The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. In the earlier days of books, the parchment they were written on was extremely valuable -- sometimes more valuable than the words written on them. So when someone wanted to copy down a new book, rather than purchase or make a new parchment, they scrapped the words off an older book and wrote the new book instead. Such texts are called "palimpsests." Saint Catherine's has at least 160 plaimpsests. The manuscripts bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing, the only hint of the treasures they hid.
In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away.
And what they found are truly treasures. They found new poems -- or rather, very old poems -- and early religious texts and some rare-language texts doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years. Perhaps most valuable, though, are the entirely new words, in long-forgotten languages. It will take religious, medieval, and linguistic scholars years to sift through all the finds!
According to the poet, traveler, and politician Usama ibn Munqidh, who lived in the 1100s CE, "One of the wonders of the human heart is that a man may face certain death and embark on every danger without his heart quailing from it, and yet he may take fright from something that even boys and women do not fear." ibn Munqidh then told the story of a battle hero his father knew, who "would run out fleeing" if he saw a snake, "saying to his wife, 'The snake's all your's!' And she would have to get up to kill it."
DNA from ancient remains is used to reconstruct thousands of years of population history in Africa. Researchers sequenced the genomes of 16 individuals who lived between 8,000 and 1,000 years ago, in what is today Malawi and Tanzania. Early on, the researchers found, the indigenous people of southern Africa used to be more widespread. Or their genes were. Markers of what is today southern African descent was found in individuals in Malawi and Tanzania who lived between 8,100 and 1,400 years ago.
But between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago, farming arrived in eastern Africa. Further DNA analysis revealed the hunter-gatherers in eastern Africa had mixed extensively with the incoming farmers. There was also migration from the Middle East in prehistory. About 38% of the ancestry of a 3,100-year-old livestock herder from Tanzania was related to ancient farmers from the Levant region.
The oldest temple ever discovered in Nubia, the famous land south of ancient Egypt, was built during the 18th and 19th Dynasties (or between 1,550 and 1,189 BCE). Egyptian pharaohs made many revisions and renovations over the years. During Akhenaten's famous reign, for instance, all references to the god Amun were effaced, but then Seti I of Egypt's 19th dynasty had the name restored. Click through the image gallery to see more pictures from the temple.
The Temple of Amada is no longer in its original place on the east bank of the Nile River, because it was moved to a higher, safer spot as Lake Nasser flooded in the 1960s and 1970s.
"Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph."
What Did Roman Trade with India and China Look Like?
This map, based on geographical data recorded by a Greek writer in the early years of the Roman Empire, shows the trade route from Rome to India. Elites in India and China prized Roman-made glass and rugs. Elites in Rome enjoyed wearing silks made in the Far East -- so much that the Senate got worried about how much gold was leaving the empire, and tried to ban silk clothing. It did not work.
You will notice that most of the goods traded were for elites -- silk, glass, ivory, carnelian. Given the long distances to travel between the Mediterranean, the Ganges, and the Yangtze, only expensive items to wealthy aristocrats made the journey. Basics like grain or iron were traded in more localized networks.
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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!