The Shameful History of How France Abolished Slavery

In 1315, Louis X, king of France, published a decree proclaiming that "France signifies freedom" and that any slave setting foot on the French ground should be freed. And France maintained that law, even after it began allowing slavery in its New World colonies in the 1600s. Any enslaved person who as brought to France became free. Born into slavery in Saint Domingue, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas became free when his father brought him to France in 1776.

Slavery in the French colonies was another story. The French crown regulated the slave trade and institution in the colonies, starting with Louis XIV's Code Noir in 1685. The royal government had over 100 years of profiting from plantation-based slavery and particularly sugar production before the French Revolution killed the royal family and attempted to end slavery in the colonies. The first elected Assembly of the First Republic abolished slavery in France (since the royal law was no longer recognized) and more importantly in France's colonies. However, Napoleon restored slavery and the slave trade in 1802. This was mainly because of lobbying by planters in the West Indies, and to benefit from taxing the planter's slavery-produced profits. In 1848, under the Second Republic, slavery was totally abolished in the French colonies. And this time it stuck.

What Can Temples Tell Us About Hawaii's Unification Into A Kingdom?

A study of indigenous temples, or heiau, on the island of Maui was conducted to identify when the island’s native population first went from living under many small chiefdoms to living under a single ruler. The island’s sacred sites range from small shrines dedicated to deities of fishing and agriculture, to “monumental” temples whose foundations are still identifiable today. Maui is a rare archaeological site in Hawaii. It is untouched by agriculture, or tourism, or housing development. That means the archaeological remains of the entire district are intact, making Maui an excellent place to study the development of pre-contact Hawaiian society.

Heiau vary tremendously in size and form; there were different kinds of heiau for different gods. The structures themselves were made of perishable wood and thatch but their stone bases remain. These are generally platforms or terraces, and sometimes even walled enclosures. The study went over the heiau's remains looking for pieces of a small, stony coral known as Pocillopora meandrina, which were offerings and sometimes incorporated into the buildings themselves. Because coral are animals they can be dated -- telling us when the heiau were constructed and used. Which in turn can tell us something about the political landscape on Maui at the time.

If there was a a temple-building boom, that often means a period of political consolidation, as ancient Hawaiian rulers utilized increasing religious authority in order to also wield economic and political authority. To enhance their religious authority Hawaiian rulers would build more temples and shrines, often near farmlands and other areas of food production. This strengthened the symbolic association between rulers and the gods who controlled nature’s bounty. And it was probably not a coincidence that the temples also made it easier for leaders to collect tribute from the local food producers.

The new study found that most of the heiau were built recently and rapidly, over a span of no more than 150 years, beginning around 1550 and ending around the year 1700. Because coral carbon dating has an error range of 2 to 10 years, we can be relatively certain of these findings. Well, as certain as you can ever be with relatively new methods and fieldwork. Luckily, the study has outside support: its time range is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu.

DNA Analysis Deepens Mystery around India's Skeleton Lake

Roopkund Lake is a shallow body of water filled with human bones, high in the Himalayas of India. Its not-very-creative nickname is "Skeleton Lake." As you might imagine, finding a mysterious lake filled with human bodies has generated much archaeological interest.

A recent genome-wide DNA analysis of 38 of the remains indicates that they came from multiple groups. The largest group (23 individuals) were similar to that of people from present-day India. The second-largest group (14 individuals) were most similar to people from present-day Crete and Greece! Very surprising. The last individual, if you are curious, had DNA suggesting a Southeast Asian origin.

Another recent finding was that these individuals did not all die at the same time, in a disaster of some kind. Radiocarbon dating placed the Indian-related bones between the 600s and 900s CE. The analysis does not tell us if within that span, multiple groupings were put in Roopkund Lake together, or if each individual's remains were placed individually into the lake. The other groups, the Mediterranean individuals and the Southeast Asian individual, were placed in the lake between 1600 and 1900 CE. That's pretty recent.

These DNA analyses were conducted only on a handful of the individuals buried at Roopkund Lake, the ones whose whole-genome DNA could be generated. There may be more surprises in store as more of the remains are tested.

Imperial Examinations Cheat Vest from the Qing Dynasty

For most of Chinese dynastic history, the Imperial Service Exams were the only exams that mattered -- those that passed got a government post, and their families were set for life. Those that failed had wasted up to decades of their lives studying for a test with no practical skills to show for it. This particular cheat vest is covered in 62 model essays, which contain nearly forty thousand Chinese characters.

  The throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), the founder of the Sikh Kingdom. Fun fact: the Sikh Kingdom lasted exactly 50 years (1799 - 1849)! It was the last major Indian kingdom to be taken by the British.


"To be a poet at twenty is to be twenty: to be a poet at forty is to be a poet."

Eugène Delacroix, a painter and artist of the French Romantic school (1798 - 1863)

First isolated and named as an element at the end of the 1700s, uranium had actually been used in pigments since at least the first century CE. A piece of glass from a Roman villa was found to be yellow because it was one-percent uranium oxide. And history repeats itself: after its discovery as an element, it was used extensively to make glass, enamel, and ceramics of a range of colors. The most famous use of uranium was in uranium glass, which has a distinct, and slightly unsettling, green tint under UV light.

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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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