Hello. My name is Yohan, and I have a Ph.D in ancient studies/anthropology (25,000BC - 1AD). Ask me anything
Superb question. I believe that Alexander the Great's conquests really ruined a lot of data that we could have used today to better understand past civilizations. But that's what conquerers do, and I'm okay with it. If I really had to pick... As much as it's outside of my area of expertise, it'd be the Mongol invasions of Asia. Unlike Alexander, Khan would pillage, rape, and erase villages like you'd do in a video game. He was absolutely ruthless and had no class or restraint. This is why we idolize Alexander and not Genghis. Awesome question. You rock.
Hey thanks for the AmA!
When you are looking back at a civilization that is 20,000+ years old, how accurately can you paint a picture of someone's day to day life?
Good question, friend... Let me tell you a series of statements:
- houses are built with doors on the roof only, and the rooftops are used as walkways
- every house in the settlement is identical (no rich, no poor)
- figurines of women being portrayed as deities are found in many of these houses
- the dead are buried near (often under) the houses
- the houses are kept in immaculate shape
- herbs and spices and vegetables reside in old pots and pans near a once roaring fire
What can you infer about this settlement?
I think you are looking at a burial site and not an actual community.
i think this is correct, the 'houses' would have been family vaults for families to come pay tribute and give offerings to their ancestors, protected by the watchful female mother-deity.
This is not correct, though not a bad guess.
This sounds just like Çatalhöyük in Turkey.
Open roof entrances are both presumably better defend-able and allow for ventilation.
I don't believe that there is a definitive answer about the seeming lack of social stratification, but it was common in Paleolithic societies to have equal resources given to men and women.
The society may have been matrilineal in nature but these types of carvings are often associated with fertility
Family had a great meaning to this society and family members were kept nearby in burial to potentially keep them connected to the family or guard the dwelling.
There were not a lot of poessions or many people slept in one dwelling leaving little space for clutter
This appears to be a hunter/gatherer society- that could depend on what types of residue was found. But cooking is clearly indicated- which is good because raw food takes longer to digest. Cooking significantly helped the development of our larger brains. You would also be able to tell what time frame you're looking at by the pottery this residue was found in.
Have you ever studied the Babylonian Oannes myths, the ones Carl Sagan thought were the best evidence of paleocontact? If so, whats your take?
Paleocontact is something I love to indulge myself in. I know that the odds are unlikely, but I still like to hope. The Oannes aren't what I believe to be the best examples of paleocontact. As cliché as it sounds, I think that the pyramids of Egypt are the best case you could make for paleocontact. Like I said: I don't necessarily believe it, but I do like to indulge every once in a while. Thank you so much for your question.
Thank you for the reply. I myself love to play with the idea. I also agree the theory is based solely on conjecture and circumstantial evidence, but hey, who knows, as crazy as it sounds, it IS still a possibility. One more question, in your opinion, in lieu of recent discoveries, what do you think is the oldest/first civilization?
I'm sorry; I am literally so jovial at all of these questions I'm receiving. Forgive me if I take a long time to respond. I believe that the first civilization is Sumer, in Mesopotamia. It was able to thrive because of the unprecedented fertility that that area experienced in its time. Now, that's for civilizations. As for settlements.... We have Jericho, Çatalhöyük, etc.
Hello, everyone. I will be back in 45 min! Please keep asking!
Hello! Thanks for doing this, my question is about the Hittites, I learned about them when I was in high school that they were the first to use iron. If they were the first to use iron, how did they end up disappearing? I figured that using iron would be like having nukes back then, that nothing could really stop them
Once again thank you for your time!
I like to view the situation of the Hittites in this way: if I give toddlers the most advanced machinery and technology on the planet, will they be able to take over the world? Forgive the lame analogy, but I feel that it's correct. The Hittites were in turmoil by the time they were invaded. They lacked the organizational skills to maintain an empire, even with iron.
Thank you very much! I always wondered about them, in my class they were just a blip in the discussion of the day, and that was about it. Thanks again! By the way are there any books that delve into that civilization more?
Thank you so much for actually verbalizing your interests. Never stop seeking more knowledge in that regard. I'm very sorry, but books on the Hittites don't come to mind. The Egyptian is an awesome book about a physician in ancient Egypt. I read it annually.
Sorry if this is a rude question but does your religion ever get in the way of your studies?
Not rude at all. Thank you so much for your question. No, it doesn't. In fact, I think that my agnosticism makes me objective!
What was the deal with the so-called "Baghdad Battery"?
Oh, man, the Baghdad Battery is awesome. Humanity's first look into electricity. And people say that Middle Eastern people aren't innovative. It was basically a chamber that was able to conduct electricity. Amazing, right?
Hi thanks for doing this. I'd like to know more about Iraq but not sure what to ask specifically. Could you elaborate more on your time there?
Wow, thank you for this awesome question. What would you like to know? I love the Middle East (especially Iraq) due to its relics from Ancient Mesopotamia. Beautiful lands, and you can tell! My unit found a family (we think) of one little girl, mom and dad, and another very old woman. We think that this was a mass burial for the sake of an ailment that must have afflicted all of them. Why else would a toddler be buried at such a young age? What could she have succumbed to at the same time as her parents and (probably) grandparent?
Thanks for this AMA. With regards to Egypt/Israel/Iraq, can you please think of one or more historical findings that are not that publicly known and will probably shock most of us?
Oh, goodness, yes. Ever hear of Cyrus the Great? Maybe not, but I bet you've heard of Alexander the Great! Cyrus was the vanguard of human rights; he formulated the first declaration of human rights way back in 500 BC. He started the beautiful country of Iran, and was extremely kind to his conquered subjects. He'd let them practice whatever religion they wanted, and would free slaves on a whim. Superbly amazing guy! 2000 years ahead of his time.
Haha!! I am seriously loving these questions. I traveled to see Çatalhöyük, the ancient settlement, in Turkey last year. Absolutely mind blowing. I had always read about it, but seeing it really messed me up (in a good way)!
300 is... Very good for what it did. Any incorporation of ancient history into the minds of people is awesome to me. As a historian, I feel that it blends Hollywood and fact nicely; I detest it when people make remarks about how "fake" it is. While some of it was fostered, I feel that it was brilliantly entertaining and I also feel that it kept some of the main aspects that made the Spartans truly Greek. Thank you very much for your amazing question(s).
Glad you enjoyed it. I would tell your friend to continue her studies. Tell her to go on to accrue a Master's Degree or a Ph.D. Then will she have control over digs, and she won't just be used as an assistant. She'll be able to put her name on things that are found, she'll be able to schedule them, etc. She'll need more experience right now if she wishes to go on a dig. Not that much more (a year or two), but more. I hope she follows her dreams.
I know that your degree is in ancient studies and not art history, but have you a favorite piece of ancient artwork? One that simply interests you or that you think is particularly representative of the culture of its time?
Oh, man... Don't get me going on ancient artwork. Have you seen the prehistoric paintings from Lascaux, France? Absolutely gorgeous! And telling. Beautiful representations of prehistoric people's lives and ambitions. What about you? What ancient art do you enjoy? Thank you so much for the question. It means more than you know.
i know this is kinda a dumb question but i always wondered: if you time traveled to 3,000 BC and fond the smartest most reasonable person you could find and took them to the las vegas strip for one night ...would they go back and understand that we were just more advanced or just call us gods?
They would... Probably refer to you as a deity. Maybe.
Was there any movie, tv show or book that inspired you to become a anthropologist? When I was a kid after watching Jurassic park I so wanted to dig up bones too. :-)
Haha, thank you for your question. I wanted to be an anthropologist/studier of ancient history because of sparks in my childhood. My old history teacher inspired me. I was literally hooked ever since and have spent every single day since then trying to better understand our world. Did you know that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us) co-existed?
From your studies and research, do you know what were some prominent religions and beliefs in the Middle East prior to Islam? All I've ever heard of is Zoroastrianism (which seems pretty cool, anyway).
Excellent question. Religions were often tribal and local during these times. There were so many that they often go without formal names. What is interesting is that they were almost always polytheistic!!! Why do you think that that is?
How advanced do you consider ancient American cultures (Incan, Aztec, etc.)?
Those are a little bit out of my realm of study. It sickens me to think that Pizarro and other conquerers destroyed their lands and their data. Shame. They were advanced, of course. Why do you think that the Aztecs constantly removed hearts from live humans as a ritual?
I'm always curious as to what topic(s) doctoral students choose to focus their dissertation on. Without going into any detail that could potentially reveal your identity, what did you study for your final dissertation and what interested you about the topic?
Thank you for your question. My dissertation consisted of an extensive analysis of the Neolithic revolution and the transition from settlement to society. What interested me? Well, my interest in ancient history in general, which was caused by my old high school teacher. That's what interested me about the topic.
What, do you assume, is the worst thing humans have ever done to themselves?
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