Oman in the Paleolithic: Migration and Desertification

For my second contribution to ABC world history I have found myself with O for Oman! Having never significantly looked into the history of the Arabian Peninsula, let alone the region that modern day Oman covers, I decided to go early with it, and take a general overview of the different Paleolithic periods important to this part of the world leading up to the Neolithic revolution.

The present-day Sultanate of Oman lies in the south-eastern Arabian Peninsula, but there are different definitions for Oman, Oman traditionally included the present-day United Arab Emirates, though its prehistoric remains differ in some respects from the more specifically defined Oman proper which corresponds roughly with the current central provinces of the country. Oman is surrounded by the vast Rub Al-Khali desert to the west and the Arabian Sea and Sea of Oman to the south and east. The country is naturally divided into three geological zones: the Al-Hajar Mountains in northern Oman, the Huqf depression in the interior and the Dhofar Mountains in the southwest. Many wadis (valleys or dry riverbeds) cross the plateaus of the central region that once would have flowed with ancient rivers that led into perennial lakes in the lowlands. There is plenty of evidence that this would have once been a fairly productive landscape of grasslands before the region became the very arid place it is today.

Dhofar region cave art

Arabia as a whole wasn’t always a vast desert, but the incorrect perception of Arabia as always unchanged from its current state has seems to have contributed to a relative lack of archaeological research. What recent research there has been is also affected by the nature of this now arid land, with most prehistoric sites consisting of scattered stones from surface contexts. As a result, knowledge of Arabian prehistory often comes from sites potentially representing multiple phases of occupation, which lack absolute dates and environmental information. It is a land of total archaeological visibility, with few preserved sediments.

Despite these challenges it has been seen as important to look further into the prehistory of this region. As the geographic bridge between Africa and Asia, the Lower Paleolithic archaeological record in Arabia provides important clues for tracking the evolution and dispersal of human species through a major corridor of migration. Previously In anthropological literature the Arabian Peninsula often served as a useful blank on the map in which to draw hypothetical arrows of human dispersal. The specific environmental and geographical characteristics of Arabia are usually overlooked in theories of human genetic variation, but it is precisely such contexts that are critical to defining patterns of human migration and adaptation. As genetic studies of Arabian populations have increased in more recent years, they reveal a complex pattern in which modern Arabian populations are mostly derived from Western Asia. However In some areas there are relatively high levels of African lineages.

In Oman, specifically the Dhofar region, there has been recent research on the Lower Paleolithic stone tools found, which is the most reliable archaeological evidence to be found in such an environment. This indicated that the first archaic human toolmakers in Dhofar, arrived sometime in the Early Pleistocene around 1.5 million years ago, and lived in a vastly different and greener landscape than that of today. It was previously thought that some tools found were actually from much later, in the Neolithic period, but this new research shows that there were indeed very early stone tool users in this southern region of Oman.

Moving into the Middle paleolithic, a period starting around 300,000 years ago in which we see more distinct local stone tool traditions develop across different parts of the globe. In this period there has been a rich evidence for human habitation across southern Arabia and Oman specifically. The vast majority of Middle Paleolithic assemblage types in southern Arabia belong to the Nubian Technocomplex, which is a very characteristic method of stone tool production that is highly associated with northern African humans, traced originally to Northern Sudan 150,000 years ago. These people using this method were likely to be anatomically modern humans, meaning Homo sapiens. Although there is just a small amount of evidence linking Homo sapiens remains to sites of this type, there have been no archaic forms of human associated with these particular tools. Finding so many of these sites across southern Arabia provides evidence for connections between modern humans across the Red Sea over 100,000 years ago, however the actual direction of these population movements remains an open question.

Nubian complex locations

Remains dating between approximately 45,000 and 15,000 years ago are classified as from the Upper Paleolithic period. It was during this time that our species spread into Australia and the Americas, drew pictures on cave walls, carved portable art objects and musical instruments, and outlived every other human species on earth. In the Oman Peninsula, a period known as the Late Paleolithic succeeded the Upper Paleolithic, falling between approximately 14,000 and 7,000 years ago. The Late Paleolithic is a cultural unit distinct to South Arabia that is widespread from the Hadramawt Valley in central Yemen to the Al-Hajar Mountains in northern Oman. The late Paleolithic is characterised by a new stone tool production style that is surprisingly uniform across the region, something of a change from earlier periods when tools were increasingly diverse. Genetic studies of Modern South Arabian populations in Dhofar have revealed deeply rooted lineages reaching as far back as 12,000 years old, which fall into the Late Paleolithic time frame. An analysis of DNA estimates the effective breeding population of Dhofar jumped from about 1,000 to 10,000 people during this period. Shortly after this relative boom in population, sometime between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago, domesticated cattle and goats were introduced to southern Arabia, heralding the Neolithic revolution. But by 6,000 years ago the Holocene Climatic Optimum came to an end, leading to a millennium of drought and desertification.

The Birth of North Korea

For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.

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Mozambique: Sofala & Chibuene

Welcome once again dear readers to another entry in our ABC of World History. Today I am taking you back to Africa to the area of Mozambique in yet another effort to make this blog less eurocentric. I really hope the importance of this area comes across because as I was doing my research I still found so many sources about Mozambique and the Swahili coast of Africa that seem to ignore anything noteworthy before the European colonialists swinging by. So today I am bringing you some details about the development of Mozambique in the middle ages and the importance of this area for the development of trade.

As you may know, the Indian ocean key for trade in Africa since ancient times, and Mozambique is an important enclave. Evidence suggests however that since the collapse of the roman empire, sea trade may have declined for people living on the east coast of Africa and this may have powered the growth of the interior of countries such as Mozambique. But changes again with the arrival of Islam into Africa in the 7th century when the Indian ocean becomes again a prime hub for the exchange of goods, people and culture. Although it has been debated for a very long time how much interaction and mingling was between the Bantu and Swahili peoples of Mozambique and surrounding areas, it seems to transpire that there was a fair interaction and integration between the Arab newcomers and the natives. Briggs and Edmunds argue that the best evidence of this is in the language. Although Islam triumphs in terms of religious conversion, Swahili became the language used overall, even if with some Arabic borrowings. Now that you have some context I would like to use the following sections to 2 different enclaves in Mozambique that highlight the importance of trade and that show how active this part of the world has been for such a long time:

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Nu History Podcast – 11 – Environmentalism in 20th Century America

In this long and fascinating episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Nick to talk about his specialism of environmental history, particularly in the political and activist movements through 20th Century America.

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log

Hey Guys! It’s September already and we are on the letter L on our ABC of World History. And it is quite convenient because I had the perfect material for this update from a trip I did a couple of years back and that I never quite had the opportunity to post about as I was right in the middle of my PhD thesis write up and several other publications. But, Today is your day 😉

For my birthday in 2017, I was lucky enough to go to the beautiful and incredibly surprising city of Luxembourg and as I was there I had a look around other places outside of the city, mostly Vianden castle which is a great site to go to. I literally had all of 2 full days and 3/4 of another as the flight back to the UK on the last day was at 8 pm, and I must say it was all a very pleasant experience. So today, I will leave with you my quick and super packed of history and goodness travel log.

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Kazakhstan & Horse Meat

Having just passed our first ABC of World History milestone, we move to central Asia to take you to an incredible place: Kazakhstan. As much as I love to think that you are aware of this country because of the significant role that it has played in history since time immemorial…Let’s face it, you probably know this country and word for one reason only: Borat. (Yes, it is ok. At least you know it exists…and you are about to find out more). But first, here are some basic facts about Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, and it shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (which will feature later on in our project). It is currently run by the same guy that has been in charge of the country since the fall of the USSR (an authoritarian regime, in case you did not get that from THAT Context…). Furthermore, it is home to 131 ethnicities and a key hub for the ancient Silk Road.

And before I get to share a bit of cultural history (it is what today is all about), I want to share a little bit of my personal history. The first time I ever met someone from central Asia back in Spain was a dear classmate of mine who is from Kazakhstan when I was in college. At the sweet age of 16, he explained how to build a Kalashnikov in the middle of class recess. Fascinated by this, he told me of the severe political issues of his homeland and the fact that this type of education was still being imparted in school when he was living there (late 1990s-early 2000s). I became a little obsessed back then with any bit of culture that I could get from my pal about this land which sounded so exotic in my mind (I had never left Europe and back then still haven’t moved far from Western Europe indeed). Admittedly, my classmate’s family was of Russian descent, and I did not get to know a lot about Kazakh culture itself. However, one thing always stuck with me: everyone loved horses – and ate them without such a scandalous fear of whatever meat it may be they were consuming. And for once, I felt normal: we eat horses where I come from (though not in the same quantity), and I Love It. 

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Japan – The Origins and Evolution of the Samurai

Welcome back to the ABC world history series! For my contribution I have J for Japan, and obviously I was going to write something about warfare. The first thing to come to mind when considering Japanese warfare history would undoubtedly be the samurai. Of course we all know about their modern reputation as honourable masters of the katana, but this was not always their way, and misrepresents the majority of the role they played in Japanese society throughout time. As with most things in history I think it’s interesting to look back where things began, so today I’ll be taking a look at the origins of the samurai, and how they evolved through the centuries.

China has influenced Japan more than any other nation, and the relationship between the two has had a massive impact on history. In the mid-seventh century Japan widely adopted many Chinese-style institutions. The Taihō Codes of 702, a set of statutes written in Chinese and inspired by Chinese models, mandated a stable, centralized state in control of a reformed military system emphasizing peasant infantry. Things began to change break down eventually however, and thanks to a political vacuum created by an ineffective central government between 900 – 1100, local leaders were forced to arm themselves and take matters into their own hands against many rebellions. These warriors of the countryside soon banded together, linked by ties of dependence and based in private estates on land they had claimed themselves. Eventually they were wholly relied upon for control of rural Japan, and finally in 1185 Yoritomo seized leadership of this new class and established a feudal system which allotted land to them in exchange for their martial service. Hence those previously known as bushi (warrior) started to take on the name of samurai, literally meaning ‘servant’, although until the seventeenth century it may have been an insult to refer to these them as such.

Overall this story is the commonly accepted history of how the samurai came to prominence in Japan, however it does gloss over a lot of the details. So to find out more we need to go back to the time of the early Chinese-styled Japanese military. The Japanese imperial government was vigorous during the early Heian period. Emperor Kanmu’s avoidance of drastic reform decreased the intensity of political struggles, and he became recognized as one of Japan’s most forceful emperors. Imperial control was spreading across the majority of Japan by this time, and thrust north with an army based mainly on the Chinese heavy infantry model of the Tang dynasty. Eventually however, they came upon people known as the Emishi (shrimp barbarians), or Mojin (Hairy people) of north-eastern Honshu. This distinct group had developed horse archery tactics similar to those of the Huns and Mongols. Although archery had been a major martial skill in Japan since prehistory, and there had been some use of cavalry by those that could afford it, the two had never been combined in an effective fighting force by the Japanese before. The more static infantry of the Japanese struggled to deal with these highly mobile and effective fighters, so eventually their tactics were adopted and the Emishi were gradually assimilated after 801 when they had finally been subjugated. This resilient group had a profound impact on the formation of the first Samurai, and it has been said that the very core of the Japanese spirit is the ‘ghost of the Emishi’.

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Ireland and Imperators: Iron-Age Ireland and the Roman world next door.

While Britain, from AD 43 to the historic date of AD 410, had undergone a cultural and socio-political metamorphosis through its incorporation into the Roman world, the land of Hibernia (modern-day Ireland) remained outside the political sphere of the empire. However, this does not mean that Ireland and Rome remained complete aliens to each other – each being an unknown world to the other, as popular belief may tend to lean to. For this week, the focus will be on prehistoric Ireland up to, and including, its existence with the Roman Empire as it’s neighbour.

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The Holy See: 2000 Years of Tradition

Welcome back to the Nu History blog! My name is Analisa and although I’ve guested on the Nu History Podcast before, this is my first time writing for the blog. The subject is rather fitting as well! I’m continuing the countries of the world history series with the Holy See, or the Vatican. This is my favorite place in the world because of its rich history and tradition, fabulous architecture, and amazing museum complex! So, to learn more, keep on reading! 

St Peter’s Basilica, the center point of the Holy See, has existed in some form or another for the past 2000 years! It marks the spot where St. Peter, disciple of Jesus, was executed by crucifixion in the mid 60’s CE. Emperor Nero shifted the blame for the Great Fire of Rome to the Christian population and St. Peter, as the leader of the early Church, was a prime target. Archaeological evidence suggests that the site was a popular pilgrimage site fairly soon after St. Peter’s death. 

In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan. This was a huge event for the early Church. It legalized Christianity, pulling it out from the shadows and into the spotlight. (Note that Christianity was not made the state religion of the Roman Empire until 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica.) As the first Christian emperor, Constantine took it upon himself to build basilicas, churches, and holy sites throughout Rome, Constantinople, and the Holy Land. The Constantinian St. Peter’s Basilica stood for about a thousand years until it fell into disrepair. (More on this later!)

During the medieval period, Rome fell into disrepair. Plague, invasions, and poor Papal leadership all contributed to the city’s (and therefore the Vatican’s) fall. From 1309 to 1376, seven popes ruled from Avignon France under pressure from the French monarchy, starting with Phillip IV. This was extremely controversial, especially because it seemed to be taking power away from the Church. In fact, a rival faction of popes ruled from Rome. This was chaotic and led to different edicts being issued from two or more popes! It must have been quite confusing for the faithful!

When the Papacy finally made its way back to Rome, the popes knew they had to fix things. It was time to restore the grand and powerful image of the Church. It was during the Renaissance and Baroque periods that many of the buildings and works of art we associated with the Papacy were made. However, this growing power (and abuses of it) led to some major events! The first occurred in 1517 with the Protestant Reformation. When Martin Luther displayed his ninety five theses, it rocked the Church to its core and would have lasting effects that still resonate today. A mere ten years later in 1527, the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, sacked the city. The pope was held captive and the world realized that the Church was not as powerful as it seemed. To help regain some of it back, the Papacy launched the Counter Reformation. 

The pope served as the head of the Papal States for the next couple of centuries. But in 1850, Victor Emmanuel II became King of Italy. His main goal was to unify the multiple city states of Italy under a single government. On September 20, 1870, the king’s army forcibly occupied Rome. Pope Pius IX refused to reach an agreement with Victor Emmanuel II because he felt it was taking away too much of the Church’s power. So, Pius IX and his successors locked themselves within the walls of the Vatican for the next 59 years! 

In 1929, Benito Mussolini approached Pope Pius XI. He offered to create a Vatican city state within the city of Rome. Knowing that many Italians, and Catholics, wished to see a truce, the Pope signed the Lateran Treaty on February 11. This gave the Pope power over the Vatican land and a couple of churches within Rome. 

Today, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. It is only about 0.49 square kilometers (0.19 square miles)! There are about 600 citizens, though the majority of them live abroad for ecclesiastical purposes. The museums, gardens, and St. Peter’s Basilica makes the city a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination. And how could it not be? With 2000 years of history and tradition, there’s a lot to see!