What Is An Ice Age?

When you read that, an image probably came to mind: giant glaciers, people huddling for warmth, maybe a giant woolly mammoth or two. The problem with that definition of "Ice Age" is it defines what life is like now on Earth as "normal" and giant glaciers over the north and south pole as "abnormal." But is that true? Are we, in fact, living in a period of relative coolness? Is right now an "abnormal" Earth?

A better description of an ice age would be that it’s a long stretch of time in which both the atmosphere and the planet’s surface have a low temperature, resulting in the presence of polar ice sheets and mountainous glaciers. An Ice Age can last for several million years. Within the Ice Age period, the Earth isn't uniformly covered in snow. There are periods of glaciation, characterized by ice sheet and glacier expansion over the face of the planet, and interglacial periods, where we would have an interval of several thousand years of warmer temperatures and receding ice. Turns out just the presence of ice caps on the north and south pole is abnormal! What we currently live in is an "interglacial period" in the middle of an Ice Age!

Dice Have Gotten More Fair Since Ancient Times

A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to researchers from UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History. Roman-era dice, the researchers found, were a mess when it came to shape. They were made from a variety of materials, such as metal, bone and clay, and no two were shaped entirely alike. Many were visibly lumpy and lopsided, with the 1 and 6 on opposite sides that were more likely to roll up. In the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, between 400 CE and 1100 CE, dice seem to have grown rare. Relatively few have been found from this period. Dice reemerged in the Middle Ages, and at that point were a little more regular in shape. But they still weren't fair -- anyone playing dice would have had slightly higher chances of getting certain numbers, depending on how uneven the dice were made.

The researchers suggest that the popularization of "scientific" thinking may have helped dice rolls become near-chance during the Renaissance. "People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," Jelmer Eerkens of UC Davis said. "We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games."

Earliest Cancer in Central America Identified

Archaeologists, studying the skeletal remains of a teenager in western Panama, have discovered the earliest evidence of cancer in Central America. The adolescent was between 14 and 16 years old when she died, in about 1300 CE. Although her skeleton was first found in the 1970s, it was not until recent re-analyses were done that signs of a tumor were identified on their upper right arm. Unfortunately, it was not a painless cancer. She would have experienced intermittant pain, as the sarcoma grew and expanded through her bone, until she died. Interestingly, a pediatric oncologist who examined the remains thought that the cancer was unlikely the ultimate cause of her death -- though there is no way to know for certain now.

Underwater Route Between Prehistoric Cenotes Found In Mexico

Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses, all likely from around the end of the last Ice Age, have been found in the tunnel-like caves. Exploring them and finding artifacts can be difficult, though: the underwater caves range in width from 400 feet to just three feet.

Dirty People, Not Rats and Fleas, May Have Been Why The Black Death Spread

A new study suggests that we should stop blaming rats for spreading the Black Plague. Instead, the findings suggest, we should look at ourselves. Dirty humans, not dirty rats, were the likely culprits in spreading the bubonic plague. Specifically, “ectoparasites,” such as body lice and fleas carried by people, are more likely to be the guilty party.

Using mortality data from nine plague outbreaks in Europe between the 1300s and 1800s, the teams in Norway and Italy tracked how pandemics developed. In seven of the cases there was a closer resemblance to the human model for outbreak spread compared with the alternatives. Which means that if humans were just a little cleaner, the plague would not have spread so easily, or killed so many.

Columbus was Obsessed with Jerusalem

Christopher Columbus was interested in reaching Asia, and believed he had, as we all know. But did you know that his original reason for wanting to open a new trade route to the rich East was to pay for a military campaign to capture Jerusalem? Never mind that the holy city had been in Muslim hands since 1187 CE -- about 300 years by the time Columbus was born -- and Christian Europe had long since given up on crusades to the Middle East.

Once the New World was reached, Columbus kept his eye on the prize. He reported that there was so much treasure in this "Asia" he had found, that within seven years the Spanish crown could raise enough money for 5,000 cavalry and 50,000 footsoldiers, and use them to conquer Jerusalem. Sadly for Columbus' lofty religious visions, the Spanish crown was uninterested in conquering Jerusalem, which is on the wrong side of the Mediterranean from Spain.

Major Pre-Columbian Turquoise Producer Determined

Canyon Creek in eastern Arizona was one of the turquoise sources exploited by pre-Columbian indigenous groups, but it has long been considered insignificant. A new study of the area, however, has shown that the mines were actually a major supplier of the bluish-green mineral during the 1200s and 1300s CE, when turquoise was exported to sites as far as 80 miles away. Lead isotope analysis of samples indicates that Canyon Creek turquoise is unique, making it distinguishable from other sources in the Southwest, and allowing modern archaeologists to trace where Canyon Creek turquoise was exported to.

Where Do Popes Come From?

  A map of where, in the world, popes have been born. Note that they placed each pope in the country he would be born in, if he was born today. Three popes were born in modern-day Tunisia, sure, but that was back in the Roman Empire. Those ancient "Tunisian" popes would have called it the province of "Africa" and it included eastern Algeria and northern Libya, as well as Tunisia.

The Last Mongol Emperor Of China

Toghon Temür was installed as the tenth emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 1333, aged just 13 years old. He is also remembered as the last Khagan (khan or emperor) of the Mongol Empire. A series of natural disasters occurred in his reign, and he helped things go downhill by being especially interested in mixing pleasure and religious matters -- such as practicing obscure sexual/magical rites from Tibet. Unsurprisingly he was deeply unpopular. Even his son plotted to overthrow him! But in the end, it was native Chinese rebellions that did him in, the last and most successful of which is today known as the Red Turban Rebellion. Toghon Temür was forced to flee China for the Mongolian steppes, where the Yuan retained control, and the Ming were installed as the next (ethnically Chinese) dynasty in China.

Native Americans knew about rubber for centuries (at least) before Europeans stumbled onto the Americas. They made balls for children, and waterproof shoes and bottles with the weird milky white substance that bled from certain trees -- what we call latex today.

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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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