Category Archives: Culture

In Honor of International Women’s Day

“You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoes.”

– Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist who led a women’s nonviolent peace moment to end Liberia’s civil war. With Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Gullah Bacon Corn Muffins and the Gullah Geechee Saga

Southern cuisine has deep roots in Africa. One of the most vibrant cultures contributing to the South’s identity was actually one that evolved from unintended diversity.

The Gullah Geechee is a distinct group descended from slaves brought from West Africa to the coastal areas of the South in the early 18th century.  They were instrumental in building the wealth of the southern states for decades. However, when the Civil War loomed, and fearing anti-slavery retribution, many plantation owners moved inland for safety reasons, leaving slaves to fend for themselves on the coast islands. Out of this circumstance grew the Gullah Geechee culture, one with unique community, spirituality, farming, music, crafts and cuisine.

The origins of the names are somewhat shrouded. The name Gullah is possibly a truncating of Angola and Geechee may have come from the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia, although both find linguistic similarities in African tribal languages. Gullah is associated with residents of South Carolina, while Geechee those of Georgia. They live in an area referred to as the Gullah Coast reaching from Sandy Island, South Carolina, to Amelia Island, Florida.[1]

The Gullah Geechees’ West African ancestors were selected for enslavement because of their regions’ suitability for raising crops, especially rice, indigo and cotton, that were important to the southern economy. With similar climates in the American South to those in their native lands, the slaves were exceptionally skilled at working the land, and their efforts contributed substantially to the foundational wealth of the South’s plantation industry.

The Gullah language has a singular history as what linguists call an English-based creole language. It illustrates the way slavery so profoundly altered and created its own subculture:

Creoles arise in the context of trade, colonialism, and slavery when people of diverse backgrounds are thrown together and must forge a common means of communication….In the case of Gullah, the vocabulary is largely from the English “target language,” the speech of the socially and economically dominant group; but the African “substrate languages” have altered the pronunciation of almost all the English words, influenced the grammar and sentence structure, and provided a sizable minority of the vocabulary.

The British dominated the slave trade in the 18th century…. This hybrid language served as a means of communication between British slave traders and local African traders, but it also served as a lingua franca, or common language, among Africans of different tribes. Some of the slaves taken to America must have known creole English before they left Africa, and on the plantations their speech seems to have served as a model for the other slaves.[2]

In this melting pot of African and southern influence, the Gullah Geechee created their own society, not reflecting one culture, but drawing from a need for self-identity in their own defined space. According to Gullah expert and cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, the Gullah Geechee were “artists and makers, weaving stunning sweetgrass baskets for agricultural uses and cast nets for fishing. And their spiritual beliefs, combined with the praise melodies they inspired, helped sustain and guide them through conflict and heartache.”[3]

The Gullah Geechee farmers being so highly skilled, many crops of African origin were introduced and incorporated into the dishes now known as Southern cuisine. “Southern food and Gullah food are well connected,” Robinson explains. “When people didn’t know what to call Gullah, they called it Southern. It was shrimp and grits, fried chicken, collard greens, lima beans, cornbread, biscuits, gumbo, and cabbage. It was a little of everything.”[4]

So enjoy the recipe-with-a-past below knowing it came from far overseas across centuries of time to bring homemade goodness to your table. It certainly has a history to remember.

Coffin Point Praise House, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Visit Geechee and Gullah Culture and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to explore more about the history, cuisine, music, crafts, religion and other attributes of the Gullah Geechee people, and learn how they are working to preserve, share and pass on their cherished heritage.

 

GULLAH BACON CORN MUFFINS

Recipe courtesy of Sallie Ann Robinson, Gullah Geechee – Southern Cast Iron

Cook Time 15-20 minutes

Serves: About 16

Filled with crisp, smoky bacon, these savory corn muffins are the perfect companion to any Southern supper.

Ingredients

  • 16 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2½ cups warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted butter, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 3 (6-well) cast-iron muffin pans with baking spray with flour.
  2. Chop the bacon into small pieces; reserve 3 tablespoons. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then blend in the warm milk and melted butter. Combine with the flour mixture; fold in bacon pieces, mixing all together. Spoon mixture into prepared pans until wells are about three-fourths full; sprinkle with reserved 3 tablespoons bacon.
  4. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm with butter for best taste.

 

 

[1] Geechee and Gullah Culture | New Georgia Encyclopedia (archive.org)

[2]  https://glc.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Gullah%20Language.pdf

[3] Gullah Geechee – Southern Cast Iron

[4] Ibid

Related:

https://antiquitynow.org/2015/09/02/bon-appetit-wednesday-sweet-and-easy-corn-on-the-cob/

https://antiquitynow.org/2014/06/04/bon-appetit-wednesday-grilled-butter-miso-corn/

https://antiquitynow.org/2014/02/02/super-bowl-2014-and-aztec-chocolate-caramel-popcorn-sweet-victory-all-around/

 

 

Throwback Thursday! Food on the Go, Pompeii Style

By Mosborne01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pompeii is still dishing up its surprises. In December 2020 a significant find was announced after the expansion of an excavation site of a thermopolium.  For those not familiar with Pompeian fast food, that’s an establishment, one of possibly 150 in Pompeii, that served up the best of takeaway and sit-down eats. Yes, Pompeii had its eat-as-you-go devotees as we do today.

By Jebulon – Own work, CC0

The recent excavation of the thermopolium has revealed exuberantly painted and finely detailed frescoes that have excited the archaeological world and given Pompeii another reason to be ranked among the most important of international treasures. Of particular note is that the uncovered frescos were no mere decoration adorning the walls and counter of the thermopolium. Rather, they served as menus depicting the popular dishes that could be purchased. Since many of the clientele were illiterate and from poorer populations, the pictures indicated food choices; customers merely had to point to pictures to order. To see what the excitement is all about, take a look at the colorful drawings of daily fare, including fish and fowl, here. Listen to Massimo Osanna, who is Director General of National Museums, Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, and Director of Pompeii, describe the importance of the frescoes. Then revisit our Bon Appetit Wednesday! blog for more fascinating facts on thermopolia, their status in Pompeian culture and the menus that whetted the appetites of their patrons. Finally, flaunt your culinary chops by whipping up a dish from a recipe we included for a Pompeian staple.

Thousands of years haven’t changed our love of food nor it seems the business of life. There’s always something needing to be done and not enough time to do it. As those Pompeians would attest, tempus fugit (time flies). So follow the advice that served so many, so well, two thousand years ago. If you are hungry and in a hurry, get yourself to your own 21st century version of a thermopolium, celerius quam asparagi cocunter (faster than asparagus is cooked).

Further reading:

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/dig-of-pompeii-fast-food-place-reveals-ancient-tastes/5716251.html

Happy Valentine’s Day! How the Heart Became the Shape of Love

Today, we at AntiquityNOW commemorate that most wondrous of all human emotions: Love. On past Valentine’s Days, we have explored how love enters through the eyes and nose, how the brain on love is a power to behold (Robert Palmer does a cameo in this one) and even offered up an ancient Thai rose salad recipe to enjoy on this holiday. But being the curious afficionados of ancient history we are, we wondered, where did the heart-shaped symbol originate?

Ancient silver coin from Cyrene
depicting a seed or fruit of silphium.

As where many ancient secrets begin, let’s look at nature. There are numerous plants with blossoms or leaves in the shape of the symbol we now see as a heart.  But the one in history that is most relevant, had multitudinous uses in ancient times and is an eternal mystery to the science of propagation is silphium. Also known as silphion, laserwort, or laser, it was widely used by Egyptians, Knossos Minoans, Greeks and Romans as a seasoning, medicine and perfume.  And in a cheeky irony by Mother Nature, it was also popular as an aphrodisiac and a reportedly effective contraceptive. It grew naturally around the North African city of Cyrene (founded as Greek city in 631 BCE at what is now Shahhat, Libya), and was such an important trade item that Cyrenian coins displayed its heart-shaped seed or fruit. It was documented as literally worth its weight in gold.[1] From this description, it certainly appears to be a cure-all:

It was said to have short, thick leaves, tiny yellow flowers, and bulky, vigorous roots. The sap that oozed from the silphium plant was particularly aromatic and medicinal, at least by ancient standards. The wonder drug of its day, silphium was said to cure such maladies as tooth decay, warts, dog bites, stomach ailments, coughs, leprosy, and anal growths. But it was more valued for its use as a contraceptive…more specifically as an abortifacient. Ancient medical texts all repeat the claim that a pessary made of silphium sap was effective at “purging the uterus” to “bring forth menstruation”, all clever euphemisms for drug-induced abortions. In a society that placed a high value on legitimate heirs …, silphium’s (sic) became highly sought after as the first “morning-after” pill.[2]

It’s no wonder silphium became so valued. Alas, silphium proved impossible to cultivate, and apparently became extinct, or at least that is the prevailing thought. No one can unravel why this extinction occurred, or whether some plants may still grow naturally somewhere today. For those fascinated by the cultivation of plants or drawn to historical factoids, find out what the silphium mystery has in common with Aristotle, poppies and World War I, and camas (product of a male camel and female llama).

Silphium’s popularity as an aphrodisiac and contraceptive along with its heart-shaped seed suggest a correlation with the symbol we use for love in modern times. The sexual association is found in ancient depictions of the plant’s shape with phallic and testicular imagery.[3]  And while the Romans mentioned silphium in their poetry, it is the works of Catullus that linked silphium to carnal pleasures.[4]

As compelling as the story of silphium is, there is a later explanation of the heart’s symbol, one embedded in human anatomy:

Scholars such as Pierre Vinken and Martin Kemp have argued that the symbol has its roots in the writings of Galen and the philosopher Aristotle, who described the human heart as having three chambers with a small dent in the middle. According to this theory, the heart shape may have been born when artists and scientists from the Middle Ages attempted to draw representations of ancient medical texts.[5]

With this theory in mind, let’s fast forward to the Middle Ages when the concept of romantic love found full expression in art. The earliest depiction of a heart-shaped object given as a token of love is from 1255 CE, painted in a studio in Paris:

The heart did not feature in European art until the later Middle Ages. The first illustration of a heart outside the anatomical literature occurred as late as the 13th century, in a French manuscript, written by an unknown poet and entitled Roman de la poire (Romance of the pear). This story takes its title from a scene in which the damsel offers a pear, analogous to Eve’s apple, to her sweetheart. In the tale, the suitor’s gaze is represented as an actual character called Douz Regart (Sweet Looks). In a miniature, within the calligraphic curve of a golden capital S, he is pictured kneeling before a lady and offering her the lover’s heart. The shape of this heart resembles the form of a pine cone—a shape that accords with descriptions of the heart in anatomical literature since Galen and Avicenna.[6]

So in this version of the origin of the heart shape, there is a definitive connection to romantic love.  As time went on, artists used the heart image in religious paintings and in ways showing various expressions of love. Yet it still remains the one most associated with love and with its special day of February 14th.

Love is complex and enigmatic. It can be exhilarating. It can be tragic. It’s only proper that the origins of its most visible symbol should be shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Whether 2,500 years ago, whether in 2021, it seems romance is in our natures. Don’t you just that?

 

Related

 

 

[1] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170907-the-mystery-of-the-lost-roman-herb

[2] https://insanitek.net/ancient-botanical-mystery/

[3] https://www.jstor.org/stable/4256173?seq=1

[4] Ibid

[5] Why Does the Heart Shape Symbolize Love? – HISTORY

[6] first-page-pdf (sciencedirect.com)

 

Throwback Thursday! Beer Archaeology?! Yes, please.

Travis Rupp has the coolest job. He is a self-proclaimed “beer archaeologist” and I want to hang out with him. Obviously, at AntiquityNOW, we think archaeology is pretty fascinating. Digging up ancient toilets? Sign us up. Excavating an ancient village? We’re there. Meticulously and tediously removing the dust from a single ancient coin? We’d love to help. But, not everyone finds the past so exciting. However, we’re willing to bet, nearly everyone can agree there is something amazing and fun about recreating the drinks of the past. Who doesn’t want to cheers with a Viking-inspired beer or raise a glass of “Beersheba” from ancient Israel? Check out this article from NPR for all of the delicious details about Rupp and his quest for antiquity’s most fabulous brews: Beer Archaeologists Are Reviving Ancient Ales — With Some Strange Results.

And don’t miss our very own article about ancient beer. Did you know “ancient history reveals that, as far back as 4,000 years ago (and probably further), brewing was done primarily by women?” True story. Learn more here.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Einkorn Banana Bread and the Tale of a 5,300 Year Old Mummy

For those of you who haven’t heard of einkorn wheat, you’re at least 9,500 years behind the curve. Einkorn is the world’s oldest cereal and “nature’s original wheat.”1  

The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East is aptly known as the Cradle of Civilization, an area recognized for such innovations as glass manufacturing, writing and the wheel. It’s also where agriculture first began, and the first written recording in 7,500 BCE of einkorn being planted as a domesticated crop.

Einkorn flourished as a staple crop for centuries. It was hardy and could grow in poor soil, similar to other ancient grains such as smelt and emmer.  Research shows that einkorn cultivation spread across the Middle East, Europe and into Russia. In fact, agriculture where grain production was central was one of the propelling forces that caused cities to form and great civilizations to grow as people became less nomadic. Over time einkorn evolved into a popular and versatile food that knew no social class. Even the pharaohs ate einkorn. However, during the Bronze Age einkorn production declined in favor of grains that were more prolific and easier to harvest.  But a surprising twentieth century discovery revived interest in the wheat and put the grain at the center of a 5,300 year old cold case (to employ modern crime nomenclature and, as you will see, a shameless pun).

Naturalistic reconstruction of Ötzi – South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

In September 1991 two German tourists, Helmut and Erika Simon, discovered a mummified body protruding from a melting glacier as they were hiking in the Italian Alps. Found in the Otzal Alps and dubbed Otzi the Iceman, he became the “best preserved prehistoric man discovered with his own equipment and clothing.”2. The find was remarkable for a number of reasons. He was determined to be Europe’s oldest mummy dating back to 3,300 BCE. He was in his everyday clothing carrying hunting and other tools, as opposed to being buried in a tomb with ceremonial dress and accompanying funereal objects as is so often the case with human remains. He sported visible tattoos on his body. He represents a moment in time of an ordinary life lived five millennia ago. Moreover, he is the “oldest intact human ever found. With the exception of missing toenails, all but one fingernail and an outer layer of skin, the Iceman is otherwise perfectly reserved.”3

Otzi had more secrets to give up. Scientists were able to determine his last meal. It was a serving of meat, an herb…and yes, bread made from finely ground einkorn.4

As to what caused Otzal’s death, it appears he was shot in the left shoulder with an arrow according to Swiss scientists who conducted multi-slice CT scans of the body. An artery must have been damaged and he bled to death, his body frozen until discovered centuries later. Definitely a cold case, with no culprit to be found.

It is interesting to note how in death Otzi has achieved his own kind of immortality. Otzi fever descended across the world in 1991 as word spread of this remarkable find.

After Otzi was discovered the world became caught up in Iceman mania. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and other major publications. T-shirts and jewelry were sold with his sunken eyes beaming out. Pop songs were written about him. A German astrologer announced she was writing a book about her seánces with the Iceman. Other women clamored to be the first to be impregnated with sperm from Ötzi’s testicles. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from Otzi’s bones. A company called Oxford Ancestors, for a fee, will compare your DNA with Otzi’s to see if you are related.5

Apparently, Otzi has that special something that neither time nor temperature can tamp down.

But let’s return to our discussion of einkorn. It also has a lineage that is remarkable. Due to the fact that einkorn wheat fell into disuse for centuries, the wheat itself has not been altered from its original state of 12,000 years ago. No hybrid, mutated or contaminated versions exist. Just einkorn as nature’s oldest and purest wheat. Today it claims credit for being a superfood. And there’s another bonus. Because it hasn’t been genetically altered, and due to its gluten structure that lacks certain high molecular weight glutenins that are present in other types of wheat, it is considered by some as the “good gluten.”6

So enjoy the taste of an ancient grain in the recipe that follows. As with all our Bon Appetit recipes, there is history in every bite.

1http://www.ancientgrains.com/einkorn-history-and-origin/

2 http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub362/item1496.html

3Ibid

4 https://www.einkorn.com/otzi-the-icemans-last-meal-included-einkorn-wheat-bread/

5 http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub362/item1496.html

6 https://jovialfoods.com/einkorn/a-good-gluten/

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

https://www.einkorn.com/einkorn-history/

RELATED

https://antiquitynow.org/2015/08/12/bon-appetit-wednesday-enjoy-another-ancient-grain-with-einkorn-flour-pancakes/

https://antiquitynow.org/2015/03/11/bon-appetit-wednesday-ezekiel-bread/

 

Einkorn Flour Banana Bread

Recipe courtesy of Greg Fleischaker, Greg Fly

Cook Time 2 hours, 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 medium ripe bananas
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose Einkorn
  • 1 cup whole wheat sprouted Einkorn
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and move shelf to lower middle portion of the oven.
  2. Warm the butter, almost melted, and cream with the sugar in a stand mixer while measuring out the remaining ingredients.
  3. Add the peeled ripe bananas, eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add the Einkorn wheat flour, baking soda and salt and mix thoroughly, batter should be thick but quite pourable.
  5. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  6. Place the pan into the oven and bake for about 50-60 minutes until well. browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.

Two Thousand Years and the Sexual Male: The Angst That Never Changes

Romantic scene from a mosaic (Villa at Centocelle, Rome,
20 BC–20 AD)

Sexuality. Exciting, erotic, passionate, heartbreaking. Perhaps no other human behavior is so fraught with identity, especially for men. In countless cultures throughout time, the sexual male has been idealized and his prowess pivotal in terms of his place in society. Of course, there were shifting sexual mores throughout the centuries, but male sexuality largely remained a highly prized trait regardless of culture, time or geography.  Today, with the advent of modern science and psychology, we now realize that male sexuality is weighted with conflicting emotional and societal consequences. More jarring to the traditional paradigm is the fact that male sexuality and the entitlement it bestowed are now being challenged.  We have the roles of heterosexual and LGBTQ men and women as well as non-gender conforming individuals evolving in the twenty-first century to inevitably create new paradigms of identity and new ways of relating to each other.

As we see below, however, some things haven’t changed, or at least make for interesting comparisons. Two poems, written thousands of years apart, speak to the anguish of a man facing the inescapable diminishing of years and the sexuality that defined him.

The first poem is by Philodemus of Gadara (ca. 110–ca. 30 BCE), an Epicurean philosopher and epigrammatist who, having studied in the Epicurean school at Athens when it was led by Zeno of Sidon (c. 150–c. 75 BCE), moved to Italy, probably in the 70s BCE.1 The second poem was written by David Thorpe, a modern day poet and artist living in Germany who did his own lyrical turn at the notion of male identity.

*     *     *

Already more than half the pages have been torn out of the little book of my life; Look, girl, already white hairs are sprinkled on my head,

 Announcing that the age of wisdom is drawing near.

 But still all I care about is laughing and drinking and the pleasures of the night;

 Still, in my unsatisfied heart, a fire is burning.

 Oh, Muses, my guides, write an end to it: Say, This girl, this one here,

 She is the end of your madness.

                      (AP XI.41)2

Philodemus

*     *     *

Deception

The aging playboy phenomenon or Peter Pan syndrome…

The rising sun detects the moment

of the moist track of a fallen tear

before it dries,

the feeling of frustration,

manifested

on her quivering lips, 

usurped by an affected smile  

He had played his role of Casanova,

yet youth long not his ally,

his lines though not forgotten

had lost their enchantment,

their once spontaneity  

languid on a dry tongue lingered,

his performance without applause

His eyes are witnesses

as she leaves in silence,

the closing door forgetting

to take the lingering air,

pregnant with her perfume.

A deception of the night,

or rather a self-deception

 

David Thorpe ©®

 

1 https://plato.stdu/entries/philodemus/

2 http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/McEvilley_Greek-Anthology.html

 

David Thorpe

Thorpe was born in the Yorkshire textile manufacturing town of Huddersfield, Yorkshire , England. After a career that spanned a number of industries and locations, including Venezuela and the Netherlands, he now lives in Sinsheim near Heidelberg where he writes poetry in English and Spanish and paints in oil.

“Deception” was originally published in the April 17, 2019 edition of Poetry of Spring’s Embrace.

Throwback Thursday! Ancient Advertising

When was the last time you sat through an entire commercial? Perhaps during the Super Bowl? With today’s DVR, Netflix, Hulu, etc., being forced to suffer through 3 minutes of advertising is a thing of the past. Advertisers have had to become more clever, even tricky, and some would say invasive, in order to get our attention. Now, their ads pop up on our social media feeds, web browsers and even our email. It seems we’ve dodged one type of sales pitch, only to be bombarded with dozens more! Surely this is a modern nuisance. Actually, it’s not. Check out our two part series, “How Advertising Helped Write History,” to learn all about how ancient salesmen hawked everything from olive oil to a date with a gladiator.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Shrimp Avocado Salad…Courtesy of Our Ancestral Genes

A while back we posted a holiday recipe for eggnog that explained how 7,500 years or so ago, humans in the region between the central Balkans and central Europe developed “lactase persistence.” According to a study by Professor Mark Thomas of University College London (UCL) Genetics, Evolution and Environment, “Most adults worldwide do not produce the enzyme lactase and so are unable to digest the milk sugar lactose. However, most Europeans continue to produce lactase throughout their life, a characteristic known as lactase persistence. In Europe, a single genetic change (13,910*T) is strongly associated with lactase persistence and appears to have given people with it a big survival advantage.”1

Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Fish, Chips and Pompeii’s Fast Food Thermopolia

fish and chips

Image courtesy of An Italian in My Kitchen

Nowadays fast food comes in all forms throughout the world.  A life on the go means quick fare at affordable prices. Whether hamburgers, tacos, satay, samosas, crepes or today’s recipe of fish and chips, fast food is ubiquitous.

Modern convenience? Not if you take a page from Roman culinary history.

Thermopolia (s., thermopolium) were eateries found aplenty in the Roman Empire. In fact, Pompeii boasted around 150 thermopolia. A thermopolium was an open air room with an L-shaped counter distinguished by large storage urns called dolia containing dry edibles such as nuts.  Each day the thermopolium featured different dishes available for purchase. People could select such standard victuals as “coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils and spicy wine.”1 Other fare included pizza (tomatoes were not yet brought to Europe at the time) made of cheese and onions, soups, pickles, eggs and ham.2 A tempting array of palate pleasers no doubt. And like our 21st century fast food menus, thermopolia  meals were based on their convenience and simplicity. Customers knew what to expect and would merely point to the blue plate specials they wanted. Continue reading