slowly fading over the centuries, until they, too, are gone.

Medieval Berlin Discovered Under A Parking Garage

Archaeologists were very excited by a recent discovery in the heart of modern Berlin, found during construction of a parking garage. A church, a grave yard with skeletons, a school, and a cellar were found.

The cellar sounds the least exciting, but it recently became the prize find when its oak beams were dated for the first time. Berlin has previously been dated as far back as 1237, using Catholic Church records, the helpful friend of every Medievalist. The beams were cut in 1192. That's a full forty year earlier than our earliest records of Berlin!

Hawaii Has A Protected Valley, Where Its Ancient Plants Are Preserved

For the past 1,500 years, Limahuli Valley on Kauai has been a green haven, a wilderness preserved to exist just as the native Hawaiians experienced it. It is home to plant life unlike anything found in the rest of the world, with many endangered plants thriving in the valley.

Ancient Log Jams

Before the arrival of Europeans, “log jams” formed by the accumulation of fallen trees and driftwood on rivers and streams were a common phenomenon across North America.

The most famous, and largest, was the Red River. At its peak, this log jam — known as the Great Raft — extended between 130 and 160 miles, clogging the lower part of the river in what is now Northwest Louisiana and Northeast Texas. It formed sometime around 1000 CE. Its great size made it a natural dam, forcing water over the banks of the Red River and into the valley, creating numerous large and deep lakes. A few even remain today, two centuries after European steam boats removed the Great Raft to allow boats to navigate the river.

The Weird Family History of Iceland

Iceland has a population of 332,529 that for hundreds of years has been largely isolated from the rest of the world. Inbreeding is a constant concern due to the country’s small size, and the migration of most of the population into the capital city. Luckily, the country has been literate since its founding, and because of its small population and isolation, we have marriage and birth records pretty much since the founding of the island. Everyone's family tree is known. It is pretty neat -- every Icelander today can trace their heritage back to which founding settlers they come from.

And to help prevent inbreeding today, an app was developed: Islendiga-App (English: App of Icelanders). The whole giant Icelandic family tree is on the app, and people can check to see if they are related. Its slogan is “Bump the app before you bump in bed.”

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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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