Blogs: History

Did Aztecs practice human sacrifice? Yes, and so did the Incan and Mayan people. These three Mesoamerican cultures all practiced different forms of human sacrifice for religious reasons.

The Aztec religion included the belief that the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, needed human blood so that the sun would continue its journey in the sky. Both volunteers and prisoners of war found themselves sacrificed for the god.Aztec ceremonial knife

Both the Aztec and Mayan played a ball game that differed a little between the cultures but was a religious ritual for both. And for both the Aztec and Mayan, you didn't want to lose--losers lost a lot more than just the game. Learn about the game at

Incan priests practiced divination, a ritual to answer questions or to tell the future. Incan divination involved offerings of food and drink to the gods, but also animals and people. The young members of society were valued as sacrifices, which happened in sacred places high in the mountains, closer to the sky gods. One young woman who died hundreds of years ago was found in 1995. She was named Juanita and also is known as the Ice Maiden Mummy.

You can find out more about sacrifices and the ties to religion by going to Student Resources in Context or UXL Encyclopedia of Mythology. Search for "inca mythology," "aztec mythology," or "maya mythology" to learn about the gods, myths and ceremonies. You'll need your Multnomah County Library card if you are outside the library.

Need help finding more information?  Ask a librarian!


Can you imagine spaghetti without tomato sauce? How about a world without French fries, chocolate bars, or popcorn? If you like any of these foods, you can thank the peoples of the ancient Americas who cultivated tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa and corn before the rest of the world learned about them.

We think of chocolate as a sweet treat. While this wasn't always true, the scientific name of the cacao tree is Cacao Theobroma, meaning "food of the gods," which most people would agree is a good name. Cacao beans were first used to make a bitter, spicy drink for Aztec and Mayan religious ceremonies. The beans were so valued, that at one time, cacao beans were even used as money.

photo of potatoes and other vegetables at a marketBaked potatoes, mashed potatoes, french-fried potatoes, potato pancakes, potato chips, potatoes in stew. Potatoes are grown and eaten all over the world, but were first cultivated by the Incas living in the Andes of current day Peru. Take a look at the article in New Book of Knowledge, searching for "potato" to learn more (you'll need your library card handy if you're outside the library).

Like cacao, corn and popcorn were used for ceremonies. Aztecs included corn in sculptures and popcorn as part of decoration for headdresses and necklaces. The Maya creation story says the first grandparents were made from white and yellow corn, and they based their calendar in part on the growing cycle of corn. The Aztec, Maya and Inca peoples ate popcorn too. The ancestor of modern corn is a grain called teosinte. It has just a few kernels on each stalk. The kernels are too hard to eat or grind into flour, but teosinte can pop! Check out this video to see kernels popping.

Need more information? Check out the books below or ask a librarian.

Independence day, is a federal holiday in the United States honoring the signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The declaration declared independence from Great Britain. If you are starting research on the signing of the Declaration of Independence and its subsequent holiday, or are just interestedin finding out more facts about the birth of our nation, don't miss these great resources!

Declaration of Independence, National Archives is a good place to start.  The landing page links to original source documents that can only be found at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. There are also pages referenced that describe the different ways people celebrate this holiday, and how the fireworks tradition started. 

The National Archives has a Youtube Channel that is helpful with a variety of behind the scenes videos. You can learn about how the actual document is preserved and even listen to a reading of the Declaration.

The History Channel also has a number of short videos about the HIstory of the 4th of July including a fun, two minute, trivia-filled segment called "Bet You Didn't Know: Independence Day." 

If you are looking for more information about the actual signers, Independence Hall Association, a non profit organization based in Philadelphia, PA has an entire site dedicated to the 56 signers that features short biographiesThe largest signature is that of John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.  Two future presidents signed the Declaration: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Do you know who the youngest signer was?That was Edward Rutledge at age 26.  Benjamin Franklin (age 70) was the oldest. 

If you need to dig a little deeper about each signer, don't forget to use the library's Biography Resource Center.

Not enough information covered here? Check out the reads below, or contact a librarian!



Located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq, the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia made remarkable achievements in writing, art, and agriculture. Image of ziggurat

This National Geographic video provides a short introduction. For older students, here’s a John Green Crash Course video with more details. You may also like this interactive map, which shows how Mesopotamian culture developed.

The University of Chicago has an amazing collection of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, and at their website, you can examine them in depth, learn about what daily life was like, listen to interviews with archaeologists, or even go on a virtual archaeological dig.

At the British Museum’s Mesopotamia site, you can find maps and information about the writing, mythology, buildings, and astronomers from various Mesopotamian cultures.

Ancient Mesopotamia covers geography, religion, economics, clothing, and the achievements of Mesopotamian cultures.

Several different empires existed in region of Mesopotamia, including the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The Sumerians were known for inventing cuneiform writing. You can see what your monogram would look like in this writing system. They also wrote the first superhero story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and played board games. One Babylonian ruler is famous for creating Hammurabi’s Code, a collection of laws. Ziggurats, large step pyramids like the one shown in the photo, were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians.

If you didn’t find the information that you need, please contact a librarian for more assistance.

The ancient Egyptians get all the credit for pyramids, but they weren't the only ones building these massive structures. Not only did pyramids appear in neighboring areas of Africa, but halfway around the world, the Maya and Aztecs, along with the Toltecs, built stepped pyramids. These pyramids of Mexico and Central America were often used as foundations for temples. This meant they usually had flat tops instead of the pointy Egyptian style. Built at different times thousands of miles from each other, the pyramids of the Old and New Worlds still have some similarites.

infographic of Egyptian and Latin American pyramids

Check out this New Book of Knowledge article for more information about pyramids or try some of the books below. If you want or need any more help, ask a librarian!

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Troy the Musical! put on by the Odyssey Program at PPS’s Hayhurst School. There were laughs aplenty as we were taken through a musical romp starting with the tale of that trickster Eris, goddess of strife, and the Apple of Discord through to demise of Troy with that pesky Trojan Horse. It was a much livelier version than the somber, yet stunning, 1971 classic The Trojan Women.

Though it had plenty of romance, a little less heated than the the 1956 Helen of Troy.

My curiosity piqued I had to some more digging (pun included) with the great archeology information found at University of Cincinnati's Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites and the Troia Projekt of the University of Tübingen, Germany. Most of our written history about siege of Troy comes from Homer’s The Illiad, but that often reads more as fiction with the Grecian Gods often stepping in and taking an active role. The Greeks were often at war, but for the Trojans thia war was epic, and historians tell us how it lasted for over ten years.

The students at Odyssey should be very proud of themselves, for their great singing, comedic timing, and the ability to dance in flippers. Thanks for the glitter, laughs and bringing Homer’s story to life.


Ben Franklin was always thinking and exploring new ideas. He was a practical man who invented things that helped make life better.

1. His kite flying experiments to study lighning and electricity are still famous today.

2. He was the first person in America to invent a musical instrument.

He called it the Glass Armonica.








3. Lightning rods are still used today on buildings and houses. Lightning rod from the Franklin Institute


4. Bifocal glasses allow people to use just one pair of glasses to see thing far away and close up.

5. The Franklin stove kept houses warmer and used less wood than fireplaces.

Ben Franklin invented or improved many other things as well. He never patented any of his invetions or made money from them.

If you want to discover more about Ben Franklin and his inventions watch this

documentary from the History Channel, or ask a librarian.




This video explores the integral role horses played in Nez Perce history and how they relate to the tribe’s culture today.

When researching Native Americans of Oregon, the Oregon Blue Book provides a good introduction to Oregon tribes, and has information on current tribal leaders and the economy of the tribe, plus an overview of the tribe’s history and culture.

Native Languages of Americas provides information about the original inhabitants of Oregon and includes a map of where they were located.

The Northwest Portland Area Health Board provides history and geographical information for the nine tribes that make up its membership.

The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians provides information about Oregon tribes and a list of links to their websites, plus information about natural resources, economic development and tribal government for the Cow Creek Band.

Access Genealogy contains an overview of the history Oregon tribes, and links to many tribes' individual websites.

You can also search the library’s catalog, or do an online search for a tribe’s name. Many tribes have their own websites, which contain current information about tribal affairs, and might also include historical material.

If you still need more help, contact a librarian to be sure you get what you need.

Greek and Roman history are subjects that continue to captivate our interests. A large part of this has to do with how much they influence our daily lives in literature, architecture, recreation, government, philosophy, and much, much more.

Even though there are remnants in today’s life, in comparison, life is very different than it used to be. Hour-long baths, arranged marriages, and having your father manage all your business until you are 25-years-old, are just some of the things that were customary then.  Would you be ready for public speaking or to lead an army when you turn 17 like this young adult living in Rome in 73 A.D.?

Life was exciting living in the Roman Empire with gladiators, chariot races, and exotic bath houses. It was a time that gave us great leaders such as Augustus, Nero, Julius Caesar, and Claudius. If you were a Roman leader, who would you most resemble?

There are some similarities to what life was like in Greece and Rome, but still, things were varied. Life could be very different even in places as close as Athens and Sparta. Depending on where you were born, and whether you were a boy or a girl, you could have a very different experience from those youth close by. Play this game from The British Museum that allows you compare the lives of both men and women from these two Greek cities, and learn more about daily life in ancient Greece. Be sure to take the Greek “house challenge” to see where you would find men and women hanging out, and doing what, under the same roof.


The Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery", as it eventually came to be called, was conceived by Thomas Jefferson. He was dedicated to exploration of the vast territory west of the Mississippi River and learning about the Native Americans who resided there. He wanted to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean and map the topography. Also, he expected the Corps to catalog the flora and fauna they encountered. On the Monticello web site read about Thomas Jefferson's part in funding and planning the Corp's work.


President Jefferson chose his secretary Meriwether Lewis as the ideal candidate to captain the Corps. Lewis then chose his Co-Captain, William Clark. They had served in the military together and were an ideal team.  Between them, they possessed the skills needed to face the challenges of their incredible journey.


Monsieur Charbonneau is not noted for his popularity with the rest of the Corps or his abilities as a member of the appears that the only contribution of real value he provided was the interpreting services of his wife, Sacajawea. This description of Charbonneau makes it clear he was considered a sort of "necessary evil".


There are many questions surrounding Sacajawea's story that have been controversial. One is the correct spelling/pronunciation of her name and another question is at what age and where did she die? My search for accurate information about these questions and others about Sacajawea led me to the descendants of her tribe of origin, the Lemhi Shoshoni. I found an article researched and published by the Idaho Statesman during the year of the Lewis and Clark Centennial. Tim Woodward interviewed members of Sacajawea's birth tribe. The story of the kidnapping and slavery of Sacajawea and her marriage to Charbonneau make difficult reading. Her life as a member of the Corps of Discovery is but a small piece of her complex history. From the time she was kidnapped, Sacajawea's life was determined by people who were not interested in her happiness but in taking advantage of her talents. Sacajawea probably died due to an illness that may have resulted from the birth of her second child, a daughter named Lissette.


Sacajawea gave birth to Jean-Baptiste during the first winter of the expedition when they were camped at Fort Mandan in North Dakota. William Clark was very fond of the toddler nicknamed "Pomp" or "Pompey". National Geographic Magazine describes the landmarks the Corps mapped and named after Pompey. After the expedition he was provided for by Clark, but never adopted by him. Jean-Baptiste spent time as an adult in Europe but eventually returned to the United States to take up a mountain man lifestyle similar to his father's. The man, who had traveled as a child on one of the greatest explorations of all time, died and is buried in Oregon.

Jean Baptiste-Charbonneau grave site in Oregon.


York was William Clark's slave and belonged to him from the time both were children. His contributions to the success of the Corps were as valuable as any of the other members. In recent years, letters William Clark wrote to his brother reveal that he did not feel York's "services" with the Corps had any value. He didn't care that York wished to live close to his wife and refused to grant him his freedom. Clark told his brother that if York didn't improve his attitude he was going to loan him to a harsh master. The final years of York's life are detailed by the National Park Service. You can learn how York's position in the 1800's is typical of the complexities of the slave/owner relationship.


Sgt. Floyd holds the dubious honor of being the only member of the Corps of Discovery to perish on the journey. This unhappy event took place soon after the Corps embarked on their Missouri River voyage. Flying at Sgt. Floyd's monument is a replica of the 15 star and 15 stripe flag he would have defended for the military. Visit his Sioux City memorial to learn what ended Sgt. Floyd's trek.


Seaman was a Newfoundland dog and a valued member of the Corps of Discovery. He was purchased by Meriwether Lewis for $20 (about $400 in 1806), perhaps because he had webbed feet and much of the trip was intended to take place by pirogue. Seaman caught small game, entertained the expedition members and provided excellent service at guard duty. There are many theories about what became of Seaman. This version of Seaman's fate is my favorite...and it appears to be based on some historical evidence.  Here is a great photo of a sculpture including Seaman which is located in Fort Clatsop National Park--he is paying very close attention to the flounder rather than his guard duty.

Stanley Wanlass Sculpture with Seaman


The rest of the Corps included volunteer members of the U.S. Army and a handful of civilians. They were chosen for the skills they could contribute in carrying out the goals of the expedition and for keeping all members alive and safe. The U.S. Army created a terrific summary of the privates, the civilians, and the boatmen.



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