Ancient Carthage Practiced Infant Sacrifice

A tophet means a sacred precinct outside a city used for burials of sacrifices. In English it also means hell. Which is fitting, because recent evidence from Carthage's tophets contained tiny cremated human bones packed into urns and buried underneath tombstones with inscriptions that gave thanks to the gods. A recent study found that these burials were evidence that Carthage practiced infant sacrifice. As evidence, the researchers cited the inscriptions on the tombstones, which recorded that the gods had “heard my voice and blessed me." Some urns contained animal remains which have definitely been sacrificed and were buried in the exact same way as the children. Finally, the discovered skeletons were far too few to represent all the stillbirths and infant deaths that would occur in a city the size of Carthage 2,000 years ago. The evidence points towards elite Carthaginians engaging in child sacrifice to give thanks for blessings they have received from the gods.

Roman historian Diodorus claimed that in the city of Carthage there was a bronze statue of Cronus with his hands extended, palm up. All babies placed within would roll down into a pit of fire. The historian even made mention of rich families who bought poor children and raised them specifically for sacrifice. Romans and Greeks dismissed Diodorus' claims as anti-Carthaginian propaganda. But modern archaeology may have vindicated him -- though frankly this is something that he probably would have been happy to be wrong about.

Global Distribution of Penguins

This map is not very relevant to history but it makes me smile. Also, did you know that there are more species of penguins living outside of Antarctica than in Antarctica?

What Does Giraffe Really Mean?

Sure, we all know "giraffe" means "that really tall mammal with spots and a long neck." But does the word itself mean anything? Linguists aren't sure. The English word "giraffe" may come from the Arabic word zarāfa, which means "to jump" or "to hurry." Other linguists think it may mean "assemblage," since early explorers thought the giraffe looked like a compilation of a horse, an ox, and a camel.

The Founder Effect in Afrikaaners

The "founder effect" is when a larger, older population sends a few founders to establish a new population elsewhere. Only whatever genes the new founders happen to have will be passed on to their children - the new population. Thus there is usually less genetic diversity in the new population than in the old population. The Afrikaner population of South Africa is a good example of the founder effect. They are descended primarily from one shipload of immigrants that landed in 1652, and thanks to some good geneaology and records-keeping, scientists have been able to track some genetic diseases, which are more common in Afrikaaners than larger Dutch population, back to that original shipload. One of these colonists carried the gene for Huntington’s disease, an autosomal dominant disease that causes a fatal breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. Most cases of the disease in the modern Afrikaner population can be traced to that individual.

Another condition, lipoid proteinosis, has been traced to Jacob Cloete, a German immigrant to the Cape in 1652. His great-grandson, Gerrit Cloete, migrated to Namaqualand in 1742. The area is somewhat isolated, so intermarriages were relatively common, compounding the founder effect.

One of the best preserved Roman stone ruins is an amphitheater in El Jem, Tunisia. The then-city was called Thysdrus and its 35,000-seat amphitheater was a towering symbol of the city's -- and the region's -- prosperity. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The "Boring Billion" Years

The term the "Boring Billion" refer to the approximately one billion-year period between 1.8 and 0.8 Ga in Earth's history, during the Proterozoic Eon. Earth's oceans were a soup of one-celled organisms, multicellular algae and fungi, and the land was barren rock until around the end of the Boring Billion, when land began to be colonized by cyanobacteria and proto-lichens. In short, it was a comparatively slow period of biological evolution and what had evolved was not very interesting by modern standards. Other nicknames for the Boring Billion include the "Barren Billion", "Dullest Time on Earth", and "Earth’s Middle Ages."

The Foundation of Carthage

Carthage was initially founded by Phoenicians from the city-state of Tyre in the 800s BCE. They named it Qart-hadasht, which simply means “new town.” Situated in today's Tunisia, the settlement was one of many Tyrian colonies dotted around the Mediterranean basin, which brought new materials and goods back to Phoenicia and strengthened and expanded Phoenicia's trading network. Eventually the new town gained its independence around 650 BCE, and became a prosperous trade-based city-state with colonies of its own.

In 2017, a comprehensive study looked into why eggs are shaped like, well, eggs. Why are eggs ellipses, and not spheres? Why are they often asymmetrical with one pointier end and one rounder end? These were the questions the scientists set out to answer.

The research team gathered together a large dataset of 49,175 images of eggs produced by 1,400 species, both living and extinct, and examined exactly how elliptical and how asymmetrical each egg was (and made a pretty graph, see above). The scientists also paid attention to the parents' nesting behaviors, clutch sizes, diet, and flight ability. Previously, it was suggested that eggs are pointy on one end to prevent them from rolling away from the nest or to make laying easier for females. But the study did not support that.

Instead, they found multiple lines of evidence that the shape evolved to simply fit better inside the parent’s aerodynamic body. The stronger, better fliers had the longest and pointiest eggs. Meanwhile, some flightless birds (like ostriches) hatch from squat orbs.

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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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