Voluntary taxation: a lesson from the Ancient Greeks

I imagine a progressive tax – in other words, a tax that falls on those most able to pay; a tax that results in the rich paying – quite voluntarily – more than they are obliged, instead of trying to avoid it; a tax that’s spent according to the wishes of the person who paid it; a tax that involves little bureaucracy. We have a great deal to thank the Ancient Greeks for: to mathematics, science, drama and philosophy, add their taxation system – or rather, lack of – to the list.

The Greeks put taxation in the field of ethics: the liberty or despotism of a society could be measured by its system of taxes. We should admire them not so much for the way that they taxed, but the way that they didn’t. There was no tax on income. Taxes were not the way by which the wealth of the rich was shared with the people. Instead, this was achieved by a voluntary alternative: liturgy.


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How Agriculture was Invented During the Stone Age

It is believed that women were the “inventors” of agriculture, as they began applying observations to their gathering in order to maximize their returns. Plant varieties were chosen for their nutritional value and ease of production, and locations were chosen based on their favorable growing conditions. During this same period, men began domesticating animals, either becoming nomadic herdsmen, or stationary husbandmen. The change from the nomadic to agrarian lifestyle was facilitated by climate and driven by population. As the earth warmed after the zenith of the ice age, the land was especially fertile. When the nomadic lifestyle became threatened by population increase, this change is climate aided our ancestors in making the change to an agrarian lifestyle. These important lifestyle changes mark the beginning of the Neolithic or New Stone Age. Women began to make textiles that provided warmth and clothing with sewing needles were fashioned out of animal bones.


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The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East: Transforming the Human Landscape

One of humanity’s most important milestones was the transition from hunting and gathering to food production and permanent village life. This Neolithic Revolution first occurred in the Near East, changing the way humans interacted with their environment and each other, setting the stage, ultimately, for the modern world.

Based on more than thirty years of fieldwork, this timely volume examines the Neolithic Revolution in the Levantine Near East and the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Alan H. Simmons explores recent research regarding the emergence of Neolithic populations, using both environmental and theoretical contexts, and incorporates specific case studies based on his own excavations. In clear and graceful prose, Simmons traces chronological and regional differences within this land of immense environmental contrasts—woodland, steppe, and desert. He argues that the Neolithic Revolution can be seen in a variety of economic, demographic, and social guises and that it lacked a single common stimulus.

Each chapter includes sections on history, terminology, geographic range, specific domesticated species, the composition of early villages and households, and the development of social, symbolic, and religious behavior. Most chapters include at least one case study and conclude with a concise summary. In addition, Simmons presents a unique chapter on the island of Cyprus, where intriguing new research challenges assumptions about the impact and extent of the Neolithic.


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First farmers had diverse origins

Analysis of DNA from some of the world’s first farmers shows that they had surprisingly diverse origins. Researchers compared the genomes of ancient Neolithic skeletons from across the Near East, where farming began. The results shed light on a debate over whether farming spread out from a single source in the region, or whether multiple farmer groups spread their technology across Eurasia. The switch from mobile hunting and gathering to the sedentary lifestyle of farming first occurred about 10,000 years ago in southwestern Asia. After the last Ice Age, this new way of life spread rapidly across Eurasia, in one of the most important behavioral transitions in human history. Analysis of DNA from ancient remains in Europe has established that farming spread via the mass migration of people, rather than the adoption of new ideas by indigenous populations.


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Understanding the Past: Archaeological and Paleoanthropological Methods

A portion of a pig’s tusk, a small sample of volcanic sediment, a battered cobble, a primate’s molar tooth: What do these seemingly unremarkable remains have in common, and more to the point, why are they of interest to paleoanthropologists and archaeologists? First of all, if they are all discovered at certain sites in Africa or Eurasia, they may be quite ancient—perhaps millions of years old. Further, some of these materials actually inform scientists directly of the accurate and precise dating of the finds. Last, and most exciting, some of these finds may have been modified, used, and discarded by creatures who looked and behaved in some ways like us, but were, in other respects, very different. And what of that molar tooth? Is it a fossilized remnant of an ancient hominin? These are the kinds of questions asked by paleoanthropologists and archaeologists, and to answer them, these researchers travel to remote locales in the Old World.


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Is Violence Embedded in Our DNA?

Some research suggests that throughout our evolution an innate tendency toward fighting shaped human anatomy. But anthropologists are sharply divided on the matter. Whether we take the perspective that evolutionary selection made humans prone to violence matters to our sense of ourselves. Are we born to be aggressive or peaceful?

The debate … cuts right to the heart of humanity’s perception of itself—as well as our collective desire for world peace.



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How Music and Instruments Began – The story of music is the story of humans

How did music begin? Did our early ancestors first start by beating things together to create rhythm, or use their voices to sing? What types of instruments did they use? Has music always been important in human society, and if so, why? These are some of the questions explored in a recent Hypothesis and Theory article published in Frontiers in Sociology. The answers reveal that the story of music is, in many ways, the story of humans.

The earlier hominid ability to emit sounds of a variable pitch with some meaning shows that music at its simplest level must have predated speech. The possibilities of anthropoid motor impulse suggest that rhythm may have preceded melody, though full control of rhythm may well not have come any earlier than the perception of music above. There are four evident purposes for music: dance, ritual, entertainment personal, and communal, and above all social cohesion, again on both personal and communal levels. We then proceed to how instruments began, with a brief survey of the surviving examples from the Mousterian period onward, including the possible Neanderthal evidence and the extent to which they showed “artistic” potential in other fields.


Read also: The story of music is the story of humans

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Human evolution: why we’re more than great apes

Palaeoanthropologists have used the anatomical signs of bipedalism to identify our earli­est ancestors, demonstrating our shared genetic heritage with great apes. However, despite this shared history, human evolution set out on a trajectory that has led to significant distinctions from other primates.

In this shortened excerpt from Human Evolution: Our Brains and Our Behavior, evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar explains the link between culture and the human brain—and how that connection distinguishes us from other primates.


Posted in Brain, Cultural change, Culture, Human evolution | Tagged , , ,

Famous doctors from the ancient world

Drastic advances in science have caused past medical practices to become not only antiquated but often shocking. Although brilliant medical insights are peppered throughout history, many dated practices are more curious than insightful. From an early take on chemical warfare to human dissections, the following shortened excerpt from A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities includes short facts and quotes on some of the most famous doctors from the Ancient World.


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The Lost Knowledge of the Ancients

1500 years ago, people generally believed that the earth was flat and rectangular. However, as early as the 6th century BC Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that the Earth must be a sphere and in the 3rd century BC the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes had deduced that the earth was round and computed its circumference. Oddly enough, peoples further back in time had greater scientific knowledge than the European nations of Byzantine and Medieval times. Until the second part of the 19th century, scholars in Europe thought that the Earth was just a few thousand years old. Yet ancient Brahmin books estimated the Day of Brahma, the lifespan of our universe, to be 4,320 million years – not very far off from modern calculations. Modern science emerged from the medieval darkness during the renaissance. By studying classical sources humanity re-discovered old truths that had been known by the Babylonians, Ionians, Egyptians, Hindus, or Greeks for many centuries.

Read    Part I    Part II    Part III

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