Showing posts with label 21st century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 21st century. Show all posts

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sheepview 360-How Camera Laden Sheep Put the Faroe Islands on the Map

Literally meaning 'Island of the Sheep', the Faroe Islands are the stunning Nordic paradise you've never heard of. Nominally part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are located between Iceland and Norway. They're a small nation with less than 50,000 people, and there's almost twice as many sheep as people. The Faroes are a lovely, tucked away, almost completely unknown chain of islands in the North Atlantic.

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Ms. Andreassen with her sheep.
Google, on the other hand, is everywhere. Google has pictures of your house, your street, your dog (possibly). They make the operating system for your cellphones¹, the operating system for your laptops, they provide the program for your calendar, your mapping technology, even for a simple internet search. Hell, I'm using Google software to write and publish this post. Google is everywhere; you cannot escape Google.

Unless you lived on the Faroe Islands, that is. Until late 2017 Google had never taken pictures of the island, possessing only sattelite images of the landmass from above. Almost everywhere else on earth has Google Streetview--a program that allows users to see different cities and countries at ground level-- except the Faroe Islands. In an effort to boost tourism, the Faroe Island Tourism Board decided that they wanted Google to bring streetview to their islands.

Given that the Faroe Islands have been left off maps before, this is entirely understandable. The Faroes are a tiny 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' country in the middle of the Atlantic. They aren't as popular as neighboring Iceland, but a large portion of their economy relies on tourism. Having Street View would help make the Faroes a more appealing place for tourists, and so the Faroe Islands decided to get Google's attention.

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The Faroe Islands
Now, admittedly, tiny rocks in the middle of the Atlantic aren't usually Google's top priority.² It isn't cheap to do the photography for Street View, and the roads in the Faroe Islands are not for the faint of heart, so Faroe Tourism Board member, Durita Dahl Andreassen, decided that she would make use of the Island's resources. Enlisting (or pressganging, depending on the situation) the help of the island's epynomous sheep, she fitted several sheep with harnesses that could hold a 360 degree camera, and set the sheep off into the wild.

Now, ancient laws of the Faroe Islands dictate that sheep are allowed to go wherever the hell they want on the islands. This, combined with the fact that they can leave roads and get to normally inaccessible places made them ideal camera operators. The footage they shot was sent directly to Andreassen's phone, and she uploaded it to Google Maps. She dubbed the project 'Sheepview 360', and with the help of the Faroe Islands Tourism Board, created a website and released several YouTube videos to get Google's attention. They encouraged locals to use the hashtag #visitfaroeislands and #wewantstreetview, and before long they caught Google's attention.

While a clever idea, sheep aren't exactly the most reliable of cinematographers. They spend a lot of time in the same place, and they don't quite understand the need for care with fragile technology. However, Sheepview hit its intended mark. Hotel reservations are up 10% from last year, and there has been a marked increase in tourism.

If you're interested in watching the Sheepview videos, you can find them all here.



¹Iphone owning readers, you've been acknowledged, now hush.
²Tristan da Cunha STILL doesn't have Street View, and I am extremely salty about this. Sure, it's the most remote island in the world, but that's no excuse. Get on it Google.


Sources
Sheep with a 360 View
How Sheep With Cameras Got Some Tiny Islands on Google Street View

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Facts are in the Feces

Hippocrates, widely considered to be the father of modern medicine, proposed some pretty crazy hypothesis. Four humors, wandering womb, many of his theories have since been discredited.¹ However, Hippocrates' documentation of parasites in the Ancient Greeks has recently been confirmed by archaeologists digging on the Greek island of Kea.

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Hippocrates
According to Hippocrates, there were three different types of parasites that could be found in the human digestive system--Helmins strongyle, Ascaris, and Helmins plateia. He detailed the symptoms of each type of worm, and his proposed treatments in the Hippocrates Corups, a collection of his writings.

While the likelihood of the Ancient Greeks having parasites was never in doubt, historians and archaeologists were confused as to exactly what parasites Hippocrates was referring to. There was no archaeological evidence of parasites from Hellenic times, so it was generally assumed that Hippocrates' three worms were all different variants of pin worms.

However, recently excavated corpses on Kea have shown differently. Feces, an incredibly useful archaeological find, generally dissolves into the dirt within a few years of having been placed there. However, skeletons on Kea were found with flecks of feces on the pelvis, giving archaeologists a chance to analyze it.

The findings were insightful. Not only did they find pin worms, but roundworms were found in the feces as well. This conclusively proves that Hippocrates discovered the pin worm centuries before it came to be known by that name, and that he also had knowledge of other types of parasite.



¹Though many of Hippocrates' theories have been discredited, and some may sound ridiculous today, he was a remarkable man. Hippocrates basically invented modern medicine, and he made a series of great discoveries. This is pretty huge considering that he had very little prior knowledge to work with.


Sources
Ancient Poo is the First Ever Confirmation that Hippocrates Was Right About Parasites
Poop Proof: Ancient Greeks Suffered From Gut Parasites
History of Medicine: Ancient Poop Reveals Parasitic Worms as Described By Hippocrates 2500 Years Ago

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Iroquois League-Doing America Before America Was Cool

Known among themselves as the Haudenosaunee,¹ the Iroquois League (or Confederacy) is the world's oldest participatory democracy. Located in what is today central New York state, the Haudenosaunee controlled vast swathes of woodland all the way into today's Ontario. A combination of six tribes, they banded together in mutual defense and adopted common policy in regards to other tribes and white settlers. Because of this cooperation, they were able to keep their territorial lands longer than any other confederacy in the region.

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The Haudenosaunee are known for having invented the sport
of Lacrosse, and for being multiple time world champions.
The Haudenosaunee is comprised of six individual tribes--the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. Their individual languages are related, and most are mutually intelligible to the others. It is this shared language family which initially brought the Haudenosaunee together. Additionally, linguistic evidence suggests that the Haudenosaunee are immigrants to the New England area. It is thought that the original five tribes--all but the Tuscarora--emigrated from the southern United States², and it is definitely known that the Tuscarora emigrated from North Carolina.

Originally, these six tribes were separate people, and warred with each other the same way in which the confederation later warred with non-confederation people. There were frequent raids on rival tribes, and an 'eye for an eye' philosophy prevailed. If a member from one tribe was killed, the family of that person would kill a member of the tribe that killed their family member, starting a never ending cycle of bloodshed. Among the Haudenosaunee, this epoch is known as 'The Dark Times'.

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Map of Haudenosaunee lands
Enter Deganawida. Deganawida is a religious man, and has been told by the Great Spirit to make peace between the people. Problem was, Deganawida had a stutter, and needed a mouthpiece. To this end, he found Hiawatha. At the time, Hiawatha was a simple cannibal, doing his cannibal thing. However, one day while cooking his latest victim Hiawatha saw his reflection in his cooking pot, and realized that someone as beautiful as himself should not be eating people. While discarding of the corpse he no longer intended to eat, he met Deganawida, who named Hiawatha as his mouthpiece. Together Deganawida and Hiawatha set about uniting the five tribes--the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida.³

The Haudenosaunee confederacy was built upon a system of participatory democracy. Each tribe had one vote, and the chiefs of each clan,⁴ known as Sachems, helped each nation come to an agreement on how they would vote. The Confederacy established an inter-confederacy peace treaty, and a pact of mutual defense. Additionally, Confederacy members were able to move freely between the different nations. The Confederacy had very few laws, mostly focusing on foreign relations, but they immediately outlawed cannibalism. For any decision to be made on the behalf of the entire confederacy a unanimous vote had to be reached. Should complete agreement not be met, each tribe was free to proceed as they saw fit. This would eventually lead to the nations fighting on different sides during the American Revolution.

Together, the Haudenosaunee were a formidable foe. They regularly raided their Algonquin neighbors, and colonial settlements, gaining European goods despite having no formal trade agreements with white men. They also established a system of currency, based of of Wampum, and had a massive agricultural system, growing corn, beans, and squash.

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The Haudenosaunee lived in Longhouses--wooden dwellings
which housed multiple families. Longhouses could be anywhere
between 50 to 150 feet long
When it came to colonial clashes, the Haudenosaunee preferred to remain neutral. During the French and Indian War many of the Haudenosaunee refused to take sides. They attempted to do the same during the American Revolution, but were unable. The Haudenosaunee saw the wars between the colonists as civil wars that were none of their business, but the English insisted that the Haudenosaunee honor their treaty of mutual defense with the English.

This divided the tribes into rival factions. Due to pressure from the English, most of the tribes sided with the English, but some tribes, most notably the Oneida and Tuscarora, sided with the Americans. This division nearly killed the confederacy, as tribes began to raid the villages of confederacy members. Despite this, the confederacy remained intact, if fragile, at the end of the Revolution.⁵

The Confederacy's form of government would become a major influence on the creation of the United States Constitution. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were well acquainted with the Haudenosaunee, were inspired by the fact that each member nation had an equal say in the policy of the group.

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Haudenosaunee Flag
Today the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is as strong as ever. They are recognized as their own nation, and have sent delegates to the United Nations, and issue their own passports.⁶ The nations have banded together multiple times in mutual defense when development and industrial projects threaten native lands, and lobby together for the return of cultural artifacts and human remains.



¹Meaning 'People of the Longhouse', based on the longhouses that the Haudenosaunee lived in. The name 'Iroquois' is a francosized version of the Algonquin word 'Irinakhoiw'. 'Iroquois' roughly translated, means 'real adders'. Like many colonial names for Native Americans, this is a pejorative. In this article I will refer to this group of people by the name they chose form themselves--Haudenosaunee.
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Haudenosaunee passport
²This conclusion was reached by comparison to other Native American languages. the Haudenosaunee languages are very closely related to the Cherokee language--a nation which originated in the southern United States. Additionally, non Haudenosaunee tribes in the New York area speak languages from the Algonquin group. This difference suggests that the Haudenosaunee were once related to, or acquainted with the Cherokee.
³The canny reader may be wondering about the Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Nation was added to the Haudenosaunee confederacy in the early 1700s when they were driven out of North Carolina by English Colonists.
⁴A tribe is comprised of a group of clans. Clans are matrilinial, and are headed by the eldest woman in each clan. There were eight major clans in the confederation, and intermarriage inside a clan was discouraged.
⁵Following the Revolution the young American government placed sanctions on all members of the confederacy, including the ones that supported them against the English. This united the confederacy against the Americans as they were forced off their lands and onto reservations in New York and Canada.
⁶Though the Iroquois passport was largely recognized in the United States traveling on an Iroquois passport after the events of September 11, 2001 became largely impossible. Additionally, many nations do not recognize Iroquois passports, and refuse entry to holders if they do not also have an American or Canadian passport.


Sources
Iroquois Confederacy- American Indian Confederation
Iroquois League: The Ancient and Powerful Union of Six Nations
Iroquois Confederacy
The League of the Iroquois
The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth
The Six Nations Confederacy During the American Revolution

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Cult of Prince Phillip

Prince Phillip, husband to Queen Elizabeth II, and the longest-lived British consort in history is a fairly accomplished man. He held high ranks in the British Navy before and after his 1947 marriage, has received four out of four possible British orders, and was instrumental in founding the equestrian sport of carriage driving. In most western countries Phillip is just a footnote to the British Royal Family-the oft forgotten husband of a Queen who may or may not be immortal. But to the Yaohnanen of Tanna island, Vanuatu, he's their messiah.

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Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the then Princess Elizabeth
in 1947
According to the Yaohnanen prophecy, a white child would be born in a foreign land. This child would be the son of the volcano god, and a native woman, and would go on to marry a great queen. The child would then collect all the riches of the queen's land, and return them to Tanna. In the early 1950s, it was decided that Prince Phillip was this child.

To be fair, Prince Phillip fits the prophecy fairly well--save for the 'son of the volcano god' part. He was born in a foreign land (Greece), and married a great queen (Elizabeth II). He hasn't quite returned to Tanna with all the riches of the United Kingdom, but the Yaohnanen hold out hope.

This cult originally sprung up in the 1950s, around the time that Elizabeth was crowned queen. The Yaohnanen had received a signed photograph of Philip, and regularly prayed to it. The beliefs of the cult were more firmly cemented in 1974 when Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth made a state visit to Vanuatu. Though Prince Phillip never set foot on Tanna, the Yaohnanen people did see him on the deck of the HMS Brittanica. Local religious leaders made the firm statement that Phillip was their messiah. 

Related image
Map of Vanuatu, also known as
'New Hebrides"
While Prince Phillip has never visited Tanna (though Princess Anne has), the Yaohnanen believe that he is looking out for their interests. They believe that he is promoting Yaohnanen culture abroad, and the believe that upon his death his spirit will return to Tanna. They also believe that Phillip has used his powers as a god to influence world events. Most notably, they believe that Prince Phillip assisted with the election of Barack Obama, and the location of Osama Bin Laden.

The reason that the Yaohnanen believe that Phillip is their god is not only because of their prophecies, but because of the way Phillip is treated in public life. They believe that being surrounded by guards and riding in a cars with dark windows are a sign of his divine status.

Now this sounds mildly insane, but it is true. The worship of Prince Phillip is the product of the John Frum cargo cult that sprung up in Vanuatu in the 1930s. These cults are the results of modern western society crashing into traditional ways of life, and are a way of helping these traditional cultures cope with the shock of modern life.

You would think that with greater globalization, and the intrusion of the modern Western world into the traditional Yaohnanen society the Cult of Prince Phillip would die down. However, the opposite is true. A cyclone that hit Tanna in May of 2017, around the same time that Prince Phillip's retirement was announced, only further cemented the Yaohnanen's belief in their god.


Sources

Monday, December 11, 2017

The California Sphinx

There's been a lot of exciting finds announced this week, Caesar's landing place in Britain, Iron Age human remains in Turkey, and a 3,000 year old tomb found in China. However, the most exciting (in my opinion) was the discovery of one of the lost sphinxes from the 1923 film set for the movie The Ten Commandments.

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Aforementioned Sphinx
In 1923 Cecil DeMille set out on an ambitious black and white film entitled The Ten Commandments.¹ It was an enormous undertaking. DeMille hired thousands of actors, and built a lavish set in the middle of the Californian desert. The set was designed by the popular French art deco designer, Paul Iribe, and included more than 20 sphinxes.

The film was a hit, but an expensive hit. The Ten Commandments grossed about $4.2 million at the box office, but cost about $1.5 million to make. At the end of filming the set was too expensive to dismantle, and DeMille didn't want to leave it in the desert for another movie studio to poach. So, he did the reasonable thing, and decided to bury it.

Years passed, and the set was almost forgotten about. However, in 1980 film director Peter Brosnan started searching for the set. He was able to get a $10,000 grant from the US government to start archaeological work. In 1990 he dug up the very first sphinx, and the Californian desert has been churning out more pieces of movie set ever since.

One of the remarkable things about this find is how well it was preserved. The sphinx was made of plaster, and was mostly intact. The paint was a bit chipped, but otherwise looked as good as it did in 1923. 


¹He later remade an expanded, colorized version of this film in 1956


Sources

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Greenland Goes Rogue

You wouldn't think that Greenland would have been a source of contention during World War II. While Greenland may be the world's largest island, it's sparsely inhabited, freezing cold, and just not a big player in world affairs. Quite frankly, Greenland's pretty unprepossessing. However, control of the island was heavily contested between the United States and Germany during the first half of the 1940s.

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Uummannaq, Greenland
Greenland has been a Danish colony since 1814, and is still a part of Denmark. While Greenland is largely self-governing today, in the 1940s the island was under the strict control of the Danish government, specifically the two Danish governors--Aksel Svane and Eske Brun. These men answered directly to the government in Copenhagen, but were also responsible for representing the interests of Greenland. This left them in a bit of a bind when the Nazi's took control of Denmark in April of 1940.

While the Danish government was nominally in charge of their country, they took their orders from the Germans, especially where foreign policy was concerned. Formerly neutral, Denmark was dragged into the war, and Greenland wasn't too keen on being dragged along with them. The Danish government in Copenhagen no longer represented Greenland's interests, and Greenland didn't feel particularly loyal to the Nazi puppet government. So, drawing on previous legislation, the governors declared Greenland to be a self-ruling country, free of Nazi Danish law.

As might be expected, Nazi controlled Denmark, wasn't too pleased about the Greenlander's getting uppity. Though unprepossessing, Greenland was important to the Germans, and they hadn't anticipated a fight. Greenland was essential to Nazi plans in North America and Europe for several reasons, namely:

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Cryolite
  1. Like much of the arctic Western Hemisphere, Greenland was a good launching place for air invasions. It would be an easily defensible and convenient place to build an air base that could launch attacks on Europe and North America. 
  2. Both the Axis and the Allies wanted to establish weather stations on Greenland. I'm not 'That Meteorology Nerd', so I don't pretend to understand this, but apparently all the weather headed for Europe goes through Greenland. Prior knowledge of the weather was important for strategic planning, and the Germans wanted that knowledge.
  3. At the time Greenland had the world's largest supply of cryolite, a rare and important mineral used in making aluminum¹. Whoever possessed the cryolite mines would have a serious leg up when it came to manufacturing aircraft. Greenland wasn't making their own aircraft, and their cryolite was coveted not only by the Germans, but by the British and Norwegians as well.
Without the Danish army to protect them, Greenland was put in the awkward position of having to beat off foreign invasions by itself. Despite not being invited, the Germans were sneakily establishing their weather stations, and the British, Canadians, and Norwegians were also making attempts to establish themselves on the island. This was becoming a bit of an issue, and given that Greenland had no army to speak of, they went to the only major world power that was still neutral--The United States.

While the United States later went on to be a major player in WWII, in 1941 they were maintaining a strict stance of absolute neutrality, a stance that Greenland was 100% down for. Because of Greenland's position politically and physically, it was advantageous for Greenland to seek help from the United States, and it was advantageous for the US to help them.

Image result for greenlandAgainst explicit orders from Copenhagen, Danish ambassador Henrik Kauffman, in the name of King Christian X,officially signed a treaty with the United States in April of 1941, giving the US full authority to station troops and build military bases in Greenland for mutual defense purposes.

Kauffman was widely condemned in Copenhagen, and his treaty with the United States was denounced as treason. Kauffman had, essentially, allowed US military to set up shop on Danish land, and the Danes weren't too keen on this. However, there wasn't any real backlash for this 'treason'. The condemnation came from the German controlled Danish parliament, and did not reflect the feelings of the actual Danish parliament. Kauffman made it known that he was acting on behalf of King Christian X and the true Danish government, and experienced no consequences for signing a treaty with the US during or after the war.

Now, people familiar with the United States Constitution might say that the occupation of a colony of a foreign nation seems very contrary to the principles of the United States. The US had sworn not to have colonies (though they sometimes flirted with that line), and not to invade foreign countries for their own land gain. Everything they did in Greenland seems contrary to that. However, the United States had one major out--The Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine was a statement released in 1823 by US president James Monroe. This singularly arrogant document was put out after most of the Latin American countries had gained independence from Spain, and stated that the United States would fight any European power that tried to intervene in the Americas. The doctrine was considered to mostly protect the countries south and east of the United States. For years Greenland hadn't really been a concern where the Monroe Doctrine was concerned, because for all intents and purposes Greenland was part of Europe. However, in order to justify their interference in Greenland, the US declared Greenland part of North America, and told the Germans, Canadians, British and Norwegians to piss off.

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Bluie West One
Once they made the decision to go to Greenland, the US had to walk a fine line. They were still maintaining a policy of neutrality, and couldn't send armed forces because of the possibilities of clashing with the Nazis and inadvertently drawing themselves into the war. To circumvent this, the United States sent their coast guard to protect Greenland.

Once there, the coast guard spent most of their time patrolling Greenland's shores, and keeping an eye out for more Germans trying to establish weather bases. Along with patrolling, they also built two military bases-- Bluie West 1 and Bluie West 8, as well roads and improved harbors.

This arrangement was particularly advantageous for Greenland, because not only did they get new roads and improved infrastructure, but the United States was also leasing the land that they were building on. Greenland was being paid for the land that the US was so helpfully developing. At the end of the war, Greenland was left with some decent roads--and they hadn't paid for any of it.

However, don't imagine that the Greenlanders just sat back and let the United States do all the work. Svane and Brun were adamant that Greenlanders should be helping in the defense of their nation, so they established the Sledge Patrol--a group of 15 men who patrolled the northern and most remote reaches of Greenland by dogsled. The Sledge Patrol more than pulled their weight. They found several German weather stations, and had multiple skirmishes with the German soldiers. After driving out and capturing one group of German soldiers, the Sledge Patrol was declared the 'Army of Greenland'. To this day, the Sledge Patrol is an elite part of the Danish Armed Forces.
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Sledge Patrol camp

When the United States entered the war in late 1941, Greenland officially entered the war as well. Greenland's entrance into the war wasn't particularly significant; for the most part, Greenland continued doing what it was already doing, rebuffing German attempts to build weather stations.
After the war, Greenland went back to being a Danish colony. However, relations between Denmark and her colony had dramatically changed. The Danes had always had the goal of eventually giving Greenland self rule and independence, but before WWII they were unconvinced that the Greenlanders could govern themselves. The events of the 1940s changed that, and in the 21st century Denmark granted Greenland home rule and their own parliament.

While Greenland may not have played an enormous part in WWII, it's undeniable that they were incredibly brave. For a sparsely inhabited, mostly undefended nation to openly defy the Nazis, risking their lives and sovereignty to maintain their own independence was admirable. Greenland had a lot to lose, but through a series of smart diplomatic decisions they survived WWII mostly unscathed.



¹I'm not 'That Geology Nerd' either, so I don't entirely understand how Cryolite works, but you can find more information here.


Sources
FDR Sends Troops to Occupy Greenland
Greenland During and Since the Second World War
Greenland's War
Greenland During WWII

Monday, October 30, 2017

Bnei Menashe-A Lost Tribe of Israel

Claiming descent from Menashe (or Manasseh), the Bnei Menashe are a community of Jews living in the eastern state of Manipur in India, and over the borders in neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar. Though they hadn't lived in the Levant area for more than 2000 years, these people are slowly making their way back to Israel, and reclaiming their Jewish religion and heritage.

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Bnei Menashe heading to Israel.
To understand the Bnei Menashe, you have to understand a bit of Jewish history. After the death of King Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, took the throne. Rehoboam was a bit of a dick, so United Israel had itself a little war. Ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, split away from Rehoboam, leaving him with two. These two kingdoms became Israel and Judah respectively. With the tribes of Levi¹, Judah, and Benjamin in the Kingdom of Judah.

So time went on, and in about 722 BCE Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel, enslaving it's people, and deporting them to other parts of Assyria. Judah was left alone, and most modern Jews claim their descent from those Judean tribes.

So when Assyria fell in 612 BCE, the Menashe escaped. Leery of being enslaved again, the Menashe went east, avoiding major cities. They went so far east, that in 240 BCE, they ended up in China. They started in Tibet, but later moved to the city of Kaifeng. Unfortunately, while in China they were enslaved again. The Bne Menashe were forced to assimilate, and killed in large numbers. Not being down with that, a number of them escaped to live in caves. They were safe in their caves, but in 100 BCE they were expelled from China. That's when the majority of them settled in the Manipur-Myanmar-Bangladesh region.
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Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 800 BCEs
The Menashe lived in this region for several thousand years without too much disruption. They intermarried with the locals, and adopted some local beliefs, but maintained many of their traditional religious practices, such as a festival where unleavened bread was eaten, and songs about crossing through a large body of water that split in two.

In 1894, Christianity arrived. Recognizing their own oral history in some of the tales from the Old Testament, many of the Menashe adopted Christianity, and practiced for nearly 100 years.

However, in the 1950s some of the Menashe started to question if their ancestors had practiced Christianity at all. Further research lead to the idea that their ancestors may have been Jewish instead of Christian, and while this was just fine with some of the Menashe, several of the Menashe decided to reclaim their Jewish past. They applied to join the new state of Israel, but were denied because they just weren't Jewish enough.

However, in the latter half of the twentieth century Israel changed its tune. While the Menashe are still required to undergo halachic conversion, they are now allowed to immigrate freely to Israel. In April of 2016, DNA testing proved that the Bnei Menashe share Jewish ancestry.



¹"Wait, that's three tribes!" you say. Well, kinda. the Levites were the designated priests of ancient Judaism, so the were set apart from the whole 12 tribes thing. If you include the Levites, there's actually 13 tribes: Ephraim, Manasseh, Levi, Judah, Simeon, Ruben, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Gad, Benjamin, Naphtali, and Zebulun.


Sources
After 27 Centuries of Exile, 102 Bnei Menashe Head to Israel
Bnei Menashe
Does Push for India's 'Lost Tribe of Menashe' Signal New Interest in Far-Flung Jewish Communities?
Over 100 Members of Indian 'Lost Jewish Tribe' To Make Aliya
A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home
These Incredible Photos Show Members of an Indian-Jewish 'Lost Tribe' Moving to Israel
Who Are We?
With DNA Tests, Mystery of the 'Lost Tribe' of Indian Jews Finally Solved

Monday, October 23, 2017

Root Of Man Found in Canal

You may have noticed, but I love prehistory. We know so little about where man actually came from, and because there's so little archaeological evidence surrounding early man every time something new is discovered it's very exciting. So, as you might guess, I was super stoked when earlier this week archaeologists announced that nearly a year ago they dug up two 9.7 million year old teeth in Germany that changes all previous theories about the origins of man.

Before I start, I have to say that these teeth weren't actually found in a canal, they were found in the Rhine Riverbed. Which makes it even more amazing that despite being buried in dirt for millions of years, the teeth were in good condition. According to the scientists on the project, they look like they could have been pulled yesterday.

9.7 million year old human tooth germany
One of the teeth. Kinda gross, but really cool.

According to Herbert Lutz, the lead author for the study, these teeth show similar characteristics to teeth previously found in hominids, the generally supposed precursors to man. What makes these teeth so interesting is their location. All previous bones and fossils of this age have been found in Africa or the Mediterranean areas. There aren't a lot of fossils found in Central Europe, and certainly not near the Rhine. It had been previously supposed that hominids were centralized in Africa and the Mediterranean area, but the finding of these teeth suggest hominids may have lived farther north as well.

Though two teeth might not seem like a big find, they're a big deal when it comes to learning about early man. The wear marks on the teeth will be able to help historians guess at the diet of these early people, and analysis of the enamel can help guess the age of the owner.

The reason that archaeologists waited so long to release their find is because these teeth completely overthrow everything previously known about the evolution of man, and they wanted to be 120% sure before telling McGraw-Hill to start rewriting their textbooks. However, a year later they are confident enough in their dating to release the find.

This article leaves me with many questions, and, I'll admit, I've been having fun speculating about the answers. My biggest question though-- why have this primate's teeth have lasted for 9 million years, when I have 357 new cavities every time I go to the dentist?¹


¹I'm just kidding, of course. Obviously those teeth are fossilized, and the differences between the prehistoric diet and the diet of a modern day sugar addict are vastly different.


Sources
Prehistoric Teeth Dating Back 9.7 Million Years 'Could Rewrite Human History'
9.7 Million Year Old Fossilized Hominin Teeth From Germany Set To Take a Big Bite Out of the African Human Origin Theory
9.7 Million Year Old Teeth Fossils Raise Questions About Human Origins

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Milk War

The Russian-Belarusian 'Milk War' of 2009 lasted a little over two weeks, and during those two weeks no shots were fired. One of the pettiest wars of all time, the only victims were Belarusian wallets and Russian dairy consumers.

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Belarus and Russia are neighbors, and have traditionally
had good diplomatic relations.
This war started when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, supposedly because Belarusian dairy didn't meet Russian health standards, but more likely because Belarus wasn't doing what Russia told it to. Russia has a history of banning imports from countries that make it made, and they were pretty upset with Belarus for a few reasons.

  1. Belarus refused to recognize the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia had assisted South Ossetia and Abkhazia in declaring independence from the country of Georgia. The only other country than Russia to have recognized those countries was the Central American country of Nicaragua. Russia wanted some support, but Belarus just wasn't there for them.
  2. Russia depends on a Belarus pipeline to pipe its oil to the rest of Europe. Russia tried to buy this pipeline from Belarus, but Belarus refused to sell.
  3. Belarus had become decided more pro European, releasing political prisoners, and trying to make good with the rest of Europe. This angered Russia, who isn't very friendly with Europe.
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Russian and Belarusian military marching together
on parade in 2011, two years after the end of the milk war
Belarus responded in a spectacularly mature fashion by imposing stricter border checkpoints on the Russia-Belarus border, and by refusing to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a confederation of former Soviet states. The meeting had been to solidify a confederation wide military union. Belarus, formerly one of Russia's biggest supporters, not being present really infuriated the Russian government.

You can essentially envisage the Milk War as an argument between two particularly passive-aggressive teenage girls. Belarus won't give Russia what it wants, so Russia won't let Belarus bring its stuff over to Russia's house. This upsets Belarus, who decides that Russia can't come over to their house either. There had been a party planned for Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and a whole bunch of other people, but Belarus was still pissed off at Russia, so Belarus decided not to show up, which made Russia mad. A couple weeks later, they realize they need each other, and talk it out.
Today, dairy products pass freely through Belarus and Russia. Belarus still doesn't recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and continue to make pro-European overtures. Russia isn't very happy about this, but for the sake of regional security, they bite their tongues.


Sources

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kennewick Man

You know that moment? That awkward moment when you're testing the bones of you latest suspected murder victim, and that victim happens to be more than 8,000 years old? Well coroner Floyd Johnson and archaeologist James Chatter found themselves in this exact situation in 1996.

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Facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man
On July 28, 1996 two hikers found a human skull by the Columbia river. They turned it over to the police, who turned it over to Floyd Johnson, the Benton country coroner. Suspecting that the skull had Native American connections, and knowing that the skull was very, very old, Johnson called in his archaeologist friend James Chatter. Chatter was able to excavate the rest of the body from the riverbank, and after sending a finger bone for analysis, they found out that the skeleton was more than 8,000 years old.

Here's where things get complicated. See, the land that the skull and skeleton were found on was being administered by the Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp of Engineers was in negotiations with local American Indian tribes over salmon fishing rights, and the Corp of Engineers were eager to appease the tribes, who demanded that the skeleton be handed over immediately for reburial.*

The tribes believed that Kennewick man was their distant ancestor, a belief proved by science in 2006. A body being buried, and remaining buried is an important part of Native American religion, which is why they wanted Kennewick Man returned for reburial.

As you might imagine, many scientists were more than a little dismayed, after all, how often do you come across an 8,000 year old skeleton? So, naturally, Smithsonian institute scientist Douglas Owsley, along with a few other scientists, decided to file a lawsuit against the US government.

What ensued was a 20 year legal battle over whether or not the skeleton could be studied. In the end the remains were given back to the Utilla tribe, and were reburied in February of 2017. Luckily for historians and scientists though, some research was done on the bones before they were reburied.

The findings of the analysis of Kennewick Man's skeletons completely changed the theories about how First Nation people ended up in North America. Previous theories said that First Nation people had most likely crossed on a land bridge between modern Russia and Alaska. Further studies confirmed that First Nation people could have sailed from the Japan area, keeping close to the shore to provide food for themselves. The sea-food rich diet that Kennewick Man ate adds strength to this theory.
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The skeleton
You can learn a lot from bones, and a lot was learned from Kennewick man. There were tissue markers indicating that was right handed, and threw something (most likely a spear) quite frequently The markers suggest that he was throwing at a downward angle, suggesting that he was spear hunting for fish--a hypothesis his marine life diet certainly supports. There was further evidence suggestion that Kennewick man was very tough. He was in pain for most of his life, he had several ribs that broke, but never healed properly, there was a fracture in his shoulder, and he lived more than half of his life with a stone spear point embedded into his hip.

Kennewick man has been reburied, and it is unlikely that he will ever resurface, however scientists managed to glean enough information from him in their limited time of study to write a 680 page book about him. Their findings will continue to serve as an invaluable resource for archaeologists who study pre-history in North America.

*NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) is a law passed in 1990 that provides for the return of Native American remains and some artifacts to the tribes who own them. This was the law invoked by tribes concerning Kennewick man.

Sources
"Who Was Kennewick Man" by Reuben Flores, American Mosaic December 2015
Kennewick Man, The Ancient One
The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Swiss Guard

Officially founded in 1506, the Swiss Guard has been protecting the Bishops of Rome for more than 600 years. Over those 600 years the Guard has held off invasions, fought the Pope's wars, and acted as the Pope's private security force. Today they're the smallest army in the world. Despite their size, the Guard has an illustrious history, and hangs on to many of its traditions, including it's colorful uniforms.

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Pope Francis inspecting the Guard
You wouldn't guess it from Pope Francis, but historically, Pope's didn't usually turn the other cheek. Sure, some performed miracles and invented important things like calendars, but more maneuvered and schemed to keep secular power as well as spiritual power over Europe, even going as far as to send large amounts of armed forces to support their interests. Popes had enormous political power over Europe from the early CEs until shortly after the Reformation, and they needed the forces to back it up. So in 1506 Pope Julius II hired a group of the fiercest fighters in Europe--Swiss mercenaries.

Now, while today's Swiss army may be a hot, incompetent, mess, they were pretty good in the 1500s. Contingents of Swiss mercenaries protected the Kings of France and Spain, and fought for other Italian states as well. Given that the Swiss Cantons were overcrowded, the Swiss government was more than okay with these arrangements. Swiss mercenaries were known, not only for their fighting expertise, but for their loyalty, and when Pope Julius II hired them, they permanently attached themselves to the Vatican.

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The 1527 Sack of Rome
One of the Guard's finest hours was during the Sack of Rome of 1527 by Spanish mercenaries. 147 guards held off a force of 20,000 men long enough for Pope Clement to escape the Vatican. Out of the 189 members of the guard, only the 42 who accompanied the Pope survived.


Members of the Guard are instantly recognizable while on duty. They wear brightly colored red, yellow, and blue uniforms, which would only work as camouflage if they were hiding in a crayola factory. On formal occasion they add 1500s style armor, including morian style helmets with large red or purple feathers. Though their uniform is designed on the clothing the guard would have worn in the 1500s, and done up in the traditional color of the Medici family, the current uniforms were actually designed in 1914. The guards carry halberds--a seven foot long pole arm--on duty, as per tradition, but are also armed with more modern weapons.

Today the Guard are instrumental in protecting the Pope on his travels, watch over visitors to the Vatican, and to watch over the safety of Vatican City. The guard is only open to Swiss males between ages 19 and 30 who are practicing Catholics. While in the guard, guards are required to take an oath of celibacy, as well as swearing to be morally upright at all times.

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Sources
Pontifical Swiss Guard
The Pope's Private Army
Swiss Guard History