Islamic Sicily Produced Wine

Grape residue has been detected in medieval containers unearthed in Sicily. Analysis of residues in the jars found molecules very similar to those produced by modern winemakers who use ceramic jars to ferment wine. This suggests wine was produced on the island during the Islamic period, from the 800s to 1100s CE.

Based on the new finds, it is thought that Muslims who ruled Sicily in the 800s CE produced and exported wine to boost trade and therefore their incomes. It seems unlikely the wine was produced for local consumption. This is because Muslims are prohibited from getting drunk, and by some interpretations of the Koran are prohibited from drinking any alcohol, meaning that alcohol consumption plays little role in Islamic life.

Especially exciting is how it was determined that the containers had held wine. “We had to develop some new chemical analysis techniques in order to determine that it was grape traces we were seeing and not some other type of fruit,” reported Léa Drieu of the University of York. The new test for grape products in ceramic containers could help researchers investigate wine production throughout the Mediterranean region.

The First Reindeer (In English)

'He was a very prosperous man in respect of those possessions that their wealth consists of, that is, of wild animals. When he sought the king, he still had six hundred domesticated animals unsold. These animals they called reindeer (hranas); six of them were stæl reindeer. They are very valuable [prized?] among the Finns (Finnas), since they [the Finns] catch the wild reindeer with them [stæl reindeer]'

This is the first written account of reindeer in English. It comes from King Alfred of Wessex's history, recording the visit of a Norwegian chieftain Ohthere (usually rendered Óttar in Old Norse) in the late 900s CE. In this particular passage the Ohthere is telling of his 'wealth' in a farmstead in northern Norway. It seems he has a herd of reindeer which have been domesticated by Finns and by this time brought to Norway. The word "reindeer" itself would not enter English until the 1400s.

Phoenix headdress ornament made of gilded silver. So elaborate it can even stand on its own! From China's Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE).

Temple Complex Remains Found In Southwestern China

A Buddhist temple complex dated to the Tang Dynasty (618–906 CE) has been discovered in southwest China’s city of Dali. The structures contained tons of tiles and pottery. Also uncovered have been 14 foundations for structures, 63 stone walls and 23 ditches, including the remains of brick and tile kilns. Inscriptions suggest the temple may have held the remains of members of the royal court of the State of Nanzhao. This was a state made up of people from the Bai tribe and six tribes from the Erhai Region centered around present-day Yunnan.

In the complex, the researchers discovered a tile inscribed with the characters "Buddha sarira enshrined by the government," which indicates that the Buddhist relics of Nanzhao's royal court are likely to have been enshrined and worshiped inside the temple. The word "sarira" has a variety of meanings in Buddhism. It generally means, though, the remains after a Buddhist cremation. Perhaps this was where Nanzhao's royal family enshrined holy figures, or their own ancestors.

Ancient China’s Deadly Sport

Ancient China had its own form of mixed martial arts. Called lei tai, it was a no-holds-barred mixed combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, boxing and wrestling. Killing your opponent was allowed. The sport was played by having a man on a rail-less platform who would invite anyone who wished to challenge them. If a challenger won, they became the man on the platform. But if a man beat enough opponents they would win acclaim as a “champion.” One famous champion, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam, fought over 150 people over 18 days to become a champion.

The modern form of lei tai appeared during the Song Dynasty. It is still practiced, though in a modified form that makes deaths less likely.

A Brocade Poem

In the 300s CE the poet Su Hui wrote a massive, massive poem to her husband. Called the Star Gauge (璇玑圖) it is made up of a 29 by 29 grid of characters, and when you combine all the different ways the grid of characters can be read, it creates over 3,000 smaller poems (that rhyme!) But that was not impressive enough for Su Hui. Around that grid is a circle of 112 characters which creates yet another poem, thought to be the first and the longest of its kind. Su Hui's poem was described by contemporaries as being not written on paper, but as shuttle-woven on brocade. Making it an impressive piece of art as well as piece of poetry. It was continuously circulated in China after it was written, and the earliest surviving excerpts of the entire grid version date from a 900s CE.

Page taken from a copy of the Suwaru-l-kawakib (Description of the Fixed Stars) by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (903 - 986). Al-Sufi is one of the famous nine Arab astronomers. He identified the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time, as well as the Large Magellanic Cloud. These were the first galaxies other than the Milky Way to be observed from Earth. Al-Sufi published many of his findings in his famous "Description of the Fixed Stars" which compared Greek and Arabic constellations, and showed two illustrations for every constellation. This particular copy of the book was probably created in Iran during the Safavid Era, sometime in the 1500s.

Coastal Amazonian Diets Analyzed

An international team of researchers studied the diets of people who lived between 200 CE and 1000 CE on Brazil’s Amazon coast. Using statistical models and analysis of the chemical composition of their bones, the results suggested that people ate mostly terrestrial plants and animals. This is surprising since they were studied specifically based on their living in coastal areas. Rodents such as those from the guinea pig family, the agouti, and the paca; the brocket deer; and catfish are all thought to have been consumed, in addition to wild and cultivated plants such as cassava, corn, and squash.

The Pornocracy: When The Popes Were Really, Truly Corrupt

During the first two-thirds of the 900s, the Roman papacy was basically the property of a Roman elite fammily, the Theophylacti. Which resulted in some strange doings.

The man who is considered the start of the pornocracy, Pope Sergius III, was put on the throne thanks to the Theophylacti. He (allegedly) then had his two predecessors murdered to make sure they could not challenge him. Sergius III was also the alleged father of Pope John XI, who became pope at just 21 through the machinations of his mother, Marozia of the Theophylacti. Marozia was actually the power behind the throne of course.

When John XI died, a reluctant Benedictine monk was put on the throne by Marozia's son, to ensure the pope would be controllable. Three similarly weak successors were chosen by the family Theophylacti. Then they put a family member, Marozia's grandson John XII, on the throne.

He was the end of the Pornocracy and has the distinction of being the only man to ever become pope three times. John XII was deposed for an antipope 20 years after his election, restored to the papacy a year later, then sold the office but changed his mind and took it back from the buyer. John XII ended up being deposed for good in 964 by the German emperor in collusion with a church council. And that was the end of the pornocracy, though the Theophylacti remained powerful in Rome for a few more generations. In all, two grandsons, two great-grandsons, and one great-great grandson of Marozia would sit on the papal throne.

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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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