wordpress 2.1 install

That was the smoothest one that i’ve done yet. Obviously there are some tweaks that need to be done, but i’m surprised that everything went as easily as the “one click” that wordpress claims.

5,000-year-old Semitic text from Egypt deciphered

The inscriptions were in the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara, Egypt. It was thought that they were  normal Egyptian, until a scholar suggested the possibility that they were Semitic. The text is about spells and snakes. The phrase that jumped out was “mother snake.” The explanation for the Semitic language appearing in Egypt is that Egyptians borrowed it from the port city of Byblos, in modern day Lebanon, where timber for the construction of the tombs and resin for mummification would have come from. 

11,400 year old pottery found at Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali

This story is damned cool and its implications will be enormous as it unfolds:

The sensational find by Geneva University’s Eric Huysecom and his international research team, at Ounjougou near the Unesco:listed Bandiagara cliffs, reveals important information about man’s interaction with nature.

The age of the sediment in which they were found suggests that the six ceramic fragments : discovered between 2002 and 2005 : are at least 11,400 years old. Most ancient ceramics from the Middle East and the central and eastern Sahara regions are 10,000 and between 9:10,000 years old, respectively.

“At the beginning, the very first piece we found stayed in my desk drawer for years, as I didn’t realise how old it was,” Huysecom told swissinfo.

Huysecom heads a 50:strong interdisciplinary team, composed of 28 international researchers ? mainly from Germany, Mali, Switzerland, France and Britain : on the largest current archaeological research project in Africa, entitled “Human population and paleo:environment in West Africa”.

Ounjougou was selected as the location, “as everything led us to believe that there we could follow the evolution of man, the environment and the climate”, explained Huysecom.

The site is an archaeologist’s dream: a ravine made up of layers of easy:to:date sediment rich in West African history.

Significant findings

Since the launch of the project in 1997, the team has made numerous discoveries about ancient stone:cutting techniques and tools, and other important findings that shed light on human development in the region.

But the unearthing of the ancient fragments of burnt clay is one of the most significant to date. Huysecom is convinced that pottery was invented in West Africa to enable man to adapt to climate change.

“Apart from finding the oldest ceramic in Africa, the interesting thing is that it gives us information about when and under what circumstances man can invent new things, such as pottery,” he explained.

“And the invention of ceramic is linked to specific environmental conditions ? the transformation of the region from desert into grassland.”

Grasslands

Some 10,000 years ago, at the end of the ice age, the climate is thought to have fluctuated between warm and cold periods. This led to the formation of an 800:kilometre:wide band of tropical vegetation extending northwards from the Sahel region, which attracted people who slowly moved north from southern and central Africa.

Wild grasses and pearl millet started sprouting on the former desert land. But for man to be able to eat and properly digest the new plants, they had to be stored and cooked in pots.

“Man had to adapt his food and way of life by inventing pottery,” said the Geneva professor.

The invention of ceramic also coincided with that of small arrowheads : also discovered by the team ? and which were probably used to hunt hares, pheasants and other small game on the grassy plains.

To date, East Asia ? the triangle between Siberia, China and Japan ? is the only other area where similar pottery and arrowheads have been found which are as old as those in West Africa, explained Huysecom.

“This is important, as they both appear in same way, at the same time and under similar climatic conditions, which indicates that man has certain modes of adaptation to cope with environmental changes,” he commented.

Ahead of the final publication of the team’s research findings this year, Huysecom is returning to Ounjougou to rejoin his colleagues, in particular those from West Africa “who are extremely proud of the discovery”.

He plans to scour the region for caves and other settlement sites to try and find out exactly where the pottery came from so as to determine more precisely the age of the fragments.

“We know [from the sediment] that they are at least 11,400 years old, but they could be 50 or even 1,000 years older.”

Faustus: From the German of Goethe translated by Coleridge

The work is to be published by the Oxford University Press this September. The translation has been around for quite some time, but was attributed to George Soane, even though it was published as “Anonymous.” Coleridge had already attempted and abandoned a translation of Faustus for another publisher, and possibly feared that he would be in breach of contract (he had been paid a £100 advance,) if it was discovered that he completed the work for another publisher.

Paul Zall began trying to connect Coleridge to the work in 1971. He passed the project onto McKusick in 1989:

Professor McKusick used a computer analysis called “stylometrics”, a system that suggests every writer uses a characteristic vocabulary, to compare the anonymous translation with Coleridge’s body of works, as well as writings of other leading contenders for its authorship, including Soane.

With the help of the mathematics department at his university, he examined the use of functional keywords in the Faust translation and Coleridge’s play Remorse, and found they showed a nearly exact match. Results from other authors whom academics believe may have been responsible for the translation did not even come close on the stylometrics system, he said.

Coleridge acolytes are not yet convinced it seems though.

Independent Foreign Fiction longlist 2007

In checking the longlist of the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, it seems that only one of the books is not available in the U.S. I’m not keen on too many of them unfortunately, the ones that i plan to read:

  • Ismail Kadare. The Successor. That’s a gimme though. In the past year or so, i’ve read more Kadare than any other single author. It’s a strange thing to consider, but it just turned out that way.
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Wizard of the Crow. This is the very next book that i’m going to order. I swear it. Really. I don’t care if it’s a monster of doorstop.
  • Elif Shafak. The Gaze. I still have not figured out where that copy of The Bastard of Istanbul went in the bookstore, but i’m resolving to read Shafak regardless. This one seems exceedingly eccentric.
  • José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons. Not familiar with this author, but the concept of tailoring pasts for clients appeals to me.
  • Kader Abdolah, My Father’s Notebook. The invented cuneiform language derived from the wall of the tomb is an instant hook.

The whole list over on Amazon is here.

Borges, racist bastard

Well, we already knew that Borges was a bit of an asshole:

Many of his reported opinions will confirm the view that he was a racist: “I am not anti-Semite, but the fact that everywhere the most varied cultures have persecuted Jews is an argument against them.” He was, in any case, an equal-opportunity supremacist: “I was asked if I liked Brazil. I said no, because the country is full of negroes. They didn’t like that at all. One can’t say anything against negroes. Their only merit is to have been mistreated and that, as Bernard Shaw remarked, is no merit.”

Adolfo Bioy Casares’ biography of Borges is still of great interest to me, but i’m more interested in Borges the writer and Borges the reader, than Borges the man. I still have not read the Williamson biography either. I still love his writing, but stuff like this is always painful to acknowledge, as it diminishes the rest of his vision. Sure, there are many examples of flawed genius, but… ugh.

Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink murdered

Hrant Dink was one of the writers tried last year for violation of Article 301, like Pamuk and Shafak. He was actually convicted and given a suspended sentence. The editor of the newspaper Agos, he spoke of the Armenian genocide, although it seems that he was brought to trial in telling a story about his childhood regarding a certain patriotic verse than all children in Turkey must memorize. Dink was shot three times outside the offices of the newspaper this morning.