Kʼinich Janaabʼ Pakal, or "Pakal the Great" reigned over the Maya city-state of Palenque in the Late Classic period, from July of 615 to August of 683 CE. His 68-year-reign is the fourth-longest verifiable reign in history. It is also the longest in the history of the Americas.
In the 1300s, the Black Plague swept through Europe. To create a "family tree" of the plague, scientists conducted a genetic analysis of Yersinia pestis strains taken from 34 individuals who died in 10 different countries between 1300 and 1700. The results suggest that over time, the bacteria Yersinia pestis mutated and diversified into multiple clades. All the clades found in the study were related to back to one ancestral strain. That suggests that the Black Plague entered Europe just once. And the oldest strain, the one that appeared to have been the others’ ancestor, was from remains found in a little Russian town named Laishevo.
Here’s where a caution must be added. Such analyses are always limited by the available bacteria strains -- the family tree will be added to over time as more bodies are recovered and more bacteria strains isolated.
Great Britain is at similar forest-cover levels as it was during the Middle Ages! Which is a whopping... 13%. Ouch. Still, that's up by 5% since 1919, when records of forest cover began. How do we know that's similar to the Middle Ages? The Domesday Book, King William the Conqueror's great tax census, recorded that 15% of his domain was forested in 1086, and censuses show that was down to 6 to 10% by 1300.
Art historians have long been puzzled as to why the glass ball in Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) does not distort the objects behind it the way a solid glass ball would. In other words, there is not the expected refraction and reflection of light. According to new computer models the answer is that the glass was hollow, was held about 10 inches in front of Jesus, and was very thin. If all these things came together, then Da Vinci would have been accurately painting a glass ball. The new analysis strengthens the argument that Da Vinci was responsible for most of the painting, since he was known to have been studying optics when Salvator Mundi was created, and the odd lack of distortion was used as evidence that the master himself did not paint the whole painting.
A 1,000-year-old bag found in southwest Bolivia has a very impressive collection of items to use with mind-altering substances. It includes two snuff tablets, a snuff tube with attached braids of human hair, a pouch made from three stitched-together fox snouts, and spatulas made from what appears to be llama bones. Analyses have revealed the items contain traces of tobacco, coca, the raw materials for a psychoactive snuff called vilca or cebil, and ayahuasca. Interestingly, the plant materials came from a variety of ecosystems suggesting either a wide-ranging traveler or a large trading network. The bundle was found in a cave in 2010 and radiocarbon dates to between 905 and 1170 CE. That date range matches the declining period of the Tiwanaku culture, which had once dominated much of the southern and central Andes. For the Tiwanaku, hallucinogens were an important aspect of religious observance.
Symptoms of atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, have been detected in the mummified remains of four Inuit adults who lived in Greenland about 500 years ago. The recent study used computerized tomography to examine the bodies of the two men, who are thought to have been between 18 and 22 and 25 and 30 at the time of death, and two women, who died sometime between the ages of 16 and 18 and 25 and 30, and one infant. Three of the four adults showed evidence of arterial calcification. Increased gunk in arteries can lead to life-threatening conditions such as strokes and heart attacks.
These Inuit's atherosclerosis is a surprising find because current health theories suggest that a diet rich in marine foods and omega-3 fatty acids, such as that eaten by preindustrial-era Inuit peoples, would offer protection from arterial calcification. The individuals’ entire circulatory systems were not preserved, however, so the researchers were not able to determine the full extent of the damage to their arteries. The scientists also noted that heavy exposure to smoke from indoor fires may have outweighed the heart-health benefits of an active lifestyle and fatty-fish-based diet.
The the spring in Isokyrö, Finland, produces something unusual: human remains. Over 98 different peoples' bones have been recovered from the spring since the 1800s. It used to be a full-sized lake, and when it was, it was the site of unusual water burials of mainly women and children.
One recent analysis looked at the remains of four individuals, and found that they were interred between 800 BCE and 400 CE. A second, separate analysis of other remains utilized DNA and dating methods and looked to see which modern populations they might be related to. Its findings suggests the Isokyrö region was inhabited by Sámi people in ancient times – according to carbon datings of the bones which belonged to individuals that had died from 500 to 700 CE. The lake was far from any human settlements at the time so why it was chosen, and why mainly women and children were buried there, remains unsolved.
In the early 1200s, the Kievan Rus was the center of eastern Slavic civilization and Orthodox Christianity. But after the fall of the city of Kyiv to the Mongols on December 6th, 1240, the city was left a post-apocalyptic waste. Six years later a papal envoy passed through its ruins. He reported only 200 houses still stood, and the people who had returned to live in the ghost town were surrounded by "countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground. Kyiv, he wrote, "has been reduced to almost nothing." The city became a marginal provincial hub in the centuries following, but it only became really important again after the Russian industrial revolution in the late 1800s.
Archaeologists have recently rediscovered remains of a trading and religious center of Aksum. Aksum, a kingdom principally located in today's Ethiopia, thrived from the 1st to 8th centuries CE, and was the state which saw the region converted to Christianity. It traded with the Roman Empire and India, minted its own coins, and took over the declining kingdom of Kush which had long rivaled ancient Egypt. The newly found city lay between the capital (also called Aksum) and the Red Sea.
The city has been renamed Beta Samati, which means "house of audience" in the local Tigrinya language. It was discovered in 2011, hiding more than 10 feet below the surface, in Ethiopia's Yeha region. The remains are already changing what we think we know about Aksum. It had previously been believed that societies in the region collapsed in the period before the rise of the Aksum Kingdom. But Beta Samati continued through the period of supposed abandonment just fine, functioning as a major connection on trade routes linking the Mediterranean and other cities which would end up under Aksum control.