Wednesday, December 31, 2014

War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies

War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies

"How did human societies evolve from small groups, integrated by face-to-face cooperation, to huge anonymous societies of today? Why is there so much variation in the ability of different human populations to construct viable states? We developed a model that uses cultural evolution mechanisms to predict where and when the largest-scale complex societies should have arisen in human history. The model was simulated within a realistic landscape of the Afroeurasian landmass, and its predictions were tested against real data. Overall, the model did an excellent job predicting empirical patterns. Our results suggest a possible explanation as to why a long history of statehood is positively correlated with political stability, institutional quality, and income per capita."

They used math to do history, but to fully understand what that means, you'll have to read the paper. It's quite a remarkable result, in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Hunt

The guy in the middle is remarkably calm, all things considered.

The guy who just stole a tiger's cub is about to get eaten.


A medieval map, but I've forgotten what it's of or where it's from. If you know, I'd be grateful for the information.

A Different View of the South

Of course, some maps took a different view of the south, proposing not a separate continent, but a continuous strip of land emerging from the bottom of Africa and possibly encircling the world:

15th century map depicting Ptolemy's description of the Ecumene, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver

Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, by Hartmann Schedel.

(Turn your head it's upside down.) This one and the next one are both attributed (on the internet, at least, to Muhammad al-Idrisi, 1154--probably both from his Tabula Rogeriana.

(This one is also upside down.)

Supposedly a recreation of what Ptolemy's original map would have looked like based on the coordinates he gave.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Medieval Comic Book

Beast of the Apocalypse, from the Liber Floridus of St. Omaars.

They don't really look life flowers to me, but at least they entertained their readers.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Great Serpent Mound

The Great Serpent Mound is an enormous earthwork shaped like a snake eating an egg and located in Ohio. It's 1,348 feet long, and attributed to various peoples. Carbon dating of charcoal fragments previously placed the Serpent's beginnings around the year 1070, but new research apparently suggests that it might actually be 1,400 years older than this--new carbon dates place the mound's beginnings around 321 BCE. Researchers suggest the later date may represent a layer of repairs made after a thousand years of wear had taken their toll on the Serpent.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have some Reindeer

Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus, 1527-39.

This map is gorgeous. Click for full-size, (I hope) and gaze upon its majestic glory.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Medieval Art of the Day

Pretty, isn't it? And by now, you should recognize this as T-O Map. (Mappa Mundi in Jean Mansel La Fleur des Histoires. Valenciennes, 1459-1463. Bruxelles, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, MS. 9231, fol. 281v. Mappa attributed to Simom Marmion)

Terra Australis Incognita -- Unknown Southern Land

As we've seen, Medieval cartography often left much to be desired. But occasionally, they got something right--perhaps by total accident.

One such thing was the existence of Antarctica. This occasionally leads to theories that ancient people must have actually discovered or even settled Antarctica, perhaps at some time when it was not ice-covered. The more reasonable explanation, IMO, is just that they had some mixed-up geographic knowledge that happened to get something right by random chance, given the sheer amount of bad and mixed-up geographic knowledge medieval maps display.

Medieval cartographers had a lot working against them. They had no reliable way to determine longitude, for example, and there was a strong belief that geography actually reflected theology. The quintessential Medieval map is the T-O map, so called because it looks like a T inside an O:

(From Etymologies, by Sait Isidore, Bishop of Seville, 12th century)

(Liber Floridus)

(St. Sever world map after Beatus, 1030 A.D.)

(Note: North is to the left on these. The convention of putting North at the top of the map probably didn't begin until compasses became widespread.)

Obviously no one was actually trying to navigate with these things. They are meant to show that the divine order of the world reflects the Christian Trinity--one continent for each part of the Trinity, with the world's center at Jerusalem.

There was just one problem with this tidy little package: ancient Greek philosophers had claimed the existence of a fourth, southerly continent, beyond the ocean's stream. This mysterious fourth island was known by a variety of names, such as the Antipodes and Terra Australis Incognita--the Unknown Southern Land.


Beatus, probably the Osma copy, 1203

Beatus world map, London copy, 1109 A.D.

Macrobian World Map

Liber Floridus

The whole matter occasioned much debate, and not just because people thought three continents was much better than four. For you see, medieval geographers thought the equator was an impassable band of fiery burning heat. (Any Europeans who'd ventured into the Sahara would be forgiven for thinking that going even further south was a bad idea.) If the equator was impassible, then how could anyone know if there was land down there or not? How could anyone get there or live there? And if people did live down there, how could the evangelists have preached there (the Bible claims that they preached in all corners of the Earth, after all)?

But argue as they might, there it was in ancient Greek philosophy, and they were loathe to completely discard anything in Greek philosophy.

Where did the Greeks get the idea?

I'm not sure, but the most obvious idea is that they had contact with people who had actually sailed south of the equator and discovered land there (note that much of Africa is, in fact, south of the equator.) (If I recall correctly, the Egyptians manned an expedition that actually made it around Africa.) Couple these reports with the belief in a circling ocean stream at the equator, and it's not too hard to see how people might have gotten confused.

After a while, Europeans discovered that you didn't actually die hideously of burning fire if you sailed too far south, but belief that there was another island down there somewhere persisted, even as more and more of the world turned out not to contain it.

Oronteus Finaeus, 1531 AD

1604 copy of the 1602 Chinese map Kunyu Wanguo Quantu

Petrus Bertius’s P. Bertii tabularum geographicarum contractarum (Amsterdam, 1616).

I'm so sorry, but the legend on this map was not in English. Here it is, if you can read it: 1619 tarihli bir dünya haritası

Fra Mauro, Map of the world, 1448-1453 (okay, that was probably just Madagascar.)

Abraham Ortelius, 1592

Johannes Schöner, globe of 1533: southern hemisphere.

Terre Australle, 1583, by Jacques de Vaux

With each new discovery of land in the southern hemisphere, map makers thought they'd found the edges of the fabled southern continent. But when even the continent south of Indonesia turned out not to extend over the south pole, cartographers threw up their hands and decided to just name it "Australia" and be done with it, somewhere around 1804-1814.

Antarctica was spotted in 1820.


Well, Brazil got its name in a funny way, too.

Medieval Sketches

I find the sketches that surround the paintings in this book more interesting than the paintings themselves.

I wonder if it was supposed to look unfinished.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can Math Explain History?

Can Math Explain History?

I haven't read enough of the relevant information, yet, to figure out what they're actually dong with their model, but the basic idea sounds pretty interesting, so I thought I'd share and see if any of you have thoughts on the subject.


Article on the development of actually useful for navigation portolan maps.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Solstice

"At the festival of the winter solstice in December the Aztecs killed their god Huitzilopochtli in effigy first and ate him afterwards. As a preparation for this solemn ceremony an image of the deity in the likeness of a man was fashioned out of seeds of various sorts, which were kneaded into a dough with the blood of children. The bones of the god were represented by pieces of acacia wood. This image was placed on the chief altar of the temple, and on the day of the festival the king offered incense to it. Early next day it was taken down and set on its feet in a great hall. Then a priest, who bore the name and acted the part of the god Quetzalcoatl, took a flint-tipped dart and hurled it into the breast of the dough-image, piercing it through and through. This was called “killing the god Huitzilopochtli so that his body might be eaten.” One of the priests cut out the heart of the image and gave it to the king to eat. The rest of the image was divided into minute pieces, of which every man great and small, down to the male children in the cradle, receive one to eat. But no woman might taste a morsel. The ceremony was called teoqualo, that is, “god is eaten.” "

--Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1922.

I'm not sure how reliable Frazer is, but there's plenty of outside evidence that human sacrifice was a regular part of Aztec ritual.


I couldn't decide which illustration I liked better, so I decided to post both.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Chanukkah

I know, it's a temple menorah, not a Chanukkah menorah. Next to it we have a shofar (on the left), and to the right, I suspect that's supposed to be an incense shovel, given the number of carved menorahs I've seen accompanied by incense shovels. I could be convinced that it's an etrog, though. Looks like a lulav right above it.

Anyway, happy Chanukkah.

More Medieval Maps

Guys, guys, this is not how you make a map.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Beatus Map

The classic, probably stylized tri-partite Medieval world map. Europe is on the left, Asia the top, Africa the right.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fifth Monarchists

For religious non-conformists of the 1600s, the Fifth Monarchists actually managed to acquire quite a bit of power (for a little while, at least.)

They were an essentially apocalyptic sect. They associated the year 1666 with the number of the beast of Revelations, and believed that Jesus was about to begin the 1,000 year "fifth monarchy" (the first four were Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.)

Two Fifth Monarchists were judges at Charles I's trial and signed his death warrant. After Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament, the Fifth Monarchists proposed that the country should be ruled by a body of "saints," based on the Old Testament Sanhedrin. These saints, they believed, would usher in the apocalypse and the second coming of Christ.

Oliver Cromwell actually tried to implement this scheme. English churches nominated 129 men for the new government; Scottish churches nominated five; and the Irish, six. Many of those nominated were Fifth Monarchists themselves or were otherwise sympathetic to their cause. This Parliament of Saints, (also known as the Barebones Parliament,) lasted a whole 6 months before it dissolved itself for the good of the people.

After that, Fifth Monarchists' power and influence waned. They tried and failed to overthrow Cromwell's Protectorate. They later tried to conquer London (on Jesus's behalf,) and many were subsequently killed hideously for treason.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Improper use of a Manticore

These are manticores. They're like lions with extra teeth and a human-shaped growth on the end of its scorpion-tail, used to lure real humans for it to devour.

Obviously the proper thing to do with a Manticore is to kill it.

No, guys, no. This is not what you do with it.

No, now you are doing it even worse.


Jasper Disapproves

Propaganda, he says. Propaganda and lies.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Medieval Flowchart?

Unfortunately, the text is tiny, (and not in English.) The circle on the left side with the three parts looks like a stylized map of the world also attributed to Beatus, and the squiggly text looks like it says "Europa" and "Asia". (North is to the left.) I think Africa is labeled "Lybia".
The rest of the chart is a mystery to me.

This is the right side of the page, where the flowchart ends with the Adoration of the Magi.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Shakerin' it

The Shakers--not to be confused with the Quakers--defy many of our ideas about the 18th and 19th centuries.

Shakers believed in Christ's immanent return to Earth--as a woman. Many of their preachers were female, and in 1770, one of their leaders, Anne Lee, was declared the Messiah. (Thereafter she was called Mother Anne.)

The Shakers had split from the Quakers, taking with them many of the more charismatic members and leaving behind a calmer set of Quakers. Shakers spoke in tongues, danced, shook, and received divine revelations. They believed that God was both male and female and practiced male/female equality in community leadership and structure. They became conscientious objectors during the Civil War, and as you probably already know, had no children.

They are also an example of successful religious communism--possibly because membership was voluntary, control was local, and the lifestyle agrarian.

Shaker communities managed to attract new members and remained economically successful until the Industrial Revolution radically changed the economic landscape, though I'm not sure it's really the IR's fault. There were 5 or 6,000 Shakers in the US in the 1800s (remember, the whole population of the US was much lower back then); today there are 3, in Maine.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Religious Communism

(Note: this is a subject of on-going research. I could be wrong about stuffs.)

We tend to think of "communism" as starting with Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto. Marx was certainly a significant political theorist, but he was actually part of an existing, much larger movement that has its origins in the same reforming impulse that lead to American democracy and many religious communes.

Today we think of "communism" and "democracy" as opposites, but in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, they were more or less the same. Democracy meant a community of people had the right to determine their own laws, instead of the King dictating laws to them. Communism of the day was meant that the community had a right to determine their economic fates, rather than the King. In religious communes, in particular, councils voted on both legal and economic matters. Later, the idea of collectively running one's own country and of collectively running one's own factory can be seen as the same idea expressed at different levels.

As I understand it, our notion that the government and the economy are two separate entities is fairly modern. 500 years or so ago, the political and economic systems were completely entwined, via that system popularly known as feudalism.

I'm still not clear on when or why democracy/communism first became a big deal, but we see at least some interesting groups emerging in the 1600s, with a variety of systems. The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Bay Colony, in 1620, established a democratic society, apparently in keeping with Calvinist doctrines. The colony's government also administered certain economic concerns, like regulating the purchasing of land, but does not appear to have banned private property.

Some Quaker and Shaker groups did hold all property in common. The Diggers, around 1650, were agrarian socialists who attempted to farm on common lands. I believe the Mormons also practiced some form of centralized economic direction in the settling of Utah. And, of course, many monasteries and convents have been essentially communistic for centuries.

Some groups were obviously more successful than others, but overall, religious communes seem to have done pretty well, and may have provided much of the inspiration for the secular communism movement.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When Enthusiasm was a Dirty Word

Apparently, back in the 1600s and 1700s, the English decided that enthusiasm was bad. Too much political or religious enthusiasm was blamed for causing the English Civil War, and so being enthusiastic about such things was looked down upon. "Enthusiasm" became a pejorative term for advocating political or religious causes in public.

I would not be surprised to find that many of the more enthusiastic-personalitied Brits immigrated to the US as a result, leaving their calmer brethren behind, and contributing to the development of our respective national characters.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Medieval Maths

I know these are probably actually depictions of parts of the sun and moon going dark during the Apocalypse of John, but I like to pretend they're from Medieval books on fractions.

The three illustrations likely all come from different copies of the same book (that is, the Beatus manuscripts,) but the last is obviously by a different artist.

Overall, these seem a bit of an overly literal interpretation of passages I always took to indicate the progress of an eclipse.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Art of the Day

I imagine that the agricultural horn-angels are also friends with these guys, the mysterious blood-magnet angels:

"Don't mind me, I'm just cleaning up this lake of blood. Bad for the plants, you know."

"Oops, looks like you've got a bit of last night's antelope on your chins. Let me get that for you."

I'd pretend to have no idea what's going on here, except it's obviously the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed beast of the apocalypse, which makes me wonder if I use the word "obviously" correctly.

Some Random Medieval Art

Beatus Manuscript, ca. 1180

I'm not sure what this angel is up to,

but I bet this guy is one of his friends: