In British English, raisins are also called "sultanas." That's because they were originally a foreign import, from the Ottoman Empire. In the UK and Australia, "Raisin Bran" cereal is "Sultana Bran."

Operation Aerial and Operation Cycle

After Dunkirk was evacuated in the opening days of World War II in Europe, there were still plenty of soldiers left on the continent who despised Nazi Germany, but were now stuck in enemy territory. With France fallen and Spain friendly to Germany, there was nowhere for such soldiers to go. So the British decided to try rescuing them. The order went out to any remaining British Expeditionary Forces who had missed Dunkirk, and any friendly forces, including French, Belgium Polish, Czech, et cetera. If they could get to the ports along the French west coast, they might get picked up by a British ship, and evacuated to Britain. Every ship available began visiting the French west coast; many merchant ships were requisitioned to assist in the evacuation, some little more than sail boats. But it worked! They were able to rescue 191,870 fighting men including 144,171 British, 18,246 French, 24,352 Polish, 4,938 Czechs, and 163 Belgians. Each soldier was one more person that could eventually be sent back to fight the Nazis.

Prehistoric women's arms 'stronger than those of today's elite rowers'

The study of ancient bones suggests that manual agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies of women living in central Europe between about the early Neolithic and late Iron Age. The study examined the remains of 94 women spanning about 6,000 years, from the time of the early neolithic farmers (dating back to around 5,300 BC) through to the 800s CE, from countries including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia. These ancient women had arm bones which were extremely strong -- about 30% stronger than non-athletic modern women. And stronger than modern rowers, soccer players, and runners. The study also reveals that the strength of women’s arm bones dropped over time. Probably because technology was developed to ease manual labor. By medieval times, the strength of women’s arm bones was on a par with that of the average woman today.

Eadgifu of Kent

A little-known Saxon royal, Eadgifu’s reputation suffers for living before the Norman conquest, and for having an unpronounceable name! She was the third wife of King Edward the Elder of Wessex. At the time, England was divided between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Danish kingdoms, all vying for power. Wessex was the southernmost Anglo-Saxon kingdom and the only one that had completely held out against Danish invasion. But now the Anglo-Saxons were fighting back and Eadgifu was there to see it. Edward the Elder captured the eastern Midlands and East Anglia from the Danes in 917, and gained control of Mercia upon the death of his sister, its queen. By the end of his reign, Edward could be called “King of the Anglo-Saxons” because he had united them -- although not the Danes.

Little is known about her during her husband’s reign, but when her sons Edmund and Eadred ruled, Eadgifu seems to have been the power behind the throne. During the reign of King Eadred, the kingdom of Northumbria was conquered. It was the last Danish kingdom to fall. England was now a single, centralized monarchy, although the union was new and weak. Eadgifu actually lived to see two grandsons, King Eadwig and King Edgar, sit on the throne after King Eadred. She was less influential by this point, as she had sided with Edgar against Eadwig during the succession dispute. King Edgar, when he eventually took the throne, ruled a united England which was truly a union. It had been together for long enough that it was no longer a piecemeal collection of Anglo-Saxon and Danish kingdoms. When she died, in or after 966, Eadgifu had lived long enough to see the small southern kingdom of Wessex become the nation of England we would recognize today.

Perfectly Preserved Stone Age House Found In Norway

The discovery of a “sealed” Stone Age house site from 3500 BCE in Norway is the finest preserved house from the funnel beaker culture which lived in the area at the time. The dwelling site lies 11 meters (36 feet) over sea level today, but was at the water’s edge 5,500 years ago. The site looks like it was covered by a sandstorm, possibly in the course of a few hours. At the time, Norway was much drier, and sandstorms were not unusual according to the earth's strata from the time. Which is lucky for today's archaeologists! The site is so well-preserved that it has been described as a "mini-Pompeii."

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.

The first book published in English and definitely written by a woman came out around 1395. Written by Julian of Norwich it is an account of her divine visions, as well as her thoughts on love, sin, and hope. Unfortunately very little is known about Julian herself. The name Julian might not even be her birth name!

What Was The Holodomor?

From late 1932 until mid-1933, the Soviet Union experienced a major famine largely due to the disastrous policy of forcing peasants to work in collective farms. In Soviet Ukraine, the situation was deliberately exacerbated by teams of activists who removed food from peasant homes. They would go from village to village, entering each house and demanding grain, corn, squash, roots, the seeds for the next year’s crop -- everything edible. Then the state closed the borders of Ukraine. The policy was designed to quash Ukraininian separatism, but in reality took away both food and the ability to grow more food, while preventing Ukrainians from leaving their villages to find food elsewhere. Millions died. Today, the famine is known as the Holodomor.

Of course the Soviets tried to cover up how many Ukrainians died. They prevented journalists from visiting the region, forbade publication of the national census in 1937, and then altered the census for years afterward to hide the impact of the Holodomor.

Recently, though, Ukrainian demographers have gone back to look at birth and death records, which were largely unaltered by the Soviets. By estimating how many people should have died and should have been born, they can estimate how many Ukrainians went missing from late 1932 to mid-1933. Using this method, the number of “unnatural deaths” during the Holodomor is 3.9 million.

an original piece by historical-nonfiction

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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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