Welcome to Naghsh-e Rostam, Ancient Necropolis of Kings

About ten kilometers from the abandoned city of Persepolis, Naghsh-e Rostam is less well known but similarly impressive. The sheer size of the tombs, cut out of the cliff face, helps you to understand the power and wealth of the Archaemenid empire (also known as the 'First Persian Empire'), which ruled almost half the worlds population at its height, around 450 BCE. The tombs are positioned high enough to be inaccessible to tourists. The necropolis contains the tombs of Darius I, Darius II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I, with a fifth unfinished tomb probably intended for Darius III. It was unfinished because the Archaemenids were conquered by Alexander the Great. He spared the Naghsh-e Rostam tombs when he burnt down nearby Persepolis, although the four tombs were ransacked either by his troops or by grave-robbers in the following years.

Two pages from the Grolier Codex, a controversial Maya codex. It appears to be pre-Columbian. But its authenticity is in doubt, and scientific examinations have been inconclusive. The codex’s text contains an almanac based on Venus, the planet, and its four stations.

Tash Rabat, a mysterious site in Kyrgyzstan, was once a settlement along the Silk Road, a way station for caravans -- a caravanserai. It provided shelter and food for both human traders and their animal workers. What makes Tash Rabat slightly mysterious is that its layout is unusual for this kind of caravanserai. What’s left is a single structure that looks like a blend between a castle and a temple.

Archaeologists are puzzled by Tash Rabat. They believe the location was used as a resting place for traders from about the 1400s but there’s also evidence that a Christian monastery may have been there from as early as the 900s. That could explain the odd layout – perhaps the travelling merchants just adapted an existing structure.

A belief in witches and witchcraft were common in Europe through the early 1700s. Witch bottles--small containers filled with personal items, sealed, and buried--are one way this belief appears in the archaeological record. Where there are witch bottles, there were people who believed in witches. The buried bottle was supposed to absorb a spell, tormenting the witch who cast the spell, and preventing the spell from harming whoever buried the bottle. When witch bottles are found today they are almost always broken or empty. But in Greenwich, England, in 2004, workers found a rare, unopened example, a stoneware bellarmine jar. They heard rattling and splashing inside, so something was definitely inside.

X-rays revealed pins and nails stuck in the jar's neck (it had been buried upside-down). Then a CT scan showed that the witch's bottle was about half-filled with liquid -- confirming the splashing. Using a long needle, scientists penetrated the cork and removed some of the liquid for analyses. Using modern witchcraft, proton nuclear magnetic resonance and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, they determined the smelly answer: urine. When the bottle was emptied to inventory the pins and nails, the contents were only slightly less gross than human pee. Inside were 12 iron nails (one of which was driven through a leather heart), 8 brass pins, brimstone, clumps of hair, 10 manicured fingernail clippings, and a little clot of what looked like bellybutton lint. Further tests showed that the witch bottle was probably filled and buried sometime in the 1600s.

Vikings in Ireland knew how to ice skate! These bones are in fact skating blades, from the 1000s or 1100s CE in Dublin, Ireland. Similar artifacts are known from early Scandinavian sites such as Birka and Hedeby, while in Britain over forty have been found in York, a Viking settlement.

This copper female figure, from the eastern Indian region of West Bengal, is almost certainly Radha, lover of the god Krishna. She was a human woman who devoted herself completely to her god, Krishna, and as a result was made a goddess, an ideal for Krishna devotees to follow. This figure likely sat in a shrine to be adorned by adoring devotees. Her worn face testifies to her many years of use, which slowly softened her features. Circa 1500s CE.

Courtesy of the Walters Art Gallery

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu -- Romania's longstanding communist leader and his wife -- were arrested after the country revolted in 1989. On Christmas Day they were shown into a dilapidated lecture hall at the Targoviste army barracks, north of Bucharest. It was a makeshift courtroom, where the couple's military captors planned to hold their trial. They were to be tried for armed action against the people, trying to flee with US$1 billion of public money, and a host of other charges. But the trial was a charade. It lasted less than an hour, and though the whole thing was filmed, the camera showed nothing but the two defendents. After a five-minute recess, the judge pronounced the verdict: death. Elena Ceausescu wept, but Nicolae stayed calm.

The couple were bound with ropes and taken into a courtyard, where they were lined up in front of a row of paratroopers. The couple were swiftly executed. After the paratroopers were finished, more soldiers poured in, filling the corpses with bullets. They wanted to be sure that the hated dictators were dead. By the end of Christmas Day, 1989, the two bodies were buried under false names.

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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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