Beautiful, Deadly Spirals

Celtic bronze sword, from between the 400s and 100s BCE. Found at the La Osera necropolis in Spain.

The Mayans Had Steam Baths!

It's true! The Mayans liked to get clean, by sweating. And archaeologists may have discovered a new, very old, steam bath. A team of researchers have uncovered a stone structure at Guatemala’s Maya site of Nakum that may have served as the foundation of a steam bath as early as 700 BCE. The excavators first discovered the entrance to a tunnel carved out of rock in an area of the site surrounded by temples, pyramids, and palaces. Like some modern-day Indiana Joneses, they followed the tunnel down a set of stairs, to a second tunnel, which ends in a rectangular room with rock-cut benches. An oval hearth in the wall opposite the entrance to the room is thought to have been used to heat large stones. Just pour on water - and voila! A steam bath! The structure was deliberately and completely sealed with mortar and rubble around 300 BCE. Maybe steam baths went out of fashion?

Giraffes Were Thought To Be What Now?

The ancient Greeks and Romans thought giraffes were an unnatural offspring of a camel and a leopard. Due to the animal's camel-like shape and leopard-like spots. The camel's Latin name is pretty simple: "camelopardalis." Which is how the camel's scientific name came to be "Giraffa camelopardalis."

Where Is The Mind Located?

Now we know the answer: the brain. But ancient humanity did not know. A number of famous thinkers have placed the mind in a number of places around the body

  • Aristotle: the heart. It is the center of the body and the first organ to be discerned in an embryo
  • Thomas Aquinas: the ventricles (empty spaces) of the brain. Being pure spirit, the mind lives in the empty parts of the body and survives beyond death.
  • Rene Descartes: the pineal gland.

Between 300 BCE and 300 CE, prehistoric Japanese people buried their dead in jars. The pottery jars would vary in size, and the quality of grave goods placed in or around the jars would denote upper- from lower-class citizens. Older burials are deeper (which makes sense) and newer burials are closer to the surface.

Goldworking Is Ancient Technology In The Americas

Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.

This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.

What Textiles Tell Us About Ancient Italy and Greece

In the ancient world, textiles were a valuable commodity, because every piece of cloth had to be made by hand. Clothing was important economically. Early Bronze Age Linear B tablets from the Aegean Sea document the careful attention given to managing textile production, and on the other side of the globe, the Incan Empire levied tribute in textiles. Unfortunately, clothing and the cloth they are made form tend not to survive in the archaeological record. They often have to be studied indirectly, by examining the scraps of textile that survive in the extremes of arid or waterlogged conditions, and comparing the scraps to visual or sculptural records of clothing. Recent frozen discoveries from the retreating glaciers of the Alps offer new insight into ancient Greek and ancient Roman textiles.

Iron Age Italians seem to have favored a weave known as a twill. When colors are used, they will create neat diagonal patterns (most notably in the modern tweed). Currently, the earliest known examples of twills are from Hallstatt in Austria. The Italians likely shared textile production preferences with their northern European neighbors, placing the Romans firmly in the European textile tradition.

In Greece, a form of weave known as a tabby was the most popular. It is considered the simplest type of textile available, when in purest form: horizontal and vertical threads repeatedly pass over and under each other. The ancient Greeks favored a particular type of tabby, however, where the horizontal threads were beaten into the weave so hard that the vertical strands become near-invisible. It is perfect for bold blocks of color, and can make more varied designs than just diagonals; such a technique has been used to produce spectacular tapestries and Turkish carpets. Early examples of this tabby have been found in ancient Ur, in Iraq, and in Turkey. Twill weaves have notably not been found in ancient Greece or in the ancient Near East. That situates the Greeks in the Eastern textile tradition, relatively uninfluenced by their northwestern neighbors.

By looking at their textiles, then, we can tell that Iron Age Italy and ancient Greece were culturally in two different spheres. Italy took after its European neighbors, while Greece took after the Near East. They were a small example of the wider break between East and West.

Burning the Books of the Prophet

Zoroastrianism, arguably the world's first religion to worship just one god, still exists today -- mainly in India. But it barely survived an ancient blow. Specifically, the conquests of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander took Persia in the 320s BCE, large portions of the compiled works of Zarathustra were lost, in the destruction of cities and holy places. Some say it had once been over 12,000 pages. What remained was re-collected after Alexander's death, named the Avesta, and standardized into a five-part text which is still used by believers today.

The main section, named the Gathas, is the oldest: it contains 17 hymns believed to have been written by Zarathustra during his lifetime. Other sections contain prayers, rituals, accounts of how the world was created, and Zoroastrian law.

A head in the Ecuadorian Chorrera art style. Circa 300 BCE to 600 CE. This was a time of social, political, economic, and artistic innovations in the region, prompted by agricultural improvements and a growing population. New settlements and towns, with ever-larger numbers of inhabitants, triggered the need for methods to manage village life and ensure the well-being of the community, which, in turn, led to greater social hierarchy. Hand-in-hand with the growing social complexity was the appearance of more complex religious practices. Both developments encouraged the desire for novel artworks to express the new sociopolitical and spiritual ideologies that characterize this dynamic time throughout ancient Ecuador.

The earlier Valdivia figurine tradition developed into an elaborate figural art form with such novel artistic expressions as the elegant, mold-made sculptures of the Jama Coaque and La Tolita styles of Ecuador's northwestern coastal region. This particular figure likely is an example of La Tolita style, which is differentiated by its heightened naturalism.

Ancient Greek Helmets - A Review

Sometimes it is fun to learn the small stuff. So today, let's learn way too much about ancient Greek helmets!

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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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