Tag Archives: history

Book Review – Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors

COTCEChronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China

by Ann Paludan

This is an excellent history book.  It is well organized and a useful reference work for projects and information purposes.  It is also well enough written to be an enjoyable read. It does not pretend to be a general/complete history of Imperial China; instead it covers the emperors (and occasional Empresses) themselves, giving a coherent unbiased picture that is sometimes difficult to get from most traditional histories.  It gives an account of each emperor from Qin Shinuangdi to Puyi.

This book provides a history that acknowledges the reports of historians from all areas (including enemies of China); these are critically analysed for their biases to attempt to give a balanced account.  The author does not blindly accept what either group has to say about emperors who they either demonize or deify. This is a very worthwhile practice, and so overall the book is a very helpful primer for a novice on the subject.

Especially interesting was the family information as well as the timelines, maps and illustrations. This book is concise and complete for its size and also manages to include text sketches of other prominent people of the day as well as each emperor’s most famous construction projects, laws or other interesting tid bits.

The smaller details of imperial titles, etc., are pulled out into handy sidebars where they can be ignored if desired or enjoyed by those who like that sort of thing.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of “official” portrait paintings and sketches of most of the emperors as well as the monuments they built. There are also many drawings and plans showing reconstructions of their palaces and monuments.  It is very easy to read and Chinese language concepts are easily explained.  This is an excellent book for author research or school projects.

-HMC

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Book Review – Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens

MayaChronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya

by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube

This book is chock full of site plans and photos, artifacts and loads of maps.

This is a highly informative work considering that most of Maya history comes from the Glyphs/writing left on buildings and monuments.

This book is a very good quick reference guide for those who do not want to wade through huge blocks of history text to get to the information you need. The volume is divided into sections separating the Maya into their city states and showing their impact on the world around them (as well as the impact on them from outsiders).

The Maya are a precise and warlike people who, it seems, overstretched their natural resources which then lead to their city states to eventual ruin and abandonment.

And now the Maya people today (who have a strong oral tradition) are being taught to read the writing of their ancestors by the Archaeologists who study the ancient Maya.

Writing and language are so much a part of a person’s cultural identity, that when you lose your connection with it, you lose a part of yourself.

-Hayley

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Book Review – Forgotten Roots

Forgotten RootsForgotten Roots – by Roger Whitten Barnes

Forgotten Roots  is a ‘sort of’ murder mystery told through different timelines set in both the modern-day Canadian Province of Ontario and the area of Ohio and Ontario of the 1800’s.  I liked the idea behind this story, but had issues following the three different storylines.  For the first two thirds of the book, the storylines did not really mesh with each other and the time devoted to each was not evenly distributed.  But for the last third of the story, they merged and flowed seamlessly with each other.

The book is basically about a woman finding out the history of her early colonial family when an old barn is demolished on her family property on St Joseph Island.  That is one of the storylines.  The other two are based two hundred years in the past and follow the lives of two people until they converge at one point on St Joseph Island.

I loved the descriptions of the Canadian wilderness and the historical backgrounds behind cities and settlements in Ohio – especially in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas.  (I would never have thought that river piracy was a common crime along the Ohio River).

There are a few aspects of the modern storyline that I would have liked to have seen developed more.  And in the early part of the novel I had a hard time reading through some of the storylines.  There was too much time devoted to certain stories and that gave me a disconnect to what was happening in the others.

Overall, this was still a good novel and an entertaining way of learning a little about the early history of Ohio and Ontario.

-HMC

Get the book from Amazon here

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THE HAMMER OF THOR

Thors hammer
Both sides of the Hammer Amulet (runes on left hand). Image: National Museum of Denmark

A small hammer dating to the 10th century was found recently on the Danish Island of Lolland. Over 1000 of these amulets have been found across Northern Europe but the pendant from Lolland is the only one with a runic inscription.

This particular torshammere (Thor’s Hammer Amulet) was found at Købelev and reported to the Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Anders Rasmussen by detectorist Torben Christjansen.

 Worn for protection

Hammer pendants are interpreted as amulets shaped like Mjölnir, the hammer owned by the Norse god, Thor. Viking men and women often wore Thor’s hammer for protection.  “It was the amulet’s protective power that counted, and often we see torshammere and Christian crosses appearing together, providing double protection”, said Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark.

This object is cast in bronze and has traces of silver or tin plating as well as gold plating, and is the first ever to be found with runes inscribed. Pentz is grateful to the unknown rune writer who is at last confirming that these amulets actually do depict Thor’s hammer. Over the years there had been doubt cast on whether these small amulets indeed represent a hammer. Some believe that the shaft is too short, while others believe that the hammer would not have had a symmetrical head such as this one. Perhaps this find will place this particular debate to rest, as the runic inscription clearly reads: “Hmar x is” (“This is a Hammer”).

However, the person who inscribed these runes was not a skilled writer, as the proper spelling should have been Hamar. Also the S-rune was reversed.

 Less formal

The find is also interesting, because Viking age written culture is dominated by the approximately 260 rune stones found throughout Denmark and southern Sweden. Other inscribed items although quite rare can give a different impression of the writing culture than the often rather formally bound runic texts found on monuments.

The small Thor’s hammer from Købelev has interlacing ornament on one side of the hammer head and the short runic inscription on the other. The runes range in height from 3 to 7 mm, so it required precision to inscribe them onto the object. It took some time to comprehend the actual meaning of the inscription; partly because the runes are so small, partly due to surface corrosion on the 1100 years year old amulet and also because of the imperfect runic inscription itself.

The runes translate into modern English as ‘Hammer is‘ where the x indicates the separator between the two words. This translates more properly into ‘This is a hammer‘.  This could indicate that the inscriber wasn’t totally literate, but nevertheless still managed to make an inscription fit into a tiny space.

This find does point to a society where written literacy was respected, so the fact that the creator of the amulet was able to write at all probably provided him/her with extra status.

In addition to the torshammere, the detectorist also recovered  fragments of silver needles and a mould for making brooches.- These additional findings indicate that there may have been a workshop producing jewellery nearby and Anders Rasmussen does not rule out that the hammer was made by a local craftsperson.

Museum Lolland-Falster has no plans to excavate the Viking site at Købelev, but instead are working with the finder to continue detailed detector surveys on site.

Source: National Museum of Denmark  – The Hammer of ThorPast Horizons. June 29, 2014, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/06/2014/the-hammer-of-thor

Did you know:

  • There are over 1000 amulets shaped like Thor’s Hammer found in across Scandinavia, the British Isles, Russia and the Baltic.
  • The vast majority of Thor’s Hammer amulets are simple undecorated pieces made of iron or silver,  although 100 decorated ones are known.
  • The Amulet served to protect the wearer.
  • The hammer Mjolnir was forged by the dwarves Brok and Sindri and had the magical property to always hit what it was thrown at and then return to Thor’s hand.
  • According to the “Trymskvadet” the giant Trym stole the hammer of Thor and would only give it back if he got Freyja as his wife. Thor disguised himself as Freyja by wearing her clothes, and during the wedding reception he took back Mjolnir and then killed Trym and his whole family.

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What Is Archaeology?

By Owen Jarus,

idol2Archaeology is fundamentally the study of humanity and its past. Archaeologists study things that were created, used or changed by humans. They do this by studying the material remains — the stuff we leave behind, such as lithic tools, a simple hut dwelling, a skeleton covered with gold jewelry or a pyramid that majestically rises from a desert floor. Sometimes, archaeologists study contemporary societies in order to shed light on those that flourished in the past.

Archaeology is practiced around the world by archaeologists who work with people from a wide variety of other disciplines to help answer questions about who we are and where we came from. In doing so, archaeologists find evidence that sheds light on what our future may bring.

Who are archaeologists?

While archaeologists don’t use bullwhips or revolvers like the fictional Indiana Jones, they use a multitude of technologies and techniques to help solve mysteries of the past. Archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, said that people sometimes tell him that real-life archaeology, with its careful note-taking and lab work, doesn’t sound as exciting as what Indiana Jones does in the movies. He replies that, on the contrary, “to an archaeologist, yes, it certainly is!”

The term “archaeologist” is an increasingly broad term. While professional archaeologists may all share some general fieldwork and lab skills, they may have developed expertise that allows them to specialize in the study of certain types of artifacts or sites.

Underwater archaeology, textile analysis and the study of plant and animal remains found at archaeological sites are just a few examples. Some may develop language skills that allow them to record and translate texts found at archaeological sites. These language experts may not call themselves archaeologists but instead refer to themselves as epigraphers or another title related to the language that they study. Similarly those who specialize in the study of human remains often call themselves “physical” or “biological” anthropologists, rather than archaeologists.

As new technologies and disciplines appear, the skills that archaeologists develop will continue to grow. Some undergraduate archaeology programs offer only a small number of core archaeology courses and instead encourage students to branch out, taking courses from across many other departments at a university.

Archaeologists also tend to focus their studies on a certain part of the world, or a specific culture, such as Egypt, China or the Maya civilization in Central America. They may also focus on specific timeframes. For instance, an Egyptologist may focus on the Old Kingdom period (2649-2150 B.C.), the time period when the pyramids at Giza were built.

Archaeology deals with animals and plants in only so much as it helps us understand humanity. A dinosaur fossil, for instance, would not be studied by an archaeologist unless that dinosaur was dug up by a human and became part of an archaeological site under investigation (in which case the archaeologist would work with a paleontologist to study it).

Becoming a professional archaeologist

In North America and Europe, professional archaeologists tend to have a masters degree or doctorate. This wasn’t always the case. Howard Carter, the archaeologist who led the team that discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, had little formal education and learned various archaeological techniques by practice.

A large number of universities offer archaeology programs. The expertise they can convey to their students depends on the faculty and staff members who are available to teach.

Archaeologists can work for a wide variety of employers. These include museums, art galleries, universities, research institutes, government agencies (the National Park Service, for instance), cultural resource management firms (which often work with private companies and governments to survey and excavate sites before development), tourism companies (for instance, acting as highly educated guides) and media companies (helping to make documentaries and aiding in the publication of books, journals and magazines).

Opportunities for amateurs

There are many opportunities for amateurs to become involved in archaeology. Local archaeology societies offer chances for volunteers to become involved in excavation and lab work.

Overseas digs will sometimes also offer the chance for people, who are able to pay their own way, to volunteer and help excavate an archaeological site. Sometimes those who volunteer can get course credit at a university in return.

Archaeologists’ salary

It is hard to give an exact salary range for an archaeologist. In the United States and Canada, a junior field archaeologist (sometimes called a “technician”) who works with a small cultural resource management firm may earn a small amount of money, perhaps not much more than minimum wage.

On the high end, a tenured professor at a major research university may earn a salary that reaches over $100,000. An archaeologist who holds a senior management position at a university, government agency, large cultural resource management firm or large museum may also earn a salary that reaches into six figures. If an archaeologist succeeds in publishing a book that sells well (something that is difficult to do) that may raise their income further. Few, if any, archaeologists say that they went into the discipline for the money.

It does belong in a museum (or at least it should)

Archaeologists today, generally, do not sell the artifacts they dig up. In the past, this was not always the case. Over a century ago, antiquarians (sometimes little more than looters) would excavate artifacts and sell them. In the past, museums, universities, galleries and private individuals would sometimes help pay the cost of a scientific archaeological excavation and, in return, expect a share of the artifacts.

One of the few areas of archaeology where practices like these still, legally, occur is in the salvage of underwater shipwrecks. Some jurisdictions, which don’t have the money to pay for an underwater excavation, will allow a salvage company to excavate a site using professional archaeologists and scientific techniques. The salvage company in turn recoups their costs (and sometimes makes a good profit) by selling some of the artifacts. This practice is deeply controversial among archaeologists and a source of debate among lawmakers.

Another notable exception occurs in part of the United Kingdom where amateurs using metal detectors are allowed to search for artifacts, and at times own their finds, under a complicated system of laws. Again, the use of metal detectors by amateurs is highly controversial with many archaeologists saying that they damage archaeological sites and impede scientific investigations.

How did archaeology get its start?

In some ways, archaeology is an ancient discipline. It was not unusual for ancient societies to keep old material and take steps to preserve sites and monuments they deemed important.

In the early modern period, with the onset of the Enlightenment and subsequent scientific revolution, archaeology gradually became what we would consider “scientific” as methods were developed at recording sites in greater detail and determining the age of artifacts (for instance by studying the sediment in which they were found and analyzing how the style of lithic and ceramic artifacts changed over time).

Where does archaeology go from here?

As technology develops, new methods for studying the past have been incorporated into the discipline. For instance, as high resolution Google Earth imagery became available in the last decade, archaeologists (and amateurs) got to make use of this free (or otherwise very cheap) tool that allowed them to survey large tracts of land in areas that are sometimes difficult to access (such as Iraq or Afghanistan).

Where archaeology will go in the future depends very much on future technological advances and where humans will travel to in the future. With the development of techniques that allow astronomers to detect Earth-size planets it’s even been speculated that archaeologists will increasingly work with astronomers, physicists, biologists and other scientists, to search for the remains of non-human civilizations.

—Owen Jarus

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Book Review – Chronicle of the Roman Emperors

Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome by Christopher Scarre

This is an excellent history book.  It is well organized and a useful reference work for projects and information purposes.  It is also well enough written to be an enjoyable read. It does not pretend to be a general/complete history of Imperial Rome; instead it covers the emperors themselves, giving a coherent unbiased picture difficult to get from most traditional histories.  It gives an account of each emperor from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus.

This book provides a history that acknowledges the reports of historians from all areas (including enemies of Rome), these are critically analyzed for their biases (e.g., that of senatorial authors against emperors who ignored the senate, or of Christian authors against the persecutors) to attempt to give a balanced account.  The author does not blindly accept what either group has to say about emperors who they either demonize or deify. This is a very worthwhile practice, and so overall the book is a very helpful primer for a novice on the subject.

Especially interesting was the family information as well as the timelines, maps and illustrations. This book is concise and complete for its size and also manages to include text sketches of other prominent people of the day as well as each emperor’s most famous construction projects, laws or other interesting tid bits.

The smaller details of imperial titles, etc., are pulled out into handy sidebars where they can be ignored if desired or enjoyed by those who like that sort of thing.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of portrait busts of most of the emperors as well as the monuments they built. There are also many drawings and plans showing reconstructions of their palaces and monuments.  It is very easy to read and Latin concepts are easily explained.  An excellent book for author research or school projects.
-HMC

Book Review – Historical

Republican Rome by H. L. Havell.

Even though this book was written in 1914, it does not read like a ‘stodgy’ history book.  It is very easy to read, is not biased to any line of history and is a very good book for those who are interested in the early Roman Republic.  Havell is very good at bringing out a little character in his historical figures instead of just reciting fact, figures and their historical ‘claim to fame’. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read up on the history of Rome.