Tag Archives: ancient civilizations

This Map From 1812 Is Missing a Whole Continent

1812 was a weird year. The U.S., as a country, was still a baby. For the second time, America was at war with the British, and Canada had just burned down the White House. Looking back after 200 years, this mapmade by esri, provides a view of how things have changed: it’s an interactive window on political geography, that layers the old and the new.

So how was the world of 1812 different from today? Well, for one, the U.S. was much, much smaller.

Photo: esri

The U.S., in green, is just a fraction of its current size. Louisiana, now part of the U.S., fresh off the Louisiana purchase of 1803, is in yellow. But off to the west, large tracts of land were still controlled by Spain, while the northwest was under British control.

North America wasn’t the only country with shifting political boundaries. Australia, until 1824, was known as New Holland.

Photo: esri

In 1812, European mapmakers like John Pinkerton (who published the older map) were lacking in knowledge of certain parts of the planet. Colonial interest in Africa didn’t reach its fever pitch until a few decades later, and in 1812, a mapmaker could get away with leaving blank huge parts of sub-Saharan Africa and labeling them “Unknown Parts.”

Photo: esri

In Africa, Eurocentric mapmakers at least thought it was worth noting what they didn’t know. But, elsewhere, whole parts of the Earth were missing. The map of 1812 was shorter than the world as we know it. The North was cut off past Svalbard, and Antarctica is entirely absent, despite the fact that the southern continent was discovered nearly half a century earlier. Then again, even today maps often skip Antarctica, even though it’s a fair bit larger than the U.S.

Photo: esri

Photo: esri

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This Map From 1812 Is Missing a Whole Continent

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Early Agriculture Nearly Tanked Ancient Europe’s Population

A recreation of an ancient English farm. Photo: Gordontour

The rise of agriculture changed the world. And we don’t just mean the human world. At its onset, long before the Green Revolution paved the way for vastly improved yields, people were notoriously bad at using the land. To produce our food we used to cut down a staggering number of trees. Deforestation in the western world, driven by land clearing for farming, actually peaked hundreds or thousands of years ago. And, without things like fertilizer or irrigation, or the massive intertwined agricultural system we have today, local shocks—a fire, a drought, a flood—could cut vital food supplies for years.

So, while the rise of agriculture allowed human populations to blossom, it also opened the door for catastrophic collapses. Science News:

Researchers already knew that agriculture in Europe appeared in modern-day Turkey around 8,500 years ago, spreading to France by about 7,800 years ago and then to Britain, Ireland and Northern Europe approximately 6,000 years ago. Farming led to more plentiful, stable food supplies, fueling population growth. But little is known about long-term population trends among ancient European cultivators.

New research looking at the sizes of human populations in ancient Europe found that while agriculture helped populations grow, the burgeoning civilizations were not sustainable.

In most sections of Europe, populations at some point declined by as much as 30 to 60 percent compared with peaks achieved after farming began, Shennan’s team concludes. That population plummet is similar to the continental devastation wreaked by the Black Death, an epidemic that peaked in Europe between 1348 and 1350.

The scientists, says BBC History, are fairly certain that ancient climate change was not the cause of the collapses. The research is a nice reminder that any technology that lets you outpace your natural limits can also send you crashing back down when it fails.

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Early Agriculture Nearly Tanked Ancient Europe’s Population

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Three Ancient Rivers, Long Buried by the Sahara, Created a Passage to the Mediterranean

Photo: mtsrs

Around 130,000 to 100,000 years ago the Sahara desert was not the sea of sands it is today. Instead, three large rivers created green corridors that linked sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean and could have provided a safe means of passage for migrating ancient humans, according to a new study.

Authors of a new PLoS One study simulated ancient rainfall and water patterns using a state-of-the-art computer climate model. This allowed them to peer into the palaeohydrology of around 12 million square kilometers of desert. The models revealed three ancient rivers that today are largely buried beneath the dunes. io9 describes the ancient landscape:

Much like the Nile, these rivers would have created narrow stretches of nutrient-rich soil, producing “green corridors” that would have allowed animals and plants to prosper in the otherwise inhospitable desert. What’s more, the simulations suggest the likely presence of “massive lagoons and wetlands” in what is now northeastern Libya, covering an estimated 27,000 square miles.

The study authors suspect these watery highways played a significant role in human migration. They write:

Whilst we cannot state for certain that humans migrated alongside these rivers, the shape of the drainage systems indicate that anyone moving from south to north from a 2000 km wide region in the mountains would be funnelled into three clear routes.

One river system, called the Irharhar, appears to have been a particularly popular travel route. Middle Stone Age artifacts have already turned up along that extinct waterway, and more likely await discovery. “It is likely that further surveys in this area will provide substantial evidence of Middle Stone Age activity, especially in the areas of buried palaeochannels,” the authors say.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Green Sahara May Have Provided Route out of Africa for Early Humans
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Three Ancient Rivers, Long Buried by the Sahara, Created a Passage to the Mediterranean

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These Complex, Beautiful Board Game Pieces Are 5,000 Years Old

The Royal Game of Ur is one of the oldest known board games, but newly discovered pieces may be even older. Photo: The British Museum

If you think that board games with fancy pieces and weird dice and other complex features are a relatively modern invention, archaeologists would like to have a word with you. Over the years, field research has unveiled the complexity of ancient gaming. Today, Discovery News is reporting on what may be some of the oldest gaming pieces ever found:

Found in a burial at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.

“Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone,” Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

The pieces date to around 5,000 years ago, they say, and were dug up in two sites, one in Syria and one in Iraq. The region is known as the Fertile Crescent and is traditionally thought to be one of the birthplaces of modern agricultural human societies. Discovery has a whole photo gallery showcasing the pieces.

The pieces are old, really old. But there’s another game, the Royal Game of Ur, that’s about contemporary—it dates from around 4,800 years ago in southern Iraq. And then there’s an Egyptian game, Senet, that is at least that old, if not older. Researchers think that basic board games may have been invented up to 11,000 years ago.

According to a story in Discovery News from last year, early board games were a status symbol:

“Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status,” co-author Mark Hall told Discovery News. “We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people.”

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These Complex, Beautiful Board Game Pieces Are 5,000 Years Old

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Scientists Map Britain’s Most Famous Underwater City

Dunwich beach, across which storms pulled the ancient city. Image: modagoo

In 1066, the town of Dunwich began its march into the sea. After storms swept the farmland out for twenty years, the houses and buildings went in 1328. By 1570, nearly a quarter of the town had been swallowed, and in 1919 the All Saints church disappeared over the cliff. Dunwich is often called Britain’s Atlantis, a medieval town accessible only to divers, sitting quietly at the bottom of the ocean off the British Coast.

Now, researchers have created a 3D visualization of Dunwich using acoustic imaging. David Sear, a professor at the University of Southampton, where the work was done, described the process:

Visibility under the water at Dunwich is very poor due to the muddy water. This has limited the exploration of the site. We have now dived on the site using high resolution DIDSON ™ acoustic imaging to examine the ruins on the seabed – a first use of this technology for non-wreck marine archaeology.

DIDSON technology is rather like shining a torch onto the seabed, only using sound instead of light. The data produced helps us to not only see the ruins, but also understand more about how they interact with the tidal currents and sea bed.

Using this technology gives them a good picture of what the town actually looks like. Ars Technica writes:

We can now see where the local churches stood, and crumbling walls pinpoint the ancient town’s remits. A one kilometer (0.6 mile) square stronghold stood in the center of the 1.8km2space (about 0.7 square miles), with what looks like the remains of Blackfriars Friary, three churches, and the Chapel of St Katherine standing within it. The northern region looks like the commercial hub with lots of smaller buildings largely made of wood. It’s thought that the stronghold, as well as its buildings and a possible town hall, may date back to Saxon times.

Professor Sears sees this project as not just one of historical and archaeological importance, but also as a forecast of the fate of seaside cities. “It is a sobering example of the relentless force of nature on our island coastline. It starkly demonstrates how rapidly the coast can change, even when protected by its inhabitants. Global climate change has made coastal erosion a topical issue in the 21st Century, but Dunwich demonstrates that it has happened before. The severe storms of the 13th and 14th Centuries coincided with a period of climate change, turning the warmer medieval climatic optimum into what we call the Little Ice Age.”

So, in a million years, when aliens come to look at our planet, it might look a lot like Dunwich.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Underwater World
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Scientists Map Britain’s Most Famous Underwater City

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