Ancient Irrigation System Rediscovered in Northwest China

A team of archaeologists in northwest China has discovered an irrigation system dating to the 200s to 300 CE in the foothills of China’s Tian Shan Mountains, along one of the old sections of the Silk Road. The researchers spotted the canals, cisterns, and check dams with drones and satellite imagery, and created a 3-D model of the site with aerial photographs and photogrammetry software. The resulting model showed that the irrigation system was designed with an emphasis on conserving and storing water. They wanted to always have water in their cisterns, rather than always have a flow of water through their canals. Located next to the Mohuchahan River, the area where the irrigation system was found had previously been believed to be solely pastoral, so the new findings rewrite our understanding of who lived there and how they lived in the early centuries of the Silk Road.

  Fox head ornament from the Moche civilization, in Peru. Made of gilded copper — which has turned green over the centuries — and shell. Circa 390 to 450 CE.

Amazingly Preserved Bronze Mirror Found In Japan

An intact, 1,900-year-old mirror has been found at the Nakashima archaeological site on the southern island of Kyushu.  It is in such good condition that the mirror is still reflectove. The site where it was uncovered was once part of the Na state, during the late Yayoi period, which ended around 300 CE. The mirror is thought to have been made in China during the later Han Dynasty, between 25 and 220 CE. An inscription on the mirror, which measures about four and one-half inches across, reads “to benefit future generations forever.” And in an interesting and definitely unpredicted way, the mirror is fulfilling it's inscription. The mirror may have been obtained when the king of Na sent a mission to China in 107 CE —an event recorded in Chinese history.

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.

Roman mosaic, showing the legendary Minotaur, his labyrinth prison, and the hero Theseus who found the Minotaur and slayed him. Roman, circa late 200s CE.

What Were Kofun, And Why Were They Built?

During the Kofun Period in Japanbetween 200 CE and 538 CE, Japanese emperors and nobility were buried in keyhole-shaped mounds called "kofun." Stripped of all plants, and surrounded by moats, they were quite impressive. Japan's capital at the time was Osaka; it is strategically located at a bay along one of the busiest maritime trading routes of East Asia, as well as at the mouth of a network of rivers which provided access inland. Kofun were built in Osaka, intentionally close to the coast. Of course, this was partially because Osaka was simply the capital and seat of royal power. But the kofun were also built near the water so that any foreigners who came to visit the country would be immediately struck by their grandeur.

All That Glitters Is Orange?

Usually, when we think of gold, we think of a warm yellow color. But the Nahuange, who lived in northern Colombia during the first millenium CE, intentionally treated gold jewelry so that it looked pinkish orange. A recent study analyzed 44 Nahuange artifacts from the Museum of Gold in Colombia, and found that they were made from tumbaga, a gold alloy which contains a substantial percentage of copper. They were also all "depletion gilded" which means copper was removed from the surface through hammering, a heating and cooling process, or both. The result was a golden shine on the outside which hid the metal's true high-copper content. That gilding was later removed, on purpose, to bring the copper's pinkish tones out. So initially, the jewelry makers desired golden objects, but at some later point, it was preferable to have pinkish-orange jewelry.

Derbent, Russia's Oldest City

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.

Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.

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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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