A Brief History of Han Purple

Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an. It peaked in usage during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely -- along with knowledge of how to make the color.

It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!

An Icky Archaeological Discovery

Brightly colored pottery is a hallmark of the Paracas culture (900 - 100 BCE) of southern Peru. They would mark unfired pieces with animals, supernatural figures, and patterns, then add color after the firing process to fill in the design. A new study, recently published in Antiquity, analyzed the chemical composition of the Paracas paints and binding agents. The study found that an organic white pigment on pottery from the Cahuachi site was made from an unusual material: reptile urine! It is unknown -- and a bit difficult to guess -- how the substance was collected and then processed.

Morocco Used To Be European?

Morocco -- and indeed, all of northern Africa -- used to be considered part of the European cultural world. The region, then called Mauretania, was colonized by Phoenicians, then Phoenicia's descendent Carthage. After the Punic Wars there were a number of independent kingdoms in the region. They were weak, and the later ones were client-kings for Rome. Mauretania was eventually officially annexed by the Roman Empire in 46 CE and made a province. The region was conquered by the Vandals in the 400s CE, along with Spain. The whole time, Mauretania and its Berber tribes were considered the very edge of European culture, but European nonetheless.

It was the Arabic Empire that changed the cultural makeup of Morocco. The region was conquered by Muslim Arabs around 685 CE and incorporated into the new Umayyad Caliphate, ruled from Damascus. Its native Berber tribes slowly converted to Islam. Ever since, the country has been considered part of the wider Middle East sphere.

The Ancient Heritage of the Pearl

Pearls have long been considered a precious gem. They were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BCE! And we know they were used as adornment from ancient times because a fragment of pearl jewelry was found in a Persian princess' sarcophagus dating to around 420 BCE.

Beautiful, Deadly Spirals

Celtic bronze sword, from between the 400s and 100s BCE. Found at the La Osera necropolis in Spain.

How Buddha's Aunt Convinced Him To Allow Women To Become Nuns -- With An Ancient Protest March

Buddha founded a monk's order in his lifetime. But he refused to start an order for women, even though his aunt Gotami -- who had nursed him and raised him as her own -- asked three times. So she decided to lead a walk of women who wanted to become nuns. Though in her seventies, Gotami and 500 supporters shaved their heads, donned a monk's yellow robes, and walked more than 100 miles to the Jetavana monastery where the Buddha taught.

When they arrived, covered in dust and with abused feet, Buddha again refused. No reason was given. The monk Ananda, one of the Buddha’s principal disciples and his cousin, offered to speak to the Buddha on the women's behalf. He is said to have asked the Buddha first directly to start a women's order. The Buddha said no. So Ananda asked whether women were unable to become enlightened? Could they attain the bliss of statehood? The Buddha replied that yes, a woman can become enlightened. So why can they not become nuns? With those words, Ananda changed the Buddha's mind, and the first order of Buddhist nuns was formed in the Buddha's lifetime.

So you don't give the Buddha too much credit, nuns were considered inferior to monks in several regards. There were eight conditions the new order of nuns had to follow: Nuns, no matter how senior, must defer to monks, even new ones. They could never chide or advise a monk, and yet had to seek the counsel of the male order and abide by the rules of both the male and female orders. Nuns also had to study two years before being ordained, compared to a year for monks, and had to live within six hours travel of a male order. The rules seem ridiculous and sexist, today. But Gotami had gotten what she wanted, through the power of peaceful protest.

The Mayans Had Steam Baths!

It's true! The Mayans liked to get clean, by sweating. And archaeologists may have discovered a new, very old, steam bath. A team of researchers have uncovered a stone structure at Guatemala’s Maya site of Nakum that may have served as the foundation of a steam bath as early as 700 BCE. The excavators first discovered the entrance to a tunnel carved out of rock in an area of the site surrounded by temples, pyramids, and palaces. Like some modern-day Indiana Joneses, they followed the tunnel down a set of stairs, to a second tunnel, which ends in a rectangular room with rock-cut benches. An oval hearth in the wall opposite the entrance to the room is thought to have been used to heat large stones. Just pour on water - and voila! A steam bath! The structure was deliberately and completely sealed with mortar and rubble around 300 BCE. Maybe steam baths went out of fashion?

Did You Know Ancient Greeks Invented Flamethrowers?

(We think.) The first recorded example of military flamethrowing appears in Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War between Athens ad Sparta in 431 to 404 BCE.

During the Battle of Delium in 424 BCE, the Athenians were surrounded and dug in at a fort made of wood and vines. Rather than wait them out, the Spartans hollowed out a great wooden log, lined it with an iron pipe, filled it with a smoldering mixture of coal, sulfur, and pitch. They attached a giant bellows to the Spartan end of the pipe, and were able to blow and burn down the Athenians’ fort. After this, it appears the Spartan invention became a standard weapon in war.

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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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