Posted in Humor, Science, Technology, tagged Ancient Civilizations, Darwinism, Dumb and Dumber, Human Intelligence, Humor, Science, Technology on February 19, 2013 |
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Are humans becoming dumber? Some researchers think so, and argue that if a citizen of ancient Athens suddenly appeared in the modern world, they would seem unusually intelligent, well-balanced, and emotionally stable.
The arguments for an increasingly dim-witted human race are based upon a kind of reverse Darwinism — the world is now so safe, the theory goes, that the mutated dunderheads among us aren’t killed off and culled out, and therefore survive to reproduce where they wouldn’t have survived before — in combination with studies that show that certain common substances, such as fluoride in the water supply, pesticides, and processed foods, reduce intelligence.
Color me skeptical. There’s no way of knowing whether the ancients were, in general, smarter than modern humans, but the arguments in support of that position seem pretty thin. There seem to be medical studies that support just about any health conclusion you might want to reach, and if modern pesticides, fluoride, and processed foods are bad, there’s no telling how many people from ancient cultures were exposed to lead, poor sanitation, uncured illnesses, and other conditions that could impair brain functioning.
The natural selection argument doesn’t work, either. If anything, the modern world is more dangerous to the witless than were the days of yore, where the village idiot could happily live out his days in the same tiny hamlet, guzzling mead and eating turnips. The big killers — wars, plagues, and other pestilences — tended to kill the bright and the dull in equal measure. Now, technology gives the imbeciles countless ways to knock themselves off, as the Darwin Awards recognize. Why do you think modern devices feature so many unnecessary warnings? The only reason lawnmowers caution people not to lift the lawnmower and use it to trim hedges is that some fool actually tried to do so at some point.
We citizens of the modern world may not all be rocket surgeons, but I see no evidence that we are any more stupid than our ancestors. I don’t think the human race is quite ready to go the way of the Morlocks and the Eloi just yet.
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Using dating techniques that examine the build-up of calcium carbonate, scientists have concluded that artwork found in caves in Spain is more than 40,000 years old. That makes the particular artistic statement — a red dot, found on a wall that features a series of depictions of hands rimmed by red paint — is more than 4,000 years older than the previous oldest known piece of human art.
The age of the art is extraordinary, because it stretches back to the dawn of human immigration into Europe, which is believed to have occurred about 41,000 years ago. To give some context to the amazing age of the paintings, consider that the first known civilizations didn’t begin until about 6000 years ago, and that if you went back in time 4000 years from today you’d be at a point centuries before the birth of King Tut.
Discoveries like this make you wonder how old human expression truly is, and when it first was displayed. Is cave painting the earliest form of human artistic expression, or is another form even older? When did humans first sing, or dance around the fire pit, or create some form of music? How soon after language was developed did the first poet or storyteller come into being?
The days of these early humans were consumed by hunting dangerous animals, foraging for food, building fires, creating tools and clothing, and avoiding predators — and yet they spent time creating art on the walls of their cave shelters. The fact that the artistic impulse is found in such early humans says something very powerful about creativity and the artistic urge as a fundamental part of human nature.
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Anyone who has been to Pompeii knows that the ancient Romans were accomplished graffiti writers. So were many other ancient humans, from the cave-dwellers forward. More and more, bits of ancient graffiti are being translated, and the results are classic — and often hysterical. The writings tell us something meaningful about our ancestors.
For example, how can you not smile about the unknown Greek guy who wrote, 1,500 years ago, “Sydromachos has an ass as big as a cistern.” Who today hasn’t felt a similar urgent need to point out the reality of an acquaintance’s enormous rump? It reminds me of a co-worker who, years ago, saw a newly hired employee who formerly had been an intern and who, in the intervening period, has put on a few pounds in the posterior. With perfect timing, the co-worker scrutinized the colossal keister, turned to a friend, and said in an awed voice: “That’s not the ass we hired.”
The ancient graffiti writings confirm that there is something basic and immutable about the human condition that remains lurking below — temporarily hidden, perhaps, by the trappings of civilization and technology, but always ready to appear at an opportune moment. It’s reasonable to conclude that, for so long as human beings survive as a species, a big butt is always going to be worthy of a wry comment.
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Medical texts from the days of ancient Greece and Rome were consulted by physicians in the western world for hundreds of years, well into the Middle Ages. Now examination of medicine chests found on a long-lost shipwreck is giving us a more tangible glimpse of how the ancients actually practiced medicine.
The wooden boxes were found on a ship that sank off the coast of Tuscany around 130 B.C. They contain pills made of vegetables, herbs, plants, nuts, and clay, as well as a mortar and pestle and other devices that suggest that a doctor was on board. The pills were kept in vials that were so well sealed they have been preserved for more than 2,000 years and can now be tested using DNA sequencing technology. Experts believe the pills were used to treat sailors for dysentery and diarrhea.
The technology of ancient civilizations — which were able to seal containers against the intrusion of sea water for two millennia — continues to amaze, and one wonders what other discoveries may be lurking under the ocean waters, waiting to be discovered. And, the modern world being what it is, don’t be surprised to see the “all-natural Roman cure” for diarrhea coming soon to an herbal medicine store and a late-night TV screen near you.
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Posted in Movies, Science, Technology, tagged Ancient Civilizations, Archaeology, Bablyon, Egypt, Indiana Jones, Movies, Persia, Pyramids, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Science, Space, Space Archaeology, Technology on May 25, 2011 |
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Modern technology is allowing for amazing advances in, of all things, the discovery of sites and artifacts of ancient civilizations. The most recent example is found in Egypt, where the new field of “space archaeology” — which seems oxymoronic — has produced the discovery of 17 lost pyramids and thousands of previously undiscovered tombs and settlements.
The space archaeologists use space telescopes, powerful cameras, and infra-red imaging to identify materials buried beneath the surface. Ancient Egyptians built using mud brick, which has a different density than the surrounding soil and allows the outlines of buried structures to be detected. One use of the technology was applied to make discoveries at the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, which will forever be recalled by fans of Indiana Jones and Raiders Of The Lost Ark as the home of the Well of Souls and the Ark of the Covenant.
You don’t need a bullwhip, a well-worn hat, and the ability to take a punch to be an archaeologist — a satellite, a camera, and a creative approach to using new technology will do just fine. And what is really exciting about this development is the potential uses of this technology in Babylon, and Persia, and other sites in the Fertile Crescent and elsewhere. Who knows what other evidence of ancient civilizations will be found buried beneath the sands?
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Posted in Humor, Science, World, tagged Ancient Civilizations, Archaeology, Armenia, Egypt, Grapes, Human Behavior, Humor, I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball, Science, Wine, Wine-making, World on January 12, 2011 |
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Archaeologists have uncovered the world’s oldest known wine press in southern Armenia. The wine press was found in a cave and is being dated to 4,000 B.C. — 6,000 years ago. In short, the wine press is so old that it predates even the rise of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
The archaeologists believe that the wine press produced a dry red vintage using some kind of foot-stomping method. They also speculate that the wine was a special vintage used in a burial ritual by a complex ancient society.
I think the key facts in the article suggest a different back story. Those key facts are (1) a cave, (2) wine, and (3) the world’s oldest discarded leather shoe, which also was found in the same cave. Do those facts sound to you like the ingredients of a burial ritual? Or, do those signs point to a secret drinking place where the lazy ne’er-do-wells of the tribe could escape to kick off their shoes, stomp a few grapes, guzzle homemade hooch, and enjoy some drunken hilarity with their buddies away from the tribal chief, the high priest, and angry spouses? To confirm this theory, the archaeologists need only start looking for dice, chicken bones, and signs of ancient graffiti in the vicinity.
The wine press may be 6,000 years old, but human beings really haven’t changed that much over the millennia.
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Today, after I woke up and got out of bed, and as I dragged my comb across my head, I thought briefly of the humble comb.
An early Egyptian comb
The earliest tools made by human ancestors go back hundreds of thousands of years. Not surprisingly, they seem to be things likes axe heads, knives, and other implements that help with hunting, killing, and skinning animals; you would expect the struggling early humans to focus on getting food and making it edible.
Combs, however, are distinctly different. They aren’t essential to survival and seem to be a product of a more advanced civilization, where people were more attentive to their appearance and had the leisure time to do something about it. Perhaps they gazed into a pool of water, considered their reflection, and thought: “My hair looks like crap!” They dragged their fingers through their hair and noticed a slight improvement, and then they realized that just as tools helped with the killing and gutting of prey, so tools could help to make their hair look better. After some experimentation, the basic design of the comb — with its rows of tines working to tame and untangle unruly hair — was devised.
Ancient combs from Qumran
I don’t think archaeologists know exactly when combs were first invented. I’ve seen combs from ancient Egypt that were created more than 5000 years ago, and combs apparently spread around the world after the first century B.C. The combs shown on these links look pretty similar to the combs available today. Substitute antler bone, ivory, or hard wood for plastic, and there’s really not much difference. The basic design of the comb therefore seems to have pretty much stayed unchanged for 7,000 years. Is there any other man-made tool or device that has been used, continuously and without material change, for as long as the humble comb?
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