Natural disasters as acts of God – or gods.

Around 14000 years ago, where there were some adjoining islands in the Nile Delta, trading took place and became established until the city of Thonis-Heracleion was gradually built, intersected by canals. It had a number of harbors and anchorages and was the sister city of Naucratis until it was superseded by Alexandria. It was at the mouth of the Nile as it enters the Mediterranean.

About every 5000 years there were earthquakes, floods and geological subsidence. (See
Image of earthquake map centred on Crete

The earth beneath the major temples actually turned to liquid, thanks to a geological process called liquefaction, and most of the city’s glittering buildings and statues went spiralling down to the bottom of the sea.

4 years ago, French layman archaeologist (but whose main profession was maths and statistics) Dr Franck Goddio used his ability in maths to guide his enthusiasm to search for the lost city of myths and legends. It took years of work, raising funds, gathering the expertise around him, but eventually this discovery, perhaps the most amazing of the 21st century, was discovered and the artefacts brought to the surface for us all to see.


At the time, a German film crew made a documentary which can be seen on YouTube. 

Dr Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, who was part of the team working on the site, said: “It is a major city we are excavating.”

“The site has amazing preservation. We are now starting to look at some of the more interesting areas within it to try to understand life there.”

“We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period. There were things coming in from Greece and the Phoenicians.”

“We have hundreds of small statues of gods and we are trying to find where the temples to these gods were in the city.”

“The ships are really interesting as it is the biggest number of ancient ships found in one place and we have found over 700 ancient anchors so far.”

The researchers, working with German TV documentary makers, also created a three dimensional reconstruction of the city

At its heart was a huge temple to the god Amun-Gereb, the supreme god of the Egyptians at the time.

From this stretched a vast network of canals and channels, which allowed the city to become the most important port in the Mediterranean at the time.

Heracleion, named for Hercules, who legend claimed had been there.

It was also mentioned fleetingly in ancient texts.

Dr Robinson said: “It was the major international trading port for Egypt at this time. It is where taxation was taken on import and export duties. All of this was run by the main temple.”

Submerged under 150 feet of water, the site sits in what is now the Bay of Aboukir. By the 8th Century BC, upon the highest part, Thonis-Heraclion was built and commanded major trading around the Mediterranean.

When divers began sifting down through the thick layers of sand and mud, they could barely believe what they found.

“The archaeological evidence is simply overwhelming,” said Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford has also been taking part in the excavation.

“By lying untouched and protected by sand on the sea floor for centuries they are brilliantly preserved.”

The researchers now also hope that they may even find some sarcophagi used to bury humans in some of the outlying areas around the sunken city.

“The discoveries enhance the importance of the specific location of the city standing at the ‘Mouth of the Sea of the Greek’,” said Dr Goddio, who has led the excavation.

“We are just at the beginning of our research. We will probably have to continue working for the next 200 years for Thonis-Heracleion to be fully revealed and understood.”

When this major location finally fell beneath the waves, it epitomised the frailty of human belief in their own powers to generate wealth and bounty for all. Try as we might, we cannot fight the geological dramas which writhe beneath our feet. Hundreds of years before the sinking of Thonis-Heracleion there was an earthquake in Greece which was interpreted by those affected in such a way that it shows how humans bow to the gods who rule their existence:

Extract from

464 BC

This earthquake had far reaching consequences and destroyed much of the city state of Sparta. It has been estimated that the quake and its after effects may have killed as many as 20,000 people and it sparked the revolt of the Helots. This revolt led to a breakdown of a treaty between Sparta and Athens which led directly to the First Peloponnesian War.

The events that have survived in the writings of Strabo, Pausanias, Plutarch and Thucydides are attributed various reliability and thus it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact epicenter and magnitude associated with the quake.

The earthquake contributed to a growing distrust between Sparta and Athens. Thucydides, the ancient Greek chronicler of the Peloponnesian War, reported that a number of Greek city-states sent troops to help put down the rebellion of helots in Sparta. Athens sent approximately 4,000 hoplites under the leadership of Cimon, but this contingent was sent back to Athens, while those from other cities were allowed to stay. According to Thucydides, the Spartans were concerned that the Athenians would switch sides and assist the helots. The Athenians were insulted, and therefore repudiated their alliance with Sparta. Once the uprising was put down, some of the surviving rebels fled to Athens, which settled them at Naupactus on the strategically important Corinthian Gulf. The alliance would never be revived, as disagreements between Sparta and Athens would continue to intensify until the outbreak of war in 460 BC. Given that the Helot population seized upon the earthquake to rebel against the Spartans, the Spartans reformed their society after the Helots were subdued, becoming extremely austere.

The Spartan area of Greece has been subject to many recent earthquakes including the 2008 Peloponnese earthquake located less than 50km from the 464 BC area of most destruction. Seismically, Greece sits on the plate boundaries of the Eurasia, Africa and Arabia plates which have produced still smaller micro-plates that sit under Greece. It is likely that a strike/slip fault, which has east-trending and northeast-trending zones of deformation and which moves at the rate of about 30mm per year was the cause of the Sparta quake.

As an addendum to this earthquake during the later Peloponnesian Wars the Greek historian Thucydides described a tsunami that occurred in 426 BC, and he was the first to associate the cause of a tsunami with an earthquake in a written account. The epicenter of this quake is as yet undiscovered, however evidence points at a crustal movement along one of the faults in the Euboean gulf, rather than submarine landslides, thus Thucydides conjecture via his research into the cause of the tsunami shows remarkable intuition given that he was not party to the actual quake responsible.
I grew up reading children’s books of Greek legends, which were so gripping and exciting. That wonder of those mighty gods worshipped by the Mediterranean peoples, carried me into a fantasy world away from the blackened, sooty city of Leeds where I was growing up. Watching this YouTube of this discovery had the same affect on me, though now I live in a magical place myself, the Scottish Borders.

When the city of Thonis-Heracleion was built, there was obviously a belief that here was site of plenty. All cities try to define themselves as trading centres, wealth creators, seats of power, with bountiful food and water. But all are destined to crumble to dust, or be submerged by rising waters, tsunamis and the like.

Image of Hapi depiction

The statue of Hapi, (Hep, Hap Hapy) the god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion, dominated the city. The flood deposited rich silt (fertile soil) on the river’s banks, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops. Hapi was greatly celebrated among the Egyptians. Some of the titles of Hapi were, Lord of the Fish and Birds of the Marshes and Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation. Hapi is typically depicted as an intersex person with a large belly and pendulous breasts, wearing a loincloth and ceremonial false beard.

Image of statue discovered by the team of divers:

As Thonis-Heracleion slipped beneath the waves, religious beliefs were shifting and becoming entwined with warrior land grabs which intensified the motivation of fanatical believers to confront and discard those who rejected the ‘new’ beliefs backed by armies.

When Christianity and Islam were growing religions, the worship of those gods was gradually perceived as a sin against the one God, but the logic of Paganism still permeates many cultures who respect the power of nature and how dependent humans are on the processes which keep us alive.

Shifting powers

The progress of the post Mohammad Islamic Arabisation can be traced through the 5th to 8th century Empires of countries close to Arabia.

Iran (then Persia): The Persian Empire is one of a series of imperial dynasties centered in Persia (modern–day Iran). The first of these was the Achaemenid Empire established by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC with the conquest of Median, Lydian and Babylonian empires. It covered much of the Ancient world when it was conquered by Alexander the Great. Several later dynasties “claimed to be heirs of the Achaemenids”. Persia was then ruled by the Parthian Empire which supplanted the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, and then by the Sassanian Empire which ruled up until the mid-7th century.

While many of these empires referred to themselves as Persian, they were often ruled by ethnic Medes, Babylonians, or Parthians. Iranian dynastic history was interrupted by the Arab conquest of Persia in 651 AD, establishing the even larger Islamic caliphate, and later by the Mongol invasion.

In 644 Umar (second of the Rashidun caliphate after the death of Muhammad in 632) was assassinated by Persians in response to the conquest of their empire and was succeeded by Uthman, from the Banu Umayya clan, who was elected by a six-person committee arranged by Umar. Under Uthman, the empire’s conquest of Armenia began by the 640s, and the empire expanded into Fars (present-day southwestern Iran) in 650 and some areas of Khorasan (present-day northwestern Afghanistan) in 651.


As tribes united to form alliances around the Mediterranean, the power of the Greeks grew. An interactive map which describes the growth of their powers, see

The Greek world was an ever-changing geographical reality throughout three million years before Christ. The first settlements in the Cyclades and Crete and later on both sides of the Aegean Sea, colonization along the Mediterranean coast and around the Black Sea, the immense empire created by Alexander the Great.

Divided by internal dissension, the Hellenistic world was gradually absorbed into the Roman Empire, though Greek culture continued to develop throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

And the Greek Byzantine Empire:

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, which had been founded as Byzantium). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both “Byzantine Empire” and “Eastern Roman Empire” are historiographical terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire as the Roman Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, tr. Basileia tôn Rhōmaiōn; Latin: Imperium Romanum), or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as “Romans”.


Over the Mediterranean it was 3150 BCE when the First Dynasty appeared in Egypt with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by the king Menes (now believed to be Narmer). Menes/Narmer is depicted on inscriptions wearing the two crowns of Egypt, signifying unification, and his reign was thought to be in accordance with the will of the gods; but the office of the king itself was not associated with the divine until later. During the Second Dynasty of Egypt (2890-2670 BCE) King Raneb (also known as Nebra) linked his name with the divine and his reign with the will of the gods. Following Raneb, the rulers of the later dynasties were equated with the gods and with the duties and obligations due those gods. As supreme ruler of the people, the pharaoh was considered a god on earth, the intermediary between the gods and the people, and when he died, he was thought to become Osiris, the god of the dead. As such, in his role of ‘High Priest of Every Temple’, it was the pharaoh’s duty to build great temples and monuments celebrating his own achievements and paying homage to the gods of the land. Additionally, the pharaoh would officiate at religious ceremonies, choose the sites of temples and decree what work would be done (although he could not choose priests and very rarely took part in the design of a temple). As ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ the pharaoh made the laws, owned all the land in Egypt, collected taxes, and made war or defended the country against aggression.

In 656 Uthman (third leader of the Rashidun caliphate since Muhammad) was assassinated by Egyptian rebels. Ali, husband of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima – ineligIble due to her gender, was receiving vigorous support from various rebel groups. He accepted appointment as the next caliph. 

A member of the same clan as Muhammad, Banu Hashim, presided over a civil war known as the First Fitna (656–661). The war was primarily between those who believed Uthman was unlawfully killed, supporting his cousin and governor of the Levant Muawiyah, and those who believed his killing was deserved, supporting the caliph Ali. The civil war permanently consolidated the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims, with Shia Muslims believing Ali to be the first rightful caliph and Imam after Muhammad, favouring his bloodline connection to Muhammad. Additionally, a third faction in the war believed both Ali and Muawiyah should be deposed and a new caliph elected by shura; this faction supported the governor of Egypt Amr ibn al-As. The war lead to the end of the Rashidun Caliphate and the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate in 661, under former governor of the Levant Muawiyah 1.
My view is that, as scattered numbers of hunter gatherers grew in size, became tribes with leaders, prepared to fight for their perceived homelands, drew on their pagan beliefs for strength in war, they formed alliances with likeminded tribes, probably through established trading. 

Over thousands of years, some alliances were more sophisticated than others and they would overwhelm less organised populations. Leaders would inspire followers with their religious beliefs and warrior prowess. This seems to be an evolving human strategy, but natural disasters could be interpreted by opinion leaders as a way forward to seek revenge and blame an old enemy for the calamity.

Since Christianity spread, so did Islam as dominant beliefs, though other cultures around the world held beliefs of their own until such time as they might be overwhelmed by those expanding their empires. But empires have grown and faded, nations have become hegemonic through cultural persuasion, strong trade, military activity and building of military bases globally. But we all know nothing lasts forever.

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The cooling of the earth and help and hindrance of glaciation

The dinosaurs never saw snow or ice, the planet had not cooled during their existence. Their fate was sealed when a rogue space rock the size of a city struck Earth 66 million years ago, near what is now the city of Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The dinosaurs were wiped out and from that point on the earth cooled. For the first time since the earth formed, the earth became gradually mostly glaciated . 

Image of post dinosaur glacial maximum (artist’s impression)

Ice ages have had patterns of intermittent warm periods and are called “interglacials”. In the terminology of glaciology, ice age implies the presence of extensive ice sheets in both northern and southern hemispheres. By this definition, we are in an interglacial period—the Holocene—of the ice age. The ice age began 2.6 million years ago at the start of the Pleistocene epoch, because the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice sheets still exist.

Glaciers have played their part in our human history, and now many are retreating at a rapid rate, which causes many worrying concerns. There is a Swiss organisation collecting data from worldwide volunteer reporters of glacial retreat, at

Image of glaciers in Kenya, Africa

Glaciers grow and retreat, and as they change, so does the land around them. People who live near glaciers often depend on annual melt to irrigate their farmland. One example are the people of Peru who gained skills in irrigating their mostly arid landscape over 5000 years ago. They developed an agriculture which fed the population who dug out terraces which were irrigated on higher levels. Then if flooding occurred it did not reach these heights.

By the 15th and 16th centuries, the Inca Empire boasted an advanced irrigation systems, supplying water to 700,000 hectares of diverse crops in the fertile coastal zone. 

In South America there are 25,500 square kilometers (9,846 square miles) of glaciers. 

In Peru :

The Pastoruri glacier is a cirque glacier, located in the southern part of the Cordillera Blanca, part of the Andes mountain range, in Northern Peru in the Ancash region. 

Qori Kalis Glacier 

The Qori Kalis Glacier is a tropical glacier located in the Cordillera Oriental section of the Andes mountains of Peru. This and the Pastoruri are among the few tropical glaciers left in the world, and Qori Kalis Glacier is the main outlet of the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

Serious and fast retreat of glaciers in Peru is causing a burst of benefits to farmland by feeding water into otherwise difficult to irrigate areas, but this will not last long before many agricultural lands will be flooded and transformed by the movement of water.

Glaciers are most commonly found above snow line: regions of high snowfall in winter, and cool temperatures in summer. This condition allows more snow to accumulate on the glacier in the winter than will melt from it in the summer. This is why most glaciers are found either in mountainous areas or the polar regions. However, snow line occurs at different altitudes: in Washington State the snow line is around 1,600 meters (5,500 feet),

Image of Washington State glacier

while in Africa it is over 5,100 meters (16,732 feet), and in Antarctica it is at sea level. The amount of snowfall a glacier receives is very important to its survival, which is why some cold regions, like Siberia, have almost no glaciation—there is not enough snowfall.

There are many glaciers in Greenland (see These isolated glaciers and small ice caps cover between 76,000 and 100,000 square kilometres (29,000 and 39,000 sq mi) around the periphery of the ice sheet which is Greenland.

Humans are thought to have arrived in Greenland, possibly from Ellesmere Island, around 3000–2500 BCE. Other researchers believe the first humans in Greenland were members of the Saqqaq culture who migrated to western Greenland from Northern Canada around 2500 BCE. Saqqaq people are unrelated to contemporary Greenlandic Inuit people. They survived until 800 BCE.

Around 1000 BCE, people from the Dorset culture settled in Greenland. The Dorset flourished in Greenland from 600 BCE to 200 CE.

An image of an Inuk from Greenland

Image of Cape Dorset, Inuit sled

The Thule people began colonizing Greenland from the northwest about 900.

The Inuit (pronounced /ˈɪnu.ɪt/ or /ˈɪnju.ɪt/; Inuktitut: ᐃᓄᐃᑦ, “the people”) are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Inuit is a plural noun; the singular is Inuk. The Inuit languages are part of the Eskimo-Aleut family. Inuit Sign Language is a critically endangered language isolate spoken in Nunavut.

Map of distribution of Inuit dialects

Related ethnic groups are the Aleut and Yupik peoples.

In the United States and Canada, the term “Eskimo” was commonly used to describe the Inuit and Alaska’s Yupik and Iñupiat peoples. However, “Inuit” is not accepted as a term for the Yupik, and “Eskimo” is the only term that includes Yupik, Iñupiat and Inuit. The aboriginal peoples in Canada and Greenlandic Inuit view “Eskimo” as pejorative, and “Inuit” is more commonly used in self-reference for these groups. In Canada, sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 classified the Inuit as a distinctive group of Aboriginal Canadians who are not included under either the First Nations or the Métis.

Image of Alaskan Inuk (labelled ‘eskimo’ ) 1916

The Inuit live throughout most of Northern Canada in the territory of Nunavut, Nunavik in the northern third of Quebec, Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut in Labrador, and in various parts of the Northwest Territories, particularly around the Arctic Ocean. These areas are known in Inuktitut as the “Inuit Nunangat”.

In the United States, the Iñupiat live primarily on the Alaska North Slope and on Little Diomede Island. The Greenlandic Inuit are descendants of indigenous migrations from Canada. They are citizens of Denmark, although not of the European Union.

The Inuit have historically hunted and gathered food, including lots of large sea mammals like whales and seals. This means their diet has been high in meat and fat. Over thousands of years, many people living in arctic areas have developed the ability to turn these foods into a type of fat that lets them burn calories more quickly and generate more body heat. This helps them keep warm from the inside in sub-zero temperatures.

Map of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Frozen remains of a Saqqaq dubbed “Inuk” were found in western Greenland (Qeqertarsuaq) and have been DNA sequenced. He had brown eyes, black hair, and shovel-shaped teeth. It has been determined that he lived about 4000 years ago, and was related to native populations in northeastern Siberia. The Saqqaq people are not the ancestors of contemporary Kalaallit people, but instead are related to modern Chukchi and Koryak peoples. It is not known whether they crossed in boats or over ice.

Image of Alaskan Inuk woman, 1907

In January 2018, journals and newspapers reported that geneticists had investigated the DNA of two prehistoric human children found at a location of a big game camp at Upward Sun River in central Alaska. The tests on the age of these remains suggest they are 11,500 years old. The remains were in such good condition that geneticists were able to extract DNA from one of them, a female. They compared the sample with the genes of people from around the world. 

The findings also suggest Alaska was likely populated 25,000 years ago, 10,000 years earlier than the time of arrival suggested by many archaeologists. This was the late Pleistocene era.

“It represents the oldest linage of Native Americans so far discovered,” said Professor Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge who co-authored the study documenting the findings.

“It’s the fact that this population is older than all other known Native American groups that makes it very important in addressing how the Americas were first populated,” he wrote in the study, published by the journal Nature.

They conclude that the ancestors of these infants started out in East Asia about 35,000 years ago. As they traveled east, they became genetically isolated from other Asians. At some point during the last ice age they crossed a frozen land bridge from Siberia to Alaska called “Beringia.”

Dr Ben E. Potter says during this great migration, either before or after they crossed the land bridge, this group (which the researchers call the founding population for all Native Americans) split again, into two populations. Scientists had suspected this and surmised that one group stayed put in and around Beringia. They call them Ancient Beringians.

Currently, we define Northeast Asia or East Asia as the eastern subregion of the Asian continent, which can be defined in either geographical or pan-ethno-cultural terms. Geographically and geopolitically, it includes China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan; it covers about 12,000,000 km2 (4,600,000 sq mi), or about 28% of the Asian continent. 

The study also showed that after 11.5 ka, some of the northern Native American populations received gene flow from a Siberian population most closely related to Koryaks (Koryaks are an indigenous people of the Russian Far East, who live immediately north of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Kamchatka Krai and inhabit the coastlands of the Bering Sea).

The Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian: полуо́стров Камча́тка, Poluostrov Kamchatka, IPA: [pəlʊˈostrəf kɐmˈt͡ɕætkə]) is a 1,250-kilometre-long (780 mi) peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of about 270,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi). The Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk make up the peninsula’s eastern and western coastlines, respectively. Immediately offshore along the Pacific coast of the peninsula runs the 10,500-metre (34,400-ft) deep Kuril–Kamchatka Trench.

Map showing Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Russia. The pink area is the Kamchatka Krai which includes some of the mainland to the north.

The Bering Sea is separated from the Gulf of Alaska by the Alaska Peninsula. It covers over 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi) and is bordered on the east and northeast by Alaska, on the west by Russian Far East and the Kamchatka Peninsula, on the south by the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands and on the far north by the Bering Strait, which connects the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea. Bristol Bay is the portion of the Bering Sea which separates the Alaska Peninsula from mainland Alaska. The Bering Sea is named for Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator in Russian service, who in 1728 was the first European to systematically explore it, sailing from the Pacific Ocean northward to the Arctic Ocean.

Understanding the period when the woolly mammoth and humans roamed the northern hemisphere, teaches us more about the climate and environment in which both moved. 
Placing the habitat of the woolly mammoth is known as “mammoth steppe” or “tundra steppe”. This environment stretched across northern Asia, many parts of Europe, and the northern part of North America during the last ice age. It was similar to the grassy steppes of modern Russia, but the flora was more diverse, abundant, and grew faster. Grasses, sedges, shrubs, and herbaceous plants were present, and scattered trees were mainly found in southern regions. This habitat was not dominated by ice and snow, as is popularly believed, since these regions are thought to have been high-pressure areas at the time. The habitat of the woolly mammoth also supported other grazing herbivores such as the woolly rhinoceros, wild horses and bison. A 2014 study concluded that forbs (a group of herbaceous plants) were more important in the steppe-tundra than previously acknowledged, and that it was a primary food source for the ice-age megafauna.

Finding preserved carcasses of the woolly mammoth has occurred over recent years. The environment where they flourished during the Pleistocene epoch, gives us an idea of the location of then migrating hunter/gatherers, some of the ancestors of the Native American population.

“We now have an enormous extension of the space that was inhabited at 45,000 years ago,” said Vladimir Pitulko, a senior research scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Paleolithic human remains are rarely found in the Eurasian Arctic. But all expectations were overturned in 2012, when a team found the carcass of an “exceptionally complete” woolly mammoth on the eastern shore of Yenisei Bay, located in the central Siberian Arctic, the researchers wrote in the study:

“The mammoth was nicknamed “Zhenya.” The final resting place of woolly mammoths was Wrangel Island in the Arctic. Although, most of the woolly mammoth population died out by 10,000 years ago, a small population of 500-1000 woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island until 1650 BC. That’s only about 4,000 years ago!”

Pitulko has so been studying bones since 1989 found in the Siberian Arctic. He has now pieced together the point when humans bred dogs for specific purposes, and that was around 9000 years ago.

Scientists hypothesize that when the Earth began warming it led to the wide availability of smaller prey, like reindeer, which replaced large creatures, like mammoths. Unlike mammoths, reindeer were attainable for people—especially with the help of dogs to follow and help hunt. “Before then, there was no real reason to have a dog. We turned to them when we really needed them,” Pitulko says.

Since, the human-dog relationship has evolved humans have initially bred them from wolves to dogs which assist the hunter. Over time, a bond has also grown between humans and dogs which has led to a close relationship and even mutual dependency. Arguably, the most important job dogs have historically had and continue to excel in is friendship. Our ancestors knew a friend when they saw one.

Across to Alaskan Glaciers

Since the 1990s, the retreat of glaciers in Alaska has made a disproportionally large contribution to global sea-level rise. The USGS reports that the state’s glaciers are losing 75 billion tons of ice annually, equal to the amount of water needed to fill Yankee Stadium 150,000 times each year.

During that time, the Gulkana Glacier has steadily diminished due to significantly warmer summers in interior Alaska and a relatively unchanged level of snowfall. Gulkana drains west into the Yukon River.

Meanwhile, the Wolverine Glacier, which is also shrinking, has experienced slightly cooler summers and more variability in winter temperatures. That glacier is a coastal system that flows into the Gulf of Alaska.

From the point of view of human archaeology, the last glacial period falls in the Paleolithic and early Mesolithic periods. When the glaciation event started, Homo sapiens was confined to lower latitudes and used tools comparable to those used by Neanderthals in western and central Eurasia and by Homo erectus in Asia. Near the end of the event, Homo sapiens invaded Eurasia and Australia. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source populations of Paleolithic humans survived the last glacial period in sparsely wooded areas and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity while avoiding dense forest cover. The retreat of the glaciers 15,000 years ago allowed groups of humans from Asia to migrate to the Americas.

Current studies show ancestors of Native Americans were not Palaeo-Eskimos, Inuits or Kets. It is shown that Native American gene flow into Inuits was through northern and not southern Native American groups. Further, the findings suggest that the far-northern North American presence of northern Native Americans is from a back migration that replaced or absorbed the initial founding population of Ancient Beringians.

The ocean is a complex and continuous body of water that covers two-thirds of our planet. Melting land and sea ice affect many of the properties that drive the ocean’s chemical, physical and biological processes. We humans have interfered with the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

As small islands in the Pacific seem to be losing land to the ocean at a rapid rate, the population know this process is accelerated because of the Anthropocene impact. They want redress. They seek a legal process to demand compensation for the crime of ecocide which has befallen their beautiful islands. An effort is currently being led by Polly Higgins. She has set up (https://mission to generate like minded legal representation to begin this process of asserting such a crime has been committed.

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2.5 Mya Africa: Homo habilis (Handy Man) to 15.5 thousand years ago in Americas

We all know how we each care about the location attributes of where we find ourselves living. We may be, currently, thousands of years down the line since our ancestors began to walk on two legs rather then four, but we all continue to seek shelter, food and water, and safety from harm. 

We grow out from our birth family and seek our own shelter as adults, intending to settle and maybe stay close to our extended family and/or move away and become part of another group or bigger community. Various groups of early humans seem to have done that, thus expanding the migratory, nomadic and exploratory behaviour of human temperament.

Whether we are nomadic or settled, we arrive at a place and we utilise the environment to extract what we need to live each day. We look for plenty of water, food sources, places to set up home. This is what it meant to be human thousands of years ago, and this is what it still means today.

All wild creatures have an acute sense of danger, and their existence depends on them being alert and wary of other predators. Human existence has obviously evolved to try and avoid death from more powerful animals, poisonous substances, high risk environments. This has always been a major challenge, as it has been for all non extinct present day creatures who inhabit this planet.

Early humans must have noticed how quickly the flesh fell away from dead things and left bones. These bones varied in size. Small bones could be used for delicate workings, big bones as weapons to kill or defend. To break a bone by smashing it with something very heavy, like a heavy rock, would reveal healthy marrow inside the bone to eat, which was highly nourishing. So the reward for using a tool, in this case a heavy stone, to break a strong bone, and find nourishment from marrow within the bone, will have been a first stage of understanding tool use. Chimps will use sticks to reach for food difficult to obtain, such as a food within a hollow of a tree. Utilising material found in the immediate environment as a tool was already part of the ancestral tree before it branched off to the human branch.

Where areas of the earth were not glaciated, in some places there were forests. Different trees had different attributes, bushes and tall grasses all could be used. Much of the knowledge of edible and poisonous berries and roots would have been known since way back in our branch of chimp ancestry. 

One day we came to understand how to make fire. This could be used to warm us, eventually to heat food, to brandish at threatening predators, to one day use to forge tools.

The Paleolithic era extends from the earliest known use of stone tools, probably by Homo habilis (see below how ‘handy man’ was so named) initially, 2.6 million years ago, to the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BP. It is estimated that 1 million humans were on the earth around 10,000 BP.

We find evidence across the world of pockets of early humans developing the ability over time to make tools, and apply them, in an increasingly sophisticated way. These were tools for making and creating useful everyday things, for scavenging more effectively to expand dietary choices. The rise in weapon standards for hunting and killing proved to be a necessary step to survive and cope with predators.

I have put together a list here of selected significant discoveries from Africa, to Europe to the Americas since upright man (Homo erectus) and handy man (Homo habilis).

The stage of development of our ancient ancestor, known as “upright man,” when walking on two legs instead of four, marked a new and useful stage of modern humans. The dating of bones of such ancestors has revealed they lived from 2 million years ago till about 100,000 years ago, possibly even 50,000 years ago. Their fossilised remains have been found across the globe, including South Africa, Kenya, Spain, China, and Java (Indonesia).

The early evolved “handy man” who made tools emerged in this same Pleistocene era.

Tool discoveries:

2.5 million years: Oldowan stone tools eg. Tanzania ancestor stage, Homo habilis. Used lava and quartz, which was the only form of stone available.

1.5 million years: Archeulian stone tools eg. Found in Lézignan-la-Cèbe, also Grotte du Vallonnet near Menton, France. Extensive stone tools, artefacts, remains found covering the Pleistocene era, found France, Spain. Used Flint 

1 million years: stone tools, Tanzania. Used Lava and Quartz.

800,000 years: stone tools Happisburgh, England. Used Flint.

500,000 years: Wood spears Schöningen, Germany

500,000 years: stone tools found with early human fossilised remains in Boxgrove, W.Sussex. Used Flint.

300,000 Neanderthals arrived in France, no doubt by watercraft (a vital tool).

280,000 years: Flint tools, Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco 

43,000 years: Cro-Magnons: oldest works of art in the world, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France

40,000 years: Migration of early humans arrive in Australia, most probably form Africa via Indonesia to islands in the Pacific region via land bridges where they arose.

30,000 years no further sign of Neanderthals in France

21,000 years: lithic technology, referred to as the Solutrean industry, France. The new Solutrean flint technology was far superior to anything that had been seen before. Many of the implements produced were arrow heads and spear points, usually leaf shaped, and exceptionally thin in cross section

15,500 years: Pre-Clovis stone tools, Debra L. Friedkin site,Buttermilk Creek, Texas, USA

The following terminology simply describes an early part of human tool industry, a vital indicator of their means of survival.


The Oldowan is the oldest-known stone tool industry. Dating as far back as 2.5 million years ago, these tools are a major milestone in human evolutionary history: the earliest evidence of cultural behavior. Homo habilis, an ancestor of Homo sapiens, manufactured Oldowan tools.

Image Oldowan tool


Very early Acheulean stone tools occur across most of Africa, except in rainforest regions. These tools have also been found throughout Eurasia, in more recent deposits south of the regions of Pleistocene glaciation. In Asia, they are known from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, and southeast Asia. In Europe, they reached as far north as the Danube and, further west, are known from France (where tools of this industry were first recognized), as well as the lower Rhine valley and southern Britain. Further north, glaciers prevented human occupation.

When the Leakey family began doggedly searching the Olduvai Gorge, or Oldupai Gorge, in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, (see The Leakey family were rewarded for their decades of hard work in finding ‘the origins of man’.  

They chose to search this steep sided ravine stretching across East Africa. It is about 48 km (30 mi) long, and is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in the Arusha Region not far, about 45 kilometres (28 miles), from Laetoli.

The Great Rift Valley as originally described was thought to extend from Lebanon in the north to Mozambique in the south, where it constitutes one of two distinct physiographic provinces of the East African mountains. It included what we would call today the Lebanese section of the Dead Sea Transform, the Jordan Rift Valley, Red Sea Rift and the East African Rift.

Today these rifts and faults are seen as distinct, although connected. These were only formed 35 million years ago.

Tanzania (/ˌtænzəˈniːə/),officially the United Republic of Tanzania (Swahili: Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania), is a sovereign state in eastern Africa within the African Great Lakes region. It borders Kenya and Uganda to the north; Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west; Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south; and the Indian Ocean to the east. Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, is in north-eastern Tanzania.

Some prehistoric population migrations into Tanzania include Southern Cushitic speakers who moved south from Ethiopia; Eastern Cushitic people who moved into Tanzania from north of Lake Turkana about 2,000 and 4,000 years ago; and the Southern Nilotes, including the Datoog, who originated from the present-day South Sudan-Ethiopia border region between 2,900 and 2,400 years ago. These movements took place at about the same time as the settlement of the Mashariki Bantu from West Africain the Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika areas. They subsequently migrated across the rest of Tanzania between 2,300 and 1,700 years ago.

Lava and quartz were used to make tools in Olduvai Gorge. Only in the period 1.65 to 1.53 ma was chert (Flint) used, and it presents a significant difference in appearance among the assemblages of Olduvai Gorge.

The archaeologist Pat Shipman provided evidence that scavenging was probably the more common practice; she published that the majority of carnivore teeth marks came before the cut marks. Another finding by Shipman at FLK-Zinj is that many of the wildebeest bones found there are over-represented by adult and male bones; and this may indicate that hominins were systematically hunting these animals as well as scavenging them. The issue of hunting versus gathering at Olduvai Gorge is still a controversial one.

Mary Leakey and son Jonathan found a small form of hominin that they called Homo habilis, translated as “handy human,” because it seemed he was able to use tools. This fossil was dated at about 2 million years old. This was confirmed when another son, Richard, discovered another Homo habilis in 1972.

The oldest definitive stone tools were found in the Gorge and date to 2.6 million years ago. 

Since the Leakey expedition, more recent discoveries of stone tools have been revealed by searching the Olduvai Gorge. Under the organizational umbrella of the Olduvai Geochronology Archaeology Project, an international team of scientists composed of a consortium of researchers and institutions have an ongoing study underway.  

Image of a large stone tool shown below is estimated to be 1 million years old. 

Image British Museum, Discott, Wikimedia

A handaxe from Olduvai Gorge, over 1 million years old. This stone tool is most often associated with Homo erectus, a hominin considered by many scientists to be a possible human (Homo) ancestor. Homo erectus is widely thought to be the first species to venture out of Africa to populate the Middle East/Eurasia. British Museum, Discott, Wikimedia Commons

Flint is generally considered the stone material of choice for early man, however this stone is only found in specific geological areas and so was one of mainly types of stone used through prehistory. Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones.

Certain types of flint, such as that from the south coast of England, contain trapped fossilised marine flora. Pieces of coral and vegetation have been found preserved like amber inside the flint. Thin slices of the stone often reveal this effect.

Puzzling giant flint formations known as paramoudra and flint circles are found around Europe but especially in Norfolk, England on the beaches at Beeston Bump and West Runton.

Flint sometimes occurs in large flint fields in Jurassic or Cretaceous beds, for example, in Europe.


This year (2017) a find in Morocco at the Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco located stone tools. These appear to date to the early Middle Stone Age, an ancient cultural stage in the north, east, and south of Africa that began around 280,000 years ago.

At the site, fragments of burned flint suggested that humans used fire intensely there.


Stone tools discovered at Lézignan-la-Cèbe in 2009 indicate that early humans were present in France at least 1.57 million years ago.

The Grotte du Vallonnet near Menton contained simple stone tools dating to 1 million to 1.05 million years BC. Cave sites were exploited for habitation, but the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic era also possibly built shelters such as those identified in connection with Acheulean tools at Grotte du Lazaret and Terra Amata near Nice in France. Excavations at Terra Amata found traces of the earliest known domestication of fire in Europe, from 400,000 BC.

The Neanderthals are thought to have arrived there around 300,000 BC, but seem to have died out by about by 30,000 – they are likely to have bred with the hominins they met in the region. We also know the Neanderthals were seafaring and they probably set off to find warmer climates. But the Stone Age skills will have evolved and been added to their arsenal of abilities. Evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals was found in Neanderthal settlements Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles. Cannibalism appears throughout human history, and perhaps was a genetic trait carried on, since we all possess some Neanderthal genes.

The earliest modern humans – Cro-Magnons – were present in Europe by 43,000 years ago during a long interglacial period of particularly mild climate, when Europe was relatively warm, and food was plentiful. When they arrived in Europe, they brought with them sculpture, engraving, painting, body ornamentation, music and the painstaking decoration of utilitarian objects. Some of the oldest works of art in the world, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France, are datable to shortly after this migration.

Map Solutrean Industry

Towards the end of the Palaeolithic period, around 21,000 years ago, humans living in what is now France and Spain, developed a very finely crafted and technically sophisticated lithic technology, referred to as the Solutrean industry (from the type site in the Solutrè region of eastern France). The people who developed this new technology were probably the same people who executed the beautiful cave paintings at Altamira and Lascaux (right) and other cave sites that also date from the Upper Palaeolithic. Their innovations are thus seen as part of the first flowering of human artistic expression that has survived. 

Although humans had been making finely flaked bifaces (“hand axes”) of the Acheulian type for hundreds of thousands of years, the new Solutrean flint technology was far superior to anything that had been seen before. Many of the implements produced were arrow heads and spear points, usually leaf shaped, and exceptionally thin in cross section.

These finely produced spear heads are unlike other prehistoric tools found globally.

Solutrean industry images

Image: Solutrean tools, 22,000–17,000 BP, Crot du Charnier, Solutré-Pouilly, Saône-et-Loire, France

There is indirect evidence for Paleolithic ocean travel, perhaps to the Americas. Although no boats have been found, we now know that by at least 40,000 years ago, watercraft carried a founding population to Australia. By 28,000 years ago, flintknappers were collecting raw materials from islands far off the Japanese coast. And closer to Spain, Paleolithic peoples inhabited some of the Mediterranean islands at least 14,000 years ago.(see Dennis Stanford, an anthropologist with The Smithsonian Institution and Bruce Bradley, an archaeologist with University of Exeter, put forward this theory in a paper published in World Archaeology in 2004 and, in expanded form, in their book ‘Across Atlantic Ice’ (2012).

Four wooden spears made around 400,000 years ago were found in Schöningen in Germany. The 2m spears were found in soil whose acids had been neutralised by a high concentration of chalk near the coal pit. Such spears (made of yew or spruce) would have been thrusting weapons not javelins, due to their poor piercing power as a projectile so would have required the hunters to ambush their prey. This was the likely scenario are Schoningen where (based on environmental data) the hunters would have been hiding in reeds around a large lake waiting for a group of wild horses who they ambushed. 

Boxgrove, W.Sussex, England

Boxgrove (UK) gives further evidence of spear use for hunting large fauna, here a horse scapula was found with what appears to be a hole from a fire hardened spear. Boxgrove is one of the best, if not the best, site where a fossilised early human remains have been discovered and many stone tools from 500,000 years ago.

Horse shoulder blade or scapula from Boxgrove, England, about 500,000 years old

Image Credit: James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
Stone tools images from Boxgrove


Many exciting PreClovis sites are being discovered over the Americas. These all show later Pleistocene hominins existence in the Americas. There are theories as to how they arrived, and whether their nomadic life included leaving by some watercraft, perhaps finding sources of food to take to other locations.

Buttermilk Creek, Texas – Unknown to many, but placed on the map in early 2011 when Texas A&M University anthropologist Michael Waters, plus his team, painstakingly excavated an archaeological site, known as the Debra L. Friedkin site, for years. 

They found 15,528 artifacts at the Buttermilk Creek Complex, as researchers are now calling the assemblage, which contained evidence of small blades, choppers and scrapers.

Some of the images of the numerous artefacts

“Most of these are chipping debris from the making and resharpening of tools,” said Waters, “but over 50 are tools. There are bifacial artifacts that tell us they were making projectile points and knives at the site. There are expediently made tools and blades that were used for cutting and scraping.”

Waters and his associates used Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating, a technique that measures the amount of light energy trapped over thousands of years in minerals within the sediment surrounding artifacts. Professor Steven Forman of the University of Illinois at Chicago worked with Waters at the site, collecting 50 core samples from two sites at Buttermilk Creek for testing. “We found Buttermilk Creek to be about 15,500 years ago — a few thousand years before Clovis” said Forman. “We dated the sediments by a variety of optical methods. We also dated different mineral fractions as well, and we consistently got the same ages. We looked at the age structure of the sediment by many different ways and got the same answers.”  

Most significantly, the findings constitute more evidence that Paleo-Indians settled the Americas before 13,000 – 13,500 B.P.E., the earliest date range that has traditionally been assigned to the emergence of the “Clovis” cultural horizon

Said Waters, “We’re looking at another pre-Clovis locality in North America where, in this case, bone weaponry was used to hunt mastodons 800 years before Clovis stone weaponry show up on the landscape.”

I’m surmising……

From my perspective, this all looks like it took around million years to evolve from Oldowan to Archeulian tools. Thereafter, the incremental improvement in skills, highlighted in the amazing French (and Spanish examples, not detailed here) reveal tens of thousands of years to create more sophisticated artefacts until the late Pleistocene. We then note high sophistication of the Solutreans, but less sophistication in those groups living far away on another continent, the Americas. To be able to live in one geographical area and build a population who can pass on skills to their descendants seems to be the striking key to progress in the Iberian Peninsula and France. This may be linked to the Moroccan site of recent interest. Perhaps some Neanderthals when they were in France, sailed back to Africa, having begun their travels in East Africa, thousands of years before, taking with them the stages of skill developed whilst visitors to France.

We can all have opinions on this, given the findings presented so far. I look forward to more pieces of this exciting jigsaw being made available for us to imagine our ancestral routes and value this Planet which has provided for us since our inception.

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Flooding in the Americas: Neolithic farming

Starting about 12,900 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was abruptly gripped by centuries of cold, as mentioned in previous blogs, the Younger Dryas. Scientists have suggested this chill helped wipe out most of the large mammals in North America as well as the so-called Clovis people. 

There must have been so many events which destroyed emerging human cultures, leaving little, if any, trace of their existence.

Mighty floods, such as the Noah’s Arc tale, are described anecdotally throughout the world, by most diverse cultures. The stories are similar: few survivors remain to begin human existence once more after the flood. 

The source of one such flood was apparently the glacial Lake Agassiz, (see located along the southern margin of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which at its maximum 21,000 years ago was 6,500 to 9,800 feet (2,000 to 3,000 meters) thick and covered much of North America, from the Arctic Ocean south to Seattle and New York.

“The flood was likely caused by the sudden breaking of an ice dam,” said researcher Alan Condron, a physical oceanographer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Prior to the flood, meltwater is thought to have drained into the Gulf of Mexico, down the Mississippi River. After the dam broke, the water rapidly flowed into the ocean via a different river drainage system.” (See

Some scientists recently suggested this meltwater may have flooded into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie Valley about 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) northwest of the St. Lawrence outlet.

Floods occur regularly all over the world. They may not disrupt the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, as in this pouring of freshwater into the oceans, but they cause terrible destruction.

There is a precious area of land, known as the American Bottom which is part of the Mississippi Flyway used by migrating birds and has the greatest concentration of bird species in Illinois. The flood plain is bounded on the east by a nearly continuous, 200–300 foot high, 80-mile (130 km) long bluff of limestone and dolomite, above which begins the great prairie that covers most of the state. The Mississippi River bounds the Bottom on its west, and the river abuts the bluffline on the Missouri side. Portions of St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, and Randolph counties are in the American Bottom. Its maximum width is about 9 miles (14 km) in the north, and it is about 2–3 miles in width throughout most of its southern extent.

Mississippi Flyway image

24 years ago, the Great Flood of 1993 hit major portions of the southern Bottom. 47,000 acres (190 km²) of land below Columbia, Illinois was inundated, destroying the town of Valmeyer. 


The waters came within five feet of overtopping the East Saint Louis levee. If they had run over, they would have flooded 71,000 acres (290 km²) and destroyed this urban industrial area. More than nine feet of floodwater covered the town of Kaskaskia in 1993 after it overtopped the levee; only the spire of the Catholic church and roof of a nearby shrine rose far above the waters.


Like the Mississippians, Americans made massive changes in the floodplain; their development has reduced its ability to absorb floods. The destruction of wetlands and paving over of areas along all the major rivers has increased the severity of flooding over the decades, despite attempted engineering solutions for flood control, which in turn have exacerbated flooding.

Farming and Flooding

Pockets of humans around the world, from about 10,000–7000 years ago (8000–5000 BC), began to apply their growing brains to solve food supply issues. This has been classified as The Neolithic revolution. Agriculture forever changed the interaction between humans and the world around them. This was highly beneficial to their survival, but also has become such a science that the harmful effects can now be catalogued.

Genius of genetically engineered Maize!

Around 7000 years ago an incredibly important food stuff was developed. It was Maize. 
Image of Maize Development

Early farmers noticed a wild grass (Teosinte) originally growing in Central America. Recent research this century indicate the Balsas River Valley of south-central Mexico as the center of domestication. The culture is poorly understood but is believed to have developed during the Middle and Late Preclassic periods of Mesoamerican chronology, between 700 and 200 BC. The culture continued into the Classic period (c.250-650 AD) when it coexisted with the great metropolis of Teotihuacan. These farmers somehow interbred the grasses and created maize. Maize is now a staple diet for many citizens of the world, but only the people of the Americas knew of it for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.

Hundreds of years later, now in North America,  one concentrated group of farmers centred their maize farming in, what we now call Cahokia; they had learned to grow maize so successfully they could support large communities.

‘Cahokia, situated north of the Rio Grande, was a huge collection of farmers packed cheek by jowl. It had few specialized craftworkers and no middle-class merchants. The total number was about 15,000 people. They were of the Mississippian culture, known as the Mound Builders. They lived around between 950 to 1250 AD. Most of the area has clayey soil that is hard to till and prone to floods. Cahokia was located next to the largest stretch of good farmland in the entire American Bottom. At its far edge, a forest of oak and hickory topped a line of bluffs. The area was little settled until as late as 600 A.D., when people trickled in and formed small villages, groups of a few hundred who planted gardens and boated up and down the Mississippi to other villages……..extract from ‘1491: The Americas before Columbus’.

Through their expert cultivation of maize they were able to create food surpluses and build concentrated settlements in the centuries after 600 CE. The Cahokia Mounds Site, which was built as the center attracted a rapid increase in population after 1000 CE. It is a six-square mile complex of large, man-made, earthen mounds rising from the flood plain. Despite using the local clay they engineered a method of building which supported the higher structures, working with water and clay to retain the mounds. In 1982, the Mound Site was designated by UNESCO as one of only eight World Heritage Sites in the United States……..but how much longer will such sites be preserved and protected?

President Trump has withdrawn from UNESCO’s activities: “UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.” The White House gave a statement: “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

Despite their brilliant engineering skills, leaving us these amazing mounds to study and admire, the Cahokian leaders also got too ambitious with their building activities.

“Cahokia’s rulers were setting themselves up for future trouble. By mining the forests upstream for firewood and floating the logs downriver to the city, they were removing ground cover and increasing the likelihood of catastrophic floods. When these came, as they later did, kings who gained their legitimacy from their claims to control the weather would face angry questioning from their subjects.”

Cahokia declined and was lost due to flooding.

Humans seem to carry this flaw of sticking too long with a ‘good thing’ ….never seeing our resources are finite, and that by robbing one area will inflict damage on another. We get out of balance so easily and do not take into account how this wonderful planet will tip off balance if we do not respect her. Sometimes she tips off balance without our help! As when mighty asteroids hit (see previous blog) but we cannot afford to take risks with the fragile balance we all need for our survival.

Understanding where we have gone wrong in our misuse of flood plains is only now dawning on us in retrospect. Now we must plan our urban sprawl with nature in mind. See

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Mesoamerican “cradle of civilisation” and the Osmec head sculptures

66 million years ago a massive asteroid hit the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in what we now call the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Amazingly, much of the earth healed eventually, and new creatures evolved to replace those which had been killed, even the dinosaurs extinction left us with birds, descendants of those mighty creatures. 

Map of Chicxulub crater

For more current research see

Then, 2.8 million years ago North and South America joined with an isthmus, impacting on living creatures to pass to and fro between these land masses.

In the last 14,000 years our ancestors have evolved and spread around the world. By 1800 only 1 billion humans populated the earth. There may have been more at times, but disasters may have befallen other human-like populations. Our current form has multiplied exponentially to a 2017 population of over 7 billion – and counting.

We humans began to make life easier by creating cooperative civilisations. Staying in one place and settling began when groups of humans created stability by finding an abundance of water and food through hunting, fishing and gathering resources including cereals.

Civilisations developed independently. Archaeologists discovering these lost kingdoms have designated these as ‘cradles of civilisation’. Where art had been given status by the civilisation and preserved in the right geological conditions for us to see thousands of years later, we have the luxury to marvel at the art and compare the findings. In this blog I am comparing the various civilisations and their sculpting of heads.

Best known ‘cradles of civilisations’ are briefly described as follows, with examples of sculpted heads:

The earliest we know of was the Natufian culture:

The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture (/nəˈtuːfiən/) existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture.

see my August blog on the Fertile Crescent,

Sumerians of Mesopotamia:

Sumer, the southernmost region of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait). The name comes from Akkadian, the language of the north of Mesopotamia, and means “land of the civilized kings”. The Sumerians called themselves “the black headed people” and their land, in cuneiform script, was simply “the land” or “the land of the black headed people”. They dominated Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

Mesopotamians generally, and the Sumerians specifically, believed that civilization was the result of the gods’ triumph of order over chaos.

Whoever these people were, they had already moved from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one prior to 5000 BCE – around 7 thousand years ago.

Image of Timeline (from

Image of Votive Statues, from the Temple of Abu, Tell Asmar c.2500 BC, limestone, shell, and gypsum

Image of carved kings

Ancient India:

Ancient India is often called the Harappan Civilization because one of the ancient cities was called Harappa. Harappa was just one of 1500 cities in the Indus River Valley. Another well-known city is called Mohenjo-Daro. Historians estimate Ancient India to be the biggest of all four early civilizations. 

The Indo-Gangetic plains of NW India and Pakistan are one of the cradles of Old World Bronze-age civilizations. Here, the Indus civilization (~4.8 – 3.9 thousand years before the present (ka B.P.) formed one of the first urban civilizations, before abruptly declining. Prevailing theory in archaeology suggests that 3rd millennium urbanization was only possible in association with large perennial river systems to provide water for irrigation. In the case of the Indus civilization, the most extensive set of urban settlements occur in a region with no present day perennial rivers. 

Statue of a Priest in Mohenjo-Daro

Ancient Egypt

Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of inter-related cultures as far south as Sudan, demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert; it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and use of copper. The oldest known domesticated bovine in Africa are from Fayum dating to around 4400 BC. The Badari cultures was followed by the Naqada culture, which brought a number of technological improvements. As early as the first Naqada Period, Amratia, Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes. By 3300 BC, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper Egypt to the south, and Lower Egypt to the north.

Egyptian civilization begins during the second phase of the Naqda culture, known as the Gerzeh period, around 3500 BC and coalesces with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt around 3150 BC. Farming produced the vast majority of food; with increased food supplies, the populace adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle, and the larger settlements grew to cities of about 5,000 residents.

Bearded male figure Egypt, predynastic, Amratian-Gerzean (Naqda I-lib)

Kings of Egypt

Ancient China:

Chinese refer to the Yellow river as “the Mother River” and “the Cradle of Chinese Civilization”. That is because the Yellow River was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilizations in the Xia (2100–1600 BC) and Shang (1600–1046 BC) eras — the most prosperous region in early Chinese history.

Image of Shang mask

Chavín of Peru:

Norte Chico has established an earlier estimate for complex societies in the Peruvian region by more than one thousand years. The Chavín culture, circa 900 BC, had long been considered the first civilization of the area.

They carved heads with tusks into fortress walls.

The Olmec of Mesoamerica:

Evidence of pre Olmec Mesoamericans has been traced to Soconuscoe dated to around the period when the Votive statues (above) were carved. the first civilisation known to us in Mesoamerica.

Around 3000 years ago, the ancient Olmec of Mesoamerica, located in Mexico were motivated to sculpt enormous heads out of volcanic rock. 

Deep in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, (now Veracruz and Tabasco) and out of an evolving small population centred in Soconusco, grew the first largest Mexican civilisation. They were the Olmecs.

This was Mesoamerica’s formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. 

They left us amazingly heavy and detailed head sculptures.

These heads (sometimes with torsos) were sculpted from from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land. The principal source of this heavy stone was Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains. The heads were sculpted using hard hand-held stones and it is likely that they were originally painted using bright colour. (See

Image of Monument 4 from La Venta with comparative size of an adult and child. The monument weighs almost 20 tons.

These fascinating people were capable of great art.

The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America’s most striking.
And as if this exercise of carving huge heads and the engineering of moving their immense weight to chosen locations had become something to transmit to some future human population, a few thousand years later it happened again, but on the Pacific Island of Rapu Nui. 

The powerful image of head sculptures resonates with us today. Even if we can’t view them in situ, we can see from the photographed images, how they seem to strike some deep memory in our ancestral global knowledge. We feel it. We can’t articulate the meaning, but this great effort and artistic skill was, in my opinion, a message to humans then and now. They felt the urge to create iconic heads in overlapping periods of civilisations on different continents, isolated yet somehow connected. 

We should not minimise the bond of communication which transcends language and is deeply felt by humans who are open to the transmissions. For I am sure it is what makes most of us aspire to be guardians of this planet, rather than destroyers.

Rapa Nui

Map of island

By 1200 C.E, Polynesians settled on Rapa Nui (also known as “Easter Island” – named by the island’s first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722, while searching for Davis or David’s island). The early Polynesian settlers also felt the urge to sculpt huge heads. These are the famous Moai, but no one can yet explain them. 

Rapu Nui was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century and now maintains an economy based largely on tourism. The Rapa Nui people currently make up 60% of Easter Island’s population and have a significant portion of their population residing in mainland Chile.

The Moai heads are carved from Tuff, which is an easily carved, compressed volcanic ash. The tuff quarries are located in an extinct volcano called Rano Raraku on the northeastern part of the island [Radford 2012]. The torsos of the heads have sunk into the ground over time, so that the dramatic sight of only heads is what most of us are familiar with (see

Image of Moai

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The seafaring Neanderthals and their descendants, the seafaring Pacific Islanders

We are learning far more about ourselves thanks to the Human Genome Project. Adding this avalanche of new findings to what has been collected by other branches of discovery since, for example, the Taung child skull found in South Africa by Raymond Dart, 1925, seem to be getting us closer to how branching migratory activity mingled small groups of our human ancestors.

We have used the term ‘Neanderthal’ (sometimes spelled with the ‘h’)  as a derogatory and humorous description of a non too bright character. But now we find we carry Neanderthal genes and they have great significance, indeed respect is due!

Some news I picked up at

“In a recent annual meeting of The American Society of Human Genetics, researchers announced that some “Neandertal” genetic variants inherited by modern humans outside of Africa are not peculiarly Neandertal genes, but represent the ancestral human condition. The work highlights just how much diversity was lost when people passed through a genetic bottleneck as they moved out of Africa. 

“They left many beneficial variants behind in Africa,” says evolutionary genomicist Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who reported the results. “Interbreeding with Neandertals provided an opportunity to get back some of those variants, albeit with many potentially weakly deleterious Neandertal alleles as well.” 

His team found the ancient African variants when they scrutinized the genomes of more than 20,000 people in the 1000 Genomes Project and Vanderbilt’s BioVU data bank of electronic health records. They soon noticed a strange pattern: Stretches of chromosomes inherited from Neandertals also carried ancient alleles, or mutations, found in all the Africans they studied, including the Yoruba, Esan, and Mende peoples. The researchers found 47,261 of these single-base changes across the genomes of Europeans and 56,497 in Asians, Capra says. In Eurasians these alleles are only found next to Neandertal genes, suggesting all this DNA was inherited at the same time, when the ancestors of today’s Eurasians mated with Neandertals roughly 50,000 years ago.”

Which type of ancestor met with the Neanderthal is becoming traceable through the Genome research.

The Andamans are theorised to be a key stepping stone in a great coastal migration ( of humans from Africa via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Oceania.
Haplogroup Map

Classification of peoples has been a historical process, just as names of nations, boundaries of countries, counties, towns, villages has been a method of differentiating one from another, from the outside in, very often. These perspectives have been drawn by those in a position of power to decide and write these terms into our ‘educational’ materials. The terms might be challenged by those viewings from the inside out, but it is rare there are changes made. Only when a nation seeks independence from a once greater power, may a nation choose its own name for example. But the name may still be chosen on behalf of the citizens, rather than by them.

Take the name Apache. The name Apache comes from a Zuni word meaning “our enemies”; their own names for themselves are Ndee, Inday, and Dine’é, which mean “the people” in their languages. Today most Apache people also use the name “Apache,” which is frequently spelled Abachi or Abaachi in their own orthographies. Spelling variants on these names include Apachi, Nde, Dine’, Dine’e, Tineh, Tinde, Chinde, Inde, Indé, Indee, and Nnee. 

Then we ask ourselves, what is a Zuni word? And the Internet answers with: “Most live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. Zuni is 55 km (34 mi) south of Gallup, New Mexico. In addition to the reservation, the tribe owns trust lands in Catron County, New Mexico and Apache County, Arizona.” Obviously the tribes they called Apache were their enemies.

And then we ask how old this tribe is? And the answer comes “Archeologists believe Zuni history began well before 2500 B.C. when the tribe moved into the Southwest as big game hunters. Between 2500 B.C. and 700 A.D. the Zuni Indians made their first attempts at agriculture and hunted smaller game. Historians believe it was during this period they started making pottery and weaving baskets.”

And they came up with the word ‘Apache’ and it stuck.

So it was, in 1832, a French explorer, Dumont D’Urville classified the peoples of Oceania into four racial groups: Malaysians, Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians. D’Urville’s model differed from that of Bory de Saint-Vincent in referring to ‘Melanesians’ rather than ‘Mélaniens.’ The concept of ‘race’ sprang out of early anthropology which is best consigned to the bin of ignorance, but labels are still used until we can throw off race related ignorance.  

Jonathan Friedlaender states, “The first settlers of Australia, New Guinea, and the large islands just to the east arrived between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago………” See my August 25th blog for more on that subject.

We have also noted earlier from the Genome Project, that, “In Eurasians these alleles are only found next to Neandertal genes, suggesting all this DNA was inherited at the same time, when the ancestors of today’s Eurasians mated with Neandertals roughly 50,000 years ago.”

There were certain health risks which evolved. One unpleasant example Is evidence that modern genital warts – otherwise known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) – were sexually transmitted to Homo sapiens after our ancestors slept with Neanderthals and Denisovans once they left Africa.

So it isn’t all good news about sleeping with cousins, it took is thousands of years to learn not to do that!

I’m first finding out about ‘Melanesia’. 

Most of the peoples in Melanesia have established independent countries, are admistered by France or have active independence movements (in the case of West Papua). Many have recently taken up the term ‘Melanesia’ as a source of identity and “empowerment.” Stephanie Lawson writes that the term “moved from a term of denigration to one of affirmation, providing a positive basis for contemporary subregional identity as well as a formal organisation”. For instance, the author Bernard Narokobi wrote about the “Melanesian Way” as a distinct form of culture that could empower the people of this region. The concept is also used in geopolitics. For instance, the Melanesian Spearhead Group preferential trade agreement is a regional trade treaty among Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.” Wikipedia.

Map image

The original inhabitants of the group of islands now named Melanesia were likely the ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people. Migrating from Southeast Asia, they appear to have occupied these islands as far east as the main islands in the Solomon Islands, including Makira and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.

They are known as the Lapita culture, and, like our ( Neanderthals ancestors, were expert in seamanship and navigation, reaching out and finding islands separated from each other by hundreds of miles of empty ocean. Their descendants, the Polynesians, would populate islands from Hawaii to Easter Island.

Present evidence from fossils defines Neanderthals as evolving in Europe, separate from modern humans in Africa for more than 400,000 years. They are considered either a distinct species, Homo neanderthalensis, or more rarely as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (H. s. neanderthalensis). They will have been separated due to our constantly changing planet, and the search is on for other species of ancestor who may have evolved separately until meeting at some location.

Based on his genetic studies of the Denisova hominin, an ancient human species discovered in 2010, Svante Pääbo claims that ancient human ancestors of the Melanesians interbred in Asia with these humans. He has found that people of New Guinea share 4%–6% of their genome with the Denisovans, indicating this exchange. The Denisovans are considered cousin to the Neanderthals. Both groups are now understood to have migrated out of Africa, with the Neanderthals going into Europe, and the Denisovans heading east about 400,000 years ago. This is based on genetic evidence from a fossil found in Siberia. The evidence from Melanesia suggests their territory extended into south Asia, where ancestors of the Melanesians developed.

Another study suggests:

“Europeans have no hint of Denisovan ancestry, and people in China have a tiny amount – 0.1 percent, according to Bohlender’s calculations( Ryan Bohlender, a statistical geneticist from the University of Texas). But 2.74 percent of the DNA in people in Papua New Guinea comes from Neanderthals. (See

Melanesians of some islands are one of the few non-European peoples, and the only dark-skinned group of people outside Australia, known to have blond hair. The blonde trait developed via the TYRP1 gene, and is not found in European blonds.

The mutation, which has no obvious advantages, likely arose by chance in one individual and drifted to a high frequency in the Solomon Islands because the original population was small, says Jonathan Friedlaender, an anthropologist emeritus at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. “This whole area seems to have been populated by very small groups of people making it across these stepping-stone islands, so you do have very dramatic effects in fluctuations of gene frequency.” See

Image of blond hair trait

Lapita Pottery identifier

When archaeologist began finding pottery remnants on the various islands they named them as Lapita. The term ‘Lapita’ was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, xapeta’a, which means ‘to dig a hole’ or ‘the place where one digs’, during the 1952 excavation in New Caledonia. The Lapita archaeological culture is named after the type site where it was first uncovered in the Foué peninsula on Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. The excavation was carried out in 1952 by American archaeologists Edward W. Gifford and Richard Shulter Jr at ‘Site 13’. 

Their culture or tradition was prehistoric just as the Zuni Indians in the Americas (between 2500 B.C. and 700 A.D. ) and the island of Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC. Almost a parallel existence, and since no one knows exactly, maybe they were developing separately but from a split migration from some point in the past.

The Lapita pots were usually created by any materials that were accessible, as well as the techniques used to make such detailed designs. The low-fired earthenware pottery, often tempered with shell or sand, is typically decorated with a dentate (toothed) stamp. It has been theorized that these decorations may have been transferred to or from less hardy mediums such as tapa (bark cloth), mats or tattoos. Undecorated “plain-ware” pottery is an important part of the Lapita cultural complex, which also includes ground-stone adzes and shell artefacts, and flaked-stone tools of obsidian, chert and other available rock, as well as the remainders of breakers, cooking pots, and bowls.

Image of pottery (see

The great arc of islands located north and east of Australia and south of the Equator is called Melanesia (from the Greek words melas, “black,” and nēsos, “island”) for the predominantly dark-skinned peoples of New Guinea island, the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (the New Hebrides), New Caledonia, and Fiji.

The study found a high rate of genetic differentiation and diversity among the groups living within the Melanesian islands, with the peoples distinguished by island, language, topography, and geography among the islands. Such diversity developed over their tens of thousands of years of settlement before the Polynesian ancestors ever arrived at the islands. For instance, populations developed differently along the coasts than in more isolated valleys.

In the archaeological record there are well-defined traces of this expansion which allow the path it took to be followed and dated with some certainty. 

It is thought that by roughly 1400 BC, “Lapita Peoples”, appeared in the Bismarck Archipelago of north-west Melanesia. This culture is seen as having adapted and evolved through time and space since its emergence “Out of Taiwan”. They had given up rice production, for instance, after encountering and adapting to breadfruit in the Bird’s Head area of New Guinea. In the end, the most eastern site for Lapita archaeological remains recovered so far has been through work on the archaeology in Samoa. The site is at Mulifanua on Upolu. The Mulifanua site, where 4,288 pottery shards have been found and studied, has a “true” age of c. 1000 BC based on C14 dating. 

A 2010 study places the beginning of the human archaeological sequences of Polynesia in Tonga at 900 B.C., the small differences in dates with Samoa being due to differences in radiocarbon dating technologies between 1989 and 2010, the Tongan site apparently predating the Samoan site by some few decades in real time.

Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita archaeological culture spread 6,000 kilometres further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. The area of Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa served as a gateway into the rest of the Pacific region known as Polynesia. Ancient Tongan mythologies recorded by early European explorers report the islands of ‘Ata and Tongatapu as the first islands being hauled to the surface from the deep ocean by Maui.’

Solomon Islands

Five of the Solomon Islands have disappeared into the Pacific Ocean due to rising seas and erosion, in what Australian researchers say is the first major effect of climate change on the coastlines and people of the Pacific.

The Solomon Islands archipelago has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 0.4 inches, according to research published in Environmental Research Letters. Using aerial footage, radiocarbon dating of trees and traditional knowledge, researchers discovered that five tiny islands that existed in 1947 had completely disappeared by 2014.

On top of the uninhabited, submerged islands—which range in size from 2.5 to 12.4 acres—six other islands have seen chunks of land washed into the sea, forcing entire villages on two of them to be relocated. One of the islands affected was Nuatambu, which lost half its habitable area since 2011, including 11 houses.

The Solomon Islands is a nation made up of hundreds of islands, with a population of about 640,000 people.

Tectonic Background

The M=8.1 earthquake that occurred in the Solomon Islands on April 1, 2007 (UTC), was located along the Solomon Islands subduction zone, part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. A subduction zone is a type of plate tectonic boundary where one plate is pulled (subducted) beneath another plate. For most subduction zones that make up the western half of the Ring of Fire, the Pacific plate is being subducted beneath local plates. In this case, however, the Pacific plate is the overriding or upper plate. There are three plates being subducted along the Solomon Islands subduction zone: the Solomon Sea plate, the Woodlark plate, and the Australian plate (see figure below). A spreading center separates the Woodlark and Australian plates. More detailed information on the plate tectonics of this region can be found in Tregoning and others (1998) and Bird (2003). See

And so humans continue to struggle for survival against difficult odds.  

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Fragility of human existence: following the migration of hominins

The first humans to arrive in the Americas out of Africa would have been faced with crossing the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the long migration through Asia to Beringia, or maybe through hops over Pacific islands. The migration of our ancestors was due to their need to find less hostile environments, just as thousands have to migrate today.

We know the formation of islands and continents took place over thousands of years. We also know, as happens now, islands rise, then become submerged, then others rise, due to volcanic activity, tectonic movements beneath the oceans. Landmasses of continents expand and reduce. Some become more fertile, others become inhospitable. The climate  changes because of so many likely events such as El Niño – see and unexpected events such as the terrible earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan.

Could the land now submerged have been the route for migrant humans? Certainly there is evidence that humans arrived in the Americas thousands of years before Columbus. Or did their route always hug coastlines? 

Only today we find the media carry stories with this headline ‘9.7 Million-Year-Old Teeth Found in Germany Belong to Hominin Only Known To Have Existed in Africa 4 Million Years Later’. Such amazing finds are challenging long standing theories around the origin of man focussing on the Out of Africa evidence.  Nothing is ever fact, only conjecture. A ‘proof’ must be challenged as technology becomes more sophisticated to refine the process of challenge.

We now know the climate suffered catastrophic collapse ( “The last ice age wasn’t one long big chill. Dozens of times temperatures abruptly rose or fell, causing all manner of ecological change. Mysteriously, ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica show that these sudden shifts—which occurred every 1500 years or so—were out of sync in the two hemispheres: When it got cold in the north, it grew warm in the south, and vice versa. Now, scientists have implicated the culprit behind those seesaws—changes to a conveyor belt of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).”

See also:

The turning point as the warm water of the Gulf Stream (named and charted by Benjamin Franklin whilst he was stationed in England in 1776) is pushed down by the cold waters north of Scotland and the Global Conveyor begins its deeper journey of cold water back around the oceans. In the 16th to 18th centuries,  Spanish sailors who became aware of the fast river of current which is the Gulf Stream, used it to secretly gain advantage over other nations ships. They found they could travel on the current from the Americas back home at 100 miles per day (5.6 mph).

Image of AMOC

Image of Global Conveyor

We do need to accept that we are only building a jigsaw puzzle of evidence and applying theories to the known evidence. As we seek to understand our origins, we hope to understand our fragile existence and to learn to minimise human harm in the future based on Anthropocene evidence of our trail of destruction.

In recent years the dreadful earthquake and massive tsunami over Japan 11 March 2011 (see has led to years of debris crossing from Japan to Canada and the USA. Obviously people are sharing tragic stories ever since the event occurred, but the flow of debris is an opportunity to learn more about currents, winds and Pacific ocean flow. Looking at the graphic below one can imagine the natural, yet seemingly impossible, direction from east to west which might cause a human presence to cross this vastness somehow in the ancient past.

NOAA graphic:

Such devastation to humankind will have occurred many times as the evolving hominins attempted to migrate to more stable areas of land. When groups were nearly made extinct they had to survive through inbreeding until they met other hominins. This pattern of inbreeding can be found amongst ancient Mesoamericans who would appear to have survived near extinction events. But more of that in future blogs.

This time I have gathered information about the Pacific which remains vast and hugely interesting on so many levels.

The Pacific is 161.8 million km². It was formed out of the Panthalassa, (Old Pacific or Paleo-Pacific or Proto-Pacific) from its centre in the Mesozoic to the present.

Graphic of Panthalassa:

During the Paleozoic—Mesozoic transition c. 250 Ma it occupied almost 70% of Earth’s surface. Its ocean-floor has completely disappeared because of the continuous subduction along the continental margins on its circumference.

Graphic of submerged continents:

The Pacific and Atlantic were joined until as recently as 2.8 million years. A new study has shown the Isthmus of Panama formed around 2.8 million years ago splitting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Beneath the Pacific is the largest tectonic plate, and like all tectonic plates it is continuously moving, north-west at a speed of 56–102 mm (2.2–4.0 in)/year. It is 103 million square kilometres (40,000,000 sq mi).

Graphic of Pacific tectonic plate from

The movement resulted in islands such as Baja California (also home to numerous islands off both of its shores. The westernmost point in Mexico, the Guadalupe Island, is part of Baja California. The Coronado, Todos Santos and Cedros Islands are also on the Pacific Shore. On the Gulf of California, the biggest island is the Angel de la Guarda, separated from the peninsula by the deep and narrow Canal de Ballenas. 

Other famous islands Hawaii ( the island of Oahu, about 75 miles southeast of Kauai, was formed about 3.4 million years ago. The island has two inactive volcanoes, Waianae and Koolau. Waianae is about 2.75 million years old, while Koolau is about 2.5 million years old. In areas where the plates come together, sometimes volcanoes will form. Volcanoes can also form in the middle of a plate, where magma rises upward until it erupts on the seafloor, at what is called a “hot spot.” The Hawaiian Islands were formed by such a hot spot occurring in the middle of the Pacific Plate.

The Pacific Plate is almost entirely oceanic crust, but it contains some continental crust in New Zealand, Baja California, and coastal California.

The early human migration may have involved Asian routes via islands such as the Philippines. The Pacific, Australian and Indian plate have continued to push inward to Asia thus creating 7, 107 islands of the now, Philippines. This is an example of possible island hopping routes which could have been made by humans when opportunities arose.

The earliest known human remains in the Philippines are the fossilised remains discovered in 2007 in the Callao Caves in Cagayan. The 67,000-year-old find predates the 47,000-year-old Tabon Man, which was until then the earliest known set of human remains in the archipelago. The find consisted of a single 61 millimeter metatarsal which, when dated using uranium series ablation, was found to be its current age. If definitively proven to be remains of Homo sapiens, it would also be one of the oldest human remains in the Asia-Pacific. 

The Indo-Australian plate lies south of the Eurasian and the Philippine Seaplates. It is generally oceanic, being submerged by Indian and Pacific Oceans, but it holds two gigantic land masses – the island continent of Australia and Indian subcontinent. Recent researches, however, show that these two land masses are moving independently of each other, thus, may actually be parts of separate plates.

(For animation for the Philippine formation see

The Philippine Sea plate is east of the Eurasian plate. It is the bedrock of the major islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Marianas. 

Philippine formation graphics

The territory of the Philippines is composed of many island arcs formed by several incidents of subduction. The island arcs are collectively called Philippines island arc system. Each major Philippine island had a complex natural history. 

With the exception of Palawan, Mindoro and Romblon, most of the Philippine islands are considered to have been parts of island arcs formed at the southern edge of the Philippine Sea plate millions of years ago. As part of the Philippine Sea plate, the islands moved northward as the plate rotated clockwise. These roving islands, known as the Philippine Mobile Belt, eventually collided with the Sundaland. The collision resulted, among others, in a series of subductions around Philippine archipelago. (

Studies of Chinese populations show that 97.4% of their genetic make-up is from ancestral modern humans from Africa, with the rest coming from extinct forms such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The Zhirendong hominins, for instance, could represent an exodus of early modern humans from Africa between 120,000 and 80,000 years ago. Instead of remaining in the Levant in the Middle East, as was thought previously, these people could have expanded into east Asia, says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK.

There are many mysteries which we may never solve, but we are trying. For example, there are ancient scripts in the form of pictograms that suggest Chinese explorers may have discovered America long before Europeans arrived there. These were located at the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The epigraph researcher John Ruskamp photographed and enhanced symbols which he found etched into rock

So many researchers are considering the submerged continent of Sundaland as the possible home of Eastern mankind, and therefore the route from Asia to the Americas before Sundaland sank beneath the waves. ( see the above graphic of the Global Conveyor – it passes through the area which was Sundaland, known for its warm climate when Sundaland was a likely home to early hominins).

Graphic showing Sundaland location:

Skulls found in the Upper Cave at Choukoutien / Zhougoudian, the “Peking Man” cave represent two of the “Asiatic” populations of Eastern Asia at the time and are derived from Sundaland / Lemuria.

First migrations along these lines started out of Africa about 100000 years ago. The older population was mostly wiped out but then a newer population came in, with both males and females, but the males also took mates of surviving females out of the older population. We know this because of the peculiar mismatch in dates between Y-DNA and mtDNA strains here.

See also :
Human migrations

Previously the human migrations was believed to take the direction Southward from East Asian mainland to Taiwan and to the rest of Maritime Southeast Asia. However recent findings pointing to the submerged Sundaland as the probable cradle of Asian population, thus generated the “Out of Sundaland” theory. (Stephen Oppenheimer, an Oxford scientist proposed the “Out of Sundaland” theory.

In a study from Leeds University and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, the research examined mitochondrial DNA lineages revealing humans have been evolving within Islands of Southeast Asia for a longer period than previously believed. Population dispersals occurred at the same time as sea levels rose, which may have resulted in migrations from the Philippine Islands to as far north as Taiwan within the last 10,000 years. 

The population migrations were most likely to have been driven by climate change – the effects of the drowning of a huge ancient continent Sundaland. This happened during the period 15,000 to 7,000 years ago following the last Ice Age. The rising sea levels in three massive pulses caused flooding and the submergence of the Sunda Continent, creating the Java and South China Seas and the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia and the Philippines today.

The new findings from Human Genome Organisation also shows that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event from the south. They found genetic similarities between populations throughout Asia and an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. Although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in Southeast Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred very recently, following the development of rice agriculture — within only the last 10,000 years.

Stephen Oppenheimer located the origin of the Austronesian in Sundaland and its upper regions. Genetic research reported in 2008 indicates that the islands which are the remnants of Sundaland were likely populated as early as 50,000 years ago, contrary to a previous hypothesis that they were populated as late as 5,000 years ago from Taiwan.

When we consider examples of catastrophic events we can imagine that if humans were populating the Americas at the time of one of these events, they would be wiped out. We can learn from near extinction events. What happened in the past contributes to our understanding of the future.  

Here is an example from

Recent research has revealed there was a catastrophic release of fresh water from a vast South American lake at the end of the last Ice Age. It was significant enough to change circulation in the Pacific Ocean, according to new research co-authored by a PhD student from the University of Bristol.

“This study is important because we are currently concerned about the volumes of fresh water entering the oceans from the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and this gives us an indication of the likely effects,” the study’s lead author, Professor Neil Glasser from Aberystwyth University said.

The lake was about one third the size of Wales, and it drained several times between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago, with devastating consequences. It was held back by a dam formed by a large ice sheet, the lake drained rapidly as the ice sheet shrank in size.

At its high point the lake extended over 7,400km2, held 1500km3 of water and occupied a basin which now contains Lago General Carrera in Chile (see the magnificent marble caverns at and Lago Buenos Aires in Argentina

Professor Glasser said: “This was a massive lake. When it drained, it released around 1150km3 of fresh water from the melting glaciers into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – equivalent to around 600 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This had a considerable impact on the Pacific Ocean circulation and regional climate at the time.

“Much of the freshwater drained into the sea near Golfo Peñas, south of the Chilean capital Santiago. (See

Image of lighthouse at Gulf of Peñas:

The fresh water would have sat on top of the salt water as it spread out so it affected the regional ocean currents. The event affected the whole of southern South America and would have led to lower rainfall in winter and cooler ocean and air temperatures around Cape Horn, with the effects felt as far east as the Falkland Islands.”

The study, which applied different techniques to investigate the size of the former lake and how it drained, was undertaken by an international team of scientists, including Max Holloway, a PhD student in Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences.

Whether the idea of a catastrophic event is one close to home, or one that might take out 99 percent of life on this planet, it is felt emotionally by humans as we must have ancestral memory of the fear, loss and devastation. May we keep learning and understanding all we can about this wonderful planet and treasure it in our daily lives.

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