Fascinating Finds: Myth Meets Reality

The alliteration fan in me is more than pleased to present Fascinating Finds to you this Friday. Fantastic fiction features fresh facts…with this archaeological news about a beloved legend and writing itself!

You may remember my discussion of Beowulf as the ancient bridge between oral and written stories. Ancient indeed, as the story’s composition is estimated to be from 700-750 AD, detailing events from 200 years prior. An exciting archaeological discovery made its own bridge: between fact and fantasy. Archaeologists unearthed a huge mead hall, which they believe may have been the legendary Heorot, which–SPOILER ALERT–Beowulf famously defended from the monster Grendel. Sorry for the spoiler, but since the story’s been out 1300 years now, you would probably have heard it soon enough.

This article from the Huffington Post describes the historical significance of this excavation in Lejre, the former center of culture in Denmark, located 23 miles outside of modern-day Denmark. In that article, John Niles, a former university professor and an expert on the site, remarked: “Experts have long speculated that, leaving its monsters aside, the action of that poem [Beowulf] had a real-world basis somewhere in Denmark. The recent excavations at Lejre have confirmed that surmise.” And this article from BBC History Magazine further describes how these excavations confirm hypotheses about culture (and especially feasting!) suggested in Beowulf. In this article by The Independent, UK, the author suggests that Beowulf himself was probably at least partly based on a real person (similar to the fashion of King Arthur)–and that Grendel may have been a monstrous representation of some oppressive force. Interesting; not too hard to imagine.

Going back even further, recent excavations in China uncovered one of the oldest examples of writing ever found.

Sorry Shang dynasty, you’re no longer the oldest Chinese writing. But you’re still pretty. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Huffington Post described the project. The dig at the Neolithic-era Liangzhu relic site, south of modern-day Shanghai, proved to be an unexpected treasure trove. Writing was found on more than 200 artifacts, including pottery and weapons, and it predated the earliest known Chinese written language by 1400 years–putting it at a whopping 5000 years old. However, the record-holder is still Mesopotamia, whose writing can be traced back just over 5000 years. This is so close that it’s believed the languages were an example of simultaneous discovery–that is, both languages developed independently at approximately the same time. If you’re wondering what people wrote about back then, you’re not alone. Scholars are still debating the meanings of the Chinese writing, and while the language is clearly not as elaborate as modern-day usage, the symbols are still grouped together in sentence-like formats. Check out the New York Times‘s article to see two pictures of these new-old artifacts.

Hopefully these little nuggets of literary history have sparked an exciting start to your weekend. Just remember that people may be reading about what you’ve done 5000 years from now, so make it count. 😉

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