Archive for the ‘Ancient World’ Category
Believe it or not, people have been losing pairs of scissors in their homes for thousands of years! Sadly, for most generations, the concept of a dollar store didn’t exist, which meant that losing your only pair of scissors made life just that much more inconvenient.
But really, who made the first pair of scissors? Who thought that would be a good idea? And did the first scissor-maker try using two knives first?
While we don’t have all the answers, the belief among historians is that scissors were first invented around 1500 BC by the Ancient Egyptians or the people of Mesopotamia.
The earliest scissors in the archaeological record are “spring scissors”, which means that the object is made of two bronze blades that connect at the base by a thin, flexible piece of curved bronze. This “handle” held the blades aligned and allowed for some give so that the blades could be squeezed together and come apart afterward.
The Romans, being overachievers, decided they could make a better pair of scissors and changed the design in 100 A.D.—just a bit—to create pivoted scissors. These were bronze or iron implements that used a pivot point for the blades, allowing them to cross between tips and handle.
Not sure what a pivot point is? Go find your own scissors (if you can!) and take a look at where the blades are joined. That’s a pivot point!
It wasn’t long before this variety became the common form in Rome, with China, Japan, and Korea adopting the pivoted scissors afterward. These were the direct ancestor of today’s modern scissors—even though Europeans didn’t bother to change their scissor variety until the 16th century.
The next time you pick up a pair of scissors? Thank the Romans. Your office products have a long history!
How many of us have heard snarky kids shouting, “If God wanted me to use a fork, why’d he give me fingers?” when told to use their table utensils? While the common table fork seems like a fairly modern invention—considering that, yes, we do have fingers and they work pretty darn well when it comes to picking stuff up—it’s a little older than you might think.
That said, compared to the knife and spoon? The fork is the baby of the family.
Archaeologists have found evidence of forks being used in Ancient Egypt, though it’s thought that these forks weren’t part of the place setting. Instead, they were used to pick things up off platters, out of fire pits, or from cooking cauldrons… and diners used their fingers and their own knife to actually eat.
There have also been bone forks found in Bronze Age Qijia Culture burials (2400-1900 BC), and some late Chinese dynasty tombs, but contextually there’s little confirmation on whether these were used the same way the Egyptians used them or if they were actually used to put food to mouth.
When the Ancient Greeks had their heyday, forks became a little more common in the dining room (for men, the andron) as a serving utensil—getting a little closer to the mouth, but still not exactly a fork in the way we know it. Romans called forks the furca, which means “pitchfork”—representative of the implement’s three-pronged, small pitchfork design.
As the Roman Empire progressed, smaller forks made of silver and bronze appeared on tables of the privileged, though the particular use of these items varied according to social class, the food being served, and customs of the area… sound familiar? (Ever tried to figure out which is the shrimp fork and which is the salad fork?) By the 4th-century AD in the Byzantine Empire, table forks were far more common.
Over the centuries, usage spread, though it was still more typical for upper classes to use forks as opposed to the “common” people. In the 1600s, it wasn’t unusual for a guest of the French court to attend dinner with a special box called a cadena, which contained his own fork and spoon!
But here’s a fork fact that you probably don’t know: In Perrault’s famous fairy tale “La Belle au bois dormant” from 1697 (ie. "Sleeping Beauty”), the original French text describes how each fairy attending the baby’s christening is given an exquisite “fork holder” as their party favor.
Okay, so maybe the ancient shrew from the Late Miocene period wasn’t technically man-eating—and we’re not sure if it was even a carnivore at all—but it might as well have been! Its name, deinogalerix, comes from the ancient Greek words for “terrible” and “shrew,” and one look at its remains is enough to make any animal-lover take a step back!
The Deinogalerix lived on Gargano Island, part of Italy on what is now called the Gargano Peninsula. The island is known for having been home to several species of larger-than-usual creatures during prehistoric times, all of which evolved very differently here than their relatives elsewhere in the world.
Deinogalerix had a 20cm long skull, with the rest of the body covering another 40cm. It would have looked like a hairy, rat-like hedgehog without quills—with a long, conical face, a long tail, long hair, and tiny pointed ears.
They may have lived off bugs like crickets, beetles, and dragonflies, though the bigger the creature grew? The more likely it is to have eaten small mammals, or birds and reptiles. With a jaw of at least 20cm, that’s certainly believable!
Fossils of these creatures have been found in caves on the Gargano Peninsula, dating back to 15 million years ago.
A new study on these fossils was released in the journal Geobios in January 2013—so it may only be a matter of time before we know plenty more about the giant, terrible shrew of prehistoric times!
…and we mean that literally!
Turns out that the family tree for the majestic creatures we know as blue whales and humpbacks just got a little bit bigger! The ancestors to modern baleen whales now have four new relatives in their history. In February 2013, scientists announced the discovery came thanks to, of all things, a California construction crew.
There were 11 species discovered at the construction site, including the four brand new ancient species who are now identified as ancient baleen whales. These particular species are part of a transitional step in whale history, and are related to the whales that became our modern whales—but are not direct ancestors to modern baleens.
Baleen whales are named for the frayed blades of material that hang from the roof of their mouth—kind of fingernail-like in terms of shape and flexibility—which are used by the creatures to strain seawater as they search for food.
These four new ancient species weren’t quite as passive in their food consumption, however—they had teeth! The fossils discovered by the construction crew were about 17-19 million years old, but the really fascinating part?
Toothed baleen whales were “supposed to have been extinct for about five million years or so” by that time, says palaeontologist Meredith Riven (California State University). So not only were these whales not extinct at the time they were thought to have been, but apparently there were still plenty of them thriving and living in this area.
Before finding these fossils, there’d been no other examples of baleen whales with teeth during the Miocene era—and after the initial discovery, palaeontologists were able to uncover hundreds of whale bones and more than 30 whale skulls from the construction site.
Of the four new species, three are considerably smaller than the fourth. They’re about the size of a modern dolphin, while the fourth species was a nine-meter whale that bears similarities to another ancient whale species from about 35 million years ago.
Work is still ongoing on the fourth whale species at the site, so there may be more revelations to come!