April 25, 2013 11:57 am
We’re guessing that most people have seen the original Star Wars and that, if not, you probably still know half of the quotable lines anyway. But have you seen the movie in your native tongue? If you speak English or French or Spanish or German or one of the other massive world languages, then you probably have. But what if you speak Diné bizaad, the traditional language of North America’s Navajo?
Until now, you’ve been out of luck. But the Daily Times from Farmington, New Mexico, says that the Navajo Nation is teaming up with Lucasfilm and a Hollywood production company to re-release A New Hope in Diné bizaad, a language spoken by around 210,000 people. PBS:
Of all the major tribes, the Navajo language seems to be the most robust. According to the U.S. Census, almost 70 percent of Navajos speak their tribal language in the home, and 25 per cent do not know English very well. For many Navajo, English has been a second language.
But, among younger generations, the traditional tongue is on its way out. Translating Star Wars could bring the tale to those who’ve yet to experience it, but also offer a fun way to get young people to dust off some potentially underused language skills. Star Wars, says the Daily Times, will be the first movie ever translated and re-cut in Diné.
The Dine version is scheduled to debut July 4 at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, and the tribe is hoping to show it in area theaters later in the year.
According to the Daily Times, the tribe said that they “could not release any of the translated script” before the showing. You wouldn’t want any spoilers.
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April 24, 2013 2:30 pm
For one ancient woman, a diamond—or, at least, her jewelry—is indeed forever. At a quarry between Heathrow airport and Windsor Castle, just outside London, archaeologists just uncovered the remains of a 4,400-year old corpse that may turn out to be the first queen of Windsor. Though her clothes long since decomposed and her bones are almost completely decayed, her lavish jewelry remains behind, giving hints to her identity and possible royal status. LiveScience reports:
The woman’s bones have been degraded by acid in the soil, making radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis impossible. Nonetheless, excavators believe she was at least 35 years old when she died sometime between 2500-2200 B.C., around the era Stonehenge was constructed.
When this woman was buried, she wore a necklace of tube-shaped gold beads and black disks made from a coal-like material called lignite. Scattered around her remains, archaeologists also found amber buttons and fasteners, hinting that she was buried in an adorned gown that has long since disintegrated. Black beads near her hand were probably once part of a bracelet. A large drinking vessel, a rare find in graves from this time period and area, was also buried near her remains
From initial isotope analyses, the researchers found that the gold probably originated in southeast Ireland and southern Britain, the black beads from eastern Europe, and the amber perhaps from the Baltic region, Discover writes. As far as who she was:
According to the archaeologists in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, the woman was probably “an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items.”
This means, Chaffey continued, that she could have been a leader, a person of power or perhaps even a queen.
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April 19, 2013 12:55 pm
On Monday afternoon, four hours after the annual Boston marathon began, two bombs exploded in the area just around the finish line, killing three and injuring nearly 200 people. Four days later, one suspect in the bombing attack is dead, and, as of this writing, the city of Boston is in lockdown mode as a manhunt is underway for a second. Authorities have identified the bombing suspects as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two brothers who moved to the area roughly a decade ago from Makhachkala, Dagestan, a region that is part of the North Caucasus that forms southwestern Russia.
The area has been a hotbed for conflict in recent decades, including terrorist bombings carried out elsewhere in Russia. Starting in 1994, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the First Chechen War broke out. It was during this time that the Tsarnaevs would have grown up. The Council on Foreign Relations:
In the early 1990s, following the Soviet collapse, separatists in the newly formed Russian Federation Republic of Chechnya started an independence movement called the Chechen All-National Congress. Russian President Boris Yeltsin opposed Chechen independence, arguing that Chechnya was an integral part of Russia. From 1994 to 1996, Russia fought Chechen guerillas in a conflict that became known as the First Chechen War. Tens of thousands of civilians died, but Russia failed to win control of Chechnya’s mountainous terrain, giving Chechnya de facto independence. In May 1996, Yeltsin signed a ceasefire with the separatists, and they agreed on a peace treaty the following year.
But violence flared again three years later. In August 1999, Chechen militants invaded the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan to support a local separatist movement. The following month, five bombs exploded in Russia over a ten-day period, killing almost three hundred civilians. Moscow blamed Chechen rebels for the explosions, which comprised the largest coordinated terrorist attack in Russian history. The Dagestan invasion and the Russian bombings prompted Russian forces to launch the Second Chechen War, also known as the War in the North Caucasus. In February 2000, Russia recaptured the Chechen capital of Grozny, destroying a good part of the city center in the process, reasserting direct control over Chechnya. Tens of thousands of Chechens and Russians were killed or wounded in the two wars, and hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced.
The First Chechen War (so-called, though not actually the first) broke out in 1994, causing more than 300,000 people to flee the region as refugees. The Second Chechen War added to this emigration.
The Chechen’s (or Nokhchi in their own tongue) bid for independence, however, has stretched back hundreds of years. “The Chechens have evidently been in or near their present territory for some 6000 years and perhaps much longer,” says University of Berkeley professor Johanna Nichols. “There is fairly seamless archaeological continuity for the last 8,000 years or more in central Daghestan.”
PBS has a detailed look at the history of the region, tracing the lands change of hands from the 1400s onward, from the Mongols to the Ottoman Empire to the Russians under Ivan the Terrible in 1559.
In 1722, says PBS, “Peter the Great, ever eager for trade and military routes to Persia, invaded Chechnya’s neighbor Daghestan.”
Repulsed by the Daghestanis and Chechen mountain warriors, Russia fell back again, but would press on for the next 50 years with sporadic raids on Chechen and Daghestani territory. In 1783, Russia finally gained a strategic toehold in the Caucasus with the recognition of Georgia, Chechnya’s Christian neighbor to the south, as a Russian protectorate.
In 1784, led by Muslim leader Imam Sheik Mansur, the Chechens took back their land. This struggle went back and forth through the 19th and 20th centuries. Starting in the late 17th century, says Berkeley professor Nichols, the Chechens largely converted to the Sunni branch of Islam. “Islam is now, as it has been since the conversion, moderate but strongly held and a central component of the culture and the ethnic identity,” according to Nichols. Muslim beliefs are common throughout the region, as well as in nearby Turkey.
In 1944, in the midst of World War II, “Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the Chechens and their Ingush neighbors — some 400,000 people — to be deported to Central Asia and Siberia for “mass collaboration” with invading Nazis.” Evidence to support Stalin’s charges,” however, “remains limited.”
Over the centuries, the motivations for war have varied, from invaders wanting a trading path through the mountains to religious holy wars to pure political oppression.
*This post has been updated for clarity.*
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Georgia at a Crossroads
April 15, 2013 10:15 am
Around 2 million years ago, the first humans evolved from australopiths, our smaller-brained ape-like ancestors. Back in 2008, researchers found two skeletons in South Africa from the ape-like Australopithecus sediba. A male and female skeleton, called MH1 and MH2, were buried together, and further excavations revealed an infant and another partial adult skeleton nearby. All of the remains dated back to around 1.8 to 1.9 million years old. These skeletons began to raise questions about what we really know about human evolution and Homo origins.
The researchers published their results in the journal Science in 2010, writing:
Despite a rich African Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossil record, the ancestry of Homo and its relation to earlier australopithecines remain unresolved. Here we report on two partial skeletons with an age of 1.95 to 1.78 million years. The fossils were encased in cave deposits at the Malapa site in South Africa. The skeletons were found close together and are directly associated with craniodental remains. Together they represent a new species of Australopithecus that is probably descended from Australopithecus africanus. Combined craniodental and postcranial evidence demonstrates that this new species shares more derived features with early Homo than any other australopith species and thus might help reveal the ancestor of that genus.
Until this discovery, researchers had assumed that Lucy, the remains, more than 3 million years old, of an Australopithecus afarensis female found in 1974, represented either our direct evolutionary ancestor or else a very close ancestor. But Lucy’s skeleton was found in Ethiopia, about 4,000 miles away from the A. sediba remains uncovered in South Africa.
Immediately, i09 explains, researchers began to second guess whether Homo emerged from East Africa after all. Our origins instead may be more southerly. Now, a new slew of studies published by the same research team in Science answers some questions about what our ancestor was like while also opening up some new mysteries. The New Scientist gives a run down of the “bizarre mosaic” of qualities resembling both Homo and Australopithecus africanus (another South African species that lived around 2 to 3 million years ago) that a closer examination of the A. sediba specimens revealed.
The Homo-like traits included:
- Same number of vertebrae
- Human-like waist
- Bottom of the ribcage narrows
- Walked upright
- Small canine teeth.
And the ape-like traits were:
- Top of the ribcage tapered towards the shoulders, preventing the arms from swinging when walking
- Arms and legs appear well equipped to swing and balance on branches
- When walking, rather than planting its heel first like Homo, A. sediba’s gait was more twisty and hoppy thanks to a flexible midfoot.
Where A. sediba fits into the evolutionary tree is still under debate. Based upon studied of the specimens’ teeth, it does not appear that A. sediba evolved from A. afarensis (Lucy) in East Africa. Instead, the New Scientist writes, A. africanus seems to be the most likely ancestral candidate.
That suggests the roots of both lineages of australopiths – from East and South Africa – are even older. “It appears that there may be a ‘ghost lineage’ of unrecognised hominins that goes back deeper in time than afarensis,” says Lee Berger at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, who discovered A. sediba.
National Geographic points out that the questions surrounding A. sediba, such as why it seemed to return to the trees after it first evolved to walk on the ground and where it fits in on the human evolution puzzle, are far from resolved.
Are the ways that Australopithecus sediba resembles early Homo species true indicators of a close evolutionary relationship—or are they traits that evolved independently in both lineages?
Few scientists believe this question has even begun to be settled.
But A. sediba will likely leave a significant mark on science, in any case:
Regardless of what Australopithecus sediba turns out to be, however, the fossils offer an important caution about interpreting more fragmentary human remains found elsewhere.
The hominin “is so curious in its totality,” [paleoanthropologist Rick] Potts says, “it might lead to some rethinking of how we classify fossil humans and place them in our evolutionary tree.”
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April 11, 2013 2:41 pm
The Greeks set the bar on ideal, universal beauty back in the pre-Socratic days of Pythagoras. Beauty, these mathematically inclined philosophers and scholars concluded, depends upon proportion and symmetry regardless of whether it applies to a woman’s body or a Greek palace.
In the Renaissance, these ideas were taken up with a new fervor and this time applied more directly to judging the human form. The Renaissance ideal of “classical beauty” survived the years, defining the standard of both male and female beauty that has endured until today, especially in the West. More recently, studies reinforced the idea of a shared universal ideal for human beauty based upon symmetry’s underlying indication of good genes.
Chins, however, may be the exception. New research published in PLoS One proves that there is no global consensus for what makes an ideal chin.
Dartmouth researchers studied chin shapes of 180 recently deceased male and female skeletons from Australia, Africa, Asia and Europe. Chin shapes, they found, differ significantly in all of these regions. According to what researchers call the universal facial attractiveness hypothesis, some facial features are preferred across cultures because they’re a good signal of mate quality. If chins were indeed an important factor in determining a mate’s attractiveness and quality, they reasoned, then over the years human chins of shared proportions would have been selected for and become the norm, regardless of location.
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