Moth prevention & beds worth dying in

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

Art, Cavalry, & Divination Games

I'm trying out a new format for the "updates to previous editions" style newsletters. There's more content, not less: I wound up having too much trouble giving quick facts and wanted to go more into depth. Hope nobody minds, and that everyone has a good week while I prepare to visit Chicago for Worldcon!

9 Quick Updates

  • Trade: I came across information that Cornwall traded with distant lands that had access to coral but I couldn't figure out where the coral came from. I've mostly only heard of it being common in Africa, for example how nobles in West Africa used coral necklaces as part of their social signaling methods, which I've written extensively about. A commentor on the AskHistorians subreddit was kind enough to expand on how coral is very uncommon in Britain, and we don't know where it originated from, but the brooches used to make it were carved in "increasingly insular" local styles.
  • Scurvy: Apparently, deficiency diseases didn't exist as a concept until the 1880s. Scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency; vitamin c wasn't discovered until the 1920s, according to a highly-upvoted but now deleted discussion on the AskHistorians subreddit. People thought it was the acidity of lemons that cured scurvy, which was one of the reasons scurvy was recurred so often; navies would do things like use limes instead of lemons, boil lime juice, or store it in copper vessels... the latter two of which destroy vitamin c outright.
  • Clothes: I recently learned that pre-modern Englishmen had to brush and air out their clothes weekly to make sure that moths didn't eat them all up. Incidentally, books of the era were apparently made from recycled linen, which made them vulnerable to pests as well. Like other cloth, they were protected with aromatics like rosemary and sumac.
  • Thermoregulation: One thing I didn't mention when writing about thermoregulation and how animals survive in extreme heat and cold is torpor, which according to this article is the third major way animals deal with freezing temperatures, along with migration and resisting cold by staying active in place. The article's main point is that animals shouldn't be assigned mutually exclusive categories as "either migrating or hibernating" but rather as utilizing different strategies to different degrees on a spectrum. As I've mentioned before, classification is hard.
  • Art: The slide from naturalist art to stylized and abstract art is apparently cyclical. Similar to how anime is more stylized than your average Rembrandt painting, Late Roman art became very stylized compared to previous stages in Roman culture. Early Christian art purposefully didn't bother with realism and came out of that same time period, which is interesting when considering how art reflects history and culture. That said, even something as simple as realism can be subjective.
  • Cavalry: As a rule of thumb, cavalry can't run down infantry when they're properly formed up in a unified square. That said... here are an exception that prove the rule: A King's German Legion cavalry brigade broke at least two infantry squares in the French army's rearguard during the Napoleonic Wars. It was actually an accident; the cavalry didn't know the infantry squares were there, and thought they were attacking French cavalry and horse artillery. The infantry fired too late, and although the attack was devastating, the dying horses and men crashed into the line instead of crashing to the ground, and the folks behind were able to take advantage.
  • Divination & Games: I've never quite understood dicing games, but here's a decent example of bones used in antiquity for dicing games. The game pieces usually used ankle or hock bones from ruminants like goats and sheep carved with inscriptions ā€” sometimes of divinities, sometimes of directives, nouns, or phrases. This type of piece is known as astragaloi and were sometimes used for divination, although I didn't find much on the overlap with dicing.
  • Woodworking: I come across examples of stone and metal tools being used to cut or shape wood. I was somewhat surprised to learn that boomerangs were sometimes used to retouch stone tools; the wear patterns on the hardwood indicates that the boomerangs were used as multipurpose tools, which archaeologists were able to determine because the patterns match ones found on bone tools that were used for retouching tools and not, you know, hunting. It's interesting at least partially because it goes to show that knives aren't the only multi-purpose weapon out there.
  • Beds: Before, I only talked about Chinese beds that doubled as fireplaces. It turns out that for most of Chinese history, beds have been multipurpose in a variety of ways. Early on, beds were explicitly for sitting on and receiving guests, not sleeping; people slept on mats. They had, at a minimum, handrails and removable tables, shelving, etc. In fact, they were so fully featured that some upper-class Chinese women went their whole childhood without leaving their elaborate, often canopied beds. They were critical status symbols for women and were part of a bride's dowry. At least one mother of eight could barely be convinced to go to the hospital as late as the 1900s.

šŸ’š If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more overviews of my research into obscure history and science.

šŸ’­ If you know anything interesting about this or any other topic I've written about lately, please do reach out ā€” I love learning about this stuff!

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