Recent archaeological evidence from a farm in Norway's southernmost Vest-Agder County offers strong evidence that Vikings farmers actively cultivated hemp. The farm's hemp remains date between 650 and 800 CE -- during the peak Vikings age. Hemp has been found at Viking sites before. But this site is special for how large the operation was. “The other instances were just individual finds of pollen grains. Much more has been found here,” says Frans-Arne Stylegar, an archaeologist and the county's curator.
As funny as the mental image of Vikings getting high is, archaeologists think the hemp was not being grown for its psychedelic properties. It was likely used for rope and textile -- much more boring.
Yokai are shape-shifting creatures native to Japan; they can appear as animals like turtles or deer, or as inanimate objects, or even plants! They live on the edge of towns and between villages. Yokai come in many forms, some bringing good fortune, some bringing calamity and illness.
Pañamarca has impressive ruins from the Moche culture, which flourished on the northwest coast of Peru between 200 CE and 900 CE. Amazingly, many murals in Pañamarca still retain their colors, over 1,000 years after the last painter laid down his brush. The site was deliberately buried sometime around 750 CE. And in doing so, the Moche unintentionally preserved their art for future archaeologists to discover.
This mural is on one of the pillars of the imaginatively named "Temple of the Painted Pillars." The figures hold typical Moche objects, including a plate with three purple goblets, a multicolored stirrup-spout bottle, and a feather fan.
Historians have just discovered the oldest reference to the mathematical concept of "zero" in India. The concept of zero as a number was revolutionary in mathematics. In Eurasia, the idea came from India (and the Mayans separately invented it hundreds of years late in the Americas) but exactly when zero was first conceived in India is a bit of a mystery. Now, we have a potential clue: the Bakhshali manuscript, which a farmer dug up the text from a field in 1881 in the village of Bakhshali, near Peshawar in what is today Pakistan. It consists of 70 leaves of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeros in the form of dots. Why was it only just discovered, if the farmer dug it up over 100 years ago?
People knew what it was, and knew it zeros throughout the text. But they thought the Bakhshali manuscript was written between the 700s and the 1100s CE. Since the oldest then-known written reference to zero was the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta's work "Brahmasphutasiddhanta," which was written in 628 CE, the Bakhshali manuscript was a lot less exciting. It was a mathematical manuscript utilizing the newly-invented concept of zero, which astronomers had been using for at least a couple decades before the Bakhshali.
But recent, more advanced carbon dating resulted in three different dates for different parts of the Bakhshali manuscript. It appears now to be not one document but several, put together. And the oldest part dated to 224 to 383 CE! That is hundreds of years before Brahmagupta! Two other parts dated to 680 to 779 CE, and 885 to 993 CE, which is probably why earlier analyses got the manuscript's age wrong. If further tests confirm the findings, the Bakhshali manuscript moves up when zero was invented to the same time the Roman Empire was falling to barbarians, the Three Kingdoms Period was reordering China, and Teotihuacan was near the heights of its power.
For centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, everyone was still writing in Latin. It was the language used by scholars, monks, and government officials and since they were the main ones writing, most of what has come down from about 400 CE to about 700 CE is in Latin. Which means our first known literature in many languages was only written down centuries after those languages started being spoken, when it became fashionable to write in the local languages again.
In the 600s, people in Britain spoke what we now call Old English. It was a Germanic language, brought by invaders and retained by locals. Sometime between 657 and 680, a cowherd named Caedmon, who spoke Old English, lived in northern England’s Northumbria. Caedmon was likely illiterate, so most of what we know about his existence and what happened next comes from oral tradition.
An angel was said to appear to Caedmon in a dream. He asked Caedmon to sing a song of the creation of the world -- “sing me frumsceaft.” The hymn he was inspired to compose Caedmon recited to others, who recited to others....who eventually recited it for the scholar Bede, who wrote it down. Today, Caedmon’s Hymn is the first known English poem. Although you need a translation to understand it!
The term “Byzantine Empire” came into common use during the 1700s and 1800s. It would never have been heard, let alone embraced, by the people who once lived in it. To them, Byzantium was still the Roman Empire, which had merely moved its seat of power from Rome to a new eastern capital in Constantinople. Though largely Greek-speaking and Christian, the Byzantines called themselves “Romaioi,” or Romans. They used Roman law, played Roman games like chariot racing, and enjoyed Roman festivals. While Byzantium evolved a distinctive, Greek-influenced identity as the centuries passed, the Romaioi continued to cherish their Roman roots until the end. When he conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish leader Mehmed II even took the emperor's title as “Caesar of Rome.”
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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!