Category Archives: History
Spanish archaeological blog Asociación los Dólmenes reports today[es] that a curious and somewhat obscene finding is at the roots of the modern city of Seville (known as Hispalis in Roman times). The finding of a phallic relief on the entrance of one of the oldest buildings of that city, at the port, has open a debate on whether the city has its origins in whore house (as could be normal for a harbor) or are we talking instead of a building-protector deity apparently of North African origins (where is found in many public buildings).
But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.) Obviously Romans were not thinking of T. rex, right?
What about other languages? Berber, Portuguese, Catalan-Occitan, French, Italian?
PS: The image actually has a lizard-like tail what should get us all a bit perplex because the closest thing that comes to mind is a dinosaur but Romans could not know anything about dinos, could they?
This is the kind of argument used to reject the authenticity of some archeological findings like in the Iruña-Veleia case, where conjectures about the plausibility or not of this or that text (the non-existent Descartes – is Miscart) or letter (Z for example) have been used as alleged proof of falsification.
Whatever the deep logic behind this icon, it’s not weirder than gargoyles or centaurs, is it?
The Hellenistic city of Ptolemais (also known as Ptolemaida, Tolmeta and Tolmeitha) is being looted in an extensive and well organized manner. According to Ojos para la Paz[es] (Eyes for Peace):
Witnesses have declared that right now the coasts are being used for illegal trafficking. Also foreign bulldozers are visible, as well as digs and ships that look like fishing ships. Asking the locals what is going on, they say that there is people digging and do not want to be bothered. They are unknown people. In the excavated places men carrying vases to the ships can be seen. It is obvious that they are looting this site. We know that right now Libyan archaeological remains are being sold in Egypt and other countries.
You may have heard of this by now:
B. F. Gunn et al, Independent Origins of Cultivated Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) in the Old World Tropics. PLoS ONE 2011. Open access.
I was a bit perplex at first because what I have read around is that this paper somehow demonstrates that coconuts only spread with human domestication and colonizing flows. This is a most extreme claim which hardly fits the nature of this plant, which is not truly a domesticate but a widely exploited wild plant in fact. It is a very hardy plant that grows primarily at the high tide line and is naturally transported across the oceans by mere drift.
|Fig. 2 has the essence of the paper|
It is evident from this paper that coconuts have at least two distinct ancestral populations: one seemingly originated in South Asia and the other from SE Asia/Pacific, that its dispersal to the Atlantic Ocean happened necessarily with human help and that the East African population while essentially the Indian variety, has some admixture from the SE Asian/Pacific variants.
This last element is argued by the authors to signify human influence by means of the Austronesian colonists of Madagascar. While this is plausible I see no definitive argument for this logic in fact. Similarly I fail to see the hand of Austronesians in the Pacific scatter as something cast on iron, rather as just a possibility.
The only clear case of human intervention are the Dwarf variants because they are self-pollinating and this is not a trait you typically find in wild plants. But the Dwarf component is relatively rare and is not even present in the alleged Austronesian-mediated arrivals to East Africa and South America (Panama variant).
So I am not really persuaded of their thesis that most of this structure was caused by humans. It is possible but very far from demonstrated in fact.
Regardless, what eventually brought me to write this entry was after all their other discovery, which is quite solid and obvious: that in spite of the palm being so widely exploited and moved around in the Modern Era, the original genetic structure has persisted almost unaffected.
This is quite astonishing because copra (dried coconut flesh) and palm oil, as well as the fibre and the fresh fruit, so suitable as natural preserve for the long travels of sailors of not so long ago, make the coconut a clear candidate for extensive alteration of its ancestral genetic landscape, yet it has resisted all that almost impassible in all its range from Africa to South America.
A lesson to be assimilated by all those who happily proclaim that established populations can easily be altered. It can happen indeed but it is not easy.
I do not often write on such recent historical matters but this case is really fascinating, involving not just history and archaeology but also astronomy and sophisticated mechanics that anticipate modern computers.
Jo Marchant, Ancient astronomy: Mechanical inspiration. Nature News, 2010. Open access (article).
See also: GrrlScientist’s article at Punctuated Equilibrium blog at The Guardian: The Antikythera Mechanism. This is what I want for Christmas!
This last article (found via Archaeology in Europe), features a fancy video of a Lego reconstruction of the mechanism (which is pretty curious indeed) but more interesting are maybe the following two videos from Nature YouTube channel:
It is lovely, I understand, to see how these ancient peoples had such a complex understanding of Astronomy, being able to predict eclipses with high detail. But maybe even more fascinating is that they were already building elaborate clock mechanisms for that purpose, devices not known to have existed otherwise until the eve of Modern Age.
In the last video it is suggested that the astro-clock could have been invented by Archimedes of Syracuse, whom we know was the most celebrated scientific genius of Antiquity. The geography suggested by the mechanism is one of the Ionian Sea, not the Aegean or the East Mediterranean, however the date is from a century after Archimedes died. Yet they ponder if there could have been an Archimedean school in Syracuse for some time, which was in fact producing these technological marvels, whose knowledge was later lost.
It is also impressive to realize how technology may be lost, maybe because of lack of demand or socio-cultural drive. Ancient Greeks also knew of other marvels such as rudimentary steam engines, which never had much of an impact in that society overall – yet they would change everything two millennia later.