The Swiss Army was the last country to disband its bicycle infantry regiment, making it just into the 21st century to 2003.

New Study of Neanderthal Hearing

A new study of Neanderthal ear bones suggests that the hominins were capable of hearing sounds similar to modern human speech. CT scans were used to produce 3-D models of fossilized ear bones of Neanderthals, modern humans, and early hominins thought to be Neanderthal ancestors. The researchers then measured how sound traveled through the ear canal, to the ear drum, through the middle ear bones, and into the inner ear. They determined that Neanderthals could hear a wider range of sounds than their ancestors, and had the capability to distinguish between consonant sounds. And like modern humans, Neanderthals could produce all the sounds in the frequency range they could hear.

Religious Pluralism Has Ancient Roots

The Persian emperors, starting with the first emperor (ever) Cyrus, were willing and able to show reverence to local gods and participate in the religious rites necessary to solidify and maintain their rule in conquered territory. Cyrus showed deference and continued the royal rituals of Babylon's supreme god Marduk after he conquered the city in 539 BCE. Cyrus wanted his continuance of Babylonian religious rituals to be widely known and published his deference to Marduk on the famous Cyrus Cylinder. His son Cambyses publicly worshiped the Egyptian gods Apis and Re. Even the emperor who attacked Greece multiple times, Xerxes, ordered sacrifices and deference to the Greek gods after conquering various Greek cities.

None of this should be interpreted to mean that the emperors personally believed in and revered these gods. Rather, religious pluralism was good government policy!

Corn is a New World crop that was unknown throughout the rest of the world until Columbus accidentally connected Europe with the Americas. But the native words for corn did not become universal: many cultures have names for corn that reference other nation. In some African languages, the word for corn means “Egyptian grain”; in Egypt, corn is called “Syrian” or "Turkish grain”; in France, it is “Indian wheat”; and in India, corn is referred to as “wheat from Mecca.”

The Great Kurultáj

This is a yearly event for descendants of Central Asian nomadic peoples in August. The name itself means "meeting of the tribes." The event began in 2007, after genetic evidence confirmed the shared heritage of Hungarians with a Kazakh tribe; the event was intended to strengthen cultural ties across Eurasian Steppe descendants. The Kurultáj evolved quickly into a yearly event with a yurt village, parade of horsemen, horse races, traditional horsemen wrestling, and various tournaments. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular event for horse enthusiasts and especially professional horseriders.

Math and Turtles

[embed][/embed] This shape was originally theorized by mathematicians in the 1990s but was not proven until 2006. Some turtles have evolved shapes similar to gömböcs! This allows them to flip over no matter how they land, and using little energy -- just gravity.

Islamic Sicily Produced Wine

Grape residue has been detected in medieval containers unearthed in Sicily. Analysis of residues in the jars found molecules very similar to those produced by modern winemakers who use ceramic jars to ferment wine. This suggests wine was produced on the island during the Islamic period, from the 800s to 1100s CE.

Based on the new finds, it is thought that Muslims who ruled Sicily in the 800s CE produced and exported wine to boost trade and therefore their incomes. It seems unlikely the wine was produced for local consumption. This is because Muslims are prohibited from getting drunk, and by some interpretations of the Koran are prohibited from drinking any alcohol, meaning that alcohol consumption plays little role in Islamic life.

Especially exciting is how it was determined that the containers had held wine. “We had to develop some new chemical analysis techniques in order to determine that it was grape traces we were seeing and not some other type of fruit,” reported Léa Drieu of the University of York. The new test for grape products in ceramic containers could help researchers investigate wine production throughout the Mediterranean region.

The One Time Shouting In Church Was Good

The Second Vatican Council in 1962 was intended to address relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Near the end of the second session in 1964, a cardinal from Belgium asked the other bishops: "Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half of the church is not even represented here?" He was referring to women -- not one woman was involved in the proceedings.

In response, 15 women were appointed as auditors in September 1964, and eventually 23 women were auditors at the Second Vatican Council, including 10 women in religious orders (i.e. nuns). The auditors had no official role in the deliberations. They did attend subcommittees working to draft documents, and met as a group once a week, to read draft documents and comment together on them.

The First Reindeer (In English)

'He was a very prosperous man in respect of those possessions that their wealth consists of, that is, of wild animals. When he sought the king, he still had six hundred domesticated animals unsold. These animals they called reindeer (hranas); six of them were stæl reindeer. They are very valuable [prized?] among the Finns (Finnas), since they [the Finns] catch the wild reindeer with them [stæl reindeer]'

This is the first written account of reindeer in English. It comes from King Alfred of Wessex's history, recording the visit of a Norwegian chieftain Ohthere (usually rendered Óttar in Old Norse) in the late 900s CE. In this particular passage the Ohthere is telling of his 'wealth' in a farmstead in northern Norway. It seems he has a herd of reindeer which have been domesticated by Finns and by this time brought to Norway. The word "reindeer" itself would not enter English until the 1400s.

9/11 Changed Interpretations of the First Civilizations

Historically, the Middle East was interpreted and categorized by traditional historians as part of "Western" civilization until about 9/11. That means that ancient Mesopotamia -- with its famous early cities of Ur, Sumer, and Babylon, and later empires such as the Babylonian and Assyrian -- was seen as part of the arc of history which would eventually produce ancient Athens, then the Roman Empire, and eventually today's European countries. And history books on religion written before 2000 by Western writers will refer to Islam, Christianity and Judaism as Western religions and Western societies. This is in contrast to Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism which are Eastern religions, emerging from Eastern societies.

After 9/11 a big movement emerged in much of Europe and the United States among conservatives to interpret Islam as Eastern and all Islamic countries as Eastern. Ancient Mesopotamia got re-classified as part of the arc of Eastern history along the way. Among non-conservatives, the Middle East is also categorized differently but for different reasons. Rather than recategorizing what is Western or Eastern, "western" is more critically examined as a term. Instead of ancient civilizations being lumped into "western" and "eastern" you are more likely to see (non-conservative) historians questioning "who is 'western'" "what is 'western'" and "who is defining those terms and why do they care."

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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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