Gross But Interesting

Rüppell's Vulture are believed to be the highest-flying birds. Okay, interesting bird fact, but what is so gross about this? The species' highest-flying status was confirmed because a Rüppell's vulture was ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft).

Mummified Baboons Help Locate Mysterious Ancient Land

Studying mummified baboons has been used to help locate Punt, ancient Egypt's trading partner. Punt is something of an ancient mystery as the Egyptians did not record its location anywhere. It seems to have been simply assumed that everyone knew where Punt was, like knowing where Australia is today.

This is where baboons come in. First, it is important to know that ancient Egypt did not appear to have native monkey populations. Yet the Egyptian god Thoth, who represented the moon, wisdom, and writing, was sometimes shown as having the head of a baboon in pictures and statues. And critically for this most recent study, the ancient Egyptians also buried baboon mummies in tombs. So ancient Egypt did not have native baboons but they had a major need for imported baboons for religious purposes. The most special of these baboons appear to have been Hamadryas baboons. Ancient Egyptians would travel great distances, and pay a significant amount, for the special Hamadryas baboons.

Punt is known to have been a major trader of baboons in general, and Hamadryas baboons in particular. Tracing the origins of numerous baboon mummies found in ancient Egyptian temples and tombs, and depictions of their transport mainly by water but sometimes by land, researchers now think the Hamadryas species was sourced from a region spanning Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and some of Somalia and Yemen. The latest study analyzed the tissue of 155 modern baboons from 77 locations, and also looked at two mummified Hamadryas baboons dating to 3000 years ago. Analyzing their chemical signatures, and comparing them to modern baboons, the findings show both the Hamadryas mummies had come from what is today Ethiopia, Eriteria, or Somalia. This corroborates the scholarly hypothesis of where Punt was probably located.

Interestingly, the Hamadryas mummies had been treated rather better than five mummified baboons of another species, traded across Africa several hundred years earlier. We may be closing in on Punt. But what made the ancient Egyptians revere the Hamadryas baboons compared to other baboons remains mysterious.

Madagascar Does Not Come From Where You Think

In multiple ways. First, it is a break off from the Indian sub-continent, not African, even though it is very very close to Africa. Second, the first settlers on Madagascar between 350 and 550 CE were of Malayo-Indonesian descent. Specifically, from Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java. Yes, that is on the other side of the Indian Ocean, rather than across the short Mozambique Channel to Africa. These were joined around the 800s CE by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel and intermarrying with the Malagasy. A big clue about Madagascar's unusual migration history is that most common language of Madagascar, also called Malagasy, can be identified as part of the Austronesian language family.

Good News Friday

Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda and the International Potato Center have developed a new variety of potato which is resistant to late blight. That's the same blight that devastated Ireland and killed so much of its population that it took until 2016 for Ireland's population to exceed pre-blight levels. Today, late blight is a threat to one of the staple crops in the East African region. Using new molecular techniques, the researchers transferred late-blight resistance genes into the popular East African potato variety Victoria. Currently, smallholding farmers have to use fungicide every 3 days to protect their crops from late blight. This new development can boost crop yields while also reducing farmers' dependency on fungicides which hurt their finances, their land, and the people who live near the fields.

Know Their Names

The MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor) was invented at Bell Labs in 1959, and it is the basis for much of modern electronics. It is now the most manufactured device in history. You probably own hundreds of MOSFETs, in computers, appliances, phones, even lamps. MOSFET was invented by Egyptian-American engineer Mohamed M. Atalla and Korean-American engineer Dawon Kahng.

The Unusual Situation of Eswatini

Eswatini (Swaziland) is the only country in the continent of Africa not practicing multiparty democracy. It is also one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies. The Swazi king rules by decree and with the help of a Council of Ministers; there is almost no involvement of the people in their government. Why is Eswatini so unique? To no one's surprise, the answer is imperialism: Eswatini was annexed into the British Empire and remained intact for about a century until African countries began retaking control of their homes, at which point, the British decided to give Eswatini first greater self-governance, then its independence. Thanks to the British deciding to treat Eswatini as a single unit, we have the unusual country it is today.

Strange Toothed "Toucan" Was Friends With Dinosaurs

A creature described as resembling a "buck-toothed toucan" that lived some 68 million years ago in (what is now) Madagascar has recently been discovered thanks to its fossilized remains. It was small, just 3.5 inches (9 cm) long. But it is outsized in its importance. The tall, scythe-like beak, while resembling the toucan, is something never before seen in the fossil record for the Mesozoic. Birds in the Mesozoic did not have specialized beaks. Or at least, it was thought they did not, until Falcatakely forsterae was found.

Ancient Egyptian Bracelet

From the 200s to 100s BCE, so when Egypt was ruled by the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty. Courtesy of the Getty Museum

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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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