Showing posts with label prehistory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prehistory. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old paintings

Did I ever tell you that some of my ancestors down in south-west France were keen on painting? Although I'm not a competent critic in this domain, I have the impression that these old folk were bloody great artists. On the other hand, their range of subjects was somewhat limited: mainly rural landscapes with animals. Sadly, I don't have any trustworthy genealogical data about these ancestors, neither family Bibles nor even parish records. So I don't whether they managed to work professionally in this field and actually earn a decent living as artists. I would imagine that they scraped through. It's a fact, though, that you won't find any of their stuff in the major galleries such as the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. In those days, alas, they knew little about the international art business. And I would imagine that their marketing agents were clueless.

This splendid website has been set up by the French ministry of culture.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here are dragons

In the New York Public Library, there's a copper globe of the world, made in France around 1510. One might have chosen between countless possible names—equally marvelous and authentic—for this precious object, but it remains known sadly as the Hunt-Lenox globe, in honor of the two New Yorkers who had succeeded in grabbing this Old World treasure. (The stupidity of this name is rivaled only by that of the so-called Elgin Marbles.)

A cultivated French friend (Jean-Claude Pagès, a former professor of medicine at the Sorbonne), familiar with the Latin expressions found on this medieval globe, once suggested that some of the map-maker's terms surely described my native land: Terra incognita — Hic sunt dracones. [Unknown land — Here are dragons.]

I've always been particularly fond of the "Here are dragons" thing. If only the Aussie tourist authorities had been smart enough to hitch a ride on this medieval bandwagon, they might have used this as a slogan designating the chunk of archaic Gondwana that would later be known as Australia.

The above image is designated by its creators as a global paleo-geographic reconstruction of the Earth in the late Triassic period, 220 million years ago. In simpler terms, I prefer to think of it as "I still call Gondwana home". I'm amused by the idea of a medieval cartographer, having completed the graphic work on all his fabulous coastlines, who resorted to the formula "Here are dragons" as a way of saying politely: "In fact, concerning this territory, we know fuck all."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Grandma, maybe you should put your clothes on

Her given name, Ardi, is short for Ardipithecus ramidus, which was a hominid species that lived about four and a half million years ago in present-day Ethiopia. As I deigned to point out recently, with a touch of romantic despondency, in a nostalgic letter to a maternal aunt in my native continent of Australia who's madly passionate about family history, it was almost like yesterday that we humans branched away from our closest cousins, the chimpanzees. I'm sure Nancy agrees, but she hasn't replied yet... Meanwhile, what must we think of naked Ardi?

She looks fine to me: the sort of woman that a maternally-dominated male such as me would like to discover as a future bride. But maybe she should put her clothes back on, because we modern descendants are no longer accustomed to nudity. To talk frankly, I don't really mind the hairy belly, thighs and genital zone. On the contrary, as I've indicated explicitly in the porn-taste fields of all my social websites, I'm fond of that kind of stuff, provided I don't run the risk of getting lost in the jungle. But let's not get led astray...

What were we saying? Truly, this is a fantastic discovery. Ardi is indeed our probable grandma. I love her already. In gazing fondly at her image, in the deepest regions of my loins, I seem to sense the same archaic attractive tingles that might have caused Grandpa to move in firmly, and finally make me what I am today. Good on you, Grandpa! What a wife! What a sexy ancestor!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Our concestor Ida

Like countless Earth-dwellers, I was moved by the fabulously beautiful image of our concestor Ida.

Even Google got into the act immediately, which proves (if need be) that the discovery and presentation of the fossil is a cosmic happening:

The term "concestor" was introduced into the terminology of tribal history (or genealogy, if you prefer) by Richard Dawkins in his monumental The Ancestor's Tale. It stands for "the (latest) common ancestor". For example, when a Skyvington in Choranche encounters, say, an individual named Skivington over in Canada, it's quite possible that their concestor was a 17th-century farmer named George over in Dorset, England. Researchers concerned with individuals X and Y are interested, above all, in identifying the latest concestor: that's to say, the common ancestor whose offspring split into two forever-separate lines, one of which ended up producing X, and the other, Y.

Juvenile Ida ("lovely Laura in her light green dress") looks a little like a modern lemur:

Let's say that 47-million-year-old Ida was almost a lemur... like our human ancestors, for that matter. But certain telltale features reveal that Ida had jumped onto the human, rather than the lemur, band wagon. She was surely one of us: an ancient member of our human tribe. Welcome aboard, Ida!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Megalithic evening

Throughout the afternoon, while working in my future garden, I was aware that my TV evening was likely to be a back-and-forth affair between the acclaimed BBC documentary on Stonehenge [article] and the final of the French soccer cup.

The former was a must, in that Stonehenge has continued to fascinate me ever since the time I was writing Great Britain Today (Jeune Afrique, Paris, 1978).

As for the soccer cup, one of the finalists was the local team in Christine's corner of Brittany, the tiny town of Guingamp.

Finally, I spent a great evening zapping from one channel to the other, and I was able to appreciate two huge upsets. Several millennia ago, Stonehenge was apparently a pole of pilgrimage for people wanting to be healed magically... much like modern-day Lourdes. And this evening, in Paris, Guingamp beat Rennes in a style that reminded spectators of Astérix defeating the Romans... were it not for the fact that both finalists were Breton.


In a distant regional corner of France, the maverick politician François Bayrou, no doubt a serious contender for the next presidential election, has just published a devastating attack upon Nicolas Sarkozy. A journalist asked Bayrou to sum up what was wrong with Sarkozy's handling of the French Republic: "The French have never accepted the domination of the most powerful."

Well they did, in a way, some observers might say, under Philippe Pétain. But we all know today that Vichy was never the authentic République. France has always been Guingamp. And it goes without saying that Rennes has always been France. It's a subtle nation. That's the secret of its grandeur...