Bright Guy

Cool facts on just about everything

Ancient History

  1. An excavation in France has found Neanderthals 50,000 years ago were using chunks of manganese oxides likely for its ability to reduce the auto-ignition temperature of wood thus making it easier to start a fire.
  2. In the middle ages, based on a mistranslated Arabic term for 'bitumen', it was thought mummies had healing properties.  They were ground into a powder and sold as medicine (one source cites 5 Sterling/pound of ground-mummy).  Once mummies became harder to find, sun-desiccated corpses were used as substitutes.
  3. Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301.  It's Etchmiadzin Cathedral is felt to be the oldest cathedral in the world with the current building having been constructed in 484.
  4. Good King Wenceslaus, the song, is based on a 13th-century Scandinavian spring carol.  It's also not a Christmas carol, rather it's about St. Stephen's Day, December 26th (or boxing day) about giving alms to the poor.  It's also not about a 'king'; Wenceslaus was a duke.  Additionally, he's often portrayed as an older man while in fact he was killed at the age of 22.  He was considered a martyr and later canonized.
  5. Harald Bluetooth was the king of Denmark and Norway around c. 950.  He united the countries into one kingdom and converted to Christianity, bringing it to the region.  He is believed to have received the name "Bluetooth" for a blue (translated, black/darkened) tooth.  Today, his name is known for the technology in smartphones and computers.  Developed by Nokia, Ericsson, Intel and Toshiba, it was a way of 'unifying' communication protocols, similar to what he did historically.  The logo is actually a combination of the Nordic runes that are his initials: H (Runic letter ior.svg) and B ().
  6.  A controversial study suggests humans reached the Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought!  Broken mastodon bones, large broken rocks and worn rocks suggest hominid activity.  Dating using radioactive uranium and thorium suggested the bones were 130,000 years old.  The claim is contentious with experts questioning why there was no evidence of scraping or other tool use on the bones to remove the meat.
  7. During mummification, the organs of the body had to be removed by making an incision in the lower abdomen.  The embalmer who did this (the "slitter") likely had the worst job of the embalmers.  It was sacrilegious in ancient Egypt to assault a body this way, even though it had to be done.  Therefore, the slitter would cut the body and then run away while his colleagues threw rocks and him and curse him.  This protests allowed them to remain in the good graces of the gods. 

  8. Elizabeth Báthory, a Hungarian countess living in the late 1500s, is known as the most prolific female murderer having killed as many as 650 people!
  9. The Cadaver Synod was an ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus held in 897 by his successor Pope Stephen (VI) VII.  The particular oddity with this was that the rotting corpse of Formosis, who was dead for nearly a year, was exhumed, garbed in papal robes, and put on trial for perjury and having acceded to the papacy illegally.

  10. Research suggests that the more precisely the ancient Egyptians constructed their pyramids, the more susceptible they were to the temperature fluctuation of the desert.  This is why the Great Pyramids of Giza are missing so much of their limestone surface while the older, more poorly constructed, Bent Pyramid remains more intact.  Looser joints allowed for expansion and contraction of the limestone which can move as much as 30 mm/100 meter of distance.
  11. The oldest known stone-tipped javelin head has been discovered in Ethiopia, roughly 280,000 years old!  This predates the earliest known fossils of Homo sapiens by almost 80,000 years suggesting they were made by Homo heidelbergensis (predating Neanderthals).
  12. The discovery of zigzags engraved on a mussel shell suggests that Homo erectus was creating art as far back as 430,000 years ago!  Before this, it was thought that only we, Homo sapiens, were creative in this fashion.  Even then, the evidence of our art only goes back 70,000 - 100,000 years.  The shell, found in Indonesia, was originally unearthed in 1891 but has only recently been dated.

  13. The earliest record of diabetes was written on papyrus from the 3rd Egyptian Dynasty by physician Hesy-Ra.  He described polyuria (increased urine) as a symptom and noticed ants were attracted to the urine (because of its sugar content).

  14. The Mayan civilisation rose and fell with the rainsResearchers examined a stalagmite that grew from 40 B.C. to 2006 A.D. in a cave in Belize.  Their research supported the increase in Mayan society from 440 – 660.  However, faltering rains led to warfare and, by 800 A.D. a total collapse of the political system.  By 1020; most of the Mayans left.
  15. A discovery in the Red Deer and Longlin Caves in China has unearthed what is the youngest prehistoric population dating between 14,500 and 11,500 years old!  They are tentatively thought to be a separate species of human that became extinct without contributing to our gene pool.  It cannot be conclusively stated as efforts to extract a DNA sample for analysis remains unsuccessful.
  16. The oldest musical instruments have been found in a cave in southern Germany.  They're thought to have been fabricated by Homo sapiens 42,000 years ago.  The two flutes are made of bird bone and mammoth ivory.
  17. An archaeological dig in England suggests that the Romans who wore socks-in-sandals.
  18. The first recorded mention of "bagpipes" dates to 1000 BC.  Emperor Nero of Rome was believed to have played the bagpipes.
  19. A clay tablet from 1,500 B.C. ancient Mesopotamia tells what is likely to be the oldest "yo momma" joke.  They're written in the Akkadian language used throughout the ancient Persian Gulf.  Among others, one sounds familiar: "...of your mother, is by the one who has intercourse with her.  Who is it?"  Unfortunately, the answer was damaged.
  20. "Hysteria" was a common diagnosis for women experiencing various symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, fluid retention and muscle spasms.  It was first described in the 5th century in ancient Greece where it was believed the uterus was a wandering creature that would block passages, obstruct breathing and cause diseases.  This is prompted by the concept of the "hysterectomy", removal of the uterus and, consequently, the cause of the hysteria.

  21. An archaeoacoustic expert has proposed that music could have provided the blueprint for Stonehenge!  His theory suggests ancient Britons, using two pipers, experienced sound wave interference patterns creating zones of loud and quiet.  When mapped, they create a "Stonehenge-like structure".  The stones used in the structure were transported from southern England and west Wales suggesting this was a unification project for early Britains.
  22. The largest Neolithic monument built in Britain was discovered 3 km from Stonehenge.  The "Superhenge" is about 4500-year-old stones measuring 15 ft in length under about 3 ft of earth.  It's believed to have been the largest village in northern Europe for a brief period.
  23. Shakespeare invented the name 'Jessica' in the play Merchant of Venice.
  24. A 33,000-year-old skull found in Siberia suggests that dog domestication was "entirely natural".  It was originally believed that humans were responsible for the domestication of the dog.  However, this skull is older than previous wolf-dog transformation theories (pegged at about 15,000 years ago).  This 'dog' was also found to be extinct.  Considering dogs exist today it demonstrates that similar phenomena must (and did) occur in many places around the world.  Its likely wolves began living outside of human encampments scavenging for scraps.  This lifestyle would select for smaller animals and this natural pressure would lead to a progressive change in the wolves' physiology.  This particular skull is smaller than a wolf's but the teeth are larger than a dog's. 
  25. Scientists have uncovered the first archaeological evidence that Homo erectus (an ancestor to modern humans) used fire!  The traces of ash and burnt bone were about a million years old (discovered in South Africa).  Original evidence for the use of fire by humans was only about 400,000 years old (about the same time as Neanderthals).  The use of fire as a tool was critical to the evolution of the modern human because it allowed more calories to be extracted from food to feed the hungry human brain.
  26. Oxford University is older than the Aztecs.
  27. An archaeology site in South Africa has the oldest bedding in the world, about 77,000 years old.  The plants, layered about 1 cm thick, are River Wild-quince (C. woodii) which has insecticidal and larvicidal properties.  The plant did not grow outside the cave meaning they must have been harvested and transported to the site.
  28. Cleopatra lived closer to the invention of the iPhone than the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
  29.  In 1902, the Antikythera mechanism was discovered in shipwreck believed to have sunk in 60-70 BC.  Recent X-ray analysis of ancient inscriptions on the components has determined the laptop sized mechanism, designed by the ancient Greeks, could perform complex calculations, track the Greek and Egyptian calendars, and was a planetarium (for the five known planets).

  30. The Alexandria lighthouse is one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world.  Completed in 247 BC, scholars estimate it was 180 m tall, making it the highest building until the 14th century when it was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1303 and 1323.
  31. Those who were "dirt poor" had dirt floors while wealthier individuals used slate.  In the winter, it became slippery so thresh (straw) was added.  As the winter wore on more thresh was added until it would fall out the front door when opened.  Therefore, a piece of wood was added as a "thresh hold".
  32. San Marino is the world's oldest republic.  In 301, it seceded from the Roman Empire.  It holds the world's oldest constitution.
  33. Tynwald is the legislature of the Isle of Man It is the oldest continually extant parliament body in the world (established by the Norse in 979); it has roots back into the 800s.
  34. Urine was used to tan animal skins.  If this was your profession then you were "piss poor".  The very poor who couldn't afford a pot and "didn't have a pot to piss in".

  35. Ancient Romans found unibrows attractive.
  36. The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud-brick structure in the world.  Due to its construction, the community comes together annually to repair cracks and erosion.
  37. Gymnasium comes from the Latin word 'gymnazin' which means 'exercise naked'.
  38.  Exodus (14:15) describes how Moses parted the Red Sea leading the Israelites to the Promised Land.  Scientists discovered that, while Moses may not have been able to part the sea, a strong easterly wind could have pushed the water back as described in the Bible and the Koran.  Computer models require a 'U' shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline.  If a 100 km wind blew for 12 hours, it could have pushed back water 6 ft deep, 3-4 km long and 5 km wide for 4 hrs.  According to fluid dynamics, this has a basis in physical law.

  39. Neanderthals were practising herbal medicine 60,000 years ago.
  40. Archaeologists found hieroglyphic messages on ancient Egyptian structures that read 'this end up'.
  41. The first known labour strike occurred in 1155 BC, during the 29th year of Ramesses III reign.  Workers protested when food rations could not be provided.
  42. Standard railroad gauge is 4' 8.5" (1435 mm).  This spacing goes back to the ancient Romans who built the roadways of Europe.  Their wagon-wheel ruts were always 4' 8.5", sufficient spacing for two horses.  When the solid rocket boosters of the Space Shuttle were transported to the launch pad they had to travel by rail which forced a reduction in their original size.  Therefore, the most advanced vehicle in the world was limited by an ancient society's standard roadway!
  43. Eratosthenes, a Greek librarian living in Alexandria, Egypt in 250 BC, correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth by comparing the angle of sunlight created by a vertical pole in Alexandria and in Syene (800 km south).  This difference suggested that the Earth was round.  Using this information, he was able to calculate the Earth's volume, the distance between the Earth and moon, the Earth and the sun, in addition to mapping stars, the Nile and of the known world.

  44. The ancient Mayans ruled for hundreds of years in central America.  At its peak, millions of people lived in its large cities.  Unlike the ancient Egyptians, the Mayans constructed their civilization in the heavily forested jungle without the wheel or the aid of a large river for transportation of raw materials.
  45. The oldest leather shoe was discovered in Armenia.  The shoe is a women's EU size 37 and is about 5,500 years old.  The right shoe is cut from a single piece of leather laced from front to back.

  46. Rock, paper, scissors originated in Egypt 4000 years ago.
  47. In antiquity, the stars (and planets) were thought to be the bringers of good and bad news.  Consequently, there are various words used today derived from astronomy:
    1. "Disaster", from the Greek meaning "bad star"
    2. "Influenza", Italian for (astral) "influence"
    3. "Mazel tov", Hebrew (and Babylonian) for "good constellation"
    4. "Consider", Roman for "with the planets"; evidently a prerequisite for serious reflection

  48. The city of Jericho is the lowest permanently inhabited city at 258 m (864 ft) below sea level.  A nearby spring produces 1,000 gallons of water per minute irrigating the surrounding soil.  Jericho is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (first settled in 9,000 BC).

  49. The ancient Babylonians often placed the sick in beds in the streets so pedestrians could offer medical advice.
  50. It's believed the gag-reflex evolved because the majority of poisonous plants are bitter.  Therefore, tasting extremely bitter plants would prompt gagging and vomiting, prevent its ingestion.
  51. Leonardo da Vinci invented the scissors was a vegetarian and was capable of bending horseshoes with his bare hands!
  52. There are records of brain surgeries being performed in ancient Egypt.  The most common involved drilling holes into the skulls of headache sufferers to drain the "evil humours".

  53. The Great Pyramids of Giza were built to represent Orion's belt.
  54. In the Middle Ages, barbers were in charge of removing teeth.
  55. Ancient Greeks believed that toothaches were the result of telling lies.
  56. Along with the usual items found in King Tut's tomb (e.g. sarcophagus, canopic jars), there were also containers that contained his pimple cream.
  57. In 535 AD a worldwide dust cloud (believed to be volcanic) led to global cooling, crop failures, and famine worldwide.
  58. The first submarine was constructed in 1620 by Cornelius Drebbel using William Bourne's 1578 design.  His most successful 'sub' had 6 oars and could carry 16 passengers.  The boat could stay submerged for 3 hours and travel from Westminster to Greenwich at a depth of 12 to 15 m.  Their most famous passenger was King James I.
  59. Baths in the middle ages were a privilege.  Men bathed first, then the sons, and then women and children.  Lastly were the babies.  At this point, the water was so dirty you could lose someone in it hence "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!"
  60. Julius Caesar was not born by caesarian section.  This has been a misconception since the 10th century.  Caesar's mother lived for many years after the birth of Julius.  At that time, C-sections were only performed on dead mothers in an attempt to save the fetus.

  61. The Great Pyramids of Giza are the only surviving ancient wonders of the world.
  62. The Mayan civilization was the only new world civilization with a written language.  At one point, there were as many as 500 glyphs!
  63. King Tut was found to have malaria when he died, as well as a broken leg.  He had a clubbed foot and, perhaps a high arched palate in his mouth.  All of these genetic traits reinforce his limited parentage.  His grandparents were related.  His parents were brother and sister and even his wife was his half-sister.

  64. Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656) declared that the Earth was created on Sunday, October 23rd, 4,004 B.C.
  65. Evidence dating back to the 776 Olympics shows that athletes consumed sheep testicles as they were perceived to be a source of energy.
  66. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a World Heritage Site in Alberta, Canada.  Its name comes from the native peoples who would herd buffalo off cliffs providing meat for the winter months.  The natives would dress as buffalo, wolves and calves making noises, guiding the buffalo off these cliffs.
  67. The Roman Empire built two walls in, what is now, the United Kingdom.  Hadrian's wall in Britain in 128 AD and Antoninus' wall in Scotland in 142 AD.  They were built for protection and to demonstrate the strength of the Empire.  Hadrian's Wall was abandoned for Antoninus' wall but after the Roman's could no longer defend it they retreated to Hadrian's wall until 410 AD when there was the final Roman departure from Britain.
  68. The first wheels were created about 4000 years ago in Asia for use as potter's wheels.  It would be 300 years until someone put them on carts to transport goods.
  69. Pharaoh Pepi II Neferkare had the longest reign of any monarch, 94 years!  He became pharaoh when he was 6 and died at age 100.  He was the last king of the 'old system'.
  70. The Stonehenge, located in England, is believed to have been erected in 3,200 B.C.  This structure is believed to have both religious and astronomical purposes tracking the summer and winter solstice.
  71. Rats were not to blame for the black death during the 14th century in Europe!  Instead, scientists have placed the blame on giant gerbils from Asia. While the fleas on the giant gerbils are ultimately to blame, rats were never involved.  The gerbils likely arrived on the Silk Road from Asia.
  72. Genghis Khan, a Mongol chieftain, conquered about 7,821,000 sq. km from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea, northern China, Mongolia and central Asia.  Due to his many sexual exploits, about 0.5% of the world's population is related to him.
  73. China was the first country to use paper money.
  74. The middle finger became an insult in the Middle Ages.  Captured archers had their middle fingers removed, inhibiting their ability to shoot.  Archers who were not captured would defiantly display their middle finger before shooting.
  75. Many medical specialties include "-ology" (such as cardiology), which means "the study of".  However, some specialties are unique including "orthopaedics" which means "straight child", psychiatry "heal mind" and paediatrics which means "heal child".
  76. Ancient Rome had  500 km of aqueducts providing tens of thousands of fresh water to the capital city of Rome.  About 27 km of those were above ground.
  77. England used to reuse graves and, in the process, discovered coffins with scratch marks inside.  It was discovered that alcohol consumed from lead cups rendered them unconscious.  As a result, graves were buried with strings attached to bells.  If the person was still alive they could ring the bell; meaning they were "saved by the bell".
  78. The Pantheon was rebuilt in 2 AD as a temple for Roman gods.  It is the world's largest non-reinforced concrete dome!  Since the 7th century, it's been a Catholic Church (ultimately saving it from destruction by early Christians).  At one point (and for hundreds of years), the recipe for concrete was lost, and engineers could not figure out how to construct a similar structure.  As a sign of respect, Michelangelo designed the Vatican with a dome 1 m smaller in diameter.
  79. The extinction of large mammals (such as mastodons and mammoths) was not caused by humans.  Instead, as the ice age was ending, warmer and wetter climate with higher CO2 levels reduced their feeding grassland food supply in exchange for trees.
  80. During heavy rainstorms, the thatched roofs of Europe became slippery.  The cats, dogs, mice and other small animals living in the roof would fall out leading to "it's raining cats and dogs."
  81. To prevent things from falling inside the house, specifically on the clean bed, a bed with posts and a canopy provided protection.
  82. With all the stones of the Great Pyramids of Giza, you can build a wall 10 ft tall along the entire border of France!
  83. The island of Santorini is the site of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.  3,600 years ago, during the Minoan era, the eruption left hundreds of feet of ash on the surface and is blamed for the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km to the south due to a Tsunami (the source of the legend of Atlantis).

  84. The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is the largest cistern in the worldBuilt in the 6th century and measuring 143 m by 65 m it was discovered by accident by construction crews.  Fish used to be kept in the cistern to ensure that the water hadn't been poisoned by their enemies.

  85. 'Zero' as a number was invented by an Indian mathematician in the 5th century.  At the time, Europe was using Roman numerals (which does not have zero) making calculations extremely lengthy and difficult.
  86. L'Anse Amour in Labrador, Canada is the site of the New World's oldest funeral burial site.  The body of a 13-year-old boy was discovered wrapped in furs with tools.  He was face down with a rock on top (probably to keep his spirit from escaping).  The burial site is dated at 5,500 BCE.
  87. During the Middle Ages, baths were a luxury and often occurred once per year (generally in May).  Weddings often occurred in June.  Therefore, brides would often carry flowers to mask their smell, the tradition continues today.
  88. Plates in the Middle Ages were generally made of pewter.  As tomatoes are acidic it would cause the lead to leach out of the plate.  Consequently, tomatoes were considered poisonous for 400 years.
  89. Shortly after discovering King Tut's tomb, Lord Canarvon, the financier of the expedition died.  A pet canary on site was killed the day the tomb was opened by a cobra (which symbolizes Egyptian royalty).  Numerous labourers also died during the excavation prompting many superstitious beliefs.  However, tombs have been found to have high levels of ammonia and toxic bacteria.  This picture is a reconstruction of King Tut's face using a CAT scan of his mummy (see National Geographic).
  90. The ancient Egyptians were the first people to recycle by reusing papyrus.
  91. Ancient Romans used to catapult hornet nests and bags of scorpions over the walls of their enemies.
  92. Cleopatra VII Philopator, queen of ancient Egypt from 69 B.C. to 30 B.C., married several times one of whom was her brother.
  93. Salt was used to finance the Great Wall of China.

  94. Pencils aren't made with lead.  They use powdered graphite and clay (lead was used by the ancient Romans in sticks called stylus').
  95. The first printed book was a Buddhist Sutra, done by block printing in 868, by the Chinese.
  96. The ancient Incas developed over 240 different uses for the potato including nutritional, medicinal and magical.
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