Climate a driver of language diversity

A region’s climate has a greater impact than landscape on how many languages are spoken there, new research from The Australian National University (ANU) shows.

Climate a driver of language diversity
Credit: Sherrie Thai/Flickr

The research team mapped language diversity around the world and found areas with more productive climates tend to have more languages.

«We were able to show that despite popular belief, climatic factors have a stronger effect than landscape factors — like how mountainous it is, or how many rivers there are — when it comes to language diversity,» ANU biologist Professor Lindell Bromham said.

The researchers think this could have a lot to do with food production — another driver of language diversity.

«If an area can reliably support food production for more of the year it may allow human groups to persist in smaller areas, so you can pack more different cultures into one region, and therefore more languages,» Professor Bromham explained.

«If you’re up in a region with a shorter growing season, or less reliable food productivity, you might need to make sure you’ve got links with other groups so you can support each other. It might be harder to form a small, isolated, self-sufficient band.»

Professor Bromham said the study showed language diversity and biodiversity might both be affected by similar factors.

«Our results look a lot like a map of biodiversity,» Professor Bromham said. «You could overlay a map of language diversity and a map of biodiversity and they’d show some very similar patterns.

«For example, there’s more diversity around the equator, and less as you go towards the poles.

«If you’ve got an area where it’s hard for animals to live, it’s generally also hard for people to live there. So unsurprisingly, in those areas, there are less languages.»

As part of the study, the researchers pin-pointed areas where language diversity could not be easily explained by factors like climate and landscape alone. A few areas stood out.

The eastern Himalayas, west Africa and Papua New Guinea had far more unexplained language diversity than other parts of the world.

«Papua New Guinea is home to 10 per cent of the world’s languages, despite taking up just 0.5 per cent of the world’s land area. Incredibly, it not only has many languages, but languages that are fundamentally different from each other,» said study lead Dr Xia Hua.

«If we can understand what’s driving this, I think we’d understand a lot more about the drivers of cultural diversity in general.»

This could have extra significance in places like Australia that have experienced a high rate of language loss.

«Every language we lose is a rich source of information on the way languages have evolved. The more we lose, the harder it will be for us to understand language origins,» Professor Bromham said.

«Biologists face the same problem — when we lose species to extinction we lose information about the evolutionary process that created those species.»

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

Source: Australian National University [May 17, 2019]



Toledo Museum of Art to return ancient Greek vase to Italy

The Toledo Museum of Art and the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities announced today that they have reached an agreement for the repatriation of an object in the Museum’s collection. The Attic red-figured skyphos, an earthenware drinking vessel decorated with the story of the return of Hephaistos to Olympos, is attributed to the Kleophon Painter of Athens, Greece, and dates to approximately 420 B.C.E. Per the agreement, the vessel will remain on view at TMA for four years, after which the Museum may ask to renew the loan or request another significant object from the Italian government as part of a continuing and rotating cultural exchange.

Toledo Museum of Art to return ancient Greek vase to Italy
The Skyphos (Drinking Vessel) with the Return of Hephaistos to Olympos
[Credit: The Toledo Museum of Art]

The Toledo Museum of Art purchased the skyphos in 1982 for $90,000 with funds gifted from Edward Drummond Libbey. The provenance of the object was called into question in 2017 by Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist, after which the Museum began an internal investigation and contacted the Italian authorities.

The vessel has been on display as part of the Museum’s permanent collection since its acquisition and was included in the 1996-97 special exhibition The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections, which originated at TMA and subsequently traveled to the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.

It depicts Hephaistos, the metalsmith for the gods, who was thrown out of Olympos by his mother, the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. Hephaistos sought revenge by making a trap for Hera in the form of a magnificent throne. When she sat in it, she was stuck and none of the gods could free her. Dionysos, god of wine and theater, made Hephaistos drunk and he eventually freed Hera and was reconciled with his divine family.

The skyphos was used at men’s drinking parties and is one of the largest such cups known. As a result, it would have been almost impossible to drink from and may have been used instead as a mixing bowl (krater).

TMA is committed to the protection of cultural patrimony and to the responsible acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art. Its collections management policy adheres to the strictest ethical guidelines, institutional transparency and professional best practices. TMA rigorously investigates the provenance of all new acquisitions and continues to research objects already in its collections that may have questionable provenances. The Museum has been proactive in resolving all ownership claims and welcomes new information on objects in our collections.

Source: Toledo Museum of Art [May 17, 2019]



Temple of Nemesis found under remains of ancient theatre on Greek island of Lesvos

A temple of Nemesis has been found under the ancient theatre of Mytilini, on the northeast island of Lesvos, according to a report by a local news website.

Temple of Nemesis found under remains of ancient theatre on Greek island of Lesvos
View of the excavation [Credit: Sto Nisi]

The remains uncovered on the south parodos of the ancient theatre, under successive layers of large stone plinths originating from the south parodos and skene, and which were removed.

Latest dates show that the theatre had two construction phases, in the Hellenistic era (3rd century BC) and during the Roman occupation (1st century AD). The temple itself dates to the 1st century AD and was identified by a stone altar for offerings and a series of dedicatory inscriptions by priests and prominent personalities.

According to leading excavator and head of the Lesvos Ephorate Pavlos Triantafyllidis: ‟It is no accident that a sanctuary of Nemesis exists inside the south parodos, since in the theatre’s Early Roman period construction of the underground arena in the Hellenistic orchestra allowed for the spectacular duels between the gladiators, whose families lived in Mytilene. The existence of a sanctuary of Nemesis was necessary since the gladiators’ combat had to be rewarded by the administering of justice and for the best among them to be proclaimed a victor”.

Nemesis was an ancient Greek goddess of divine retribution and revenge, especially for hubris committed against the gods.

The excavations in the area continue with the contribution of the University of Bari’s school of civil engineering, in Italy. The dual phases of the theatre’s construction were established by its professors Georgio Rocco and Monic Livadiotti.

Diazoma, an organisation promoting ancient Greek theatres, quotes Plutarch who said the theatre was so important in antiquity that Pompey copied its plans to build a theatre like it in Rome in 55 BC which became a model for subsequent buildings.

In modern times, very little is preserved of the earlier phases, as the remains have suffered from soil erosion and from removal for use in the Mytilini castle during the middle Ages.

Source: ANA-MPA [May 17, 2019]