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Sun, 07 Feb 2016
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How holly, ivy and mistletoe became associated with Christmas celebrations

Every year, almost without thinking about it, we incorporate certain plant species into out Christmas celebrations. The most obvious is the Christmas tree, linked historically in England to Prince Albert - but its use in British homes goes back to at least 1761 when Charlotte wife of George III put up a tree at the royal court.

(It's probably worth noting here that the first artificial-brush Christmas tree was produced using the same machinery that was originally designed to produce toilet brushes.)

Three other plants are intimately associated with Christmas: holly, ivy and mistletoe - and in all cases their ecology is closely linked to their cultural uses.

Crusader

Untold history of Finland: Fascist origins, Russophobia and today's anti-Muslim hysteria

© Unknown
Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS (5. SS-Panzer-Division “Wiking”) in Tampere, Finland, 1943
The pen has been used to fix what the sword has ripped to shreds in our history.

- J.K Paasikivi
Every state that participated in the Second World War has written its history in support of national unity, with its narratives eliminating certain facts and emphasizing silence over controversial and 'unpleasant things'. This has resulted in the patriotic, religious and quasi-scientific mythologization of war events, and fomented a hysterical attitude towards anyone who disagrees with the official narratives. Today we are in a situation where those unpleasant things are unconsciously avoided because openly confronting them causes fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

A specific interpretation of history, in which absolute evil and blame for the war is projected onto the adversary, even decades later, becomes, for most people, 'how it was always so'. Conversely, 'absolute good' is measured by good deeds on behalf of the constituted authorities of the motherland, and done in the name of liberal-individualist 'freedom and democracy'. Such a black-and-white 'division of values' has no place for self-criticism, compassion/forgiveness, or openness to new ideas.

In Finland, we have been so strongly raised (conditioned) in this "patriotic" (i.e. non-questioning) way that even the slightest hint that our war-time leaders bear some responsibility for the war invites accusations of heresy and evokes strong emotional resistance in most, along with pronounced cognitive dissonance.

Selective memory theories and the Separate War Thesis

Finnish historian Heikki Ylikangas wrote, in Mitä on historia - ja millaista sen tutkiminen ('What is history and how is it researched'), about the factors hindering renewal of historical narratives, not least the control of research by policy-makers. Commenting on the 1939-1940 Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland, he wrote:
Even today, contemporary policy-makers limit the picture of the political background behind the Winter War. The hand of the clock that measures the progress of research on this issue is stuck in place. It is stuck at the point where Tanner, Ryti and Mannerheim penned their words on the matter. From the perspective of historical research by the amateurs of like mind in this field, and from the point of view of strongly biased people in legal research, a historical picture of the political background of the Winter War was constructed, which continues to be almost fully in force.
This is a very common problem in the writing of history. The closer the personal ties historians have with a topic, the more critical we should be about what they say. A classic example is the great effect Cicero and his writings have had in shaping today's perception of Julius Caesar: Many historians have ignored the fact that they were political rivals, which makes Cicero a very questionable source when building an objective portrait of Caesar. Ask yourself, would future societies get a realistic description of Russian President Vladimir Putin by only using American politicians and Western media as sources, or the fifth column of Russian 'opposition' leaders?

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King Tut's half-sister may have nursed him, carving suggests

© Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
Maia, whose tomb was discovered in 1996, is thought to be King Tutankhamun's wet nurse, but a new analysis of the space suggests she may also be his half sister, archaeologists said.
Egypt's famous "boy king," the pharaoh Tutankhamun, may have suckled at the breast of his half sister during his infancy, new research finds.

The announcement comes on the heels of a cleaning and analysis of the tomb of Maia (or Maya), King Tut's wet nurse. Researchers discovered the tomb in 1996 in Saqqara, an ancient burial ground about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo, according to a statement posted yesterday (Dec. 20) on the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities' Facebook page.

In preparation for the public opening of Maia's tomb next month, the ministry organized a cleaning of the space. During this preparation, workers found a potsherd with the title "Great one of the Harim," inscribed on it, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty said in the statement.

Comment:

King Tut's parents were cousins, not siblings: Researcher

Tracing King Tut's Roots

Parental Incest May Be Cause of King Tut's Short Life

King Tut's "Family Secrets" to be Unveiled from DNA


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Sickle-wearing skeletons reveal ancient fear of demons

© Polcyn, et al.
This teenage girl was buried in a Polish cemetery with a sickle over her neck, possibly to ward off demons. She was also buried with a copper headband and a copper coin, archaeologists found.
How do you keep a demon from disturbing the living? A blade to the throat should do the trick.

A few skeletons unearthed in a 400-year-old Polish cemetery have been discovered with sickles placed around their necks. Archaeologists believe this strange burial practice is evidence of a belief in magic and a fear of demons.

The sickle burials were found at Drawsko cemetery, a site in northeastern Poland that dates from the 17th to the 18th centuries. Archaeologists, including Marek Polcyn, a visiting scholar at Lakehead University in Canada, have excavated more than 250 graves there since 2008.

Among those graves were four skeletons with sickles placed at their throats, and a fifth skeleton with a sickle placed over its hips. Previously, these burials had been described as "vampire" burials, with the sickles interpreted as a way to prevent the dead from reanimating and terrorizing the living. But in a new study detailed in the journal Antiquity, Polcyn and co-author Elzbieta Gajda, of the Muzeum Ziemi Czarnkowskiej, now reject that characterization. ("We deliberately dismiss the interpretation of a revenant (i.e. vampire)," isn't something you read in an academic paper every day.)

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Evil-thwarting "rattles" found in prehistoric infant's grave

© Yury Esin
This infant lived around 4,500 years ago and was buried in a birchbark cradle with eight intricately carved figurines. The infant also wears headgear made from 11 copper plaques sewn together.
Tiny figurines that may have been used as rattling toys or charms to ward off evil spirits were discovered in the grave of an infant dating back 4,500 years, archaeologists say.

The burial was discovered on the northwest shore of Lake Itkul in the Minusinsk basinin Russia. The infant's remains, which were found in what appears to be a birchbark cradle, suggest he or she was less than a year old at death. On the infant's chest, archaeologists found "eight miniature horn figurines representing humanlike characters and heads of birds, elk, boar and a carnivore,"wrote archaeologists Andrey Polyakov and Yury Esin, in an article published recently in the journal Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia.

The intricately carved figurines were likely made from deer antlers and have traces of red paint on them. "Some of [the figurines] have internal cavities and, upon coming in contact with each other, could produce noisy sounds like modern rattles," wrote Polyakov, of the Institute for the History of Material Culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Esin, of the Khakassian Research Institute of Language, Literature and History.

Sun

Newgrange, Ireland's Stone Age megalithic monument

© NASA
Solstice sunrise light entering the Newgrange monument, a photo by Cyril Byrne of the Irish Times
Today, the Irish and visitors celebrated the Winter Solstice as they did thousands of years ago at Newgrange, a huge Stone Age megalithic monument into the deepest part of whose main chamber the sun shines at sunrise. This year about 30,000 people participated in a lottery, from whom 50 were chosen, to be in the 5,000-year-old monument at sunrise to witness the primeval event the mornings of Dec. 18 to 23.

While the monument near the Boyne River in County Meath is open all year and is one of Ireland's most popular attractions, it draws special international attention today.

Newgrange predates the great pyramids at Giza in Egypt by some 500 years and Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. When it was built, sunrise on the shortest day of the year, what we now call December 21, entered the main chamber precisely at sunrise. Experts say it is not by chance that the sun shines there. Now it enters about four minutes after sunrise because of changes in the Earth's orbiting of the sun since then.

Info

Oldest known tattoos found on Oetzi, the Iceman

© Strictly copyrighted Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige. www.iceman.it
A tattoo is visible on the Iceman's wrist.
Oetzi, the Tyrolean Iceman entombed beneath an alpine glacier some 5,300 years ago, is the oldest tattooed human, according to a new study.

The mummy boasts tattoos grouped across 19 body parts. Earlier this year, Marco Samadelli and colleagues from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Italy, spotted a new tattoo on the mummified body, bringing the total count of the Iceman's skin markings up to 61.

Published in the February 2016 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the research reveals how an error in reading radiocarbon data wrongly attributed the record to an unidentified South American mummy.

The mummy, sporting dotted mustache-like markings across the upper lip, was one of 96 bodies recovered in 1983 from El Morro, Chile. Researchers identified the naturally mummified remains as belonging to a Chinchorro male who died between 35 - 40 years of age.

They named the mummy "Mo-1 T28 C22."

The mustache-like tattoo simply consisted of eight black dots across the upper lip to the left side of the nose and four dots to the right side.

The South American mummy belonged to the Chinchorro, a preceramic fishing society that lived in the coastal regions of southern Peru and Chile between 9,000 and 3,100 years ago. Their burials feature both natural and artificial mummification, making them the oldest known human mummies.

The reported age of the mummy was around 4000 B.C., making his dotted tattoos the oldest known.

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Religion and politics led to social tension and conflict, then and now

© Nick Russet
Associate Professor Sarah Barber found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that religion acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.
Humans haven't learned much in more than 2,000 years when it comes to religion and politics.

Religion has led to social tension and conflict, not just in today's society, but dating back to 700 B.C. according to a new study published in Current Anthropology.

University of Colorado anthropology Professor Arthur A. Joyce and University of Central Florida Associate Professor Sarah Barber found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that religion acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.

"It doesn't matter if we today don't share particular religious beliefs, but when people in the past acted on their beliefs, those actions could have real, material consequences," Barber said about the team's findings. "It really behooves us to acknowledge religion when considering political processes."

Sounds like sage advice in today's world that has multiple examples of politics and religion intersecting and resulting in conflict.

Question

Mysterious Dighton Rock: Who made the petroglyphs on it?


An 1853 reversed image of Seth Eastman (known for documenting Native American life in the 1800s) on top of the boulder known as Dighton Rock.
Are the symbols on the Dighton Rock Native American? Norse? Phoenician? Chinese? Portuguese? Japanese? All or none of the above? There have been numerous theories about who carved the inscriptions found on the 40-ton boulder in Massachusetts, USA. Nonetheless, no one has been able to say with certainty who first wrote on the rock, what they wanted to communicate, or why.

Description of Dighton Rock

The Dighton Rock is a 40-ton boulder that arrived to the Taunton River during the melting of the glaciers during the last ice age. It measures 5 feet (1.5 meters) high, 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) wide, and 11 feet (3.4 meters) long, and is made of gray-brown crystalline sandstone.

What has drawn attention about the great boulder is not the size, but the petroglyphs across one of its six sides. These carvings have been the inspiration for over 1000 books and articles, and the basis for over 35 hypotheses. Although no one can say for certain who was/were the maker(s) of the inscriptions on the petroglyph, it has been agreed that they certainly are very old and very real.

Snakes in Suits

Why slavery is the foundation of American capitalism

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in America and contrary to popular belief, slavery is not a product of Western capitalism; Western capitalism is a product of slavery.

The expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American Independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States.

Historian Edward Baptist illustrates how in the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy.

Through torture and punishment slave owners extracted greater efficiencies from slaves which allowed the United States to seize control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and become a prosperous and powerful nation.

Comment: Indeed, not much seems to have changed in the "land of the free":