Category Archives: History

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

First farmer of the Linear Pottery Culture in Neolithic Central Europe. Illustration: Karol Schauer, State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Saale), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

Covid-19 and the grassroots

PANDEMICS hand power to the people. Leadership is necessary, for an optimal outcome, but essentially it’s up to us what happens next. It’s in times like these that grassroots political movements can come into their own – if they know how to adapt to the circumstances…

Sardine baitball by Sudokuhani – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 15 May 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Will coronavirus lead to fairer societies? Thomas Piketty explores the prospect

THE French economist Thomas Piketty is the bestselling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) and its follow-up, Capital and Ideology (2019), a sweep through 1,000 years of the history of inequality. Speaking to the Guardian, he said he had been thinking about the opportunities this pandemic may present to build fairer, more equal societies…

Thomas Piketty by B. Sutherton – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This article appeared in The Guardian on 12 May 2020. To continue reading, click here.

God’s perfume

IN THE EARLY 1990s, the then Mayor of Versailles, André Damien, discovered a folded paper in the drawer of an antique desk he had just bought at auction. When he opened the paper up, he saw that it had written on it a formula for what seemed to be a perfume, so he took it to Jean Kerléo, the founder of the Osmothèque – the world’s only conservatory of perfumes, which is also located in Versailles…

This article first appeared in British Vogue online on 13 April 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Closed borders and black weddings

PLAGUES – or, to use a more modern term, epidemics of infectious disease – pluck at our most primal fears. We have lived with them for at least 10,000 years, ever since our ancestors took up farming and built the first semi-permanent settlements. And they have always had the upper hand. They know us intimately, preying on our strengths – our sociability, our love of gossip – and turning them into weaknesses. They are always a step ahead, and once they are out, like the genie, we can’t get them back in. All we can do is limit the damage. So here we are again…

Poor advice

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 11 March 2020. To continue reading, click here.