Modern-day board game enthusiasts are certainly familiar with this scenario: Picking out a game from the shelves, opening the box, getting the game set up, only to discover that… a piece is missing?!
In the Lyminge hall in Anglo-Saxon Kent, some 1,300 years ago, this exact scenario may have played out. Archaeologists discovered a gaming piece from the 7th-century that belonged to nobles living the high life—a life rich enough to afford expertly crafted gaming pieces, in this case a suspected 6th-century Lombard piece.
Made from hollow bone and closed with delicate wooden caps, held together by a bronze pin, the gaming piece may have been tossed aside in frustration or anger by a sore loser—a king or noble, disgusted at a loss, throwing the piece over his shoulder. Its disappearance is tantamount to having something slide under the fridge or stove—impossible to find later on, and only re-discovered under exceptional circumstances.
During this time, it was far more common for gaming pieces to be made out of wood or chunks of bone, but this piece’s expert craftsmanship does imply that the kings of Kent weren’t hurting for luxuries during their rule.
The Anglo-Saxons were avid board gamers (and gamblers!), playing such games as tabula (an early form of backgammon) and latrunculi (similar to draughts)—and it wasn’t uncommon for men to be buried with their dice or gaming boards.
In Western Afghanistan stands a 63-meter high minaret, built of yellow baked bricks with glazed tile and stucco decoration. This tall monument was constructed in the 1100s as part of a city, though few specifics about the city are currently known.
Archaeologists believe the city was a cosmopolitan area, home to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who were able to live harmoniously despite their differences.
It’s thought by some that the minaret, known as the Minaret of Jam, may have been part of Turquoise Mountain, the lost medieval capital of Afghanistan… though this is, presently, only speculation. More on that below!
First, however, the minaret:
The minaret would have been illuminated by a torch at the top, and inside the structure are opposing spiralling staircases constructed in such a way—like a double helix—that the fragile-looking building has remained standing, despite many earthquakes in the area.
The most remarkable aspect of the minaret, however, is the decoration. The writing on the structure is from a section of the Quran that speaks of the life of Mary, mother of Jesus, which clearly highlights the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. And with Jewish graveyard nearby, it’s hard to deny that there were people of different faiths living here at one time!
Historians and archaeologists postulate that the Minaret of Jam is placed at the ancient location of the Ghruid Dynasy’s summer capital, called Firuz Koh (Turquoise Mountain). During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Ghurids controlled the area here, which is now part of Afghanistan, as well as parts of northern India, Pakistan, and eastern Iran.
The specific dating on the minaret is somewhat unclear, leaving the exact construction date unknown, let alone its purpose (which might otherwise be guessed at by the date).
The landscape around the Jam does include some “palace” ruins, along with a pottery kiln and some fortifications, but no one lives there now—and the site is very difficult to reach.
That said, it’s impressive, and seems unique in its mystery of being a potentially unifying monument for religious beliefs that have often clashed (to a deadly degree) throughout history.
It’s not every day that one discovers a secret monastery hidden underneath a historic tomb site… but that’s exactly what has happened in the Linzin Hill graveyard in Amarapura Township, Mandalay Division.
Archaeologists were excavating the tomb of King Uthumphon, who was brought as a prisoner of war to Mandalay Division in the 18th century, after being captured by Hsinbyushin, the third king of Burma’s Konbaung Dynasty.
In 1767, Hsinbyushin invaded Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya, and brought as many captured people back to his own capital, Ava, as possible for his army to move. The Thai king was among these people, and lived in monkhood until he died in captivity.
King Uthumphon’s life in monkhood during his captivity certainly helps to explain the monastery building hidden beneath his tomb, although archaeologists still aren’t certain whether the King actually lived there or if it was a home for other abbots.
It’s entirely possible that abbots lived there during King Bodawpaya’s reign between 1782-1819, or the building could be much, much older.
While there is still much excavation work to be done, plans are underway for a museum around Linzin Hill, and hopefully future work will shed addition light on the existence of this secret monastery underneath a king’s tomb!
You know how it is. You go to the dentist, and the dental hygienist begins cleaning your teeth, making strange “hmms” and “huh” noises. And you know what’s coming. You wait for it with a sense of dread… “how often do you floss?”
Regardless of whether you tell the truth or not (call it “exaggerating” all you want, but plaque tells no lies!), it now appears that even the ancestors of humankind had better oral hygiene than many of us floss-fearing modern types. And when they had a toothache, they took care of it themselves!
Between 1.9 and 1.6 million years ago, the Neanderthals known as Homo habilis were in the habit of using “toothpicks” to remove food scraps trapped between their teeth.
One particular fossil showed evidence that an individual used a toothpick to try and alleviate the pain of gum inflammation—periodontal disease, to be more precise—as the use of toothpicks could help mitigate the sense of soreness.
This is the first known example of “pallative treatment with toothpicks, the oldest documented”, says researcher Maria Lozano. The fossil was found at Cova Forada, an archaeological site in Valencia, Spain.
That said, there are other examples of Neanderthals using toothpicks—visible in grooves caused by excess toothpick usage—that have nothing to do with gum or dental disease.
“However, in the case of Cova Forada,” says Lozano, “the toothpic was not only used as a primitive method of dental hygiene, but it is associated with a dental disease and with the clear intention to alleviate pain, and that makes it unique.”
Pain alleviation or not, one thing is clear: If ancient people were picking their teeth to get rid of stuck food millions of years ago… none of us “modern” humans have an excuse anymore for not flossing!