The Peak of the Sasanid Empire

This snapshot shows the greatest territorial extent of the Sasanians, circa 620 to 627 CE.

It was the last great empire in the Middle East before Islam. The Sasanians were locked into a struggle with the Byzantine Empire, which made both weaker when the Islamic army swept out of the Arabian peninsula.

Coin Collection From Classical Corinth Presents A Conundrum

A hoard of about 119 coins, together with an iron lock that may have locked the container holding the coins, have been found inside a collapsed building in the harbor of the ancient city of Corinth in Greece.

The earliest coin in the hoard dates to shortly after the death of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who reigned from 306-337 CE), while the most recent two coins in the stash date to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (who reigned from 491-518 CE). Based on their weight and size, the coins from Anastasius I's reign likely date to sometime between 491 and 498 CE, before Anastasius I reformed the Byzantine Empire's coinage system. So the building collapse no sooner than the 500 CE. When the coins come from is not the conundrum, however.

Why didn't anyone come to collect the stash after the building collapsed? That's the big mystery that has archaeologists scratching their heads. The coin collection represents significant wealth at the time, and the lack of bodies suggests the collection's owner wasn't killed when the structure collapsed. The coins were found just 12 to 16 inches (30-40 centimeters) below modern ground level. It wouldn't have been much work to retrieve the coins. But instead they were left, to be discovered by modern archaeologists. Not that the archaeologists are complaining!

Hawaii Has A Protected Valley, Where Its Ancient Plants Are Preserved

For the past 1,500 years, Limahuli Valley on Kauai has been a green haven, a wilderness preserved to exist just as the native Hawaiians experienced it. It is home to plant life unlike anything found in the rest of the world, with many endangered plants thriving in the valley.

What Is An Ice Age?

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!

Dice Have Gotten More Fair Since Ancient Times

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."

Underwater Route Between Prehistoric Cenotes Found In Mexico

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.

New Technology to Open Unopenable Ancient Texts is Being Tested on A Burned Book for the First Time

This is a book, written sometime between 400 and 600 CE, in the Egyptian language Coptic. Unfortunately no one has been brave enough to open it. The charred book, named M.910 after its library accession number, was fused together by a cinder, which sank through many of its pages, binding the parchment leafs together and making opening the book dangerous. Thanks to modern technology, however, we do not need to open the codex to read its contents. A fine-detail CT scan of the codex was completed in December 2017. Previous fine-detail CT scans have worked, famously with a charred lump from En-Gedi in Israel, but that was a scroll. All the writing was on one side of the scroll. This codex has pages, with writing on both sides. Although tests of mock books worked, we will not know for a while if the real test -- scanning M.910 -- worked as well.

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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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