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Sat, 09 Dec 2023
The World for People who Think

Secret History


On collective security: An interview with historian Michael Jabara

ww2 poster   “Europe will be Free!”
© Viktor Koretsky, 1944
“Europe will be Free!”
Michael Jabara Carley is a specialist in 20th century international relations and the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. His research focuses on the Soviet Union's relations with Western Europe and the United States during the years 1917 and 1945. This research has come together in a three-volume study, first of which, entitled, Stalin's Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930-1936, will be published by the University of Toronto Press. It is a great pleasure and honor to discuss his work with him in this interview.

The Postil (TP): You have written a trilogy on the Great Patriotic War, that is the Second World War as experienced by Soviet Union. The first part of this magisterial study will be published soon. What is your overall aim?

Michael Jabara Carley (MJC): My trilogy, as I call it, deals with the origins and early conduct of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War (Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina). The VOV is the name given to the war in Soviet and Russian history arising from the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. My work runs from January 1930 to December 1941. My project was first entitled "A Near-run Thing: The Improbable Grand Alliance of World War II," supported by an "Insight" research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. My initial objective was to write a narrative history of how the USSR, Britain, and the United States, powers hostile to each other during the interwar years, became allies against Nazi Germany and the Axis. The work evolved from an envisioned single volume into three dealing with Soviet relations with the great and lesser European powers and the United States.

Blue Planet

4,000 year old network of ceramic water pipes reveal complex engineering capabilities of neolithic peoples of China

china pipe
According to a study published in the journal Nature Water, Neolithic people living in China were capable of complex engineering feats without the need for a centralised state authority.

The discovery of a network of ceramic water pipes and drainage ditches at the walled site of Pingliangtai, has revealed new insights into how people during the Neolithic period were able to manage and redirect water.

Pingliangtai is located in the southwest corner of Dazhu Village in Huaiyang County, central China. The site dates from around 4,300 during the Longshan period, emerging into one of China's earliest major population centres that was inhabited by around 500 inhabitants.

Comment: Ancient trade networks that spanned vast distances reveal that our understanding of ancients peoples as relatively primitive is far from the case. Further, China is proving to be a treasure trove of human history, and dating back hundreds of thousands of years:


This week we time travel to 1530 and Geneva

Plague Doctor
© samim
Text from François Bonivard (1493-1570), "Chronicles of Geneva", second volume, pages 395 - 402:
"When the bubonic plague struck Geneva in 1530, everything was ready. They even opened a whole hospital for the plague victims. With doctors, paramedics and nurses. The traders contributed, the magistrate gave grants every month. The patients always gave money, and if one of them died alone, all the goods went to the hospital.

But then a disaster happened: the plague was dying out, while the subsidies depended on the number of patients. There was no question of right and wrong for the Geneva hospital staff in 1530. If the plague produces money, then the plague is good. And then the doctors got organized.

At first, they just poisoned patients to raise the mortality statistics, but they quickly realized that the statistics didn't have to be just about mortality, but about mortality from plague. So they began to cut the boils from the bodies of the dead, dry them, grind them in a mortar and give them to other patients as medicine. Then they started dusting clothes, handkerchiefs and garters. But somehow the plague continued to abate. Apparently, the dried buboes didn't work well. Doctors went into town and spread bubonic powder on door handles at night, selecting those homes where they could then profit. As an eyewitness wrote of these events, "this remained hidden for some time, but the devil is more concerned with increasing the number of sins than with hiding them."

Cowboy Hat

3rd Century CE Hirota civilisation were first peoples of Japan to practise cranial deformation

deformed skull
© The Kyushu University Museum/Noriko Seguchi/Seguchi et al., PLOS ONE, 2023
The deformed skull of an individual found at the Hirota site.
Humans have been intentionally changing their bodies for many thousands of years, but there's no denying that one of the most fascinating practices is that of skull modification.

Around the world, throughout history, many cultures have artificially and intentionally altered the shapes of their skulls.

Although the practice appears elsewhere in Asia, evidence of individuals deforming their skulls on purpose in Japan is scarce. There's just one place where it may have taken place: the island of Tanegashima, from around the 3rd to 7th centuries CE.

Comment: It's notable that evidence of cranial deformation, as well as unusually shaped, natural skulls - that seem to have been what people were attempting to imitate - have been found in sites that date as far back as 10,000 years ago, and across much of the planet, except in Japan. One wonders whether there's some connection to another finding which shows that peoples in what is now Japan, that lived during the Jomon period (from 13,000 - 800 BC), showed very little evidence of violent behavior or death:


Rare gifts 2300 years old discovered in the famous Phoenician city of Carthage

Ancient Gold Coins
© Tunisia Ministry of Cultural Affairs/Facebook
Archaeologists excavating the sanctuary of Tophet, Carthage uncovered a collection of offerings, Tunisia's Ministry of Cultural Affairs announced in a news release. They found five gold coins from the 3rd century BC, tombstones, and several urns with the remains of animals, infants, and premature babies.

Founded by about 2,900 years Phoenicians, Carthage is an extensive archaeological site, located on a hill dominating the Gulf of Tunis and the surrounding plain. Metropolis of Punic civilization in Africa and the capital of the province of Africa in Roman times, Carthage has played a central role in Antiquity as a great commercial empire.

The Sanctuary Tophet in Carthage had a "shrine area" for the sacrificial offerings and a cemetery area where the deceased was then buried.


The Cosmic Context of Greek Philosophy. Part Five

zeus poseidon greek gods

The Mighty Gods Zeus & Poseidon

The Agenda of the Milesian School

In 1997, William Mullen, Professor of Classical Studies at Bard College, gave a conference talk entitled: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisation in which he outlined what he saw as the Agenda of the Milesian School.
Topics held in common by the first three pre-Socratic philosophers from Miletos in the Sixth Century B.C.E., Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, and by Xenophanes[1] from neighbouring Colophon, taken together may be viewed as constituting the agenda of a "Milesian School".

The agenda included a survey of the known kosmos (the orderly arrangement of the inhabited world surrounded by regularly moving heavenly bodies); redefinitions of divinity; and theories of the natural processes, constantly in operation, by which both kosmos and divinity are to be understood. It also included explanations of phenomena most men deemed terrifying: thunder, lightning, earthquakes, eclipses, and periodic destruction of the kosmos itself. It set about to explain these phenomena in terms of the same elemental processes (transformations of water, rarefaction and condensation of air, separating out of fire, air, water and earth, periodic reabsorption of these elements into a state of dynamic equilibrium) as it invoked to explain the orderly arrangement of the earth and the heavenly bodies. In so doing, it implied the baselessness of the traditional Olympian religion which attributed lightning and earthquakes to whims of Zeus and Poseidon and world-destructions to battles of the sky-gods.

The ultimate Milesian agenda may therefore have been to liberate people from paralysing fear of the immediate recurrence of celestial disturbances in the recent past. By insisting that world-destructions occurred only in vast cycles of time (such as a "great year" whose winter solstice was Deluge and summer solstice Conflagration) the Milesian School was schematically distorting memories of recent disturbances, and its activity may be seen as part of a general pattern of oblivion and psychological distancing common to all cultures after the end of the Bronze Age catastrophes. But by insisting that these world-destructions occurred only as the result of unalterable elemental processes, it was also erecting a proto-scientific bulwark against apocalyptic thinking and behavior.[2]


New research on the Middle Neolithic circular enclosure of Goseck

Aerial view of the Middle Neolithic circular enclosure of Goseck.
© State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt
Aerial view of the Middle Neolithic circular enclosure of Goseck.
From the Central and Eastern European Middle Neolithic (first half of the 5th millennium BCE), around 150 so-called circular enclosures are known, circular or elliptical roughly concentric arrangements of ditches and palisades with a diameter between 40 an up to 250 m. Only a few have been comprehensively and systematically examined archaeologically. The function of these large buildings is still discussed intensively. Interpretations such as central places for meetings, cattle enclosures, defensive structures, astronomical observatories or spaces for ritual activities have been proposed.

The recent publication of the research results from the completely excavated circular enclosure of Goseck, Burgenlandkreis, Saxony-Anhalt by Dr. Norma Henkel brings forward new evidence for the interpretation of these still enigmatic constructions. The article is titled "The Middle Neolithic circular ditch complex of Goseck, Burgenlandkreis," from the Publications of the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt — State Museum of Prehistory (German only).

The Goseck Middle Neolithic circular ditch (Stichbandkeramik culture, approx. 4900 to 4600/4550 BCE) was discovered in 1991 by Otto Braasch during aerial archaeological investigations. Between 2002 and 2004 it was completely excavated within a cooperation project between the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt (LDA) and the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).


China's oldest water pipes were a communal effort

ceramic water pipe Pingliangtai
© Yanpeng Cao
A segment of ceramic water pipe excavated from Pingliangtai, now displayed at Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Huaiyang.
In a study published in Nature Water, the archaeological team describe a network of ceramic water pipes and drainage ditches at the Chinese walled site of Pingliangtai dating back 4,000 years to a time known as the Longshan period. The network shows cooperation amongst the community to build and maintain the drainage system, though no evidence of a centralised power or authority.

Dr Yijie Zhuang (UCL Institute of Archaeology), senior and corresponding author on the paper, said: "The discovery of this ceramic water pipe network is remarkable because the people of Pingliangtai were able to build and maintain this advanced water management system with stone age tools and without the organisation of a central power structure. This system would have required a significant level of community-wide planning and coordination, and it was all done communally."

The ceramic water pipes make up a drainage system which is the oldest complete system ever discovered in China. Made by interconnecting individual segments, the water pipes run along roads and walls to divert rainwater and show an advanced level of central planning at the neolithic site.

What's surprising to researchers is that the settlement of Pingliangtai shows little evidence of social hierarchy. Its houses were uniformly small and show no signs of social stratification or significant inequality amongst the population. Excavations at the town's cemetery likewise found no evidence of a social hierarchy in burials, a marked difference from excavations at other nearby towns of the same era.


Bronze Age steppe pyramid discovered in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan bronze age pyramid horse cult
© Eurasian National University
Each face of the Bronze Age hexagonal pyramid spans roughly 42 feet.
An ancient pyramid decorated for a 'cult of the horse' was unearthed in Kazakhstan

A large Bronze Age pyramid has been discovered in Kazakhstan, the country's Ministry of Science and Higher Education reports.

The structure — which dates back to the 2nd millennium BC — is unlike anything that has been found in the Eurasian steppes before — and may have been linked to an ancient horse cult.

"This is a very complex construction," Ulan Umitkaliyev, Head of the Eurasian National University's Archaeology and Ethnology Department, said in a press release. "The steppe pyramid was built with great precision, it is hexagonal.

"There are thirteen meters and eight rows of stones between each face. It is a very sophisticated complex structure with several circles in the middle."

Gold Coins

2,000-year-old gold treasure from Iron Age tribe unearthed by metal detectorists in Wales

gold coins wales
© Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales
The collection of gold coins discovered by metal detectorists in Wales.
Metal detectorists have discovered a treasure trove of gold coins strewn across an open field in Anglesey, an island in Wales, marking the first time that Iron Age currency has been found in the country.

The 15 well-preserved coins, which were minted sometime between 60 B.C. and 20 B.C., are known as staters and were common currency in ancient Greece. The highly stylized coins were derived from Macedonian gold coins of Philip II, who served as the king of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, and feature the bust of the Greek god Apollo wearing a wreath on the coins' heads side and a two-horse chariot and rider on the coins' tails side, according to a statement.

They were likely used by the Corieltavi tribe, who inhabited the area during the Iron Age.