Who Invented Paint-By-Numbers?

If you guessed "whatever man is in that self-portrait" you would have been half-right. Leonardo da Vinci was the original paint-by-numbers inventor: he used numbered background patterns for his students and apprentices. During the 1940s, Dan Robbins (the guy in the self-portrait) heard about da Vinci’s method. He worked for Detroit's Palmer Paint Company, and Robbins convinced his boss to try it out, coming up with kits featuring landscapes, horses, kittens, and puppies. Things that amateurs would want to paint, in other words. And they were a hit! Sales hit a record $20 million in 1955.

Unfortunately for the Palmer Paint Company, the idea of paint-by-numbers is very simple. Which makes it easy for other companies to copy the idea. As competitors flooded the market, the Palmer Paint Company could not keep up, and was eventually sold. But Robbins -- and Da Vinci -- had made their mark. Paint-by-numbers kits have been continuously sold since they were first invented in the 1940s, and Robbins’s work of making art accessible to all has been celebrated by the Smithsonian Institution.

What Does Giraffe Really Mean?

Sure, we all know "giraffe" means "that really tall mammal with spots and a long neck." But does the word itself mean anything? Linguists aren't sure. The English word "giraffe" may come from the Arabic word zarāfa, which means "to jump" or "to hurry." Other linguists think it may mean "assemblage," since early explorers thought the giraffe looked like a compilation of a horse, an ox, and a camel.

A Poetic Critique of Taoism

Those who speak know nothing; Those who know are silent.” These words, as I am told, Were spoken by Laozi. If we are to believe that Laozi Was himself one who knew, How comes it that he wrote a book Of five thousand words?


-Bai Juyi (772-846) a renowned Chinese poet and Tang dynasty government official

One-Faced Linga of Shiva

From the Pala Dynasty, which was a Late Classical imperial power in India's Bengal region. Circa 600s - 700s CE. Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Or, why the Mercator Projection is rarely used nowadays. It was revolutionary when it was first invented because it represents vessels' straight courses as straight lines, making navigating ships much easier. But that was in 1569. And cartography has become a much more advanced science these days.

This Ear Ornament Looks Lovely -- And Very Painful

It is made of pure gold, so its not just large but heavy too. Also I am not quite sure how it would stay on. Made in Tulungagung during Java's Late Classic Period, 1000s to 1300s CE.

How A Poetic Franciscan Helped Europe Learn Latin

Until the end of the 1100s, everyone who was educated in Europe had to know Latin. Unfortunately for them, Latin was taught by reading and memorizing long Latin texts over a period of years. It would be like learning to speak English by making people memorize the bible. In other words, it took a very long time, and few people could really learn Latin. Which helped keep the educated to a few, clerical elites in the church.

Alexander of Villedieu, a French Franciscan grammarian and teacher who was private tutor to the nephews of a bishop in northern France, thought this system sucked. He devised a fast-track method to teach Latin, using simple rules and written in verse so that his pupils could memorize the language more easily. The bishop was quite impressed by Alexander's students' progress. So impressed that he encouraged Alexander to write a whole grammar book so that others could learn using his new method. Doctrinale puerorum, a versified grammar book, was written around 1200 and immediately became a classic.

Doctrinale's influence and use spread throughout Europe. Because it made learning Latin much easier and faster (and cheaper), a great movement of mass literacy began. His way of teaching using the rules of the language, not rote memorization, better suited the needs and aspirations of non-churchmen. It was a big step forward for mass education. And when the printing press was invented, Doctrinale became even more accessible, with versions printed in Germany, Italy, and his native France.

What Can Temples Tell Us About Hawaii's Unification Into A Kingdom?

A study of indigenous temples, or heiau, on the island of Maui was conducted to identify when the island’s native population first went from living under many small chiefdoms to living under a single ruler. The island’s sacred sites range from small shrines dedicated to deities of fishing and agriculture, to “monumental” temples whose foundations are still identifiable today. Maui is a rare archaeological site in Hawaii. It is untouched by agriculture, or tourism, or housing development. That means the archaeological remains of the entire district are intact, making Maui an excellent place to study the development of pre-contact Hawaiian society.

Heiau vary tremendously in size and form; there were different kinds of heiau for different gods. The structures themselves were made of perishable wood and thatch but their stone bases remain. These are generally platforms or terraces, and sometimes even walled enclosures. The study went over the heiau's remains looking for pieces of a small, stony coral known as Pocillopora meandrina, which were offerings and sometimes incorporated into the buildings themselves. Because coral are animals they can be dated -- telling us when the heiau were constructed and used. Which in turn can tell us something about the political landscape on Maui at the time.

If there was a a temple-building boom, that often means a period of political consolidation, as ancient Hawaiian rulers utilized increasing religious authority in order to also wield economic and political authority. To enhance their religious authority Hawaiian rulers would build more temples and shrines, often near farmlands and other areas of food production. This strengthened the symbolic association between rulers and the gods who controlled nature’s bounty. And it was probably not a coincidence that the temples also made it easier for leaders to collect tribute from the local food producers.

The new study found that most of the heiau were built recently and rapidly, over a span of no more than 150 years, beginning around 1550 and ending around the year 1700. Because coral carbon dating has an error range of 2 to 10 years, we can be relatively certain of these findings. Well, as certain as you can ever be with relatively new methods and fieldwork. Luckily, the study has outside support: its time range is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu.

DNA Analysis Deepens Mystery around India's Skeleton Lake

Roopkund Lake is a shallow body of water filled with human bones, high in the Himalayas of India. Its not-very-creative nickname is "Skeleton Lake." As you might imagine, finding a mysterious lake filled with human bodies has generated much archaeological interest.

A recent genome-wide DNA analysis of 38 of the remains indicates that they came from multiple groups. The largest group (23 individuals) were similar to that of people from present-day India. The second-largest group (14 individuals) were most similar to people from present-day Crete and Greece! Very surprising. The last individual, if you are curious, had DNA suggesting a Southeast Asian origin.

Another recent finding was that these individuals did not all die at the same time, in a disaster of some kind. Radiocarbon dating placed the Indian-related bones between the 600s and 900s CE. The analysis does not tell us if within that span, multiple groupings were put in Roopkund Lake together, or if each individual's remains were placed individually into the lake. The other groups, the Mediterranean individuals and the Southeast Asian individual, were placed in the lake between 1600 and 1900 CE. That's pretty recent.

These DNA analyses were conducted only on a handful of the individuals buried at Roopkund Lake, the ones whose whole-genome DNA could be generated. There may be more surprises in store as more of the remains are tested.

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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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