The birthplace of plant domestication in the Americas. The first New World country to gain independence from the Spanish Empire. The eleventh-largest country in the world, by population. Like the United States, Russia, and China, this is a country that any informed citizen should have at least a basic knowledge about.
I do not know how it ever got into a museum; the archaeologist willing to move this urn has nerves of steel. Large, lidded urns were unique to the K'iché Maya of southern Guatemala. The urns contained the remains of important individuals who either were made into a tightly wrapped bundle and placed in the urn soon after they died, or were buried elsewhere then disinterred and had their bones alone placed in the urn. The majority of such urns come from sacred caves where descendants would make pilgrimages to give offerings and seek advice from their revered ancestors. The image is likely an ancestor who, at death, was transformed into a spirit embodiment of a deity. For it was their special connection to the supernatural and the gods that gave Mayan rulers their authority. And what better connection than to say your ancestors became deities upon their deaths, and that one day, you would too?
Based on ceramics they left behind, here's a modern (somewhat fanciful) animated movie about the Moche. Also called the Mochica culture, the Moche flourished in northern Peru between 100 and 700 CE. They are known today for their sophisticated irrigation systems and beautiful painted ceramics.
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.
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 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.”
The domesticated cat may have arrived in Japan, via Korea, during the Nara period -- that's sometime between 710 and 794 CE. They were highly valued for their ability to kill rodents, and slowly became adopted as personal pets as well.
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.
Morocco Still Loves A Good Medieval Cavalry Charge
The Moroccan tradition of Fantasia is a stylized reenactment of a wartime cavalry charge. If done perfectly, a group of horsemen charge in unison, then shoot their muskets at precisely the same time. The audience should hear only one sound. (For those worried, the guns are loaded only with gunpowder, no bullets.)
Also known as lab al baroud (Arabic for “gunpowder game”) or Tbourida, it is practiced in a couple of North African countries and dates back to the 700s CE. During the Islamic Golden Age, only the cavalry charge was practiced. Around the 1200s, the now-traditional musket firing was added. Used to intimidate enemies or impress visitors, the stylized war game would be performed before sultans and kings as well as at local events, like festivals.
Today, Fantasia competitions happen at weddings and the harvest festival. It is practiced by both Arab and Berber communities. And, increasingly, by women. Making Fantasia a sort of unifying national sport in Morocco. Click through the image gallery to see photographs from a 2018 Fantasia, taken by Italian-Morocco photographer Karim El Maktafi.
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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!