Dragon Sculptures Evidence of Ancient Cultural Exchange Between China and Mongolia

Two gilded silver dragon figurines featuring detailed horns, eyes, teeth, and feathers have been discovered in a Xiongnu elite tomb in north-central Mongolia. The dragons bear obvious characteristics of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE). They are evidence of the cultural exchange and interaction between the prairie in the north and central China, as well as the high status of the Xiongu buried in the tomb. Of course, the silver dragons were not the only rich items they were buried with: a trove of gold, silver, bronze, jade and wood artifacts have also been found.

Some of these textiles are a bit more obscure, so I looked them up. A byssus is a bundle of filaments secreted by many species of bivalve mollusk that function to attach the mollusk to a solid surface. The filaments can be worked into a (very expensive) textile, but its mostly died out. Qiviut is yarn made form the "inner wool" of a muskox. Chiengora is yarn made from dog hair. Salish Wool is a subtype of chiengora. It comes from the now-extinct Salish Wool Dog, which was a domesticated dog bred that was bred by the Coast Salish peoples of what is now Washington State and British Columbia to have a white, long-haired coat.

The Mythical Birth of The Lion People

The Sinhalese people are native to Sri Lanka, speak Sinhala, are majority Theravada Buddhists, and today make up about 75% of the island's population. They also have a pretty cool origin myth. The Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan epic from the 400s CE, tells how the Indian prince Vijaya was the grandson of a lion. (No mention of whether Vijaya had a mane or ate really, really raw meat.) According to the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya traveled to the island of Sri Lanka and married Princess Kuveni, a lady of Sri Lanka's previous inhabitants the Yakkhas. Vijaya eventually overcame the Yakkhas, and with his followers took control of Sri Lanka, becoming the first of the Sinhalese people.

The Mahavamsa says the Sinhala never forgot their origins: Sinhala literally means “of lions.” In the Sinhalese tradition the lion is the mythical ancestor of kings and a symbol of royal authority. Because, you know, the first king was a quarter lion and people tend to remember that.

One of the best preserved Roman stone ruins is an amphitheater in El Jem, Tunisia. The then-city was called Thysdrus and its 35,000-seat amphitheater was a towering symbol of the city's -- and the region's -- prosperity. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Theory of Terracotta Army's Anti-Rust Technology Debunked

The Terracotta Army's well-preserved bronze weapons had led some to speculate that artisans during the Qin Dynasty developed anti-rust treatments in the mid-200s BCE. This theory was boosted by the finding of trace amounts of chromium on the surfaces of bronze weapons excavated in Xi'an, China -- the same area where the army was buried. Today, chromium conversion coating is a preservation methods that involves dipping a metal into a solution containing chromium salts, which gives the metal a protective layer of chromium oxide. Maybe the Qin Dynasty's artisans had discovered something similar?

Recently a group of researchers, from UCL and the Terracotta Army Museum, decided to run a study and check the theory. They analyzed 464 bronze weapons and fragments, as well as lacquer and soil samples. They had hypothesized that if chromium conversion coating was not used on the weapons, the chromium traces on the weapons might come from the soil they were buried in, or perhaps from chromium in the pigments decorating the warriors. The study's findings were not what they hypothesized. The terracotta warriors themselves, and organic materials including wooden quivers, scabbards, and shafts, were coated in a lacquer which contained chromium. Bronze weapons were not.

To double-check their findings, replica bronzes were weathered in an environmental chamber. Those buried in Xi'an soil did much better than the bronzes buried in British soil. The experiment indicated that it was Xi'an soil's moderately alkaline pH, its very small particle size, and the tin content of the bronze weapons which helped to preserve them. In other words, the traces of chromium found were incidental and not the reason the weapons were so well-preserved.

The Foundation of Carthage

Carthage was initially founded by Phoenicians from the city-state of Tyre in the 800s BCE. They named it Qart-hadasht, which simply means “new town.” Situated in today's Tunisia, the settlement was one of many Tyrian colonies dotted around the Mediterranean basin, which brought new materials and goods back to Phoenicia and strengthened and expanded Phoenicia's trading network. Eventually the new town gained its independence around 650 BCE, and became a prosperous trade-based city-state with colonies of its own.

Located on Peru’s northwest coast, Pañamarca was one of many ceremonial centers sacred to the Moche people. It is home to some of the best-preserved murals from the Moche, dating to the 500s to 900s CE. After early archaeological work in the 1950s, which documented some impressive murals, the site was quietly forgotten until an archaeologist and art historian decided to examine it again in 2010, and see what art might still remain. They didn't expect much. But not only were a number of the previously-documented murals still in good condition, many more had been missed by the earlier archaeologists, left in situ and intact. “We were soon looking at things that no one had seen since A.D. 780, when parts of the site were deliberately buried,” said lead researcher Dr. lisa Trever.

This particular mural was one of their new discoveries. Based on evidence from Moche ceramics, it is believed to depict the mythical hero Ai-Apaec fighting a Strombus monster whose shell is adorned with a two-headed serpent.

First isolated and named as an element at the end of the 1700s, uranium had actually been used in pigments since at least the first century CE. A piece of glass from a Roman villa was found to be yellow because it was one-percent uranium oxide. And history repeats itself: after its discovery as an element, it was used extensively to make glass, enamel, and ceramics of a range of colors. The most famous use of uranium was in uranium glass, which has a distinct, and slightly unsettling, green tint under UV light.

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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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