Fun Facts: Ancient People
"I should say that civilizations begin with religion and stoicism: they end with scepticism and unbelief, and the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure. A civilization is born stoic and dies epicurean."
The first apparent record of counting dates from 30,000 years ago.
A leg-bone of a wolf was found in Czechoslovakia containing fifty-five cuts,
arranged in groups of five. It is not known what the cuts represented.
The dog was the first animal to be domesticated, around 12,000 years ago.
The comb dates back to Scandinavia, from around 8000 B.C.
It is believed that the comb was
developed independently by most early cultures.
Over the past 5,000 years, the seemingly worthless Sinai Peninsula,
mostly desert, has been the world's most besieged land, having been
the battlefield for over 50 invading armies on their way between
Africa and the Middle East.
The great architect of ancient Egypt, Imhotep (2,655–2,600 B.C.)
is the earliest scientist who is known by name today.
We also know the names of other ancient Egyptian architects, scientists, and
mathematicians, such as the scribe Ahmes. On the other hand,
China, Sumeria, and Babylon did not record the names of their early
Damascus, Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited city, having
been inhabited since at least 2,500 B.C.
Assur was the capital of ancient Assyria.
The earliest known example of musical notation was found on a clay
tablet in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), dated to around 1,800 B.C.
The number 10 is used as a convenient base to count with, but the
Gauls of ancient France, the Mayas of Central America, and other
peoples used a base of 20. The Sumerians, the Babylonians, and
others after them used a base of 60—convenient because 60 can be
evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30. The use
of base 60 survives in the division of hours into minutes and minutes into
seconds, and the division of the circle into 360 (60 × 6) degrees.
In the code of laws of Hammurabi (1792–1750 B.C.), which is one of the
first law codes in history and among the greatest ancient codes, the
penalty for medical malpractice was for the doctor's hands to be cut off.
When the troops of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose I invaded
Syria and Carchemish on the upper Euphrates in 1525 B.C., they
were astounded to see the Nile "falling from the sky" and a river
that "in flowing north flowed south." The soldiers only knew Egypt
and the Nile, and so were fascinated to
see rain (the Nile falling from the sky) and the direction of
the flow of the southward-flowing Euphrates; to the Egyptians, south
meant "upstream", so they saw the Euphrates as flowing "backwards".
The first time that humanity "used up" a natural resource
was 4,000 years ago, when the supply of tin ore, needed to make
bronze, was used up in the Middle East around 2,000 B.C. The rich
tin mines of Cornwall, England were dug in the thirteenth century B.C.
by Phoenicians looking for tin. In over 3,000 years of mining, around
three million tons of tin have been removed from the Cornish mines,
and they still have not been exhausted.
The greatest contribution of the Phoenicians, a group of seafaring
Canaanites who lived on the eastern Mediterranean seacoast, was an
alphabet that was later adapted by the Greeks.
An interesting innovation of the Assyrians was the use of mass
terror. Their armies would literally kill everyone around if they
encountered any resistance when invading an area. Because of their
reputation for doing so, their enemies often surrendered rather
than putting up any resistance.
The first dictionaries known include one made by Chinese scholars in 1109 B.C., and one from Mesopotamia around 600 B.C.
Tyrian purple, a natural dye, was so expensive that its use was restricted
It was discovered about fifteen centuries before the Christian era, and the art
of using it did not become lost until the eleventh century after Christ.
It was obtained from two genera of one species of shellfish.
It was estimated that 8,500 shellfish were required to produce one gramme of
dye, so only small amounts could be produced and so the price was very high.
Ultimately, in later ages, a restrictive policy of the eastern emperors caused
the art to be practised by only a few, and around the
start of the twelfth century, when Byzantium was suffering from attacks
without and dissensions within, the secret of Tyrian purple was lost.
The rediscovery of Tyrian purple was made in England around the year
1683 by a Mr. Cole, of Bristol. Before 1856, the only textile dyes available
were those found in nature.
The Phoenician navigator Hanno was likely the first to circumnavigate
Africa, around 500 B.C. He observed that, at the southern end of Africa,
the noonday sun shone in the north. This observation sounded
ridiculous to the Greek historian Herodotus, who reported the tale, but
this report shows that Hanno likely either did circumnavigate Africa, or
or at least made a good attempt to do so. He likely wouldn't have
been able to imagine the sun shining in the "wrong" part of the sky if
he hadn't seen it.
Slavery was a universal institution throughout antiquity.
For example, it was never questioned in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.
Around 600 B.C., a Greek athlete named Protiselaus threw a discus 152
feet from a standing position, a record not exceeded for over
2,500 years, when Clarence Houser threw a discus 155 feet in 1928.
Herostratus burned down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus,
one of the seven wonders of the ancient world,
on July 21st, 356 B.C., just so that his name would live forever in the
history books. After his execution, the officials of
Ephesus tried to thwart his plan, obviously without success,
by obliterating his name from all records.
The Egyptians attacked the Jews on a holy day in 320 B.C. An army
led by Ptolemy I of Egypt attacked Jerusalem on the Sabbath.
Unlike the Israelis in 1973, the ultra-pious Jews did not fight, even
in self-defense, on the Sabbath, and Ptolemy easily captured Jerusalem.
Because there were virtually no tides in the Mediterranean Sea,
the ancients knew almost nothing about them. The first Greek to
mention tides was the explorer Pytheas, who explored the North
Atlantic in 270 B.C. However, when Julius Caesar invaded Britain
over two hundred years later, he lost a large number of ships after
not beaching them high enough, as he didn't take tides into account.
There is only one recorded battle in which both sides used elephants.
In the Fourth Syrian War, in 217 B.C., Antiochus III of Syria used
Asian elephants when attacking Ptolemy IV's Egyptian army with its
smaller North African elephants (now extinct). While the Asian
elephants were victorious, the Egyptian army would go on to win a
smashing victory at Raphia on the Egyptian border.
The ancient city of Troy is located in what is now Turkey.
It wasn't a large city, being a village of around 7 acres' size.
King Mithridates VI (132-63 B.C.) of Pontus (a kingdom composing
parts of Asia Minor and the Black Sea coast), took small doses of
poison throughout his life to develop a resistance in case an attempt
was made to poison him. He built up such a strong immunity that when he tried to
take his own life to escape capture by the Romans, the poison
had no effect. He had to order a slave to kill him with a sword.
In the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain) in the Peruvian Desert,
there are large line-drawings
of geometric shapes, animals and plants on the desert soil.
These drawings are known as the Nazca lines. These were likely
drawn by the Nazca Indians approximately 2,000 years ago.
These figures are only fully comprehensible from the air. In fact, in
1937, before flight was commonplace, a highway was constructed through
the Nazca lines, as no-one was yet aware of the lines' significance.
It is unknown how the drawers achieved such geometrical precision
in their art, or why they would draw figures that they could not view.
At Carnac in Brittany, France, stand some 3,000 upright stones (or
menhirs) between 18 inches and 20 feet high and laid out in parallel
lines. These rows of local stone were created around 4,000 B.C., and
stretch almost three miles across open countryside. No one knows why
these stones were placed at Carnac. However, it is thought that the
stones may be monuments to the dead, and it has been suggested that
the stones may have formed some kind of lunar observatory.
In 1992, a troop of Les Eclaireurs de France (a French Protestant youth group
similar to the Boy Scouts) went to la Grotte des Mayrières Supérieures,
a cave in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of southern France, to clean off graffiti that
covered the cave walls. However, after having removed the graffiti,
they discovered that the "graffiti" had actually been prehistoric cave paintings between
10,000 and 15,000 years old, the only such paintings that had ever found in that part of France.