Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

Site Search

Sharing

Facebooktwittermail

Follow

rss

Categories

Archives

Recent Posts

Civilization

DNA indicates how ancient migrations shaped South Asian languages and farming

Science News reports: A new DNA study of unprecedented size has unveiled ancient human movements that shaped the genetic makeup of present-day South Asians in complex ways. Those long-ago treks across vast grasslands and through mountain valleys may even have determined the types of languages still spoken in a region that includes what’s now India and Pakistan. The investigation addresses two controversial issues. First, who brought farming to South Asia?

Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

People have been modifying Earth – as in these rice terraces near Pokhara, Nepal – for millennia. Erle C. Ellis, CC BY-ND By Ben Marwick, University of Washington; Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Lucas Stephens, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and Nicole Boivin, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Examples of how human societies are changing the planet abound –

How Arab scholars preserved scientific texts serving as the foundations of modern knowledge

In a review of Violet Moller’s new book, The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found, Katie Hafner writes: While religion dictated the cultural winds of the Western world, ideas flowed freely through the Middle East, traversing religions and cultures. Knowledge began flowing into Baghdad from every direction as scholars translated Greek manuscripts into Arabic. Book production soared as texts were read aloud

Living on Mars is a misguided fantasy

Philip Ball writes: Who said this? “I’ve been having to say everywhere I go that there is no planet B, there is no escape hatch, there is no second Earth; this is the only planet we have.” If you’re a science fiction fan the answer might surprise you: it was the writer Kim Stanley Robinson, whose Mars trilogy is an ultimately utopian series of tales that describe the terraforming of

Misreading the story of climate change and the Maya

Stucco frieze from Placeres, Campeche, Mexico, Early Classic period, c. 250-600 AD. Wolfgang Sauber/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA By Kenneth Seligson, California State University, Dominguez Hills Carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere have reached 415 parts per million – a level that last occurred more than three million years ago, long before the evolution of humans. This news adds to growing concern that climate change will likely wreak serious damage on our

Civilisational collapse has a bright past — but a dark future

By Luke Kemp Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each individual had reached such a state of hunger that he ate his own children,’ runs an account from 2120 BCE about the life of Ankhtifi, a

Brittany’s seafaring hunter-gatherers were the first to build Europe’s ancient megaliths

Big Think reports: The origin of the roughly 35,000 ancient monuments that dot Europe and the British Isles has long been a haunting mystery. From the Ring of Bodnar in the Scottish Orkney Islands to Stonehenge in the English countryside, to the Carnac stones in France, these ancient monuments have fascinated people for as long as they’ve been known. Remarkably, there’s never been a serious effort made to date all

Collapse of civilisation is on the horizon, says David Attenborough

The Guardian reports: The collapse of civilisation and the natural world is on the horizon, Sir David Attenborough has told the UN climate change summit in Poland. The naturalist was chosen to represent the world’s people in addressing delegates of almost 200 nations who are in Katowice to negotiate how to turn pledges made in the 2015 Paris climate deal into reality. As part of the UN’s people’s seat initiative,

Let’s cultivate our material intelligence

Glenn Adamson writes: Are you sitting comfortably? If so, how much do you know about the chair that’s holding you off the ground – what it’s made from, and what its production process looked like? Where it was made, and by whom? Or go deeper: how were the materials used to make the chair extracted from the planet? Most people will find it difficult to answer these basic questions. The

A history of true civilisation is not one of monuments

By David Wengrow Civilisation is back. But it is no longer the preserve of ‘Renaissance man’ or of ‘the West’, or even of literate societies. Civilisation is a way of talking about human history on the largest scale. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the latest MoMA exhibition, it binds human history together. But in at least one essential aspect, the concept of civilisation remains fundamentally exclusionary. It is

Did Harappan civilization avoid war for 2,000 years?

Annalee Newitz writes: The Harappan civilization dominated the Indus River valley beginning about five thousand years ago, many of its massive cities sprawling at the edges of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. But its culture remains a mystery. Why did it leave behind no representations of great leaders, nor of warfare? Archaeologists have long wondered whether the Harappan civilization could actually have thrived for roughly 2,000

Did dairying climates pave the way for the evolution of modern democracy?

PsyPost reports: An analysis of 108 Old World countries found that cold/wet climates suitable for dairy farming were associated with lactose tolerance in the year 1500, which was in turn associated with higher child survival rates, greater per capita income, and fewer children per family in the year 1800. This enhanced production power was in turn associated with political freedom and civil liberties in the year 2000. The researchers believe

Land degradation by human activities pushing Earth into sixth mass extinction and undermining well-being of 3.2 billion people

  Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): Worsening land degradation caused by human activities is undermining the well-being of two fifths of humanity, driving species extinctions and intensifying climate change. It is also a major contributor to mass human migration and increased conflict, according to the world’s first comprehensive evidence-based assessment of land degradation and restoration. The dangers of land degradation, which cost the equivalent of about

Great Pacific Garbage Patch now covers area three times the size of France

The Washington Post reports: Seventy-nine thousand tons of plastic debris, in the form of 1.8 trillion pieces, now occupy an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, a scientific team reported on Thursday. The amount of plastic found in this area, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is “increasing exponentially,” according to the surveyors, who used two planes and 18 boats

Across human history, there’s little evidence large-scale social organization necessitates enduring inequality

David Graeber and David Wengrow write: Stonehenge, it turns out, was only the latest in a very long sequence of ritual structures, erected in timber as well as stone, as people converged on the plain from remote corners of the British Isles, at significant times of year. Careful excavation has shown that many of these structures – now plausibly interpreted as monuments to the progenitors of powerful Neolithic dynasties –

Advice for Trump from ancient China

The Huainanzi, a collection of essays of Western Han philosophy and statecraft written over 2,100 years ago, states: If a ruler rejects those who work for the public good, and employs people according to friendship and factions, then those of bizarre talent and frivolous ability will be promoted out of turn, while conscientious officials will be hindered and will not advance. In this way, the customs of the people will