We at AntiquityNOW are always on the prowl for ancient and modern connections that prove the past is never really behind us. So it is the case with food and the many different cuisines that have stood the test of time.
It’s Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a holiday of remembrance and a symbol of Jewish identity, history, resistance and freedom. Celebrated around the world, the holiday also has its own cultural variations, especially in foods.
Today we’re bringing you once again a recipe for a traditional Sephardic Hanukkah food, sfenj. This yeast doughnut, often dipped in sugar or honey, originated with Sephardic Jews, particularly those who trace their roots back to Morocco. The “Moroccan doughnut” is often eaten for Hanukkah for a very special reason: Sfenj are fried in oil, which commemorates the Hanukkah miracle where the oil that was supposed to light the lamp in the Temple in Jerusalem for one day endured for eight.
Sfenj are a delectable way of celebrating the miracle of this Jewish holiday. Whatever our background or religion, doughnut lovers can learn more about sfenj and enjoy making this festive recipe here.
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. 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.
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.
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.
As news broke this week that Nimrud had been recaptured from ISIS, the world held its breath as the extent of the destruction began to be revealed. So much has been lost and though ISIS is being driven out of many of its strongholds, they continue to systematically destroy cultural heritage.
In this terrifying and heartbreaking time, we wanted to republish a previous blog post that highlights the good that is being done to protect the world’s cultural heritage every day. In the exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener, co-Founder and Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), speaks to Global Heritage Fund’s Executive Director Stefaan Poortman about the importance of cultural heritage and what the Global Heritage Fund has done to save the world’s cultural treasures.
AHE is a resource partner for AntiquityNOW’s The Slavery Project (TSP), a series of curricula for high school students looking at the long and inglorious history of slavery. This interview with Global Heritage Fund was published on Ancient History Encyclopedia’s website in August 2015. It is reprinted with permission of both parties.
Tonight, the world will watch as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad open in Rio. In the opening ceremony, we will enjoy stunning displays of modern technology and in the games that follow we’ll witness fascinating feats of modern sport. It is incredible to see how far we’ve come in our athletic pursuits, but it is important to remember when all of this began. Check out our posts below on the history of the Olympics and get ready to watch the world unite in Rio!
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a month of prayer and fasting, began last week and ends on July 5th. If you are observing Ramadan, you know that planning the Iftar and Suhur meals is key. While Ramadan has ancient roots, today many households are mixing their modern habits into the month. Health is a top priority for many families. Perhaps this year you’re trying to be a bit healthier in your observance and plan meals that are delicious and nutritious. It is important for these meals to provide all of the nutrition you need for the long days of fasting. For a list of healthy ideas, check out Nestle Family’s Healthy Ramadan Recipes.
And for a history of Ramadan as well as some ancient ingredients and recipes, look no further than our AntiquityNOW Ramadan posts below. Don’t miss the bonus post about the ways in which professional athletes observe Ramadan.
May is a month of celebration for us at AntiquityNOW. This is the time we commemorate how the past is not as distant as we may think.
Here’s how we’ve previously described why we take a month each year to give special attention to the past:
During May we celebrate all things ancient, with a modern twist. From 2,000 year old nanotechnology to today’s supercomputers, from earliest chanted rituals to electronic bloviations, the arc of human history has been, shall we say, complicated. As sentient beings, we have constructed marvels in word and deed. We have also destroyed and obliterated that which we don’t understand and those we choose not to recognize. We strut, preen, cogitate, ruminate—we make an altogether spectacular tragicomedy as we shuffle along this mortal coil. Humans are a confounding lot who often are doomed to repeat the very histories we disregard. Here lies the fascination with looking to the past as it reflects our very modern sense of self.