Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The story of Mother India

More than four millennia have passed since the many artefacts of the ancient Indus civilisation were fashioned. Yet one tiny sculpture, made by an unknown artist, still seems strikingly relevant to us today. The seal shows a seated figure on a low platform in a pose that is familiar to modern practitioners of yoga and meditation: the knees spread to the sides with the feet touching, and the arms stretch from the shoulders away from the body with the fingertips resting on the knees. Assuming the symmetrical and balanced form of a triangle, the body of the adept thus posed can endure lengthy sessions of yoga and meditation without needing to shift.

The word yoga means "to unite" and ancient yoga was intended to prepare the body for meditation through which the individual would seek to understand his or her oneness with the totality of the universe. Once this understanding was complete, people could no more hurt another living being than themselves. Today, such practices are routinely prescribed to complement western medical and psychotherapy treatments. Among the documented benefits of yoga and its corollary, meditation, are lowered blood pressure, greater mental acuity and stress reduction.

To the ancients who developed and perfected these mentally and physically challenging methods, however, yoga and meditation were tools for finding inner peace and a harmonious existence. Once you look closely, plenty more evidence points to the non-violent, peaceful nature of these early peoples. For example, the archaeological remains of the cities and towns of the Indus civilisation during its florescence from c2300-1750BC show little if any indication of internal dissent, criminality, or even the threat of war and conflict from the outside. There are no known fortifications, nor is there proof of ransacking and pillaging.

There is also an emphasis on citizenship rather than a ruling elite in this period. Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests there was, in fact, no hereditary ruler – such as a king or other monarch – that amassed and controlled the wealth of the society. Thus, in contrast to the other ancient civilisations of the world, whose vast architectural and artistic undertakings, such as tombs and large-scale sculptures, served the wealthy and powerful, the Indus civilisation leaves nothing in the way of such monuments. Instead, government programmes and financial resources seem to have been directed towards the organisation of a society that benefited its citizens.

Another feature that sets the ancient Indus culture apart from other early civilisations is the prominent role played by women. Among the artefacts we have been able to unearth are thousands of ceramic sculptures representing women, sometimes interpreted as goddesses, and, specifically, mother goddesses. This is a core element in the major religious developments of India, which are populated with goddesses – some supreme and others whose role is to complement male deities who would otherwise be incomplete or even powerless. It is thus hardly surprising that the symbol chosen for the nationalistic independence movement of the early 20th century and the establishment of India's modern democracy was Bharat Mata – that is, Mother India.

Read more on the website.

Huntington, Susan. 2010. "The story of Mother India". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 12, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/12/ancient-world-india

Monday, November 29, 2010

China: Enduring empire

It's hard to avoid superlatives when describing China. The country's landmass is enormous, covering roughly 9.6m sq km, with a huge population of some 1.3 billion people. Having recently overtaken Japan as the world's second largest economy, it is well on the way to cementing a dominant position on the global markets. Yet one key fact to understand about China is that these developments are seen as nothing new, but a return to the old order of things. During the Tang dynasty (AD618-907) a census from the year 750 revealed a population of one million within the walls of the capital city, Chang'an, making it the largest city in the world at the time. And it was not just its size that was spectacular. The Chinese capital was probably the most powerful economic centre in the ancient world, attracting traders from the west who travelled along the Silk Road to buy and sell. There were Arabs, Persians and Sogdian traders from Samarkand, whose spiritual needs were served by mosques and Zoroastrian temples in the cosmopolitan city.

The First Emperor

The Chinese pride themselves on having the longest continuous civilisation in the world, although the massive state we know today took time to develop. From isolated Neolithic settlements scattered across the landmass, the great bronze age cultures of the Shang (c1500–c1050BC) and Zhou (c1050–221BC) developed in the north along the Yellow River. As Zhou polity fell apart, the northern part of China was divided between smaller states, many of which built defensive walls, precursors of the Great Wall. In 221BC, the First Emperor conquered all the other states and established his rule over a unified state stretching from the north of Beijing down to the northern border of the Guangdong province and from the far western Sichuan area to the eastern seaboard. This was most of the China we know today – in fact the name "China" derives from the First Emperor's home state of Qin (pronounced "Chin") on the Wei river.

The First Emperor quickly established an administration to maintain control of this vast landmass. Armed with legal handbooks, texts inscribed on narrow slips of bamboo, tied together and rolled up like tiny bamboo blinds, his officials established a system of law: they set out official standards for weights and measures that were checked rigorously – swindling offences were punished with sentences of hard labour on imperial walls and roads – and they conducted forensic investigations into suspicious deaths. A standardised coinage was also introduced: a new form of a circular coin with a square hole in the middle, which was used for more than 2,000 years until 1911. Even now the shape forms a major decorative emblem in ceramics and textiles.

In China, the First Emperor's rule is traditionally remembered as that of an unnecessarily harsh tyrant (contrasting with the "good guys" from the Han dynasty). Yet the First Emperor also managed to set up a relatively modern, forward-looking legal system that lasted 2,000 years, whereby trained administrators were sent out all over the country to govern by statute. What was right and what was wrong was now no longer subject to the whim of erratic autocrats, but out there for everyone to see. If you stole a sheep, you knew the consequences. China's legal system was described by Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century and admired by Enlightenment thinkers who saw it as a great improvement on rule by hereditary aristocrats.

Furthermore, a legal code was promoted that included a concession about legal responsibility. Unlike in Europe, though, it was not based on a person's age. In China even today, on the doors of buses and beside ticket offices in stations and at tourist sites, there is a metre-high mark, indicating that those under a metre in height can enter or travel for free.

Read more on the website.

Wood, Frances. 2010. "China: Enduring empire". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 11, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/11/ancient-world-china

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mesopotamia: Birthplace of civilisation

Driving north out of Samawa towards Baghdad, a short way beyond the Euphrates bridge, a tarmac track leaves the main road, heading eastwards into a scarred, dun-coloured wasteland. Soon you enter the real desert, swept by sandstorms. Then, after 60km or so, a haunting scene unfolds.

Looming out of the haze, the eye begins to make out a low range of brown hills, at first shapeless, then taking form: the eroded stumps of ziggurats to the Goddess Ishtar and Anu ("Lord Sky"). This is Warka, a site few places on earth can match for sheer atmosphere, and a landmark in the human story.

William Loftus, the first outsider in modern times to see these sights in 1849, was almost overwhelmed: "I know of nothing more exciting or impressive than the first sight of one of these Chaldaean piles, looming in solitary grandeur from the surrounding plains and marshes ... Of all the desolate sites I ever beheld, that of Warka incomparably surpasses all".

4,000 years of history

Named Uruk by the Akkadians, Unug by the Sumerians, Erech in the Bible and Orchoe by the Greeks, the city was founded in the fifth millennium BC and survived into the first millennium AD. It was ruled in later times by Romans, Persians and Muslim Arabs before in the seventh century AD it was abandoned, except for the Bedouin, whose black tents still hug the horizon. To what extent Uruk really was the "mother of cities" is still hotly argued by archaeologists. It is claimed to be the birthplace of writing, mathematics and literature, and few would dispute that it is one of the most potent memory places of humanity.

The size of the site is testimony to the scale of the achievement of Mesopotamia, the world's first civilisation. Inside its silted gates, poking out of huge dunes, it is 3km wide and the circuit, dating back to around 3000BC, is 9km. Where the past century of archaeology has exposed them, you see great platforms and revetments of burned brick like the foundations of small skyscrapers. In places below the visitor's feet are strata 75 feet deep, which contain the shattered bric-a-brac of human history: Islamic glass, Hellenistic bowls, Parthanian clay coffins, greenish black-patterned Ubaid sherds and the little clay sickles used by the first dwellers in the Mesopotamian plain around 5000BC. In this one place is the image of civilisation: its rise, growth, triumphs – and perhaps its end too.

Like the cultures of the Nile or the Indus, Mesopotamia, as its name suggests ("the land between the rivers") owed its existence to a river system. Large-scale human societies had begun to grow from about 10,000BC in an arc through Syria, Palestine, Anatolia and the Zagros mountains. Starting with the first larger scale settlements at Jericho and Catal Huyuk in Anatolia, these were well built but still relatively small. It was only when sophisticated irrigation techniques were developed that the plain of southern Iraq was opened up to sustain a huge concentration of people and resources. Yet even this was still a relatively confined area: Mesopotamia had 25,000 sq km of irrigated land – similar in size to early dynastic Egypt.

From the fourth millennium BC came the first large cities, then states, whose culture and society would influence every aspect of life across west Asia – and further afield. In the third millennium BC, there were around 40 cities in Sumer and Akkad that made up the Babylonian plain. One big city-state, Lagash (whose site is more than 3km across), had 36,000 male adults in the third millennium BC, suggesting upwards of 100,000 people altogether. Uruk was probably of similar size. Each controlled an extensive territory: at Nippur, for example, 200 subsidiary villages clustered around five main canals and 60 smaller ones, joined by a web of countless small irrigation ditches – all subject to laws, customs and close control. These urban developments were fed by a trading network which, in the case of Uruk, linked Anatolia, Syria and the Zagros. Recent research has shown that Mesopotamia might not only have given birth to the world's first trading culture, but also the earliest private treaty stock market.

It is not surprising then that writing, written law, contract law, and international treaties are all found for the first time in the area. Not only does history begin at Sumer, but so does economics.

Read more on the website

Wood, Michael. 2010. "Mesopotamia: Birthplace of civilisation". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 10, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/10/ancient-world-mesopotamia

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Americas: The old New World

Original civilisations developed in just a select handful of places across the globe. Two of these – the Andes and Mesoamerica – are found in the last continental landmass to be colonised by humanity. From the frozen reaches of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, across the high grassland plains of North America, through the equatorial tropics and down the spine of the Andes to Patagonia at the uttermost end of the earth, the Americas boast an extraordinary range of landscapes and climates. These presented great challenges to human adaptive capacities and produced some remarkable and ingenious responses. In 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his party first beheld the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan as if floating on the shimmering waters of Lake Texcoco, in the Basin of Mexico. His incredulous companion Bernal Diaz extolled the vision of this great island metropolis, with its temples, plazas, ordered streets, gardens and causeways, as "surpassing anything to be seen in all of Europe".

Yet successive visitors have been as likely to dismiss America's native population as they have been to praise it. Writing some 300 years after Cortés, Charles Darwin described the Yahgan canoe Indians of Tierra del Fuego as "the most miserable wretches on the face of the earth", living on the very lowest rung of human existence. He would not have been aware that for decades, passing whalers and seal hunters had decimated the colonies of marine mammals upon which the Yahgan depended, introducing contagious disease and alcohol along the way, with devastating consequences.

These wildly divergent accounts have coloured the European imagination to such an extent that pre-Columbian peoples and cultures are still prone to be tagged as primitive and mysterious. Prior to modern archaeological research, the ancient history of the Americas was framed within a greatly foreshortened and unrealistic timescale; only recently have we learned to appreciate that the rise of civilisation on this side of the globe broadly parallels advances elsewhere in the world, albeit with its own distinctive character.

Rise of Civilisation

Most researchers agree that it took as many as 50,000 years for the North and South American continents to be populated; we certainly know that the earliest human colonists arrived in Patagonia around 10,000 years or so ago. With global warming following the end of the last ice age, favoured environments fostered the steady growth of settled communities and the gradual transition from hunting and foraging to farming. Just as was the case in the "Old World", some wild plants became highly productive staple crops – the outcome of thousands of years of human selection and breeding. In the South American lowlands these include cassava (which required a sophisticated processing technology) and other tubers, peppers, peanuts, tobacco and cotton. In the South American highlands, domesticated llamas and alpacas supplied vital meat and wool as well as serving as pack animals well adapted to the vertiginous terrain. The native American horse had long been extinct and the horse that we are familiar with from Westerns was only reintroduced in the 16th century by the Spanish. Guinea pigs were another vital source of food – complemented by potatoes, beans and quinoa. In Mesoamerica, maize (teosinte, literally "food of the gods") was all-important, and once separated from its wild progenitor (thus avoiding cross-breeding) it was widely adopted in both Meso and South America, fuelling demographic growth and increasing social complexity. The Maya revered maize and even modelled busts of their young maize god with flowing hair to resemble the silk tassel on an ear of corn.

As in other parts of the globe, competition for the best farmable land and precious water led to the rise of ruling elites who presided over agriculture and craft production. This, in turn, led to the growth of religion and the creation of artworks that reflected both spiritual and political concerns. Thus on Mexico's Gulf Coast from 1200BC onwards, the precocious Olmec culture nurtured the first great art style in Mesoamerica, with monumental sculpted heads of rulers weighing many tonnes. They were followed by the rise of the Maya city-states further south, whose stone reliefs mark key events in the lives of their kings and queens. In highland Mexico, farmers, craftsmen and traders supported the city of Teotihuacan, which housed as many as 200,000 inhabitants by AD600, making it one of the six largest urban centres of its time in the world. Teotihuacan still serves as an example of a model metropolis: a multi-ethnic urban centre fuelled by far-reaching trade networks.

In the Oaxaca Valley, the Mixtec and Zapotec progressively enlarged the site of Monte Alban, with its spectacular temples, tombs and ball courts. Meanwhile, further south, Peru's Pacific north coast spawned an early tradition of great U-shaped ceremonial settlements with monumental architecture and sunken plazas that preceded the introduction of pottery. One of those centres, Caral, has been claimed to be the first urban complex in the Americas.

Ritual and ceremony also left their mark at Chavín de Huántar on the eastern flank of the Andes, in the form of densely intertwined images of animals and birds, reminiscent of Celtic art. Chavín art exerted a seminal influence on Andean culture, and the coastal states of Moche (later Chimu) and Nasca developed innovative but strikingly different art styles. Painted fine-line Moche vessels can be compared with scenes painted on Greek Attic vases, while the bold polychrome aesthetics of Nazca pottery seem to look forward to Picasso's stylised abstraction. The contemporary Wari and Tiwanaku empires of the highlands created more geometric styles rendered on textiles, clay and stone.

Read more on the website.

McEwan, Colin. 2010. "The Americas: The old New World". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 9, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/09/ancient-world-the-americas

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rome: Emperors and poets

Ever since her fall, Rome has served the west as the very archetype of empire. Predatory, intimidating and ineffably glamorous, her civilisation was both eerily like our own, and utterly, astoundingly strange. It is this tension, between what is familiar and what is not, that best explains the fascination that Rome still holds for us to this day. The famous words that Edward Gibbon applied to her ruin might well describe the entire parabola of her thousand-year rise and fall. "The greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene, in the history of mankind."

At its heart lies a mystery as profound as any in the records of human civilisation. How did the Romans achieve all that they did? How did a small community, camped out among marshes and hills, end up ruling an empire that stretched from the moors of Scotland to the sands of Arabia? So solidly planted within our imaginations are the brute facts of this rise to superpower status that we have become, perhaps, desensitised to the full astonishing scale of the Roman adventure. Virgil, the great laureate of his people's achievement, saw in it the fulfilment of a mission entrusted to them by the gods. "Your task, O Roman," he wrote in celebrated lines, "is to rule and bring to men the arts of government, to impose upon them the arts of peace, to spare those who submit, to subdue the arrogant."

Rome's enemies, unsurprisingly, were inclined to interpret her motives a little differently. "Warmongers against every nation, people and monarch under the sun," spat Mithridates, an Asiatic king of the first century BC who devoted his life to resisting the encroachments of Roman imperialism. "They have only one abiding motive – greed, deep-seated, for empire and riches." So it has ever been, of course: one man's peacekeeper will invariably appear another's brutal aggressor. Yet both Virgil and Mithridates, profoundly though they may have disagreed as to the character of Rome's dominion, had not the slightest doubt as to what had made it possible. Her truest talent was for conquest. There were other peoples, perhaps, who excelled the Romans in the arts, or in philosophy, or in the study of the heavens, but there were none who could match the legions on the battlefield. Rome's greatness was won and maintained, above all, by her genius for war.

The city's destiny had been manifest in her origins. Rome was founded, according to tradition, in 753BC, by Romulus, her first king: a man who had drunk in savagery from a she-wolf's teat. The story of this suckling was one that always caused the Romans some embarrassment – for it was the habit of their enemies to condemn Rome as "the city of the wolf." Yet the image of the Romans as a killer breed, sniffing the wind for prey, and feasting on raw meat, only told half the story. Their undoubted aptitude for violence was mediated by a characteristic no less potent: a steely admiration for self-control. When the son of Rome's seventh king, ignoring this, raped a prominent citizen's wife, the scandalised Romans abolished the monarchy altogether and replaced it, in 509BC, with a republic.

Later generations would pinpoint this as the moment when Rome came of age. Yet in truth, for a century after the expulsion of their last king, the Romans struggled to establish their city as anything particularly notable. Then, in 390BC, came the experience that transformed the Republic into a state authentically mutant and lethal. An invading horde of barbarians from the north wiped out an entire Roman army, swept into Rome itself, and pillaged the city mercilessly. A salutary and shocking humiliation – and the episode, more than any other, that served to put steel into the Roman soul. The Republic, from that moment on, was resolved never again to tolerate defeat, dishonour or disrespect.

Expanding of the Empire

Slowly at first, and then with increasing self-assurance, the Romans pushed back the limits of their supremacy. By the 260s BC, they had established their city as the mistress of Italy, and by 241, after a terrible war lasting 24 years, succeeded in defeating the great naval power of Carthage, and establishing their first overseas province.

It was not in victory, however, that they best demonstrated the unique fortitude of their character, but in catastrophe. In 218BC, a Carthaginian general named Hannibal renewed his city's war against Rome. Two years later, on 2 August 216, he subjected the largest army that the Roman Republic had ever put into the battlefield to utter defeat. More soldiers, it has been estimated, were slaughtered in that single day's fighting than were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme – and the scene of carnage, it is said, "was shocking even to the enemy." The battle of Cannae, the greatest victory of Rome's greatest enemy, annihilated perhaps a fifth of her available manpower, and it was the natural presumption of Hannibal that she was now bound to sue for terms.

But she did not. Against all the conventions of warfare at the time, implacably and barely believably, the Romans fought on. In due course, completing one of the most sensational comebacks in military history, they emerged triumphant – first against Hannibal, and then against anything that any power anywhere could throw against them. By the first century BC, Rome was the undisputed queen of the Mediterranean.

This was unprecedented, in that huge empires had often been won by monarchs before – but never by a republic. To the Romans themselves, as startled as everyone else by the scale of their rise to dominance, it appeared self-evident that their liberty and their greatness were different sides of the same coin. The values that gave breath to the Republic, the rituals and codes of its citizens, its extremes of ambition, self-sacrifice and desire: these, it seemed to the Romans, were what had enabled them to conquer the world.

"It is almost beyond belief how great the Republic's achievements were once the people had gained their freedom, such was the longing for glory that it lit in every citizen's heart." So wrote Sallust, Rome's first great historian. There were few of his fellow citizens who would have disagreed.

Read more on the website.

Holland, Tom. 2010. "Rome: Emperors and poets". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 8, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/08/ancient-world-rome

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Greece: Birthplace of the modern world?

E pluribus unum: "out of many – one". The one-time motto of the US reminds us that, much like most of the larger nation states today, ancient Greece was a mosaic of very different components: about 1,000 of them at any one time between c600BC and AD330. That is, there were a thousand or so separate, often radically self-differentiated political entities, most of which went by the title of polis, or citizen-state. Our term "Greece" is derived from the Romans' Latin name, Graecia, whereas the ancient Greeks spoke of Hellas – meaning sometimes the Aegean Greek heartland, at other times the entire, hypertrophied Hellenic world – and referred to themselves as "Hellenes".

In the foundational epics attributed to Homer, however, you won't find Greeks referred to as "Hellenes" but as "Achaeans", "Danaans", or "Argives". That was because the epics are set in a period before "Hellas" and "Hellenes" had become common currency – before, that is, the eighth century BC, when Greeks first started emigrating permanently from the Aegean basin and settling around the Mediterranean and Black Seas. By the time of Plato, around 400BC, Hellas stretched from the Pillars of Heracles (straits of Gibraltar) in the west to Phasis in Colchis (in modern Georgia) in the far east. Later, following the conquests of Alexander the Great, the pale of Hellenic settlement was extended even further eastwards, as far as Afghanistan and the Indus Valley of Pakistan.

Everyone who was not a Hellene by birth, language or culture was labelled a barbaros. Originally an onomatopoeic description of anyone who spoke a non-Greek, unintelligible language, barbaros came to acquire the pejorative connotations of "barbarous" and "barbaric". The Romans took the same sort of view of all non-Romans – excepting only Hellenes – which is how those emotive terms entered our own language.

United Greece

The transformational turning point came in the first decades of the fifth century BC, in the course of the epic conflict known from the Greek standpoint as the Persian Wars. The mighty Persian empire, the fastest growing and largest oriental empire yet, had threatened to swallow up mainland Greece as well as those Greeks who lived within the bounds of what the Persians considered their own sphere – Asia. But on the battlefields of Marathon, Salamis, Plataea and Mycale, a relative handful of Greek communities managed to unite long enough to repulse that threat – for ever, as it turned out. Indeed, Alexander turned the tables by conquering the old Persian empire and starting to create a new Helleno-Persian successor: oriental in its underlying administrative and symbolic structure, but Greek in unifying language and high culture.

Furthermore, the Greeks' unexpected victories over the Persians of 490 and 480-479BC unleashed an era of unparalleled cultural creativity – from Aeschylus's tragic drama Persians of 472BC to the mathematical genius of Archimedes. However, united though they were by religion and common social customs and by at least partly fictional self-images, these Greeks were very much not united by one of their major contributions to the sum of human achievement – politics.

Much of our everyday political language is of ancient Greek derivation: monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, aristocracy, plutocracy, democracy – not to mention the word "politics" itself. Much of the rest is Latin-derived: constitution, republic, empire, among others. But the Latin for "democracy" was democratia, a loan-word, because actually the Romans didn't do democracy – at least not in the original ancient Greek sense of the term; and they recognised, as we all do or should, that in this sphere the Greeks had been the original pioneers.

However, the ancient Greeks' demokratia was hugely different not just in scale but in kind from any modern political system that claims the title of "democracy". That was partly because the fundamental ancient Greek political unit, the polis, was a strong community in a very exclusive sense: only adult male citizens could consider themselves politically entitled. Even then, the ancient Greeks typically ruled themselves directly, in that they did not select rulers to rule over and for them. Theirs were direct, participatory self-governments, whereas ours are notionally "representative".

But democracy, so far from being the ancient Greek norm, was at first a rare and rather fragile plant: only later did it become about as widely distributed as various forms of oligarchy. And only in a few cases – in Athens, above all – was it both deeply rooted and conspicuously radical. At all times and in all places it remained more or less controversial. And there was a good linguistic reason for this. Demokratia was a compound of demos and kratos. But whereas kratos unambiguously meant "grip" or "power", demos could be interpreted to mean either "people" (in a vague sense, as in Abraham Lincoln's famous words at Gettysburg: "government of the people, by the people, for the people") or very specifically "the masses": the poor majority of the enfranchised citizen body (which might range in size from as few as 500, as on the island-state of Melos in the Cyclades, to as many as the 50,000 citizens of democratic Athens).

So if you liked demokratia, it could mean People Power, but if you hated it – if, say, you were a member of the wealthy elite – then it could stand for the ancient Greek equivalent of Lenin's dictatorship of the proletariat.

By and large the Romans took the second view, which is why they went to great lengths to stamp it out within their empire – the eastern half of which was basically Greek – in the end with total success. It therefore took a great deal of effort and ingenuity in the 19th century to rehabilitate "democracy" as a viably positive term of political discourse – and even then only at the cost of draining it of the active, participatory, class-conscious dimension the Athenians had given it.

Visit the website to learn more.

Cartledge, Paul. 2010. "Greece: Birthplace of the modern world?". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 7, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/07/ancient-world-greece

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Egypt: A life before the afterlife

Ancient Egypt rarely escapes our stereotypical view of it: an exotic place full of pyramids crammed with cursed treasure, waiting to be discovered by adventurous archaeologists. As in René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's comic Asterix and Cleopatra, it is often presented as a land of spooky tombs and people speaking in hieroglyphic pictures. These stereotypes are themselves quite ancient – even to the ancient Greeks, Egypt was a quintessentially different culture. But they trivialise a complex society.

Ancient Egypt is one of the first civilisations that children are taught about, and so people sometimes assume that it must be a "childish" culture, an early step in humanity's evolution towards modernity. People of all ages visit the displays of mummies in the British Museum, and there can be no more vivid way of stirring anyone's historical imagination than to look into an actual ancient face. But as we stare, we can sometimes forget that they were more than mummies, and that once they were people as complex and sophisticated as us.

Some of our misunderstandings about ancient Egypt come about in part because the Egyptians presented much of their history in a monumental and monolithic form. For centuries, the Egyptians codified in stone their history as a list of kings, each the son of the sun god, each a triumphant hero who, with each reign, re-established order in a chaotic universe. Even now, Egyptian history is conventionally divided into great kingdoms of centralised rule, the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, divided by periods of supposed chaos. The central role of the king is perhaps the key to Egypt's self-representation: every king re-established Egyptian society, eternal and unchanging since the time of the gods.

In these official records, Egypt presented itself as an extremely conservative culture. As in any society, it is all too easy to accept this ideology at face value, but there were huge changes behind this facade and continual tensions between the royal centre and periphery – aspects of history that were written out of royal inscriptions. After so many centuries, how can we get behind these official political pronouncements and begin to understand the Egyptians in context?

Occasionally we have different types of evidence for the same events, which allow us a fuller picture. In 1858BC at Semna, in Nubia at the southern edge of Egypt, King Senusret III erected an inscription to mark the border of his territory. In this, he proclaimed scornfully that the Nubian locals "only have to hear and then fall at a word: just answering them makes them retreat". But the archaeological context reveals that the inscription was erected in a massive mud-brick fortress, which shows that the king needed more than words to control the Nubians. And this fortress was part of an expansion into Nubia that was motivated by complex economic and political factors. The history of the area was not simply a triumph of royal rhetoric.

For one week during the reign of the following king, Amenemhat III, we have evidence that hints at a more complex history underlying this monumental facade. A fragmentary series of military despatches records trivial realities such as the arrival of a group of soldiers to report "on month 4 of winter, day 2 at breakfast-time" that a patrol had returned with the news that "we found the tracks of 32 men and three donkeys". This was a civilisation not just of pyramids, but also petty paperwork and interrupted breakfasts.

The ancient Egyptians were, of course, as fully aware as any modern historian or politician of the difference between words and reality. The dichotomies between what one can say on an official monument and what one really feels is vividly conveyed in a letter from Luxor, dated around 1100BC, in which the pharaoh's general Payankh tells a scribe to have two troublesome policemen "put in two baskets and thrown into the water by night – but don't let anyone find out". He continues: "and Pharaoh (life, prosperity, health!) – how will he even get to this part of the land? And ... whose boss is he anyway?" Such dissidence is unthinkable in Egyptian official writings, although even here the writer adds the obedient salutation to the Pharaoh's health even as he mocks him.

Visit the website for more.

Parkinson, Richard. 2010. "Egypt: A life before the afterlife". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 5, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/06/ancient-world-egypt

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bright New Mecca Train Ferries Hajj Pilgrims

One of the new Mashair Railway light-rail trains runs in Mecca, Saudia Arabia, the holiest city of Islam, in early November. The 11-mile (18-kilometer) railway will transport some of the millions of pilgrims who travel to Islamic holy sites during the annual four-day hajj.

The train is open only to Saudi Arabians and other Persian Gulf-state nationals until the system becomes fully operational next year, according to the Associated Press.

Saudi officials hope the Chinese-built train—also called the Mecca Metro—will ease crowding among the roughly 2.5 million worshipers who make the Mecca pilgrimage in any given year, the AP reported.

Part of a ten-year modernization plan for the ancient city, the railway will be joined by modern communication technology, green initiatives, and other urban-planning improvements, Mecca Mayor Ossama al-Bar told the AP.

Visit the website for beautiful pictures.

Di Roma, Korena. 2010. "Bright New Mecca Train Ferries Hajj Pilgrims". National Geographic Pictures. Posted: November 17, 2010. Available online: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/photogalleries/101117-new-mecca-metro-mashair-hajj-light-rail-train-world-pictures/

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exotic Oman Opens Its Doors

Long isolated, the Sultanate has begun to welcome foreign tourists to its inviting beaches and historic forts

THINK of the Persian Gulf and what do you see? Gulf war soldiers, burning oil, bearded fanatics, polluted seas and flat, bleak desert. What does not come to mind is vacation.

Think of Oman, and even the most seasoned traveler might have difficulty conjuring up any image at all. But the strategically placed Sultanate of Oman is not only one of the most beautiful countries in all the Middle East, it is also a glorious place to vacation, well worth the eight-hour flight from London or what would be a 14-hour trip from New York, were there a nonstop flight from the United States to Muscat, the capital, which there is not -- at least not yet.

At the entrance to the Persian Gulf, Oman also looks out on the Arabian Sea.

With more than 1,000 miles of pristine coastline, Oman, about the size of Kansas and shaped like California, offers visitors wide-ranging terrain and experiences -- from striking desertscapes where camels and jeeps race along silky sand dunes, to tropical seaside resorts with palm trees and world-class fishing and diving. There are country markets where farmers, silversmiths and craftsmen haggle over varieties of incense and intricately worked silver daggers and jewelry, yet in Muscat visitors can attend theater or concerts of the Omani Philharmonic.

Just inland lies Oman's backbone, the great Jabal Akhdar, the Green Mountains, whose sharp peaks of green-tinted rock soar to 10,000 feet and offer climbing, hiking, and camping alongside that rarest of sights in this part of the world, freshwater streams and dramatic waterfalls.

Oman has always been different from other countries in the Arabian peninsula and most of the Middle East. Long isolated by choice from the rest of the region -- indeed, from most of the world -- Oman has only recently opened up to tourists, and given the relatively high prices of its hotels, the Omanis seem intent on developing tourism that caters mainly to wealthier visitors.

If Oman could be described as "unknown" as late as 1966 by Wendell Phillips, the American archeologist and oil consultant, the fault is largely its own. For many years, Oman neither sought nor welcomed strangers.

Most of the foreigners who came intermittently brought little but conquest, occupation and despair to Omanis, starting with the Persians, whose King Cyrus the Great conquered Oman in 536 B.C.

Subsequent invaders came from what is now Iraq. Then came the Mongols, and then the Persians again.

In the early 16th century the Portuguese invaded, bombarding and destroying Omani cities, as did the Turks a generation later. But around 1650 independent rule was re-established and has been more or less maintained since then. As a result, Oman can claim to be among the oldest independent sovereign Arab states in existence today.

Since the Omanis themselves were great travelers, traders and empire builders, ruling large parts of East Africa and even Zanzibar, their culture was soon marked by cultural and culinary influences unknown in most parts of Arabia. While Oman may be linked by land to the Arabian peninsula, it looks out to the east. So happily for Omani food and art, the influence of India and even China remains strong. And because it was always a trading society, Oman has almost always been rich, long before oil, which Oman began producing in 1967, late by Gulf standards, and which now provides the country with half its income. Four thousand years ago, its wealth was based on dates, copper and frankincense, the fragrant gift of kings that is still burned in homes and offices and exported at exorbitant prices. Later Oman prospered because of its trade in slaves, gold and spices.

For almost 30 years, Oman's oil has enabled its ruler, Sultan Qabus bin Said, 55, to develop and educate the country and provide its people with an average per capita income of around $9,000 a year. (The population of around 2.5 million includes about 750,000 expatriate workers.) But unlike some other oil-rich countries, Oman has enjoyed orderly development. As a result, its culture and identity are largely intact. Compromise between modernization and tradition is the rule: so there is a McDonald's, but no golden arches.

Men still wear a light-colored dishdasha, a flowing, ankle-length robe, and the distinctive ammama, a brightly colored cashmere turban, or an embroidered skull cap called a kumma. Official occasions in Muscat require men to wear the Omani equivalent of black tie -- an exquisitely crafted ceremonial dagger, the khanjar. (In the countryside, daggers are routine and not ceremonial.) Rural women in markets still cover their bodies in black silk robes and their faces with dyed, eagle-like masks. But younger women in the capital opt for simpler silk headscarves. Omani women of all classes and regions still paint their hands for weddings and other celebrations in fanciful filigrees made with henna, a natural dye.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, where women cannot work with men or drive and there are no elections, Oman now has several women in the partially elected Consultative Council, and Sultan Qabus is committed to implementing by the year 2000 the Basic Law he announced in November 1996. What is in effect an Islam-based constitution contains a bill of rights guaranteeing a measure of press freedom as well as tolerance and equality of both sexes under law. There is no religious police. Alcohol is not banned.

What cannot be legislated, but what the visitor instantly feels, is the warmth of Omanis. On entering Nizwa, a former capital two hours inland from Muscat, one passes not a grandiose statue of the leader, but a roundabout decorated with a giant Arabic coffee urn, surrounded by silver-lined cups, a symbol of Oman's legendary hospitality. Another traffic circle, a reflection of the Sultan's British education, has at its center a huge stack of books, homage to the country's emphasis on learning.

Muscat, a city of over 500,000 encircled by mountains overlooking the sea, is breathtakingly situated. Old and new blend, and no skyscrapers mar the view of its quaint harbor or the mountains. The modern roads, landscaped with native plants, are spotless. And Muscat's mayor has commissioned artists to decorate the rocks scattered throughout the city like stone thunderbolts with colorful artificial waterfalls, colorful mosaics and fiberglass renditions of animals, among them the Arabian tahr, a mountain goat related to the ibex. Once nearly extinct, the tahr has doubled in number to an estimated 2,000 since a hunting ban was enacted in 1976.

One luminescent day last winter, the best time to visit Oman, my husband, Jason Epstein, and I met several friends for a week in Oman, which allowed us to see only a small portion of the country. Staying with a friend in Muscat, we toured the capital, then mountain villages, the silky dunes of the Wahiba Sands in central Oman and the balmy southern city of Salalah, reminiscent of Mexico's coast before mass tourism and also the site of deserted ruins and ancient cave paintings. Finally, we went camping on a beach where rare turtles lay their eggs.

During our trip, we were invited to a private lunch in the Jabal Akhdar, the mountain range split by a spectacular canyon -- an excursion not to be missed on any visit to Oman. We were served traditional Omani specialties that can also be found in the country's handful of excellent restaurants.

The meal began with a dish of braised goat that had been wrapped in a dry marinade of local spices, buried for several days, and cooked on a large preheated stone. Then came the best curried chicken either of us had ever had, accompanied by Persian rice, a variety of garlic-touched fresh vegetables, and for dessert, ice cream in date syrup, a local specialty that puts chocolate to shame. The sumptuous meal ended with fresh mint tea and Arabic coffee, accented with cardamom -- the first of many excellent meals in this exquisitely civilized country.

After lunch, we toured the rugged mountain villages in a rented four-wheel drive vehicle -- recommended for Oman's rough terrain and readily available in the capital and most main towns. To encourage Omanis to remain in their villages and not migrate to Muscat, the sultan has not only brought roads, power, water, health clinics and schools to the most remote mountain enclaves, but he is also building low-income housing in traditional Omani style, renovating Oman's 400-year-old forts to encourage tourism, and providing loans and grants to help Omanis continue farming, making local handicrafts and enjoying their traditional way of life.

When Sultan Qabus took power, the country had only six miles of paved roads, a handful of schools and two hospitals. Today, Qabus rules a unified country with 22,800 miles of uncrowded paved or gravel roads that make driving a pleasure, modern telecommunications, and a safe country with almost no crime and good health care.

Oman was discreetly opened to tourism only three years ago. The "non-objection certificates" once sparingly approved by contract British officers who held senior posts in Oman's military and civil service as late as 1990 are no longer required. Omani and foreign travel agencies and even hotels can help arrange tourist visas.

With time limited and our group's tastes diverse, our itinerary required compromise. A seasoned traveler in the Middle East with a fear of heights, I did not relish either a balloon trip over the desert, a popular outing, or yet another camel ride. So when our small band drove out to the golden Wahiba Sands to ride jeeps, horses and camels, I sat happily in a Bedouin camp tent, munching dates and reading one of Phillips's splendid books, "Oman, a History."

My husband, on the other hand, is no trekker. So he passed up hiking in the mountains or in one of the country's 83 nature reserves, whose flora and fauna are protected by law. But we both loved our visit to Fort Jabrin, one of the many 17th-century fortresses, with commanding views of the desert and surrounding mountains. We were delighted with the town of Sur, where the dhows that have sailed the Gulf since antiquity are still built.

The country's lively interior souks, or markets, were another favorite. At the Friday market in Sinaw, we bought tribal rugs and cashmere turbans; our guide, Said Al-Harthy, who works as a public affairs assistant in the American Embassy in Muscat as well as running a tour company, taught us how to tie the turbans around our heads. I added several pieces of antique Bedouin jewelry to my collection, along with a beautifully worked silver belt buckle, and a colorful Omani dress, traditionally worn over embroidered harem pants. A friend bought several varieties of frankincense and bargained hard for an ammunition belt, with live bullets. Haggling, which is half the fun, insured that prices were reasonable.

THOSE who love the sea as I do should visit Salalah, the capital of Dhofar in the south, 90 minutes by air from Muscat. During our two-day visit to the region, which has its own culture, language and traditions, we stayed at the Holiday Inn, a simple, rustic hotel on a palm-lined beach. Salalah's splendid beaches, which offer snorkeling and diving, are particularly inviting during the months of November through March.

One afternoon, we toured the ruins of Samharam, an ancient town on the sea, and had a picnic under drawings made by the inhabitants of nearby caves nearly a thousand years ago.

The highlight of our visit, however, was a trip to the turtle nesting beaches of Ras al-Hadd. For millenia, green sea turtles have come ashore after dark on these beaches to dig deep holes in the sand and lay their eggs. While we could have driven 45 minutes to spend the night at a hotel, Said had made arrangements for us to camp, and we pitched tents on a neighboring sandy site. There we roasted lamb and listened to Omani songs on a cassette player until almost midnight. Then we quietly made our way to the beach where one giant turtle after another inched her way out of the water. We watched as the turtles dug their holes, and sometimes abandoned a half-dug hole only to dig another a few yards away. The mother turtles sighed and groaned as they began laying their eggs, one by one. The 50 or so tourists who had gathered to witness this astonishing event are forbidden to use flashlights or flashbulbs as the turtles climb ashore, but once the egg-laying began, the turtles seemed oblivious to their silent audience.

About 45 minutes later, the weary turtles, with great difficulty, heaved themselves out of the deep trenches they had dug, covered the holes with sand, and inched their way back into the sea. Exhausted, we returned to our tents for a few hours of sleep under a sequined sky. But just before dawn, Said woke us to watch the second act of this drama: the birth of baby turtles whose eggs had been laid around 50 days before.

We saw only a few of the hatchlings dig their way out of the sand that morning, but even that was thrilling.

While Omani guards were supposed to prevent tourists from interfering with the turtles's first steps towards the sea -- they must make their own way against all predators to adjust the internal navigational systems that will enable them to find the same beach again for the next 70 or 80 years -- the Government guardians were not vigilant that morning. A German tourist, tired of watching a tiny turtle try to dig its way out of its deep sand cradle, picked the little fellow up and placed him at the water's edge. Many of us were appalled, but the woman got the photo she had come for.

I left the country, laden with gifts from Omani friends -- pottery incense burners, tiny sacks of frankincense and Amouage, one of several musky perfumes made here and among the world's most expensive scents. A few weeks after my return, I sat next to a woman wearing it, and complimented her. The rest of the dinner was spent reminiscing about our respective trips and exchanging advice on what we agreed would be return visits to a place that is one of the world's vacation secrets.

Miller, Judith. 2010. "Exotic Oman Opens Its Doors". Nizwa.net. Posted: February 8, 1998. Available online: http://www.nizwa.net/oman/omanvis/ny.html

Sunday, November 21, 2010

First Images of the Interior of Teotihuacan Tunnel Captured by Camera on Small Robot

The first images of the interior of the tunnel found under the Feathered Serpent Temple, in Teotihuacan, captured by a small robot introduced by archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), were presented to the media due to the relevance of the event in the history of Mexican archaeological research.

This is the first time a robot is integrated to archaeological exploration in Mexico; a similar devise was used in Egypt 10 years ago to explore a tomb.

Tlaloque 1, named after the mythological beings that helped Tlaloc, covered the first stretch of a tunnel that has not been walked for 1,800 years. Images reveal that the passageway built more than 2,000 years ago to represent the underworld, is stable enough to be explored by archaeologists soon.

During the presentation of the images to communication media representatives, the INAH national coordinator of Archaeology, Salvador Guilliem, was present. It was mentioned that this robotic device adds up to the technologies used by archaeologists in this project. Several weeks ago, geo radar was used to determine with precision that the tunnel conducts to 3 chambers, where the remains of important characters might have been buried.

Archaeologist Sergio Gomez Chavez, director of “Tlalocan Project: Underground Road”, informed that this is the first time that this kind of device is used in Mexico; “Apparently it had been used in Egypt, and us, as INAH researchers, are the first ones to develop it and use it in our country”.

Tlaloque 1 is a 30 by 50 centimeters by 20 in height, 4x4 traction vehicle. It is equipped with 2 remote-controlled camcorders that are able to do 360 degree turns; one at the front and the other at the back. The device has its own illumination source and transmits images to a computer monitor in the exterior.

Gomez Chavez mentioned that 3 months ago, it was programmed to use a device that could get into the tunnel and capture images of the interior, to evaluate the risks of entering the tunnel, since it has remained closed for thousands of years.

“The robot was designed and built especially for this investigation by engineer in Robotics Hugo Armando Guerra Calva, who obtained his degree at the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN). Fifteen days ago the first tests were conducted and it worked well, but we noticed that we needed to reduce the height of the devise and provide it with more potent lamps.

“In the first test the robot advanced a few meters through a small space between the vault and the debris used to fill the tunnel. Images were very important to determine the conditions of the interior: the conduct was excavated in the rock; in some parts, the marks of tools used by Teotihuacan masons are still evident. The roof presents an arched form, and, at least the part explored by the robot, appears stable, giving us many possibilities to explore it physically in the next weeks”.

Although the tunnel was intentionally filled up with rocks and debris, Tlaloque 1 was able to cover a few meters through a 25 centimeters high space. Excavations must be conducted in order to clear the entrance. “We calculate we will be able to enter the tunnel in early December 2010”, declared archaeologist Gomez.

He declared that the device also captured details of the great carved rocks inside the tunnel: apparently they are sculptures or perfectly carved rocks, of great weight and dimensions, introduced by Teotihuacan people to close the entrance between 200 and 250 of the Common Era, nearly 1,800 years ago”.

The surface to be passed by the robot is covered with fine dust and sand, which provoked it to skid, so it was decided to increase the potency of the 4 engines to improve traction.

Two months after INAH announced the discovery of the tunnel, archaeologists have achieved to unblock the mouth of the Prehispanic passageway. After getting to the floor, it was confirmed with the help of a geo radar device, that it is nearly 2.5 meters high 4 meters wide and 100 long.

“Studies conducted with geo radar by Dr. Victor Manuel Velasco, from the Geo Physics Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), have detected 3 chambers in which the remains of important personages of the city might have been buried; this hypothesis must be confirmed with exploration”.

The tunnel was discovered in late 2003 by archaeologists Sergio Gomez and Julie Gazzola, but its exploration has required years of planning and resource negotiation so the most advanced technology can be used. A laser scanner device, which belongs to the INAH National Coordination of Historical Monuments, has also been used to conduct the 3-dimensional register of the tunnel.

Investigations –part of the celebration of the first 100 years of archaeological exploration and inauguration of public visits to Teotihuacan – have allowed to verify that the tunnel was constructed before the Feathered Serpent Temple and the Citadel, structures that were the scenario of rituals linked to original creation myths, while the tunnel must have been related to the underworld concept.

2010. "First Images of the Interior of Teotihuacan Tunnel Captured by Camera on Small Robot". . Posted: November 13, 2010. Available online: http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=42504

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change

About the film

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change had its world premiere October 23, 2010, at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto. The complete film also streamed online simultaneously watched by more than 1500 viewers around the world. Following the film, a Q&A with filmmakers Zacharias Kunuk and Dr. Ian Mauro included live call-in by Skype from viewers from Pond Inlet, New York, Sydney, Australia and other locations.

Nunavut-based director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and researcher and filmmaker Dr. Ian Mauro (Seeds of Change) have teamed up with Inuit communities to document their knowledge and experience regarding climate change. This new documentary, the world’s first Inuktitut language film on the topic, takes the viewer “on the land” with elders and hunters to explore the social and ecological impacts of a warming Arctic. This unforgettable film helps us to appreciate Inuit culture and expertise regarding environmental change and indigenous ways of adapting to it.

Exploring centuries of Inuit knowledge, allowing the viewer to learn about climate change first-hand from Arctic residents themselves, the film portrays Inuit as experts regarding their land and wildlife and makes it clear that climate change is a human rights issue affecting this ingenious Indigenous culture. Hear stories about Arctic melting and how Inuit believe that human and animal intelligence are key to adaptability and survival in a warming world.

From the Edmonton Journal

Inuit experience tells us adaptation is key to the future

Climate change seen as opportunity to learn sustainable ways to live in natural world

I was born in 1957 in a sod house at Kapuivik on the northwest coast of Baffin Island, when my family still lived as my ancestors lived for 4,000 years. As a child, I fell asleep with eight brothers and sisters listening to our mother tell stories and legends that teach what every good person should know. In the mornings I woke up on my pillow of frozen sealskin kamiks and hurried outdoors to check the weather, as all Inuit children were taught.

I was nine years old, learning to train my own dog team, when my parents dropped me off in the new government town of Igloolik; they were told I had to go to school or they would lose their government family allowance. I learned English in town while my family lived their last few years following the seasons, weather, sky, wind and ice, living off the land and animals we Inuit knew so well.

As a teenager, I learned to carve soapstone to earn the 25 cents I needed to see movies at the community hall. The ones I liked best were John Wayne westerns; John would find some cavalry troopers shot full of arrows and say, "What kind of savages would do something like this?"

I identified with John and the cavalry; those "savages" had nothing to do with me.

Then one day I figured out there are two sides to every story. In 1981, a year before my community had television, I sold some carvings in Montreal and brought home the Arctic's first video camera.

I decided to be a filmmaker to tell our Inuit side.

Twenty years later, Isuma Productions' first Inuit-language feature film, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, won the Camera d'or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Shown all over the world, subtitled into Spanish and Japanese and other languages, Atanarjuat adapted one of the most exciting legends my mother told us kids growing up.

We all had imagined that naked man running for his life across the ice, his hair blowing in the wind; now our film shared this legend with Canada and the world.

Ten years later again, we're ready to release our first online film, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, a title that speaks for itself. Inuit have gone from Stone Age to Digital Age in one generation.

I am living that change in my lifetime.

Thirty years ago, as scientists began to notice a warming planet, no one bothered to ask Inuit elders and hunters what they knew about their Arctic homeland from observing the weather every minute of every day. Now through our skills as digital filmmakers -- using 2.0 interactive Internet -- the whole world has a chance to join Inuit in dealing fairly with our common problems. Like The Fast Runner and 30 other films we have made since 1988, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change allows Inuit to speak for themselves in their own language: how the wind has changed direction, how wildlife biologists endanger polar bears more than hunters, how permafrost, sea ice and glaciers are degrading across the Arctic at an astonishing rate.

Most surprising, Inuit elders agree the sun doesn't rise and set where it used to when they were children. Even the sky appears changed, as if the Earth is tilted off its axis.

Inuit also bring different values to the art of civilized conversation. Traditional Inuit knowledge, known as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or IQ, defines six commandments of intelligent problem solving that apply as much to today's problems as they did to my ancestors'.

Besides stressing the key relationship people have with their environment, Inuit values recognize the importance of working together for a common purpose, avoiding conflict and finding consensus and, especially, what we call Qanuqtuurungnarniq, the concept of being resourceful, demonstrating adaptability and flexibility in response to a rapidly changing world.

Inuit approach climate change not only as a crisis, but as an opportunity to adapt, to find new techniques for living sustainably within the natural world. One after another, elders in our film tell us that hope lies in our capacity to be intelligent, resilient and well adapted to our environment.

Having survived and thrived through past climate changes, and the daily challenge of depending on weather and animals, Inuit experience tells us that the only constant is change itself, and adaptation is the key to a successful human future. To Inuit, climate change is a human rights issue -- how people adapt to change and still respect the rights of others.

I learned to adapt, not only as a hunter but also as a filmmaker.

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change had its world premiere Oct. 23 at Toronto's imagine NATIVE Film Festival in a sold-out theatre. But our website showed the film at the same time to 1,500 online viewers across Canada and around the world. We took questions live by Skype from viewers in Pond Inlet, New York and Sydney, and shared our answers with a global audience by Internet.

Don't forget to visit the website for the movie and get more information.

Kunuk, Zacharias and Mauro, Ian J. . 2010. "Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change". Isuma TV. Posted: November 12, 2010. Available online: http://www.isuma.tv/hi/en/inuit-knowledge-and-climate-change

Kunuk, Zacharias. 2010. "Inuit experience tells us adaptation is key to the future". Edmonton Journal. Posted: November 11, 2010. Available online:http://www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/movie-guide/Inuit+experience+tells+adaptation+future/3811335/story.html

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mayans converted wetlands to farmland

The sophistication of the civilization's agricultural systems rivalled their pyramids.

The ancient Maya civilization is widely recognized for its awe-inspiring pyramids, sophisticated mathematics and advanced written language. But research is revealing that the complexity of Maya agricultural systems is likely to have rivalled that of their architecture and intellect.

Using new techniques and extensive excavations, researchers have found that the Maya coped with tough environmental conditions by developing ingenious methods to grow crops in wetland areas. "The work shows that this intensive agriculture is more complicated and on a par with these other areas of intellectual development," says Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington DC, who presented his findings on Wednesday at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Denver, Colorado.

The Maya civilization, considered one of the most advanced ancient societies, lived in sprawling and densely populated pockets from the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico to Honduras in Central America. The civilization arose before 1000 BC and reached its height from about 400 BC to 900 AD.

The Maya's home was a tough environment replete with recurring droughts and rising sea levels, and the land that they farmed was rough, rocky terrain interixed with vast swamps, or wetlands. So one of historians' biggest questions about the Maya civilization is how they managed to feed their huge populations.

Ancient avocados

It has long been suspected that the Maya relied heavily on agriculture. In the 1970s, researchers began characterizing the remains of elaborate irrigation canals found in wetland areas. But it has not been clear how widespread these canals were or whether the use of wetlands for farming was an important part of the Maya agricultural system.

At the GSA meeting, Beach presented the results of two decades' work aimed at answering these questions1,2. During that time, he and his wife, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, a physical geographer specializing in water quality from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and their colleagues, have performed more than 60 excavations to study and map the different earth layers, or strata, in field sites in northern Belize.

Working in low-lying wetlands, which are difficult to access and navigate, the team dug trenches some 3 metres deep and 10–20 metres long to study soil and water chemistry. They performed carbon-isotope analyses on soil layers and studied fossilized plant materials to work out how the land was used.

The soil layers revealed signs of rising water tables and the remnants of flood deposits. Fossilized plant remains at these sites show that the Maya were growing crops such as avocados, grass species and maize. Their research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland, says Beach.

As the Maya mucked out the ditches, they would have tossed the soil onto the adjacent land, creating elevated fields which would kept the root systems of their crops above the waterlogged soil, while allowing access to the irrigation water. Beach says that surveys carried out using Google Earth and remote sensing techniques suggest that this wetland system was probably around 100 kilometres across.

Archaeological elitism

Although about 40% of the Yucatán Peninsula is swamp today, the idea that the Maya farmed wetland areas extensively has been controversial among archaeologists. But the new work is "very suggestive that the Maya were modifying these swamps intensively to make a living", says Vernon Scarborough, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, who was not involved with the research. "It's hard to project across the entirety of every swamp area because there are so many of them. But it's certainly intriguing."

Stephen Houston, an expert on Maya civilization at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who recently began collaborating with Beach, says that because so much archaeological work on the Maya civilization has focused on its architecture and written records, relatively little attention has been given to understanding its agriculture. "Usually in archaeology there's an elite focus on the majestic cities that we can wonder at," says Houston. "But the burning question is always how did they feed these populations."

Beach's arduous excavations have filled "a crucial gap", he adds. "They've confirmed that many of these swamplands in that area were being used for that kind of intensive agriculture and large-scale manipulations of the landscape."

One of the reasons some scholars dismissed the idea that wetlands were fundamentally important to the Maya is that they are often far from famous sites such as Tikal and Chichen Itza. But there must have been dense populations living in rural areas near wetlands, far from the glitzy urban centres, says Beach.

"It's a very thoughtful, clever way of utilizing the environment," says Scarborough. "When a Westerner goes into a wetland today, they see nothing but trouble. It's difficult to tame, capture and modify. But in the past they were considered real breadbaskets in many parts of the world."

Mascarelli, Amanda. 2010. "Mayans converted wetlands to farmland". Nature. Posted: November 5, 2010. Available online: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101105/full/news.2010.587.html

Article References:

1. Beach, T. et al. Catena advance online publication doi:10.1016/j.catena.2010.08.014 (2010).
2. Beach, T. et al. Quat. Sci. Rev. 28, 1710-1724 (2009). | Article | OpenURL

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Aboriginal time runs east to west

Sun’s trajectory may channel time’s flow for one remote group

Time rises in the east and sets in the west in a remote part of Australia. Aborigines living there assume that time moves westward, apparently in accord with the sun’s daily arc across the sky, say Stanford University psychologist Lera Boroditsky and linguist Alice Gaby of the University of California, Berkeley.

Unlike any other group studied to date, these hardy foragers think about the day after tomorrow as two days to the west, the olden days as times far to the east, and the progression of a person’s life from infancy to old age as running from east to west, Boroditsky and Gaby report in an upcoming Psychological Science.

Grounding time in absolute directions makes it imperative for these people, called Pormpuraawans, to know which way they’re facing at all times. For them, time flows from left to right when facing south, from right to left when facing north, toward the body when facing east and away from the body when facing west.

Pormpuraawans rarely use terms for right and left and instead refer to absolute directions, making statements such as “Move your cup over to the north-northwest a little bit.”

Culture powerfully influences how people conceive of time, in Boroditsky’s view. “Pormpuraawans think about time in ways that other groups cannot, because those groups lack the necessary spatial knowledge,” she says.

Previous studies have indicated that people use their bodies as a reference to lay out time. In the United States, time is generally thought of as running from left to right. Other populations arrange time from right to left, back to front, or front to back.

“This new finding is of great significance since cognitive scientists have assumed that time representations must be body-based,” remarks psychologist Asifa Majid of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Cultural differences in thinking about spatial orientation shape time representations, proposes psychologist Daniel Haun, also of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. In 2009, Haun reported that Namibian hunter-gathers remember dance steps and other body movements according to absolute directions. Time perception has yet to be studied in this group.

Some evidence suggests that an innate tendency to navigate by consulting external landmarks and absolute directions gets transformed into a body-centered viewpoint in certain cultures (SN: 2/10/07, p. 89).

Boroditsky and Gaby studied 14 Pormpuraawans and 14 Stanford students. Each group contained seven men and seven women. Aborigines ranged in age from the late 40s to the mid 70s.

In one task, participants examined six to 12 sets of cards. Each four-card set depicted a progression over time, such as a man at different ages. On each trial, participants received a shuffled deck and were asked to lay the cards out in the correct order.

In a second task, an experimenter placed a marker on the ground and asked volunteers to denote time periods with their own markers. If the experimenter’s stone represented today, volunteers indicated spots for yesterday and tomorrow. In other trials, volunteers arranged markers for morning, noon and evening, and for olden days, nowadays and far in the future.

Halfway through each task, each participant switched his or her sitting position to face in a different direction.

U.S. students always portrayed time as moving from left to right. Most Pormpuraawans depicted time as moving from east to west, so time’s flow systematically shifted course as the direction they faced changed.
The few body-based responses among Aborigines may reflect increasing exposure to television and other facets of Western life, as well as unfamiliarity with arranging objects in sequences, Boroditsky suggests.

Bower, Bruce. 2010. "Aboriginal time runs east to west". Science News. Posted: November 5, 2010. Available online: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/65130/title/Aboriginal_time_runs_east_to_west

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Statue Unearthed in Tomb of Tut's Grandfather

Red granite statues of King Amenhotep III, believed to be the grandfather of King Tutankhamun, are popping up like mushrooms in Luxor, Egypt.

Today an Egyptian team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) led by Dr. Zahi Hawass has found the upper half of a double statue featuring the powerful Egyptian pharaoh with the falcon-headed sun god Re-Horakhti.

The ninth ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Amenhotep III (ca. 1390-1352 B.C.), reigned for 38 years during a time when Egypt was at the height of prosperity and cultural development.

His mummy was found in 1898 in a tomb dubbed KV35 by French Egyptologist Victor Loret.

The newly discovered double statue has been unearthed on the northwestern side of Amenhotep III’s funerary temple on Luxor’s west bank.

Demolished during the Nineteenth Dynasty, the temple was apparently the largest ever built of its class .

Originally, it had two entrances: one on the eastern side guarded by two (still standing) gigantic statues of the Pharaoh, known as the Colossi of Memnon, and one at the northern side, where the granite statue was located.

Last February a massive granite head depicting Amenhotep III was unearthed at the same site.

Moreover, last month a similar double statue of the Egyptian pharaoh, seated on a throne next to the Theban god Amun, was also dug out in the same area.

In fact, an overwhelming number of the statues feature King Amenhotep III in company of different deities, such as Amun-Re, Re-Horakhti, Sobek, and Sekhmet, the goddess of healing.

"The Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project has unearthed more than 80 statues of the goddess Sekhmet during their excavations at the temple," Hawass, secretary General of the SCA, said in a statement.

Most likely, the Sekhmet statues were erected because Amenhotep III was very sick during his final years.

More Amenhotep III statues are expected to come to light in the next few months. According to Mansour Boraik, General Supervisor of the Luxor Antiquities Department of the SCA, a number of statues of the pharaoh are still partially buried under some private farmland that surrounds the temple.

Luxor authorities are now trying to reach an agreement with the farmers to buy this section of land so that the statues can be fully excavated.

“In the future, this area will be converted into an open-air museum that will display the objects found in the mortuary temple complex,” Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said.

Lorenzi, Rossella. 2010. "Statue Unearthed in Tomb of Tut's Grandfather". Discovery News. Posted: November 4, 2010. Available online: http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/statue-unearthed-in-tomb-of-tuts-grandfather.html

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Women Prefer Men With Yellow, Red Faces

Men, take note: A healthy glow is more attractive to women than a strong, masculine face, a new study says.

Women in a recent experiment preferred men with yellower and redder skin tones, both of which can signal good health, a crucial factor in choosing a mate, scientists say.

For instance, people of any race who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables tend to have yellower hues, and people who are physically fit have more oxygenated—and thus, redder—blood and skin.

By contrast, pallid skin with lesions is generally considered unattractive, perhaps because such traits betray a weak immune system, said study co-author Ian Penton-Voak, an experimental psychologist at the University of Bristol in the U.K.

Unexpectedly, the women in the study showed no preference for men with traditionally masculine features, such as a prominent jaw and high muscle mass, the researchers say.

"What we found is—to our surprise—when you measure masculinity, it doesn't bear any relation to attractiveness at all," Penton-Voak said.

The discovery flies in the face of previous research that suggested women are drawn to men with masculine traits, which have been associated with longer-term qualities including disease resistance and healthier offspring.

Instead of looking for a manly man, Penton-Voak noted, a woman may be focusing more on an immediate question: Is this potential mate healthy or sick?

Manly Men Take a Hit

Penton-Voak and colleagues took 20 photos of Caucasian men in northern England with an average age of 27 and made mathematical measures of their facial colors and masculinity.

Twenty-one Caucasian women with an average age of 19 were then asked to judge the attractiveness of each man's picture. The women rated the men with yellow and red skin tones as most desirable.

In the second part of the study, the team took the original photos, digitally morphed them into more masculine or feminine faces, and asked the subjects to select which version they found more attractive.

Again the women were not more interested in the men with masculinized faces.

Though the subjects in the study—published October 27 in the journal PLoS ONE—were Caucasian, it's likely that such preferences are "cross-culturally stable," Penton-Voak noted.

Other experiments have shown, for example, that Zulu women in South Africa like South African men with yellow and red skin tones.

More Than Just a Pretty Face

Still, the new study doesn't rule out the chance that cultural differences influence which physical traits women find attractive, said Laura Dane, an evolutionary psychologist at Douglas College in British Columbia, Canada.

And overall, Dane emphasized, the paper is missing a key point: "Physical attractiveness is not the only thing that women use to choose" a partner.

For instance, in selecting a mate, women will often trade looks for resources or personality.

Dane described a 1990 study in the Journal of Psychology in which women were asked to choose between what many would consider an attractive man in a Burger King uniform and an unattractive man in a suit.

Most women chose the man in a suit, presumably because he would be a better provider. However, in a separate part of the study, most women also said they would prefer an attractive man in a suit, she pointed out.

When the study authors performed a similar experiment with men, the subjects most often chose the more attractive woman, regardless of the outfit, Dane added.

Such predictability is why studying "men's preferences [in women is] very boring," study co-author Penton-Voak said. Men consistently want women who show signs of youth and femininity, which in turn indicate high fertility.

So what purpose do masculine features serve? They could be a signal of more than just health and virility, such as social clout or power, Douglas College's Dane said.

Such a theory fits into Penton-Voak and colleagues' next topic of study: whether masculine traits exist mostly for the benefit of other men.

"Maybe masculinity is not there for women to find attractive," Penton-Voak said, but "to stake a claim in a dominance hierarchy."

Dell'Amore, Christine. 2010. "Women Prefer Men With Yellow, Red Faces ". National Geographic Daily News. Posted: November 4, 2010. Available online: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/101103-attractive-women-men-faces-skin-color-evolution-diet-health/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Language appears to shape our implicit preferences

Study of bilinguals hints language may help create, not just convey, thoughts and feelings

The language we speak may influence not only our thoughts, but our implicit preferences as well. That's the finding of a study by psychologists at Harvard University, who found that bilingual individuals' opinions of different ethnic groups were affected by the language in which they took a test examining their biases and predilections.

The paper appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"Charlemagne is reputed to have said that to speak another language is to possess another soul," says co-author Oludamini Ogunnaike, a graduate student at Harvard. "This study suggests that language is much more than a medium for expressing thoughts and feelings. Our work hints that language creates and shapes our thoughts and feelings as well."

Implicit attitudes, positive or negative associations people may be unaware they possess, have been shown to predict behavior towards members of social groups. Recent research has shown that these attitudes are quite malleable, susceptible to factors such as the weather, popular culture -- or, now, by the language people speak.

"Can we shift something as fundamental as what we like and dislike by changing the language in which our preferences are elicited?" asks co-author Mahzarin R. Banaji, the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard. "If the answer is yes, that gives more support to the idea that language is an important shaper of attitudes."

Ogunnaike, Banaji, and Yarrow Dunham, now at the University of California, Merced, used the well-known Implicit Association Test (IAT), where participants rapidly categorize words that flash on a computer screen or are played through headphones. The test gives participants only a fraction of a second to categorize words, not enough to think about their answers.

"The IAT bypasses a large part of conscious cognition and taps into something we're not aware of and can't easily control," Banaji says.

The researchers administered the IAT in two different settings: once in Morocco, with bilinguals in Arabic and French, and again in the U.S. with Latinos who speak both English and Spanish.

In Morocco, participants who took the IAT in Arabic showed greater preference for other Moroccans. When they took the test in French, that difference disappeared. Similarly, in the U.S., participants who took the test in Spanish showed a greater preference for other Hispanics. But again, in English, that preference disappeared.

"It was quite shocking to see that a person could take the same test, within a brief period of time, and show such different results," Ogunnaike says. "It's like asking your friend if he likes ice cream in English, and then turning around and asking him again in French and getting a different answer."

In the Moroccan test, participants saw "Moroccan" names (such as Hassan or Fatimah) or "French" names (such as Jean or Marie) flash on a monitor, along with words that are "good" (such as happy or nice) or "bad" (such as hate or mean). Participants might press one key when they see a Moroccan name or a good word, and press another when they see a French name or a bad word. Then the key assignments are switched so that "Moroccan" and "bad" share the same key and "French" and "good" share the other.

Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf first posited in the 1930s that language is so powerful that it can determine thought. Mainstream psychology has taken the more skeptical view that while language may affect thought processes, it doesn't influence thought itself. This new study suggests that Whorf's idea, when not caricatured, may generate interesting hypotheses that researchers can continue to test.

"These results challenge our views of attitudes as stable," Banaji says. "There still remain big questions about just how fixed or flexible they are, and language may provide a window through which we will learn about their nature."

EurekAlert. 2010. "Language appears to shape our implicit preferences". EurekAlert. Posted: November 3, 2010. Available online: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-11/hu-lat110310.php

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibition reveals secrets of lost civilisation

British Museum's show including objects on display for first time sheds new light on ancient beliefs

Posters for a new show at the British Museum cheerfully posed the question: what happens after death? Visitors may hope it's a bit less stressful than the perilous journey depicted in the museum, taking them through a dark, terrifying underworld populated by vigilant baboons, an Ibis god called Thoth and crocodile-headed devourers who threaten to eat the damned.

The images are part of a landmark exhibition opening on Thursday which explores in more detail than ever before the ancient Egyptian beliefs revealed in the Book of the Dead, an illustrated map for the afterlife, promising to guide the spirits of the deceased rich through the spells and challenges necessary to achieve – or so they hoped – eternal life.

The British Museum has an unrivalled collection of the Book of the Dead papyri, but many of the documents have never been on public display, not least because they are so fragile. "This is an extremely ambitious exhibition because we've never been able to look at this subject in such a comprehensive way," said curator John Taylor. "We've wanted to, but so much of this material is so light-sensitive. It's also a question of space – you do need a lot of it to do it properly."

The "books'' were used for something like 1,500 years between around 1600BC and 100AD. Taylor said they had to make some tough choices on what could and could not be shown. "There are some, still, that we would love to put on show but they have pigments that are so sensitive that exposure for a couple of months would damage them. The colours would fade."

One of the wow moments in the exhibition is the display of the world's longest Book of the Dead, the Greenfield Papyrus, which until now has never been displayed in its entirety. Until March, all 37 metres – 96 plates – are on show for the first time.

At the first view yesterday there was a reverential hush in the dimly-lit galleries – people whispered to each other. But the visitors were all adults and given that the museum expects a mighty lot of mummy-fascinated children, the noise levels could all change from today.

Taylor believes visitors can learn a lot. "We've shown how much the Egyptians planned for the afterlife; how much they tried to impose control over what was unknown to them. So you learn a lot about human psyche, I think. There are lots of things here that we all recognise as fears and hopes and it's interesting to see how they dealt with them – and it's sometimes not that differently to the way we do."

Taylor said that staging the exhibition had led to discoveries. "We've had the chance to really scrutinise some of these documents very, very closely and the fact we can put some of them back together in their entirety – we've never had the chance or the space to do that. "So we've been able to study the changing artistic style on one Book of the Dead, the fact that there was more than one artist. It's much easier to compare the styles when you have it all lined up."

Infra-red photography has also revealed the painted out name of one document owner. "We don't know why it was painted out. One possibility is that his family didn't pay for it so the scribes said we'll use it for someone else, but never got round to it. It could also have been an attack on this man's memory. The Egyptians did this type of thing. There is lots still to learn because these documents have been scattered all over the world for 200 years." There were no rules on who could have a book, but they were expensive. "If you could afford it, you would have one. If not, you'd have to make your journey to the afterlife on your own native wit," said Taylor.

The show also has a striking display of coffins, amulets, tomb figurines, gilded masks and mummy effects with loans from museums in Paris, Boston and Leiden.

Given that ancient Egyptians are now studied at key stage 2 in schools, the museum is opening just for school visits at certain times and holding a free teachers' private view. It has also, for the first time, produced a separate family multi-media guide in addition to the adult one.

Brown, Mark. 2010. "Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibition reveals secrets of lost civilisation". Guardian. Posted: November 2, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/02/egyptian-book-dead-exhibition

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stone Age Humans Needed More Brain Power to Make Big Leap in Tool Design

Stone Age humans were only able to develop relatively advanced tools after their brains evolved a greater capacity for complex thought, according to a new study that investigates why it took early humans almost two million years to move from razor-sharp stones to a hand-held stone axe.

Researchers used computer modelling and tiny sensors embedded in gloves to assess the complex hand skills that early humans needed in order to make two types of tools during the Lower Palaeolithic period, which began around 2.5 million years ago. The cross-disciplinary team, involving researchers from Imperial College London, employed a craftsperson called a flintnapper to faithfully replicate ancient tool-making techniques.

Reporting in the online journal PLoS ONE, the team say that comparing the manufacturing techniques used for both Stone Age tools provides evidence of how the human brain and human behaviour evolved during the Lower Palaeolithic period.

Neuroscientist Dr Aldo Faisal, the lead author of the study from the Departments of Bioengineering and Computing at Imperial College London, says: "The advance from crude stone tools to elegant hand-held axes was a massive technological leap for our early human ancestors. Hand-held axes were a more useful tool for defence, hunting and routine work. Interestingly, our study reinforces the idea that tool making and language evolved together as both required more complex thought, making the end of the Lower Palaeolithic a pivotal time in our history. After this period, early humans left Africa and began to colonise other parts of the world."

Prior to this latest study, researchers have had different theories about why it took early humans more than 2 million years to develop stone axes. Some have suggested that early humans may have had underdeveloped motor skills or abilities, while others have suggested that it took human brains this time to develop more complex thoughts, in order to dream up better tool designs or think about better manufacturing techniques.

The researchers behind the study say that their evidence, from studying both tool-making techniques, confirms that the evolution of the early human brain was behind the development of the hand-held axe. Furthermore, the team suggest that the advancement of hand-held axe production may have also coincided with the development of language, as these functions overlap in the same regions of the modern and early human brains.

The flintnapper who participated in the study created two types tools including the razor-sharp flakes and hand-held axes. He wore a data glove with sensors enmeshed into its fabric to record hand and arm movements during the production of these tools.

After analysing this data, the researchers discovered that both flake and hand-held axe manufacturing techniques were equally complex, requiring the same kind of hand and arm dexterity. This enabled the scientists to rule out motor skills as the principal factor for holding up stone tool development.

The team deduced from their results that the axe-tool required a high level of brain processing in overlapping areas of the brain that are responsible for a range of different functions including vocal cords and complex hand gestures.

This is the first time that neuroscientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and flintnappers have teamed together, using cutting edge technology including data glove sensors and advanced modelling, to develop a deeper understanding of early human evolution.

In the future, the team plan to use their technology to compare tools made by Neanderthals, an extinct ancestor of humans, to glean insights into their brain development.

The study also included researchers from the Department of Anthropology, from Emory University; Department of Archaeology and Osteology, Gotland University College; and the Department of Archaeology, Exeter University.

Imperial College London. 2010. "Stone Age Humans Needed More Brain Power to Make Big Leap in Tool Design". Science Daily. Posted: November 4, 2010. Available online: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171451.htm

Journal Reference:

1. Aldo Faisal, Dietrich Stout, Jan Apel, Bruce Bradley. The Manipulative Complexity of Lower Paleolithic Stone Toolmaking. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (11): e13718 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013718