Lately, I’ve been digging through my treasured books and I admit, most of them are history related. Dusting off the old tomes have reminded me of history I had long ago forgotten… Surprisingly, there is a limit to the amount of history knowledge I can store in my memory. This will be my last one for a while, a collection of my top favorites:
1. Who were the Sea People? During one of my favorite eras of history, The Bronze Age, one of the most puzzling “cultures” to ever exist just sort of appeared. Let me set the stage, the Greeks were still fledglings, the Egyptians were in a period of decline, the Phoenicians (Canaanites) were at the top of the civilization food chain. The area around the Aegean was bustling with traffic, water trade was big business (hence the small decline of the Egyptians, they weren’t real hot on seafaring). To the surprise of the civilizations came another culture. They were unorganized, carried goods no one had ever seen, and were rather barbaric… a little Aegean piracy. The civilizations, as powerful and mighty as they were, found themselves under attack (and losing) to these barbarians of unknown origin. The Phoenicians said they came from the west, problem is, there wasn’t much west at the time. Egypt, but they certainly weren’t sending them. The Minoans and Mycenaeans (Mycenians?), but they were having trouble with them too. And it’s about 1300BCE, way too early for Atlantic Ocean travelers. Or was it? Today, we are as much in the dark about the Sea People as the mighty Phoenicians. Theories have been put forth that they were tribes from Spain or Portugal. I tend to believe they were Viking pre-cursors – pillaging, looting, water-savvy, sounds like a Viking to me. However, no one knows who they really were.
2. About 300 years before two old guys took credit for the crop circles in England, there was a wood carving in a pamphlet (local newspaper) of some poor schmuck’s field. He’d been hit by the Mowing Devil and oddly, the Mowing Devil seemed to like making crop circles. This is the only known wood carving of the handiwork of the Mowing Devil, but not the only report. As a matter of fact, as long as there have been fields, there have been Mowing Devils (or whatever the culture called them). There’s even an account in Ancient Egypt of a Mowing Devil hitting a flood plain field and in the course of a night, he ruined the harvest, flattening it in a “strange pattern.” Meaning next time you hear about a crop circle, don’t dismiss it immediately. Sure, two old guys did make some circles, but they’ve been going on a lot longer than those guys have been alive and they’ll continue long after their death (if it is all a prank, it’s the most elaborate one ever created by man, because it’s lasted 5000 years and crossed six of the seven continents – no reason for a mowing devil in Antarctica, he’d be a snow crushing devil or a penguin chasing devil, but I digress… that sort of hoax takes skill).
3. The Baghdad Battery… What can I say, it’s obviously a battery. The problem is, it was created well before “batteries” were a thing. Somewhere around the change from BCE to CE the battery was created. Why? What were they powering with it? And because the mystery of the battery isn’t stupefying enough, it has been linked to another interesting historical bit… Some Ancient Egyptian carvings have pictures of men carrying what appears to be light-bulbs (dubbed lotus flowers by archaeologists) and a few have the “stem of suspected lotus flower” connected to an “unknown object” that looks suspiciously similar to the Baghdad Battery. Of course, if the Egyptians had batteries and light-bulbs, that explains a lot about the interior carvings on tombs (if they didn’t, that’s some dirty work… torches give off soot and fumes). With lights, I could do it… With torches, meh, I’ll go work the flood plains, but thanks!
4. The destruction of Mohenjo Daro. Mohenjo Daro is a mythical Ancient Indian city that was supposedly destroyed by warring gods in flying ships using super weapons. The story of Mohenjo Daro is strange, even before its destruction. Somehow, they had indoor plumbing, apartment complexes, a freshwater delivery system, and 40,000 residents in about 2700 BCE. This information put it firmly in the realm of myth, right up until someone found it (like Troy, only bigger and weirder). A city of 40,000 residents is unheard of at the time, even Egypt didn’t have those. But then there’s the pesky problem of everyone dying (the modern name means Mound of the Dead), pretty much instantaneously. There is no evidence of volcanic activity. No reason for families to be huddled together as they died, leaving entwined skeletons and no reason for vitrification to have taken place in somewhat large quantities. (Volcanoes create obsidian not vitrified glass, just as an FYI) Vitrified glass requires intense heat, think about the movie Sweet Home Alabama… those crazy things they were pulling out of the sand after the lightning strikes was vitrified glass. It seems incredibly unlikely that a lightning bolt struck the entire city, killing everyone. But your other option is to believe gods, warring in flying ships, were unleashing nuclear weapons at each other and everyone in Mohenjo Daro was caught in the fall-out. Surprisingly, when you actually study Mohenjo Daro, nuclear weapons really don’t seem that far fetched (I’ve heard rumors of flash shadows, but I’ve never seen them, but I’ve also never visited the site, it’s on my Bucket List).
5. The Crusades – I don’t know if this actually bugs other historians, but it makes me scratch my head. For several hundred years, men donned armor and traveled to the Holy Land to liberate it from the Muslims. That part, I get… religious wars are always easy to understand. What I don’t understand is 1) why were there so many? 2) why did only the Knights Templar get rich from these things? We’ll start with 2. Thousands of warriors intent on looting and pillaging headed for the Holy Land over several centuries. Most died of disease, injury, famine, exhaustion, and never made it to Jerusalem. Of those that did, most of them died as casualties of war. Except the Templars, a warrior class of priests… That strikes me as strange. Yes, lots of Templars did die, but not enough to kill the movement or deplete the ranks or stop the crusading. As a matter of fact, the Crusades really helped build their coffers (leading to their downfall). Their success when other, skilled military leaders failed is kind of astonishing. Now for 1. After the first 100 years of getting your asses handed to you by defenders with better weapons and organizational skills (and food), why would you continue? Why are you still lining up to go fight? As a crusader, you know there’s a really great chance that you aren’t coming back. Worse, after a while of the adults getting their asses kicked, someone organized a Children’s Crusade… Were they intending to conquer the Muslims with cuteness? Did they think the Muslims would just open the gates to the children and raise them as their own (this seems to defeat the purpose of the crusades)? Keenly disguised birth control? I have no idea if any children made it back, most didn’t make it there… slave trading in children was a popular past time, even by Europeans. A kid might leave France with a group of twenty or so others and end up in Milan working for a cobbler because someone along the way offered them a place to sleep and they woke up in shackles. I guess they can get brownie points for being determined, but they lose all of them because of stupidity…