This highly polished piece, believed to be Aztec, shows a monkey holding his tail over his head. It is one of the star pieces in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum). And it could be a fake!
The piece was catalogued in the museum as having come them in 1880 from ‘an ancient tomb, found in the grounds of an hacienda near Tezcoco.' But how did it end up at the museum? The monkey was the subject of an article written in 1884 by the French collector and archaeologist Eugene Boban, who claimed that a Dr. Rafael Lucio had obtained the piece in 1869 after spotting it in the home of a patient of his. The patient had apparently ‘bought the object from a peasant farmer who found it on an hacienda, in exchange for a sheep “worth 12 reales”’. But Boban later wrote that ancient Mexicans ‘never made figures or idols of obsidian’, concentrating their work mainly on masks, jewellery and adornments, concluding ‘all obsidian objects with body, arms and legs can be considered fake.' He would know, as both an expert in Mexican antiquities, and aware of the existence of numerous fake pieces (most importantly including obsidian ones) made somewhere near the small town of San Juan Teotihuacán. If a fake it is one of the most famous fake pre-Columbian Mexican artifacts outside of the crystal skulls. Boban's suspicions about the obsidian monkey has been a continuous feature of the artifact's history. As has its prominence at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
In the late 1200s and early 1300s, English people joked that there were two kings in England. One was in London and wore a crown, and one was in Durham and wore a miter. The second man was Antony Bek, bishop of Durham. He was bishop of Durham from 1284 until his death in 1311.
As bishop of Durham, Bek was the head of the independent "palatinate of Durham." This was a quasi-state with large landholdings recognized by the English crown. The palatinate could mint coins, raise armies, administer justice, and collect taxes. In return for these rights, the palatinate had to protect its territory from the enduring threat of Scottish invasion into far northeastern England. It was a sort of especially independent marcher holding that was headed, not by a hereditary marquess, but by a bishop. This made Bek a military, diplomatic, and religious leader. And not just in England too -- while on crusade with King Edward I he was named patriarch of Jerusalem, a title that made him the most senior churchman in England.
Ancient China had its own form of mixed martial arts. Called lei tai, it was a no-holds-barred mixed combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, boxing and wrestling. Killing your opponent was allowed. The sport was played by having a man on a rail-less platform who would invite anyone who wished to challenge them. If a challenger won, they became the man on the platform. But if a man beat enough opponents they would win acclaim as a “champion.” One famous champion, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam, fought over 150 people over 18 days to become a champion.
The modern form of lei tai appeared during the Song Dynasty. It is still practiced, though in a modified form that makes deaths less likely.
Aztec god of rain, Tlaloc, was believed to need children's tears to perform his duties. Priests of Tlaloc would induce child sacrifices to cry before they were killed. Children would be sacrificed starting in a certain month each year, and continue to be sacrificed until "the rains began in abundance."
Archaeological evidence has added nuance to this tale. First, there is evidence of multiple pre-death injuries to the children which would have caused significant pain. The Tlaloc priests were not shy in inducing those tears.
Another interesting archaeological find: child sacrifice remains have been found outside of Aztec and other Mesoamerican cities, whereas many adult sacrifice remains have been found inside cities. It seems the people could stomach child sacrifice, but only so long as they did not have to watch.
Ivalyo of Bulgaria started life as a peasant. But he knew how to take advantage of opportunity when it presented itself. Ivalyo lived while King Constantine Tich was on the throne, and Bulgaria was struggling both with the Tatar invaders and an economic crisis. Ivalyo put together a peasant army that would defend Northern Bulgaria against the Tatars and defeated them in numerous battles.
King Constantine was grateful (probably) but peasant armies are usurping the throne's monopoly on force, so his gratitude did not stop King Constantine from leading his army to put down the peasants. And in a surprise twist, the king's army lost. They lost so badly that Constantine was killed by Ivalyo!
What followed next was even more unusual: Queen Mary decided to marry Ivalyo in 1278, effectively making him king, and in charge of handling ongoing threats from the Tartars and the Byzantines. King Ivalyo did what Queen Mary had hoped. He won battles against the Tatars and against the Byzantines with his army of peasants. But eventually King Ivalyo met a foe he could not defeat, and he decided to try teaming up with Nogai, a Tartar leader. Who not only declined to join forces but killed King Ivalyo. Thus came to an end an illustrious career.
Today, Ivalyo is known as "King Ivalyo the Cabbage" -- probably a reference to his humble origins.
Aztecs used matchmakers! When a family had an eligible son, the parents would ask for the help of a matchmaker to find a potential wife. The bridegroom was usually around 20 years old. The matchmaker would put two families in contact. If the families agreed, and the match was liked by the community, the parents of the groom would offer a bride-price for the bride. When the bride's parents accepted the bride-price a wedding could be planned!
The most recent archaeological evidence suggests a consistent pattern of finding between 90-150 individual remains at each of the the major archaeological sites in Mexico City. Based on the age of the city, and the Aztec religious calendar, the math suggests the Aztecs sacrificed 18 to 25 individuals every year. This might go up during times of stress. We have at least one recorded drought when they increased the number of human sacrifices in response. But in general, this is a much lower number than the popular imagination would have you believe. Another win for archaeology!
Built and inhabited between 1000 CE till it was abandoned around the 1400s CE.