Category Archives: Archaeology

The 2010s: what just happened?

THE 2010s were the decade in which we were reminded that science is just a method, like the rhythm method. And just like the rhythm method, it can be more or less rigorously applied, sabotaged, overrated, underrated and ignored. If you don’t treat it with respect, you may not get the optimal result, but that’s not the method’s fault…

Ice mountains on Pluto

This article was first published in The Guardian on 26 December 2019. To continue reading, click here.

 

There was no Axial “Age”

IT’S an idea that has been influential for more than 200 years: around the middle of the first millennium BC, humanity passed through a psychological watershed and became modern. This ‘Axial Age’ transformed an archaic world of divine rulers, slavery and human sacrifice into a more enlightened era that valued social justice, family values and the rule of law. The appeal of the general concept is such that some have claimed humanity is now experiencing a second Axial Age driven by rapid population growth and technological change. Yet according to the largest ever cross-cultural survey of historical and archaeological data, the first of these ages never happened — or at least unfolded differently from the originally proposed narrative…

Karl Jaspers, 1946

This article was first published in Nature on 9 December 2019. To continue reading, click here.

History as a giant data set

IN its first issue of 2010, the scientific journal Nature looked forward to a dazzling decade of progress. By 2020, experimental devices connected to the internet would deduce our search queries by directly monitoring our brain signals. Crops would exist that doubled their biomass in three hours. Humanity would be well on the way to ending its dependency on fossil fuels…

Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882)

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 12 November 2019. To continue reading, click here.

Royal women revisited

ELEANOR of Aquitaine is often portrayed as one of the most powerful queens in history. Wife, mother and counsellor of kings, crusader, landowner, patron of the arts, her power eventually grew so great – at least in the eyes of one royal husband, Henry II of England – that he chose to lock her up. But what if Eleanor wasn’t exceptional? What if, in the manner and the degree to which she exerted power, she was very much in line with royal women throughout history…?

The tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England at Fontevraud Abbey, France. Photo courtesy of Martin Cooper/Flickr.

This essay first appeared on Aeon on 12 July 2019. To continue reading, click here.

 

Cosy up with the Neanderthals

PUT Matt Pope in a valley apparently untouched by humans and he can tell you where Neanderthals would have built their home. “It’s about a third of the way up a slope, with a really good vista and a solid bit of rock behind,” he says. Anyone who goes camping will recognise these preferences: this is where you want to pitch your tent when you arrive in an unfamiliar place at dusk. It is also where aspirational types dream of buying a place to live. In other words, this is the spot that lures us with siren calls of “home”…

Jack Hudson for New Scientist

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 8 February 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).