What do we know about history, really? Hundreds of people devote their lives to studying this subject, but there are so many facts that sometimes it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. The same goes for historical objects – what was their true purpose and what were they used for? Historians and archaeologists have their guesses, but not all of them are right. In fact, years may pass before the purpose of this or that object becomes clear. Sometimes the truth is so far from anything we might have thought, that those findings become real sensations. For example, what do you know about King Charles I favorite earring? And what about special cups for gents with mustache? Here are 8 obscure historical objects and the secrets they hold.
Spider web hoods
Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum is home to quiet an unusual treasure – a mask from Malakula, Vanuatu. If you look past the eye-catching horn in its forehead, you’ll notice a cloth beneath it that reminds you of old felt. The truth is – it’s made of matted spider’s web! Small Malakula Island is packed with obscurities, including the traditional bounding of infant’s heads so they grow into cone-like shapes. It is also the only place in the world where the webs of Nephila, the golden orb spider, are felted together into a silky water-resistant cloth. So what were the masks used for? Some believe they were ‘smothering hoods’ used to kill off widows at their husband’s funerals, others called them ‘night caps’ or ‘caps of death’. The reality was not so sinister at all: according to Eleanor Morgan, author of Gossamer Days: Spiders, Humans and Their Threads, these masks were used during male seniority rituals in Malakula – “The longer the tail at the back of the cap, the more senior you were.”
King Charles I and his earring
Most people know Charles I as the 17th-century monarch that dismissed the English Parliament, but he was also famous for the glamorous earring he refused to part with since childhood. Charles was a fashionable man and liked all the French things, including lace collars and gorgeous broaches, so what was so special about the earring? It appears the pearl in the earring was truly huge (19 mm long) and of a rare pear shape. This thing was so precious to Charles I that he refused to take it off even during his execution! Wearing jewels was a fashionable thing to do back in the day, but King Charles surpassed all the trendsetters and kept his swagger till the very end of his life.
Ancient Romans had a taste for some really peculiar foods. Not only did they eat sow’s wombs, but they also liked their rodents to be as fat as possible. In order to make the dormice dinner-ready, special containers were used. These glirariums (enclosed animal habitats in jars) were used as temporary homes for the soon-to-be-dinner rodents. Romans put acorns, walnuts, or chestnuts inside, shut the jar’s lid shut and waited for the animal to pig out. Dormice had no other choice, really, as there was nothing to do in this dark jar other than run around a little bit and eat a lot. Once the animal was thought sufficiently chubby, it was killed and cooked for the banquet. All the fish and meet at the banquet was weighed – the heavier the meat, the richer the Romans!