The Oldest English Poem Was Inspired By An Angel

For centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, everyone was still writing in Latin. It was the language used by scholars, monks, and government officials and since they were the main ones writing, most of what has come down from about 400 CE to about 700 CE is in Latin. Which means our first known literature in many languages was only written down centuries after those languages started being spoken, when it became fashionable to write in the local languages again.

In the 600s, people in Britain spoke what we now call Old English. It was a Germanic language, brought by invaders and retained by locals. Sometime between 657 and 680, a cowherd named Caedmon, who spoke Old English, lived in northern England’s Northumbria. Caedmon was likely illiterate, so most of what we know about his existence and what happened next comes from oral tradition.

An angel was said to appear to Caedmon in a dream. He asked Caedmon to sing a song of the creation of the world -- “sing me frumsceaft.” The hymn he was inspired to compose Caedmon recited to others, who recited to others....who eventually recited it for the scholar Bede, who wrote it down. Today, Caedmon’s Hymn is the first known English poem. Although you need a translation to understand it!

Constantinople, Not Byzantium

The term “Byzantine Empire” came into common use during the 1700s and 1800s. It would never have been heard, let alone embraced, by the people who once lived in it. To them, Byzantium was still the Roman Empire, which had merely moved its seat of power from Rome to a new eastern capital in Constantinople. Though largely Greek-speaking and Christian, the Byzantines called themselves “Romaioi,” or Romans. They used Roman law, played Roman games like chariot racing, and enjoyed Roman festivals. While Byzantium evolved a distinctive, Greek-influenced identity as the centuries passed, the Romaioi continued to cherish their Roman roots until the end. When he conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish leader Mehmed II even took the emperor's title as “Caesar of Rome.”

The earliest written usage of the question mark symbol '?' dates to the 700s CE.

Although we know pretty much when it was first used, no one is quite sure how it was invented; the question mark may have initally evolved from a slash '/' or perhaps from a tilda '~'

As early as 700 BCE, the Zapotec people had developed into a complex society, living the city of Monte Alban, with lords ruling over them. But around 700 CE, Monte Alban's power began to fade. Archaeological evidence has recently been found showing that Zapotec nobles around that time were practicing private rituals celebrating their personal power. Maybe they needed the ego boost as they watched their own power evaporate? Excavations at Dainzu-Macuilxochitl unearthed a temple connected to a residence for nobles. At the residence, they found two pierced human jawbones dating to around 700 CE -- one of which was carved. Yes, that’s a human jawbone up there.   The archaeologists think the jawbones likely belonged to venerated ancestors, and were worn as adornments during rituals focusing on the importance of the Zapotec nobles' hereditary power. Nothing says "my ancestors were important, powerful people" like carving up their jawbones and wearing them as jewelry, am I right?

Washing a man's hair was viewed as a loving, caring act by the Vikings. Women would wash their husband's hair to show their affection.

Birds of a Feather

A new study, looking at macaw skeletons found at three prehistoric pueblo sites in New Mexico, USA, suggests that Native Americans in this arid area imported the birds from less-arid places. The bird remains which were examined date from between 300 CE and 1450 CE. The majority were tropical macaws -- definitely not native to New Mexico! There is also no evidence of macaw breeding save at one site. Put together, the evidence points to importing the birds.

In addition, there was widespread scarring along the surface of their bones, showing that humans removed their feathers. And many of the macaws' skeletons showed malnourishment, likely from being kept inside and fed a largely corn diet. Which, counter-intuitively, suggests the Pueblans were caring for them extremely well, for their society. Basically? The macaws were being imported, kept in captivity, and systematically harvested for their bright and colorful feathers.

An Animated History of Ukraine

Really, really good history! Since I know next to nothing about Ukraine's national history, I particularly appreciated the accessibility -- the vlogger assumed we had been born yesterday, and it worked.

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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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