New Ancient Continent

If you’re geographically inclined you’ll enjoy this eight page pdf claiming to have discovered a new continent, titled Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent from the Geological Society of America, from which this map comes:

zealandia

Interesting in its own right, but also it’s not often you get to read about Kerguelen.

CS&W’s Graceless and Rude National Character Survey

Time to raise some ire. Based on strictly personal experience, here are some stereotypes that are sure to offend. All in good, clean fun. I think I’ll add more as they occur to me. Feel free to irritate your own chosen ethnicity in the comments.

NATIONAL CHARACTER

Finland: Stubborn. Not malevolent.

Germany: No excuse for the disappointment that is their food.

India: Does luxury well. Wealth disparity allows this. High end more affordable for tourists than elsewhere.

New Zealand: Permanent slightly perplexed look. Sunburnt. Buggy eyes.

Pacific Islands: Collective motto: “Don’t hurt me please.” The ukelele and all its music is the cause of this.

Paraguay: Important only to Paraguayans. Who are sweet and all, sure. Still.

Scotland: Paternal. Strong men will take care of you. Like it or not. Ireland has some of this.

Thailand: The world’s consistently strangest names. Like Kejmanee Pichaironnarongsongkram. Except possibly

Turkmenistan, whose leader is Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

Turkey: Tirelessly gracious but with a useless language shared by no one but Central Asians. In Turkish, as often as not the “G” goes away. “Erdogan” is pronounced “erdo-an.” A “C” with a cedille, “ç,” is pronounced “dj” like George. Çiragon is “Jiron.”

USA: Groupthink. If you want, you can really think things through and work out what you think. But you have to do more than ‘like’ things on Facebook. Why bother? Your tribe’s news channel can think everything through and tell you.

Vietnam: Wiry. Persistent. Shake hands with tight grip. Prim. Barefoot.

Reading Around the Web

Looks like my second book, Visiting Chernobyl, is on track for publication by the end of next week. The day it’s up on Amazon I’ll excerpt it here and send the first chapter to everybody who signs up over on the right (Go ahead, sign up now). While I’m tending to that, here are a few entertaining, well done or arcane things to spend some time with:

A Night under Concrete: Albanian Tourism Project Puts Beds in Bunkers

Tom Christian, Descendant of Bounty Mutineer, Dies at 77

How a high school-educated drug smuggler built a fleet of submarines—in the middle of the jungle

The Enclaves and Counter-enclaves of Baarle

I Went on the World’s Deadliest Road Trip

Bad Blood: The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Getting to Shore at Sea

Shadows in Greece

The Russia Left Behind

The death of a language

Why Navalny Is Winning

Liquid History

You Won’t Know Until You Go

Easter Island, as they'll tell you, is the most remote inhabited spot on the planet. Its nearest inhabited neighbor, Pircairn Island, is about 1300 miles west and home to under 100. Barely inhabited.

It's hard to get a feel for all that. Maybe flying five and a half hours out from Lima will help.

The more I read, the more I buy in that it really is a mysterious place, having confounded just about everybody since 1722, the date of the first known non-Polynesian contact. What's great is, everybody has a theory, so you might as well develop your own, too.

In this corner, Jared Diamond, he of the Pulitzer Prize, asserts in his well-argued book Collapse that whatever calamity befell Rapa Nui (the local name) was of the islanders' own making. In the other corner, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo play iconoclasts in a newish book that's almost belligerently insistent that everything you know is wrong.

There are multiple mysteries. First the huge statues, called moai, and how (and why) the islanders moved them from quarry to perch. Archaeologist (and the first indigenous Easter
Island governor since European colonization) Sergio Rapu seems to side with Hunt and Lipo on this one.

He describes how he thinks it worked in a YouTube video. You can watch a new (November 2012) episode of the PBS series Nova
that sets out to demonstrate how the moai got down
from the quarry at a place called Rano Raraku to the beaches all around Easter
Island.

Then there's the question of the society's apparent collapse. Did they squander resources (Jared Diamond)? Was it European contact, and the diseases thus unleashed (Lipo and Hunt)?

Seems to me as a layman that both the Diamond book and Lipo and Hunt's have weaknesses, which, if you want to keep a few good mysteries going, is as it should be, after all. Diamond asserts without attribution, summarily
declaring that the moai "represent high-ranking ancestors." That may be
true but it would be good to know if he has that on any authority beyond
his own conjecture.

Hunt
and Lipo's weakness is that they're relentlessly revisionist. They have
an anti-conventional new theory for every last thing – when Rapa Nui
was settled, how society worked, how the moai moved around, how society
collapsed.


So who knows?

At least the question of how Rapa Nui was originally colonized seems to have been answered. Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl pointed to the Incas and Spaniards via Peru. The Swiss author Erich von Daniken put it all down to spacemen.

Clearer heads traced the larger colonization patterns of Polynesia via pottery, back originally to today's Papua New Guinea via the Solomon Islands. The distance between the Solomon Islands and Easter Island, though, is some 6000 miles and even Terry Hunt says colonization took around five centuries.

The work of a group called the Polynesian Voyaging Society established a plausible route to the farthest east Polynesian island by sailing from Mangareva to Pitcairn to Easter Island over some 23 days in 1999.

In the end, it's just hard to get a non-academic feel for the place from home. For now, it's all words in books. They say the tallest moai weighed 82 tons and the heaviest weighed 86. How can you tell what you think about how they hauled those things around until you stand under one and look it in the eye? So we'll go and see.

Off we go. Watch this space for comment and we'll be putting up the photos here starting in about a week.

The Things You Miss When You’re Away

Catching up on a few things, since we've been away:

– It seems that the archepelagic nation of Kiribati has bought 25 square kilometres on Viti Levu, the main Fijian island, in case, well, Kiribati disappears. Climate change insurance.

Nice piece from photographer Tim McKulka on the two Sudans. He spent five years traveling and taking pictures there. That's dedication.

– The closest land is Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, 1,090 miles (1,750 km) away. It's the most remote island in the world.

This looks pretty terrible, even outdoing Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World (which, by the way, is free on Kindle).

– Looks like the northern – and southern – lights were active while we were away from the internet in Cuba. It's hard to believe this photo is real.