The Best of the Week


Stories on “The Bone Pit” and Ancient Roman humor were among the best on the web.

How Did This Ancient Civilization Avoid War for 2,000 Years? – io9 – By Annalee Newitz

The city of Harappa was one of the shining lights of the Indus River Valley Civilization, one of the world’s oldest. They made their home along the Indus River in present-day Pakistan.

There is no evidence that any Harappan city was ever burned, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within… There are no enormous caches of weapons, and not even any art representing warfare.

That would make the Harappan civilization an historical outlier in any era. But it’s especially noteworthy at a time when neighboring civilizations in Mesopotamia were erecting massive war monuments, and using cuneiform writing on clay tablets to chronicle how their leaders slaughtered and enslaved thousands.

What exactly were the Harappans doing instead of focusing their energies on military conquest?

Developmental Psychology’s Weird Problem – Slate – By Jane Hu

Many commentators on the field of psychology have noticed it’s a bit WEIRD. That is, most studies are of White, Educated people in Industrialized, Rich, Democratic nations. Is psychology really the study universal characteristics? The author applies the discussion to the development of children.

It’s not yet part of our field’s culture to consider children’s background as a factor, but it should be. “If I reported results about kids in Senegal, people would nail me—they would say, ‘You need to say that’s about children in Senegal,’ ” [psychologist Anne] Fernald said. A similar qualifier should be added to the typical developmental psychology research sample: These are not generic kids; they are kids who have grown up with rich, well-educated parents who have given them a taste for edamame.

Probing the Chamber of Secrets – The Economist


A model of Homo heidelbergensis. Image: Jose Luis Martinez Alvarez.

Archeologists excavate “The Bone Pit,” a Spanish cave full of 6,500 pieces of human skeletons, and try to find where they belong in humanity’s jigsaw-puzzle origins.

Who those people were is a matter of debate—one that shows the difficulty of popping fossils neatly into boxes marked “species”. They are usually classified as Homo heidelbergensis, the name given to the first humans who lived in Europe, starting about 600,000 years ago. But they also have features of Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man), a younger species.

The Solstice Blues – New York Times – By Akiko Busch

Humans crave light. For one thing, the darkness is a place of potential threats. It meant a possible bear or lion creeping up on the camp. But author Akikio Busch reflects on what might be missing in a constantly lit up world.

In his book, “The End of Night,” Paul Bogard notes that two-thirds of Americans no longer experience real night. “Most of us go into the dark armed not only with ‘a light,’ ” he writes, “but with so much light that we never know that the dark, too, blooms and sings.”

Roman Jokers – New York Review of Books – By Gregory Hays

The NY Review takes a look at “Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up,” by classical researcher Mary Beard.

The history of laughter is as fraught with problems as the history of sex, and for many of the same reasons. Laughter can be set off by physical stimuli like tickling or nitrous oxide. But it is also generated by sights, sounds, and catchphrases, which vary from age to age and culture to culture. Elizabethans joked about cuckoldry and venereal disease. Roman audiences laughed at crucifixion jokes, bald men, and dwarves.

Want to Break Gender Stereotypes? Teach Boys Home Economics – The Wilson Quarterly – By Erin Amato

Despite a 20 percent jump in stay-at-home fathers in recent years, entrenched prejudices are slow to change; society still views a father packing school lunches for his children as emasculating. The solution? “We need to rewire those attitudes wholesale and early,” advises [writer Rebecca] Traister, “to teach boys from the time they are small that their obligations are to diapering as well as to moneymaking.”

The Psychology of Getting More Done (In Less Time) – Entrepreneur – By Gregory Ciotti

Entrepreneur magazine comes up with a neat video and a bunch of tips to make work fly fast and smooth.

The first thing we need to acknowledge in the pursuit of a more productive lifestyle is the mountain of evidence that suggests willpower alone will not be enough to stay productive! According to research by Janet Polivy, our brain fears big projects and often fails to commit to long-term goals because we’re susceptible to “abandoning ship” at the first sign of distress. Think of the last time you went on a failed diet…

Where Do New Ideas Come From? – National Geographic – By Virginia Hughes

Eureka moments are legendary. Einstein was famously struck by the idea of special relativity while riding a streetcar home. Although it seems like it comes out of the blue, most creativity may derive from just the opposite process – slow, gradual discovery and the build up of many ideas.

According to historians who specialize in the development of inventions and the thought processes of inventors, innovation is often a slow and iterative process. And what, exactly, is involved in said process? One decades-old theory says that the crux of creativity lies in making analogies. Yes, just like those SAT questions: Crumb is to bread as…splinter is to wood. Medicine is to illness as… law is to anarchy.