When our ancestors began to control fire, most likely somewhere in Africa around 400,000 years ago, the planet was set on a new course. We have little idea and even less evidence of how early humans made fire; perhaps they carried around smouldering bundles of leaves from forest fires, or captured the sparks thrown off when chipping stone or rubbing sticks together. However it happened, the human control of fire made an indelible mark on the earth’s ecosystems, and marked the beginning of the Anthropocene – the epoch in which humans have had a significant impact on the planet.
In Against the Grain James Scott describes these early stages as a ‘“thin” Anthropocene’, but ever since, the Anthropocene has been getting thicker. New layers of human impact were added by the adoption of farming about ten thousand years ago, the invention of the steam engine around 1780, and the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. Today the Anthropocene is so dense that we have virtually lost sight of anything that could be called ‘the natural world’.
Fire changed humans as well as the world. Eating cooked food transformed our bodies; we developed a much shorter digestive tract, meaning that more metabolic energy was available to grow our brains. At the same time, Homo sapiens became domesticated by its dependence on fire for warmth, protection and fuel. If this was the start of human progress towards ‘civilisation’, then – according to the conventional narrative – the next step was the invention of agriculture around ten thousand years ago. Farming, it is said, saved us from a dreary nomadic Stone Age hunter-gatherer existence by allowing us to settle down, build towns and develop the city-states that were the centres of early civilisations. People flocked to them for the security, leisure and economic opportunities gained from living within thick city walls. The story continues with the collapse of the city-states and barbarian insurgency, plunging civilised worlds – ancient Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica – into their dark ages. Thus civilisations rise and fall. Or so we are told.
During the dark ages the arts of bookmaking, illustration and manuscript illumination were preserved in remote Irish abbeys. A number of unique, exquisite books remain from this period, masterpieces of world art. This includes the ninth century Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Gospel richly illustrated with Celtic motifs and deep symbolism. This book includes an extended introduction to the Book of Kells, along with its historic and linguistic background. We have included high resolution scans of the illustrations, which include many famous pages from this amazing manuscript.
ONCE upon a time there was a tailor and his wife who owned a small croft, or farm, and were well-to-do in the world, but they had only one son, a child that was more pain than pleasure to them, for it cried incessantly, and was so cross that nothing could be done with it. One day the tailor and his helpmeet meant to go to a place some miles distant, and after giving the child its breakfast they put it to bed in the kitchen, and bid their farm-servant look to it from time to time, desiring him also to thrash out a small quantity of straw in the barn before their return. The lad was late setting to work, but recollected before going off to the barn that he must see if the child wanted for anything.
“What are you going to do now?” said the bairn sharply to Donald as he opened the kitchen door. “Thrash out a pickle of straw for your father; lie still, and do not girn, like a gude bairn.” But the bairn got out of bed, and insisted there and then on being allowed to accompany the servant. “Go east, Donald,” said the little master authoritatively, “go east, and when you come to the big brae, chap ye (Anglicé, rap) three times, and when they come, say ye are seeking Johnnie’s flail.”
The astonished Donald did as he was bid; and by rapping three times called up a fairy (“little man”), who, giving him the flail, sent him off in an unenviable state of terror.
In medicine, the concept of normality pertained to the ideal — organs and tissues functioning at their best. The mathematical idea refers to a situation in which data tend to cluster in the middle of a range. Thus, one aspires to normal blood pressure because it is a requisite of health — but to normal sexuality because of the pressures of social conformity. It was around the turn of the twentieth century, as the medical ideal met the mathematical idea, that people began to conflate the typical and the optimal. Cryle and Stephens trace how the meaning of the term ‘normal’ shifted, and how the statistical average became an aspiration.
The medical world long resisted the quantitative. Those such as Quetelet, who supported bringing numbers to the ‘art’ of medicine, were castigated throughout the early nineteenth century — implausible as that seems in today’s era of precision medicine and big-data health care. Although measurement has been conducive to better medicine, it has had troubling uses. It underlaid the pseudosciences of phrenology and craniometry, deployed to rationalize racism. Idealizing the average — which is oppressive to those who represent diversity — is a cruelty that exploits the rhetoric of normality. But vilifying the average led to eugenics, in which Galton used mathematics to theorize that social stability involved encouraging breeding of the ‘above average’ and suppressing those ‘below’.
Cryle and Stephens describe how in 1945, newspaper The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, sought the perfectly average woman, eventually awarding their dubious prize to one Martha Skidmore while admitting that she was not precisely average. Vanishingly few can embody that state. The normal, the authors note, is thus paradoxical; Alfred Binet, a pioneer of intelligence testing, observed that “everyone is ignorant of how much intelligence a child needs in order to be normal”. It’s that very precariousness, the authors argue, that can reinforce the power of the normal, as people constantly try to approximate it. Yet the construction is a modern invention. Norms have been set by both valid and specious science, as well as by society, and those who deviate from them are deviants.
Regional ambient temperature is associated with human personality
The skull of Australopithecus prometheus, known as “Little Foot,” is on display now
Two days ago, Little Foot, Stw 573, the near-complete Australopithecine skeleton dating back 3.67 million years was unveiled at the Hominin Vault at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa. Little Foot was found a bit nontraditional in ’94 by Ron Clarke, who was sifting thru some animal bones from South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves.
The Most Precious Bronze Age Artefacts Were Made With Cosmic Materials
— Mike (@Fuctupmind) December 9, 2017
It is snowing here today. British people usually begin conversations by talking about the weather. It’s a useful neutral ground, not too risky, unlike politics, religion, money, etc. And it’s always available, because of the very variable climate, it’s ALWAYS too cold or too hot or too wet or too dry or too something…
The essence of good manners is to avoid causing unnecessary offence or conflict, so even if you think that the other person has a ludicrous haircut, stupid clothes, or ridiculous footwear, you do not mention personal topics of that kind, because it avoids friction.
It’s taken many centuries to refine this art, so that we can all go about our business in the public arena, without killing each other. So, mostly, when I meet strangers I either remain silent and let them break the silence if they wish to, or else I make some rather trivial remark about the weather, which serves as an introduction and invitation to engage in conversation.
If the initial exchange of speech appears to go well, one can then move on toward other safe topics. Like favourite food, transport, and gradually towards more risky topics, sport, music, and grumbling about the government and the world in general….
I’m old and battered after a long and eventful life, and I do not really care anymore about what others think about me, but I recognise that mostly they are trying hard to do whatever it is that they are into, and I have no wish or need to provoke antagonism or animosity, so I usually attempt to put folk that I engage with at ease, and extract whatever humour and amusement may be possible under the circumstances.
I mention all this because, after years of rarely leaving this mountain, over the last six months I’ve been forced to get myself transported to the hospital and various doctor’s appointments and so forth, so I’ve spent a lot of time as a passenger in cars, and I’ve felt obliged to be sociable and make the best of it.
As I mentioned, it is snowing. There is a small chance that the winter might turn very harsh, as it did in 1947, or was it ‘48 ? and also 1963. The temperature could drop below freezing and stay down all the way until April. But that’s unlikely. It’ll probably be very variable as is typical, with lots of wind and rain.
I hope the weather this winter is not too harsh, or I may not survive. I’m still much weaker than I was before the stroke, and my right leg hardly works. But my ability to think has improved and I hobble about doing a few things each day, in addition to filling my headspace with much internet tittle-tattle.
I guess that, given a few more years, we shall all discover who was correct. The doomsters, who are predicting a complete and catastrophic meltdown and end of humanity, the Sixth Extinction, or the optimists who think we can overcome the terrible problems.
I begin from a premise that it is good to minimise suffering, which is one reason why I have turned against the anarchists. There is already too much chaos and mayhem going on. The future may be leading to environmental collapse and escalating hardship, even another world war. My view is that it is better to hold onto whatever is beneficial and proven to work, for as long as possible. I am thus entirely opposed to the radicals who want to promote multiple genders and similar subversive stratagems.
Not that my personal stance is going to make much difference, except perhaps to you, my dear reader ! 🙂
I’ve written 283 posts, and there are roughly 250 visitors everyday, and I’m still finding it quite satisfying to be able to express my views, pleasures, frustrations, so I guess I’ll continue for a while yet, for whatever it’s worth.
Archaeologists from Copenhagen were surprised to discover that in Amman, this excellent stone construction with a gigantic furnace in the middle is actually from the Paleolithic period, almost 15,000 years ago.
He was little more than 30 years old and was almost an old man (or an old woman) for his time (he lived 1,200,000 years ago). “We found them right here,” says archaeologist Eudald Carbonell, showing the exact place where, in 2007, they discovered the jawbone and a phalanx of the oldest known European hand. We have just entered the Sima del Elefante, one of the caves in the Sierra de Burgos of Atapuerca that have witnessed our evolution. ” All the human species that lived in Europe are represented in Atapuerca, ” says Carbonell, who for 25 years has directed the sites together with Juan Luis Arsuaga and José María Bermúdez de Castro.
Nature, history and luck did the rest, allying themselves to form caves that have preserved their remains to this day. It is exciting to think that the ground we are treading several meters deep was stepped on more than one million years ago by our ancestors. If you remain silent, you listen to the melody that composes the wind when hitting the metal tubes of the scaffolds that allow scientists since 1978 to read the pages of this great history book written on its walls and floors. The murmur of a group of visitors on the surface – each year about 100,000 people enter – breaks the silence that reigns in the cave, with a fairly stable temperature that usually does not drop below 11 degrees.