Thursday, June 28, 2012

History Trivia, Not Trivial History

This blog is a good starting point for lessons in the classroom or for home school. It is also a great fix for those of you who love trivia. The focus of the blog is the origin of the objects around us and the whys of names and how things are done. For example: Why is cotton fabric sold in 44 inch widths? It is the length of a cotton thread spun from large upland American cotton boles. Why is some fabric made in 36 inch widths? A yard is the length of a linen fiber from a flax plant that has been pulled up by the roots in order to harvest all the fiber length. Linen is a fiber derived from fibers in the plant stalk, rather than a product produced in connection with seed production as cotton is. There are a number of posts to read and more are planned for the future.

The Garden of Time

Take a walk through a flower garden and walk through, see, and smell time. Each of those well known flowers has a story that takes their introduction to the garden back to a specific time and place. If you know their history, a walk through a flower garden is a walk through time.

The tall hollyhocks returned from the Crusades in the saddlebags of knights in the mid 1100's A.D. In fact, Eleanor of Aquitaine may have brought back hollyhock seeds from the second Crusade, which she went on while queen of France. 

The word tulip comes from a Persian word meaning turban. Tulips arrived in Europe in the 1500's as gifts carried by Turkish ambassadors. They are natives of the Persian mountains and were domesticated by gardeners there.

Nasturtiums were introduced to Europe from South America in the 1500's. They were first used in salads, rather than as a garden flower.

The Aztecs planted golden marigolds in their gardens, in Mexico. The Spanish carried marigold seeds back to Europe in the 1500's.

Geraniums came back to Holland on Dutch trading vessels that had stopped at the South African port on the Cape of Good Hope, on their voyage out to the Spice Islands and India and on their return trip back to Amsterdam, in the 1600's.

The large roses we send on Valentine's day are expensive, but they were once a gift only an empress could afford. They were imported by Empress Josephine for her garden, during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800's.

Pansies were developed through crossbreeding violas, to obtain larger more colorful flowers, by an English woman Lady Elizabeth Bennet in 1812.

Perhaps you will take a second look and have a thought for history the next time you walk past those common garden flowers at your local store.

Magic Number 7

Have you ever wondered where all those references to a magic or important number 7 come from--seven days in the week, 7 wins in dice games, 7 rungs on the Alchemist's ladder? Seven is the number of heavenly bodies in the sky that move about quickly on a regular basis--the sun, moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. In fact, the word planet is derived from the Greek word meaning wanderer.

When it comes to the days of the week, Sunday for the sun and Monday for the Moon are obvious. Saturday for Saturn is not much of a stretch, but the others are less obvious. With the German barbarian invasion of Rome, Thursday came into play as Thor's Day with his thundering hammer, replacing Jupiter with his lightening bolts, as the symbol for that day. Friday comes from Freya, replacing Venus as the symbol of that day. Tuesday comes from the Germanic god Tiw or Tyr, the god of single combat, replacing Mars as the day's symbol. Wednesday comes from the Germanic god Woden, replacing the Roman Mercury.

Furthermore, each of the heavenly bodies is linked to a metal and appears as a rung on the alchemist's ladder. The top rung is gold for the sun, the second rung is silver for the moon, lead for Saturn, tin for Jupiter, iron for Mars, copper for Venus, and mercury for the planet Mercury.

When you think of the 7 days of the week, I hope you will have a new more historic take on them. It turns out they are heavenly days. As the dice players say, "Come on seven!"

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music Man

Creating music seems to be one of the hallmarks of our humanity.

Bone flutes have been found in European caves that date from 42,000 B.C.E. The flute played the modern diatonic scale. Also, caves have been shown to have the best acoustical spots marked--band over here; )

Excavations at Ur unearthed harps dating from as early as 2,750 B.C.E. A cuneiform tablet found at Nippur gives instructions on how to play a harp song that is made up of harmonies of thirds on the diatonic scale.

Songs and instruments have been found in the digs of all ancient cultures including:  the Indus River valley culture, Mesopotamia, Egyptian, Minoan, and Chinese.

Viking Ireland

Dublin, Ireland was founded in 841 B.C., at the mouth of the River Liffey, by Viking invaders as a port and trade center. Dubh Linn means black pool in Old Norse. Many captured Irish became slaves on Viking farms. Genetic traits such as red hair found in Ireland and Scotland actually come from the Vikings. 

The town had timber sidewalks like American frontier towns.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Common Places

The word bungalow, describing a small house of one to one and a half story with a large veranda, came from the Hindi word "Bengali" meaning a house in the style of the Bengal region. The term was first used in an English document in 1696, to describe houses built for English sailors, working for the East India Company in India.

The shotgun style house comes from a house style originating in Africa, with the Yorba Tribe. The long narrow house with, generally 3 rooms in a row, opening into one another, allowed air to pass through the length of the house and cool the rooms. Slaves brought this style to America.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Celery: a History

King Tutankhamen's mummy was adorned with a a garland of willow and olive leaves, wild celery, lotus petals, and cornflowers. Homer speaks of the horses of Troy feeding on celery. Celery is an ancient Greek word that came to English from French. It grows wild in marshy areas in Europe and the Near East.

Your Hamburger: 5,000 Years in the Making

Let us take a look at the hamburger with all its garnishes. Where did they all come from?

The Roman's were already serving meat patties at street side shops, with chopped garlic added. A hamburger steak sandwich was on the menu of the Tylorean Alps Restaurant at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Hamburger referred to a style of meat preparation from Hamburg, Germany. 

Walter Anderson, a cook at White Castle, invented the hamburger bun. White Castle was the first to sell the hamburger as we know it, beginning in 1921. 

Lettuce was domesticated in Egypt and was under cultivation by the mid-Bronze Age. You could have stood in a lettuce field and watched The Great Pyramid rise in the distance. The Romans spread cultivation of the plant.

Tomatoes come from Peru, as does the potato for French Fries. Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe in the 1500's.

Ketchup is based on a Malay sauce. The tomato and sugar were added to the recipe here in America. A recipe similar to today's sauce appears in a cookbook written by Thomas Jefferson's cousin. The Heinz company began to produce ketchup in 1876.

Onions probably were domesticated in Mesopotamia. They were probably an early root crop, since they store well.

Pickle comes from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. The word pickle is first used in English in 1400 C.E. Cucumbers were traded from India to Mesopotamia, in the Bronze Age, between such cities as Mohengo Daro and Uruk.  Pickles were first made in Mesopotamia over 4,000 years ago. When Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, he reopened the trade with India. Cucumber seeds traveled along the trade route. Their cultivation was spread to many countries by the Roman Empire. The Dutch connection with Malaysia spread spicy sauces and pickling techniques in Europe during the Renaissance.

Enjoy your hamburger. It took 5,000 years for all the ingredients to come together on your plate.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Casting a Volcanic Shadow Over History

There are strong links between the human race and volcanic eruptions. About 75,000 B.C. an eruption of  Toba volcano, Sumatra, which resulted in a decade long volcanic winter, is linked to a bottleneck in human evolution and the formation of trade connections.

Around 43,000 B.C., a cold snap due to the eruptions of  Campi Flageri in the Naples area volcano is linked to the extinction of Neanderthals. Modern humans also have a gene mutation that increases the time for neural wiring--making us more intelligent.

In about 1600 B.C., the massive eruption of Santorini on Thera and subsequent tidal wave brings down the Bronze Age superpower located on Crete. It also engenders the tale of Atlantis. A cluster of volcanic activity including Hekla on Iceland ends the Bronze Age, throwing civilization into a dark age.

Around 400 A.D., a flurry of volcanic activity, including the eruption of Krakatoa, freezes the Rhine, spreading famine and bringing about the end of the Roman Empire.

Volcanic activity in Iceland in 1783, caused the cold winter that froze over ports as far south as New Orleans and drove the French people to the Revolution.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Viking Cats

A marmalade tabby cat's coat color is the result of a mutation that shuts off the regular black and brindle tabby coloring. The mutation first occurred in Denmark. Since many people there have red hair, they liked the new coloring and favored the cats with extra food and a place by the fire. When Norse conquered and settled land in Northeastern England, they brought the orange tabbies with them. There are still more cats with that coloring in the North of England.

Viking Ships

Sleek Viking longships had a shallow draft so they could navigate rivers and sail at fast speeds. They sailed at 5 to 10 knots, but could reach speeds of 15 knots with a brisk, favorable wind. Their long and narrow construction made the ships fast and maneuverable, but they could also haul large amounts of cargo. The long ship had a tent like covered area called a tilt. The square sail was made of tightly woven wool rubbed with horse fat to make the fibers swell and hold the wind. The fat would also prevent over-wetting in a storm. If the sail became too wet and heavy it might roll over into the sea, capsizing the ship. Imagine sailing along on a fine sunny day, with their sail stinking of rancid animal fat, no wonder those Vikings were in such a bad mood.

Coloring Time

Before chemical dyes were invented in Victorian Times, clothing was dyed with colors derived from plants, insects, and snails. These dyes were often obtained by labor intensive methods, which made them very expensive. Red clothing, seen in paintings from the 1600's through early 1800's, was colored with a dye obtained from insects--Cochineal or Kermes. Purple came from the Murex snail, one drop per snail. No wonder Roman Senators only wore a toga bordered in purple while only the Emperor dressed completely in purple. A purple garment was worth a fortune. Woad and indigo plants produce blues. Logwood made black. The Lincoln green, of Robin Hood fame, involved over-dying cloth dyed blue with woad with yellow dyer's broom.

As much money in dyes was exported from South and Central America by the Spanish as was in gold, silver, and emeralds. The British army wears red coats, because the Earl of Essex captured a Spanish treasure ship full of Cochineal red--dried insect dye.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dinner for a Civilization

Many of the flowers in our gardens, including roses, originated in China. Other flowering plants include most of our food sources, from wheat and corn to fruits. Nova presents a program on this subject.-- First Flowers. Staple crops have nourished man, and farming with a plow allowed the surpluses necessary for cities to arise.

Wheat comes from the mountains of Turkey near the ancient site Gobekli Tepe. Bread yeast seems to have arisen from beer brewing in ancient Egypt. Chickpeas originated in Turkey. Chickpeas traveled through trade and are found in the deep layers of the ancient city of Jericho. Corn came from South and Central America. Soybeans and rice hail from central China. Each cooked with a recipe that could feed multitudes, provided for the rise of one of the world's civilizations.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Colossal Victory

The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the 7 ancient Wonders, was built from the melted down bronze weapons and armor of the troops who tried to conquer the island in 305 B.C., under Demetrius Poliorcetes. Rhodes had made an alliance with Ptolemaic Egypt. This basically created a trade monopoly, angering King Demetrius of Macedon, who had been left out. Poliorcetes means besieger of cities. In spite of bringing a larger number of troops than Rhodes could field and advanced siege weapons, Rhodes defeated the Macedon forces. They built the colossal statue of the sun god patron of their island as a celebration of their victory.