Dating Dust

You may know about the massive volcanic eruption that happened 74,000 years ago, at Sumatra’s Mount Toba. It caused a volcanic winter and may have nearly annihilated the earth’s human population. The search for evidence of that eruption has contributed potentially groundbreaking advances to archaeological dating. Working at two sites on the coast of South Africa, researchers have discovered a layer containing glass shards from the blast that fell over a two-week period and are invisible to the naked eye. The precise time frame provided by the shards can serve as a control to test whenever new methods are developed for dating rock shelters and other sites occupied millennia ago.

“We’ve now sampled several other cave sites in South Africa looking for evidence of the Toba eruption,” explains archaeologist and paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean. “If we can find it, we can align those chronologies to a two-week precision—which is unprecedented."

Have Humans Bred Themselves To Be Travelers?

The desire to travel may be genetic, and it can possibly be traced to what has been dubbed "the wanderlust gene." Associated with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, the gene is associated with dopamine levels in the brain

Why Do We Have A Seven-Day Week?

The seven-day week has no correspondence to astronomy -- unlike the presence of the sun giving us days, or phases of the moon giving us months. Historians generally think the seven-day week was "invented" by Mesopotamians and/or Jews. Both thought the number seven had mystic significance. Sumer had a (mostly) seven-day week system since at least the 21st century BCE. The Jewish weeks may have developed independently or been influenced by their Fertile Crescent neighbors.

From the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa the seven-day week spread around the Old World. The Greeks and Persians adopted the Babylonian system, and fro Persia it spread to India and China in various forms. In Japan, for instance, seven-day weeks were mainly used by specialist astrologers until the 1800s. In Europe, it was officially adopted by the Roman Empire in the 300s CE, but it was already in common use throughout the empire.

DNA Ends A Century-Long Debate

DNA testing on the mummies of two elite men, Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh, finally clears up what their relationship was. The mummies died around 1800 BCE, and were buried in a joint tomb at Deir Rifeh, which was discovered in 1907.     Since their discovery, there has been a debate about how the mummies were related. Though they share a tomb, there are many suggestions that the two were not normal brothers. Their inscriptions state they had the same mother but one has listed both a father and grandfather, the other just a father. The two bodies were mummified using different methods. Facial reconstructions from their skulls in the 1970s revealed they looked extremely different, with "almost a total anatomical difference between the features of the two." Because of these differences, some thought one of the brothers was adopted, and they were not biologically related. Others thought the mother could have remarried, hence the different fathers and anatomies.     Now those debates can be ended. The two were half-brothers, sharing the same mother. Their mitochondrial DNA (from their mothers) were similar, suggesting one mother, but their y-chromosome DNA (from their fathers) showed variations suggesting two different fathers. Presumably, the mother remarried at some point, but the brothers were raised together and eventually buried together.

Reconsidering Bacchus

The ancient Roman god, also known as Dionysus, does not have a good image today. His name is linked to drunkeness, excess, madness. But the ancients did not see him as one-sided. He was the god of losing one's inhibitions. But he was also the god of getting together. Ancient nicknames included Bacchus the Liberator, Bacchus the Saviour, and Bacchus the God Who Gives Men's Minds Wings. Those do not sound all bad, right?

Bacchic cults were banned in Roman times, because their members held allegiance to "a parallel state," but at the same time, Roman leaders have quotes on how fantastic it is that conquered populations enjoy Roman wine so much -- it makes them easier for Rome to control. To the ancients Bacchus was an ambiguous god, both beneficial and harmful.

How Well Do You Know Your World Cup History?

Luckily for those less into soccer/football history, someone made a handy map! It has all the host countries, and the past participants and their best results…as of this year’s group stage.

Emperor Augustus, The Eternal Teenager

Although he died at age 76, Emperor Augustus was always portrayed as a 19-year-old. That was the age he first became consul, and First Citizen of Rome. His portraits are recognizable by the "swallow tail" or "lobster claw" of two locks of hair on his forehead.     Photograph courtesy of the Walters Art Museum

Was the Persian Army so Big Its Arrows Really Blocked out the Sun?

The army of the Persian Empire had enough archers that they were said to be able to "block out the sun." You might remember the Spartan's famous answer to that: great, we "can fight in the shade."

Were those ancient chroniclers exaggerating? We do not know, but conservative estimates of the Persian army's capabilities was that they had 50,000 men in their army. Yes, that's a conservative estimate. Previous armies in the region are believed to have fought with mainly infantry, with archers being a supporting group; we know the Persians innovated by increasing the numbers of archers. Let’s crunch some numbers.

As a conservative estimate, let's say there are about 20,000 archers in the Persian battle line. Each archer can fire about 5 arrows a minute. And their quivers held 120 arrows, but let's assume they had to go hunting for dinner the last few nights, and give them 100 arrows. When you do the math, that means the Persian Army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute. And they could do that for as long as their arms held out, or until their arrows run out, so about 20 minutes.

The Persian army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute, for 20 minutes. As a conservative estimate. Now, I've never been on an ancient battle field, but that sounds like it could block out the sun.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    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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