Banners in the Mist:
Dateline January 1, AD 605
reprinted January 1, 2015 - - - Volume 2 Number 1
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.
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.
painted bowl showing metate used in grinding
woman grinding cacao
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Notice the bolas hanging upper left in this fun artwork of Tehuelches in camp,
found at: http://galgosyotrasyerbas.blogspot.com/2013/01/gente-de-la-tierra.html
Overheard: a wise elder teaching the youngsters...
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.
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 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.
[Forest steppe landscape on the Volga Upland
near the city of Saratov, Russia
photo by Le.Loup.Gris in the Wikimedia Commons]
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.
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!
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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