Hoard of Islamic Coins Found in Sweden!

In Uppland, in Sweden, archaeologists have uncovered a hoard of 163 Islamic coins. Made of silver, the coins are covered in Arabic script, which helped identify them. They were mainly minted in Samarkand, an Islamic state which was located in modern day Uzbekistan and Iran, in the mid-900s CE. Of the 163 coins uncovered, fifty were complete, while the remainder had been snipped and chopped for use as silver bullion. A number had also been modified with holes or loops so that they could be worn as pendants. The presence of Islamic coins in Sweden at this time was not so unusual. Extensive long-distance trade routes existed between the Viking world and Asia; Moscow and even-more-distant Constantinople were often the final destination of Viking traders.     The find in Uppland is interesting, besides the silver coins coming from thousands of miles away, because the hoard was buried in a pre-historic mound created during the Swedish Bronze Age. Sometime during the Viking Age, the mound was re-used as a convenient place for votive offerings!


Pañamarca has impressive ruins from the Moche culture, which flourished on the northwest coast of Peru between 200 CE and 900 CE. Amazingly, many murals in Pañamarca still retain their colors, over 1,000 years after the last painter laid down his brush. The site was deliberately buried sometime around 750 CE. And in doing so, the Moche unintentionally preserved their art for future archaeologists to discover.


This mural is on one of the pillars of the imaginatively named "Temple of the Painted Pillars." The figures hold typical Moche objects, including a plate with three purple goblets, a multicolored stirrup-spout bottle, and a feather fan.


Pre-Incan Human Sacrifices Found in Peru

At the site of Huaca de la Cruz, which is located in the Pomac Forest Historic Sanctuary in northern Peru, nine men’s skeletons have been found.  The grave has the hallmarks of human sacrifice. Only men, all between 25 and 30 years old, and buried all together. Nearby is the tomb of an elite Sican, perhaps the person the sacrifices were intended for? Both the sacrificed men’s grave and the elite grave are surrounded by ceramics, and ceremonial knives.

The graves date to around 1,000 years ago, to the Sican culture which predated the Inca on the Peruvian coast. At its peak between 900 and 1100 CE, the Middle Sican had a clear social hierarchy, cities centered on imposing mounds, skilled metallurgists, intricate irrigation techniques, and apparently a taste for human sacrifice.

The sling is the oldest weapon we know of. Besides, well, throwing rocks. But that doesn't really count. Slings were used throughout antiquity, in the Americas and Africa and Eurasia. Even the Polynesian Islands, the last places to be when discovered by humans, had slings!     In its basic form, a sling is a length of string which holds a stone. (You can probably guess where the sling got its name.) The string is slung and when the stone is released, it flies with more force than if someone had thrown the stone by hand. With just a length of string, you would throw both the stone and the string together! Eventually, someone came up with putting a leather pouch in the middle of the string. This would hold the stone, and also allow the thrower to keep a hold of the sling after a throw instead of throwing it away and needing to make a new one, or take time fetching the thrown one.

Historians have just discovered the oldest reference to the mathematical concept of "zero" in India. The concept of zero as a number was revolutionary in mathematics. In Eurasia, the idea came from India (and the Mayans separately invented it hundreds of years late in the Americas) but exactly when zero was first conceived in India is a bit of a mystery. Now, we have a potential clue: the Bakhshali manuscript, which a farmer dug up the text from a field in 1881 in the village of Bakhshali, near Peshawar in what is today Pakistan. It consists of 70 leaves of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeros in the form of dots. Why was it only just discovered, if the farmer dug it up over 100 years ago?     People knew what it was, and knew it zeros throughout the text. But they thought the Bakhshali manuscript was written between the 700s and the 1100s CE. Since the oldest then-known written reference to zero was the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta's work "Brahmasphutasiddhanta," which was written in 628 CE, the Bakhshali manuscript was a lot less exciting. It was a mathematical manuscript utilizing the newly-invented concept of zero, which astronomers had been using for at least a couple decades before the Bakhshali.     But recent, more advanced carbon dating resulted in three different dates for different parts of the Bakhshali manuscript. It appears now to be not one document but several, put together. And the oldest part dated to 224 to 383 CE! That is hundreds of years before Brahmagupta! Two other parts dated to 680 to 779 CE, and 885 to 993 CE, which is probably why earlier analyses got the manuscript's age wrong. If further tests confirm the findings, the Bakhshali manuscript moves up when zero was invented to the same time the Roman Empire was falling to barbarians, the Three Kingdoms Period was reordering China, and Teotihuacan was near the heights of its power.

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.”

A Lion By Any Other Name

Ibn Khalawayh (a Persian scholar of Arabic and the Koran) noticed that the Arabs had a thing for the lion. He wrote: in all the speech of the Arabs and all the books of Arabic philology put together, there are no names for the lion besides what I have written for you, number roughly five hundred names and epithets." A selected list includes:

  • The Crusher
  • The Domineering
  • Who Snaps the Neck of His Prey
  • Whose Eyes Are Bloodshot
  • The Scowler
  • Who Crushes What He Devours
  • Whose Food Has Bones in It
  • The Eating Machine
  • The Bone Splitter
  • Whose Prey Is Turned Inside Out
  • Who Goes Straight For The Head
  • Who Looks for Trouble in the Night
  • The Wayfarer

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.

This odd-looking item is a nose ring! The nose ring was uncovered at a grave near the border with Costa Rica in 1909. Times being what they were, the artifact was then sold to Tiffany & Co. in New York City. Eventually it ended up in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where it resides today.     Because it was unearthed by non-archaeologists, and immediately sold abroad, not much is known about how it was made or who once wore it. It was crafted in Panama by a Native American out of gold alloy, sometime between 800 CE and 1521 CE. Based on eyewitness accounts by early conquistadors and the archaeological evidence, we can also say that gold nose rings were a popular form of body ornament and sign of rank, for both men and women, in ancient Central America.

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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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