Olmec and Maya Sculptures Used to Study Evolution of Emotions

Neuroscientist Alan Cowen and psychologist Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, have used ancient sculptures to study whether human facial expressions are signalling the same emotions across cultures. How universal are our facial expressions? Previous comparisons of facial expressions of living people have been questioned because of the far-reaching influence of modern Western cultural practices.

Their study asked 114 participants to rate how people in the same situations as the 63 Mayan and Olmec sculptures would express the same emotions or emotional states. They were given descriptions of what the sculptures were doing, but not photos. The sculptures made in Mexico and Central America between 3,500 and 600 years ago, and were doing various things including being held captive, being tortured, carrying a heavy object, embracing someone, holding a baby, preparing to fight, playing a ballgame, and playing music. In other words, the 114 participants were used to check what emotions would participants "expect" to see on the sculpture's faces.

Separately, more than 300 English-speakers were presented with photographs of just the sculptures' faces. They were then asked what the statues’ expressions were, according to a list of 30 emotions or emotional states. These participants could not see what activity the statue was engaged in.

The study found that the sculptures’ facial expressions aligned with what the participants expected to see, per the 114. The findings suggest that humans may have evolved a wider set of facial expression to convey more emotions that had been previously thought.

How many human sacrifices did the Aztec make, really?

The most recent archaeological evidence suggests a consistent pattern of finding between 90-150 individual remains at each of the the major archaeological sites in Mexico City. Based on the age of the city, and the Aztec religious calendar, the math suggests the Aztecs sacrificed 18 to 25 individuals every year. This might go up during times of stress. We have at least one recorded drought when they increased the number of human sacrifices in response. But in general, this is a much lower number than the popular imagination would have you believe. Another win for archaeology!

Official Signature of Ottoman Sultan Murad III

AAlthough "signature" is a rough translation of the Ottoman's word "tugra." Murad III did not literally sign all documents like this, rather, it was a symbol of his authority which was placed on all official documents and seals and coins. Each sultan chose his personal tugra immediately after their accession to the throne, and used the same format throughout their life.

The famous Pietà sculpture was the only work by Michelangelo Buonarroti that he signed. Michelangelo heard someone claiming the sculpture was theirs, and carved his signature so they would stop. He later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work.

Indigenous Land Management Still Impacting Amazon, Centuries After It Stopped Being Practiced

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Brazil’s State University of Mato Grosso sampled some 4,000 trees in southern and eastern Amazonia, and found that areas of the Amazon where so-called “dark earth” is found have more diverse ecosystems. Edmar Almeida de Oliveira explained that this vegetation includes more edible fruit trees and different species of colossal trees than are found in the surrounding forest. The study shows that these patches of dark earth, which were created over a period of 5,000 years by early farmers who fertilized the soil with charcoal from fires and food waste, still have more nutrients and are thus more fertile than untreated soils. Early farmers are thought to have grown food in the treated soils and forested trees from untreated areas. Dark earth areas were abandoned, the researchers added, when indigenous communities collapsed after the arrival of Europeans.

Weird But True

"Egg" as a verb -- e.g. to egg someone on -- has been in the English language longer than "egg" as a noun -- e.g. a chicken's egg.

Laughing too hard can be dangerous. If someone is unlucky, or has a prior medical condition, laughter can lead to a brain aneurysm, asthma attack, gelastic seizures, or asphyxiation. Famous people who have died from laughter include Chrysippus (Greek Stoic philosopher in the 200s BCE), King Martin of Aragon in 1410, and Thomas Urquhart (Scottish aristocrat, polymath, and first translator of François Rabelais's writings into English) in 1660.

When Eunuchs Could Marry

According to Chinese official historical records, there had been a historical record of eunuch marriage as early as the Eastern Han Dynasty. But they were not common until the Ming Dynasty. Starting in 1402, the Yongle Emperor quietly began allowing eunuchs to marry, as thanks for their significant contributions in Jingnan Rebellion which nearly knocked Yongle off his throne. From then on the marriage of eunuchs had legitimacy because it had the tacit approval of the emperor. The Yongle Emperor even awarded wedding to eunuchs who made significant contributions. These were, for obvious reasons, marriages for intimacy and companionship not children. Eunuch marriages remained common in the imperial court through the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.

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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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