Saturday, June 10, 2006

Machu Picchu: How They Kept the Secret

Machu Picchu: How They Kept the Secret. This site features an Incan expert who explores the riddle of how the center of Inca culture was hidden from Spanish conquistadores.

Wikipedia notes that Machu Pichu is a "well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located on a high mountain ridge, at an elevation of about 2,350 m (7,710 ft). Machu Picchu is located above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cusco. Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, although not by locals, it was brought back to international attention by Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham who rediscovered it in 1911, and wrote a best-selling work about it. Peru is pursuing legal efforts to get back thousands of artifacts that Bingham removed from the site."

I find it amazing that such an important location in South America remained undiscovered so long. The Spanish were quite good at plundering Incan lands. It is fortunate that Machu Picchu survived intact allowing for modern day study.

From the site:

How'd they do it? It's hard to understand from our knowledge of Greek, Egyptian and other early civilizations with written records how such a magnificent site could not have been discovered by the Spanish. Yet until its discovery in the 1911, Machu Picchu,"the lost city of the Incas", remained forgotten for 400 years.

Actually, Machu Picchu was not a city at all. It was probably built by Pachacuti Inca as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70. Its location — on a remote secondary road in nearly impassable terrain high above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest — almost ensured that it would have no administrative, commercial or military use. Any movement in that direction to or from Cusco and the Sacred valley upriver would have been by other Inca roads, either the high road near Salcantay or by the Lucumayo valley road. Travel was restricted on these roads except by Inca decree.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Problems with Blogger?

I have had difficulty the last two days in accessing Blogger. In fact, I have made two posts which were "eaten" by Blogger and vanished. I have recreated one and republished it. It is the one that deals with punishment in pre-revolutionary America.

I also have had no comment submissions in the last several days. I usually have several a day although due to spamming I usually only approve 10% of suggested comments. If you made a real comment not related to promoting a website in the last few days, please resubmit.

I hope this is fixed soon...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Curious Punishments of Bygone Days

Curious Punishments of Bygone Days. This was written in 1896 by social historian Alice Morse Earle and illustrated by Franz Hazenplug. It covers Colonial American punishments. The full text and illustrations are presented here at this site.

Chapters of the book include The Ducking Stool, The Stocks, The Pillory, The Whipping Post, and The Scarlet Letter.

I am certainly grateful that I will not be targeted for punishment as was the practice in colonial days. It seems awful brutal. Those whippings in particular seemed inhumane. However, given a choice, I would probably pick a bad beating over several years in prison any day. There were social and economic benefits to quick and cheap punishment.

From the site:

As a good, sound British institution, and to have familiar home-like surroundings in the new strange land, the whipping-post was promptly set up, and the whip set at work in all the American colonies. In the orders sent over from England for the restraint of the first settlement at Salem, whipping was enjoined, "as correcçon is ordaned for the fooles back" -- and fools' backs soon were found for the "correcçon"; tawny skins and white shared alike in punishment, as both Indians and white men were partakers in crime. Scourgings were sometimes given on Sabbath days and often on lecture days, to the vast content and edification of Salem folk.

The whipping-post was speedily in full force in Boston. At the session of the court held November 30, 1630, one man was sentenced to be whipped for stealing a loaf of bread; another for shooting fowl on the Sabbath, another for swearing, another for leaving a boat "without a pylott." Then we read of John Pease that for "stryking his mother and deryding her he shalbe whipt."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ancient rock art may depict exploding star

Ancient rock art may depict exploding star. I found this article today by Ker Than at It deals with some Native American art which may be a record of a supernova that was visible from Earth in 1006. Than wrote, "A rock carving discovered in Arizona might depict an ancient star explosion seen by Native Americans a thousand years ago, scientists announced today."

What caught my attention was this. Than wrote, "Although nearly invisible today, the supernova of 1006, or SN 1006, was perhaps the brightest stellar event ever to occur in recorded human history. At its peak, the supernova was about the quarter the brightness of the moon, so radiant that people could have read by its light at midnight, scientists say."

In the early eleventh century, people all over the world saw this very visible supernova in the sky for a period of two years. Chinese, European, and African astronomers all have left accounts of the supernova. I am sure that it left many trying to find a reason for the new star. Wikipedia reports that Chinese astrologer Chou K'o-ming interpreted for the emperor that the star was actually an "auspicious star."

There have been no observed supernovas in the Milky Way Galaxy since 1604. That was the last time the average resident of Earth without a telescope would have been able to detect a supernova in the sky. Although people today are more knowledgeable about astronomy, I still bet many would read evil omens into the appearance of a supernova star in the night sky. Despite this, I would not mind seeing one. It would be exciting and could even help connect us in a small way with the people who witnessed the 1006 supernova.

The art above is by Tunç Tezel. It shows how he envisioned the supernova looked in the night sky over Turkey. Unlike most images I use at this site, this one is not in the public domain. However, I am linking the picture directly from a US federal government site which does have permission to use it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Battle of Cannae

One of the most devastating battle losses in history happened in 216 BC. The Roman Republic suffered a huge military defeat at the hands of Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

The Encyclopadiea Britannica notes of the battle, "The Romans, with 80,000 men, met the 50,000 Carthaginian and allied African, Gallic, and Spanish troops under Hannibal's command and were crushed by them. Hannibal's troops gradually surrounded their foes and annihilated them in a classic example of the double envelopment maneuver. Roman losses exceeded 65,000 men, while the Carthaginians lost only about 6,000."

What is shocking about this battle is the high number of losses. The Romans lost over 70,000 men. The Carthaginians lost over 6,000 men. All of the losses happened on the same day. This makes this battle one of the bloodiest in world history. Fatalities at this level would not be seen again until World War One.

Wikipedia noted, "The total number of lives lost surpasses the number of servicemen killed in the Royal Air Force throughout the First and Second World Wars. More men were killed at Cannae than in all the four months of the Battle of Passchendaele, which is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War One. So devastating were these losses, that the total number of casualties represents just under one third of the total number of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in four years of fighting during the Second World War. In fact, the losses suffered within a single day on the battlefield of Cannae (no larger than a few square miles), would not be equaled until the first day of fighting on the Somme in 1916 and which took place on a 25-mile front nearly 2,000 years later."

The loss almost shattered the Roman Republic. Many of Rome's allies in southern Italy declared for Carthage. King Philip V of Macedonia took advantage of the Roman situation to begin the First Macedonian War. Many Romans considered Rome doomed and fled Italy.

Rome survived and won the war. Eventually, after the Third Punic War, Carthage was razed. However, history almost took a very different course. What if Hannibal had followed up his win with a siege of Rome? He didn't do this due to a lack of siege equipment but if he had he may have won anyway. There would have been no Roman Empire and Carthage would have ruled the world instead.

The Battle of Cannae was a major event in the history of the Roman Republic. It defined an entire generation of Romans. Everyone knew someone who died at the battle. I imagine that people talked about where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the Battle of Cannae. The death of so many Roman men must have seriously disrupted the government, the economy, and the ability of the Romans to continue the war.

Here are some additional links with more information:

Battle of Cannae from Wikipedia
Battle of Cannae from
Ancient History Sourcebook: Polybius (c.200-after 118 BCE): The Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE
Punic Wars - Battle of Cannae 216 BC