Climate Dynamics and the Decline of Elephants and Their Precursors

Elephants and their forebears were pushed into wipeout by waves of extreme global environmental change, rather than overhunting by early humans, according to new research.

The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, challenges claims that early human hunters slaughtered prehistoric elephants, mammoths and mastodonts to extinction over millennia. Instead, its findings indicate the extinction of the last mammoths and mastodonts at the end of the last Ice Age marked the end of progressive climate-driven global decline among elephants over millions of years.

Although elephants today are restricted to just three endangered species in the African and Asian tropics, these are survivors of a once far more diverse and widespread group of giant herbivores, known as the proboscideans, which also include the now completely extinct mastodonts, stegodonts and deinotheres. Only 700,000 years ago, England was home to three types of elephants: two giant species of mammoths and the equally prodigious straight-tusked elephant.

An international group of palaeontologists from the universities of Alcalá, Bristol, and Helsinki, piloted the most detailed analysis to date on the rise and fall of elephants and their predecessors, which examined how 185 different species adapted, spanning 60 million years of evolution that began in North Africa. To probe into this rich evolutionary history, the team surveyed museum fossil collections across the globe, from London’s Natural History Museum to Moscow’s Paleontological Institute. By investigating traits such as body size, skull shape and the chewing surface of their teeth, the team discovered that all proboscideans fell within one of eight sets of adaptive strategies.

“Remarkably for 30 million years, the entire first half of proboscidean evolution, only two of the eight groups evolved,” said Dr Zhang Hanwen, study coauthor and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences.

“Most proboscideans over this time were nondescript herbivores ranging from the size of a pug to that of a boar. A few species got as big as a hippo, yet these lineages were evolutionary dead-ends. They all bore little resemblance to elephants.”

The course of proboscidean evolution changed dramatically some 20 million years ago, as the Afro-Arabian plate collided into the Eurasian continent. Arabia provided crucial migration corridor for the diversifying mastodont-grade species to explore new habitats in Eurasia, and then into North America via the Bering Land Bridge.

“The immediate impact of proboscidean dispersals beyond Africa was quantified for the very first time in our study,” said lead author Dr Juan Cantalapiedra, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Alcalá in Spain.

“Those archaic North African species were slow-evolving with little diversification, yet we calculated that once out of Africa proboscideans evolved 25 times faster, giving rise to a myriad of disparate forms, whose specialisations permitted niche partition between several proboscidean species in the same habitats. One case in point being the massive, flattened lower tusks of the ‘shovel-tuskers’. Such coexistence of giant herbivores was unlike anything in today’s ecosystems.”

By 3 million years ago the elephants and stegodonts of Africa and eastern Asia seemingly emerged victorious in this unremitting evolutionary ratchet. However, environmental disruption connected to the coming Ice Ages hit them hard, with surviving species forced to adapt to the new, more austere habitats. The most extreme example was the woolly mammoth, with thick, shaggy hair and big tusks for retrieving vegetation covered under thick snow.

The team’s analyses identified final proboscidean extinction peaks starting at around 2.4 million years ago, 160,000 and 75,000 years ago for Africa, Eurasia and the Americas, respectively.

“It is important to note that these ages do not demarcate the precise timing of extinctions, but rather indicate the points in time at which proboscideans on the respective continents became subject to higher extinction risk,” said Dr Cantalapiedra.

Unexpectedly, the results do not correlate with the expansion of early humans and their enhanced capabilities to hunt down megaherbivores.

Sources: University of Bristol

The Djed

The djed is an ancient Egyptian symbol for stability which features prominently in Egyptian art and architecture throughout the country’s history. `Stability’ should be understood to mean not only a firm footing but immutability and permanance. The symbol is a column with a broad base which narrows as it rises to a capital and is crossed by four parallel lines. The column and the lines are sometimes brightly painted and other times monochrome. The djed first appears in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and continues through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before it became a province of the Roman Empire.

The djed is often overlooked in Egyptian art, and especially in architecture, simply because it is so ubiquitous; the djed is featured on pillars, tomb walls, architraves (the main beam which rests on pillars), palace walls, sheets of painted papyrus, and especially sarcophagi. Once one is aware of the djed and its importance to ancient Egyptian culture it is impossible to miss. It is a potent symbol associated with the god Osiris and his return from the dead. The symbol has been interpreted to represent different objects such as the god Osiris’ backbone, the tamarisk tree which enclosed the god, four pillars rising one behind another, and a fertility pole raised at festivals. `Stability’, however, seems to have been its prime meaning and the one which the ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to.

The precise origin of the djed is unknown but it was associated with the god Ptah, an early creator god in the Predynastic Period whose attributes were later assumed by the deities Atum and Osiris. According to historian Clare Gibson, the djed was an early phonogram which could also act as a pictogram or ideogram. A phonogram is a symbol representing a sound and a pictogram a symbol for a specific word or phrase while an ideogram is a symbol of a thing itself without reference to words or sounds (such as numerals where one recognizes the symbol 10 as representing a certain quantity). The djed symbolized the spoken word-concept for stability, was the written word for stability, and stood for the concept itself.

Sources: World History Encyclopedia

Cannabis in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Culture

When the mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses II was uncovered and examined back in 1881, traces of cannabis in the remains was the last thing anyone was expecting, but it was there. Since then, a lot of the uncovered mummies have shown similar traces of the herb in their systems, confirming the suspicion that cannabis was indeed a part of the regular culture in ancient Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, cannabis was used for medicinal, religious, and cultural purposes.

Seshat, the goddess of wisdom, was often depicted with a leaf of the cannabis plant above her head in paintings from thousands of years ago. Bastet, the feline goddess of war, was also related to the use of cannabis in the region, but more in terms of witchcraft. Evidence also suggests that worshippers may have consumed marijuana in one form or the other during certain religious festivities and rituals.

Sources: Ancient Origins (Robert Brusco)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

The 18 Levels of Hell in Chinese Mythology

Buddhism and Taoism—the main religions of China—both have different interpretations of hell and how it is structured, but what they can both agree on is this: Sinners who accumulate bad karma during their lives have to atone for their sins after their death. Their souls are therefore taken into hell, a fiery place consisting of several layers, courts, or circles, each doling out a different punishment for specific sins.

A big difference between the Chinese hell and the concept of hell most known in Christianity is that in Chinese hell, souls are not necessarily condemned to eternal damnation. While broadly believed in Western culture that sinners have to suffer in hell until the second coming of Christ, the Chinese version of hell is more of a purgatory, where souls are able to eventually leave and be reincarnated back into the world once they have done their time.

  • Hell of Tongue-ripping, where those who gossip and spread trouble with their words will repeatedly have their tongues ripped out.
  • Hell of Scissors, where those who destroy someone else’s marriage will have their fingers repeatedly cut off.
  • Hell of Trees of Knives, where those who sow discord amongst family members will be repeatedly hung from trees made of sharp knives.
  • Hell of Mirrors of Retribution, where those who have managed to escape punishment for their crimes while alive will be repeatedly shown their true horrific selves.
  • Hell of Steamers, where hypocrites and troublemakers will repeatedly be steamed “alive.”
  • Hell of Copper Pillars, where arsonists will be repeatedly chained to red-hot pillars of copper.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Knives, where those who have killed for pleasure or without good reason will repeatedly be made to climb a mountain made of sharp blades sticking out of it.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Ice, where adulterers, deceivers of elders, and schemers will be repeatedly left out on a barren mountain of ice to freeze.
  • Hell of the Cauldrons of Oil, where rapists, thieves, abusers, and false accusers will be repeatedly fried in vats of boiling oil.
  • Hell of the Cattle Pit, where those who have abused animals will repeatedly be hurt by animals in turn.
  • Hell of the Crushing Boulder, where those who have abandoned or killed children will repeatedly be made to hold up heavy boulders, eventually being crushed by its weight.
  • Hell of Mortars and Pestles, where those who voluntarily waste food will repeatedly be force-fed hell fire by demons.
  • Hell of the Blood Pool, where those who disrespect others will be thrown in and submerged into a pool of blood.
  • Hell of the Wrongful Dead, where those who have commited suicide—considered deliberately going against the karmic course of the universe—will be force to repeatedly wander the realm without a way out, while being pelted constantly by the Winds of Sorrow and the Rains of Pain.
  • Hell of Dismemberment, where tomb raiders will have their bodies repeatedly be torn into pieces.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Fire, where thieves, robbers, and the corrupt will be repeatedly thrown into the fiery pits of an active volcano.
  • Hell of Mills, where those who have misused their power to oppress the weak will repeatedly be crushed in a stone mill.
  • Hell of Saws, where those who have engaged in unethical or unfair business practises, or exploited loopholes in the legal system, will be repeatedly sawn in half by demons with saws.

Ephesus: Roman Architectural Site

Ephesus:

Ephesus is one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean. The visible ruins still give some idea of the city’s original splendour, and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former life.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 418′ by 239′ with over 100 marble pillars each 56′ high. The temple earned the city the title “Servant of the Goddess”. Pliny tells us that the magnificent structure took 120 years to build but is now represented only by one inconspicuous column, revealed during an archaeological excavation by the British Museum in the 1870s.

Hammurabi

In around 2000 bce, the Amorites (Westerners), a semi-nomadic people from Syria, swept across Mesopotamia, replacing local rulers with Amorite sheikh dynasties in many of the city-states. By the early 18th century bce, the three most powerful Amorite kings were pre-eminent Shamshi-Adad in the north, Rim-Sin in Larsa in the south, and Hammurabi in Babylon in the center. Over the course of his long reign, Hammurabi consolidated all of southern Mesopotamia into his kingdom and eventually extended his power as far up the Tigris as Nineveh, and as far up the Euphrates as Tuttul, on the junction with the river Balikh. He personally supervised the construction of many temples and other buildings.

The prelude to his code, a tribute to Hammurabi, and a long historical record of his conquests, boasts that his leadership was divinely sanctioned by the gods who passed control of humanity to Marduk (deity of Babylon), and so to its king. It also reveals he saw his role as the guarantor of a just and orderly society.

Arles: A Van Gogh Getaway

On the cusp of the Camargue National Park in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Arles is a heady blast of Van Gogh nostalgia – the artist painted in excess of 200 works around this lovely Roman town. The stately amphitheatre, one of the largest in Roman times, is part of the reason for Arles’ Unesco World Heritage Site status. The twisting aluminium tower designed by Frank Gehry brings the city’s architecture bang up to date.

La Voisin

In a darkened room stands a 40-year-old woman named Catherine Monvoisin. Her figure is lit only by torches held by the faceless men standing in front of her, men who are sentencing her to death by fire. It is the 17th century, where such a death sentence is an unusual ending to someone’s life. But Catherine is an unusual woman.

Catherine was the wife of a silk merchant and jeweler and lived a life of comfort in Parisian Society. She was a philanthropist, entrepreneur, fortune teller, mother, and art lover. But she was also a professional poisoner, alleged provider of sorceries, and an alleged witch who plunged the French aristocracy into turmoil, and even tried to kill a king.

She was more famously known as “La Voisin” and was a central figure in “L’affaire des Poisons” or the “Affair of the Poisons”. Catherine controlled a wide network of fortune-tellers from her position in Paris society. She provided poison, abortion, aphrodisiacs, arranged black masses, and even claimed to offer magical services.

She was so famous that she even drew clients from the aristocracy, who could afford to pay her high prices which funded her lavish lifestyle. Her organization, in performing commissioned black magic and murder by poison, took thousands of lives.

The claimed alchemist Adam Lesage, one of the lovers of Catherine, told of her murdering her own husband, an accusation she denied. It is believed that throughout her life, she might have been responsible for the deaths of around 2,500 infants due to her poisoning. However, throughout this time she remained a high-profile socialite, and her sheer charm made no one suspect her.

Sources: Bipin Dimri

Rosetta Stone Discovered

Today in Egyptian history —> On this day in 1799, French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard found the Rosetta Stone in an Egyptian village. The stone was inscribed with hieroglyphics, demotic script and Greek script in 196 BC but was lost during the Medieval period. After its rediscovery, it prompted widespread excitement as scientists raced to be the first to decipher the ancient text. It was eventually translated by Jean-François Champollion, a French scholar, in 1822!

The inscription, by the way, is about the divine status of Ptolemy V.

The Egyptians want it returned for their new Grand Egyptian Museum (opening later this year), but the British Museum says no as it’s the most visited artifact in the museum.