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.

Earliest Flushing Toilet in South Korea Discovered!

Archaeological remains of a bathroom equipped with a flushing toilet used during the Silla Kingdom (57 BCE to 935 CE) were discovered in South Korea in 2017. The toilets were tilted, so anything that fell into them would naturally flow to a drain. People likely poured water after they did their business to wash away the waste into the plumbing system that flowed out of the palace.

The toilets were not for everyone. They were made of granite, a luxury at the time, and were located in the royal palace of Donggung and Wolji Pond. The palace complex was constructed in the year 674 CE by King Munmu.

The Astonishing Story of the First People to Circumnavigate Africa

The Phoenicians are the first known people to have sailed all the way around Africa. The Egyptian pharaoh Wehimbre Nekao, who ruled from 610 to 595 BCE, asked for Phoenician aid in circumnavigating Africa. This likely had something to do with Egypt's defenses, which were threatened at the time by Babylon -- who happened to be threatening the Phoenician heartland as well. Nekao was pretty lucky that the best sailors and navigators of the ancient world happened to share his enemy.

According to Herodotus, the voyage took two full years. Based on modern estimates, it may even have taken three years. The first stretch along the Red Sea, around the Horn of Africa, and down the eastern coast would have been easy sailing. Phoenicians were familiar with the Red Sea, often trading with Yemen for incense. And a combination of monsoon winds and easy currents made the eastern coast of Africa a quick journey.

After rounding the cape, in what is today South Africa, the Phoenicians are thought to have stopped and farmed for a bit. No ancient ship could carry enough supplies for two years. So they likely sowed their wheat in June, started to repair their ships, and harvested in November. Then they started up the western coast of Africa. This was what took the bulk of the journey. A combination of unfavorable winds and changeable currents likely made the trip rather scary. Modern historians think the Phoenicians made a second stop and stayed a planting season at what is today the coast Mauretania. They had likely been traveling for two and a half years. Finally, after a second harvest and repairing their boats, they beat their way along the Moroccan coast and towards the Mediterranean.

The navigators would have quickly re-entered civilization as they knew it: the Phoenicians by this time had a town on Mogador Island, off central Morocco. From then on it was an easy trip along the southern Mediterranean, with plenty of hospitable ports for refueling and telling the astonished inhabitants their story.

These earrings have a story to tell. Unfortunately, we don't know most of it. They were most likely made in Constantinople around 600 CE, perhaps as an imperial gift to a Visigothic ruler of medieval Spain, where they were found in Extremadura. The Visigoths by that point had become the settled rulers of the Iberian Peninsula, and had established trade and diplomatic contacts with the Byzantine Empire. And its known that the Visigoths particularly prized Byzantine jewelry.

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.

The World's Oldest Library Finds Hidden Treasures

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. In the earlier days of books, the parchment they were written on was extremely valuable -- sometimes more valuable than the words written on them. So when someone wanted to copy down a new book, rather than purchase or make a new parchment, they scrapped the words off an older book and wrote the new book instead. Such texts are called "palimpsests." Saint Catherine's has at least 160 plaimpsests. The manuscripts bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing, the only hint of the treasures they hid.

In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away.

And what they found are truly treasures. They found new poems -- or rather, very old poems -- and early religious texts and some rare-language texts doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years. Perhaps most valuable, though, are the entirely new words, in long-forgotten languages. It will take religious, medieval, and linguistic scholars years to sift through all the finds!

It's All Germanic To Me

Both Old English and Old Norse were part of a Northwest Germanic language group. The languages were similar until the 400s CE, when the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England made English part of the West Germanic language group -- like German instead of like Norwegian. But Old English and Old Norse followed the same phonological rules. Which meant they changed in predictable, and similar, ways.

Which means that during the Viking Age in England, Old English and Old Norse approached being mutually intelligible. Not only were the English being raided, invaded, and occupied, but the warriors who were doing so could be almost understood, speaking a strange version of their own tongue. Probably just made the Great Dane Army’s job easier. Isn’t it nice for threats to make people quake in fear, instead of just making them confused.

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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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