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.

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)

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.

Caligula, the Roman emperor who was ... mentally challenged ... tried to emulate Alexander the Great by riding horseback across a bridge of boats over the Naples Bay. And he did it dressed in a breastplate Caligula had stolen from Alexander's tomb.

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.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • >
  • Leave us a message

    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!

    Website design and coding by the Amalgama

    About us X