Coral reefs have existed for over 400 million years!

BIMBISARA: 

BIMBISARA (c. 545/544 BCE – c. 493/492 BCE) was a king of the Magadha Kingdom who is credited with establishing imperial dominance in the Indian subcontinent. Son of a minor king called Bhattiya, he belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty, which is said to be the second imperial dynasty of Magadha. However, it is only from Bimbisara’s reign that the historicity of different Indian kings can be verified with any certainty. Before the Haryanka Dynasty, the accounts of various Indian kings are mythical and cannot be verified with any archaeological evidence.

Bimbisara ruled at a time when Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BCE – c. 483 BCE) and Mahavira Vardhamana (c. 599 BCE – c. 527 BCE as per the Jaina tradition), the respective founders of Buddhism and Jainism, both started their teachings. Bimbisara has been given much importance in the early Buddhist and Jaina sources because he probably endorsed both these religions equally. He ruled from a place called Girivraja which was also known as Rajagriha and is identified with modern Rajgir in the state of Bihar today. It is said that the city of Rajagriha was built by Bimbisara himself. The city was covered on all sides by five hills creating a natural fortification, and later on Bimbisara’s son, Ajatashatru covered the gaps with stone walls.

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Did you know that handwritten sheets – called avvisi – circulated among the cities and courts of Europe in early modern Europe after public mail routes became common? They were bought on the streets or by subscription, and had information and news from cities like Warsaw, Paris, and Madrid. They sometimes even had information from further afield such as Ireland or the American colonies. It is hard to understand now, by the once or twice weekly avvisi were a revolution in news, connecting Europeans more than ever before.

One newsletter, dated March 19th, 1588, describes the famous Spanish Armada which sailed against Queen Elizabeth I of England. It was described as having “140 or more sailing ships and eight months of provisions” plus “17,000 combat soldiers and 8,000 sailors.” The same avvisi also discusses the reconstruction of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, and how problems with pilings were fixed on-site rather than being replaced due to the “inconvenience” of closing the Grand Canal.

It is known that animal herding, which had been in northeastern Africa since about 8,000 years ago, made it to southern Africa by about 2,000 years ago. But it has been an open question whether the pastoral life was brought south by immigrants, or whether it was adopted by hunter-gatherers already in the area.

A multinational team of scientists recently examined 41 genomes from individuals who lived in Africa between 4,000 and 300 years ago. The genomes suggested that pastoralists migrated from southwestern Asia into eastern Africa around 5,000 years ago. They interbred with local foragers, mixing genomes.

However, about 3,300 years ago, the inbreeding ceased. Pastoralism had already been established by this point. The immigrants were now locals. So this study creates a new question: why did the genomes separate? What happened that pastoralists and hunter-gatherers suddenly stop intermarrying?

ALEXANDER THE GREAT & THE BURNING OF PERSEPOLIS: 

IN the year 330 BCE Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire following his victory over the Persian Emperor Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. After Darius III’s defeat, Alexander marched to the Persian capital city of Persepolis and, after looting its treasures, burned the great palace and surrounding city to the ground, destroying hundreds of years’ worth of religious writings and art along with the magnificent palaces and audience halls which had made Persepolis the jewel of the empire.

Persepolis was known to the Persians as Parsa (‘The City of the Persians’), and the name ‘Persepolis’ meant the same in Greek. Construction on the palace and city was initiated between 518-515 BCE by Darius I the Great (r. 522-486 BCE) who made it the capital of the Persian Empire (replacing the old capital, Pasargadae) and began to house there the greatest treasures, literary works, and works of art from across the Achaemenid Empire. The palace was greatly enhanced (as was the rest of the city) by Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE, son of Darius, and would be expanded upon by Xerxes I’s successors, especially his son Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE), although later Persian kings would add their own embellishments.

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While people talk about modern beauty standards being artificial and western, it can be easy to not understand the true diversity of beauty standards across time and across history.

For instance, the ancient Maya thought being cross-eyed was highly desirable. Parents would hang an object between their infant’s eyes hoping to induce permanent cross-eyes.

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In Iran until modern times, women were more desirable if they had unibrows and mustaches and many used darkening products to achieve them.

No matter what you look like, there was probably a time and a place when you were the height of attractiveness. Think about that the next time you look in a mirror!

SULLA’S REFORMS AS DICTATOR: 

LUCIUS Cornelius Sulla (l. 138 – 78 BCE) enacted his constitutional reforms (81 BCE) as dictator to strengthen the Roman Senate’s power. Sulla was born in a very turbulent era of Rome’s history, which has often been described as the beginning of the fall of the Roman Republic. The political climate was marked by civil discord and rampant political violence where voting in the Assembly was sometimes settled by armed gangs. There were two primary opposing factions in Roman politics: the Optimates who emphasized the leadership and prominent role of the Senate, and the Populares who generally advocated for the rights of the people.

During this era, senatorial power was curbed and significant progress was made for the rights of the common folk, particularly the magistracy of tribune of the plebs, which was specifically created to be a guardian of the people. Sulla was an Optimate and after his rise to power, he declared himself dictator and passed several reforms to the constitution to revitalize and restore senatorial power to what it once was. Although his reforms did not last very long, his legacy greatly influenced Roman politics in the final years of the Republic until it fell in 27 BCE.

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Recent work on the mummies of working people at Deir El-Medina in Egypt suggest that tattoos were much more common than previously thought 3,000 years ago. In the local cemetery, seven mummified women have been identified with tattoos. One had over 30!

The subject of the tattoos included sacred motifs such as Wadjet eyes, baboons, cobras, cows, scarab beetles, and lotus flowers. Some tattoos appear to have religious meaning, while others appear to offer healing or protection. Just like today, ancient Egyptians got tattoos for many reasons.

James W. Cadle’s “Flag of Earth,” 1970.

United Nations Flag

Flag of Planet Earth” (which is used by SETI)

Philip Kanellopoulos’s “Planet Earth Flag,” 2004

MESOPOTAMIA is an ancient region in the Middle East, east of the Mediterranean by the Zagros mountains, between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The name ‘Mesopotamia’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘between two rivers’. The region is now known as Iraq but once included some parts of modern-day Iran, Syria, and Turkey.