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!
Between the 800s and 100s BCE, a nomadic people comprised of many different tribes lived in the steppe of Eurasia, a vast region running from northern China and Mongolia to the northern Black Sea area. Today, we call those nomads the Scythians. Modern archaeology has been telling us more and more about what it was like to live and die on the steppe. The short version? Life on the steppe was hard. There must have been competition to grazing rights and water rights, and since livestock and horses were the lifeblood of the Scythian tribes, animal stealing must have been common too. From burials, we know there is visible trauma on a high percentage of the found Scythian remains. The high number of weapons buried with them also suggests a militarized society were fighting was commonplace.
More than 200 cliff cave burial sites have been identified in Zhengxing Township in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The 200 burial sites number is deceptive; they are not just holes in the ground, but a cluster of hewn rooms, carved out of the cliffs overlooking the Jinjiang River. Some of the tombs have up to seven chambers with tunnels as long as 20 meters (65 feet).
Unfortunately, the tombs appear to have been previously looted. Bummer. But in what should be considered a small miracle, a large number of artifacts were recovered despite the looting; initial estimates are that around 1,000 gold, silver and bronze artifacts are still there. The tombs date between 206 BCE and 420 CE -- the Han Dynasty through the Wei-Jin period.
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.
Pasiphaë, the wife of King Minos, did not trust her husband. So she laid a spell on him. It kept him from ... having relations ... with anyone else. But in a very unusual way: if King Minos slept with a concubine not approved by Pasiphaë, he would ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes, killing the unlucky woman.
All rather ironic, since Pasiphaë herself was unfaithful. To be fair, she only cheated because of Poseidon, who was angry at King Minos; to punish the husband, Poseidon enchanted poor Pasiphaë to fall in love with a bull. The result of their "love" was the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull.
An amazing new site has been found in Peru: an undisturbed cemetery with burials from the Viru Period (200 BCE - 500 CE) and the earlier Salinar Period (400 BCE - 200 BCE). The richer graves actually date to the Salinar Period, with gold artifacts, ritual objects, and a stone mace head. Unfortunately, those skeletons also show severe injuries. Located in Huanchaco, on Peru's north coast, the site is at what is essentially a fishing village. Such a concentration of high-status burials shows that the Salinar period had strong social differentiation, even in a small village.
Xinhua reports that medical texts written more than 2,000 years ago, found on 48 of the more than 35,000 wooden slips discovered in a well in central China in 2002, have been analyzed by scholars. The texts on some of the slips recorded the command of Qin Shihuang, the country’s first emperor, to launch a nationwide search for an elixir of life, and replies from local governments and remote villages. For example, the village of Duxiang had not yet found a miraculous potion, but it reported that it would continue to search for one, while the people of Langya, located near the sea, handed over herbs collected from a local mountain. Medical texts on other slips recorded treatments such as acupuncture, oral medicines, and topical therapies administered in most cases to members of the upper class, under the direction of the government.
“It required a highly efficient administration and strong executive force to pass down a government decree in ancient times when transportation and communication facilities were undeveloped,” explained Zhang Chunlong of Hunan’s Provincial Institute of Archaeology. This is all the more impressive because it happened under the Qin, a short-lived dynasty of less than 15 years, which is considered the first Chinese dynasty which could truly call itself an empire.
Over one million mummies have been found in Egypt. Most are cats.
Giovanni Belzoni, an early Egyptologist, wrote in 1821 what it was like to enter an Egyptian tomb:
I sought a resting place, found one and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of a dead Egyptian, it crushed it like a band box. Naturally I had recourse to my hands to sustain my weight, but they found no better support; so that I collapsed together among the broken mummies with such a crash of bones, rags and wooden cases as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting until it subsided again. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some place or another… Thus I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies piled up in various ways, some standing, some lying and some on their heads.
This buffoon was known as the "Great Belzoni" and is still considered a pioneer archaeologist in the study of ancient Egypt. Seriously, read his wikipedia page, I couldn't believe it either.
Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.
Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.