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Alexander The Great – The Macedonian King

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Alexander The Great, The Macedonian King
Photo Credit: www.ancient.eu

Alexander III of Macedon is perhaps one of the most notorious figures to come out of the ancient world, for better or worse. Born in Pella in 356 BCE to the King Philip II, it seemed destined that Alexander the Great follow in the family business of military campaigns and kingdom expansion.

Because of the status achieved by Alexander and his father, the circumstances of his early life are often mired in legend. His birth was thought to be linked to a bright star over Macedonia. The author Plutarch wrote that he was born on the same night as the destruction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and that soothsayers ran about the city saying that something had been brought into the world that one day would lead to the destruction of all of Asia. Alexander himself thought he was the son of Zeus and was related thereupon to Achilles and Herakles.

In his youth, Alexander studied math, philosophy, music, writing, archery, and riding while his father King Philip was at war subduing the rest of Greece. One notable aspect of Alexander’s early life and education is that he was tutored by Aristotle at the request of the king. This tutor-student relationship developed into an earnest friendship, and the two kept up communication with one another throughout Alexander’s later life.

Alexander The Great’s Early Career

It wasn’t long before Alexander began to participate in the family business of battle. At just 18, Alexander helped the Macedonians win at the Battle of Charonea in 338, defeating the opposing Greek city states. Two years later in 336, Alexander was crowned king after Philip II’s assassination. It is at this juncture, with the Greek city states subjugated to Macedonian rule, that Alexander continued east to tackle the Persian Empire. A series of advances into Asia Minor in 334, including the sack of Baalbeck, the liberation of Ephesos, and the successful defeat of Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issos, all allowed Alexander to gain traction, support, and respect amongst his troops and people. By 332, just four years after he became king, Alexander had conquered Syria and then Egypt a year later in 331.

Alexander The Great & The East

Alexander’s campaigns pushing east are, by any respect, an incredible feat of military prowess. He followed in his father’s footsteps and wanted to overtake the Persian Empire, which was under the rule of Darius III at the time. Like at the battle of Issos, Alexander dealt a decisive blow to the Persian Empire in 331 at the Battle of Guagamela. Darius had again retreated, not able to match the massive army of Macedonians. Soon after, Darius was assassinated and Alexander proclaimed himself king of Asia.

Alexander and his army continued on, taking cities like Susa, Persepolis, Bactria, and Sogdianna. Along his routes, Alexander would rename and establish new eponymous cities. In no small part due to his Aristotlean education, Alexander generally allowed conquered cities to carry on their own customs, but he knew that his image had to be held highest amongst their own. Because of this, he adopted the title ShahanSha, meaning King of Kings, originally used by the first rulers of the Persian Empire.

Political propaganda stretched far and wide, and Alexander was increasingly adopting Persian customs. This led to a growing level of distrust amongst the Macedonian troops, while trust within the higher ranks was splintering. Assassination plots, conspiracies, and treason were no strangers to Alexander’s court.

Still, Alexander remained in control and eventually reached India, where the king submitted to Alexander’s rule, not wishing to incur his wrath and destruction in an effort of resistance. However, the Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes were not as easy, and they launched a resistance against the incoming army.

327 and 326 saw several battles, but the eventual victory went to Alexander. His army was still with him and things still looked promising for a crossing of the Ganges river, but then the troops revolted and refused to go any further. Alexander and his troops made their way back to Macedonia, stopping to reassert control on the way in areas that had become restless. By the time they got home, the army had sustained severe losses, moral was null, and trust was severely waning.

Alexander The Great After The Persian Conquest

After the regions in the east had been conquered, Alexander maintained control by placing satraps in charge as local rulers. Upon his return, though, he learned that many of these local rulers had abused their power and so Alexander had them executed. The Macedonian king made it clear that he did not just want to conquer the Persian Empire, but that he wanted to integrate it into the Macedonian network. Intermarriage between the Macedonian royal family and Persian elites, placing Persians in prominent military roles, and the merging of Persian and Macedonian military units all were attempts by Alexander to merge the two very distinct cultures.

Alexander The Great’s Death & Legacy

Alexander died on June 10th or 11th, 323, at the age of just 32, due to fever. Of course speculation persists as to whether it was fever, poison, or a number of other causes. He was to be succeeded either by “the strongest” or by Perdiccas, the friend of Alexander’s closest companion and confidante, Hephaistion. Nonetheless, Perdiccas was assassinated in 321 and the empire was split into four.

Alexander continues to be considered one of the greatest military generals of all time, accomplishing feats of campaign that hadn’t been seen up to that point. He was talented in his command, but often contradictory, choosing to uphold tradition and honour part of the time, and razing cities to the ground the other part. It should not be disregarded that the campaigns of Alexander the Great were brutal and impressive. He left a strong mark on the ancient world, and we still interact with it intimately today- just think of the half a dozen cities named Alexandria throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

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The Legendary Tower Of Babel: What Does It Mean?

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ḏḥwty, Ancient Origins

One of the many fantastic stories in the Book of Genesis is the Tower of Babel, a tall construction made in Babylonia after the Deluge. The gist of the story is: All human beings used to speak the same language. As they came to settle in Mesopotamia, they decided to build a city with a tower to reach the heavens. Through this endeavour, mankind intended to create a name for himself. God, however, had other plans. Mankind’s language was confused, and they were scattered over the earth. As a result, the city and the tower were never completed. Regardless of whether you believe this story actually took place, there are several interesting ways of looking at it.

A Literal Approach to the Tower of Babel Story

One way of approaching the story is the literal approach. If one accepts that the Tower of Babel was a historical fact, then it would be expected that some sort of remains or ruins of the tower would exist. This, however, has not been identified by archaeology. The closest candidate for the Tower of Babel may perhaps be the Etemenanki of Babylon. This was a ziggurat dedicated to Marduk, the patron god of Babylon. It has been claimed that this structure was the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Given that ziggurats were found in Mesopotamia, the setting of the story, and that they were monumental structures, it is not too difficult to see how they may have been used in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Did the Tower of Babel Exist?

In 2017, Andrew George, a professor of Babylonia at the University of London, reported that he believes he has found solid evidence for the Tower of Babel in an ancient baked tablet from the city of Babylon. The baked clay tablet shows what the ziggurat looked like, with its seven steps. It shows the king with his conical hat and staff. And below is text that describes the commissioning of the tower’s construction.

Dr. George said:

“This is a very strong piece of evidence that the tower of Babel story was inspired by this real building. At the top … there is a relief depicting a step tower and … a figure of a human being carrying a staff with a conical hat on. Below that relief is a text which has been chiseled into the monument, and the label is easily read. It reads: Etemenanki, Ziggurat Babel. And that means ‘the Ziggurat or Temple Tower of the City of Babylon.’ The building and its builder on the same relief.”

The people enlisted to construct the tower, are translated by Dr. George as, “From the Upper Sea [Mediterranean] to the Lower Sea [Persian Gulf] the Far-Flung Lands and Teeming Peoples of the Habitations.”

Experts had already thought King Nebuchadnezzar II actually did build a ziggurat in Babylonia after he established the city as his capital. The tablet provides more evidence. Archaeologists also think the tower of Babel was 300 feet (91 meters) along the sides and 300 feet (91 meters) tall. Only a fraction of the building remains, scattered and broken.

What Does the Tower of Babel Symbolize?

Regardless of the question of the tower’s existence, another way to examine the Tower of Babel story is through the symbolic approach. The context of the story, i.e. the story of the Tower of Babel being recorded in the Book of Genesis, would make it reasonable to expect a religious message behind it. It has been suggested that the Tower of Babel is a symbol for humanity’s vanity. For instance, the use of brick and mortar represent pride in man-made materials. Thus, the use of these materials over stone and tar, which are natural and more durable materials, may be read as mankind’s misplaced confidence in his own abilities.

Thus, the Tower of Babel may be seen as a monument to mankind’s ability and achievement. Man is promptly reminded of his frailty when God decides to confuse their languages and scatter them. While some regard this story as a warning against the sin of pride, others would prefer to question the kind of God that is being portrayed in the story. Regardless, the story seems to convey a notion of doom and gloom for humanity.

Gustave Dore's depiction of the Tower of Babel according to the biblical interpretation. ( Public Domain )
Gustave Dore’s depiction of the Tower of Babel according to the biblical interpretation. ( Public Domain )
Can the Tower of Babel Explain Worldwide Diversity?

Another way of viewing this story, however, may shine a more positive light on the Tower of Babel. Instead of being a lesson against pride, this may be a tool to explain the diversity of peoples in the world. After all, the chapter preceding the story of the Tower of Babel deals with the various nations that descended from the sons of Noah. This etiological approach, in which myths are used to explain human conditions, is visible in many other cultures. For instance, in the mythology of the Blackfoot Indians; Old Man, the creator, gave different colored water to people to drink. As a result, different peoples began to speak different languages. Without the knowledge that we possess today, these myths would have served to throw light on the great mysteries of life. Besides, they make pretty good camp-fire stories.

Although language was confused, and mankind scattered across the world, I can’t help but think that we’ve come full circle, almost at least. Take this article as an example. It will probably be read by people from different parts of the world. In that sense, we are connected, rather than scattered. Also, through translations, we are able to overcome language barriers. Moreover, at times we may even communicate through empathy, without the need for speech.

Yet, there’s one part of the story we have not achieved. The people in the story of the Tower of Babel were working together to build a monument. Sadly, human beings aren’t quite doing that today. Wars, the exploitation of the poor, and human trafficking are just some examples of the ways in which we are destroying our fellow man/woman, instead of cooperating with him/her.

Perhaps it’s time we finish building the Tower of Babel.

This article (The Legendary Tower of Babel: What Does It Mean?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Ancient Pompeii’s Drains Back In Use After 2300 Years

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Ancient Pompeii’s Drains Back In Use After 2300 Years
Photo Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

Ashley CowieAncient Origins

A 2,300-year-old drainage system carved into bedrock beneath Pompeii will be used again to divert increasing rainwater into the sea.

Mount Vesuvius on the west coast of Italy is the only active volcano in continental Europe and its eruption in the year AD 79 buried the city of Pompeii under thousands of tons of hot ashes and rocks. Seconds after the eruption the southern Italian town was engulfed in a 500°C “pyroclastic heat surge,” when fast-moving currents of hot gases and volcanic matter (tephra) killed every one of the approximately 30,000 inhabitants, instantly.

This 170-acre archaeological site is mostly preserved within ash, which also entombed human bodies, and now that they have decayed away, natural human molds are found by excavators who make plaster casts bringing back to life the sheer terror that spread crosses the faces of the people who suffered in the volcanic catastrophe.

Tunnel within ancient Pompeii’s drains system. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
Tunnel within ancient Pompeii’s drains system. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
Pompeii’s Drains are Engineering at its Very Best

The decommissioned 1,500ft (457m) network of ancient tunnels and drainage channels is accessed through two manholes leading beneath the Civil Forum, near the Centaur statue and it leads downhill underneath Via Marina to the Imperial Villa.

The Civic Forum of Pompeii was a great rectangular plaza measuring 125ft (38m) wide by 466ft (142m) in length. While it was originally built in the 3rd century BC by the Samnites, evidence gathered from inside the tunnels showed final enhancements were executed by Roman architects in the years preceding the devastating 79AD eruption of Vesuvius.

Aerial map showing ancient Pompeii’s drains network with the sites (mentioned above) marked out. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
Aerial map showing ancient Pompeii’s drains network with the sites (mentioned above) marked out. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )

Since 2018 the drainage network has been carefully assessed by several teams of scientists to assess if it was still capable of diverting rainwater into the nearby sea, and the restoration project has now been approved.

Archaeologist Massimo Osanna, Director General of Archaeological Park of Pompeii, told  The Times  that the entrances to the drains had been blocked but with increasing flooding from rainwater they plan to start using them again, despite them being built almost 2,300 years ago. The engineering project is being conducted by the  Archaeological Park of Pompeii  with a team of speleologists (cave experts) from the Cocceius Association, and in a Daily Mail report, Osanna is quoted saying the fact that this can be done is testament to the “excellent engineering skills at the time.”

The archaeologists excavating a tunnel within Pompeii’s drains. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
The archaeologists excavating a tunnel within Pompeii’s drains. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
An Explosive Ancient City

According to Pompeii Sites , Osanna said in a statement that the initial exploration of the underground canals confirmed the “cognitive potential which the Pompeian subsoil preserves” and demonstrates just how much remains to be discovered and examined. Furthermore, the scientist said many gaps in their knowledge of the past regarding certain aspects or areas of the ancient city are being filled thanks to the collaboration of experts in various sectors.

As technology advances, so too does our understanding of this tragic natural event that instantaneously ended the life of the city’s population, and archaeologists are continually uncovering more artifacts and evidence from the ash-covered city. However, the scientists deep-penetrating underground scanning equipment is proving that not all of the artifacts buried at Pompeii are ancient, which is evident in an Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano , article published last July about the discovery of “10 unexploded World War II bombs.

Another shot of a tunnel inside Pompeii’s drains. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
Another shot of a tunnel inside Pompeii’s drains. ( Archaeological Park of Pompeii )
Fires in the Sky

Dr. Osanna said at the time that a bomb had gone off 30 years ago and he admitted that it was difficult to know “how many World War II bombs were still buried.” He openly petitioned for help from the British Air Force to determine where they might be located. And while Pompeii officials were worried to begin with, because there was no telling how many unexploded bombs were hidden beneath the city, they announced publicly that “there was no risk” for excavators or tourists.

It seems some places just have an infinity with explosions and eruptions, an in an Ancient Origins article I wrote myself last July about this incident, I concluded with a stirring article published in the Irish Times , which pointed out what was either a bizarre coincidence, or something altogether blacker. The article said 165 bombs were dropped by the allies in Pompeii on August 24th, 1943, “on October 21st,” the very same date that in AD 79 the ancient city of Pompeii was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius.

It seems that not only the gods played with fire and brimstone at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

This article (Ancient Pompeii’s Drains Back In Use After 2300 Years) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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9,900-Year-Old Skeleton Found In Mexican Cenote Rewrites History

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9,900-Year-Old Skeleton Found in Mexican Cenote Rewrites History
Photo Credit: Eugenio Acevez & Jerónimo Avilés Olguín / Heidelberg University

Ashley CowieAncient Origins

9,900-year-old human skeleton found in a Mexican underwater cenote cave illustrates the complexity of the first settlers in the Americas.

New research published yesterday in the journal PLOS One details the discovery of a 9,900-year-old human skeleton, Chan Hol 3, found submerged in the Chan Hol cave, near the Tulum archaeological site in Quintana Roo state, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The skeleton belonged to a woman who had died in her 30s and she is referred to in the paper as one of the “first people to set foot in the Americas,” and her remains prove this region was inhabited by at least two different groups of early Mesoamerican settlers at least 8,000 years before the Maya culture first emerged.

Fingerprints of Ancient Violence

The Yucatán Peninsula is maze of submerged caves and sinkholes (cenotes), which before filling with water served America’s first settlers as shelters and archaeologists have now discovered 10 human skeletons in these underwater caves, including the newly discovered Chan Hol 3. According to a 2014 Gizmodo article, Tulum divers discovered the skeletal remains of a young girl in a cave called Hoyo Negro (black hole) dating to 10,976 years ago.

Additionally during the 2000s, archaeologists working in Naharon cave, near Tulum, found another skeleton that radiocarbon dated to 11,570 years ago.

Underwater cenote cave where the remains were found. (Eugenio Acevez / Heidelberg University )
Underwater cenote cave where the remains were found. (Eugenio Acevez / Heidelberg University )

This new study not only successfully dates the ancient woman’s skeleton, but it shows she had suffered a bacterial disease, which had caused pitting and deformations on her skull. Furthermore, she had sustained three serious head injuries inflicted with a hard object, or multiple objects, that shattered the bones in her skull.

Searching For Thor

The woman’s skeleton is among the oldest human fossils to be found anywhere in the Americas, but the scientists identified a “major problem” with the usual radiocarbon dating method. Dr Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, the first author of the new study and an archaeologist from Heidelberg University in Germany , said in the paper that bones that have been submerged in water for thousands of years lose much of their “collagen”, which is the most abundant protein in the human body that holds the body together, and without collagen, accurate carbon dating is virtually impossible.

The Chan Hol 3 skeleton is “30% complete” and Dr Stinnesbeck told Gizmodo that his team had used an “indirect dating technique from physics” based on the radioactive decay of uranium and its conversion into thorium, which is a naturally-occurring radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius , who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The uranium-thorium isotope samples were taken from a solid calcite (lime) crust that had formed on the skeleton’s finger bones, having dripped from the cave ceiling at a time the Chan Hol cave was still void of water.

Archaeologists studying the skeleton found in the Chan Hol cenote cave. (Jerónimo Avilés Olguín / Heidelberg University )
Archaeologists studying the skeleton found in the Chan Hol cenote cave. (Jerónimo Avilés Olguín / Heidelberg University )

In 2018 the same team of scientists gathered charcoal samples from ancient fire pits dating to about 9,100 and 7,900 years ago. This provided evidence that the Chan Hol cave was free of water and that humans used the cave for living in for at least 1,200 years during the early and middle Holocene, before a rise in global sea levels, which eventually flooded of the cave system. The study’s co-author, Norbert Franck, and his team of researchers from the Institute of Environmental Physics at Heidelberg University dated Chan Hol 3 to being a “minimum of at least 9,900 years old” and according to Dr Stinnesbeck, because the body had already become skeletonized, before the crusts formed, the fossil is likely “much older.”

Analysing Skull Patterns

A comparative analysis of over 400 ancient skulls found across the Americas indicates what the scientists call a “mesocephalic”, or round headed, skull pattern which is different to skulls of Paleoamericans from Central Mexico and North America, which are longer and narrower skulls (“dolicocephalic” skull patterns).

Close-up of skull found in the Chan Hol cenote cave. (Jerónimo Avilés Olguín / Heidelberg University )
Close-up of skull found in the Chan Hol cenote cave. (Jerónimo Avilés Olguín / Heidelberg University )

In conclusion, this observation tells scientists “at least two physically distinct human groups” lived at roughly the same time in the Mexican region as the Pleistocene gave way to the Holocene. But it is unclear whether two different groups arrived in North America from Eurasia at the same time, or the two groups emerged from a single group and developed distinctive physical characteristics over time.

A recent study, co-authored by Ohio State University scientist Mark Hubbe, said that in the absence of DNA data, nevertheless, we cannot say where these people originally came from and how they came to the Americas. But the little DNA evidence they gathered suggests a complex series of “ancestral splits, multiple migrations, and the reunification of diverged groups.”

With modern technology, submerged cave systems like those in Tulum are beginning to share their archaeological secrets. Even without, DNA scientists can study proteins, and it is these little building blocks of life that are divulging their fossilized truths regarding the first people to populate the Americas.

This article (9,900-Year-Old Skeleton Found in Mexican Cenote Rewrites History) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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1,300-Year-Old Saxon Coin Found By Treasure Hunter Rewrites English History

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1,300-Year-Old Saxon Coin Found by Treasure Hunter Rewrites English History
Photo Credit: Sablin / Adobe Stock

Ashley CowieAncient Origins

An English metal detectorist has found a rare coin proving old London did not fall to the West Saxons until later than currently thought.

Buried about four inches deep, Andy Hall, 55, found the 1,300-year-old coin in January of 2016 on Wiltshire farmland at Coombe Bisset, to the southwest of Salisbury in  England. While the artifact’s authenticity had been doubted, with even the finder suspecting that it may have been a contemporary forgery, or what he calls a “19th century fantasy piece,” scientific tests on the silver coin have confirmed it is “95% silver,” which is consistent with coins of the time.

“1,300-year-old coin with the face of obscure Saxon king may sell for £15k.” — Daily Mail U.K. (@DailyMailUK) February 1, 2020

Dating of The Fall Of London Challenged

The controversy arises because the rare silver piece depicts the face of the Saxon king Ludica of Mercia who ruled for just one year from 826–827 AD. This little known Saxon king, Ludica, who ruled the kingdom that included London, or ‘Lundenwic’ as it was called at the time, challenges the mainstream historical theory that London had fallen to the Wessex King Ecgberht after the Battle of Ellendun in 825 AD.

Mr. Hall’s treasure determines Mercia still retained London in 826 AD and the city didn’t fall to the West Saxons until 827 AD. It is for this reason Dix Noonan Webb auctioneers predict they may sell the silver penny for £15,000 at auction.

According to the historical record, London fell to the Wessex King Ecgberht (pictured) as a result of the outcome of the Battle of Ellendun in 825 AD. However, Mr Hall's Saxon coin proves that Mercia still retained London in 826 AD. ( Public domain )
According to the historical record, London fell to the Wessex King Ecgberht (pictured) as a result of the outcome of the Battle of Ellendun in 825 AD. However, Mr Hall’s Saxon coin proves that Mercia still retained London in 826 AD. ( Public domain )

Featuring the bust of Ludica facing right, with the legend LUDICA REX MER, the reverse side of the coin has the inscription LUN/DONIA/CIVIT across three lines. Mr. Hall told the Daily Mail that after finding the coin he took it home and gently washed off the mud with distilled water. Subsequently, he had to Google Ludica to find out who the monarch was, and he sent photos to specialists at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where newly discovered early medieval coins are registered.

However, the following summer when Mr. Hall attempted to auction the coin, a leading historian and expert in Anglo-Saxon coins told him that there were “concerns” about the penny’s authenticity.

“Andy Hall, 55, who found it with his metal detector in a field at Coombe Bisset in Wiltshire, spent three years and £300 trying to convince experts that it was authentic.” — The Times (@thetimes) January 31, 2020

Historians Question Saxon Coin’s Authenticity

Fighting the academic community, the metal detectorist spent three years having his coin examined by other experts to prove its authenticity and according to a report in the Daily Mail , Mr. Hall even paid £300 for it to be “metallurgically analysed,” which finally confirmed that the coin was 95% silver and “completely consistent” with coinage in the period 810–840 AD.

The detectorist said it was his “love for history and numismatics” that inspired him to make sure the historical importance of this Saxon coin was appropriately recorded. He claims to have been over the moon when he received the test results and said he had to “re-read them about five times,” feeling enormous relief once confirmed. The treasure finder added that it was “satisfying to have made a very tiny contribution to our knowledge of the period.”

The coin shows that Mercia still retained London in 826 AD and that it did not fall under Ecgberht’s control until after Ludica was killed in 827 AD. This tiny piece of evidence, which demands a rewrite on a section of European history, is scheduled to be sold on March 10, 2020. Mr. Hall told the Daily Mail that he will be splitting the sales value with the owner of the land on which the ancient coin was discovered.

The True Value Of Old Cash

When it comes to the ‘true’ value of an ancient coin that depends greatly who knows about it and who attends the auction on the sale day. Perhaps the biggest shock in the world of ancient coins happened in 2013, when a US coin dating back to either 1794 or 1795 surfaced that had been minted from an alloy consisting of 90% silver and 10% copper.

‘Flowing Hair’ dollar coin from 1794. (Public.Resource.Org / Public domain )
‘Flowing Hair’ dollar coin from 1794. (Public.Resource.Org / Public domain )

You might be wondering what makes this ‘Flowing Hair Silver/ Copper Dollar’ very special compared all the other dollars wheeling around. The reason is not because it depicts Liberty with her flowing tresses, but because it was the first dollar ever issued by the United States Federal Government after the Federal Mint was founded On April 2, 1792. And this is why in 2013 the coin sold for a cool $10 million , making the art world stand still, with jaws dislocated.

This article (1,300-Year-Old Saxon Coin Found By Treasure Hunter Rewrites English History) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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