When I was in 5th grade, we had an Ancient Greece festival. It was a lot of fun, especially since I pretended to be the Oracle at Delphi and told fortunes to all my classmates.  We talked about ancient Greece during several different grade levels at school.  I think we also studied the Egyptians and Romans in elementary school. In high school history, we learned about ancient history in Mesopotamia, India, and China.  Taking a peek at today’s standards in the state where I live, not much has changed.

Imagine, when you go beyond the range of Alexander the Great’s conquests, there’s an entire globe to study!

  1. The Jomon People: These were the ancient people of Japan, likely ancestors to the Ainu people.  They were some of the first people to make pottery and domesticate dogs. But my favorite fact about the Jomon?  They believed in sanitation. They were semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers who built pit toilets in their villages.  They even trained their dogs to use the pit toilets!
  2. Australian Aborigines:  They have the oldest continuous culture in the world. They arrived in Australia somewhere about 40,000 years ago (exact dates are still debated).  For thousands of years, they passed down their stories and traditions. Their oral tradition includes stories of massive animals (megafauna) that scientists have now proven true using fossil evidence.  Their story continues into the present, even as they fight for rights within modern Australian society.
  3. The Olmec: So much of their history is a mystery to us today. Like the Jomon, we don’t even know their name for their own society.  We do know that they had a lasting influence on other meso-American cultures, including a love of chocolate.  They may have invented the first writing system in the Americas, a pictograph language.  No one has succeeded in translating it yet. There is only one tablet with writing, so decoding it may be impossible.
  4. The Scythians: They might be my favorite.  They were a pants-wearing, horse-riding, archery-loving, nomadic group of people.  Women fought alongside men.  They absolutely terrified the Greeks. Hardly anyone could defeat them in battle.  They may have inspired legends of centaurs and Amazon women.  And they invented pants!*
  5. Ancient Somalia: The Somalians have been around quite awhile. They traded with the Romans and Greeks, and played quite a trick on them.  The Somalians imported cinnamon from India, but told their trading partners that they grew it themselves.  Plus, they were the first to domesticate the camel. Some people think Somalia was the location of the lost kingdom of Punt, one of ancient Egypt’s trading partners.

There’s a lot more to history than the Mediterranean! If you’re interested in learning more about any of these civilizations, click the links to our educational boxes or subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates about our upcoming ancient history book! (If you’re interested in the Somalians, you’ll have to stay tuned!).

*Quick note about the Scythians: they weren’t beyond the range of Alexander the Great’s conquests.  He, in fact, engaged with the Scythians.  But I never learned about them in school!

Five Ancient Civilizations You (Probably) Never Studied in School

by Stephanie Hanson

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day! Or, as you might call it where you live, Columbus Day. 

Why are some areas changing the name of this federal holiday? Let’s take a closer look at Christopher Columbus and find out! 

When you were growing up, did you learn a poem about how “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”  The poem goes on to describe the very nice Arawak natives and how Columbus was brave and bright. You might have learned that he was “brave and bright” because he believed the world was round when everyone else thought it was flat, and so he had the idea to sail west across the ocean to reach India.  Everyone told him he would sail off the end of the earth.  

Well, not exactly. 

You see, educated people at that time already knew the earth was a sphere.  The ancient Greeks had figured that one out. The Greek mathematician Erastothenes had even calculated the circumference of the earth to within less than 50 miles. It was pretty clear that it was shorter to go across Europe and Asia than it was to sail the other way.  So why did Columbus do it? Well, he thougth Erastothenes had it wrong. Columbus figured the earth was actually much smaller, and pear-shaped. If he was right, he could just sail around the smaller part of the earth and discover a much quicker trade route.

Brave? Sure. Bright? You decide.  

How about those very nice natives?  Well, he did in fact write home about how pleasant the people were and how easy they were to enslave.  He got started right away, sending enslaved indigenous people back to Europe. In just eight years, he and his brother sold almost 1,500 Islanders across the Atlantic. He wasn’t kind to his own people either.  One Spanish woman reminded him that he was just the son of a weaver, so he had her tongue cut out. Ouch.  

But, he discovered America, right?  Well, sort of. He died denying that he’d discovered a new continent.  That’s why the United States isn’t in a continent called North Columbia.  Amerigo Vespucci proved that these lands were actually previously unknown to Europeans and therefore got the credit. The Vikings had visited and stayed for a bit a few hundred years previously.  And of course, millions of people already lived in the Americas.  

He IS an important historical figure.  While he wasn’t the first person or even the first European to land on the shores of the New World, his arrival signaled the beginning of European conquest and changed the world forever.

For the Europeans, that was generally a good thing. 

For indigenous nations, it marked the beginning of an apocalyptic age.

The Taino people who lived on an island called Hispaniola by the Spanish saw their population go from 400,000 to just 200 people within a single lifetime. Because of both the direct impact of Columbus’ policies and the indirect consequence of European conquest, many modern indigenous people have pushed to change the meaning of the second Monday in October.  Instead of honoring this man, they want us to remember the people who have been here for thousands of years and live here still. All over the country, alternate celebrations now take place as cities or states make the switch from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.  

Happy Indigenous People’s Day!

by Stephanie Hanson

Unless you have been hiding under the proverbial rock, you have heard of the television series Game of Thrones. Known for its high body count and fantasy setting, the series is widely popular.

But did you know that Game of Thrones is based on the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, written by George R.R. Martin? And, did you know that Martin was inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (Hmm… check out those middle initials!) and the War of the Roses, as well as other historic events.

Want to have a little fun?!!!

Let’s take Game of Thrones and find its location in history.  The War of the Seven Kings is based on the English War of the Roses, another war of succession between noble families.

!!! Spoiler Alert: This post discusses the entire plot of Game of Thrones as we know it.

First, there is Henry VI.

Henry VI, like Aerys Targaryen, was mentally unstable. He did not light his enemies on fire, but he did not do the best job ruling either.  He died without an heir, possibly murdered. 

Next, there is Edward IV.

Edward IV was young and handsome, just like a young Robert Baratheon. However, like Baratheon, he became stout and inactive in his middle age. Some say he was poisoned, others that he was simply in poor health.  He left behind a wife (Elizabeth Woodville, unpopular because of her swift rise to power through marriage) and children, including his heir, Edward V. He also had two brothers. Of the two, one was amiable, but not particularly sharp. The other was highly focused and would do anything – even murder children – to seize the throne.

With me so far? Guess who became king…


The ruthless sibling ascended to become Richard III. 

And, to eliminate any challengers to the throne, Edward’s sons mysteriously disappeared, allegedly murdered in the Tower of London by the orders of their uncle.  That sounds a bit familiar–Robert Baratheon’s brothers both made plays for the throne, one affable and shallow and the other ruthless. Neither set of children came out alive. And of course, no one has much love for Robert’s widow, the ever ambitious Cersei.

Can we spot any other historical inspiration? 

There’s more…

  • Martin has said that the Iron Islands are based on the marauding Vikings, while the Mongols might be the inspiration for the Dothraki. 
  • How about some of the epic battles?  The fictional Battle of Blackwater Bay bears a close resemblance to the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople. In that siege, the Byzantines used Greek Fire to repel the invaders. 
  • Greek Fire was a substance that burst into flame upon contact with water, perhaps a mixture of naptha and quicklime. It sounds an awful lot like the wildfire used by Tyrion.  
  • The Byzantines also used a barrier chain, much like the ones used against Stannis’ navy. But surely, there was no real wall to keep barbaric races away from civilization.  Actually, there was. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall in northern England to keep out the Picts and other ancient Britons.
  • The bloody Battle of the Bastards even has its roots in reality.  The pincer movement of Bolton’s army is a Macedonian Phalanx, based on tactics used by Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great. The actual battle was based on an ancient battle between Hannibal’s Carthaginians and the Roman Empire’s army.

How did the Wars of the Roses end? Finally, a  Lancaster ruler came from over the sea where he had lived in exile.  His emblem? The dragon. Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field, and married Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth. This marriage united the Lancaster and Tudor houses, ending decades of civil war.

So how does the body count in Game of Thrones stack up to reality?  About 1 in 4 noble Englishmen died violently in the 15th century. That sounds about right.  

And to think, there are those who think history is dull!

Game of Thrones Unboxed!!!

by Carol Bettencourt, History Unboxed Marketing Manager

There is a lot of talk these days about the value of STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – in education. Proponents of a STEM-based education argue that:

>       To remain competitive, countries must educate their next generation of innovators, engineers and scientists.

>       Job prospects and income tend to be higher for those with STEM-based degrees.

>       STEM skills are essential to solving lots of the world’s problems, such as environmental changes and an expanding population.

All of these things are true, but where does that leave subjects like history? Is the study of the past soon to be relegated to the past?

The answer is an emphatic “NO!”

Of course, STEM subjects are critical, but it really should not be an either/or question. Studying history and understanding the past is critical to understanding the future, and even to understanding the value of STEM in the future.

As I write this blog post, I notice that on this day in history, September 28, 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered a bacteria-killing mold growing in his laboratory. This eventually lead to the isolation of the mold’s active ingredient in the 1940s by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, leading to the development of the now widely-used drug, penicillin.  So is this information something to be passed along in a science class or a history class?

Clearly, it is both.

Without an understanding of the history of disease and its devastating effects on entire populations, would scientists be as inspired to pursue cures and remedies? Without understanding the historical context of scientific theories and past research, would today’s STEM experts be as ably equipped? And, without a general understanding of science and technology, would those in non-STEM professions be fully equipped to be informed voters and responsible citizens?

In short, the choice isn’t which “type” of education, STEM or otherwise, is best. The question is, do we want to raise our children to be well-rounded adults, not only capable of performing a job, but fully prepared to think, reason and ensure that the world remains a good place.

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.”

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

STEM, History and Penicillin…What?!!!

Dear Customers,

Fall of 2018 marks our 3rd year of business and it’s been a fabulous whirlwind.

We have grown from a company where I was working out of my basement to one that employs designers, historians, artists, and fulfillment teams across the USA. We’ve shipped enough apple mummification kits to probably actually mummify a body. We’ve heard from so many customers about how our boxes has made history real, tangible, and memorable for their students. What a fulfilling few years it has been!

During this time, our products have changed dramatically.

Jamestown Horn Book
My original concept of sending a few print outs and a single simple craft project has grown based on your feedback. We have overhauled our original boxes to be as full as our newest ones and now every box contains the fruit of more than a hundred hours of professional work and multiple craft kits and souvenirs; many of which are made from historic materials or sourced from authentic sites.

How cool is it that when you open Ancient Australia Unboxed the boomerang you receive is made by aboriginal craftsmen in Australia? Or when you decorate with Rangoli art from Mauryan Empire Unboxed the kit comes from tradesmen in India? Or when you put together a horn book in Jamestown Unboxed you are using real horn and wood – not a make-and-toss kit of cardboard and plastic? That’s huge. Your student is holding real, meaningful items and that deepens their connection with the lesson in a noticeable way. Also, pat yourself on the back, because you just helped native craftsmen continue to earn their living sharing their native crafts.

But that’s not all that has changed dramatically.

During our time in business the cost of materials, packaging, and shipping has risen considerably. I am a mother of 6 home educated children, and keeping our products affordable is close to home.

However, it is time to put on my business hat and acknowledge that History Unboxed can only thrive if I am able to pay myself as well as cover our costs. We need to adjust our product prices to reflect this reality.

Our new prices will go into effect Tuesday, August 13th:

  • Off the Shelf boxes: $54.95 ea plus shipping calculated by weight and zone
  • Subscriptions: $44.95 per month plus flat rate shipping calculated by zone
  • Sibling Add-Ons: $32.97 per month plus free shipping
  • Longer duration subscriptions (quarterly and annual) will receive a small discount as noted on the website

If you are a current subscriber: your subscription cost Will Not increase for as long as you keep your current subscription active. However, your shipping cost will be adjusted as of your next billing cycle.

I am elated to have crafted products that mean so much to so many people, and I want you to know that when you purchase from us the money that you spend is not only going to developing more high quality products, but also to supporting the families of artists, graphic designers, packing professionals, history teachers, and myself.

Thank you for being my customer.

3 Years in Biz and New Pricing

Are you ready to make history this holiday season?

For the first time ever, we're offering what some of our customers will call a dream come true: Custom Subscriptions!

Oh boy, we are excited to announce this! For a limited time only, you can mix-and-match to your heart's content, and build a 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month subscription with ANY of our boxes! 

That's right: want to send your favorite student Ancient Egypt one month and Powhatan the next? Now you can!

Boxes in gift subscriptions will ship mid-December if you order by December 14th, and in January if ordered after that.

In your order notes, you can specify the order you'd like the boxes to arrive in; otherwise you can leave it up to us!

And another great option for the holiday season: Gift Boxes!

Give the gift of Whatever Box They Want! 

This purchase covers any box on our site plus its shipping, and your lucky student can redeem it themselves whenever they're ready. 

After your purchase is confirmed, we'll send you a festive PDF with a discount code that can be printed or emailed. 

Holiday gift subscriptions are here!

Welcome to our new site!

We are SO excited to launch our new website. Not only does it look and feel better, but it will be so much simpler for YOU our subscribers!

Here's what you need to know:

Individual purchasers:

    If you have bought from us before (either boxes or subscriptions!) and gave us your email address, then you already have an account in this new system! But you need to reset your password. Go here to the password reset page, enter your email address, and check your email for instructions.
    If you placed an order over the phone, there's a good chance you didn't give us your email address and therefore don't have an account. No problem, just create one! Boom.
    If you're an active subscriber, you will see the details of your current subscription in your account. You can make changes to it there.
    If you're a past subscriber or purchaser, you will not see past orders in your account. Sorry! But all future orders will be logged there.

Charter schools:

    If you had created an account in the old system, you can do the same password reset above to see if you've been migrated. If you didn't (because you were just emailing us your orders and didn't make one) just create a new one! You'll need one from now on.
    You no longer have to fill a cart and then email us! You can now complete PO orders right here on the site and download the invoice directly from your account page. Very exciting.
    There's a special shop page for you, linked from the Charter page here. It has all the customization you need for charter orders.
    You will need us to mark your account as a Charter in our system! Fill out the contact form after you create your account, letting us know your school and the email address you're using, and we'll set you up with permissions and the password for the Charter shop.

Any trouble? Email us!

We hope you find the site as amazingly fresh and simple to use as we do.

Welcome to our new site!