The origins of the builders of Stonehenge

The ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge travelled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain, a study has shown.  Researchers compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe.  The Neolithic inhabitants were descended from populations originating in Anatolia (modern Turkey) that moved to Iberia before heading north.

They reached Britain in about 4,000BC.  Details have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The migration to Britain was just one part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe.  Before that, Europe was populated by small, travelling groups which hunted animals and gathered wild plants and shellfish.

One group of early farmers followed the river Danube up into Central Europe, but another group travelled west across the Mediterranean.  DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island-to-island on boats. Some British groups had a minor amount of ancestry from groups that followed the Danube route.

Whitehawk Woman
A facial reconstruction of Whitehawk Woman, a 5,600-year-old Neolithic woman from Sussex. The reconstruction is on show at the Royal Pavilion & Museum in Brighton

When the researchers analysed the DNA of early British farmers, they found they most closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal). These Iberian farmers were descended from people who had journeyed across the Mediterranean.

From Iberia, or somewhere close, the Mediterranean farmers travelled north through France. They might have entered Britain from the west, through Wales or south-west England. Indeed, radiocarbon dates suggest that Neolithic people arrived marginally earlier in the west, but this remains a topic for future work.  In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition.      


New site rendering of Peacehenge

We are grateful to a number of supporters for contributing to a fund for an artist, Nathan Snyder, to do a new site rendering of Peacehenge. Thanks, Nate for your work! Here it is! It’s a step along the way to a final design.   JTPeacehenge-NS-Feb-2019-v6

Moving toward peace and away from peace

A peace deal between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 rebel groups has been struck after talks in Sudan, officials say.  The deal was announced by the UN mission in CAR, known as Minusca, and the African Union (AU), which both sponsored the talks in Khartoum.  “This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said AU commissioner Smail Chergui.  The government said the peace deal would be signed in Bangui soon.   Details of the agreement have not been released and analysts caution that previous peace deals have all collapsed.  I have to say having a name like Smail Chergui has to make people sit up and listen!

On the other hand, the US and Russia say they are getting rid of a nuclear arms treaty signed in 1987 banning intermediate range missiles.  So, unless this is reversed in the next six months, we will be in a new chapter of the new cold war.  That does not take us in the direction of peace.   It also comes as the US has begun building its first long-range nuclear weapons since 1991, a move that other nations are citing to justify their own nuclear modernization efforts.

So, one piece of good news, and one piece of bad news.  Are you ready for the new cold war?   Are you ready to duck and cover?


The role of the United Nations

Often criticized for not doing enough, or being hamstrung by conflict on the Security Council, the UN does have a role to play in ending war, suspending war, and reducing conflict.  The battle in Yemen is a good example.

The UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, recently headed up talks in Sweden between the warring sides – the government and the Houthi rebels.   I am heartened to see the UN playing this active role, and brokering a fragile peace.

martin griffiths

Griffiths is British, and a veteran mediator.  He has also carved out a style of bringing women and other civilians to the same negotiating table as generals and warlords to explain exactly what bombs and bullets do to the children they are trying to raise in crater-pocked towns and villages.  Griffiths is the executive director of the Brussels-based European Institute of Peace.


Peaceful thoughts

A couple of things as we move into the winter holidays for 2018.

First is Syria, a complex place, with warring factions, and two superpowers engaged as well.  Now the US is pulling out its troops before a peace is negotiated, leaving a vacuum likely to be filled by forces it will be more difficult to contain later on.

Second is Jeremy Corbin.  He is the leader of the Labor party, now out of power in Britain as the country tilts towards exiting the European Union like an unsteady Don Quixote on his horse.  Jeremy Corbin has his political roots in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and if elected prime minister would likely advocate for, if not arrange for, a UK without nuclear weapons.  This would be a remarkable shift for Britain.   The question is, would unilaterally engaging in banning nuclear weapons by a country such as Britain make the world a safer place, a more peaceful place?

Countries with nuclear weapons all working together to draw those down, and work toward a world without nuclear weapons would be the ideal.  Will that happen?   In all likelihood, no.

The Jungian shadow is alive and well in the military industrial complex of countries who have permanent seats on the UN Security Council.  Perhaps we should call it the UN Insecurity Council until we can get that Jungian shadow under some measure of control.

The 8 Pillars of Peace

This is not a new conceptual framework for peace, but I thought it worth including on our site.   In 2013 the Institute for Economics and Peace released a report on the Pillars of Peace. It provides an understanding of the factors associated with peaceful societies. The research is based on an analysis of over 4,000 data sets, surveys and indices; it’s an empirical framework aimed at describing the conditions correlated with positive peace.

The research defines 8 key Pillars that underpin peace:

  • well functioning government,
  • sound business environment,
  • an equitable distribution of resources,
  • an acceptance of the rights of others,
  • good relations with neighbors,
  • free flow of information,
  • high level of human capital,
  • low levels of corruption.


International Peace Day

The International Day of Peace (“Peace Day”) is observed around the world each year on September 21st.  Established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace, above all differences, and to contribute to building a culture of peace.

As we observe conflicts and war around the world, there are some good signs at this time coming out of the Korean Peninsula, where the leaders of North and South Korea are visiting each other’s capitals, and talking about wanting both countries to co-host the Olympic games in the future.  Kim Jong-un wants, it appears, to have North Korea prosper economically.   The best way forward for that is a strong and lasting peace.

War has its addictive qualities. It’s too simple to say “let’s not go to war.”

Watch this short TED talk video by Sebastian Junger about why warring is so compelling, at times, for the people who are making war.   The warrior is often part of a community, like a platoon, so supportive of its members, nothing comes close to that feeling of being loved and cared for by others.  Advocating for peace is not enough.  We need to build into our communities of peace the compelling togetherness that is usually missing, which makes war so attractive.  JT

The role of feeling embarrassed as the path to war

Ken Burns‘ excellent documentary on the Vietnam War, which is available to watch on Netflix. shows how Lyndon Johnson and his closest advisors knew from the beginning the war was not winnable.  One of those advisors early on wrote a memo about reasons to stay in the war or escalate it, and the top reason was to avoid the embarrassment of leaving without a “victory”.   To reflect on the more than 50,000 Americans who died in that war, and likely 10 times that many Viet Cong, North Vietnamese and civilians who died, it’s fascinating to think this was to avoid a certain level of embarrassment early on, when the US could have pulled out its military advisors, and avoided all that gratuitous carnage.  Peace was in the balance, with war winning out to avoid embarrassment.  Where was the psychologist or therapist in the Oval Office to say, “Guys let’s work out ways to cope with and recover from this embarrassment?  Let’s move on to things where we can make progress…..establishing MediCare, MediCaid and HeadStart.”   A therapist on the team of the President’s advisors.  There’s a concept.    JT

Peace at last

The meeting of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s relatively new 41-year-old prime minister, and Isaias Afwerki, the 71-year-old president of Eritrea, in Addis Ababa recently, left seasoned Africa observers gasping for breath.

The pace of this is simply astounding,” said Omar S Mahmood, of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Ethiopia’s booming capital.

The meeting between Abiy and Isaias concluded an intense bout of diplomacy that appears to have ended one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts. “Words cannot express the joy we are feeling now,” Isaias said, as he had lunch with Abiy. “We are one people. Whoever forgets that does not understand our situation.”

Since coming to power in April, Abiy has electrified Ethiopia with his informal style, charisma and energy, earning comparisons with Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mikhail Gorbachev. He has reshuffled his cabinet, fired a series of controversial and hitherto untouchable civil servants, including the head of Ethiopia’s prison service, lifted bans on websites and other media, freed thousands of political prisoners, ordered the partial privatization of massive state-owned companies, ended a state of emergency imposed to quell widespread unrest and removed three opposition groups from a list of “terrorist” organisations.

Peace is possible, often based on a fresh vision and bold initiatives.  Peacehenge pays tribute to the courage of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new leader, who is at the forefront of positive change in East Africa.    (Thanks to the Guardian newspaper, based in the UK, for much of the above information.)      JT