History is like science in the sense that it is very difficult to get to the ultimate, absolute, bottom-of, truth about something. Even personal history is layered in emotion and the fallibility of memory. I began to really understand this when I was researching leprosy in medieval times for Martin of Gfenn.
Most people still have the image of hordes of lepers wandering around Europe ringing their bell or rattling their rattle rasping out “Unclean!” as they begged for food. Probably there were a few lepers out there doing this, but in reality there were never many lepers in Europe. Most of them were crusaders returning from the Holy Land where leprosy was endemic. So where did people get this idea? Sir Walter Scott AND the fact that there are a LOT of medieval buildings that were built as leper hospitals scattered across the countryside. I went into this in depth in my gripping four part series on the Medieval Leper which, to my amazement has barely been read by anybody. Go figure! 🙂
The other thing about history is the further back one looks, the less one sees. At the museum in Del Norte, to which I’m somewhat attached, the director — Louise — is always happy to have “provenance,” that is real honest to god factual information about a thing. But even ancient history is getting some of that thanks to science, Carbon 14 dating and even more exciting, DNA. Almost every day I learn something new about something old that paleo anthropologists have discovered from a couple of molars found buried in a cave in an obscure part of the world. And then, there’s this amazing thing, the reconstruction of heads based on DNA and skeletal fragments.
The first time I saw this amazing process realized was when I went to the San Diego Museum of Man to see Ötzi, the Iceman. I fell in love with Ötzi the moment he was discovered and was really happy to discover that my DNA Haplogroup is the same as his. It doesn’t matter AT ALL other than adding to the mythology that short mountain dwelling people with arthritis are an ancient band. Ötzi was comparably easy to reconstruct into a 3-D image of himself because he was frozen in a glacier and had most of his parts and his last meal intact, even after 5300 years. His entire being told a library of stories — with provenance.
23 thoughts on “Time, Time, Time”
Utterly fascinating stuff.
I love it. In another lifetime I would love to be an archeologist.
That’s some really cool technology. We’ll learn a lot about ancestry and history with DNA reconstruction. Great interesting post!
Isn’t it amazing? My bedtime story is almost always reading about some archeology coolness.
It’s the cool thing on archaeology I’ve seen in a while. I always enjoy a good history show. They used something like this to reconstruct the face of Queen Nefertiti not long ago. Fantastic!
I remember when Otzi was discovered, somewhere in the Austrian alps I believe. The poor man was not quite complete and probably a few wild animals had a nibble at certain private parts of his body. It certainly made quite an impact here. It is the first time I have seen how it might have looked in real life.
All a really amazing story.
the reconstruction of heads based on DNA–that is the most fascinating thing! Religion lessons in Catholic school had so much about lepers…like, a lot.
Lepers are a big, important (and beautiful) metaphor in Christianity. The fact that saints like St. Francis actually KISSED them made them an even bigger draw. Medieval people (before the 14th century by which time leprosy had pretty much disappeared from Europe) believed that helping a leper could insure that they (the helper) had a place in Heaven. Leper communities had alms boxes by the side of the road just for that purpose. Those people live in a life that was part allegory.
Indeed fascinating (or is it…fascinating indeed) – but found with meal intact! Now I wonder what the meal might have been. Time travel at its finest!
“…after putting the stomach contents through a battery of tests, the researchers determined the ice mummy’s final meal: dried ibex meat and fat, red deer, einkorn wheat, and traces of toxic fern. The results, published this week in the journal Current Biology, offer a stunningly detailed peek into an ancient diet and hint at possible food preparation methods.”
Wow! Amazing analysis. Perhaps it was the toxic fern that (eventually) led to his demise. Thanks for the info.
There’s a debate about how he died — but it looks like a fight of some kind. The fern is mostly toxic to sheep and goats. Ötzi is one of the most interesting things to happen in my lifetime. 🙂
Very interesting on so many levels. 🙂
That was the find of the century – everyone was talking about him! I haven’t though about that in a long time.
That is where you met Dude or Lamont at the San Diego museum, right?
Martha, you might like History Cold Case on BBC2.
I would love that show. I’ll see if I can get it. I’ve always known Dude and Lamont. I can’t explain that. One or the other or both probably killed and ate me at some point in the distant past. Or maybe we were all oak trees together.
Hopefully oak trees.
I’m with Lamont in that being an oak tree might be as good as it gets. Life feels like a storm sometimes.
He’s rarely wrong, Martha.
He’d be the first to agree. 😀
I remember visiting Bolzano just to see Oetzi. Indeed the volumes he has told us about his time!
I wish I’d thought of making that trip! He has been a truly inspiring guy and he doesn’t even know.
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