Archaeologists' Tire Goes Flat, Helping Them Discover 3,000-Year-Old Society

A flat tire in 2016 led to the chance find of some pottery by the side of the road on Quan Lan Island, in the Ha Long Bay region in Vietnam. When the archaeologist investigated, they were surprised to discover that the pottery was over 3,000 years old! The team returned to the area in 2018 after securing permission to do excavations from the local Vietnamese government. They found evidence that indeed, Quan Lan Island was once home to a Neolithic society which left behind ceramics, tools, and various other detritus for modern archaeologists to find.

This as-yet-unnamed society came to a mysterious end. About 3,000 years ago, the artifacts just stop. Something happened. The next big question, now that this island society has been discovered, is what led to its end?

A Bucolic Medieval Song

  This is the musical manuscript for one of the best-known English medieval songs, 'Sumer is icumen in' (the Middle English for 'summer is coming in'). The lyrics describe the sounds of a country landscape at the start of summer. Some of those sounds might make a modern reader chuckle:    

'The ewe bleats after the lamb

The cow lows after the calf.

The bullock stirs, the stag farts,

Merrily sing, Cuckoo!'

  Instructions on how to perform the song are given in the bottom right-hand corner of the page. This page comes from a volume of mid-1200s manuscripts, which probably was written at Reading Abbey. The song is the earliest known manuscript in which both religious and non-religious words are written to the same piece of music.  

Taino Woman's DNA Yields Clues About Modern Caribbean Peoples

Researchers mapped the genome of an ancient Taino woman using DNA from one of her teeth. She was buried 1,000 years ago at a site called Preacher’s Cave on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. She is most closely related to present-day Arawakan speakers in northern South America, where her ancestors likely originated. But the study revealed that she is also partly related to some modern Puerto Ricans. The findings support some continuity in the western Caribbean between the modern population and their pre-Columbus ancestors.

When Defending Rats Makes You A Great Lawyer

There was a famous trial in Autun, in west-central France, in 1522. Some rats were charged in court with feloniously eating and wantonly destroying the province’s barley crop. The rats were ordered to appear in court and answer the charges.

When they failed to show up, the rats’ attorney argued that the summons were too specific. It was not fair to summon only a handful of specific rats. He insisted that all the rats in the diocese should be summoned and that the summons should be read from the pulpits of all the parishes in the area. Just to make sure. The court agreed and another hearing was scheduled.

When all the rats in the diocese failed to appear on the specified court date, the defense attorney again had a perfectly reasonable explanation: the rats really did want to come to court, but were afraid to leave their holes and make the long journey because of the vigilance of the plaintiff’s cats. He added that the rats would appear if the plaintiffs posted bonds under heavy penalties that the cats would not molest his clients. The judges thought this was a fair request, but the plaintiffs refused to be responsible for the behavior of their cats. And so the case was adjourned without setting a date for another hearing -- in effect ending the case in the rats’ favor.

The attorney, named Bartholomew Chassenée, went on to become a famous French lawyer.

The world’s first telegraph line was set up between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between the stations. The first message was sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, from DC to Baltimore. It said: "What hath God wrought?" in -- what else -- morse code. Since the line could only transmit electrical signals, manipulating that signal was the only way to communicate.

Morse code became a standard method of communication for the next hundred years. It was still in use by all sides during World War II!

What Did Vietnam Look Like In The Late 1800s?

This undated manuscript is a lovely example of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese cartography, with some western influences. Named “Comprehensive map of Vietnam’s provinces” (Việt Nam toàn tỉnh dư đồ) it appears to have been painted around 1890.     Most of the map is in traditional Vietnamese and Chinese style. The map does not have a precise scale. It shows Vietnamese provincial organization loosely, with province names enclosed in red in the right places, but with no attempt at provincial borders. Almost every river mouth and estuary is named, reflecting a traditional Vietnamese view of their land, Non Nước (Mountains and Water). It also has a lovely and traditional pictorial style, with mountains and rivers and even a “gate” at the border between Vietnam and China.     The map’s western elements are scant: the shapes of the Vietnamese coastline is fairly accurate, as is the Mekong River and the lake of Tonle Sap in Cambodia.

Naming Nations

A surprisingly large number of countries have changed their names! A few more than once. (Note, this map does not include name changes due to independence or mergers -- so, South Sudan does not appear.)

What's In A Word

The term "golem" appears in the Hebrew Bible with the meaning "formlessness." The Talmud, Jewish commentaries on the Bible and Jewish law, uses "golem" to mean an "uneducated person." From this combination comes the modern sense of the word: a clumsy, ugly, human-made monster who has no life until it is given to him by his creators.

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    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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