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Rethinking Easter Island's historic collapse

easter island

The actual size of the statues is not as well known
Easter Island's colossal statues loom large — both literally and figuratively — in the popular imagination. The massive heads and torsos dot the landscape like stone sentinels, standing guard over the isle's treeless, grassy expanse.

The statues have inspired widespread speculation, awe, and wonder for centuries. But the island, called Rapa Nui by its Indigenous people, has also captured the world's imagination for an entirely different reason.

Rapa Nui is often seen as a cautionary example of societal collapse. In this story, made popular by geographer Jared Diamond's bestselling book Collapse, the Indigenous people of the island, the Rapanui, so destroyed their environment that, by around 1600, their society fell into a downward spiral of warfare, cannibalism, and population decline. These catastrophes, the collapse narrative explains, resulted in the destruction of the social and political structures that were in place during precolonial times, though the people of Rapa Nui survive and persist on the island to the present day.

Comment: Around the time that the Easter Island civilization is theorised to have begun its decline much of the planet was undergoing significant shifts: During the Little Ice Age Empires collapsed while the Netherlands flourished

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Dig

Rare Roman board game found in high status cremation pit in Norway

game
© University of Bergen
The four-sided elongated dice.
Rare elongated dice and board game pieces from the Roman Iron Age have been discovered in western Norway.

Last month, Norwegian archaeologists chose to excavate the remains of a small Early Iron Age grave cairn in western Norway. Dotted with monuments and grave mounds, the scenic location overlooking Alversund played an important role in Norwegian history.

The site at Ytre Fosse turned out to be a cremation patch. Amidst the fragments of pottery and burnt glass, archaeologists found a surprise: rare Roman Iron Age dice and board game pieces.

"This is wonderfully exciting. Such discoveries have not been made so many times before in Norway or Scandinavia. The special thing here is that we have found almost the whole set including the dice," said Morten Ramstad from Bergen University Museum to NRK.

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Marijuana

Cannabis and Frankincenses found at 2,700 year old Judahite shrine of Biblical Arad

Arad
© Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, The Israel Museum, by Laura Lachman.
Front view of the shrine at Arad, rebuilt in the Israel Museum. The top down view of the altars: on where you can see the black residue of cannabis and frankincense
Analysis of the material on two Iron Age altars discovered at the entrance to the "holy of holies" of a shrine at Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba Valley, Israel, were found to contain Cannabis and Frankincense, according to new article in the journal, Tel Aviv.

Past excavations revealed two superimposed fortresses, dated to the 9th to early 6th centuries BCE, which guarded the southern border of biblical Judah. Highly important Iron Age finds were unearthed, including a well-preserved shrine that was dated to ca. 750-715 BCE.

Two limestone altars (the smaller altar is 40 cm high and about 20 × 20 cm at the top; the larger is about 50 cm high and 30 × 30 cm at the top) were found lying at the entrance to the "holy of holies" of the shrine.

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Microscope 2

Insight into first cities & origin of agriculture revealed through genetic analysis

Arslantepe
© Roberto Ceccaci
A wall painting from the Arslantepe archaeological site in Eastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey) around 3,400 BC. Image courtesy of Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean and Missione Archeologica Italiana nell'Anatolia Orientale, Sapienza University of Rome.
New genetic research from around one of the ancient world's most important trading hubs offers fresh insights into the movement and interactions of inhabitants of different areas of Western Asia between two major events in human history: the origins of agriculture and the rise of some of the world's first cities.

The evidence reveals that a high level of mobility led to the spread of ideas and material culture as well as intermingling of peoples in the period before the rise of cities, not the other way around, as previously thought. The findings add to our understanding of exactly how the shift to urbanism took place.

The researchers, made up of an international team of scientists including Harvard Professor Christina Warinner, looked at DNA data from 110 skeletal remains in West Asia from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, 3,000 to 7,500 years ago. The remains came from archaeological sites in the Anatolia (present-day Turkey); the Northern Levant, which includes countries on the Mediterranean coast such as Israel and Jordan; and countries in the Southern Caucasus, which include present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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Dig

Hunt for remains of 16th century Irish rebel lord in Spain unearths several skeletons

nobleman
© REUTERS/Juan Medina
A view shows human remains found in an archeological dig, during the search for Irish nobleman Hugh O'Donnell in Valladolid, Spain May 29, 2020.
Spanish archaeologists may have uncovered the final resting place of an Irish nobleman whose bloody 16th-century rebellion almost toppled Ireland's English rulers.

With some Spanish support, Red Hugh O'Donnell waged war against the English for nine years before his rebels suffered a defeat at the 1602 Battle of Kinsale.

He escaped to Spain, hoping to secure King Philip III's backing for a renewed assault. But Philip was uninterested and O'Donnell died shortly before his 30th birthday near Valladolid, the site of the Spanish court at the time.

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MindMatters: Exploring Flatland: A Romance of Hyperdimensional Space

flatland
Before Orwell's masterpiece novel, 1984, about a dystopian society and what politically motivated and propaganda-induced groupthink looked and sounded like, another Englishman by the name of Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a semi-satirical, allegorical sci-fi novella called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, in 1884. In his story, Abbott ingeniously uses flat geometric shapes to represent different strata of society in his contemporary experience of Victorian England. Taking aim at his era's biases, prejudices and social mores, Abbott satirizes the thought processes and modes of oppression towards those who would begin to consider other, higher, levels of reality, and allegorizes the reception of divine inspiration using a mathematical conceit that may have more reality to it than perhaps even Abbott supposed.

On this week's MindMatters we discuss Flatland in all its cosmological glory. Like a dimensionally flattened, but fleshed-out, Plato's cave, we delve into the book's significance as a profound allegory, its many intricately bound insights, and what Edwin Abbott was entertainingly imploring us to think about and consider. In a world where ever greater numbers of people actually believe that the world is flat, we'll be thinking on a story which suggests that higher dimensions are not only possible - but probable - if only one can open one's mind enough to 'see' it.


Running Time: 01:01:04

Download: MP3 — 55.9 MB


Blue Planet

Canaanite DNA shows waves of migration from Caucasus Mountains, lives on in modern Arabs and Jews

Tel Megiddo
© Megiddo Expedition
Tel Megiddo was an important Canaanite city state during the Bronze Age, approximately 3500 B.C. to 1200 B.C. DNA analysis reveals that the city’s population included migrants from the distant Caucasus Mountains.
Tel Megiddo was an important Canaanite city state during the Bronze Age, approximately 3500 B.C. to 1200 B.C. DNA analysis reveals that the city's population included migrants from the distant Caucasus Mountains.

A new study of ancient DNA traces the surprising heritage of these mysterious Bronze Age people.

They are best known as the people who lived "in a land flowing with milk and honey" until they were vanquished by the ancient Israelites and disappeared from history. But a scientific report published today reveals that the genetic heritage of the Canaanites survives in many modern-day Jews and Arabs.

The study in Cell also shows that migrants from the distant Caucasus Mountains combined with the indigenous population to forge the unique Canaanite culture that dominated the area between Egypt and Mesopotamia during the Bronze Age, lasting from approximately 3500 B.C. until 1200 B.C.

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Fireball 3

Ancient accounts of 'Death from Above'

Meteorite Barage
© John Martin/Wikimedia Commons
Evidence suggests that a devastating barrage of meteorites rained down on the Dead Sea city of Tall el-Hammam in what is now Jordan. And, according to some researchers who think Tall el-Hammam was the biblical city of Sodom, that scenario could explain its destruction.
When we stargaze, we bask in photons that have traveled for many millennia before reaching our eyes. To us, the stars appear fixed on a so-called celestial sphere that encapsulates our entire earthly existence.

The truth, of course, is that no such sphere exists. Instead, stars and galaxies are scattered through the cosmos at distances so great they're incomprehensible to us.

But not all celestial phenomena exist so far away. Every day, shooting stars fail to recognize a boundary between space and Earth, dropping rocks from above — and often with dramatic results.

Our planet is vast, so meteorites typically don't concern us. But every once in a while, these objects actually strike humans and our property. Based purely on statistics, researchers estimate that a space rock should strike a human roughly once every nine years. And with those odds, you'd expect people to get killed by meteorites fairly often.

"I do strongly suspect that stats on 'death by asteroid' have been severely undercounted through human history," NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson told Astronomy via email. "It's only been in the last half century or so that we've even realized that such a thing could happen."

However, researchers still have not found a single confirmed case of death by space rock. But that's not to say we haven't come close. Modern history is full of near misses. On many occasions, space rocks have exploded over populated areas and sent thousands of meteorites raining down.

One of the most recent and well-known examples occurred in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, when a house-sized asteroid exploded over the city and injured some 1,200 people. Further back, on Jan. 30, 1868, a meteor exploded outside a town called Pultusk, near Warsaw, Poland, creating a literal meteor shower: More than 100,000 stones fell from the sky. The biggest recovered meteorite (a fragment of a space rock that makes it to the ground) weighed 20 pounds. It's the largest meteorite fall on record.

Eye 2

How the British Empire created and then killed George Orwell

animal farm protest orwell quote
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), happily amplified by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the United States which carries its World News, continues to pump out its regular dreck about the alleged economic chaos in Russia and the imagined miserable state of the Russian people.

It is all lies of course. Patrick Armstrong's authoritative regular updates including his reports on this website are a necessary corrective to such crude propaganda.

But amid all their countless fiascoes and failures in every other field (including the highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 in Europe, and one of the highest in the world) the British remain world leaders at managing global Fake News. As long as the tone remains restrained and dignified, literally any slander will be swallowed by the credulous and every foul scandal and shame can be confidently covered up.

Dig

Pristine, ancient Roman mosaic floor unearthed beneath Italian vineyard

roman mosaic vines
© Comune di Negrar di Valpolicella
The mosaic was found a few metres beneath a row of vines a week after work resumed after the coronavirus lockdown.
A perfectly preserved ancient Roman mosaic floor has been discovered near the northern Italian city of Verona.

Archaeologists were astonished by the find as it came almost a century after the remains of a villa, believed to date to the 3rd century AD, were unearthed in a hilly area above the town of Negrar di Valpolicella.

After the discovery in 1922, the site was mostly left abandoned until a team from the Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Verona resumed digging last summer. The team returned to the site in October and again in February before the excavation was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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