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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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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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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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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Across the Aegean

A tale of a time when East met West

When Aristagoras, Greek sea-trader of Piraeus, first laid eyes upon the treasures amassed by his distant cousins in the Asian provinces of Lydia and Ionia, more than just his avarice was awakened. When he studied the layers of gold inlay on an earring crafted on the shores of the Oxus, and ran his hand over a luxuriant, thick robe woven high in the Zagros, he did something a Hellene rarely did:

He stared in shock.

 

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Fear and Loathing in World History

Discover which drugs your favorite world leaders love most!

“We were somewhere around Greece, at the edge of the Iron Age, when the drugs began to take hold…”

Alexander the Great probably fought his battles drunk.

I say “probably” because no historical source explicitly says this — but let’s look at the facts.

Fact 1: Alexander was a legendary high-functioning alcoholic.

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How Real Aliens Killed Sci-Fi For Me

A tale of waking up from geek dreams to geek reality

The day the ship came from the other world, Fox was bringing in the last of the fall harvest. He tossed a handful of ripe squash into one of the woven baskets that stood at intervals around his field, then stood up, cracked his back, and surveyed his work. Plenty of veggies for winter.

A young man tore through the village, breaking the silence with excited shouts. He was screaming what sounded like nonsense — some kind of gigantic craft had materialized off the coast. It had enormous white wings, and many mouths from which smoke poured. The elders were down by the shore now, debating whether to go out for a closer look.

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