Why Your iPhone Might Contain A Little Bit Of Ancient Egypt

It goes without saying that technology is everywhere! Just look around you: laptops, cameras, cell phones, and even electric cars! The element hiding behind all your gadgets is cobalt. It is a lusterous, silvery element that is used to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and even color TVs. And it is used for even more than this. It is essential in the production of magnets, vitamin b12, and military products.

Get this though: Ancient civilizations pioneered the large-scale consumption of cobalt long before lithium-batteries were even a thought! Who would have thunk there was a world before iPhones and laptops, right?! Believe it or not, cobalt’s production first showed up nearly 4,000 years ago!

Check out this interactive map to see more!

A piece of blue glass was the first object known to contain cobalt. It was found in Mesopotamia and dates to around 2,000 BC. This was the beginning of a long tradition of ancient glass making using cobalt! The glass is known today simply as ‘Egyptian blue glass’.

This is probably because, not too far away from Mesopotamia, Egypt became the hub of cobalt blue glass production. By the time of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty (1550 BC), Egypt became synonymous with cobalt blue glass. A glass-making factory, dating to 1250  BC, was even found!

Not only was Egypt producing its own blue glass from cobalt, but it was apparently distributing cobalt through-out the Mediterranean. Fifty percent of the glass excavated from sites in Persia and Mesopotamia source from Egypt. Even 9th century French glasses are traced back to this Egyptian source of cobalt blue glass.

Moving forward into the 14th century AD, cobalt was utilized in the Iberian Peninsula to produce signature blue-decorated ceramics. This area became an important center for blue-decorated ceramic trade. Such a homogenous style of decoration was achieved across regions that it is recognized as its own typology of pottery- Muel Type.

As time progressed, cobalt’s popularity among ancient peoples continued to grow. Some of the most treasured Chinese sculptures from the Tang dynasty were glazed with cobalt blue.

“Cobalt was a treasured commodity imported from the Middle East; it was more valuable than gold. Its use means the horse was for someone of the highest rank,” said Chinese art specialist J.J. Lally to the New York Times.

We still treasure cobalt today– we just don’t know it. But every time you turn on something battery powered, watch TV, or wonder how your hip replacement is doing, its cobalt that you can thank. And who knows, maybe your iPhone can be sourced to the famous ancient cobalt source in Egypt!

Harvesting Moon Worship

The harvest moon settled over the Northern Hemisphere last night- looking exceptionally beautiful above the Boston skyline!

If you are anything like me, that strange floating rock had some sort of impact on you. I found myself stopping mid-bike ride to stare at the orb nestled so nicely above the Boston skyline. And I wasn’t alone. Crowds flocked to admire the celestial object in all its beauty.

For centuries, people have been admiring the moon. But the moon served different purposes for ancient people than it does for us now.

 In Central America, the moon was a big deal– even 2,000 years ago.

Moon worship in Central Mexican cultures dates back to origin stories involving the sun and the moon. According to legend in Central Mexico, the creation of the Sun and the Moon took place in the central city: Teotihuacan. Here, two gods threw themselves into Creation and two suns were formed. Not needing two suns, an assembly of gods then threw a rabbit at one of the suns. This event dimmed one of the suns and created the moon.

The Maya (Classic Period: AD 250-900) creation story is a more elaborate tale, known as the Popol Vuh. But in both stories of history, the moon was created through a divine action. From this was born their reverence for the moon. The Mayans showed their respect for the moon through their worship of a moon goddess: Ix Chel.

Ix Chel was portrayed as a young woman who was so beautiful that supposedly all the gods were captivated by her. All except for one: Kinich Ahau, the Sun God. Aggravated by this, Ix Chel followed him around, thus creating the cycle of the sun and the moon.

There is a mystery though. Throughout history, there have been two depictions of Ix Chel: one as an old-woman with serpents for hair and the other as a young pale woman. Some interpretations suppose that the old Ix Chel is associated with the full moon and the young Ix Chel is associated with the crescent moon.

This dichotomy might explain all the strange happenings that come with every full moon...

The Maya also used the moon to develop a highly sophisticated calendar system. They had three different calendars in use! All of these calendars were based on one smaller unit: the lunar cycle.

The time between two successive new moons is called a lunation. The Mayan lunation cycle was between 29 and 30 days. Our recent calculations have shown their lunation cycle to equal 29.53086 days. Just for comparison: our modern lunation is known to be 29.53059 days.

There are 250 known inscriptions that depict the Mayan lunar calendar. These inscriptions shed more light on the purpose of their calculations. Each inscription provides certain information: the name of the current moon, the number of days in the lunation, how many days have already passed in the lunation, and which of the six lunation cycles the moon is in.

The oldest (known) Mayan lunar calendar was discovered in December 2012 by professor William Saturno of Boston University.

Our current calendar is called the Gregorian calendar. It is a Catholic solar calendar that was adopted in 1582. The Gregorian calendar was meant to align with the seasons and not moon cycles. However, we do continue to recognize the cycles of the moon.

The extra light provided to farmers from the harvest moon is still celebrated today. This is precisely why this time of year we are reminded of the lunar roots in our calendar system.

While the harvest moon holds less meaning to modern urbanites, it is still celebrated as a welcoming sign of Fall.

Nice to meet you!

My name is Dee Fuller and I am an Archaeology and Journalism student at Boston University. I have spent time excavating Hohokam ruins in Tucson, AZ and dedicated time at an archaeobotanical lab here in Boston. I am an insanely curious and adventurous person, which is perfect for an archaeologist. Not everyone enjoys digging through mud and dirt and then meticulously recording scientific notes, though– just as I don’t enjoy trudging through numbers and figuring out the economics behind capitalism. We each have our own place in this world!

This brings me to the point of this blog: there is a long human narrative preceding our current state! And it is this human narrative that continues to connect us all. It begins with our earliest ancestors (dating approximately 10 million years before present) and hurdles us through tumultuous cultural transitions and human migrations. The timeline is con-fus-ing.  I am not here to bore you with the details though. Instead, I am here to bring you the highlights- the finds that will connect your life now to someone else’s life in the past!

As archaeologists continue excavations and investigations, it is growing more and more evident that there is modern relevance to these ancient discoveries. As a community, we are continuously striving to draw connections between our ancient past and the way we know and live today. After all, our society today had to evolve from something else. It just turns out that it took 10,000 years of earlier civilizations for our society to emerge as it has today.

Some of the parallels between your modern lifestyle and ancient life-ways will blow your mind! Here are some modern things that archaeologists are connecting to ancient origins:

1. Cultural Traditions
2. Architecture
3. Infrastructure
4. Societal Organization
5. Tools
6. Foods (specifically plants)
7. Artistic Motifs
8. Sports!

Not only are our traditions, technologies, and lifestyles deriving from 10,000 years of progress, but these connections are becoming more and more useful in advancing our knowledge of interdisciplinary topics: medicine, manufacturing, irrigation, astronomy, and diversified crop output. The potential that archaeological discoveries can hold for our future is unlimited!

As the archaeological community searches for greater discoveries, our work takes them into remote places.  As scientists, and as people, our goal is not to overtake someone else’s property and steal their cultural goods, their heritage, and their history. Instead, archaeological investigations are intended to work with modern indigenous peoples in order to construct a more accurate and more justified discovery of our past. Unfortunately, this often results in international conflict over the rights of cultural property. I will introduce you to some recent human conflicts involving the complexity of cultural properties- in the hopes that a greater understanding can be gained of indigenous struggles instigated by our own curiosity.

Mostly, however, the journey of archaeology is full of mysteries and hilarious stories. Over the years, archaeology has been associated with brute adventure. There are a slew of movies on the market that deserve reviewing and critiquing for the sole purpose of laughing at how incorrect they are!

I invite you to adventure with me through the modern relevance of our ancient relatives. And to the readers from Boston: I promise to keep you up to date on the archaeological exhibits on display, so that you can get a first-hand look at all the fun!

Happy reading!