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Wed, 22 May 2019
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Medieval peasants lived on a diet of meat, vegetables and cheese

Cooking pots medieval england
© Press Association
Cooking pots had their contents analysed using chemical and isotopic techniques to find evidence relating to the contents of their diet
The medieval peasant diet that was 'much healthier' than today's average eating habits: Staples of meat, leafy vegetables and cheese are found in residue inside 500-year-old pottery

English peasants in Medieval times lived on a combination of meat stews, leafy vegetables and dairy products which scientists say was healthier than modern diets. Food residue inside 500-year-old pottery at the medieval town of West Cotton in Northamptonshire revealed the eating habits of normal folk.

They would have dined on bread and so-called 'white meats' - a term used by peasants which included butter and various cheeses. Poor people couldn't afford finer delicacies like fish but the presence of oats and barley proves they had access to carbohydrates, likely in the form of bread.


Earliest evidence of cooking and eating of starch found in South African cave

Klasies River cave
© Wits University
The Klasies River cave in the southern Cape of South Africa.
Early human beings who lived around 120 000 years ago in South Africa were "ecological geniuses" who were able to exploit their environment intelligently.

New discoveries made at the Klasies River Cave in South Africa's southern Cape, where charred food remains from hearths were found,provide the first archaeological evidence that anatomically modern humans were roasting and eating plant starches, such as those from tubers and rhizomes, as early as 120,000 years ago.

The new research by an international team of archaeologists, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, provides archaeological evidence that has previously been lacking to support the hypothesis that the duplication of the starch digestion genes is an adaptive response to an increased starch diet.

"This is very exciting. The genetic and biological evidence previously suggested that early humans would have been eating starches, but this research had not been done before," says Lead author Cynthia Larbey of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. The work is part of a systemic multidisciplinary investigation into the role that plants and fire played in the lives of Middle Stone Age communities.

The interdisciplinary team searched for and analysed undisturbed hearths at the Klasies River archaeological site.

"Our results showed that these small ashy hearths were used for cooking food and starchy roots and tubers were clearly part of their diet, from the earliest levels at around 120,000 years ago through to 65,000 years ago," says Larbey. "Despite changes in hunting strategies and stone tool technologies, they were still cooking roots and tubers."


How the CIA used modern art during the cultural Cold War

Jackson Pollock
Revealed: how the spy agency used unwitting artists such as Pollock and de Kooning in a cultural Cold War

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art - President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot." As for the artists themselves, many were ex- communists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.

The existence of this policy, rumoured and disputed for many years, has now been confirmed for the first time by former CIA officials. Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the "long leash" - arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender.


The English word that hasn't changed its sound or meaning for 8,000 years

lox and bagel
© Helen Cook / Flickr
The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived.
One of my favorite words is lox," says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel-a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it "The Classic." But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, is passionate about lox for a different reason. "The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably 'lox,' and that's exactly how it is pronounced in modern English," he says. "Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means 'smoked salmon.' It's really cool that that word hasn't changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish."

How scholars have traced the word's pronunciation over thousands of years is also really cool. The story goes back to Thomas Young, also known as "The Last Person Who Knew Everything." The 18th-century British polymath came up with the wave theory of light, first described astigmatism, and played a key role in deciphering the Rosetta Stone. Like some people before him, Young noticed eerie similarities between Indic and European languages. He went further, analyzing 400 languages spread across continents and millennia and proved that the overlap between some of them was too extensive to be an accident. A single coincidence meant nothing, but each additional one increased the chance of an underlying connection. In 1813, Young declared that all those languages belong to one family. He named it "Indo-European."


Farmer stumbles upon ancient burial site containing elite tribal remains in Russia

Skeletal remains
© Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Astrakhan Region
A Russian farmer accidentally uncovered the 2,500-year-old remains of three elite members of an ancient nomadic tribe and a horse's skull, hidden for millennia on his land.

The Sarmatian remains were found in wooden coffins at a burial site within a large mound in the village of Nikolskoye, in the Astrakhan region. Rustam Mudayev made the exciting discovery when he came across a bronze cauldron while digging on his farmland. He reported the find and archaeologists began excavating the site.

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MindMatters: Forgotten Ideals: Christianity and the Foundation of Western Civilization

stark christianity
© SOTT.net
Everyone is by now well aware, whether through personal experience or vicariously via the news, of the toxic legacy of Christian fundamentalism. Whether it's authoritarian dogma or the many scandals that have plagued the Catholic church, many so-called 'Christians' have given plenty of ammo to their accusers. Meanwhile individuals are largely left to fend for themselves in a society that was founded on Christianity but that is overwhelmingly nihilistic and materialistic, denying its own history in the process.

So today, on MindMatters, we discuss those aspects of the Christian belief system that may well be worth keeping and that have definitively shaped our world. Using sociologist of religion Rodney Stark's book Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, we discuss how Christian beliefs formed the moral matrix of the Western mind from the collapse of Rome onwards. As Stark argues, centuries of belief in free will and individual responsibility in an intelligently designed universe provided the primary impetus for the West to abolish slavery, institutionalize science, use capitalism to improve the lot of the common man, and even pursue the freedom to repudiate Christianity itself.

If he's correct, then losing sight of what these Christian beliefs once stood for (and no they're not just 'fairy tales and dogmatic superstitions') we lose sight of the higher motivation that led ordinary people to found these great enterprises - arguably the few positive aspects of Western society left. So, while today it is fashionable to deny that consciousness exists, and that beliefs can have any impact on reality, today we will be entertaining a different hypothesis - that what we believe matters, and that, in order to understand our history, we should understand the good inherent within Christianity and not just the bad.

Running Time: 01:07:09

Download: MP3 - 61.5 MB


Found: Glass fallout from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

A sample of the particles discovered on the beaches of Japan’s Motoujina Peninsula. ANTHROPOCENE, VOLUME 25, MARCH 2019, DOI: 10.1016
THE AMERICAN MILITARY'S ATOMIC BOMBING of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 "was the worst manmade event ever, by far," according to the geologist Mario Wannier. "You have a city, and a minute later you have no city." At least 70,000 people were killed by the initial impact; the final death toll, accounting for radiation, could surpass 145,000. Wannier and his colleagues recently stumbled upon tiny remnants of this massive event on the beaches of Japan's Motoujina Peninsula. These glass particles formed out of the explosion, and have resided on nearby beaches ever since. They published their findings this week in the journal Anthropocene.

Wannier had been studying beach debris from different areas in order to compare the health of different marine ecosystems, when some particles from the Motoujina Peninsula struck him as unusual. Next to particles generated by plants or animals, these were "aerodynamic, glassy, rounded"-they reminded him of what he had seen in sediment samples from the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, the geological marker of the mass extinction that erased the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago. Research suggests that the mass extinction was triggered by meteorite impact, which would have ejected ground materials into the atmosphere that descended back down as glass.

Star of David

Did Israel Kill the Kennedys?

Kennedys Israel

Just after midnight of June 6, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in a backroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just been celebrating his victory at the California primaries, which made him the most likely Democratic nominee for the presidential election. His popularity was so great that Richard Nixon, on the Republican side, stood little chance. At the age of 43, Robert would have become the youngest American president ever, after being the youngest Attorney General in his brother's government. His death opened the way for Nixon, who could finally become president eight years after having been defeated by John F. Kennedy in 1960.

John had been assassinated four and a half years before Robert. Had he survived, he would certainly have been president until 1968. Instead, his vice-president Lyndon Johnson took over the White House in 1963, and became so unpopular that he retired in 1968. Interestingly, Johnson became president the very day of John's death, and ended his term a few months after Robert's death. He was in power at the time of both investigations.

And both investigations are widely regarded as cover-ups. In both cases, the official conclusion is rife with contradictions. We are going to sum them up here. But we will do more: we will show that the key to solving both cases resides in the link between them. And we will solve them beyond a reasonable doubt.


Ancient Romans used molten iron to repair their streets

Pompeii road
© Eric Poehler
The passage of carts over decades could cause ruts (like the one shown here), particularly in high-traffic areas of Pompeii.
Ancient workers used molten iron to repair Pompeii's streets before the historic and devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, a team of archaeologists has discovered.

The discovery reveals a previously unknown method of ancient Roman street repair and represents "the first large-scale attestation of the Roman use of molten iron," wrote researchers Eric Poehler, a classics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Juliana van Roggen, an independent researcher; and Benjamin Crowther, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, in a paper recently published in the American Journal of Archaeology.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted, it covered the city in ash and lava; though the eruption killed many of Pompeii's inhabitants, it also preserved the city in time.

Iron streets

Comment: See also: And check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Julius Caesar - Evil Dictator or Messiah for Humanity?


"Proto-Romance": Bristol academic claims to have cracked Voynich manuscript code

Voynich manuscript
© Voynich manuscript
This shows two women dealing with five children in a bath. The words describe different temperaments: tozosr (buzzing: too noisy), orla la (on the edge: losing patience), tolora (silly/foolish), noror (cloudy: dull/sad), or aus (golden bird: well behaved), oleios (oiled: slippery). These words survive in Catalan [tozos], Portuguese [orla], Portuguese [tolos], Romanian [noros], Catalan [or aus] and Portuguese [oleio]. The words orla la describe the mood of the woman on the left and may well be the root of the French phrase 'oh là là', which has a very similar sentiment.
A University of Bristol academic has succeeded where countless cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programs have failed-by cracking the code of the 'world's most mysterious text', the Voynich manuscript.

Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document.

In his peer-reviewed paper, The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained, published in the journal Romance Studies, Cheshire describes how he successfully deciphered the manuscript's codex and, at the same time, revealed the only known example of proto-Romance language.

Comment: Although not everybody is convinced, Jennifer Ouelette for ArsTechnica writes:
So case closed, right? After all, headlines are already trumpeting that the "Voynich manuscript is solved," decoded by a "UK genius." Not so fast. There's a long, checkered history of people making similar claims. None of them have proved convincing to date, and medievalists are justly skeptical of Cheshire's conclusions as well.

What is this mysterious manuscript that has everyone so excited? It's a 15th century medieval handwritten text dated between 1404 and 1438, purchased in 1912 by a Polish book dealer and antiquarian named Wilfrid M. Voynich (hence its moniker). Along with the strange handwriting in an unknown language or code, the book is heavily illustrated with bizarre pictures of alien plants, naked women, strange objects, and zodiac symbols. It's currently kept at Yale University's Beinecke Library of rare books and manuscripts. Possible authors include Roger Bacon, Elizabethan astrologer/alchemist John Dee, or even Voynich himself, possibly as a hoax.


Fagin Davis naturally had strong opinions about this latest dubious claim, too, tweeting, "Sorry, folks, 'proto-Romance language' is not a thing. This is just more aspirational, circular, self-fulfilling nonsense." When Ars approached her for comment, she graciously elaborated. And she didn't mince words:
As with most would-be Voynich interpreters, the logic of this proposal is circular and aspirational: he starts with a theory about what a particular series of glyphs might mean, usually because of the word's proximity to an image that he believes he can interpret. He then investigates any number of medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a word that seems to suit his theory. Then he argues that because he has found a Romance-language word that fits his hypothesis, his hypothesis must be right. His "translations" from what is essentially gibberish, an amalgam of multiple languages, are themselves aspirational rather than being actual translations.

In addition, the fundamental underlying argument-that there is such a thing as one 'proto-Romance language'-is completely unsubstantiated and at odds with paleolinguistics. Finally, his association of particular glyphs with particular Latin letters is equally unsubstantiated. His work has never received true peer review, and its publication in this particular journal is no sign of peer confidence.

And she's not the only skeptic. "The decipherment is limited to some phrases and words, and I don't find any translation of a longer passage. I am not a medieval (Vulgar) Latin expert, so I can't comment on the plausibility of individual words," said Greg Kondrak, a natural language processing expert at the University of Alberta who has used AI to try and decode the Voynich manuscript. "The part of the paper which is devoted to the Zodiac sign names seems to make most sense, but the fact that those names are of Romance origin is well known, and they seem to have been added to the manuscript after it was completed. Regarding the decipherment of the individual symbols, a number of people have come up with a mapping to Latin letters, but those mappings rarely agree with each other, or with this proposal."

So another day, another dubious claim that someone has "decoded" the Voynich manuscript. Look, it's a fascinating topic, and it's always fun to have an excuse to dive down the rabbit hole of medieval manuscripts, mysticism, and cryptography, reveling in all the various theories that continue to be propounded about this mysterious treatise. But a word of advice: the next time someone claims to have finally deciphered the Voynich manuscript-of course there will be a next time-take a deep breath and check with your local medievalist before excitedly glomming onto the claim. (For an in-depth analysis of some of the issues scholars are having with Cheshire's work, see this blog post by J.K. Peterson at The Voynich Portal. UPDATE: Here is a follow-up post.)

What would it take to convince scholars like Fagin Davis? She outlined her criteria in a follow-up tweet: "(1) sound first principles; (2) reproducible by others; (3) conformance to linguistic and codicological facts; (4) text that makes sense; (5) logical correspondence of text and illustration. No one has checked all of those boxes yet."

DOI: Romance Studies, 2019. 10.1080/02639904.2019.1599566 (About DOIs).
See also: