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Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past

World News

Dateline January 1, AD 605

reprinted January 1, 2015     - - -     Volume 2 Number 1

Chalk a Lot
  Up to Good Will

Brimming with great
    trade opportunities

      illustration: turquoise
NORTH AMERICA: Teotihuacán, Mexico— Last evening, sentries intercepted and escorted to the city a string of footsore travelers who state they left their northern homeland more than four score days ago. They certainly bore the dust of a long trek. The guard has taken into keeping their spears and atlatls for the duration of the visit.

This morning at the palace, the traders presented our nobility with lavish gifts of turquoise--gems of a brighter sky-blue than any seen in our wide lands.

To show their delight and appreciation, the nobility held a chokola'j ceremony, honoring the foreigners with cups of steaming, foaming chocol'ha.

The simple northern folk found our Mayan delicacy not much to their liking, according to one member of the palace staff who was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic and spoke on condition of anonymity. One visitor appeared to have burned his tongue and two grimaced at the bitter flavor, revealing their lack of taste for fine cuisine.
illustration: parrot native to Mayan lands
  parrot native to Mayan lands
In the early afternoon, the rustic folk from the north offered more of their amazing skystone goods at the market. To the astonishment of all, they had no interest in the cacao bean exchange but asked instead for parrots.

Our local correspondent, a former fashion editor, took a dim view of their leader's garb--a brown-tone turkey-feather cloak. "How drab!" she told another member of the press. "A splash of parrot-feather reds and blues would certainly liven up the color scheme."

One enterprising merchant noted the copper ornaments worn by several of the foreigners, and smooth-talked his way into a trade of common seashells for the valuable metal. The northerner seemed pleased at the absurd exchange.

The traders say they farm beside the Yota'vayu river [San Juan River] which cuts through a massive, arid tableland. They call themselves Hopi, "the peaceful and civilized." It is expected their stay at Teotihuacán will show our guests the true measure of civilization.

In welcome to our grand city, queen of all the Mayan states, they are invited to attend a game of pitz in the eastern ballcourt this evening. One of our local pranksters showed them a rubber ball, and made as if to hand it over for closer inspection. He let it slip, and the poor Hopi dashed about in alarm as the ball bounced around their feet.
The northerners, of course, had never seen rubber before, since the rubber tree grows only in humid lowlands to the south where midday sunlight streams down from directly overhead. The cacao tree, slightly more hardy, also prefers a high sun.

We must excuse our guests for their ignorance of matters outside their realm where the sun never approaches the zenith, or so they say.

Let us raise our cups of chocol'ha to toast this new trade agreement, bartering our common Mayan shells and parrots for precious copper and turquoise from the lands of the Hopi!
illustration: cacao tree in Mayan art
     cacao tree and parrot
           in Mayan art

Culinary Insert
How to make chocol’ha:

Crack open cacao pods and scoop out the seeds. Ferment the seeds, then dry them. Toast cacao beans on your clay comal (griddle) over an open fire. Crack cacao bean shells to get at the nibs inside. Grind the nibs in your metate (stone grinder) until a stream of liquid trickles off its edge into a clay bowl. Mix that paste with water; add spices such as chili peppers, cornmeal, and dried flower petals. Heat the chocol’ha to steaming, then pour it back and forth between two bowls until it brims with a pleasing foam. Sweeten with honey or flower nectar.

   illustration: metate
        painted bowl showing                 metate used in grinding
       woman grinding cacao
  Coming on April 1: Aztec chocolatl

  four illustrations above found at:

Stone, Water, Air
An edifice to last the ages

ASIA: Zhaozhou County, Hebei Province, Sui Dynasty China

Engineer Li Chun oversaw the completion this week of the magnificent Zhaozhou Bridge. The open spandrel makes one long leap over the Xiaohe Canal, an amazing distance of thirty-two paces.

At six paces wide, the Zhaozhou Bridge allows easy passage of wagons going both directions at once.

      illustration: Zhaozhou Bridge over the Xiaohe River

Emperor Yang came in procession to view the bridge. He and his wife, Princess Xiao, borne on imperial litters, were the first to make an official crossing. At mid-span they paused to admire the graceful yet sturdy construction and the lotus-pattern decorations carved into the stonework. Soothsayers proclaimed the bridge will stand proud and firm for all eternity.

Engineer Li Chun bowed for the tenth time this morning and remarked that for many generations the Xiaohe Canal has served well for transportation in this area.

Emperor Yang saw from the crest of the bridge how useful water transport could be. Our informant, a lowly stonecarver who prostrated himself nearby, heard the emperor remark to his generals that the realm could be more easily defended if there were more canals to transport supplies to his armies. The old network could easily be expanded upon. All he needed was a few myriad laborers to toil in the digging.

Emperor Yang snapped his fingers, summoning his clerk. "A canal from my capital at Luoyang to the Yellow River," the emperor decreed, according to our informant. "To be finished by midsummer. Then begin another connecting the Yellow to the Yangtze." *

Everyone gasped. That route took thirty-two days to walk. "How many million workers will be needed for such a staggering task?" our correspondent wondered.

The informant groaned and replied, "How many of those will even survive their labors?"

* First stages of the Grand Canal.

Two Heads
Better Than One?

A slippery subject

Lake Condah,
Western Victoria
      illustration: Lake Condah area
Folk are flocking to the third southeast eel pond to see an amazing sight. Among the elvers (immature eels) brought from coastal creeks to restock the fishery was found a two-headed eel.

No one in all the Gunditjmara community has ever seen such a marvel, though one elderly woman remembers hearing her grandmother tell a similar tale from the old days.

The curiosity has been given its own shallow pond while the village elders ponder its fate. Is the creature an omen for good or for ill? The eldest plans a pigrimage to Budj Bim, High Head peak [Mount Eccles] to seek spiritual guidance on the matter.

All the fishery tenders will be wading out every night through the interconnecting ponds and canals and marshes, armed with torches and nets, scrutinizing the eel stocks, looking for any more oddities. The Gunditjmara cannot afford disruption in their eel-farming industry, the mainstay of local prosperity and civilization. Without integrity in the eel ponds, the eel-smoking shacks would sit idle and trade would soon dry up.

A group of young men have set off for Winding Creek [Dariot's Creek] where the two-headed eel was found, to see if they find anything else unusual.

Meanwhile, news of the curiosity has spread like wildfire across the wide lands beyond Budj Bim. A brisk trade is heating up as wandering folk come earlier than usual, bringing their wares of chert axes and ochre.

illustration: short-finned eel
short-finned eel

Culinary Insert: recipe for Smoked Eel

Place eel in a stone bowl and dredge it with salt. Let it sit while the sun travels one-eighth of its path across the sky.

Take eel out of salt and, using your chert-bladed knife, scrape the slime from the eel's skin. Wash off excess salt. Gut the eel from poop-slot to jaw. Wash out gut cavity. Mix a handful of salt into a bucket of water, and immerse the eel. Let it sit the length of time it takes to nurse a baby.

Hang the gutted eel to dry in a windy spot, setting a child to swat away flies.

After another eighth-pass of the sun across the sky, hang the eel in a smokehouse, and add more green wood to the fire. Smoke until done.

Tragedy in the Tunnel
The dangerous work of foggara maintenance

AFRICA: Germa, the Fezzan, southwestern Libya— Two workers were seriously injured, and several others bruised and battered, when they were swept down the canal tunnel they were laboring to unblock.
illustration: foggara schematic The underground aquaduct, known locally as the Sputtering Foggara, had suffered a roof collapse between the 13th and 14th access shafts. Water had slowed to a trickle at the outlet of the foggara where it flowed onto the fields of the oasis.

An army captain at a nearby outpost was prevailed upon to use his chariot to transport the worker with the direst injuries to healers at the baths in Garama [Germa], further west in the great Wadi al-Hayat, the Valley of Life. With a chariot team of four fleet horses, the journey should be quick enough to save the man's life-- if not slowed by the dromedary caravan that just passed by on their trek across the Sahara.

Meanwhile, as repairs go on at the site, surveyors will inspect the bricked and cemented lining of the twelve-mile tunnel leading down from the escarpment to the south.

Flow in the foggara has returned to near normal, and Garamantian farmers are busy switching irrigation gates to bring the restoring waters of the Sputtering Foggara to their fields of wheat and barley, dates and olives, grapes and cotton.

Champions on the Pampas
Midsummer Near the Strait of Magellan

SOUTH AMERICA: Patagonia, Argentina— It's midsummer on the pampas, realm of the Tehuelche ["fierce people"]. Unending high winds drive waves across the grassy landscape. The bough-and-hide summer homes of the Heron Clan once more stand in their hereditary spots high up the banks of the Murky River [Rio Turbio], in the shadow of the snow-capped cordillera.

Midsummer calls for feast and festivities. High spirits attend the gathering as the clan, seventy-five strong, celebrate the end of their spring trek along the Murky River from the coast to the mountains.
Early this morning they held a solemn moment at the sacred cliff-side where long ago the ancestors of the Tehuelche carved glyphs into the rock face. Now every succeeding generation will be able to see their heritage preserved for all time in the pale figures of big-footed humans hunting wild sheep and llama-like guanaco.
illustration: petroglyphs in Patagonia
photo taken by Marianocecowski, posted on Wikimedia Commons

This afternoon, the mood turned merry. The menfolk vied for title of champion hunter of the clan. The chieftain’s brother-in-law Cangapol won the men’s moving-target bola throw, felling the prey on his first cast in spite of the gusting winds. He received the prize of a quanaco hide painted in the traditional handprint pattern.

In the boys’ contest, thirteen-year-old Limay won a quiver of cane arrows with bone tips. The runner-up received a stone-headed mallet and right off ran around pounding the house stakes even deeper. Everyone laughed, remembering last summer when one tent-house blew away in a gale.

Dice made from the bones of the huemul deer went to the winner of the children’s round.

The chieftain’s mother-in-law, matriarch of the clan, presided over the stew cook-off. She presented to the winner (her own grand-niece) a set of birk playing cards--squares of quanaco rawhide decorated with stylized red and black herons.

The true champions of the pampas, though, will show their colors tomorrow with the first hunt of the summer season. Put in a good word for young Limay. He's still trying to persuade the elders he's skilled enough to join the hunters.

        illustration: Tehuelches in camp
    Notice the bolas hanging upper left in this fun artwork of Tehuelches in camp,
  found at:

Sporting Insert
Overheard: a wise elder teaching the youngsters...
Bolas are high-tech hunting tools made of leather and stones used to capture small game. Remember this: they are much more effective than the primitive hand-thrown stone.

The bola is usually made up of three strips of leather; two of equal length and one longer than the other two.
illustration: bolas
Stones or other weighted objects are tied to the ends of the leather strips; two of equal weight on the equal lengths and a lighter one on the longer strap.

The bola must be thrown in such a way as to allow the stones to spread out in the air evenly. If thrown correctly, the bola's straps will wrap around its target and ensnare it.
  • Hold the bola by the longer length with the lighter stone.
  • Swing the bola overhead until you have gathered enough momentum.
  • Throw the smaller stone at the target when the two larger stones are parallel to each other.
  • Follow through with your throw.

wise elder found at:

Volga Voyage
Half a Year of Rafting, by guest contributor Kriv of Ostashkov

EUROPE: Volga Drainage Basin— My tribe in the Valdei Hills had such bountiful hunting the past few years that we determined to turn it to our profit through trade. In late spring, when the river ran free again after the thaw, I set out by raft from the headwaters of the Volga River with bundles of furs--fox, bear, lynx and wolverine. My destination: the mouth of Mother Volga in the distant south.

This may seem to some a daunting endeavor, considering the stupendous length of the mother of rivers. But I grew up on the shores of Lake Seliger and have spent most of my life on the water.
The Volga, after all, is not a wild mountain stream, dashing down cliffs. She is a stately queen of the plains. If I were to ride a-horse, like many nomads I saw along the way, I could have taken a much shorter route than the twists and turns and meandering loops in which Mother Volga danced. Perhaps I shall make my return on horseback. illustration: Volga River sunset
illustration: Volga River forest I soon left behind the Valdei Hills and their myriad lakes. Dense forests of fir and pine cloaked the banks of the river, parting only for swamps and water-meadows. I saw moose from time to time, and once a boar. I yearned to leap to the hunt, but must watch idly by as my raft and I passed the tempting prey.

The river took a swing to the north. After many days drifting with the current into the northeast, I began to wonder if all the tales could be so wrong. Surely the mighty Volga could not have decided to change its flow! At last it swung around to the east-southeast for another two months.

Several days later I saw a most amazing sight on the shore: a man walking along with a large bear on a leash. I did not stay to ask questions. The bear looked quite fierce.

Later I had one whole day with the river running straight. I could afford to sit back and just watch the birch trees slide past, their branches bright with new leaves shining in the sunlight.

One day another grand river swept in from the right and spun my raft in circles. On the banks above, I could see a settlement. Children pointed and laughed as I tried to escape the eddy that held me midstream. At last I surged back into the current, and threw the rascals a wave.

After four months on the gentle Volga, I noticed the riverbank trees growing more and more sparse. Grasslands opened up, fields stretching to the far horizon.

  illustration: Forest steppe landscape on the Volga Upland
near the city of Saratov, Russia
    [Forest steppe landscape on the Volga Upland
        near the city of Saratov, Russia
    photo by Le.Loup.Gris in the Wikimedia Commons]

illustration: nomad on the steppes Another two months lazed by as the Volga widened and slowed.

I saw nomadic horsemen on the banks, many times, singly and in groups, and rarely without their weapons.

I must not have looked rich enough for them to plunder, for they let me pass in peace.
The folk here on the flat steppe-land have narrow jaws, I soon saw. Their cheekbones are flatter than I'm used to seeing among my kind, the Slavs. Most of these Khazars and Bulgars have dark hair, sometimes reddish and curly. They stare at my blond hair.

All this way, smaller rivers like branches had run into the Volga with her main trunk. Now the great river began putting out roots. It split off into many small courses running south. One talkative person who gave me a halloo from shore told me I was nearing the Caspian Sea. I had come to the lands of the Khazar empire.

Late on my second-to-last day on the Volga, I poled my raft to shore. On the stubbled fields up the bank (harvest was now over) I saw two very strange-looking wagons, with men milling about them. Soldiers, I soon realized by their manner as they obeyed orders from a man mounted on a black horse nearby. The wagons' wheels were chocked so they couldn't move, which seemed odd since they weren't on any kind of slope.

Mounted on the wagons were wooden contraptions that made no sense to me. Then everyone cleared the ground around one of the wagons except for one soldier with a large mallet. He swung at a lever protruding from one of the contraptions, then leaped swiftly backward.

Two wooden arms on the contraption snapped forward, and a gigantic arrow hurled out of the device. I stood there, awe-struck, watching the shaft fly almost out of sight.
illustration: ballista
illustration: catapult Men cheered, and gathered at the second wagon. This one had a boulder loaded onto a long shaft, shaped like a huge soup spoon.

Someone yanked a cord, and the shaft hurled the boulder into the air!

Rider spurred their horses after the monstrous dart and the boulder. I shoved my raft back into the current, with many glances back at the soldiers. I hoped they wouldn't try their target practice on me!

The next day I came ashore at a large encampment, where I learned the names of those wagon-mounted siege weapons. A ballista and a catapult, invented long ago by Greeks and Romans. I found the marketplace and set out my bundles of furs for trade.

Once I make my way back home, I must tell my kinfolk never to be so foolhardy as to launch war against the might of the Khazar empire!

But for now, back to business. Fox! Bear! Lynx pelts for sale! Trim your winter wear with wolverine! Prime pelts from the headwaters of Mother Volga!

Cumbrian Corner
Tallies and Reckoning

In place of the column on local politics intended for this slot, we are reprinting a business and inventory piece from a few years back:
Taking Stock of Livestock Using the Vigesimal Numeric System

Meanwhile, if anyone knows the whereabouts of our political columnist Ceredic the Angry, please encourage him to report in.
We fear he may have been among the number massacred at Bangor
a few months ago by Æthelfrith, King of Northumbria.

In the decimal system (one through ten before starting over), what is the number that our shepherdesses call "four score and seven"?

Does the phrase "four score and seven" ring a bell?

Using nothing but fingers and toes and a handful of pebbles, shepherds have been keeping accurate count of their livestock for countless generations.

The vigesimal number system uses base twenty, though in the example above there are number-words for only 1 through 10, and after that, they're creatively combined. This example is from Old Welsh, one branch of the Brythonic language spoken throughout Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrived.

The phrase "four score" appears in another article above, but in a setting far from British Cumbria.

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