What happened to the Mayans of Central America? What are the Hundred Schools of Thought? Who sacked the Great Library of Alexandria and did the rivers run black? What happened to the House of Wisdom? The answers are lost in the mists of time and all we have left are fragments of history – sometimes literally.
It seems everyone was high. High on drugs, high on power, high on religion. In the end, it may well have been their undoing.
1) Connecting to the spiritual world finally got the better of the Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula, who had getting high down to a ‘fine’ art. What’s left is a few codicils (painted books made of bark cloth) that survived the Spanish conquistadors and some haunting temples scattered around Central America.
Like this one in Guatemala:
Or this one:
Imagine studying hundreds of codicils like this one to get to know the Mayans:
2) On the other side of the world a ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ went up in flameswhen Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China, burnt books and buried scholars in 221BC to quell dissent – philosophy, literature, poetry, history – everything save books on science.
Despite his short and brutal rule, Qin’s hubris in death was boundless - he was buried with an army of soldiers, horses and chariots befitting a king of his stature: The Terracotta Army.
3) The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in Assyria (modern day Iraq) was home to a collection of thousands of engraved clay tablets. Fragmented and so mixed up that no one can make head or tail of them – the knowledge they hold is irretrievably lost to us.
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4) Legend has it that the Assyrian Library was the inspiration behind the Great Library of Alexandria, and once cherished 400,000 rare scrolls and manuscripts. Was it destroyed by Julius Caesar, Pope Theophilusor the Caliph Umar? A known unknown!
5) During the Golden Age of Islam, Caliph Haroun Rashid built the House of Wisdom – which means what it says.
It survived almost 500 years only to be incinerated by the marauding Mongols in the 13th century.
6) The Imperial Library of Constantinople was the last of the great libraries and survived almost a thousand years before succumbing to the ruthlessness of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 followed by its complete destruction by the Ottomans in 1453.
7) Home to thousands of rare manuscripts dating back to the 7th century,The Ahmed Baba Institute in the City of 333 Shrines, Mali, Timbuktu, was destroyed by militants in 2013 – thousands of manuscripts perished.