An army of Lego Classicists is ready to conquer social networks

Adults and children alike, they know LEGO; however, the enthusiasts of the classical world in particular should take advantage of social networks and not lose sight of the LEGO CLASSICIST project. The project was conceived from an idea of Liam D. Jensen, aka The Lego Classicist, an Australian archivist. An army of classicists is now conquering the web and the scholars of the ancient world as well, thanks to a perfect mix of pop art and ancient history.

As revealed by Liam himself, everything started by chance. The idea of recreating the Classics via the LEGO bricks surpassed all expectations. It has been a celebration of the ancient world and, above all, of the work of many scholars that love their job and allow us to know history and archaeology as much as possible, even if they have been working for different organisations and in different fields. Liam uses social networks in an innovative and inclusive way, and announces a new member of the LEGO Classicist family from time to time.

Liam at work, creating one of his LCs. Photo © Liam D. Jensen

In a short time, and thanks to the crowd of people being intrigued by the initiative, the project has become an international one. The power of communication also goes through gaming and the capability of breaking down barriers, which is typical of the renowned LEGO figures: they have gained such a huge popularity worldwide because they are able to create scenarios and adventures that are always fresh and diverse. Many important public figures joined the LC family, among them there is Mary Beard, whose minifigure has become viral to the point that even the BBC talked about that, and she also appeared on the prestigious German archaeology journal Antike Welt, on SALON, the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and at the University of Cambridge. Mary Beard herself then used her minifigure during her tv show, Front Row Late.

Presently, Italy may boast three LEGO minifigures, based on important scholars: Alessandra Giovenco, an archivist from the British School at Rome, professor Massimo Osanna, archaeologist and general director at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, and professor Giacomo Pardini, an archaeologist and numismatist, professor at the University of Salerno. Therefore we asked Liam, so that he may tell us more about his project and on the subject of some of the most significant characters involved.

LEGO CLASSICIST
From left to right: Alessandra Giovenco, Massimo Osanna and Giacomo Pardini. Photo © Liam D. Jensen

When and how was the Lego Classicists Project conceived?

The first Lego figure that went on social media was on the 20thFebruary 2016, but it was not until there were over 3 figures that I came up with the name Lego Classicists and made a Facebook page for them. That was really when it was born.

How many classicists does it include? Are there various or unique types or scholarly specialisations being included?

There are now over 90 in the LC family and I mostly choose scholars directly in the classical discipline but I also like to push outside of these to other ancient world disciplines (such as Egyptian) and I include anyone whom I feel brings support to the study of history, such as Conservators, Librarians and Archivists.

Who was your first character?

Technically the first figure who was made almost by chance is Dr. Tom Hillard, who is a Roman historian and an old friend of the family. But the one who - for the first time - made me start creating them on purpose was Michael Turner, who was the curator and master-mind of the three famous Lego ancient world models that include Lego Pompeii and Lego Colosseum, so I consider Michael to be the first official figure, as he is the real inspiration for the Lego Classicists family.

Starting from Australia, you conquered the world of classicists. Would you have expected such a great interest?

I had absolutely no idea that it would reach the world like this as it really started as just gifts to my friends, but I am so pleased to be inspiring the whole world of Classics in this fun new way.

LEGO CLASSICIST

Italy is being represented by three characters. Could you please tell us about them?

Massimo Osanna and his LC alter ego

Prof. Massimo Osanna’s figure was a request by the Nicholson Museum, Sydney University, when they asked me to make a personal gift for Prof. Osanna and a second one to be placed into the Lego Pompeii model that is still in the Museum today. It was delivered to Prof. Osanna in person at Pompeii by two academics from the University of Sydney.

Alessandra Giovenco is the Archivist at the British School at Rome and I had the very great pleasure of meeting her in my role as an archivist when I delivered a collection to the BSR in 2016.  Our daily conversations together inspired me to bring her into the LC family and I asked the Director of the British School at Rome to give it to her in person on my behalf.

Giacomo Pardini and his LC

Professor Giacomo Pardini had tagged me into a photo with a Lego figure of himself made by his nephew with the words “Almost a Lego Classicist”. Since then we have had an ongoing communication related to Lego and Classics so I felt it was very important to have him join the family properly (although I still think his nephew’s figure is better than mine). I sent his figure to him by mail at the University of Salerno and he received it a few days ago.

All three have responded in the same way that cannot be expressed in words but it is in the looks on their faces that you can see in the photos they send me with their figures. They have all been delighted. Of course, the Romans played a huge role in the development of much of modern culture, so it’s only fitting that there should be many Italian members of the Lego Classicists family in the future.

What is the message that you are trying to convey with your project?

I hope that Lego Classicists gives everyone an excuse to celebrate the ancient world and its study. It aims to help to join the community of international classicists together, to further highlight their work and to make classics and the ancient world more accessible to a wider audience. The real message - I hope - is the idea of serious play and bringing playful yet dignified new perspectives to the study of classical history.

The first Lego Classicist for 2020 is professor Giacomo Pardini from the University of Salerno. Could you please tell us if any other Italian classicist is going to join this great family?

I am in communication with one Italian classicist now whom I hope will join the Lego Classicists family soon and I have another one or two more in mind which will be revealed later.

What is the International Lego Classicism Day and how can we be involved?

LEGO CLASSICIST

 International Lego Classicism Day is a social media event I have been running since 2017 on the 20th of February, which is the Anniversary of Lego Classicists, and I like to use this date as a way to encourage everyone to celebrate, engage, and play with ancient history through Lego bricks.


Balak Mesha Stele

New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history

New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history

The biblical King Balak may have been a historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone dating from the second half of the 9th century BCE

Balak Mesha Stele
Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone), plaster replica of the basalt original in the Louvre, Dhiban, Jordan, Iron Age IIB, c. 830 BC - Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Photo Daderot,CC0 

The biblical King Balak may have been a historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone dating from the second half of the 9th century BCE.

A name in Line 31 of the stele, previously thought to read , 'House of David', could instead read 'Balak', a king of Moab mentioned in the biblical story of Balaam (Numbers 22-24), say archaeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein and historians and biblical scholars Prof. Nadav Na'aman and Prof. Thomas Römer, in an article published in Tel Aviv: The Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

The Mesha Stele was found in the 19th century in the ruins of the biblical town of Dibon in Moab (present day Jordan), and is now in the Louvre. The stone's inscription tells the story of the territorial expansion and construction endeavours of King Mesha of Moab, who is mentioned in the Bible. The stele was cracked in the 19th century and parts of it are missing, but portions of the missing parts are preserved in a reverse copy of the inscription, known as a 'squeeze', made before the stele cracked.

The authors studied new high-resolution photographs of the squeeze, and of the stele itself. These new images made it clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned in Line 31, and that the first is the Hebrew letter beth (a 'b' sound).

While the other letters are eroded, the most likely candidate for the monarch's name is 'Balak', the authors say. The seat of the king referred to in Line 31 was at Horonaim, a place mentioned four times in the Bible in relation to the Moabite territory south of the Arnon River. "Thus, Balak may be a historical personality like Balaam, who, before the discovery of the Deir Alla inscription, was considered to be an 'invented' figure," they suggest.

"The new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze indicate that the reading, 'House of David' - accepted by many scholars for more than two decades - is no longer an option," the authors conclude. "With due caution we suggest the name of the Moabite king Balak, who, according to the Balaam story of Numbers 22-24, sought to bring a divine curse on the people of Israel.

"This story was written down later than the time of the Moabite king referred to in the Mesha Stele. Yet, to give a sense of authenticity to his story, its author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from the ancient reality, including two personal names: Balaam and Balak."

 

Press release from Taylor & Francis Group

 

New reading of the Mesha Stele inscription has major consequences for biblical history

Line of the inscription lends credence to the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Tel Aviv University researchers say

 

The legendary King Balak from the Book of Numbers may have been a real historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, the longest extra-biblical inscription in existence.

The Mesha Stele, an ancient inscribed stone dating to the ninth century BCE, tells the story of the territorial expansion and construction endeavors of King Mesha of Moab, who is also mentioned in the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament. The stele was found in the 19th century among the ruins of the ancient town of Dibon in Moab, located in today's Jordan, east of the Dead Sea. The stele is on display at the Louvre Museum.

According to the study, a word on Line 31 of the stele that has until now been interpreted as "House of David" in fact refers to King "Balak," who is known as a Moab ruler only from the Book of Numbers.

The new Tel Aviv University-Collège de France study was published on May 2 in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. It was co-authored by Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Prof. Nadav Na'aman of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures in collaboration with Prof. Thomas Römer of Collège de France and the University of Lausanne.

A recent exhibit, Mésha et la Bible, held in October 2018 at the Collège de France in Paris in conjunction with the Louvre Museum, showcased the Meshe Stele "squeeze," a reverse copy of the inscription on paper. This exhibition afforded researchers the unique opportunity to take high-resolution photographs of the squeeze.

Although the stele had been cracked in the 19th century, the parts that went missing were preserved in the squeeze, which was made before the stone broke into pieces.

The authors of the new research studied new high-resolution photographs of the squeeze and of the stele itself. These new images made it clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned in Line 31, and that the first is the Hebrew letter bet, which corresponds to the English letter "B."

The most likely candidate for the monarch's name is "Balak." The seat of the king referred to in Line 31 was "Horonaim," which is mentioned four times in the Bible in relation to the Moabite territory south of the Arnon River.

"We believe Balak was a historical figure like Balaam, who, before the discovery of the famous Deir Alla inscription in Jordan in 1967, was considered an 'invented' character," explains Prof. Finkelstein. "The new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze indicate that the reading 'House of David' -- accepted by many scholars for more than two decades -- is no longer valid."

In 1994 the French epigrapher André Lemaire suggested that letters missing in Line 31 of the stele would spell "House of David," as in the Tel Dan Stele, which features the term in reference to the Kingdom of Judah. Accordingly, Lemaire proposed that in the mid-ninth century Judah ruled in southern Moab, east of the Dead Sea.

"With due caution, we suggest that the line refers to the Moabite King Balak, who, according to the Balaam story in Numbers 22-24, was supposed to bring a divine curse on the people of Israel," Prof. Na'aman says.

"The biblical story was written down later than the time of the Moabite king referred to in the Mesha Stele," Prof. Römer adds. "But to proffer a sense of authenticity to his story, its author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from ancient reality, including the names Balaam and Balak."

###

American Friends of Tel Aviv University supports Israel's most influential, comprehensive and sought-after center of higher learning, Tel Aviv University (TAU). TAU is recognized and celebrated internationally for creating an innovative, entrepreneurial culture on campus that generates inventions, startups and economic development in Israel. TAU is ranked ninth in the world, and first in Israel, for producing start-up founders of billion-dollar companies, an achievement that surpassed several Ivy League universities. To date, 2,500 US patents have been filed by Tel Aviv University researchers -- ranking TAU #1 in Israel, #10 outside of the US and #43 in the world.

 

Press release from the American Friends of the Tel Aviv University


Inner Eurasia

Details of the history of inner Eurasia revealed by new study

Details of the history of inner Eurasia revealed by new study

Researchers combining genetics, archaeology, history and linguistics have gained new insights into the history of inner Eurasia, once a cultural and genetic crossroads connecting Europe and Asia

Inner Eurasia
Children from one of the Tajikistan communities included in the study. Credit: Elena Balanovska

An international team of researchers has combined archaeological, historical and linguistic data with genetic information from over 700 newly analyzed individuals to construct a more detailed picture of the history of inner Eurasia than ever before available. In a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, they found that the indigenous populations of inner Eurasia are very diverse in their genes, culture and languages, but divide into three groups that stretch across the area in east-west geographic bands.

Inner Eurasia, including areas of modern-day Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, was once the cross-roads connecting Asia and Europe, and a major intersection for the exchange of culture, trade goods and genes in prehistory and historical periods, including the era of the famous Silk Road.

This vast area can also be divided into several distinct ecological regions that stretch in largely east-west bands across Inner Eurasia, consisting of the deserts at the southern edge of the region, the steppe in the central part, taiga forests further north, and tundra towards the Arctic region. The subsistence strategies used by indigenous groups in these regions largely correlate with the ecological zones, for example reindeer herding and hunting in the tundra region and nomadic pastoralism on the steppe.

Despite the long and important history of inner Eurasia, details about past migrations and interactions between groups are not always clear, especially in prehistory. "Inner Eurasia is a perfect place to investigate the relationship between environmental conditions and the pattern of human migration and mixture, as well as changes driven by cultural innovations such as the introduction of dairy pastoralism into the steppe," states Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, co-first and senior author of the paper. In order to clarify our understanding of some of the nuances of the history of the region, an international team of researchers undertook an ambitious project to use modern and ancient DNA from a broad geographic range and time period, in concert with archaeological, linguistic and historical information, to clarify the relationships between the different populations. "A few ethnic groups were studied previously," comments Oleg Balanovsky from the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics in Moscow, also co-first author, "but we conducted more than a hundred field trips to study this vast region systematically, and reached communities speaking almost all of the Inner Eurasian languages".

Three distinct east-west groupings

For this study, the researchers analyzed DNA from 763 individuals from across the region as well as reanalyzed the genome-wide data from two ancient individuals from the Botai culture, and compared those results with previously published data from modern and ancient individuals. They found three distinct genetic groupings, which geographically are arranged in east-west bands stretching across the region and correlating generally to ecological zones, where populations within each band share a distinct combination of ancestries in varying proportions.

The northernmost grouping, which they term "forest-tundra", includes Russians, all Uralic language-speakers, which includes Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian, and Yeniseian-language speakers, of which only one remains today and is spoken in central Siberia. The middle grouping, which they term "steppe-forest", includes Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations from the Volga and the region around the Altai and Sayan mountains, near to where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet. The southernmost grouping, "southern-steppe", includes the rest of Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations living further south, such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks, as well as Indo-European-speaking Tajiks.

Previously unknown genetic connections revealed

Because the study includes data from a broad time period, it is able to show shifts in ancestry in the past that reveal previously unknown interactions. For example, the researchers found that the southern-steppe populations had a larger genetic component from West and South Asia than the other two groupings. This component is also widespread in the ancient populations of the region since the second half of the first millennium BC, but not found in Central Kazakhstan in earlier periods. This hints at a population movement from the southern-steppe region to the steppe-forest region that was previously unknown.

"Inner Eurasia has functioned as a conduit for human migration and cultural transfer since the first appearance of modern humans in this region. As a result, we observe deep sharing of genes between Western and Eastern Eurasian populations in multiple layers," explains Jeong. "The opportunity to find direct evidence for the hidden old layers of admixture, which is often difficult to appreciate from present-day populations, is very exciting."

"We found not only corridors, but also barriers for migrations," adds Balanovsky. "Some of them separate the historical groups of populations, while others, like the distinct barrier following the Great Caucasus mountain ridge, were obviously shaped by the geographic landscape."

Geographic locations of the Eneolithic Botai, groups including newly sampled individuals, and nearby groups with published data. The map is overlayed with ecoregional information, divided into 14 biomes downloaded from https://ecoregions2017.appspot.com/ (credited to Ecoregions 2017 © Resolve). Credit: Jeong & Balanovsky et. al. 2019. The genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia. Nature Ecology & Evolution, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0878-2.

Two ancient individuals resequenced in this study originated from the Botai culture in Kazakhstan where the horse was initially domesticated. Analysis of the Y-chromosome (inherited along the paternal genealogical lines) revealed a genetic lineage which is typical in the Kazakh steppe up to the present day. But analysis of the autosomes, which both parents contribute to their children, show no trace of Botai ancestry left in present-day people, likely due to repeated migrations into the region both from the west and the east since the Bronze Age.

The researchers emphasize that their model of three groupings does not perfectly explain all known populations and that there are examples of both outliers and intermediate groups. "It is important to organize a future study for further sampling of sparsely populated regions between the clines, for example, Central Kazakhstan or East Siberia," states Johannes Krause, also of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and senior author of the paper.

Researchers from the study conducting field work along the Amur River. Credit: Yuri Bogunov

Press release from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History / Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte


Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

  • Historians aim to understand how world’s most widely consumed intoxicants were first trafficked and consumed in Western Europe
  • Led by the University of Sheffield, a team of European researchers will explore how tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced into European cities in the 17th century and how their consumption transformed urban public spaces
  • Researchers aim to understand how these commodities became such a common part of people’s lifestyle and diet in order to shine light on intoxicants and their impact on society today
  • Project to collaborate with historians at leading European universities as well as European museums, schools and the UN
intoxicants tobacco caffeines chocolate sugar opium tea coffee
From the seventeenth century ‘new’ intoxicants like tobacco, caffeines, cacao, sugar, and opium flowed into north-western Europe through a network of Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic ports. Elias Galli (1650–1714), View of Hamburg or Stadtansicht von Hamburg, circa 1680, oil on canvas, Hamburg Museum, Hamburg, Public Domain

Historians led from the University of Sheffield are set to reveal how Europe ‘took to soft drugs’ between the 16th and 19th centuries as part of a major new comparative research project funded by the Humanities European Research Area (HERA).

Leading researchers based at Oldenburg, Sheffield, Stockholm and Utrecht will examine how tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced and consumed by people in European cities in the 17th century and how they have become such a common part of people’s diet and lifestyle.

Findings from the project will shine new light on the politics of consumption, the ethics of taste, and the complicated ways in which we think about intoxicants and addictive substances today.

Focusing on four European cities – Amsterdam, Hamburg, London and Stockholm – the study will recover how ‘new’ intoxicants were first sold in traditional public spaces, such as apothecaries and grocery shops, and how their sale and consumption transformed public behaviours and practices.

How these ‘new intoxicants’ created new public spaces, such as the coffeehouse, and the impact these had on society and politics will also be studied.

 

The research will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University’s Department of History in collaboration with historians from universities in Germany (Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist, Oldenburg), the Netherlands (Prof. Dr. Toine Pieters, Utrecht), and Sweden (Prof. Dr. Leos Müller, Stockholm).

The research team based at Sheffield will trace the chronology and volume of new intoxicants coming into London from the first decades of traffic in tobacco (c.1600) to the onset of the opium wars (c. 1850). It will examine the impact of these commodities on public spaces and social practices by sampling a variety of records every 50 years across the period – from customs and taxation records, to legal and probate records, to ‘ego’ documents, to the records of visual and popular print culture, to material objects and artefacts.

This research will enable comparison with trends in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Stockholm. It will also form the basis of knowledge partnerships with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with Sheffield schools, and with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Professor Phil Withington, said: ‘It is a great honour to be part of this collaborative project between leading historians at Sheffield, Oldenburg, Stockholm, and Utrecht, and to work closely with curators, teachers, and those involved in dealing with intoxicant-related issues.

“The funding body HERA has given us a fantastic opportunity not only to conduct new and exciting research but also to show how the past can illuminate contemporary problems and issues. This is the European part of a global story that is easily forgotten. We take our tobacco, our caffeines and our chocolate for granted, but how these intoxicants became part of European diets reveals so much about social identities, about politics, and about how tastes are shaped, valued, and criminalised in the past and the present.”

The researchers in the project are set to use their findings to launch a digital exhibition charting the history of intoxicants with Dutch, German, Swedish and UK museums.

The new intoxicants became an integral part of the politics of urban public space across Europe. Customs & manners of ye Englyshe people. How ye younge menne doe smoke. Englishmen smoking in a city street, thereby causing a nuisance to women. Etching.
Wellcome Images Iconographic Collections, Rock & Co., CC BY 4.0

The research teams will also work with schools in their respective countries to raise awareness about new and old intoxicants and to think about how we can learn from the past. To this end, an international conference for schools will be held in Amsterdam as part of the project.

Researchers will use their findings to collaborate with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and Mainline Foundation to help inform drug prevention, health and wellbeing initiatives.

The project is one of 20 new projects funded by HERA.

Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Public Spaces, Consumption and Sociability in North Western Europe, c. 1600 – c. 1850, will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Professor Dagmar Freist from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Professor Leos Müller from Stockholm University and Professor A. (Toine) Pieters from Utrecht University. The project starts on May 31 2019 and runs for 25 months.

For more information on the project, visit: www.dhi.ac.uk/projects/intoxicating-spaces

The ‘Intoxicating Spaces’ website goes live on 1 June 2019 at www.intoxicatingspaces.org

For details of the HERA programme of projects see http://heranet.info/

The University of Sheffield’s Department of History is one of the largest and most active centres for teaching and historical research in the UK. Its historians are engaged in cutting edge research in a huge variety of fields which range from the first century right through to the 21st, with particular strengths in British, European, African and American history.

The diversity of the department’s research feeds into a vibrant and varied curriculum which allows history students to pursue their interests across both space and time, from ancient Rome to the modern Middle East, and from 15th century human sacrifice to 20th century genocide.

For more information on study and research opportunities in the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, visit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/index

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

 

 

Press release from the University of Sheffield


Facebook dead University of Oxford Oxford Internet Institute OII

The dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years

The dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years

 

New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), part of the University of Oxford, predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within fifty years, a trend that will have grave implications for how we treat our digital heritage in the future.

The analysis predicts that, based on 2018 user levels, at least 1.4 billion members will die before 2100. In this scenario, the dead could outnumber the living by 2070. If the world's largest social network continues to expand at current rates, however, the number of deceased users could reach as high as 4.9 billion before the end of the century.

"These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions around who has the right to all this data, how should it be managed in the best interests of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past," said lead author Carl Öhman, a doctoral candidate at the OII.

"On a societal level, we have just begun asking these questions and we have a long way to go. The management of our digital remains will eventually affect everyone who uses social media, since all of us will one day pass away and leave our data behind. But the totality of the deceased user profiles also amounts to something larger than the sum of its parts. It is, or will at least become, part of our global digital heritage."

Co-author David Watson, also a DPhil student at the OII, explained: "Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behaviour and culture been assembled in one place. Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history. It is therefore important that we ensure that access to these historical data is not limited to a single for-profit firm. It is also important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history."

The analysis sets up two potential extreme scenarios, arguing that the future trend will fall somewhere in between:

  • The first scenario assumes that no new users join as of 2018. Under these conditions, Asia's share of dead users increases rapidly to account for nearly 44% of the total by the end of the century. Nearly half of those profiles come from India and Indonesia, which together account for just under 279 million Facebook mortalities by 2100.
  • The second scenario assumes that Facebook continues to grow by its current rate of 13% globally, every year, until each market reaches saturation. Under these conditions, Africa will make up a growing share of dead users. Nigeria, in particular, becomes a major hub in this scenario, accounting for over 6% of the total. By contrast, Western users will account for only a minority of users, with only the US making the top 10.
Facebook dead University of Oxford Oxford Internet Institute OII
Heat map visualizing the global distribution of deceased Facebook user profiles under Scenarios A and B. Numbers are plotted on a logarithmic scale. Countries and regions with no Facebook data or fewer than 10,000 monthly active users were not included in our models and are rendered in grey. Fig. 4 in Öhman, C. J., & Watson, D. (2019). © 2019 by SAGE Publications, CC BY 4.0

"The results should be interpreted not as a prediction of the future, but as a commentary on the current development, and an opportunity to shape what future we are headed towards," explains Öhman. "But this has no bearing on our larger point that critical discussion of online death and its macroscopic implications is urgently needed. Facebook is merely an example of what awaits any platform with similar connectivity and global reach."

Watson added: "Facebook should invite historians, archivists, archaeologists and ethicists to participate in the process of curating the vast volume of accumulated data that we leave behind as we pass away. This is not just about finding solutions that will be sustainable for the next couple of years, but possibly for many decades ahead."

The predictions are based on data from the United Nations, which provide the expected number of mortalities and total populations for every country in the world distributed by age, and Facebook data scraped from the company's Audience Insights feature. While the study notes that this self-reported dataset has several limitations, this provides the most comprehensive publicly available estimate of the network's size and distribution

 

Press release from the University of Oxford

 

The research article "Are the dead taking over Facebook? A Big Data approach to the future of death online", by Carl J. Öhman and David Watson, has been published on Big Data & Society (April 23, 2019).


genetics history prehistory Spain Iberia Iberian populations genetic history

Unique diversity of the genetic history of the Iberian Peninsula revealed by dual studies

Unique diversity of the genetic history of the Iberian Peninsula revealed by dual studies

Two studies, one looking at Iberian hunter-gatherers between 13,000 and 6,000 years ago and another looking at Iberian populations over the last 8000 years, add new resolution to our understanding of the history and prehistory of the region

Vanessa Villalba-Mouco performing aDNA labwork. Credit: Marieke S. van der Loosdrecht

An international team of researchers have analyzed ancient DNA from almost 300 individuals from the Iberian Peninsula, spanning more than 12,000 years, in two studies published today (14/03/2019) in Current Biology and Science. The first study looked at hunter-gatherers and early farmers living in Iberia between 13,000 and 6000 years ago. The second looked at individuals from the region during all time periods over the last 8000 years. Together, the two papers greatly increase our knowledge about the population history of this unique region.

The Iberian Peninsula has long been thought of as an outlier in the population history of Europe, due to its unique climate and position on the far western edge of the continent. During the last Ice Age, Iberia remained relatively warm, allowing plants and animals - and possibly people - who were forced to retreat from much of the rest of Europe to continue living there. Similarly, over the last 8000 years, Iberia's geographic location, rugged terrain, position on the Mediterranean coast and proximity to North Africa made it unique in comparison to other parts of Europe in its interactions with other regions. Two new studies, published concurrently in Current Biology and Science, analyze a total of almost 300 individuals who lived from about 13,000 to 400 years ago to give unprecedented clarity on the unique population history of the Iberian Peninsula.

Iberian hunter-gatherers show two ancient Paleolithic lineages

For the paper in Current Biology, led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, researchers analyzed 11 hunter-gatherers and Neolithic individuals from Iberia. The oldest newly analyzed individuals are approximately 12,000 years old and were recovered from Balma Guilanyà in Spain.

Excavation work in progress at the site of Balma Guilanyà. Credit: CEPAB-UAB

Earlier evidence had shown that, after the end of the last Ice Age, western and central Europe were dominated by hunter-gatherers with ancestry associated with an approximately 14,000-year-old individual from Villabruna, Italy. Italy is thought to have been a potential refuge for humans during the last Ice Age, like Iberia. The Villabruna-related ancestry largely replaced earlier ancestry in western and central Europe related to 19,000-15,000-year-old individuals associated with what is known as the Magdalenian cultural complex.

Interestingly, the findings of the current study show that both lineages were present in Iberian individuals dating back as far as 19,000 years ago. "We can confirm the survival of an additional Paleolithic lineage that dates back to the Late Ice Age in Iberia," says Wolfgang Haak of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, senior author of the study. "This confirms the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a refuge during the Last Glacial Maximum, not only for fauna and flora but also for human populations."

This suggests that, far from being replaced by Villabruna-related individuals after the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers in Iberia in fact already had ancestry from Magdalenian- and Villabruna-related sources. The discovery suggests an early connection between two potential refugia, resulting in a genetic ancestry that survived in later Iberian hunter-gatherers.

"The hunter-gatherers from the Iberian Peninsula carry a mix of two older types of genetic ancestry: one that dates back to the Last Glacial Maximum and was once maximized in individuals attributed to Magdalenian culture and another one that is found everywhere in western and central Europe and had replaced the Magdalenian lineage during the Early Holocene everywhere except the Iberian Peninsula," explains Vanessa Villalba-Mouco of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, first author of the study.

The researchers hope that ongoing efforts to decipher the genetic structure of late hunter-gatherer groups across Europe will help to even better understand Europe's past and, in particular, the assimilation of a Neolithic way of life brought about by expanding farmers from the Near East during the Holocene.

Ancient DNA from individuals spanning the last 8000 years helps clarify the history and prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula

The paper published in Science focuses on slightly later time periods, and traces the population history of Iberia over the last 8000 years by analyzing ancient DNA from a huge number of individuals. The study, led by Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute and including Haak and Villalba-Mouco, analyzed 271 ancient Iberians from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and historical periods. The large number of individuals allowed the team to make more detailed inferences about each time period than previously possible.

The researchers found that during the transition to a sedentary farming life-style, hunter-gatherers in Iberia contributed subtly to the genetic make-up of newly arriving farmers from the Near East. "We can see that there must have been local mixture as the Iberian farmers also carry this dual signature of hunter-gatherer ancestry unique to Iberia," explains Villalba-Mouco.

Between about 2500-2000 BC, the researchers observed the replacement of 40% of Iberia's ancestry and nearly 100% of its Y-chromosomes by people with ancestry from the Pontic Steppe, a region in what is today Ukraine and Russia. Interestingly, the findings show that in the Iron Age, "Steppe ancestry" had spread not only into Indo-European-speaking regions of Iberia but also into non-Indo-European-speaking ones, such as the region inhabited by the Basque. The researchers' analysis suggests that present-day Basques most closely resemble a typical Iberian Iron Age population, including the influx of "Steppe ancestry," but that they were not affected by subsequent genetic contributions that affected the rest of Iberia. This suggests that Basque speakers were equally affected genetically as other groups by the arrival of Steppe populations, but retained their language in any case. It was only after that time that they became relatively isolated genetically from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Additionally, the researchers looked at historical periods, including times when Greek and later Roman settlements existed in Iberia. The researchers found that beginning at least in the Roman period, the ancestry of the peninsula was transformed by gene flow from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. They found that Greek and Roman settlements tended to be quite multiethnic, with individuals from the central and eastern Mediterranean and North Africa as well as locals, and that these interactions had lasting demographic as well as cultural impacts.

"Beyond the specific insights about Iberia, this study serves as a model for how a high-resolution ancient DNA transect continuing into historical periods can be used to provide a detailed description of the formation of present-day populations," explains Haak. "We hope that future use of similar strategies will provide equally valuable insights in other regions of the world."

genetics history prehistory Spain Iberia Iberian populations genetic history Iberian Peninsula
Cueva de Chaves site. Credit: Museo de Huesca

Press release from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History/Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte (MPI-SHH)