Category History

How the name ‘Eskimo’ originated?

The name ‘Eskimo’ comes from the language of the northern Red Indians and means ‘a person who eats raw meat’. It is an appropriate name because the Eskimos live mainly by hunting and fishing and in winter do not always cook the animals they catch.

This is because it is impossible to find any fuel for a fire in the icy waste that they inhabit. The only form of fire they have is produced by burning the oil of seals or whales in shallow, saucer-shaped lamps, made from pottery or stone. These lamps are used primarily to give light but the Eskimos can also boil their meat and fish over them. These foods are also frozen or dried.

There is another reason why the Eskimos sometimes eat raw meat: in this way they get the greatest possible nourishment. The Eskimos make up for the lack of vitamins from vegetables by eating the kidneys and liver of their prey raw. These organs have an abundant store of all the vitamins needed by the human body.


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Why the Polynesians build their huts?

In Polynesia the construction of a house is accompanied by a ceremony that combines politics with religion. The building contract has to be drawn up with the tafugas, a guild of skilled craftmen regarded as the guardians of the art of the god Tangaroa.

Once the Contract has been agreed the whole village celebrates the erection of the main pole. This part of the house symbolizes the link between the world of mankind and that of the gods. The rafters of the house are fixed to the main pole and to the poles that form the outer sections of the house. The dome-shaped roof is then placed on this framework.

Polynesians use no precision instruments and do all the building by eye. Their accuracy is amazing. Every house has an individual design reflecting the tafugas who   built it. When the house is finished the tafugas put his own special mark on the timber and the end of the job is celebrated by feasting.


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Do you know how the Pygmies set their traps?

The Pygmies who live in the dense forests of equatorial Africa are the smallest people on earth. A fully grown Pygmy man never grows to more than about 1.35 metres. The forests provide their basic needs of food, water, firewood and clothing. Their huts are made by covering a beehive shaped frame with leaves. They live in a camp for about a month and then abandon it and move on.

Pygmies are a very tough people and they are more than a match for even large animals. They make the best jungle explorers, beaters and hunters of Africa and their profound knowledge of the ways of all the animals they hunt enables them to make very clever traps to catch them.

Around their villages and in the forest the Pygmies dig deep pits in the ground. They cover the pits with twigs and branches and then with a layer of green leaves. They next place some dead leaves, moss, trufs and even termite hills to make the spot look like solid ground.

Only the Pygmy can recognise these almost invisible traps: even a cunning animal like the leopard fails to see them. The big animals of the forest are often the victims of these traps. These include elephants, buffaloes and hippopotamuses which the Pygmies could not hope to catch by any other method. As soon as an animal falls into the trap the Pygmies rush up and kill it with their spears. The meat of the animal is shared out and eaten immediately.


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How the first human communities were formed?

When the great ice sheets that covered much of the land began to retreat northwards and the climate became warmer, man was able to come out of his cave dwellings and build huts above the ground. As the ice melted it gave rise to streams and rivers. There were also new lakes to be explored. All these waters were teeming with animal life such as fish and fowl which provided a ready supply of food.

Once the ice had gone, dense forests of willow and birch sprang up. Thousands of different kinds of birds lived in the branches and they were an easy target for man to shoot down with his bow and arrow. There was a whole new world to explore.

Man becomes a woodsman, a fisherman and a wildfowler. This new life had a great influence on social relationships between people. To get the best results possible from hunting and other forms of human activity, people came together in groups and formed the first tribes. These communities then became larger as life grew more complex. It became evident that people had to live and work together as a group to carry out all the operations necessary for living.

The basic nucleus of this community was the family. There was never a lack of work for the various members of the tribe. There were trees to be felled, huts to be built or repaired, fishing nets to be made from cords obtained from dried plant fibres. The work of women was more concerned with the home. They made rugs out of tree-bark to make their homes more comfortable; they made clothes of skin, sewn with bone needles; they cleaned and gutted the fish the men caught in abundance and dried it in the Sun; they cooked meals, gathered the fruits of the earth and prepared food stores for the winter.


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When did man learned to cook his food?

When man discovered fire he acquired a mighty new weapon for he could defend himself better against animals which were terrified of this strange light that gave off heat. Man was also able to fight against the cold, light up the darkness and cook his food.

Man had always known that animals were afraid of fire, much more afraid than he was. He deducted from this that he could defend himself from even the fiercest beasts with fire. So he began to put burning torches at the entrance to his cave dwelling. These torches were kept burning throughout the night.

Until that time man had fed on raw meat. He probably first tasted cooked meat when a forest fire had trapped animals and burned them to death. He then learned that meat cooked by fire was more tender and manageable to eat as well as being tastier and easier to digest. In this way cooking by fire gradually spread from tribe to tribe.


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How bread was first made?

When primitive man came to know grain he valued it greatly because it could be kept even during winter, when food was usually scarce. But those little hard grains were no good to young children or to old people without teeth. Some mother, perhaps, thought she would try and mash them up into softer form to give to her baby. In this way she produced a rough sort of flour and discovered how to grind flour from grain.

The woman used barley or wheat flour to make small pancakes which they dried in the sun. They then learned how to place which they dried in the sun. They then learned how to place pancakes on top of hot stones or in the embers of a fire. They discovered that the dough was much nicer to eat when it had been toasted and this was how bread was born. The men who went hunting by now were taking along these rough pieces of bread with them.

The first good pictures of primitive baking come from the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. They show all stages of bread-making, from the removal of grain from the granary, the grinding on stones and subsequent sifting, to the mixing and kneading of the dough and the baking of the bread in large pots.

Man also learned to till the soil better: he sowed wheat and cultivated it carefully. Later man learned to prepare the soil with a plough pulled by animals instead of scratching it with a stick, and so the grain grew even better.


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In what way the ancient Romans practised their religion?

In the social and political life of ancient Rome no important action was taken unless the gods were first consulted. War was not declared, a building was not opened nor a magistrate appointed unless certain sacrifices had first been offered to the gods and the gods had found these acceptable.

Rome had numerous temples, many of them near the Forum, and the link between ordinary life and religion was very close. Temples sometimes acted as government offices to keep money in: in the temple of Satum the public treasury was stored together with documents and war regalia.

Other famous Roman temples included that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, of Vesta, Juno, Castor and Pollux, Venus, Janus and the Pantheon, the temple dedicated to all the gods.


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Do you know the way the people of Assyria and Babylonia wrote?

The people of Mesopotamia, that is the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, created a system of writing that was quite different from that used in Egypt. The difference was because the people of Mesopotamia used clay to write on instead of papyrus as in Egypt.

It is difficult to make curved lines on clay with a stylus so the Mesopotamians invented a handwriting based on straight lines that resembled nails or wedges. For this reason, their handwriting was known as ‘cuneiform’, a word meaning ‘wedge-shaped’. Cuneiform was later used on other materials, such as stone or metal. This writing was ideographic, as in Egypt and used pictures instead of words.


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By whom and how justice was administered in Babylonia?

We know exactly all the 282 laws in which King Hammurabi included the entire legal traditions of his day because they were found on a stele (stone slab) discovered at Susa in 1901 and now preserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The laws were written on the slab in a writing known as cuneiform. The slab also has a fine piece of sculpture depicting Samas, the god of justice, looking into the eyes of king Hammurabi as if to inspire him.

Babylonian society was divided into three distinct classes: the patricians, the plebeians, and the slaves. Justice depended on the class to which a person belonged. For example, an article in Hammurabi’s legal code said: ‘If a patrician, one of his eyes also shall be taken. If he breaks the bone of another patrician, one of his bones too shall be broken.’

If, however, the person hurt was a plebeian, matters were different. The law said: ‘If a patrician takes the eye or breaks a bone of a plebeian, he will pay a mine of silver.’ Of course, the penalty was smaller if a slave was involved. These laws seem very unfair to us today but the penalties inflicted are midway between the brutality of the Assyrian laws and the comparative lenience of the Hittites. We must remember that in the social conditions of Hammurabi’s day such laws were needed to curb the vices and passions of the Babylonians.

Hammurabi died but his dynasty, or family, continued to rule for another 150 years although it never reached the same peak of glory as it had in his day.


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How the Etruscans practised their religion?

The Etruscans were a very religious people. Their chief gods were Tinia, Uni, Minrva, the trio worshipped by the ancient Romans later under the names of Jove, Juno and Minerva. Only some of the Etruscan gods had the power to launch thunderbolts. Tinia was one of the more powerful of the divinities.

Religious ceremonies were conducted by priests who formed a very powerful class in Etruscan society. These priests were the only persons permitted to divine or guess the will of the gods and to tell the future. They did this in various ways: by bird watching; by observing lightening and other weather phenomena; and the ebbing and flowing of streams.

Of all the entrails the liver was studied with the greatest care. A bronze model of a liver found at the city of Piacenza is divided into forty-five areas, each with the name of a presiding deity written in it. The priests who studied birds traced the will of the gods from the way birds flew, cried and ate. The signs seen by these priests were known as auguries which could be either good or bad.

The Etruscan religion comprised a complicated set of beliefs and ceremonies for every act in public life. The laws relating to the foundation of a city were particularly strict.

The Etruscan believed, especially in their early days, that when they died they passed on to another life similar to the one in this world. They provided the dead with many objects of everyday life and the statues on their tombs depict people sitting at table with guests or playing music, singing or even hunting.


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