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Projects and Pages for early December:
HANUKKAH: The big holiday this week (at least for some of us) is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This year people will be lighting their first candles this coming Sunday evening, December 6th. Hanukkah's an old holiday. It probably goes back to the beginning of farming in West Asia, about 10,000 BC - or it might even go back further into the Stone Age than that. Fundamentally, it's the celebration of the olive oil harvest, which happens there around the end of November. Wow, now you've got lots of olive oil! Olive oil was (and is) an important part of the food people ate in the Eastern Mediterranean, the major source of fat in their diet. But olive oil was also the main source of lamp oil for lighting your house after dark. (Poor people had to choose between having light and having enough to eat.)
But by the time of the Maccabees, in the 300s BC, Jewish leaders wanted their festivals to be more about God and Israel, and not just about the harvest. They attached a story to Hanukkah about a time when the Maccabees had just defeated the Greeks to win their independence, and God sent a miracle to keep the temple lamps burning for eight days with just one day's worth of oil. That's why people light candles for eight days, to remember that victory and the miracle - but also, still, to celebrate the olive oil harvest, they eat foods fried in oil, like doughnuts and fritters and potato pancakes. Find out more about Hanukkah in the Middle Ages, and about dice and the dreidel game and how to celebrate Hanukkah.
PARIS CLIMATE TALKS: World leaders are meeting in Paris this week to discuss what to do about global warming. Here's a quick review of what history has to tell us. There have been climate variations before, often with terrible results for millions of people. Some combination of warming and drought seems to have convinced people to start farming, about 10,000 BC. Then around 2100 BC, a serious drought caused the collapse of kingdoms all across West Asia: the Egyptian Old Kingdom, the Akkadians, the Harappans in what is now Pakistan, and it probably forced the Indo-Europeans to begin their great migration too.
A third set of climate variations probably ended the Bronze Age about 1100 BC, with the simultaneous collapse of Egypt's New Kingdom, the Mycenaeans, and the Hittites. The Medieval Warming Period in the 800s AD encouraged the Iroquois to move north, the Inuit to move east, and the Vikings to move west. In Europe, the South got poorer while the North got richer and conquered them, and built the great cathedrals and opened universities. Then the Little Ice Age that followed it forced the Pueblo people, the Navajo, and the Apache to move south. The Little Ice Age may also have encouraged those Northern Europeans to explore new continents and brought them to the Americas. But the global warming we're experiencing now, and the much worse global warming that practically all scientists predict is coming soon, will be much worse than any of these. Here's hoping the climate talks lead to some real action this time - solar and wind power, electric cars, LED bulbs, limiting beef and dairy production, and some provision for the hundreds of millions of people who will have to leave their homes even if we do all of these things.
ICE AND SALT WATER: As the weather gets colder, here's a fun experiment to do at home to see that salty water takes longer to freeze than fresh water. You'll need five glasses of water - make one very salty, and the others progressively less salty, and see how long it takes them to freeze.
New discoveries this week:
NEFERTITI'S TOMB?: Radar scanning suggests that there may be a hidden chamber behind the walls of the Pharaoh Tutankhamon's tomb in Egypt, from around 1300 BC in the New Kingdom. Could it be the tomb of his mother-in-law, Nefertiti? Or is it just some sort of empty closet? It'll probably be quite some time before we know, since they'll have to decide to dismantle part of the wall to find out. But King Tut's tomb was one of the richest treasure finds ever, so whatever's behind that wall is likely to involve a lot of gold.
MULTI-CULTURAL ROMANS: Once again, DNA analysis reveals that the Romans didn't just rule a big empire, they traveled all over it, and mixed with one another freely. DNA analysis of four skeletons from Roman London shows that none of them were born in London, and two may have come to London from North Africa (like the black woman who died in Roman York from a few years ago). But some things never change: like British people today, all four of these people suffered from gum disease.
FAVA BEANS: Discoveries of sites in ancient West Asia from about 8000 BC where people were already cooking and eating a lot of fava beans suggests that people may have been farming beans even before wheat and barley, or at least around the same time. Beans provided a good source of protein. The article doesn't mention it, but chickpeas and lentils - other kinds of beans - were also probably among the earliest foods that people farmed. People ate both beans and grains in the wild, though, so it's not entirely clear whether these beans were gathered or farmed...
GOOGLE MAPS DOES PETRA: Now this is cool: you can tour the beautiful ancient city of Petra, in Jordan, from your couch using Google maps.
Seasonal food of the week:
OLIVE OIL: The food of the week is olive oil, because Hanukkah, the festival of the olive oil harvest, begins this week. You can just pour olive oil on your salad, but to cook with olive oil, try making potato latkes or vegetable latkes - both delicious! Or, take pancake batter and swirl it into hot olive oil in a frying pan to make fritters - delicious with powdered sugar or cinnamon!