Japan's location just off the fringe of continental Asia made it an ideal place for its unique culture to develop. The islands are situated close enough to China and Korea to benefit from the cultural and technological innovations of those great civilizations, but far enough removed across perilous seas to resist significant political and military domination from the two powers.
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Since ancient times, Japanese philosophers have pondered basic, unanswerable questions about their natural environment. The early Japanese believed that the world around them was inhabited by gods and spirits, from streaks of mist obscuring jagged mountain peaks to water cascading over secluded waterfalls. Almost every aspect of Japan's stunning natural beauty evoked a sense of awe and wonder among its people.
Being a warrior in feudal Japan was more than just a job. It was a way of life. The collapse of aristocratic rule ushered in a new age of chaos appropriately called the Warring States period (c.1400-1600) in which military might dictated who governed and who followed.
For the first time in centuries, Japan was relatively peaceful. The strict political and social policies of Ieyasu and subsequent shoguns ushered in a golden age of economic and cultural prosperity.
In the 1500s, when Spanish conquistadors appeared, two vast empires, those of the Aztecs and the Incas, dominated Central and South America. Both possessed divine kings, both were fractured by internal dissent, and both quickly succumbed to the Spanish onslaught. The physical remains of all these cultures lay dormant for centuries, until science and curiosity demanded their exploration.
The Maya were a collection of people clustered in city-states. What united them was an idea. For the Maya the world of ordinary living and the Otherworld populated by gods, ancestors, and monstrous things, were equally real. There existed three regions, intricately bound together: the heavens, the earth, and the waters of the Underworld.
In the past 25 years archaeologists have learned to read what the Mayas wrote. Today we know the names of kings and queens, how they lived, and when they died, transforming our view of Maya culture.
The Inca called their empire Tahuantinsuyu, or Land of the Four Quarters. It stretched 2,500 miles from Quito, Ecuador, to beyond Santiago, Chile. Within its domain were rich coastal settlements, high mountain valleys, rain-drenched tropical forests and the driest of deserts. The Inca controlled perhaps 10 million people, speaking a hundred different tongues. It was the largest empire on earth at the time. Yet when Pizarro executed its last emperor, Atahualpa, the Inca Empire was only 50 years old.
Huitzilopochtl, God of the Sun, was the Aztec principal god. He had an insatiable appetite for blood. Under his urging, the Aztecs rose from a band of primitive farmers to become the bloodiest civilization of the early Americas. Many Central America cultures indulged in human sacrifice. The Aztec practiced it on an industrial scale, sacrificing tens of thousands of victims each year.
In the wake of Columbus' historic voyage in 1492, expeditions, especially from Imperial Spain, swarmed into Aztec territory. They came in search of gold and souls gold to enrich the coffers of the Spanish king (and their own), and heathen souls to rescue for Christianity. Within a generation, America's ancient civilizations were crushed. Both the Aztec and Inca Empires collapsed after campaigns lasting just a couple of years. How did they fall so fast? Historians suggest many causes.
How do we know about the past? Did a giant flood actually occur? Or were the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah folk tales intended to provide moral guidance?
The word anthropology means literally "the study of man." We are a complicated species, and anthropologists poke into every aspect of our human nature.
Herodotus, the first historian, claimed modest goals for his work: "that the doings of men may not be forgotten." On the title page he wrote Historia, Greek for "inquiries" or "researches." Inquiring into the past has been called history ever since.
Humans are curious creatures, always wondering what lies beyond the horizon. Lewis and Clark did not describe themselves as geographers, but they might well have. Geography is the study of the surface of the earth. It is about people and places. It is about the physical character of a country, its climates and landscapes, and its biological environment.
Digging into our ancestors' past is hard work. Records of human life were not kept millions of years ago. What was life like for cavepeople in the Stone Age? Did Fred Flintstone actually wear leopard skin suits and eat brontosaurus burgers?
Lucy belonged to genus Australopithecus and the species afarensis, but she also belonged to the the hominid family (hominidae) to which humans belong. Although humans are of the family hominidae, we are not of Lucy's genus or species. We are Homo sapiens. How then, can Lucy be our ancient ancestor if we belong to a different genus and species? It's because humans and Lucy share a taxonomy up to the point of genus and species; there are many shared characteristics, but there are differences and these differences place humans in our own genus and species.
For Neanderthal Man, each and every day was a challenge. What was life like for Neanderthals? How did early humans find food, make clothing, and seek shelter?