Tag Archives: history

Tattoos and the Body as Canvas

celtic knot tattooToday one in five Americans have tattoos. [1] For some, tattoos are extremely personal, displaying portraits of lost family members, symbols of religion and community, or artwork.  Others will often sport designs that they believe lend a certain aura to their personality.  On the other hand, take the case of Carol Lustig. The Celtic knot tattoo on her shoulder would seem to be a reminder of her Celtic heritage. Instead, Lustig states: “I chose the design off the wall. A million people could have that same tattoo.” [2] Continue reading

It’s the Power of Love: St. Valentine and the Romantic Brain

valentine stitchIt’s Valentine’s Day.  Moonlight and roses, chocolate and Hallmark cards… ahhh, the power of love.  But why do we love?  What is that irresistible draw to the heart and soul of another human being?

For such a popular holiday, Valentine’s Day is marked by an interesting historical fact—we’re not really sure of its true origins.  The actual St. Valentine is a martyred figure associated with three stories from the early Christian Church.   In one, St. Valentine was a Christian priest thrown into a Roman prison for preaching his beliefs.  On February 14, he was beheaded not only for disputing Roman deities but also for allegedly curing the jailer’s daughter of blindness—a miracle not looked kindly upon by the Romans trying to suppress the upstart religion.  His farewell letter to the jailer’s daughter, signed “From your Valentine,” and the letters he received and sent from jail to the friends who cared for him supposedly began the exchange of notes of affection for this holiday. Continue reading

This History in our Language: Idioms from Ancient Times, Part 1

apple of eyeIt’s no secret that English is heavily influenced by Latin and Ancient Greek – especially if you’ve ever had to study vocab for the SATs – but it might surprise you to know that many of our current idioms have been around since ancient times.  Idioms usually form based around the culture that speaks the language, yet the English language has several idioms that come from antiquity.  They are a testament to how relevant history is to our lives today, and how we’re not so dissimilar to our ancient ancestors. Continue reading

Super Bowl XLVII and the Superstars of Ancient Rome

Detail of the Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic, 4th century CE

Detail of the Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic, 4th century CE

The stadium is hot, packed with roaring fans ready to cheer for their favorite players.  Above the din, vendors are screaming out what foods and souvenirs are for sale.  The city is festooned with colorful advertisements sporting muscle-bound celebrities endorsing the latest products.  Super Bowl 2013?  Think again.   It’s actually ancient Rome.  As the doors open, the gladiators emerge, boldly strutting onto the field for the day’s games.   The crowd goes wild, Roman BCE-style. Continue reading

Suffering the Flu? Be Happy It Isn’t the Plague!

fluThis is the worst flu season since 2010, and we haven’t even hit the official peak of the season, which is typically in February.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is calling the outbreak an epidemic. According to Curtis Allen, spokesperson for the CDC, “When the H3N2 virus circulates, we tend to have a more severe season. It can cause more hospitalizations and kill more people ages 65 and over.” In fact, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency and ABC named Boston a “city under flu crisis.” Continue reading

Wall Posts: Putting Pompeii’s Political Graffiti in a Modern Context

social media clip artDo you instantly share your amazing dinner on Instagram?  Post about your political opinion on Facebook?  Find a liked-minded community through LinkedIn? Perhaps our ancestors had similar feelings about their social networking systems.

While part of online social networking is creating an identity, the main purpose is to create connections with others and add to the conversation.   In today’s hypercaffeinated online world, we get excited if a celebrity or important organization re-tweets us. We feel part of something, connected to a person or idea that expands our sense of self. Continue reading

Looking for Natural Skin Care Tips? Ancient Chinese Empresses and Concubines Share their Recipes

1862 advertisement for Laird’s Bloom of Youth, claiming to preserve and beautify the complexion and skin. Source: Cosmetics and Skin.

1862 advertisement for Laird’s Bloom of Youth, claiming to preserve and beautify the complexion and skin. Source: Cosmetics and Skin.

Beautiful skin–we all want it.  That luminously smooth complexion that reflects youth and vitality, whatever the age.

The quest for a youthful glow goes back thousands of years and was evident in many cultures.  For example, some ancient empresses and concubines had very unusual regimes to maintain flawless complexions.  Zhang Lihua, favored concubine of Chen Shubao (553- 604), last emperor of the Chinese Chen Dynasty, used a facial mask made from egg-white and vermillion that was mixed in an eggshell and replaced back into the hen’s womb to incubate.  The resulting jelly was said to whiten skin.

While you may not want to attempt Lihua’s unique mask, many recipes from the ancient empresses and concubines can still be used today. Continue reading

Happy New Year!…Trick or Treat?

Imagine celebrating the New Year on Halloween. Ghosts, costumes, candy, parties, fortune tellers, bonfires- and champagne toasts at midnight!  Our modern Halloween was not always about trick or treating and carving pumpkins. It was influenced by numerous other traditions, including the celebration of the Celtic New Year.

Celtic Influence

Modern day offerings for the Samhain festival. Image courtesy of Avia Venefica on Flickr.

Modern day offerings for the Samhain festival. Image courtesy of Avia Venefica on Flickr.

The largest influence on our modern Halloween is Samhain: the Celtic New Year celebration that fell roughly on October 31st – November 1st.  Celts believed that on the evening of the New Year souls of the dead could return to Earth.   Continue reading

Recent Archaeological Discovery Reveals That in Antiquity Thin Was Out and “Stylishly Plump” Was In

Image courtesy Krzysztof Grzymski

Image courtesy Krzysztof Grzymski

It is resolution time! Popular culture and media are booming with ideas for weight loss– Dr. Oz’s green shakes, CNN’s stories of inspiration, The Biggest Loser’s dedication to stopping childhood obesity and countless advertisements for gym memberships. According to the website Statistic Brain, resolutions to lose weight ranked number one on a list of top resolutions in 2012 and it is safe to assume 2013 will be no different. Continue reading

Hot Chocolate: Making Kids Happy for More Than 1,000 Years!

Image courtesy of anka @ happyhangaround

Image courtesy of anka @ happyhangaround

Do you love a cup of hot chocolate with lots of sweet marshmallows? Did you know that kids just like you drank hot chocolate over a thousand years ago?

The Maya people in Northern Belize were drinking hot chocolate as far back as 600 BCE.  Although many people think that the Mayas discovered chocolate, the Olmec people who lived in Mexico from 1500-400 BCE were actually drinking a chocolate concoction even earlier. Do you enjoy your food with some extra zing? In their book The History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe describe how  the Olmec crushed the cacao beans, mixed them with water and spices, and then added chilies and herbs for a spicy drink. Or maybe you would have enjoyed some of the other things the Olmec added to their chocolate, such as honey for a sweeter drink and also flavorings from flowers and vanilla.

But guess what.  Some people say chocolate was being enjoyed even before the Olmec. In 2007, a researcher named Terry G. Powis found some leftover cocoa in ceramic dishes at the Mokaya Archeological site at Paso del la Amada, in Chiapas, Mexico. This site dates back to 1900 BCE—placing the discovery of cocoa far earlier than anyone ever imagined!

Chocolate: so many possibilities!

Mayan nobleman offering cocoa paste. Image courtesy of Yelkrokoyade,

Mayan nobleman offering cocoa paste. Image courtesy of Yelkrokoyade,

What is unique to the Mayas was the fact that chocolate was so central to their lives, and how they used chocolate in so many different ways. They served chocolate drinks at weddings and other special events, although Royal Mayas regularly drank these drinks whenever they wanted. The Mayas used cocoa beans as money so they could trade with their neighbors. Most importantly, cocoa beans were very important in their religion.  They made offerings of cocoa to their gods so they would bless their marriages, births, animals and crops. In fact, the name of the cocoa bean itself—Theobroma cacao—means, “food of the gods.”

So, how did the Maya eat their chocolate? They didn’t have Hershey’s or other kinds of candy bars like we do today. They had to harvest cocoa beans from the cacao tree, and then dry the beans for about a week, before pounding them into a paste, which was used to make several types of beverages and gruel. Cocoa by itself is very bitter, so the Maya, like the Olmec, flavored their hot chocolate with spices, chili peppers and later honey from their beehives. They never mixed the cacao bean paste with milk to make hot chocolate the way we do today. Instead, they used hot water to mix a cocoa drink that could be served hot or cold and was usually bitter.

The Maya even used chocolate as medicine. They believed that cocoa could improve your health. Today we know that cocoa powder and dark chocolate contain powerful antioxidants that build up our immune systems and can even help protect us from high blood pressure.

You can enjoy Maya hot chocolate today!

Maya hot chocolate recipes have been passed down through generations. You can find a delicious recipe here, along with several other Maya recipes including a frozen version of Maya hot chocolate. Don’t forget the marshmallows!

Download and print these fun Activities to review what you learned about chocolate!