The Re-Discovery of Cahokia's Beaded Burial

The people buried in one of America’s most famously ornate prehistoric graves are not who we thought they were, according to a new analysis. A new study of 900-year-old human remains, originally unearthed nearly 50 years ago at what was once Cahokia, reveals that their burial has been fundamentally misunderstood. The number of people buried there was wrong. The sexes of those buried there was wrong. Basically, archaeologists had been mis-interpreting Cahokia's most magnificent burial, and what that implies about its culture, for decades.

When Cahokia's Mound 72 was first excavated in 1967, researchers uncovered more than 270 people buried there in a series of mass graves sometime between 1000 and 1200 CE. But the mound’s centerpiece was a scene that that archaeologists described as a resplendent grave of six elite men.

It was nicknamed "The Beaded Burial" because of the centerpiece. Two bodies, stacked on top of each other, blanketed with more than 20,000 beads made from marine shells. The coating of beads appeared to be arranged into a tapered shape, resembling the head of a bird. Archaeologists theorized these beads connected Cahokia to the beliefs of modern Native American groups, specifically in the Bird Man: a legendary falcon-warrior hero whose beaked face has appeared on artifacts from Cahokia to Georgia. The two men underneath were real-life representations of the Bird Man, or perhaps his chosen rulers on earth. They were surrounded by four other men, perhaps the leaders' servants, perhaps representing other figures in the Bird Man myth. Regardless, the implications were clear: Cahokia was ruled by male warriors.

A recent re-analysis of the Beaded Burial shows this interpretation is fundamentally wrong. Because it was not two men buried under the beads, but a man and a woman. Likewise, a bundle of unarticulated bones that had been interpreted as one man's remains was actually the remains of both a male and female. And the team even discovered remains that had never been reported before, those a child between the ages of 3 and 6, alongside another female. All told, the researchers accounted for the remains of 12 people, not six, and at least four of them were female. Which makes you wonder if the original archaeologists were sexist, or bad at their job. Or both!

Some Mayan Cities Were Still Occupied When The Spanish Showed Up

The Maya city of Tulum, once a major trading port on the Yucatan Pensinsula, was still occupied in the 1500s. While the Maya civilization precipitously declined in the 800s CE, a handful of cities survived and even grew when their neighbors shrank and vanished. Tulum was one such city. A Spanish expedition in 1518 sailed past and the crew was said to be astonished by the city's grandeur, apparently describing it as "a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better."

Unfortunately, Tulum could survive 600 years after their wider civilization collapsed, but Tulum could not survive 100 years of European contact. It was abandoned by the end of the century after diseases carried from Europe decimated the population.

Rongo Rongo: The Mystery Script of Easter Island

Easter Island was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 1770s. There they encountered the indigenous Easter Islanders, or the Rapa Nui. They had been living on Easter Island since at least the 1200s CE, and possibly since the 300s CE.

Sometime between 1650 CE and 1860 CE, the Rapa Nui developed a type of picture writing called “rongo rongo” or “to recite.” There is great debate about whether they independently invented writing. Or whether the Spanish gave them the idea of symbols to represent sounds. Unfortunately, by the 1860s the Rapa Nui had forgotten how to read the script. Today it remains undeciphered.

Ohaguro: An Interesting Japanese Beauty Standard

Women in ancient Japan blackened their teeth with dye. White teeth were considered ugly. Evidence for this practice, called ohaguro, exists from as far back as the Kofun Period and (250 to 538 CE) in bone remains and on clay human figurines.

Ohaguro continued until the late 1800s and the Meiji Restoration.

The World's Oldest Library Finds Hidden Treasures

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. In the earlier days of books, the parchment they were written on was extremely valuable -- sometimes more valuable than the words written on them. So when someone wanted to copy down a new book, rather than purchase or make a new parchment, they scrapped the words off an older book and wrote the new book instead. Such texts are called "palimpsests." Saint Catherine's has at least 160 plaimpsests. The manuscripts bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing, the only hint of the treasures they hid.

In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away.

And what they found are truly treasures. They found new poems -- or rather, very old poems -- and early religious texts and some rare-language texts doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years. Perhaps most valuable, though, are the entirely new words, in long-forgotten languages. It will take religious, medieval, and linguistic scholars years to sift through all the finds!

Vikings Appreciated Their Wives

Women during the Viking Age were living in a male-dominated society. But that didn't mean they were not appreciated.  The inscription found on a stone in Hassmyra, Sweden – the only verse found on a Swedish inscribed stone that commemorates a woman – certainly seems to show that "women's work" was essential and valued:

The good farmer Holmgaut had this raised in memory of his wife Odindis. A better housewife will never come to Hassmyra who arranges the estate. Red Balli carved these runes. She was a good sister to Sigmund.

  • <
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • >
  • Leave us a message

    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!

    Website design and coding by the Amalgama

    About us X