• The Conversation: “How the extinction of ice age mammals may have forced us to invent civilisation”
Why did we take so long to invent civilisation? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved roughly 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. But initial steps towards civilisation – harvesting, then domestication of crop plants – began only around 10,000 years ago, with the first civilisations appearing 6,400 years ago.
For 95% of our species’ history, we didn’t farm, create large settlements or complex political hierarchies. We lived in small, nomadic bands, hunting and gathering. Then, something changed.
We transitioned from hunter-gatherer life to plant harvesting, then cultivation and, finally, cities. Strikingly, this transition happened only after the ice age megafauna – mammoths, giant ground sloths, giant deer and horses – disappeared. The reasons humans began farming still remain unclear, but the disappearance of the animals we depended on for food may have forced our culture to evolve.
• New York Times: “Marvin Creamer, a Mariner Who Sailed Like the Ancients, Dies at 104”
It is daunting enough to circumnavigate the Earth with the aid of modern global positioning technology, much less with medieval and Renaissance tools like a mariner’s compass and sextant.
But Professor Creamer, in the grip of an obsession that had held him for years, shunned even those newfangled contrivances, as well as a radio, a clock and a wristwatch.He chose instead to rely on his deep knowledge of the planet and its vagaries, and be guided by nothing more than wind, waves, the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night.
Under cloud-massed skies, he could divine his location from the color and temperature of the water, the presence of particular birds and insects and even, on one occasion, the song of a squeaky hatch.
Skills like these, he long maintained, had let the master mariners of antiquity answer the seafarer’s ever-present, life-or-death question — Where am I? — and in so doing sail safely round the world.
“From everything I’ve read, the ancients didn’t feel uncomfortable out there,” Professor Creamer told The New York Times in 1978. “They didn’t have navigational tools, but they didn’t seem afraid to go to sea. I felt they might have known what they were doing, that they might have made predictable landfalls and having once hit a coast could have returned there.”
• Newsmax: “‘Mystery Is Over’ Regarding Lost Colony of Roanoke”
The English colonists who came to what became known as the “Lost Colony” never actually disappeared, according to a new book.
Rather, they went to live with their native friends, the Croatoans of Hatteras, The Virginian-Pilot reports.
“They were never lost,” said author Scott Dawson, who has researched records and dug up artifacts where the colonists lived with the Indians in the 16th century. “It was made up. The mystery is over.”
Dawson’s book, The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, which was published in June, highlights his research.
• We Are the Mighty: “The last shots of the American Civil War were fired in Russia”
Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.
The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.
Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.
She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.
Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.
At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian Czar. And the Czar was friend to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the Czar was not at all pleased.
Even after the Civil War was over, Shenandoah continued her Pacific rampage. The skipper just didn’t believe Lee’s surrender ended the war, even when American whaling captains told him so.
Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: The Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.
With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain – the long way around.