Friday, 23 June 2017

The Crocotta

The crocotta is a mythical dog-wolf of India or Ethiopia, linked to the hyena and said to be a deadly enemy of men and dogs. Pliny variously described the crocotta as a combination between dog and wolf or between hyena and lion.

"its eyes have a thousand variations of color; moreover that when its shadow falls on dogs they are struck dumb; and that it has certain magic arts by which it causes every animal at which it gazes three times to stand rooted to the spot."
"In Ethiopia there is an animal called crocottas, vulgarly kynolykos [dog-wolf], of amazing strength. It is said to imitate the human voice, to call men by name at night, and to devour those who approach it. It is as brave as a lion, as swift as a horse, and as strong as a bull. It cannot be overcome by any weapon of steel."

Fossilized skull reveals the last 'Siberian unicorn' lived 29,000 years ago

For decades, scientists have estimated that the Siberian unicorn - a long-extinct species of mammal that looked more like a rhino than a horse - died out some 350,000 years ago, but a beautifully preserved skull found in Kazakhstan has completely overturned that assumption. Turns out, they were still around as recently as 29,000 years ago.

The real unicorn, Elasmotherium sibiricum, was shaggy and huge and looked just like a modern rhino, only it carried a mighty horn on its forehead.
The Siberian unicorn stood roughly 2 metres tall, was 4.5 metres long, and weighed about 4 tonnes. That’s closer to woolly mammoth-sized than horse-sized. The newly found skull was found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Evolution of Gold Coins

Gold has been used as a medium of exchange and a store of wealth for millennia due to its rarity, desirability, and high value. Ancient gold coins were first introduced into commerce in the kingdom of Lydia (modern-day Turkey) during the reign of King Croesus in the 6th Century BC.

The earliest coins were hand-made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver.
Electrum wasn't always desirable. When coinage started gaining popularity a way to standardize the purity of the gold and silver was needed. The first technique of gold parting was invented: salt cementation.

King Cyrus and the Persians defeated the Lydians in 546 B.C., and the region became part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Through trade and conquest, the Persians spread the use of gold coinage throughout the Mediterranean. The most popular gold coin of the empire was the Persian daric, introduced by Darius the Great sometime around 500 B.C. Production of darics continued for nearly two hundred years, until the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.
Alexander and his armies allegedly looted some 700,000 troy ounces of gold coins from the Persians. These ‘spoils of war’ were subsequently melted and used to mint coins in his name.

In Britain and elsewhere, a number of Celtic tribes issues coins in gold. The early Roman Republic issued few coins in gold, their main coinage being in silver, with bronze or copper for smaller denominations. From the death of Julius Caesar, gold coinage came to be an important part of the Roman financial system.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ancient Roman Sculpture Fetches $930,000

An 1,800-year-old sculpture depicting a Roman military officer has been sold at auction by the Denver Art Museum for about $930,000. The sculpture likely depicts a senator or member of Rome's nobility who led the military during a campaign in the second century A.D.

"The portrait represents a Roman military officer, distinguished by the cape he wears over his shoulder. He was probably not a professional soldier, however, but rather a member of the elite senatorial or equestrian class whose command during a specific military campaign would provide the opportunity for political advancement or financial gain"

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Rise of Money

Human beings have long used currency as a means of exchange, a method of payment, a standard of value, a store of wealth and a unit of account. Money has many functions: It facilitates exchange as a measure of value; it brings diverse societies together by enabling gift-giving and reciprocity; it perpetuates social hierarchies; and it is a medium of state power.

Objects that were rare in nature and whose circulation could be controlled emerged as units of value for interactions and exchange.

Shang Dynasty cowry shells
Cowry shells were used in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Native copper, meteorites or native iron, obsidian, amber, beads, copper, gold, silver and lead ingots have variously served as currency. People even used live animals such as cows until recent times as a form of currency. Stone weights were used not only for setting prices for goods, but also for converting between systems of weights and measures. The talent and the mina were standardized after the founding of the Akkadian Empire by Sargon of Akkad. He realized that standardizing weights and measures is essential for effective taxation. The Mesopotamian shekel – the first known form of currency – emerged. The earliest known coins date to 650 and 600 B.C. in Asia Minor.

Coinage as commodity money owes its success to its portability, durability and inherent value. Political leaders could control the production of coins – from mining, smelting, minting - as well as their circulation and use.

Ancient Celtic ringmoney
Money soon became an instrument of political control. Taxes could be extracted to support the elite and armies could be raised. It enabled the movement of goods and services, migration and settlement among strangers. Money was able to mobilize resources, reduce risks and create alliances in response to social and political conditions.

In short, money allowed humans to develop into the world we know today.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ancient Gold Worker’s Tomb Excavated in Sudan

A 3,400-year-old tomb holding the remains of more than a dozen people has been discovered on Sai Island, along the Nile River in northern Sudan. The island is part of an ancient land known as Nubia that Egypt controlled 3,400 years ago. The Egyptians built settlements and fortifications throughout Nubia, including on Sai Island, which had a settlement and a gold mine.
The tomb appears to hold the remains of Egyptians who worked in gold production. Researchers found scarabs, ceramic vessels, a gold ring, and gold funerary masks. A shabti, or small stone sculpture, may have been intended to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. Inscriptions on the artifacts indicate the tomb had been built for Khnummose, a master gold worker.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Basilisk

In European legends, a basilisk is a legendary reptile said to be king of the serpents and to have the power to cause death with a glance. According to Pliny the Elder, the basilisk of Cyrene leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal; its only weakness is the odor of the weasel.

The legend of the basilisk and its association with the weasel in Europe may be inspired by accounts of Asiatic snakes (such as the king cobra) and their natural predator, the mongoose.
Stories gradually added to the basilisk's deadly capabilities, such as describing it as a larger beast, capable of breathing fire and killing with the sound of its voice.

Some even claimed it could kill not only by touch, but also by touching something that is touching the victim, like a sword held in the hand. Some stories even claim its breath to be highly toxic and will cause horrible death.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ancient Chinese Sacrifice Victims Faced Slavery Before Death

At an ancient site of human sacrifice in China, war captives may have been kept as slaves for years before they were killed, a new study finds. Prior work revealed a large number of ritual human sacrifices were conducted during the Shang dynasty, which spanned from the 16th century B.C. to the 11th century B.C. It is the earliest dynasty in China for which archaeologists have evidence.

Scientists have estimated that over the course of about 200 years, more than 13,000 people were sacrificed, usually males ages 15 to 35. Oracle bone inscriptions from Yinxu had suggested that many sacrificial victims were captives from wars. Findings verified the accuracy of oracle bone inscriptions that claimed sacrificial victims came from outside Yinxu. The discoveries also reveal that sacrificial victims lived for at least a few years in Yinxu before being killed.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Amazing Discoveries in 2016

A small lump of amber found at a market in Burma landed in the hands of a paleontologist, who announced that it contained the first known piece of a dinosaur’s tail. Dating back 99 million years, the tail was originally mistaken as a bit of plant material. Closer inspection showed that it was actually bone and soft tissue covered with delicate feathers.
Hundreds of ancient human footprints were unveiled in Tanzania at a site known as Engare Sero. Dated somewhere between 5,000 and 19,000 years old, the prints show signs of early humans jogging and traveling in distinct groups. Tanzania has been an invaluable source of information about the earliest days of human existence, yielding bones, tools, and other objects.
Scientists unveiled the largest marine crocodile ever found. Based on a fossil skull and other bones discovered in Tunisia, the croc could grow to be more than 30 feet long and weighed around three tons.

Dubbed Machimosaurus rex, the 120-million-year-old animal offers crucial clues to a possible mass extinction event at the end of the Jurassic period, about 145 million years ago.

Physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) confirmed the existence of gravitational waves. We learned that spacetime is not a rigid box. Instead it’s a rippling ocean, alive with subatomic waves generated when black holes, neutron stars, and other massive objects collide.

Give Albert Einstein credit, he’s the one who conceived gravitational waves when he penned his theory of general relativity in 1916.
The secret to radical life extension may come from the Greenland shark, a deep-sea swimmer that can live up to 400 years. Radiocarbon dating analysis of 28 female Greenland sharks showed that these animals are by far the longest-lived vertebrates on the planet, with the oldest individual falling somewhere between 272 and 512 years of age. It's believed the animal’s extremely low metabolism, resulting in slow growth and reproductive maturation, is the reason. Unfortunately, being chilled to an almost cryogenic state is probably a key component.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Mughal Empire in Gold and Gems

The Mughals were descendants of the Central Asian conqueror Timur (known in the West as Tamerlane) and the Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan. The Mughal Empire, which at its peak spanned modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was established by Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who invaded India in 1526.

The Mughals ruled for over three centuries before the arrival of the British in 1858.

The Timur ruby (also Khiraj-i-alam, "Tribute to the World") is an unfaceted, 361-carat polished red spinel gemstone set in a necklace in 1853

Crown of the Emperor Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor. 1850. Gold, turquoises, rubies, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, feathers and velvet

Carved emerald circular box. Mughal India circa 1635. An identical cypress is carved on each panel.

Turban ornament. 1700-1750. Wearing plumes in a turban indicated royal status in Mughal India.
The Mughals appreciation for beauty is evident. Treasures were encrusted with rubies, diamonds and emeralds and set in gold using the kundan technique, a typically Indian method of setting gemstones without the use of bezels and prongs.

Emerald is 217.80 carats and dates to 1695-1696. It is the largest inscribed Mughal emerald known.

Kundan set eagle pendant. Rubies, diamonds, pearls, enamel.

Mughal parrot finger ring (c.1600–1625) It is set with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and a single sapphire.

Bird Finger Ring (17th century). Gold, rubies, emeralds, turquoises.
The reign of Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor, was the golden age of Mughal architecture. He erected several large monuments, the most famous of which is the Taj Mahal at Agra, as well as the Moti Masjid, Agra, the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, Delhi, and the Lahore Fort.

The Mughal Empire reached it's zenith during the reign of Aurangzeb.
Pendant in the form of an eagle, 18th century. Gold, cast and chased, set with foiled diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires in gold.

Gold and enamel belt buckle in two pieces with inlaid diamonds. Enamel decoration on reverse of tiger attacking a boar. Rectangular element with small round ring through which oblong ring fits. Hook is attached to this. Enamel tiger attacking a deer in foliage on reverse.

Gold, pearl, ruby, diamond and enamel squatting duck on a stand.
Gold and enamel figurine of an elephant with large natural baroque pearl forming its back and diamonds on its head.
A carved emerald flask with stopper, India, circa 18th century. The body of faceted hexagonal form, cut and carved on each face with a floral stem, the stopper carved with eight stylised leaves and a star design to the top.

Dress archery ring of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. Second quarter of the 17th century. Gold set with carved and polished uncut diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
An Imperial Mughal spinel necklace with eleven polished baroque spinels for a total weight of 1,131.59 carats. Three of the spinels are engraved. Two with the name of Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627), one with the three names of Emperor Jahangir, Emperor Shah Jahan and Emperor Alamgir, also known as Aurangzeb.

Portrait of Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu Begum). She was the favourite wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. She died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child in 1631. The following year the emperor began work on the mausoleum that would house her body. The result was the world-famous Taj Mahal.
A Mughal masterpiece. The necklace features five pendant Golconda diamonds with emerald drops. The central stone weighs 28 carats and is the largest table-cut diamond known. The five surrounding stones—weighing 96 carats, collectively—comprise the largest known matching set of table-cut diamonds. From the 17th century.

A rare Mughal pale green jadeite snuff bottle. 1800-1900. The translucent stone is of pale icy green tone. 2 in. (5 cm.) high, pink tourmaline stopper and bone spoon.