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.

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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Guyana: The Country of the Golden myth

Guyana lies in the North West of South America, with the Atlantic Ocean to the North and Brazil to the South. The name Guyana derives from in indigenous language known as Amerindian and translates to the land of many waters. Currently, there are numerous indigenous tribes still inhabiting Guyana, thought the historical lens tends to focus on the Lokono and Kalina tribes which maintained a hegemony over the region, though to be replaced by the European powers following the (re-)discovery of the Americas. It is the discovery and the resultant colonial expansions that I wish to focus on in the blog as it was a defining moment in Guyana’s history as it was when Guyana actually entered history – at least the European-centric global history we often refer to. The arrival of Europe to America irreversibly transformed Guyana – as indeed it did for all of the Americas.

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Ethiopia in Prehistory and Antiquity

Ethiopia lies in horn of Africa and is the largest and most populated country within the horn. It is also one of oldest countries in the world, and has been universally known and engaged with since ancient times. It is the early days of Ethiopia – its prehistory and ancient history – that I want to focus on in this blog.

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Confucius: A Brief History of Master Kong

Today I am writing about a long overdue historical figure that I have admired for a long time: Confucius. The name itself is actually the latinisation of the title he was known by Kǒng Fūzǐ (which means something like Master Kong – Kong was his family name). His given name was Qiu. However, the Jesuit priests that got to China during the 16th century adapted it to their ears and languages, like it often happens with so many Asian names in Western culture.

I could write loads about him, but I will try to keep it to a brief overview, where I am mostly using the work of Michael Schuman as a reference. According to his research, there I a possibility that the great master may have been an illegitimate child. Confucius’s father, Kong He, die when the child was barely a couple of years old. Kong He was a lot older than Confucius mother, Yan Zhengzai, who was only a teenager at the time of the child’s birth on the 28th of September 551 BC. Schuman is of the idea that Zhengzai was shunned by the Kong family which is why Confucius was raised essentially in poverty. According to Burton Watson, it is evident from Confucius writing in his Analects that this experience of living a life of struggle and misery is what gave him a particular understanding and viewpoint of wealth and class. The child, perhaps guided by a higher purpose, or in an attempt to restore his family’s honour and glory, dedicated himself to the relentless study of history, literature ad philosophy.

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I’m not saying it was Aliens…

History of the meme along with its place in the historian’s professional landscape

Tabby's Star faded substantially over past century.

Aliens have become somewhat infamous in the world of history writing. Every historian from the armchair variety through to the academic professor has more than likely come across that  one particular meme. The one featuring Giorgio A. Tsoukalos  standing there with his style of hair in its usual kind of crazy way an holding his hands out stating the words “aliens.” And honestly, it doesn’t matter what style or period of history one is exploring. The meme seems to have made its way into all of them. The infamous image itself comes from the 2010 Ancient Aliens TV series that Tsoukalos, himself an Alien expert,  was the host for. Spinning out of the concepts raised in the Ancient Aliens series, one of the key ideas that made this program notable is the wide variety of historical phenomena that it attributes to aliens. That is to say, iconic historical products of civilizations and peoples such as the Nazca Lines or Baalbek become attributed to extraterrestrials instead of the cultures that produced them. This concept is termed conversely “ancient astronauts” and “paleocontact” and can be defined through the attributing of great and sophisticated works of the past to extraterrestrials.

Ancient Astronauts and Colonial Psychology

The concept of ancient astronauts is not dissimilar from the effects of colonial propaganda. Briefly, colonial empires would create and impose an image of inferiority onto the peoples it colonized, and likewise, an image of ascendancy for the colonizing peoples.  From this standpoint, the colonial entity would project outward, through its arts and literature, the idea that its cultural developments were inherently superior to those they colonized.  Concerning notions of cultural works, the concept of superiority shown through technology still exists and is tied to the lingering colonial psychology. Indeed, within the 19th, 20th and continuing into the 21st century, western society underwent a massive degree of technological revolution in a relatively short span of time. That, further, this time period has brought with it unprecedented forms of technology and social issues. While the same could be said to be true of any technological revolution, from the perspective of those within it the past must be, by definition, less capable. For instance, the 20th century has seen technology develop from the assembly line to splitting the Atom, being able to propel humans into space to having wireless communication networks spanning the globe. While the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries certainly had its technological advances (the functional button of the 13th century, for example), there is the mentality that the current developments are more progressive largely because they are more pertinent to us. Outside the sense of temporal pertinence, the past must be lacking the sophistication of technology the contemporary enjoys.

I often argue that western society has lost their colonial empires (to greater or lesser degrees), but has maintained the colonial psychology of perceived and projected inferiority. The current perception of technology as equating with superiority falls into that colonial mentality and for 21st century capitalism, is part of the colony’s legacy.  Yet, there are products of other cultures that present a compliment to or empathize with that sense of pertinence. Items such as the Saqqara Bird, Machu Picchu, the Moai and others are routinely attributed to extra-terrestrials.    As an examples of objects that can be situated into contemporary western perceptions about technology, the ancient astronaut notion offers an easy method of situating the sophistication of past and non-western societies. Thus, lacking the precise same means, the products of another time or culture become attributed to aliens as a source of equivalency of method and psychology. The ancient astronaut, the alien, becomes the appropriate stand in: A technologically advanced helper from somewhere far away, a benevolent invader, a colonist.  

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Tasty History: Chocolate

Hello guys! It has been a really long time since we have had time to write a proper blog entry. But now hat we have got the podcast up and running and the team is reconfigured, it is time to deliver. And, our first topic since the formation fof Nu History couldn’t be more delicious: Chocolate! Whether you like it dark, with milk, hot, cold, as a bar or a drink, I believe there is a chocolate for every kind of person. So, today I will give you an insight into how chocolate came to be. For this, we must first travel thousands of years into the past to one of my favourite historical areas: pre-Hispanic Meso America.

The Origins of Cacao

Just to clarify; chocolate is a product derivate from cacao or cocoa beans. The actual word for chocolate comes from the Aztec xocolatl, which meant bitter water. However, cacao was used way before the Aztecs to create indeed bitter tasting beverages made with cocoa and often used for either ritual or medicinal purposes. In a recent study (2018) published by Sonia Zarillo et al. trace back the earliest recorded used of cacao to 5300 years ago, in the area of Santa Ana, (Ecuador). Coe and Coe also state that the Olmecs had domesticated cacao plants and used its produce for medicinal purposes and religious rituals, and we have ample evidence of this from the area of Veracruz (1900–900 BCE). But the most extensive knowledge of Meso-American culture that we have regarding cacao comes from the Mayan culture, (500-800CE) where there is an abundance of ceramics that depicts its varied uses. It is also the Mayans from who we get the word cacao as kakaw. Kakaw was essentially a gloop of cacao made into a drink and the most renown discovery of this type of product is found at Rio Azul. This is the site where in the 90s the scientists from Hershey Corporation first identified the original chemical signature of cacao. By the time the Aztec empire took control of most of Meso America, things had changed. It seems that the Aztecs didn’t actually grow their own cacao already by the 1400s, and instead they used to obtain it as an import, often paid as a tax from areas they conquered. They also started drinking it cold and branching its uses, so that in Aztec culture cacao was an aphrodisiac according to Szogyi.

Cocoa Beans Comes to Europe

The beans were brought back to Europe by the cargo ships from the Americas. It was in fact Columbus who originally shipped them to Spain, however they got little interest from the public until much later when chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court. Despite it being first found by the Spaniards, the success of cocoa and chocolate in Europe would come from other nations, two main rivals of Spain in fact: the English and the Dutch. Cocoa was prominently imported during the reign of Charles I and during the 16th century, it was actually used as a drug to solve tooth decay and dysentery. Moreover, one of the physicians for Queen Anne, Hans Sloane, seemingly saw Jamaican workers during his visit to the island back in 1680 mixing cocoa powder with breast milk as a form drink, so he decided to borrow the concept (but with cow’s milk) for medicinal purposes once more. At this stage, the history of chocolate takes a dark turn as during the early modern period many African slaves were used in the cocoa plantations that the English, Dutch and French had in the transatlantic colonies. And so, with cheap labour and the invention of the first mechanic cocoa grinder in Bristol (1729) the European obsession with chocolate – and slavery – continued all the way to the 19th century when things changed once again.

Dutch Production, English Consumerism: Cocoa in the 19th Century

The transformation of cacao into the product that we could recognise nowadays only happened in the 19th century thanks to a clever Dutch chemist. Coenrad van Houten came up with the idea of removing cacao butter and added baking powder to the mix all successfully achieved by his creation: the cocoa press (1828). He had previously invented a alkaline solution that made chocolate less bitter to the taste, so the “Dutch Cocoa” invention made it a lot more marketable. Interestingly most the cocoa consumed in the UK during the 19th century was produced in the Netherlands, making this a very profitable industry for the Dutch. In Victorian Britain the first chocolate houses opened in the area of Mayfair and the concept drove English society into an absolute craze. In fact, at the royal apartments in Hampton Court we know that Willian III, as well as George I and II had a dedicated chocolate kitchen. Lizzie Collingham argues however that during this period much of the cocoa powder used in these establishments was heavily adultered with other products. Amongst these feature things like lentils or tapioca, which actually made what they served more similar to a cocoa soup rather than a cocoa drink.  However by then, the price of cocoa dropped becoming more affordable and an easily available product in many houses. Cadbury’s chocolate in the UK was a great conduit for this phenomenon. Still popular today, the first shop was opened in Birmingham in 1824 by John Cadbury. Collingham again adds that the most influential brand that contributed to the popularisation of cocoa amongst the working clasess was not Cadbury, but the now forgotten Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa. Vi-Cocoa distributed a blend of cocoa, kola nut, malt and hops that made it incredibly popular between 1895 and 1910. In her book The Hungry Empire, she says that Cadbury’s target audience would have most likely been middle classes women, whilst Vi-Cocoa was targeting the working class man with an alternative to tea.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Daniel Peters enhanced Victorian chocolate by using powdered milk in the beverages and therefore creating milk chocolate, and instant national favourite. Dutch cocoa balanced bitterness reached a new height when the Swiss chocolatier Rodolpe Lindt (1879) used his conching machine to turn cocoa butter into an improved product, with better texture and flavour. The manufacturing advances of the time also allowed for Lindt’s product to be easier to distribute and reach new markets, so Lindt was a key player in changing chocolate into a food item rather than a drink. Meanwhile in America? Cacao beans were also used as a currency up until the 19th century in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Brazil. Funnily enough, these were easy to fake: empty casks were often filled with soil to pretend they were ripe cacao beans.

So as you can see the journey of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate is a varied and multicultural one. From its origins in America to its developments in Europe kakaw has adopted many forms and purposes. And, although I certainly believe most of us don’t use it as a medicine for tooth decay…I think we can probably agree it is a medicine for the soul and, as recent scientific research confirms, good for our mental health. With this history of chocolate, and the many more to come articles and podcasts regarding food history, I am trying to send a message of hope and unity. I truly believe that food brings people together, and in this day an age of conflict and division, humans and human history could do more with interconnectivity and hope.

I hope you join us on the next one 🙂

The Diquis Spheres – (2019 Update)

Today we will move across the globe to discover the Diquis Spheres. These are some stone spheres found in the delta of Diquis, between the rivers Terraba and Sierpe, in the peninsula of Osa and the Isla del Caño (Costa Rica). They are unique archaeological finds due to their number of existing specimens (over 300!), as well as their sizes, formations and rounded perfection. Their dimensions vary from the 10 cm to 2.57 m of diameter. They can weigh as much as 16 tones and have been found in 34 different archaeological sites. These are the products of the Diquis culture: a pre-Columbian culture, indigenous from Costa Rica. Diquis means great waters or river in the Boruca language (the native speaking tongue), which seems to tie in with the locations of the finds. However, their meaning and origin is a mystery.

According to Ifigenia Quintanilla (University of Costa Rica), the spheres were most likely produced sometime between the 800 and the 500 B.C. However, local archaeologists investigating the subject have trouble dating and interpreting them as 90% of the spheres have been moved and found away from their original locations. The theories on their meaning and purpose get even more obscure and confusing. Most archaeologists and historians support the idea that these artifices had an astronomical function. Perhaps they were a way of timing agricultural cycles, or even maybe representations of constellations. Another supported hypothesis is that these could be used as markers of social status for the leaders of the indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, more fantastical explanations have been proposed:

-Some think these could have been done by the people of Atlantis, or even by extra-terrestrial beings!

-There is also the myth that the Diquis culture knew of a chemical product that could manipulate the physical state and shape of stone.

-Some more logical beliefs consider that perhaps these were used as territorial markers.

-More interestingly, many have found them to be an analogy of a pre-Columbian myth. This is related to the god of thunder Tara, or Tlachque, who used throw some spherical objects against the Serke, or the gods of wind and hurricane, to keep them away from these lands.

The Diquis Spheres in Modern Day Costa Rica:

The spheres were discovered in 1939 when the American company United Fruits made some moves over Costa Rica in order to clear some woodlands for the sake of banana cultivation. And then the mystery and fascination began.

They were first mentioned, and worthy of scholarly consideration, in 1943 when Doris Stone wrote an article for the magazine American Antiquity about them. Since then, many studies have been carried out to try to understand what these items actually are. And it seems that one of the most plausible explanation is that these spheres were used as some form of astronomical tool (Ivar Zapp, George Erikson, 1998). Other theories, such as the work produces by Patricia Fernandez and Ifigenia Quintanilla support the idea that these were public items; symbols of local power (2003). Perhaps this ties in with the theory that the stones were actually used by this society for funerary purposes, and that although no clear dating or chronology has been established yet, the society that produced them were likely to be a splinter group from the Aguas Buenas settlement (Roberto Herrera, 2017). This makes sense if we consider, as pointed out by some of the most striking pieces of goldsmithing does come from the Diquis area as well.

However, the research moves slowly. It took years for scholars to actually show a decent interest in the subject and try to solve the mystery. It seems that for several decades, the spheres lied out in this banana plantation, forgotten, catching the interest of occasional looters. Nonetheless, these stones are part of the collective memory of Costa Rica. They are a symbol of identity for the indigenous and local inhabitants, and they are commonly referenced in their popular culture and the media. Thanks to the superb work of archaeologists Francisco Corrales and  Adrian Badilla (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) since 2002 to the area has gained some interest, to the point that, it is worth mentioning that the Diquis spheres have as of 2014 – a year after the original introduction to this piece was written – now been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the site, tourism and conservation of the area evolves slowly as this is a new field for the Costa Rican nation.

We can only hope that the new generations of archaeologist will bring us more answers as to the origin and faction of these items, and of course, how they were made!

Lost Cities – Caral

Today we jump across the Atlantic to one of my other passions; pre-Colombian civilisations, to bring you yet another “Lost City”. This is of course one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries of the last century (in my opinion at least!), and one of the most magnificent sites in the world, with a very impressive team taking care of it. I am, of course, talking about the sacred city of Caral-Supe, or simply known as Caral. The site is currently under the protection of La Zona Arqueológica Caral (ZAC), which is a public entity created by a state decree in 2003 specifically to preserve the area. The location is, however, not quite what you would expect for a wonderful Andean discovery. Caral is in the desert terrace that overlooks the Supe river valley, approximately 23km away from the Pacific coast. So why is Caral included in our lost cities series? In a similar way than Gedi ( ), Caral was also abandoned. However, this happened more gradually over time.  The period of occupation for the site is understood to be between 2600BC and 2000BC. That is the conservative approach. However, there are evidence that suggest the area was settled much earlier than this, which would have made Caral the oldest city in the entirety of the American continent. The data takes us as far back as the Pyramids of Giza. Nonetheless, the recent discovery of Bandurria has taken the claim for oldest city in Peru, going back to the 4000BC. Although there had been previous investigations in the Supe valley (early 1900s), it wasn’t until 1948 when Paul Kosok – the researcher that brought us the original investigations on the Nazca lines – put Caral back on the map but under the name of Chupacigarro. However, his finds were dismissed due to the lack of typical artefacts previously found in the Andes cultures. It was later in the 70s when the investigations of the Peruvian archaeologists Carlos Williams brought it to the forefront of these types of investigations. Since then more people have come to investigate what has now been classified as the biggest thriving urban area in Andean Peru, and probably the city after which many more were modelled in the years to come. Nonetheless, the most important name is that of the woman who actually understood the site for what it was and that has allowed for its preservation by the ZAC: Ruth Martha Shady Solís. She started investigating the site in the 90s under the “Caral Project”. Her constant research and dedication have been plenty fruitful: she has enough evidence to establish the Caral (or Norte Chico civilization as it is known in English), as one of the earliest, or even the first known cultures in all South America.

So how did Caral get so lucky in terms of preservation? Well, the thing is that it was originally mistaken as a natural formation. Plus, thanks to the lack of any valuables (items of gold or other precious materials) being visible, it received little attention from looters. In addition, there are no evidence of warfare unlike in the previous two sites that we have seen so far. So, as you can see, things went well for the conservation of the ancient settlement,despite it only became a site recognise by the UNESCO in 2009. It is thanks to this that it has gained the status of one of the best investigates cities in the Norte Chico area of Peru. Now that you know about how the site got to us,you’d probably be wondering what there is actually left of it. Well, the total complex is of about 60 hectares renown for its architectural complexity.Amongst the structures found, there are huge stone and earthen platforms mounts and sunken circular courts, as well as pyramids and what appear to be residential buildings. The archaeology reflects this was a peaceful society,with no discoveries of fortifications or human remains that present signs of armed conflict. The people of Caral, much like the people in Gedi seemed to have thrived in commerce and had a strong economy. One of the most surprising pieces of evidence found was that of a quipu – also known as talking knots – which are these recording devices made out of fabric, similar to an abacus. Interestingly, quipus were believed to have been invented by the Inca,but the evidence of Caral show this system dates much further back. The city of Caral expanded amply across the region creating 19 temples plus what is known as Templo Mayor (main temple in Spanish) Caral itself. This is the reason why the site is mainly identified as a religious centre which is highlighted by the further evidence of ritualistic items found in the settlement and in the surrounding area. In addition, Caral also shows evidence of public buildings which reflect a central government and administration; it has been suggested that there were different social strata which this is evident in the development of the city and the different urban areas.So what type of people were the citizens of Caral? A total of 32 flutes have been recovered here by the archaeologists, which suggests the inhabitants were skilful artisans. In fact, the dating of the site was achieved through the carbon dating of woven carrying bags known as Shicras found in some of the temples. There are also evidence that suggest Caral was an advanced civilisation.In 2000 a team of archaeologist(Marco Machacuay and Rocío Aramburú) discovered a geoglyph just to the west of the site, which resembles a long screaming face, believed to be somewhat related  to the find in Cerro Sechin, just 150 km north of the site. It is likely that the geoglyph was part of the ceremonial and ritualistic aspects of this society. Finally,I think is it fair to point out that there are ample evidence of knowledge of astronomy, supported by different utensils, as well as a monolith ( known as huanca) located in one of the main squares.Shady believes that the monolith would have been used for the observation of time and the movement of the astral bodies.

Now you will probably be wondering, how does such an advanced and rich civilisation simply disappear? Well, Rodriguez argues that the abandonment of this settlement happened slowly over time, since the 2000BC – with it being deserted by the 1800BC. He argues that the most likely causes for this occurrence are due to natural phenomenon such as earthquakes and El Niño. The peak population of Caral would have been of around 3000 at its peak, however, if one was to consider the let’s call it metropolitan area of the settlement in the Supe Valley, this would encompass a total of approximately 20000 (Shady). The communities that formed the populace of Caral are believed to have been ayllus – an extensive population with a common familial origin that congregated to work for the envelopment of the lands of religious leaders of some sort, which
is a common type of conglomeration in Quechua societies. This was the essential glue of this population and what allowed them to thrive and developed for such a long time, hence emphasising the role of Caral as a scared city. Perhaps, the city lost religious significance and due to the fabric of its society started a slow mass exodus on to other thriving areas.

If you wanted to find out more about Caral, I am sad to say you will have to learn some Spanish as the majority of the publications are done by the local archaeologists. Shady and Rodrigues – which I have mentioned in my piece – have a multitude of books on the subject. Amongst these, I would recommend Rodríguez, Gonzalo (2015). Guerrero, Ricardo; Pease, María Elena, eds. Culturas antiguas del Perú: Caral. Hacia la primera civilización de América. As well as, Shady, Ruth; Cáceda, Daniel; Crispín, Aldemar; Machacuay, Marco; Novoa, Pedro; Quispe, Edna (2009). Caral. La civilización más antigua de las Américas: 15 años develando su historia. Nevertheless, I believe a lot of the work done by Shady has been translated to English. Otherwise have a look at Andean Archaeology III: North and South, Volume 3, edited by William Isbell, Helaine Silverman – also a pretty good book with an overall narrative.

Lost Cities – Gedi

Continuing this series of Lost Cities ( for the first one) today I would like you to take you on a trip to the east coast of Africa. I know we don’t tend to go there much in this blog, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to pay a visit. Where are we off to, you will be wondering? Well, today we are having a look at the ruins of the city of Gedi – or Gede depending on the spelling. This town is of medieval origin and seems to belong to the Swahili cultures of the area, however as the middle ages developed the influence of the Arabic expansion in Africa becomes apparent. Why am I referring to Gedi as a lost city? There are a few reasons. The first one ans perhaps most obvious is that, like with Xanadu, the settlement in currently in ruins. And this leads us to point 2: Gedi was abandoned by the locals, and we are still a bit unsure as to why exactly, particularly considering this seems to have been a remarkable settlement. Amongst the archaeological find we have Ming pottery, Venetian glass and even what seemingly is a flushing toilet! Another reason why I count Gedi into this list, is because there is virtually no record of it in the historical sources. Considering the heavy influence of the Portuguese during the Age of Discovery in these area, it is interesting to know they didn’t really acknowledge this place…Yet the archaeology seems rather clear: Gedi was a mighty town. So, where abouts exactly is what remains of Gedi? The location is in the Eastern coast of Kenya, in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, and nearby the towns of Watamu and Malindi. The ruins excavated originally rediscovered in the 1920s, and it quickly became one of the most thoroughly excavated Swahili sites in the stretch that goes from southern Somalia to the Kenya-Tanzania border – there are 116 in total. Thankfully, it was made into a historic monument in 1927, and the status was elevated to that of a protected monument in 1929 following the looting of Chinese porcelain found in the site.  Nonetheless, and technically speaking, the location of Gedi had been known to non-African people since the 19th century. The British Sir John Kirk – explorer and companion of the renown Dr Livingstone, went to the site during his visit from Zanzibar. The first proper excavations were carried out in the 1940s under supervision of archaeologist James Kirkman, and were concentrated on the core buildings. This also led to the proclamation of the forest around it as a national park in 1948. The excavations around the mosque took precedence for the decades that followed, becoming this the key feature of research papers published on the subject, and hence enhancing the Arab influence in the area. As an example, the paper: “The Arab City of Gedi, The Great Mosque, Architecture and Finds” relates the vast majority of the information known about this building and the city itself. The author was, of course, Kirkman himself. Although seemingly forgotten and unknown to the colonist of the area, Gedi was known to the Mijikenda people, particularly the Giriama tribe one of the largest communities amongst the Mijikenda) who revere the site as a sacred place. This culture believe strongly in spirits and the otherworldly; despite the Islamic influence in the area, they still think there is a connection between Gedi and the spiritual world. Regarding the material culture of the site, we have a fair amount of stuff left. There is blatant evidence that Gedi was a walled town, with an inner and outer wall comprising an area of 45 acres. The walls alongside with the majority of the buildings here were made from coral stones extracted from the Indian ocean. They all seem to be one storey of height and there is a plurality of buildings, not just houses. Amongst these feature the already mentioned mosque, as well as a palace. Due to its location and growth, Gedi has been understood to be a trading centre, particularly with routes and commerce in the Indian Ocean. The period of occupation for the site has been dated thanks to carbon analysis of the remains and finds to the 11th century, and it seems the city was already abandoned by the to abandoned by the 17th. However, there are evidence of settlement in the vicinity of Gedi since the 6th century by different tribes and Swahili people. The estimated population of the city at its peak is of 2500, so perhaps not the greatest number one could think of but given the location it was certainly an important settlement. Gedi prospered and increased numbers until the early stages of the 16th century thanks to trade. And here comes the issue, you see, because it is likely that the most easily explained for the depopulation of the town had to do with its commercial nature. By the 16th century, the presence of Portuguese merchants in the area was extensive, and it is known that their monopolisation of trade led to the general decline of the local activities. Perhaps Gedi was one of the affected towns along the coastline as more and more Portuguese colonists established themselves a little further north. In addition, the Tanzania-Kenya border has traditionally been an area of conflict. There are mentions of raids from Somalia, and the evidence suggest the Galla people – or more commonly known these days as the Oromo –  from Ethiopia seem to have also been a likely contender for the depopulation of Gedi, which is a theory supported by Aylward Shorter in his study of the East African Societies. Currently, the site remains under the care of the National Museums of Kenya, and it is open to the public for touristic visits. However, the archaeological work is still ongoing. In fact, since the 90s, the investigations on Gedi have grown in interest and depth. The current works are attempting to understand the settlement beyond the narrow frame of its Arabic development and the mosque itself. Works by Stephane Pradines and Lynn Koplin have focused on other buildings found in the site which are seemingly mud thatched properties built between the inner and outer walls. This is helping reshape the history of the site as a socio-political body with an important urban development and not just a religious site of one kind or another.Another item of investigation and that comments on the economic importance of the settlement is the abundance of cowry shells. It has been speculated that, perhaps these were a form of currency amongst the people of Gedi, which would make sense considering the evidence for these shells been used as legal tender indifferent areas of Africa throughout history. However, as you can see there is still a lot of work to be done in Gedi as a whole. As usual, African cultures seem to be right at the bottom of the list of things to be investigated, and that needs to change. Hopefully as the years come by I may be able to revisit this post with bran new and up to date information on the site and see that wonderful remains from the middle ages all over the world are taken proper care of.