The Weird Family History of Iceland

Iceland has a population of 332,529 that for hundreds of years has been largely isolated from the rest of the world. Inbreeding is a constant concern due to the country’s small size, and the migration of most of the population into the capital city. Luckily, the country has been literate since its founding, and because of its small population and isolation, we have marriage and birth records pretty much since the founding of the island. Everyone's family tree is known. It is pretty neat -- every Icelander today can trace their heritage back to which founding settlers they come from.

And to help prevent inbreeding today, an app was developed: Islendiga-App (English: App of Icelanders). The whole giant Icelandic family tree is on the app, and people can check to see if they are related. Its slogan is “Bump the app before you bump in bed.”

What's In A Pot?

When archaeologists excavated the trove of Viking silver discovered by metal detector enthusiasts in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 2014, they unearthed more than 100 precious objects—silver ingots, solid gold and silver jewelry, glass beads—from multiple countries and cultures. Buried deep in a second excavated layer was a silver alloy pot with its lid still in place and sealed shut. The form and decoration of the vessel identified it as a piece of Carolingian manufacture made in western Europe between 780 and 900 CE.

Unfortunately, the silver alloy had some copper in it. As the copper eroded it weakened the pot. Opening the lid might destroy the entire thing, so archaeologists decided to have a CT scan done first, and check what was inside. The scans revealed an Anglo-Saxon openwork brooch, four more silver brooches, gold ingots, and ivory beads coated in gold, each piece individually wrapped in an organic material, perhaps a textile to protect it. Anglo-Saxon jewelry inside a Carolingian pot, inside a Viking hoard, in Scotland. It's a Russian nesting doll of an archaeological find!

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!

Can you believe those are animals? The tunic is covered in geometric animals! From the Moche or Wari culture, 600s to 800s CE, Peru.

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."

Mass Burial in England Re-Evaluated, Now Looks Like A Great Heathen Army Burial

The bodies of more than 250 were found in a mass grave beside St. Wystan’s church in Repton, England -- at the time of the burial a major royal and religious center of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The adults and children found there were first believed to be Vikings when  the mass grave was found decades ago. But the carbon dating did not make sense, putting some of the burials at 600 CE, much too early to be Vikings. And there were a lot of women. Nearly one in five adults were women, which did not match image of hulking, male berserkers. So it was thought that the mass grave was more like a very tightly packed cemetery, with people being interred there over multiple centuries.
But modern re-analyses suggest that the bodies were, in fact, all buried at one time. In the winter of 874 CE to be precise. And the women? Well, modern understandings of Viking culture and gender roles has shifted. It is now widely accepted that Viking women fought and died in foreign lands, alongside Viking men. The modern analyses suggest the Repton mass burial contains the remains of members of the Viking Great Army, and moreover, confirms the written chronology of the Viking use of St. Wystan’s church and its surroundings for burial.

The largest seated Buddha in the world was carved out of the rock face of Lingyun Hill in Leshan, China. Dating to around 800 CE, the statue stands about 230 feet (70 m) tall and the shoulders measure 90 ft (30 m) across.

Underwater Route Between Prehistoric Cenotes Found In Mexico

Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses, all likely from around the end of the last Ice Age, have been found in the tunnel-like caves. Exploring them and finding artifacts can be difficult, though: the underwater caves range in width from 400 feet to just three feet.

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.

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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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