Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Oxford archaeologists discover monumental evidence of prehistoric hunting across the Arabian desert. 

They have found over 350 Monumental Hunting Structures labelled and since then known as ‘Kites’ In Northern Saudi Arabia And Southern Iraq Using Satellite Imagery.

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Distribution of kite structures in the Levant and in northern Arabia. White: previously documented kites. Red: kites recorded by EAMENA.

 

Archaeologists at the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology have used satellite imagery to identify and map over 350 monumental hunting structures known as ‘kites’ across northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq – most of which had never been previously documented.

Led by Dr Michael Fradley, a team of researchers in the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project used a range of open-source satellite imagery to carefully study the region around the eastern Nafud desert, an area little studied in the past. The surprising results, published in the journal The Holocene, have the potential to change our understanding of prehistoric connections and climate change across the Middle East.

Termed kites by early aircraft pilots, these structures consist of low stone walls making up a head enclosure and a number of guiding walls, sometimes kilometres long. They are believed to have been used to guide game such as gazelles into an area where they could be captured or killed. There is evidence that these structures may date back as far as 8,000 BCE in the Neolithic period.

Kites cannot be observed easily from the ground, however the advent of commercial satellite imagery and platforms such as Google Earth have enabled recent discoveries of new distributions. While these structures were already well-known from eastern Jordan and adjoining areas in southern Syria, these latest results take the known distribution over 400km further east across northern Saudi Arabia, with some also identified in southern Iraq for the first time.

Dr Fradley said: ‘The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design. In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 metres wide, but the guiding walls (the ’strings’ of the kite) which we currently think gazelle and other game would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long. In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over 4 kilometres, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built.’

 

 

 

Evidence suggests considerable resources would have had to be coordinated to build, maintain, and rebuild the kites over generations, combined with hunting and returning butchered remains to settlements or camps for further preservation. The researchers suggest that their exaggerated scale and form may be an expression of status, identity and territoriality. Appearances of the kites in rock art found in Jordan suggests they had an important place within the symbolic and ritual spheres of Neolithic peoples in the region.

 

 

 

From the design of the kite heads to the careful runs of guiding walls over long distances, these structures contrast markedly in scale with any other evidence of architecture from the early Holocene period. The researchers suggest that the builders of these kites dwelt in temporary structures made from organic materials that have left no trace visible on current satellite imagery data.

Desert kite research is a very active field just now – Michael and colleagues explore a significant extension to their distribution pattern, which has major implications for our understanding of the relationship of the kite builders with new mobile pastoralists and the occupation of the region.

Bill Finlayson, Director of EAMENA and Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Oxford 

 

These new sites suggest a previously unknown level of connection right across northern Arabia at the time they were built. They raise exciting questions about who built these structures, who the hunted game were intended to feed, and how the people were able to not only survive, but also invest in these monumental structures.

In the context of this new connectedness, the distribution of the star-shaped kites now provides the first direct evidence of contact through, rather than around, the Nafud desert. This underlines the importance areas that are now desert had under more favourable climatic conditions in enabling the movement of humans and wildlife. It is thought the kites were built during a wetter, greener climatic period known as the Holocene Humid Period (between around 9000 and 4000 BCE).

The largest number of kites were built on the Al Labbah plateau in the Nafud desert, where the absence of later Bronze Age burial monuments suggests that a shift into a drier period meant some of these areas became too marginal to support the communities once using these landscapes, with game species also potentially displaced by climate change.

Whether the patterns of kite construction over space and time represent the movement of ideas or people, or even the direction of that movement, remain questions to be answered.

The project, supported by the Arcadia Fund, is now extending its survey work across these now arid zones to further develop our understanding of these landscapes and the effect of climate change.

The study Following the herds? A new distribution of hunting kites in Southwest Asia is published in The Holocene.

Read University of Oxford News & Events

 

.
.
At Yale University, MENA students kick off year with . . .

At Yale University, MENA students kick off year with . . .

At Yale University, MENA students kick off the year with some celebrations. These are for finally being recognised as a stand-alone community deserving space on its own.  A specific Middle Eastern and North African representation on the Yale campus has made the news for some time.

 

MENA students kick off year with celebrations of new space on campus

By , Contributing  Reporter

At Yale University, MENA students kick off year with . . .

MENA student leaders held their first event of the school year in their newly designated room in the Asian American Cultural Center — one student leaders have worked for years to obtain.

 

At Yale University, MENA students kick off year with . . .

Courtesy of Keya Bajaj

On a rainy Tuesday evening this week, students belonging to Yale’s Middle Eastern North African community attended the academic year’s first mixer to meet new students and celebrate the long-awaited opening of a physical space designated for them.

The MENA community, comprising students from 18 countries across the Middle East and North Africa region, welcomed new and returning members alike at their new room, which officially opened its doors this school year. Located on the third floor of the Asian American Cultural Center, or AACC, the MENA room is the culmination of a long effort by student leaders to claim a designated space of their own.

At Tuesday’s mixer, MENA members connected with other Yalies from the region over generous helpings of falafel and baba ghanoush. Leaders also gave students a tour of the new space.

“We hope to find forever friendships here, to celebrate cultural and religious events together,” AACC peer liaison Zahra Yarali ’24 said.

Most of the evening’s conversations took place in the MENA room. Here, in a homey space decorated with Arabic calligraphy wall art and plush floor cushions, community members swapped stories of cultures “split between two continents,” as described by MENA Student Association President Youssef Ibrahim ’25.

But some attendees did note the room’s small size, which was unable to accommodate all of the event’s attendees.

AACC Director Joliana Yee told the News that the room was furnished with the intention of it being a work in progress — a place that MENA members could personalize and make their own.

In the past years, MENA members have shared space with both the AACC and the Afro-American Cultural Center and were assigned peer liaisons from one of the two houses, depending on which region they chiefly identified with.

But student leaders have pushed back on the legacy system, noting that MENA students have an identity distinct from the other two cultural centers.

“We do not fit entirely in either house,” Ibrahim said.

This sense of not belonging, a common sentiment among MENA community members, is fueled by “a lack of awareness of how big the community is here [on campus],” AACC Associate Director Sofia Blenman said.

Blenman added that the new room is a testament to MENA’s goal of “empowering students to feel … that they are seen.”

Still, MENA students face challenges representing themselves on campus. Official documentation, including the Common Application platform, does not offer a Middle Eastern and North African identity option, so there is no administrative record of who on campus identifies as MENA. Group leaders are therefore forced to trawl through residential college class lists to find new recruits and welcome them into the community.

Yee noted the struggle MENA students face of “being racialized as white in the U.S. context but having lived experiences that are drastically different.”

“There is validity to the unique experiences we’ve had,” Yarali added. “We are reclaiming an identity that has been whitewashed for so long.”

“Leaving an impact on the world is a lot about taking up space,” Yarali added, and the newly-inaugurated MENA room may give members of this group a new sense of hope. The group’s plans for the year include celebrations for Ramadan, the Persian New Year, winter solstice and perhaps a cultural fashion show.

MENA is also looking forward to more student-driven events and continued opportunities for collaboration with the AACC, which hosted Tuesday’s mixer.

But the attainment of the room does not mark the end of MENA students’ fight for representation on campus. MENA students have spent years advocating for a cultural center of their own, and that activism will continue, Ibrahim said.

“I aspire for a physical cultural center of our own,” he said. “It is a right for us to be represented.”

The MENA room will host an event with the Arab Students Association this Saturday, Sept. 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

 

.
.
Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

On June 30th, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a report, titled ‘The New Gold Rush: Bioprospecting,” which elucidates the benefits of bioprospecting for sustainable economic development for underdeveloped countries. Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for animal and plant substances for medicinal, biochemical, or other commercial purposes. One cause of the socio-economic disparity between rich and poor countries stems from colonial practices of environmental exploitation; larger countries pilfered the resources of smaller countries or current or former colonies to support the metropole’s industrialization and growth.

As underdeveloped countries aim to promote economic growth and political stability, the UNDP report encourages the sustainable extraction of plant and animal substances for pharmaceutical and biochemical purposes, specifically discussing bioprospecting’s potential in Cambodia due to its wealth of biodiversity. As the report articulates, as Cambodia transitions from a “subsistence agriculture-based economy to an agro-industrial economy, its biological resources are increasingly under threat.”[1] Bioprospecting would thus harness traditional environmental knowledge alongside modern science and technology to promote sustainable development; in this way, the UNDP report attempts to revitalize the goals of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Policy and scientific recommendations on how to deal with the loss of biodiversity due to climate change gained traction with the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Commission on Environmental Law in the 1980s. Their efforts fed into the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988, which advocated for a multilateral institution to establish norms and protection over biodiversity– ultimately leading to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD sought to reconcile the need to conserve biodiversity, but also recognize its utilization towards economic and societal development for underdeveloped nations. The CBD begot a Treaty that established three goals: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its resources. 196 parties have ratified the treaty, including China, the U.K, Canada, and the E.U, but not the U.S due to its failure to pass the Senate. Its failure derived from three fears of U.S policy makers: that U.S biotech corporations would be required to share their intellectual property in genetic research with other countries; that the U.S would become financially responsible for other country’s conservation; and that the CBD would impose more environmental regulations on the U.S.[2] Even after the Biden Administrations’ efforts to reimpose environmental policy slashed by Trump, similar concerns are thwarting their efforts to ratify the CBD.

These guidelines thus recognize the right of a country to benefit from the extraction of its resources and attempted to prevent biopiracy – a centuries old practice through which indigenous environmental knowledge was exploited and turned to profit. While not a new practice, biopiracy surged throughout the 20th century as modern biotech fields crystallized, often developing by drawing on indigenous knowledge of plants and animals and then patenting them. Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates that potential bioprospectors would need permission from the country’s government,and would require them to state the country of origin of the resource in the patent. The country’s government may also impose access fees or royalty payments for bioprospectors and obtain the research results. Supplementary protocols sprouted from the initial CBD Treaty, including the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which helped promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol, which ensures the safe handling of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology. Such guidelines attempt to reaffirm small countries’ sovereignty over their land and resources, promote sustainable utilization of plant and animal substances, and avoid the recurrence of environmental exploitation that has, among other factors, impeded development in the past.

The inhabitants of the mountainous upland regions of Cambodia have a rich knowledge base of natural resources and conservation. Their cultural norms and worldviews, as well as their livelihoods depend upon a symbiotic relationship with their environment. Climate change currently threatens more than 300 medicinal plants that are native to Cambodia and face extinction. One such plant is Tepongru (Cinnamomum cambodianum), a species of cinnamon that grows in the Cambodian mountains. The healers and herbalists of Khmer traditional medicine– or Kru Khemer, harvest the bark of Tepongru to cure indigestion, tuberculosis, and the regulation of menstruation[3]. The bark also has high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which biotechnology companies synthesize to use in both perfumes and essential oils, but also as an anesthetic. Furthermore, Kru Khemer engage in a variety of traditional medical practices including bone setting, herbalism, and divination; in this way, Kru Khemer maintain a vital societal role given their deep knowledge not just in medicinal plants and animals, but also in their knowledge of spiritual rituals that mediate the supernatural and the plant.

The CBD Treaty has been interpreted as an important step in sustainable development, a goal for which the U.N established its own ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ protocol under its department of Economic and Social Affairs. Furthermore, the report describes how the UNDP has attempted to support the goals of the CBD in actionable policy: “since 2011 the UNDP, with funding from the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been supporting governments, local communities, and the private sector to develop national ABS frameworks, build capacities, and harness the potential of genetic resources”[4]— and specifically, the UNDP is working with Cambodian officials to implement the new project “Developing a Comprehensive Framework for Practical Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in Cambodia”. And so, despite lacking crucial support from the United States, responsible bioprospecting, and the revitalization of the CBD, presents an opportunity in combating climate change while encouraging sustainable development and international economic equality; the most effective practices for successful environmental protection derive from supranational pursuits, but they still require national cooperation.

[1] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

[2] https://www.vox.com/22434172/us-cbd-treaty-biological-diversity-nature-conservation

[3] p. 189 in “Ethnoveterinary Botanical Medicine: Herbal Medicines for Animal Health

[4] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

 

 

Striking the right balance with edtech

Striking the right balance with edtech

 

 

Thanks to the investment made in advanced ICT infrastructure in some parts of the region, technology has provided a lifeline to help keep students learning in the past two years, and this has brought many benefits. It also raises the question: How do you find the right balance of digital and in-classroom learning to ensure education is effective and sustainable moving forward?

This new shared experience of edtech (education technology) has generated some interesting feedback from the education community, and from parents who have undergone the shared challenges in terms of their children’s education. Parents typically believe that technology needs to be used to a certain extent in learning, but not too much – perhaps meaning not an over-reliance on technology.

Balance is something that has to be considered when discussing the evolution of e-learning, because (to use a technology industry expression) children are the end-users. So, while it’s true to say that video tools enabled remote learning and continuity of education during the recent crisis, it’s critical to get children back into classrooms and interacting with their peers and teachers.

According to Microsoft, one in five students in the Middle East & Africa region did not have access to the internet or a device to support them during lockdowns.

Pros and cons of remote learning

When online schooling became mandatory practice, education establishments and parents had no alternative but to adapt quickly and make the best of a difficult situation. Technology enabled online learning, much as it did for remote working. It’s something that simply wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, as the technologies and tools just did not exist then to make large-scale online learning a reality.

However, after several months of home-schooling and online learning, some parents began to find their patience tested, reporting that children were becoming more distant, with the lack of social interaction with friends and other students in class becoming a major issue.

Peer-to-peer interaction has positive effects and can help pupils be more stimulated and engaged in classes, and it can help them establish emotional bonds with teachers and other children. Without these interactions, some students began to feel isolated.

Hybrid work, hybrid learning?

There are commonalities between remote working and remote learning, and the impacts of both practices on adults and children are similar. So perhaps one of the ways forward those enterprises have embraced could also apply to education, too: a hybrid model.

Recent times have seen many children engage in hybrid learning models without even knowing the term. Hybrid classes can be a mix of online exercises, pre-recorded videos, and other educational materials that support in-person classes.

When done with the right balance and tools, this approach offers the combination of the best aspects of in-person and online learning and gives students and parents the choice of what learning format suits them best at different times. Hybrid learning might fit very well but is indeed a challenge as it will not always be the perfect solution for some children.

Many of the same technologies apply in hybrid education as in hybrid working. Cloud-based infrastructure and use of managed mobile and video communication and collaboration systems can help education establishments keep students connected, engaged and participating.

According to Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, “Hybrid learning is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all.”

Indeed, the hybrid model appears as a positive way forward, but education establishments will need the expertise and experience of technology providers to help guide them along that journey and to strike the right balance.

Sahem Azzam is Vice President for the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, at Orange Business Services.

Disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

Disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit, our research shows

By Arne Tobian, Stockholm University; Dieter Gerten, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Lan Wang Erlandsson, Stockholm University

The above-featured image is credit to Scott Book/Shutterstock

Green water – the rainwater available to plants in the soil – is indispensable for life on and below the land. But in a new study, we found that widespread pressure on this resource has crossed a critical limit.

The planetary boundaries framework – a concept that scientists first discussed in 2009 – identified nine processes that have remained remarkably steady in the Earth system over the last 11,700 years. These include a relatively stable global climate and an intact biosphere that have allowed civilisations based on agriculture to thrive. Researchers proposed that each of these processes has a boundary that, once crossed, puts the Earth system, or substantial components of it, at risk of upset.

A comprehensive scientific assessment in 2015 found that human activity has already breached four of the planetary boundaries. Greenhouse gas emissions are brewing a hotter climate, the sixth mass extinction of species is unpicking the web of life that makes up the global biosphere, intensive farming is polluting the environment and natural habitats are being destroyed on a significant scale. Earlier in 2022, researchers announced that a fifth planetary boundary had been crossed with the emission and accumulation of chemical pollution and plastics.

So far, it has been suggested that human use of freshwater is still within safe limits globally. But earlier assessments only considered the extraction of what is called blue water – that which flows in rivers and resides in underground aquifers. Even then, regional boundaries are likely to have been crossed in many river basins due to a sixfold increase in the extraction of blue water over the past century. Besides irrigating crops to sate growing demand from people and livestock, population growth and higher standards of living have raised global domestic and industrial water consumption, disrupting aquatic ecosystems and decimating the life within them.

By including green water in our assessment, we found that freshwater’s ability to sustain a stable Earth system is even more threatened than first reported.

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

The crossing of planetary boundaries could destabilise humanity’s safe operating space in the Earth system. Azote/Stockholm Resilience Centre

Red alert for green water

Radiation from the sun evaporates green water in the soil, cooling the environment and returning moisture to the atmosphere where it forms clouds and rain. This cycle sustains some of Earth’s most important ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest which makes up roughly 40% of global tropical forest, stores roughly 112 billion tonnes of carbon and harbours 25% of land-based life.

Research shows that clearing forests reduces the flow of moisture to the atmosphere, dampening how efficiently the Earth system can circulate water and ultimately putting ecosystems like the Amazon at risk of collapse. Global heating and changes to how the land is used, especially deforestation, are among the biggest factors responsible for humanity’s transgression of this planetary boundary. Their combined influence indicates that the planetary boundaries interact and need to be treated as one networked system.

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit An excavator digs up soil in a tropical forest clearing.

Deforestation can halt the flow of green water in the hydrological cycle. Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock

Food production also depends on green water. Around 60% of staple food production globally and 80% of cultivated land is rain-fed. In these areas, the only water reaching the crop is what rain provides. Even irrigated crops rely on rain to some extent.

We found that since the industrial revolution, and especially since the 1950s, larger parts of the world are subject to significantly drier or wetter soil. This shift towards extreme conditions is an alarming development due to the indispensable role of water in maintaining resilient societies and ecosystems

More frequent and severe dry spells mean prolonged and more intense droughts in many regions, like those currently affecting Chile and the western US. This limits photosynthesis in plants, which absorb less of the CO₂ heating Earth’s atmosphere. The land carbon sink, which currently soaks up about 30% of annual CO₂ emissions, is weakened as a result, and could even become a net source of carbon in the future.

Too much soil water is no good either. Water-saturated soils make floods more likely and suffocate plant growth. Abnormally large quantities of water evaporating from wet soils can delay the onset of monsoons in places like India, where the dry season has extended and disrupted farming. High humidity combined with high temperatures can also cause deadly heatwaves, as the human body quickly overheats when sweating becomes impossible in very moist air. Several regions, like South Asia, the coastal Middle East and the Gulf of California and Mexico, are experiencing this lethal combination much earlier than expected.

What can be done?

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the planet is both drier and wetter than at any point within the last 11,700 years. This threatens the ecological and climatic conditions that support life.

Our analysis shows that the sixth planetary boundary has been crossed. But ambitious efforts to slow climate change and halt deforestation could still prevent dangerous changes to the cycling of Earth’s green water. Along with other measures, switching farming practices to sustainable alternatives would prevent more soil being degraded and losing its moisture. Explicitly governing green water and its protection in policy and legal frameworks may also be necessary.

Research has shown that farming is a major cause of multiple planetary limits being breached. Shifting diets towards sustainable plant-based food is a simple yet highly effective option for keeping humanity within these boundaries.

Humanity is no longer in the safe zone. Immediate action is needed to maintain a resilient and nourishing freshwater cycle.


Imagine weekly climate newsletter

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?

Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation


Arne Tobian, PhD Candidate in Planetary Boundaries, Stockholm University; Dieter Gerten, Working Group Leader, Terrestrial Safe Operating Space, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Lan Wang Erlandsson, Researcher and Theme leader, Anthropocene Dynamics, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

%d bloggers like this: