The Unlikely Queen

Queen Isabella of Castile, half of the famous pair Isabella and Ferdinand of Castile and Aragon, was never supposed to be queen. She was born in 1451 to King John II of Castile. He already had an heir, the twenty-six-year-old Henry, from his first marriage. And two years after Isabella, a second son was born, Alfonso. Isabella was third in line behind two men. Fate happened in such a way that both died without children, though, and Isabella was suddenly heir to the throne. Well, Henry had a daughter. But rumor had it she wasn't his true, legitimate daughter, and Isabella took the throne instead after a little bit of war.

Some of the World's Largest Pre-Columbian Rock Art - Seen For The First Time In Centuries

Thanks in part to historically low water levels, researchers have been able to document a large corpus of rock art located along a section of Venezuela’s Orinoco River known as the Atures Rapids. Drone photography recorded most of the engravings for the first time, which include scenes of humans, animals, and cultural traditions. One massive panel contains 93 individual characters across 3,200 square feet of rock. Although still unsure of the engravings’ dates, experts believe they were created in both the pre-Columbian and colonial periods

Scientists Discover First American Palimpsest

Everyone recycles! Even pre-Columbian Mixtec. The Codex Selden, also known as the Codex Añute, dates from the mid-1500s and is a five-meter-long strip of deer hide covered in glyphs and human figures. It is one of fewer than 20 known Mexican codices to have survived from pre-colonial and early colonial Mexico. And it is the first known pre-Columbian palimpsest!

What's that you ask? It means the deer hide once had a different document on it, which was scraped off, so the parchment could be reused for what we know today as the Codex Añute. Thankfully the scrapping was imperfect, allowing modern-day scientists to uncover the traces of imagery that remain. That's all we know right now. Tests are currently being conducted to reconstruct what was written or drawn, and to try and figure out what it meant.

Beautiful ceramic tiles decorated with blue and white glaze, from Pakistan's Sindh region. Circa 1500s.

courtesy of the LACMA

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!

A Magical Disk from the 1500s

This wax disk, elaborately decorated with a pentagram, magical words, and various diagrams, was once owned by Queen Elizabeth I's magician. Dr. John Dee used this wax seal as a pedestal upon which he placed his ‘shew-stone’, a crystal ball used for ‘scrying' (spiritual visions). Dee spent much of his later life trying to commune with angels, often with Edward Kelley, a self-confessed medium. Kelley claimed he could see angels in the ‘shew stones.’ The angels communicated with Kelley by pointing at tables which contained words and symbols. According to Dee, these messages were delivered in Enochian, an angelic language that Dee subsequently transcribed into a series of books.

Plagiarism Software Uncovers a New Source for 11 of Shakespeare’s Plays

The bane of students, plagiarism software, which is usually used by teachers and professors to tell when someone copy and pasted a paper, has recently been applied to the Elizabethan playwrite. And while it does not say he wholesale copied his plays, he definitely took inspiration from an unpublished manuscript titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” written in the late 1500s by George North. North was a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.

Shakespeare used many of the same terms as North, and often uses them in scenes about similar themes, and even the same historical characters. Such "plagiarism" shows up in eleven of Shakespeare's plays, including King Lear, Richard III, and Macbeth. An unpublished manuscript by an obscure Elizabethan courtier helped inspire one of the greatest playwrites and poets of all time. Pretty exciting!

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."

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    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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