Roundup of Archaeology and History Feb 3-9

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

Lapis Lazuli: the missing shade of blue?

I’ve raised the issue of ancient perception of color in a few different contexts lately—from attitudes of race/skin color (brilliant Achilles) to views of the natural world (Homer’s wine-dark sea). This post in the Ancient Near East Today is the smartest and most condensed discussion of this issue I’ve seen and taught me a lot in a short read. It’s a nuanced build, so I won’t try to summarize, but I’ll tantalize you with a quote:

“What this means is that in order to understand the words for ‘blue’ in ancient Near Eastern languages, we must first adjust our linguistically and culturally skewed perspectives. Different languages divide color space in their own unique ways. Unlike in English (and most modern European languages), Akkadian color terminology is not hue-based (that is, describable as red, green, blue, or yellow) but is rather oriented towards brightness and saturation. On the one hand, this means that an Akkadian speaker would have considered “shining” (namru), “dim” (eṭû) “dark” (eklu) and “multicolored” (barmu) a part of their regular color vocabulary, whereas an English-speaker would not necessarily do so.”

I will add that I suspect there was a shift in the meaning of color words from Homeric to Classical Greek that reflects a shift from the Near Eastern way to the one we find in European languages, but I have only a hunch to base that on. I’d love to hear from much more informed ancient Greek linguists.

How do you see color perception influencing our thought patterns in positive and negative ways?

Click here for Ancient Near East Today “The Missing Shade of Blue”

Beth Cato

An offering to all readers: a short story in honor of libraries. It’s called The Library is Open by Beth Cato. I’ll take a word from the tale to characterize it: hopeful, despite its post-apocalyptic setting. On the Daily Science Fiction website. Beth’s novels are excellent reads that I highly recommend. Click here for Daily Science Fiction “The Library is Open by Beth Cato”

The face of the first Brit revealed (You’ll have to click thru to see this cheerful fellow): blue eyes, black curly hair and dark skin, traits he shares with other Northern European human remains dating to the same period that have also been sequenced. Hence light skin tones are a very recent change. He dates to 10,000 years ago. This is a fascinating reconstruction via the skull and DNA of ‘Cheddar Man’ whose skull was found in 1903 and has mystified people since. The cool limestone cave he was discovered in preserved DNA in the bone sufficiently for a full study and reconstruction. He also apparently couldn’t have digested milk—that genetic change came later with widespread agriculture and domestication of animals. The face of the first Brit revealed: blue eyes, black curly hair and dark skin, traits he shares with other Northern European human remains dating to the same period that have also been sequenced. Hence light skin tones are a very recent change. He dates to 10,000 years ago. This is a fascinating reconstruction via the skull and DNA of ‘Cheddar Man’ whose skull was found in 1903 and has mystified people since. The cool limestone cave he was discovered in preserved DNA in the bone sufficiently for a full study and reconstruction. He also apparently couldn’t have digested milk—that genetic change came later with widespread agriculture and domestication of animals. How does this reconstruction of a long-ago man shift the way you imagine the past and our collective identities? Click here for “Face of First Brit Revealed” University College London News.


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