Archive for October, 2007

The First Ancient Aztec Tomb Ever Found (ca.1486 – 1502 AD)

By: The Scribe on October, 2007

An Aztec name glyph for the ruler Ahuitzotl, whose tomb is believed to be buried under Mexico City. If so, this would be the first Aztec tomb ever discovered!

The Aztec ruler Ahuitzotl was the eighth ruler of the city of Tenochtitlan, and was the primary reason for the Aztec expansion into Mexico and the subsequent consolidation of power in the Aztec Empire. He came to power in the year 7 Rabbit – otherwise known as 1486 AD – and left a legacy as one of the greatest known military leaders in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. And now it appears that his tomb may rest underneath the stones of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan – which just so happens to be buried underneath Mexico City.

Ground-penetrating radar has revealed that there may be a tomb underneath the temple, sparked by the discovery of a carved stone monolith with the image of an Aztec goddess in 2006. The goddess was carved holding a rabbit with ten dots in her right foot, which is a representation of the year 1502 – or, 10 Rabbit – which was also year that Ahuitzotl died. Initial speculation is that the monolith was the tomb’s headstone, and that the tomb should be somewhere beneath it.

If the tomb of this ruler is actually underneath the temple, it would be the first Aztec royal tomb ever discovered, and would probably provide an enormous amount of information about the Aztecs that remains unknown – for example, very little is known about Aztec religion and iconography. At the very least, there are many examples of Aztec writing, which has allowed historians to piece together the history of these people – and according to these documents, when Ahuitzotl died, there was an enormous ceremony for him before his burial in front of the Great Temple and many grave offerings were buried with him.

Around the carved monolith, archaeologists have found many small artifacts which they believe may actually be the grave offerings for Ahuitzotl. The difficult thing in finding these items is that the Aztec used to place their offerings in very specific spots, according to how they saw the world work – which means that the location of every item is important for determining what the Aztec felt was important in their day-to-day lives.

This carved monolith depicts a representation of the Aztec goddess Tlaltecuhtli, who holds a rabbit with 10 dots, denoting the year of Ahuitzotl’s death. If Ahuitzotl’s tomb is underneath this stone, it would be the first Aztec tomb ever discovered.

As for Ahuitzotl, there was a reason he is remembered as one of the greatest military leaders of pre-Columbia Mesoamerica. His first act upon coming to power was to suppress a rebellion by the Huastec people, whereupon he proceeded afterward to more than double the size of territory under Aztec rule. He decimated the Zapotec, conquered the Mixtec, and took over the lands and suppressed hundreds of other tribes all the way from the Pacific Coast of Mexico to the western side of Guatemala.

In the year 8 Reed – or, 1487 – he oversaw the rebuilding of his city Tenochtitlan for the express purpose of making it bigger and better, and he had the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan expanded… and in some reports, he had 20,000 people sacrificed at its dedication. Ahuitzotl died in the year 10 Rabbit, and was succeeded by Montezuma II, his nephew. For all the work that Ahuitzotl had done in expanding the empire, the Spanish conquistadors would soon arrive on scene in 1519, destroying much of the Aztec empire and eventually suppressing their entire culture.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Sometimes fiction makes the best history!

The Dread Trio – Part 3/3: Read’s Gender Crisis (ca. 1690 – 1721 AD)

By: The Scribe on October, 2007

The second woman to join Rackham’s crew, Mary Read was fearsome, merciless… and had been playing a male role since her childhood.

The details of Mary Read’s life are disputed from the very beginning: some say she was born in Devonshire, others claim it was London; some reports explain that she was the daughter of a sea captain’s widow, while still others accuse her of being an illegitimate child, since the rightful father had been at sea too long for Mary to have been his own. Either way, one thing is clear: Mary spent nearly all of her childhood as a boy.

According to history, Mary’s brother died when he was quite young, and in order for Mary’s mother to continue receiving financial help from her mother-in-law, she needed to disguise Mary as the young boy – that way, Mary and her mother could receive the deceased son’s inheritance. Mary’s grandmother was apparently fooled, which allowed Mary’s mother to support herself and her child well into Mary’s teen years. However, the money eventually ran out, forcing Mary to find work to help support the two of them.

Disguised as a boy, Mary was hired as a footboy to a French family. She worked there for awhile, until her longing for adventure brought her to a British Man-o-War, where she was employed for some time. Eventually, she fell in love with a fellow sailor, and – although details are scant – allegedly revealed herself as a woman to him, which naturally resulted in a marriage. The newlyweds then left the military, opening their own inn called The Three Horseshoes (or The Three Trade Horses, depending on who’s telling the story).

For the first time, Mary lived her life as a woman… but this was to be short-lived, as her husband died of fever within a few years. She tried to join the military again, dressed once more as a man, but found that something was lacking. Thus, Mary Read quit the military, boarded a ship headed for the West Indies, and subsequently found herself on board a vessel being attacked by pirates. Indeed, it was Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny.

Mary fought just as fiercely and was just as ruthless as any male pirate aboard Calico Jack’s ship.

Faced with the choice of either joining Rackham’s crew or being run through with a sword, Mary chose self-preservation – although she kept her true gender a secret. Before long, Anne Bonny had taken a liking to the new young man and often followed him around the ship, trying to engage him in conversation. As the story goes, Bonny walked in on the young man one day as he was undressing, fully intending to engage him in something other than conversation… and was shocked to find herself faced with another woman.

Although the two women tried to hide Read’s identity from the rest of the ship, Rackham soon became jealous that his lover was spending so much time with the ‘new guy’, and demanded to know what was going on. It was simple enough to explain: Mary bore her breasts to him, and the matter was settled. Before long, the rest of the crew discovered that there were two women aboard – but since they’d been pulling their weight and always fought just as hard as any man on the ship, they were allowed to stay. There are even rumors that Mary fell in love with one of the pirates on Rackham’s ship, and intended to marry him.

One version of the story explains that although Mary was in love, another rather large and burly pirate aboard the ship – who wasn’t yet aware that Mary was a woman – challenged Mary’s lover to a duel, for some reason or another. Fearing for her lover’s life, Mary challenged the burly pirate to a duel of her own, and demanded that it be settled immediately. According to the Pirate Code, the combatants had to be rowed ashore to settle their score. Each of them was given a pistol and a cutlass, and both fired their pistols immediately and missed. As they began the swordfight, Mary’s ability to move quickly worked to her advantage against the stronger man.

As they fought, Mary was able to study the larger pirate’s attacks, avoiding his lunges and simply waiting for him to make a mistake. During one of his lunges, the pirate stumbled a bit, and Mary took her chance. In that moment, she ripped open her shirt – exposing her breasts to the unbelieving gaze of the pirate – and was able to swing her cutlass around and nearly decapitate him as he gaped at her chest, realizing he’d been dueling with a woman. Whether this account is true or not is another matter entirely, however it certainly reveals that Mary’s femininity was no hindrance to her participation in pirate life.

Mary Read sailed under the flag of Calico Jack, which was flown on the mast of his ship the Revenge.

While Calico Jack and his crew had plenty of success for a period of about three months, they began to spend more and more time “celebrating” their victories – namely, drinking and lounging about the ship. When the ship was eventually captured in October 1720, the only crew members who resisted against the British Navy were Mary and Anne – the rest of the crew cowered below deck in a drunken stupor.

Although Mary was sentenced to hang for her crimes, as was her fellow female pirate Anne Bonny, both the women received stays of execution due to being pregnant. Unfortunately for Mary, her time in prison was far worse than expected. She contracted a foreign illness and died of fever in early 1721, before she was able to give birth. According to some accounts, Mary was able to give a final statement to the court before being placed in prison when they asked her why a woman would ever turn to piracy. Instead of giving a statement that could have possibly earned her pardon, she explained:

“As to hanging, it is no great hardship. For were it not for that, every cowardly fellow would turn pirate and so unfit the seas, that men of courage must starve.”

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: The first Aztec tomb

The Dread Trio – Part 2/3: A Bonny Pirate Lass (ca. 1705 – 1782 AD)

By: The Scribe on October, 2007

Anne Bonny was a female Irish pirate, renowned for her intelligence, quick wit, and association with fellow pirates Calico Jack and Mary Read.

The official dates of Anne Bonny’s birth and death are disputed, and most of what is known about her life comes from a book written in 1724 called A General History of the Pyrates. Anne was born an illegitimate daughter to lawyer William Cormac and his serving woman, Mary Brennen – and when Cormac’s wife made his affair public, he was thoroughly shamed and his career in law destroyed. He left Ireland with Brennen and his new daughter, moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

The small family lived and worked on a plantation until Anne’s mother died when Anne was in her early teens. She became responsible for most of the household duties, and it is during this time that the rumors of Anne’s vicious temper seem to begin – one story claims that when she was 13, she became very angry with a servant girl and stabbed her in the stomach with a kitchen knife. Another tale suggests that she sent a young man to hospital, after he attempted – and failed – to sexually assault her.

Clearly, Anne was strong-willed, physically capable, and highly intelligent. At 16, she fell in love with a young pirate named James Bonny – who really only wanted her estate – and married him against her father’s wishes. Disappointed and considering himself a failure at making a young lady out of his daughter, Cormac disowned his only child. Rumor has it she was so furious that she started a fire on the plantation before leaving for Nassau in the Bahamas.

While in the Bahamas, Anne began working at the local tavern, mingling with the pirates who stopped for a drink. It was here that she met the pirate John Rackham, otherwise known as “Calico Jack”, and they began having an affair. Rackham soon offered to purchase Anne from her husband through a “divorce-by-purchase” deal, but James Bonny vehemently refused, seeking legal action against both Rackham and his own wife. Naturally, Anne would not be confined by anyone, and proceeded to elope with Calico Jack before the charges could be brought against them.

A less sexualized image of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two of the most famous female pirates who sailed in the Caribbean.

In order to prevent harassment from the rest of the crew – and since women were considered bad luck on a ship – Anne was dressed as a man while aboard Rackham’s ship Revenge. While she managed to stay in disguise for some time, fighting alongside the rest of the men with no less competence, she soon became pregnant… something that a woman simply cannot hide from anyone! And the one man who challenged her before the pregnancy ended up with a cutlass through the heart, so if anyone had suspected she wasn’t a man before that, it was rather unlikely that they would have spoken up.

Since a ship was no place to give birth, Calico Jack sailed to Cuba, where he left Anne with friends until after the child was born. The child died soon afterward, and Jack returned in a few months to pick her up. It was around this time that the second female on the Revenge had arrived – the notorious Mary Read – and the two women soon discovered each other’s identities, becoming close friends. Naturally, rumors swirled that Anne and Mary were more than “just friends”, and these rumors were fueled by other suggestions of Jack, Anne, and Mary’s unnaturally close relationship. However, this may simply have been the result of creative imagination, as there is no evidence of any obtuse sexual behavior ever occurring aboard the ship.

When Rackham’s ship was finally attacked by the British Navy in Jamaica, Anne and Mary fought hard to stave off the sailors, while the men hid below deck in a drunken stupor. The women yelled at the men to come up and “fight like men”, but they were far too drunk to even stand up – the celebration of recent victories simply had come at a bad time. The women were overwhelmed, and everyone on board was clapped in irons.

At the sentencing, Anne and Mary managed to escape the sentence of hanging by “pleading their bellies”, since it was illegal to kill an unborn child according to British law. Their sentences were temporarily stayed until after they gave birth… but no record of Anne’s execution has ever been found. Neither is there a record of her release, which has led to speculation over whether she was ransomed by her father, returned to her husband, or that perhaps she escaped and resumed her life of piracy under another name.

Anne Bonny sailed under the flag of Calico Jack, which was flown on the mast of his ship while plundering in the Caribbean.

Her supposed descendents provided some information to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is the only semi-concrete information about the rest of her life, and therefore may be the most plausible theory: “Her father managed to secure her release from gaol [jail] and bring her back to Charles Town, South Carolina, where she gave birth to Rackham’s second child. On 21 December 1721 she married a local man, Joseph Burleigh, and they had eight children. She died in South Carolina, a respectable woman, at the age of eighty-four and was buried 25 April 1782.” However, this seems like an unlikely end for a formerly ruthless female pirate…

Nevertheless, it is the only information left about the rest of Anne’s life, whether it is true or not. And yet, what ever became of Mary Read, and how did she end up choosing a life of piracy…?

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Read about Mary…Read.

The Dread Trio – Part 1/3: The Calico Pirate Captain (1682-1720 AD)

By: The Scribe on October, 2007

Calico Jack, an 18th century British pirate captain who tended to wear rather colorful clothes.

Jack Rackham – otherwise known as Calico Jack because of his preference for calico garments – was one of the more famous English pirates of the 18th century. However, he wasn’t necessarily remembered for all the things he did himself, but instead gained notoriety for who he was associated with: Calico Jack was responsible for employing two of the world’s most famous and notorious female pirates in his own crew, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Before he was captain of his own ship, Rackham was quartermaster on the ship of English pirate Charles Vane. Vane was infamous for his disrespect of the pirate code and for his cruelty, and so when the opportunity to dispose of him as captain presented itself – his crew took it. After failing to engage a French warship they encountered in the Caribbean, the crew mutinied in disgust at his cowardice, leaving him adrift on a small sloop in the middle of the ocean. Rackham was voted in as the new captain almost immediately, and proceeded to plunder several vessels that very day.

It was during a stop at a port’s tavern that Rackham met and began to court a young woman named Anne Bonny, who readily accepted his affections. Unfortunately for the two of them, Anne was already married, and her husband refused to let her go… and instead of sticking around to see the results of James Bonny’s court order against Rackham and Anne, the two of them eloped. However, women were still considered bad luck aboard a ship at this point – not to mention that they were in danger of abuse from the other men – and so Anne was disguised as a man in order to ensure the crew would take no notice of her.

While raiding a merchant vessel in the West Indies, Calico Jack came across a sailor on the vessel who had escaped slaughter like the rest of the crew. He gave the man an option: to either be run through with a cutlass, or join his crew. Naturally, the latter option was preferable, and the man joined the crew on Rackham’s ship.

The official flag of Calico Jack and his crew, which was flown on the mast of his ship while plundering in the Caribbean.

Shortly thereafter, Rackham noticed that Anne and the new crew member were spending a good deal of time together. With his jealousy ignited, Rackham confronted the young man… who admitted that he was actually a woman in disguise. Realizing the benefit for Anne in keeping another woman around, Mary Read was allowed to remain on the ship, and it wasn’t long before Rackham revealed to his crew that there were, in fact, two women aboard… news which, oddly enough, was received rather well.

Rackham and his crew continued to attack and plunder ships with the women’s help, but in October 1720, a British governor learned of the pirate captain’s theft of an anchored ship in the Nassau harbor. Two large ships were sent after him, and they managed to catch up with Calico Jack at a moment of extremely poor timing – Rackham’s crew was in the hold, recovering from a rather severe round of drinking. They took cover below deck, but were eventually taken prisoner.

Rackham and his crew were taken to Jamaica, which was under British occupation at the time, and sentenced to death by hanging on November 16, 1720. After his hanging, his body was placed inside an iron cage and hung from a gibbet on a small island that could be seen from Jamaica’s Port Royal.

But what of Bonny and Read? After witnessing Rackham’s death, a report was given that she said she “was sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog.” The fate of the women was somewhat different…

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: The story of Anne Bonny

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