Author: Historical Nonfiction

On the Island of South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland is a peculiar tomb. The site is a chambered tomb, built into the cliff’s edge around 3,500 BCE, and it wasn’t re-discovered until the 1950s. As you probably guessed from this post’s title, the tomb is the final resting place of 8 to 20 people – and 14 white sea eagles. Recent dating tells us the people were buried in it about 1,000 years before the eagles were.

It’s an amazing example of how a neolithic tomb was in use for many generations, and evolved in its meaning over time. Personally, I think its pretty cool that 1,000 years after their ancestors died, someone added eagles to accompany them.

Two gilded silver dragon figurines featuring detailed horns, eyes, teeth, and feathers have been discovered in a Xiongnu elite tomb in north-central Mongolia. The dragons bear obvious characteristics of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE). They are evidence of the cultural exchange and interaction between the prairie in the north and central China, as well as the high status of the Xiongu buried in the tomb.

Of course, the silver dragons were not the only rich items they were buried with: a trove of gold, silver, bronze, jade and wood artifacts have also been found.

More than 40,000 years ago, Australia used to be home to many species of giant kangaroos. One, the
short-faced kangaroo, had a single-toed clawed foot (modern-day kangaroos have three toes), and weighed more than 260 pounds (118 kilograms, modern-day kangaroos reach only 200 lbs). And the short-faced kangaroo had a box-shaped head. A recent study of the short-faced kangaroo’s odd skull shape found that it was specifically adapted to eat
tough foods like mature leaves, stems, and branches when other food sources were scarce.

That makes the short-faced kangaroo very similar to the modern-day giant panda. They both have thick jaws, and specialized skulls, evolved for eating the toughest plants that other animals can’t.
When times are hard, the short-faced kangaroo and the giant panda both have a competitive edge.

Sapporo is the oldest beer company in Japan. It was founded in 1876, less than 10 years after the Meiji Restoration.

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The most-remade movie in history is very recent: it came out in 2016! Called
Perfetti Sconosciuti (“Perfect Strangers”) the movie has been remade in Greece, Spain, Turkey, France, India, South Korea, Hungary, Mexico, China, and Russia.

Part of the uniform of 
Her Majesty Empress Maria Fyodorovna’s Cavalry Guards Regiment. With a three-headed eagle on top, almost the size of the helmet itself! Must have been ceremonial. Because only a fool would wear that unwieldy thing into battle

Getting DNA from Indus River Valley Civilization burials is quite difficult, as the hot South Asian climate provides the perfect conditions for degrading biological material. After 5,000 years in the ground there is usually nothing left to sequence. But for the first time, a full genome has been sequenced! A team from Deccan College in India successfully recreated a genome from an individual buried in a cemetery at the site of Rakhigarhi, in Haryana, India. They were able to get enough undamaged DNA by patiently re-sampling the skeleton over 100 times and pooling the results.

It has been known that there are cultural connections between the Indus River Valley Civilization and Iranian civilization. It has even been theorized that the hunter-gatherers who lived in the ecologically rich valley learned farming from Iran. The recent study therefore compared the Rakhigarhi remains to genomes from 523 genetically sampled from Gonur in Turkmenistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in Iran.

Their analysis showed that the genes associated with this individual’s Iranian ancestry came from before the time when farmers and hunter-gatherers in the area separated from each other. This individual’s Iranian ancestors left before farming spread through Iran, meaning that the Indus River Valley civilization did not learn farming from Iran but independently decided to give up hunting and gathering for farming. The genetic analyses also found that 11 individuals from the 523 belonged to the same genetic group as the Indus River Valley Civilization remains. That suggests that the 11 were migrants, or near descendants of migrants, from the Indus River Valley.

During Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s, hyperinflation made paper money so devalued that some enterprising boys made kites out of what would otherwise be worthless paper!

Yeibichai – a female mask – carved by Navajo artist Clitso Dedman (1897-1953). I was not able to find much clear information on Yeibichai online. If anyone knows about their place in the Navajo universe, I would love to hear about it – just message me through tumblr or the website!

Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art