31 October 2011

Palestine joins UNESCO; US Pulls Funding

Congratulations to (the perhaps-one-day State of) Palestine for joining UNESCO. Members voted 107-14 (with 52 abstentions) to grant the Palestinian Authority membership. This is the first time it has gained full admission to a UN body.

This latest step in the Palestine Authority's UN gambit has been a ringing success, though at a cost to UNESCO. Unlike much that the body does, this move was not without real financial and political risk. Apparently the United States is prohibited by law from funding UN bodies that accept Palestinians as members (what the hell?!), and the US supplies 22% of UNESCO's funding. Yet the announcement by Director-General Bokova was couched in the classic language of UN idealism:
we are living in a historical moment, and we all feel at this time the historical weight and importance of this decision, for the Palestinian people and for UNESCO. This is the result of the aspiration of a people to join fully the world family of nations...
She goes on to say that UNESCO continues its commitment to Palestine's cultural heritage, including the development of management plans for Tel Balata in Nablus, the archaeological park of Qasr Hisham, and the Church of the Nativity and Riwaya Museum in Bethlehem. (See the official statement here).

Retaliation from Washington and Tel Aviv followed with predictable speed, per the Guardian:
Within hours, the US announced it would withhold its huge contribution to Unesco's budget as a result of the vote. State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US had no choice due to a 21-year-old law prohibiting the payment of funds to any UN body accepting the Palestinians as full members. A $60m (£38m) transfer that was due later this month would be halted in a move that will have serious consequences for Unesco activities. The US contributes 22% of the agency's annual budget.
Unesco's decision was "regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace [between Israelis and Palestinians]", said Nuland.
Israel also hinted at punitive measures. A statement from the foreign ministry said it would "consider its further steps and ongoing co-operation" with Unesco following the decision. The move was a "unilateral Palestinian manoeuvre which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement", it added.
As an American, it's depressing to see how the hard-core Israeli nationalists have engineered their ideology into our laws, even if it makes no sense for anyone: even Israel, which would benefit from a partner to cooperate with on heritage issues. Assuming that the government is actually serious about a two-state solution, as opposed to the current system of walled enclaves filled with increasingly desperate people who have no freedoms, no rights, and no passports. (It is citizenship in a state, after all, that gives you rights under international law. Palestinians, as stateless people, have no rights - largely due to Israeli military occupation for the last 44 years).

Israel's adamant opposition to the Palestine Authority doing anything that a normal country would do undermines its claims to be in favor of a two-state solution. If you wanted a two-state solution you would want to help your negotiating partner develop the apparatus of statehood, right? So maybe they have some expertise and institutions when they're ready to cut loose on their own?  The far right/military cabal that has hijacked Israel has no desire, however, for Palestine to become a state and will do anything it can to keep it from happening, including historical revisionism such as denying that Rachel's Tomb/Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem was ever a mosque - and reinforcing the point by walling it off from the rest of Bethlehem with the 'separation wall'.

Unlike most of Israel's people, who are fine with a two-state solution on more or less the 1967 boundaries, the Israeli far right is still in denial that Palestinians even exist, or could have a heritage of their own. They do exist, however, and unless people like Avigdor Liebermann realize their fantasies of genocide or mass expulsion, there will be either a two-state solution or a one state solution at some point in the future. The latter, of course, could mean the end of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. 

More coverage at BBC News and Al Jazeera English.

18 October 2011

Conspiracy week: white people are Satanic Illuminati Neanderthals!

Here's the all-time winning YouTube video title: "The Satanic Neanderthal Edomite Evolution"

This is one of those weirdo slideshows that is hell-bent on proving a point: in this case, that white people are Edomites, descended from Esau (Jacob's brother in the bible) who had light skin and red hair. Then you connect the dots and realize that the Edomites were Neanderthals! Since they had light skin and hair too, maybe even freckles, and all-non African people today seem probably to have some Neanderthal genes (that much is for reals anyway). The savage Neanderthal genes explain the evil and sadistic behavior of white people in general. Then we get into the Illuminati, Satan, and the NWO! This is so weird, it's totally worth watching. 

This is Black Hebrew Israelite type thinking with extra racism and paranoia thrown in. Undercover Black Man unpacks it pretty well in this article. The formula is pretty familiar however - the white supremacist Christian Identity movement is also interested in the Jacob/Esau story, except that they see the Jews as the evil Edomites, and non-Jewish Europeans as the real Hebrews. Some white supremacist groups are also seizing on the Neanderthal gene findings to "prove" that "race" is real after all. On the other hand, maybe Bob Marley is the real Edomite. It's all so confusing.

These conspiracy theories are funny, you see the same elements repeating themselves over and over again, like there's only a certain number of weird ideas to go around. Take a dash of Illuminati, add some alien interbreeding with humans in antiquity, reference Jacob and Esau or some other Bible story, add a reference to a scientific study or excavation, and you're done! I should make a conspiracy generator.

Not to say there aren't originally freaky theories out there. This guy is my new favorite, he thinks that Silvio Berlusconi is suppressing telepathy and causing unnatural menstruation.

17 October 2011

Conspiracy week: Akhenaten is president!

I just decided this week is gonna be conspiracy week here at Archaeopop. Hold your hats.

Did you know that Barack Obama and his family are clones of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten and his family? If the picture above doesn't convince you... then you'll just have to watch the video. The Illuminati are involved, of course.

Oh yeah, and 50 Cent and Michael Jackson are clones too! and Prince Harry is the reincarnation of whoever's on the Shroud of Turin! Need more information? You should check out this book.
The book's blurb promises us some key info:
Who is this man we call the President? Will he cause a Constitutional crisis? What’s hidden within his name and his statements? Is he the coming Anti-Christ predicted by Nostradamus? Are we witnessing the rise of the Fourth Reich? Or are things much stranger than we thought?
I'll go with "much stranger than we thought".

11 October 2011


This article first appeared in PORK #3. PORK #4 is out now, get it here!

The Palaeo Diet is an archaeology role-playing game cleverly disguised as a health food fad. The idea is to eat only what was available to our Palaeolithic ancestors, before the invention of agriculture. That includes lots of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, but no cheese, milk, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, beer, wine, or whiskey. It’s the Atkins diet (remember that from the ‘90s? all meat, no carbs) with an archaeopop veneer, as interpreted by bearded tech workers in Brooklyn. 
There’s some truth to it: until 10,000 years ago, people ate very little sugar and no refined carbohydrates. Palaeo fans argue that the real causes of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other ‘diseases of civilization’ are the foods that were introduced in the Neolithic Revolution: processed grains, dairy products, and alcohol. The Palaeo diet means radically rethinking healthy eating: carbohydrates and sugar, not fat, is the enemy.

The diet, which has been featured in the New York Times (in the fashion section, naturally), Time Magazine, and even the Colbert Report, has spawned a tribe of entrepreneurs whose business is getting you in touch with your inner Neanderthal. The ‘Caveman Power Diet’ promises that by cutting out bread, fries, and beer, you will lose weight, increase your energy, detox your system, sharpen your mind, and get in touch with your inner self:
The Caveman Power Diet gets you tuned into your animal instincts, and as a result your senses will become sharper; like an animal in the wild who needs all his senses to survive.
When you are in tune with your animal instincts, you are in tune with your body's wants and needs. Throughout this diet you will notice yourself having more clarity of mind, and a deeper sense of knowing thyself.
The idea of recreating a pure ancient lifestyle is key to the appeal. Last year the NY Times profiled the trend, including French Palaeo guru Erwan Le Corre:
Mr. Le Corre, 38, who once made soap for a living, promotes what he calls “mouvement naturel” at exercise retreats in West Virginia and elsewhere. His workouts include scooting around the underbrush on all fours, leaping between boulders, playing catch with stones, and other activities at which he believes early man excelled. These are the “primal, essential skills that I believe everyone should have,” he said in an interview.
Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. “We’re due,” Andrew said.
Here's Le Corre in action. It's basically parkour in the jungle!

This is definitely a nice change from the office job and the McDonald's drive-through, but the archaeological theories behind the Palaeo diet are about a 50 years out of date. The Palaeolithic used to be taught as the age of ‘MAN THE HUNTER’: endless buffets of wooly mammoth steaks washed down with some wild berries and seeds, while you sit on bearskin rugs around the fire in your cave dwelling. As it turns out, archaeology suggests that animal meat was not a majority in most ancient diets. Men brag about hunting like they brag about anything, but in most cultures women made a greater nutritional contribution with their gathered nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, and seeds. But the Palaeo diet comes out of folk archaeology, not real archaeology. “Caveman” and “Neanderthal” evoke raw, authentic manliness for a generation of overeducated cubicle serfs with neglected bodies.
But what about the idea that we ‘evolved’ for a Palaeo diet? I'm not so sure. Genes evolve quickly: most sedentary human populations (Europeans, Africans, and most Asians) gained genetic tolerance for lactose and alcohol within a few hundred generations, an eye-blink in evolutionary time. As desperate as we are for absolute truth since we kicked God to the curb, you won’t find it in our genes. They change quickly when they need to. If humans are ‘naturally designed’ to do anything, it’s to adapt to new environments. (This is why the current geological age – the Anthropocene – is named after us).

Which brings me to the next point: which palaeolithic diet are we talking about? Even today, there’s an incredible diversity of hunter-gatherer lifestyles around the world. Native people in the Arctic get 75% of their food from animal fat, but that’s a recent innovation too (the high arctic was only settled around 15,000 years ago). African hunter-gatherers get about 25% of their calories from animal products. And it’s simply not true that grains and starches played no role in Palaeolithic cultures. Aboriginal Australians made (and make) a carb-rich “bush bread”, and in my home state of California, acorns were a staple food in the period before contact. There is no singular ‘Palaeo diet’. The only rule is diversity, adaptation, and change.

As a role-playing game, the Palaeo diet seems like fun – you get to try new eating patterns (including lots of expensive, high quality meat and fish) while feeling superior to everyone down at the pub grubbing on fries. And running around on all fours grunting in the underbrush sounds pretty awesome too. But let’s keep it in perspective! The Palaeo diet is playtime for rich people in the global north. Feeding the world on mostly meat products is ecologically impossible.

Of course, if you're serious about the lifestyle, you gotta catch that fish like this (via Discovery):
There’s also a misanthropic primitivist agenda lurking in the corner. As Ray Audette (of NeanderThin.com) writes:
my definition of nature is the absence of technology. Technology-dependent foods would never be ingested by a human being in Nature. I determined, therefore, to eat only those foods that would be available to me if I were naked of all technology…
What a moron. Humans have always used technology – what else is a stone tool? – and our chimpanzee cousins do too. A human being without technology… is not a human being. It’s a meaningless concept, unless you read it as a theological statement: humans have fallen from the grace of our ancestors and been punished with obesity and disease. If we return to an upright lifestyle, we’ll be rewarded with health, happiness, and long life. It’s a pastiche of Original Sin, with pizza and beer in the place of the apple.

That said, I still find the Palaeo diet appealing. Underneath the bullshit there’s some real sense to it – eating nutrient- and protein-rich foods is good for your body, while sugar and white bread are not. A bit of perspective is in order, which is why I love Kurt Harris’s blog Archevore, which is full of interesting discussion of the Palaeo diet from a scientific perspective. Harris strikes a middle ground: 
That we are eating some things we are clearly inadequately adapted to seems certain, but the idea that the dietary bright line is narrow and exists at the 10,000 year mark is a cartoon view not supported by the science. I believe most of the dietary damage is due to industrial processing amplifying the effect of things that have always been around and were never good for us in the first place, even as I do believe wheat and other grains to the exclusion of animal products has been an issue for 10,000 years.
Want more? There's lots of trainers and lifestyle gurus that will help you get in touch with your inner caveman for a modest fee:

10 October 2011

Playing fetch in the Palaeolithic

Today's mammoth NOMs brought to you by Discovery News:
The remains of three Paleolithic dogs, including one with a mammoth bone in its mouth, have been unearthed at Předmostí in the Czech Republic, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science paper.
The remains indicate what life was like for these prehistoric dogs in this region, and how humans viewed canines. The dogs appear to have often sunk their teeth into meaty mammoth bones. These weren’t just mammoth in terms of size, but came from actual mammoths.
In the case of the dog found with the bone in its mouth, the researchers believe a human inserted it there after death.
"The thickness of the cortical bone shows that it is from a large mammal, like a rhinoceros, steppe bison or mammoth," lead author Mietje Germonpré told Discovery News. "At Předmostí, mammoth is the best represented animal, with remains from more than 1,000 individuals, so it is probable that the bone fragment is from a mammoth."
I call that burying Fido properly. These dogs had heads with a similar shape to the Siberian husky, but were larger and more muscular. That's a big dog! It's unusual to find such strong evidence of domestication at such an early date, but being an archaeological optimist, I'm more pleased than surprised. So many of the things that surround us have very deep roots, including throwing bones for your favorite furry critter.