Diglossia is when a single community uses two languages or dialects. It is only diglossia if this is a stable situation -- not a transition from one language to another. In diglossia, one language is for everyday use (the low language), and one language is for specific situations (the high language) such as literature, formal education, or religious activities. The high language usually has no native speakers. Examples are Latin, used by scholars in the European Middle Ages, Mandarin for official communications and local dialects for everyday use in China, and literary Tamil versus spoken Tamil.
The earliest known diglossia is Middle Egyptian, the language in everyday use in Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (2000 - 1650 BCE). By the New Kingdom (1550 -1050 BCE) the language had evolved into Late Egyptian. And by the Persians, then Ptolemies, then Roman Empire, the language had evolved into Demotic (700 BCE - 400 CE). But Middle Egyptian remained the standard written, prestigious form, the high language, and was still in use until the 300s CE. That means it was used, unchanged, for over 1,900 years after people had stopped speaking it!
A tophet means a sacred precinct outside a city used for burials of sacrifices. In English it also means hell. Which is fitting, because recent evidence from Carthage's tophets contained tiny cremated human bones packed into urns and buried underneath tombstones with inscriptions that gave thanks to the gods. A recent study found that these burials were evidence that Carthage practiced infant sacrifice. As evidence, the researchers cited the inscriptions on the tombstones, which recorded that the gods had “heard my voice and blessed me." Some urns contained animal remains which have definitely been sacrificed and were buried in the exact same way as the children. Finally, the discovered skeletons were far too few to represent all the stillbirths and infant deaths that would occur in a city the size of Carthage 2,000 years ago. The evidence points towards elite Carthaginians engaging in child sacrifice to give thanks for blessings they have received from the gods.
Roman historian Diodorus claimed that in the city of Carthage there was a bronze statue of Cronus with his hands extended, palm up. All babies placed within would roll down into a pit of fire. The historian even made mention of rich families who bought poor children and raised them specifically for sacrifice. Romans and Greeks dismissed Diodorus' claims as anti-Carthaginian propaganda. But modern archaeology may have vindicated him -- though frankly this is something that he probably would have been happy to be wrong about.
Dragon Sculptures Evidence of Ancient Cultural Exchange Between China and Mongolia
Two gilded silver dragon figurines featuring detailed horns, eyes, teeth, and feathers have been discovered in a Xiongnu elite tomb in north-central Mongolia. The dragons bear obvious characteristics of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE). They are evidence of the cultural exchange and interaction between the prairie in the north and central China, as well as the high status of the Xiongu buried in the tomb. Of course, the silver dragons were not the only rich items they were buried with: a trove of gold, silver, bronze, jade and wood artifacts have also been found.
Athletes in ancient Greece smeared olive oil on their bodies before a competition. The oil made their skin more supple and made them appear, as classical writers described, "like gleaming statues of the gods."
And that was hard -- like "k" in English today. So Caesar? Should be pronounced "kaeser." Hence the modern descendents "tzar" and "kaiser." Interestingly, the Roman pronunciation was maintained in English in the name "Octavian" and "Cleopatra." Try saying them out loud!
Unusual Chinese Artifact Found in Japanese Riverbed
A bronze ring artifact from Japan has been identified as a weight for measuring commodities. The ring was found a while ago, in 1999, at the bottom of a dry riverbed which flowed during the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 BCE - 300 CE). The artifact is estimated to date to the second half of the 100s CE. The ring measures 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) across, is 0.7 cm (0.27 in) thick and weighs 89.30 grams (3.14 oz).
What makes the find special is that weight rings have previously been found only in China and Korea, as burial accessories. It has been known that Japan during this period had connections with China, as other Chinese-made artifacts from the the Early Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 8 CE) have been found in Japanese tombs. This ring weight suggests that Chinese trading practices, such as a semi-standardized weight system, were also making their way to Japan.
Ancient Chinese Elixir of Immortality Found - In A Tomb
A wealthy individual living in the Chinese city of Luoyang during the Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE to 8 CE) was buried with an assortment of fine bronze, jade, and ceramic objects. Among their burial goods was a jar containing a yellow liquid which smelled alcoholic. Amazingly, it had survived over 2,000 years without seeping away.
Although initially thought to be rice wine, a chemical analysis has revealed the liquid to be a mixture of potassium nitrate and alunite. These minerals are the main ingredients of the legendary “elixir of immortality” mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. Given that it was found as part of a burial, the elixir did not work.
Still, this is a major find. It is the first hard evidence that one of the various “immortality medicines” written about in ancient Chinese texts were actually made. And perhaps drunk, too.
Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an. It peaked in usage during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely -- along with knowledge of how to make the color.
It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!
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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!