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English and languages in general in higher education

English and languages in general in higher education


Global Trends posted on November 19, 2019, The Dilemma of English-Medium Instruction in International Higher Education written by Philip G. Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, and Hans de Wit, Professor and Director at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. This article gives us an instead glance at the worldwide debate that is emerging about the role of English and languages in general in higher education. The issue in the MENA region has been de facto settled sometime back, despite resurging questions as to the position of the local language utilisation in the universities. Hence the featured picture above.


WENR would like to congratulate our partners at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) for its upcoming 100th issue of International Higher Education. Enjoy this advance look into the issue with Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit’s article on the increasing global dominance of English-language instruction.

By the mid-twentieth century, English had become the global language of science and scholarship. With the rise of the internet and globalization in the latter years of the century and in the new millennium, this domination has only increased. The top 50 scientific journals are published in English, as are the vast majority of internationally circulated scholarly articles.

The advent of mass student mobility (more than five million students now study outside of their home countries, the majority of whom choose countries where English is spoken) has also increased the attraction of English. An increasingly mobile professoriate, including thousands of postdocs, gravitate to English-speaking universities. In non-English-speaking countries such as Ethiopia, academic programs and even entire universities use English as a language of instruction, or even as the only language of instruction. In Africa, Rwanda moved from French to English as a country and in higher education; and Algeria’s minister of education recently announced a shift from French to English in higher education.

Indeed, most countries now have English-medium universities, branch campuses that use English, or complete graduate programs in English. For example, one can obtain an English-medium Master of Business Administration from more than 30 universities in China. Universities in Russia are offering academic programs in English that target mainly Russian students, who seek such degrees to boost their prospects in local and international job markets. Chinese universities urge their faculty members to publish in prestigious English language journals and offer them handsome financial rewards for doing so—while, at the same time, publishing in Chinese journals yields few benefits. Indeed, the number of journals in English in China is growing exponentially. The same is true in South Africa and other countries. Without question, English will remain the key global scientific language and an important language of instruction for the foreseeable future. Even in these days of nationalism and populism, its role is likely to increase. Countries, institutions, and individuals are seeking to adapt to the impact of global English on academic life worldwide. Yet, at the same time, a worldwide debate is emerging about the role of English and of languages in general in higher education.

Questions Worth Asking

It is worth raising questions concerning the impact of the tide of English. In the broader sense, there is no use in rejecting it; just as globalization is an inexorable force, so is the role of English in higher education.

Language is more than just a means of communication; it is also an aspect of culture. The implications of using English as a key language for higher education in non-English-speaking countries may affect culture and ways of thinking. The French and the Italians, historically protective of their culture, have long resisted the use of English in higher education, but even they have recently yielded. There are now a growing number of English-medium courses in France and Italy, despite intense protests not only by nationalists and advocates of safeguarding their national cultural heritage, but also by academics.

Using English also has implications for research methodology, publication, and academic orientation. This is true for several reasons. The prestigious English-medium journals are edited almost exclusively by academics in English-speaking countries, and these editors rely in large part on reviewers also located in these countries. Even the most internationally minded editors will bring a bias toward the methodologies and academic orientations favored in English-speaking academe, as will most reviewers. Studies show that the journals and articles that are most cited are written in English, disadvantaging academics from non-English-speaking environments in several ways: The academics’ command of the English language will often be imperfect. More important, in general, they will be pressured to conform to the methodological strictures of mainstream English-dominated trends in their disciplines. This may be less consequential in the natural sciences where methodologies may be more universal, but it has considerable salience in the social sciences, where cultural and national realities shape scholarship. And researchers and scholars in all fields may be tempted to orient their research topics toward what will appeal to journal editors and publishers in the dominant English-medium markets.

Another implication, especially for the humanities and social sciences, is that the pressure to publish in English-medium international journals limits opportunities to contribute to the debate in local language media and to contradict fake news. Academics in the Netherlands have argued against this pressure. In International Higher Education No. 88, Winter 2017, Akiyoshi Yonezawa noted that “limited publication in English in these fields is becoming a serious obstacle to the further development of the humanities and social sciences in Japan,” and that “it is unlikely and undesirable that English as an academic language should continue to monopolize fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which are deeply rooted in multilinguistic and multicultural activities and values.”

A consequence of offering English-medium courses and programs in many non-English environments is the poor quality of the instruction offered by many faculty whose command of English may be only rudimentary, or whose ability to teach in the language is limited. This low-quality instruction, often combined with limited English comprehension on the part of many local and non-Anglophone international students, creates an environment where little actual learning is taking place. Additionally, knowledge of and access to current course texts and other materials in English may be limited. In short, offering high-quality programs in English is a complex undertaking that requires a high level of fluency on the part of both faculty and students.

A little-noticed consequence of the rise of global English in universities is the deteriorating status of learning other languages by students in English-speaking countries. Enrollments in “foreign language” courses and programs throughout the English-speaking world have declined, with many students (and faculty) feeling that they can communicate anywhere in the world in English. This trend has also led to declines in courses on world cultures and world civilizations, thus reducing in-depth knowledge of cultures among native English-speaking students. An additional concern is the increasing sophistication of machine translation of academic materials of all kinds, further reducing the perceived need to learn languages other than English.

There is also a consideration about the role of colonial languages in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Local languages are used in public primary and secondary education but, with some exceptions, are not the language of instruction in higher education. The risks of such policies are high and can result in or exacerbate elitism in higher education access, lower quality education and research, lack of alignment with local needs, and the dominance of Western paradigms.

The Debate in the Netherlands

Resistance to the use of English as a language of instruction in the developed world is increasing. In Italy and the Netherlands, academics have gone to court to stop universities from adding more English-taught programs to their course offerings. Arguments vary, from concerns about maintaining the national culture and the quality of education, to claiming that internationalization is a source of revenue that is promoted at the expense of good education for local students. These last two arguments are dominating the current debate in the Netherlands, where there is a general feeling that the spread of English as a language of instruction, with its lack of a strategic approach, has gone too far and become a liability.

The following are among the questions that have been raised:

  • Why should subject areas such as Dutch literature, history, or law be taught in English?
  • Are disciplines like psychology taught in English in order to attract international students and compensate for a decline in interest among local students?
  • Should the substantial contribution that international students make to institutional budgets and to the local and national economy count more than investing in quality education for local students?
  • Why should local students have to compete with international students for limited student housing?
  • How does one counteract the declining interest of local students in Dutch language and literature?

The Dutch minister of education, culture, and science along with institutional leaders is caught between the pressure to compete internationally and the imperative of responding to these arguments—as well as those of nationalists in parliament. Finding a compromise is not easy. Other countries, like Denmark and Germany, are having similar debates.

Conclusion

There are no easy solutions to what some are calling “English imperialism.” It is a fundamental reality today that English is the dominant language of science and scholarship, and increasingly of communication, both formal and informal, among students and academics globally. Understanding all the implications of selecting the language of instruction of a program or of an entire institution, including the costs and benefits of that decision, is crucial, and decision makers bear a heavy responsibility.

  • altbach@bc.edu
  • dewitj@bc.edu
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MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency

MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency

EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.

And In today’s world, the English language demonstrates a strong network effect: the more people use it, the more useful it becomes.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.

The EF English Proficiency Index is an annual ranking of countries and regions by English skills

In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.

The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.

In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.

The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.

The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.

The EF EPI and EF EPI-s reports and country/region fact sheets are available for download at http://www.ef.com/sa/epi.   

About EF Education First

EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

As a Friday essay: why traditional Persian music should be known to the world, Darius Sepehri, of University of Sydney goes through all aspects of why today’s Iran cultural heritage should be appreciated. The author confronting life in today’s world recalls the Traditional Persian Music through remembering his own personal origin rooted in the world’s first superpower that is the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.

Weaving through the rooms of my Brisbane childhood home, carried on the languid, humid, sub-tropical air, was the sound of an Iranian tenor singing 800-year old Persian poems of love. I was in primary school, playing cricket in the streets, riding a BMX with the other boys, stuck at home reading during the heavy rains typical of Queensland.

I had an active, exterior life that was lived on Australian terms, suburban, grounded in English, and easy-going. At the same time, thanks to my mother’s listening habits, courtesy of the tapes and CDs she bought back from trips to Iran, my interior life was being invisibly nourished by something radically other, by a soundscape invoking a world beyond the mundane, and an aesthetic dimension rooted in a sense of transcendence and spiritual longing for the Divine.

I was listening to traditional Persian music (museghi-ye sonnati). This music is the indigenous music of Iran, although it is also performed and maintained in Persian-speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It has ancient connections to traditional Indian music, as well as more recent ones to Arabic and Turkish modal music.

It is a world-class art that incorporates not only performance but also the science and theory of music and sound. It is, therefore, a body of knowledge, encoding a way of knowing the world and being. The following track is something of what I might have heard in my childhood:

Playing kamancheh, a bowed spike-fiddle, is Kayhān Kalhor, while the singer is the undisputed master of vocals in Persian music, ostād (meaning “maestro”) Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He is singing in the classical vocal style, āvāz, that is the heart of this music.

A non-metric style placing great creative demands on singers, āvāz is improvised along set melodic lines memorised by heart. Without a fixed beat, the vocalist sings with rhythms resembling speech, but speech heightened to an intensified state. This style bears great similarity to the sean-nos style of Ireland, which is also ornamented and non-rhythmic, although sean-nos is totally unaccompanied, unlike Persian āvāz in which the singer is often accompanied by a single stringed instrument.

A somewhat more unorthodox example of āvāz is the following, sung by Alireza Ghorbāni with a synthesised sound underneath his voice rather than any Persian instrument. It creates a hypnotic effect.

Even listeners unfamiliar with Persian music should be able to hear the intensity in the voices of Ghorbāni and Shajarian. Passion is paramount, but passion refined and sublimated so that longing and desire break through ordinary habituated consciousness to point to something unlimited, such as an overwhelming sense of the beyond.

Beyond media contrived images

The traditional poetry and music of Iran aim to create a threshold space, a zone of mystery; a psycho-emotional terrain of suffering, melancholy, death and loss, but also of authentic joy, ecstasy, and hope.

Iranians have tasted much suffering throughout their history, and are wary of being stripped of their identity. Currently, economic sanctions are being re-applied to Iran’s entire civilian population, depriving millions of ordinary people of medicine and essentials.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A Persian woman playing the Daf, a frame drum, from a painting on the walls of Chehel-sotoon palace, Isfahan, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Persian music matters in this context of escalating aggression because it is a rich, creative artform, still living and cherished. It binds Iranians in a shared culture that constitutes the authentic life of the people and the country, as opposed to the contrived image of Iran presented in Western media that begins and ends with politics.

This is a thoroughly soulful music, akin not in form but in soulfulness with artists such as John Coltrane or Van Morrison. In the Persian tradition, music is not only for pleasure but has a transformative purpose. Sound is meant to effect a change in the listener’s consciousness, to bring them into a spiritual state (hāl).

Like other ancient systems, in the Persian tradition, the perfection of the formal structures of beautiful music is believed to come from God, as in the Pythagorean phrase, the “music of the spheres.”

Because traditional Persian music has been heavily influenced by Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, many rhythmic performances (tasnif, as opposed to āvāz) can (distantly) recall the sounds of Sufi musical ceremonies (sama), with forceful, trance-inducing rhythms. (For instance in this Rumi performance by Alireza Eftekhari).

Even when slow, traditional Persian music is still passionate and ardent in mood, such as this performance of Rumi by Homayoun Shajarian, son of Mohammad-Reza:

Another link with traditional Celtic music is the grief that runs through Persian music, as can be heard in this instrumental by Kalhor.

Grief and sorrow always work in tandem with joy and ecstasy to create soundscapes that evoke longing and mystery.

Connections with classical poetry

The work of classical poets such as Rumi, Hāfez, Sa’di, Attār, and Omar Khayyām forms the lyrical basis of compositions in traditional Persian music. The rhythmic structure of the music is based on the prosodic system that poetry uses (aruz), a cycle of short and long syllables.

Singers must therefore, be masters not only at singing but know Persian poetry and its metrical aspects intimately. Skilled vocalists must be able to interpret poems. Lines or phrases can be extended or repeated, or enhanced with vocal ornaments.

Thus, even for a Persian speaker who knows the poems being sung, Persian music can still reveal new interpretations. Here, for example (from 10:00 to 25:00 mins) is another example of Rumi by M.R. Shajarian:

This is a charity concert from 2003 in Bam, Iran after a horrendous earthquake destroyed the town. Rumi’s poem is renowned among Persian speakers, but here Mohammad-Reza Shajarian sings it with such passion and emotional intensity that it sounds fresh and revelatory.

“Without everyone else it’s possible,” Rumi says, “Without you, life is not liveable.”

While such lines are originally drawn from the tradition of non-religious love poems, in Rumi’s poems the address to the beloved becomes mystical, otherworldly. After a tragedy such as the earthquake, these lyrics can take on special urgency in the present.

When people listen to traditional music, they, like the singers, remain still. Audiences are transfixed and transported.

According to Sufi cosmology, all melodious sounds erupt forth from a world of silence. In Sufism, silence is the condition of the innermost chambers of the human heart, its core (fuad), which is likened to a throne from which the Divine Presence radiates.

Because of this connection with the intelligence and awareness of the heart, many performers of traditional Persian music understand that it must be played through self-forgetting, as beautifully explained here by master Amir Koushkani:

Persian music has roughly twelve modal systems, each known as a dastgah. Each dastgah collects melodic models that are skeletal frameworks upon which performers improvise in the moment. The spiritual aspect of Persian music is made most manifest in this improvisation.

Shajarian has said that the core of traditional music is concentration (tamarkoz), by which he means not only the mind but the whole human awareness. It is a mystical and contemplative music.

The highly melodic nature of Persian music also facilitates expressiveness. Unlike Western classical music, there is very sparing use of harmony. This, and the fact that like other world musical traditions it includes microtonal intervals, may make traditional Persian music odd at first listen for Western audiences.

Solo performances are important to traditional Persian music. In a concert, soloists may be accompanied by another instrument with a series of call-and-response type echoes and recapitulations of melodic phrases.

Similarly, here playing the barbat, a Persian variant of the oud, maestro Hossein Behrooznia shows how percussion and plucked string instruments can forge interwoven melodic structures that create hypnotic soundscapes:

Ancient roots

The roots of traditional Persian music go back to ancient pre-Islamic Persian civilisation, with archaeological evidence of arched harps (a harp in the shape of a bow with a sound box at the lower end), having been used in rituals in Iran as early as 3100BC.

Under the pre-Islamic Parthian (247BC-224AD) and Sasanian (224-651AD) kingdoms, in addition to musical performances on Zoroastrian holy days, music was elevated to an aristocratic art at royal courts.

Centuries after the Sasanians, after the Arab invasion of Iran, Sufi metaphysics brought a new spiritual intelligence to Persian music. Spiritual substance is transmitted through rhythm, metaphors and symbolism, melodies, vocal delivery, instrumentation, composition, and even the etiquette and co-ordination of performances.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A six-string fretted lute, known as a tār. Wikimedia Commons

The main instruments used today go back to ancient Iran. Among others, there is the tār, the six-stringed fretted lute; ney, the vertical reed flute that is important to Rumi’s poetry as a symbol of the human soul crying out in joy or grief; daf, a frame drum important in Sufi ritual; and the setār, a wooden four-stringed lute.

The tār, made of mulberry wood and stretch lambskin, is used to create vibrations that affect the heart and the body’s energies and a central instrument for composition. It is played here by master Hossein Alizadeh and here by master Dariush Talai.

Music, gardens, and beauty

Traditional Persian music not only cross-pollinates with poetry, but with other arts and crafts. At its simplest, this means performing with traditional dress and carpets on stage. In a more symphonic mode of production, an overflow of beauty can be created, such as in this popular and enchanting performance by the group Mahbanu:

They perform in a garden: of course. Iranians love gardens, which have a deeply symbolic and spiritual meaning as a sign or manifestation of Divine splendour. Our word paradise, in fact, comes from the Ancient Persian word, para-daiza, meaning “walled garden”. The walled garden tended and irrigated, represents in Persian tradition the cultivation of the soul, an inner garden or inner paradise.

The traditional costumes of the band (as with much folk dress around the world) are elegant, colourful, resplendent, yet also modest. The lyrics are tinged with Sufi thought, the poet-lover lamenting the distance of the beloved but proclaiming the sufficiency of staying in unconsumed desire.

As a young boy, I grasped the otherness of Persian music intuitively. I found its timeless spiritual beauty and interiority had no discernible connection with my quotidian, material Australian existence.

Persian music and arts, like other traditional systems, gives a kind of “food” for the soul and spirit that has been destroyed in the West by the dominance of rationalism and capitalism. For 20 years since my boyhood, traditional Persian culture has anchored my identity, healed and replenished my wounded heart, matured my soul, and allowed me to avoid the sense of being without roots in which so many unfortunately find themselves today.

It constitutes a world of beauty and wisdom that is a rich gift to the whole world, standing alongside Irano-Islamic architecture and Iranian garden design.

The problem is the difficulty of sharing this richness with the world. In an age of hyper-communication, why is the beauty of Persian music (or the beauty of traditional arts of many other cultures for that matter) so rarely disseminated? Much of the fault lies with corporate media.

Brilliant women

Mahbanu, who can also be heard here performing a well-known Rumi poem, are mostly female. But readers will very likely not have heard about them, or any of the other rising female musicians and singers of Persian music. According to master-teachers such as Shajarian, there are now often as many female students as male in traditional music schools such as his.

Almost everyone has seen, however through corporate media, the same cliched images of an angry mob of Iranians chanting, soldiers goose-stepping, missile launches, or leaders in rhetorical flight denouncing something. Ordinary Iranian people themselves are almost never heard from directly, and their creativity rarely shown.

The lead singer of the Mahbanu group, Sahar Mohammadi, is a phenomenally talented singer of the āvāz style, as heard here when she performs in the mournful abu ata mode. She may, indeed, be the best contemporary female vocalist. Yet she is unheard of outside of Iran and small circles of connoisseurs mainly in Europe.

A list of outstanding modern Iranian women poets and musicians requires its own article. Here I will list some of the outstanding singers, very briefly. From an older generation we may mention the master Parisa (discussed below), and Afsaneh Rasaei. Current singers of great talent include, among others, Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, Homa Niknam, Mahileh Moradi, and the mesmerising Sepideh Raissadat.

Finally, one of my favourites is the marvellous Haleh Seifizadeh, whose enchanting singing in a Moscow church suits the space perfectly.

The beloved Shajarian

Tenor Mohammad-Reza Shajarian is by far the most beloved and renowned voice of traditional Persian music. To truly understand his prowess, we can listen to him performing a lyric of the 13th century poet Sa’di:

As heard here, traditional Persian music is at once heavy and serious in its intent, yet expansive and tranquil in its effect. Shajarian begins by singing the word Yār, meaning “beloved”, with an ornamental trill. These trills, called tahrir, are made by rapidly closing the glottis, effectively breaking the notes (the effect is reminiscent of Swiss yodeling).

By singing rapidly and high in the vocal range, a virtuoso display of vocal prowess is created imitating a nightingale, the symbol with whom the poet and singer are most compared in Persian traditional music and poetry. Nightingales symbolise the besotted, suffering, and faithful lover. (For those interested, Homayoun Shajarian, explains the technique in this video).

As with many singers, the great Parisa heard here in a wonderful concert from pre-revolutionary Iran, learned her command of tahrir partly from Shajarian. With her voice, in particular, the similarity to a nightingale’s trilling is clear.

Nourishing hearts and souls

The majority of Iran’s 80 million population are under 30 years of age. Not all are involved in traditional culture. Some prefer to make hip-hop or heavy-metal, or theatre or cinema. Still, there are many young Iranians expressing themselves through poetry (the country’s most important art form) and traditional music.

National and cultural identity for Iranians is marked by a sense of having a tradition, of being rooted in ancient origins, and of carrying something of great cultural significance from past generations, to be preserved for the future as repository of knowledge and wisdom. This precious thing that is handed down persists while political systems change.

Iran’s traditional music carries messages of beauty, joy, sorrow and love from the heart of the Iranian people to the world. These messages are not simply of a national character, but universally human, albeit inflected by Iranian history and mentality.

This is why traditional Persian music should be known to the world. Ever since its melodies first pierced my room in Brisbane, ever since it began to transport me to places of the spirit years ago, I’ve wondered if it could also perhaps nourish the hearts and souls of some of my fellow Australians, across the gulf of language, history, and time.

Darius Sepehri, Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Literature, Religion and History of Philosophy, University of Sydney

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

Why media performance has declined in the MENA?

Why media performance has declined in the MENA?

Shehab Al Makahleh, a consultant, senior political, media adviser and the executive director of Geostrategic Media Centre-USA, wondered Why media performance has declined in the MENA? He contributed this article dated August 31, 2019, to The Jordan Times.

There are many challenges facing Arab media, starting with national newspapers, news sources, magazines to television stations due to digital incursion, which trespasses geographical boundaries, putting an end to monopoly in the fields of communication that were once the task of giant institutions operating on a global scale. Thus, it is highly recommended to help users and the audience identify false news that has become a phenomenon.

In the past decade, advertising resources for print media fell by two-thirds. The distribution of national newspapers dropped as well, either because of digital copies due to easy access to the Internet by the audience or because many advertisers prefer posting their ads online. Newspapers’ revenues as a result have dropped remarkably. Publishers rely on ads that have now been fully automated and based on traffic volume on news sites.

The question that arises is: Who is responsible for this decline of regional media and lack of professional craftsmanship? The dilemma lies in the collective responsibility of individuals and the media. For example, many people follow social media celebrities, who have millions of followers without providing any useful content. Thus, fame at present does not require people to appear on television and satellite channels, as some Youtubers and Instagrammers have millions of followers; more than TV channels and newspapers due to flip-flopped interests.

A major segment of the deterioration of Arab media lies on recipients or the audience. In other words, some media outlets which respond to audience requests and demands achieve tangible successes. Social media celebrities go by the whims of their followers to secure stardom.

In some countries, there is fear from the media, and this has created a psychological barrier that prevents journalists from dealing with vital issues. Extremist parties and other actors have also contributed to this decline in media and journalism. Lack of journalistic professionalism is a direct outcome of failure of media institutions to provide necessary training for journalists.

Over the past 25 years, the number of media channels, newspapers and websites have mushroomed. In other words, the quantity has not matched the quality due to lack of professional journalists who are well-trained to manage media institutions independently. If we look at the state of journalism now, there are more media outlets, but media independence and freedom of coverage had become less than before. Technological advances on social media have also led people to follow media that are consistent with their views.

Traditional Arab media has lost its role in the industry of opinion and has a marginal contribution to the formation of awareness of the Arab world, while social media has become more powerful and influential. Some media have moved away from traditional means and turned to social media as a better platform to address the public directly. Newspapers have become weak in many Arab countries, even those which are funded, and supported by governments, as the main issue is not related to funding but rather professionalism. Many newspapers do not have remarkable content to grab readers to purchase such newspapers due to citizens’ weak purchase power and absence of real professional journalism.

What these newspapers currently offer depends on news agencies and other sources of content. Very few still have strong journalistic topics that are presented to the reader. Unfortunately, the way such topics are covered and addressed have less freedom of expression and opinion in terms of analysis and prognosis. Since the basis in successful media work relies on science and information, absence of these two elements is one of the major loopholes of media coverage in the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Technological transformation in the world of media industry have raised concerns among the media industry, as this has adversely affected the media spectrum in the MENA.

Thus, we need to improve the horizons of high-level journalism and encourage new media models not only in terms of available technologies, but also in terms of innovation and creativity by hiring national press, digital media and advertising industry figures in order to restore a balance between news publishers and digital platforms that publish what they produce. This comes at a time when many changes in technology and consumer attitudes pose challenges for quality journalism in the region.

Government oversight should be effective from time to time in order for Internet news platforms to adhere to media standards and to enhance confidence in the news such platforms broadcast. The government should also consider direct support for local news sources and provide tax exemptions for media. Information authorities should provide more support to local publishers so that their coverage complements local news. Furthermore, governments concerned should set up independent institutes to provide news of public interest in the future.

Therefore, we should adhere to new standards to restore balance between publishers and online platforms. In addition, Internet platforms must exert an effort to improve their users’ access to news in a good manner.

Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ancient Iraqi city of Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site by Raya Jalabi took rather a long time to arrive. But better later than never, here it is with however a warning that the site is in an “extremely vulnerable condition” and great need of urgent conservation.

RUINS OF BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) – The ancient city of Babylon, first referenced in a clay tablet from the 23rd century B.C., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Friday, after a vote that followed decades of lobbying by Iraq.

A view of a replica of Ishtar gate at the ancient city of Babylon near Hilla, Iraq July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

The vote, at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, made the ancient Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River the sixth world heritage site within the borders of a country known as a cradle of civilization.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said the city, now an archaeological ruin, was returned to its “rightful place” in history after years of neglect by previous leaders.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also welcomed the news.

“Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity’s memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history,” he said.

The government said it would allocate funds to maintain and boost conservation efforts.

Babylon, about 85 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, was once the center of a sprawling empire, renowned for its towers and mudbrick temples. Its hanging gardens were one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Visitors can stroll through the remnants of the brick and clay structures which stretch across 10 square kilometers, and see the famed Lion of Babylon statue, as well as large portions of the original Ishtar Gate.

As the sun began to set on the crumbling ruins, activists and residents flocked to the replica Ishtar gate at the site’s entrance to celebrate what they called a historic moment.

“This is very important, because Babylon will now be a protected site,” said Marina al-Khafaji, a local who was hopeful the designation would boost tourism and the local economy.

It would allow for further exploration and research, said Makki Mohammad Farhoud, 53, a tour guide at the site for more than 25 years, noting that only 18% of it had been excavated.

“Babylon is the blood that runs through my veins, I love it more than I love my children,” he said.

DECADES OF NEGLECT

Excavations of what was once the largest city in the world, began in the early 19th century by European archaeologists, who removed many artifacts.

In the 1970s, under President Saddam Hussein’s restoration project, the southern palace’s walls and arches were shoddily rebuilt on top of the existing ruins, causing widespread damage.

This was exacerbated during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, when U.S. and Polish troops stationed nearby built their military base on top of the Babylonian ruins.

Many inscriptions written by soldiers can still be seen on the ancient bricks.

The site is in dire need of conservation, Farhoud said. Unlike three other World Heritage sites in Iraq, UNESCO did not designate Babylon as one in “in danger” after objections from the Iraqi delegation.

Iraq is replete with thousands of archaeological sites, many of which were heavily damaged or pillaged by Islamic State during its barbaric three-year-rule which ended in 2017.

The other five World Heritage Sites are the southern marshlands, Hatra, Samarra, Ashur and the citadel in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Richard ChangOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction despite Egypt’s protests written by Marie-Louise GumuchianNavdeep Yadav gives us a good reading of the difference between nations in terms of space and time.

LONDON (Reuters) – A brown quartzite head of young king Tutankhamen sold at auction in London for more than 4.7 million pounds on Thursday, in the face of Egyptian demands for its return.

The more than 3,000-year-old sculpture, displayed at Christie’s London auction house, shows the boy king taking the form of the ancient Egyptian god Amen.

An unnamed buyer bought the head for 4,746,250 pounds ($5.97 million), including commission and in line with the estimated price before the sale, Christie’s said.

Outside, around 20 protesters stood silently and held placards that said “Egyptian history is not for sale”.

Egypt has long demanded the return of artefacts taken by archaeologists and imperial adventurers, including the Rosetta Stone kept in the British Museum – campaigns paralleled by Greece’s demands for the Parthenon sculptures, Nigeria’s for the Benin Bronzes and Ethiopia’s for the Magdala treasures.

“We are against our heritage and valuable items (being) sold like vegetables and fruit,” said Ibrahim Radi, a 69-year-old Egyptian graphic designer protesting outside Christie’s.

The 28.5 centimetres (11.22 inches) high piece, with damage only to the ears and nose, was sold from the private Resandro collection of Egyptian art.

Christie’s said it was acquired from Munich dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985. Before that, Austrian dealer Joseph Messina bought it in 1973-1974, and Germany’s Prinz Wilhelm Von Thurn und Taxis “reputedly” had it in his collection by the 1960s.

Hailing the piece as a “rare” and “beautiful” work, a Christie’s statement acknowledged controversy over its home.

“We recognise that historic objects can raise complex discussions about the past, yet our role today is to work to continue to provide a transparent, legitimate marketplace upholding the highest standards for the transfer of objects.”

Before the auction, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he was disappointed the sale was going ahead, despite requests for information and protests from government officials and Egypt’s embassy.

“I believe that it was taken out of Egypt illegally … They have not presented any documents to prove otherwise,” he told Reuters, saying that Egypt would continue to press the buyer and others for the work to be returned.

Staff at Christie’s said they had taken the necessary steps to prove its provenance and the sale was legitimate. “It’s a very well known piece … and it has never been the subject of a claim,” antiquities department head Laetitia Delaloye told Reuters.

Christie’s had been in touch with Egyptian authorities in Cairo and the London embassy, she added.

Mysteries of the Giza Plateau – The Pyramids

Mysteries of the Giza Plateau – The Pyramids

The INTERESTING ENGINEERING web-magazine published on May 31st, 2019, yet another anecdotal story on the Mysteries of the Giza Plateau – The Pyramids. It is an illuminating article by Marcia Wendorf but reading HISTORY on the same, could perhaps shed even more background light onto the whole story.

Keeping the Great Sphinx company on the Giza Plateau are the three Great Pyramids and their associated complexes.

Mysteries of the Giza Plateau - The Pyramids

Depositphotos

On the outskirts and southwest of Cairo lies the Giza Plateau, home to arguably the world’s greatest monuments – the three great pyramids and the Great Sphinx.

The three pyramids are The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, The Pyramid of Khafre (Khufu’s son), and The Pyramid of Menkaure. Associated with each pyramid are pyramid complexes consisting of other smaller pyramids, temples, and mastabas. Mastabas are rectangular burial mounds that can be as high as 20 feet (6 m).

RELATED: EXPLORE 33 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN PYRAMIDS

Giza pyramid complex
Giza pyramid complex Source: MesserWoland/Wikimedia Commons

Khufu’s Pyramid

Also known as the Pyramid of Cheops, it is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex. It is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to survive. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years until the Lincoln Cathedral in England was completed in 1,311 A.D.

Khufu was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, and reigned during the 26th century B.C. It is believed that Khufu’s pyramid began being built around 2,580 B.C. and it took between 10 and 20 years to build, being completed around 2,560 B.C. It is built from an estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone which were transported from nearby quarries.

The largest stones used in the pyramid are granite stones found in the “King’s chamber”, and they weigh a whopping 25 to 80 tons. It is estimated that 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite that was imported from Aswan, and 500,000 tons of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. For it to be completed in 20 years; more than 12 blocks would have had to be placed every hour, night and day.

What we see today is only the underlying structure of the pyramid. Originally, it and the other two pyramids were covered in white limestone casing stones that would have made the pyramids shine, and they would have been visible from far away. The limestone casing stones were quarried from across the Nile River, and only a few remain at the base of Khufu’s Pyramid and the top of Khafre’s Pyramid.

Of the precision used in the placement of these casing stones, famed English archaeologist Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) said it was “equal to opticians’ work of the present day, but on a scale of acres.”

The present height of Khufu’s pyramid is 138.8 meters (455.4 ft) high, with each base side 230.4 meters (755.9 ft) in length. The mass of the pyramid is estimated at 5.9 million tons, and it has an interior volume of around 2,500,000 cubic meters (88,000,000 cu ft).

The four sides of the base of the pyramid are identical to an error of only 58 millimeters in length. The sides of the square base are perfectly aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within four minutes of arc.

In the ancient Egyptian measuring system, the pyramid was 280 Egyptian Royal cubits high, by 440 cubits long at each of the four sides of its base. If you take the ratio of the length of the perimeter to the pyramid’s height, it is 1760/280 Egyptian Royal Cubits. This equates to 2π to an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent.

Interior Khufu's Pyramid
Interior Khufu’s Pyramid Source: Jeff Dahl/Wikimedia Commons

The interior of Khufu’s Pyramid contains three chambers, an unfinished chamber below the base of the pyramid, the Queen’s Chamber above it, and above that, the King’s Chamber.

The entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north face, 17 meters (56 ft) above the ground. From it, there is a descending passageway to the subterranean chamber, but 28.2 meters (93 ft) from the entrance, a stone slab in the roof of the descending passageway concealed a square hole that leads to an ascending passageway that leads to both the Queen’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery.

The Queen’s Chamber

The Queen’s Chamber is exactly centered between the north and south faces of the pyramid. It is 5.75 meters (18.9 ft) north to south, 5.23 meters (17.2 ft) east to west, and the apex of its roof is 6.23 meters (20.4 ft) high. On both the north and south walls of the Queen’s Chamber are two shafts, one of which connects to the Grand Gallery, and the other ends upwards within the structure.

In 1993, German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink used a crawler robot named Upuaut 2 to climb the shaft, and he found that after 65 m (213 ft), there was a limestone door with two eroded copper “handles”.

In 2002, a National Geographic Society robot drilled a hole in the door only to find another door behind that. A 2011 study revealed a small chamber between the doors with hieroglyphs writings in red paint.

The Grand Gallery

The purpose of The Grand Gallery is not known, but it continues the slope of the Ascending Passage, and is 8.6 meters (28 ft) high and 46.68 meters (153.1 ft) long. It grows progressively narrower the higher up you go, and each roof stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. This means each block is supported by the wall of the Gallery, rather than resting on the block beneath it.

Grand Gallery
Grand Gallery Source: Peter Prevos/Wikimedia Commons

The floor of the Grand Gallery is comprised of a series of steps in which are 54 slots, 27 on each side. Their purpose isn’t known, but it is speculated that they held wooden beams which, in turn, held blocking stones.

The King’s Chamber

The King’s Chamber is 10.47 meters (34.4 ft) from east to west, 5.234 meters (17.17 ft) from north to south, and 5.852 meters (19 feet 2 inch) high. 0.91 m (3.0 ft) above the floor there are two narrow shafts in both the north and south walls that extend all the way out to the exterior of the pyramid.

The shafts appear to be aligned towards stars or areas of the northern and southern skies, and it is thought their purpose was to aid in the ascension of the king’s spirit to the afterlife.

The only object found in the King’s Chamber was an empty granite sarcophagus. Interestingly enough, the sarcophagus is wider than the Ascending Passage, which means that it must have been placed in the Chamber before the roof was put in place.

The Void

In 2017, a large void was found within Khufu’s Pyramid by using muons. Muons are an elementary particle similar to an electron. They are a member of the leptonfamily, and therefore are not comprised of any other particles.

Physicists with the ScanPyramids collaboration placed a muon detector in the Queen’s Chamber. Dense materials such as rock, absorb muons, while muons pass freely through the air. When more muons were received by the detector, it revealed a previously-unknown large void that is about 30 meters in length.

Computer reconstructions reveal that the void is similar in size to the Grand Gallery, and is at the same height as a number of small chambers above the King’s Chamber that relieve pressure from above. The team has also located a corridor-like structure near to the surface of the pyramid that could provide a route into the void.

Khafre’s Pyramid

Khafre’s Pyramid, also known as Chephren in Greek, is the second-tallest and second-largest of the Giza Plateau pyramids. It is the tomb of the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh who ruled from c. 2,558 to 2,532 B.C. His pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, the Sphinx temple, a causeway that runs on an angle to avoid the Sphinx, a mortuary temple and the King’s pyramid.

The pyramid has a base length of 215.5 m (706 ft) and rises up to a height of 136.4 meters (448 ft). It is made of limestone blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. The slope of the pyramid rises at a 53° 13′ angle, which is steeper than Khufu’s Pyramid, which has an angle of 51°50’24”. 

Khafre's Pyramid
Khafre’s Pyramid Source: Hamish2kl/Wikimedia Commons

From the outside, Khafre’s pyramid appears taller than Khufu’s because it sits 10 m (33 ft) higher. Some of its casing stones were taken on Ramesses II’s orders to build a temple in Heliopolis, but some were still in place in 1646 when Oxford University professor John Greaves wrote about them.

The Khafre’s Pyramid was first explored during modern times by Giovanni Belzoniin 1818. He found the pyramid’s original entrance located on the north side of the pyramid, and upon entering, Belzoni found an open, empty sarcophagus, with its lid broken on the floor in the burial chamber. 

Interior Khafre's Pyramid
Interior Khafre’s Pyramid Source: MONNIER Franck/Wikimedia Commons

To the east of Khafre’s Pyramid sits what remains of the mortuary temple. It is larger than previous temples, and it is the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five niches for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. It was built of megalithic blocks, the largest of which is 400 tons.

Menkaure’s Pyramid

Menkaure’s pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, a causeway, a mortuary temple, and the king’s pyramid which is the smallest of the three pyramids. The king’s pyramid has three subsidiaries or queen’s pyramids.

Today, Menkaure’s pyramid is 61 m (204 ft) tall with a base of 108.5 m. Its angle of incline is approximately 51°20′25″ and it was constructed of limestone and granite. Menkaure’s Pyramid shows unusual damage caused at the end of the twelfth century when Saladin’s son and heir, al-Malek al-Aziz Othman ben Yusuf, attempted to demolish the pyramids, starting with Menkaure’s.

Menkaure's pramid/Daniel Mayer
Menkaure’s pyramid/Daniel Mayer

He found that it was almost as expensive to demolish the pyramids as it was to build them, and after eight months, only managed to leave a gash in the north face of Menkaure’s Pyramid.

Archaeological Discovery in Egypt to Boost Tourism

Archaeological Discovery in Egypt to Boost Tourism

On April 19, 2019, Willamette International Travel came up with this story that follows an earlier one on how Egypt Unveils Ancient Burial Site, Home To 50 Mummies or how all related works with an ancient culture could serve all purposes, notably those of tourism.

Travel News: Archaeological Discovery In Egypt To Boost Tourism

WIT (14).png

Archaeological Discovery In Egypt To Boost Tourism

Travelwirenews reports in a major archaeological discovery, Egypt on Saturday unveiled the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty official adorned with colourful reliefs and well preserved inscriptions. The tomb, near Saqqara, a vast necropolis south of Cairo, belongs to a senior official named Khuwy who is believed to have been a nobleman during the Fifth Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt about 4300 years ago. “The L-shaped Khuwy tomb starts with a small corridor heading downwards into an antechamber and from there a larger chamber with painted reliefs depicting the tomb owner seated at an offerings table,” said Mohamed Megahed, the excavation team’s head, in an antiquities ministry statement. Flanked by dozens of ambassadors, Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enani said the tomb was discovered last month. It is mostly made of white limestone bricks. Ornate paintings boast a special green resin throughout and oils used in the burial process, the ministry said. The tomb’s north wall indicates that its design was inspired by the architectural blueprint of the dynasty’s royal pyramids, the statement added. The excavation team has unearthed several tombs related to the Fifth Dynasty. Archaeologists recently found an inscription on a granite column dedicated to Queen Setibhor, who is believed to have been the wife of King Djedkare Isesis, the eighth and penultimate king of the dynasty. Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism that took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, West Bank (AP) – Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.

The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.

Christmas in Palestine

December 22nd – December 30th 2018

During the Christmas season, Bethlehem in Palestine welcomes Christian worshipers from all denominations from all over the world. An estimated 10,000 were in the Square on Christmas Eve last year!  It is an exciting, colorful and lively time during which a message of hope is broadcast around the world by the large number of media agencies covering Manger Square in which the Church of the Nativity is found.

What will we do?

You are invited to take part in this unique experience with To Be There. We have a well-planned a program providing you with opportunities to enjoy the Christmas season as well as gain an understanding of ancient and recent history, and how the occupation affects the lives and the future of Palestine and its people.  Topics which will be covered during your visit include Palestinian refugees, their  legal status and the hardships they face; Israeli settlement colonies which contribute to the forcible displacement of Palestinians and land theft; the treatment by Israel of Palestinian children and the documented violations of their rights; Palestinian political prisoners and their treatment under military law; the Israeli infrastructure of occupation and apartheid – walls, security zones, check points and much more.

Why should we come?

Palestinians enjoy welcoming foreign guests to participate in the procession to the Church lead by Palestinian scout groups from all over Palestine and Israel accompanied by the music of horns, bagpipes and drums. However, Christmas is experienced differently Bethlehem, providing an example of how Palestinians enjoy such occasions while living under the Israeli military occupation which imposes sever hardships on the people, restricting their freedom of movement, their livelihoods and economic and social well-being.  Sadly, the occupation and its policies have turned Bethlehem in to a ghetto around which Israel continues to tighten the noose with its encroachment and development of settler colonies, ‘Jewish only’ restricted roads and security zones, checkpoints and military installations.  In fact, Israeli controls 90% of tourism into Bethlehem.  Christmas in Palestine is an opportunity to visit Palestine, to make a contribution to this vibrant community during the Holiday Season and witness the reality of occupation.

May we all have a Merry Christmas.

Human ancestors may have spread to north Africa

Human ancestors may have spread to north Africa

Human ancestors may have spread to north Africa earlier than thought, stone tool discovery suggests

File 20181128 32226 1i5mteg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An Oldowan core freshly excavated at Ain Boucherit from which sharp-edged cutting flakes were removed.
M. Sahnouni

John McNabb, University of Southampton

East Africa is famously the birthplace of humankind and the location where our ancient hominin ancestors first invented sophisticated stone tools. This technology, dating back to 2.6m years ago, is then thought to have spread around Africa and the rest of the Old World later on.

But new research, published in Science, has uncovered an archaeological site in Algeria containing similar tools that may be as old as 2.44m years. The team, led by the archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni, excavated stone tools at the site Ain Boucherit that they estimate are between 1.92m and 2.44m years old. This suggests that human ancestors spread to the region much earlier than previously thought or that the stone tool technology was simultaneously invented by earlier hominin species living outside east Africa.

The artefacts belong to the “Oldowan” – the oldest known stone tool industry. Rounded river cobbles, used as hammer stones, were used to flake other cobbles, turning them into simple cores. The flakes were then transformed into scrapers and various knives by resharpening their edges. Essentially this was a tool kit for processing animal tissue, such as marrow, bone and brain tissue, but also plant material. However, it is not known for sure which hominin species first created Oldowan tools – potentially Australopithecus or Homo habilis.

The stone tools are very similar to those of early Oldowan sites in East Africa. Bones at the site even have cut marks, where a stone tool has gouged into the bone during butchery. The cut marks may mean these hominins were actively hunting.

But we have only ever found early Oldowan tools in the east African rift valley before, more than 4,000km away. We have always assumed that it started there some 2.6m years ago, so we shouldn’t find it so far from its original home at that age unless we have missed something.

Many archaeologists do indeed suspect there is an unseen ghost somewhere in the machine. There have been discoveries of early hominin sites to the south, in Chad, that suggest that some of our earliest ancestors lived well beyond East Africa. Oldowan-like sites have also been found outside of Africa, in Georgia, beginning at 1.8m years ago – which seems surprisingly early.

Game changer

The new discovery is telling us that our focus on East Africa as the birthplace of early humans is too narrow – we should be doing what Sahnouni and others have done all along and looking elsewhere. The same team recently published findings about another Oldowan site in Algeria that is about 1.75m years old, but to find early Oldowan tools well over half a million years earlier is a bit of a game changer.

Sahnouni excavating at the site.
M. Sahnouni

It all hinges on how reliable that 2.44m-year-old date really is. Dating specialists will be scrutinising the details very carefully. According to the paper, four different techniques were used. Palaeomagnetic dating measures the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field in sediments – this is locked into rocks when they form, helping to tell us how old they are.

The team found that the upper level mapped onto a short period of normal polarity taking place between 1.77m and 1.94m years ago. The lower level’s sediments fitted into a long period of reversed direction at between 1.94m and 2.58m years ago.

To get more precise dates, the team turned to a dating technique called electron spin resonance dating, which measures radioactive decay in quartz sand grains. However, they used a less common version of the technique that was operating close to its upper limit of reliability at this age range. The measurement delivered an age of 1.92m years old, younger than suggested by paleomagnetism.

There are some concerns about how suitable this last method is but the team has been honest about that. They also compared the dates with extinction times of animals present at the site, which suggested the date wasn’t impossible.

To get a better idea of the maximum age of the tools, they used a technique for estimating the rates of sedimentation – basically how long the different layers at the site took to build up. You have to throw in some fancy statistical work though, and map it onto the palaeomagnetic results. Extrapolating backwards in time, the team calculated that the actual age of the lower level is 2.44m years old. I suspect dating specialists will be looking at this carefully.

Mystery hominin?

Now to our ghost. The oldest tools ever found outside of Africa are the ones from Georgia dated to 1.8m years ago. There is a small Oldowan-like site in Pakistan from around the same time and more core-and-flake sites in east China at 1.66m years ago. If the Georgian site represents the first move out of Africa, then these early African migrants got to Pakistan and China extremely quickly.

Stone tool cut marks on animal skeleton.
I. Caceres

In Georgia, the tools may have been made by early Homo erectus, which dates back to about 1.8m years ago. As there is a Homo erectus specimen from China dated to 1.6m years old, it is easy to assume that Homo erectus must have been the species that spread the tool technology around the world – and much quicker than we had thought.

But we cannot be sure of that. What if our ghost was an earlier hominin species from Africa predating Homo erectus – such as Homo habilis? Perhaps the Oldowan actually began earlier than 2.6m years ago, and was already widespread throughout Africa by 2.4m years ago.

Maybe our mysterious hominin began to migrate out from Africa before 1.8m years ago, and carried its core-and-flake industry eastwards. That would certainly give it more time to cover those huge distances. Perhaps Homo erectus only migrated eastwards out of Africa later, following in the footsteps of an earlier traveller that we know nothing about.

So that’s a lot of maybes, but then nobody expected there to be Oldowan tools in Georgia when they were first found. It caused a lot of controversy, but now most archaeologists are comfortable with the finding. The Georgian archaeologists went back, did more work and proved their case. I don’t doubt Sahnouni and his team will be doing the same.The Conversation

John McNabb, Senior Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology, University of Southampton

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