The Weight of Privilege

Maya rituals may have literally been weighty affairs for high-ranking rulers. During these festivities, elite officials adorned themselves with an assortment of jade pendants, mostly worn on the ears or around the neck. Heavier ones (such as a 5-pound carved head from Ucanal in Guatemala) were likely attached to a belt and would have made customary ritual dancing quite cumbersome.

It is theorized that the weight of the assembled stones, which may have totaled as much as 25 pounds, symbolized a leader’s prestige and responsibilities.

Yucatan Rainforest Still Shaped By Its Mayan Past

A new study shows that the centuries of deforestation under the Mayan Civilization -- which lasted from 200 BCE to about 950 CE at its height -- drastically changed the ability of local rainforests to store carbon in the ground. And even today, centuries after the Maya cities were mysteriously abandoned and the forests grew back, the region's carbon reserves have not yet fully recovered. Read the full article here.

The Longest War In World History... Sort Of

The Peloponnesian War ended in 1996. The bloody conflict between Athens and Sparta had stopped in 404 B.C. without an official peace pact, so after 2,500 years the cities decided to sign a symbolic agreement. It read, “Today we express our grief for the devastating war between the two key cities of ancient Greece and declare its end.”

Rongo Rongo: The Mystery Script of Easter Island

Easter Island was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 1770s. There they encountered the indigenous Easter Islanders, or the Rapa Nui. They had been living on Easter Island since at least the 1200s CE, and possibly since the 300s CE.

Sometime between 1650 CE and 1860 CE, the Rapa Nui developed a type of picture writing called “rongo rongo” or “to recite.” There is great debate about whether they independently invented writing. Or whether the Spanish gave them the idea of symbols to represent sounds. Unfortunately, by the 1860s the Rapa Nui had forgotten how to read the script. Today it remains undeciphered.

Earliest Flushing Toilet in South Korea Discovered!

Archaeological remains of a bathroom equipped with a flushing toilet used during the Silla Kingdom (57 BCE to 935 CE) were discovered in South Korea in 2017. The toilets were tilted, so anything that fell into them would naturally flow to a drain. People likely poured water after they did their business to wash away the waste into the plumbing system that flowed out of the palace.

The toilets were not for everyone. They were made of granite, a luxury at the time, and were located in the royal palace of Donggung and Wolji Pond. The palace complex was constructed in the year 674 CE by King Munmu.

The Astonishing Story of the First People to Circumnavigate Africa

The Phoenicians are the first known people to have sailed all the way around Africa. The Egyptian pharaoh Wehimbre Nekao, who ruled from 610 to 595 BCE, asked for Phoenician aid in circumnavigating Africa. This likely had something to do with Egypt's defenses, which were threatened at the time by Babylon -- who happened to be threatening the Phoenician heartland as well. Nekao was pretty lucky that the best sailors and navigators of the ancient world happened to share his enemy.

According to Herodotus, the voyage took two full years. Based on modern estimates, it may even have taken three years. The first stretch along the Red Sea, around the Horn of Africa, and down the eastern coast would have been easy sailing. Phoenicians were familiar with the Red Sea, often trading with Yemen for incense. And a combination of monsoon winds and easy currents made the eastern coast of Africa a quick journey.

After rounding the cape, in what is today South Africa, the Phoenicians are thought to have stopped and farmed for a bit. No ancient ship could carry enough supplies for two years. So they likely sowed their wheat in June, started to repair their ships, and harvested in November. Then they started up the western coast of Africa. This was what took the bulk of the journey. A combination of unfavorable winds and changeable currents likely made the trip rather scary. Modern historians think the Phoenicians made a second stop and stayed a planting season at what is today the coast Mauretania. They had likely been traveling for two and a half years. Finally, after a second harvest and repairing their boats, they beat their way along the Moroccan coast and towards the Mediterranean.

The navigators would have quickly re-entered civilization as they knew it: the Phoenicians by this time had a town on Mogador Island, off central Morocco. From then on it was an easy trip along the southern Mediterranean, with plenty of hospitable ports for refueling and telling the astonished inhabitants their story.

These earrings have a story to tell. Unfortunately, we don't know most of it. They were most likely made in Constantinople around 600 CE, perhaps as an imperial gift to a Visigothic ruler of medieval Spain, where they were found in Extremadura. The Visigoths by that point had become the settled rulers of the Iberian Peninsula, and had established trade and diplomatic contacts with the Byzantine Empire. And its known that the Visigoths particularly prized Byzantine jewelry.

Ohaguro: An Interesting Japanese Beauty Standard

Women in ancient Japan blackened their teeth with dye. White teeth were considered ugly. Evidence for this practice, called ohaguro, exists from as far back as the Kofun Period and (250 to 538 CE) in bone remains and on clay human figurines.

Ohaguro continued until the late 1800s and the Meiji Restoration.

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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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