Sunday, June 25, 2017 All Day
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Friday, 16 June 2017
Dating back 11,000 years - with a coded message left by ancient man from the Mesolithic Age - the Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids.
New scientific findings suggest that images and hieroglyphics on the wooden statue were carved with the jaw of a beaver, its teeth intact.
Originally dug out of a peat bog by gold miners in the Ural Mountains in 1890, the remarkable seven-faced Idol is now on display in a glass sarcophagus in a museum in Yekaterinburg.
Two years ago German scientists dated the Idol as being 11,000 years old.
At a conference involving international experts held in the city this week, Professor Mikhail Zhilin said the wooden statue, originally 5.3 metres tall, was made of larch, with the basement and head carved using silicon faceted tools.
'The surface was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, after which the ornament was carved with a chisel,' said the expert.
'At least three were used, and they had different blade widths.
The faces were 'the last to be carved because apart from chisels, some very interesting tools - made of halves of beaver lower jaws - were used'.
He said: 'Beavers are created to carve trees. If you sharpen a beaver's cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces.'
'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force'. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Svetlana Savchenko
The professor has found such a 'tool' made from beaver jaw at another archeological site - Beregovaya 2, dating to the same period.
Studying the Idol, he believed the tool is consistent with its markings, 'for example when making holes more circular', said Svetlana Panina, head of the archaeology department at Sverdlovsk Regional Local History Museum.
The idol was put on a stone basement, not dug in the ground, said Zhilin.
It stood like this for around 50 years before falling into a pond, and was later covered in turf.
The peat preserved it as if in a time capsule.
It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has spoken previously of his 'feeling of awe' when studying the Idol, more than twice as old as the Stonehenge monuments in England.
'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force,' he said.
'It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time.
'The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.'
Only one of the seven faces is three dimensional.
While the messages remain 'an utter mystery to modern man', it was clear that its creators 'lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world', he said.
The Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Monday, 12 June 2017
Thursday, 8 June 2017
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
How Genghis Khan's heirs used the principles of tolerance to build the first wave of globalisation
An excerpt from a new book on the pioneers of globalised business
Genghis’s heirs continued to expand the Mongol empire. Over the next century they would double its size, adding southern China, all of Iran, most of Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, most of habitable Russia, Ukraine, and half of Poland – in all, roughly 20 percent of the world’s land area.
Genghis had established not only an empire but a governing foundation that his heirs would build into the Pax Mongolica, the period of relative peace and stability that extended over much of Eurasia from 1206 to the mid-fourteenth century. This empire underpinned an era of globalisation that was unprecedented. The Mongols revolutionised warfare, which made their conquests possible, but the empire lasted so long because of the expansion of trade, transportation, and communication; the intermixing of people, ideas, and culture; and the unification of administrative procedures.
The big advantage that the Mongols had over previous empire builders is that they themselves had nothing in the way of deeply ingrained ideas of politics, economics, or culture to spread abroad. They were not driven by ideology or any messianic impulse – only by the hunger to amass wealth. As a result, they did not impose political ideology or cultural or religious ideas on others but, rather, created an environment of extreme tolerance, so long as the basic governing regime wasn’t fundamentally challenged and so long as the booty owed smoothly from the far-flung territories to the Mongolian centre.
Tolerance for religious freedom was particularly notable and reflected the way Genghis thought.
He understood that he had much to gain by showing respect for proud local cultures and influential religious leaders, and he sought out strong relations with them.
Indifferent to controlling matters of religion or culture, the Mongols focused on building commerce and the physical, administrative, and legal infrastructure to help it flow freely. Before the Mongol Empire, for example, few traders were able to travel the entire Silk Road in large part because Arab middlemen in places such as what are today Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon insisted on standing between the buyer and the seller, imposing high taxes on all sides.
At the height of Pax Mongolica, however, there were no significant trade barriers on the road from the Mediterranean to China, where the big cities became cosmopolitan metropolises. In what today is Beijing, Genghis’s grandson Kublai Khan (1260-1294) established special sections for merchants of multiple nationalities from all over the empire, some who came from as far away as Italy, India, and North Africa. The Mongols also encouraged their subjects, particularly the Chinese, to emigrate to foreign trading posts in order to facilitate more commerce.
Genghis’s offspring became great transmitters of art and culture through the trading channels they established.
Their tastes for colorful clothing, silver jewellery, and images of animals provoked a desire throughout the empire to create items that pleased them, leading to a convergence of styles. Moreover, the interconnection among societies resulted in Chinese textiles and painting becoming even more popular in Persia, where Iranian tile work began to re ect the images of the dragon and phoenix that were popular in the Middle Kingdom.
As the number of travelers on the empire’s roads rose, some became notable figures. Marco Polo is the most widely known of these travellers today, but there were many others, including the Muslim jurist Ibn Battuta, the Nestorian Christian Rabban Sauma, the Franciscans John Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck, and the Chinese Confucian Zhou Daguan. Their writings described places from Angkor Wat to Hangzhou to Tabriz to Paris, making these special sites cultural touchstones for elites across the empire.
Under Mongol rule, China’s lustre as an empire was restored. Starting with Genghis Khan, the Mongol leadership transformed the Middle Kingdom from a civilisation torn asunder by civil war and hostile dynasties into a unified nation, capable of outlasting revolts, invasions, and other attempts at foreign domination for six centuries.
In western Asia, the Mongols were able to forge unity among competing Islamic chieftains, giving birth to the modern Persian Empire. Although the Mongols never occupied eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries, they stimulated a revolution in productivity in these regions by exposing the West to specialised tools, new blast furnace technology, new crops that required less work to plant, and to new concepts such as paper money, primacy of state over church, and freedom of religion.
In 1620, the English scientist Francis Bacon named three innovations that changed the world, citing the printing press, gunpowder, and the compass. All three came to the West during the heyday of the Mongol Empire.
Historian and journalist Nayan Chanda put it well. “Empires played a key role in the rise of governance as they extended rules and regulations over an expanding territory,” he wrote. After pointing to the advances made in the Roman Empire, the Mauryan Empire in India, and the Han Empire in China, he continued:
“The scope of governance grew to a new height under the Mongol Empire...Deep Mongol interest in trading meant that the Silk Road across Central Asia emerged as a well-guarded conveyer belt of goods, people, and ideas. The road, with its Mongol sentry points and inns, its postal system, and its rudimentary passport and credit card (paiza) system, provided unprecedented governance for land-based trade and transportation.”
The empire’s impact on governance in China, in particular, was notable. The administration begun under Genghis would reach its peak under heirs like Kublai Khan, who guaranteed landowners property rights and reduced taxes. Kublai also built an extensive network of schools, professionalised the civil service, and introduced paper money and bankruptcy laws. He established an office for the stimulation of agriculture to improve farmers’ lives and crop yields, and a Cotton Promotion Bureau to improve planting, weaving, and textile manufacturing techniques.
He promoted the arts and literature, translating Persian and other classics into Chinese. He instituted universal education five hundred years before any ruler in Europe did, and he refused to allow public execution of criminals at a time when they were a popular spectacle in Europe. These achievements occurred well after Genghis Khan, but they evolved from his early attempts at establishing a multicultural society spanning vast territory.
Globalisation, Mongol style
It is often said that the first golden age of globalisation began near the start of the industrial revolution in Europe around 1870 and ended in 1914, when the outbreak of World War I shattered the idea that growing political and economic bonds between nations would guarantee peace. This period had indeed experienced a great boom in global trade, investment, migration, and innovations in communications such as the telegraph. But that period is the wrong starting point.
The first golden age was the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was in the era of Genghis and his sons and grandsons when the routes they built and secured opened a new world of possibilities. Europeans were able to buy silk and other rare textiles, exotic spices, even paper-making technology from China. Chinese iron-smelting technology was mixed with Persian engineering skills to build advanced weapons. Medicines from India, China, and Persia were combined to create great advances in pharmacology.
Indeed, the story of Genghis Khan is in microcosm a story about globalisation itself. It illustrates the force that military conquest has played in furthering the connections among disparate societies. It shows how commerce follows conquest, how commerce and culture intersect, and how transport and communications networks become so important. Together with his sons and grandsons, Genghis also faced the enduring challenge of balancing central administrative control with tolerance for local institutions and culture.
In world history no group has contributed more to the expansion and deepening of globalisation than those who built empires encompassing many millions of people and large swaths of geography. After all, globalisation is about connecting on multiple levels and breaking down many of the walls that separate populations of various origins, customs, and beliefs.
Globalisation also entails developing systems of government that centralise administration and enforce common standards of behaviour. The empire that Genghis Khan established in the thirteenth century did both with unprecedented scale and scope. It thus provided one of the most powerful boosts to globalisation ever seen.
Excerpted with permission from From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives, Jeffrey E Garten, Tranquebar.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
The humble stirrup was a game-changing invention that altered history.
When a man named Temüjin was given the title of Genghis Khan in 1206, the Mongols were a recently united people, tucked away in the northeast corner of Asia. By the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, they were sunning themselves on the shores of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caspian Sea. By 1241 they were knocking at Vienna's door, and they remained the terror of eastern Europe for the rest of the century. The Mongols claimed the largest consolidated land empire in history. Seemingly the only way to keep them out was to put the Himalayas between you and them. And many historians believe their power stemmed from an incredibly simple technological innovation: the stirrup.
No one knows when the stirrup was first invented, but it was a boon to any military that used it. Even the simplest of stirrups, a leather loop, let mounted soldiers ride longer distances and stay mounted on their horses during battle. The military success of the forebears of the Cossacks is often attributed to two loops of leather. Same with the Goths and the Huns. Some believe the stirrup even shifted the balance of power in Europe from foot soldiers to mounted knights, dubbed the "armored tanks" of the medieval world by historian Roman Johann Jarymowycz.
The Mongols took things further. Historians think they not only had leather stirrups, but metal ones as well. In 2016, archaeologists at the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia unearthed the remains of a Mongolian woman dating back to the 10th century AD. Along with sturdy leather boots and some changes of clothes, she was buried with a saddle and metal stirrups described as in such good condition that they could still be used today. The stirrups are one continuous thick piece of metal with an open loop for a saddle strap on the top and a wide, flattened, and slightly rounded foot rest. The stirrups had to be comfortable and tough, because Mongols used them to ride in a way no one else rode.
A general of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) described the Mongols riding long distances standing up in the saddle, with "the main weight of the body upon the calves or lower part of the leg with some weight upon the feet and ankles." The stirrups were meant to keep the rider centered and upright in even the most tumultuous situation. They hung from a saddle that was made of wood and had a high back and front. These, supplemented with endless hours of practice, gave a Mongol rider unprecedented stability. The rider could maintain hands-free balance on the horse while the horse twisted and turned and while the rider himself turned in the saddle. A fluidly mobile rider could then use his hands to fire arrows in any direction as he rode.
At a time when most armies won by driving ineluctably forward, the Mongols advanced and retreated while never letting up on their assault. When they met their opposition, their cavalry galloped forward with wild agility, shooting arrows continuously, presenting a terrifying united front. As they got within a few yards of the other army, the charging horsemen's unity broke. They turned and galloped away as quickly as they'd come.
The power of retreat
Historian Thomas Craughwell explains that an ability to twist in their saddles meant that, even as the Mongols rode away, they could shoot arrows back toward the enemy army. As the army continued to charge and retreat, their patterns became ever more chaotic. Marco Polo, who saw the Mongols in action, described their technique: "They never let themselves get into a regular melee, but keep perpetually riding around and shooting into the enemy."
If traditional mounted troops were like tanks, Mongol-mounted warriors were fighter pilots. Their mastery of movement made them unbeatable. The other army would advance on a shifting, uniting, scattering, and reuniting foe.
When all else failed, the Mongols used psychology. At a signal, the cavalry could wheel around and make a convincingly jumbled false retreat. Unwary opposition forces would often then charge after them, believing that the battle had, unexpectedly, gone their way. The Mongol cavalry would then turn right back around, having lured a few overconfident souls too close. More often, though, they would continue their retreat and then maneuver out of the way. Then, unmounted archers would shower the pursuing army with arrows, and more heavily armored cavalry could charge in with lances. At that point, the battle was as good as over.
The Mongolian Empire's stunning rise to power reveals how one technological development provided a literal stepping point for a new style of warfare—one that could not be resisted by any existing army. The largest land empire the world has ever known did not exist because of any one factor. A thousand different circumstances helped Genghis Khan and his immediate descendants conquer most of a continent. But the stirrup played an indispensable role. Engineering the perfect stirrup gave an army, and a people, an ineradicable place in history.