All That Glitters Is Orange?

Usually, when we think of gold, we think of a warm yellow color. But the Nahuange, who lived in northern Colombia during the first millenium CE, intentionally treated gold jewelry so that it looked pinkish orange. A recent study analyzed 44 Nahuange artifacts from the Museum of Gold in Colombia, and found that they were made from tumbaga, a gold alloy which contains a substantial percentage of copper. They were also all "depletion gilded" which means copper was removed from the surface through hammering, a heating and cooling process, or both. The result was a golden shine on the outside which hid the metal's true high-copper content. That gilding was later removed, on purpose, to bring the copper's pinkish tones out. So initially, the jewelry makers desired golden objects, but at some later point, it was preferable to have pinkish-orange jewelry.

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.


"No one in their country ever ploughs a field or touches a plough-handle. They are all without fixed abode, without hearth, or law, or settled mode of life, and keep roaming from place to place, like fugitives, accompanied by the wagons in which they live."

Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, describing the Huns when they first appeared to the Roman world in the 300s CE (Res gestae 31.2.10)

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.

What’s A King To A Caesar?

From 27 BCE to 1946 CE, someone, somewhere in Europe has had a title “Caesar.” The czar of Russia, the kaiser of Germany...many, many European titles were just local derivatives of “Caesar.”

The last Caesar was Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was removed from office in 1946 by the Soviets. He’s still alive, too!

On January 1st, 404 CE, the city of Rome saw its last official gladiator battle. The Emperor Honorius declared the tradition finished in 399 CE.

 

Pañamarca has impressive ruins from the Moche culture, which flourished on the northwest coast of Peru between 200 CE and 900 CE. Amazingly, many murals in Pañamarca still retain their colors, over 1,000 years after the last painter laid down his brush. The site was deliberately buried sometime around 750 CE. And in doing so, the Moche unintentionally preserved their art for future archaeologists to discover.

   

This mural is on one of the pillars of the imaginatively named "Temple of the Painted Pillars." The figures hold typical Moche objects, including a plate with three purple goblets, a multicolored stirrup-spout bottle, and a feather fan.

 

One day, King Vahahran, seated with his queen in an open pavilion overlooking the plain, saw two wild asses approaching. With his bow the strong man, skilled in the chase, transfixed both of the animals with one well-aimed shot. Turning to his spouse to receive the applause he thought due him, the wife replied: "Practice makes perfect." Angered at the lightness with which his skillful feat was received, he ordered her to be executed, but quickly repented, and simply divorced her from the palace.

In quiet moments, he repented of his haste. For years, he had no trace of the former queen, but when hunting one day he beheld a scene which quickly excited his curiosity and admiration. It was a woman carrying upon her shoulders a cow, with which, indeed, she easily walked up and down the stairs of the country house. On asking her concerning the remarkable feat, she replied, as she dropped her veil: "Practice makes perfect." The king recognized his wife, now no longer young, but still possessing physical charms, and invited her to take her place again in the palace.

The woman had commenced to carry the cow when it was but a tiny calf, and had shrewdly planned the feat in the hope that some day she might win back her husband's respect.

A story from the Sassanian Empire, circa 300 CE. Edward B. Pollard, Oriental Women (Philadelphia: Rittenhouse Press, 1908), pp. 193-194

Historians have just discovered the oldest reference to the mathematical concept of "zero" in India. The concept of zero as a number was revolutionary in mathematics. In Eurasia, the idea came from India (and the Mayans separately invented it hundreds of years late in the Americas) but exactly when zero was first conceived in India is a bit of a mystery. Now, we have a potential clue: the Bakhshali manuscript, which a farmer dug up the text from a field in 1881 in the village of Bakhshali, near Peshawar in what is today Pakistan. It consists of 70 leaves of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeros in the form of dots. Why was it only just discovered, if the farmer dug it up over 100 years ago?     People knew what it was, and knew it zeros throughout the text. But they thought the Bakhshali manuscript was written between the 700s and the 1100s CE. Since the oldest then-known written reference to zero was the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta's work "Brahmasphutasiddhanta," which was written in 628 CE, the Bakhshali manuscript was a lot less exciting. It was a mathematical manuscript utilizing the newly-invented concept of zero, which astronomers had been using for at least a couple decades before the Bakhshali.     But recent, more advanced carbon dating resulted in three different dates for different parts of the Bakhshali manuscript. It appears now to be not one document but several, put together. And the oldest part dated to 224 to 383 CE! That is hundreds of years before Brahmagupta! Two other parts dated to 680 to 779 CE, and 885 to 993 CE, which is probably why earlier analyses got the manuscript's age wrong. If further tests confirm the findings, the Bakhshali manuscript moves up when zero was invented to the same time the Roman Empire was falling to barbarians, the Three Kingdoms Period was reordering China, and Teotihuacan was near the heights of its power.

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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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