Why are Asians harder hit by Recessions?


So I was just looking up some demographic data on Wikipedia and ran across this graph. Two interesting things:

  1. During the recessions, all of the groups suffer in roughly similar amounts, except Asians, who tend to get really hammered. I don’t think it’s a side-effect of just having the biggest quantity of money, as whites and blacks, who make very different amounts of money, still tend to fall by the same amount. I would assume this is a result of Asians being more heavily leveraged, with risky investments, except that this is a graph of income rather than net worth. Maybe they are disproportionately employed in highly leveraged professions?
  2. The 1990 recession looks like it went on particularly long for Hispanics, whose net worth kept hurting after everyone else’s had started recovering–around 1995, the Hispanic nadir, their net worth was nearly as low as African Americans’. What was up? Economic problems related to the Mexican Peso? Refugees from the Guatemalan Civil War? NAFTA?


Cathedral Round-Up #13: Do Universities do Anything Good?

A commentator last month asked if universities do anything good, so I though I would begin this month’s Cathedral Round-Up by searching for some good news.

Caltech seems to be still doing real research:

click to enlarge

And some researchers at MIT are collaborating with folks at Mass General Hospital to improve methods for placing epidurals:

More than 13 million pain-blocking epidural procedures are performed every year in the United States. Although epidurals are generally regarded as safe, there are complications in up to 10 percent of cases, in which the needles are inserted too far or placed in the wrong tissue.

A team of researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital hopes to improve those numbers with a new sensor that can be embedded into an epidural needle, helping anesthesia doctors guide the needle to the correct location.

Since inserting a giant needle into your spine is really freaky, but going through natural childbirth is hideously painful, I strongly support this kind of research.

Meanwhile, of course:


(note: I don’t have the link to the PDF.)



LSAT results by ethnicity





Picture 12


Picture 13


Forbes notes:

More than half of Americans under the age of 25 who have a bachelor’s degree are either unemployed or underemployed. According to The Christian Science Monitor, nearly 1 percent of bartenders and 14 percent of parking lot attendants have a bachelor’s degree.

Adding additional degrees is no guarantee of employment either. According to a recent Urban Institute report, nearly 300,000 Americans with master’s degrees and over 30,000 with doctorates are on public relief. …

Unless you have a “hard” skill, such as a mastery of accounting, or a vocational certificates (e.g., in teaching) your liberal arts education generally will not equip you with the skill set that an employer will need.

Obviously colleges still do some good things. Much of the research I cite here in this blog originated at a college of some sort. And of course, if you are careful and forward thinking, you can use college to obtain useful skills/information.

But between the years, money, and effort students spend, not to mention the absurd political indoctrination, college is probably a net negative for most students.

A few doctors in the 1400s probably saved the lives of their patients, but far more killed them.

Caveat emptor.

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (3/5)

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

(Do you know what’s frustrating? When you discover that you can type about three times faster than the words actually show up on your computer screen.)

Anyway, today we are continuing with our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. The book contains many interesting vignettes of chimpanzee life and descriptions of their social order. I wish I could share more of them, but my fingers are tired of typing, so here we go. (As usual, for readability I’m just using “” for the quotes instead of block quotes, and they’re organized around several themes.) I’ve tried to bold the names of the chimps the first time they appear.

Hunting and the sharing of meat:

“One day I arrived on the Peak and found a small group of chimps just below me in the upper branches of a thick tree. As I watched I saw that one of them was holding a pink-looking object from which he was from time to time pulling pieces with his teeth. There was a female and a youngster and they were both reaching out toward the male, their hands actually touching his mouth. Presently the female picked up a piece of the pink thing and put it to her mouth: it was at this moment that I realized the chimps were eating meat.

“After each bite of meat the male picked off some leaves with his lips and chewed them with the flesh. Often, when he had chewed for several minutes on this leafy wad, eh spat out the remains into the waiting hands of the female. Suddenly he dropped a small piece of meat, and like a flash the youngster sung after it to the ground. Even as he reached dot pick it up the undergrowth exploded and an adult bushpig charged toward him. … Soon I made out the shapes of three small striped piglets. Obviously the chimps were eating a baby pig. The size was right and later, when I realized that the male was David Graybeard, I moved closer and saw that he was indeed eating piglet.

“For three hours I watched the chimps feeding. David occasionally let the female bite pieces from the carcass and once he actually detached a small piece of flesh and placed it in her outstretched hand. When he finally climbed down there was still meat on the carcass; he carried it away in one hand, followed by the others.”

EvX: it is much easier to dismember carcases when you have tools at your disposal, like stone knives.

“I had taken Hugo [animal photographer and Jane’s future husband] up to show him the peak and we were watching four red colobus monkeys that were evidently separated from their troop. Suddenly an adolescent male chimpanzee climbed cautiously up the tree next to the monkeys and slowly along a branch. Then he sat down. After a moment, three of the monkeys jumped away–quite calmly, it appeared. The fourth remained, his head turned toward the chimp. A second later another adolescent male chimp climbed out of the thick vegetation surrounding the tree, rushed along the branch along which the last monkey was sitting, and grabbed it. Instantly several other chimps climbed up into the tree, and, screaming and barking in excitement, tore their victim into several pieces. It was all over within a minute from the time of capture. …

“During the ten years that have passed since I began work at the Gombe Stream we have recorded chimpanzees feeding on the young of bushbucks, bushpigs, and baboons, as well as both young and small adult colobus monkeys, redtail monkeys, and blue monkeys. And there are two cases on record of chimpanzees in the area actually taking off African babies–presumably as prey, since when recovered from an adult male chimpanzee one infant had had its limbs partially eaten. …

“On other occasions, the hunting seems to be a much more deliberate, purposeful activity, and often at such times the different individuals of a chimpanzee group show quite remarkable cooperation–as when different chimpanzees station themselves at the bases of trees offering escape routes to a cornered victim.

After Rodolf kills a baboon:
“Presently the four chimpanzees emerged from the undergrowth and climbed into the higher branches of a tall tree, whee Rodolf settled down and began to feed…

“Other chimpanzees in the valley, attracted by the loud screaming and calling that typifies a hunt and kill, soon appeared in the tree, and a group of high-ranking males clustered around Rodolf, begging for a share of his kill. Often I have watched chimpanzees begging for meat, and usually a male who has a reasonably large portion permits at least some of the group to share with him. Rodolf, on the contrary, protected his kill jealously that day. …

“Rodolf kept almost the entire carcass to himself for nine hours that day, although from time to time he spat a wad of meat and leaves into a into a begging hand, or one of the other males managed to grab a piece from the carcass and make off with it. …

“At this time, the third year of Mike‘s supremacy, Rodolf was no longer the high-ranking male he had once been. How was it, then, that he dared push away Mike’s hand, he who normally went into a frenzy of submission when Mike approached him? … I had seen this sort of apparent inconsistency before during meat-eating episodes and I often wondered whether the chimps were showing the crude beginnings of a sot of moral values. Rodolf killed the baboon, therefore, the meat was Rodolf’s. More serious consideration of the behavior has led me to that something rather different maybe involved.

“Mike would have attacked Rodolf without hesitation had the prize been a pile of Bananas, yet if Rodolf had gathered the fruits from a box for himself they would have been his property quite as legitimately as as was the meat. I wonder, then, if the principle involved may be similar to the one governing a territorial animal within his own territory, when he is more aggressive, more likely to fight off an intruder, than if he met the same animal outside his territorial boundary. Meat is much liked, much prized food item. An adult male in possession of such a prize may become more willing to fight for it, and therefore, be less apprehensive of his superiors than if he has a pile of everyday fruits like bananas. In support of this theory, I should mention that in the early days, when bananas were something of a novelty, the chimps very seldom did fight over the fruits.”

EvX: The lack of sharing makes the normally dominant males very frustrated and aggressive toward everyone else in the vicinity during these meat-eating episodes. Often, though, quite a bit of sharing of meat occurs.]

On baboons:

“The baboons very soon made themselves at home around our camp, too, and Vanne [Jane’s mother] quickly learned never to leave the tents unguarded. About two weeks after our arrival she went for a short walk; when she returned it was to find our belongings strewn in all directions, and one blase male baboon sitting by the overturned table polishing off the loaf that Dominic had baked that morning. …

“It was far worse when one morning Vanne, who had been dozing after my early departure, suddenly heard a small sound in the tent. She opened her eyes and there, silhouetted in the entrance, she saw a huge male baboon. He and she remained motionless fr a few moments and then he opened his mouth in a tremendous yawn of threat. In the gray light Vanne could just see the gleam of his teeth and she thought her last hour had come. With a sudden yell she sat bolt upright in bed, waving her arms, and her unwelcome visitor fled. He was a horrible baboon, that one, an old male who took to hanging around our camp at all hours of the day, lurking in the undergrowth and dashing out whenever opportunity presented to steal a loaf of bread.”

The Rain Dance:

“At about noon the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. … At that moment the storm broke. The rain was torrential, and the sudden clap of thunder, right overhead, made me jump. As if this were a signal, one of the big males stood upright and as he swayed and swaggered rhythmically from foot to foot I could hear the rising crescendo of his pant-hoots above the beating of the rain. Then he charged, flat-out down the slope toward the trees he had just left. He ran some thirty yards, and then, swinging round the trunk of a small tree to break his headlong rush, leaped into the low branches and sat motionless.

“Almost at once two other males charged after him. One broke off a low branch from a tree as he ran and brandished it in the air before hurling it ahead of him. The other, as he reached the end of his run, stood upright and rhythmically swayed the branches of a tree back and forth before seizing a huge branch and dragging it farther down the slope. A fourth male, as he too charged, leaped into a tree and, almost without breaking speed, tore off a large branch, leaped with it to the ground, and continued down the slope. As the last two males called and charged down, so the one who had started the whole performance climbed from his tree and began plodding up the slope again. The others, who had also climbed into trees near the bottom of the slope, followed suit. When they reached the ridge, they began charging down all over again, one after the other, with equal vigor. …

“As the males charged down and plodded back up, so the rain fell harder, jagged forks or brilliant flares of lightning lit up the leaden sky, and the crashing of thunder seemed to shake the very mountains. …

“I would only see such a display twice more in the next ten years.”

EvX: the chimps do not build nor take any kind of shelter from the rain, but just sit hunched up in it, looking pretty miserable for much of the rainy season.

Getting to know the chimps:

[Jane, upon hearing some chimps nearby, lies down flat on the ground to avoid disturbing them/being seen]

“Suddenly I saw a large male chimpanzee climbing a tree only a couple of yards away. He moved over into the branches over my head and began screaming at me, short, loud, high-pitched sounds, with his mouth open. … He began climbing down toward me until he was no more than ten feet above me and I could see his yellow teeth… He shook a branch, showering me with twigs. Then he hit the trunk and shook more branches, and continued to scream and scream and work himself into a frenzy of rage. All at once he climbed down and went out of sight behind me.

“It was then that I saw a female with a tiny baby and an older child sitting in another tree and staring at me with wide eyes. They were quite silent and quite still. I could hear the old male moving about behind me and then his footsteps stopped. He was so close by that I could hear his breathing.

“Without warning there was a loud bark, a stamping in the leaves, and my head was hit, hard. At this I had to move, had to sit up. The male was standing looking at me, and for a moment I believed he would charge; but he turned and moved off, stopping often to turn and stare at me. The female with her baby and the youngster climbed down silently and moved after him. There was a sense of triumph: I had made contact with a wild chimpanzee–or perhaps it should be the other way around.

“When I looked back some years later at my description of that male, I was certain it was the bad-tempered, irascible, paunchy J.B. … I suppose he was puzzled by my immobility and the plastic sheet that was protecting me from the light rain. He simply had to find out exactly what I was and make me move–he must have known, from my eyes, that I was alive. …

“One evening I returned to camp and found Dominic and Hassan very excited. A large male chimpanzee, they told me, had walked right into camp and spent an hour feeding in the palm tree that shaded my tent. …

David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane's blog
David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane’s blog

“One day as I sat on the veranda of the tent, David climbed down from his tree and then, in his deliberate way, walked straight toward me. When he was about five feet from me he stopped, and slowly his hair began to stand on end, until he looked enormous and very fierce. A chimpanzee may erect his hair when he is angry, frustrated, or nervous. Why had David now put his hair out? All at once he ran straight at me, snatched up a banana from my table, and hurried off to eat it farther away. Gradually his hair returned to its normal sleeked position.

“After that incident I asked Dominic to leave bananas out whenever he saw David, and so, even when there were no ripe palm nuts, the chimp still wandered into camp sometimes, looking for bananas. …”

EvX: This marks the beginning of the feeding stations, which took several years to perfect (you can’t just hand out bananas all day; eventually the chimps stop doing normal chimp things and just sit there all day waiting for more bananas,) but were critical in getting the chimps to regularly appear in the same places so that Jane and other researchers could actually gather data on them. So the researchers have had to balance between “ability to gather data” and “behavior changes due to free bananas.”

To be continued.

The big 6 part 6: The Vigesimal Olmecs

Olmec civilization heartland
Olmec civilization heartland

It appears that the Olmecs–our final civilization in this series (1500-400 BC)–had a vigesimal, or base 20, counting system.

Counting is one of those things that you learn to do so young and so thoroughly that you hardly give it a second thought; after a few hiccups around the age of five, when it seems logical that 11=2, the place value system also becomes second nature. So it is a bit disconcerting to realize that numbers do not actually divide naturally into groups of ten, that’s just a random culturally determined thing that we happen to do. (Well, it isn’t totally random–ten was probably chosen because our ancestors were counting on their fingers.)

Stela C, from Tres Zapotes, showing the date September 1, 32 BCE
Stela C, from Tres Zapotes, showing the date September 1, 32 BCE

But plenty of societies throughout history have used other bases. The Yuki of California used base 8 (they counted the spaces between fingers;) the Chumash use(d) base 4; Gumatj uses base 5. There are also reports of bases 12, 15, 25, 32, and 6. (And many hunter-gatherer societies never really developed words for numbers over three or so, though they easily employed phrases like “three threes” to mean “nine.”)

The Yoruba, Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Tlingit, Inuit, Bhutanese, Atong, Santali, Didei, Ainu all use (or used) base 20. Wikipedia suggests that the Mayans may have used their fingers and toes to count; I suggest they used the knuckles+fingertips on one hand, or in a sort of impromptu place-value system, used the fingers of one hand to represent 1-5, and the fingers of the other hand to represent completed groups of five. (eg, 3 fingers on your left hand = 3; 3 fingers on your right hand = 15.)

Mayan Numerals
Mayan Numerals

Everything I have seen of reliable genetics and anthropology suggests that the Olmecs and Mayans were related–for example, one of the first known Mayan calendars/Mayan dates was carved into the Mojarra Stela by the “Epi-Olmec” people who succeeded the Olmecs and lived in the Olmec city of Tres Zapotes. Of course this does not mean that the Olmecs themselves developed the calendar or written numbers, (though they could have,) but it strongly implies that they had the same base-20 counting system.

You can compare for yourself the numbers found on the Tres Zapotes stela (above) and the Mayan numerals (left.)

In base-10, we have special words for multiples of 10, like ten, twenty, ninety, hundred, thousand, etc. In a base-20 system, you have special words for multiples of 20, like twenty, (k‘áal, in Mayan;) forty, (ka’ k’áal, or “two twenties;”) four hundred, (bak😉 8,000, (pic😉 160,000 (calab;) etc.  Picture 13

Wikipedia helpfully provides a base-20 multiplication table, just in case you ever need to multiply in base-20.

The Olmecs, like the Egyptians and Sumerians, produced art (particularly sculptures,) monumental architecture, (pyramids,) and probably had writing and math. They raised corn, chocolate, (unsweetened,) squash, beans, avocados, sweet potatoes, cotton, turkeys, and dogs. (It appears the dogs were also eaten, “Despite the wide range of hunting and fishing available, midden surveys in San Lorenzo have found that the domesticated dog was the single most plentiful source of animal protein,[93]” possibly due to the relative lack of other domesticated animals, like cows.)

Cocoa pods
Cocoa pods

They also appear to have practiced ritual bloodletting (a kind of self-sacrifice in which the individual makes themselves bleed, in this case often by drawing sharp objects through their tongues, ears, or foreskins, or otherwise cutting or piercing these,) and played the Mesoamerican ballgame popular later with the Mayans and Aztecs. Whether these practices spread via cultural diffusion to other Meoamerican cultures or simply indicate some shared cultural ancestry, I don’t know.

Their sculptures are particularly interesting and display a sophisticated level of artistic skill, especially compared to, say, Norte Chico (though in its defense, Norte Chico did come earlier):



Another Olmec head
Another Olmec head
"The Wrestler," Olmec statue
“The Wrestler,” Olmec statue
Mosaic, La Venta
Mosaic, La Venta
Colossal Head of San Lorenzo,, Olmec
Colossal Head of San Lorenzo,, Olmec
Bird-shaped jug
Bird-shaped jug
Olmec baby statue
Olmec baby statue
Olmec mask
Olmec mask
Man holding a were-jaguar baby
Man holding a were-jaguar baby
Indigenous Mexican man and Olmec statue
Indigenous Mexican man and Olmec statue, from Johnson’s Mystery Solved: Olmec and Transoceanic Contact

Frank Johnson, in his post Mystery Solved: Olmecs and Transoceanic Contact

A lot of people think the Olmec stone heads look a lot like Africans (and I can see why,) but–as lots of people have pointed out–they also look a lot like the local Indians who live in the area today, and so far I haven’t run across any genetic studies that indicate African DNA (which is quite distinctive) in any Native American population (aside from the DNA we all share from our common, pre-out-of-Africa ancestors, 70,000-100,000 years ago.) (There is one tiny isolated tribe over in Baja CA, [Mexico,] quite far from where the Olmecs lived, who do have some interesting DNA stuff going on that could indicate contact with Africa or somewhere else, but it could also just indicate random genetic mutation in an extremely isolated, small population. At any rate, they are irrelevant to the Olmecs.)

Frank Johnson, in his post Mystery Solved: Olmecs and Transoceanic Contact, goes through the laundry list of questionable claims about the Olmecs and does a great job of laying out various proofs against them. While I would not totally rule out the possibility of trans-Atlantic (or trans-Pacific) contact between various groups, just because human history is long and full of mysteries, the most sensible explanation of the origins and cultural development of Olmec society is the simplest: the Olmecs were a local indigenous people, probably closely related to most if not all of their neighbors, who happened to start building cities and pyramids.


Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (pt. 2/5): War

Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania
Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania

Welcome back to our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, an account of chimpanzee life in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. I enjoyed this book quite a bit; my chief difficulty has been deciding which parts to excerpt for you.

Tanzania borders the DRC ne Congo ne Belgian Congo, which was (coincidentally) the location of our previous Anthropology Friday selection, Isaac Bacirongo’s Still a Pygmy.

The book begins with the difficulties inherent in setting up the research–obtaining permits and funding, overcoming the locals’ distrust, (they of course did not believe that this white woman actually wanted to live in the forest and stare at monkeys all day,) and a massive influx of refugees:

Once we reached Nairobi, however, I could think of nothing save the excitement of the eight-hundred-mile journey to Kigoma–and the chimpanzees. … When we reached Kigoma, however, after a dusty three days on the road, we found the whole town in a state of chaos. Since we had left Nairobi violence and bloodshed had erupted in the Congo, which lay only some twenty-five miles to the west of Kigoma, on the other side of lake Tanganyika. Kigoma was overrun by boatloads of Belgian refugees. …

Eventually we ran the District Commissioner to earth, and he explained, regretfully but firmly, that there was no chance at all of my proceeding to the chimpanzee reserve. First it was necessary to wait and find out how the local Kigoma district Africans would react to the tales of rioting and disorder in the Congo. …

Bernard shared his room with two homeless Belgians, and we even got out our three camp beds and lent them to the harassed hotel owner. Every room was crammed, but these refugees were in paradise compared to those housed in the huge warehouse, normally used for storing cargo… There everyone slept in long rows on mattresses or merely blankets on the cement floor, and queued up in the hundreds for the scant meals that Kigoma was able to provide for them.

… On our second evening in Kigoma we three and a few others made two thousand SPAM sandwiches. …

Two evenings later most of the refugees had gone, carried off by a series of extra trains to Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam.

Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960
Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960

There follows a nice description of the town of Kigoma itself, and of course there is soon a great deal of material about chimpanzees and rather little about humans. Jane doesn’t mention the refugees again. (To be fair, isolation probably meant that she had rather little knowledge about most human affairs for most of the 60s and 70s.)

So who were these refugees? Where did they come from, and why?

Obviously they were Belgians, from the Congo. We briefly covered this conflict back in Anthropology Friday: War, Violence, and More War:

Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.

He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.

The Wikipedia page on the Congo Crisis gives far more detail on this conflict–notably, it blames the outbreak of the crisis not on Lumumba failing to give the army a raise, but on a Belgian military commander’s speech:

Lieutenant-General Émile Janssens, the Belgian commander of the Force Publique, refused to see Congolese independence as marking a change in the nature of command.[36] The day after the independence festivities, he gathered the black non-commissioned officers of his Léopoldville garrison and told them that things under his command would stay the same, summarising the point by writing “Before Independence = After Independence” on a blackboard.

Basically, the Belgians officially proclaimed that the Republic of the Congo was independent on June 30, 1960, thirty years earlier than they had intended to. They seemed to have thought they could get people to stop protesting against Belgian rule by “officially” handing over power, but would still run everything. After all, while the colony had been advancing rapidly in recent decades–

During the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo experienced an unprecedented level of urbanisation and the colonial administration began various development programmes aimed at making the territory into a “model colony”.[10] One of the results of the measures was the development of a new middle class of Europeanised African “évolués” in the cities.[10] By the 1950s the Congo had a wage labour force twice as large as that in any other African colony.[11]

–most native Congolese still weren’t well-educated in the fields thought necessary to run a country (or army.)

The idea that the Congolese were too dumb and inexperienced to run their own country and therefore needed the Belgians to do it for them went over great with the army:

This message was hugely unpopular among the rank and file—many of the men had expected rapid promotions and increases in pay to accompany independence.[36] On 5 July, several units mutinied against their white officers at Camp Hardy near Thysville. The insurrection spread to Léopoldville the next day and later to garrisons across the country.[37]

Rather than deploying Belgian troops against the mutineers as Janssens had wished, Lumumba dismissed him and renamed the Force Publique the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). All black soldiers were promoted by at least one rank.[38]Victor Lundula was promoted directly from sergeant-major to major-general and head of the army, replacing Janssens.[37]

Of course, the Congolese proved the Belgians wrong by transforming their country into one of the world’s best-run economic powerhouses with an astonishing per capita GDP of $499 and reports of cannibalism. (By contrast, the nearby country of Botswana has a per cap GDP of over $6,000.)

But back to the post-independence anti-Belgian violence:

The government attempted to stop the revolt… but in most of the country the mutiny intensified. White officers and civilians were attacked, white-owned properties were looted and white women were raped.[37] The Belgian government became deeply concerned by the situation, particularly when white civilians began entering neighbouring countries as refugees.[40]

A 1960s newsreel reports:

Photo from the newsreel; no caption given
Photo from the newsreel; no caption given

Violence and chaos in the Congo. Barely 11 days after official independence from Belgium, Congolese troops begin a wave of attacks and looting throughout the fare flung sectors of the former colony. Meanwhile in Belgium and African countries bordering on the Congo, refugees are pouring in with harrowing tales of violence and of hasty flight. …

The mutiny first started only four days after independence, on July 4, 1960, in the camp outside Leopoldville. The rebels used machetes on their white officers and broke into the armory. On day eight, all 1000+ Belgian officers were removed from their positions, and replaced with Congolese. With or without an Africanized officer corps, the soldiers are running amok throughout the Congo, and panic-stricken whites are fleeing in all directions. Numerous European targets have been attacked.

The flight of officers has left the army totally uncontrolled, and the new country has no effective instrument to control the territory.

Back to Wikipedia:

… On 9 July, Belgium deployed paratroopers, without the Congolese state’s permission, in Kabalo and elsewhere to protect fleeing white civilians.[41] …At Lumumba’s request, white civilians from the port city of Matadi were evacuated by the Belgian Navy on 11 July. Belgian ships then bombarded the city; at least 19 civilians were killed. This action prompted renewed attacks on whites across the country, while Belgian forces entered other towns and cities, including Léopoldville, and clashed with Congolese troops.[40]

This one is captioned "Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969." Let me know if that's inaccurate.
This one is captioned “Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969.” Let me know if that’s inaccurate.

Then parts of the Congo started secede. UN “Peace Keeping” troops tried to get people to stop fighting but without actually defeating once side or the other, so predictably people kept killing each other. The Prime Minister, Lumumba, went to the Soviets for help, which concerned everyone because the Congo made a lot of money selling uranium to the US, which used it in atomic bombs, so the Congolese President dismissed Lumumba and Lumumba dismissed the President, at which point Mobutu dismissed both of them (leading pro-Lumumba protesters in Yugoslavia to attack the local Belgian embassy,) and had Lumumba shot. Mobutu, while awful in many ways, did end the civil war and restore a modicum of order.

“Mad” Mike Hoare was a Irish mercenary active in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa:

In 1964, Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe, his employeer back in Katanga, hired “Major” Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called 5 Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) (later led by John Peters) (not to be confused with No.5 Commando, the British Second World War commando force) made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. … The unit’s mission was to fight a revolt known as the Simba Rebellion.

Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives.[3] Hoare was later promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armée Nationale Congolaise and 5 Commando expanded into a two-battalion force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando from July 1964 to November 1965.[4]

Mad Mike once tried to conquer the Seychelles, but failed when customs officials noticed his groups’ weapons.

Many of the Belgian refugees, meanwhile, fled to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became just “Rhodesia” after Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia (one of the obscurer African countries, with a per cap GDP of $1,143) The white folks + refugees of Southern Rhodesia took one look at the chaos over in the Congo, said “Nope,” and declared themselves independent of Great Britain to avoid handing over power to the black majority (97% of the Rhodesian population.)

The rest of the world (Great Britain included) never officially recognized Rhodesia as a country and hit it with a bunch of sanctions. According to Wikipedia:

Although prepared to grant formal independence to Southern Rhodesia (now Rhodesia), the British government had adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of European settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule.[20][21][22]

After the federal break-up in 1963, then-Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home insisted that preconditions on independence talks hinge on what he termed the “five principles” – unimpeded progress to majority rule, assurance against any future legislation decidedly detrimental to black interests, “improvement in the political status” of local Africans, moves towards ending racial discrimination, and agreement on a settlement which could be “acceptable to the whole population”.[25][26][27][28]

Note that Douglas-Home here is the head of the British conservatives.

Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour government took an even harder line on demanding that these points be legitimately addressed before an independence agenda could be set.[24] …

However, few seemed to initially realise that Rhodesia was no longer within the Commonwealth’s direct sphere of influence and British rule was now a constitutional fiction; Salisbury remained virtually immune to credible metropolitan leverage.[15]

In October 1965, the United Nations Security Council had warned Whitehall about the possibility of UDI, urging Wilson to use all means at his disposal (including military pressure) to prevent the Rhodesian Front from asserting independence.[44] After UDI was proclaimed, UN officials branded Ian Smith’s government as an “illegal racist minority regime”[45] and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions on petroleum products and military hardware.[24] In December 1966, these measures became mandatory, extending to bar the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat, and hides.[24]

Britain, having already adopted extensive sanctions of its own, dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to monitor oil deliveries in the port of Beira, from which a strategic pipeline ran to Umtali. The warships were to deter “by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia”.[46][47]

Meanwhile, of course, no one is allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia, but no one seems to care about that.

You probably know the story by now: the USSR supported the black nationalists, pretty much no one supported the white Rhodesians, and eventually they got tired of civil war and gave up. According to Wikipedia:

In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. …

While as Rhodesia, the country was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. Today, Zimbabwe is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis.[151] The nation has suffered profound economic and social decline in the past twenty years. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.[152][153]

Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system which led to the demise of the local currency. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government’s defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilise its own economy, and its inability to stem corruption and advance human rights.[151] In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswana pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.[154]

Zimbabwe‘s current per cap GDP is $1,054.

I think one of the common misconceptions about NRx is that it is based on a bunch of overly-pessimistic speculations about the future of democracy in places like the US or Germany. There’s plenty of that, of course. But much of Neoreaction is actually based on observation of events that have already happened in places like the DRC, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

To be fair, though, we are getting really off track from our original mission of reviewing Jane Goodall’s book about chimpanzees. In the book’s Forward, David A. Hamburg writes:

The picture of chimpanzee life that emerges is fascinating. Here is a highly intelligent, intensely social creature capable of close and enduring attachments, yet nothing that looks quite like human love, capable of rich communication through gestures, posture, facial expressions, and sounds, yet nothing quite like human language. This is a creature who not only uses tools effectively but also makes tools with considerable foresight; a creature who does a little sharing of food, though much less than man; a creature gifted in the arts of bluff and intimidation, highly excitable and aggressive, capable of using weapons, yet engaging in no activity comparable to human warfare; a creature who frequently hunts and kills small animals of other species in an organized, cooperative way, and seems to have some zest for the process of hunting, killing, and eating the prey; a creature whose repertoire of acts in aggression, deference, reassurance, and greeting bear uncanny similarity to human acts in similar situations.

This bold turns out to be false.

In the Shadow of Man was published in 1971; the chimpanzees of the Kahama region of the Gombe Stream went to war against the chimps of Kasakala in 1974:

The two [groups] had previously been a single, unified community, but by 1974 researcher Jane Goodall, who was observing the community, first noticed the chimps dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups.[2]

The Kahama group, in the south, consisted of six adult males (among them the chimpanzees known to Goodall as “Hugh”, “Charlie”, and “Goliath”), three adult females and their young, and an adolescent male (known as “Sniff”).[2] The larger Kasakela group, meanwhile, consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males.[2] …

The first outbreak of violence occurred on January 7, 1974,[4] when a party of six adult Kasakela males attacked and killed “Godi”, a young Kahama male …

Over the next four years, all six of the adult male members of the Kahama were killed by the Kasakela males.[5] Of the females from Kahama, one was killed, two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasakela males.[5] The Kasakela then succeeded in taking over the Kahama’s former territory.[5]

I have the luxury of reading this account after already hearing, at least vaguely, that chimps wage war on each other. To Jane–despite having observed chimpanzee belligerence for years–it came as a surprise:

The outbreak of the war came as a disturbing shock to Goodall, who had previously considered chimpanzees to be, although similar to human beings, “rather ‘nicer'” in their behavior.[7] Coupled with the observation in 1975 of cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the community, the violence of the Gombe war first revealed to Goodall the “dark side” of chimpanzee behavior.[7] She was profoundly disturbed by this revelation; in her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, she wrote:

“For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi’s prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes. [8]”


I suspect that humans evolved their upright stance to be better at carrying around large sticks with which to kill other apes. This made it harder for us to climb trees, but may have allowed for our voice boxes to descend (the voice box is actually important for closing off the lungs to provide rigidity to the chest while climbing,) allowing for a greater range of vocalizations, which in turn made us better at communicating and so organizing our bashing-apes-with-sticks expeditions. Eventually we stopped hunting other primates and turned our attention to more efficient game, like mammoths.

Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations
Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations

The big six civilizations (part 5: China, Treasure Ships, and Eunuchs)


I doubt I need to tell you that China was one of the first six major, basically independent civilizations to emerge in world history, but it was surprisingly late compared to the others.

Anyway, this post is going to only briefly look at the Erlitou, as I assume you are already fairly familiar with Chinese culture, and instead focus on the voyages of the Treasure Ships. And eunuchs.

The Erlitou culture appeared on the Li river around 1900 BC. The largest city, also called Erlitou, may have been home to 18,000-30,000 people, before the capital got moved and most of the folks moved away. They may have been the somewhat mythical Xia dynasty, but there isn’t enugh evidence, yet, to prove the association either way.

The Erlitou people had pottery, (and potters’ wheels,) could smelt bronze, were making silk, and raising domesticated plants and animals such as wheat, rice, millet, pigs, and goats. (Rice was originally domesticated in south Asia, but had spread by this point to China.) I believe they also had some form of proto-writing.

They weren’t the first folks in the area–they succeeded the Longshan culture, which had small farming villages and probably morphed into the Erlitou–but they appear to be the first large polity.

Now that’s all well and good, but the interesting stuff came later.

The many helpful comments back on my post, the Hikikomori Nations, pointed me to the naval journeys of Zheng He, who commanded the Chinese navy, battled pirates, and sailed to Indonesia, India, and Africa back in 1405-1433.

Then, almost as suddenly as these “Treasure Voyages” had begun, they ended. Wikipedia explains why:

The treasure voyages were commanded and overseen by the eunuch establishment whose political influence was heavily dependent on imperial favor. However, within Ming China’s imperial state system, the civil government were the primary political opponents of the eunuchs and the opposing faction against the expeditions. Around the end of the maritime voyages, the civil government gained the upper hand within the state bureaucracy, while the eunuchs gradually fell out of favor after the death of the Yongle Emperor.

This left me scratching my head. Eunuchs were a political block in early 15th century China?

The Wikipedia page on Eunuchs helpfully explains:

In China, castration included removal of the penis as well as the testicles. …

From ancient times until the Sui Dynasty, castration was both a traditional punishment … and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service. Certain eunuchs gained immense power that occasionally superseded that of even the Grand Secretaries. Zheng He, who lived during the Ming Dynasty, is an example of such a eunuch. Self-castration was a common practice, although it was not always performed completely, which led to its being made illegal.

It is said that the justification for the employment of eunuchs as high-ranking civil servants was that, since they were incapable of having children, they would not be tempted to seize power and start a dynasty.

*Mind boggles.*

Sun Yaoting, right, and his biographer, left
Sun Yaoting, right, and his biographer, left

The last Imperial eunuch, Sun Yaoting, died in December 1996.

Here’s an Australian article about poor Sun:

For centuries in China, the only men from outside the imperial family who were allowed into the Forbidden City’s private quarters were castrated ones. …

Sun’s impoverished family set him on this painful, risky path in hopes that he might one day be able to crush a bullying village landlord who stole their fields and burnt their house.

His desperate father performed the castration on the bed of their mud-walled home, with no anaesthetic and only oil-soaked paper as a bandage. A goose quill was inserted in Sun’s urethra to prevent it getting blocked as the wound healed.

He was unconscious for three days and could barely move for two months. When he finally rose from his bed, history played the first of a series of cruel tricks on him – he discovered the emperor he hoped to serve had abdicated several weeks earlier.

Sun was eight years old at the time.

The young ex-emperor was eventually allowed to stay in the palace and Sun had risen to become an attendant to the empress when the imperial family were unceremoniously booted out of the Forbidden City, ending centuries of tradition and Sun’s dreams.

“He was castrated, then the emperor abdicated. He made it into the Forbidden City then Pu Yi was evicted. He followed him north and then the puppet regime collapsed. He felt life had played a joke at his expense,” Jia said.

If you’re curious, Yinghua Jia wrote a whole book about Sun’s life, The Last Eunuch of China. (It has 4.5 stars.)

You know, growing up, I heard fairly frequently about Chinese foot-binding (done to women) and harems (in various countries.) There was a fairly frequent intellectual subcurrent of “historical cultures were mean to women.” NO ONE EVER MENTIONED THE EUNUCHS.

Okay, carrying on: so there were apparently enough men whose parents had thought it a good idea to lop of their genitals in order to get them a job that they constituted an opinion-making polity within the Chinese government, and got into conflicts with the Confucian scholars, who I assume hadn’t been horrifically mutilated by their parents.

The Treasure Voyages were thought up by the Eunuchs, and the admiral of the Treasure Fleet, Zheng He, was a eunuch:

Zheng He (1371–1433 or 1435), often spelled Cheng Ho in English, was a Hui court eunuch, mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during China‘s early Ming dynasty. Born Ma He, Zheng commanded expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. …

As a favorite of the Yongle Emperor, whose usurpation he assisted, he rose to the top of the imperial hierarchy and served as commander of the southern capital Nanjing (the capital was later moved to Beijing by the Yongle Emperor). …

Zheng He was born into a Muslim family.[7][10][11]

He was a great-great-great-grandson of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who served in the administration of the Mongol Empire and was the governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan dynasty.[14][15] His great-grandfather was named Bayan and may have been stationed at a Mongol garrison in Yunnan.[7] His grandfather carried the title hajji.[1][16] His father had the surname Ma and the title hajji.[1][7][16] The title suggests that they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca.[1][7][16] It also suggests that Zheng He may have had Mongol and Arab ancestry and that he could speak Arabic.[17]

Zheng He had a distinguished career in the army before becoming head of the Chinese navy.

It is generally accepted (based on Ming dynasty records) that Zheng He died in 1433 at Calicut in India during the return leg of the seventh voyage and was buried in Calicut or at sea,[48] although some theories, based on artifacts associated with him and believed to be from later than 1433, posit that he died shortly after that voyage in 1434[48] or early 1435.[49]

A tomb was built for Zheng He in Nanjing. This is usually believed to be a cenotaph containing his clothes and headgear as his body was buried at sea or in Calicut, but other theories exist as to whether Zheng He was buried in Nanjing, and if so, where. In 1985, a Muslim-style tomb was built on the site of the earlier horseshoe-shape grave.[50] He adopted the eldest son of his elder brother, who was awarded a hereditary officer rank in the imperial guard.

The voyages of Zheng He
The voyages of Zheng He

As for the Treasure Fleet itself:

The grand project resulted in seven far-reaching ocean voyages to the coastal territories and islands in and around the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. … The first three voyages reached up to Calicut on India’s southwestern coast, while the fourth voyage went as far as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Afterwards, the fleet made voyages farther away to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

While the voyages did result in better maps, they weren’t exploratory, like Columbus’s–the Chinese were already well aware that India and Africa existed before they set out:

Chinese seafaring merchants and diplomats of the medieval Tang Dynasty (618—907) and Song Dynasty (960—1279) often sailed into the Indian Ocean after visiting ports in South East Asia. Chinese sailors would travel to Malaya, India, Sri Lanka, into the Persian Gulf and up the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq, to the Arabian peninsula and into the Red Sea, stopping to trade goods in Ethiopia and Egypt (as Chinese porcelain was highly valued in old Fustat, Cairo).[11] Jia Dan wrote Route between Guangzhou and the Barbarian Sea during the late 8th century that documented foreign communications, the book was lost, but the Xin Tangshu retained some of his passages about the three sea-routes linking China to East Africa.[12] Jia Dan also wrote about tall lighthouse minarets in the Persian Gulf, which were confirmed a century later by Ali al-Masudi and al-Muqaddasi.[13] Beyond the initial work of Jia Dan, other Chinese writers accurately described Africa from the 9th century onwards; For example, Duan Chengshi wrote in 863 of the slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade of Berbera, Somalia.[14] Seaports in China such as Guangzhou and Quanzhou – the most cosmopolitan urban centers in the medieval world – hosted thousands of foreign travelers and permanent settlers. Chinese junk ships were even described by the Moroccan geographer Al-Idrisi in his Geography of 1154, along with the usual goods they traded and carried aboard their vessels.[15]

Giraffe brought back on one of Zheng He's voyages, a gift to the Emperor from Somalia
Giraffe brought back on one of Zheng He’s voyages, a gift to the Emperor from Somalia

Nor was trade the main point, because Chinese merchants were already doing plenty of trade. Rather:

The Chinese expeditionary fleet was heavily militarized and carried great amounts of treasures, which served to project Chinese power and wealth to the known world. They brought back many foreign ambassadors whose kings and rulers were willing to declare themselves tributaries of China. During the course of the voyages, they destroyed Chen Zuyi‘s pirate fleet at Palembang, conquered the Sinhalese Kotte kingdom of King Alekeshvara, and defeated the forces of the Semudera pretender Sekandar in northern Sumatra.

There is some debate about exactly how big the Treasure Ships were, but the general consensus appears to be that they were some of (if not the) biggest in the world at the time, and carried about 27,000 people. (Total, not per boat.)

Due to bad record keeping (more on this later,) there is some debate (or spirited fantasy) about where, exactly, Zheng He (and other Chinese admirals) sailed:

He is best known for his controversial book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, in which he asserts that the fleets of Chinese Admiral Zheng He visited the Americas prior to European explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, and that the same fleet circumnavigated the globe a century before the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan. …

Menzies states in the introduction that the book is an attempt to answer the question:

On some early European world maps, it appears that someone had charted and surveyed lands supposedly unknown to the Europeans. Who could have charted and surveyed these lands before they were ‘discovered’?

In the book, Menzies concludes that only China had the time, money, manpower and leadership to send such expeditions and then sets out to prove that the Chinese visited lands unknown in either China or Europe. He claims that from 1421 to 1423, during the Ming dynasty of China under the Yongle Emperor, the fleets of Admiral Zheng He, commanded by the captains Zhou Wen, Zhou Man, Yang Qing, and Hong Bao, discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, and the Northeast Passage; circumnavigated Greenland, tried to reach the North and South Poles, and circumnavigated the world before Ferdinand Magellan.

Unfortunately, it looks like Menzies massively over-reached and doesn’t provide much proof, as many of his reviewers point out.

Our original question that started this whole quest was whether the Chinese discovered Australia (or New Zealand) before the Europeans. (And not Taiwanese-descended Polynesians, who obviously got to NZ first.)

According to Mega-Tsunamis, Chinese Junks, and Port Philip Bay (a very speculative article linked in the comments on the original post):

In 1450 AD, the catastrophic comet Mahuika descended upon the coast of New Zealand. Reputed to be twenty-six times as bright as the Sun, it discharged electrically and shattered Admiral Zhou Man’s Chinese fleet of some sixty ships. The fleet supported a thriving Chinese colony of Han, Tang and Song, mining gold, jade and antimony in New Zealand. The comet’s screaming noise blew out the sailors’ eardrums; they received horrific burns. …

These facts are recorded in the meticulous fifteenth century records of Chinese ambassador Zheng He. Historian Gavin Menzies claims that over nine hundred ships failed to return to China from Pacific expeditions in that tragic year.

I don’t know how much of this comes directly from Menzies’ work vs. other peoples’ speculations, but since Zheng He died in 1433 (or maybe 1435, at the latest,) I don’t think he was writing very much about comets in 1450. Further, I find it unlikely that Admiral Zhou Man was commanding a fleet of Chinese ships in 1450, given that the last Treasure Voyages ended in 1433, after which official Chinese sentiment turned against the voyages and the ships were left to rot in their docks. Wikipedia notes:

In the Ming court, the civil officials were the faction who were against the voyages.[143][156][168] In contrast, the eunuch establishment stood at the head of the fleet and the expeditions.[140][141][156][168] The civil officials condemned the expeditions as extravagant and wasteful.[168][169] Traditionally, they were political opponents of the eunuch establishment,[140][156][168] but also to the military establishments who crewed the fleet.[156] … On cultural grounds, the hostility came forth due to the trade and acquisition of strange foreign goods which stood in contrast to their Confucian ideologies.[171][172][168][169] The undertaking of these expeditions only remained possible as long as the eunuchs maintained imperial favor.[141][173]

The Hongxi Emperor was fiercely against the treasure voyages throughout his reign.[80] After the advice of Xia Yuanji, he ordered the cessation of the treasure voyages on 7 September 1424, the day of his accession to the throne.[93]

After 1433, the civil officials succeeded in halting subsequent maritime expeditions.[170] The ships were left to rot, while their lumber was sold for fuel in Nanjing.[170] The mariners were reassigned to load grain on barges of the Grand Canal and to build the emperor’s mausoleum.[170] After the voyages, subsequent Ming emperors would reject the Yongle Emperor’s policy of bringing the maritime trade into the structure of the tributary system.[140]

It also looks like there was some effort to suppress or destroy records of the voyages, (leaving ample room for folks like Menzies to speculate on what might be missing,) so that future leaders wouldn’t get the wrong idea and try to recreate them.


From 1405 to 1433, large fleets commanded by Admiral Zheng He—under the auspices of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynastytraveled to the Indian Ocean seven times. This attempt did not lead China to global expansion, as the Confucian bureaucracy under the next emperor reversed the policy of open exploration and by 1500, it became a capital offence to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts.[16] Chinese merchants became content trading with already existing tributary states nearby and abroad. To them, traveling far east into the Pacific Ocean represented entering a broad wasteland of water with uncertain benefits of trade.

While trade continued, official support and imperial navies did not, largely justified by the Haijin doctrine, which banned maritime shipping in 1371 and enforced to varying degrees over the years:

In the second month of the first year (1661) of Kangxi, the Qing court issued an imperial decree: The sea shore inhabitants will be ordered to move inland 50 li, to curb their links with the Taiwan rebels under Koxinga. Soldiers then moved in and set up the boundary: in just three days, all houses were razed to the ground and all inhabitants evacuated. … Warnings were placed on notice boards stating that “Anyone who dares to step over the border line shall be beheaded!” “Persons found a few paces over the border line, shall be beheaded instantly.”

This is, however, well after the time period we are discussing. It looks like the main reason the Treasure Voyages were canceled (aside from eunuchs vs. Confucian conflicts) is that the Mongols became a problem (the Mongols were frequently a problem, after all,) and China had to devote its energies to defending its land borders rather than sailing about the ocean.

Perhaps the best evidence either way would be maps:

Gangnido map
Gangnido map
Selden Map
Selden Map
page from the Mao Kun map, showing the South China Sea with Paracel and Spratly Islands
A page from the Mao Kun map, showing the South China Sea with Paracel and Spratly Islands

These are the maps I’ve found so far, none of which show Australia or New Zealand. The Mao Kun map is supposed to be based of Zheng He’s maps, and is divided into 40 pages, showing the coasts of China, India, east Africa, etc.

The Seldon Map, from the early 1600s, while very good, does not show Australia, and the Gangnido map (and its later, updated copies,) which people think may show the Arabian peninsula, Africa, the Mediterranean, and part of Europe on its left side, (but strangely, the Malay Peninsula and India were smooshed together into the left-hand side of the big China blob, according to the Wikipedia talk page.)

At any rate, it looks like Australia and New Zealand didn’t make it onto the maps until much later–if they were known to the Chinese, they were probably regarded as unimportant due to lack of valuable trade goods or political states to trade ambassadors with.

I find the difference between the official Chinese reaction to the Treasure Voyages and the European reaction to Columbus’s discoveries remarkable.


Review: Pete’s Dragon (the jr. novel) 2/5 stars

Warning: this post contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.

I needed a break from politics, so I decided to read a book about a kid and his dragon. What better than the junior novelization of a Disney Movie?

Pete’s Dragon is a remake of the 1970s Disney live-action/animation mix of the same name. I saw the preview before finding Dory, thought it looked awesome, and so picked up the book-version. I assume that the book follows the movie’s plot accurately, though I do not expect it to capture the full cinematic experience.

Within the first chapter, that “awesome” feeling had diminished and I had the sinking feeling that the story was going to end with a generic, “kid goes to live among humans again” ending. And it did.

But let’s run through from the beginning:

5 year old Pete is on adventure with his parents in the woods when his dad crashes the car into a tree. His parents die. Pete emerges from the wreck, gets chased by wolves, and is saved by a big, shaggy dragon.

6 years later, Pete and the dragon (named Elliot) are best friends and run around the woods having fun, in a scene that I assume is spectacular in the movie.

The story then switches to the perspective of a bunch of grownups, each with their own plot and character arc. Mr. Meacham (IIRC) is an old guy who tells dragon stories to the local kids. His (grown) daughter, a forest ranger, doesn’t believe him. The forest ranger’s boyfriend has a brother who is a bumbling, vaguely evil logger who is illegally logging trees in the forest. The forest ranger, instead of arresting him for illegal logging, (which is what I assume happens when a forest ranger catches you illegally chopping down trees,) complains to her boyfriend that he’s not stopping his brother. He fails to stop his brother because he’s also useless.

To this cast of 6 (Pete, Elliot, Meacham, Forest Ranger, Boyfriend, and Brother,) we now add another eleven-year-old kid, Natalie. The Boyfriend is Natalie’s dad and he has for some reason brought her to the logging site in the woods, where she wanders around unsupervised while people chop down trees because that isn’t dangerous or anything.

Natalie notices Pete and the grown-ups catch him. Pete wakes up in the hospital, freaks out, and escapes in what I assume is another fun sequence in the movie. The grown-ups recapture him and the forest ranger and her boyfriend take him home, where they tame him with PBJ sandwiches and cookies.

Pete draws pictures of Elliot and promises to take his new friends to meet Elliot in the morning.

Meanwhile, Elliot has been looking everywhere for Pete. He follows Pete’s scent to the house where he’s staying, looks in the window, and decides that Pete has found a new family and doesn’t need him anymore. Elliot goes home.

Meanwhile, Forest Ranger lady is conflicted because she promised Pete she’d take him back to the woods to Elliot, who might be a dragon and might prove that her dad was right all along, but legally she’s required to take him to Child Protective Services. Finally she decides to take him to Elliot.

The Bumbling Brother shows up and shoots the dragon. With a gun. (With tranquilizer darts.) While Forest Ranger lady, Pete, Natalie, and Mr. Meacham are standing next to it. After the dragon collapses, the brother dances around proclaiming his success and no one punches him in the face, even though he could have killed them all (tranquilizers darts intended to bring down massive animals are potentially really bad if they hit children.)

The Bumbling Brother abducts the unconscious dragon, the grownups are useless, and Pete and Natalie (and Mr. Meacham) save the dragon. There’s a dramatic chase scene, at the end of which the Brother redeems himself by saving the Boyfriend and Forest Ranger’s lives.

Pete and the dragon escape back to the woods, where Pete suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to live with a dragon anymore and returns to the Forest Ranger’s house. You know, the lady who would have turned him over to CPS so he could go live in foster care without blinking an eye if he hadn’t claimed to have been living with a dragon.

In the final chapter, Pete and his new family (Forest Ranger, Boyfriend, and Natalie) drive to the mountains, where they visit the dragon, who (after Pete abandoned him) wandered off and randomly found his family of dragons.

So what’s wrong with this story?

For starters, it suffers from Too Many Characters. This is a kid’s book (movie.) Kids are interested in the antics of other kids; kids aren’t interested in adults trying to manage their adult relationships. With so many adult characters working through their own issues and character arcs, there is very little room in the story (it’s a short book) for Pete to have an arc of his own. In fact, Pete does not have a character arc. He does not debate whether or not he should join the humans, just spontaneously decides it for no particular reason at the end of the story.

Look, dragons are awesome. Living with a dragon is awesome. Most kids also think their own parents are pretty awesome. Random grownups you don’t know are not awesome. A life of wearing clothes, going to school, and doing homework is way less awesome than living in the woods with your dragon. Pete abandoning his dragon makes as much sense as a child spontaneously abandoning a beloved pet.

In short, the ending is completely unmotivated and makes no sense.

It still might be a fun movie (the special effects looked nice in the preview,) so long as the “gun-toting, ginger ale-swigging, bumbling logger” as bad guy doesn’t annoy you too much. But I was genuinely disappointed by the book.

the big 6 (part 4: Norte Chico, Peru)

4. Norte Chico (Peru):

(Note: I cropped the photo, so the river is no longer visible) Photo from “Real History of the World,” but it also appears on a billboard at the site itself, so photo is legit.

According to Wikipedia,

The Norte Chico civilization (also Caral or Caral-Supe civilization)[1] was a complex pre-Columbian society around 3500BC-1800BC that included as many as 30 major population centers in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru. Since the early 21st century, it has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas.

Picture 4We can debate about whether or not Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even the Indus Valley culture really arose independently of each other, but there’s no doubt that Norte Chico, the first known civilization in the Americas, arose all on its own.

Norte Chico is a pre-ceramic culture of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; it completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no visual art. The most impressive achievement of the civilization was its monumental architecture, including large earthworkplatform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Archaeological evidence suggests use of textile technology and, possibly, the worship of common god symbols, both of which recur in pre-Columbian Andean cultures. Sophisticated government is assumed to have been required to manage the ancient Norte Chico.

From Ritual is Power, an archaeologist’s blog about Norte Chico

Norte Chico is located in a north-central area of the coast, approximately 150 to 200 km north of Lima, … It comprises four coastal valleys: the Huaura, Supe, Pativilca, and Fortaleza; known sites are concentrated in the latter three, which share a common coastal plain.

Unfortunately for me, Wikipedia doesn’t have much on Norte Chico; it looks like a lot of the discoveries are relatively recent and so haven’t yet made it into the article. This means I’ve had to dig through other sources, some more reliable (Peru Reports) than others (“dolphin space aliens built ancient pyramids in Peru!”)

I’m doing my best to get information from the more reliable sites, but forgive me if I mis-remember some speculation as fact.

Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru

Like Egypt and Sumer–but unlike the Indus Valley–the people of Norte Chico built monumental architecture (notably, pyramids, in much the style that you’d expect if you’ve ever seen a picture of a Mesoamerican pyramid, though their great age has rather reduced their grandeur.)

The Norte Chicoans built their pyramids by creating a large square wall of mortared stones, and then filling in the center with rocks transported in woven bags. (Given the state of the Norte Chicoan pyramids, despite the lack of inclement weather in the area, I suspect the Egyptian methods stand up better over the millennia.)


I suspect that early civilizations tended to build pyramids not because they were all secretly in contact with each other, but because if you want to add a second, third, or fourth story to a building, everything is less likely to fall down if you move each layer in a step. This results in the famous “step pyramid,” like those of the Mayans, Aztecs, early Egyptians, and Norte Chicoans. (Only the Egyptians, to my knowledge, went on to build real pyramids–ie, pyramids with smooth sides.) In other words, pyramids are just the easiest way to make a big building out of stone.

The Norte Chicoans used irrigation to raise corn, sweet potatoes, and other crops, plus they fished for anchovies. They also raised cotton, which appears to have been domesticated almost simultaneously in both the Indus Valley and Norte Chico.

huanca stones
huanca stones

I have also seen references to these intriguing stones–the huancas?–but not much in the way of explanations. (I don’t think the Wikipedia page mentions them.) If I were to hazard a guess, though, I’d suspect they were a sundial.

Unlike Egypt and Sumer–and only somewhat like the IVC–we’ve uncovered no evidence of Norte Chicoan math or writing, and virtually no art. They did not make pots (no ceramics) so they had no pots to decorate (and their textiles have disintegrated greatly over the years.)

huanca stone
huanca stone

In front of the pyramids of Caral lie large, round, sunken pits–amphitheaters, from the looks of them. Unlike the Aztecs, however, archaeologists have so far uncovered no traces of sacrifice in the pyramids or amphitheaters–nor evidence of defensive walls or any sort of warfare. It could be that Norte Chico just didn’t have the population density to allow for warfare or the execution of captured enemies. However, since the whole excavation was only recently begun and archaeologists often seem to have a bias for proclaiming the civilization they’re studying peaceful until proven otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be incorrect.)

decorated flutes
click for the larger view, because the designs are actually quite good–from The Development of Flutes in the Americas

Archaeologists have found a bunch of flutes with engraved decorations, (proving the Norte Chicoans had both a musical tradition and a sense of humor,) and a few pieces of art have turned up, eg, a decorated gourd shell that archaeologists are claiming represents a local deity (the link is to one of the more questionable sites, so I am not 100% certain of its veracity–if someone finds this photo in an archaeological source, I’d be grateful to know about it.)

Archaeologists recently found three small statues, possibly offerings left at the Vichama site. One of the archaeologists claimed:


“…the position in which the statues were found as well as the larger size of the priestess, who has 28 fingers and toes and whose face is covered in red dots, demonstrate the importance women played in the pre-Hispanic cultures of Peru.”

Personally, I think archaeologists are over-confident when they make statements like this. How do we know she doesn’t have 28 fingers because the artist messed up, or that they aren’t toys?

Quipu in use
Quipu in use

Wikipedia also claims that they have found a quipu in the ruins. Quipus are sets of knotted strings used by the Inca empire (among others, probably,) to keep track of numerical matters like “number of soldiers captured in battle” or “bushels of corn owed in taxes.” Think of an abacus made of string; 5 knots on string one = 5 bushels of corn; 5 knots further down on the string = 50 bushels of corn, etc. Different colors of string could represent different items.

Interestingly, the Incas, 5,000 years after the Norte Chicoan society began, still did not have written language. I don’t know how you run an empire without written language, but they managed.

(There is some question of whether quipus could have been used to encode more complicated data, like language, but I have tried this and found the medium limiting. You can make a code in which phonemes correspond to a certain number of knots, [similar to codes where A=1, B=2, c=3, etc.] but this becomes unwieldy very quickly. I count 28 phonemes in the Incan language, [English has, IIRC, 40,] which means that just to encode a simple word like “quipu,” with four phonemes, [kh-i-p-u.] Just giving each phoneme a value based on its order in the chart, kh=15, i=2, p=7 [probably] and u=3, or 27 knots just to make one word.

Using different kinds of knots obviously improves the situation, but it still takes a fair amount of string to encode more than a few words. So while I find it reasonable that words like “corn” or “soldiers” might be spelled out in the knots, I doubt many people bothered to write down entire stories this way.)

Since 4,000 year old quipus look a lot like piles of disintegrated, tangled string, I’m holding off on declaring that the Norte Chicoans definitely had quipus until I at least find a picture of the thing.

(The Incas didn’t really use quipus for math, but they had some interesting abacus-like boxes.)

Some more pictures:

Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru


Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru








To be honest, while it’s a fine start for a people moving from hunter-gathering to agriculture, I’m not all that impressed. Maybe someday we’ll find out more about these people and discover they had something really interesting going on, but right now, they don’t seem all that distinct from a lot of other groups.




Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall (1/5)

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverToday we begin our discussion of In the Shadow of Man, (published in 1971,) an account of Dame Jane Goodall’s observations of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. If you haven’t finished the book yet, don’t panic; feel free to join the discussion anyway, or keep the questions in mind and answer them later. Also, remember that these questions are only meant to help inspire you; if you want to discuss some other aspect of the book or propose your own questions, go ahead.

  1. What did you think of the book? Favorite part, least favorite part?
  2. Do you agree with Jane’s claim that this was the first observation of tool making in animals, or does something like a beaver building a dam count? What constitutes “tool making”?*
  3. To what extent do you think the study of chimps aids in our understanding of ourselves? Do chimps make useful human analogues?
  4. What do you think is the nature of chimpanzee “consciousness”? Do they experience the world in some way similar to ourselves?
  5. (source)
    Chimp feeding a leopard cub (source)

    What do you think of the role of dominance (and violence) in chimp social life?

  6. What about the role of play, friendship, and love?
  7. Do we do ourselves a disservice by comparing humans to common chimps (pan troglodytes) instead of pygmy chimps/aka bonobos (pan paniscus)?
  8. Do you think Jane’s use of feeding stations, which potentially raised the level of chimp-on-chimp violence in the Gombe, compromised her research?
  9. I found it very interesting that chimps would fight over relatively low-value bananas, but not over high-value meat. Why do you think they did?
  10. Is it a good idea to use chimpanzee child-rearing methods with human children?
  11. Should humans do more to protect chimpanzees, both in the wild and captivity?
  12. Is it possible for chimps to act “morally” or have what we would call a “moral conscious?” Can we condemn the chimps for their treatment of Old Mr. McGregor?
  13. (source)
    Chimp hugging same cub

    If chimps (or other animals) have emotions, are we morally obligated to be kind to them?

  14. After the publication of this book, war broke out among the Gombe chimps, shocking Jane (more on this later.) Was her surprise warranted, or would you have expected it, based on the violence described in the book?
  15. Why do you think social grooming is so important to chimpanzees?
  16. Do humans have any behaviors similar to social grooming? If not, why?
  17. It must take an extraordinary sort of person to sequester themselves in the forest (in the age before cellphones or internet,) for months or years on end. Could you ever do such a thing?
  18. Should we read another book? If so, which?

*Jane actually notes in the bibliography that reports of chimpanzee toolmaking were published back in 1925, but perhaps these were not well-known outside of the primatology field:

Tool-using is discussed by Harry Beatty in “A Note on the Behavior of the Chimpanzee,” under General Notes of the Journal of Mammalology, Vol. 32 (1951), p. 118, and by Fred G. Merfield and H. Miller in Gorillas Were My Neighbors (London: Longmans, 1956); Wolfgang Kohler reported studies of tool-using and toolmaking by groups of captive chimpanzees in The Mentality of Apes (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925).

Reports of tool use in apes date back to 1843, or perhaps earlier.

800px-AmericanBeaverIt is most likely true that, prior to the publication of Jane’s research, most people–even those interested in apes–weren’t aware of their tool-making abilities. After all, this was not the age of Wikipedia and easy research, when a few clicks of a mouse could bring you to an 1843 paper on primatology. Jane may have actually changed the body of well-known chimpanzee facts, just as Columbus changed the body of well-known continents facts, even though plenty of people had arrived in the Americas before him.

But I still think this all rather neglects the humble beaver, who cuts down trees, strips them of leaves and branches, and then arranges them into large dams, radically altering riverine environments to suit his needs. The world’s largest beaver dam is 850 meters long and still potentially growing.

But enough quibbling — on with the discussion. (Remember, you are welcome to join in even if you haven’t read the book.)

(I’ll be posting my normal excerpts + commentary next week.)

The Big 6 Civilizations (Pt. 3: Indus Valley)

3. Indus Valley


Map of the Indus Valley Civilization
Map of the Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley civilization (IVC) has got to be the most obscure of the big six. If you challenged the average person to list the world’s first six relatively independent civilizations, they’d probably guess “Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, China, and, um, Africa? Israel?” Eventually they might hit on “Incas and Aztecs/Mayans,” which are geographically about right. But few would guess that the Indus Valley, located in modern-day Pakistan and India, was one of the world’s first three big civilizations, predating the Chinese by almost a millennium and a half.

This is partially explained by random luck: Egypt and Mesopotamia both feature in the Bible and are relatively easy to get to from Europe, (Egypt moreso than Mesopotamia,) and early archaeology appears to have been driven largely by a desire to uncover the truth behind the Homeric epics and the Bible. (And I have a much easier time accessing archaeological materials written in English.)

China is an enormous, famous country that has the resources to promote its own heritage, and the cultures of the Americas are famous because they’re nearby and because they’re included in the history of the conquering of the Americas, which we learned in school.

Pakistan, by contrast, is hard to get to, not part of the American colonial narrative, doesn’t feature in the Bible, and doesn’t have China’s fame and resources. On top of that, if the Wikipedia talk page on the Indus Valley Culture is correct, Pakistan may not be all that interested in the IVC due to it not being Muslim.

India, by contrast, proudly claims the IVC as part of its history–the IVC page is “part of a series on the history of India,” but not “part of a series on the history of Pakistan.”

Additionally, the IVC, while it left behind plenty of cities, buildings, etc., did not build the kind of monumental structures that draw tourists, like the Great Pyramids of Egypt or Chichen Itza, Mexico. More than a thousand IVC cities or settlements have been discovered, many with granaries, public baths, hydraulic systems, and obvious urban planning (their cities are laid out in grids with excellent-for-the-time sewer systems,) but almost no enormous temples, castles, pyramids, or other obviously ceremonial sites.

Indus Valley seals
Indus Valley seals

Also, we have no knowledge of their language and have yet to decipher any of their written language–if they had a written language at all. (Everything you want to know about the IVC script and why we haven’t deciphered it yet.)

The Egyptians helpfully covered their temples in hieroglyphics and left behind so many written records that we have things like Egyptian math textbooks containing fictional, satirical stories about how to not be a scribe. From Mesopotamia we have the Epic of Gilgamesh.

But from the IVC we have only short inscriptions–if they are inscriptions at all–most on small seals. Most of these inscriptions are only a few characters long, greatly hindering our ability to decipher them. We don’t know what they mean, or even if they are a written language at all.

What we do know:

IVC_MapThe IVC (aka the Harappan, after one of their chief cities,) emerged around 3,300 BC in what is now  Pakistan and India. It lasted for about 2,000 years; then essentially disappeared, its people either merging into other populations or migrating away. Over a thousand Harappan cities or settlements have been identified, most of them in Pakistan but a few in Afghanistan and a contested number in India. (Since India is eager to claim the IVC as its own, there are allegations that Indian archaeologists are inflating the number of significant sites on their side of the border.)

(Afghanistan, of course, does not have the resources for archaeology, but it is also really dry, so there probably weren’t that many sites there to start with.)

The IVC likely descended from the Mehrgarh culture (see map). Mehrgarh was a small farming settlement founded around 6,500 BC:

The earliest farming in the area was developed by semi-nomadic people using plants such as wheat and barley and animals such as sheep, goats and cattle. The settlement was established with simple mud buildings and most of them had four internal subdivisions. Numerous burials have been found, many with elaborate goods such as baskets, stone and bone tools, beads, bangles, pendants and occasionally animal sacrifices, with more goods left with burials of males. Ornaments of sea shell, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli and sandstone have been found, along with simple figurines of women and animals. Sea shells from far sea shore and lapis lazuli found as far away as present-day Badakshan, Afghanistan shows good contact with those areas. …

In April 2006, it was announced in the scientific journal Nature that the oldest (and first early Neolithic) evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e. in a living person) was found in Mehrgarh. According to the authors, their discoveries point to a tradition of proto-dentistry in the early farming cultures of that region. “Here we describe eleven drilled molar crowns from nine adults discovered in a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan that dates from 7,500 to 9,000 years ago.”


Harappan toys?
Harappan toys?

Major IVC cities include Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, Dholavira, Ganeriwala, and Rakhigarhi.

[Harappa] is believed to have had as many as 23,500 residents and occupied about 150 hectares (370 acres) with clay sculptured houses

… Harappan society was not entirely peaceful, with the human skeletal remains demonstrating some of the highest rates of injury (15.5%) found in South Asian prehistory.[11] Paleopathological analysis demonstrated that leprosy and tuberculosis were present at Harappa, with the highest prevalence of both disease and trauma present in the skeletons from Area G (an ossuary located south-east of the city walls).[12] Furthermore, rates of cranio-facial trauma and infection increased through time, demonstrating that the civilization collapsed amid illness and injury.

Distribution of haplogroup L of Y-cromosome
Modern distribution of haplogroup L-M20

Genetically, Harappan skeletons belong to haplogroup L-M20, which today is found primarily in Pakistan and the west coast of India:

In Pakistan, it has highest frequency in Baluchistan.[2] In India, it has higher frequency among Dravidian castes, but is somewhat rarer in Indo-Aryan castes.[3] They make a case for an indigenous origin of L-M76 in India, by arguing that the spatial distributions of both L-M76 HG frequency and associated microsatellite variance show a pattern of spread emanating from southern India. By linking haplogroup L-M76 to the Dravidian speakers, they simultaneously argue for an Indian origin of Dravidian languages (Sengupta 2006).

There is apparently some controversy over whether the invading Indo-Europeans (who brought the Sanskrit language to India) drove the Harappans out of Pakistan and into India. India’s a big place that can absorb a lot of people, but it looks to me like many of the Harappans stayed put.

Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan

Meanwhile, in Mohenjo-Daro:

The Citadel – a mud-brick mound around 12 metres (39 ft) high – is known to have supported public baths, a large residential structure designed to house about 5,000 citizens, and two large assembly halls. The city had a central marketplace, with a large central well. Individual households or groups of households obtained their water from smaller wells. … Some houses … include rooms that appear to have been set aside for bathing, and one building had an underground furnace (known as a hypocaust), possibly for heated bathing. Most houses had inner courtyards, with doors that opened onto side-lanes. Some buildings had two stories.[citation needed]

The Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro
The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro

In 1950, Sir Mortimer Wheeler identified one large building in Mohenjo-daro as a “Great Granary”. Certain wall-divisions in its massive wooden superstructure appeared to be grain storage-bays, complete with air-ducts to dry the grain. … However, Jonathan Mark Kenoyer noted the complete lack of evidence for grain at the “granary”, which, he argued, might therefore be better termed a “Great Hall” of uncertain function.[13] Close to the “Great Granary” is a large and elaborate public bath, sometimes called the Great Bath. From a colonnaded courtyard, steps lead down to the brick-built pool, which was waterproofed by a lining of bitumen. The pool measures 12 metres (39 ft) long, 7 metres (23 ft) wide and 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) deep. … Other large buildings include a “Pillared Hall”, thought to be an assembly hall of some kind, and the so-called “College Hall”, a complex of buildings comprising 78 rooms, thought to have been a priestly residence.[citation needed]

Mohenjo-daro had no series of city walls, but was fortified with guard towers to the west of the main settlement, and defensive fortifications to the south. … Mohenjo-daro was successively destroyed and rebuilt at least seven times. Each time, the new cities were built directly on top of the old ones. Flooding by the Indus is thought to have been the cause of destruction.[citation needed]

Why is it all “citation needed”?

Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro
Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro

A bronze statuette dubbed the “Dancing Girl”, 10.5 centimetres (4.1 in) high[20] and about 4,500 years old, was found in ‘HR area’ of Mohenjo-daro in 1926.[20] … The archaeologist Gregory Possehl said of the statuette, “We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it”. The statue led to two important discoveries about the civilization: first, that they knew metal blending, casting and other sophisticated methods of working with ore, and secondly that entertainment, especially dance, was part of the culture.[20]

I think “dancer” is an overly-poetic interpretation of the statue, but it is a striking work.

"priest-king" statue, IVC
“Priest-King” statue, Mohenjo-daro

In 1927, this soapstone figurine, dubbed “The Priest-King,” (though we don’t know if the Mohenjo-daroians had priests or kings,) was found in a wall-niche in a “building with unusually ornamental brickwork.”

The sculpture is 17.5 centimetres (6.9 in) tall and depicts a bearded man with a fillet around his head, an armband, and a cloak decorated with trefoil patterns that were originally filled with red pigment. … Two holes beneath the highly stylized ears suggest that a necklace or other head ornament was attached to the sculpture. … Drill holes in the center of each circle indicate they were made with a specialized drill and then touched up with a chisel. The eyes are deeply incised and may have held inlay. …[22]

Dholavira, located in India:

Dholavira_LayoutOne of the unique features[14] of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system[15] of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world,[16] built completely of stone. The city had massive reservoirs, three of which are exposed.[17] They were used for storing fresh water brought by rains[15] or to store water diverted from two nearby rivulets.[18] This clearly came in response to the desert climate and conditions of Kutch, where several years may pass without rainfall. A seasonal stream which runs in a north-south direction near the site was dammed at several points to collect water. …

A huge circular structure on the site is believed to be a grave or memorial,[15] although it contained no skeletons or other human remains. The structure consists of ten radial mud-brick walls built in the shape of a spoked wheel.[15] … 

These hemispherical structures bear similarity to early Buddhist stupas.[5] The Archaeological Survey of India, which conducted the excavation, opines that “the kind of design that is of spoked wheel and unspoked wheel also remind one of the Sararata-chakra-citi and sapradhi-rata-chakra-citi mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana and Sulba-sutras“.[5] …

Glyphs from the Dholavira sign board,
Glyphs from the Dholavira sign board

One of the most significant discoveries at Dholavira was made in one of the side rooms of the northern gateway of the city, and is generally known as the Dholavira Signboard. The Harappans had arranged and set pieces of the mineral gypsum to form ten large symbols or letters on a big wooden board[27] … Each sign is about 37 cm (15 in) high and the board on which letters were inscribed was about 3 m (9.8 ft) long.[28] The inscription is one of the longest in the Indus script, with one symbol appearing four times, and this and its large size and public nature make it a key piece of evidence cited by scholars arguing that the Indus script represents full literacy. A four sign inscription with big size letters on a sand stone is also found at this site, considered first of such inscription on sand stone at any of Harappan sites.[1]

More generally:

Indus Valley civilization was mainly an urban culture sustained by surplus agricultural production and commerce, the latter including trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia. Both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are generally characterized as having “differentiated living quarters, flat-roofed brick houses, and fortified administrative or religious centers.”[8] …
Distinctive seals were used, among other applications, perhaps for identification of property and shipment of goods. Although copper and bronze were in use, iron was not yet employed. “Cotton was woven and dyed for clothing; wheat, rice, and a variety of vegetables and fruits were cultivated; and a number of animals, including the humped bull, were domesticated,”[8] as well as “fowl for fighting“.[9] Wheel-made pottery—some of it adorned with animal and geometric motifs—has been found in profusion at all the major Indus sites. A centralized administration for each city, though not the whole civilization, has been inferred from the revealed cultural uniformity; however, it remains uncertain whether authority lay with a commercial oligarchy. Harappans had many trade routes along the Indus River that went as far as the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Some of the most valuable things traded were carnelian and lapis lazuli.[10]

Obviously we don’t know much at all about IVC mathematics, but:

Excavations … have uncovered evidence of the use of “practical mathematics”. The people of the IVC manufactured bricks whose dimensions were in the proportion 4:2:1, considered favourable for the stability of a brick structure. They used a standardised system of weights based on the ratios: 1/20, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500, with the unit weight equaling approximately 28 grams … They mass-produced weights in regular geometrical shapes, which included hexahedra, barrels, cones, and cylinders, thereby demonstrating knowledge of basic geometry.[18]

The inhabitants of Indus civilisation also tried to standardise measurement of length to a high degree of accuracy. They designed a ruler—the Mohenjo-daro ruler—whose unit of length (approximately 1.32 inches or 3.4 centimetres) was divided into ten equal parts. Bricks manufactured in ancient Mohenjo-daro often had dimensions that were integral multiples of this unit of length.[19][20]

And the rather incomplete Wikipedia page on IVC hydraulics states:

Among other things, they contain the world’s earliest known system of flush toilets. These existed in many homes, and were connected to a common sewerage pipe. Most houses also had private wells. City walls functioned as a barrier against floods.

The urban areas of the Indus Valley civilization provided public and private baths, sewage was disposed through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and a sophisticated water management system with numerous reservoirs was established. In the drainage systems, drains from houses were connected to wider public drains.[1]

Lothal, a port city located in India, contains the world’s earliest known docks, and may have been a Harappan colony, far from the heartland of the IVC:

Before the arrival of Harappan people (c. 3000 BCE), Lothal was a small village next to the river providing access to the mainland from the Gulf of Khambhat. The indigenous people maintained a prosperous economy, attested by the discovery of copper objects, beads and semi-precious stones. … Harappans were attracted to Lothal for its sheltered harbour, rich cotton and rice-growing environment and bead-making industry. The beads and gems of Lothal were in great demand in the west. The settlers lived peacefully with the Red Ware people, who adopted their lifestyle, evidenced from the flourishing trade and changing working techniques. Harappans began producing the indigenous ceramic goods, adopting the manner from the natives.[8]

And, typical of the IVC:

The uniform organisation of the town and its institutions give evidence that the Harappans were a very disciplined people.[12] … Municipal administration was strict – the width of most streets remained the same over a long time, and no encroached structures were built. Householders possessed a sump, or collection chamber to deposit solid waste in order to prevent the clogging of city drains. Drains, manholes and cesspools kept the city clean and deposited the waste in the river, which was washed out during high tide. A new provincial style of Harappan art and painting was pioneered. The new approaches included realistic portrayals of animals in their natural surroundings. Metalware, gold and jewellery and tastefully decorated ornaments attest to the culture and prosperity of the people of Lothal.

Most of their equipment: metal tools, weights, measures, seals, earthenware and ornaments were of the uniform standard and quality found across the Indus civilization. Lothal was a major trade centre, importing en masse raw materials like copper, chert and semi-precious stones from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, and mass distributing to inner villages and towns. It also produced large quantities of bronze celts, fish-hooks, chisels, spears and ornaments. Lothal exported its beads, gemstones, ivory and shells. The stone blade industry catered to domestic needs—fine chert was imported from the Larkana valley or from Bijapur in modern Karnataka. Bhagatrav supplied semi-precious stones while chank shell came from Dholavira and Bet Dwarka. An intensive trade network gave the inhabitants great prosperity. The network stretched across the frontiers to Egypt, Bahrain and Sumer.[11] One of the evidence of trade in Lothal is the discovery of typical Persian gulf seals, a circular button seal[13]

I love these descriptions, but given the politics involved, I remain wary that the case may be overstated.

So what happened to the IVC? There are many theories, ranging from the far-fetched (“aliens nuked it”) to the perfectly reasonable (“shifting weather patterns made the area too dry.”) Invasion by the Indo-Aryan people could also have destroyed many cities. A massive flood hit Lothal in 1900 BC, which destroyed much of the city. Wikipedia’s description of the aftermath reminds me of the post-apocalyptic nature of the collapse of Rome:

Archaeological evidence shows that the site continued to be inhabited, albeit by a much smaller population devoid of urban influences. The few people who returned to Lothal could not reconstruct and repair their city, but surprisingly continued to stay and preserved religious traditions, living in poorly built houses and reed huts. That they were the Harappan peoples is evidenced by the analyses of their remains in the cemetery. While the trade and resources of the city were almost entirely gone, the people retained several Harappan ways in writing, pottery and utensils. About this time ASI archaeologists record a mass movement of refugees from Punjab and Sindh into Saurashtra and to the valley of Sarasvati (1900–1700 BCE).[17] Hundreds of ill-equipped settlements have been attributed to this people as Late Harappans a completely de-urbanised culture characterised by rising illiteracy, less complex economy, unsophisticated administration and poverty.