Maize is arguably the single most important crop in the world and is rivalled only by soybeans in terms of versatility. That said, it is, along with sugar cane and palm oil, among the most controversial crops, proving particularly so to critics of industrial agriculture. Although maize is usually associated with the Western world, it has played a prominent role in Asia for a long time, and, in recent decades, its importance in Asia has soared. For better or worse, or more likely for better and worse, its role in Asia seems to be following the Western script. Continue reading
Leaving aside the question of why so many of the world’s most important historical artifacts are in London, rather than where they originated, the curator in the video above is charming. And the man in the photo just below to the right is his counterpart in the place where this particular artifact originated. My interest in board games is much less well informed, but like Mr. Mofaq I have an interest in their revival, so Deb Amlen’s article in the New York Times is appreciated:
For 4,600 years, a mysterious game slept in the dust of southern Iraq, largely forgotten. The passion of a museum curator and the hunger of young Iraqis for their cultural history may bring it back.
It is the end of a long, hot day of selling your wares in a market in ancient Mesopotamia, around 2,400 B.C., and you are looking for a way to unwind.
Netflix will not be invented for another four and a half millenniums, but as luck would have it, a pub lies ahead in the distance. A beer and a round of the Middle East’s favorite game is just the thing to pick you up. The thrill of the game is irresistible: It is impossible to predict who will win in this race to get your pieces to the end of the board, even in the last few moves.
You sit down across from your opponent, who offers you the first turn. You pick up the four-sided dice and shake them in your fist. Maybe this time the rumored fortunetelling aspect of the game will bless you with a spate of good luck and prosperity. Continue reading
Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.
We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:
Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.
From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading
Our thanks to Vox for this conversation with one of the great economic historians of our time:
Why the years from 1870 to 2010 were humanity’s most important.
So argues Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, the new magnum opus from UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong. It’s a bold claim. Homo sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years; the “long twentieth century” represents 0.05 percent of that history.
But to DeLong, who beyond his academic work is known for his widely read blog on economics, something incredible happened in that sliver of time that eluded our species for the other 99.95 percent of our history. Continue reading
Thomas Moynihan, a research fellow at Forethought Foundation and St Benet’s College, Oxford University offers this entertaining treatment of how Western culture has seen and thought about its insect co-habitants of the planet.
When looking to other creatures for signs of intelligence, insects are rarely the most obvious candidates, but as the historian Thomas Moynihan writes, it wasn’t always so. What can the early-20th Century fascination with bug societies tell us about our own?
It is 1919, and a young astronomer turns a street corner in Pasadena, California. Something seemingly humdrum on the ground distracts him. It’s an ant heap. Dropping to his knees, peering closer, he has an epiphany – about deep time, our place within it, and humanity’s uncertain fate. Continue reading
I have to admit that the blend of cuisine and archaeology are equally fascinating; I would have been one of the first of the “curious passersby” at the feast described here. The article is behind a paywall, but worth the read.
How Fuchsia Dunlop sampled food from the tomb of a long dead king
The four sheep turned on their spits, wafting out rich aromas over the bleached Turkish landscape. Nearby, I stirred a vast potful of lentil stew over an open fire, lashed by smoke and sunlight. A long table in the yard was already laden with dishes: handmade hummus and fava bean paste, whole honeycombs, stacks of tandoor-baked bread and piles of pomegranates. Beyond it loomed the great burial mound of a ruler of the Phrygian kingdom who had died here in the eighth century BC — thought to be a historical King Midas or his father. Aided by a team of Turkish cooks and food experts, I was doing my best to recreate his funeral feast.
This wasn’t an idle exercise. In the 1950s, archaeologists from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania had excavated the tomb, near the old Phrygian capital at Gordion. Although this King Midas was not the mythical man with the golden touch, they still found a treasure trove of bronze cauldrons, drinking bowls and clay pots in his burial chamber, including the largest Iron Age drinking set ever discovered. The vessels contained the physical remnants of a banquet the mourners had shared, but it was about 40 years before advances in science permitted chemical analysis of the residues.
This was done in the late 1990s by experts from the Penn Museum, led by Patrick McGovern, scientific director of its Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health, and author of Ancient Brews: Rediscovered & Re-created.
Using modern techniques such as infrared spectroscopy, liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, McGovern and his team examined the vestiges of both food and drink found in the bronze vessels. The mourners, they concluded, had shared an unusual brew made from a mixture of honey, grapes and barley — a sort of cocktail of mead, wine and beer. And although the researchers couldn’t be sure, they suspected it had also contained saffron because of the intense yellow colour of the residue (and because some of the finest saffron of the ancient world was produced in what is now Turkey).
The chemical detective work on the brown clumps of food matter showed these were the leftovers of a great stew made from lamb or goat that had first been seared over fire to produce caramelisation, then simmered with some kind of pulse (probably lentils) along with ingredients such as honey, wine, olive oil, fennel or anise and other herbs and spices. Continue reading
JoAnna Klein has a nack for getting me to think twice on a topic. My imagination is moving in the right direction. I may be embarrassed by my insufficient progress at cutting meat consumption, but I have made zero headway in the realm of insect appetite. It must change. But even with this story, and its beautiful pictures, my likelihood to indulge in one of these meals is best captured by the biblical phrase about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak; I get why I must do this, but my body is not cooperating and I am not looking forward to the first such meal:
Scientists who study bugs are thinking harder about how to turn them into good food.
Repeat after me: entomophagy.
It’s derived from Greek and Latin: “entomon,” meaning “insect,” and “phagus,” as in “feeding on.”
Some think it’s the future of food.
In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. Continue reading
Dwayne Tomah sits at his kitchen table in Perry, Maine, and pulls up an audio file on his computer. When he hits play, the speakers emit a cracked, slightly garbled recording. Through the white noise, Tomah scratches out the words he hears, rewinding every few seconds.
Word by word, Tomah is attempting to transcribe and interpret dozens of recordings of Passamaquoddy tribal members, some of which are only recently being heard and publicly shared for the first time in more than a century.
“I really, I wept. Hearing their voices. Knowing that I’m probably one of the last fluent speakers on the reservation,” Tomah says. “And that we’re still continuing this process, to be able to revitalize our language and bring it back to life again, so to speak. And give it some attention that it really deserves.”
The story behind these recordings goes back to 1890, when an anthropologist named Walter Jesse Fewkes took a research trip to Calais, Maine. He borrowed an early audio recording device: a phonograph from Thomas Edison that recorded sounds on large, wax cylinders — about two-and-a-half to three minutes each. Continue reading
Blanton Museum of Art, for one more day, offers this:
Exactly 500 years ago, in August of 1519, an expedition led by the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés began marching inland into Mexican territory. Just two years later, what today is Mexico City fell to an ethnically diverse army composed of both Spanish and local peoples from other cities, starting a long period of European colonization. This exhibition aims to expand our perspective on these events by featuring a selection of maps, known as Mapas de las Relaciones Geográficas, created by Indigenous artists around 1580. These unique documents show some of the visual strategies used by native communities for the endurance and perseverance of their cultures throughout the so-called colonial period and well beyond.
At the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, 19 maps, nearly 440 years old, are on display — and they look spectacular. “Works on paper are delicate so we’re only allowed to put them on display for nine months out of 10 years,” says Blanton Museum communications director Carlotta Stankiewicz.
The Mapping Memory exhibition contains work by indigenous mapmakers from the late 1500s. The maps demonstrate a very different sense of space than maps drawn by Europeans. They’re not drawn to scale; instead, they’re deeply utilitarian.
A map of Culhuacán, for example, shows rivers running straight, with tiny arrows in the middle, indicating which way they flow. The pathways curve like snakes, with footprints or hoofprints indicating whether the paths can be walked or ridden. Continue reading
Lotus flower first appeared in these pages years ago, but its seeds were never mentioned. Time to correct that. We missed the opportunity to mention this book when it was first published–we missed the enthusiastic review–but better late than never. Thanks to the folks at Gastropod for the shoutout in a recent episode that gives Thor Hanson and his book their due:
When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste?
The Ogelthorpe University Museum of Art is one of the gems of the Atlanta area, for good reason. Not only does the museum have its own well curated collections, it receives visiting collections that are timely and powerful.
Tara Rice‘s Grandmother Project photographic series highlights the historically matriarchal influence within African cultures, coinciding with the project based in Senegal “promoting health, well-being and rights of women and children in developing countries through grandmother-inclusive and intergenerational programs that build on communities’ cultural values and resources.”
The photo series dovetails perfectly with the female centric collection of sculptures and masks in the sister exhibit, Stories Without an End.
January 18 – April 21, 2018
The exhibition Stories Without an End: Power, Beauty and Wisdom of Women in African Art of the Mehta Collection includes a selection of 50 classically carved wooden sculptures and masks drawn from the collection of Dileep and Martha Mehta.
The exhibition represents art from more than 25 ethnic groups spanning 12 countries. These objects are gathered into thematic groups including women in governance, maternity, idealized beauty, and female ancestors.
OUMA members Dileep and Martha Mehta are collectors of African and Asian arts. Their African art collection, including objects in this exhibit, has greatly benefited from diligent sourcing by and wise counsel of African Art dealers Tamba Kaba and Sanoussi Kalle.
This exhibition was developed by Elizabeth H. Peterson, OUMA director, and organized by Amanda Hellman, PhD, curator of African art, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University.
Stories Without an End was inspired in part by the work of the Grandmother Project (GMP) an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a Senegalese NGO with representatives throughout the USA and abroad. GMP, with headquarters in Senegal, works with elders in West African villages to fight the maltreatment of young girls. This includes bettering maternal and child nutrition, reproductive health, and marriage standards. The exhibition title is inspired by the GMP initiative “stories without an ending,” which is a tool used to facilitate communication via the elders. For more about the Grandmother Project please visit www.grandmotherproject.org.
January 18 – April 21, 2019
The Grandmother Project (GMP) develops community approaches that promote positive and sustained improvements in the lives of girls, children, women, and families by building on existing cultural and community values, roles and assets in southern Senegal. Continue reading
This new discovery in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula came to our attention just when we’re on an archaeological roll. It definitely gives us pause that there are still such important finds in the world.
In a cave under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, Mexican archaeologists discovered a trove of ceramic artifacts that appear to be over 1,000 years old.
Archaeologists announced this week that they had discovered an extraordinary trove of well-preserved Maya artifacts under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
The artifacts were found in a cave called Balamkú, less than two miles from the famed pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcan, or The Castle, which sits in the center of the site.
Guillermo de Anda, an investigator with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said in a statement on Monday that the remarkable discovery could help researchers rewrite the history of Chichén Itzá, which flourished from roughly A.D. 750 to 1200.
The city was built on top of a network of waterways, including sinkholes called cenotes, which the ancient Maya believed were sacred places that provided a portal to the underworld. Its name is sometimes translated as “the mouth of the well of the Itza,” the name of the main ethnic group in the area at the time.
Dr. Seuss has held an important place in my life, stretching from my own childhood and into parenthood, and connecting the dots between the pure joy of reading and powerful messages keeps him at the top. So what fun to discover the story, species and science behind the inspiration for his most impactful books!
What inspired the creature who was “shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy?” The one who spoke in a voice that was “sharpish and bossy?” He spoke for the trees, yet he called them his own. All that he left “in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with the one word … ‘UNLESS.’”
In 1970, millions of people observed Earth Day for the first time, and the Environmental Protection Agency was born. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” topped the charts.
And in La Jolla, Calif., Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was fighting to keep a suburban development project from clearing the Eucalyptus trees around his home. But when he tried to write a book about conservation for children that wasn’t preachy or boring, he got writer’s block.
At his wife’s suggestion to clear his mind, they traveled to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, an exclusive resort where guests watched animals along Kenya’s Laikipia plateau.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, it was there that “The Lorax” took shape — on the blank side of a laundry list, nearly all of its environmental message created in a single afternoon. Continue reading
One decade ago I made the journey to Rapa Nui while on an extended project in southern Chile. It was another bit of fortune that came with the occupation I accidentally found myself in. The video above, excerpted by the Atlantic from Max Lowe’s film, hints at the value tourism can infuse, as well as the perils it can represent, with regard to cultural heritage. We have long used the archaic word “valorization” to explain what we do as a company and the Celine Cousteau Film Fellowship seems to believe the same, in supporting Max’s film:
“The modern world has come for our little island,” says Heu Rapu Haoa in Max Lowe’s short documentary, Amo. Heu is one of the 800 remaining speakers of his native tongue. His home, Rapa Nui, known widely as Easter Island, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Continue reading
Thanks to Menaka Wilhelm:
An imagined conversation between two yeast cells appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions. “They were discussing the possible purposes of life,” Vonnegut writes. If that’s not absurd enough, their existential discussion takes place against a weird, dismal backdrop, “as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.” Little did they know, their little yeasty lives had an important, human-centric purpose. “Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.” Continue reading
TERBOL, Lebanon — Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat. He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.
Mr. Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their “wild relatives” from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here. But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Mr. Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or Icarda, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather and war.
Icarda, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. But a drive to produce thirsty crops also drained Syria’s underground water over the years, and it was followed by a crippling drought that helped to fuel the protests that erupted into armed revolt against the government in 2011.Icarda, in turn, became a casualty of the war. By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya. Icarda’s trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were looted and eaten. Mr. Shehadeh and the other scientists eventually sent out what they could — including a few of the sheep — and fled, joining half the country’s population in exile. Continue reading
A few months ago we saw this interview with James Suzman, but delayed linking it until we had an opportunity to get ahold of the book. Our interest was caught by his explanation for why the topic was important:
…If we judge a civilization’s success by its endurance over time, then the Bushmen are the most successful society in human history. Their experience of modernity offers insight into many aspects of our lives, and clues as to how we might address some big sustainability questions for the future.
And then we neglected to post it until today, reminded about the book by the folks at National Public Radio (USA) in a new interview with the author on the same topic:
There’s an idea percolating up from the anthropology world that may make you rethink what makes you happy.
The idea is not new. It surfaced in the popular consciousness back in the late 1960s and helped to galvanize a growing environmental movement.
And now several books are bringing it back into the limelight.
The idea is simple: Perhaps the American and European way of living isn’t the pinnacle of human existence. Humanity hasn’t been marching — in a linear fashion — toward some promised land. Perhaps, Western society isn’t some magical state in which technology free us from the shackles of acquiring basic needs and allows us to maximize leisure and pleasure. Continue reading
John Lanchester’s article, pondering technology versus science, gives fire its due in the course of reviewing a new book about how hunting and gathering gave way to progress. At the same time, Lanchester raises reasonable doubts about the gains:
…We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. Continue reading
Thanks to the salt and National Public Radio (USA) for this story about the strain of a grain means so much to billions of people around the world:
A grain of rice, like a grain of sand, sifts through your hands with a mysterious and lovely sameness. Mostly white or tan, hundreds or thousands of grains pour smoothly out of buckets, out of burlap, into bowls, with a sound like small waterfalls. Rice seems so simple, really. And yet, because it plays a central role in world cuisines, these modest grains can carry the weight of history. Sometimes that history is deeply surprising. Continue reading
Thanks to Scientific American‘s Guest Blog feature for this interesting fodder for thought.