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.
About ten kilometers from the abandoned city of Persepolis, Naghsh-e Rostam is less well known but similarly impressive. The sheer size of the tombs, cut out of the cliff face, helps you to understand the power and wealth of the Archaemenid empire (also known as the 'First Persian Empire'), which ruled almost half the worlds population at its height, around 450 BCE. The tombs are positioned high enough to be inaccessible to tourists. The necropolis contains the tombs of Darius I, Darius II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I, with a fifth unfinished tomb probably intended for Darius III. It was unfinished because the Archaemenids were conquered by Alexander the Great. He spared the Naghsh-e Rostam tombs when he burnt down nearby Persepolis, although the four tombs were ransacked either by his troops or by grave-robbers in the following years.
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.
The discovery of a “sealed” Stone Age house site from 3500 BCE in Norway is the finest preserved house from the funnel beaker culture which lived in the area at the time. The dwelling site lies 11 meters (36 feet) over sea level today, but was at the water’s edge 5,500 years ago. The site looks like it was covered by a sandstorm, possibly in the course of a few hours. At the time, Norway was much drier, and sandstorms were not unusual according to the earth's strata from the time. Which is lucky for today's archaeologists! The site is so well-preserved that it has been described as a "mini-Pompeii."
Stone Age tools found in Namibia dating back to 200,000 years ago are the earliest remains of humans yet identified in Africa. The tools are believed to have belonged to a Homo sapiens predecessor, Homo erectus.
Greek philosopher-historian Xenophon records that Larissa, a town on the banks of the river Tigris, somewhere in modern Iraq, had once been a well-fortified stronghold. Although it had become a deserted city by the time Xenophon saw it in 401 BCE. At its height, Larissa had 100 foot high clay brick walls, sitting on a 20 foot stone base, which encircled the entire city. Those are very tall, especially for the 600s BCE. It had proven too high for the Persian army. They had repeatedly tried, and failed, to take Larissa about 200 years before, according to Xenophon.
But then the heavens intervened. "A cloud covered up the sun and hid it from sight" Xenophon wrote. The Larissans, terrified, abandoned their city. Some hid on a pyramid nearby. Others simply fled. Larissa was left without defenders, and the Persians easily captured the city, although it probably wasn’t worth much without any inhabitants.
The track of the total eclipse which happened on May 19, 557 BCE, passed through southern Syria and Iraq. This may have been the astronomical event that Xenophon wrote about, 150 years later.
An intricate pattern covers one side, an oval motif covers the other. At about 1.7 m long, or 5.5 feet, it's a big piece of wood. And if the dating holds up, it is the oldest decorative wood carving in Europe. Analyses currently place it at 6,270 years old, to the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic period.
The wood carving is one of twelve lengths of timber that were uncovered on this particular Welsh mountainside; once the carving was found, further excavations were done on the hillside, but nothing besides the timber was found. That suggests the 12 lengths of timber were placed on this specific hill for a specific purpose. Archaeologists have theorized a number of possible purposes, including a tribal boundary, a hunting ground, and a sacred spot.
Humanity's ancestors 5,000 years ago brightened up their Stone Age homes by painting the insides, according to new archaeological evidence from the Orkney Islands in Britain. They used red, yellow and orange pigments from ground-up minerals and bound it with animal fat and eggs to make their paint. Because who wants to live in a plain stone hut, even in 3,000 BCE? The new Orkney finds are the earliest ever example of man using paint to decorate their properties in Britain, if not in Europe.
Patricia Bath was a scientist long before she became one by profession. She won several science awards as a high school student. She then went off to college and received her B.A. from Hunter College in Manhattan in 1964. Then it was off to medical school: she earned her medical degree in 1968 from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then returned to New York for further training. Bath became the first black ophthalmology resident at New York University in the early 1970s. And she had a daughter while finishing off her residency! Pretty impressive, so far. But Bath's invention of the Laserphaco Probe a decade later was what really put her name in the history books. She invented an amazing new procedure, far ahead of its time—the tiny surgical device used lasers to disintegrate cataracts from within the eyes of patients, helping to fix a major public health problem. Bath was also the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent for her device and procedure.
This is what bananas used to look like! When it was first domesticated, between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, Papua New Guineas were eating a very different thing than we eat today. Today’s sweet, seedless bananas are the result of thousands of years of cross-pollinating and selective breeding.