An Ancient Forest

The hardy evergreen trees of the Araucaria genus live in Australia and South America. And recently, an archaeologist teamed up with a group of ecologists discovered that the tree family has a long and intimate relationship with humans, dating back some 1,400 years.

Studying carbon isotopes at archaeological sites in southern Brazil, the archaeologists found that Araucaria forests first began to expand well beyond their natural habitat at the same time as the ancestors of today's indigenous peoples experienced a population expansion. They found no environmental explanation for the Araucaria's territorial expansion. So they concluded that ancient forestry practices were the most likely culprit.

Today, the Araucaria remain a critical source of timber, fuel, and edible seeds for indigenous peoples in Brazil. And they play a central role in indigenous ways of viewing of the world. Araucaria trees are often considered the embodiment of ancestors. Unfortunately, there has been a 95% reduction of the range of Araucaria species due to modern logging. The genus is now considered endangered.

Cemetery, In Use For Thousands of Years, Excavated in Albania

An ancient cemetery containing layers of about 1,000 burials dating back to the Iron Age has been found in southeastern Albania. The cemetery was actually three cemeteries: one from the Iron Age, one late Roman, and one from the Middle Ages. And under the bottom layer of the cemetery were what appears to be a Neolithic settlement. Archaeologists found holes in the ground, which supported the now-rotted wooden skeletons of small huts.

Let's Learn About Mexico!

The birthplace of plant domestication in the Americas. The first New World country to gain independence from the Spanish Empire. The eleventh-largest country in the world, by population. Like the United States, Russia, and China, this is a country that any informed citizen should have at least a basic knowledge about.

War and Sacrifice by the Moche

Based on ceramics they left behind, here's a modern (somewhat fanciful) animated movie about the Moche. Also called the Mochica culture, the Moche flourished in northern Peru between 100 and 700 CE. They are known today for their sophisticated irrigation systems and beautiful painted ceramics.

"Double-Chambered Vessel with Monkey" from the ancient civilization of Teotihuacan, in what is today Mexico. Circa 300 - 500 CE.

The Weight of Privilege

Maya rituals may have literally been weighty affairs for high-ranking rulers. During these festivities, elite officials adorned themselves with an assortment of jade pendants, mostly worn on the ears or around the neck. Heavier ones (such as a 5-pound carved head from Ucanal in Guatemala) were likely attached to a belt and would have made customary ritual dancing quite cumbersome.

It is theorized that the weight of the assembled stones, which may have totaled as much as 25 pounds, symbolized a leader’s prestige and responsibilities.

Yucatan Rainforest Still Shaped By Its Mayan Past

A new study shows that the centuries of deforestation under the Mayan Civilization -- which lasted from 200 BCE to about 950 CE at its height -- drastically changed the ability of local rainforests to store carbon in the ground. And even today, centuries after the Maya cities were mysteriously abandoned and the forests grew back, the region's carbon reserves have not yet fully recovered. Read the full article here.

The Longest War In World History... Sort Of

The Peloponnesian War ended in 1996. The bloody conflict between Athens and Sparta had stopped in 404 B.C. without an official peace pact, so after 2,500 years the cities decided to sign a symbolic agreement. It read, “Today we express our grief for the devastating war between the two key cities of ancient Greece and declare its end.”

Rongo Rongo: The Mystery Script of Easter Island

Easter Island was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 1770s. There they encountered the indigenous Easter Islanders, or the Rapa Nui. They had been living on Easter Island since at least the 1200s CE, and possibly since the 300s CE.

Sometime between 1650 CE and 1860 CE, the Rapa Nui developed a type of picture writing called “rongo rongo” or “to recite.” There is great debate about whether they independently invented writing. Or whether the Spanish gave them the idea of symbols to represent sounds. Unfortunately, by the 1860s the Rapa Nui had forgotten how to read the script. Today it remains undeciphered.

Massacred And Forgotten: Sweden’s Sandby Borg Site

Archaeologists were excavating what they thought was a ring fort, dating to the 400s, that had once housed some 200 people on the island of Öland. It was one of at least 15 ringforts on the island. Nothing particularly special stood out about this one, named Sandby Borg, except that it might have been recently looted. That is actually what prompted the archaeological excavation in 2010.

So archaeologists were surprised when the normal, boring ringfort had a skeleton just lying on the floor of the first house they excavated. No attempts at burial, just left where it was. And it had been murdered. Then they found another skeleton, also showing signs of having been violently killed, lying right next to the first. As the study continued, and human bones were found in nearby houses and on the street, all violently killed, it slowly became clear. This had been a massacre.

So far, twenty-six individuals have been found. Ages range from an infant, just a couple of months old, to a decapitated teenager to elderly adults. They were usually attacked from behind or the side. The massacre happened suddenly as shown by the half-eaten herring that was discovered in one house, and because there is no evidence of defensive wounds. Archaeologists describe it as more of an execution than an attack. The victims were apparently left where they had fallen, until their houses caved in on them and the ringfort was forgotten. The result is a perfectly-preserved snapshot of life in Iron Age Sweden in the 400s to early 500s CE.

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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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