History

Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Compact in size yet complex in the scenes they depict, stone cylinders—many no larger than your thumb—were a popular medium for Mesopotamian artisans talented enough to reverse-carve semiprecious stones and produce unique, often mythological tableaux in astonishingly sensitive, naturalistic detail. Their craft gave each seal’s owner a personalized graphic signature for use with the most popular media channel of the third millennium BCE: damp clay. Seal impressions certified ownership, validated origins, attested to debts, secured against theft and more. Many seal cylinders were drilled so they could be strung and carried as amulets and status symbols—uses that may find echoes among today’s compact, personalized communication devices.
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The 1001 Tales of Hanna Diyab

The 1001 Tales of Hanna Diyab

Thanks to recently published translations of a Syrian storyteller’s handwritten travelog, we now know that it was conversations between him and a French writer that laid the foundations for the final four volumes of the most-famous fabulation ever published in Europe.
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Could Phoenicians Have Crossed the Atlantic?

Could Phoenicians Have Crossed the Atlantic?

Two thousand years before Columbus and 1,500 before Erikson, the Phoenician maritime empire covered the Mediterranean and west to the Canary Islands. In 2019 a replica Phoenician ship set its sail to find out if they could have gone farther.

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Preserving Arabia’s Bedouin Poetry

Preserving Arabia’s Bedouin Poetry

Throughout central Saudi Arabia, Bedouin tribal histories and folklore lie largely in oral poetry known as Nabati. In 1989, diplomat and linguist Marcel Kurpershoek set out to meet poets and record their verses. It became a lifetime project that continues to illuminate roots of the Arabic language and Arabian Peninsula cultures.

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The Liverpool Effect

The Liverpool Effect

Around the turn of the 20th century, an acrobat from Morocco named Achmed Ben Ibrahim settled near the thriving port of Liverpool, UK. Forgotten until the recent discovery of his 1906 tombstone, his story foreshadows the cultural impacts of the city’s most famous 21st-century resident—Egyptian soccer star Mohammed “Mo” Salah.

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The Quest for Blue

The Quest for Blue

Rare in nature and difficult to extract from minerals, blue eluded artisans for centuries until Egyptians invented the world’s first synthetic pigment. Formulas for blues from cobalt and indigo followed, and the results have delighted our eyes and evoked the sacred, the royal, the opulent and the mysterious ever since. And the quest is not over.
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Shanidar Cave Yields New Signs of Neanderthal Emotions

Shanidar Cave Yields New Signs of Neanderthal Emotions

Traces of flowers in a Neanderthal grave found 45 years ago in northern Iraq led to a theory that even the earliest humans may have expressed emotions in ritual. In 2016 archeologists returned: Could new finds lend support to the theory, or not?
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Hi Jolly – Uncle Sam’s Camel Captain

Hi Jolly – Uncle Sam’s Camel Captain

As a young man in Ottoman Turkey, Hadji Ali became an expert camel handler. In 1857 he accepted the US Army’s offer to assist its deployment of camels in the southwestern deserts, where his name was Americanized to “Hi Jolly.” His skills proved valuable, and yet he died penniless. Today his memory endures in legend as much as in fact—and on one miniature pyramid in Arizona.
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The Westward Journeys of Buttons

The Westward Journeys of Buttons

We all use them. Most fasten; some decorate. A search for origins points toward the Indus Valley and China. By the Middle Ages, buttons reached Europe along with other garment techniques and fashion influences from lands east. Their stories are as interwoven as the textiles they make possible and as varied as their infinite designs.
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