Reflections

Published December 24, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 2 minutes · Share your thoughts
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This year, with its ups and downs, is coming to an end.

And there were some great ups. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend more time with my family, work an interesting job in the summer, and take some really challenging but enjoyable courses. In the spring I had a great time organizing the Montreal World Health Organization Simulation (MonWHO) as its Theme Director; and later launching the 5th volume of the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal as its Co-Editor-in-Chief. I read some great books this year, I believe more than all of the previous years combined thanks to… digitized books. As well, the summer festivals in the city, including Osheaga (Arcade Fire! Robyn! K’naan!), provided for great happiness for my ears. I’ve also been working on my own research project in a field I’m deeply passionate about, in Montreal which is emerging as a hub of neuroscience.

From every down I learnt a lesson. Don’t fall down on ice. It’s self-explanatory. If you do, do ask your physician how to use your crutches if you’re not sure (thanks to the kind gentleman who made me aware of the fact outside). Pride comes before the fall. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, and sometimes lean on people when you need it, there is tremendous kindness in the world. Time management is not exactly bunching things back to back, but ensuring that there is always padded time for unforseen circumstances– so you don’t end up in the back of a cab praying to every deity that you’ll make it to an important event in time.

I’d struggled for years with the fear of either being boxed into one field and missing out on a world of things to know and things to see, or being scattered all over the place without ever gaining deep insight and understanding of anything. But Life is not measured in absolutes– nor in coffee spoons. This year I learnt that we can allow many fields to inform and shape us– while we focus and prioritize what is most important to us, what we are most passionate about.

Going forward into the sixth year of this blog I’ve realized that I haven’t exactly been using this my little space on the web to its full potential. I figure this can be resolved by sharing more reflections and cute comics in the upcoming year. Or better yet– both!

Happy holidays everyone!

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

Human civilization beneath the Persian Gulf

Published December 10, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 5 minutes · 2 responses so far
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I saw a story on an interesting new paper review published in the December edition of Current Anthropology. The paper is entitled New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis (doi:10.1086/657397) by University of Birmingham researcher Jeffrey Rose.


Epic of Gilgamesh – Image Source

The basis of this paper is ‘The Oasis Theory’ put forward by Raphael Pumpelly in 1908, and later popularized by Vere Gordon Childe in his 1928 book “The Most Ancient Near-East”. The theory holds that climate was at the heart of the Neolithic Revolution, and that first agricultural and domestication efforts by humans took place as a drying climate led them to form communities around oases in close association with animals. Paleoclimatic data and archeological evidence have provided data to leading credence this idea.

Inverse to the amount of annual precipitation falling across the interior, reduced sea levels periodically exposed large portions of the Arabo-Persian Gulf, equal at times to the size of Great Britain. Therefore, when the hinterlands were desiccated, populations could have contracted into the Gulf Oasis to exploit its freshwater springs and rivers. [source]

Rose’s review is significant in that it forms a theoretical framework based on archeological, genetic and paleoclimatic data to assert that human populations have existed in the Gulf for the past 100,000 years– and that the area was populated in the first wave of human expansion out of Africa.

In order to investigate the likelihood of an indigenous community within the Gulf Oasis, paleoenvironmental and archaeological evidence are synthesized, working to build a picture of prehistoric occupation over the course of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene… This evidence is used to construct a model of human occupation around the basin over the course of the last 100,000 years. The final section discusses the implications of the Gulf Oasis on current scenarios of modern human expansion out of Africa as well as the Neolithic demographic transition in southwest Asia. [source]

This theory accounts for both earlier migrations out of the gulf and for the sudden expansion of well-developed settlements that occurred around 8,000 years ago around the Gulf region.

The Gulf Oasis would have been a shallow inland basin exposed from about 75,000 years ago until 8,000 years ago… “Perhaps it is no coincidence that the founding of such remarkably well developed communities along the shoreline corresponds with the flooding of the Persian Gulf basin around 8,000 years ago,” Rose said. “These new colonists may have come from the heart of the Gulf, displaced by rising water levels that plunged the once fertile landscape beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean. [source]

The expansion to Australia is thought to have been one of the earlier human migrations and that is placed around 50 thousand years ago. So the possibility that modern humans were in the Persian Gulf 100 thousand years ago is quite significant, specially when compounded with another study earlier showing that non-Africans populations possess 1-4% Neanderthal genetic material, and that the “hybridization” probably took place in the Middle East.

Another aspect, which is amusing to think about, is what this all means with relation to the Garden of Eden and the Great Deluge mythos that has prevailed in the region since the first written records. Every year somebody comes out with a new location which they swear is the Garden of Eden– and it still doesn’t get old.

Albeit epiphenomenal, it is interesting to note that the oldest known version of the ubiquitous Near Eastern flood myth, the “Eridu genesis”… was written by the inhabitants of this region.

While the paper has been lauded by all of the commentators and appears to be strong, some commentators have criticized the article for essentially jumping the gun without strong archaeological evidence from the Gulf itself.

I am skeptical about the relevance of mythology and equally so about reliance on genetic proxy data, given the huge margins of error in coalescence dates and the many other assumptions involved… Genetic inference has a role to play but, as Rose demonstrates here, the archaeological data are key to forming and testing new hypotheses. Moreover, many other shallow shelf regions would have had similar potentials at lowered sea level, so this is an issue of worldwide interest and not unique to the Persian Gulf. [source]

On a final note, I was relieved to see this particular comment from an archaeologist, Juris Zarins, who has some done fantastic work in the Arabian Peninsula (and whom I’d heard about before in the context of ‘Garden of Eden’ theories).

“The terms “Arabo-Persian Gulf” or “Gulf” cannot be scientifically applied to the studied region, which has been called “Persian Gulf” for the last two millennia. This name is also the only accepted term in United Nations documents. Although due to some political reasons some of the neighboring countries to this region have been trying to apply some other terminologies to the mentioned geographical zone, it is vital that in archaeological texts the researchers stand neutral in political debates and use the geographical names based on the UN official documents.”

ResearchBlogging.orgRose, J. (2010). New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis Current Anthropology, 51 (6), 849-883 DOI: 10.1086/657397

 

Side note: I really love the dialogue that goes in the commentary of many anthropological papers I’ve read as a part of my minor. It’s quite different from science papers I’m used to where people don’t openly question the methods and assertions of peer-reviewed papers (unless the paper is really bad) and don’t start a dialogue, instead opting to publish their own scientific papers disapproving or verifying the findings. I recognize that it’s important to confirm or reject data with other data, but at the same time, more scientific “dialogue” and placing researchers on the hot plate at the time of publication may (1) lead to the right questions being asked and answered (2) improve the quality of research in the future.

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

Where are the ropes?

Published December 04, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes · 3 responses so far
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Today the first is the first “real” snow day in Montreal… “fake” snow of course being the kind that disappears after a couple of hours, and “real” being the kind that freezes turning your entire city into an ice rink. I saw this comic back in the summer in the Montreal Mirror and was quite amused because it’s so true. Every single year, that person is me hauling myself up the hill on which half of my classes reside– always muttering obscenities. A couple of years back I heard of a legendary time when city-workers and/or firefighters had actually put ropes across the frozen sidewalks up the aforementioned hills to help people walk up. It made complete sense and every day I asked myself– where are the ropes? But I came to question the veracity of the story after I heard variations like– the firefighters stood on the side and put their feet out so pedestrians could walk up the hill with a good grip– Nay! Nay! Verily they lay their own bodies onto the frozen path so that students could climb and get to class.

The first year I spent in Montreal, gloating in that I’d upgraded my living arrangements from a mere peninsula to an island– one of the most difficult adjustment for me was the weather. Montreal’s summers are much much more warm and humid than Halifax, and the winters that tend to be colder. Halifax has really gorgeous misty days… the best we can (usually) get here in Montreal is a day of smog in the heat of the summer. Although I will admit that we did get two days of fog in early November and I was very excited. On the other hand, we don’t have hurricanes and tropical storms, the really crazy weather here (although I hear Montreal sits on an earthquake zone?). Storms aren’t so bad though. It used to be fun to get a break from school for that period of time, once you got over the mild inconvenience of not having lights or water in your house for a week.

What was most unusual for me was that in Nova Scotia the weather changes from not only day to day, but hour to hour, and I think nature has left its mark on most of us raised in the province in the form of a moody disposition. In contrast, the weather in Montreal tends to be more stable throughout year. There will be a couple of days of sunshine, and a couple of days of rain… you can generally predict if you will need an umbrella. In Halifax trying to subvert the weather is futile and may anger the heavens inducing a tropical storm. Of course, I’ve had friends tell me that Montreal’s weather changes too frequently compared to their hometown. I can’t even imagine.

Despite knowing better, I am going to say (hoping I won’t regret this) that I am excited about the upcoming winter in Montreal. There always so much to do in the island that you frequently forget about the icicles on your eyelashes, and there is nothing more enjoyable than strolling downtown in winter– grabbing a cup of hot chocolate from a coffee shop that is always conveniently five steps away– in search those mythical ropes.

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi