An Anecdote on Shakespeare, the Mexican-American War, and the Male Psyche

In 1845 the US President James Polk ordered about half of the United States army to enter Texas, then an independent country the US had just annexed, and set up camp north of the new Mexican border. Polk wanted to provoke Mexico into attacking and starting a war. The army was basically told to mass just close enough to Mexican border to be worrisome, then stay put and do nothing. As you can imagine the men started drinking, fighting, and generally behaving like bored young men. Their officers decided to curb the rowdy behavior by...building a theater and staging Shakespeare plays! Only logical solution, really.

The first play planned was Othello. They found an officer, Porter, to play the lead role, but then there was a problem: who could play Desdemona? The officers eventually discovered a slim, girlish officer who everyone acknowledged looked great in a dress. His name was Ulysses S Grant. So this is the story of how the man who would become the general that led the Union Army in the American Civil War, then led the country as president through the start of Reconstruction after slavery was abolished, spent time rehearsing what it would be like to be a white woman in love with a black man.

In the end Porter could not handle playing Othello opposite Grant as Desdemona, and they brought in an actress from New Orleans. Makes you think about American society's willingness to accommodate male fragility around their sexuality.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend, 1918

Notice the noses! Despite the attempt at preventing the spread of the flu, their masks do not cover their noses and they are standing quite near each other. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be aware that despite their precautions, their noses meant the flu could still be exchanged.

New Discovery in the Heart of the Roman Forum

An intriguing stone sarcophagus has been found in an underground chamber lying below what was once the steps into the Curia Julia, or the Roman senate house, in the Roman Forum. The Curia Julia was built by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE as a new and modern senate house. But the sarcophagus and stone cylinder in front of it have been dated to as early as the late 500s BCE, based on studying the layers of the forum.

The combination of the sarcophagus and the cylinder suggest the cylinder could be an alter. Potentially even a symbolic tomb or shrine to the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, at the center of the city that he founded. Similar monuments to mythic founders or ancient heros are known to have existed in other cities in the Graeco-Roman world. Excavations were due to continue in April 2020, which might have revealed more about the rediscovered chamber...but, well...

How To Distinguish Male and Female Dinosaurs

Here's a pretty basic paleontology question: how were male dinosaurs and female dinosaurs different? The answer, it turns out, is that we do not know. Sexing dinosaurs has long been contentious. They have a long growth period, meaning larger and smaller examples from the same species may just represent older and younger dinosaurs. And a recent study found that we cannot say for certain that dinosaurs displayed "sexual dimorphism" -- that is, that the sexes looked physically different (examples of sexual dimorphism in humans are beards on males and enlarged busts on females). In other words there may be no way to tell, using our current methods, whether a dinosaur was male or female.

France Made Already-Free Slaves Pay For Their Freedom

When Haiti's slaves fought for their independence (and won) against France, France required its former colony to pay "reparations" to the French government and French slaveholders for the "theft" of their slaves. Costing billions of dollars in today's money, it was financed by French banks and the American Citibank. The debt was only paid off in 1947. Having to continually send money out of the country has been a major factor in maintaining Haitian poverty over the past two centuries. France, by the way, continues to refuse considering repaying the reparations back to Haiti.

In the remains of a fireplace in Jordan a flatbread was discovered that dated back 14,500 years. What makes it especially interesting is that's about 4,000 years before agriculture was thought to have arose in the region. It seems that the Natufian people who baked it used grains that were gathered from wild growing barley and oats, as well as mixing in tubers of plants that they dug up. Of course, this raises the question: did baking delicious bread help encourage the development of agriculture so they could make more bread more easily?

Skara Brae, the famous prehistoric stone village in Scotland's Orkney Islands, was preserved in part thanks to a giant sand dune. The Neolithic village rested peacefully under a giant dune for millennia until wild storms ripped away its protection in the winter of 1850.

Locals were surprised to find a midden heap and sunken stone homes that had been peacefully sitting under the dune their whole lives. The discovery turned out to be the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in northern Europe thanks to the dune. It even had some prehistoric furniture!

The dune, by the way, was named Skara Brae.

Who Was The World's First Author?

Definitely done a post on this lady before, but the video gives a lot more information.

Using Genetics To Understand Central Andean Populations Across Time

A recent genetic study of ancient human remains found in the highlands and coastal regions of Peru’s Central Andes Mountains indicates that around 7,000 BCE, groups that lived in the highlands were genetically distinct from those that lived along the Pacific coast, and that by 3,800 BCE, the population that lived in the north was genetically distinct from the population in the south.

This is not to make too strong a statement about populations living in isolation from each other: there was some evidence of intermarriage between these groups. But the rate of gene exchange slowed around 2,000 years ago. And these groupings are still in evidence today, in the genes of Peru's modern inhabitants.

Because the researchers found a high level of genetic continuity, the study suggests that the fall of Andean cultures such as the Moche, Wari, and Nazca were not the result of massive immigration. Nor did local people did not die out when they were invaded. If such mass population changes had occurred it would have been shown in the genetic record. However, remains from urban centers do show evidence of diverse origins: cities were gathering places for individuals from varied genetic (and geographical) backgrounds.

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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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