Ancient Origins Magazine

 

From the lush Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the fiery forges of Asgard, Ancient Origins Magazine scours the planet to reveal the history of the ancient world.

Discover ancient technologies, lost civilizations, and strange mysteries that still puzzle us today. Experience the power and people, the weapons and wisdom of the ancient world. With boundary-breaking research, nothing is left out!

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AO Magazine September 2021
AO Magazine September 2021

From our earliest days we have been cohabiting the planet with animals. They’ve been regarded as pets and pests, considered sacred, been sacrificed, and used for resources and labor. Animals have been integral to every aspect of our lives – we encounter them in the wild, public arenas, our homes, and of course, our art. They’ve been hunted, herded, sheltered, and loved.

In this issue we explore our complex cohabitation with animals around the world and since prehistoric times. Archaeozoologist Dr. Annie Antonites reveals how faunal remains at archaeological sites provide unique insight into the relationship between ancient people and animals. In some cases, such as the extinct dodo, we have to turn to the remains to discover the truth – it was not the dumb bird some fairy tales would suggest!

Artifacts also reveal much about a society’s perspective on different animals. For example, a mechanical dog housed in the MET shines light on one of our species’ favorite companions. While the ancient Egyptians famously revered the slinky, clever cat, and worshiped feline-headed deities, did you know they were apparently “obsessed” with their dogs too?

To discover more about the relationships between cultures and creatures, we trace the paths of elephants from battlefields to the big top, and ponder why some cultures have loved hedgehogs while others despised them. We turn to art and literature for insight too. Be it the image of a spider in a Moche temple or the colorful tales of “monsters” in the pages of Medieval bestiaries, we can see how animals have been used as symbols reflecting human beliefs throughout time. Animal trials further reveal the bizarre way animals reflected perceptions of morality and the complex relationship between man and beast in the Middle Ages.

This issue also examines the strange story of a Viking ship allegedly lost in a Californian desert, and the powerful, deadly kunoichi – female ninjas who sometimes sported poison-coated wolverine claws to assassinate their targets!

There are not enough pages to discuss all the ways we have lived with, loved, and sometimes feared animals, but this issue reveals how our relationships and thoughts on animals not only reflect our view of nature, but also the nature of humanity itself.


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AO Magazine July August 2021
AO Magazine July August 2021

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will include five new sports - baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding, and surfing. This is one of the ways these Olympics are unique, but this event also differs from others in striking ways due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

For one thing, the Olympics were postponed for a year. Another difference from past events is that fans won’t be there to cheer on their favorite athletes. Tens of thousands of athletes, support staff, and journalists are expected to attend, but spectators have been banned from the venues. While debate continues on whether sports broadcasters will try to incorporate artificial crowd noise into the games, it makes me consider the role of spectators at the Olympic Games of the past.

The ancient Olympics also knew how to draw in crowds of men (women weren’t allowed). The stadium of Olympia could contain about 45,000 spectators and that in Nemea about 40,000. If they had the means, men would travel from far and wide to watch their favorite runners, boxers, wrestlers, horse racers, and javelin throwers. But the audiences didn’t just attend because they loved sports, they also knew that the Games were a good place to network.

In-between events, merchants, fortune-tellers, jugglers, and many others conducted business. Even philosophers and writers, like the historian Herodotus, sought out the large audiences with hopes of gaining fame. Politicians of course saw the occasion as a good opportunity for political propaganda.

While spectators were undoubtedly important ever since the ancient Games, most people would agree the value of sports is more than just the number of fans cheering on athletes. Although some sports stars, such as the charioteer Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who you’ll learn about in this issue, were out for fame, many athletes are spurred on by their love of the sport more than their adoring fans and money.

In this issue we explore the origins and passion people hold for popular sports such as football, golf, and boxing all around the world. But we also cover some terrifying sports you may be less familiar with, such as buzkashi, described as “blood-drenched polo, with a headless goat as the ball.” A less intense, but equally surprising sport you’ll learn about is lava sledding in Hawaii – we have an exclusive interview with the man behind this ancient sport’s comeback.

Remember how I mentioned that women couldn’t attend the ancient Olympics where men competed? They had their own! This issue guides you through the fascinating story of the Heraean Games, one of history’s best kept secrets.

Speaking of secrets and mysteries, we also cover the legends surrounding the Cwezi – were they African demigods or possibly visitors from another planet?


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AO Magazine June 2021
AO Magazine June 2021

The German-born American architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe once said: “Architecture wrote the history of the epochs and gave them their names”. From the Classical and Hellenistic to the Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque, each era has been defined and remembered for its awe-inspiring and monumental creations.

The story of architecture is, in fact, the story of humanity. Each architectural accomplishment reflects the social, economic and technological achievements in human history, and opens a window on the priorities, ambitions, power, and vision of civilizations past.

Architecture in ancient times frequently displayed a unification between the divine and mortal world. Monuments performed important practical functions, but they also held a symbolic role, serving as a link between the earth and the heavens. In many civilizations, the creative force applied in the practice of architecture was likened to the creative force of God himself.

In this issue, we journey through time and place to explore some of the world’s most impressive constructions, from the soaring ziggurats of Mesopotamia to the unique buildings of the Ancestral Puebloans in Mule Canyon, the magnificent stepwells of ancient India, and the jaw-dropping rock-cut tombs of Lycia. We also look at some of the greatest architectural tragedies – the burning of Notre-Dame de Paris and the destruction of Palmyra at the hands of terrorists– and examine latest progress to rebuild, revive, or simply remember these amazing historic sites.

While skyscrapers, suspension bridges, and now 3D-printed buildings are marvels of modern engineering, the key pioneering moments in architectural history have left a lasting impact on our buildings to his day, and have changed the shape of architecture for all time.


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AO Magazine April-May 2021
AO Magazine April-May 2021

On January 9, 1493, Christopher Columbus was sailing in the Caribbean Sea when he reported seeing three mermaids rise out of the sea. Writing in his ship log, he revealed that they were not as beautiful as typically depicted in paintings, but that they did have a human face. 

Columbus’ report was not particularly unusual for his era. In centuries past, the world’s oceans were thought to be full of sea monsters, sirens, krakens, and other bewildering creatures. We now know that most of these cryptids, or “hidden animals”, described in the Middle Ages correspond with species that had not yet been classified by science, such as whales, walruses, and giant squids.

Sadly, Columbus had not seen mermaids but most likely manatees – a marine mammal related to the elephant which, from a distance, can appear human-like; they have round heads which they can turn from side to side, their forearms bend at the elbow, and they nurse their young in the same way humans do. In fact, the scientific name for manatees is Sirenia, a name reminiscent of sirens, the mythical mermaids of ancient Greece.

It is at this collision point between the fantastical creatures of folklore and the animals not yet discovered by science, that we find the field of cryptozoology, which is dedicated to the study of animals rumored but not proven to exist. Some animals we know today, like the gorilla and platypus, were once cryptids but are now recognized by science. Others, like bigfoot, sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster continue to tempt the hopeful with the possibility of their existence.

In this issue, we delve into the curious world of cryptids, exploring what facts are behind the legends of Olgoi-Khorkhoi, the Mongolian death worm of the Gobi Desert; Camazotz, the batman of Mesoamerica; Kraken, the giant, ship-destroying sea creature of Scandinavian folklore; Unicorns, and the dinosaur-like monsters said to lurk in the depths of lakes. Of course, we could not leave out the world’s most captivating cryptid – bigfoot, and his related ‘cousins’, the yeti, yowie and sasquatch. What is behind the global phenomenon of hairy hominid sightings? We also hear from a cryptozoologist who tells us what it is really like out in the field searching for cryptids, and we leave you with the ultimate cryptid film list!  

Skeptics love to poke fun at cryptids research, but there is one thing that both cryptozoologists and scientists can agree on – there are a lot of strange creatures out there whose existence has yet to be proven.


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AO Magazine - March 2021
AO Magazine - March 2021

It was the French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) who said: "Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world". With the largest standing army on the planet, the second biggest economy and one fifth of the world's population, Napoleon’s statement has proved prophetic, as China has proceeded to shake the world to its very foundation. It is only by examining its extraordinary past that we can begin to understand this astounding rise to power.

China has one of the oldest and longest lasting civilizations in history. It also boasts the largest number of inventions that have influenced us today, including the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing. For many centuries, the sophistication of its culture, science, and technology outshined the rest of the world.  

But make no mistake, throughout four millennia of Chinese history, there were not only golden years of innovation, noble emperors, and cultured philosophers and scholars, but also centuries of unimaginable turmoil, ruthless rulers, and devastating wars.

In this issue, we look at some of the greatest splendours of ancient China, such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Leshan Giant Buddha; we spotlight its rich religious and philosophical tradition; and we highlight some of its greatest creations, like the world-famous terracotta army of the First Emperor. 

We also delve into its turbulent and checkered past, including the reign of its most tyrannical concubine turned empress, and a devastating defeat in history’s largest naval battle. 

One thing is for sure, the history of the planet's most populous country is one of the most fascinating, dramatic, and influential in the world. 


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AO Magazine - January February 2021
AO Magazine - January February 2021

There are more than six billion people on the planet that worship a god or gods in one form or another. But humanity’s belief in god has fundamentally changed. Today, most adherents of a religion believe in a benevolent, merciful, and loving god (or gods). But it was not always this way. 

In the ancient world, gods and goddesses were believed to cast their wrath and fury upon the world, bringing droughts and floods, sickness, crop failures, plagues, and endless disasters. There were, of course, benevolent deities too – protectors, providers, healers, creators, and saviors, but their favor could not always be counted on, and keeping them appeased with offerings, rituals, or sacrifice, was of utmost importance.

Religious beliefs were so intricately woven into the fabric of existence that major events, such as wars, the rise and fall of rulers, and natural disasters; and even the ordinary events of daily life, were all believed to be under the will of the gods - nothing happened on earth unless first decreed in the heavens.

In many ways, these gods of old have never truly left us. Tales of their battles, bickering and conquests have influenced the course of our language and narrative. In fact, we pay homage to them daily – every Thursday (Thor’s Day), for example, we recall the Norse god Thor, the almighty god of thunder, while in February, we recollect Februus, the Roman god of purification. Traces of these ancient gods are also found in our modern-day symbols – the caduceus of god Mercury remains a symbol of trade and commerce, while the rod of Greek god Asclepius is a symbol used by healthcare and medical practices around the world.

Not only have the ancient gods never truly disappeared, but a revival in polytheistic beliefs is stirring once more. Nordic paganism is now Iceland’s fastest-growing religion, with the construction of the first temple to Thor and Odin in over 1,000 years, and all across Europe, we are seeing a renewed interest and adherence to old pagan traditions. Will we see the rise of the ancient gods once more?


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AO Magazine - December 2020
AO Magazine - December 2020

We once attempted to solve one of history’s little mysteries – the location of some missing artifacts in Ecuador which provided evidence of contact between Mesopotamia and South America in ancient times. The search led us into hidden vaults within the Central Bank of Ecuador. Then it landed us in front of some influential religious figures, who suggested we drop the search if we wished to remain unharmed.

Some mysteries, like the missing relics in Ecuador, are not unsolved.  They are buried by a few to prevent people hearing a different story, perhaps an inconvenient truth.

Others are genuine puzzles that may never be solved, like the baffling prehistoric ‘cart ruts’ of Malta that criss-cross across the landscape like a complex network of tracks found at a busy railway station, or the meaning of a set of strange hieroglyphic symbols of the Phaistos Disc, a 3,500-year-old clay plate found in the ruins of a Minoan palace in Greece. So much time has passed since their creation that scientists and historians alike struggle to find any evidence at all to solve these ancient riddles.

In this issue, we delve into some of history’s most head-scratching conundrums, like the 12th century account of two children with green-hued skin that emerged from a field in rural England, or the tale of a man that arrived at Tokyo Airport with a passport issued by the non-existent country of Taured – are they just urban legends or is their truth behind these historic tales? 

We also turn to one of the greatest enigmas in history – the Holy Grail – the alleged cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and that Joseph of Arimathea used to collect Jesus’s blood at his crucifixion. Over the centuries, thousands of scholars have attempted to find, understand or decipher the legend of the grail, but have any of them found the answer?

While scientific advancements have turned up more mysteries from our ancient past – like traces of an ancient unknown species encoded in our DNA – they have also enabled us to solve many of history’s biggest riddles, including ancient cold cases, strange structures, undeciphered scripts, inexplicable historical accounts and mystifying ancient technology.

Join us on a journey through the great unanswered questions of our time, which continue to captivate and intrigue us to this day.


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AO Magazine - October November 2020
AO Magazine - October November 2020

For many people, mummies conjure up images of horrifying, linen-wrapped monstrosities, arms reaching out from the dark, dusty tombs in which they have emerged. Fueled by legends and pop culture, superstitions remain strong even today – opening a mummy’s tomb is sure to lead to certain death, or at the very least, a lifetime of bad luck!

But in the ancient world, mummification was an honored tradition in which the deceased was ceremonially prepared for the afterlife, often through an elaborate and highly skilled process that was imbued with deep religious significance. So successful was this mummification process, in many instances, that the stomach of the deceased may still contain the last meal they ate before death. 

To look upon a mummy is to come face to face with our past. The remains of these ancient humans provide a window into the lives, health, culture, and deaths of individuals that have long gone. Today’s scientists treat them with great care, realizing that within them can be found knowledge of times passed. But it was not always this way.

Mummies have been ground into paint, boiled down into medicines, burned as fuel, and paraded around as entertainment. They were a commodity, a curiosity and a prized relic of an ancient age – the properties of which were believed to be both mystical and powerful.

In this issue, we bring to life the unknown worlds of the long-dead - exploring the near-perfect remains of ‘incorruptible’ medieval saints, unraveling the mystery of a mummified Persian princess bearing signs of a violent death, investigating the identity of the ‘Screaming Mummy’ who met a gruesome end, and celebrating the thousands of mummies – both human and animal – that have been discovered across the world, providing deep insights into the people of our past.


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AO Magazine - September 2020
AO Magazine - September 2020

The famous American astronomer, Edwin Krupp, once said that “across the whole face of the earth, are found mysterious ruins of ancient monuments with astronomical significance... They mark the same kind of commitment that transported us to the moon and our spacecraft to the surface of Mars.”

For centuries, people have marveled at ancient structures such as the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, Newgrange, and thousands of other equally impressive sites, pondering how such immense works were undertaken, and awe-struck by the amount of effort and commitment that must have been poured into their construction.

But these sites become even more amazing when the deeper layer is revealed – astronomical alignments, symbolic layouts and representations of cosmic order embedded in the very placement of the stones. Many of these sites are not just simple monuments, but complex constructions that enshrine the remarkable achievements of ancient astronomers. They reflect a vision of mankind’s efforts to integrate culture and religion with the mysteries of the cosmos.

Archaeoastronomy draws upon archaeological evidence and mythological traditions to reveal how ancient humans perceived celestial phenomena, and how their understanding of the skies became intricately woven into their monuments and into the very fabric of their existence and daily life.

It is a ‘new’ field, having only been officially recognized since the 1970s, but in just a few decades, experts have come to learn much about these ancient astronomers and how they connected stars and stones to develop timekeeping, weather prediction, navigation, agriculture and a rich mythology and belief system, which have profoundly marked our world and our own modern understanding of astronomy.


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AO Magazine - Jul/Aug 2020
AO Magazine - Jul/Aug 2020

The ancient Maya created one of the most famous civilizations in the world. Even today, people are still astounded by their monumental city structures at sites like Uxmal, Tikal, and Chichén Itzá. We trek through these awe-inspiring Mesoamerican locations where elite priests and powerful royals managed their people and lands.

The Maya had advanced knowledge of math, astronomy, and agricultural techniques, and in this issue we look at how they applied their skills so cleverly to life. They also developed their own writing system and used the hieroglyphs to tell their factual and mythological stories on decorated temple walls, pottery, and monuments. This special July-August issue reveals some of the rich religious beliefs held by the ancient Maya to explain how humanity arrived here and what happens in the Underworld when our days are done.

This issue provides insight on some of the darker ancient Maya traditions, such as bloodletting and human sacrifice. Thankfully, those practices have been cast aside by later generations, but other, more peaceful actions, such as creating foamy chocolate drinks and caring for stingless bees, are still cherished by their descendants today.

It seems the ancient Maya people had everything going for them…but then their civilization suddenly stopped. They abandoned their most precious city centers and stopped writing about their rulers. Why the ancient Maya civilization fell is one of the greatest archaeological mysteries. So, of course we explore the most popular, science-backed beliefs about what led to their dramatic end.

While the people have left us, their stories and influence remains. Whether it is through genetic ties, curiosity, a visit to the amazing sites, or by incorporating their tasty crops into our own kitchens (tomatoes, chilies, chocolate…the list goes on), everyone has felt the impact of the ancient Maya!


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AO Magazine - June 2020
AO Magazine - June 2020

The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it all up in 1844, when he said: “We infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each individual in a course of many hundred years has contributed a stone.”

Languages are indeed a monument to our past. History is embedded in the content and structure of the 6,500+ languages spoken in the world today. Even when unwritten, language is the most powerful tool we have as humans to preserve our past knowledge, making possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.

The emergence of language, a powerful engine of intellect and creativity, was a defining moment in the evolution of modern humans. Yet, how, when and where it came into being is still unknown and has intrigued many great minds over the centuries. They are questions for which we may never hold the answers. 

The annals of history are also full of languages that have died out, cultures and societies that have come to an end, leaving no speakers at all.  As many as half of the world’s tongues are expected to be extinct by the end of this century, erasing living documents of history.  There is hope, however, as many nations are working hard to keep alive their critically endangered languages.

In this issue, we celebrate the wonder of words and explore the fascinating history of mankind’s most incredible creation. Language is, after all, at the very heart of human nature.


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AO Magazine - May 2020
Ancient Origins Magazine May 2020

In faintly preserved Paleolithic rock etchings made by early humans, in the lines of millennia-old historical texts, and among intricate illustrations of medieval manuscripts, we find displays and descriptions of all manner of strange and astonishing people, both real and unreal.  The archaeological record also yields its fair share of ‘odd bodies’ – abnormally elongated skulls, gem-encrusted teeth, bizarre hybrid burials that combine animals and humans into grotesque beasts reminiscent of the mythological chimeras of ancient cultures, and surprising artificial body parts, including peg legs with horse hooves, and a warrior knight with a dagger hand!

In this issue, we take you on a journey through the weird and wonderful world of odd bodies, odd burials, and odd people. Some are purely mythological, like the part-human, part-animal therianthropes and headless Blemmyes of medieval folklore; some are unexplained, like the stigmatics that bear the marks and wounds of Christ’s crucifixion; and others are rooted in reality. Yes, wearing dead man dentures and stretching one’s head into alien-like contortions were once in fashion!

When it comes to strange bodies of the ancient world, there is perhaps none as perplexing as that of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, ruler of Egypt’s prosperous 18th Dynasty. Represented in numerous art pieces, Akhenaten’s slender neck, long face with sharp chin, narrow, almond-shaped eyes, spindly arms, rounded thighs and buttocks, and drooping belly, have long puzzled scholars – were his features genetic or aesthetic?  Guest contributor Jonathon Perrin offers a new explanation that may solve the riddle.


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