Monday, 13 June 2016 11:46

Al Capone the Gangster

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Al Capone the Gangster


No gangster in the world is better known than Al Capone (1899-1947). Although his criminal career ended more than 70 years ago, his image as a brutal, ruthless yet intelligent and stunningly successful gangster has never diminished. His grip over the Chicago underworld never slackened, his rule being enforced by clever diplomacy, bribery and lethal violence. Helped by movies and books, Al Capone’s career has acted as an inspiration to generations of criminals and a stark warning to the forces of law and order. For many he is the ultimate gangster. 

Capone was born in New York in 1899 to parents who had immigrated from Italy a few years before. As a teenager Capone engaged in petty theft, but he entered organised crime when he got a job as a bartender at the Harvard Inn, a rundown bar owned by gangster Frankie Yale. Capone’s talents quickly led to his rise in Yale’s gang and by the age of 20 he is thought to have carried out at least 2 murders for Yale. 

In 1919, Yale sent Capone to Chicago to help his friend Giovanni “Johnny” Torrio, who ran much of the windy city’s vice business. When Prohibition arrived, Torrio promoted the cunning Capone to run his illegal alcohol business. By 1923, Capone was heading his own mini empire of criminality in Cicero. He gained total control over Cicero’s underworld and got a henchman elected as the town’s mayor. 

Meanwhile, Torrio was engaged in a war with the North Side Gang. In 1925 Torrio was badly injured in a gun battle and retired to Italy, naming Capone as his successor. Capone moved quickly to establish control over Torrio’s gang. He then established a firm grip on the city’s government through bribery and blackmail. Politicians and senior police officers were in his control, and Capone’s empire of vice, gambling and alcohol operated virtually unhindered by the law. Capone quickly became the richest man in the city, indulging his tastes for fine clothes, fine living and loose women to the full. 

led by Bugs Moran – was continually trying to encroach on Capone’s territory and activities. There were frequent outbreaks of violence and in 1928 Bugs Moran tried to have Capone murdered. The attempt failed only because Capone’s bodyguard threw his boss to the ground.
But if Capone and his gang were beyond the law, they were not beyond the reach of other gangsters. The North Side Gang – 

Capone plotted revenge, and gave the job of carrying it out to his chief executioner Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn. McGurn hired gunmen from New York, Detroit and Tennessee. Then he began studying the North Side Gang’s movements and activities. He discovered that on 14 February 1929 the entire gang leadership was due to be at a garage at 2122 North Clark Street to receive a large consignment of illegal drink. 

McGurn had his hired guns dress as policemen and drive a stolen police car. They arrived just a few minutes after the illegal drink and burst into the garage as if making arrests. The gangsters lined up as instructed. The fake policemen then opened up with machineguns and shotguns with such savagery that several of the victims were almost cut in two. Moran himself had been late arriving and, seeing the police car, had not entered the garage. The Valentine Day’s Massacre, as the mass killing became known, destroyed the North Side Gang. 

Indirectly, the massacre also destroyed Capone. The killings were so brutal and so open that they prompted a backlash by the honest citizens of Chicago, and caused the federal government to take an interest. At first the forces of law and order were unable to link any crimes directly to Capone, who always acted through middlemen and used cash rather than traceable bank accounts. 

Then the famous Elliot Ness of the US
Treasury came across a book that detailed payments made to Capone. In 1931 Capone was convicted on five charges of tax evasion. The judge, knowing full well of Capone’s other crimes, imposed the harshest sentence possible: 11 years in a federal prison and one year in the county jail, as well as an earlier six-months contempt of court sentence plus fines and court costs totalling $80,000. 

While Capone was in prison, his grip on his criminal empire slackened. By 1938 the onset of tertiary syphilis had begun and Capone entered a steep decline in his health. He was released in 1939, but with his health broken he retired from crime. He died on 24 January 1947. 

Monday, 13 June 2016 11:17

Hastings: Norman Conquest of England, 1066

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Hastings: Norman Conquest of England, 1066

The Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last successful invasion of England--and the first and only since the Roman conquest a thousand years earlier. Its aftermath established a new feudal order that ensured that England would adopt the political and social traditions of continental Europe, rather than those of Scandinavia. The single battle also gained the country's crown for the Norman leader William. 

Prior to the Battle of Hastings, the Vikings ruled Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and much of the British Isles. Areas they did not directly control were still vulnerable to their constant raids. Earlier Viking victories in France had led to intermarriage and the creation of a people who called themselves the Normans. Other Vikings conquered the British Isles and established their own kingdoms. Royal bloodlines ran through the leaders of all of the monarchies, but this did not prevent them from fighting each other. 

Claims of crowns and territories reached a state of crisis with the death of Edward the Confessor, the King of England in 1066, who had left no heir. Three men claimed the throne: Harold Godwin, brother-in-law of Edward; William, the Duke of Normandy and a distant relative of Edward's; and King Harald Hardrada of Norway, the brother of Harold Godwin. 

Both Harald and William assembled armies to sail to England to secure their claims. Godwin decided that William presented more of a threat and moved his English army to the southern coast across from Normandy. Weather, however, delayed William, and King Harald's ten thousand Vikings arrived first. On September 20, the Vikings soundly defeated the local forces around the city of York and seriously weakened the English army in the region. 

Hearing of the battle, Godwin turned his army north and covered the two hundred miles to York in only six days. At Stamford Bridge, he surprised the Vikings and soundly defeated them. The retreating Viking survivors filled only twenty-four of the three hundred ships that had brought them to England. 

Godwin had inflicted the most decisive defeat on the Vikings in more than two centuries, but there was no time to celebrate. A few days later, he learned that the Normans had landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex and were marching inland.

Godwin hurried back south with his army and on October 1 he arrived in London, where he recruited additional soldiers. On October 13, Godwin moved to Sussex to take defensive positions along the Norman line of march on Senlac Ridge, eight miles northwest of the village of Hastings. He did not have long to prepare because William approached the next day. 

Godwin possessed both advantages and disadvantages. He had the advantage of the defense, and his army of 7,000 was about the same size as that of the Normans. Only about 2,000 of his men, however, were professionals. These housecarls, as they were known, wore conical helmets and chain-mail vests and carried five-foot axes in addition to metal shields. The remaining Saxons were poorly trained militiamen known as fyrds, who were basically draftees levied from the shires. Many of the fyrds, and most of the housecarls, were exhausted from their march as well as from the fierce battle with the Vikings. 

William's army contained about 2,000 cavalrymen and 5,000 infantrymen, equally armed with swords or bows or crossbows. Despite the lack of numerical superiority and an enemy defense that would only allow for a frontal assault, William attacked.

The Normans advanced behind a rain of arrows from their archers, but the Saxon shields turned aside most of the missiles. Several direct attacks by the infantry fared no better. William then personally led a cavalry charge but was turned back by marshy ground and the Saxon defenses. Defeat, or at best stalemate, appeared to be the outcome of the battle for the invaders. The Normans were further demoralized when a story swept the ranks that William had been killed. 

When the Norman leader heard the rumor, he removed his visor and rode to the head of his army. His soldiers, seeing that he was alive, rallied and renewed the assault. William also ordered his archers to fire at a high angle rather than in a direct line in order to reach behind the Saxon shields. The battle remained in doubt until William's cavalry turned and wildly fled from the battlefield. Whether the cavalry was retreating from fright or as a ruse, it had the same results. The Saxons left their defenses to pursue, only to be struck by the Norman infantry. At about the same time, an arrow hit Godwin in the eye, and he was killed by the advancing infantry. The leaderless Saxons began to flee. 

William, soon to be known as the Conqueror, pursued the retreating Saxons and seized Dover. With little resistance, he entered London on December 25, 1066, and received the crown of England as King William I. Over the next five years, William brutally put down several rebellions and replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with his own Norman followers. Norman nobles built castles from which to rule and defend the countryside. Norman law, customs, traditions, and citizens intermingled with the Saxons to form the future of England as a nation. 

Later the adage would declare, "There'll always be an England." The fact remains that the England that eventually came to exist began on the Hastings battlefield, and 1066 became a schoolbook standard marking the expansion of English culture, colonization, and influence around the world.



The ape insult: a short history of a racist idea

Most us know that calling someone an ape is racist, but few of us understand why apes are associated in the European imagination with indigenous people and, indeed, people of African descent.

To understand the power and scope of the ape insult, we need a dose of history. When I was an undergraduate at university, I learnt about racism and colonialism, particularly the influence of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whose ideas seemed to make racism nastier.

Indeed, it’s easy to infer this. Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1859) showed that the closest ancestors of human beings were the great apes. And the idea that homo sapiens were descended from monkeys rapidly became part of theatre of evolution. Darwin, himself, was often depicted as half-man, half-monkey.

What’s more, while most evolutionists believed that all human races descended from the same stock, they also noted that migration, and natural and sexual selection had created human varieties that – in their eyes – appeared superior to Africans or Aborigines.

The role of evolutionary thought

In the early 20th century, the increasing popularity of Mendelian genetics (named after Gregor Johann Mendel, 1822-1884) did nothing to depose this way of thinking. If anything, it made things worse.

It suggested that the races had become separate species, and that Africans, in particular, were far closer in evolutionary terms to the great apes than were, say, Europeans.

And yet, during the same period, there was always a stream of evolutionary science that rejected this model. It emphasised the deep similarities between different races, and that differences in behaviour were the product of culture not biology.

The horrors of Nazism put paid to mainstream science’s dalliance with biological racism. Adolf Hitler’s genocide, willingly supported by German scientists and doctors, showed where the misapplication of science might end up.

This left scientific racism in the hands of far-right groups who were only too willing to ignore the findings of post-war evolutionary biology in favour of its pre-war variants.

Clearly, evolutionary thinking has had something to do with the longevity of the ape insult. But the European association of apes with Africans has a much longer cultural and scientific pedigree.

Caught in the middle

In the 18th century, a new way of thinking about species emerged. Previously the vast majority of Europeans believed that God had created species (including man), and these species were immutable.

Many believed in the unity of the human species, but some thought that God had created separate human species. In this schema, white Europeans were described as closest to the angels, while black Africans and Aborigines were closest to the apes.

Many 18th-century scientists tried to undermine the creationist model. But, in so doing, they gave more power to the ape insult.

In the mid-1700s, the great French naturalist, mathematician and cosmologist Comte de Buffon (Georges-Louis Leclerc, 1707-1788) put forward the idea that all species of animal were descended from a small number of spontaneously-generated types.

Feline species, for example, were supposedly descended from a single ancestral cat. As cats migrated away from their point of spontaneous generation, they degenerated into separate species under the influence of climate.

In 1770, the Dutch scientist Petrus Camper (1722-1789) took Buffon’s model and applied it to man. For Camper, the original man was ancient Greek. As this original human moved from his point of creation around the world, he too degenerated under the influence of climate.

In Camper’s view, monkeys, the apes and orangutans, were all degenerated versions of original man. Then, in 1809, Darwin’s intellectual forebear, Lamarck(Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, 1744-1829) proposed a model of evolution that saw all organisms as descended from a single point of spontaneous creation.

Worms evolved into fish, fish into mammals, and mammals into men. This happened not through Darwinian selection but through an inner vital force driving simple organisms to become more complex, working in combination with the influence of the environment.

In this view, humans didn’t share a common ancestry with apes; they were directly descended from them. And Africans then became the link between monkeys and Europeans. The popular image commonly associated with Darwinian evolution of the staged transformation of ape into man should more properly be called Lamarckian.

The power of racism

Each of these ways of thinking about the relationship between humans and monkeys reinforced the connection made by Europeans between Africans and apes. And by making it seem as if people of a non-European origin were more like apes than humans, these different theories were used to justify plantation slavery in the Americas and colonialism through the rest of the world.

All of these different scientific and religious theories worked in the same direction – to reinforce the European right to control large swathes of the world.

The ape insult is actually about the way Europeans have differentiated themselves, biologically and culturally, in an effort to maintain superiority over other people.

The important thing to remember is that those “other” people are much more aware of that history than white Europeans. To summon up the image of an ape is to tap into the power that has led to indigenous dispossession and the other bequests of colonialism.

Clearly, the education system doesn’t do enough to educate us about the science or history of man. Because if it did, we would see the disappearance of the ape insult.





The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous & Tragic Life of Audrey Munson, America's First Supermodel

The tumultuous and heartbreaking life of a world-famous model whose riveting story of beauty, fame, passion, murder, and madness in the Gilded Age captivated a nation.

As America was stepping into the modern era, one great beauty became the artist’s model of choice. Her perfect form became the emblem of the Gilded Age and appears on the greatest monuments of New York and the nation. Supermodel, actress, icon—her beauty paved the way for a life of glamour, passion, and ultimately tragedy. She dated the millionaires of the fashionable Newport colony, became the first American movie star ever to appear naked in a film, but her promising film career collapsed, her doctor fell in love with her and killed his own wife, and on her fortieth birthday, her mother committed her to an insane asylum. She remained there until her death in 1996 at the age of 104 and is now buried in an unmarked grave. Her name is Audrey Munson.

Many readers will recognize Audrey Munson, and have walked by her in the street, without even knowing her name. She stands atop New York’s Municipal Building. She sits as “Miss Manhattan” and “Miss Brooklyn” outside the Brooklyn Museum, is immortalized on the Manhattan Bridge, the Frick Mansion, the New York Public Library, and the Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel. In gold, bronze, and stone, she still graces bridges, skyscrapers, fountains, churches, monuments, and public buildings across the nation, from Jacksonville to San Francisco, from Atlanta to the Wisconsin state capitol.

Crazy indeed. Munson came to New York to be a chorus girl, but was pulled from obscurity when photographer Felix Benedict Herzog noticed the great beauty while window-shopping with her mother on Fifth Avenue. Munson became an actress and a model under his tutelage and almost accepted a marriage proposal from Herzog before he died suddenly in 1912. “By then, she had artist friends, and she was sort of taken up by the scene.

As an 18-year-old, Munson drew the attention of noted artists for her idealistic physique — “The Most Perfectly Formed Woman in the World,” said press at the time — a throwback to the Greek goddessesque forms that captivated master painters Raphael and Botticelli. She began posing nude for the likes of sculptor Isidore Konti in 1909 and photographer Arnold Genthe shortly thereafter, soon becoming a favorite in New York City artistic circles.

Munson was adored by men. But she was focused on keeping her place atop the modeling world and turned away many suitors — like smitten railway executive Paul Hardaway, to whom she was engaged for a time, around 1914. According to Curse, Munson eventually realized she “did not love this man enough to be his wife,” setting Hardaway up with another model-friend of hers.

She continued to excel professionally when she headed to the West Coast, where Munson caught the eye of movie producers. She starred in commercial fashion shows and became the first American star to appear fully nude on film. But trouble soon followed. “There, she started to have psychological problems,” says Bone. “She was the most famous muse in America, but was unfortunately swept up into a murder case.”

In 1919, Munson’s former landlord, Walter Wilkins, a physician who had become obsessed with Munson, was convicted and executed for murdering his wife, allegedly to free himself to marry Munson. Bone says that the stress of the case, coupled with the demands of her career, proved too much for her to handle. Munson dropped entirely out of the art and film scene. “She was a fragile and vulnerable woman, placed under an enormous amount of pressure as a nude model,” he says. “She became a recluse for 10 years. She tried to come back around 1921 for a movie, but was unsuccessful. She was the original Hollywood flameout — and on her 40th birthday, her mother committed her.”

It’s almost unimaginable that Munson spent more than 60 quiet years in a mental institution, right up to her death in 1996. Once beloved by many, she didn’t have visitors for decades. “Her parents died, but her father did have a second family,” Bone says. “Finally, when she was 93, she was rediscovered by her half niece, Darlene — her father’s granddaughter.”

When she died, Munson’s ashes were placed in her father’s burial plot. “There is no headstone, just a plastic flower,” Bone says. “It is hard to believe that the woman who was the inspiration for monuments all around the world, and especially in New York, has no monument herself.”



'Inventive' early Neanderthals built complex structures: study

Long thought of as thick-skulled brutes, Neanderthals were already building complex underground structures by firelight, possibly for rituals, 176,500 years ago, said a study Wednesday that adds to a new, smarter image of our extinct cousins.

These ancient people wrenched fragments of stalagmite from the cave floor and stacked them into walls, some forming rough circles, standing up to knee high, according to research published in the journal Nature.

Deep inside Bruniquel Cave in southwest France, more than 300 metres (984 feet) from the entrance, they built six such structures, one almost seven metres wide -- tens of thousands of years before the first Homo sapiens arrived in Europe.

"Neanderthals were inventive, creative, subtle and complex," study co-author Jacques Jaubert, of France's Bordeaux University, told AFP.

"They were not mere brutes focused on chipping away at flint tools or killing bison for food."

The dating of these structures pushed back by tens of thousands of years the first known cave exploration by members of the broader human family.

And it ranked the French walls among the oldest-known human constructions.

According to the multi-national research team, Neanderthals broke the stalagmite pillars into about 400 similarly-sized pieces with a total length of 112.4 metres (123 yeards) and a weight of about 2.2 tons (4,400 pounds).

This implied they knew how to work as a group.

- The only ones -

Among the fragments of stalagmite -- pillars of mineral deposits growing upward from a cave floor underneath a persistent drip -- the researchers found traces of fire and burnt pieces of bone.

"Early Neanderthals were the only human population living in Europe during this period," they wrote -- and referred to Neanderthals as "the world's first spelunkers".

"Our findings suggest that their society included elements of modernity, which can now be proven to have emerged earlier than previously thought."

Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for up to 300,000 years but appear to have vanished some 40,000 years ago.

This coincided more or less with the arrival of Homo sapiens out of Africa, where modern humans are believed to have emerged some 200,000 years ago.

Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred, leaving a small contribution of less than two percent to modern human DNA -- except for Africans, as the Neanderthals never lived on the continent.

Several recent studies have found that Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than suggested by the long-standing theory that they disappeared because we outsmarted them.

Reconstructions of Neanderthals often make them out as brawny rather than brainy -- even their name is used to insult someone perceived as uncouth.

Yet they were recently shown to have been making cave etchings some 40,000 years ago, were likely the first to catch, butcher and cook wild pigeons, ate vegetables, cared for their elderly, buried their dead, and may have been the first jewellers.

- Ritual? -

The new study contends that "the Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organisation that was more complex than previously thought."

The function of the stalagmite constructions, first discovered in 1992 and recently re-examined, can only be inferred.

Based on other examples of early human cave use, "we could assume" they had a symbolic or ritual use, the authors said, though they may also have been used for "domestic" purposes or as a refuge.

"What surprises us most is the ability of Neanderthals to have explored very deep into caves... far from natural light," Jaubert said.

"We believe we are providing evidence of the capacity of Neanderthals to enter a hostile, underground environment, using fire to light the way, to do things that go beyond mere survival."

The oldest "formally-proven" inhabited cave, according to the team, was Chauvet in southeast France with its more than 30,000-year-old cave paintings left by early humans.

Commenting on the study, archaeologist Marie Soressi of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, agreed that Neanderthals alone would have built the structures.

"We don't have any other type of humans in Europe at that time," she said in a podcast distributed by Nature.

"It's clearly too big to be a structure made by cave bears which are known to hibernate deep inside caves. It is also completely unknown for cave bears to pile up fragments."




Migration of population – historical milestones and the importance of migration both for the present and the future Beginnings of human migration It is generally assumed that the first human ancestors appeared four million years ago in Africa. Only two million years ago, when the development of a new hominid species (homo erectus – upright man) humanity embarked its first pilgrimage. Due to the natural conditions (the end of periodic Ice Ages playing an essential part in human´s advance), homo erectus began to migrate, quickly usually in groups direct to the south. Within a few generations he got to the very southern Tip of the African continent and north to the Horn of Africa. Subsequently, his steps led to the west and east, perhaps to southern Europe. The rate of this migration was remarkable. Fossil findings also attested that the genus Homo erectus on their travels came to the coast of the Black Sea and China. Later, however, the genus Homo erectus became completely extinct and the story of humanity today and its colonization of the planet is the history of the genus Homo sapiens (wise man). Roughly 400,000 years B.C., the genus of the first genetically identifiable humans, Homo sapiens developed in the same African environment. These first people finally spread throughout the world. Humankind remained on the southern half of the African continent for tens of thousand years. Later, they travelled north along the Nile River and apparently appeared on the Egyptian coast. Subsequently, Homo sapiens headed east, left Africa and moved to what is now Israel and Lebanon.Studies have shown, that the first migration wave front facing approximately 73 000 years B.C .on the territory of contemporary Asia, European settlement was found later. Migrant people have found out that the best condition for survival will have those following the coast, where they had food available. In this way, over many centuries, they came to the southern Tip of the Arabian Peninsula, further and further away from Africa. Eventually, they have overcome and the Strait of Hormuz and got into Asia. Then they continued along the west coast of India, then turned north and followed the eastern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Then they went to the south, the coastal areas of Burma and Thailand, to come to places near Java. It is estimated that this journey across the continent took our ancestors 10,000 years. People later found their way to Australia, which at that time was much higher than today (also included New Guinea and Tasmania).Australia and Pacific Islands were inhabited approximately 40 000 years B.C . In the rage of 34 000 – 20 000 years BC migration hit Siberia, Alaska, and later also North, Central and South America. It is supposed, that people crossed the wide land bridge that connected Eurasia and North America in places where it is now separated by the Bering Strait. They have spread throughout the continent very quickly and finally found a way through Mexico trip to South America.Global warming associated with the Ice Age ( 9 000 or 10000 years ago), which brought about big geographical changes all over the world.Followed by global warming associated with the end of the Ice Age (9000 and 10 000 years ago), which yielded a massive geographical changes worldwide. The level of sea has risen and due it Australia was cut off from the rest of the world, from Britain and Japan became the islands and many places along which people walked earlier, gobbled by the sea. When the climate was stabilized, continents and oceans acquired its present form.

Extraterrestrial Life!! China Set The World's Fatest & Largest Radio Telescope to Search for Extraterrestrial Life


According to chief scientist from China’s National Astronomical Observations, Li Di, FAST will be able to scan up to twice more areas of the sky than Arecibo shown above, and it will have between three to five times the sensitivity.  It’s in their hopes that if there is indeed alien life, this gargantuan will find it. 


The region's karst topography -- a landscape of porous rock fissured with deep crevasses and underground caves and streams -- is ideal for draining rainwater and protecting the reflector. Unfortuately, citizens actually living in the area where the radio telescope will be built are being relocated. Some 2,000 families residing near the Pingtang and Luodian counties will be given $1,800 per individual for the forced relocation.


For years Chinese scientists have relied on "second hand" data collected by others in their research and the new telescope is expected to "greatly enhance" the country's capacity to observe outer space, Xinhua said. Beijing is accelerating its military-run multi-billion-dollar space exploration program, which it sees as a symbol of the country's progress. It has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon. 


The Chinese governmnet hopes that a more subtle benefit of the behemoth eye on the cosmos will intice some of the some of the brightest minds in science or astronomy studying abroad to return home to China. China is the leading nation in the world in the number of students it sends students abroad, especially for majors such as science or engineering. 


Construction on the telescope started in March 2011 and is scheduledto finish this coming September, 2016. It also has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon.




Saturday, 21 May 2016 14:17


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Boxing in the Ancient World

The art of boxing, whereby two men enter a contest to see who can withstand the most punches from the other, dates back at least as far as the earliest civilisations and is probably one of the oldest sports of its kind in the history of fighting. 

Due to its simplicity, it can be speculated that even in the pre-civilized world, men would enter into such contest and over time it developed into a sport, with rudimentary rules and the use of equipment. 

Boxing in the Earliest Civilisations

The earliest physical evidence portraying boxing comes from the first known civilisation, Samaria (modern day Iraq) where it is depicted on a number of carvings that are believed to have been produced in the third century BCE. Some equipment seems to already be in use at this time and while the fighters are bare fisted, they do have straps around their wrists that would have provided them with some support and protection for the small bones in the wrists and hands. 

Bare knuckled boxing was also the norm in Egypt, as depicted on a sculpture from around 1350 BCE from Thebes (modern-day Luxor). It shows spectators watching three sets of fighters and what is interesting is that they seem to be performing for the pharaoh. 

The earliest representation of boxing gloves in use comes from a Minoan fresco (pictured above) from Thera (modern-day Santorini) which is commonly known as the Boxing Boys and dates from around 1600 BCE. A vase from the same region depicts what seems to be pugilists wearing helmets as well as gloves and it is believed that they may well have been used extensively at that time. 

There is some academic dispute on the purpose of the gloves however. While some scholars believe they were probably use as safety equipment for training purposes, others maintain that the shape of the gloves may suggest that their purpose was to cause more damage to the opponent, rather than act as cushioning for the bones in the hand of the one doing the punching. 

Boxing in Ancient Greece

A form of boxing known as Pyx (meaning ‘with clenched fist’) was introduced to the Olympics in 688 BCE where opponents were only allowed to punch. Other forms of attack such as grappling, biting and gouging were prohibited though it is hotly debated in the academic world if kicking was allowed. 

The object was to either knock out the opponent or force him to submit, which was indicated with a raised index finger. The fight would continue until a submission or knock out was achieved; in this particularly vicious version of the sport, there were no rounds and participants could keep punching even if their opponent was knocked to the floor. 

A soft dirt pit known as a skamma was used to fight in and a referee oversaw the battle, carrying a switch to whip any fighter that broke the rules or stepped out of line. While these contests were brutal affairs, a fighter would still need high levels of training, skill and courage to make it in the boxing scene of ancient Greece.

These contests seem to have been basically akin to bare knuckle boxing though in place of boxing gloves, their wrists and knuckles would often be wrapped in straps known as himantes, which were made from ox hide and were designed to protect the boxer’s hands. 

After the fourth century BCE these were replaced with so called sharp thongs that served the same purpose and consisted of a thick strip of leather. Different fighters seemed to use these straps in different ways, some covering much of the hands while others just used them as support for the wrist. 

While they were probably used mainly for protecting the boxer’s hand, when covering the knuckle, the leather would also cut into an opponent when he was hit causing far more damage than if they were hit from a fighter using the himantes, sometimes also called softer thongs. It is interesting to note that as with most sporting contests in ancient Greece, apart from these straps participants of Pyx would be completely naked. 


The Roman Boxing Scene

Boxing in ancient Rome was known as Pugilatus (from which we derive the modern word pugilism) and was even more ruthless than the version of the sport that the Greeks participated in. 


The leather straps around the hands could be utilised, but were often replaced by what effectively leather knuckledusters were known as caestus that had metal inserted into them to cause maximum damage to an opponent. 

In many ways the caestus was more like a knife than a boxing glove as it could actually stab and rupture a fighter. In his poem the Aeneid, Virgil references their brutal nature by mentioning that when a Sicilian fighter called Entellus wanted to wear a pair previously worn by his brother, they were still “stained with blood and splattered brains”. 

These metal laden gloves were not necessarily compulsory however as can be seen from the same poem when Entellus’ opponent, Dares of Troy, refused to fight in them opting instead for lighter, padded gloves (depicted in the image below). 

Unsurprisingly, boxing matches in Rome often ended in the death of the loser and while many Romans were willing participants, they were also fought between unwilling participants such as slaves. 


As well as being a sport and a gladiatorial contest, it was also seen as a training method for soldiers though safety equipment would have been used in this case to prevent injury during training. 

The boxing scene held an important role in Roman culture until in around 400 CE, Emperor Theodoric the Great banned it outright. As a Christian, he disapproved of the deaths and disfigurements it could cause, and of its use as a form of violent entertainment. 



Mysterious Mass Graves Hold Prisoners of Bloody 17th-Century Battle

Three years ago, archaeologists at Durham University began excavating a site on campus for a proposed addition to the school's library, but work was unexpectedly halted when the researchers uncovered remnants of two mass graves. The discovery ignited a centuries-old mystery, but now, scientists say clues point back to one of the shortest but bloodiest battles of the English Civil Wars.

The estimated 1,700 skeletons, found underground at the southern tip of Durham University's Palace Green Library, were likely Scottish soldiers who had been taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, the archaeologists said.

The prisoners were captured by Oliver Cromwell, the controversial English leader who waged a successful military campaign against the Royalists in a 17th-century civil war, toppling the monarchy and culminating in the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

The two mass graves beneath Durham University had been hidden for nearly four centuries.

"In quite a small area, a little more than a meter square [11 square feet], we found at least 17 — possibly as many as 28 — people buried in mass graves," said Smith Wanton, a senior archaeologist at Durham University. "This is very, very exciting, and we've done a lot of work looking at dating and other things that we can try and find out about the identity of these people."

Many of the prisoners likely died from hunger or disease, and were thrown into mass graves to be forgotten, he said.

Smith added that it was always known that bodies from the Battle of Dunbar were buried somewhere in Durham, but the exact site was never fully determined until the bones were revealed.

Sifting for clues

Anwen Caffel, an archaeology research fellow at Durham University, analyzed the skeletons to look for information about the population, such as the age and sex of the prisoners. This is how the researchers confirmed that the skeletons were, in fact, prisoners of the battle, rather than ordinary people. 

"This indicated all of the adults were males, and there was quite a narrow age range present between the age of about 13 and 25," Caffel told Live Science. "This would be indicative of a military context rather than the general population."

Caffel said the skeletons showed very little evidence of healed trauma, which suggests the prisoners didn't have much experience in battles before they were sent to fight in Dunbar. Also, teeth in some individuals were worn, a sign that they enjoyed smoking a pipe, the researchers said. This helped determine further when the prisoners would have been alive, because pipe-smoking became fairly popular in the early part of the 17th century in Britain, after the year 1620, according to the archaeologists. [Scientific analysis was performed to find out where the prisoners came from, and the results indicated that the soldiers hailed from a wide range of destinations, said Andrew Millard, a senior archaeology lecturer at the Durham University.

"Most of them are not compatible with being local to Durham, but are compatible with being somewhere in Scotland," Millard said. "A small group of them were not compatible with being from the British Isles, and that would agree with some of the historical evidence that there were Dutchmen from Northern Europe in the Scottish Army."

The prisoners were found under a building that appears on a map in 1754, so along with the pipe-smoking evidence, the researchers were left with a fairly narrow timeframe.

The scientists performed careful radiocarbon dating to further confine the dates, and to determine a more exact time for when the soldiers were alive.

"What we did that was new, was actually [take] two samples from an individual with a known difference in age, which hasn't been done before," Millard said. "So, we dated two teeth from two individuals and with a statistical analysis including all the other information, we were able to come up with [a date] range of 1625 to 1660."

A bloody battle

The Battle of Dunbar was one of the bloodiest but short-lived battles of the 17th century. It took less than an hour for Cromwell to defeat the Royalist-supporting Scottish Covenanters, led by Gen. David Leslie, on the southeast coast of Scotland.

Recent estimates suggest that anywhere between 300 and 5,000 soldiers lost their lives during the Battle of Dunbar, and an additional 6,000 individuals were captured. Out of the thousands who were marched to Durham to be imprisoned, an estimated 1,700 people died and were buried in the city. [Fight, Fight, Fight: The History of Human Aggression]

"These are ordinary soldiers from the Scots army, probably raised from the lowlands of Scotland, some highlanders, and up into the northeast of Scotland, whose names we don’t have," said Pam Graves, a senior lecturer at Durham University. "We know the names of contemporary officers, but so rarely do we ever know the names of ordinary soldiers."

She added that the scientific evidence being uncovered now gives a very emotional sendoff to these soldiers who died nearly 400 years ago, because archaeologists can piece together data and perhaps give a voice to those forgotten by history. 

The researchers are now planning to investigate the diseases that could have affected the soldiers, and aim to examine the teeth samples to see what they can reveal about the childhoods of the prisoners, such as their diet and migration. Analysis of soil samples from the abdomen of the skeletons could also determine if any of the prisoners had intestinal parasites, the archaeologists said.



BURKINA FASO: FARMERS GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN Burkina Faso's farmers are turning away from industrial farming and embracing agro-ecological techniques. Facing a towering wall of yellow stalks bowing under the weight of grain, Lankoande Francois swings his machete and the drying strands fall to the ground. His wife follows close behind, her feet crackling the kernels as she swiftly leans in to gather dark brown beads of sorghum that will feed their family. The midday heat has reached 40C and the light is harsh. There is little shade under the trees' scorched, outstretched branches. Lankoande pauses a moment and lifts his worn cotton shirt to wipe the sweat from his weary but youthful face. Here, in the north of Burkina Faso, the land which meets the Sahel is an empty, vast horizon of ochre dust. A year ago, the patch of green land Lankoande is now harvesting was the same as the barren earth which surrounds it. The other farmers have abandoned it, he says, heading south in search of a more forgiving way of life. He, however, refusing to leave his home, sought another way. A year ago a farmer from a neighbouring town came to Lankoande's village and demonstrated a few agroecology techniques. Curious about the idea, Lankoande gathered rocks to build contour lines that trap the little rain that falls on his land and dug small pits of organic manure called zai pits to help seeds to germinate in the rock-hard soil. He began to prune trees so that they provided shade without taking too much of the precious water his crops needed. The risk paid off. This year he has managed to grow enough food to keep his family in the Bilanga village for another season, and he's been able to harvest enough to be sold in the market of Fada N'Gourma, more than three hours away. Though Lankoande was born into this harsh land and has worked alongside his brothers and mother since childhood, these agroecological techniques were unfamiliar to him. Agroecology which finesses traditional farming techniques with scientifically researched concepts has one simple aim: to help farmers to grow more healthy food by rehabilitating their land using sustainable techniques. Food out of reach Far from the Lankoande's rural farm are the western industrial food businesses dominating the agricultural sector. These large-scale companies rely on monoculture, or single species, crops and massive amounts of chemicals and fertilizers, and consume water and fuels at unsustainable rates. Despite their scale they aren't feeding everyone. According to the 2015 figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there are 795 million hungry people in the world and 98 percent of them live in developing countries. Industrial agriculture may have helped to grow more food for the world but it has placed that food out of the reach of the most impoverished. In contrast, a defining feature of agroecology is that it embraces small-scale and decentralised solutions to food security and shuns industrial farming. "Industrial farming is not the solution at all. I don't believe in it," says Fatou Batta, who works with the Association Nourrir Sans Detruire (ASND) and another NGO called Groundswell International. "I believe in investing in small-scale farming and family farming because they are effective and sustainable and they can really feed the world." In another village, south of Fada N'Gourma, called Gayeri, Tambiga Pomougou stands out in her bright pink shirt and a simple green head wrap. Her face is stoic and adorned with tribal markings on her cheeks. Tambiga gestures to her healthy field of millet which she planted using a variety of agroecological techniques including zai pits and contour lines. "I found the technique[s] to be very effective," she says in the local dialect. "Just this year I went to many of my neighbour's farms and I trained them how to do this." Today, near Tambiga's field, an agroecology demonstration conducted by ASND is taking place and it seems that every time the volunteer farmers swing their axes into the solid earth, another small group of people have gathered under thorny trees to watch and learn. Children edge closer carrying younger siblings, quiet in the stifling heat but eager to get a glimpse of the afternoon's entertainment. The farmers bring out their equipment with pride, eager to be photographed with their axes and shovels and other unrecognisable tools. One device called an "A frame" is used to map out the contours of their fields. From here farmers can see where best to build low stone walls to trap rain. Rainfall is limited here in Burkina Faso, and so firstly it must be captured with care and allowed to seep into the orange dirt. Any runoff must be controlled to stop it from stripping away the fertile top soil which could make or break a harvest. The next thing the demonstrator brings out, guided by a confident Tambiga who encourages the women who have gathered to come closer, looks like a wide leaf collector with several spikes at the end. It's used to draw out the neat, level lines where the zai pits are dug, the demonstrator explains. It is essentially a rainwater harvesting technique; the pits have a depth of around 10cm to allow the water to seep into the roots and are sprinkled with a fistful of manure to encourage the soil to regenerate by retaining nutrients. The half-moon is essentially the same as the zai technique but on a much larger scale. Both techniques help to boost yield and cut desertification. A chatty woman with happy, bright eyes who has gathered along with the rest of the village explains to us that it was Tambiga who taught her to use zai pits. She now uses the technique and her harvest to feed her family. Women farmers are a key part of tackling the food security challenges that the region faces because they are often responsible for feeding the family while their husband's land is geared towards creating a surplus to sell. Consequently, women in Burkina Faso are often given the worst, most infertile land, and so anything they can do to improve its quality is of huge value to the entire family. "As they work on their husband's land, they don't own any of it and so they get the worst [part]," explains Fatou Batta. "The women are the rehabilitators of the land." 'An investment worth making'Some believe that through agroecology and support, the small-scale farmers can rival industrial farms and end malnutrition. Hilal Elver, UN's special rapporteur on the right to food, agrees. In a report released this August, she states: "There is a need to encourage a major shift from current industrial agriculture to transformative activities such as conservation agriculture [agroecology] that support the local food movement, protect smallholder farmers, empower women, respect food democracy, maintain environmental sustainability and facilitate a healthy diet." A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development which assessed existing scientific studies on agroecology found that the farming system leads to greater overall productivity, has a stronger connection to food security and is resilient to climatic changes. And these supporters only echo what many of the farmers in Burkina Faso say. Lankoande and Tambiga have worked their land for generations and agroecology has allowed them to hope that their families can stay and farm the land in future. The shift towards agroecological farming is slow and far from complete, even in the drylands of Burkina Faso. What is clear, however, is that there is a transition away from more destructive farming practices which promised a lot but delivered very little. Agroecology doesn't require expensive fertilisers that local farmers can't afford, or an agricultural degree that they can't use. It's simple, cheap and the only thing they invest in is the quality of the land. For Lankoande, who has three small children, that's an investment worth making.