Bronze statue of Guan Yu, a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. After he died in 220 CE his deeds entered popular folklore. Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty (581–618 CE) and also became considered a bodhisattva. Today he is god of war, loyalty, and righteousness. This bronze statue dates to the Ming Dynasty, 1400s - 1500s CE.

Cahokia Was Not Abandoned Before Europeans’ Expansion

New analyses of human poop at Cahokia suggest reports of its abandonment before European contact have been greatly exaggerated. The once-mighty city -- largest north of the Aztecs -- did become depopulated around the mid-1300s. But by 1500 it was already resurging. And by 1650 it may have been larger than it was before its depopulation. That’s pretty remarkable. Despite massive pandemics caused by new European diseases, and at a time when other native populations in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean were in serious decline from violence and foreign diseases spread by European colonists, Cahokia not only survived but thrived.

The new story, based on the new analyses, is that the Mississippian culture did decline in the 1300s but it later repopulated and grew. Meaning that Europeans moving westward in the 1700s were not taking over “empty land” as has long been thought.

Stinky Treasure Trove of Medieval Artifacts Found In London

Only archaeologists would get excited about finding a latrine. Underneath London's Courtauld Institute of Art at Somerset House, a medieval cesspit has been found, which was used from the 1300s to the 1500s. Up to 100 objects have been retrieved from sticky, greenish sludge in the 4 meter (15 ft) deep pit. Some items are bathroom-related, but there have also been a surprising number of ceramic finds, some not broken which makes it curious why they were thrown away (click through the image gallery to see some of the finds). The variety of finds makes archaeologists suspect the cesspit was both a bathroom and occasional trashpit of the Chester Inn, a poorly-documented residence from the 1400s which stood where Somerset House is today. It is a little ironic that the pit was found when excavating the exact spot where the Courtauld is planning to install new toilets!

Black Plague's "Family Tree" Reconstructed

In the 1300s, the Black Plague swept through Europe. To create a "family tree" of the plague, scientists conducted a genetic analysis of Yersinia pestis strains taken from 34 individuals who died in 10 different countries between 1300 and 1700. The results suggest that over time, the bacteria Yersinia pestis mutated and diversified into multiple clades. All the clades found in the study were related to back to one ancestral strain. That suggests that the Black Plague entered Europe just once. And the oldest strain, the one that appeared to have been the others’ ancestor, was from remains found in a little Russian town named Laishevo.

Here’s where a caution must be added. Such analyses are always limited by the available bacteria strains -- the family tree will be added to over time as more bodies are recovered and more bacteria strains isolated.

  This was illustrated by an emperor of China. Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty made in the fourth year of his reign (1429) for the high official Yang Shiqi. The focus of the hanging scroll is the cat and a bowl of peony blossoms the cat is looking at. The traditional word for cat in Chinese is a homophone for octogenarian and therefore a blessing for longevity, while the peony was a symbol of wealth and prosperity. With this wall scroll, Emperor Xuanzong was wishing long life and good fortune to his chancellor.

Mayan Human Sacrifices Were From All Over

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!

Where African Currencies Got Their Names

Etymology -- the study of words' origins -- is pretty interesting. African currencies are an excellent example. How far back do you go for a words' "true" origin? Sierra Leone's currency, the Leone, comes from the Spanish "lion mountains" ("sierra" + "leon"). The Spanish word for lion comes from the Latin word for lion "leonem." But that Latin word comes from Greek "leon", which in turn comes from a non-Indo-European language, likely a Semitic language. The Greek word leon sounds similar to the Hebrew labhi (lion) and Egyptian labai (lion) and lawai (lioness). So which language do you count as the "origin" of Sierra Leone's currency? How far back do you go?

The Persistent Power of Egypt's Mamluks

The Mamluks were a corps of slaves which went from being the elite bodyguards of the Ayyubid Caliphate founded by Saladin, to running Egypt for themselves. It lasted as an independent state for over 250 years, from 1250 to 1517 when Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. But the Mamluks survived.

By the 1630s, a Mamluk emir managed to become de facto ruler of the country. By the 1700s, the importance of the pasha (Ottoman governor) was superseded by that of the Mamluk beys, and it was even made official. Two offices, those of Shaykh al-Balad and Amir al-hajj -- both offices held by Mamluks -- represented the rulers of Egypt. In the name of the Ottoman Sultan, of course. It was only with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1799 that the Mamluk power center was permanently ended.

The Islamic World in 1400: A Snapshot in Time

A snapshot of the world of Islam in 1400s. The newest Mongol state, the turkic-mongol Timurid Empire, was at the height of its power, while the last Islamic state was clinging to the Iberian Peninsula. The Kilwa Sultanate was at its peak, controlling much of the trade along the Swahili coast of Africa. Meanwhile India had broken up once again into a series of small kingdoms; the Muslim Mughal Empire was not for another 125 years.

There is no known portrait or depiction of Christopher Columbus that was made while he was alive. So all those statues and images you've seen are based on artists' ideas of what he could have looked like.

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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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