Posts Tagged ‘Papua New Guinea’

Archaeologists Discover Bronze Agent Musical Instrument Made of Human Bone

September 4, 2020

This is an interesting piece of archaeological news from Tuesday’s edition of the I for 1 September 2020. The article ‘Bronze Age people turned human thigh bone into musical instrument’ by Nina Massey reported that archaeologists from Bristol University had discovered the instrument buried with other fragments of bone and tusk and axes buried as grave goods with a man near Stonehenge. The article reads

Researchers have uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age tradition that saw human remains retained and curated as relics over several generations.

The findings indicate a tangible way of honouring and remembering individuals some 4,500 years ago, experts say.

Led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal Antiquity, the study used radio-carbon dating and CT scanning.

Lead author Dr Thomas Booth said: “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.

“After radiocarbon dating Bronze Age human remains alongside other material buried with them, we found many had been buried a significant time after the person had died, suggesting a tradition of retaining and curating human remains.”

He added: “People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy.

In one example from Wiltshire, a human thigh bone, crafted into a musical instrument was included as grave goods with the burial of a man found near Stonehenge.

The carved and polished artefact was found with other items including axes, a bone plate and a tusk. Radio-carbon dating of the thigh bone suggests it belonged to someone this person had known.

Professor Joanna Bruck, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s department of anthropology and archaeology, said: “Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display.”

Dr Booth said: “This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective.”

He is also quoted as saying, “Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

This is the first time I’ve read about human remains being turned into a musical instruments in ancient Britain, but I’m not surprised. There are many cultures all over the world that preserve the skulls of dead ancestors and enemies. They included the Mandan and other tribes in the US, some indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and the ancient Celts. There’s a carving from an ancient Celtic temple from southern Gaul of a monster, whose two front claws rest on severed heads. Around the statue are depressions carved into its base, possibly to hold the real thing. Nigel Barley in one of his books on death around the world notes that in the traditional culture of one of the Pacific peoples, the skeletons of dead relatives are handled and taken apart, so that their descendants can carry bits of it about of them as an act of respect and remembrance.

And there are also cultures that turn human remains into musical instruments. There’s the Chod ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the priests wear aprons made out of human skin and play drums made of human skulls and, I believe, flutes from bone. Something similar may well have been done here with this instrument.

The Stonehenge connection is interesting and possibly relevant. One of the theories about the standing stones is that they were originally put up as monuments to the ancestors in a process involving secondary burial. This followed the suggestion of a Madagascan archaeologist, who said that they reminded him of the practice among his people. There the remains are interred for a period after death while they decay. After a certain time, they’re taken out, prepared and then re-buried in another set of ceremonies during which a stone or a wooden pole is set up as a monument. It may well be that this instrument was created as part of such a burial rite.

From 1998: Times Speculates on the Resurgence of New Plagues

July 18, 2020

Here’s another old article, this time from the Times, Monday, August 4 1997. Written by Anjana Ahuja, ‘Are We Ready for the Next Plague’ argues that the world has been mistaken in scaling back its defences against global disease, leaving us seriously unprepared. Subtitled ‘We are dropping our defences against disease’, the article runs

In the Middle Ages, one would not have lingered by the marshes of eastern England, particularly those in Kent and Essex. Nowhere in the country, which was falling prey to plagues, was more hospitable to the malaria parasite.

The menace of malaria hung over British shores until the mid-19th century, when it mysteriously declined. By 1940, the disease was no longer a threat to humans, because of rising standards of hygiene, the falling price of the anti-malarial drug quinine and the lessening availability of cattle, on which mosquitoes prefer to dine. But there is no guarantee, says a leading parasitologist, that malaria will not haunt the nation again.

The warning has been issued by Robert Desowitz, Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, who has spent many of his 71 years studying insect-borne diseases in places such as Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Burma, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, India, Laos, Vietnam and Sir Lanka. His view, expressed in his book, Tropical Diseases, is that the “golden age of antibiotics is waning”. As a result, he says, it is not impossible that the nightmares once vanquished by modern science will recur. Isolated outbreaks of Ebola and Lassa fever are, like the rise of HIV, a sign to him that we should be on our guard. However, he does not wish to seem apocalyptic. ” It may be true thyat there are diseases coming out of the jungle to kill us,” he says. “My response is that we don’t know that, but we ought to stay alert.”

His book is an eloquent, and sometimes alarming, history of how diseases have hitched their way around the world. The subtext is that humans, particularly in the colder climes (this includes the British), live in a fool’s paradise. Our defences are further weakened by mass migration and global change, leading to great changes in epidemiology. He expresses incredulity that worldwide efforts to combat infectious disease are being would down.

“I was listening on the radio this morning to America’s new military chief of staff, who was saying that we cannot demilitarise against old enemies,” he says. “The symmetry with disease struck me. We are not properly prepared.”

“The science budget is shrinking. My opinion is that the World Health Organisation is scientifically bankrupt. We are having problems with infectious disease. If you were going to certain parts of the world, you would be hard pushed to find a really good anti-malarial drug. We have neither cures nor preventions for viral diseases such as Ebola, Lassa and HIV.”

One particular worry is climate change, which he sees as an enormous potential problem. Tropical diseases such as malaria are very temperature-sensitive-higher temperatures allow an influx of alien pests and the warmth encourages the pests to breed more rapidly.

Other researchers have been discovering the effect of climate change on unwelcome visitors. Biologists at Leeds University have set up a simple experiment that shows what happens to insects when faced with temperature changes. Using eight linked cages, and three species of fruit fly adapted to different temperatures, Professor Bryan Shorrocks and Dr Andrew Davis have tried to replicate what would happen to fruit flies if the temperature changed across Europe. the Biotechnology and and Biological Research Council financed the £241,000 project.

The cages were connected by thin tubes through which the flies could migrate. The temperatures in the cages ranged from 10C to 25C; the intention was to mimic average temperatures across a swath of Europe stretching from Leeds to southern Spain. The optimum temperature for the three types of fruit fly – Drosophila subobscura, Drosophila simulans, and Drosophila manogaster – were respective, 15C, 20C and 25C. Fruit flies are easy to use and they breed quickly.

When each species was tested on its owns, and confined to one cage, it became extinct at temperature extremes. The next step was again to treat each species on its own, but to allow it to move through the tubes between cages.

Dr Davis reports: “The flies survived across the whole temperature regime. Where they became extinct, the population was topped up by individuals from other cages looking for more food and space to lay eggs.

The last, and most complex stage, was to populate the cages with different permutations of the three species. This was where the most interesting results began to emerge. For example, when subobscura and simulans were thrown together, the simulans species dominated its familiar temperature climate of 20C., but subobscura was more populous at about 10C, well below its optimum temperature.

Dr Davis says that each species did not necessarily behave according to expectation. He concludes: “We may not be able to predict where a species will occur on the globe purely by knowing its temperature requirements. It’s surprising.

In other words, matching the pest to a temperature zone is not that simple. Dr Davis is keen not be seen as alarmist. “I am not saying these effects will happen, or that they will be important,” he says. “But some of the things that might happen with global warming may need planning, particularly pest problems.

Professor Desowitz does not envisage doom for the human race. Not yet, anyway. “People have survived plagues before, but we are not preparing ourselves properly. Perhaps,” he adds, not without a whiff of menace, “London will become malarious again.”

Meera Senthilingam says much the same thing in her Outbreaks and Epidemics: Battling Infection from Measles to Coronavirus (London: Icon 2020). Climate change, migration and mass travel are leaving us vulnerable to new epidemics, traditional antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. And we still have no cures or treatments for diseases like Lassa fever. or Ebola. But whatever other faults Blair’s government had – and these are legion, like the invasion of Iraq – it did take the threat of a renewed epidemic seriously, especially after Avian and Swin flu. They invested in the NHS, and developed specialist medical and bureaucratic machinery and protocols to combat such an epidemic when it came along. And when the epidemic was wargamed in 2016, the Tories knew that we were seriously underprepared. But they simply didn’t care. They wanted austerity and budget cuts so they could give tax cuts to the super-rich. And as a result, this country has one of the very worst infection rates and mortality from Coronavirus in the world.

They knew the disease was coming. They did nothing.

60,000+ people have died.

The Tories are guilty, and Johnson is responsible for mass manslaughter at least.

 

Trump Insults Australian Prime Minister and Mexican President

February 4, 2017

Another day, another example of how absolutely, constitutionally unsuited for government, or even civilised company, Donald Trump is. Yesterday there was the news that Trump had managed to insult the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, and threatened the president of Mexico with invasion.

Trump had been discussing an agreement signed last November between Obama and the Ozzies in which America promised to take a few of the refugees coming to Australia, who were temporarily settled in the camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Dictator Drumpf really doesn’t like the idea of taking prospective immigrants to Oz, and made his opposition very plain. According to the Washington Post, the orange megalomaniac told Turnbull that it was ‘the worst deal ever’, accused the Ozzie PM of trying to send him the next Boston bombers and said he was worried that the deal would kill him politically. He also told Turnbull that he’d already spoken to four national leaders that morning, including Putin, and that this was the ‘worst call so far’. The phone call was expected to last an hour, but Drumpf rang off after only 25 minutes.

Here’s the Young Turks video in which John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss Trump’s highly undiplomatic phone call.

Then there are reports that in his phone call to the Mexican president, Trump is supposed to have accused the Mexican army of cowardice in trying to sort out the drug cartels, and threatened to send US troops to do the job instead. He is claimed to have said

‘You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.’

There have been denials that this was ever said from the Mexican president’s office, but it appears to be true. John Iadarola, discussing the report in the video below, suggests that the denial might be an attempt by President Pena Nieta to save face. When he stood up to Drumpf last week, his approval ratings unsurprisingly shot up. Trump talking to him like this looks like a humiliation, and so he may have wanted to cover it up to prevent his approval ratings plummeting accordingly. It does, however, unfortunately seem to be true.

Iadarola and Kasparian make the point in the video about Trump’s insulting phone call to Premier Turnbull that Drumpf is perfectly happy to bomb the nations of the Middle East, but as soon as their citizens want to move out and seek refuge in America, he’s gets upset. In fact Australia’s immigration policy is itself highly controversial. I can remember Duncan Steele, an Australian astronomer at one of the British universities, saying at the Cheltenham Festival of Science in the 1990s that their treatment of refugees made him ashamed to be an Ozzie.

As for the drug war in Mexico, the drug cartels are indeed ‘bad hombres’. Actually, I think that term gives a romantic gloss to gangs of utter scum, who are completely subhuman in their cruelty and barbarism. In one of the Mexican provinces where they’re particularly strong, the gangs were engaged in feminicido – feminicide – as a kind of very sick sport. They got their kicks raping and killing women. And far from being cowards, the Mexican cops, who take them on are as hard as nails. A few years ago the on-line humour magazine, Cracked, did a list of the toughest real life vigilantes. Top of the list was a secret organisation of Mexican coppers, dedicated to rubbing out the gangs and their members. The identities of their members were unknown, to prevent reprisals against their families. The overall impression given was that these men were like the Punisher, but even more ruthless and absolutely dedicated.

I’ve no doubt that the Mexican army isn’t as good, as well trained or as well equipped as the Americans. But considering that America and her allies are still in Iraq and Afghanistan after nearly a decade and a half, I really don’t see that the Americans would have any more success in dealing with the drug cartels than the Mexican authorities.

Quite apart from the fact that you don’t tell the head of a friendly neighbouring state that you’re going to invade his country if he doesn’t sort a domestic problem out. Trump really has no idea how that sounds, not just to other nations generally, but specifically to Latin Americans. There’s considerable resentment of America in Central and South America, particularly in Argentina. It dates from the 19th century. Before then, many Spanish American liberals were solidly in favour of the US as the kind of modern, progressive country they wished their nations to be.

Then the US invaded Mexico, and causing these intellectuals to reverse their previous positive attitudes. They became bitterly resentful of what they saw as the US’s contemptuous, colonialist treatment of Latin America. It was the start of what I think is called ‘Arielismo’, in which South America writers used the character of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the brutish servant of the wizard Prospero, as a metaphor for the imperialist contempt with which they perceived Americans treated their Spanish-speaking neighbours to the south and their culture.

The Young Turks in the video above also talk about how Trump’s brusque, insulting treatment of his Mexican opposite number may imperil the NAFTA trade agreement with Mexico. This has resulted in a loss of jobs in America, as firms have shifted their locations south to take advantage of the cheaper labour there. But they argue that it has also benefited America.

Trump is clearly one of the most undiplomatic presidents in American history. You really do wonder how long it will be before this loudmouthed buffoon starts another bloody war, or a major international incident, simply because he can’t keep a civil tongue in his head.

He can’t even be counted on to behave decently with our head of state. Mike a few days ago carried a story on his site that Prince Charles had been told not to lecture Drumpf on global warming, if he meets him, as otherwise the Orange Supremacist will ‘explode’. Now I’m well aware that not everyone reading this site is a monarchist, and the exaggerated deference, with which they’re treated should definitely go. I’m referring to all those arcane rules of behaviour, which dictate that you must only talk to the queen if she speaks to you. Those rules should have no place in the 21st century. But that does not excuse another head of state from going on a rant at ours.