We know from history that archers have been devastating—witness the Huns conquering the Romans, or the English defeats of the French at the battles of Agincourt and Crécy.
But our modern image of archers is set by the movies, and we all picture Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, sedately pulling his arrows from the quiver on his back, placing them on the left side of the bow, and carefully aiming with one eye, the peak of skill being to split another arrow already in the target.
Historical drawings tell us a different story, arrows held in the bow hand, fired on the fly, arrows placed on the right side of the bow. Lars Andersen has painstakingly, and remarkably skillfully, explored this discrepancy, and comes down firmly on the side of archer as Legolas, swift, nimble and very, very deadly.
And the peak of skill? Being able to split an arrow that has been shot at you!
While forks are an ancient invention, they were originally used only for cooking and serving. Usage at the table most likely started in the Byzantine Empire, but still spread only very slowly. Forks only became commonplace in Britain and America in the last few centuries.
It turns out that this change has been reflected in our skulls. In the average mouth, our teeth now meet with a slight overbite—the front teeth rest slightly in front of the lower teeth. But prior to the adoption of the fork, we were used to using our teeth to rip pieces of food off, so the natural position for our teeth was edge on—our teeth rested clenched, as it were.
An article from the Wall Street Journal on recent findings that perforated pottery from 7,200 years ago was used for cheese-making. Not altogether surprisingly, this places the discovery of cheese-making in the same locale as the emergence of cattle-herding. Although some people think cheese was a way to avoid the lactose-intolerance, lactose-tolerant genes arose about the same time in about the same place, suggesting that once we had cow milk to drink, we simply adapted to be able to drink it—Darwinism at work!
This is the latest book in the Culture series by Iain Banks, which as a group are science fiction at its best:
wonderfully advanced but reasonably plausible technology;
marvelously detailed societies with their own rules, quirks and constraints;
people† with believable characters and believable motivations;
fantastic space battles;
healthy doses of hot sex.
If you are familiar with this series, this is a delightful addition, exploring in a little more detail what it means to “sublime,” the mostly ineffable process by which advanced civilizations depart the regular universe, and disappear off to the infinite wonder of the higher dimensions.
† Oddly, one of Banks’ conceits is to call all the humanoid people in his stories “human,” even though he makes clear in his timelines that they are not of Earthly origin; thankfully, these aliens behave like regular humans in every respect, good, bad and ugly, so this is a very minor quibble, and does not begin to detract from enjoying their very human machinations.