Prehistoric women's arms 'stronger than those of today's elite rowers'

The study of ancient bones suggests that manual agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies of women living in central Europe between about the early Neolithic and late Iron Age. The study examined the remains of 94 women spanning about 6,000 years, from the time of the early neolithic farmers (dating back to around 5,300 BC) through to the 800s CE, from countries including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia. These ancient women had arm bones which were extremely strong -- about 30% stronger than non-athletic modern women. And stronger than modern rowers, soccer players, and runners. The study also reveals that the strength of women’s arm bones dropped over time. Probably because technology was developed to ease manual labor. By medieval times, the strength of women’s arm bones was on a par with that of the average woman today.

Two pages from the Grolier Codex, a controversial Maya codex. It appears to be pre-Columbian. But its authenticity is in doubt, and scientific examinations have been inconclusive. The codex’s text contains an almanac based on Venus, the planet, and its four stations.

Eadgifu of Kent

A little-known Saxon royal, Eadgifu’s reputation suffers for living before the Norman conquest, and for having an unpronounceable name! She was the third wife of King Edward the Elder of Wessex. At the time, England was divided between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Danish kingdoms, all vying for power. Wessex was the southernmost Anglo-Saxon kingdom and the only one that had completely held out against Danish invasion. But now the Anglo-Saxons were fighting back and Eadgifu was there to see it. Edward the Elder captured the eastern Midlands and East Anglia from the Danes in 917, and gained control of Mercia upon the death of his sister, its queen. By the end of his reign, Edward could be called “King of the Anglo-Saxons” because he had united them -- although not the Danes.

Little is known about her during her husband’s reign, but when her sons Edmund and Eadred ruled, Eadgifu seems to have been the power behind the throne. During the reign of King Eadred, the kingdom of Northumbria was conquered. It was the last Danish kingdom to fall. England was now a single, centralized monarchy, although the union was new and weak. Eadgifu actually lived to see two grandsons, King Eadwig and King Edgar, sit on the throne after King Eadred. She was less influential by this point, as she had sided with Edgar against Eadwig during the succession dispute. King Edgar, when he eventually took the throne, ruled a united England which was truly a union. It had been together for long enough that it was no longer a piecemeal collection of Anglo-Saxon and Danish kingdoms. When she died, in or after 966, Eadgifu had lived long enough to see the small southern kingdom of Wessex become the nation of England we would recognize today.

Tash Rabat, a mysterious site in Kyrgyzstan, was once a settlement along the Silk Road, a way station for caravans -- a caravanserai. It provided shelter and food for both human traders and their animal workers. What makes Tash Rabat slightly mysterious is that its layout is unusual for this kind of caravanserai. What’s left is a single structure that looks like a blend between a castle and a temple.

Archaeologists are puzzled by Tash Rabat. They believe the location was used as a resting place for traders from about the 1400s but there’s also evidence that a Christian monastery may have been there from as early as the 900s. That could explain the odd layout – perhaps the travelling merchants just adapted an existing structure.

The Origins Of Vanilla

A tribe known as the Totonacs were the first civilization known to grow and cultivate vanilla pods, sometime in the 1400s CE. They mainly used them for medicinal or religious purposes, not culinary ones like vanilla is used for today. The Totonacs believed vanilla was a gift from the gods. Pretty much literally. In Totonac lore, vanilla orchids sprouted from the blood of a runaway deity and her forbidden mortal lover, both of whom were captured and slain by the princess’s father.

The first book published in English and definitely written by a woman came out around 1395. Written by Julian of Norwich it is an account of her divine visions, as well as her thoughts on love, sin, and hope. Unfortunately very little is known about Julian herself. The name Julian might not even be her birth name!

Vikings in Ireland knew how to ice skate! These bones are in fact skating blades, from the 1000s or 1100s CE in Dublin, Ireland. Similar artifacts are known from early Scandinavian sites such as Birka and Hedeby, while in Britain over forty have been found in York, a Viking settlement.

This copper female figure, from the eastern Indian region of West Bengal, is almost certainly Radha, lover of the god Krishna. She was a human woman who devoted herself completely to her god, Krishna, and as a result was made a goddess, an ideal for Krishna devotees to follow. This figure likely sat in a shrine to be adorned by adoring devotees. Her worn face testifies to her many years of use, which slowly softened her features. Circa 1500s CE.

Courtesy of the Walters Art Gallery

Sometimes, History is Gross

Analysis of the faeces layer of a 6-foot-deep hole found at a Viking settlement in Denmark suggests that the hole could be a very important hole. It could be the country's oldest toilet -- about 1,000 years old!

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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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