Pasiphaë, the wife of King Minos, did not trust her husband. So she laid a spell on him. It kept him from ... having relations ... with anyone else. But in a very unusual way: if King Minos slept with a concubine not approved by Pasiphaë, he would ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes, killing the unlucky woman.
All rather ironic, since Pasiphaë herself was unfaithful. To be fair, she only cheated because of Poseidon, who was angry at King Minos; to punish the husband, Poseidon enchanted poor Pasiphaë to fall in love with a bull. The result of their "love" was the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull.
An amazing new site has been found in Peru: an undisturbed cemetery with burials from the Viru Period (200 BCE - 500 CE) and the earlier Salinar Period (400 BCE - 200 BCE). The richer graves actually date to the Salinar Period, with gold artifacts, ritual objects, and a stone mace head. Unfortunately, those skeletons also show severe injuries. Located in Huanchaco, on Peru's north coast, the site is at what is essentially a fishing village. Such a concentration of high-status burials shows that the Salinar period had strong social differentiation, even in a small village.
Xinhua reports that medical texts written more than 2,000 years ago, found on 48 of the more than 35,000 wooden slips discovered in a well in central China in 2002, have been analyzed by scholars. The texts on some of the slips recorded the command of Qin Shihuang, the country’s first emperor, to launch a nationwide search for an elixir of life, and replies from local governments and remote villages. For example, the village of Duxiang had not yet found a miraculous potion, but it reported that it would continue to search for one, while the people of Langya, located near the sea, handed over herbs collected from a local mountain. Medical texts on other slips recorded treatments such as acupuncture, oral medicines, and topical therapies administered in most cases to members of the upper class, under the direction of the government.
“It required a highly efficient administration and strong executive force to pass down a government decree in ancient times when transportation and communication facilities were undeveloped,” explained Zhang Chunlong of Hunan’s Provincial Institute of Archaeology. This is all the more impressive because it happened under the Qin, a short-lived dynasty of less than 15 years, which is considered the first Chinese dynasty which could truly call itself an empire.
Over one million mummies have been found in Egypt. Most are cats.
Giovanni Belzoni, an early Egyptologist, wrote in 1821 what it was like to enter an Egyptian tomb:
I sought a resting place, found one and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of a dead Egyptian, it crushed it like a band box. Naturally I had recourse to my hands to sustain my weight, but they found no better support; so that I collapsed together among the broken mummies with such a crash of bones, rags and wooden cases as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting until it subsided again. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some place or another… Thus I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies piled up in various ways, some standing, some lying and some on their heads.
This buffoon was known as the "Great Belzoni" and is still considered a pioneer archaeologist in the study of ancient Egypt. Seriously, read his wikipedia page, I couldn't believe it either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Geneticists investigating the ancient domestication of cats happened to find that ancient cats had stripes -- but no spots. A specific gene is responsible for spotted fur, and it is absent in ancient cats. How fur patterns relate to when cats began to live with humans, I do not know. Anyways, the researchers' findings were confirmed by Egyptian murals, which only show striped cats. The gene causing blotched or spotted coats only began to appear in Europe during the Middle Ages.
The mosaic above comes from the House of the Faun, in Pompeii, during the early Roman Empire. Roman cats, which were descended from Egyptian cats, were striped too.
Source: National Geographic History, November/December 2017. "Finicky Felines Take Their Time with Domestication." Pp. 4 - 5