Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hippocratic Medical Recipe Lost in a Famous Egyptian Monastery Finally Comes to Light

Ancient Origins

The library at St. Catherine's Monastery is considered one of the most important for ancient texts.

New research examining a manuscript from the 6th century shows that it is not just the visible writing that holds value, but also the letters hidden underneath them. A copy of a medical recipe linked to the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, is just one text that was waiting centuries to be uncovered.

The manuscript containing the recipe has been dated to the 5th or 6th century AD, so it is not an original created by the famed Greek physician Hippocrates; it is just a copy created after his death. Nonetheless, a researcher with the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) told Asharq Al-Awsat the document also holds value for its age, stating that the text "will be enlisted among the oldest and the most important manuscripts in the world.”

The recovered manuscript. (Ahram Online)

The nature of the remedy has yet to be provided, however it was found alongside drawings of herbs and three other medical recipes written by an anonymous author. Helmy El-Namnam, the Egyptian culture minister, asserted that the presence of these texts contained within the manuscript provides evidence for the leading position Egyptians had in science.

The identified manuscript is one example of the 130 known palimpsests held within the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery. Palimpsests are examples of manuscript pages which have text scraped or washed off them so that they can be reused for another document. In this case, the pages were made of leather. Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology documentation at the ministry, explained to Ahram Online that the early text was erased “due to the high cost of leather at that time.”

National Geographic reports that the text was erased in the Middle Ages to make space for Bible text known as the “Sinaitic manuscript.” It was only thanks to the ongoing partnership between St. Catherine's Monastery and the EMEL that the medical texts were discovered.

Example of a palimpsest. The lower text is from the 6th century (Codex Guelferbytanus 64 Weissenburgensis, folio 92 verso), it contains the text of Luke 1:6-13; the upper text is from the 13th century - Isidore of Seville's "Origines" 8.10.2-8.11.4. (Public Domain)

EMEL used spectral imaging to reveal the text written by scholars interested in preserving Hippocrates’ medical knowledge into the 6th century. Spectral imaging allows experts to see images and text that is not visible with the naked eye.

EMEL also recognizes that there is a great possibility for more major discoveries lost within the pages of manuscripts held in the oldest monastery in the world.

 According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the library at St. Catherine's Monastery holds thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac languages, as well as decrees created by Muslim caliphates. Many of the texts are considered rare.

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. (Berthold Werner/CC BY SA 3.0)

Although St. Catherine's Monastery is now considered a Byzantine era treasure for Egypt, it only survives today due to on an ancient and controversial agreement. As Ancient Origins writer Dhwty explains:

“According to tradition, the monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery had requested the protection of the Prophet Muhammad himself. The Prophet, who is said to have regarded Christians as brothers in faith, accepted their request favorably. A controversial document, known as the Actiname (‘Holy Testament’) was signed by the Prophet himself in 623 AD. According to this document, the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery were granted exemption from taxes and military service. Additionally, Muslims were called upon to protect the monastery and provide the monks with every help. As a gesture of reciprocity, during the Fatimid period, the monks allowed the conversion of a crusader church within the monastery walls into a mosque.”

The Patent of Mohammed Granted to the Holy Monastery of Sinai, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt. (Public Domain)

The monastery has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2002 and also a popular tourist attraction.

Top Image: Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai. (Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0) A page of ancient writing. (Public Domain)

By Alicia McDermott

Friday, July 21, 2017

Archaeologists Discover Ancient British Stones Have Secret Markings Visible Only at Night

Ancient Origins

A new study suggests that Stonehenge and other ancient stone memorials could have been used for sacred moonlit ceremonies which took place late at night. The archaeologists taking part in this study have come to this conclusion, after finding that some mysterious messages are visible only at night.

 The Peculiarity of Hendraburnick Quoit
Until recently, Neolithic structures were thought to be exclusively connected with the movements of the sun, with the immense Wiltshire circle of Stonehenge being the ultimate example, as the specific monument lines up perfectly with the summer solstice. However, a new archaeological study implies that the Neolithic monument was used differently than most structures of its kind. As The Telegraph reports, the new examination of the Stone Age engraved panel Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall by Dr. Andy Jones – who has been working in conjunction with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit – showed ten times as many markings on the engraved panel when viewed in moonlight or very low sunlight from the south east.

Marks on the rock came into view under a camera flash and would have lit up in moonlight Credit: Dr Andy Jones

 For those who might not be aware of the specific monument, keep in mind that Hendraburnick “Quoit” is in fact a misnomer. In reality is not a quoit at all, but an impressive and picturesque propped stone, lying upon a gently rolling valley-side in Cornwall. It is an exciting site, and aside from being a testament to the power of prehistoric people to shift these enormous stones, it also highlights many ancient engravings known as cup-marks, which involve the hollowing out of rounded dimples in the rock.

Hendraburnick Quoit (CC BY SA 2.0)

Special “Effects” under the Moonlight
 Interestingly, archaeologists also noticed that at some point in history, people who probably occupied the location near the site smashed up many pieces of quartz around the area which would have radiated light in the dark, thereby giving a unique and impressive effect during the night.

Dr. Jones claims that this unique phenomenon didn’t take place at the Hendraburnick Quoit exclusively, but instead it has also been traced in a few other ancient stone monuments such as Stonehenge for example. He told The Telegraph, “I think the new marks show that this site was used at night and it is likely that other megalithic sites were as well. We were aware there were some cup and ring marks on the rocks but we were there on a sunny afternoon and noticed it was casting shadows on others which nobody had seen before. When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight.”

llustration of the marks found on the rock Credit: Thomas Goskar

Sacred Attribute of the Hendraburnick Quoit
Writing in the archaeology journal Time and Mine, Dr. Jones and colleague Thomas Goskar conclude, “As in many cultures where darkness is associated with the supernatural and the heightening of senses, it is possible that some activities at Hendraburnick Quoit may have been undertaken at night. Quartz has luminescent properties and reflects both moonlight and firelight. Given that human eye perceives color and shade quite differently at night than by daylight and the art would have been visible in moonlit conditions, the smashed quartz at Hendraburnick could have been used as part of night time activity on the site in order to ‘release’ the luminescent properties of the quartz around the monument and ‘reveal’ the art in a particular way. After the ritual, the broken pieces, once they had fallen on the ground, could have effectively formed a wider platform or arc which would have continued to glisten around it in the moonlight, and thereby added to the ‘aura’ of the site.”

Next step for archaeologists is to discover what exactly happened during these special ceremonies under the moonlight. The new research was published in the archaeology journal Time and Mind.

Top image: Lanyon Quoit. Used as the overriding image of ancient Cornwall and also known as the Giant's Table. (CC BY SA 2.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Archaeologists Uncover Spine-tingling New Hoard of Roman Letters at Vindolanda Fort

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have spotted a stockpile of Roman letters at Vindolanda, the fort below Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England. Experts can’t hide their excitement about the newly found 25 tablets and hope that the new letters will reveal previously unknown information about the characters that lived there as well as ancient Roman life at the site.

 2,000-Year-Old Letters Discovered at Vindolanda
The Guardian recently reported that an exciting fresh find of 25 Roman letters has been discovered at the archaeological site of Vindolanda, where some of the most significant and prominent documents found in the UK from the Roman world were discovered in back in 1992.

As previously reported in an Ancient Origins article, Vindolanda was a small garrison, where only a few hundred Roman soldiers were stationed with their families. They took shelter inside the fort behind a series of a large ditches and ramparts. The war between the Roman forces and British tribes was long and cruel. Romans arrived in Britain for the first time around 55 or 54 BC, when Julius Caesar launched an invasion. The war between the invaders and British tribes ceased around 212 AD, and the fort went out of use. Vindolanda was abandoned and anything that people didn't want or couldn't take with them to the new settlements was left behind and remained there for nearly two millennia. New constructions built on top of the old created an oxygen free environment that preserved many of the precious artifacts. As a natural consequence, the newly found wooden tablets are well-preserved and still in a good condition.

The general area of the fort currently being excavated, where the letters were found. (

One Tablet Reveals Romans Loved their Beer
The tablets will be scanned with infrared light which will most likely make the faint marks in black ink clear enough to read, even though the cursive script is universally a cryptic crossword puzzle that will most likely baffle experts for several months before they manage to solve it. The good news, however, is that archaeologists have already managed to reveal the identity of one of the historical figures – already known from the original find at the site – from a tablet’s content. This person is Masclus, a Roman soldier who we learned in the previous find, was ordered by his commanding officer to write a letter, requesting more beer supplies to be sent to his outpost on the wall. Additionally, the letter also reveals that Masclus asks for a leave, or "commeatus" in Latin, probably with a painful hangover. It will be interesting to see what more we learn of Masclus and company from the new letters.

Some of the latest letter tablets, which were penned on thin strips of wood. (

In total, the hoard of documents from the site provides a previously unknown view of daily life in a Roman garrison. Other than beer requests, the letters include birthday invitations, while some of them reveal the derogatory terms Roman used to refer to the locals. More importantly, the cache of letters includes the oldest example of women's handwriting from Europe, in the correspondence between two high-ranking military commanders' wives. Dr Robin Birley, the second generation of his family to lead at the site, said as The Guardian reports, "Some of these new tablets are so well preserved that they can be read without the usual infrared photography and before going through the long conservation process. There is nothing more exciting than reading these personal messages from the distant past. This is the find I have been hoping for all my working life.”

Headquarters building at the center of Vindolanda Roman Fort (CC BY SA 2.0)

One Particular Letter Stands Out from the Rest
The majority of the new letters are written like those of the original find on thin slivers of birch, except one rare double-leaved oak tablet, where the two pieces of timber folded together, giving this way an exceptionally good preservation of ink on the wooden tablet which experts suggest that was used for more significant correspondence than the more common birch. “I was a lad of 17 when the first letters were found, and every season since then I have hoped, but never really expected, that more might turn up. My father has been rather poorly recently, but by the time I got home he had cracked open a bottle of champagne and the level had already fallen considerably,” an excited Dr. Birley, added as The Guardian reports.

The next step now is to put the wooden tablets through infrared photography and a meticulous preservation process so that more of the text can be deciphered.

Top image: One of the new tablets, which arenow undergoing painstaking conservation and infrared photography (

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Discovery of Two Boat Burials Changes Viking Timeline

Ancient Origins

According to accepted accounts, the Viking Age began in 793 AD off the coast of northern England when the first raid of Scandinavian warriors is recorded to have taken place. The Vikings emerged suddenly and expanded rapidly across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Although the Vikings are known to have originated in Scandinavia, there is little known about how and why they suddenly built ships and took off in search of new lands. Was it climate change, overpopulation, desire for wealth or simply a thirst for adventure? Whatever it was, the Vikings made a lasting impact on the world. But is all we know about them correct?

 The Beginning of the Viking Storm
A discovery on a Baltic Island nearly a decade ago, shed new light on how the Viking storm first began. “Two ships filled with slain warriors uncovered on the Estonian island of Saaremaa may help archaeologists and historians understand how the Vikings’ warships evolved from short-range, rowed craft to sailing ships; where the first warriors came from; and how their battle tactics developed,” reported Archaeology Magazine. “Between them, the two boats contain the remains of dozens of men. Seven lay haphazardly in the smaller of the two boats, which was found first. Nearby, in the larger vessel, 33 men were buried in a neat pile, stacked like wood, together with their weapons and animals. The site seems to be a hastily arranged mass grave, the final resting place for Scandinavian warriors killed in an ill-fated raid on Saaremaa, or perhaps waylaid on a remote beach by rivals”.

The remains of 33 men buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to an Estonian island Credit: Liina Maldre, University of Tallinn

Does the Discovery Change Accepted Timelines?
The men are believed to have died in battle up to a century before the Viking Age officially started, an era that wasn’t previously known for long voyages. The ruins of the two boats display a high level of technological advancement, a transformation which had been taking place in the 8th century Baltic. They were clearly capable of open-sea travel.

The first boat, which had no sail and would have been rowed from Scandinavia, is believed to have been constructed around 650 AD. Evidence suggests it had been repaired and patched decades before its final voyage. The second boat was far more sophisticated. Although it had largely deteriorated, the discovery of a keel – a feature essential for keeping a sailing boat upright – suggests the Scandinavians were sailing in the Baltic at least a century before accepted timelines say they were.

One of the skeletons found aboard the smaller ship. Credit: Marge Konsa, University of Tartu

Evidence of Boat Burial Suggests More Gradual Emergence of the Vikings
Experts believe the two boats are the remains of a boat burial, a ritual strongly associated with the Vikings. The finding suggests that this tradition had gradually evolved over centuries and did not just emerge suddenly in the Viking Age.

The finding of the two boats is significant as it supports a new perspective of the Vikings, suggesting that the start of the Viking Age wasn’t as sudden as previously believed, but was a more gradual process. It now seems that the Scandinavian warriors developed and enhanced their ship-building skills over several centuries, eventually reaching a level that allowed them to take off in the open ocean, reaching faraway lands and leaving their traces across four continents.

Top image: Illustration of a Viking ship (public domain)

By April Holloway

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too


Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too In a new book on the archaeology and chemistry of alcoholic beverages, Patrick McGovern unravels the history of boozing image

For as long as there have been humans, there have been humans getting drunk—or at least that’s what biomolecular archaeologist and brew connoisseur Patrick McGovern thinks.

 The jack-of-all-trades researcher tackles the subject at length in his new book, Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Recreated. Part travelogue, part natural history, part cookbook, the story has McGovern hopscotching across the globe to prove the ties between human evolution and the creation of fermented beverages. He describes archaeological digs and the migrations of ancient humans from one continent to the next; the chemical analysis used to discover which ingredients went into the drinks; and his forays into “experimental archaeology” with Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, in which they recreate nine ancient beverages.

 “Taking all the available evidence we have, we wanted to see if we could recreate the drinks and make something that’s palatable for the modern human,” McGovern says.

 These drinks (despite the moniker “brews”, they include wines, beers and “extreme fermented beverages” that use any combination of ingredients to produce an alcoholic drink) run the gamut from the oldest-known alcohol, which comes from China, to a chocolate concoction based on research from Mesoamerica.

 “We usually do not have an airtight argument that a particular recreated beverage was made in antiquity in the same way or with all the same ingredients,” McGovern writes in his book. “Our ultimate objective is to gather as many well-verified pieces of the puzzle as possible, hypothesize about what ingredients most likely went into the brew and how it was brewed, and then try to replicate it.”

 In addition to exploring the intoxicating ingenuity of these ancient people, McGovern also digs deep into human evolution and the dawn of civilizations. First, he tackles the question of what Paleolithic people (the era begins with hominid tool-making around 3.4 million years ago and continues till 10,000 years ago), may have been drinking.

 It’s a hard question to answer, archaeologically speaking. Alcohol evaporates from containers even if they’re sealed, leaving nothing but dust for chemical analysis. Even then, the oldest container shown to have traces of rice, grapes or hawthorn fruit and honey—ingredients necessary to make a fermented beverage—is from only 9,000 years ago. There are no surviving containers from the Paleolithic.

 But McGovern sees plenty of evidence for our alcohol affinity in the body itself. “We’ve got an enzyme in our saliva that breaks down carbs into sugar, we have alcohol dehydrogenase [enzymes that break down ethanol] in our mouths, all through our gut and down through our liver.”

 All these physiological elements point to traits inherited from our early ancestors, about whom archaeologists only have limited information. But in case the physiology of modern Homo sapiens isn’t enough to go off of, humans also share genes with primates and other animals that prove we’re not the only ones hooked on getting buzzed. This “drunk monkey” hypothesis states that animals whose diets are largely composed of fruits and nectar regularly imbibe naturally occurring alcohol when the fruits ferment.

 There’s the Malaysian tree shrew, “a living model for extinct mammals” that drinks the human equivalent of nine glasses of wine each night. Fruit flies, like humans, contain multiple genes that dictate how they metabolize and respond to alcohol. Even bats get tipsy from eating fermented fruits, though inebriation seems to have no negative impact on their ability to fly.

 Somewhere along the way, drunk monkeys became drunk hominids, and those hominids became modern humans. This is when the “bread or beer” question comes up: Did humans start agriculture to use the grain for food or for a ready supply of fermented drinks?

 “We don’t know for sure and have limited archaeological evidence, but if you had your choice, which would it be?” McGovern says. “Once you have fermented beverages, it causes a change of behavior, creates a mind-altering experience. I think that could be important in developing language, music, the arts in general and then religion, too.”

 The idea of beer or some other alcoholic beverage being a key component of human development has been echoed elsewhere. “It has long been speculated that increasing demands for cereals for the purpose of brewing beer led to domestication,” write researchers in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. “The most complex communities [in the Near East] seem to have been complex hunter/gatherers who could be expected to have hosted competitive feasts in which brewed beverages would have been highly valued.”

 Or as psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn writes in the New York Times, “Beer was thought to be so important in many bygone civilizations that the Code of Urukagina, often cited as the first legal code, even prescribed it as a central unit of payment and penance.”

 Just consider what the fermentation process must have looked like to humans who had no concept of how yeast and sugars combined to create alcohol. The containers holding the liquid would’ve moved around as carbon dioxide was released, the liquid would turn foamy, the smell and flavor at the end would be far different than they had been at the start. Combined with the brain-altering effects of drinking these elixirs, it’s no surprise humans imputed the miraculous transformation to the work of the gods.

 From there, McGovern says, the beverage became the center of social life. It’s a pattern he’s seen around the world, from winemaking in the Middle East and Europe to sorghum beers and palm wine brewed in Africa.

 For all he’s uncovered about alcoholic beverages of the past 10,000 years, there are plenty of questions that remain to be answered—including the advent of distilled liquors in the New World. McGovern concludes his book by delving into ongoing research into whether the Aztecs or other civilizations of the Americas created distilling methods before the Spanish arrived with their rum stills.

 As for his readers, McGovern hopes some might be inspired to try the recipes in the book. But if nothing else, he says, “I hope they come away with an appreciation for how fermentation is really an essential part of life on this planet and in human societies. It has had a profound effect on what we are today.”

 Homebrew Interpretation of Chateau Jiahu by Dough Griffith (based on McGovern, 2009/2010)

5 gallons Cool water
 4 pounds Extra light or light dry malt extract
2 pounds Rice syrup solids
1/2 pound Dried hawthorn berries
1/4 ounce Simcoe hops
1/2 ounce Sweet orange peel
3 pounds Honey
1 packet Fermentis Safbrew Abbaye, White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale, or Wyeast 4143 Sake
1/2 quart White grape concentrate
1 cup Priming sugar

 Starting gravity: 1.088
Final gravity: 1.015
Final target alcohol by volume: 8.5%
International Bittering Unites: 10
Finished volume: 5 gallons

If using the liquid yeast, we recommend making a starter 24 hours before brewing to maximize yeast cell counts.

 1. Fill a brewpot with the 5 gallons water and bring to a boil.
 2. As the water is beginning to boil, remove the pot from the heat.
 3. Add the dry malt extract and rice syrup solids. Stir to prevent clumping and scorching on the bottom of the pot. Return the pot to heat.
 4. Allow the wort to come to a boil, and boil for 30 minutes. If using defoamer to help prevent boilovers, add per instructions.
 5. While the wort is boiling, put the hawthorn berries ina blender, cover with wort (liqwuied from the brewpot—caution: hot), and carefully purée.
 6. At the 30-minute mark of the 1-hour boil, add the puréed hawthorn berries. Boil for 30 more minutes.
 7. 50 minutes into the boil, add the Simcoe hopes and orange peel.
 8. At the 60-minute mark, turn off the heat. Add the honey. Stir the wort for 2 minutes while building up a whirlpool effect. Stop strring and allow the wort to sit for 10 minutes.
 9. Chill the wort with a wort chiller or in a cold water bath until it is under 75°F.
 10. Transfer the wort into a fermenter; aerate (rock the baby) for 1 minute.
 11. Pitch the yeast into the fermenter.
12. Top up the fermenter to the 5-gallon mark with cool water.
 13. On the second day of fermentation, add the white grape concentrate.
 14. In about 14 days, the beer should be ready to bottle. It can be siphoned to a 5-gallon carboy to allow extra time for clearing if desired, for about 7 days.
 15. Before bottling, clean and sanitize the bottles and caps and create a priming solution of 1 cup boiling water and the priming sugar.
 16. Siphon the beer into a sterilized bottling bucket, add the water-diluted priming solution, and gently stir. Bottle and cap the beer.
 17. Allow the beer to condition for another 10 days at 70 to 75°F; it should then be ready to drink.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Elizabeth I’s love life: was she really a ‘Virgin Queen’?

History Extra

Over the years, countless books, novels, plays and films have depicted Elizabeth I’s relationships with figures such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and the Duke of Anjou. In the absence of conclusive proof one way or another, the question ‘did they or didn’t they?’ will always linger. Yet what is clear is that, both at home and abroad, rumours about Elizabeth’s love life – real or imagined – circulated throughout her reign. Far from being the Virgin Queen, for some hostile observers Elizabeth was the ‘whore’ of Europe.

 Contemporary beliefs about the ‘insatiable’ sexual appetites of women, together with Elizabeth’s failure to marry, fuelled suspicions that the queen was engaged in secret sexual liaisons. Her Catholic opponents challenged her virtue, and accused her of a “filthy lust” that had “defiled her body and the country”. The king of France joked that one of the great questions of the day was “whether Queen Elizabeth was a maid or no”. The courts of Europe were abuzz with gossip as to the queen of England’s behaviour.

 From the very earliest months of her reign, rumours spread of Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley, her “sweet Robin” whom she had known since childhood. Within days of her accession, Elizabeth had appointed Dudley as master of the horse – a position that guaranteed almost daily contact. The Spanish ambassador reported to the king of Spain that “Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes and it is even said that Her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night”.

 The pair’s attraction to one another was widely commented upon, and their flirtatious behaviour shocked observers. When in 1560 Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, was found with her neck broken at the bottom of a staircase, speculation was rife as to the involvement of the queen and her favourite. In the years that followed, their close relationship continued, but any lingering possibility of a future marriage was cast aside.

 Elizabeth’s councillors were determined to secure a favourable marriage for her, both as a means of consolidating England’s position in Europe and to provide an heir to succeed her. While there was no lack of suitors, including Philip II of Spain; Erik XIV of Sweden and the Archdukes Ferdinand and Charles of Austria, no one managed to win the queen’s favour or the unanimous support of her council. While foreign negotiations continued, Elizabeth enjoyed the attention of young male courtiers like Thomas Heneage, Christopher Hatton and Walter Raleigh, and later Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, all of whom flirted their way into the queen’s favour.

 But Robert Dudley remained the queen’s first, and probably only love. Perhaps as a reaction to Dudley’s marriage to Lettice Devereux, dowager countess of Essex in the autumn of 1578, the following year Elizabeth welcomed Francois, the duke of Anjou, brother of the king of France, to the English court to present his suit for marriage.

Robert Dudley, who Elizabeth called her “sweet Robin”. © Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy 

It was not an ideal match. Anjou was a 20-something tiny and pockmarked Catholic who was widely rumoured to be a transvestite. Nonetheless, Elizabeth had always longed to be wooed in person by one of her illustrious suitors, and for a time she seemed to be genuine in her affections and interest in Anjou, whom she affectionately named her ‘frog’.

 After a few weeks Anjou returned to France and negotiations appeared to falter in the face of public opposition to the match, but in October 1581 Anjou returned to England. Since his previous visit, he had continued to write love letters to the queen in which he expressed his desire to be “kissing and rekissing all that Your beautiful Majesty can think of”, as well as to be “in bed between the sheets in your beautiful arms”.

 Upon his arrival in London Elizabeth once again seemed enthralled and enraptured by Anjou’s presence, and on 22 November, when the court was assembled at Whitehall to celebrate the Accession Day festivities, Elizabeth declared in public that she intended to marry him. She proceeded to kiss him on the mouth and give him her ring. Yet overnight, Elizabeth apparently had second thoughts and announced the next day she would not marry Anjou.

 It is doubtful whether Elizabeth had really intended to go ahead with the marriage given the popular hostility to it, but when Anjou finally departed she made much of being grief-stricken at the loss of her lover “with whom she so unwillingly parted”.

 With the failure of the French match, hopes that Elizabeth would marry came to an end, but as she grew old and increasingly isolated she continued to seek the attention of her male courtiers. Robert Devereux, the young earl of Essex and stepson of Robert Dudley, was Elizabeth’s last great flirtation. Despite the age gap between them, the nature of the relationship was again speculated upon. He soon became master of the horse and moved into his stepfather’s apartments at court. One of Essex’s servants boasted that “even at night my lord is at cards or one game or another with her, that he cometh not to his own lodging till the birds sing in the morning.”

 But this was a different kind of relationship than the one Elizabeth and had had with Dudley, and was more about the desire of an aging woman to be made to feel young and attractive by a handsome young courtier. Yet Elizabeth was never so swept away by her emptions that she lost a keen sense of political realities. In 1601, after what was seen to be an attempted coup against her, she ordered Essex’s execution.

 In 1603 Elizabeth, then almost 70, died unmarried and celebrated as England’s great ‘Virgin Queen’. Yet her death served only to continue speculation about her private life. In the years that followed, the questioning of Elizabeth’s virginity was no longer confined to hostile Catholic discourse, and there was a growing sense that Elizabeth’s private feelings had compromised the integrity of her rule.

 In life, Elizabeth and the ladies of the bedchamber had tenaciously defended the chastity of her body to protect her reputation and defend her crown. In death, it is surely the possibility that she was not chaste that continues to fascinate, and ensure Elizabeth’s enduring popularity and appeal.

 Dr Anna Whitelock is a reader in early modern history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court (Bloomsbury, 2013).

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scientists Learn Ingredients of 2,000-Year-Old Roman Pills Found in Ancient Shipwreck

Ancient Origins

Discoveries of ancient shipwrecks are always exciting, but a small number of them are truly unique in the artifacts they yield, offering up items from the past that have been preserved for centuries at the bottom of the sea. The finding of a 2,000-year-old Roman shipwreck, known as the Relitto del Pozzino, which had sunk off the coast of Tuscany in Italy was one of these cases. Tucked away safely inside a sealed tin, were 5 perfectly preserved medicinal pills.

A front, profile, and rear view of one of the medicinal tablets. Image via PNAS/Giachi et. al.

Discovery of the Ancient Wreck
The Relitto del Pozzino wreck was found near the remains of Populonia, an Etruscan city which served as a key port along trade routes operating between the west and the east of the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, the Romans seized the entire coastline and ejected the Etruscans from it.

Main gate of Populonia (public domain)

 A Rich Trove of Artifacts
First discovered in the 1980s, the shipwreck excited researchers with its rich trove of artifacts, including bronze jugs, lamps from Asia minor, Syrian-Palestinian glass bowls, and wine vessels. But one of the most fascinating relics was an ancient medicine chest containing 136 wooden drug vials, a surgery hook, a mortar and several tin vessels, known as pyxides. Scientists were astounded to find that the tins were still sealed and had preserved their contents over two millennia. They now had a unique opportunity to learn the contents of Roman medicines.

The wooden drug vials found on the Relitto del Pozzino shipwreck (Not Only Chemistry)

Analyzing the Pills
Several years ago, a research team undertook a chemical analysis of the 5 medicinal pills that were found in one of the tins and published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tests revealed that the pills were composed of zinc compounds, iron oxide, starch, beeswax, pine resin and other plant-derived materials. By consulting with physicians and turning to historical records of ancient medicines, the researchers concluded that the pills were used as a type of eye medicine.

The discovery offered a rare glimpse into the medical treatments used in ancient Rome.

Top image: Main: A diver searches the Relitto del Pozzino shipwreck (Not Only Chemistry). Inset: One of the medicinal tablets. Image via PNAS/Giachi et. al.

By April Holloway

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Story of Sif, Powerful Wife of Norse God Thor

Ancient Origins

The warrior god Thor is well known from Old Norse literature. He has become a popular cultural icon, but his wife seems to be largely forgotten these days. However, Sif was once recognized as an important Norse goddess and a powerful ''neck, which ruled the head''.

 A Goddess of Wheat, Fertility, and Family
Sif is known as a Norse deity whose powerful position was dictated by her marriage. She appears in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, which are the best known 13th century traditional sources on Norse mthyology.

In these texts, Sif appears as a beautiful woman with long golden hair. She was described as the mother of the goddess Thrúd (meaning ''Might'', a goddess of the storm), and god Ullr (meaning ''The Magnificent'', a god of winter). Researchers suggest that she represented the fields of wheat, which had a golden color similar to her hair.

Since the beginning, Sif was associated with fertility and family caregiving, and she was connected to the rowan tree. Her name means ''relation to marriage''. She may also be represented in the Old English poem Beowulf. The number of references of the goddess suggests that she was very important to the Norse people until at least the early medieval period.

Sif (1909) by John Charles Dollman. (Public Domain)

The Legend of Sif
The story in both Edda's about Sif is similar. She appears in the poem Hárbarðsljóð, of the Poetic Edda, where she meets Thor. They two engage, but Harbaror refuses to ferry Thor to the bay. The action of the poem contains many insults from Thor. Harbaror punishes him by telling him that Sif has a lover. Thor gets angry, but tells his enemy that it's a lie.

Image from The Elder or Poetic Edda. (Public Domain)

In another part, Sif appears in a scene with Loki, another Norse god. It's a scene related to the crystal cup of mead, but also provides an example of Loki’s personality, as the god lies by swearing that Sif had a romance with him.

Sif sleeps while Loki lurks behind in an illustration (1894) by A. Chase. (Public Domain)

In the Prose Edda, Sif appears in the Prologue section and in chapter 31 of Gylfaginning, but also in a few more places. Analysis of these texts reminds one of reading an old alphabet in the dark, but some researchers have made interesting conclusions about her based on these accounts. According to Ellis Davidson, there are some explanations about her position in the pantheon of Norse deities:

''The cult of Thor was linked up with men's habitation and possessions, and with well-being of the family and community. This included the fruitfulness of the fields, and Thor, although pictured primarily as a storm god in the myths, was also concerned with the fertility and preservation of the seasonal round. In our own times, little stone axes from the distant past have been used as fertility symbols and placed by the farmer in the holes made by the drill to receive the first seed of spring. Thor's marriage with Sif of the golden hair, about which we hear little in the myths, seems to be a memory of the ancient symbol of divine marriage between sky god and earth goddess, when he comes to earth in the thunderstorm and the storm brings the rain which makes the fields fertile. In this way Thor, as well as Odin, may be seen to continue the cult of the sky god which was known in the Bronze Age.''

Sif from a Swedish translation of the Edda. (Public Domain)

Thor was her second husband; the first one was the Giant Orvandil. Sif seems to be a similar goddess to Freya, Fjorgyn, Jord and Gefjun. It is likely that the legends about these deities were inspired by each other. She was also sort of a Norse Demeter, who was associated with vegetation on the surface of the earth, as well as fertility.

Moreover, Sif is depicted as a prophetess who knew and could see more than those around her. She was believed to be a goddess who helped others to find solutions and peace in difficult times. It was once tradition for people to bake breads with many grains to honor this goddess and ask for her help.

A Goddess for All Times
Other themes associated with Sif are: kinship, the arts, summer, passion, and the sun. In iconography, her symbols are gold, a beautiful female with golden cascading hair, and the sun. She was an Earth goddess, whose long golden hair was described as shining brighter than the sun.

Sif was also able to dominate the sky with her light. Moreover, during the summer she supposedly liked to make love to Thor beneath the open sky in the fields. Sometimes people would say that if they heard a couple making love in such a place it could have been Sif with Thor, so they didn't disturb them.

The Norse people of Iceland always greet the first day of the summer with much joy and gratitude. It seems that Sif (as an Earth Goddess) played an important role in this celebration.

 In the 19th century, a researcher named Jacob Green wrote about Sif in his works, bringing her back to Scandinavian folklore. Her popularity rose with the resurgence of past folklore and the rise in the importance of old traditions and beliefs. Since Thor's temple has started to become a new reality in Iceland, his wife is also becoming one of the most popular deities of the Norse religion.

Sif became a main character of the Marvel Comics and in the movie Thor by Marvel Studios as well. Her name was also used to name a volcano on the planet Venus – the Sif Mons.

Artwork for the cover of Thor: Son of Asgard 3 (Jun, 2004). Art by Adi Granov. (Fair Use)

Top image: A depiction of the Norse goddess Sif. Source: Journeying to the Goddess

By Natalia Klimczak

Friday, July 14, 2017

10 Secrets About Ancient Greece That Are Rarely Recounted

Ancient Origins

The ancient Greeks have contributed so much to modern civilization, especially regarding education, philosophy, science, art, politics, and language, among other things. But, their legacy does not end there. One of the most enduring things about ancient Greece is the mythology. Zeus, Minotaur, Hercules, Achilles, Prometheus… The list is virtually endless. But, while it’s a given that most myths are fiction for the most part, have you ever wondered if there is any truth in the stories? I have, and after doing my homework, here is a list of 10 secrets about Greek mythology and Ancient Greece that have only been revealed fairly recently.

 1. The Trojan Horse Didn’t Really Exist
We are all familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse from Homer’s Odyssey, but it turns out that the legendary wooden horse that was used to sneak into Troy is indeed a myth. While there are no doubts about Troy being a real city which was really burned to the ground by the Greeks, there is no archaeological evidence to support the existence of the Trojan Horse, which is the source of the myth. It was probably inspired by the fact that most armies were using damp horse hides to protect themselves from flaming arrows during sieges.

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy.’ (Public Domain)

Although it looks impressive, there was no real Trojan Horse.

2. There is No Proof that Homer Existed
In addition to some of his biggest epics being a myth, we cannot say for sure that Homer himself existed. To be more accurate, there is no written proof about Homer ever existing - which isn’t to say for sure that he didn’t either. The problem is that Greek epics and legends were passed on orally for centuries, before someone remembered to write them down, which means it’s hard to prove that Homer had existed and written all those epics.

Frontispiece and Titlepage of a 1752 edition of Alexander's Pope's translation of The Odyssey. (Public Domain)

3. Pythagoras May Not Have Invented the Theorem Bearing His Name
 Again, there is no written evidence that Pythagoras came up with his famous equation. But, there is evidence that the Babylonians were using the theorem to do calculations a few centuries before. Pythagoras was a brilliant mathematician nonetheless and was the first one to use ratios in order to explain music intervals.

Old Babylonian clay tablet (known as Plimpton 322) stores combination of primitive Pythagorean triples. Babylonians knew of the ‘Pythagorean’ theorem. (Luis Teia)

4. Spartans Didn’t Use Iron as Currency
Although it fits in well with the whole Spartan mythology and their image as hardened warriors, Spartans did not actually use iron as currency. In fact, no coins were ever actually made in Sparta. Instead, they used foreign silver. Apart from that, there was no import of luxury goods into Sparta, as it would alter the way they led their lives, which consisted of rigorous training regimes, war, dieting, and of course, using laconic expressions, for which they are known the most.

‘A spartan woman giving a shield to her son’ by Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier. (Public Domain) Spartans weren’t all about iron money.

5. The Greek Alphabet Didn’t Have Just One Inventor
One of the first works that was ever written down using the Greek alphabet was the Homeric epics - dating as far back as the 8th century BC. The Greek alphabet actually used the Phoenician alphabet as a basis. The first two letters of the aforementioned alphabet were aleph and bet, hence the name. According to ancient Greeks, Palamedes was the one who invented the Greek version, but surprisingly, it was the Pythagoras who gave the letters their distinct geometrical shapes they are famous for.

Pythagoras helped shape the Greek alphabet. (CC BY SA 3.0)

 6. Greeks Started Using Money Because of Their Psyche
Needless to say, when it first appeared, money made things a lot easier. However, trade was not the reason why Greeks started using currency and coins in the 5th century BC. They did it because the idea of reciprocation and obligation to their fellow men that was deeply ingrained into their society and psyche.

454-404 BC Attica, Athens. Tetradrachm. Helmeted head of Athena right / ΑΘΕ, owl standing right; olive-sprig and crescent above. (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc./CC BY SA 3.0) Greek money came about due to reciprocity and obligation.

7. Theaters Were a Part of the Cult of Dionysus
 There is no doubt that the great Greek tragedies and comedies performed at the Acropolis were a part of the cult of Dionysus. But, there has been a lot of debate about the origins of theater itself. According to some sources, it started with the actor Thespis, because of whom we use the word “thespian”, who performed his roles standing on a cart almost a century earlier.

The half-mask over the eyes and nose identifies the figure as an actor. He wears a man's conical cap but female garments, following the Greek custom of men playing the roles of women. (Public Domain) Did Greek theater come about thanks to a man who stood on a cart?

 8. Socrates Was a Warrior before He Became a Philosopher
Even though Socrates is primarily known for his legacy as a thinker and a philosopher, he was actually an experienced warrior who survived grueling military campaigns - during which he even performed heroic acts. It was his experience in the military that made him think about life. He spent the rest of his life trying to educate his fellow Greeks and get them to think about their own lives.

Statue of Socrates – warrior turned philosopher. (C Messier/CC BY SA 4.0 )

9. The Secrets of Greek Cults Remain Secret
We've already mentioned the cult of Dionysus, but there were other cults, most notably the cult of Demeter, who was a goddess of agriculture. Not much is known about what actually went on during the ceremonies. It is speculated that the initiations involved wearing ritual clothing and worshiping different objects so that initiates would be permitted with a glimpse of the afterlife.

Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira who offers the triune wheat that is a recurring symbol of the mysteries (Public Domain) The cult of Demeter was just one mysterious group in ancient Greece.

 10. Alexander the Great Was Not That Great
We are not trying to take away anything from his military prowess, which is legendary and accurate. But, his stature was short and Alexander was not known for being disciplined. He drank and had a bad temper, and there are plenty of his companions that wound up on the receiving end of his tantrums. Later in life, he became paranoid. However, his legacy as a famous military leader remains untouched.

The meeting between Alexander and Diogenes (Public Domain) Alexander the Great was rather short, angry, paranoid, and somewhat undisciplined.

Top Image: Bust of Pythagoras. (CC BY SA 3.0), ‘The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy.’ (Public Domain), Statue of Socrates – warrior turned philosopher. (C Messier/CC BY SA 4.0), Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira (Public Domain), The meeting between Alexander and Diogenes (Public Domain), and Tetradrachm. ΑΘΕ, owl standing right; olive-sprig and crescent above. (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc./CC BY SA 3.0)

By Mia Stokes

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is this the Final Resting Place of Noah? It is Certainly One of the Contenders

Ancient Origins

The tale about a huge ship (of Biblical proportions) that enabled the survival of all of the species of animals around the world sounds impressive, but also quite unbelievable. Nonetheless, its builder, Noah, is one of the most popular biblical figures. Furthermore, he is an important prophet in Islam. Although his story, perhaps inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, has existed for thousands of years and is known by billions of people, the place of Noah’s burial remains unknown.

 Around the world, people in their first years of life learn the story of a man who saved many people and animal species from death under the waters that came with a horrible flood. The ‘Ark’ story, known since ancient times, became so popular that it is a world-famous myth known in most of the cultures long before its iteration as part of the Bible. However, most of the stories related to Noah are nothing more than oral history.

Noah's ark on the Mount Ararat, Simon de Myle, 1570. (Public Domain)

A Sailor Named Noah
Apart from the biblical notes and the information that comes from other descriptions of a similar flood (like the Epic of Gilgamesh), no information can provide identifying personal data about Noah. Religious people believe that Noah lived for about 950 years. This number appears among the believers of modern religions. Moreover, it is confirmed by the Bible. According to the Book of Genesis:

 ''20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 28 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29 And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.''

Sadly, there is no historical source, apart from the religious texts, which confirms this data from the biography of Noah. Moreover, through the ages dozens of researchers (some more, some less professional) have tried to prove their own ideas about the possible biography of this legendary man. One of the most credible pieces of research was accomplished by the team led by Robert D. Ballard. His goal was to explain the biblical flood in a scientific way.

From Shipwreck to Tomb: The Rival Claims The most famous story says that the famous Ark ended its voyage on the slopes of Mount Ararat, now in eastern Turkey (but for a very long time in Armenia). The importance of this claim is based on a religious issue, as Islam dominates Turkey and Armenia has always been related to Christianity. Furthermore, one of the possible tombs of Noah is located in territory contested by Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Noah's Tomb or Mausoleum in Nakhchivan, Postcard, circa 1917. (Public Domain)

 The mausoleum located in Nakhchivan is located on the land known as Kohna-gala, meaning ''Old fortress''. Many Armenians believe that this is traditionally their territory, but currently, it officially belongs to Azerbaijan. The construction was built around the 8th century AD, but could possibly be a little younger.

It was rebuilt many times and now the main building contains the remnants of the former one. Inside the burial chamber there is a column and according to the explanations presented by guides, this is the place where the relic of Noah was buried. Thus, it seems that even the locals don't see the mausoleum as the original burial place of Noah, just a temple for a relic deposit.

17th century Noah Mausoleum, Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. (Public Domain)

The Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, is a destination for the pilgrimage of millions of people every year. The average number of pilgrims is about 8 million people. It is a holy site for Muslims who follow the Shia belief (the ones who accept that Muhammad had an ancestor – Ali ibn Abi Talib). The followers of this faith believe that Ali was buried next to the legendary Adam and Noah

 There is also a folklore story in the city of Cizre in Turkey and Karak Nuh in Lebanon. The tradition from Cizre claims that it was the original burial place of Noah and his family. However, neither the Iraqi or Turkish theory can be confirmed. In the case of Lebanon, it is commonly said that it was the relics that were buried in this place.

Noah's Coffin inside Noah Mausoleum in the city of Cizre, Turkey. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Legends Are Stronger than Reality
The story about the tomb of Noah is full of mysteries. Although religious circles believe that they know the real burial place of the legendary sailor, the number of possible grave locations creates doubt in the story.

 Apart from the stories from the Middle East and other Muslim countries, there is one more legendary location to add to the confusion. In north-west Spain in Galicia there is a town named Noia. Its name comes from the biblical Noah and the coat of arms of the town has the image of the famous ark. Although historians speak with one voice that the legend has no credit in resources, the story stays a popular element of local folklore.

Top Image: Imam Ali Mosque - Shrine of: 1st Shia Imam - Ali ibn abi Talib; Prophet Adam; and Prophet Nuh (Noah). Najaf, Iraq. Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sam's historical recipe corner: fish sausages

History Extra

“The struggle is not only on land and sea; it is in your larder, your kitchen, and your dining room...” So begins the Win-the-War Cookery Book, published in 1918 as part of Britain’s food economy campaign.

 Designed to encourage people to ration food and thus bolster the war effort, the book’s ingenious (not to say bizarre!) recipes – which range from cheese herrings to fried mush – really do make the most of every single ingredient.

2 teacups-full of cooked fish (I used cod)
2 tbsp of cooked rice (I used about 5!)
 ½tsp dried herbs (I used dill)
Salt and pepper
1 small egg or 1tbsp of water or stock
Breadcrumbs, maize flour or oatmeal

Pound the skinned and boned fish until smooth, then add rice, herbs, seasoning and egg or stock. Add stock as required to moisten.

 Mix the ingredients thoroughly and form into small sausages. Roll in dried breadcrumbs, maize flour or oatmeal, and fry the coated sausages in hot oil.

 My verdict
Most fried foods tend to taste great, and so did these: not the healthiest dish but a lovely treat. I was expecting something a bit blander, but these were delicious – especially with a dollop of tartare sauce on the side. We ate the sausages for dinner and then again, cold, on a picnic at the beach – my son Dylan (below) loved them! The idea of fish sausages may seem a bit unappealing, but they are actually more like fish rissoles or croquettes.

 To get a good shape to the sausages, I wrapped them in cling film and put them in the fridge for an hour before frying them. Make sure you add enough stock to prevent them from becoming too dry.

 Difficulty: 3/10
 Time: 20 mins (add an hour for cooling them in the fridge before frying)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Step Closer to Finding the Recipe for Ancient Rome’s Rock-Solid Super-Concrete

Ancient Origins

New studies of ancient concrete could teach us more about the amazing techniques of ancient Roman engineering and the secrets behind the incredible longevity of many of their concrete harbor structures.

 The Secrets of Ancient Roman Concrete’s Incredible Longevity When famed Roman author Pliny the Elder described in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become "a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger," he clearly didn’t lie or exaggerate. Battered by sea waves for more than two thousand years, these structures are still around today while our modern buildings erode within only a few decades.

Drilling for Roman concrete samples in Tuscany, 2003. Photo Credit: J. P. Oleson

Science Alert recently reported that scientists have discovered the amazing chemistry behind this phenomenon, getting closer to revealing its long-lost recipe. From what they have noticed so far, it seems like not only was Roman concrete more durable than what we can produce today, but amazingly it gets even stronger with the passage of years.

The team of researchers led by geologist Marie Jackson from the University of Utah has been examining closely the mysteries of Roman concrete for years, and finally now they have begun mapping its crystalline structure and figuring out in detail how this ancient material becomes even more durable over time.

Modern Concrete vs Ancient Roman Concrete
 Modern concrete is usually produced by portland cement, a mixture of silica sand, limestone, clay, chalk and other ingredients blended and melted together at extremely high temperatures. However, ancient Romans didn’t create their own concrete this way. They produced it from volcanic ash, lime and seawater, taking advantage of a chemical reaction they had possibly observed in naturally cemented volcanic ash deposits called tuff rocks. Blended in with the volcanic ash mortar was more volcanic rock as aggregate, which would then continue to react with the material, ultimately making Roman cement far more durable than the modern mix could ever be.

A magnified piece of Roman concrete consisting of lime, volcanic sand, and rock (Wikimedia Commons)

Modern Technology Unlocks New Doors
During Research In a previous research project led by Jackson, the team managed to collect samples of Roman marine concrete from various ports along the Italian coast. Then the researchers mapped the samples using an electron microscope, before drilling down to an extremely high resolution with X-ray micro-diffraction and Raman spectroscopy. With the help of advanced technology they managed to distinguish all the mineral grains produced in the ancient concrete over centuries. "We can go into the tiny natural laboratories in the concrete, map the minerals that are present, the succession of the crystals that occur, and their crystallographic properties. It's been astounding what we've been able to find," Jackson said as Science Alert reports.

Caesarea Roman Concrete bath ruins (CC BY SA 3.0)

Jackson showed particular interest in the presence of aluminous tobermorite, a hardy silica-based mineral that is very rare and difficult to make in the lab, yet can be easily found in big doses when it comes to ancient Roman concrete. Apparently, aluminous tobermorite and a similar mineral called phillipsite appears to grow in the concrete thanks to the sea water splashing around it, gradually dissolving the volcanic ash within and giving it free room to develop a fortified structure from these interlocking crystals. "The Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater," Jackson says, pointing out the gigantic difference of ancient and modern concrete, which in contrast to ancient Roman concrete appears to erode as saltwater rusts the steel reinforcements and washes away the compounds that hold the material together.

Could We Replicate Roman Concrete?
So, the question Jackson and her team are called to answer is if we can produce concrete today the way Romans did and how this could benefit the modern building industry. Theoretically, we could but the sad truth is that the recipes have been lost throughout the centuries. Realistically, our only chance to recreate the marvelous ancient material is to reverse-engineer it based on what we know about its chemical properties. However, that wouldn’t be easy at all as Jackson informs us, "Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with. We don't have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made," she says as Science Alert reports, leaving a small window of hope open for the future.

An advanced concrete recipe allowed the Romans to construct magnificent structures that no builder would dare to attempt today. Source: BigStockPhoto

It would seem to us that this creation occurred by chance but the question is open as to whether the Romans worked out their long-lasting concrete recipe by design. Either way, it is a rock-solid reminder that there is still some ancient wisdom that is so far not surpassed by the modern world.

Top image: Interior of the Roman Pantheon dome, still the largest (43.4m/142.4 ft dia.) unreinforced solid concrete dome. (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas