The Aztecs believed that a soul-like aspect of oneself left the body while one slept, and spent time in the dream world as a “nagual.” A nagual is a sort of spirit animal (very rough translation). If one’s nagual got hurt, then one’s body got hurt.

How the Fortress of Kruševac once looked. This donjon, in Serbia, served as the entrance to a medieval fortified town, the seat of Moravian Serbia (a powerful principality in the late 1300s).

Aztec/Mixtec sacrificial knife depicting a crouching eagle warrior holding a flint blade, bound together with agave fiber and resin. Circa 1400 - 1521.

Curved Swords Are Cool!

The Turks are responsible for curved swords becoming popular as an elite warrior weapon outside of Europe and China, and therefore the attached social cachet. The Turks may have been the first to lengthen the curved sword into an elite cavalry weapon, somewhere around the 700s CE. This did not spread far so long as the Turks remained nomads confined to the Eurasian Steppe, occasionally raiding and plundering settled societies nearby.

But after the Mongols pushed through much of western Asia, which in turn pushed the Turks west as well, resulting in empires run by steppe-based nomads, the perceptions of curved swords began to shift. Suddenly it was those in power who used curved swords. After some time under Turkish rule their curved swords became associated with being elite, powerful, high-status. This happened first in Persia and India. Thanks to Ottoman control of the Balkans the curved sword eventually arrived in Europe, too, where it evolved into the sabre.

Obsidian Jar From Mexico's Late Postclassical Period (1250–1521)

This highly polished piece, believed to be Aztec, shows a monkey holding his tail over his head. It is one of the star pieces in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum). And it could be a fake!

The piece was catalogued in the museum as having come them in 1880 from ‘an ancient tomb, found in the grounds of an hacienda near Tezcoco.' But how did it end up at the museum? The monkey was the subject of an article written in 1884 by the French collector and archaeologist Eugene Boban, who claimed that a Dr. Rafael Lucio had obtained the piece in 1869 after spotting it in the home of a patient of his. The patient had apparently ‘bought the object from a peasant farmer who found it on an hacienda, in exchange for a sheep “worth 12 reales”’. But Boban later wrote that ancient Mexicans ‘never made figures or idols of obsidian’, concentrating their work mainly on masks, jewellery and adornments, concluding ‘all obsidian objects with body, arms and legs can be considered fake.' He would know, as both an expert in Mexican antiquities, and aware of the existence of numerous fake pieces (most importantly including obsidian ones) made somewhere near the small town of San Juan Teotihuacán. If a fake it is one of the most famous fake pre-Columbian Mexican artifacts outside of the crystal skulls. Boban's suspicions about the obsidian monkey has been a continuous feature of the artifact's history. As has its prominence at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

What is the History of Jamaican Jerk?

The Smithsonian recently did a brief history of this famous Jamaican flavor. The story includes how indigenous Caribbean cultural traditions from the Taíno, combined with enslaved Africans' culinary practices, contributed to the cultural fusion that is Jamaica today, as well as Jamaican food such as jerk. It's a good story, and it is worth a read.

El Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, has long roots which mix pre-contact traditions with the newer Catholic imports. It is considered a “syncretised” holiday. Which is a fancy historical way of saying the holiday was deliberately mixed to form a new creation.

El Dia de Muertos has traditionally been seen as connected to the month-long summer festival for Mictecacihuatl. She was the Aztec goddess of the underworld. With the coming of the Spanish and their traditions the timing shifted to match the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). This too got changed in the syncretizing and adapting process, so that in Mexico, children who have passed are remembered on November 1st, and adults on November 2nd.

Bronze Ram on Wheels, from Indonesia's Majapahit Empire

Proving that if it is at all possible, children everywhere want animals on wheels. Circa 1300s - 1400s.

Lets Talk About Aztec Child Sacrifices!

Aztec god of rain, Tlaloc, was believed to need children's tears to perform his duties. Priests of Tlaloc would induce child sacrifices to cry before they were killed. Children would be sacrificed starting in a certain month each year, and continue to be sacrificed until "the rains began in abundance."

Archaeological evidence has added nuance to this tale. First, there is evidence of multiple pre-death injuries to the children which would have caused significant pain. The Tlaloc priests were not shy in inducing those tears.

Another interesting archaeological find: child sacrifice remains have been found outside of Aztec and other Mesoamerican cities, whereas many adult sacrifice remains have been found inside cities. It seems the people could stomach child sacrifice, but only so long as they did not have to watch.

Milan Cathedral Took 700 Years to Build

Construction began in 1386. And finally stopped in 1965. That means this cathedral was getting built through the Renaissance, through the Enlightenment, and through the unification of Italy! Milan Cathedral is the largest church in Italy, which partially explains it (St Peters Basilica is larger but it isn't in Italy).

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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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