Secret History

Book 2

Beware of the Cat: Tales of the Wicked Japanese Bakeneko and Nekomata

© Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Cat Keiko (1841)
Who knew innocent little Fluffy could be so devious? Cats' reputations have often swayed from good to evil over the years as they have been both revered and feared around the world. One of the most famous malevolent associations cats have had is undoubtedly with witchcraft. Another, arguably lesser-known connection comes from Japan, in the form of the mythical and legendary Bakeneko and Nekomata creatures.

The Mythical Bakeneko

Bakeneko has sometimes been translated as "Monster Cat" or "Ghost Cat", but the best definition in English may simply be "Changing Cat". The mythological Bakeneko are yōkai (supernatural creatures) that allegedly begin as regular domestic cats. Legends say that as cats get older, they change. The process starts with them walking on their hind legs, although with time the cats gain more powers and grow larger (even to the size of a human), they then have the ability to change their forms and sometimes peak human languages.

Stories about Bakeneko suggest that the favorite form to shift into for these devious cats is their owners or other humans. This change reportedly makes the cats so happy that they put napkins on their heads and dance.

Other powers of the mythical Bakeneko include: summoning fireballs, their tails acting as torches to set fires, controlling the dead, and cursing (or killing) their previous owners, if they see fit.


New World Pompeii: Ancient village preserved in ash emerges in El Salvador

© University of Colorado
Archaeologists have unearthed 12 buildings, including a house (left), storehouse (center) and community sauna (upper right) buried by volcanic ash at Ceren around A.D. 660.
About 1,400 years ago, the Loma Caldera volcano of El Salvador erupted, covering the small Maya village of Ceren in ash and preserving it in pristine condition to the present day. Unlike at Pompeii in Italy when Mount Vesuvius blew in 79 AD and surprised and killed the residents, the villagers of Ceren were able to make it out and so apparently were not killed in the eruption.

Archaeologists, who've been excavating Ceren since it was discovered in 1978, have speculated that an earthquake rumbled before the volcanic eruption, giving the 200 villagers enough warning to get away in time.

Unlike some Maya villages, the society's rulers did not lord it over the residents of Ceren, says a press release from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The journal Latin American Antiquity published an article on the 10-acre Ceren research area, which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site in 1993.


Why is Smith the most common surname in the English speaking world?

© Adam Dürr/Wikimedia Commons
Blacksmith 1606
Everybody knows a Smith. There's Will Smith. Of course, who can forget Kevin Smith? And for a short time, a nazi-fighting archaeologist you might have heard of was disturbingly called—you guessed it—Indiana Smith? (Before George Lucas thankfully changed Indy's surname to Jones).

You get the point: Smith is ubiquitous. It's the most common last name in England (where the word originated), Australia, and, of course, the United States—in fact, there's over 2 million of them in the US alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This begs the question wondered by Reddit user rphillip in the Ask Historians community: Why are there so many Smiths in the world?


Search for hidden chambers in King Tut's tomb begins

© Wikimedia Commons
King Tut’s tomb.

An investigation of King Tut's tomb to find secret chambers will begin tomorrow and will last until Friday, Egypt's Minister of Antiquity announced on Wednesday.

The announcement, reported in the Egyptian media, comes on the 93rd anniversary of the tomb's discovery in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. On this day in 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter found the entrance to King Tutankhamun's treasure-filled tomb.

A team from Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation will investigate the tomb using infrared thermography.

The non-invasive search follows a claim by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist at the University of Arizona, that high-resolution images of the tomb's walls show "distinct linear traces" pointing to the presence of two still unexplored chambers behind the western and northern walls of the tomb.

According to Reeves, one chamber contains the remains, and possibly the intact grave goods, of queen Nefertiti, the wife of the "heretic" monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamun's father.


Ancient Greek fort of Acra unearthed in Jerusalem

© Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Archaeologists in Jerusalem may have just solved one of the city's greatest geographical mysteries.

Excavators recently unearthed what they think are the ruins of the Acra, a fortress constructed more than 2,000 years ago by the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 B.C.). At one time mercenary soldiers and Hellenized Jews controlled the ancient fortress, enforcing a brutal rule over Jerusalem's residents.

The Acra's existence is recorded in historical documents, but archaeologists and historians have debated its location.

The religious Books of Maccabees and a work by historian Flavius Josephus seemed to point to the City of David.

Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews 12:252 - 253, wrote, "... and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high and overlooked the temple, on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians."


66-million-year-old giant raptor discovered in South Dakota

© Emily Willoughby
An illustration of Dakotaraptor steini running with sparrow-size birds (Cimolopteryx petra) during the Late Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago.
Sixty-six million years ago, a giant raptor with feathered arms chased prey around the ancient South Dakotan landscape, according to a new study.

Researchers named the newly identified species Dakotaraptor steini, after the state and the Dakota First Nations Tribe, as well as raptor, which is Latin for "plunderer." The species name also honors paleontologist Walter Stein, said the researchers, who found the remains in South Dakota's Hell Creek Formation, a famously fossil-rich area.

Dakotaraptor is one of the largest known dromaeosaurids (raptors) on record, according to D-Brief, a Discover Magazine blog. An analysis of the dinosaur's partial skeleton suggests it measured 16 feet (4.9 meters) long, making is larger than the turkey-size Velociraptor, but smaller than the 22-foot-long (6.7 m) Utahraptor, D-Brief reported.

Dakotaraptor also had "quill knobs" or papilli, on its ulna (arm bone), which "is our first clear evidence for feather quills on a large dromaeosaurid forearm," the researchers wrote in the study, published online Oct. 30 in the journal Paleontological Contributions. It's unlikely Dakotaraptor could fly given its large size, but perhaps it used its feathers for display or to keep its eggs warm, D-Brief reported.


Paving over history: Ancient Greek fortress found in Jerusalem parking lot

© Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Shown are the remains of the citadel and tower.
The remnants of the Acra, a fortress built by the Greek King Antiochus IV more than 2,000 years ago and sought for over 100 years, has emerged from a parking lot in Jerusalem, Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday.

Mentioned in Jewish biblical sources and by historians like Josephus Flavius, the fortress was unearthed after 10 years of excavations under the parking lot.

The discovery solved "one of Jerusalem's greatest archaeological mysteries," the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said.


4,000 year old secret tunnel discovered under ancient Hittite castle in Turkey

© AA Photos
The excavation team has discovered a structure like a hidden tunnel in the Gevale Castle. The tunnel establishes a connection with the outside but is hard to realize from the outside of the castle.
A secret tunnel has been discovered in Gevale Castle, located on the Takkel Mountain in the Central Anatolian province of Konya's Selçuklu district, which had been home to many civilizations during the Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, Karamanids and Ottoman eras.

The head of the excavations at the castle, Necmettin Erbakan University History of Arts Prof. Ahmet Çaycı, said the excavation works at the site had been carried out with a team of 30 people.

He said they had discovered many historical findings which were delivered to the Directorate of Museums after they were inventoried.


14,000-year-old Ice Age engravings found on British Isles

© Sarah Duffy
Newly-found stone artifacts found on the English Channel island of Jersey could hold some of the oldest man-made carvings ever found on the British Isles, according to a report from BBC News.

The archeologists who found the artifacts have yet to finish their analysis and publish the results, but preliminary reports have dated the stone carvings to about 14,000 year ago.

The artifacts themselves are stone pieces with criss-crossed line engravings similar to those found at other Paleolithic sites in northern Europe.

If this estimate holds up, it would make artifacts the oldest carvings in the UK since a discovery in 2003. The estimate would also put the carvings' origin at around the end of the last ice age.

The research team that discovered the artifacts has been at the same site in the southeast area of Jersey for the past five years.

"We're hoping this is a hint of what is to come, because at some other sites you get hundreds of these pieces. What we've got at the moment is only a fragment of something much larger," Chantal Conneller, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, told BBC News.


British 'Wartime Domesday' book now available online - a snapshot of life in 1939

A group of young evacuees sit on a hay cart outside Chapel Cleeve Nursery in Washford Somerset
Stored for 76 years in a government building in Lancashire, the files include metadata covering 41 million people

In a move that will transform the study of key aspects of 20th century British social history, one of the country's most important data collections is being made available to historians and the general public from 2 November. Historical researchers have for the first time digitized and placed on-line a detailed survey of English and Welsh society at the beginning of World War Two.

Stored for the past 76 years in a government building in Southport, Lancashire, it includes metadata covering 41 million individuals (with personal information publicly available on 70% of them) and fills a major 'knowledge void' about British social history in the mid-20th century. In terms of detailed digitally available metadata, it is the only major source available for the 1920s to 1940s era - while, in terms of accessible personal data on millions of named individuals, it's the only publically available source for most of the 20th century.

The only other similarly detailed 20th century sources for personal information about millions of individuals are the 1901 and 1911 census records which were only made public in 2002 and 2009. Under the UK's '100 year rule' privacy convention, post-1920 census information about individuals must remain confidential for a full century after the data was collected.