Old World Excellence: Ryokan

We got some messages asking if there was any place we visited in the Pacific Rim that was pretty memorable. So, as usual, ask and you shall receive! The team and I were fortunate enough to visit the lovely country of Japan–specifically, it’s Kyoto prefecture.

As much as possible, we try to stay in places that are pretty rife with history. If there was any country that going to be really rich in fully documented history, it would be Japan. We wanted a truly old world experience and we’ve read so much about the traditional inn (ryokan) experience and we wanted to experience that as well. Because really, if you had a choice between a cut-and-dry hotel experience and a place that offered both comfort and cultural immersion, the latter would win each time.

For the unfamiliar, a ryokan (旅館) is a  traditional Japanese inn that started during the Edo period. The Edo period introduced the boom of travelling for leisure and commerce so ryokans started popping up along Japan’s highways.

The first ryokans were pretty humble featuring tatami-matted rooms and communal baths. Tatami is a mat that was popularly used as flooring material in traditional Japanese homes. Its materials are rice straw and wood chip boards–then covered with woven soft rush straw. (Tip: Always take off your shoes and slippers before stepping on tatami) Ryokans also had communal areas where visitors could gather (much like modern day hostels).

What was particularly lovely about the ryokan experience is that the owner will always be present to get to know the guests. Finding out where they’re going, picking up news, current events, or trends), and getting first-hand feedback on how they could morph their business into something better. Ryokan owners are pretty shrewd people and this type of business is usually inherited in the family. So you can bet that the established ryokans of today have the hard-earned experience that comes from generational knowledge.  Pretty exciting right?

Apparently, ryokans are pretty hard to find in large cities as they can be pretty pricey so other opt for the budget friendly hostels or hotels. However, if you really want to experience tradition, going to  prefectures known for scenery is a good idea. Older and well-established ryokans will be present in the area. An added bonus to look out for is if a ryokan has access to a hot spring (Onsen). Normally, an area that has hot springs will have a 100% probability of ryokans.

We scoured the web until we came across Arashiyama Benkei. It was in a perfect location in Kyoto and it turns out it wasn’t just any sort of Ryokan.  We had the pleasure of staying at a ryokan that was started in 1969. It was pretty convenient–being around 15 minutes away from major stations in the area. It’s a short walk but if you have quite a bit of luggage with you, contact your ryokan for a shuttle ride. Arashiyama Benkei is located along the Katsura River so the views are pretty amazing.

They offer indoor and outdoor natural hot spring baths and much like most ryokans, they offer in-room dinner so guests can leisurely enjoy their delicately prepared meals. The presentation is something else and you can just feel the quiet dignity in the air. It was a bit intimidating at first, having to speak softly and be mindful of the mannerisms that might be construed as rude. But eventually, the calmness of the general area seeps into your bones. It’s pretty hard not to be charmed by services that taken decades to perfect. Plus, the yukata they let you use is pretty comfortable and roomy. So if you’re ever going to Japan, please do not pass up a chance to stay at a ryokan. Your travel-weary bones will thank you.

Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

We’re still not quite over our love affair with Istanbul! Who could blame us, really? Istanbul is a beautiful country that comes with centuries of established culture, heritage, and history. Our previous post garnered some responses and most of them were asking about the grand bazaar! Never let it be said that we don’t respond to our readers, so today, we’ll have an in-depth discussion about the Grand Bazaar.


The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is arguable one of the largest covered markets in the world. It boasts over 59 streets and more than 5,000 shops that garner the interest of over 300,000 visitors daily. So, like us, you’ll probably spend the first several minutes gawking at the sheer rush of people present.

This market is best known for their jewelry, carpets, hand-painted ceramics, embroideries, spices, and antique shops. If you’re concerned about getting confused with all the type of wares available, don’t be–the stalls are grouped by the type of goods they sell. So if you’re looking for leather goods or gold, they’ll all be in one place.  What you need to arm yourself with is your bargaining skills and a firm but polite “no”. The salesmen are quite pushy but just bring along your good humor and you’ll be fine.

Bargain Tip: If you ever try to buy anything and the seller gives you a price, knock off 50% in your counter-offer. Most of them will laugh and come with a story of having to feed a family but keep bringing up a lower price than their initial one until you both land on a price you’re both happy with.


The foundation to, what the Grand Bazaar’s core is today, started during the winter of 1455 after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. The Sultan at the time, Mehmet II, had wanted a location devoted solely to the trade of textiles. It was named Cevâhir Bedestan or “Bedesten of Gems”. The word ‘bedested’ is taked from the Persian word bezestan which means “bazaar of cloth sellers”.

The bazaar grew in size in the 16th century, under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It also underwent massive restoration efforts after a rather strong quake.


The entirety of the complex contains two mosques, two hamams, four fountains, and various cafes and restaurants. At the heart of the bazaar is the high domed hall which kept the original name of the bazaar Cevâhir Bedestan.  In the past, the dome only housed the most valuable and unique of antiques–this tradition is continues today albeit with the addition of copperware, amber prayer beads, old coins, inlaid weapons, furniture, etc. There are four main gates placed at the ends of two major streets that intersect at the southwestern corner of the bazaar.

How To Get There

We were rather spoiled since from our hotel, it only took a 10-minute walk to get to the grand bazaar. For others, the usual way is to take a tram to Beyazit or Sirkeci. The bazaar will be around 15 minutes away on foot from the Blue  Mosque area. You can always ask the concierge of your hotel for details about any buses that pass in that direction.

The bazaar is open from Monday to Saturday at 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening. They happen to be closed on Sundays and bank holidays–something to remember if you’re ever planning on going.

If you ever find yourself there, gander a visit to Develi Baklava to have *the* best tasting Baklava we’ve ever had. There will be a lot of stalls claiming that boast but the locals will tell you that Develi Baklava is the one to beat!

Comfort Rich in Friendship: The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel

We were thinking about our trip to Istanbul again and we decided to give you more details about what we saw and experienced! As you may know, Istanbul is historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium. It is culturally rich in history and rather marked with its heritage—and you do know that we’re nuts for anything that’s dripping with history.

The focus of our discussion today is the Ibrahim Pasha Hotel. It’s a lovely boutique hotel located in a rather quiet street in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. The furnishings speak of a nod to Ottoman architecture which is warm to the eyes. The rooms are homey and comfortable in size (something that is often overlooked in boutique hotels). You can request double beds or a queen sized bed.

Who is Ibrahim Pasha?

Born in March 15, 1495, this is a man with several achievements under his belt. Depending on the stage of his life, his name changes quite a bit. He could be known as Pargali Ibrahim Pasha (Ibrahim Pasha of Parga), Frenk Ibrahim Pasha (the Westener), Makbul Ibrahim Pasha (the Favorite), and finallyMaktul Ibrahim Pasha (the Executed). His titles varied because of his very special friendship with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the changes that occurred therein.

Ibrahim was born a Christian and was enslaved during his youth. He had met the young Suleiman at this time and became rather close with him. One of the more striking points about their friendship was that the Sultan had vowed that he would never take Ibrahim’s life.

The two were so close in fact that when Suleiman came into the throne, he appointed Ibrahim as Grand Vizier that replaced Piri Mehemed Pasha—the man the previous Sultan had appointed.  Ibrahim was rather good at his post brokering deals that strengthened trade and military accomplishments in the 13 years he held his position. One of his more notable achievements is convincing Charles V to turn Hungary into an Ottoman vassal state.

Ibrahim’s fell from grace occurred when he awarded himself a title that included the word ‘Sultan’ in it. This, according to word of mouth from the locals, was an opportunity that Hurrem Sultan (Sultan’s wife) used to her advantage. The Sultan, who had a vow to never take Ibrahim’s life, had to acquire a fetva. Suleiman built a mosque and this allowed him to take back his oath. After acquiring the fetva, the Sultan announced Ibrahim’s intended execution.

In the latter years, Suleiman greatly regretted having Ibrahim’s execution. Some say that the drastic change in the demeanor of the Sultan was a reflection of this. The Sultan gradually withdrew from governing and wrote several poems that emphasized the topics of friendship and of love and trust between friends.

What to See

Now that you have a better idea of the person the establishment is named after, let’s delve into the historically rich surroundings that you can find not even a stone’s throw away. The 6th century Hagia Sophia Museum, which is closed on Mondays, is nearby. Opposite the Hagia Sophia is the Byzantine Basilica Cistern. Across the hotel is the 17th century Blue Mosque—one of the more famous landmarks in the area.

If you’re looking to shop, the Covered Bazaar is ten minutes away on foot. If you want to really feel the Turkish history, visit Hurrem Sultan or Cembelitas for a traditional Turkish bath experience.

One of a Kind Stay

The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel is surrounded by walls and streets that just ooze with history. Oh if only these walls could talk, I wonder what stories they’d tell! If you ever find yourself in the area, staying at The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel is something you should try!

Windtalkers Final Part

Windtalkers Movie Nicholas Cage

Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage): Honestly a better title for this movie would have been, Sergeant Enders: An American Hero. Rather than a film about the Navajo Code Talkers, which Windtalkers implies, the whole film is about Nicholas Cage winning the Battle of Saipan all by himself. The majority of the battle scenes are focused on Cage and his emotional turmoil, having had his whole detachment slaughtered in a flashback earlier in the movie. For all intents and purposes, Cage is bulletproof for 99% of the movie. He is constantly shown embarking on Rambo-like rampages where he kills all the Japanese with no problem at all. Amid the array of gunfire from the opposition, Cage remains untouched. Ben Yahzee only helplessly watches as Cage shoots an entire screen of enemies all at once whether it is one-handed, without looking, or behind the back. It is ironic that he even gets wounded. At one point in the movie, Yahzee gets wounded and both Cage and Yahzee fall. With a left arm wound and in the process of falling, Cage manages to turn around and kill four guys before he hits the ground.  Then, he shoots four more enemies one-handed with a pistol without even aiming before any of them get a shot off. Soon after, while wounded in his left arm and right leg, he picks up Yahzee over his shoulder and carries him across the battlefield. Somehow, on the brink of death, he manages to muster up the strength to lift up another human being over his shoulder with one arm and two wounds. The entire movie is based around Nicholas Cage making all the crucial kills, blowing up the bunker, receiving the Medal of Honor, and dying as the hero. Rambo is nothing compared to this guy.


Disregard for Morale: Leo Rosten once stated, “The best ‘morale’ movies are those which tell the individual the why, what, and how of the War, the Enemy, and the meaning of victory and of defeat.” Windtalkers failed to address any of these topics. In the opening of the movie, there is a brief introduction to code talking, Nicholas Cage is told to go to war again, and then we are thrown directly into the Pacific Theater without warning. There only a slight attempt to mention why the Navajos are even needed in the war before we are right in the middle of it. Woo seems too anxious to get to the action scenes without pausing to develop the story. Once we are thrown in the war, it is all fighting with little rest in between. There is no talk of the meaning of battle or even why American soldiers were needed in Saipan at all. Windtalkers gives the viewing audience no reason to identify with or even recognize the war effort.

Conclusion: Windtalkers is one of the worst war movies ever made. It deserves to be bashed in every allowable dimension. From a movie which had remarkable potential, John Woo erected a movie with a horrible, throw-away plot, fabricated war scenes, bad dialogue, and subpar acting. Especially in the eyes of the OWI and BMP, this movie was a humiliation. It failed all their criteria in the ways these organizations desired to affect the public on the basis of truth, realism, and morale. Ultimately, Windtalkers offers no relevance to its title and is, in essence, a random assortment of battle scenes thrown together equaling a dreadful war movie that is painful to sit through.

Windtalkers Part 2

Disregard for Navajo Intelligence: As a result of the historically erroneous orders given to Sergeants Enders in the beginning of the movie (protect the code at all costs), the Navajos are depicted as the babies and Enders is depicted as the babysitter. Throughout the majority of the movie, the Navajos are represented as helpless characters that can barely do their job of code talking, let alone fighting in a war. Especially in war scenes, the Navajos are absolutely clueless. The sergeants are constantly pulling them along and covering them all the time. Even when at gunpoint or relaying messages over the radio, they are hesitant and let their emotions interfere with their duty – hardly the characteristics of soldiers. When Ben Yahzee has a gun in his face, Enders is forced to come to the rescue and kill the enemy, which Yahzee does not have the backbone to do himself. He watches Enders slit the enemy’s throat and his eyes are filled with terror.  When Yahzee and Enders hide in the trenches, Yahzee crawls away from gunfire like he is deathly afraid and has no idea what he signed up for. At one point, Yahzee is told to put pressure on the wound of a dying comrade and he looks as if he is going to faint from the site of blood. Instead of representing the Navajos as strong Native Americans, who sacrificed their lives for our flag and were an essential part of the war effort, they were illustrated as wimpy boys who the audience believes are more likely to go AWOL than anything else. Instead of showing them as an asset, Navajos were shown as superfluous liabilities.

Neglect for the Code: There was no depiction of the Japanese efforts to decode the Navajo messages. The only 10 second segment that was dedicated to the complexity of the code was one baffled Japanese face. The film would have been much better if it had focused more on the coding, the central novelty that was foreshadowed by the title. In World War II, the Japanese were expert code breakers and it would have been beneficial to show their scrutiny and analysis of the Navajo messages with no success. The producer needed to relay the importance of the code, which is ultimately the reason why the U.S. was so effective in the Pacific Theater. The code allowed the U.S. troops to evade the interception of intelligence by the Japanese and aided in rectifying the strategic setbacks that previously occurred before it was created. In essence, Windtalkers neglected and devalued the Navajo Code Talkers along with everything they stood for.

Battle Setting: The Pacific Theater was one of the toughest places to battle in. Especially in the Battle of Saipan, soldiers were confronted with an overwhelming array of geographical obstacles to overcome. “Place names given the rugged Saipan terrain such as Death Valley, Purple Heart Ridge and Harakiri Gulch testify to the bitter fighting” (The Battle of Saipan). It was at these points where Americans troops suffered huge amounts of casualties. However, one might be fooled by the way that the terrain of Saipan is portrayed in Windtalkers. Truthfully, there were some wide-open hilly areas, but there was no depiction of the dense forests, mountains, steep ridges, or jungles of Saipan. Hollywood should have done a better job of showing the actual terrain rather than depicting what looked more like war games in someone’s backyard.

Additionally, Windtalkers showed very little evidence that the movie took place during World War II. Trench warfare was a characteristic of the Great War, not World War II. The Japanese were shown in trenches at the top of the hills as the American troops rushed toward them, even though, static defenses were not a huge part of the War of Attrition. Static defenses were quickly penetrated by large tank formations, which discouraged their use. The only justification that identified the battle in the movie as part of World War 2 was the use of enhanced technology, including radar, flamethrowers, and strategic airstrikes.

Battle Scenes: Windtalkers featured some of the most unrealistic battle scenes ever shot in American film. Every single scene looked fabricated and unauthentic. One of the most obvious impracticalities was the shoot to kill ratio for both the Japanese and Americans. Every time the Americans shot at the Japanese, the Japanese fell. Yet, the Japanese could not hit the broadside of a barn. Even at close range, the Japanese fell to our American troops. Perhaps, this aspect of the film was a rendering of American heroism because it lacked any connection to reality. The film glorified the Americans at every chance it got and belittled the Japanese.

Windtalkers made every attempt to illustrate how the Americans were superior. Throughout the movie, the Japanese soldiers were represented as senseless dolts, not at all worthy to even battle the American troops. There were various scenes where they were shown shooting each other, blowing each other up, or running out in the open and giving away their position. Even when charging the Americans, half the time they did not have their guns up and ready to shoot. For example, in the opening battle scene, the Japanese gave up a strong, fortified uphill position to run down and charge toward the Americans, who had just settled behind cover and were shooting. Who, in his or her right mind, would ever give up that position? They clearly had the strategic advantage in positions where the Americans could barely hit them, but they chose to run down the middle of wide-open terrain and get shot.  Even when the Americans were in the open, they would rather charge them than go prone and shoot to kill.

Windtalkers Part 1

Introduction: On paper, Windtalkers (2002) had tremendous potential. A plot derived from the story of the Navajo Code Talkers’ considerable role in World War II was a very clever and unique idea for a film. Director John Woo had the chance to portray war from a completely different angle, unlike any other in the genre. However, the predisposed hype ultimately set up the viewing audience for a dreadful let down. Windtalkers takes place in the Pacific Theater during World War II. At this time, the U.S. continued to face strategic setbacks in the South Pacific because the Japanese found a way to translate American intel by breaking code transmissions. As a result, a new code routed in the language of the Navajo Indians was created to evade the Japanese intercepts. Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage) and Sergeant Ox Henderson (Christian Slater) are called into action and are assigned as bodyguards to the Navajo Code Talkers, Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) and Private Charlie Whitehouse (Roger Willie), respectively. Both are told to protect the code at all costs and then dispatched to fight. What begins with a promising opening, soon turns into a disaster. Windtalkers is one of the most unrealistic war movies ever made and completely neglects the importance of the Navajos. Especially for the OWI and BMP, who stake their reputation on depicting the most realistic characteristics of war and the unvarnished truth, the movie is a mere disgrace to their cause.

The Neglect and Demeaning of the Navajo Code Talkers

Their Actual Role: In reality, the Navajo Code Talkers played a major role in every U.S. assault for all three years the U.S. participated in World War II (Naval History and Heritage).

“They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language a code that the Japanese never broke. The code talkers’ primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications…They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties. Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war” (Naval History and Heritage).

The communication skills of the Navajos were crucial to all efforts against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. “At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, ‘Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima’ ” (Naval History and Heritage). For people that were so vital to the U.S. in the war, Windtalkers did them no justice.

After having watched the film, one might wonder why that is even the title.  The Navajo Code Talkers in the movie, Yahzee and Whitehorse, are more like background characters than anything else. There is no emphasis placed on their role as code talkers or the role code talking played in the war effort. Besides for the brief introduction of code talking in the classroom, there is no depiction of how difficult it was to actually administer a message during combat.

Historically Inaccurate: Throughout the whole movie, the code talkers were only called on three times and it was to radio coordinates for airstrikes, a feat that is historically inaccurate. The Navajos radioed messages about battle updates, strategies, and military orders to other U.S. marines, not airstrikes. Code Talkers were employed more for intelligence than actual battle. They were used to safeguard important messages that needed to be passed from battalion to battalion: information that could easily destroy the Americans if the Japanese decoded it. Communicating coordinates for an airstrike does not qualify as an important message or one that even needs to be coded because it doesn’t matter if the Japanese understood it or not. Even if the Japanese did understand it, any effort to move all their heavy machinery and gun emplacements before the strike would be futile. At most, they could prevent a few casualties, but the whole point of the airstrike was to take out their heavy guns and strongly fortified uphill position. Clearly, this was a misguided attempt to show the Navajos importance in battle.

Later on, the movie depicted another fallacy. It showed Sergeant Enders killing Whitehorse with a grenade so he did not fall into enemy hands. This was another event that never happened in real life, perhaps a utilization of Hollywood’s creative license. The soldiers were told to try to keep the Code Talkers alive, but they were not told to keep them from being captured. Code Talkers were taught just like any other marine to not give up precious information if detained by the enemy. In Rosten’s eyes, this was a complete failure of the movie’s duty to “communicate facts about which the public is ignorant” because it only created more erroneous beliefs. Instead of clarifying for the audience, the movie in fact, filled their heads with more false information, and in turn, tarnished the memory of the Navajos.

The Status of Women in Egypt and the Reign of Hatshepsut

The article “The Social and Political Position of Women in Ancient Egypt,” written by Amelia Blanford Edwards in 2005, describes the high status of women in Ancient Egypt at a time when women in many other cultures were not seen as equals.  Edwards begins her article by referring to her studies of Ancient Egypt, most of which support her thesis that women and men were of equal status in Egyptian society.  The article delves in depth into the reign of each and every pharaoh that had an effect on the status of women.

Amelia Edwards is very qualified to write an article on Egypt.  Edwards has written novels, short stories, “popular histories”, and other literature.  She is the cofounder of the Egypt Exploration Fund and has received honorary degrees from Smith College and Columbia College for her scholastic and literary achievements.  It was also stated in the article that she has established a second career, advocating for a new science called Egyptology (842).   Edwards has studied Egypt very extensively and seems to know a great deal about the subject.  The only possible bias I can see is that her gender may affect her views on the equality of women in ancient Egypt.

The majority of the sources used in the article are primary sources.  The primary sources range from sculptured monuments to inscriptions on funeral tablets.  For example, in the first page of her article, Edwards writes about funeral monuments from the Great Pyramids of Giza.  She states that the statues were made in memory of a husband and wife (847).  The statue of the husband is the same size as the statue of the wife, which allows Edwards to infer that both the man and the woman were of equal social status.  As with the majority of Edwards’s sources, this example was very relevant to her thesis; many historians have used the size of statues as reinforcement for the idea that women and men were seen as equals in ancient Egypt.

Although many of Edwards’s sources are very legitimate, I questioned her use of one particular funeral tablet.  Edwards quotes a statement supposedly spoken by the first queen of Egypt, Queen Merhetep.  In the statement, the speaker describes her gratitude for being blessed with knowledge and words, and she also describes the praise she received for her successes as a ruler.  Edwards uses this source to infer that women could occupy positions in society based on intellect instead of beauty.  She does state that a scribe may have written these words down as having been spoken by the queen even if they were not, but still I feel as though this source should be omitted from the article.  Edwards has plenty of other, more legitimate sources to back up her thesis.

There are no real strong points or weak points to the article; the article is consistent the whole way through.  Edwards’s basic format for the article is to write about a certain period in Egypt, give an example that supports her thesis, and then explain why that example supports her thesis.  With regard to history, Edwards sees it as being motivated by important individuals.  Each person that she mentions has a specific effect on the status of women in Egypt.  There are no other apparent forces driving change in Egyptian society.

Based on the amount of information given in the article on Hatshepsut, it is obvious that Edwards sees her as being one of the most important individuals in changing the status of Egyptian women.  Hatshepsut had married Thothmos II.  When he died, she decided to reign alone instead of marrying her younger brother, which would have been customary (849).  This bold action provides the foundation for Edwards’s focus on Hatshepsut.  She then writes about Hatshepsut’s titles, which included high priestess, a rank historically filled by men (851).  Edwards then used these two important pieces of information to support the idea that Hatshepsut helped improve the political status of women through her bold actions as the new pharaoh.

The subject of this article is a very dry topic, but Edwards does a good job of keeping the reader interested.  I think that overall, the article was very well written and informative.  I had previously thought that men and women were not equal in Egyptian society because of the fact that the Pharaoh was almost always a man.  Edwards provides very strong evidence which suggests that men and women were indeed both politically and socially equal.  This article has changed my perspective on the status of women in Egyptian society because there are many sources that show women being treated as equals.  I would recommend this article to anyone who is interested in ancient Egypt because the reader will learn a great deal about the history of Egypt while Edwards establishes her thesis.

Nubia’s Relation to Egypt

The article “Diffusion, Biological Determinism, and Biocultural Adaptation in the Nubian Corridor,” written by David S. Carlson and Dennis P. Van Gerven in 1979, suggests that in situ evolution better explains the diffusion, biological determinism, and biocultural adaptation of Nubia than does the previously applied historical diffusionist paradigm.  Carlson and Van Gerven state that the purpose of this article is first to review investigations of the cultural history of Lower Nubia and examine the way in which skeletal remains have been used to “reconstruct” the cultural history of Nubia, and then to propose alternative methods of using skeletal remains.

David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven are both highly qualified to write an article on this topic.  Carlson graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1974 with a Ph. D. in physical anthropology.  From there, he went to the University of Michigan where he completed his postdoctoral fellowship in craniofacial anomalies.  He has published a number of articles on craniofacial anomalies and has written books on related areas of biology and muscle adaptation.  These qualifications support his coauthored thesis that in situ evolution best explains the various cultural changes of Nubia.  A possible bias of Carlson could be an overemphasis on the effect he sees geographical location having on the evolution and development of groups of people.

Dennis Van Gerven graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a Ph. D. in physical anthropology three years earlier than Carlson, in 1971.  Upon graduation, Van Gerven taught anthropology at the University of Kentucky before transferring to the University of Colorado, in 1975.  He has written a plethora of articles on Early Nubia and on the skeletal biology of the Amerindian populations, which are indigenous to Brazil.  Van Gerven is likely subject to the same bias as Carlson.

This article reviews the use of primary sources by other researchers and anthropologists in explaining the cultural history of Nubia.  Due to the nature of this article, it is somewhat difficult to follow without having read the writings of the aforementioned researchers and anthropologists.  Nubia was located in Southern Egypt, in what is today Sudan.  Originally, Nubia was formed as a separate kingdom within Egypt.  According to William Adams and Anthony Arkell, numerous artifacts found in Nubia strongly suggest a trade-based relationship between Egypt and Nubia (564).  However, during the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt, it is believed that Egyptian military forces moved into Nubia and remained for an extended period of time (565).  This information is supported by primary sources from both Lower Nubia and Egypt.

After examining the work of many other researchers and anthropologists, David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven proposed that many of the conclusions made about the cultural history of Nubia were very biased, possibly because of the “Romantic and simplistic notions popular in the 19th century” (576).  Carlson and Van Gerven believed that the previously accepted methods of anthropological questioning were inaccurate.  For example, in 1966, Michael Crichton analyzed the evolution of early Egyptian groups without giving consideration to the possible effect of geography (572).  Carlson and Van Gerven believed that geography needs to be considered because the groups Crichton identified were located 432 kilometers apart.  Carlson and Van Gerven stated that geographical adaptation probably played a strong role in the evolution of these early Egyptian groups.

Throughout the discussion section of the article, David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven give many example of poor research done in the past.  I see these examples as the strong point of the article because they are very specific, detailed, and descriptive.  For each example, Carlson and Van Gerven identified flaws in the research of others and provided reasoning in regard to why they believed each example to be flawed.  The most prominent weakness in the critique by Carlson and Van Gerven is that they do not provide enough primary sources to support their conclusions on the research of others.  They draw conclusions based primarily on their years of schooling rather than drawing conclusions based upon research done by others.  This makes it difficult for the reader to assess the validity of the statements made by the coauthors.  Based on simple research online, I believe the cited research to be valid.

I feel that the subject of this article is very interesting because of the biological references included in the decision making of the various researchers mentioned.  Overall, the article was well written and informative.  I knew that Nubia was a separate kingdom within Egypt, but I never really considered the effect this location could have on Nubia.  In regard to anthropological research methods, most of the information I read was new to me.  However, I can clearly see why David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven were frustrated with the lack of consideration given to the effect of geographical location on the evolution and development of groups in both Egypt and Nubia.  I would recommend this article to people who have an anthropological background because it is not an easy read.

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

Civilization of Sumer

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization is one of a series of programs that uncover the history of ancient civilizations and evaluate their effects on present-day people.  Michael Wood, a historian and the narrator of the film, travels to Baghdad, Ur, and Sumer, the locations of the world’s first cities.  The film, created in 1991, promotes the thesis that life in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, did not change much until the discovery of oil around the time of the Gulf War.

The film covers the time period from the 26th century B.C. all the way to the year 1991.  In order to ensure its accuracy, I cross-referenced some of the information from the film with The American Encyclopedia and the History Channel website.  I also read film reviews from The New York Times, allmovie.com, and answers.com.

Over the course of the film, I learned a great deal about the rich history of Iraq.  Sumer was the first recorded attempt in history to bring people together into an organized society.   Sumer was located in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; this area, in Southern Iraq, is considered to be the biblical Garden of Eden.  Mesopotamia did not have stone, wood, or any precious metals, but it did have water and soil.  Every year, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers would overflow, laying down a thick layer of silt, rich with vitamins and minerals; this made farming relatively easy and allowed for permanent settlement on the land because food could be grown and stored in great quantities.  Unfortunately, over the course of time, the land would be destroyed from overuse.  People had yet to discover that the fertility of the Earth had to be balanced with the demands of civilization.

The Sumerian civilization began with the foundation of the first known city in the history of the world, Eridu.  Founded in 5300 B.C., Eridu was built around a religious center.  In the middle of the city was a temple, which was built on top of a step pyramid and then dedicated to the gods; this was known as a ziggurat.

As the Sumerian population continued to increase, new cities were built along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  It was at this time that we saw the creation of the first form of writing and the first law.  Cuneiform script was developed to tell the story of one of the mythical kings of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who was best known for his heroic deeds.  His story gave the world its first piece of literature, known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.  This aided in the creation of the first law because cuneiform was used thereafter to record the legal codes that Sumerian citizens needed to abide by; the problem was that only very highly educated individuals, such as priests and scribes, could read the writing.

Overall, this film was very informative, but it could have been much better. My biggest criticism of the film was that it was relatively boring.  The facts and the history of Iraq were very interesting, but the manner in which the information was presented was not.  The film consisted of images of Iraq as it was in the year 1991.  The ruins of many of these ancient civilizations were either partially or completely covered in sand, meaning that the viewers could not tell what the cities looked like during their prime.  There were a few images of what some of the cities of Sumer may have looked like, but that was not enough.  Also, the constant images of the narrator standing on sand dunes, looking off into the sunset, while describing the destruction of the Sumerian civilization, were very cliché.

The film could be improved by adding more interactive features to better explain the information.  Maybe real photographs from these areas could be put into the film!  My friend Jake does tree removal and travels all over the place studying trees.  Ironically, he would be the perfect candidate because he’s been to the modern day area where Sumer used to be, for research.  Maybe someone could even create three-dimensional images of what the Sumerian civilizations may have looked like and incorporate those into the film.  Anything that would add more color to the film would be helpful as well.  A good film grabs the attention of the audience and holds onto it the whole time.


Byzantium: The Lost Empire

Byzantium: The Lost Empire

Following last week’s post about Byzantium, we thought it would be great to show you a fantastic documentary on this exact topic.  The documentary on the Byzantine Empire was originally aired on TV and is shown in 3 parts.  It has been loaded to YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

The video covers the entire timeline of Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) from it’s creation in the Middle Ages to it’s fall in the year 1453, when it was overrun by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire.  These documentaries take us through the building of the capital city of Constantinople, multiple events throughout centuries 4, 5, and 6, the rule of emperor Constantine, the legalization of the religion of Christianity, the rules of Heraclius and Justinian, and much more.