Mathematical mystery of ancient Babylonian clay tablet solved

UNSW Sydney scientists have discovered the purpose of a famous 3700-year old Babylonian clay tablet, revealing it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, possibly used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces and temples and build canals.

The new research shows the Babylonians, not the Greeks, were the first to study trigonometry — the study of triangles — and reveals an ancient mathematical sophistication that had been hidden until now.

Known as Plimpton 322, the small tablet was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq by archaeologist, academic, diplomat and antiquities dealer Edgar Banks, the person on whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based.

It has four columns and 15 rows of numbers written on it in the cuneiform script of the time using a base 60, or sexagesimal, system.

— source University of New South Wales | Aug 24, 2017

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The Abuses of History

Historians, like journalists, are in the business of manipulating facts. Some use facts to tell truths, however unpleasant. But many more omit, highlight and at times distort them in ways that sustain national myths and buttress dominant narratives. The failure by most of the United States’ popular historians and the press to tell stories of oppression and the struggles against it, especially by women, people of color, the working class and the poor, has contributed to the sickening triumphalism and chauvinism that are poisoning our society. The historian James W. Loewen, in his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong, calls the monuments that celebrate our highly selective and distorted history a “landscape of denial.”

The historian Carl Becker wrote, “History is what the present chooses to remember about the past.” And as a nation founded on the pillars of genocide, slavery, patriarchy, violent repression of popular movements, savage war crimes committed to expand the empire, and capitalist exploitation, we choose to remember very little. This historical amnesia, as James Baldwin never tired of pointing out, is very dangerous. It feeds self-delusion. It severs us from recognition of our propensity for violence. It sees us project on others–almost always the vulnerable–the unacknowledged evil that lies in our past and our hearts. It shuts down the voices of the oppressed, those who can tell us who we are and enable us through self-reflection and self-criticism to become a better people. “History does not merely refer to the past … history is literally present in all we do,” Baldwin wrote.

If we understood our real past we would see as lunacy Donald Trump’s bombastic assertions that the removal of Confederate statues is an attack on “our history.” Whose history is

— source | Chris Hedges | Sep 25, 2017

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Missing Links in Textbook History

By the time I started high school I had come to see the world in Manichaean terms, full of good guys and bad guys. We, the Americans, were the good guys, often presented as settlers defending our families against hostile Indians. It was dangerously easy to accept the notion that history is pretty simple.

So simple, in fact, that a few lines from vintage Dylan offer a pretty good summary of what is said in secondary textbooks about indigenous peoples.

I have written before that American history, as taught in pre-collegiate courses, is often taught as a series of unconnected segments. That approach is clearly reflected in how the Native tribes are presented in state-approved textbooks.

Some begin with an early chapter on Indigenous communities before the European invasion with titles like “Native Societies of the 1400s.” And some jump right in with a section on colonial Europeans like “The Colonial Roots of America’s Founding Ideals.” But then, in every text I’ve examined, the Indigenous people disappear. That is except when they are

— source | Jim Mamer | Feb 1, 2023

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America’s Biggest Museums Fail to Return Native American Human Remains

The remains of more than 110,000 Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Natives’ ancestors are still held by museums, universities and federal agencies.
A postcard shows the American Museum of Natural History in 1906. New York Public Library via Getty Images

A 1990 federal law called for remains to be returned to descendants or tribal nations.
Why haven’t these been?

As the United States pushed Native Americans from their lands to make way for westward expansion throughout the 1800s, museums and the federal government encouraged the looting of Indigenous remains, funerary objects and cultural items. Many of the institutions continue to hold these today — and in some cases resist their return despite the 1990 passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“We never ceded or relinquished our dead. They were stolen,” James Riding In, then an Arizona State University professor who is Pawnee, said of the unreturned remains.

ProPublica this year is investigating the failure of NAGPRA to bring about the expeditious return of human remains by federally funded universities and museums. Our reporting, in

— source | Logan Jaffe, Mary Hudetz and Ash Ngu, ProPublica, and Graham Lee Brewer, NBC News | Jan. 11, 2023

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Does Your Local Museum or University Still Have Native American Remains?

In 1990, Congress passed a law recognizing the unequal treatment of Native American remains and set up a process for tribes to request their return from museums and other institutions that had them. The law, known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA, sought to address this human rights issue by giving Indigenous peoples a way to reclaim their dead.

But 33 years after the law’s passage, at least half of the remains of more than 210,000 Native Americans have yet to be returned. Tribes have struggled to reclaim them in part because of a lack of federal funding for repatriation and because institutions face little to no consequences for violating the law or dragging their feet.

This database allows you to search for information on the roughly 600 federally funded institutions that reported having such remains to the Department of the Interior. While the data is self-reported, it is a starting point for understanding the damage done by generations of Americans who stole, collected and displayed the remains and possessions of the

— source | Ash Ngu, Andrea Suozzo | Jan. 11, 2023

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Why History Matters: the Left and Ukraine

When US President, racist, segregationist, eugenicist, and liberal Democrat Woodrow Wilson sent soldiers from the American Expeditionary Force to ‘negotiate’ the aftermath of the October Revolution in the USSR in 1919, the Indian Wars in the US were still underway, slavery had only recently been abolished, and the inconclusive end of the first global imperialist war—WWI, was setting up a sequel—WWII, to be fought. That Wilson’s worldview in 1919 formed the basis of German fascist ideology a decade later provides insight into how ruling-class ideas take root.

In contrast to liberal political theory where people develop opinions in isolation, Wilson was very much a person of his economic class and time. American capital had close to a billion dollars invested in Russia when the Bolsheviks turned the world upside down by launching a revolution to govern themselves. American (and German) industrialists, having convinced themselves that were rich because they were genetically / racially / morally superior to workers, imagined that a successful workers revolution would place inferiors in charge of their superiors (went the logic).

Since then, an odd selectivity has overtaken Western historians whereby Russian and Soviet history is imagined to have started with the October Revolution (1917), whereas most of

— source | Rob Urie | Jan 6, 2023

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How Syria’s blasted landmarks are starting to rise from the ruins

The centre of Aleppo was a marvel. It was a demonstration of the multiplicity of both humanity and stone. It was an embodiment of the material and cultural wealth that once made Syria one of the luckiest and most civilised places on Earth – a California of the Middle East, blessed by climate, fertile land, physical beauty and its position between the Mediterranean and the Silk Road to the east. “My beautiful province,” as the seventh-century Byzantine emperor Heraclius called Syria, while retreating from Muslim conquerors, “what a paradise you will be for the enemy!”

In Aleppo there was, and mostly still is, the citadel, a mound growing upwards into improbably massive walls, a dream of castle-ness realised with crushing weight. Then there were the souks, a huge web of covered alleys and streets, spaces made of produce and transactions as much as of masonry, in which gems of architecture – a polychrome portal or a serene dome – would make themselves known amid the action and clutter, their arabesque decorations indecorously garlanded with electrical conduits and air-conditioning units.

Then there was the Umayyad mosque, built on the site of a Hellenistic agora, called after the dynasty that founded it in the eighth century but its surviving fabric coming from

— source | Rowan Moore | 4 Jun 2021

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Israeli-Arab towns are enshrining Palestinian history

Twenty years ago, when MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) was a member of the Haifa city council, he lobbied vigorously to have the name of Hatzionut (Zionism) Avenue changed to Street of the Mountain (Al-Jabal), which had been its name prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948. He also talked about his dream: that anybody who came to Haifa in the future, and who ask where a particular place was situated, could very well receive a response along the lines of: “It’s on Gamal Abdel Nasser Street, between Edward Said and Land Day streets.”

In large measure, Odeh’s dream has come true: The public space of Arab society in Israel, and especially in locales with Arab majorities, is today rife with streets, squares, institutions and monuments whose names commemorate personalities, events, concepts and places that reference Palestinian history, and specifically those that have an association with Israel’s Arab community.

Pass through an Arab town or city today and you’ll find yourself on streets that truly are named for Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser; Land Day (an annual commemoration of the killings of six Arab citizens in 1976 during protests against the state’s appropriation of Arab-owned land), or the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said; and public

The Gruesome Methods of Proving Guilt or Innocence in the Middle Ages

Curiously trial by jury was voluntary in medieval England. However, if you did refuse to stand trial, the authorities would crush you between two heavy stones until you either acquiesced or died. In despotic feudal kingdoms “voluntary” was often about as voluntary as Janice from work’s wedding invitation, whom ironically you also wish you could crush between two heavy stones. More serious crimes such as murder, assault and treason were dealt with in the king’s court. If you ended up here and were found guilty, you could be sure of severe punishment. Murderers were hanged or beheaded. Those convicted of treason were hung, drawn and quartered.

So you don’t lose sleep over it, I should explain that being ‘hanged’ stipulated until dead, whereas to be “hung” meant you would be let down before death. As in “I hanged my cat; now it’s dead” compared to “I hung my cat on the wall, then fed it dinner.” However, being hung was usually far worse than a quick hanging, because the executioner would have a delightful basket of torture lined up for you. Starting with the next step, being “drawn.”

Drawn, unfortunately for the accused, did not mean “like one of your French girls”; it was a ghastlier affair, to put it gently. Although it was at least as comparable to naked

— source | Arran Lomas | Aug 12, 2022

Excerpted from Stick a Flag in It: 1,000 Years of Bizarre History from Britain and Beyond

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How India’s Spiritual Masters Fought Orthodoxy

Hundreds of years after his death, the Sai Baba of Shirdi (1838-1918) remains one of the most widely revered saints. He is worshipped by millions of Hindus, Muslims and others. Born to Hindu parents and brought up by a fakir, he was a harsh critic of religious orthodoxy and detested the Hindu-Muslim divide. He believed that the central message of both Hinduism and Islam was love, service and freedom.

Another saint who attracted both Muslims and Hindus was Kabir (1398-1448/55). He was born to or adopted by a Muslim family of weavers and so he was well acquainted with Islam. But going by his evergreen poems, it appears he had an intimate knowledge and understanding of Hindu thought and mythology too. He was critical of religious orthodoxy and authoritarianism and chided Hindus and Muslims alike.

Contrary to what is widely believed, India’s spiritual story is not all about Brahmanical beliefs, debates and disputes about Sanskrit literature, Upanishads and the Gita or even the caste system.

According to author Mukunda Rao, the spiritual strivings that were non-Vedic in origin and character outnumbered Vedic forms. And some of the best known mystics attempted to

— source | M.R. Narayan Swamy | 27/Jul/2022

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