Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scholar helps classify clicks in African languages

( -- Linguistics scholar Amanda Miller is doing research with high-speed ultrasound technology to help her and fellow researchers successfully record and classify clicks in an endangered African language.

Miller, a visiting scholar in linguistics who was an assistant professor of linguistics at Cornell from 2001 to 2008, researches the phonetics of Khoesan languages, many of which are extinct or endangered -- including N|uu, the subject of a study she recently published in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association.

"N|uu was about to be an extinct language, and around 2002, some speakers were identified as still speaking the language in South Africa, and we thought it was important to study the language before they died," Miller said. "There are less than 10 people, and they're all in their 60s."

Miller and her collaborators -- Johanna Brugman, Ph.D. '09; Cornell graduate student Jonathan Howell; Levi Namaseb of the University of Namibia; Bonny Sands of Northern Arizona University; German graduate student Mats Exter of Universität zu Köln; and former Cornell graduate student Chris Collins -- conducted field research on the N|uu language in Upington, South Africa, between 2002 and 2005, funded by the National Science Foundation. Brugman's dissertation is on Khoesan language, and she was a recent Fulbright scholar in Namibia, Miller said.

Miller first heard about the N|uu speakers from Namaseb, then a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto. "He was working with the speakers and trying to help them write the language down," she said. "He needed help with the phonetics because it's a very complex language."

Namaseb came to Cornell for a year, taking a phonetics course with Miller and serving as a consultant in a field methods class in linguistics.

Miller said that click consonants "don't fit into the classifications that are used for European languages. We documented all of the sounds of N|uu, and we were able also to come up with a [system] to classify all of the sounds, which has been a problem for 100 years."

In Africa, the researchers used portable, high-speed ultrasound imaging equipment to record the N|uu speakers' tongue movements at 124 frames per second.

"Ultrasound has been used since the 1960s for speech, but the equipment was very expensive [then]," Miller said. "With the help of an engineer, I was able to develop a method which allowed us to get high-speed ultrasound data out of the machine, and synchronize it with the audio signal. This is necessary for clicks, because when we study speech, we want to make sure what we're measuring is repeatable, not just that the tongue happened to move a funny way one time. Speech is imperfect -- we don't speak the same way every time."

Namaseb is developing a writing system for N|uu, informed by the speech research; the researchers are also working on a N|uu dictionary.

"These older speakers are starting to teach others," Miller said. "One of them teaches at a school now; she is teaching the language and the culture to descendants of this group."

Miller's recent collaborative research on Mangetti Dune !Xung, spoken in northern Namibia by about 500 people, will use some of the same methodology.

"My interest in clicks was that some clicks don't occur with front vowels as in the vowel in 'tea,' and some do," she said. "In the previous classifications there was no way to group sounds together that behave in a certain way. So my phonetic work has been able to show the similarity of the sounds that don't occur with front vowels."

Miller said the research "helps with understanding universal systems for languages so it helps us to be able to classify all languages in the world under one system. It's important for historical understanding of how people originated. In order to explain that, we need to have a system to show how each language changed form one to another. It's also important for speech recognition and speech synthesis."

Anonymous. 2009. "Scholar helps classify clicks in African languages". Posted: October 22, 2009. Available online:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vive la différence of languages!

I came across information on this book on PRI's website. So I followed the links and came up with an interesting article at New Scientist. Here's the book info:

Hagège, Claude. 2000. On the Death and Life of Languages. Yale University Press
Price: £20/$30

The article describes the decline of the world's languages with some vivid examples.

Claude Hagège, a professor of linguistics at the Collège de France in Paris, has studied this decline for more than three decades. ... Hagège has no doubt that linguistic imperialism is largely responsible for the problem: "The death threat that weighs upon languages today takes the guise of English," he concludes glumly. "And I wager that the wisest anglophones would not, in fact, wish for a world with only one language." Source

The work, however, is not all gloom and doom as he also discusses the languages that have managed to be saved and are actually enjoying a rebirth.

I then thought I'd try and find some information on the decline of languages elsewhere on the web. I came across Leanne Hinton's powerpoint presentation from Berkeley. She starts off with a statistical look at languages in the world today,

Languages of the world

The Americas 1,013 15%
Africa 2,058 30%
Europe 230 3%
Asia 2,197 32%
The Pacific 1,311 19%
TOTAL 6,809

  • 330 languages each have one million speakers or more.

  • the median size language in the world is 6,000

  • 450 languages are in the last stages of becoming extinct speakers

  • She continues with more facts. Like the fact that there only about 200 independent nations in the world.

    Some ecological features of national languages

    1. spoken by a large population
    2. language of government
    3. language of the schools
    4. language of the media
    5. language of employment, commerce, etc.
    Nearly extinct languages

    Africa (37 total)
    The Americas (161 total)
    Asia (55 total)
    Europe (7 total)
    The Pacific (157 total)

    Some ecological features of endangered languages
    1. spoken by a small population
    2. NOT language of government
    3. NOT language of the schools
    4. NOT language of the media
    5. NOT language of employment, commerce, etc.

    She then breaks down the example of the 161 nearly endangered languages in The Americas to drive home the point.

    In the U.S.A.

  • 175 living indigenous languages

  • 20 being learned by children at home

  • In California

  • originally at least 80 different languages

  • now 50 with any speakers

  • none are spoken natively by people under about 60 years old

  • only about 5 have more than 10 speakers


    External factors leading to language shift

  • Schools

  • Language policy

  • Attitudes of general population

  • media

  • employment

  • prevalence of English in all walks of life

  • Internal factors leading to language loss

  • internalized shame of language

  • perception of lack of benefit of knowing the language

  • perceptions and misperceptions about language acquisition

  • Family dynamics in language loss
    1. Parents decided to speak English so child would learn it early and not suffer.
    2. Child rejects the language
    3. Siblings start speaking to each other in English
    4. lack of perceived need of the heritage language

    Some historical factors in Native American language loss
    1. boarding school policy
    2. World War II
    3. present day schools, economic system, TV, the likes.

    Changes in endangered languages
    1. major language change
    2. Massive Borrowing
    3. Incomplete learning
    4. Attrition
    5. Passive competence

    Why does this matter to Anthropologists?

    1. The languages are exciting in their own right
    2. language loss goes along with loss of knowledge, verbal arts, cultural and ecological practices
    3. human rights: the right to autonomy

    It is this second point that matters most to Anthropologists.

    Hinton, Leanne. Nd. "Endangered Languages". Berkeley Language Center. Available online:

    Robinson, Andrew. 2009. "Vive la différence of languages". New Scientist. Posted: October 25, 2009. Available online:

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Web 2.0 Anthropology

    This video discusses the importance of the Web 2.0 world and Anthropology. Has Web 2.0 affected modern cultures?

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    One Hundred Percent American

    I found this article as an answer to a quest I've been on. I remember about 15 years ago watching a children's television show that talked about the mixed heritage of our even most benign cultural artifact or practice. In this case the boys were interested in only purely Canadian things, so the pizza they were eating disappeared. They decided to play soccer to pass the time. But the soccer ball disappeared. Anyway, you get the picture. In this article, Ralph Linton points out exactly the same without things disappearing.

    There can be no question about the average American’s Americanism or his desire to preserve this precious heritage at all costs. Nevertheless, some insidious foreign ideas have already wormed their way into his civilization without his realizing what was going on. Thus dawn finds the unsuspecting patriot garbed in pajamas, a garment of East Indian origin; and lying in a bed built on a pattern which originated in either Persia or Asia Minor. He is muffled to the ears in un-American materials: cotton, first domesticated in India; linen, domesticated in the Near East; wool from an animal native to Asia Minor; or silk whose uses were first discovered by the Chinese. All these substances have been transformed into cloth by methods invented in Southwestern Asia. If the weather is cold enough he may even be sleeping under an eiderdown quilt invented in Scandinavia.

    On awakening he glances at the clock, a medieval European invention, uses one potent Latin word in abbreviated form, rises in haste, and goes to the bathroom. Here, if he stops to think about it, he must feel himself in the presence of a great American institution; he will have heard stories of both the quality and frequency of foreign plumbing and will know that in no other country does the average man perform his ablutions in the midst of such splendor. But the insidious foreign influence pursues him even here. Glass was invented by the ancient Egyptians, the use of glazed tiles for floors and walls in the Near East, porcelain in China, and the art of enameling on metal by Mediterranean artisans of the Bronze Age. Even his bathtub and toilet are but slightly modified copies of Roman originals. The only purely American contribution to tile ensemble is tile steam radiator, against which our patriot very briefly and unintentionally places his posterior.

    In this bathroom the American washes with soap invented by the ancient Gauls. Next he cleans his teeth, a subversive European practice which did not invade America until the latter part of the eighteenth century. He then shaves, a masochistic rite first developed by the heathen priests of ancient Egypt and Sumer. The process is made less of a penance by the fact that his razor is of steel, an iron-carbon alloy discovered in either India or Turkestan. Lastly, he dries himself on a Turkish towel.

    Returning to the bedroom, the unconscious victim of un-American practices removes his clothes from a chair, invented in the Near East, and proceeds to dress. He puts on close-fitting tailored garments whose form derives from the skin clothing of the ancient nomads of the Asiatic steppes and fastens them with buttons whose prototypes appeared in Europe at the Close of the Scone Age. This costume is appropriate enough for outdoor exercise in a cold climate, but is quite unsuited to American summers, steam-heated houses, and Pullmans. Nevertheless, foreign ideas and habits hold the unfortunate man in thrall even when common sense tells him that the authentically American costume of gee string and moccasins would be far more comfortable. He puts on his feet stiff coverings made from hide prepared by a process invented in ancient Egypt and cut to a pattern which can be traced back to ancient Greece, and makes sure that they ire properly polished, also a Greek idea. Lastly, he tics about his neck a strip of bright-colored cloth which is a vestigial survival of the shoulder shawls worn by seventeenth century Croats. He gives himself a final appraisal in the mirror, an old Mediterranean invention, and goes downstairs to breakfast.

    Here a whole new series of foreign things confronts him. His food and drink are placed before him in pottery vessels, the proper name of which — china — is sufficient evidence of their origin. His fork is a medieval Italian invention and his spoon a copy of a Roman original. He will usually begin the meal with coffee, an Abyssinian plant first discovered by the Arabs. The American is quite likely to need it to dispel the morning-after effects of overindulgence in fermented drinks, invented in the Near East; or distilled ones, invented by the alchemists of medieval Europe. Whereas the Arabs took, their coffee straight, he will probably sweeten it with sugar, discovered in India; and dilute it with cream, both the domestication of cattle and the technique of milking having originated in Asia Minor.

    If our patriot is old-fashioned enough to adhere to the so-called American breakfast, his coffee will be accompanied by an orange, domesticated in the Mediterranean region, a cantaloupe domesticated in Persia, or grapes domesticated in Asia Minor. He will follow this with a bowl of cereal made from grain domesticated in the Near East and prepared by methods also invented there. From this he will go on to waffles, a Scandinavian invention with plenty of butter, originally a Near Eastern cosmetic. As a side dish he may have the egg of a bird domesticated in Southeastern Asia or strips of the flesh of an animal domesticated in the same region, which has been salted and smoked by a process invented in Northern Europe.

    Breakfast over, he places upon his head a molded piece of felt, invented by the nomads of
    Eastern Asia, and, if it looks like rain, puts on outer shoes of rubber, discovered by the ancient Mexicans, and takes an umbrella, invented in India. He then sprints for his train–the train, not sprinting, being in English invention. At the station he pauses for a moment to buy a newspaper, paying for it with coins invented in ancient Lydia. Once on board he settles back to inhale the fumes of a cigarette invented in Mexico, or a cigar invented in Brazil. Meanwhile, he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites by a process invented in Germany upon a material invented in China. As he scans the latest editorial pointing out the dire results to our institutions of accepting foreign ideas, he will not fail to thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is a one hundred percent (decimal system invented by the Greeks) American (from Americus Vespucci, Italian geographer).

    Linton, Ralph. 1936. The Study of Man: An Introduction. D. Appleton-Century Company, incorporated. Available online:

    NOTE: This article is available all over the internet. If you type in the title, you'll come up with the article. I've only posted one place where I've seen it.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Are mobiles and social networking sites changing the way we behave?

    ( -- How dependent have we become on mobile phones, and are social networking sites changing the nature of our relationships with other people? A three-year Oxford University study is to address these issues.

    How dependent have we become on modern technologies like mobile phones, and are social networking sites significantly changing the nature of our relationships with other people?
    These are some of the issues that researchers from Oxford University hope to address in an ambitious new three-year project, launched this month.

    The €2.5 million project involves an international team of experts drawn from different disciplines, including psychology, computer science and physics. Researchers will examine electronic records of the mobile phone calls made by 7 million people in a European country to find out whether new trends and patterns of behaviour are emerging at individual, group, and societal levels.

    The last two decades have seen tremendous changes in society, driven by information and communication technologies (ICT). From email and the web to facebook and Twitter, the processes of building and strengthening social relationships have been transformed and new forms of community have emerged as a result.

    The researchers will analyse information that logs, minute by minute, how a group of 7 million people are using these new communication tools. This vast amount of data and records, which has been rigorously anonymised so that individuals cannot be identified, will reveal the times and variations in the way this section of the population uses mobile phones.
    The research team will examine details such as the length of calls and intervals between calls, but for reasons of confidentiality, not the content of the calls themselves which the researchers will never hear.

    The researchers will also study the impact of online social networking sites like facebook, looking at how social mechanisms work in an online world and examining whether the trend of shifting our social life to the internet enhances, replaces or threatens social relations based on face-to-face contacts.

    Using computer modelling, the team will be able to chart large-scale patterns and trends in human behaviour as well as being able to observe behaviour at an individual level, taking into account important demographic characteristics such as age and gender.
    Three research groups from Oxford University are involved - Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS), CABDyN Complexity Centre, and the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (ICEA).

    The study will draw on new approaches that explore how cognitive abilities and constraints have evolved in human groups and societies, which extend earlier work by Professor Robin Dunbar of the ICEA in Oxford.

    Dr Felix Reed-Tsochas, Director of Complex Systems at InSIS at Oxford University, said: ‘There is an acute lack of understanding of the driving forces and mechanisms behind the way we use these communication tools that we now all take for granted. We have little understanding of how recent forms of social interaction like facebook and Twitter influence individuals and societies as existing knowledge in this area is fragmented.

    ‘One major goal is to bridge the knowledge gap by creating an interdisciplinary team of researchers from social psychology, computer science and complexity science. This will create a more joined up picture of what is happening in society today, which can inform both policy makers and the ICT industry.’

    Anonymous. 2009. "Are mobiles and social networking sites changing the way we behave?" PhysOrg. Posted: October 8, 2009. Available online:

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    The first men and women from the Canary Islands were Berbers

    A team of Spanish and Portuguese researchers has carried out molecular genetic analysis of the Y chromosome (transmitted only by males) of the aboriginal population of the Canary Islands to determine their origin and the extent to which they have survived in the current population. The results suggest a North African origin for these paternal lineages which, unlike maternal lineages, have declined to the point of being practically replaced today by European lineages.

    Researchers from the University of La Laguna (ULL), the Institute of Pathology and Molecular Immunology from the University of Porto (Portugal) and the Institute of Legal Medicine from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) have studied the Y chromosome from human dental remains from the Canary Islands, and have determined the origin and evolution of paternal lineages from the pre-Hispanic era to the present day. To date, only mitochondrial DNA has been studied, which merely reflects the evolution of maternal lineages.

    Rosa Fregal, the principal author of the recently-published study in BMC Evolutionary Biology, and a researcher from the Genetics Department of the ULL, explains to SINC that "whereas aboriginal maternal lineages have survived with a slight downward trend, aboriginal paternal lineages have declined progressively, being replaced by European lineages".

    Experts have also analysed an historic sample for La Concepción church (Tenerife), which dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. With these data, they have established the impact of European colonisation and the African slave trade, and have determined the evolution of paternal lineages in aborigines from the Canary Islands or Guanches, from the pre-Hispanic era to the present day.

    Although contribution is now mainly European, scientists state that North African and Sub-Saharan contribution was higher in the 17th and 18th centuries. The explanation as to why there is a difference between the lineages of men and women from the Canary Islands stems from the diverse contributions of parental populations, and, above all, as a result of European colonisation.

    During this period, most relationships between men and women were between Iberian men and Guanches women, "due to the better social position of the former [Iberian men] compared to aboriginal males" Fregel explains. In addition to this, there was a higher mortality rate among male aborigines, who were displaced and discriminated against by conquerors. "Not only during the Crown of Castile Conquest in the 15th century, but also thereafter", the scientist affirms.

    The researcher adds that in the case of Sub-Saharan lineages, both sexes were discriminated against equally, "and both maternal and paternal lineages have declined to date".

    Traces of European colonisation

    A previous study of the Y chromosome in the current population of the Canary Islands demonstrated the impact of European colonisation on the male population in the Canary Islands, Fregal points out that "When estimating the proportion of European lineages present in the current population of the Canary Islands, it was found that they represented more than 90%". Nevertheless, mitochondrial DNA studies in the current population demonstrated a notable survival of aboriginal lineages, where European contribution is between 36% and 62%.

    Iberian and European contribution to male genetic patrimony in the Canary Islands increased from 63% during the 17th and 18th centuries to 83% in the present day. At the same time, male aboriginal genes decreased from 31% to 17%, and Sub-Saharan genes, from 6% to 1%.

    As for women, European contribution is more constant, having moved from 48% to 55%, and aboriginal contribution, from 40% to 42%. The only decline observed in genetic contribution, from 12% to 3% in the last three centuries, has been in the case of Sub-Saharans.

    Despite these advances, there are still mysteries to solve, such as how to determine whether the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands arrived by their own means or whether they were brought by force, "as there are no signs to ascertain whether they were aware of the navigation or if they came in one or several waves", Fregal concludes.
    Anonymous. 2009. "The first men and women from the Canary Islands were Berbers". EurekAlert. Posted:October 21, 2009. Available online:

    Fregel, Rosa; Gomes, Verónica; Gusmao, Leonor; González, Ana M.; Cabrera, Vicente M.; Amorim, Antonio; Larruga, José M. "Demographic history of Canary Islands male gene-pool: replacement of native lineages by European" BMC Evolutionary Biology 9: 181, 3 de agosto de 2009.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Sea gives up secrets to experts

    With shafts of sunlight shimmering through a few metres of crystal clear water, you can pick out the cornerstones of an ancient civilisation which inspired literature and legend.

    There is more than a whiff of Atlantis about the story of Pavlopetri - the world's oldest submerged town.

    But the Bronze Age site, off the coast of Laconia in Greece, has its roots in fact not fiction.

    New underwater archaeology techniques - with sonar mapping used by the military and off-shore oil industry - are giving up new secrets.

    An international team, given special permission to dive by the Greek government, has found artefacts on the sea bed dating back 5,000 years.

    This fresh information puts the world's oldest submerged town well over a millennium older than previously thought.

    “The new ceramic finds form a complete and exceptional corpus of pottery”
    Dr Chrysanthi Gallou

    Dr Jon Henderson led a team from the University of Nottingham and said the expedition surpassed all expectations.

    "This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed.

    "Equally as a harbour settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age."

    One of the most important discoveries has been what is believed to be a large rectangular great hall, known as a "Megaron", from the early Bronze Age period.

    'Rare find'

    They have also found more than 9,000sq m of new buildings, including a pillar crypt, which could be the first example ever discovered on the Greek mainland.

    The Hellenic Ministry of Culture's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is overseeing the work.

    Official Elias Spondylis said: "It is a rare find and it is significant because, as a submerged site, it was never re-occupied and therefore represents a frozen moment of the past.

    The team had a warm reception from local people, who were excited about the project and sense an important part of Greek history and culture would soon be returned to them.

    The Mayor of Neopolis, Pavlopetri's nearest neighbour, Jannis Kousoulis, has become one the dive team's most enthusiastic supporters. He hoped the new work will raise the whole region's profile as a place for culture and tourism.

    Archaeological co-ordinator for the Pavlopetri project is Dr Chrysanthi Gallou, a post-doctoral research fellow at The University of Nottingham and an expert in Aegean Prehistory.

    “The investigation offers a great opportunity for [the local community] to be actively involved in the preservation and management of the site”
    Dr Chrysanthi Gallou

    Dr Gallou said: "The new ceramic finds form a complete and exceptional corpus of pottery covering all sub-phases from the Final Neolithic period (mid 4th millennium BC) to the end of the Late Bronze Age (1100 BC).

    "In addition, the interest from the local community in Laconia has been fantastic.

    "The investigation at Pavlopetri offers a great opportunity for them to be actively involved in the preservation and management of the site, and subsequently for the cultural and touristic development of the wider region."

    The team has also been joined by Dr Nicholas Flemming, a marine geo-archaeologist from the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Southampton.

    He discovered the site in 1967 and returned the following year with a team from Cambridge University to carry out the first ever survey of the submerged town.

    Using just snorkels and tape measures they produced a detailed plan of the prehistoric town which consisted of at least 15 separate buildings, courtyards, streets, two chamber tombs and at least 37 graves. Despite the potential international importance of Pavlopetri no further work was carried out at the site until this year.

    The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project 2009 is at the start of a five-year study of the site which aims to define the history and development of Pavlopetri.

    Four more fieldwork seasons are planned before their research is published in full in 2014.

    See also EurekAlert, and Science Daily for more information.

    Bartram, Anthony. 2009. "Sea gives up secrets to experts" BBC News. Posted: October 16, 2009. Available online:

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Infants able to identify humans as source of speech, monkeys as source of monkey calls

    Infants as young as five months old are able to correctly identify humans as the source of speech and monkeys as the source of monkey calls, psychology researchers have found. Their finding, which appears in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), provides the first evidence that human infants are able to correctly match different kinds of vocalizations to different species.

    The study's co-authors were: Athena Vouloumanos, an assistant professor in New York University's Department of Psychology; Madelynn Druhen, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Marc Hauser, a professor in Harvard University's Departments of Psychology and Human Evolutionary Biology; and Anouk Huizink, a researcher in McGill University's Department of Psychology. The research was conducted at the McGill Infant Development Centre and the NYU Infant Cognition and Communication Lab, under the direction of Vouloumanos.

    While young children know that humans speak, monkeys grunt, and ducks quack, it's not clear when we come to know which vocalizations each of these animals produce. Although much is known about infants' abilities to match properties of human voices to faces, such as emotion, it is unknown whether infants are able to match vocalizations to the specific species that produces them. In the PNAS study, the team of psychologists explored this question by asking whether young infants expect humans, but not other animals, to produce speech, and also, whether infants can identify the sources of vocalizations produced by other species.

    To do so, the researchers showed five-month-old infants from English- and French-speaking homes a sequence of individually presented pictures of human faces and rhesus monkey faces paired either with human speech or with rhesus vocalizations. They then examined whether infants preferentially attended to the human faces when human vocalizations were presented (two Japanese single words "nasu" and "haiiro"), and whether infants preferentially attended to the rhesus faces when rhesus vocalizations (a coo and a gekker call) were presented. Previous research has revealed that when presented with audiovisual stimuli, infants tend to look longer at sounds and images that correctly match, so the researchers predicted that if infants identified the sources of vocalizations, they would look longer when the vocalizations and faces matched.

    As the researchers had predicted, the results showed that the infants looked longer at the pictures of human faces when human speech was presented and looked longer at pictures of rhesus monkey faces when rhesus vocalizations were presented. Surprisingly, however, infants weren't able to match human-produced non-speech vocalizations, like laughter, to humans, suggesting that infants are especially tuned at an early age to some of the functional properties of speech. The fact infants were able to correctly attribute even unfamiliar Japanese speech to humans bolstered the significance of the results.

    However, a subsequent experiment designed to test infants' ability to identity non-human vocalizations revealed the limits of their recognition. The infants were given three acoustic stimuli–human speech, rhesus monkey calls, or duck calls–in tandem with the faces of humans and ducks. Unlike the initial experiment on human and rhesus monkey images and sounds, the infants did not look systematically longer at the duck face when it was presented with a duck vocalization, suggesting an inability to match ducks' faces with their sounds.

    Infants' expectations about the sources of vocalizations seem not to be based on a simple association between faces and voices and extend beyond their specific experiences, the researchers concluded. This ability may help infants identify their conspecifics even when they are out of view and allow them to identify the human-produced speech sounds that are relevant for language acquisition.
    Devitt, James. 2009. "Infants able to identify humans as source of speech, monkeys as source of monkey calls". EurekAlert. Posted: October 19, 2009. Available online:

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Conquerors' Hopes Dashed

    Florine Asselbergs studied the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. 
    The scene depicted shows a dance which was performed 
    by the Quauhquecholteca to honour their dead - those who 
    died during battle in their conquest campaigns with the 
    Spanish. (Photo courtesy of Netherlands Organization For 
    Scientific Research)

    ScienceDaily (Dec. 31, 2004) — Dutch researcher Florine Asselbergs has discovered the Spanish conquering of Guatemala portrayed on an indigenous painting. This sixteenth-century panel had scarcely been investigated up until now and provides a detailed overview of the battles and the landscape. It is an important find, as relatively little is known about the conquest of Guatemala.

    Asselbergs studied the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan, a panel of more than two by three metres from the Quauhquecholteca, an indigenous people from Central America. Until recently, scientists thought that the painting represented campaigns of conquest by the Quauhquecholteca and Spaniards through Central Mexico. However, the researcher established that the document portrays a campaign of conquest through Guatemala by the Spanish conqueror Jorge the Alvarado in 1527-1529.

    In about 1400, the Quauhquecholteca settled in present-day San Martín Huaquechula, to the south-east of Mexico City. By fighting with the Spanish, the indigenous people hoped to rid themselves of the tyranny of the Aztecs and to gain their own land and riches. They described their military successes in pictograms in paintings such as the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. Not long after this however, the Spaniards brutally overruled all of the peoples in Central America, including the Quauhquecholteca.

    The painting depicts a landscape with roads, rivers and places where battles and the associated events are marked. It forms an extremely detailed and unique indigenous report of an otherwise scarcely chronicled period, and is also the oldest map of Guatemala. The painting is housed in a museum in Puebla, Mexico.

    The Spanish conquest of Central America has mostly been studied using reports from Spanish chroniclers. Indigenous stories and pictures have nearly always been ignored. Therefore, the historical perspective of the conquest has a strong European bias. A study of indigenous sources is necessary to gain a more balanced picture of events during the conquest.

    Netherlands Organization For Scientific Research (2004, December 31). Conquerors' Hopes Dashed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2009, from /releases/2004/12/041219154319.htm

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Ancient Maps And Corn Help Track The Migrations Of Indigenous People

    ScienceDaily (June 16, 2004) — MADISON- Maps are tools to show you where you are going, but they can also show you where you came from. That principle drives the work of Roberto Rodríguez and Patrisia Gonzales, who study ancient maps, oral traditions and the movement of domesticated crops to learn more about the origins of native people in the Americas.

    "How do you bring memory back to a people that were told not to remember?" asks Rodríguez. As longtime scholars and syndicated columnists, Gonzales and Rodríguez explore this issue and others related to native people in the Americas. They recently entered the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as graduate students in the life sciences communication department, and are teaching a class this summer that shows how the stories of Wisconsin's native people fit into the larger history of the continent.

    European efforts to homogenize indigenous people in the Americas destroyed much knowledge of the origins, migrations and history of different peoples, explains Rodríguez. However, some migration stories persist in oral traditions, including a central story - told in Mexico and depicted on the Mexican flag - of native people moving south from a place called Aztlán. The location of that place and the paths of movement are unclear, says Rodríguez, because people were moving around in all directions for thousands of years.

    He's trying to untangle the different paths, and trace them back to their root.

    "I'm not looking for an individual answer to the question 'where did I come from,'" he adds. "Patrisia and I want to know where we as a people came from."

    Rodríguez and Gonzales have pursued this question as authors, teachers, distinguished community scholars at the University of California-Los Angeles, and now as CALS graduate students. One line of inquiry has led them to study dozens of maps of what is now Central America, Mexico and the United States, created by cartographers from around the world and dating as far back as the 1500s.

    "Europeans back then were fascinated with newly discovered lands and people," Rodríguez explains. Mapmakers often added notes and comments to their drawings, including references to the homelands of indigenous groups on some of the maps. One notation from the1768 Alzate map reads, "The Mexican Indians are said to have departed from the shores of this lake to found their empire," in reference to what is now the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Another shows an ancient city near the Colorado and Green rivers, also in Utah.

    Rodríguez says that the maps represent a previously untapped source of information. "These maps were all in public archives," including the Wisconsin State Historical Society, says Rodríguez. "However, we could find only one other researcher that had used them, and he dealt with the topic much differently than we have. What we are pursing is not in the realm of legend or myth, but as historical fact and narrative."

    Besides maps, Rodríguez and Gonzales have researched ancient chronicles, pictographs, and oral traditions. They are also studying the spread of plants-including corn and herbs-to track migration.

    "I was taught to follow corn-that is who we, as a people, are," explains Rodríguez. "Looking at the story of this continent, civilization has to do with food, in this case, corn." Corn was first domesticated in southern Mexico at least 5,000 years ago, and was moved by humans across the continent, he says.

    "I was drawn to Madison for grad school in part because of the name of the department, which used to be called agricultural journalism," he recalls. "The word 'agriculture' with the journalism was a perfect fit with our ideas about corn."

    Rodríguez and Gonzales have visited some of the sites indicated on the maps and have found intriguing possibilities, but no firm evidence of a single migration point, though many of the maps allude to the Salt Lake region. "What is clear," says Rodríguez, "is that the people of this region, from the Utes, Paiutes, Shoshones, Hopis and Yaquis, on south to Mexico and Central America, spoke a common language and were related. But many other people were also related via maize and trade."

    University Of Wisconsin-Madison (2004, June 16). Ancient Maps And Corn Help Track The Migrations Of Indigenous People. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2009, from /releases/2004/06/040616062606.htm

    For more information: Rodríguez and Gonzales recently organized a UCLA symposium examining the migrations and origins of native people, and displayed 40 of the ancient maps they have studied. They also spoke at a UW-Madison conference called "Who Owns America," sponsored by the Land Tenure Center.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Colombian guerrillas help scientists locate literacy in the brain

    A unique study of former guerrillas in Colombia has helped scientists redefine their understanding of the key regions of the brain involved in literacy. The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, has enabled the researchers to see how brain structure changed after learning to read.

    Language is a uniquely human ability that evolved at some point in the six million years since humans and chimpanzees diverged. Even without being taught or having adults to copy, children develop sophisticated language systems. In contrast, reading is a learnt skill that does not develop without intensive tuition and practice.

    Understanding how our brain structures change as we learn to read has proved difficult as the majority of people learn to read when they are children, at the same time as learning many other skills. Separating the changes caused by reading from those caused by, for example, learning social skills or how to play football, is almost impossible. Studying adult learners is also challenging because in most educated societies adult illiteracy is typically the result of learning impairments or poor health.

    In today's edition of Nature, researchers from the UK, Spain and Colombia describe a study working with an unusual cohort: former guerrillas in Colombia who are re-integrating into mainstream society and learning to read for the first time as adults.

    "Separating out changes in our brains caused by learning to read has so far proven almost impossible because of other confounding factors," explains Professor Cathy Price, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL (University College London). "Working with the former Colombia guerrillas has provided a unique opportunity to see how the brain develops when reading skills are acquired."

    The researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brains of twenty guerrillas who had completed a literacy programme in their native tongue (Spanish) in adulthood. They compared these to scans of twenty-two similar adults prior to commencing the same literacy programme. The results revealed which brain areas are special for reading, prompting new research in the UK on how these regions are connected in adults who learn to read in childhood.

    The researchers found that for those participants who had learnt to read, the density of grey matter (where the 'processing' is done) was higher in several areas of the left hemisphere of the brain. As might be expected, these were the areas that are responsible for recognising letter shapes and translating the letters into speech sounds and their meanings. Reading also increased the strength of the 'white matter' connections between the different processing regions.

    Particularly important were the connections to and from an area of the brain known as the angular gyrus. Scientists have known for over 150 years that this brain region is important for reading, but the new research has shown that its role had been misunderstood.

    Previously, it was thought that the angular gyrus recognised the shapes of words prior to finding their sounds and meanings. In fact, the researchers showed that the angular gyrus is not directly involved in translating visual words into their sounds and meanings. Instead, it supports this process by providing predictions of what the brain is expecting to see.

    "The traditional view has been that the angular gyrus acts as a 'dictionary' that translates the letters of a word into a meaning." explains Professor Price. "In fact, we have shown that its role is more in anticipating what our eye will see – more akin to the predictive texting function on a mobile phone."

    The findings are likely to prove useful for researchers trying to understand the causes of the reading disorder dyslexia. Studies of dyslexics have shown regions of reduced grey and white matter in regions that grow after learning to read. The new study suggests that some of the differences seen in dyslexia may be a consequence of reading difficulties rather than a cause.

    Craig Brierley, Craig. 2009. "Columbian guerrillas help scientists locate literacy in the brain". EurekAlert. Posted: October 14, 2009. Available online:

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Country Profile: Bulgaria

    I did promise that from time to time I'd put a random country/culture profile on the blog. I thought it would be interesting to look at Bulgaria. So from the great resource at Every, I present Bulgaria.


    Bulgar, from the Bulgarian bu'lgar (Bulgarian person). In English, "Bulgar" is usually used only for the central Asian ancestors of the modern Bulgarians.

    Identification. The names "Bulgar", and "Bulgarian" most likely derive from a Turkic verb meaning "to mix." Ethnic Bulgarians trace their ancestry to the merging of Bulgars (or Proto-Bulgarians), a central Asian Turkic people, and Slavs, a central European people, beginning in the seventh century C.E. in what is now northeastern Bulgaria. Besides ethnic Bulgarians, there are several ethnic minorities, the most numerous being Turks and Gypsies, with smaller numbers of Armenians, Jews, and others.

    The dominant national culture is that of the ethnic Bulgarians, and there is little sense of shared national culture among the three main ethnic groups. Turks usually do not self-identify as Bulgarians, whereas Gypsies often do. Both groups are generally considered outsiders by ethnic Bulgarians, in contrast to the more assimilated minorities such as Jews and Armenians. Nevertheless, since all citizens participate in the national economy and polity, a shared national bureaucratic-political culture does exist, both shaped by and shaping the cultural practices of the constituent ethnic groups.

    Location and Geography. Bulgaria is located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is bordered on the east by the Black Sea, on the north by Romania and the Danube River, on the south by Greece and Turkey, and on the west by Macedonia and Serbia. The landscape consists of mountains, foothills, and plains. One-third of the territory is forested, and one-third is more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) above sea level. Major mountain ranges include Rila, Pirin, Balkan (Stara Planina), and Rhodope. For geographic reasons, Sofia was named the capital in 1879, after Bulgaria gained independence. Situated in an upland basin near the western border, Sofia was on the crossroads of major trade routes between the Aegean Sea and the Danube and between Turkey and central Europe. It also offered easy access to Macedonian lands, which were not part of the new Bulgarian state. Regional cultural variation sometimes reflects occupational specialization associated with local environmental conditions (e.g., fishing, animal husbandry), along with the influence of other cultural groups.

    Demography. Bulgaria's population was 8,230,371 on December 31, 1998. The population increased gradually for most of the twentieth century, but has decreased by more than 700,000 people since 1988. This decline stems from out-migration and falling birthrates during the uncertain postsocialist period. About 68 percent of Bulgaria's population lives in urban areas, compared to 25 percent in 1946. In 1992, 86 percent of the population self-identified as ethnically Bulgarian, 9 percent as Turkish, and 4 percent as Roma (Gypsy). Smaller groups include Russians, Armenians, Vlachs, Karakachans, Greeks, Tatars, and Jews. The 1992 census did not include a category for Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims), who are often identified as one of Bulgaria's four main ethnic groups and constitute an estimated 3 percent of the population. Through emigration, ethnic Turks have decreased as a share of the population since Bulgaria's 1878 independence. During the socialist period, ethnicity data were not made public, and there were efforts to assimilate Muslim minorities. This makes discussion of historical trends difficult, and some people may have self-identified on the census differently than they might in other contexts.

    Linguistic Affiliation. The national language is Bulgarian, a South Slavic language of the Indo-European language family, which uses the Cyrillic script. Bulgarian is very closely related to Macedonian, the two languages being largely mutually intelligible, and to Serbo-Croatian. Much vocabulary has been borrowed from Russian, Greek, and Turkish, and the latter two have had a strong influence on Bulgarian grammar. Bulgarian has two main dialectal variants, eastern and western, and also local dialects. National education and media are fostering homogenization of the language, particularly in urban settings.

    The Turkish minorities speak Turkish, a Turko-Altaic language. Gypsies speak Romany, an Indic language of the Indo-European language family. Many Gypsies also speak Turkish, and some speak Romanian. Bulgarian is necessary for interaction with the authorities and in commerce, and is the medium of instruction in schools, though minorities are entitled to be taught their mother tongue. The national media use Bulgarian, while some radio broadcasts and print media are available in Turkish.

    Symbolism. The Bulgarian nation is symbolized in the coat of arms, which has at its center a crowned lion, a symbol of independence dating to the medieval Bulgarian state. During the state socialist period, the crown (a symbol of monarchy) was replaced by a star. After the fall of state socialism in 1989 the crown was replaced following a seven-year debate. The flag, a tricolor of horizontal stripes (from top: white, green, red), while a visible national emblem, is not so vested with specific meaning.

    Among the most potent symbols of Bulgarian national identity are several key historical events: the founding of the Bulgarian states in 681 and 1878; the partition of Bulgaria in the Treaty of Berlin (1878); the union with Eastern Rumelia (an autonomous Ottoman province created by the partition) in 1885; the successful defense against Serbian encroachment in 1885; and territorial gains, losses, and humiliation in the Balkan wars (1912–1913) and World War I (1914–1918). Symbols of incompleteness and loss serve as powerful rallying points for national unity.

    Images of the peasant, the merchant, the craftsman and entrepreneur, the teacher, and the nationalist revolutionary vie with each other in literature and folklore as icons of the true Bulgarian spirit, which incorporates qualities ranging from honesty and industry to resourcefulness and cunning.

    Emergence of the Nation. In the fifth century C.E. , Slavs began to settle the Thracian-occupied eastern Danubian plains. In the seventh century, they joined with invading Bulgars to gain control of a sizable territory, which they defended against Byzantium in 681, gaining recognition as the first Bulgarian state. The Slav and Bulgar elements are then understood to have merged into one ethnic-cultural group, particularly after the official adoption of Byzantinerite Christianity in 864 unified them around a common religion. With Christianity soon came vernacular literacy, and the development of a Slavic writing system by the Bulgaro-Macedonian Saints Cyril and Methodius. The local Slavic language became the language of liturgy and state administration, diminishing the ecclesiastical and cultural influence of Byzantium. In the tenth century Bulgaria was counted among the three most powerful empires in Europe.

    The Ottomans invaded in the fourteenth century and ruled the Bulgarian lands for five centuries. The last century of Ottoman rule witnessed the reflowering of Bulgarian culture in the "National Revival." Bulgarian schools and cultural centers were established. In 1870 the Bulgarian church regained independence from Greek domination. The outside world took note in April 1876 when a Bulgarian uprising met bloody Ottoman reprisals. Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, leading to the reestablishment of a Bulgarian state. Hopes for a large Bulgaria were dashed in the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which left large numbers of ethnic Bulgarians in adjacent states. This partitioning of Bulgaria has been the cause of much conflict in the Balkans.

    Following World War II (1939–1945), a socialist government was instituted under Soviet tutelage. The ouster of communist leader Todor Zhivkov on 10 November 1989 precipitated a reform process culminating in the dismantling of state socialism in 1990 and the establishment of a more democratic form of government.

    National Identity. Bulgarian national identity is premised on the understanding that the Bulgarian nation (people) was formed with a distinctive ethnic identity during the Middle Ages (from a mix of Slavic, Bulgar, and other ethnicities). This identity, preserved throughout Ottoman rule, formed the basis for an independent nation-state. The history of the struggle for a Bulgarian state provides key symbols of national identity. Another premise is that ethnic and territorial boundaries should overlap. This has led at times to territorial conflicts with neighboring states. Moreover, this renders ambivalent the status of minorities, since they do not share the same ethnic and historical ties to the Bulgarian lands and state.

    Ethnic Relations. Bulgaria officially espouses cordial relations with neighboring states. Relations with Macedonia, however, are complicated since many Bulgarians see Macedonia as historically a Bulgarian territory. The liberation of Macedonia was a central element in the nineteenth-century Bulgarian liberation movement and in early twentieth-century nationalism. Ottoman Macedonia was divided among Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia in 1913. Bulgarian claims to the contrary, most Macedonians sought an independent Macedonian state, realized only after World War II within Yugoslav Macedonia. Bulgaria was quick to recognize Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but does not acknowledge a distinct Macedonian culture. Since 1997 the Bulgarian government has acknowledged Macedonian as a separate language. Many Bulgarians, however, continue to consider Macedonians as Bulgarians, and the existence of a Macedonian minority within Bulgaria is generally denied.

    There is both official and popular concern regarding the human rights (especially the right to ethnic self-determination) of Bulgarians living in neighboring states, particularly Serbia and Macedonia.

    The relations among the various ethnic groups within Bulgaria are somewhat strained, partly as a legacy of brutal assimilation policies under state socialism, and partly out of fear on the part of ethnic Bulgarians that minority self-determination would threaten the integrity of the nation-state. Generally, in mixed settlements, relations with members of other ethnic groups are amicable, though much depends upon personal acquaintance.

    Food in Daily Life. The everyday diet is based largely on local, in-season products. Bread, an important staple, is often purchased rather than home baked. Dairy products are widely consumed, particularly yogurt and white-brined cheese. Home-cooked lunches and dinners often include soups, salads, stews, grilled meats, or stuffed vegetables, while meals away from home may consist of foods such as bread, cheese, sausage, and vegetables. Banitsa is a popular pastry filled with cheese and eggs, pumpkin, rice, spinach, or leeks. For snacks and breakfast, it is accompanied by a grain-based drink, boza , or yogurt-based airan . Popular alcoholic beverages include rakiya , a potent fruit-based brandy, and wine. Many people can fruits and vegetables and make sauerkraut for winter when fresh produce is unavailable or unaffordable. Regional culinary variation reflects local environmental conditions, for example, fish along the sea, vegetables in the plains, and dairy products in mountain areas. Some observant Muslims avoid eating pork. In response to postsocialist conditions, meat and dairy product consumption has declined relative to the less-expensive bread. Typical restaurant offerings are more limited than home cooking, with menus based around salads, soups, grilled meats, and perhaps a meatless offering. Coffee bars, pubs, and sweet shops are popular meeting places for a drink, coffee, or snack.

    Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Some Orthodox Christians observe a Lenten fast before Easter, and observant Muslims avoid eating and drinking during daylight hours during Ramadan. Within Islamic tradition, numerous dishes are served and sweets are exchanged on Ramazan (Ramadan) Bairam, and a ram or calf is ritually slaughtered for Kurban Bairam. Kurban means sacrifice and also refers to a boiled meat dish prepared for ceremonial occasions. Another popular celebration dish is spit-roasted sheep or goat. The Christmas Eve table includes numerous, predominantly meatless dishes, including stuffed cabbage leaves, beans, lentils, boiled wheat, dried fruit, and nuts. For Christmas or New Year's, fortunes in the form of coins, cornel cherry twigs, or slips of paper are inserted in banitsa or bread. Special holiday breads include Easter's braided kozunak , which is sometimes decorated with dyed eggs.

    Basic Economy. Bulgaria's economy has experienced considerable disruption since communism's fall in 1989. Industrial and agricultural production have declined, unemployment has increased, and the purchasing power of pensions and wages has fallen. In 1986, agriculture made up 16 percent of the economy (measured as a share of gross value added); industry, 60 percent; and services, 24 percent. The figures for 1996 were 15 percent for agriculture,30 percent for industry, and 55 percent for services. Private-sector activity, more prominent in agriculture and services than in industry, increased from 17 percent of the economy in 1991 to one-half in 1996. In principle, Bulgaria is self-sufficient in food production; however, periodic shortages of key crops, such as wheat, have been caused both by poor weather and by declines in agricultural production following liquidation of cooperative farms. With economic changes during the 1990s, household subsistence food production has increased substantially.
    Land Tenure and Property. Significant changes in property ownership followed communism's collapse. Bulgaria's constitution declares as state property underground resources, coastal beaches, public roadways, waters, forests and parks of national significance, nature preserves, and archaeological sites. Ownership of agricultural land and forests is legally restricted to Bulgarian citizens, government entities, and organizations; foreigners, however, are permitted use rights. Private property rights to most agricultural land have been restored to their former (precollectivization) owners or their heirs, and the parliament passed legislation in 1997 to restore to their former owners forests that were privately owned before forest nationalization in 1947. Most precollectivization landholdings were small, and this pattern continues. About 19 percent of forests were privately owned before nationalization, and churches, mosques, cooperatives, schools, and municipalities owned or managed some of the remainder. Some forests and pastures were communally managed before collectivization; it is unclear, however, the extent to which communal land management will reemerge.

    Major Industries. Before World War II, Bulgaria's economy was based primarily on agriculture along with light manufacturing enterprises, such as food processing and textile production, which processed the resulting products. Rapid industrialization occurred during the socialist era, particularly in heavy industry such as machinery production, mining and metallurgy, and chemical and oil processing, and these sectors continued to dominate Bulgarian industry at the end of the twentieth century. Manufacture of food, beverages, and tobacco products also continues to be important.

    Trade. Much of Bulgaria's socialist-era trade was with other socialist countries through their trading organization, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. In the last decade, trade with European Union countries has grown relative to that with former socialist bloc countries. Bulgaria's largest trading partners in 1997 were Germany, Greece, Italy, and the Russian Federation. Major export categories include chemical and petroleum products, machinery, electronics, mining and metallurgy, textiles and clothing, and processed food, beverages, and tobacco.

    Division of Labor. Labor specialization increased during the socialist era, and many young people received vocational training preparing them for particular professions. Yet, many rural households have returned to private agricultural production in the postsocialist period, and people may be unable to find jobs for which they were trained.

    Classes and Castes. During the socialist period, senior party officials, managers of state enterprises, and their kin formed an elite, the former bourgeois elite having had their property and means of wealth confiscated and nationalized. Since 1989, despite the restitution of much confiscated property, it is largely the socialist-era elite and those close to them who have managed to acquire the wealth that now defines status, mostly through illegal transfers of control of state-owned assets and the private exploitation of formerly state-controlled trade relationships. Much of the new private wealth is also derived from criminal activity, particularly organized crime.

    Symbols of Social Stratification. During the state socialist period, elite status depended upon the maintenance of the right relationships and entailed privileges of access—to better housing, the best schooling, scarce (often imported) commodities, and foreign travel. Following the fall of state socialism, status began to be measured more in terms of monetary wealth, while the gap between the rich and the ordinary citizens grew sharply. Despite a general aversion to it, conspicuous consumption by the elite has become considerably more visible in the form of imposing dwellings and imported luxury goods and motor vehicles.

    Division of Labor by Gender. Many women entered paid employment during the socialist era, when an ideology of gender equality was promoted, and they made up nearly half the workforce in the late twentieth century. Women are frequently employed as teachers, nurses, pharmacists, sales clerks, and laborers, and less often involved in management, administration, and technical sciences. Women are also largely responsible for household tasks—child care, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Agricultural labor is divided according to gender, with men working with animals and machinery and women doing more hand labor in crop production, although flexibility exists in response to specific situations.

    The Relative Status of Women and Men. While Bulgaria is often described as a patriarchal society, women may have substantial authority in household budgeting or agricultural decision making. Both men and women have the right to vote and own property. Women lag behind men only slightly in educational achievement. Despite the socialist ideology of gender equality, women are often employed in lower paying jobs, remain responsible for most household chores, and represent more than half the registered unemployed. They also occupy leadership positions less frequently than men. Fewer than 14 percent of postsocialist parliamentary representatives have been women, and only one in five municipal councilors were women in 1996.

    Marriage. Bulgarians typically marry by individual choice, although families may exert pressure on the choice of spouse. Some groups, such as Pomaks and Gypsies, previously arranged marriages and may occasionally do so now. Only civil ceremonies are legally recognized, although couples may also have a religious ceremony. Marriages are monogamous, close relatives are not considered appropriate marriage partners, and spouses are usually from the same ethnic and religious group. Nearly all adults marry, typically in their early to mid-twenties. Divorce was rare in the past, but is less stigmatized today. Marriage rates declined in the 1990s in response to postsocialist uncertainty.

    Domestic Unit. Historical accounts of Balkan family structure often discuss the zadruga , an extended, joint-family household said to have disappeared by the early twentieth century. Contemporary households commonly consist of a married couple or couple with children, but they may include three generations—for example, a nuclear family with a grandparent or a married couple, their son and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Most couples have only one or two children, although birthrates are higher for Bulgaria's ethnic minorities. Households are the primary units of social and biological reproduction, and economic activity, especially in the case of agricultural production. Two wage earners are often required to support urban households. Since most women work, grandparents often care for grandchildren in three-generation households, and a grandmother may shop and cook. Other factors contributing to such households are housing shortages and the need to generate income through both wage labor and subsistence production. After marriage, patrilocal residence—with the new couple moving in with the husband's parents—is more likely than matrilocal residence, although couples may establish independent households if they have sufficient resources.

    Inheritance. In principle, both men and women own property such as land, buildings, and animals, and inheritance is partible (i.e., property is divided among all heirs rather than going to a single heir). In practice, some heirs may be disinherited or may receive more land than their siblings, and daughters may inherit less land than sons. The latter is sometimes explained in terms of the often large dowries of household goods and sometimes land or livestock that women take into marriage. Houses are often inherited by youngest sons, who bring their wives to live in the family home.

    Kin Groups. Bulgarians count as kin relatives by blood and marriage on both the male and female sides. Rather than formal structures, kindreds tend to be informal networks of relatives. One's inner circle of close kin, friends, and neighbors is referred to as blizki , or close people. The importance of more distant relatives depends on factors such as proximity and frequency of interaction. With the socialist era's rapid urbanization, relatives can be dispersed between rural and urban settings, although it is not uncommon to find clusters of kin in rural communities. In rural settings, kin and other blizki often cooperate in agricultural activities. Connections through rural and urban networks of kin and blizki are often mobilized to accomplish such objectives as obtaining scarce goods, accessing information, or gaining employment.

    Infant Care. Early infant care is usually provided by the mother. Working mothers receive at least four months maternity leave on full pay, enabling them to care full time for young infants. The government in theory provides income supplements to families with children, but the economic collapse of the 1990s made the amounts mere tokens (when they were paid at all).

    Child Rearing and Education. Ethnic Bulgarians tend towards single-child families. They are thus able to devote considerable resources and attention to their children's well-being and education. Children aged three to six may attend state-run kindergartens, where available. Otherwise, their care often falls to grandparents, who are increasingly visible as caregivers in the economically insecure postsocialist era. Heavy-handed discipline is uncommon, but children are brought up to defer to parental authority.

    Schooling is free and compulsory for children aged seven to sixteen (four years elementary; six to eight secondary). Ethnic Bulgarians value education, and children are encouraged to do well, with many parents paying for private tutoring to ensure that their children pass entrance examinations for the better secondary schools and universities or even resorting to bribery of officials. Since 1989, many private schools have been established, offering an educational alternative for the wealthy and often catering to those not accepted into elite state schools.

    Turks and Gypsies have notably higher birth-rates and tend to be lower on the socioeconomic scale, as well as culturally and linguistically disadvantaged. Levels of educational achievement are generally lower than among ethnic Bulgarians.

    Higher Education. Bulgaria has an extensive system of higher education, with state universities, technical institutes, and teacher's colleges in a number of cities. There is also a private American university in the city of Blagoevgrad. Competition for places in the state universities is rigorous. Most students receive subsidized housing and many receive scholarships to offset the costs of education. Fees are not high, but under the depressed economic conditions they are significant.

    Religious Beliefs. Most ethnic Bulgarians belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, though there are small numbers of Muslims (Pomaks), Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Most Turks and many Gypsies are Muslim, while some (especially Gypsies) are Christian. In Bulgaria, both Orthodox Christianity and Islam incorporate some pagan beliefs and rituals. Among the Pomaks and Gypsies, Christian and Islamic beliefs and practices often coexist. Other religions include Judaism, Armenian Orthodox Christianity, and a variety of Protestant churches and sects.

    Orthodox Christianity is enshrined in the constitution as the traditional religion in Bulgaria, and the church has a legacy of ties to nationalist groups. State regulation of religious affairs has diminished since the fall of state socialism. Nevertheless, political interference remains a factor in religious affairs, and schisms in the Orthodox and Muslim communities in the 1990s (over challenges to the legitimacy of leaderships installed under state socialism) were dominated by partisan political interests. Proselytizing by foreign-based churches and sects is considered a threat to national identity.

    Most Orthodox Bulgarians and Muslims are not observant, and many are atheists, partly a result of the state socialist government's attempts to discredit religion. Despite some resurgence of interest in religious observance since the fall of state socialism, religious practices have become largely markers of cultural identity.

    Religious Practitioners. The Orthodox Church is headed by a patriarch, presiding over the Holy Synod (or Church Council), with a hierarchy of regional archbishops, bishops, and priests. There are also monasteries where monks and nuns practice a life of religious devotion and scholarship. The Muslim community is governed by the Supreme Muslim Council under the Chief Mufti (religious judge), with a hierarchy of regional muftis, imams (clergy), and religious teachers.

    Rituals and Holy Places. For both Christians and Muslims, the most significant rituals are those associated with the passage of life: birth, marriage, and death, as well as christening (for Christians) and circumcision (for Muslims). Christian holidays include Christmas, Easter, Lent, and saints' days. Services are held on Sundays and often daily, and people often visit churches to pray to saints, burning candles in honor of loved ones. Muslim holidays include the month-long fast of Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice (Kurban Bairam). The observant attend mosques on Fridays and may observe daily prayers.

    Churches and especially monasteries are considered sacred, not only to the Orthodox Church but also to the nation, as they played a significant role in the national emancipation.

    Death and the Afterlife. Both Orthodox Christians and Muslims believe in an afterlife. For both, proper observance of death and burial-related rituals is considered crucial to the soul's proper passage into the afterlife.

    To learn more about: Urbanism, Architecture and the use of Space, Political Life, Social Welfare and Change Programs, Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations, Etiquette, Medicine and Health Care, Secular Celebrations, The Arts and Humanities and the State of the Physical and Social Humanities; check out this link.

    Cellarius, Barbara A. and Pilbrow, Tim P. 2009. "Bulgaria". Every Culture. Available online:

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Columbus of Aragon

    I know this is more history than anything else, but Columbus' arrival in the New World is more of terminus quo for many important anthropological and archaeological works.

    Christopher Columbus writings prove he was Spanish, claims study

    Italy, France, Portugal and even Scotland are among those who have claimed Christopher Columbus as their own over the years, citing a range of spurious links

    But American researchers say the mystery over the explorer's true origins has finally been solved after a thorough investigation of his writings.

    A study of the language used in the official records and letters of the Great Navigator apparently proves he hailed from the Kingdom of Aragon in northeastern Spain and his mother tongue was Catalan.

    Since his death in 1506 debate has raged over the true nationality of the man credited with discovering the Americas.

    It was widely believed that he was the son of a weaver born in the Italian port of Genoa, but over the centuries he has been claimed as a native son of Greece, Catalonia, Portugal, Corsica, France and even Poland.

    According to one theory, he may have been Jewish and another more recent account traced his origins to Scotland.

    But a linguistic professor at Georgetown University in Washington has published new findings following an exhaustive study of documents written in his hand.

    Estelle Irizarry studied his language and grammar and concluded that Columbus was a Catalan speaking man from the Kingdom of Aragon, an inland region of north-eastern Spain at the foot of the Pyrenees.

    The findings published this month in a new book "The DNA of the writings of Columbus" explain that although he wrote in Castilian it was clearly not his first language and his origins can be pinpointed to the Aragon region because of the grammar and the way he constructed sentences.

    "He didn't express him correctly in any written language," said the professor. "His Spanish was notoriously incorrect yet at the same time efficient, poetic and eloquent."

    A scientific project launched three years ago to discover his true origins using DNA comparisons between his family and possible descendants has so far failed to provide conclusive results.

    A team of scientists took samples from the tomb of Columbus in Seville and from bones belonging to his brother and son and compared them to the genetic make-up of hundreds of people living across Europe with surnames believed to be modern day variants of Columbus.

    Swabs were taken from the cheeks of Colom's in Catalonia, Colombo's in Italy and even members of the deposed Portuguese royal family, who argue that Columbus was the product of an extramarital affair involving a Portuguese prince.

    Scientists had hoped to establish a common ancestor using standard Y-chromosome tests but they have yet to find a link.

    They study may be in vain, however, as there is evidence to suggest that Columbus, who first crossed the Atlantic in 1492, may have adopted his surname later in life to disguise his true origins.

    One theory claims that he once worked for a pirate called Vincenzo Columbus, and adopted that name in order not to embarrass his relations with his new profession.

    Columbus himself, when asked about his origins, used to shrug off the questions. "Vine de nada" – "I came from nothing", he said.

    Govan, Fiona. "Christopher Columbus writings prove he was Spanish, claims study". Telegraph. Posted: October 14, 2009. Available online:

    Want to read about Dr. Irizarry's findings?

    Estelle Irizarry. Christopher Columbus: The DNA of his Writings. San Juan de Puerto Rico: Ediciones Puerto, 2009.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Hangul - A Developed Script of Korea

    The Korean alphabet was invented in 1444 and promulgated it in 1446 during the reign of King Sejong (r.1418-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. The alphabet was originally called Hunmin jeongeum, or "The correct sounds for the instruction of the people", but has also been known as Eonmeun (vulgar script) and Gukmeun (national writing). The modern name for the alphabet, Hangeul, was coined by a Korean linguist called Ju Si-gyeong (1876-1914). In North Korea the alphabet is known as 조선글 (josoen guel). (Source)

    Hangul (pronounced /ˈhɑːŋɡʊl/; Korean: 한글 Hangeul/Han'gŭl [haːn.ɡɯl] ( listen) (in South Korea) or 조선글 Chosŏn'gŭl/Joseongeul (in North Korea)) is the native alphabet of the Korean language, as distinguished from the logographic Sino-Korean hanja system. It was created in the mid-fifteenth century, and is now the official script of both North Korea and South Korea, being co-official in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China. A project is currently underway to adopt Hangul as the writing system of the Austronesian Cia-Cia language.

    Hangul is a phonemic alphabet organized into syllabic blocks. Each block consists of at least two of the 24 Hangul letters (jamo), with at least one each of the 14 consonants and 10 vowels. These syllabic blocks can be written horizontally from left to right as well as vertically from top to bottom in columns from right to left. Originally, the alphabet had several additional letters (see obsolete jamo). For a phonological description of the letters, see Korean phonology.

    "First Sounds," and also symbolically represent the five elements. They fit together nicely into the diagram of the First Sounds below, having essentially the same symbolism as explained in the previous paragraph. Source

    Hangul was promulgated by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great. The Hall of Worthies (Jiphyeonjeon, 집현전) is often credited for the work.

    The project was completed in late December 1443 or January 1444, and described in 1446 in a document titled Hunmin Jeongeum ("The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People"), after which the alphabet itself was named. The publication date of the Hunmin Jeong-eum, October 9, became Hangul Day in South Korea. Its North Korean equivalent is on January 15.

    Various speculations about the creation process were put to rest by the discovery in 1940 of the 1446 Hunmin Jeong-eum Haerye ("Hunmin Jeong-eum Explanation and Examples"). This document explains the design of the consonant letters according to articulatory phonetics and the vowel letters according to the principles of yin and yang and vowel harmony.

    In explaining the need for the new script, King Sejong explained that the Korean language was different from Chinese; using Chinese characters (known as hanja) to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats (yangban), usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

    Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days."

    Hangul faced opposition by the literate elite, such as Choe Manri and other Confucian scholars in the 1440s, who believed hanja to be the only legitimate writing system, and perhaps saw it as a threat to their status. However, it entered popular culture as Sejong had intended, being used especially by women and writers of popular fiction.[10] It was effective enough at disseminating information among the uneducated that Yeonsangun, the paranoid tenth king, forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504, and King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun (언문청 諺文廳, governmental institution related to Hangul research) in 1506.

    The late 16th century, however, saw a revival of Hangul, with gasa literature and later sijo flourishing. In the 17th century, Hangul novels became a major genre. By this point spelling had become quite irregular.

    Due to growing Korean nationalism in the 19th century, Japan's attempt to sever Korea from China's sphere of influence, and the Gabo Reformists' push, Hangul was eventually adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. Elementary school texts began using Hangul in 1895, and the Dongnip Sinmun, established in 1896, was the first newspaper printed in both Hangul and English.

    After Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, Japanese became the official language and main educational language, but Hangul was also taught in the Japanese-established schools of colonial Korea, and Korean was written in a mixed Hanja-Hangul script, where most lexical roots were written in hanja and grammatical forms in Hangul. The orthography was partially standardized in 1912, with arae a restricted to Sino-Korean, the emphatic consonants written ㅺ sg, ㅼ sd, ㅽ sb, ㅆ ss, ㅾ sj, and final consonants restricted to ㄱ g, ㄴ n, ㄹ l, ㅁ m, ㅂ b, ㅅ s, ㅇ ng, ㄺ lg, ㄻ lm, ㄼ lb (no ㄷ d, as it was replaced by s). Long vowels were marked by a diacritic dot to the left of the syllable, but this was dropped in 1921.

    A second colonial reform occurred in 1930. Arae a was abolished; the emphatic consonants were changed to ㄲ gg, ㄸ dd, ㅃ bb, ㅆ ss, ㅉ jj; more final consonants (ㄷㅈㅌㅊㅍㄲㄳㄵㄾㄿㅄ) were allowed, making the orthography more morphophonemic; ㅆ ss was written alone (without a vowel) when it occurred between nouns; and the nominative particle 가 ga was introduced after vowels, replacing ㅣ i. (ㅣ i had been written without an ㅇ iung. The nominative particle had been unvarying i in Sejong's day, and perhaps up to the eighteenth or nineteenth century.)

    Ju Sigyeong, who had coined the term Hangul "great script" to replace eonmun "vulgar script" in 1912, established the Korean Language Research Society (朝鮮語研究會; later renamed Hangul Society, 한글學會) which further reformed orthography with Standardized System of Hangul (한글 맞춤법 통일안) in 1933. The principal change was to make Hangul as morphophonemic as practical given the existing letters. A system for transliterating foreign orthographies was published in 1940.

    However, the Korean language was banned from schools in 1938 as part of a policy of cultural assimilation, and all Korean-language publications were outlawed in 1941.

    The definitive modern orthography was published in 1946, just after independence from Japan. In 1948 North Korea attempted to make the script perfectly morphophonemic through the addition of new letters, and in 1953 Syngman Rhee in South Korea attempted to simplify the orthography by returning to the colonial orthography of 1921, but both reforms were abandoned after only a few years.

    Since independence from Japan, the Koreas have used Hangul or mixed Hangul as their sole official writing system, with ever-decreasing use of hanja. Since the 1950s, it has become uncommon to find hanja in commercial or unofficial writing in the South, with some South Korean newspapers only using hanja as abbreviations or disambiguation of homonyms. There has been widespread debate as to the future of hanja in South Korea. North Korea instated Hangul as its exclusive writing system in 1949, and banned the use of hanja completely.

    The Hunminjeongeum Society in Seoul attempts to spread the use of Hangul to unwritten languages of Asia. In 2009 they had their first success, with the adoption of Hangul by the town of Bau-Bau, in Sulawesi, Indonesia, to write the Cia-Cia language.

    If you're interested in learning a little Korean, try here. If you want a little more background, try Omniglot.

    Anonymous. 2009. "Hangul". Wikipedia. Posted: October 12, 2009. Available online:

    Wright, Stephen. 2004. "Linguistic and Philosophical Origins of the Korean Alphabet (Hangul)". The Wright House. Posted: July 13, 2007. Available online:

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    When Brothers Share a Wife: Polyandry in Tibet

    The following is about Polyandry and its use in Tibet as a form of population control.

    Among Tibetans, the good life relegates many women to spinsterhood

    The mechanics of fraternal polyandry are simple. Two, three, four, or more brothers jointly take a wife, who leaves her home to come and live with them. Traditionally, marriage was arranged by parents, with children, particularly females, having little or no say. This is changing somewhat nowadays, but it is still unusual for children to matry without their parents' consent. Marriage ceremonies vary by income and region and range from all the brothers sitting together as grooms to only the eldest one formally doing so. The age of the brothers plays an important role in determining this: very young brothers almost never participate in actual marriage ceremonies' although they typically join the marriage when they reach their midteens'

    The eldest brother is normally dominant in terms of authority, that is, in managing the household, but all the brothers share the work and participate as sexual partners. Tibetan males and females do not find the sexual aspect of sharing a spouse the least bit unusual, repulsive, or scandalous, and the norm is for the wife to treat all the brothers the same.

    Offspring are treated sirnilarly. There is no attempt to link children biologically to particular brothers, and a brother shows no favoritism toward his child even if he knows he is the real father because, for example, his other brothers were away at the time the wife became pregnant. The children, in turn, consider all of the brothers as their fathers and treat them equally' even if they also know who is their real father. In some regions children use the term "father" for the eldest brother and "father's brother" for the others, while in other areas they call all the In such cases, all the children stayed in the main household with the remaining brother(s), even if the departing brother was known to be the real father of one or more of the children'brothers by one term, modifying this by the use of "elder" and "younger."
    This has been an excerpt from Professor Goldstein's paper. Read the whole thing here.

    Goldstein, Melvyn C. "When Brothers Share a Wife". Posted: September 11, 2009. Available online: [Natural History. 96(3):109-112, 1987.]

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    The Mayan Calendar Complex

    The thing about 2012 is that it is too specific. The Mayan calendar system is a complex of a series of calendars used to keep time. I found a website that describes using our calendar system the complexity of keeping time. I will also include the Wikipedia article here to explain the different Mayan calendars.
    The Maya calendar may seem less complicated if one considers our own Gregorian calendar system first. If a date was given as Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23, 1997 in the Age of Aquarius, and during President Clinton's Presidency we would for the most part understand what was meant even though we might not know where the words "Thursday" and "November" came from. It may also help to recall that weekdays go through a cycle that has nothing to do with astronomy or the position of the sun and earth and that 1997 really means 1 period of 1000 years, plus 9 periods of 100 years, plus 9 periods of 10 years plus 7 periods of 1 year.
    I do recommend visiting this site to learn more about the Calendar system as well as MesoAmerica.


    The tzolk'in (in modern Maya orthography; also commonly written tzolkin) is the name commonly employed by Mayanist researchers for the Maya Sacred Round or 260-day calendar. The word tzolk'in is a neologism coined in Yucatec Maya, to mean "count of days" (Coe 1992). The various names of this calendar as used by Precolumbian Maya peoples are still debated by scholars. The Aztec calendar equivalent was called Tonalpohualli, in the Nahuatl language.

    The tzolk'in calendar combines twenty day names with the thirteen numbers of the trecena cycle to produce 260 unique days. It is used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events and for divination. Each successive day is numbered from 1 up to 13 and then starting again at 1. Separately from this, each day is given a name in sequence from a list of 20 day names:
    Some systems started the count with 1 Imix', followed by 2 Ik', 3 Ak'b'al, etc. up to 13 B'en. The trecena day numbers then start again at 1 while the named-day sequence continues onwards, so the next days in the sequence are 1 Ix, 2 Men, 3 K'ib', 4 Kab'an, 5 Etz'nab', 6 Kawoq, and 7 Ajau. With all twenty named days used, these now began to repeat the cycle while the number sequence continues, so the next day after 7 Ajaw is 8 Imix'. The repetition of these interlocking 13- and 20-day cycles therefore takes 260 days to complete (that is, for every possible combination of number/named day to occur once).

    The exact origin of the Tzolk'in is not known, but there are several theories. One theory is that the calendar came from mathematical operations based on the numbers thirteen and twenty, which were important numbers to the Maya. The numbers multiplied together equal 260. Another theory is that the 260-day period came from the length of human pregnancy. This is close to the average number of days between the first missed menstrual period and birth, unlike Naegele's rule which is 40 weeks (280 days) between the last menstrual period and birth. It is postulated that midwives originally developed the calendar to predict babies' expected birth dates.

    A third theory comes from understanding of astronomy, geography and paleontology. The mesoamerican calendar probably originated with the Olmecs, and a settlement existed at Izapa, in southeast Chiapas Mexico, before 1200 BC. There, at a latitude of about 15° N, the Sun passes through zenith twice a year, and there are 260 days between zenithal passages, and gnomons (used generally for observing the path of the Sun and in particular zenithal passages), were found at this and other sites. The sacred almanac may well have been set in motion on August 13, 1359 BC, in Izapa. Vincent H. Malmström, a geographer who suggested this location and date, outlines his reasons:

    (1) Astronomically, it lay at the only latitude in North America where a 260-day interval (the length of the "strange" sacred almanac used throughout the region in pre-Columbian times) can be measured between vertical sun positions -- an interval which happens to begin on the 13th of August -- the day the peoples of the Mesoamerica believed that the present world was created;

    (2) Historically, it was the only site at this latitude which was old enough to have been the cradle of the sacred almanac, which at that time (1973) was thought to date to the 4th or 5th centuries B.C.; and (3) Geographically, it was the only site along the required parallel of latitude that lay in a tropical lowland ecological niche where such creatures as alligators, monkeys, and iguanas were native -- all of which were used as day-names in the sacred almanac.
    Malmström also offers strong arguments against both of the former explanations.
    A fourth theory is that the calendar is based on the crops. From planting to harvest is approximately 260 days.

    The Haab' was the Maya solar calendar made up of eighteen months of twenty days each plus a period of five days ("nameless days") at the end of the year known as Wayeb' (or Uayeb in 16th C. orthography). Bricker (1982) estimates that the Haab' was first used around 550 BC with the starting point of the winter solstice.

    The Haab' month names are known today by their corresponding names in colonial-era Yukatek Maya, as transcribed by 16th century sources (in particular, Diego de Landa and books such as the Chilam Balam of Chumayel). Phonemic analyses of Haab' glyph names in pre-Columbian Maya inscriptions have demonstrated that the names for these twenty-day periods varied considerably from region to region and from period to period, reflecting differences in the base language(s) and usage in the Classic and Postclassic eras predating their recording by Spanish sources.

    Each day in the Haab' calendar was identified by a day number in the month followed by the name of the month. Day numbers began with a glyph translated as the "seating of" a named month, which is usually regarded as day 0 of that month, although a minority treat it as day 20 of the month preceding the named month. In the latter case, the seating of Pop is day 5 of Wayeb'. For the majority, the first day of the year was 0 Pop (the seating of Pop). This was followed by 1 Pop, 2 Pop as far as 19 Pop then 0 Wo, 1 Wo and so on.

    As a calendar for keeping track of the seasons, the Haab' was a bit inaccurate, since it treated the year as having exactly 365 days, and ignored the extra quarter day (approximately) in the actual tropical year. This meant that the seasons moved with respect to the calendar year by a quarter day each year, so that the calendar months named after particular seasons no longer corresponded to these seasons after a few centuries. The Haab' is equivalent to the wandering 365-day year of the ancient Egyptians.

    The five nameless days at the end of the calendar, called Wayeb', were thought to be a dangerous time. Foster (2002) writes "During Wayeb, portals between the mortal realm and the Underworld dissolved. No boundaries prevented the ill-intending deities from causing disasters." To ward off these evil spirits, the Maya had customs and rituals they practiced during Wayeb'. For example, people avoided leaving their houses or washing or combing their hair.

    Calendar Round
    Neither the Tzolk'in nor the Haab' system numbered the years. The combination of a Tzolk'in date and a Haab' date was enough to identify a date to most people's satisfaction, as such a combination did not occur again for another 52 years, above general life expectancy.

    Because the two calendars were based on 260 days and 365 days respectively, the whole cycle would repeat itself every 52 Haab' years exactly. This period was known as a Calendar Round. The end of the Calendar Round was a period of unrest and bad luck among the Maya, as they waited in expectation to see if the gods would grant them another cycle of 52 years.

    Long Count

    Since Calendar Round dates can only distinguish in 18,980 days, equivalent to around 52 solar years, the cycle repeats roughly once each lifetime, and thus, a more refined method of dating was needed if history was to be recorded accurately. To measure dates, therefore, over periods longer than 52 years, Mesoamericans devised the Long Count calendar.

    The Maya name for a day was k'in. Twenty of these k'ins are known as a winal or uinal. Eighteen winals make one tun. Twenty tuns are known as a k'atun. Twenty k'atuns make a b'ak'tun.

    The Long Count calendar identifies a date by counting the number of days from the Mayan creation date 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumk'u (August 11, 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar or September 6 in the Julian calendar). But instead of using a base-10 (decimal) scheme like Western numbering, the Long Count days were tallied in a modified base-20 scheme. Thus is equal to 25, and is equal to 40. As the winal unit resets after only counting to 18, the Long Count consistently uses base-20 only if the tun is considered the primary unit of measurement, not the k'in; with the k'in and winal units being the number of days in the tun. The Long Count represents 360 days, rather than the 400 in a purely base-20 (vigesimal) count. There are also four rarely-used higher-order cycles: piktun, kalabtun, k'inchiltun, and alautun.

    Since the Long Count dates are unambiguous, the Long Count was particularly well suited to use on monuments. The monumental inscriptions would not only include the 5 digits of the Long Count, but would also include the two tzolk'in characters followed by the two haab' characters.

    The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar forms the basis for a New Age belief, first forecast by José Argüelles, that a cataclysm will take place on or about December 21, 2012, a forecast that mainstream Mayanist scholars consider a misinterpretation, yet is commonly referenced in pop-culture media as the 2012 problem.

    For example, Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization FAMSI, notes that "[f]or the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle". However, she considers the portrayal of December 2012 as a doomsday or cosmic-shift event to be "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in."

    Venus Cycle
    Another important calendar for the Maya was the Venus cycle. The Maya were skilled astronomers, and could calculate the Venus cycle with extreme accuracy. There are six pages in the Dresden Codex (one of the Maya codices) devoted to the accurate calculation of the heliacal rising of Venus. The Maya were able to achieve such accuracy by careful observation over many years.

    There are various theories as to why Venus cycle was especially important for the Maya, including the belief that it was associated with war and used it to divine good times (called electional astrology) for coronations and war. Maya rulers planned for wars to begin when Venus rose. The Maya also possibly tracked other planets’ movements, including those of Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter.

    I recommend visiting the Wikipedia site because they have the glyphs associated with Tzolk'in as well as the Mayan names for the different months, periods, etc.

    Anonymous. 2009. "Maya calendar". Wikipedia. Posted: October 14, 2009. Available online:

    Callahan, Kevin L. 1997. "The Maya Calendar". Ancient Mesoamerican Civilizations. Posted: June 10, 1997. Available online:

    Picture Credits:
    The Mayan Calendar is from : I also recommend you visit the site. Site maintainer is Tim To. Because it is a geocities site it will be taken down by Yahoo shortly. Hopefully, it will still exist at Internet Archive. It also appears that the site was last updated in 2007.

    Long Calendar is from: Wikipedia.