Archive for March, 2013

Watch Out, Or I’ll Spetum in Your Eye!

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

Technically, to spetum in someone’s eye is possible… with the small exception that “to spetum” is not a verb. But when has grammar ever stopped someone from stabbing another person during battle?

Indeed, a spetum was a pole weapon used in 13th-century Europe. It had a long pole, between 6-8 feet long, with a long spear head mounted on the end—and two pointy projections along its base. Over time, the spetum saw a number of variations, and you may have heard of it by a different name, such as chauve souris, corseca, or runka.

This particular weapon is distinguished from other, similar weapons by its blades, or “prongs”, which were single-edged and primarily used for slashing the enemy rather than stabbing. The main blade was long enough to be rather formidable at its task, set between 12-14 inches long, with the side-blade projections about half that length and set at an angle (usually around 45 degrees).

The form of the weapon was good for stabbing when necessary, but the projections made it easy to pull shields out of enemy hands—and to fight off sword hits with a quick counterattack. But, like any European pole weapon, it saw a number of iterations over the centuries. A corseque (yet another name for a similar weapon), was listed as being in Henry VIII’s armory in 1547, though this variety was likely more ornate and a bit more sophisticated than the 13th-century version.

Setting the Old God on Fire

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

Strange as it may seem, it looks like the people of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan tried to put out the flames of their god of fire… by burying him in a pit.

Mexican archaeologists have discovered a figure of the fire god Huehueteotl inside a covered pit, located at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Though excavations are ongoing, the discovery has prompted archaeologists to suggest that there used to be a temple at the top of the pyramid that was used to perform ritual offerings to the god.

This means that the largest stepped pyramid in the city would have been dedicated to this bearded god, usually depicted with a pot of fire on his head. Excavators found the figure of Huehueteotl and two stone pillars inside a 15-foot deep, covered pit—and the pit was underneath what historians believe is the remnant of a platform foundation for a small temple.

Until they started digging and “didn’t find the bottom of the platform”, archaeologists had no idea the pit was there. The suggestion has been made that Leopoldo Batres, a pioneering archaeologist who did restoration work on the Pyramid of the Sun’s basic form over a century ago, might have covered the platform up instead of excavating it (not an uncommon sort of decision for early archaeologists).

The figure of the god weighs 418 pounds, and was carved out of grey volcanic stone. The Pyramid of the Sun may hold other objects, as well—a 400-foot-long tunnel found in 2011 at the base of the structure is still under study, and it’s thought that only a fraction of the area has been covered with thorough study so far.

(Photo: European Pressphoto Agency) 

Your Ancient Ancestors Had Better Teeth Than You

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

That’s right—if you lived in ancient times, it’s entirely possible that your dental bill would have been a fraction of what it is today! Discounting, of course, the lack of dentists in ancient times. But you get the idea.

A team headed by Professor Alan Cooper, the director of the University of Adelaide Center for Ancient DNA, recently published a research study that looked at teeth from northern European human skeletons, comparing what they found with the oral bacteria commonly found in a modern human’s mouth.

The result? The modern human had oral bacterial that was far less diverse than what was found on the ancient skeletons—and that’s a bad thing. According to Cooper, the loss of bacterial diversity “is nearly always associated with disease,” along with links to diabetes, obesity, and even autism.

The study suggested that modern food—flour and sugar, to be precise—account for this reduction of good bacteria. And when the bad bacteria flourish, so does tooth decay and gum disease. So, how can you get your teeth back to their shiny, ancient selves? Reduce processed sugars and carbohydrates, and “eat a wide variety of organic locally produced fresh foods,” says Cooper.

The study’s research showed that the composition of oral bacteria changed significantly around 7500 years ago, around the time farming became a widespread practice. Once processed foods were introduced during the industrial revolution, things got even worse.

Your prehistoric ancestors didn’t have cavities in the way we know them, and it’s thought that bad breath wasn’t an issue on their radar.

And in case you think the study just came from a bunch of crunchy-granola hippies who want you to brush your teeth, think again! The researchers worked on this project for 17 years before releasing the results of their study, which used extracted DNA from tartar on 34 human skeletons from prehistoric northern Europe.

The study then traced the changes in the composition and nature of oral bacteria from those early hunter-gathers, up through to the Bronze Age’s first farmers and even Medieval times.

The team plans to continue their study, looking at other locations around the world during ancient times and other times, to see if this trend happened elsewhere during the period as well.

In other words? If you want to live like a caveman, fine—just make sure you brush your teeth.

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