Reading Roundup: Seafaring, War & Textiles
I like to keep track of and reflect on the various things that I’ve read over the course of a month. Then I select the most interesting of those things and share them here in hopes that others get value out of what I’ve learned.
- Spindle Whorls of British Columbia I learned that the indigenous peoples of British Columbia used to make yarn and string out of nettle before they gained access to animal wool.
- This delightful infographic explaining the differences between Alpacas & Llamas via r/BOLIVIA is a good reminder that successful herding cultures can make do without guard dogs: llama make a good example. Guard geese are surprisingly effective at protecting flocks of chickens, especially from threats like weasels and rodents.
- How to Hold Bronze Swords via Sean Manning over at the Book and Sword blog is a great reference for writing sword-fighting scenes. For folks who aren’t authors, it was also a good reminder of how ancient armies used non-standardized gear and just how personal ancient weapons were.
- This fascinating article about The Rise Of The Free Companies In Europe made a lot of stuff in the The Black Company series by Glen Cook and Miles Cameron’s Traitor Son Cycle make sense to me.
- This article about how ancient genomes trace the origin and decline of the Scythians is an incredible resource on Scythians and their relationship with the Xiongnu, who seem to have migrated west and contributed to the end of the Scythian hegemony over the Central Steppe.
- I came across a really great example of how “geography is destiny” is lacking in nuance and definitely not always true even when it feels like the obvious answer. Someone over at r/AskHistorians asked, “How did Georgia and Armenia manage to stay Christian when they were surrounded by powerful Islamic states?” The responder attributes Georgia and Armenia’s independence to the mountains and geography, but a follow-up commenter points out that it had a lot to do with the politics of safety and conquest, as well.
- This ELI5 thread explains why “red skies at morning” mean it’s going to storm later in the day. It has a lot of useful information about navigation and how weather and atmospheric conditions allow for useful predictions even with neolithic technology.
- When philosopher met king: on Plato’s Italian voyages via Aeon Essays was an absolutely fascinating article I found while trying to learn more about how Plato blamed academics for the evils of democracy. Plato was so obsessed with the idea of helping foster a “philosopher king” that he sailed to Tyrant-run Syracuse, but despite repeated attempts to teach the local Tyrant to be a better king, it turns out that second-generation spoiled autocrats don’t always like being lectured to by old philosophers.
- What it’s like to kayak the most dangerous Great Lake focused on kayaking in dangerous waters— it describes Lake Superior as a “saltless sea.” It’s a neat place to do boat-focused travel since you can actually camp on the islands and get the full experience, but I don’t think I would ever feel safe doing it via human-powered kayak or canoe.
- Why Walking on Legos Hurts More Than Walking on Fire or Ice was fascinating less for the Legos part and more for the unexpected “pain as a bonding experience” element. Incidentally, the author wrote Princesses behaving Badly, which I’ve started and enjoyed but haven’t had time to finish yet.
- The discovery of the burial of a young child in a cave in Kenya around 78,000 years ago sheds new light on the role of symbolism in the treatment of the dead during the Middle Stone Age. It’s the earliest known human burial in Africa.
- I’ve been pecking away at In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn. I bought it when I listened to an online lecture about Elissa of Carthage, who I’m endlessly fascinated by. (Incidentally, check out this amazing illustration of Dido!)
- This Reddit thread about the role of Mongolian commoners was a great explanation of how the nomads of the central Eurasian plains divide labor between the genders.
- This thread covers how much land hunter-gatherers need in order to function in a rainforest environment with a lot of really excellent hard numbers and sources. There was also a thought-provoking comment about how agriculturalists vs. hunter-gatherers is more of a spectrum than a binary, which I definitely think is true: even in highly urbanized modern industrialized nations like the USA, hunting for game meat still happens, after all. But it reminded me of my whole thing about how classification is hard and more things are spectrums than we think.
- Aboriginal Australians Dined on Moths 2,000 Years Ago is a fascinating piece about ancient indigenous people used portable grindstones to render moths into flour or paste. It’s the first evidence of insect remains on stone artifacts in the world.
Did you learn anything from this? Have any insights to share? Lingering questions? Something you read recently you think I’ll be interested in? Let me know in the comments!