Apartheid Was Ridiculous -- And Terrible

During Apartheid in South Africa, a bus driver was fired for refusing to pick up a Japanese man  -- who was legally considered a "white" person at the time. The bus driver was reinstated after he stated he could not tell the difference between a Japanese person  -- legally "white" -- and a Chinese person -- legally "not white."

Archaeologists' Tire Goes Flat, Helping Them Discover 3,000-Year-Old Society

A flat tire in 2016 led to the chance find of some pottery by the side of the road on Quan Lan Island, in the Ha Long Bay region in Vietnam. When the archaeologist investigated, they were surprised to discover that the pottery was over 3,000 years old! The team returned to the area in 2018 after securing permission to do excavations from the local Vietnamese government. They found evidence that indeed, Quan Lan Island was once home to a Neolithic society which left behind ceramics, tools, and various other detritus for modern archaeologists to find.

This as-yet-unnamed society came to a mysterious end. About 3,000 years ago, the artifacts just stop. Something happened. The next big question, now that this island society has been discovered, is what led to its end?

Taino Woman's DNA Yields Clues About Modern Caribbean Peoples

Researchers mapped the genome of an ancient Taino woman using DNA from one of her teeth. She was buried 1,000 years ago at a site called Preacher’s Cave on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. She is most closely related to present-day Arawakan speakers in northern South America, where her ancestors likely originated. But the study revealed that she is also partly related to some modern Puerto Ricans. The findings support some continuity in the western Caribbean between the modern population and their pre-Columbus ancestors.

When Defending Rats Makes You A Great Lawyer

There was a famous trial in Autun, in west-central France, in 1522. Some rats were charged in court with feloniously eating and wantonly destroying the province’s barley crop. The rats were ordered to appear in court and answer the charges.

When they failed to show up, the rats’ attorney argued that the summons were too specific. It was not fair to summon only a handful of specific rats. He insisted that all the rats in the diocese should be summoned and that the summons should be read from the pulpits of all the parishes in the area. Just to make sure. The court agreed and another hearing was scheduled.

When all the rats in the diocese failed to appear on the specified court date, the defense attorney again had a perfectly reasonable explanation: the rats really did want to come to court, but were afraid to leave their holes and make the long journey because of the vigilance of the plaintiff’s cats. He added that the rats would appear if the plaintiffs posted bonds under heavy penalties that the cats would not molest his clients. The judges thought this was a fair request, but the plaintiffs refused to be responsible for the behavior of their cats. And so the case was adjourned without setting a date for another hearing -- in effect ending the case in the rats’ favor.

The attorney, named Bartholomew Chassenée, went on to become a famous French lawyer.

The world’s first telegraph line was set up between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between the stations. The first message was sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, from DC to Baltimore. It said: "What hath God wrought?" in -- what else -- morse code. Since the line could only transmit electrical signals, manipulating that signal was the only way to communicate.

Morse code became a standard method of communication for the next hundred years. It was still in use by all sides during World War II!

What's In A Word

The term "golem" appears in the Hebrew Bible with the meaning "formlessness." The Talmud, Jewish commentaries on the Bible and Jewish law, uses "golem" to mean an "uneducated person." From this combination comes the modern sense of the word: a clumsy, ugly, human-made monster who has no life until it is given to him by his creators.

The Qin Emperor and the Search for Eternal Life

Qin Shi Huang-di, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty and the person buried with those terra-cotta soldiers, was obsessed with living forever. He ordered a nation-wide search for an elixir of life, which would grant him immortality. A cache of bamboo strips found in Hunan Province in central China contains what his regional administrators wrote back, politely but rather awkwardly, about their findings. One village's message, deciphered by Chinese scholars, was that they hoped a local herb would be the emperor's answer. Another message said that no such elixir had been found in their area, but tactfully implied that they would continue searching.

Qin Shi Huang-di's search for the elixir failed and he died in 210 BCE. He may have been helped along by one of his potential elixirs of life: cinnabar, or mercury sulfide! It was believed at the time to extend one's life, but it is in fact highly toxic.

Bronze Age Burial Is Rich In More Ways Than One

The Amesbury Archer (nicknamed the King of Stonehenge) was an early Bronze Age man. He lived and died around 2300 BCE. When his burial was discovered in 2002 at Amesbury, England -- near Stonehenge -- it caused quite a stir. Because he was buried with the earliest gold artifacts ever found in Britain! Two little golden hair ornaments caused a large fuss.

The other objects he was found with weren't headline-worthy, but they were notable nonetheless for their sheer amount and richness. His burial is the earliest evidence of a copper and gold trade with mainland Europe:

  • 3 tiny copper knives
  • 16 barbed flint arrowheads, likely from arrows placed on his body
  • a flint-knapping kit
  • metalworking tools, including a portable anvil
  • two wrist-guards
  • a shale belt ring
  • a longbow
  • five beaker pots, in amazing condition

Beer In Ancient Egypt

Beer was a staple in ancient Egypt. Called hqt (heqet), it was drunk by all ages, and all classes. It was so important that wages were sometimes paid in beer. Workmen at the pyramids of the Giza Plateau were given beer, three times daily - five kinds of beer and four kinds of wine have been found by archaeologists at the site.

The beer drunk by these ancient people was probably very similar to the way beer is still produced in Sudan today. The beer seems to have been not very intoxicating. It was nutritious, and rather sweet, without bubbles, and thick -- so thick that the beer had to be strained by drinking it with wooden straws.

That's not to say ancient Egyptian beer was non-alcoholic. There are plenty of records of ancient Egyptians drinking beer at festivals, getting drunk, and having what sounds like great parties.

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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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