Giovanni Belzoni, an early Egyptologist, wrote in 1821 what it was like to enter an Egyptian tomb:



I sought a resting place, found one and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of a dead Egyptian, it crushed it like a band box. Naturally I had recourse to my hands to sustain my weight, but they found no better support; so that I collapsed together among the broken mummies with such a crash of bones, rags and wooden cases as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting until it subsided again. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some place or another… Thus I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies piled up in various ways, some standing, some lying and some on their heads.


This buffoon was known as the "Great Belzoni" and is still considered a pioneer archaeologist in the study of ancient Egypt. Seriously, read his wikipedia page, I couldn't believe it either.

Ancient Greek Burials Yield Evidence of Ancient Intestinal Worms

Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek doctor Hippocrates described infestations of parasitic worms in his patients. Modern scholars suspected he was referring to roundworms, pinworms, and tapeworms, but had not been able to confirm the diagnoses. Until now. A recent study led by the University of Cambridge analyzed the soil near the pelvic bones in 25 skeletons found on the Greek island of Kea, to recover traces of parasites that may have been housed in the individual's digestive tracts while they were alive. The study detected and identified roundworm and whipworm eggs in four of the burials! Unlike usual, finding parasitic worms is actually a good thing! The researchers noted that the eggs of those two parasites have robust, protective outer membranes, whereas the more delicate outer membranes of other parasitic worm species likely decomposed over time, and would be unrecoverable by now.

Derbent, Russia's Oldest City

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.

Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.

Where are Witches?

A belief in witches -- and consequently witch-hunts -- have been found in every single inhabited continent of the world, and most of the peoples who have lived on it. But belief in witches is not entirely universal: the largest witch-free area is Siberia, covering about a third of the northern hemisphere, and the ancient Egyptians were notable for their lack of belief of witchcraft and embracing magic, instead of fearing magic.

The First Fashionable Knockoff

About 5,000 years ago, the Chinese discovered how to make silk from the cocoon of silkworms. Silk quickly became highly prized -- and very expensive -- so to keep their monopoly, the Chinese kept the secret of how to make the valuable fabric. It was illegal to take silkworms outside of China. Anyone caught trying to export the secret of silk could face the death penalty. With such stringent measures, the Chinese managed to keep the secret for almost 3,000 years! Which opened the door for knock-offs.

The most common knock-off was cotton, beaten with sticks to soften it, then rubbed against a stone to give it a shine like silk. The resulting fabric was called "chintz" because it was "cheap." Even today, with silk much cheaper and more available, the word chintz means something less valuable and of less good quality.


"Every 12 years Jupiter returns to the same position in the sky; every 370 days it disappears in the fire of the Sun in the evening to the west, 30 days later it reappears in the morning to the east . . ."

Gan De, a Chinese astronomer. He was born around 400 BCE.

Welcome to Naghsh-e Rostam, Ancient Necropolis of Kings

About ten kilometers from the abandoned city of Persepolis, Naghsh-e Rostam is less well known but similarly impressive. The sheer size of the tombs, cut out of the cliff face, helps you to understand the power and wealth of the Archaemenid empire (also known as the 'First Persian Empire'), which ruled almost half the worlds population at its height, around 450 BCE. The tombs are positioned high enough to be inaccessible to tourists. The necropolis contains the tombs of Darius I, Darius II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I, with a fifth unfinished tomb probably intended for Darius III. It was unfinished because the Archaemenids were conquered by Alexander the Great. He spared the Naghsh-e Rostam tombs when he burnt down nearby Persepolis, although the four tombs were ransacked either by his troops or by grave-robbers in the following years.

Prehistoric women's arms 'stronger than those of today's elite rowers'

The study of ancient bones suggests that manual agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies of women living in central Europe between about the early Neolithic and late Iron Age. The study examined the remains of 94 women spanning about 6,000 years, from the time of the early neolithic farmers (dating back to around 5,300 BC) through to the 800s CE, from countries including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia. These ancient women had arm bones which were extremely strong -- about 30% stronger than non-athletic modern women. And stronger than modern rowers, soccer players, and runners. The study also reveals that the strength of women’s arm bones dropped over time. Probably because technology was developed to ease manual labor. By medieval times, the strength of women’s arm bones was on a par with that of the average woman today.

How A Solar Eclipse Destroyed A City

Greek philosopher-historian Xenophon records that Larissa, a town on the banks of the river Tigris, somewhere in modern Iraq, had once been a well-fortified stronghold. Although it had become a deserted city by the time Xenophon saw it in 401 BCE. At its height, Larissa had 100 foot high clay brick walls, sitting on a 20 foot stone base, which encircled the entire city. Those are very tall, especially for the 600s BCE. It had proven too high for the Persian army. They had repeatedly tried, and failed, to take Larissa about 200 years before, according to Xenophon.

But then the heavens intervened. "A cloud covered up the sun and hid it from sight" Xenophon wrote. The Larissans, terrified, abandoned their city. Some hid on a pyramid nearby. Others simply fled. Larissa was left without defenders, and the Persians easily captured the city, although it probably wasn’t worth much without any inhabitants.

The track of the total eclipse which happened on May 19, 557 BCE, passed through southern Syria and Iraq. This may have been the astronomical event that Xenophon wrote about, 150 years later.

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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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