Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Blue Secret of the Picts
Got an "Ah HA!" moment to share. Twas reading this old National Geographic, October 1985, and in it der's a great article called "Arabia's Frankincense Trail". There was lots in there for one to be diggin' on- tree crops, the history of the mysterious obelisk at the center of Mecca, beautiful unisexual clothing- but this paragraph from page 492 really fr-geeked me out:
"Until a few decades ago dark blue indigo loincloths were prefeered by the tribes of "blue men," the Bedouin of southern Arabia. Even during the chilly highland winters, they claimed, a mixture of indigo and sesame oil rubbed on their naked chests and legs kepth them warm. On small farms around Bayhan the indigo bushes (Indigofera tinctoria) still grow."
"Why is this interesting?", ya might be asking. Don't know, but here's why I took note. This painting yourself blue brings to mind my "Pictish" ancestors. Who knows what they called themselves, but according to their Wikipedia entry, "The Greek word Πικτοί (Latin Picti) first appears in a panegyric written by Eumenius in AD 297 and is taken to mean 'painted or tattooed people' (Latin pingere 'paint')."
This thread continues into the entry for the plant woad (Isatis tinctoria). Check this out:
"Julius Caesar tells us (in de Bello Gallico) that the Britanni used to mark their bodies with vitrum; this has often been assumed to mean that they painted or tattooed themselves with woad. However vitrum does not translate to "woad", but probably more likely refers to a type of blue-green glass which was common at the time. The Picts may have gotten their name... from their practice of going into battle naked except for body paint or tattoos."
Kym ní Dhoireann has undergone inconclusive and painful experiments, trying to dye themselves blue with woad. Props to their sore ass for trying, and sorry for the dissapointment. But maybe when the dude thinks they're pointing out problems with a woad as skin application idea, they've missed the point. I'll need to look into it further to think it with authority, and that may be impossibe given the kinds of record that Leviathan takes. Ask yourself, though: where would Ceasar and his Legionaires have encountered "Pictish" folk? Consider that those bellicose bastards didn't make many friends- Roman contact with foreigners would have been restricted to times of active bullying. Traders headed South into Roman colonies might have taken the famous advice "When in Rome, do as a Roman", and left their indigenous skin pigment behind. As their red-plumed helmet gets cleaved in two, maybe the Roman foot soldiers did not positively identify their enemy's pigment source. Latifundians wouldn't necessarily allow their captured enemies to continue a complicated, misplaced form of vernacular skin adornment. If you line up the "maybes" we've gone through so far, there is no assurity in the assumption that Julius Ceasar knew much about the Pict's blue-looking skin.
Here's my Ah HA! hypothesis: maybe the Picts wore a woad-based balm for fending off the cold. What's extracted for dye from Indigofera tinctoria and Isatis tinctoria is the same thing, though there's less in the woad. The Bedouins wore an indigo concoction as an adaptation to a harsh highland climate similar to that of Northern Scotland. Now go read about Irish Soma.
Posted by Unknown at 7:20 PM