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!
A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to researchers from UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History. Roman-era dice, the researchers found, were a mess when it came to shape. They were made from a variety of materials, such as metal, bone and clay, and no two were shaped entirely alike. Many were visibly lumpy and lopsided, with the 1 and 6 on opposite sides that were more likely to roll up. In the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, between 400 CE and 1100 CE, dice seem to have grown rare. Relatively few have been found from this period. Dice reemerged in the Middle Ages, and at that point were a little more regular in shape. But they still weren't fair -- anyone playing dice would have had slightly higher chances of getting certain numbers, depending on how uneven the dice were made.
The researchers suggest that the popularization of "scientific" thinking may have helped dice rolls become near-chance during the Renaissance. "People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," Jelmer Eerkens of UC Davis said. "We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games."
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.
Who were the successors to the Roman's archrivals, the Parthians? You probably guessed from the title -- the Sassanians. It is widely considered the last "true" Persian Empire. Why?
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.
A team of archaeologists in northwest China has discovered an irrigation system dating to the 200s to 300 CE in the foothills of China’s Tian Shan Mountains, along one of the old sections of the Silk Road. The researchers spotted the canals, cisterns, and check dams with drones and satellite imagery, and created a 3-D model of the site with aerial photographs and photogrammetry software. The resulting model showed that the irrigation system was designed with an emphasis on conserving and storing water. They wanted to always have water in their cisterns, rather than always have a flow of water through their canals. Located next to the Mohuchahan River, the area where the irrigation system was found had previously been believed to be solely pastoral, so the new findings rewrite our understanding of who lived there and how they lived in the early centuries of the Silk Road.
Fox head ornament from the Moche civilization, in Peru. Made of gilded copper — which has turned green over the centuries — and shell. Circa 390 to 450 CE.
An intact, 1,900-year-old mirror has been found at the Nakashima archaeological site on the southern island of Kyushu. It is in such good condition that the mirror is still reflectove. The site where it was uncovered was once part of the Na state, during the late Yayoi period, which ended around 300 CE. The mirror is thought to have been made in China during the later Han Dynasty, between 25 and 220 CE. An inscription on the mirror, which measures about four and one-half inches across, reads “to benefit future generations forever.” And in an interesting and definitely unpredicted way, the mirror is fulfilling it's inscription. The mirror may have been obtained when the king of Na sent a mission to China in 107 CE —an event recorded in Chinese history.
A map of where, in the world, popes have been born. Note that they placed each pope in the country he would be born in, if he was born today. Three popes were born in modern-day Tunisia, sure, but that was back in the Roman Empire. Those ancient "Tunisian" popes would have called it the province of "Africa" and it included eastern Algeria and northern Libya, as well as Tunisia.