A Brief History of Han Purple

Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an. It peaked in usage during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely -- along with knowledge of how to make the color.

It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!

Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by its inhabitants, is famous for its megalithic statues. A recent analysis in PLOS One of the statues’ distribution across the island suggests they were placed away from living areas and near freshwater sources. Water is a very limited resource on Rapa Nui. The analysis only tells of the connection between the statues and freswater sources. The reason why, the deeper meaning behind why the statues were placed near freshwater, can only be hypothetical now because it has been so long since the culture that created them vanished.

Beautiful Viking Game Pieces

Aren't they beautiful? Made from glass, they were uncovered at a burial site in Burka, Sweden. Circa 700s to 1000s CE.

Ancient Mayans Were Beekeepers

Archaeologists in the ancient city of Nakum in northeastern Guatemala recently made a big discovery. Beneath a vast ritual platform dating from around 100 BCE to 300 CE they discovered a foot-long, barrel-shaped ceramic tube with covers at each end. It is nearly identical to wooden beehives still made from hollow logs by Maya living in the region today. Their discovery is the only known Maya beehive. Since most beehives would probably have been wooden, they probably would not have survived.

An Icky Archaeological Discovery

Brightly colored pottery is a hallmark of the Paracas culture (900 - 100 BCE) of southern Peru. They would mark unfired pieces with animals, supernatural figures, and patterns, then add color after the firing process to fill in the design. A new study, recently published in Antiquity, analyzed the chemical composition of the Paracas paints and binding agents. The study found that an organic white pigment on pottery from the Cahuachi site was made from an unusual material: reptile urine! It is unknown -- and a bit difficult to guess -- how the substance was collected and then processed.

The Dulong people are a minority group in China who live in a historically inaccessible area in the Yunnan Province. (A highway built in late 1999 now makes it reachable to the outside world.) It was a tradition for Dulong girls to get a face tattoo when they began puberty, a tradition called “Hua Lian” (“painting the face”) or “Wen Mian” (“tattooing the face").

In the areas along the upper and middle reaches of the Dulong River, the tattoos were a complex pattern of connecting diamonds down the bridge of the nose and across the cheeks and mouth. In the lower reaches, the designs were much simpler. All tattoos were butterfly shaped as they believed that the dead turned into butterflies when they passed. How the Dulong tradition began is unknown. Some speculate that it was so that Dulong women were less attractive as slaves, as Tibetan landlords used to demand families who could not pay taxes would pay in daughters instead.

Unfortunately, the tradition is dying. It almost completely ended after 1949 and the founding of the communist state. Today, there are fewer than 30 women alive with traditional Dulong tattoos.

  Autochrome of Janet and Iris Laing at their family's home in Oxford, England, circa 1908. Photograph was taken by the best-named woman ever, Etheldreda Laing.

Figure of a Standing Beauty

  This lovely lady was crafted between 1670 and 1690 in Japan. She is dressed in a fashionable outfit of the day; she is draped in several layers of kimono, which are belted at the waist with a black obi. Her face has a jovial expression. While one foot is slightly revealed at the hem of her garment, her hands are held demurely by her body. Depictions of such bijin, or beautiful ladies, were becoming popular in Japan at this time in the newly budding art form of ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world." The leaders in fashion were typically residents of the pleasure districts. So beautiful figures such as this were often styled based on them.

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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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