Thursday, March 12, 2009

Proof of ancient Malaysian civilization found

There is an exciting bit of history news this morning out of Asia. The following is from a CNN article.

It notes:

Researchers with a Malaysian university said they have uncovered evidence of an iron industry that dates to the 3rd Century, A.D., and proves that ancient civilizations in Southeast Asia were more advanced than once thought.

The archaeologists from the Universiti Sains Malaysia found the remains of an iron smelting site, tools to pump oxygen into the iron smelting process, rooftops of buildings, beads and pots, said Mokhtar Saidan, a professor and leader of the team.

The professor said the discovery confirms that human civilization in the area was more advanced than thought and the site probably was a place for exporting iron in the 3rd Century.

I would like more details about this civilization. Obviously, more work will need to be done. However, this is a good start and hopefully the site being excavated will prove to produce a lot more archaeological treasure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits

Over the Christmas break, I had the good fortune to read The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits. The book is by Erik Sass, Steve Wiegand, Will Pearson, and Mangesh Hattikudor. Although it has taken me several months to get into a reviewing mood, I really liked this book.

I guess this should not be a surprise to me. Two of my favorites sites on the Web (Weird Universe and News of the Weird) play on how strange and silly people often are. History is like that too. A book taking a light-hearted approach like that is bound to appeal to Dr. Miland Brown.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:

History is . . . (a) more or less bunk. (b) a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken. (c) as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis.

Match your answers:(1) Stephen Daedalus of James Joyce's Ulysses (2) Henry Ford (3) Arthur Schopenhauer

It turns out that answer need not be bunk, nightmarish, or diseased. In the hands of mental_floss, history's most interesting bits have been handpicked and roasted to perfection. Packed with little-known stories and outrageous—but accurate—facts, you'll laugh yourself smarter on this joyride through 60,000 years of human civilization. Remember: just because it's true, doesn't mean it's boring!

By the way, the answers are (a) 2, (b) 1, and (c) 3.

Obviously, a book like this can not be comprehensive. The authors amusingly note, "Sadly, HarperCollins rejected our 500-million page manuscript as 'overenthusiastic' and 'hard on the back.' And while this version omits a few details, we think we did alright."

The book starts with pre-history and works up to the 21st Century. The book briefly summarizes major historical points (and absurdities) and provides telling numbers for each chapter. The prose is easy to read and just as you are about to take it too seriously satire is inserted that often hits close to some unfairness or illogic in the minds of our ancestors.

This tome attempts to be a multicultural history of the world. It does not cover just European or American tinted history which often pervades world history books. The Aztecs, the Japanese, the Muslims, and others are stitched effectively into the story of the world. From my perch, this makes this work a good complement to the inadequate coverage of the historical developments in other non-Western parts of the planet. However, it is not politically correct. Easily offended academics should skip this book. Don't worry, I doubt you were going to assign it as a class reading anyway.

If you like history and have a sense of humor, buy this book or get it from your local library. I think you will have a good time and learn a few new historical facts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hannibal: The Annihilator

The History Channel has a new series. And amazingly, it has nothing to do with the occult, monsters, UFOs, or Hitler! It is called Battles BC. The first episode was on last night and it was titled Hannibal: The Annihilator.

Here is a description from the official site:

Hannibal's merciless attacks on Roman soil dealt a near fatal blow to the soon-to-be Empire. Sworn by his father to a blood oath against the Romans, Hannibal of Carthage does the unthinkable... he marches 40 war elephants and a massive army over the Alps to gain an element of surprise. In three key battles--Hannibal uses terrain, intimidation and his iron will to annihilate the Roman Legions, killing every Roman soldier that he possibly can.

The show has flashy background and sound track which reminded me of 300. I am sure this was done intentionally. It also offered commentary from four interesting experts whose words were blended smoothly together by the editing.

The bulk of the episode deals with Hannibal's early life, the beginning of the Second Punic War, Hannibal crossing the Alps, and his early battles in Italy. Several battles which Hannibal won in convincing fashion are described and analyzed in detail. However, the episode basically ends with the Roman disaster at Cannae.

I wish the episode had put the battles covered in the larger context of the Second Punic War. Better coverage of the later years of the war, including his defeat in North Africa at the Battle of Zama, would have left viewers with a better understanding of Hannibal's life and legacy. Nonetheless, the show was entertaining and educational. I will plan on watching future episodes.

Monday, March 09, 2009

When Were Horses Tamed?

The BBC has a new article up titled Horses tamed earlier than thought. It begins with, "Horses were domesticated much earlier than previously thought, according to a team of researchers. They found evidence suggesting that the animals were used by a culture in northern Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago."

I do not find it surprising that horses were tamed so long ago. However, I am amazed that historians and scientists can determine this from the evidence they found. Using just horse teeth and nearby artifacts, they concluded that the horses had riding bits inserted in their mouths and that humans were also likely using their horse milk for food and for making alcohol.

The article also notes:

Lead researcher Dr Alan Outram from Exeter University, said horse domestication was an important indication of the state of human civilisation. "The domestication of the horse does have implications for human culture globally," he said. "It increases people's ability to trade and it has great advantages in warfare. "So if we are moving the origins of horse domestication much further back, we are going to have to think about the impact on the development of human culture at the time."

Were Hawaii and Texas Legally Annexed to the United States?

Free Hawaii has an interesting but I think pointless post up about the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

It reads, "The United States Congress twice rejected treaties proposing the annexation of Hawai`i. They opted to 'annex' Hawai`i by joint resolution. Being a domestic law, no resolution other than one ratifying a treaty has any effect on an international level. For instance, Congress cannot annex Russia without Russia's consent."

Texas and Hawaii were both annexed to the USA via Joint Resolutions of Congress. (See http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/annexation/march1845.html and http://www.hookele.com/non-hawaiians/newlands.html). If the Hawaiian annexation was illegal, so then was the Texan annexation. Is Texas legally part of the USA? If so, then Hawaii is too.

If Texas is not legally part of the USA, then LBJ and George W. Bush were never legally President of America as they were not naturally born Americans according to the Constitution. President Obama is a poser too as he was born in Hawaii and is not legally the Prez.

If this Joint Resolution of Congress thing is a big deal, then I suppose we can expect Hawaiian and Texan independence proponents to file a case with the US Federal court system or the International Court of Justice very soon. If they don't, I can only assume they don't have a real case but their arguments are just legal sophistry and propaganda. If your argument about a Joint Resolution of Congress not being legal is full-proof, why not take it to court?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

John Brown's Raid 150th Anniversary

2009 marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Although the American Civil War may have been inevitable, many historians mark this failed attempt at ending slavery in the United States of America as one of the final sparks that lite the American national disaster of 1861-1865.

John Brown's Raid 150th Anniversary is a site that has information on a series of events in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland commemorating the 2009 sesquicentennial anniversary of John Brown's assault on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The site notes, "Four states and four counties have begun preparations to commemorate the 2009 sesquicentennial anniversary of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The John Brown 150th Anniversary Quad-State Committee, comprised of various historians and officials from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, are planning and coordinating a range of commemoration events. Officials responsible for organizing the commemorations say that events will include re-enactments, dramatic productions, art exhibits, academic lectures, special tours and much more."

I find a bit of irony in this commemoration. John Brown's raid was almost universally condemned in both the North and South. Even opponents of slavery felt that using violence to solve the slavery issue was wrong. Brown's attack if it happened today would almost certainly be labelled as terrorism. However, Brown felt as though the political process was never going to abolish slavery. In his mind, violence was justified to end a greater evil when the normal political process could not. As it happened, he was right in that it took a brutal civil war to finally end American slavery. However, was John Brown right to do what he did? I don't have the answer to that.