How Many "First Australians" Were There?

New research suggests ancestors of the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Melanesian peoples arrived in a planned, coordinated migration. The mathemetical models used take three sets of data into account. First, fertility, longevity, and survival data from hunter-gatherer societies around the globe. Second, "hindcasts" of past climatic conditions from general circulation models -- basically the reverse of what scientists use to forecast future climate changes. Third, the long-established principles of population ecology. Combining these three, the scientists ran a number of simulations, to estimate how many people would have needed to arrive to found a sustainable Australian population.

The results suggest that the first Australians arrived with a settler population of at least 1,300 people. Any fewer than that, and they probably would not have survived, per the mathematical models. The probability of survival was also large if people arrived in smaller, successive waves, averaging at least 130 people every 70 or so years over the course of about 700 years. Either way, the settling of Australia was no accident. It was not one storm-tossed canoe washing up on a new shore. It was a planned and coordinated effort to migrate to a new homeland.

How Were Ancient Greek Women Educated?

Historians generally believe that ancient Greek girls did not have as much access to education as ancient Greek boys. But they must have had some, sometimes. Recorded history remembers a number of educated women such as Sappho of Lesbos, a famous poet, and Diotima, a philosopher and contemporary of Socrates. The lack of documentation on women's lives in classical Greece makes it difficult to determine exactly how much education girls received, however. Were these educated women rare? Or relatively common?

In addition to famous educated women, evidence also comes from art historians. A handful of artworks depict females studying! A kylix from the 400s BCE depict a female student carrying a tablet and stylus, used to write notes during a teacher's lectures. A vase from the same century shows a woman reading from a papyrus (above), meaning she had been taught how to read. A water vessel from the 500s BCE show two young girls being taught to dance by a female teacher. Such limited and fragmentary evidence is all historians have to attempt to understand how girls and women were educated in ancient Greece.

The Algorithm That Catches Serial Killers

Did you know that American killers are less likely to be caught today, than 50 years ago? That's bad. And on top of that, there are an estimated 2,000 serial killers working, actively, in the USA today. This is the problem that caused Thomas Hargrave to create an algorithm to spot serial killers in massive amounts of data.

Gender Imbalance in Neolithic Iberia

Archaeologists from the University of Seville recently completed a review of more than 500 Neolithic burials at 21 archaeological sites on the Iberian Peninsula. They found that at the 198 graves where the sex of the deceased could be determined, there were 1.5 male graves for every female grave. The researchers said that children’s graves were also underrepresented in the sample. “The quantity of males cannot be natural,” Cintas-Peña said. The study indicates that men were more likely to be buried with arrowheads and other projectiles, and more likely to have signs of injury or violent death, while women were more likely to be buried with ceramics.

However, the researchers added, the most elaborate graves in the cemeteries did not necessarily belong to men. They suggest gender differences, and male predominance in terms of violence, arose along with social inequalities as people accumulated private property. “If we can say that gender inequality began in the Neolithic, or in the Copper Age or in any period, it means that it's something cultural, it’s not something biologically determined,” Cintas-Peña explained.

Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.

If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.

The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing. Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members' tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.

Shang-era bronze wine container, with a “taotie” decor. It’s particularly notable because the container’s lid survives. Circa 1100 BCE

Courtesy of the Harvard Art Museum

A Pineapple By Any Other Name

Pineapples were cultivated by the Tupi-Guarani indigenous people in South America. In their language, "nana" means "excellent fruit." When the Spanish encountered the pineapple, they called it "pina" from Latin's "pinus" meaning "pine." The French called it "ananas" after the Tupi-Guarani word. And thus the fruit spread around the world with two very different names

Earliest Evidence of Smoked Cannabis Found in Central Asia

Central Asians were smoking cannabis by 500 BCE! Archaeologists have found traces of cannabinol, an oxidative metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) in incense burners recovered from the ancient Jirzankal Cemetery on the Pamir Plateau in western China. It appears that cannabis plants were placed in the incense burners, then hot stones placed on top, to create a mind-bending smoke. There is archaeological evidence that cannabis has been grown and cultivated since around 4000 BCE, but because those plants had very low THC content, they were likely being grown for their fiber and oil.

The new discovery at Pamir Plateau is the first clear evidence of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties. Especially interesting: the charred remains had higher THC concentrations than are found in wild plants, suggesting they had deliberately been cultivated to enhance their psychoactive properties, or that the Jirzankal people sought out wild plants with especially high THC content.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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