Great African Empires, Part 2: The Tattooed Lords of the Desert

The Berber queen known as Tin Hinan, whose remains date from the 4th century BCE

Meet the nomad warriors who conquered Egypt, battled Rome, and ruled Spain.

If you grew up watching Star Wars (like I did), you probably dreamed of visiting Tatooine, the desert planet where Luke Skywalker gazed up at the twin suns and imagined becoming a Jedi.

Like a surprising number of things in sci-fi and fantasy,

Tatouine is a real place.

It’s a town in Tunisia, North Africa, where many of the desert scenes in Star Wars were actually filmed. And while it’s not home to any starships or aliens, its true story is every bit as strange.

In my first article of this “Great African Empires” series, I mentioned that people in North Africa were living in settled villages, practicing farming and animal agriculture, as early as the 11,000s BCE —

A full 7,500 years before the Great Pyramid was built.

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Four Great African Empires That Astonished the World

Who ruled Africa while Rome ruled Europe? How did they come to be forgotten?

A quick scan of online message boards will tell you that worldwide awareness of African history — aside from ancient Egypt — is seriously limited, to say the least.

A Quora commenter asks, “Why hasn’t a single prominent civilization come out of Africa?” On Reddit, someone poses (or rather, begs) the question, “Why were there so few empires in Africa?” Although responders quickly mopped the floor with those commenters’ loaded questions, millions of other people around the world have never bothered to ask in the first place.

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When Roman “Barbarians” Met the Asian Enlightenment

This week, the BBC announced the discovery of two “ethnically Chinese” skeletons at an ancient Roman burial site in England. Who were they? What drove them to the far end of the world? We don’t know, yet.

But for once, an article’s clickbait headline may not be exaggerating. If the genetic identity of these skeletons can be confirmed, it could indeed “rewrite Roman history” — or at least, a whole lot of long-held assumptions about who was in contact with whom in the days of the Roman Empire.

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Brilliance on Dinosaur Island

What intelligence means to me

Put almost any group of people in a room together, and they’ll eventually start talking about how dumb everyone else is.

Put a group of people with above-average intelligence in a room together, and they’ll start talking about what intelligence means — when they first started to realize they were “gifted,” how they tried to measure and quantify their intellectual gifts, and how little those scores really tell us.

If this sounds self-congratulatory, that’s because it is.

At some point in that conversation, someone will jump in and say, “Well, here’s how I can tell when somebody’s smart…”

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When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn まじめ

(Majime.)

Hunter S. Thompson valued professionalism above all other virtues. If you’d met the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas three days into a cocaine binge, and asked him if it might be time to call it quits, he would have shrieked in outrage —not because you were judging his drug habits, but because you were implying he wasn’t fully conscious, aware, centered and intentional in his behavior.

Do you think this is some kind of amateur cocaine binge?” he probably would’ve howled.

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My Historical Novel Is Coming!

In the midst of all these fun articles, I’ve been working on a bigger project: a novel set in ancient Mesopotamia.

Well, maybe “novel” isn’t exactly right — it’s a collection of short stories set in the same area, all linked to each other by themes, characters, legends, and so on. Together, the stories form a narrative that reaches far back into the ancient past.

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A Cemetery of the Living

How my friend’s art connects Hollywood and ancient Egypt

Last weekend, I took a trip up to Milan. My friends and I hit all the usual sightseeing spots — the big famous Gothic cathedral, the sprawling neoclassical shopping mall known as the Galleria — but I had one special destination in mind.

My friend, the painter Tracy Molis, had a gallery show there.

Two things made this show especially interesting to me.

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James Needham’s “Bathroom Selfie” Painting Continues a 40,000-Year Artistic Tradition

But to prove it, we’re gonna have to get NSFW.

We’ve all gotten pulled into one of those conversations at one party or another: “Art is on the decline! No ones creates original work anymore! Music is produced by robots and armies of slave children! All we do is take selfies and mindlessly share them!”

That’s how art critic Jonathan Jones reacted to the above painting by artist James Needham this week. Needham is shocked — shocked — that this painting has gotten almost a million shares on Imgur. “It washes out all aesthetic ambition,” Jones wails in The Guardian, “and reduces the 600 years of art history since the Renaissance to the level of a glorified selfie.”

My response to all that is,

What do you think art history IS?

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Do NOT Quit Your Job. DO Your Job.

A retraction of every “live your dreams” screed I ever wrote

Confession time! I used to write some of those “Quit your job! Follow your dreams!” articles. You won’t find any of them in my Medium history now, though, because I deleted them all months ago.

Looking back on my smugness now feels like looking back on my goth phase in high school: I’m not exactly ashamed of it, because I can understand the motivation behind it; the need to craft a public identity that would validate my perspective on the world— but it still makes me cringe a little,

Because I wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought I was.

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A Sumerian Walks Into a Bar…

An (obviously NSFW) history of dirty jokes

As I was saying… a Sumerian walks into a bar. Doesn’t really have to be a Sumerian, actually. A guy. Any guy.

Guy walks into a bar, orders a drink, tries to join in on the conversation. But none of the regulars seem to be telling stories or jokes. One of them just says a number — “243!” — and everyone laughs. Then somebody else answers, “17!” and everybody laughs at that.

Guy asks the bartender, “What the hell’s goin’ on in here?”

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