Books?

In the Kinkerbuurt, Amsterdam, the streets are named after Dutch poets and writers from the 1700s and 1800s. This inspired Yugoslavian artist Sanja Medic to transform the façade of a residential complex into a bookcase. Inside are 250 ceramic “books” by the Kinkerbuurt authors. Though it looks pretty, they are sadly not readable.

Darwin in China

Charles Darwin was translated into Chinese about forty years after he was originally published. By this point China's Qing Dynasty had already lost two major wars to western powers. China was extremely aware of its weakened position both compared to other countries, and compared to its former glory. Charles Darwin, translated by Yan Fu (嚴復), introduced China to the idea of "survival of the fittest." Unsurprisingly this resonated with a public very aware that stronger victors (like Britain) get to dictate terms to the weaker loser (like China). The Chinese appreciated Darwin's focus on the strong preying on the weak with species having to adapt to survive survive. This idea became a major theme in the writings of reformers and revolutionaries like Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei, and Sun Yat-sen. While many interpreted evolution differently within the country and between revolutionaries, it was a potent argument for change, in a country historically averse to it.

Non-Chinese also used Darwin to justify their actions in China. European imperialists, missionaries, and colonial administrators argued that since the Chinese were a less-evolved type of humans it was right and good for more-evolved White people to do as they pleased in China.

Ancient Egyptian Bracelet

From the 200s to 100s BCE, so when Egypt was ruled by the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty. Courtesy of the Getty Museum

Scientists and art historians have analyzed a miniscule speck of purple paint taken from “Portrait of a Bearded Man.” He was a lifelike image painted on wood and wrapped into a mummy’s linens in the 100s CE, when Egypt had become a Roman province. It is one of the "Faiyum portraits," a group of mummies found at the Faiyum Oasis which combine Egyptian mummification practices and wrappings with lifelike Roman portraits on their busts. This particular “bearded man” was painted wearing purple marks called clavi on his toga. These clavi were a symbol of the senatorial or equestrian rank the man had while alive, and were the focus on the recent study into how Romans made purple paint.

When examined under a microscope, the pigment appears to have large particles, like what is seen when gems are crushed to make pigment. The researchers then used an ion beam to split the tiny sample into even smaller pieces for several tests. Their results showed that the ancient Romans made purple using a synthetic, unidentified dye mixed with clay or silica to form a pigment. That pigment was then mixed with a binder of beeswax to make a paint.

Ancient China’s Deadly Sport

Ancient China had its own form of mixed martial arts. Called lei tai, it was a no-holds-barred mixed combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, boxing and wrestling. Killing your opponent was allowed. The sport was played by having a man on a rail-less platform who would invite anyone who wished to challenge them. If a challenger won, they became the man on the platform. But if a man beat enough opponents they would win acclaim as a “champion.” One famous champion, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam, fought over 150 people over 18 days to become a champion.

The modern form of lei tai appeared during the Song Dynasty. It is still practiced, though in a modified form that makes deaths less likely.

Running Antelope or Tȟatȟóka Íŋyaŋke (1821–1896) is the only Native American ever featured on paper money. In 1899, Running Antelope was pictured on the five-dollar certificate. But there was a glaring mistake. His original headdress was swapped for an incorrect Pawnee headdress, because Running Antelope's was too tall to fit nicely with the dollar's design.

Long-Overlooked Desert City Reopened In Saudi Arabia

The once-prosperous Arabian trading hub of Hegra (also known as Madain Saleh) has been abandoned and virtually untouched for the past 2,000 years. You might notice that it looks remarkably similar to another rock-cut city of Petra. That's because they were part of the same Nabataean kingdom. Petra was its main city and capital, and Hegra was its second most important city, its southern trading city.

The Nabataeans were desert nomads who leveraged their importance in trading routes to eventually control the incense and spice trade routes through Arabia and Jordan to the Mediterranean, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia. The Nabataeans used their wealth to build stupendous rock-cut buildings and tombs. Unfortunately they were an illiterate people. We have occasional comments on them from their literate neighbors, and scanty archaeological investigations. But we simply do not know that much about the mysterious people who built Hegra and Petra.From the 300s BCE to the 1st century CE, the Nabataeans remained wealthy and powerful in their desert kingdom, until the expanding Roman Empire annexed the kingdom and took over their trading routes.

Saudi Arabia recently opened Hegra to tourists as part of the country's efforts to diversify its oil-focused economy, and since Petra sees nearly a million visitors a year, Saudi Arabia was clearly hoping Hegra will become a similar draw.

Polska Stacya (Polish Station) Saloon in Chicago, 1903

The difference between the sidewalk and the dirt road is even more jarring when compared to the children. Some are happily playing in the dirt, while some look on from the sidewalk, but there is no playing on the pavement.

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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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