This Week In History: Sept. 17 – Sept. 23 

Locusts are a seasonal pest that have long plagued China, and it is well known that they frequently appear between July and September. A famous history supposedly written by Confucius states that one important locust plague occurred around this time during the reign of Duke Hwan. Photo by Pixabay on

Historians are lazy people. Okay, perhaps that’s an overstatement — but, consider the act of recording history and what it entails. For centuries, a significant member of a town or county would record annals or histories, which consisted of dates and descriptions of significant events. 

The key to these records was brevity and conciseness. There simply wasn’t time or space to be verbose for every event, especially in times when paper was a rare and expensive resource. Consequently, historians often wrote as little as they could.  

The “Spring and Autumns” is a work supposedly done by the legendary philosopher Confucius, chronicling the history of Lu — a small state in what is now the Shandong province of China. 

One section covers the reign of Duke Hwan, a minor noble from a generation before Confucius’s time. What do you think Confucius may have written down for an entry in the records? Something discussing the Duke’s actions in court, or maybe an analysis of his ability to govern? 

How about this: “There were locusts.” 

That is all he added for that entry. Nothing more. 

I got thinking upon reading this entry, there is clearly no date associated with this event. How could I ever possibly cover it for This Week in History? As sad as it is, the coming of the locusts didn’t take place between Sept. 17 and Sept. 24.  

But what if I told you it did — or at least might have? Locusts are a seasonal pest that have long plagued China, and it is well known that they frequently appear between July and September. There is a chance — however small — that the arrival of the locusts occurred in Lu, as recorded in the annal, during this week in history. 

On Sept. 18, 594 B.C., locusts were probably affecting the people of Lu. 

And think about it, millennia of human history have been recorded in this fashion; there are more often than not a lack of precise dates. If you’re lucky you’ll find a year. As a compiler of weekly historical events, this immediately eliminates countless centuries of human history that cannot be narrowed down to a specific week or day, oh the horror! 

So, this week — as you can probably see by now — we’ll be exploring the events that should not be in this column. Consider this my way of appreciating the history that is ordinarily left out of this arbitrary weekly format. 

Quickly, it is worth returning to Duke Hwan. Reading the work of later commentators in addition to other entries of the annal, it is evident that Hwan was a brutal power-seeker. 

The young Hwan feared the possibility of his brother taking control over the ducal position once their father died. So, like any good brother, Hwan discussed the situation properly by sitting down with— no, actually, he just had his brother killed. Hwan went on to a long and rather unpleasant reign of 18 years. 

Now, 8,000 years ago a young man died.  

Imagine that as an annal entry, I’m sure even Confucious would provide more detail. It is known that he was a healthy and well-nourished man, hailing from the region around the island of Funen in Denmark.  

Bog bodies are one of the most fascinating — if gruesome — forms of historical preservation. Remains can become trapped under layers of mud and peat in these bogs, effectively sealing them away from the elements and keeping them in good condition. Photo by cottonbro studio on

How do we know so much about a man born before recorded history? 

Well look no further than the depths of swamps and bogs. Bog bodies are one of the most fascinating — if gruesome — forms of historical preservation, and the most fascinating bit? The more we know about them, the less we understand. 

The more seasoned This Week in History readers may remember Ötzi the Iceman from last September, a remarkable case of a human body being preserved in ice. His story is largely analogous to the story of bog bodies.  

Across northeastern European bogs, swamps and peat flats, any living organism that was to perish in the controlled and dark atmosphere of the mushy terrain, could last for thousands of years, the last moments of its life sealed for millennia. In a sense — and for lack of a better comparison — it’s akin to being preserved in a jar of jam. 

One such bog body is the young man found in Funen, known as the Koelbjerg man; his skull and remains were found within chunks of peat. 

It is possible to understand a surprising amount of history regarding his life. The lack of disease and tooth decay show that he was relatively healthy; moreover, the dispersion of his bones indicate a potential drowning.  

Imagine that as the young man perished, his bones were subject to the currents of the body of water that slowly became the peat bog from which he was uncovered. It was through those forces that his bones slowly became scattered.  

What was he doing near the water? Was it a murder? Perhaps a sacrifice? History has recorded his body perfectly and yet we know so little about who he was. That man lived a life that will forever remain illusive. Perhaps he is the oldest case of a murder mystery. 

Rather expectedly, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a date to the Koelbjerg man’s death. But, loosely going off of seasonal patterns in Denmark, it is possible that the water-bodies of that region were not frozen in  September, at least in terms of modern climate patterns. Thus, there is an ever-so-small chance that he died this week in history. 

So, hypothetically, there is a greater-than-zero percent chance that the Koelbjerg man died between Sept. 17 and Sept. 24, around 6,000 B.C.. 

And with the Koelbjerg man receiving his rightful recognition in the column, this issue of This Week in History comes to a conclusion. I hope that these events — despite their lack of clear dates — can provide some sort of insight into the process of recording history. 

For those who are interested, online are several photos of Koelbjerg man’s skull (note, it was once thought the body was that of a female). Additionally, an example of more descriptive annals can be found through the works of Tacitus, a famous Roman historian. 

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