Saturday, September 06, 2014

MONITOR LIZARD SUB-FAMILY: Firing the Imagination

Nile Monitor
Called Goannas in Australia and Leguaans in Africa, Monitor Lizards (Varanidae) are well known to people. Living in urban areas, Monitor Lizards have a long history with the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Australia.   In fact, Ancient Egyptians call Them “Monitors”, since They warned people of the presence of Crocodiles.

Ranging from shy reclusive Goannas to nasty and aggressive Komodo Dragons, Monitor Lizards often fill the niche of predatory and scavenging Mammals. Active foragers, Monitor Lizards will swallow their prey whole. What distinguish this Family of Lizards are their well-developed limbs and forked tongues.

Extremely hardy, Monitor Lizards have aggressive temperaments, a powerful bite, and a lashing tail. At the slightest provocation, They lash out with their tails. Although their tails produce a stinging lash, Monitor Lizards do not lose their tails like other Lizards.
A crocodile monitor lizard
Crocodile Monitor (WhoZoo)
Monitor Lizards have inspired much of people’s mythology such as dragons, which often resemble these Lizards. Because of Monitor Lizards’ aggressive natures, peoples of Borneo put images of Them on their shields to strike dread in the hearts of their opponents. In Thailand during the full moon, some unfortunate people became “were-monitors” prowling about for victims. Ancient Egyptians excluded Monitor Lizards from their after life since They preyed on young Crocodiles, who represented the Egyptians’s beloved god, Sobek. Meanwhile in Australia, stories abound of industrious Goannas inventing bark canoes for traveling.

Monitor Lizards fire people’s imagination. Dragons are their big brothers. Believing Them to be poisonous, People have thought of Monitor Lizards as “were-lizards”. Australians tell stories of how Goannas learned to climb trees to make boats. Let Monitor Lizards feed your imagination. Just remember not to be anti-social and lash out.
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Note: Alligator Lizards (Anguids) are close relatives of Monitor Lizards. Scientists think that Snakes are related to Monitor Lizards as well.

Conservation Note: Monitor Lizards are threatened and endangered in part of their range from the pet trade and leather trade. Komodo Dragons are protected in Indonesia.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Building Stonehenge: The Beginning (2 of 2)

 In the 1960’s, when builders were excavating a parking lot near the Stonehenge site, they found four post holes that was believed to hold large pine logs. (These holes are said to be about 10,000 years old.) Ancient peoples traveling the Salisbury Plain would see these posts from miles around. Set east to west, these post holes were considered to be the first evidence of the area’s great importance. 

 Starting about 3100 BCE, the Windmill Hill People took the existing post holes and expanded the site. Using various tools such as deer antlers and digging stones, they dug a ditch and formed a bank, with an opening in the northeast. Call the Great Cursus, this ditch was white from the chalk underneath the grass. Outside this ditch, these people dug fifty-six pits named Aubrey Holes (after their discoverer James Aubrey). In these holes, archeologists have found cremated remains of people. One theory is that the Windmill Hill People was commemorating their Dead and their Ancestors.

 Many people have assumed that the Aubrey Holes had an astronomical use. Following the phases of the moon has been important to peoples in ancient times. One theory is that these holes marked lunar eclipses. Another theory is that the Windmill Hill People were marking particular phases of the moon. Other archeologists have noticed that the Aubrey Holes were aligned north-east and south-west. These holes then lined up with the sun at the solstices and equinoxes. This has lead to another working theory that the Aubrey holes are a calendar of equinoxes, solstices, lunar eclipses, and solar events. The underlying assumption to this theory is that many early peoples followed lunar-solar cycles for practical and religious reasons.

From the beginning of Stonehenge, numerous ancient peoples have added their particular visions to the site. Each succeeding generation built on the previous one’s efforts. We modern people will never know what the original purpose to Stonehenge was, but we can stand in awe of these early peoples who built it. Whatever Stonehenge was originally intended to be, it became a monument to the vision and tenacity of the Ancestors of Europe.
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Works Used:
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky,” Thames & Hudson: N.Y, 2008.

 Bradshaw Foundation, “Stonehenge: The Age of the Megaliths,” 2011, http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/stonehenge/index.php, .

 M, Richard, “Stonehenge,” MEgALiThiA, 06 Jan. 2006, http://www.megalithia.com/stonehenge/index.html, .

 Magli, Giulio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy,” Copernicus Books: N.Y., 2009.

 Richards, Colin, “Rethinking the Great Stone Circles of Northwest Britain,” Orkney Archaelogical Trust, 2004, http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/dhl/papers/cr/index.html, .

 Smagala, Suzzanne, “Stonehenge,” August 2007, http://helios.acomp.usf.edu/~ssmagala/stonehenge/index.html, .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Building Stonehenge, the Beginning (1 of 2)

During the Neolithic Period (5000 – 1000 BCE), along the Atlantic coast of Europe and in the British Isles, local peoples built and maintained great stone circles and megaliths. This activity started about 5000 BCE and continued on to about 2500 BCE. One of the last monuments to be built, Stonehenge was constructed in three distinct phases over a 1,500 year period, starting in 3000 BCE. The process of building this monument included digging large ditches as well as erecting the more famous stones. In the case of Stonehenge, three different cultures added their particular refinements to this monument.

When discussing Stonehenge, people often forget to place this monument in a greater cultural context. Nearby Stonehenge is a similar stone monument at Avebury, which was built around 2500 BCE. Meanwhile, there are signs of a similar circle at Durrington Walls, which was believed to be built before Avebury.  These megaliths, built by Neolithic peoples, had multiple uses. The purposes that archeologists believed that Stonehenge was used for included: worshipping the Ancestors, watching the heavens, and marking the cycles of the sun and other astronomical occurrences.

The building of Stonehenge can be regarded in the same light as the building of a Gothic cathedral. From the beginning of the project, the entire community is dedicated to seeing the building finished. Everyone involved understood that this construction project would take several generations to complete. Therefore, the entire community dedicated themselves to the process, and organized themselves accordingly. Some people regarded it as a fulfilling of their religious duties, while for others it was their community obligations. Though the specific vision may have been altered through the years, the newer residents of the community resolved to finish the original project.

The first group to shape Stonehenge into what we know today was the Windmill Hill People. Thought to be semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, these people also grew some crops. What archeologists noted about these people was their propensity to orient their burials and monuments in the east-west axis. These directions were important to them, perhaps because of the rising and setting of the sun.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

PEACOCK (BLUE PEAFOWL): Love of Home

Native to Asia and the Congo Region of Africa, Peacock (Blue Peafowl) is a relative of the Pheasants. (The difference between the Two is their plumage–red and gold for Pheasants, green and blue for Peafowls.) As India’s National Bird, Peacock (AKA Male Blue Peafowl) is known the world over for his bright train of feathers. Because of this, Peacock has been introduced to other places, starting in Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago.

Displaying his train is part of Peacock’s courtship with the Peahens. The longer his train, the more impressed will Peahen be. Unlike her male counterpart, Peahen is chestnut brown and bronze green but has the same crest as Peacock.

Blue Peafowl are Birds of habit, eating and sleeping in the same area all their lives. Peacock even displays his train in the same chosen place. During the day, Blue Peafowl sit in thickets. At dusk, They return to the same watering hole before roosting for the night. As They go to their tree roosts, Blue Peafowl screech to each other.

Known for their screeching, Blue Peafowl hoot loud alarm calls when They see a Tiger. During the monsoon season in India, people hear loud meowing calls from Blue Peafowl. Indians claim that Blue Peafowl are predicting the next rainstorm with their calls.

Blue Peafowl teaches the love of home. They emerge from their area of the dense forest in early dawn to feed at their regular spot and find water. Then They go about feeding on Insects or Mice. At dusk, They return home. To Blue Peafowl, there is something comforting about being a homebody. (Just remember to have a little adventure in your life once in a while.)
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Male Peafowl are Peacocks; Females Peahens; Chicks Peachicks.

Monday, August 11, 2014

KOOKABURRA: Resolving Family Issues

The Kookaburra of Australia is the largest member of the Kingfisher Family. Unlike other members of the Kingfisher Family, Kookaburra lives in woodlands instead of near wetlands. Perched on a tree branch to spot prey, Kookaburra will swoop down and seize a tasty Insect in his long, dagger-like bill. Instead of Fish, Kookaburra eats Insects, Worms, and Reptiles.

Known for his distinctive call, Laughing Kookaburra will sing in a loud chorus, “Koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa”. Blue-winged Kookaburra sings a coarser call that ends abruptly. Some people have described Kookaburra’s call as a rollicking laugh. What is strange about Kookaburra’s call is how many people are familiar with it, without knowing. American filmmakers often feature Kookaburra’s laugh as background noise for jungle scenes.

What makes Kookaburra unusual is his family life. When his Young are fledged, They remain with their Parents to help raise the next group of Siblings. Kookaburra Brothers and Sisters will raise the second brood, while Parent Kookaburras raise the third brood. If one of the Parents dies, the Children continue to help the other Parent raise the rest of the Family.

What people can learn from Kookaburra is how to be a good family member. Kookaburra can teach you how to resolve many family issues. Learn from Kookaburra what makes for a strong family.
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Important Kookaburra Teaching: Laughter and Joy
“He has a distinctive laughing call that when heard makes one feel like laughing along with him. Stirring the joy that lives deep within your being. When you hear a Kookaburra remember to allow yourself to laugh, for laughter and joy are the very essence of our being.” Copyright: “Wisdom of Australian Animals”, Ann Williams-Fitzgerald.

Kookaburra’s Teachings Also Include
“A silent Kookaburra is a far more uplifting sign than the raucous laughter emanated by a chorus of mockery and taunt.” Copyright: “Animal Messengers”, Scott Alexander King.

Monday, August 04, 2014

AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE Defense of Home

By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work)
Although, They share a common name, Australian Magpie is NOT a relative of Magpie of the Crow Family. Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a relative of Currawong. Found only in Australia, Magpie is among one of the most common of local Birds there. Australian Magpie tends to live in one place in a large group.

Australian Magpie has a complex social structure. He lives either in a tribe of about two to ten Birds or in a flock of many Birds. The difference between the two is that a tribe has a breeding territory. Members of his tribe defend their territory from all other Magpies. Australian Magpies who are members of flocks are usually Birds who were unable to join a tribe. These Birds do not breed until They join a tribe. When an Australian Magpie is about two years old, He is forced out of the territory of his birth tribe and must look for another tribe to join. The only way that an Australian Magpie can join a tribe is when another Bird leaves.

Australian Magpies forage by walking over open land, probing the soft parts of the ground, turning over stones, and other hiding places for Insects. Not particular in what He eats, Australian Magpie is quite versatile in eating whatever He finds. He and his tribe will exploit every part of their breeding territory for food.

What makes Australian Magpie dangerous is when He believes that a person is a threat to his nest. Father Magpie will attack by swooping down on intruders and pecking their heads. Australian Magpie is so aggressive in defending his nest that the local governments in Australia issue Magpie warnings and advise people to wear a helmet and carry an open umbrella. Since Magpie is protected in parts of Australia, the best defense is to avoid Him completely.

Australian Magpie teaches how to defend your home through offensive action. You watch and then attack before the home invader can come for you. But do not go so overboard in your defense that you become a menace to the neighborhood.
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Australian Magpie’s closest relative is the Currawong of Australia. Although Australian Magpie resembles Magpie of Crow Family, They are not related.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Archeoastronomy: Egypt: Stretching The Cord

Stellar Method of Determining Cardinal Points

Stretching The Cord
Navigating by the stars has been done by people for thousands of years. To find North today, people simply look for Polaris in Ursa Minor (The Little Dipper). (In the Southern Hemisphere, North would be determined by using the Southern Cross.) Since precession, which is the change in orientation of the Earth’s Axis, occurs every 26,000 years, the “North Star” changes through time. For example, during Roman times, there was no such star. However at the time of the building of the pyramids, it was Alpha-Draconis known to the Egyptians as “Thuban.”

The U.S. Army suggests that in order to go North, a person should walk towards the point on the horizon directly below Polaris. Another method is to select a circumpolar star such as Vega of Lyra, the second brightest star in the night sky. Measure the angle from the viewer to Vega’s rising and to its setting. The bisection of this angle will give the exact location for true North.

In ancient Egypt, the orientation of their buildings mattered, for the Pharaoh received his power from the Northern Stars. After his death, the soul of the Pharaoh went to the “Mooring Post” in the North by way of the Milky Way. In the ceremony, “The Stretching of the Cord” (Pedj shes), the Pharaoh determined the direction of North with the help of the Goddess Seshat.

 Several archeologists have suggested one method that the ancient Egyptians may have used for finding directions. To orient their buildings, they would have to bisect the angle of a circumpolar star. First they would erect a round wall. Then one person stood on a selected spot and looked through a “bay,” a straight pole with a forked top. As he sighted a circumpolar star such as Vega rising, a second person would use a “merklet,” a plumb line, to mark the spot. Around the circular wall at various timed intervals, they would mark the position of the star. The final marking on the wall would be the star’s setting. After measuring the angle formed by the star’s rising and setting to the first observer, the Egyptians could bisect it, and determine true North.

Kate Spence, of the University of Cambridge (U.K.), wrote that the Egyptians probably used Mizar (Eta Ursae Majoris) of the Big Dipper and Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris) of the Little Dipper. (Both are circumpolar stars.) The Egyptians constructed a scaffold and hung a string with a heavy weight from it. This weight would point to the center of the Earth. When these two stars became aligned with the string, the line from the person, who was doing the sighting, to the string would point due north to the horizon.

From the First Dynasty to the end of the Ptolemaic Dynastry, the Pharaoh conducted the sacred ceremony, “Stretching of the Cord,” to orient the temples and tombs before building them. Facing the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge, Seshat, the Pharaoh stood with a hammer in one hand and a pole in the other. Holding the same items, the Goddess and the Pharaoh then pulled a cord that was wrapped between their respective poles. The Pyramid Texts described the ceremony as: “I have grasped the stake…I take the measuring cord in the company of Seshet. I consider the progressive movements of the stars. My eye is fixed upon the Bull’s Thigh [Ursa Major]. I count off time…and establish the corners of the Temple.” This is how the Pharaoh determined North from whence came his power, and to where his soul traveled.

Works Used.

Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky,” Thames & Hudson: N.Y, 2008.

 Belmonte, Juan Antonio; Molinero, Miguel Angel and Miranda, Noemi, “Unveiling Seshat: New Insights into the Stretching of the Cord Ceremony,” In Search of Cosmic Order: Selected Essays on Egyptian Archaeoastronomy, Juan Antonio Belmonte and Mosalam Shaltout, eds., Cairo: Supreme Council of Antiquities Press, 2009, 197-212.

 Houlding Deborah, “Time, The Egyptians and the Calendar,” Heritage of the Stars, 2003, http://www.skyscript.co.uk/heritage/egyptians.html, .

 Magli, Giulio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy,” Copernicus Books: N.Y., 2009.
 Stecchini, Livio, “Methods of Finding Cardinal Points,” World Mysteries, 2004, http://www.world-mysteries.com/alignments/mpl_al3.htm#Cardinal, .

Orientating Egyptian Pyramids,” World Mysteries, 2004, http://www.world-mysteries.com/alignments/mpl_al4.htm, , .