Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ancient History

Having studied so much Modern History, my knowledge of Ancient History is rather woeful. Once in a while though I come across something about the ancient world which grabs my attention. This week's In Our Time, about the findings of the archaeological dig which revealed the remains of the Great Library of Nineveh - was brilliant. While 90% of this, the ancient world's greatest collection of books, was destroyed when the Assyrian Empire fell to the Medes and the Babylonians - some has survived. It seems that the Medes (who cared little for such things) burned the palaces in which the library was kept. In so doing they burnt the wax-covered boards on which most of the texts were etched. However, they also inadvertently fired the soft clay tablets on which around 10% of the works were imprinted, saving them for posterity under the rubble.

These were discovered in 1849 by Henry Lanyard a English amateur archaeologist, who couldn't read the texts but shipped them to London. Here the language was deciphered which unlocked enormous new insights into several ancient civilisations, unlocking how they viewed the world, magic, religion, medicine, kingship and government, agriculture, mythology.. which are surveyed in 40 very good minutes of radio. The perfect accompaniment to my Dopiaza!

Listen Again/podcast etc here (Next week it's "Black Death!")


Mark said...

Glad to see you have seen fit to honour what is quite possibly the best program on R4. Indeed I would be happy to pay a licence fee to the BBC just for it alone! Outstandingly good program which I have been downloading pretty systematically for the last 18-24 months. Melvyn has recently seen the error of his ways when it comes to science: Whereas the sci progams used to be pretty poor because (quite blluntly) it was obvious that Bragg was completely out of his depth & thus the material quite often had the feel of 'pop' science, he has moved to (usually) approaching science via history which has been much better. Thus the programs on the History of Optics or Alexander von Humboldt or Astronomy & Empire are really very good. The only problem with IOT is that it leads you to become interested in a different thing every week - Hence I have ended up buying (and yes even then going on to read!) books on Chaucer or the Franciscans simply because the progams on them have been so very good.
I also have a claim to fame in that I know a chap who has been on the program a couple of times speaking on aspects of the history of mathematics.

That Hideous Man said...

A mention on this 'ere blog is not usually considered to be an honour...

As for science, at least I understood the 'pop science'! The programme one on the 'Multiverse' was fascinating though, and what I grapsed was amazing..

Anonymous said...

Yes, fair cop, the mulitverse one was not bad, but (being a bit cocky) that is because the multiverse is not science but metaphysics!
There is no evidence (in some versions, in principle) for multiverses. Indeed Paul Davies (I think) feels that the multiverse is really a jerk reaction to the fine tuning argument (which is a very good supporting argument for 'the God hypothesis'), Since like Tony Blaire lots of scientists 'don't do God' they need a way round the fine tuning argument - an a clean way around it is to say that there are an infinite no of other universes out there so the conditions were bound to be right for live to exist in one of them.
Rodney Holder has argued that even a infinite no of universes may not be enough.
In maths it's 'there are lies, damned lies and then there is statistics.' In physics it's 'there is speculation, pure speculation... and then there is cosmology'

An excellent (though expensive) book is Universe or Multiverse ed Carr. Interestingly in that book there is chapter by a theolgian who take the contrary view - saying that multiverses are great- they just show that God is even more creative that you could possibly imagine.