On an uninhabited Caribbean island, archaeologists were amazed to discover a series of cave drawings pre-dating European contact. This was a surprise because the drawings are so well-preserved. Over 70 winding caves on the island of Mona, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, contain art. Some are scratches on the rock. Others are more sophisticated, with paint made from sophisticated organic materials such as bat droppings, plant gums, minerals like iron, and materials from native trees like turpentine trees. The islanders were putting a lot of work into their art, deep where the light of day could not illuminate their creations.

The researchers noted that the indigenous people of Mona Island believed that the sun and moon emerged from beneath the ground. So exploring deep into the expansive network of subterranean caves, and making art there, is interpreted by today’s archaeologists as a highly spiritual act.

What’s A King To A Caesar?

From 27 BCE to 1946 CE, someone, somewhere in Europe has had a title “Caesar.” The czar of Russia, the kaiser of Germany...many, many European titles were just local derivatives of “Caesar.”

The last Caesar was Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was removed from office in 1946 by the Soviets. He’s still alive, too!


"When a lion eats a man, and a man eats an ox, why is the ox more made for the man, than the man for the lion?"

Thomas Hobbes, Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance, 1656

In Mesoamerica children are warned about El Coco. A shapeless, hairy monster, it kidnaps and devours children. So they had better listen to their parents!

The Tragedy of the Moriori

The Moriori were a small, isolated population of Polynesians settlers, living on the Chatham Islands. Sometime shortly after New Zealand was settled in 1000 CE, a group of them set out an settled the Chatham Islands, far to their south east. And then the Chathams were forgotten. Remote and subarctic, the Chathams did not support any of the domesticated crops the Polynesian settlers brought with them -- taro, yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, bananas, and coconuts. Those crops had been domesticated in a tropical climate and quickly died on the Chathams. Without agriculture, and without nearby islands to colonize and perhaps get more food from, the Chathams were capable of supporting only about 2,000 hunter-gatherers.

So the Moriori learned to get along with each other. They renounced war. Chiefs remained, technically, but they caught their own food and lived in huts which were identical to everyone else. To prevent overpopulation, some male infants were castrated. All of these measures worked quite well, and the Moriori had a sustainable population from about 1300 CE, when it was settled, until November 19th, 1835.

Earlier in 1835, an Australian seal-hunting ship visited the Chatham Islands en route to New Zealand, and brought news to New Zealand of islands where "there is an abundance of sea and shellfish; the lakes swarm with eels; and it is a land of the karaka berry...the inhabitants are very numerous, but they do not understand how to fight, and have no weapons." That was enough to induce 900 Maori to sail to the Chathams. They arrived on November 19th, 1835. Another 400 arrived on December 5th. Armed with clubs, axes, and guns the warrior Maori walked through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing anyone who openly disagreed.

The Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council to not fight back, but to offer the Maori peace, friendship, and a division of resources. The offer was never made. The Maori attacked first. Over the course of the next few days the Maori systematically killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of them, and enslaved the rest. A Maori conqueror explained: "We took possession...in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. No one escaped." And so the Moriori ended.

Why Crossbows Were Used Up Until The 1500s

The horizontally-held crossbow was invented by the Chinese around 2,000 years ago. And it was a huge improvement over the simple bow-and-arrow -- with a crosspiece and stock added, the crossbow does the work of pulling and holding the string, not the person. This meant the string could have more tension, and therefore the arrows could fly farther and with more power.  A well-aimed crossbow arrow could pierce armor.

Attacking from further away also meant the crossbowmen were relatively better-protected -- except against other crossbowmen, of course.

The turkey, the bird native in the Americas, is named after the country Turkey. That's just in English; the story gets weirder. In Arabic, the turkey bird is called "dik rumi" or "Roman chicken." In Hebrew, it is "tarnegol hodu," the "rooster of India." In Portuguese, it is "Peru." As in the other country, yes. In Greek it is "galopoula" or "French chicken." Both Khmer and Scots Gaelic call the turkey "French," too. Meanwhile, the French call the turkey "dinde" which is a shortened form of "poule d'Inde" or "chicken of India." And what do the Turkish call the turkey? They are slightly unique: they call the bird "Hindi," after one of the main languages of India.


"The following question arises for a prince: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both...He must only endeavor, as I said, to escape being hated."

Niccolo Macchiavelli, from The Prince (1513).

Amazing Finds Tell Us More About How The Ancient Calusa Fed Themselves

Rare 1,000-year-old Calusa Indian artifacts, including pieces of wood, rope, and fishing net, were retrieved from a waterlogged midden located along the ancient shoreline in Florida in spring 2017. The Calusa are known to have been a complex culture, relying on shallow-water fishing in elaborate “farms” rather than agriculture or hunting. The fishing net found recently was most likely made of cabbage palm fiber, formed into ropes and tied into a pattern. Some of the knots even survive! They allowed researchers to deduce that the net was originally a grid, with squares about an inch wide. And some tied-on clamshell weights, for making the net heavy in the water, were amazingly still attached.

The midden also contained the uncooked seeds of gourd-like squash which has not been identfied. Researchers speculate could be the remains of gourds used to help the fishing net float?

Unfortunately, modern archaeologists are having to unearth (pun!) everything about the Calusa, right down to the gourds they might have grown, because no Calusa remain to tell us about themselves. They had largely disappeared by the mid-1700s, ravaged by European diseases and slaving raids by tribes who were allied to the English province of Carolina. The few remaining were evacuated to Cuba in 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain.

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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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