Archive for June, 2006

Daily Stone Age Life – The Sohi Village

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

The Sohi people live at the edge of a lake, near its outflow. There are a hundred and fifty people in the village. They all live in houses constructed from roughly-hewn wood, bamboo, palm leaves and grass thatch.

The women and children live in family huts, alongside the family pigs which are highly prized and will be sheltered indoors. The men of the village all live together in a long hut.

The huts are neatly-constructed. The basic design is one that we might recognise as a gable-ended shed. The major structural members are made of wood, the minor structural members of bamboo. Dried leaves are woven between the bamboo to make the house reasonably windproof, and the grass-thatched roof is waterproof.

The huts last about fourteen years, before they need replacement due to deterioration of the structural elements. The new men’s house will be built alongside the old one, then the old one will be demolished. The women’s houses are also rebuilt, but fourteen years later the replacement house may well be for the next generation, for the women are likely to give birth during their teens.

The huts are elevated above the ground, so that a cooling breeze may circulate underneath. This also keeps away many ground-borne parasites, and as a result the Sohi people appear to be in generally good health. There are no stairs to the “front door”; instead there is a notched, sloping log which requires a little balance and agility to negotiate. The “front door” may simply be an opening, or may have a rectangular panel that can be moved into the opening to block it off.

Each hut will have a fire pit: an area of baked clay where a fire may be lit. The men’s longhouse will have a number of these at regular intervals along the house. Although cooking is generally done on an outside fire, the indoor fires will be lit in the evening and will be kept burning throughout the night. The smoke keeps away the mosquitoes that carry malaria.

The men will gather round the fires to tell their stories – stories about what they’ve been doing, all the news and gossip, and also myths and legends about their past. They talk of their ancestors, and their land, and how things came to be. This shared cultural memory, the stories passed from generation to generation, still contains fragments from their distant past.

Next: The lake.

A moment in time.

Friday, June 9th, 2006

The census returns are a good source of information for the genealogist and the local historian. Looking at the 1881 census for England gives us chance to see some famous, or to become famous, men and women of the 19th and 20th centuries.

These links are to some of the 1881 transcriptions from

Queen Victoria. The Queen’s Personal Servant, John Brown, with whom she a strong bond, is also shown. The number of servants is quite astounding.

William Gladstone, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during the Second World War.
Here he is as a 6-year old with his the father, Lord Randolph CHURCHILL M.P.

Charles Robert Darwin, naturalist and author, shortly before his death in 1882.

Friedrich Engels. With Karl Marx developed the theory of communism. Marx is shown as Wass.

Thomas Hardy, author and novelist. Not living in his beloved Dorset, but a London suburb.

Joseph Carey Merrick aka John Merrick. The so-called Elephant Man who resided in the Leicester Union Workhouse.
If you’re are not familiar with his sad story, see this page for additional background information.

Florence Nightingale, nursing pioneer who famously went to the Crimean War to help sick and injured soldiers.

And the Earl of Lucan, famous for being involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade debacle.

They lived one or two doors away from each other. I wonder if they reminisced about old times and the Crimean War?

Daily Stone Age Life – The Sohi mother and child

Friday, June 9th, 2006

The Sohi people live in the mountains, in the tropics. They are thought to have been living here for fifty thousand years, and developed agriculture about ten thousand years ago.

It’s a hot, sunny day. There’s forest around us, with a path weaving through the trees. At one point, there is a break in the tree cover, and the ground is rocky. A small stream flows across the rocks.

A mother and her baby are walking along the path. The mother is naked apart from a grass skirt formed from a band around her waist from which grasses hang at the front and back; her thighs are not covered. The baby is naked, and is being carried by the mother, slung over her back in what we might describe as a stretchy string bag, made from plant fibres twisted into a twine and knotted into an open criss-cross pattern.

The mother takes the baby out of the carrier and gently washes it in the stream; the baby enjoys the cool water on the hot day. Soon, the mother has finished washing the baby and returns it to the carrier. The Sohi babies like the movement of being carried, and the closeness of the mother, and rarely cry.

The mother returns along the bush track, and a short distance into the forest rejoins her companions – several other Sohi women who are harvesting a sago palm. The mother sets two sticks into the ground, and suspends the baby – in her sling – between them, to keep it cool.

It is the men’s responsibility to plant and nurture the sago palms, but it is the women’s job to fell them and to extract the sago starch, which is one of the Sohi people’s staple foods.

The starch is extracted by scraping out the trunk using a triangular stone seated in a notch at the end of a stong stick and bound to it with a length of twine. The scraping is hard, physical work – and that’s only the start of the process.

The starch must be separated out from the scraped sago pulp by kneading the pulp then washing the starchy bits out with warm water. A leaf from the sago palm serves to channel the water and starch into a strainer, made from the fibrous part of a coconut tree. The starchy water is allowed to settle, and the excess water is poured off before the starch is transferred to baskets made from the thick and pliable parts of palm leaves, which are then tied up neatly.

All the time, the women sing, asking the sun not to set too quickly because there is still much work to be done. From the sago palm they also harvest leaves and sticks for the construction of houses, and the nutty-flavoured sago grubs that live in the base of the palm.

Heavily laden, the women carry the grubs, sticks, leaves and baskets of sago back to their village. They dig a hole near the river bank into which they put the baskets and cover them with soil. The sago will keep for a few months, during which time it may ferment.

That’s all for today’s post. Tomorrow’s post will be about the Sohi village.

Ancient Egypt VI – The Amarna Hiccup

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Perhaps the easiest way to approach this time in ancient Egyptian history is repost something I had written for another forum a few years ago. Some of you may have read it before and I have found excerpts of it, including at least one full text version other places online. It is not because anything leaked from that forum but because I have published it elsewhere. I have also edited it since that initial publication as there are references that would make no sense except to Google Answers Researchers who were part of that original forum.

I have no idea of what the legal status of giving citations in this case would be in regard to that other forum, but it is my work, so I will ignore them.

For those who do not know, “GAR” equals “Google Answers Researcher.”


Sit for a minute and relax. It is time to use a little of that GAR intelligence and skill of visualization. I have a story to tell.

Imagine a hawk circling high above the edge of the desert. Imagine it as a dark speck against the faint blue of the pre-dawn sky. The hawk soars higher, striking the first rays of the rising sun, and its feathers flame suddenly, glint and flash, harbingers of the suns arrival, transforming the bird of prey into an omen or a message from Re-Harrakte, phoenix soul of the sun itself. Dawn becomes myth; and morning in Heliopolis, as the Greeks called it a thousand years into its decline, was the time of worship. The sun, in all its forms and effects, had always been the “one” god of the ancient Egyptian city of Anu, “The Place of the Pillar of the Sun.” Nothing remains of Heliopolis save a single obelisk from the Middle Kingdom to remind us of its importance. And yet, its solar theology echoed down the ages long after the rest of Egyptian civilization had been lost.

Read the rest of this entry »

How many ants in the world?

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

In the days before the world wide web, not many people would have known how many ants there were in the world.


And if you wanted to find out, it wouldn’t have been obvious where to begin looking. Would a trip to the University library yield the information, or would it result in a whole day wasted?

Perhaps the best way to find out would have been to locate a friendly biologist who might already know, and might be prepared to tell you if you flattered him or her by calling them an “ant expert”.

Thank goodness for search engines! Now, the information is out there for everyone to see – although that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to find.

Recently, deadman43-ga asked a simple $5 question: “How many ants are there in the world?“. Bobbie7-ga rose to the challenge and was able to tell him that according to “ant expert E O Wilson, there are an estimated 100,000,000,000,000,000 ants in the world”.

Last year, pinkfreud-ga was able to assure monroe22-ga that yes, the total biomass of ants really does exceed the biomass of all the people in the world. So, incidentally, does the total biomass of squid and of antarctic krill.

Pinkfreud’s husband was so moved by this that he felt compelled to suggest that all humans should be eating more junk food in order to increase our biomass as quickly as possible!

I suppose that eating ants would help even more.

(photo by hagit berkovich)

Stones and Bones

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

For many people the term “Stone Age” conjures up images of Fred Flintstone, or of savages chasing dinosaurs. Neither of these could be further from the truth!

There is no one “stone age”, because there were a wide range of stone age societies in different places and at different times. However, they were all pre-literate societies, and they did not use metal tools.

Sometimes it seems that we only know about the stone age by wild extrapolation from stones and bones that have been dug up or found in a cave, but there are some stone age societies about whom we know more – much more.

In my next few posts, I’ll be presenting the daily life of one such stone age society, whom I’ll call the “Sohi”. In the final post of the series, I’ll tell you who the Sohi people are, and how we can know so much about them.

I’m not an archaeologist, nor am I an anthropologist. Heck, I’m not any kind of ologist, not even a vulcanologist! So I ask you to humor me if at times I seem to be taking a liberty or two. Please wait to see how the series turns out! I will then welcome any criticisms, and if appropriate I will amend the articles.

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Evolution revisited

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

I found this image at Joke of the Day, and I can identify with it:


Cut & Paste. Wut a Waste.

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

A few years back, I was at a conference and received an urgent message to call my office. A fellow attendee offered me the use of her cell phone, which I accepted not only for the sake of convenience, but also because, back in the day, I had never used a cell phone and was eager for the experience.

She handed it to me. I flipped open the phone, looked at the mini-cockpit, and my first thought was, “Cool!”

My second thought was, “Now what do I do?”. Try as I might, I wasn't getting a dial tone.

Though I'm a mature, fully realized adult, I still haven't totally shaken off my teen-angst capacity for embarrasment, so it was with a bit of chagrin that I had to ask my colleague for her assistance in making a call. “Ohhhh! Dial first! Then hit 'send'! Now I got it!”

You see the connection to cutting and pasting, no?

Just in case, let me spell it out. Both cutting/pasting and phone calls used to be easy. The inexorable march of technology have left both of these activities an unholy mess…a sophisticated unholy mess to be sure, but unholy just the same.

The analogy isn't a bad one. The basic acts of phoning or pasting are still pretty straightforward. Once you learn where the right pull-down menu or keyboard shortcut is, it's not hard to cut and paste, just as my learning to dial first was the key to being able to place a simple phone call.

But the devil (on this 6-6-6 day) is in the details, as they say. You Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V and what happens, as often as not, is not a nice clean reproduction of your text. What happens is this:

I would like to go into partnership with you, in
order to
invest a sum of Twenty Nine Million, Five Hundred Thousand USA Dollars
USD)in profitable sectors in your country, as long as you are
interested in
my offer. I got this money from cash donations by foreign contractors

or this

> >I've granted many contracts in my department during my
> >tenure. As a close aide to the former President, I couldn't use our
> >banking system to transfer such an amount without trace. This could
> >cause me serious problems.

or this:

You’re the one to ask about where to eat, what to wear, and whom (or whom not) to date.
But lately you’ve found yourself at the mall movie house on too many Saturday nights…

or a host of other problems — disappearing paragraph breaks, lost spaces between words, newspaper-style columns break down, text unwraps and runs right off the screen, hidden text that isn't, or the whole thing just dissolves into a sea of garbled nonsense.

But wait….there's more!

As if all that isn't bad enough, there's still the carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing anguish of plain vanilla cut and paste, even when it's working fine.

For we Google Answer Researchers, who spend more time mousing around than any of us cares to admit, the strain and tedium of the ol' C&P can be numbing to both muscles and brain.

Consider all the “list” questions we get — 667 at last count (the devil's older brother?).

Imagine all the cutting and pasting and window-switching and mousing that goes into compiling a list of all known back brace products, or gay dating web sites (is there a relationship between the two, I wonder?).

Over the years, I've compiled a set of tools to make the task of cutting and pasting — and text management in general — much more humane.

The best of the bunch in the text toolbox, by far, is my little text editor freeware program, NoteTab Light.

And the best thing, by far, about NoteTab Light is a feature they hardly even make mention of…autopaste.

At least, that's what I call it. The program itself has some clumsy name that only an English-as-a-second-or-third-or-fourth-language programmer could have come up with, something like Use As Pasteboard.

Anyway, you can pretty much guess at the rest. With autopaste turned on, the simple act of Ctrl-C'ing some text will instantly paste said text into the text editor. No switching windows! No need to Ctrl-V. No having to switch back to the other window, and find where you were.

It's not the key to world peace…but it's not a small thing, either. Multiply these little savings a few thousand times over, and I wind up saving not only time, but sanity.

I'm actually amazed that more text programs don't develop and publicize similar features. I know I'm not the only one who appreciates autopasting, but try to find it in other programs, or to find it as a more well-developed feature (NoteTab's autopaste, good as it is, still needs work). It seems to be a rare thing indeed.

NoteTab does a nice job with other text-handling problems as well, but there are many editors that can make that claim.

But there are few I've found that can autopaste.

NoteTab…ya gotta love it.

'Night, all.

pafalafaga David Sarokin

Ancient Egypt V – A Gardener’s Lament

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Water from above, don’t get water on the leaves, flood irrigation only, use a light mist, water only in the evening, water only in the morning, don’t water much at all, soak it daily, and this is for only one courtyard in the palace garden.

Since Egypt has become an international power, the import of exotics has made the gardener’s life hectic, to say the least.

I should have stayed and worked on the vinyard. Great grandfather Amenhotep had turned it into a vast enterprise producing wine, raisins, edible grape leaves and more when he came home after fighting the Hyksos and Nubians.

But no, I had to go out on my own and raise flowers. Now here I am, chief of the royal gardeners, and the king, bless her name, has ships coming back from Punt loaded with even more exotic plant life for her mortuary temple. It would seem as though Hatshepsut can’t decide between a mortuary temple or an arboretum.

But I really do have what I want, complaints or not. Here I am surrounded in this single courtyard with iris, chrysanthemums, lilies and delphiniums. Blue lotus, white lotus, safflower, calanchoe, poppies, hollyhocks, mandrake, and those still difficult to grow roses.

Then the little pool barely visable through the pomegranates with its tiny beds of buttercups, clover, white daisies and cornflowers.

I wonder if the gardens of any other country in the world equal those of Egypt? I somehow doubt it.

Then to keep Her Majesty shaded, I have planted trees, tamarisk, olive, acacia, willows, date palms, doum palms with their strange branching trunks, sycamore, carob, myrtle and some whose names I do not know. And in the center of the garden there is a large covered grape arbor for even more shade.

Doum Palm Branching Egyptian Doum Palm – image courtesy

I have placed all these gardens on the north side of the palace so that the prevailing winds can carry the scent of the flowers inside to Her Majesty.

Grapes seem so simple.

I, Djbouti, did all this for Her Majesty, the King. But it is never enough. She wants the avenues leading to the major temples replanted with new shade trees. I think we have enough sycamore seedlings to do most of that.

And she wants Myrrh trees planted along the avenue leading to her temple. They are on the ships coming back from Punt. I know nothing about Myrrh trees other than seeing one once and it was not pretty. But perhaps to her, its connection to the sacred is what she is considering most of all.
myrrh6.jpgMyrrh Tree – image courtesy

Many of our common garden plants have a connection to the sacred. Papyrus is the sacred symbol of Northern Egypt and the lotus of the South. Tying a bundle of the two plants together symbolizes the united country we have today.

Hatshepshut wants her temple to be a “paradise.” Now there is an interesting new word she has introduced into our language. “Paradise” is a word from Persia and it means “an enclosed park.” I wonder how she knows of it? We have so little dealing with that part of the world.

She even has it carved as an inscription on her temple. “I have listened to my father . . . commanding me to establish for him a Punt in his house, to plant the trees of God’s Land beside his temple, in his garden, just as he commanded . . .”

Now, our Lady King may have more than gardening in mind when she calls her temple a paradise. She has been seen wandering more than once through the arcades with her architect Senenmut, and with all loyal retainers left far, far behind. He is also a Steward of Amun and tutor to the royal children. Although he already has a completed tomb at nearby Qurna, a second tomb is being carved for him into the rock near the temple. This tomb may be a gift from Hatshepsut and is grand enough for any pharaoh. In fact, this second tomb of Senenmut is being designed so that the burial chamber is directly under the courtyard of Hatshepsut’s temple.

That desire for eternal proximity has tongues wagging all over Egypt.

It seems every temple and house in Egypt is surrounded by lush greenery and flowers. Even the homes of the poorest have their patch of onions and even a blooming weed or two growing out of a muddy bit of ground. From the Delta to Thebes and beyond, Egypt is one long flower bed.

A poor gardener’s work is never done. Though we are not poor in the financial sense. Skilled gardeners and garden designers are employed by temple and palace, as well as the households of the wealthy and many of us are rich enough to employ gardeners of our own.

Working for Her Majesty, the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, has certainly allowed me to do that.

Riverside home and gardenRiverside home and garden – image courtesy

Till next time