Rongo Rongo: The Mystery Script of Easter Island

Easter Island was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 1770s. There they encountered the indigenous Easter Islanders, or the Rapa Nui. They had been living on Easter Island since at least the 1200s CE, and possibly since the 300s CE.

Sometime between 1650 CE and 1860 CE, the Rapa Nui developed a type of picture writing called “rongo rongo” or “to recite.” There is great debate about whether they independently invented writing. Or whether the Spanish gave them the idea of symbols to represent sounds. Unfortunately, by the 1860s the Rapa Nui had forgotten how to read the script. Today it remains undeciphered.

Jane Austen, Quintessential Woman's Novelist, Had A Surprising Childhood

Jane Austen's work is generally seen as women-focused. Her protagonists are all women. She explores deeply women's thoughts and feelings. There are well-written, interesting men in her books, but by and large Jane Austen is seen as focused on women. So it may be a surprise to learn that Jane Austen grew up in a household filled with boys! She was one of eight children: six boys, and two girls. Her parents also ran a school for boys out of their home until she was twenty, to make ends meet since her father's job as vicar did not pay too well.

The First Woman To Travel Around The World

Jeanne Baret is the first known woman to have circumnavigated the globe. She was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile from 1766 to 1769. And most of that time, she was disguised as a man! "Jean Baret" enlisted as valet and assistant to the expedition's naturalist, Philibert Commerçon, and was an expert botanist herself.

She had been Commerçon's housekeeper -- and probably lover -- for years already, and he was in poor health. He hesitated to accept the position as naturalist for the around-the-world voyage because of his health. Commerçon was allowed one servant on the Bougainville, paid for by at royal expense, but women were strictly forbidden on French naval vessels. Somehow the idea of disguising Baret as a man was introduced. She showed up just before the ship left, pretending to be a stranger to Commerçon. While Baret's surviving documents carefully absolve Commerçon of the plot, it is inconcievable that he had not known (at minimum) and had helped her plan.

Sometime during the voyage, likely in the south-eastern Pacific islands, Baret's gender was discovered. Accounts differ as to how exactly that happened. When the voyagers, short of food, stopped at Mauritius in the Indian Ocean Commerçon was delighted to find that an old naturalist friend, Pierre Poivre, was the governor. At the time Mauritius was an important trading post. So Commerçon and Baret were left behind as Poivre's guests. Bougainville encouraged them to stay. He was probably glad to not have a living, breathing breach of the law on one of his ships anymore.

Commerçon made a series of plant-collecting expeditions from Mauritius, to Madegascar and Bourbon Island. Baret, who was still working as his housekeeper and nurse, likely accompanied him on these trips. Unfortunately Commerçon died in Mauritius. He left little money, and no social supports, as Poivre had been recalled to Paris. Baret was left there without a way to get back. She seems to have found work running a tavern, for a time, before marrying one Jean Dubernat in May of 1774. He was a non-commissioned officer in the French army who was likely stopping over in Mauritius on his way back to France.

The couple made their way back to France, completing Jeannne Baret's circumnavigation of the globe. Sadly there are poor records, and we do not know which ship took them back or what day, exactly, Baret arrived in France. But at some point, likely in 1775, Baret became the first woman to circle the globe. For her feat she was eventually awarded a pension of 200 livres a year by the Ministry of Marine.

Mahmud II: The Great Reformer

Often called "Peter the Great of Turkey," Mahmud II was the 30th sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1808 until his death in 1839. Mahmud II oversaw extensive military, administrative, and monetary reforms which were capped by the Decree of Tanzimat in 1839.

Tanzimat was an overarching modernizing effort which, among other things, ended tax farming, created military conscription from districts based on size (instead of the hereditary Janissaries), and created legal and social equality before the law for all citizen (instead of different religious systems operating autonomously, often with special privileges for favored sects). One aspect of Tanzimat greatly limited the sultan's power: it guaranteed citizens the rights of life and property. This meant sultans could no longer execute or confiscate the property of anyone at whim.

Unfortunately, Mahmud II died in 1839, so Tanzimat had to be implemented by his sons and successors.

an original piece by historical-nonfiction

The Swiss Scientist Who Discovered Too Many Things

Leonhard Euler was a bit annoying. You see, he was a pioneer in math and physics -- so much so that he is the first to have written on a wide range of subjects and disciplines. But they cannot name everything after him, it would grow ridiculous. There would be too many "Euler's functions" or "Euler's formulas." Also, this is the guy to literally invent the concept of a "function" and the notation f(x). To avoid confusion, some discoveries and theorems are attributed to the first person to have proved them after Euler.

Ohaguro: An Interesting Japanese Beauty Standard

Women in ancient Japan blackened their teeth with dye. White teeth were considered ugly. Evidence for this practice, called ohaguro, exists from as far back as the Kofun Period and (250 to 538 CE) in bone remains and on clay human figurines.

Ohaguro continued until the late 1800s and the Meiji Restoration.

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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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