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  • A Missing History of the Kings of the Franks in Cairo! March 9, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Missing History of the Kings of the Franks in Cairo!

    Our latest contribution to the burning library series is glimpsed, painfully briefly, in a tenth-century Arabic source. In the year 947, by the Christian calendar, the Islamic scholar Al-Mas’udi (obit 956) was rifling the shelves of a library in Cairo when he came across a suprising work. He had stumbled upon A History of the […]

    Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots? March 7, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots?

    In the Middle Ages there emerged two kinds of artificial humans into the Christian imagination: the real thing needs, unfortunately, to be dismissed with Aztec jet planes and Pharonic nuclear bombs. First there were moving statues, brass and gold figures that were somtimes found guarding treasure hordes or, what might loosely be called, fairyland. These […]

    American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent? March 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent?

    Mapmaking is often seen as a modern, even a western preoccupation. But, of course, map-making, albeit with rather different rules, has existed in other cultures from the earliest times. This is true even in hunter-gatherer societies where permanent records are slighter and more difficult to achieve. After all, the hunter-gatherer depends more on knowledge of […]

    The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book February 28, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book

    ***It took 15 hours but KR got it: for answer scroll down*** The Index Biography is a new form of biography pioneered by this blog and introduced in a previous post. The creator must find a biography of a famous individual from history, they must turn to the index and write down eight peripheral facts about […]

    The Myth of Unbloody Zagonora February 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Myth of Unbloody Zagonora

    One of the least bloody periods in the history of warfare came in early fifteenth-century Italy. The Italian city states had become a good deal less violent than a century before, and warfare was farmed out to mercenary captains, who proved themselves both greedy and all too often endearingly effete. These mercenary captains were in […]

    History and Earthquakes February 21, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    History and Earthquakes

    I’ve recently been wasting my time reading about earthquakes in British and Irish history. This does not reflect a new interest in geology, or local plate tectonics. It has rather to do with my perennial fascination for the way that historical sources are utterly unreliable and utterly skewed. When do earthquake records begin? Well, as […]

    Finns, Magic and Murder February 18, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Finns, Magic and Murder

    ***Dedicated to Leif who always gets me good Viking stories!*** There are Viking traditions dating back into the Middle Ages about the magic abilities of Finnish sorcerors (almost certainly Lapplanders). It is, though, bewildering to find a version of this belief surviving as late as the 1860s. This from a British newspaper. On Friday, Kar […]

    Review: Return of the Ancestral Gods February 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Medieval, Modern
    Review: Return of the Ancestral Gods

    When this blogger thinks ‘neo-paganism’: he conjures up images of well-meaning Wiccans dancing nude in the New Forest or Californian ‘fairies’ sitting earnestly in a circle around a lonely pine and talking gnomes. But neo-paganism is not a uniform phenomenon as Mariya Lesiv’s wonderful new book, The Return of the [Ukrainian] Ancestral Gods, shows all […]

    A Beautiful Korean Water Thief February 11, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Beautiful Korean Water Thief

    The clepsydra or water thief refers to clocks, typically used in ancient times and even the Middle Ages, that measured time through dropping water: e.g. 300 drips in an hour etc etc. By the European middle ages clepsydra were on their way out but in some other corners of the world they were continually refined […]

    A French Crusader and A Chinese Sword? February 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A French Crusader and A Chinese Sword?

    Little is known of Jean d’Alluye’s life. He belonged to the nobility of central France and he travelled to the Holy Land as a crusader in 1241 coming home three years later, 1244. Given that it will have taken him many months to get to Outremer and many months to return this was a relatively […]

    How To Create A Golden Age: Instructions for Use January 27, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    How To Create A Golden Age: Instructions for Use

    There are grey moments in history and there are black moments and, then, every so often there are wonderful conflagarations as the very paper that the past is written upon catches fire. Think the sheer brilliant evenescence of Athens in the fifth-century B.C.; Baghdad in the ninth century; or, indeed, Florence in the fourteenth and […]

    The Dragon of Dornoch? January 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Dragon of Dornoch?

    Dragons… It has been so long. The last dragon story of kinds was the serpent crown in the summer of 2012 and the last proper dragon tale was back in spring of 2012, a seventeenth-century Essex wyrm. Here, instead, is a fascinating but potentially dodgy source for a twelfth- or thirteenth-century dragon: a letter sent […]

    The Dragon’s Tail! A Continent or a Ghost? January 24, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Dragon's Tail! A Continent or a Ghost?

    La cola del dragón (the Tail of the Dragon), was a book published in 1990 by Paul Gallez (obit 2007), a Belgian/Argentinean historian. In this book Gallez alleged that a map by Martellus (obit 1496), dating to 1489 showed South America. If you are trying to understand why this should matter read the last sentence again: […]

    A Pregnant Christ?! January 23, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Pregnant Christ?!

    This beautiful mosaic is an eleventh-century work in the church of San Miniato in Florence, one of the most extraordinary religious buildings in the world. The mosaic is unusual as, though put together in central Italy, it shows, as does an accompanying mosaic outside the church, clear eastern influences. Are we to think of itinerant […]

    Pre-Columbian Trips to America? Ballast! January 19, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Pre-Columbian Trips to America? Ballast!

    Imagine the excitement of the archaeologists who had gathered at NA-57 off the Florida coast near Fernandina in 1972. In some offshore piles they had found various bits of ‘rubbish’ from European settlers: ceramics, pipes, glass fragments… Nothing special you might think. But what was unusual was the dating. British settlements began in the area in […]

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