Found via The Real Iran on Tumblr. My Tumblr source doesn’t unfortunately give any more info, but it sounds like the cup was found in the Bronze Age site of Shahr-e Sūkhté (or Shahr-e Sukhteh) in Sistan, southeastern Iran.
Just reading the Wikipedia page for Shahr-e Sūkhté makes my imagination run—a large trading route hub with connections to Mesopotamia, Central Asia, and India with rich material culture would make an excellent setting for historical or speculative fiction. (For example, among the archaeological finds from the Burnt City is apparently the world’s first artificial eyeball.)
Finding real-world inspiration like this is when I really wish I was a writer!
As a reader, and specifially a reader of speculative and historical fiction primarily not in my native language, I run into differences in culture a lot. And as a person in a multicultural, multilingual relationship in a strange country where I’m a cultural and linguistic minority, from time to time I find myself slammed against more deep-seated cultural assumptions.
Joan pointed out that culture is a way of thinking, or cognition, or perspective. As an example, I’d like to share two failures of cultural expectations from my personal experience.
At a con once, I wanted to get a book signed by an American author. I happened to know from their online presence that the author is an introvert. Even though we were both at a public place where introverted authors and panelists often don a more outgoing persona than they do in private, as another introvert I wanted to make sure I’d be especially considerate. However, quite without intending to I tripped over a distinctly Finnish quirk.
One of the big unspoken assumptions in the Finnish culture is that silence isn’t a negative. (Erik and I have both written about it for instance here, here, and here.) In essence, how I understand it, silence means space, and space means respect to other people.
Accordingly, at the abovementioned autograph session, when it came my turn I said my hellos, presented the author with my book, and waited silently. It wasn’t until the author asked me “Did you read it?” that I realised they expected me to say something else. And I had thought I was being courteous not to burden them with yet another dose of chitchat on a weekend full of being “on” at a busy con. I can’t remember for sure, since it was a kind of a deer in the headlights moment for me, but I think I was able to stutter my way to an exit without actually breaking into a run. In any case, not terribly smooth on my part.
I’ve also had a previously friendly person walk away from me when, in the middle of a presentation, I (I’m guessing “merely”) nodded to them to acknowledge their presence and silently continued to listen to the speaker (I’m guessing instead of starting a conversation with the friendly person). Although it’s been years, I still find that an utterly, completely, and thoroughly puzzling reaction.
Over the years, I’ve built a store of strategies and stock exchanges I can pull out if needed, but it’s been hard to try and perform—for it is essentially a performance—in a way that feels unnatural and at times even rude to me. Even after 10+ years, I still can’t bring myself to commit to it wholeheartedly. I suspect I’ll always be the odd, quiet one in Anglo-American contexts, but that’s my background and temperament.
So: yes, cultural assumptions and perspectives are difficult to convey, whether in writing or otherwise. Adding surface details to a fictional culture is easy, and it can be a fantastic tool for both creating distance from the everyday world and deepening the invented one. I love seeing glimpses of the practicalities that fictional characters deal with; I would find—and have found—stories seriously lacking without them. Never, though, should the surface glitter be where invention on the part of author ends; that is as unsatisfying as a lack of external cultural markers.
Being a truly exceptional author has, for me, come to mean not only the ability to create layered, nuanced worlds (or convey the complexities of everyday life in historical fiction). In addition, skilled authors I enjoy the most are able to avoid massive infodumps and to suggest underlying cultural values subtly, as inseparable part of narration and dialogue. And that’s a very challenging thing to do. It sometimes takes me more than one read-through to feel I’m beginning to understand a story. Then again, worthwhile things often are the most difficult ones.
Stanford University’s Global Medieval Sourcebook (GMS) now brings English versions of previously untranslated Middle Ages literature to everyone’s fingertips for free.
The open access, open source teaching and research tool offers manipulable scans of the manuscripts alongside transcribed texts in their original language and in new English translations. Also a brief introduction for each text is included, providing a commentary on the text’s cultural context and transmission history, its content, and the scholarly conversation around it.
The texts come from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia between the years 600 and 1600. The current selection of languages is impressive: Old and Middle High German, Middle Low German, Medieval Dutch, Old and Middle French, Old and Middle English, Medieval Italian, Medieval Latin, Old Spanish (including Aljamiado), Medieval Hungarian, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian.
Texts are searchable by genre, author, period, language, and keyword. The GMS also includes a few audio files of specialists reading the texts in their original language.
Sounds like a fascinating resource! I’m especially intrigued by the audio files, since that’s not a typical resource in medieval text databases. Stanford seems just to be getting started, however, since at this writing only some dozen or so texts are included in the sourcebook. I also encountered some glitches, hopefully to be fixed shortly.
Image: The Gosling / daz genselin from British Library MS Harley 4399 f.37 via Global Medieval Sourcebook / Stanford University (Middle High German, c. 13th, illuminated manuscript)
Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna
“You’ve probably heard of Disney’s Hercules… he’s kind of a big deal. This fun pottery montage design dress includes Hercules performing various feats of strength. The pottery banner reads ‘From Zero to Hero’ around the skirt.”
I don’t typically care for merchandise based on superheroes or animated characters. This dress is kinda neat, though, as far as the print design goes. The material, however, disappoints: 95% polyester and 5% spandex. Wearing what’s essentially a plastic bag has no appeal to me at all.
Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.
Eppu here. Shopping in Finland has changed quite a bit in my lifetime. For most of its history, Finland was a poor relative to and fought over by Sweden and Russia. After the second World War, though, and especially after 1970s, Finland has changed drastically and is now one of the most stable, orderly, and prosperous countries in Europe. Nowadays you can find pretty much the same things in Helsinki as you would in any other Western European capitol—spiced with the Finnish flavor, of course.
Like Erik mentioned already (HTH: Eating in Helsinki), 1- and 2-cent euro coins are not used in Finland. While legal tender, shopkeepers might nevertheless decline accepting the coins. Everything is instead rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cent number. (If you’re a coin collector and want a full set, there are 1- and 2-cent coins to buy.)
Perhaps a shock to visitors from outside the EU is the high sales tax or value-added tax (VAT; in Finnish, arvonlisävero or ALV). EU member states are required to collect VAT, but each state is free to set its own rate. Currently in Finland, VAT is 24% for general items, but there are lowered rates of 14% for food and restaurant services (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and 10% for books, medicines, and transportation or cultural event tickets, among others.
Marking the tax may also differ from what you’re used to. After I moved to the U.S., having to do calculus to find out the final purchase prices was an annoyance to me. In Finland, all prices already include any applicable taxes; what you see on the price tag is what you pay.
People living permanently outside the EU or Norway may be able to make VAT-free purchases, but note that retailers are not obligated to offer tax free shopping. If they do, there’s often a sticker at the door or at registers, and a number of requirements apply. See Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland for more.
There’s a movement to start charging a small fee on plastic shopping bags in stores, and some chains have already started, but as of this writing no consensus exists. It’s perhaps best to bring your own foldable totes or prepare to pay for bags.
If you’re planning on buying electronics or DVDs, note that Finnish DVDs are region 2, and electric sockets and plugs are Europlug type C or the grounded Schuko type F.
The iconic Moomin (Muumi) troll family created by Tove Jansson can nowadays be found in many stores and on a great variety of items. Official Moomin merchandise can be found at Moomin Shops, the most centrally located of which is inside the Forum shopping center (link to a map); there’s also a shop at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.
Design & Fashion
Some of the world’s most imitated and admired designers and architects come from Finland. From Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair (The Prisoner tv series, Men in Black II) to the Marimekko Unikko poppy pattern (worn by Jackie Onassis) to a new generation of designers, the Finnish style tends towards modern, understated clean lines. Merchandise from design houses and individual designers are often showcased in the Stockmann Helsinki city center department store during the summer season.
Vintage & Second-Hand
Open-air markets and market halls are good places for finding vintage and second-hand items, including older design. The non-profit Fida and UFF chains sell primarily second-hand clothes. Flea markets—kirpputori or kirppis—may also work.
Handmade wares vary from high design to mom-and-pop operators. Both types can often be found at a tori (an open-air market) or kauppahalli (market hall), or the former in various souvenir and/or design shops. One hot spot (though touristy) is the south side of Senaatintori (Senate Square; link to a map)—walk along Unioninkatu, Sofiankatu, Katariinankatu, or Helenankatu towards Kauppatori (Market Square) and the harbor.
Aarikka—a family-owned business making handmade, primarily wooden jewelry, design products, and decorative items
Arabia—ceramic tableware from a 100+ year-old company, including Moomin dishes
Design District Helsinki—a concentration of jewellery makers, design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants, hotels, studios, and showrooms in downtown Helsinki (see e.g. their map)
How would you like to make beer and get college credit for it? Students at Stanford got to do just that. Their final project for Professor Li Liu’s course Archaeology of Food: Production, Consumption and Ritual involved practical experiments with ancient brewing techniques and materials. The oldest “recipe” they tried is 5,000 years old:
“Liu, together with doctoral candidate Jiajing Wang and a group of other experts, discovered the 5,000-year-old beer recipe by studying the residue on the inner walls of pottery vessels found in an excavated site in northeast China. The research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided the earliest evidence of beer production in China so far.”
The materials for the ancient Chinese beer contained millet, barley, Job’s tears (Chinese pearl barley), and traces of yam and lily root parts. The students tried other combinations as well. Watch a short video explaining the experiments:
Stanford students recreate 5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe by Stanford
Professor Liu’s research also shows it’s possible that barley (a very popular beer grain even today) may have been introduced to China from western Asia hundreds of years before previously thought and specifically for brewing instead of a food crop.
Fascinating! It shows that as long as we have records—or material remnants, not just written word—there have been people interested in the minutiae of food and food production. I for one am grateful to be able to enjoy the fruits of such a long history of delicious experiments.
This post has been edited.
Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!
Both the instant download patterns and finished knits are by Natela Astakhova at NatelaDaturaDesign on Etsy. Just glancing at it, my eye read the pattern as your generic Scandinavian circular yoke sweater, then I did a double take. As I already said, awesome!
In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.