Owls in Ancient Mythology

The Aztecs and Mayans feared and hated the owl and believed they were symbols of death and destruction. Interestingly, the Romans agreed, believing that the owls were bad omens -- but the ancient Greeks did not.  In ancient Greece, owls represented Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

This Remote Part of England Was Uniquely Terrified of Zombies

Residents of North Yorkshire, from the 1000s to the 1300s, were extremely afraid of the dead rising again to attack the living. So afraid, in fact, that villagers would dismember, decapitate, burn, and otherwise mutilate the corpses of their friends and neighbors before burying them. They generally mutilated the bodies shortly after they died, when the bones were still soft. Imagine doing that to your grandma!

Carnival, the Catholic holiday, probably comes from the word for "meat" in some way, which is "caro" in Classical Latin and “carne” in Medieval Latin. It was the last time that people could eat meat before the start of Lent, when meat was forbidden for 40 days.

Where Does Leprosy Come From?

Leprosy may have originated in Europe -- not Asia, as previously thought. An international team of researchers sampled about 90 different skeletons bearing the telltale deformations of leprosy. The skeletons were unearthed in Europe, and have been dated to between 400 and 1400 CE.

From the bones, the scientists reconstructed ten new genomes of medieval Mycobacterium leprae, in addition to the one or two strains already known to have been circulating in medieval Europe. All the strains of the leprosy bacterium were in fact present in medieval Europe, which strongly suggests leprosy originated closer to Europe than previously thought. Higher diversity is present near an area of origin - this is true of languages, humans, and apparently, leprosy. The new results suggest that leprosy came from someplace closer to Europe, like south-eastern Europe or western Asia.

The oldest strain was detected in a skeleton found in Great Chesterford, Essex, in southeast England, which has been dated to between 415 and 545 CE. This is the same strain found in modern-day red squirrels!

The Americas' Linguistic Diversity

There were dozens of language families, each the equivalent of the Indo-European family, before 1492. This map is a "simplified" one. In today's California, for instance, languages that are spoken by neighboring tribes are as different as French and Chinese.     Why did the Americas develop such linguistic diversity? Many linguists suspect that at least some of these separate families date back to separate migrations of different tribes from Asia who originally spoke unrelated languages. Linguistic and archaeological data hint at more than one migration from Asia into the Americas, all of them through Alaska.     Extra Fun Fact: see “Eskimo-Aleut” in northern North America? It is not colored because there is no evidence those languages are related to any other indigenous American languages!

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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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