We’ve moved!

Yessir, things sure are movin’ on up here at team Heath Gordon. CSFLTA has been moved over to heathgordon.com/coolstuff. So head on over there if you want more tales of daring and adventure.

Published in: on October 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The A. brevirostris connection

This post dips into the murky depths of Anthropology, but it is an interesting chapter in human pre-history. The origin of humans is somewhat controversial topic. One thing we are starting to agree on is that the human, as we know him today, emerged 250,000 years ago out of Africa.

A new archaeological find adds a new chapter to our long and storied history. An early hominid, an ancestor to the chimps, orangutans and humans. Unfortunately the only remnants of the skull remain, but through that we can trace our lineage to 12 million years ago. In addition, what is interesting is that this fossil was found in Spain. We can draw one of two conclusions about this. This either means that our ancestors migrated from Europe to Africa, or we haven’t found the fossils in Africa yet. Either way, you are now looking at an even further ancestor. Unfortunately he would be just as recognizable as a orangutan or chimp.

Oh hey its my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather.

Oh hey its my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather.

If you’re into science this site has a pretty comprehensive breakdown of what we can learn from the former face of a dead proto-ape. BBC has a pretty great breakdown of the history of humans. I’m getting started on my history of American currency, so stay tuned.

Published in: on August 31, 2009 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vay Kay

Hey guys, I am going to be on vacation until Thursday. I may or may not write posts. Enjoy yourselves.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Toba Catastrophe

Lets just say you wanted to prove that, in fact, Noah did save all the animals. How would you do it? Probably the most certifiable way to do this would be to analyze the mitochondrial DNA of each species (or a only a few if you’re lazy), and see whether or not the variations suggest a population bottleneck at a certain point in time. Why use mitochondrial DNA? I’m glad you asked. Consider the normal DNA in our bodies. When you are created, your DNA is a gooey mixture of the genetics of your father and your mother (a notable exception is made for the male Y chromosome). However, the DNA in your mitochondria (the energy producing organelle in your cells) are received only from your mother, meaning they remain intact. It also turns out that mitochondrial DNA mutates significantly faster than normal DNA. So, by comparing the minute changes, you can trace your lineage back to a very certain point. You can also, by sampling a population, see if they have a common female ancestor. So, one would expect that if Noah did put all those animals onto an ark, that we could not only tell that it happened, but also pinpoint, with in a certain degree of accuracy, what year it happened.

If, for example, you started with the Great Panda, things would be looking in your favor. Genetic evidence has it that the Giant Panda almost went extinct about 43,000 years ago. That’s a bit old for Noah, but its a good start. It would be even more exciting if you tried the Golden Snub Nosed Monkey, as they almost went extinct at around the same time period. Unfortunately, your luck runs out there, animals worldwide show a remarkable amount of mitichondrial genetic diversity. Well, then if Noah and his kin were the the ones to survive the flood, then we should be able to see it in the genetic register. In fact, Stanley Ambrose at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana investigated this in 1998, and found something remarkable. Genetic evidence suggests that modern humans are descended from a group of 1,000 – 10,000 individuals, dating back to 70,000 – 75,000 years ago. Yes you read that right. There is a distinct possibility that the human race was limited to a population 1/3 of Green Bay. Humans were known to be around at least 140,000 years ago, so what caused them all to die off to such a small group?

It turns out that 70 – 75,000 years ago there was a massive volcanic explosion in what is now the Toba caldera. This eruption was a category – 8 (which classifies it as being “mega – colossal”). It was 3,000 times as big as the Mt St Helens eruption, an energy release greater than a giga ton of TNT. The earth was going through an ice age at the

Uh oh.

Uh oh.

time, and this made it way, way worse. Not bad enough to kill off the human race though.

At this point in time there is an excavation in India which suggests that another pocket of humans survived through the volcanic fallout. So the Toba disaster may not be as catacolysmic as many would have you believe. In fact, evolution takes its course much faster in smaller pockets, so this bottleneck may have been crucial for the development of the modern human.  Its scary to think about, but it is a good reminder of how risky it is to be living on this planet.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Able Archer

It 1983, probably one of the tensest years of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In November of that year, the US conducted wargames in conjunction with NATO. Unfortunately, due to massive intelligence failures, the Soviet Union thought that the US was about to launch a surprise nuclear attack, and were one step away from launching a retaliation. The Soviet Union, no offense, is great because it has some of the most spectacular failures the modern world has ever seen. This documentary”1983: Brink Of Apocalypse” does a very good job of breaking down the events leading to the 6 day escalation that occured during the Able Archer exercises. It was produced by the British, so they take every chance they get to whine about being left out of everything:


Published in: on July 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Deathsport: The Mayan ballgame

A modern player, in Aztec garb

A modern player, in Aztec garb

Imagine this, if you will, a ball game with high enough stakes that if you were the captain of the losing team, there was good chance that your head would be cut off and used for the next game. Archaeological evidence from the Post-classical period suggests that this did, in fact, happen. Many suggest that this game was a metaphor for the Mayan creation myth. to this day, people of Mayan descent still play a variation on this game, sans decapitation.

In classical Mayan, the game is known as pitz. It is played by 2 teams, on a pitch divided in half. Much of the information about the game we get from observations by Conquistadors as well as from archaelogical investigation. In the earlier days of the game, it seem that the game was very much like a game of netless volleyball. Each team would try to get the ball across the net using their hips, forearms, or really any part of your body. Sometimes in the beginning sticks were used. I will take this time to mention that the ball was made out of rubber. Like rubber from a tree.  We have not found a ball that can conclusively be said to have been used on the courts, but it is estimated that it was the size of a volleyball, but weighed 10 times as much. Modern players have permanent bruises on their hips from the game. One Spaniard mentions seeing bruises so bad they had to be lanced, and that he had seen people killed from getting hit by the ball in the head and “in the intestines”. To this day, the basic rule seems to be: don’t use your hands or your feet.

At some point, in the Post-Classical period, someone put stone rings on the sides at the halfway mark of the court. Evidence shows that a game would be won if you were to pass the ball through the stone ring, however points were lost for an attempt that ends in failure. Points were gained by a team if the ball hit the wall on the opposite end. You could also lose points by letting the ball bounce twice, or by hitting the ball out of bounds. Passing the ball through the hoop did not happen all that often. For example the hoop at Chichen Iza (the biggest ball court) is 18 feet off the ground.

Dive asshole

Dive asshole

Piltz has been played continuously for over 2700 years, and has played extremely different roles in the culture of the Mesoamericans. Evidence shows that it was played casually, and also that it was literally, a life or death struggle that was a metaphor centered around the Mayan creation myth. Lets step back for a second, and consider the role that Football plays in American culture. Kids play this game all the time when they’re young. People play this at barbeques. And if you believe the commericials, the Superbowl is the end all, be all of human physical and moral achievement. Football also has its roots in Midieval England when a ball was placed in between two towns, and, by whatever means necessary, whoever got the ball back to their town was the winner. The forward pass wasn’t even legal until 1906. But I digress, my point is, that sports, despite instant replay, are a nebulous and evolving form of interaction.

There were also various stages of dress for this game. In the beginning, people wore reinforced loinclothes so they didn’t

This is a carving of what a Pitz Player probably looked like

This is a carving of what a Pitz player probably looked like

 shatter their hips. Headresses and chest protectors were added to the repetoir later on. Some teams even wore some sort of crazy yoke. What is interesting is that ceremonial forms of almost all aspects of the game have been found. For example, there are often paintings of shamen bringing a ball with a quetzal feather to a temple. There are stone yokes all over the place, that were most likely used in preceding ceremonies. Evidence suggests that Pitz was often used to settle inter-city disputes, instead of warfare. Pitz is directly featured in their creation myth. In the end of the myth, forces of the earth and the underworld battle it out on the ballcourt for control of the human realm.

There is significant evidence, also, to show that often times the powers that be would round up some undesireables, and pit them against the best players, just so the population would see some guys getting their heads chopped off. Just like major sports events now, the movers and skakers in Mesoamerican culture would come to see the major games being played. In fact, in 1528, Cortes sent some teams to Spain to perform for Charles V. The English were mostly interested in the fact that there were brown people, and that they had bouncy balls. Honestly, I don’t know if we can imagine what it must be like to witness one of those ballgames. The English are pumped about their soccer, and the Balinese almost define their way of life when it comes to cockfighting, but we never watch a football game and go, ohman, if Jesus completes this forward pass, he totally gets all of our souls.

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Mamalahoe : Law of the Splintered Paddle

Article 9, Section 10 of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii dates back to King Kamehameha, in 1797. It states “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety”. As with all things Hawai’ian, there is an accompanying legend: When Kamehameha was younger, he was chasing two fisherman. Unfortunately, his leg got caught in the reef. One of the fisherman smacked him in the head with a paddle, which splintered into many pieces. Kamehameha survived and went on to unite the Hawai’ian islands. At one point during his reign, the fisherman was brought before him. Kamehameha, being the absolute ruler of the land, was well within his rights to have the man killed. However, Kamehameha stated that the man was protecting his land and family, and should be spared. This law is today the model of modern human rights. The native Hawai’ians were brutal, but honorable.

Here is the English Translation of the original Law:

Law of the Splintered Paddle:
O my people,
Honor thy god;
respect alike [the rights of] men great and humble;
See to it that our aged, our women, and our children
Lie down to sleep by the roadside
Without fear of harm.
Disobey, and die.

King Kamehameha, a real stand up guy.

King Kamehameha, a real stand up guy.

Published in: on July 14, 2009 at 5:52 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Uygher Empire

China is huge. There is not doubt about it. It has roughly 20% of the worlds population. Not only that, but because of its size, it is the host to an extraordinary number of individual cultures. The fact is that the ruling elite, and really the cultural face of china, is the Han Ethnic Group. The Uyghers have been thrust into the national stage recently, as over

There empire was this big. I know, its huge.

There empire was this big. I know, its huge.

 150 of them have died in an uprising against the Han elite. They have their own language, they are Muslim, and they have a completely different culture than the fat cats in Beijing. Genetically, they are Turkish. There is really no analogy in the US. It would be like if everyone in Texas was Hispanic, only spoke Spanish, and still only worshipped Mayan gods. Oh wait.

It turns out that the Uyghers used to be a big deal. They had an empire that lasted for 100 years, from 742 AD to 848, and actually made a concerted effort to civilize the region. The script they came up with eventually was used by the Mongolians. Researching this Empire is tough, though, because their titles sound like gobblety gook. Here is an example from “The Rise and Fall of the Uighur Empire” :

“The yabghu of the Uighurs, Etmish Qutlugh Bilge, was a vassal of the Blue Turks when they were at the height of their glory under Kul Tegin and Bilge Kha’Khan.”

Good luck with that.  Anyways, this story starts about 400 years before the Mongols started taking over everything. In Europe, this was about the time when the Germanic tribes were settling down in the North, and the Muslims were just getting started in the South. Over the course of the 100 years, there were 10 Khans, so what I’ll do is show you the rise and fall through the Khans after giving a brief introduction.

Up to 742 the region was dominated by the Blue Turks. The Uighurs, Karluks, and Basmils rebelled, and started a power grab. The Basmils went for it first, and were actually the ones to kill the current leader. The Karluks and the Uighurs allied, and with the backing of the Chinese, crushed the Basmyls. The Karluks got the stuff to the west, and Kutluk, in 744, crowned himself supreme ruler of the area, built an awesome capital, and made a peace treaty with China, which was currently ruled by the Tang Dynasty. He died in 747, and passed his crown onto his son, Myanchur.

Myanchur was clever. He set up trading posts all over his kingdom. Because his realm was technically a bunch of tribes united, this was relatively lucrative, as he had a huge border with China. He made a lot of money, and used it to build another huge city in the north. I will take this time to mention that this entire civilization lived in tents, and the 2 main

This is one of the early Khans

This is one of the early Khans

cities were basically walls with tents in them. He also set up an awesome courier service that was later perfected by the Mongolians. Everyone in the steppes, even the former Basmyls and the Karluks, united under his flag. Fortunately for him, in the early 750’s, China had been overtaken by a renegade general, and turned to Myanchur for assistance.  So in 755, Myanchur swept in and retook the cities, but didn’t leave until China paid him in gold and silk. The emporer relinquished, and said he would pay gold and silk yearly. Just for good measure, Myanchur saw that the Kyrgys and Tibetans were trying to establish trade relationship with other countries, and slaughtered their army of 50,000. Myanchur drank himself to death in 759.

The following period is considered to be the golden age of the Uygher Empire. Myanchur passed on his crown to his son, Tengri, who started off his reign by taking over China. He rolled in, and literally burnt down cities, killed everyone he could find, and pillaged the surrounding land. He wound just find whatever he could take, loaded it up into a caravan, and sent it back to the capitol. This ended when the Chinese emporer gave Tengri exclusive trading rights, at prices that he would decide, in addition to any Chinese trader paying a hefty fee. However, while on campaign, Tengri met some Iranian Manichaeists (a gnostic religion), and was converted. He stopped eating meat, drinking, and resolved to stop fighting. This did not sit well with his constituency, and in 779 while Tengri was listening to a lecture, a disgruntled chief by the name of Kutluk Bilge, ran through the camp and beheaded Tengri, his family, and close friends.

Bilge went on to quash rebellions in both China, and against a Kyrgy-Tibetan alliance in the West. In addition, he kept the adoption of Manichaeism, but made it more suitable to the steppe way of life. In 791, he sent his son, Tolossu, to kill some Tibetans. Over the course of a year and a half, Tolossu with 50,000 horse archers, demolished the 150,000 strong Tibetan army, essentially ending the Tibetans as any sort of entity in the region for a very long time. Bilge died in 795, and his brothers held the throne until 808, until Tolossu took the throne.

Tolossu turned his roving bands into a real civilization. He took the Iranian script, and made it useable for the Mongolian dialect. He distributed the printing press (yes you read that right) throughout the kingdom, which resulted and a vast number of secular and relgious works being distributed. In 820, he heard that an alliance of Iranians and

Modern Uyghers. These are Chinese people.

Modern Uyghers. These are Chinese people.

Karluks were harassing some Manichaeans, so he saddled up 100,000 horses, and they head out westward, and ended up slaughtering everything and everyone, and once again filled up a giant caravan will riches, and rode back into the capital, a national hero. He died in 821.

For about 20 years, things went ok. But then there was a very heavy snow, and backbone of the empire, the horses were malnourished. The Kyrgys, still smarting from their previous treatement, saw this as a time to strike. A disgrunteld Uygher general defected, and created an 80,000 strong horse army, which swept into the capital in 840.  In typical steppe fashion, no-one was spared, and those that fled, had no where to go, as the Uyghers were on bad relations with all of their borders. The managed to rally, and ended up espablishing 3 kingdoms, that maintained the culture of their empire, but never once rose to their former prominence. And that, dear reader, is the story of the Uygher Empire. Life was, and still is, rough on the steppes.

Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Animated Civil War

I am very visually oriented, so it helps me a lot to see things. Generally, battles are well documented, as the people that win them like to describe the way they owned the opposing party. The Civil War, in addition, happens to be very well documented, down to the minute in fact. Because of this, a group of people got together, and basically animated the Civil War. This is hands down one of my favorite sites on the web right now. You can literally sit down and watch the War of Northern Aggression unfold before your very eyes. This site also links to a site where the the Pacific Theater of WWII and the Revolutionary War are animated too. I’ve watched the WWII one’s, they’re alright. It boils down to the fact that the US was better at lobbing airplanes than the Japanese. I can’t speak to the quality of the Revolutionary War. Anyways, here you go:


Published in: on July 11, 2009 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,