Obsidian and Power: Part One

One of the most fascinating subjects I personally keep returning to is the area around the Gulf of Mexico and that point in Earth’s history when she was hit by a massive asteroid and the millions of years of global non avian dinosaur existence came to an end. I’ve written blogs previously, dipping into findings from books and online, to research ongoing history of that most cursed and blessed location.

Beginning with the impact of a large meteorite, at the site of Chicxulub Crater, just west of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researchers noted higher levels of iridium at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–Pg boundary), (see Alvarez Nobel Prize winning hypothesis, 1980, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous–Paleogene_boundary) which occurred approximately 65 to 66 million years ago (Ma). This extinction event resulted in 75 percent extinction of animal and plant species in a geologically short period of time, recorded in studies of the sediment from the point of the crater to areas around the world.

In addition to finding increased levels of iridium, recent research of the asteroid sent carbon, embedded in the rocks, vaporising due to the impact, forming tiny airborne beads (carbon structures) that blanketed the planet. This was discovered in 2008 by Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper’s lead author, Mark Harvey. The scientists concluded the cenospheres could have been created by a new process, the violent pulverization of the Earth’s carbon-rich crust.

Scientists now estimate the total mass of carbon cenospheres ejected by the asteroid collision, assuming a global distribution, to be perhaps as much as 900 quadrillion kilograms. Only animals underground and creatures underwater could have survived when the air burned so hot.

In 2018, scientists are warning that the earth is heating up to the level where we, who have flagrantly sought and burned fossil fuels, are close to the brink of a further 2 degree increase in temperature which will be the tipping point from which we can no longer save ourselves. The sixth extinction will begin.

Map of earth 66 million years ago

Around the same time as the asteroid hit, the largest volcanic range in the world was erupting – the Deccan traps in India.

Image of Deccan Traps

Here is an extract from information on the volcanic Deccan Traps in India, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deccan_Traps

“In addition, there is some evidence to link the Deccan Traps eruption to the asteroid impact which created the Chicxulub crater in the Mexican state of Yucatán. Although the Deccan Traps began erupting well before the impact, argon-argon dating suggests that the impact may have caused an increase in permeability that allowed magma to reach the surface and produced the most voluminous flows, accounting for around 70% of the volume. The combination of the asteroid impact and the resulting increase in eruptive volume may have been responsible for the mass extinctions that occurred at the time that separates the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, known as the K–Pg boundary.”

The land-living dinosaurs were destroyed but they were victims of a perfect storm; a devastating meteorite hitting the worst ever point on Earth, and volcanic eruptions of the Deccan Traps concurrently occurring.

But we humans have been on Earth for a blip of time compared to the lumbering dinosaurs. We know Africa has the longest record of human habitation in the world since the first hominins emerged, but that was just 6-7 million years ago. Whilst our ancestors evolved, the earth changed what it had to offer for humans to adapt or die as they took on the challenge to survive. Over time, Homo sapiens had acquired adaptive abilities to survive in many friendly but also seemingly hostile environments. Their genetics and interbreeding passed on protections from disease, skills for survival and abilities to assess new situations and environments. Our adaptable nature seems like a great asset, but the Earth has been plundered by us again and again as we expect more and more from its bounty. We see threats – we turn them into opportunities. We see volcanoes, yet we live close to them. (Fossils of early hominins were found in the East Rift Valley – a volcanic area, see an earlier blog https://borderslynn.com/2018/02/19/the-great-rift-valley-route-out-to-world-exploration/)

Volcanoes are  

….generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging, and most are found underwater. For example, a mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates whereas the Pacific Ring of Fire has volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the crust’s plates, e.g., in the East African Rift and the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and Rio Grande Rift in North America. This type of volcanism falls under the umbrella of  ‘plate hypothesis’ volcanism. Volcanism away from plate boundaries has also been explained as mantle plumes. These so-called  ‘hotspots’, for example Hawaii, are postulated to arise from upwelling diapirs with magma from the core–mantle boundary, 3,000 km deep in the Earth. Volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another. Extract from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcano.

Most volcanoes are located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates can slide beneath one another and cause a disturbance. We have only learned about tectonic plates in the past 60 years. In 1912 the meteorologist Alfred Wegener amply described what he called continental drift, expanded in his 1915 book The Origin of Continents and Oceans, and the scientific debate started that would end up fifty years later in the theory of plate tectonics.

The size of the volcano eruption depends on how much time a volcano has had to build up pressure — some of the biggest volcano disasters came after a long period of dormancy. 

Early August 2018 saw the 6.9 mag earthquake hit the Indonesian islands in the Pacific of Bali, Lombok and islands nearby. 

A supervolcano eruption about 74,000 years ago on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra caused a large-scale environmental calamity that may have decimated Stone Age human populations in parts of the world. But some populations, it seems, endured it unscathed.

Scientists said excavations at two nearby archeological sites on South Africa’s southern coast turned up microscopic shards of volcanic glass from the Mount Toba eruption, which occurred about 9,000 kilometres away.

Mount Toba belched immense amounts of volcanic particles into the atmosphere to spread worldwide, dimming sunlight and potentially killing many plants. It was the most powerful eruption in the past two million years and the strongest since our species first appeared in Africa.

Hawaii’s largest island has been devastated by the volcano Kilauea, the biggest and most active of the island’s five volcanoes and is one of the most active in the world. It is situated on the southern shore of Hawaii’s “Big Island”. It has been erupting consistently since 1983 after a period of being dormant. Yet beautiful homes have been built in its shadow and farming has been extensive because of fertile soils. Now much is covered beneath foul smelling, burning lava.

Timeline of events from May 3,2018

May 3, 2018: The volcano erupted dramatically several hours after a magnitude-5.0 quake struck the Big Island.

The eruption spewed lava into residential subdivisions in the Puna district of the Big Island, prompting mandatory evacuations of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions

Lava flow on May 3 was caused by a series of earthquakes on the eastern side of the Big Island

The island’s largest earthquake in more than 40 years struck a day later on May 4

The magnitude 6.9 tremor hit near the south part of the volcano, following a smaller quake that rattled the same area

May 12: The USGS reported a shallow but small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5 had struck the island

May 13: New fissures roaring like jet engines and spewing magma opened up, piling lava as high as a four-story building

The 300m long crack is the 17th to have opened since the volcano began erupting

Locals say 45kg chunks of lava were hurled into the air as smoke and steam spewed into the air

May 15: Rumours circulated suggesting the volcano could cause a “mega-tsunami” – these claims were refuted by Hawaii County officials

May 16: Plumes of between 3,000 to 6,000 feet rose from the volcano

The Hawaiian Electric Company restored power to all 571 customers in Aiea affected by a power outage on the morning

May 17: The volcano erupted sending a plume of ash six miles into the air – Kilauea was also blasting out “ballistic blocks” the size of kitchen appliances

May 20: A man was injured by “lava splatter” – projectile molten rock – whilst he sat on his balcony

May 25: A 4.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the summit of Kilauea, according to the US Geological Survey

June 3: A 5.5 magnitude earthquake rattled the summit of Kilauea sending an ash plume 8,000 feet into the sky, officials said.

The huge quake was one of 500 in the summit area in a 24 hour period – which is a record for the Hawaiian volcano

June 5: A growing river of molten rock flowing from a fissure at the foot of the volcano is believed to have demolished scores of additional homes.

The latest estimates – up to 80 more structures – could bring the total number of homes and other buildings lost over the past month to nearly 200.

The massive lava flow has filled in a small bay at the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, civil defence officials said.

June 18: Lava continued to spew out of the volcano. More than 600 homes are believed to be destroyed by the violent eruptions.

July 16: Lava bomb sent molten rock crashing through tourist boat injuring 23 following another eruption

This description illustrates the human vulnerability to Nature and explains why humans have always been drawn to the magnificence of such power contrasted at the same moment with pure terror experienced by many who flee for the lives.

When the land masses of South America collided with the land mass which we now call North America, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans were created, separating a much larger ocean in two and the land bridge (Panama) allowed land animals to move between North and South. This event occurred 2.8 million years ago, not long after what we refer to as the beginning of the dramatic Pleistocene, 2.5 million years BP. This area is a tectonic plate meeting point.

Almost all of Mexico sits atop the south-west corner of the massive North American plate (see map). Immediately to the south is the much smaller Caribbean plate. The North American plate extends westwards from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs through Iceland and down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to the western edge of North America. In a north-south direction, it extends from close to the North Pole as far south as the Caribbean.

For more details see http://geo-mexico.com/?p=6277

Image of major Six Mexican Volcanoes which form the volcanic axis:

Left to right Ixtaccíhuatl, Popocatépetl, Matlalcueitl (Malinche), Cofre de Perote (most distant), Pico de Orizaba, Sierra Negra
Map of Mexico and volcanic sites

And map of obsidian sites

Since the Stone Age skills acquired by humans were extensive by the time the Osmec and Lapita cultures developed. Amongst other skills, they were by now adept at making tools, some of which were used to carve sophisticated and huge statues from the volcanic rock. Volcanic basalt rock is easier to carve than many other forms of rock. See my earlier blog on carved heads from basalt in Mexico, Easter Island at https://borderslynn.com/2017/11/19/mesoamerican-cradle-of-civilisation-and-the-osmec-head-sculptures/

Obsidian was valued in Stone Age cultures because, like flint, it could be chipped to produce hand axes, sharp blades or arrowheads.

Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans’ used obsidian often. It was worked for tools and decorative objects. It was also polished to create early mirrors. Mesoamericans also made a type of sword with obsidian blades mounted in a wooden body. Called a macuahuitl, the weapon could cause terrible injuries, because it combined the sharp cutting edge of an obsidian blade with the ragged cut of a serrated edge.

Native American people traded obsidian throughout North America. Each volcano and in some cases each volcanic eruption produces a distinguishable type of obsidian. So archaeologists can trace the origins of a particular artifact. Obsidian can be identified in Greece as coming from different islands in the Aegean Sea. Obsidian cores (unworked lumps) and blades were traded great distances inland from the coast.

Obsidian was named after a Roman explorer named Obsius who reportedly visited Ethiopia. His name serves as the origin of the term since his discovery of its use whilst on his travels in Ethiopia where obsidian was traded. 

Obsidian is more often dark, the colour varies on the presence of different materials. Iron and magnesium typically give the obsidian a dark green to brown to black color. A few samples are nearly colorless. In some stones, small crystals produce a snowflake pattern (snowflake obsidian). It may contain patterns of gas which produce effects such as a golden sheen (sheen obsidian) or a rainbow sheen (rainbow obsidian).

Image of obsidian:

The characteristics of the Lapita culture are the extension of human settlement to previously uninhabited Pacific Islands scattered over a large area, distinctive geometric dentate-stamped pottery, the use and widespread distribution of obsidian, and the spread of Oceanic languages.

The Lapita culture or tradition was a prehistoric Pacific Ocean people from c. 1600 BCE to c. 500 BCE, running concurrently with the amazing Osmec “cradle of civilisation” of Mesoamerica. 

Both used obsidian for practical and ornamental use. The Lapita sources of obsidian have been researched and presented in a paper http://members.peak.org/~obsidian/pdf/summerhayes_2009.pdf.  

Obsidian sources in Mesoamerica are limited in number and distribution, and are restricted to the volcanic regions of the Sierra Madre Mountains as it runs through Mexico and Guatemala.

The range extends from northern Sonora state near the Mexico-U.S. border at Arizona, southeastwards to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and Sierra Madre del Sur ranges. The high plateau that is formed by the range is cut by deep river valleys. This plateau is formed from volcanic rock overlying a basement of metamorphic rock.

Over thousands of years, the intelligent evolving human brain eventually recognised obsidian and ancestral memory ensured knowledge of its potential. The dexterous human hands honed the glass-like structure into whatever was required. From Africa, after travelling over thousands of years, this knowledge was passed down to generations and still, today, obsidian is used in beautiful jewellery and sometimes in the medical world as special scalpels for delicate work.  

In Part Two we will see how the Teotihuacan civilisation grew to become a major influence for centuries thanks to recognising the potential of an obsidian monopoly.

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Habitat, genetics and us

As the last Ice Age melts at a fast pace, the upside of that news is that researchers are finding more and more ancient bones, skeletons and artefacts which were previously locked under permafrost. The knowledge accumulating about the kind of habitat extinct life forms experienced has enabled animators to depict paradise-like scenes where amazing creatures roamed before the ice overwhelmed their pleasant pastures. All the science gathered is informing the creative world and together they bring us stunning images to educate and inform us.

Now our human lineage is also clearly identified on an interactive ‘family’ presented here by The Smithsonian at http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-family-tree

We can begin to understand how the human family have moved on to seek less hostile environments when they felt the necessity and had acquired sufficient confidence with new skills of survival. Once hunted themselves by many fierce creatures, they became hunters and their gathering and storing skills became more sophisticated over time. When arriving in a place of plenty, they settled and became farmers, living in cooperative groups, supporting one another.At some point they began to meet other groups from different branches of the family tree who had developed different genetic patterns. The groups would interbreed and their offspring would acquire some helpful and some not so helpful genes as they evolved.

As the human brain grew through experience and acquiring a diverse range of food sources, the human digestive system also evolved.

Early hominins, living 3 to 3.5 million years ago, got over half their nutrition from grasses, unlike their predecessors, who preferred fruit and insects (forest dwellers whose diet was similar to chimpanzees).

This is the earliest evidence of eating savannah plants, says Julia Lee-Thorp at the University of Oxford. She found high levels of carbon-13 in the bones of Australopithecus bahrelghazali, which lived on savannahs near Lake Chad in Africa.

Just as massive gorillas are vegetarian and whose strength and barrel chest have similarities to Neanderthals, so the vegetarian route to build a diverse gut microbiome evolved.

It is likely that both modern humans and Neandertals descended from Homo heidelbergensis. When Neanderthals and modern humans interbred after thousands of years of separation, the genetic result was that humans around the globe carry the now extinct Neanderthal, genes to between 2 and 3 percent.

Compared to the Neandertals and other late archaic humans, modern humans generally have more delicate skeletons.

Geneticist Professor Tim Spector, in his book The Diet Myth says:

Early hominids like Australopithecus who lived between two and five million years ago were half our size and had much bigger molars than we have. These humans probably didn’t eat much meat apart from insects or reptiles, as they were not fast, agile or bright enough to catch much unless it was already dead. A couple of million years ago during the Ice Age, Africa cooled down and fruit became scarcer. Our Home erectus ancestors, in order to survive, now had to find better hunting and gathering techniques. Studies of chimps show they can take up to eleven hours to chew raw meat properly, so humans wanting better things to do with their time had to work around this. They initially developed stone tools to cut up the tubers, roots and raw meat into smaller pieces.”

It was not until around 100,000 years ago that humans began to light fires to cook their food and thus reduce the time it took to chew before swallowing. They could also dwell in caves, lit by firelight, once too dangerous for them with caves being home to various human predators. Fire warmed their ‘home’, protected them from many dangers, helped them cook and develop hunting tools using heat from the fire to create fixing materials for their tools – fire just enabled more innovation to assist their survival.

As Tim Spector said:

This opened up many more possibilities, as cooked food reduced toxins and the incidence of food poisoning, and allowed much more energy to be extracted from food in a short time.  Importantly, it freed up the valuable time we had previously spent collecting, then eating and digesting the tough roots we’d gathered and the occasional bit of raw meat.

Now that we were eating cooked food, we needed less of the digestive juices and enzymes as well as less fermentation time, so the lower part of our gut shrank accordingly. With the intestines using less energy and receiving more calories from the cooked vegetables and meat, our brains rapidly grew bigger and we became vastly more efficient at hunting meat, a great source of calories.”

In Siberia, there is a location called the Lugovskoe ‘mammoth graveyard’ by scientists Alexander Pavlov and Eugeny Mashchenko. This is a swampy area where thousands of bones of mammals – mainly mammoths – have been unearthed by scientists since the 1990s. It remains unclear to what extent our ancestors ate the woolly mammoth when other, perhaps more succulent, food sources were available. Yet a related discovery last year in Lugovskoe was the remains of a 13,270 year old fireplace belonging to archaic humans in this region. 

The current theory is that mammoth bone was burned with charcoal, the fat from the bone giving a superior heat. Anton Rezvy, 39, head of the palaeontological department of the Khanty-Mansiysk Museum of Nature and Man, explained: ‘The vertebra was found in Lugovskoe mammoth cemetery.’

Other uses for mammoth remains have been discovered. There is evidence of these humans using the giant tusks as support structure and then laying the skins of mammoths in sections over the top to create an enclosed family home. This was recently demonstrated in a documentary series on BBC by Bristol University. Another illustration of astonishing discoveries since caves, such as the one found in Transylvania, have been explored and Siberia is yielding up mammoth finds in once frozen tundra.

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Before humans there were many forms of life

Timeline: Pre-human evolution

The earth is about 4.54 billion years old and the first life dates to at least 3.5 billion years ago.

I found the following useful https://dinosaurpedia.wordpress.com

I have referred back to Scotland (where I live) as this country has some ancient geology well worth a visit by anyone who wants to walk on rocks older than many places found elsewhere.

First Life:  3,000 MYA (Million Years Ago)

The first living things on Earth were very simple, single-celled forms of life. There were bacteria and a type of algae called blue-greens. Fossils of blue-greens and bacteria have been found in rocks 3,000 million years old. The hot springs in Yellowstone Park, North America contain bacteria and simple algae. Perhaps this scene is similar to 3,000 million years ago when life began.

Here in Scotland the oldest rocks are the Lewisian gneisses, which were formed in the Precambrian period, up to 3,000 Ma (million years ago). They are among the oldest rocks in both Europe and the World. They form the basement to the west of the Moine Thrust on the mainland, in the Outer Hebrides and on the islands of Coll and Tiree. These rocks are largely igneous in origin, mixed with metamorphosed marble, quartzite and mica schist and intruded by later basaltic dykes and granite magma. One of these intrusions forms the summit plateau of the mountain Roineabhal in Harris. The granite here is anorthosite, and is similar in composition to rocks found in the mountains of the Moon.
Image of anorthosite:

Torridonian sandstones were also laid down in this period over the gneisses, and these contain the oldest signs of life in Scotland. In later Precambrian times, thick sediments of sandstones, limestones muds and lavas were deposited in what is now the Highlands of Scotland.

Example of rocks NW Highlands of Scotland courtesy of http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-6rbOcjzrszo/TjGDFrObbSI/AAAAAAAAApo/v5KcIN4rJLs/s1600/Book_1.png

The Paleozoic Era

543 MYA

From the start of the Cambrian period 543m years ago, the number of animal species grew dramatically. The fossil record goes from showing no animal fossils to suddenly showing tracks and body fossils all over the globe. All major animal groups, including the ancestors of vertebrates, showed up over just a few tens of millions of years (a short period in geological time).

Life In The Sea: 600 – 530 MYA

Before fish, the seas were home to other creatures. Many of them were like sea animals that live today. There were jellyfish, shellfish called brachiopods and many sorts of sea worms. One type of animal that hasn’t survived is the trilobite. Trilobites were sea creatures with hard bodies like armour, which were jointed so that they could move. They had legs like those of shrimps. To protect themselves some would curl up into a ball, rather like a woodlouse.

Leafless Plants & Insects: 410 – 380 MYA

The first plants were leafless and flowerless and no more than 4 or 5 cm tall. They lived in boggy ground. Through this miniature jungle, scorpions hunted milipedes that fed on the plants.

Fish Teem In The Sea: 390 MYA

The first animals with backbones were fish. It is thought that sometime during this period Eusthenopteron, a fish that used its front fins to help it ‘walk’, crawled out of the water to live on land. It was the ancestor of land animals.

Amphibians Rule: 370 – 280 MYA

Amphibians live on land and in water, where they lay their eggs. Amphibians evolved from fish. At this time in history amphibians were very successful. Some amphibians were quite big. Icthyostega was about 1 m long. It looked a bit like a fish and had scales and a fin, but it had legs and could walk on land, although it spent most of its time in water.

NB. Recent findings:

…..pond scum first made landfall almost 100 million years earlier [320 MYA]

 “[This] study has important global implications, because we know early plants cooled the climate and increased the oxygen level in the Earth’s atmosphere,” conditions that supported the expansion of terrestrial animal life, says Tim Lenton, an earth system scientist at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom who was not involved with the work. 

Mesozoic Era Diagram:

220 MYA

These locations of dinosaur remains have been listed at http://ark-survival-evolved.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Dinosaurs_by_Location

Dinosaurs began life during an era we call The Jurassic. They lived successfully for 160 million years up to the fatal asteroid strike 65 million years ago.

Unlike us, they adapted particularly well to life on this planet. We are still trying to adapt, but I don’t think we have millions of years to look forward to for much needed evolved attributes.

Reasons for their success:

They had evolved scaly, waterproof skin. The overlapping scales kept the dinosaur dry and protected it.

They laid hard-shelled eggs which helped many young to survive.

Dinosaurs could walk on land more easily than many of the other animals of the time, so they could find food and escape from enemies quickly.

Some dinosaurs ate plants and some ate meat. This meant that there was usually enough food to go round.

We humans, on the other hand, began evolving a mere 3 million years ago, and I think we would agree, we don’t have the staying power of dinosaurs! We have already plundered our generous planet and are looking for other planets to move to.

Here in Scotland, as the Jurassic (201–145 Ma) started, the earth continents were on the move. Pangaea began to break up into two continents, Gondwana and Laurasia, marking the beginning of the separation of Scotland and North America. Sea levels rose, as Britain and Ireland drifted on the Eurasian Plate to between 30° and 40° north. Most of northern and eastern Scotland including Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides remained above the advancing seas, but the south and south-west were inundated. 

Picture: Giant footprint of dinosaur found in Scotland 2108 on Isle of Skye, CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH/PA WIRE

The 170 million-year-old tracks were made in a muddy lagoon off the north-east coast of what is now the Isle of Skye

“Their long-necked prints are almost car tyre size whereas the meat-eater ones are about the size of a basket ball.”
Dr Brusatte added: “The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find.

When the fatal asteroid struck, what actually happened?

(See also a relevant previous blog written at the end of last year: https://borderslynn.com/2017/11/19/mesoamerican-cradle-of-civilisation-and-the-osmec-head-sculptures/

Researchers recovered rocks from under the Gulf of Mexico that were hit by the asteroid. The nature of this material records the details of the event. It is becoming clear that the 15km-wide asteroid could not have hit a worse place on Earth.

In 2008 a geologist, Mark Harvey conducted research while he was a master’s student at IU Bloomington. Claire Belcher (University of London) and Alessandro Montanari (Coldigioco Geological Observatory) also contributed to the study. It was funded by the Geological Society of America, the Indiana University Department of Geological Sciences, and the Society for Organic Petrology.

Harvey measured carbon cenospheres, from the Yucatan out to areas around the world. Carbon cenospheres are a classic indicator of industrial activity,” Harvey said. “The first appearance of the carbon cenospheres defines the onset of the industrial revolution.” But in choosing to study where the asteroid hit he found the further he went away from the site of the asteroid impact, the smaller were the carbon cenospheres. The conclusion from that research is that the strike must have aerosolized massive oil fields under the Yucatan at that time and set them ablaze. 

Carbon embedded in the rocks was vaporized by the impact, eventually forming new carbon structures in the atmosphere,” said Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper’s lead author, Mark Harvey.

The tiny airborne beads blanketed the planet, assuming a global distribution, to be perhaps as much as 900 quadrillion kilograms. 

That was why it was the worst place for the asteroid to hit.

The reptilian dinosaurs died out due to their reliance as land living creatures, unable to find shelter or safety of any kind.

An article in the Daily Mail gave an impression of what the disaster may have been like:

Within 10 hours of the impact, a massive tsunami wave ripped through the Gulf coast.

This caused earthquakes and landslides in areas as far as Argentina. 

The creatures living at the time were not just suffering from the waves – the heat was much worse.

While investigating ‘dooms day’ researchers found small particles of rock and other debris that was shot into the air when the asteroid crashed.

Called spherules, these small particles covered the world with a one-tenth inch thick layer of soot.

Experts explain that losing the light from the sun caused a complete collapse in the aquatic system as the phytoplankton base of almost all aquatic food chains would have been eliminated.

It’s believed that the more than 180 million years of evolution that brought the world to the Cretaceous point was destroyed in less than the lifetime of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is about 20 to 30 years.

Scientists are taking rock core samples from the impact zone in Mexico, known as the Chicxulub crater.

The site of the crash of Chicxulub has been on record since the 1980s and is home to the impact that is more than 100 miles (160km) in diameter, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Scientists have also discovered signs of a massive tsunami around the Gulf coast.

They believe the asteroid hit Earth with such force that, within 10 hours, a huge wave made its way along the coast, causing mass destruction. 

The wave would have caused sand to end up on dry land, while plants would have been thrown into the ocean. 

Signs of this geological mix up can still be seen today in sedimentary layers of rock that mark the final day of the Cretaceous period.

The blast also triggered earthquakes and landslides in regions as far away as Argentina.

But perhaps the most devastating result of the impact was the intense heat that followed.  

The asteroid caused tiny particles of rock to shoot into the air and settle into a thin layer across the world.

The kinetic energy carried by these spherules is colossal, about 20 million megatons total or about the energy of a one megaton hydrogen bomb at six kilometer intervals around the planet,’ University of Colorado geologist Doug Robertson told the Smithsonian.

That kinetic energy would have produced intense heat, beginning around 40 minutes after impact and lasting for several hours.”

According to Penn State researcher Russ Graham, the lifestyles of mammals gave them an advantage when the asteroid struck the area. In response to a “probing question” published on the university’s website, Graham opined that mammals that used burrows or lived in aquatic environments would have been shielded from the intense heat that briefly followed the impact. Once the heat was off, mammals could come back out and make the most of the remaining food resources. There may not have been enough food for dinosaurs, but the more generalized tastes of mammals allowed them to hang on.

Researchers recently announced they had found evidence that a string of volcanoes in a region of India known as the Deccan Traps doubled their activity around 50,000 years after the Chicxulub impact.

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The Great Rift Valley route out to world exploration

The Red Sea (also the Erythraean Sea) is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The sea is underlain by the Red Sea Rift which is part of the Great Rift Valley, that stretches across East Africa, it is about 48 km (30 mi) long. It is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in the Arusha Region not far, about 45 kilometres (28 miles), from Laetoli. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez (leading to the Suez Canal). 

Map of Red Sea

The Leakey family famously searched the Olduvai Gorge (within the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania) and found the fossilised remains of Homo habilis who was time dated to have occupied Olduvai from 1.9 mya. This led to further understanding the origins of the human race. From this area, over thousands of years, some of the early hominids moved away from their place of origin and travelled eastward and northward.

Topography of the Olduvai Gorge area

Map showing distance between Ethiopia and Tanzania

In Ethiopia, the remains of ‘Lucy’ (the common name of AL 288-1) in several hundred pieces of bone fossils representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. In Ethiopia, the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 in Africa, near the village Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Researchers are constantly tracing of the migrations within and Out of Africa.

Some early hominids moved to the Sudan and developed cultures, such as those who built around 200 pyramids. Meroe was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, which was ruled by the Nubian kings. Up to 4,600 years old, the pyramids of Meroe were built in the what’s known as Nubian style, marked by steep slopes and small bases.
Image of pyramids

Yet other hominids moved across the dry bed of the Red Sea (the northern hemisphere ice age trapping all the water which would later flow and fill this important sea, with its wonderful and flourishing diversity being explored in the last decade – see http://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2015.195)

The hominids became adventurers, moving through the Arabian Peninsula into Asia. The climate changed over tens of thousands of years and hominids evolved and adapted, their brains grew with knowledge and experience.

Those who settled in ancient Yemen noted the twice yearly monsoons and developed irrigation systems to exploit these rains as they fell on the mountainous south west. This is where the frankincense tree was cultivated and large oases across this area were cultivated for millennia by the ancient people. There the date palms grew. Camels were first hunted as food, but later domesticated. Urban societies grew into cities until the Peninsula lay between two great powers by the 4th millennium B.C. Egypt to the west and Mesopatamia to the north east.

Some hominids had travelled to the Mediterranean. In 1993 bones of a young girl were discovered in a cave. In 2018, it was reported that an orthodontist has been able to reconstruct the young girl given the moniker of Avgi (‘Dawn’), who lived during circa 7000 BC – thus being among the first inhabitants of what is now considered mainland Greece. Corresponding to the end of the Mesolithic Period, Avgi probably resided at the Cave of Theopetra in Thessaly, Central Greece. Theopetra Cave, in the Thessaly region, was first inhabited about 100,000 years ago, according to the Culture Ministry. Stone tools from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods have been discovered, as well as pottery from the Neolithic period.

Avgi, or Dawn, is believed to be aged between 15 to 18 based on an analysis of her bones and teeth. She has a protruding jaw, thought to be caused by chewing on animal skin to make it into soft leather – a common practice among people of that era – and a scowling expression.

Asked why she looked angry, orthodontics professor Manolis Papagrikorakis, who created a silicone reconstruction of her face from a terracotta mould of her head, joked: “It’s not possible for her not to be angry during such an era.”

Dawn was possibly anemic and may have suffered from scurvy, the researchers said. Evidence also pointed to hip and joint problems, which may have made it difficult for her to move and may have contributed to her death.

Such evidence gives us an idea of the struggle to survive to adulthood in those days of nomadic hunter gatherers. 

Just before 6000 B.C. populations living in the East Mediterranean grew into Mycenaean Minoan cultures which in turn became the forcing ground for the great civilisations of Greece and Rome.

The remains of the once great Greek empire are extensive. Here a place in Sicily dating back to the 5th century BC:

Pictured here The Valle dei Templi map

The Valle dei Templi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈvalle dei ˈtɛmpli]; English: Valley of the Temples; Sicilian: Vaddi di li Tempri) is an archaeological site in Agrigento (ancient Greek Akragas), Sicily, southern Italy. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997. Much of the excavation and restoration of the temples was due to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta (1783–1863), who was the Duke of Serradifalco from 1809 through 1812. The archaeological park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world with 1,300 hectares.

This was one of the major Greek-populated settlements of Magna Graecia, during what is termed as the golden age of Greek city-states (circa 5th century BC). The city, famous for its monumental Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples), was originally founded in the early 6th century by Greek colonists from Gela (in Sicily), and by the turn of the century, it possibly had a population of more than 100,000 people. And now, archaeologists have found evidence of one of the settlement’s eminent civic structures, in the form of a large Hellenistic theater possibly dated from circa 4th century B.C.

In the research, the team thoroughly surveyed the Valley of the Temples, and located the remains of as many as 10 Doric shrines, each dedicated to a Greek god, goddess or hero, such as Juno, Heracles, Demeter and Persephone, Olympic Zeus, Vulcan, Concordia, Aesculapius and so on.

But those hominids who had travelled to colder climes were unable to settle comfortably and had to be content with less sophistication. The Greek historian Ephorus, in the fourth century B.C, claimed there were four great barbarian peoples in the known world: the Libyans in Africa, the Persians in the east, and in Europe the Scythians and the Celts.

When people think of themselves as sophisticated because they have explored knowledge through understanding ancient to the most modern writings, it is a human failing that we may then categorise humans without empathy. We may interpret, inaccurately, and describe the human family as hierarchical pyramids with elite at the pinnacle and lesser beings below. Even worse, we may specify imagined racial differences and provide a sense of ‘other’ as a threat to the rest, which must be eradicated for the sake of ‘the rest’ (who are not clearly specified).

That we are one human family is obvious and it is sad that we have built much of our written history on notions of difference which has led us inflict harm on innocents in the name of some belief which has no solid foundation. 

The real differences between us are for us to marvel at, accept and appreciate.

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How we can remain healthy since we first shed our fur coats

Africa would appear to have the longest record of human habitation in the world. The first hominins are likely to have emerged 6-7 million years ago, and among the earliest anatomically modern human skulls were discovered at Omo Kibish, south Ethiopia. There is potentially older fossils linked to Homo sapiens found at a site in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. When the site was occupied by early humans, it would have been a cave; the covering rock and much sediment was removed by work in the 1960s.

Perhaps, it has been suggested, the Jebel Irhoud humans “were an ‘archaic’ species that survived in North Africa until H. sapiens from south of the Sahara replaced them. East Africa is where most scientists place our species’ origins: two of the oldest known H. sapiens fossils — 196,000 and 160,000-year-old skulls – come from Ethiopia, and DNA studies of present-day populations around the globe point to an African origin some 200,000 years ago……..What we think is before 300,000 years ago, there was a dispersal of our species — or at least the most primitive version of our species — throughout Africa,” Hublin says. Around this time, the Sahara was green and filled with lakes and rivers. Animals that roamed the East African savanna, including gazelles, wildebeest and lions, also lived near Jebel Irhoud, suggesting that these environments were once linked.”(see http://www.nature.com/news/oldest-homo-sapiens-fossil-claim-rewrites-our-species-history-1.22114)

Researchers in genetics have been tracing Homo Sapiens back to Africa; for example 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. But in China we may yet find early hominins began to emerge before the African. Many Western scientists tend to see Asian fossils and artefacts through the prism of what was happening in Africa and Europe,” says Wu. Those other continents have historically drawn more attention in studies of human evolution because of the antiquity of fossil finds there, and because they are closer to major palaeoanthropology research institutions, he says. “But it’s increasingly clear that many Asian materials cannot fit into the traditional narrative of human evolution.” Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, agrees. “Asia has been a forgotten continent,” he says. “Its role in human evolution may have been largely under-appreciated.”

But we are one human race, wherever and however we evolved into Homo Sapiens, we descend from the same single ancestor as the chimpanzee.

Between 4.5 and 2 million years ago early humans moved out of rainforests to the savannas of East Africa. They not only had to cope with more intense sunlight but had to develop a better cooling system. It was harder to get food in the hot savannas and as mammalian brains are prone to overheating then 5 or 6 °C rise in temperature can lead to heatstroke – so there was a need for the development of better heat regulation. The solution was sweating and loss of body hair. If the skin was white it burned, so some early hominins may have stayed under canopies of forests, whilst others ventured gradually into the burning heat and developed skin protection, turning their skin pigmentation darker.

When human life evolved in the equatorial region it was bombarded by UVB and still today the pattern of distribution of UVB is most strongly influenced by latitude because of atmospheric scattering and absorption. Africa receives high and uniform amounts, whereas northern Eurasia receives negligible amounts. The darker skinned could stay longer in the UVB rays, the lighter skinned would move away from those burning rays.

The bacterial sludge from which life emerged came, in the case of our ancestors, to use mitochondrial DNA, (mtDNA) being derived from the circular genomes of the bacteria that were engulfed by the early ancestors of today’s eukaryotic (true nucleus) cells. And humans are still categorically eukaryotic organisms. This means that all human cells—including those found in the brain, the heart, the muscles, and so on—are also eukaryotic.

In most multicellular organisms, mtDNA is inherited from the mother.

Mothers transmit vitamin D to their foetus in the womb. Therefore pregnant mothers must have sufficient to pass on to help the developing baby grow normally. Another important requirement for producing a healthy baby is folic acid, this the body does not make and can only be obtained from the right diet.

Folic acid is a B vitamin which is vital for the formation of red blood cells. The form of folic acid occurring naturally in food is termed ‘folate’. Folic acid is essential for the body to make DNA, RNA, and metabolise amino acids which are required for cell division. As humans cannot make folic acid, it is required from the diet, making it an essential vitamin. Somehow early humans found the right foods to maintain folic acid levels in order to produce healthy offspring.

A 1978 study examined the effect of sunlight on folate – a vitamin B complex – levels. The study found that even short periods of intense sunlight are able to halve folate levels if someone has light skin. Thus, the light skinned early humans would protect themselves by dwelling in shaded areas whilst the sun was at its most dangerous to their skin.

Nina Jablonski has suggested the interference with folic acid synthesis occurs when excessive UV radiation penetrates deep into the dermis. The end result of this is reduced folate levels, which in pregnant females often causes neural tube abnormalities. Any impact on pregnancy success is an extremely powerful selective force. In this model the dark skin of humans naturally arose because women who were darker skinned carried more normal fetuses to term than those who were light skinned. 

To remain in Equatorial Africa we could not have survived unless our skin evolved protection from the UVB rays. That protection came from melanin.

Melanin is derivative of the amino acid tyrosine. Eumelanin is the dominant form of melanin found in human skin. Eumelanin protects tissues and DNA from radiation damage of UV light. Melanin is produced in specialized cells called melanocytes, which are found at the lowest level of the epidermis. Melanin is produced inside small membrane-bound packages called melanosomes. People with naturally occurring dark skin have melanosomes which are clumped, large, and full of eumelanin. A four-fold difference in naturally occurring dark skin gives seven to eightfold protection against DNA damage, but even the darkest skin colour cannot protect against all damage to DNA. From  Wikipedia 

From Nina Jablonski:

Cooling by evaporation of eccrine sweat is impeded by thick body hair (9); the primary selective pressure promoting the evolution of hair loss in humans was thermoregulation. The loss of body hair in humans was accompanied by enhanced barrier functions of the stratum corneum (10, 11), including the evolution of other epidermal keratins (12, 13), which reduced the skin’s permeability and improved its abilities to resist abrasion and microbial attack. The rapid divergence of genes responsible for epidermal differentiation was one of the most significant results to emerge from the initial comparison of human and chimpanzee genomes (12). Changes in skin pigmentation also accompanied loss of body hair, and multiple lines of evidence indicate that permanent, dark, eumelanin-based pigmentation evolved soon after the emergence of the genus Homo in Africa (7, 14). See http://www.pnas.org/content/107/Supplement_2/8962

Variation exists within all populations of organisms. This occurs partly because random mutations arise in the genome of an individual organism, and offspring can inherit such mutations. Throughout the lives of the individuals, their genomes interact with their environments to cause variations in traits. The environment of a genome includes the molecular biology in the cell, other cells, other individuals, populations, species, as well as the abiotic environment. Because individuals with certain variants of the trait tend to survive and reproduce more than individuals with other, less successful, variants, the population evolves. Other factors affecting reproductive success include sexual selection (now often included in natural selection) and fecundity selection.

Natural selection acts on the phenotype, the characteristics of the organism which actually interact with the environment, but the genetic (heritable) basis of any phenotype that gives that phenotype a reproductive advantage may become more common in a population. Over time, this process can result in populations that specialise for particular ecological niches (microevolution) and may eventually result in speciation (the emergence of new species, macroevolution). In other words, natural selection is a key process in the evolution of a population.

Image of young chimpanzee (note the pale skin beneath the fur)

Homosapiens descend from the same single ancestor as chimpanzees. The earliest hominid of presumably primitive bipedalism, is considered to be either Sahelanthropus or Orrorin, both of which arose some 6 to 7 million years ago. These were probably the last single ancestor before the ancestral tree split.

When our ancestral branch split, hominids were still covered in fur and this continued until Homo erectus developed the skill of moving fast through walking and running.

Homo erectus (meaning “upright man”) is an extinct species of archaic humans that lived throughout most of the Pleistocene geological epoch. Its earliest fossil evidence dates to 1.9 million years ago. It likely originated in East Africa and spread from there, beginning 1.8 million years ago, migrating throughout Eurasia.

That vital development occurred over thousands of years of hominids mostly living in tropical forests and beginning to venture out into open spaces. The hunter became more efficient and effective once the body became capable of walking and particularly, running.

The body needed to have strong bones to carry the body mass as it changed to a shape more suited to fast movement. The UV rays from the sun produced the vital Vitamin D in the body to maintain circulation and calcium density. The body required magnesium to help absorb the essential vitamin D, and Calcium can only reach its full bone-building potential if the body has enough vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect bones—calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps the body effectively absorb calcium. Sources of food providing magnesium include nuts, dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish.

Image of changed body shape for the effective running machine.

Seeking foods which provided good nutrition for the body were understood by the human over thousands of years of experience. When humans migrated, they had to seek out essential foods for their bodily needs.

For example, by the time the Aztecs existed they had found a widely nutritious seed, chia. This gave them the energy to get through their days.

Chia seeds provide:
*  Fiber: 11 grams.

* Protein: 4 grams.

* Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).

* Calcium: 18% of the RDA.

* Manganese: 30% of the RDA.

* Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.

* Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.

* They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

In the Amazon, the tribes who had made it there understood how to work with the environment to have the nutrition they needed and yet establish a healthy ecosystem around them. Here Anne Roosevelt stated:

“If you like,” she said. “You could go [along the river] where you wanted and homestead— the forest gives you all kinds of fruit and animals, the river gives you fish and plants. That was very important to societies like Marajó. They had to be much less coercive, much more hang-loose, much more socially fluid, or people wouldn’t stay there.” Compared with much of the rest of the world at that time, people in the Amazon “were freer, they were healthier, they were living in a really wonderful civilization.”

Anne Roosevelt, Archaeologist

But as light skinned people evolved away from the harmful UVB rays, vitamin D was harder to come by.

Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. “However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians,” says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. “After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels.”

Here the crude word ‘caucasian’ is used. The term “Caucasian race” was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners’ term was given wider circulation in the 1790s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German professor of medicine and a member of the British Royal Society, who is considered one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology.

It is more accurate to speak of ‘light skinned’ which is the most vulnerable to UVB rays. Light skinned people need to cover themselves or sit in shade to avoid depletion of folate and vitamin D. Dark skinned people need more exposure to UVB to ensure full vitamin D and folate development for strong bones and for pregnant women to pass on to their foetus to avoid harm to their offspring.

Skin color is determined genetically. Genes tell the body how much of the two types of melanin, the pigment that helps to determine the skin color, to produce. Pheomelanin causes reddish yellow pigments, and eumelanin gives deep brown coloring. Sunlight exposure causes the optic nerve to signal the pituitary gland to release more melanin. The skin will then tan.

The next, rather complex genetic finding is worth quoting as it shows we are getting closer to understanding the genetic complexities which cause skin pigmentation.

See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SLC45A2

Since researchers began to sequence the genome of ancient populations recently, it has been discovered that Europeans today are the product of hunter gatherers and farmers of at least three ancient populations having mixed together during their migration to the continent over the past 8,000 years………

……..SLC24A5 appears to have played a key role in the evolution of light skin in humans of European ancestry. The gene’s function in pigmentation was discovered in zebrafish as a result of the positional cloning of the gene responsible for the “golden” variety of this common pet store fish. Evidence in the International HapMap Project database of genetic variation in human populations showed that Europeans, represented by the “CEU” population, had two primary alleles differing by only one nucleotide, changing the 111th amino acid from alanine to threonine, abbreviated “A111T”…….

………By comparing key parts of DNA across the genomes of 83 ancient humans from European archaeological sites with recent ones from the 1000 Genomes Project, Iain Matheison of Harvard University’s lab of population, and geneticist David Reich, discovered the genes linked to skin pigmentation that had survived the natural selection process across Europe……..

……SLC45A2 is a transporter protein that mediates melanin synthesis……..

………Sodium/potassium/calcium exchanger 5 (NCKX5), also known as solute carrier family 24 member 5 (SLC24A5), is a protein that in humans is encoded by the SLC24A5 gene that has a major influence on natural skin colour variation. The NCKX5 protein is a member of the potassium-dependent sodium/calcium exchanger family. Sequence variation in the SLC24A5 gene, particularly a non-synonymous SNP changing the amino acid at position 111 in NCKX5 from alanine to threonine, has been associated with differences in skin pigmentation……..

……….The SLC24A5 gene’s derived threonine or Ala111Thr allele (rs1426654) has been shown to be a major factor in the light skin tone of Europeans compared to Africans, and is believed to represent as much as 25–40% of the average skin tone difference between Europeans and West Africans. It has been the subject of recent selection in Europe, and is fixed in European populations……

These few paragraphs illustrate how the understanding of skin pigmentation is tied to processes within the human body and changes in the chemistry.

If a human has access to plenty of quality vitamin d, calcium and magnesium but lives in the higher northern hemisphere where UVB heat never arrives then the skin pigmentation is not paler despite lack of UVB rays. The Inuit have a bronze skin. They are also, due to their fish dominated diet, healthier than most people of the western world.

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The Berbers under religious avalanches

Tunisia was originally named Ifriqiya by the Muslims, a name later given to the entire continent of Africa. That massive continent now, as I write this, using worldometer.info has a population of 1,273,897,847 with a landmass of 30.37 million km². 

We can compare China at a population of 1,412,611,539 and a landmass of 9.597 million km². 

The Sahara Desert is about the same size as the whole of China. 

The Sahara, covering the same land area, is home to just two million. That’s a population density of just 1/150th of that of the U.S. The Sahara used to be rich, fertile farmland and was not always this big, or as poorly populated. As recently as 6,000 BC, grains and millet were grown across much of what is now the Sahara. In fact, prehistoric cave drawings have been discovered in parts of the Sahara that actually depict the flora as green and thriving. Parts of the Sahara are still rich and fertile. However, the Sahara generates some of the hottest temperatures on the planet. In fact, the all-time hottest temperature ever recorded was 136 degrees F, in Azizia, Libya, in 1922.

A few thousand years ago, a mighty river flowed through the Sahara across what is today Sudan. The Wadi Howar—now just a dried-out riverbed for most of the year—sustained not just fish, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses, but also agriculture and human settlement. As late as 1,000 B.C., a powerful fortress stood on its shores. See https://issuu.com/sudarchrs/docs/s_n17_jesse_et_al

Image of fortress

But then the Sahara dried out, turning from a green savannah into an inhospitable desert. The culprit: climate change. According to desert geologist Stefan Kröpelin, who has studied geological data for the eastern Sahara going back 6,000 years, the desert spread as temperatures dropped. Global cooling meant that the air had less capacity to hold moisture from the oceans, leading to fewer rains and more arid climes.

Now, that same process is happening in reverse. As temperatures rise, the Sahara and other dry areas are greening on the edges. 

The Sahara (Arabic: ‫الصحراء الكبرى‬‎, al-ṣaḥrāʼ al-kubrá, ‘the Greatest Desert’) is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic.[1] Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi)is comparable to the area of China or the United States. The countries within the Sahara Desert comprise much of North Africa, excluding the fertile region on the Mediterranean Sea coast, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb, and the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan. It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and the Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Sahara can be divided into several regions including: the western Sahara, the central Ahaggar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Aïr Mountains, the Ténéré desert, and the Libyan Desert.

The name ‘Sahara’ is derived from ṣaḥārá (‏‫صحارى‬‎, pronounced /ˈsˤaħaːraː/), the plural of the Arabic word for “desert”. 

Africa is divided into countries, as with Europe. There are 54 countries in Africa,(see https://www.countries-ofthe-world.com/countries-of-africa.html) unlike China which is a sovereign state. China has 34 provincial-level administrative units: 23 provinces, 4 municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing), 5 autonomous regions (Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia, Xinjiang) and 2 special administrative regions (Hong Kong, Macau).

The people who have been considered indigenous to North Africa are called Amazigh (Berbers). 

Genetic evidence

In general, genetic evidence appears to indicate that most northwest Africans (whether they consider themselves Berber or Arab) are predominantly of Berber origin, and that populations ancestral to the Berbers have been in the area since the Upper Paleolithic era. The genetically predominant ancestors of the Berbers appear to have come from East Africa, the Middle East, or both—but the details of this remain unclear. However, significant proportions of both the Berber and Arabized Berber gene pools derive from more recent human migration of various Italic, Semitic, Germanic, and sub-Saharan African peoples, all of whom have left their genetic footprints in the region.

This blog is focused on their experience since they became under Roman rule, then Islamic rule. Swirling around them were major religious earthquakes which meant their way of life would be impacted forever onward.

Egyptian influence

The Pharoahs ruled from c. 3150 BCE until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BC.

In Egyptian society, religion was central to everyday life. One of the roles of the pharaoh was as an intermediary between the gods and the people. The pharaoh thus deputised for the gods; his role was both as civil and religious administrator. He owned all of the land in Egypt, enacted laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt from invaders as the commander-in-chief of the army. Religiously, the pharaoh officiated over religious ceremonies and chose the sites of new temples. He was responsible for maintaining Maat, or balance and justice, and part of this included going to war when necessary to defend the country or attacking others when it was believed that this would contribute to Maat, such as to obtain resources.

During the early days prior the unity of the lower and upper kingdoms of ancient Egypt, a Deshret, the red crown, was a representation the Kingdom of lower Egypt; while the Hadjet, a white crown, was worn by the kings of the kingdom of upper Egypt. After the unification of both kingdoms into one united Egypt, the Pschent, the combination of both the red and white crowns was the official crown of kings. With time new headdresses were introduced during different dynasties like Khat, Nemes, Atef, Hemhem, and Kepresh. At times, it was depicted that a combination of these headdresses or crowns would be worn together.

As related in the previous blog, Thonis-Heracleion was in existence during the reign of the Pharoahs. From beneath the sea, divers brought to the surface The Decree of Sais, a magnificent black stele that stands two metres high and is carved with perfectly preserved hieroglyphics from the early fourth century BC. It was unearthed on the site of a temple to supreme god of the Egyptians, Amun-Gereb, at Thonis-Heracleion. The stele reveals some of the intricacies of contemporary taxation in Egypt: “His Majesty [Pharaoh Nectanebo I] decreed: Let there be given one-tenth of the gold, of the silver, of the timber, of the processed wood and of all things coming from the sea of the Hau-Nebut [the Mediterranean] … to become divine offerings to my mother Neith,” reads its edict.

The Egyptians seem to be the first to refer to the ‘Berbers’ in 3000 BC, and will have influenced their belief system. 

The traditional Berber religion is the ancient and native set of beliefs and deities adhered to by the Berber autochthones of North Africa. The concept of autochthones (from Ancient Greek αὐτός autos “self,” and χθών khthon “soil”; i.e. “people sprung from earth itself”) means the original inhabitants of a country as opposed to settlers, and those of their descendants who kept themselves free from an admixture of foreign peoples.

In mythology, autochthones are those mortals who have sprung from the soil, rocks and trees. They are rooted and belong to the land eternally.

It is most likely this belief system was a natural and sustaining one which evolved as nomadic humans were trying to place themselves in the environment which they considered was their territory.

Many ancient Berber beliefs were developed locally, whereas others were influenced over time through contact with other traditional African religions (such as the Ancient Egyptian religion), or borrowed during antiquity from the Punic religion, Judaism, Iberian mythology, and the Hellenistic religion. The most recent influence came from Islam and pre-Islamic Arab religion during the medieval period. Some of the ancient Berber beliefs still exist today subtly within the Berber popular culture and tradition. Syncretic influences from the traditional Berber religion can also be found in certain other faiths.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, successfully recovered and analyzed ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies dating from approximately 1400 BCE to 400 CE, they found ancient Egyptians genetics were most closely linked to the Near East peoples. According to the National Geographic Society, the terms Near East and Middle East denote the same territories and are “generally accepted as comprising the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Syria, and Turkey”. Over the last 1500 years the modern Egyptian genetics are most closely linked to those living south of the Sahara, which covers a current expanse of 9.2 million km². This demonstrates the flow of peoples toward the north.

A timeline of the swirling events over the centuries is here. I hope you try and imagine what it must have been like for these nomadic Amazigh people to be overwhelmed by Romans, with their version of Christianity, and then Vandals, with their version, followed by the Islamists with their religious ardour.

ca 3000 BC – first Egyptian references to the people who are now called Berber but known as the Amazigh. Due to Phoenecians establishing trading ports around the North African coasts, ca 1100 BC – Their relationship with the Amazigh (Berber) influenced their language and they are credited with preserving the Phoenician language till the time of Saint Augustine in the 5th century & traces of the Phoenician alphabet are evident in the Tamazight (Berber) alphabet called Tifinagh. 

The Phoenecians founded Carthage around ca 800 BC which became a thriving trading centre. 

The first Numidian king was Masinissa, (Masinissa, or Masensen, (Berber: Masensen, ⵎⵙⵏⵙⵏ; c.238 BC – 148 BC, also spelled Massinissa.

Numidia was an ancient Berber kingdom located in the region of North Africa in what is now northern Algeria and parts of Tunisia and Libya. The Kingdom existed from the 3rd to 1st centuries BCE. The Kingdom of Numidia was established as a client kingdom by Rome following the Second Punic War. It was annexed by Rome in 46 BCE and, after a brief period of restored independence, again in 25 BCE.

The Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117. 

One famous Berber was Apuleius (/ˌæpjʊˈliːəs/; also called Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis; c. 124 – c. 170 AD) who was a Latin-language prose writer, Platonist philosopher and rhetorian. He was a Numidian who lived under the Roman Empire and was from Madauros (now M’Daourouch, Algeria). He studied Platonism in Athens, travelled to Italy, Asia Minor, and Egypt, and was an initiate in several cults or mysteries. The most famous incident in his life was when he was accused of using magic to gain the attentions (and fortune) of a wealthy widow. He declaimed and then distributed a witty tour de force in his own defense before the proconsul and a court of magistrates convened in Sabratha, near ancient Tripoli, Libya. This is known as the Apologia.

When the Romans destroyed Carthage and all evidence of the Phoenecians’ artefacts in c.146 , the Romans established the province Mauritania Tingitana (the origin of the word Moor) in North Africa/Tamazgha — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

The first record of Christians in Africa is a document known as the “Acts of the Martyrs Scillitans” dating from 180 AD, during the Roman empire era. The Acts document is related to the martyrdom of a dozen Christian (known as Scillitan Martyrs) in a Berber village of Africa Proconsularis, in front of the proconsul of Africa (Africa Proconsularis was a Roman province on the north African coast that was established in 146 BC following the defeat of the Phoenecians).

By ca 200 – the Berbers had become Christians under the rule of the Romans 

Pope Constantine secured the Vandals in Pannonia in 330 CE, and they co-existed with their Roman neighbors except in terms of religion. The Vandals were Arian Christians, while the Romans were Trinitarian (or Nicean) Christians.

By ca 350 – North Africa/Tamazgha — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya — had become hotbeds for “heretic” Christian cults in the Christian Roman Empire.

The Berber, St Augustine was born 13 November 354 in Thagaste.

Thagaste, Roman province of Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). Thagaste was originally a small Numidian village in the Roman province of Africa, inhabited by a Berber tribe into which Augustine of Hippo was born. His mother Saint Monica was a Christian and his father Patricius (with Roman roots) was at first a pagan who later adopted Christianity. Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine) lived in the Roman Empire from 354 to 430 A.D. In 386 he converted to Christianity from Manichaeism, depending on the context, resembles Iranian and Indian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism. At its core, Manichaeism was a type of Gnosticism—a dualistic religion that offered salvation through special knowledge (gnosis) of spiritual truth. As a questioning, spiritual young man, Augustine had joined this religious cult from Persia that had planted itself in the Roman world as a rival of Christianity.

See http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/twayne/aug1.html

He was a teacher of rhetoric and became the Bishop of the city of Hippo. … Augustine’s most profound impact, however, comes from his interpretation of Christianity. Augustine applied philosophical analysis and reasoning to the issues of religion. 

Church scholar and historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes “his impact on Western Christian thought can hardly be overstated; only his beloved example Paul of Tarsus, has been more influential, and Westerners have generally seen Paul through Augustine’s eyes.”

Image of St Augustine

355: After removing a Roman temple from the site (possibly the Temple of Aphrodite built by Hadrian), Constantine I has the Church of the Holy Sepulcher constructed in Jerusalem. Built around the excavated hill of the Crucifixion, legend has it that Constantine’s mother Helena discovered the True Cross here.

The Vandals, an East Germanic tribe or group of tribes, first appear in history as inhabiting present-day southern Poland, but later moved around Europe, successively establishing kingdoms in Spain and in North Africa in the 5th century. They invaded.

North Africa/Tamazgha — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya in 429. In 430, St Augustine was terminally ill and died (aged 78) as the Vandals, believers of the Arian Christianity invaded Hippo Regius, Roman province of Africa (now modern-day Annaba, Algeria).

It took another 100 years for the Byzantine Empire to drive out the Vandals (in 533) and take control – religious conflicts between Berber Christian “heretics” and Byzantine church began.

The Visigoths (UK: /ˈvɪzɪˌɡɒθs/; US: /ˈvɪzɪˌɡɑːθs/; Latin: Visigothi, Wisigothi, Vesi, Visi, Wesi, or Wisi; Italian: Visigoti) were the western branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples referred to collectively as the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread throughout the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or what is known as the Migration Period. The Visigoths emerged from earlier Gothic groups (possibly the Thervingi) who had invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Relations between the Romans and the Visigoths were variable, alternately warring with one another and making treaties when convenient. The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in Spain and Portugal, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD. The still-sizeable Byzantine Empire survived in the east and remained a major power. 

Muhammad was born approximately 570 CE (Year of the Elephant) in the Arabian city of Mecca. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was born and lived in Mecca for the first 52 years of his life (570–622 A.D.). He was born into the elite Quraysh (Arabic: قريش ) who were a mercantile Arab tribe that historically inhabited and controlled Mecca and its Ka’aba. He was of the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. Orphaned early in life, he became known as a prominent merchant, and as an impartial and trustworthy arbiter of disputes.

594: Muhammad became the manager of the business of Lady Khadija, a year later they were married. She was 40 and he was 25.

610: Muhammad had a religious experience on Mount Hira that changed his life. He said the Angel Gabriel had spoken with him, and he told those who could write (Muhammad was illiterate) to note down what he had been told. Notes were taken on anything to hand, bits of papyrus, cloth, even shoulder blades of sheep. These were all kept together and were the precursor for the Qur’ān, the pieces assimilated and the whole edited by Uthman around 40 years after Muhammad related his religious experiences.

613: Persians capture Damascus and Antioch.

614: Persians sack Jerusalem, damaging the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the process.

615: Muhammad invited the Hashemites to adopt Islam. The Hashemites were and are the ruling royal family of Jordan. The House was also the royal family of Syria, Hejaz and Iraq. Decades later, the Hashemites claim descent from Ali ibn Abi Talib (Rashidun caliph in 656-661) and his wife, Fatima, daughter of Muhammed. Their base was in the Hijaz region of Arabia, along the Red Sea coast, which was mostly seized by the Al-Saud family in 1932. During the seventh century, the Hashemites and the Umayyads, separate clans of the same Quraish tribe, vied for control of the Islamic empire, but it was the latter who won that struggle.

615: Persecution of Muslims by the Quaraish in Mecca intensified and a group of Muslims leave for Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia).

621: Abu Jahl became leader of a mounting opposition to Muslims in Mecca and organized a boycott of merchants in Mohammad’s clan, the Hashim.

622: About 75 converts from Medina took the two Pledges of al-Aqaba, professing to Islam and to protect Muhammad from all danger.

622: The Hijra: emigration of Muhammad and his followers to Yathrib (now: Madinat al-Nabi, “the city of the Prophet,” or simply, al-Madina). Foundation of the first Islamic community; social and economic reforms. Starting point of the Islamic calendar.

624: Muhammad broke with his Jewish supporters because they refused to recognize him as a prophet and adopt Isalm. He chose now to emphasize the Arabness of the new religion and has his followers face Mecca when praying instead of Jerusalem. In the end, all the Jews were either banished or executed. March 15, 624: At the Battle of Abdr, Muhammad and his followers defeated an army from Mecca. Muhammad’s chief rival in Mecca, Abu Jahl, was executed.

627: Meccan leader Abu Sufyan (c. 567 – c. 655) laid siege to Muhammad’s forces in Medina during the battle of the Trench. Even with 10,000 men he was unsuccessful for the 15 days he was there. Muhammad suspected the Banu Quraiza Jews of helping the Meccans and had all the men killed.

627: A confederation was created between Muhammad’s followers in Mecca and the eight Arab clains in Medina with the Constitution of Medina.

628: Muhammad led about 1,600 men on a pilgrimage to Mecca where their passage was blocked by citizens of Mecca. Fortunately they agreed to negotiate with Muhammad and then later agreed to the Pact of Hudaibiya, ending hostilities and allowing for Muslim pilgrimages.

629: After a group of Muslims was attacked, Muhammad dissolved the Pact of Hudaibiya and prepared to attack Mecca.

630: An army of 30,000 Muslims marched on Mecca which surrendered with little resistance. Muhammad took control of the city and made it the spiritual center of Islam.

632: Death of Muhammad. His father-in-law, Abu-Bakr, and Umar devised a system to allow Islam to sustain religious and political stability. Accepting the name of caliph (“deputy of the Prophet”), Abu-Bakr begins a military exhibition to enforce the caliph’s authority over Arabian followers of Muhammad. Abu-Bakr then moved northward, defeating Byzantine and Persian forces. Abu-Bakr died two years later and Umar succeeded him as the second caliph, launching a new campaign against the neighboring empires.

632-34: Widespread tribal rebellion on the death of Muhammad. Abu Bakr, the first caliph (khalifa) reimposes the authority of the Islamic government throughout Arabia and sends Arab armies of conquest against Mesopotamia and Syria.

633: Muslims conquer Syria and Iraq.

634: Victory against the Byzantines in Palestine (Ajnadayn).

634-644: Umar (c. 591-644) reigns as the second caliph. The Muslims subjugate Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia. Garrisons established in the conquered lands, and the Muslim rulers begin to take control of financial organisation.

635: Muslims begin the conquest of Persia and Syria.

635: Arab Muslims capture the city of Damascus from the Byzantines.

August 20, 636: Battle of Yarmuk (also: Yarmuq, Hieromyax): Following the Muslim capture of Damascus and Edessa, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius organizes a large army which manages to take back control of those cities. However, Byzantine commander, Baänes is soundly defeated by Muslim forces under Khalid ibn Walid in a battle in the valley of the Yarmuk River outside Damascus. This leaves all of Syria open to Arab domination.

c636: The Arabs under Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas defeat a Sassanian ( The Sasanian Empire, also known as the Sassanian, Sasanid, Sassanid or Neo-Persian Empire, known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr in Middle Persian, was the last period of the Persian Empire) army in the battle of Qadisiyya (near Hira), gaining Iraq west of the Tigris. A second victory follows at Jalula, near Ctesiphon.

637: The Arabs occupy the Persian (now called Iran) capital of Ctesiphon. By 651, the entire Persian realm would come under the rule of Islam and continued its westward expansion. 637: Syria is conquered by Muslim forces. 637: Jerusalem falls to invading Muslim forces.

638: Caliph Umar I enters Jerusalem.

639-42: Conquest of Egypt: 4th September, 639 AD, a commanding force of four thousand (4,000) Muslims captured the ancient city of Egypt that was for so long known as one of the greatest provinces under the Byzantine Empire. The invasion was led by an Arab military general called Amr Ibn-al-As. 641: Islam spreads into Egypt. The Catholic Archbishop invites Muslims to help free Egypt from Roman oppressors. 641/2: Under the leadership of Amr ibn al-As, Muslims conquer the Byzantine city of Alexandria in Egypt. Amr forbids the looting of the city and proclaims freedom of worship for all. According to some accounts, he also has what was left of the Great Library burned the following year. Al-As creates the first Muslim city in Egypt, al-Fustat, and builds there the first mosque in Egypt.

The Arab conquest of Egypt was completed in 642, but they began to raid the Berbers (Amazigh) territory to its west, which they called Bilād al-Maghrib (“Lands of the West”) or simply the Maghreb. Subsequent Arab conquest of the Maghreb and its effects on the Maghrebians established a solid Islamic culture in North Africa. 

Muslims capture the sea port of Caesarea in Palestine, marking end of the Byzantine presence in Syria.

641: Under the leadership of Abd-al-Rahman, Muslims conquer southern areas of Azerbaijan, Daghestan, Georgia, and Armenia.

Split between Uthman followers and Ali followers creating Sunnites and Shiites

644: Muslim leader Umar dies and is succeeded by Caliph Uthman, a member of the Umayyad family that had rejected Muhammad’s prophesies. Rallies arise to support Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as caliph. Uthman launches invasions to the west into North Africa.

649: Muawiya I, a member of the Umayyad family, leads a raid against Cyprus, sacking the capital Salamis-Constantia after a short siege and pillaging the rest of the island.

652: Sicily is attacked by Muslims coming out of Tunisia (named Ifriqiya by the Muslims, a name later given to the entire continent of Africa).

653: Muawiya I leads a raid against Rhodes, taking the remaining pieces of the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world) and shipping it back to Syria to be sold as scrap metal.

654: Muawiya I conquers Cyprus and stations a large garrison there. The island would remain in Muslim hands until 0966.

655: Battle of the Masts: In one of the few Muslim naval victories in the entire history of Islam, Muslim forces under the command of Uthman bin Affan defeat Byzantine forces under Emperor Constant II. The battle takes place off the coast of Lycia and is an important stage in the decline of Byzantine power.

Uthman was responsible for the final version of the Qur’ān.

656 ……when there were active revolts in both Iraq and Egypt. Armed groups set out from both these areas for Medina to make their demands forcefully. Arriving at the capital, they found the old man [Uthman] effectively defenceless, having been abandoned by all the leading members of the Muslim elite, including, crucially, Alī. He was murdered as he sat alone in his house reading the Qur’ān and his blood dripped on the open pages of the Holy Book. The murder of Uthmān was a major trauma for the early Islamic community and continues to reverberate down to the twenty-first century.

From the book, The Caliphate, by Hugh Kennedy:

In the spring and summer of 657 Alī led his Iraqi forces up the Euphrates valley to invade Syria. At the same time Mu‘āwiya mobilized his Syrian supporters and came to meet them. The two armies faced each other at a place called Siffin, just up the river from Raqqa. They did not immediately engage in an all-out battle. Despite all the issues which divided them, there was a profound reluctance among many to fight their fellow Muslims if it could be avoided. There were a number of bloody skirmishes, notably over access to water in the burning heat of the Syrian summer, and there were contests of poetry as the propagandists on both sides tried to inspire their fellows and denigrate their enemies, but there were also negotiations. In July or August a real battle seemed to be developing, but the Syrian troops attached copies of the Qur’ān to their lances, demanding that there be an arbitration according to the book of God, and Alī felt that he had no option but to accept. An arbitration date was set for the next year and it was agreed that the two arbitrators, one from each side, should meet in the small town of Udhruh, now a ruined archaeological site in southern Jordan. So far so clear. What was much less clear was the question of what exactly was going to be arbitrated. Was it a debate about whether Alī or Mu‘āwiya was going to be caliph, a sort of two-man shūra , or was the issue simply that of the punishment of Uthmān’s killers and the circumstances under which Mu‘āwiya might accept Alī as caliph? By the time the two arbitrators did meet, events had moved on so quickly that any discussions they may have had were rendered irrelevant. 

The Kharijite Alternative 

Many of Alī’s supporters were dismayed by what had happened, seeing their leader as a victim of a Syrian trick or, even worse, as having agreed to put his God-given authority to the judgement of two men. When he returned to Iraq, his uneasy coalition began to break up. Some of the tribal nobles began to enter into negotiations with the Syrian leader. Much more threatening than that, at the other end of the political spectrum, many of his more radical supporters abandoned him and went out to camp in a separate place, announcing that arbitration belonged only to God and implying that the issue should have been decided on the battlefield. These dissenters became known as Kharijites (Ar. khawārij ). They have survived as a sect down to the present day, notably in Oman and parts of southern Algeria. How the name originates is quite unclear. The word khārijī means literally one who goes out, but the often quoted explanation that they went out from Alī’s camp seems feeble. More attractive is the historian Andrew Marsham’s suggestion that it related to the verses in the Qur’ān which urge Muslims to ‘go out’ (on the jihād ) rather than stay at home. 6 Kharijites were associating with the militant activists among the earliest Muslims. They have never constituted more than a small percentage of the Muslim population. but they are important in the history of the caliphate because they developed theories of the office, how the caliph or imam (they used both terms to describe their leaders) should be chosen and what they should do, which were radically different from the concepts of both Sunni and Shi’i. The Kharijites split from the emerging consensus over two main issues. The first was that they believed the caliph should be chosen from all the Muslims as the most pious and meritorious of them. Quraysh descent was absolutely not required and any Muslim, no matter how humble his social origins, could be considered for office. Some said that even a slave could be chosen, and it is alleged that a few even argued that women were eligible, though this point of view never seems to have been widely accepted. They generally agreed that Abū Bakr and Umar were lawful caliphs, but only because they were the best men of their time, not because of any Qurashi descent, and they completely rejected Uthmān and all subsequent claimants. When others had their doubts, the Kharijites were proudly unrepentant of the role some of them played in the murder of Uthmān, seeing it as entirely justified, even necessary, because of his deviation from proper Islamic behaviour. Quite how the choosing of the new leader was going to take place was not really specified: certainly there was no discussion of the practicalities of either election or shūra. It was sort of taken for granted that the most meritorious would emerge and be accepted by the community. If the caliph they chose went astray or proved to be corrupt and tyrannical then he should be corrected, first by being warned that his conduct was unacceptable and, if this failed, by being deposed or killed.

661 Kharijites assassinated Ali.

661-680: Mu’awiya, founder of the Umayyad dynasty, becomes the caliph and moves the capital from Mecca to Damascus. The Umayyad family rules Islam until 750. Ali’s followers form a religious party called Shiites and insist that only descendants of Ali deserve the title of caliph or deserve any authority over Muslims. The opposing party, the Sunnites, insist on the customs of the historical evolution of the caliphate rather than a hereditary descent of spiritual authority.

662: Egypt fell to the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates until 868 A.D. A year prior, the Fertile Crescent and Persia yielded to the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, whose rule lasted until 1258 and 820, respectively.

667: The Arabs occupy Chalcedon, threatening Constantinope. Sicily is attacked by Muslims sailing from Tunisia.

668: First Siege of Constantinople: This attack lasts off and on for seven years, with the Muslim forces generally spending the winters on the island of Cyzicus, a few miles south of Constantinople, and only sailing against the city during the spring and summer months. The Greeks are able to fend off repeated attacks with a weapon desperately feared by the Arabs: Greek Fire. It burned through ships, shields, and flesh and it could not be put out once it started. Muawiyah has to send emissaries to Byzantine Emperor Constans to beg him to let the survivors return home unimpeded, a request that is granted in exchange for a yearly tribute of 3,000 pieces of gold, fifty slaves, and fifty Arab horses.

669: The Muslim conquest reaches to Morocco in North Africa. The region would be open to the rule of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates until 800.

672: Muslims under Mauwiya I capture the island of Rhodes.

672: Beginning of the ‘seven year’ Arab siege of Constantinople.

674: Arab conquest reaches the Indus River.

677: Muslims send a large fleet against Constantinople in an effort to finally break the city, but they are defeated so badly through the Byzantine use of Greek Fire that they are forced to pay an indemnity to the Emperor.

674-700 – Muslim Arabs drive out the Byzantines and conquer North Africa/Tamazgha — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya –. Conversion to Islam begins
Dihya al Kahina was a religious and military leader, a warrior queen, who led a fierce Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Northwest Africa, the Maghreb, the region known as Numidia. 

Dihya succeeded Caecilius as the war leader of the Berber tribes in the 680s and opposed the encroaching Arab Islamic armies of the Umayyad Dynasty. Hasan ibn al-Nu’man marched from Egypt and captured the major Byzantine city of Carthage and other cities (see Muslim conquest of North Africa). Searching for another enemy to defeat, he was told that the most powerful monarch in North Africa was “the Queen of the Berbers” (Arabic: malikat al-barbar) Dihyā, and accordingly marched into Numidia. The armies met near Meskiana[11] in the present-day province of Oum el-Bouaghi, Algeria. She defeated Hasan so soundly that he fled Ifriqiya and holed up in Cyrenaica (Libya) for four or five years. Realizing that the enemy was too powerful and bound to return, she was said to have embarked on a scorched earth campaign, which had little impact on the mountain and desert tribes, but lost her the crucial support of the sedentary oasis-dwellers. Instead of discouraging the Arab armies, her desperate decision hastened defeat.

Kusaila was a seventh-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and King of the Sanhadja confederation.

Kusaila or Caecilius was a seventh-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and King of the Sanhadja confederation.

Caecilius had suffered much at the hands of the Muslims. He was captured by Uqba, put in chains and paraded throughout North Africa. But in AD 683 he succeeded in escaping and raised against his tormentors a large force of Christian Berber and Byzantine soldiers. Up a was near Biskra. After Uqba’s death, his armies retreated from Kairouan which Caecilius took as his capital and for a while he seems to have been, in name at least, the master of all North Africa. But the respite was to be short-lived. Five years later Caecilius was killed in battle against fresh Arab forces led by a Muslim general from Damascus. That same Muslim general was himself later ambushed and put to death by Byzantine sea-raiders shortly afterwards. For a while confusion reigned, but the Awraba recognized the weakness of their position and eventually capitulated to the newly re-organized and reinforced Arab army. With the death of Caecilius, the torch of resistance passed to a tribe known as the Jerawa, who had their home in the Aurès mountains.

Image of Kusaila (Caecilius)

711-713 – Spain conquered by Moslem Arabs and Berbers. Al-Andalus established in Spain. Berber Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād (Arabic: ‫طارق بن زياد‬‎) was a Muslim commander who led the Islamic Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711–718 A.D. Under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I he led a large army and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from the North African coast, consolidating his troops at what is today known as the Rock of Gibraltar. The name “Gibraltar” is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “mountain of Ṭāriq”,[1] which is named after him.

Arab and Berber Islamic forces had conquered Spain (711), crossed the Pyrenees (720), seized a major dependency of the Visigoths (721–725), and after intermittent challenges, under Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, the Arab Governor of al-Andalus, advanced toward Gaul and on Tours, “the holy town of Gaul”; in October 732, the army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by Al Ghafiqi met Frankish and Burgundian forces under Charles in an area between the cities of Tours and Poitiers (modern north-central France), leading to a decisive, historically important Frankish victory known as the Battle of Tours (or ma’arakat Balâṭ ash-Shuhadâ, Battle of the Palace of Martyrs), ending the “last of the great Arab invasions of France,” a military victory termed “brilliant” on the part of Charles.

Charles further took the offensive after Tours, destroying fortresses at Agde, Béziers and Maguelonne, and engaging Islamic forces at Nimes, though ultimately failing to recover Narbonne (737) or to fully reclaim the Visigoth’s Narbonensis. He thereafter made significant further external gains against fellow Christian realms, establishing Frankish control over Bavaria, Alemannia, and Frisia, and compelling some of the Saxon tribes to offer tribute (738).

H. G. Wells says of Charles Martel’s decisive defeat of the Muslims in his “Short History of the World:

“The Muslim when they crossed the Pyrenees in 720 found this Frankish kingdom under the practical rule of Charles Martel, the Mayor of the Palace of a degenerate descendant of Clovis, and experienced the decisive defeat of Poitiers (732) at his hands. This Charles Martel was practically overlord of Europe north of the Alps from the Pyrenees to Hungary.”

Berber Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini (810–887 A.D.), also known as Abbas ibn Firnas (Arabic: عباس بن فرناس‎), was an Andalusian polymath: an inventor, physician, chemist, engineer, Andalusian musician, and Arabic-language poet. Of Berber descent, his name’s root is AFERNAS, which is fairly widespread today in Morocco and Algeria. He was born in Izn-Rand Onda, Al-Andalus (today’s Ronda, Spain), lived in the Emirate of Córdoba, and is reputed to have attempted flight. see https://youtu.be/HZzomerVUbk

The crater Ibn Firnas on the Moon is named in his honor, as well as the Ibn Firnas Airport in Baghdad and one of the bridges over the Guadalquivir river in Cordoba.

1085-1258 – Berber Almoravid and Almohad dynasties rule Al-Andalus and North Africa/Tamazgha — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya —

Yusuf ibn Tashfin also, Tashafin, Teshufin; or Yusuf (full name: Yûsuf bnu Tâšfîn Nâçereddîn bnu Tâlâkâkîn aç-Çanhâjî, Arabic: ‫يوسف بن تاشفين ناصر الدين بن تالاكاكين الصنهاجي‬‎; reigned c. 1061 – 1106) was leader of the Berber Moroccan Almoravid empire. He co-founded the city of Marrakesh and led the Muslim forces in the Battle of Zallaqa/Sagrajas. Ibn Tashfin came to al-Andalus from Africa to help the Muslims fight against Alfonso VI, eventually achieving victory and promoting an Islamic system in the region. He was married to Zainab al-Nafzawiyya, whom he reportedly trusted politically.
Image of coin

Berber, Ibn Battuta

All that is known about Ibn Battuta’s life comes from the autobiographical information included in the account of his travels, which records that he was of Berber descent, born into a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier, Morocco, on 25 February 1304, during the reign of the Marinid dynasty. He claimed descent from a Berber tribe known as the Lawata. As a young man he would have studied at a Sunni Maliki madh’hab (Islamic jurisprudence school), the dominant form of education in North Africa at that time. Maliki Muslims requested Ibn Battuta serve as their religious judge as he was from an area where it was practised.

In June 1325, at the age of twenty-one, Ibn Battuta set off from his hometown on a hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, a journey that would ordinarily take sixteen months. He would not see Morocco again for twenty-four years. He travelled further than any of his peers and gathered knowledge made available to others through his writings.

Ibn Battuta’s itinerary gives scholars a glimpse as to when Islam first began to spread into the heart of west Africa.
Some of the above timeline taken from:

https://phoenicia.org/berber.html and http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/notes/islamchron.html

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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 https://listverse.com/2012/11/02/10-historic-earthquakes-from-antiquity/)
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.

See https://youtu.be/19Iea0kn31I

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 https://listverse.com/2012/11/02/10-historic-earthquakes-from-antiquity/)

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 http://www.the-map-as-history.com/demos/tome09/1-ancient_greece_demo.php

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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