How Old Is This Vase?


You may be surprised to learn that this terracotta vase is from the Umayyad or Abbasid Caliphates, between 700 and 900 CE!

Its style is distinctly Islamic in nature, with incised lines and an elegant shape. What I noticed first, though, was the odd glazing which leaves the bottom looking unfinished and looks very modern. Known as “two-thirds” glaze, this is actually typical of early Islamic art.

What's In A Pot?

When archaeologists excavated the trove of Viking silver discovered by metal detector enthusiasts in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 2014, they unearthed more than 100 precious objects—silver ingots, solid gold and silver jewelry, glass beads—from multiple countries and cultures. Buried deep in a second excavated layer was a silver alloy pot with its lid still in place and sealed shut. The form and decoration of the vessel identified it as a piece of Carolingian manufacture made in western Europe between 780 and 900 CE.

Unfortunately, the silver alloy had some copper in it. As the copper eroded it weakened the pot. Opening the lid might destroy the entire thing, so archaeologists decided to have a CT scan done first, and check what was inside. The scans revealed an Anglo-Saxon openwork brooch, four more silver brooches, gold ingots, and ivory beads coated in gold, each piece individually wrapped in an organic material, perhaps a textile to protect it. Anglo-Saxon jewelry inside a Carolingian pot, inside a Viking hoard, in Scotland. It's a Russian nesting doll of an archaeological find!

How Is The Qur'an Organized?

The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters called surahs. The chapters are not arranged in the order in which they were first recited by Muhammad, over a period of 23 years. Instead, the Qur'an's surahs are in the re-arranged order that Muhammad placed them in after they were all revealed to Muhammad.

What Is An Ice Age?

When you read that, an image probably came to mind: giant glaciers, people huddling for warmth, maybe a giant woolly mammoth or two. The problem with that definition of "Ice Age" is it defines what life is like now on Earth as "normal" and giant glaciers over the north and south pole as "abnormal." But is that true? Are we, in fact, living in a period of relative coolness? Is right now an "abnormal" Earth?

A better description of an ice age would be that it’s a long stretch of time in which both the atmosphere and the planet’s surface have a low temperature, resulting in the presence of polar ice sheets and mountainous glaciers. An Ice Age can last for several million years. Within the Ice Age period, the Earth isn't uniformly covered in snow. There are periods of glaciation, characterized by ice sheet and glacier expansion over the face of the planet, and interglacial periods, where we would have an interval of several thousand years of warmer temperatures and receding ice. Turns out just the presence of ice caps on the north and south pole is abnormal! What we currently live in is an "interglacial period" in the middle of an Ice Age!

Can you believe those are animals? The tunic is covered in geometric animals! From the Moche or Wari culture, 600s to 800s CE, Peru.

Dice Have Gotten More Fair Since Ancient Times

A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to researchers from UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History. Roman-era dice, the researchers found, were a mess when it came to shape. They were made from a variety of materials, such as metal, bone and clay, and no two were shaped entirely alike. Many were visibly lumpy and lopsided, with the 1 and 6 on opposite sides that were more likely to roll up. In the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, between 400 CE and 1100 CE, dice seem to have grown rare. Relatively few have been found from this period. Dice reemerged in the Middle Ages, and at that point were a little more regular in shape. But they still weren't fair -- anyone playing dice would have had slightly higher chances of getting certain numbers, depending on how uneven the dice were made.

The researchers suggest that the popularization of "scientific" thinking may have helped dice rolls become near-chance during the Renaissance. "People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," Jelmer Eerkens of UC Davis said. "We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games."

Underwater Route Between Prehistoric Cenotes Found In Mexico

Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses, all likely from around the end of the last Ice Age, have been found in the tunnel-like caves. Exploring them and finding artifacts can be difficult, though: the underwater caves range in width from 400 feet to just three feet.

The Steppes, The Silk Road, And An Unscientific Fur Experiment

When the Silk Road was in its heyday, it is generally known that silk and porcelain from China was being traded for gold and amber from Europe and spices from India. But did you know that the steppes of Eurasia were a large part of the Silk Road too? They traded horses, which were eventually commercially raised in stud farms, falcons for hunting, swords for fighting, and wax and honey which were popularly believed to provide resistance to the cold. But above all, the steppes traded animal pelts. Furs were highly prized, both for their practical warmth and their social prestige.

Muslim merchants learned to distinguish between different animal pelts, and set their prices accordingly. They were valued depending on their scarcity — less common furs meant higher social cachet — and their warmth. One caliph in the 700s CE went so far as to conduct a series of experiments to test which furs were the warmest. He placed each fur in a separate container, then filled each container with water, and left them all outside overnight in ice-cold weather. In the morning, he checked the containers. All had frozen except for the one with black fox fur. The caliph declared the experiment a success, and black fox fur the warmest and the driest of the furs.

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    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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