Andrew Marr’s History of the World; Wartime Farm

TV night last week included the last episode of the Andrew Marr series – this time taking us from the aftermath of World War 1 through to the present day (roughly speaking). So a lot of what it covered were atrocities – we had Nazi atrocities (tho not actually discussed, what was covered was Hitler’s rise to power with an emphasis on the fact that not only was he legitimately elected after a failed coup but that he hadn’t hidden any of his nastiness beforehand), we had Stalinist Russian atrocities, we had Communist Chinese atrocities, and we had American/Western atrocities (Hiroshima/Nagasaki). To offset that, pretty much all we got was a segment on the pill & how effective and safe contraceptives made such a positive difference to gender equality. And then a segment at the end about the future which was a bit too close to “and we’re doooomed!” for comfort πŸ˜‰ I don’t want to give the impression that it wasn’t an interesting programme – just at times made for difficult watching because he did a good job of personalising the victims of these things.

Overall a good series, I’m pleased I watched it. A few times I had niggles about things being oversimplified when I knew more about the subject, but to be fair here you’ve got to simplify it otherwise you can’t tell the “history of the world” in 8 episodes of an hour each. Despite in general not liking dramatisations of history much I thought the ones here were well done – primarily because they didn’t take themselves so seriously. I also thought they did a good job of picking lesser known stories to present, or the beginning of something rather than the end point we all know (see above, about Hitler). And a good job of presenting more than a history of the Western world, although the last two or three programmes did end up there at times (I think inevitably) there always seemed to be an attempt to look at the other perspective rather than the familiar one.

I’ll be buying the book, and adding it to my (growing) pile of books to read πŸ™‚

We’re onto the third episode of Wartime Farm, which was focused on evacuees and on Christmas 1940. The perspective on evacuees wasn’t the one I’m more used to hearing about, in that it wasn’t “oh those poor children sent off on their own”, it was more about how the country folk reacted to it. Because after all, suddenly there they were having to find beds and food for a bunch of strangers who had different ways of life and were in many ways a burden. It did gloss over any serious difficulties, though, preferring to concentrate on how in the end it mostly worked out fine. The bits about Christmas were partly tied in with that and partly about how rationing and all the other associated problems made people cling to trying to provide as normal a Christmas as possible. Even if the turkey was actually a “murkey” made out of sausagemeat stuffing shaped like a turkey with roast parsnip legs … They also showed us pamphlets the government sent out showing how to recycle scraps and rubbish and make them into toys, like a model spitfire made out of old tin cans. Which made me think of something Dad was telling me about when we last visited – he had a toy when he was very little which was a home-made warship to push around the floor, complete with bits of wire for antennae & funnels made out of lead pipe. Made me wonder if whoever had made it for him had got one of these pamphlets.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World

We had a bonus single-programme TV night on Sunday afternoon coz we were worried about the PVR filling up. So we watched the next episode of Andrew Marr’s History of the World. In this one he was talking about the Age of Industry – and how the Industrial Revolution was the biggest shift in society since the Agricultural Revolution. The parallels struck me more when watching this than they have before – in both cases the change allowed society as a whole to support more people and can be thought of as “progress”. And you definitely can’t turn the clock back afterwards. And in both cases the quality of life for the average citizen goes down – most notably poorer health. My life now is only possible because of both of those changes, but the fact that it’s a good life is because things have got better since those revolutions.

One of the segments I found most interesting was effectively the origin story of modern Japan – when the US came knocking and insisted they opened up trade with the industrialised West the Japanese looked back at what the British had done to China (hint: it wasn’t good for the Chinese) and embraced the industrialisation of their country. This wasn’t good for everyone (like the Samurai, who became obsolete in the new Japanese culture), but it meant the change happened on more Japanese terms and meant they got more of the benefits not just the costs of their Industrial Revolution.

This penultimate episode brought us up to the First World War, so the final segment was about both the drawing of the US into the war and the Russian Revolution. Which can be tied together by the hand that the German Foreign Secretary (Arthur Zimmerman) had in instigating them. One of the things souring the relationship between the US and Germany (other than bombing their ships …) was that Zimmerman sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico suggesting they invade the US (and said telegram was not only intercepted but Zimmerman also confirmed that it was legitimate). And for the Russian situation Zimmerman proposed to help Lenin back into the country & promised him money if he would undertake to withdraw from the war when he got power (which Lenin did).

Andrew Marr’s History of the World; Wartime Farm

We held TV night on Tuesday this week, so that J could play Assassin’s Creed III as soon as it arrived yesterday. This also meant we fitted three programmes into the evening & caught up with ourselves with the Andrew Marr one.

The two episodes of the History of the World that we watched covered the birth of capitalism (also including early colonisation of the Americas, the Reformation, British dealings with India & the Dutch and British in Indonesia) and the age of both Enlightenment & Revolution. The problem with having watched two episodes on the same evening (and then neglecting to write about them the day after) is that they’ve got a bit tangled up in my head. And the bit of my current book that I’ve just got to is covering the same era from a different perspective so that’s tangled in as well. The birth of capitalism as the stated theme for the first of the two felt a little stretched – it’s got to be hard to organise a chronological history into episodic themes, but this did feel like one of the weakest so far. I could see what he was trying to do – we started with Columbus “discovering” America and the Spanish moving in to plunder it, and ended in an era where speculative bubbles and stock market trading were an important part of wealth creation and companies as we think of them had begun to exist. So that’s a definite shift from gold and land as wealth to something closer to our modern economics. But still, it also felt like the story of exploration that that era is more often cast as. The age of Reason & Revolution worked better as a theme though, and he didn’t shy from pointing out the hypocrisy involved in both running a slave trade and claiming “all men are born equal”.

And in between those two we watched the second episode of Wartime Farm. Which concentrated on 1940, and on rationing and the black market and on the Land Girls & the WI. The bits that particularly have stuck in my head were how you could take the dye out of red petrol by filtering it through bread – I didn’t expect it to work any more than the historian who was doing the experiment did. But it did! The other thing was the story of the black girl who was originally refused entry into the Land Girls because the people in charge said no farmer would hire her so what was the point. But after the story got picked up by the press a farmer came forward to say of course he’d employ her. So it wasn’t really the prejudice of the farmers that was as much the problem as the prejudice of the people running the Land Girls.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World; Wartime Farm

The fourth episode of Andrew Marr’s History of the World was mostly about the European Renaissance – but not about what happened during it. Instead it was about what happened in the rest of the world that made it possible for Europe to go from being a cultural backwater to a vibrant civilisation with pretensions towards becoming one of the dominant cultures of the world. We did open with the Vikings, tho, who were a little shoehorned into the theme (but you can’t really miss them out). In 10 minutes it only had time to skim over the ground covered in Neil Oliver’s 3 part series – the emphasis here was firmly on the founding of Russia when the Vikings took over the area around Kiev (founding Kiev itself) and ruling the native Slavs. I think the relationship to the theme was supposed to be how Russia provided a large (Orthodox) Christian country to the east of Europe, expanding Christendom considerably & insulating northern & western Europe from the various empires to the East.

The programme then moved on to look at the rise of the Mongols – Marr told us some of Temujin’s early life story, before he became Ghengis Khan. Then looked at how after the conquest of China (impressive in its own right) the Mongol army took on Chinese war technology and this combination of the horse nomad warriors & the great siege machines led to them sacking several of the core cities of the eastern Islamic world. Which obviously weakened the Islamic empire – allowing those pesky European crusading knights to have more successes than they otherwise would have. (The Crusades weren’t really touched on much in the programme, the emphasis was on showing more of the stuff we probably didn’t already know about the era.) And also opened up the Silk Road more – ruled over now by a Mongol Empire. The next sequence was about Marco Polo who travelled from Venice to the heart of China during the time it was ruled by Kublai Khan, and acted as an ambassador for the Khan for a while. (If he is to be believed, or indeed even existed …) And this opening up of trade across the whole of Europe & Asia also had the unfortunate side-effect of bringing diseases across the whole land – the Black Death originally broke out in China, and was spread by traders across the whole landmass. Moving on in history he also covered the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.

Other subjects covered were the mathematical & scientific golden age of the Islamic world during the period we call in Europe as “the Dark Ages” – concentrating on the work of MuαΈ₯ammad ibn MΕ«sā al-KhwārizmΔ« (I totally copied that spelling from wikipedia, so I hope it’s right! He’s the chap whose work was developed into the modern concept of algorithms, so called from the Europeanisation of his last name.) And the meeting between the Mali Empire & the rest of the world (effectively) when Mansa Musa visited Cairo en route to Mecca when he was performing the Hajj. This both collapsed Cairo’s economy (he and his entourage gave away so much gold that the price of gold plummeted and took 10 years to recover), and introduced the Europeans & the Middle East to someone to buy gold from. I think he said that within a century 20% of the gold in Europe came from mines in Mali.

And we finished with Leonardo da Vinci & the painting of the Last Supper – which (along with lots of Leonardo’s other interests) in many ways draws upon & expands the artistic, mathematical and scientific knowledge gained by the Europeans trading with the Islamic world & beyond.

This is one of my favourite bits of history, so it wasn’t a surprise I already sort of knew most of it already (still fun to watch, though πŸ™‚ ). But I was amused to note how many of the names of people I knew as leaders in the game Civilization IV πŸ™‚

For the second programme of the evening we watched the first episode of Wartime Farm. We’d been a little dubious about this from the description, so were prepared to bail if we decided we didn’t like it. But actually it was a really interesting programme with less dramatisation than I’d feared. The premise is a group of historians/archaeologists living on a farm for a year working the land the way that it would’ve been done during the Second World War. For this first episode they were mostly concentrating on the first year or so of the war, and on how farms throughout Britain were being reorganised in a massive agricultural revolution to double their food output. Most of Britain’s food was imported pre-war & the threat of a U-boat blockade meant that this couldn’t continue after war was declared. The presenters told us about things from a mix of a modern & an in character perspective, melding the two together during any single section. Which sounds like it should end up a mess & hard to follow, but actually worked really well. So Ruth Goodman told us about the kitchen conveniences she was getting both by showing us how they worked in a way that wouldn’t quite’ve been necessary for people of the time (pointing out how much quicker it is to mop a lino floor than scrub a stone one), but also exclaiming over how modern things were (like the paraffin heated stove rather than a range). The “modernisation” of the farm included using a tractor instead of horses – much quicker to plough once you got it going. Once you got it going … easier said than done, it seemed. And getting an oil driven electricity generator, that let you charge up big batteries and then have lights on after dark!

There were also interviews with people who either remembered the war (an old chap who’d been 7 and a farmer’s son when war broke out, and remembered the switch to using tractors etc) or were experts on parts of the history of it. The bit that was most startling to me was that I had no idea that there were trained guerilla groups made up mostly of farmers (it was a reserved occupation) and farmer’s wives (in the intelligence arm of the organisation). These were top secret at the time, and were effectively a resistance movement in waiting – and people kept it very very secret, they told us that there were couples who were both in the organisation but didn’t tell each other until decades after the end of the war. And the historian who was telling us about that bit said he had done interviews with surviving members who would only discuss people who had already died, not any still living ex-members. It really brought home how much they believed that Britain was going to be invaded, which it’s easy to gloss over from my perspective as someone born about 30 years after the war ended – it’s history to me & I know we won without being invaded, and you hear more about the Blitz and D-Day than you do the rest of the war.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World; In Search of Medieval Britain

Started off the evening with the third episode of Andrew Marr’s History of the World – this one was about the Word and the Sword, basically the rise and spread of Buddhism, Christianity & Islam with a few side stories. He started off with the story of Ashoka who killed and conquered his way to ruling an empire that covers most of modern India. But then after witnessing the appalling slaughter he himself had caused he converted to Buddhism and spent the rest of his (long) reign promoting peace and tolerance throughout his land and actively spread Buddhism as a religion.

The first of the side stories was about the First Emperor of China – who came to power around the same time as Ashoka and in much the same murderous way. But he had no moment of conversion, instead ruling his newly unified China with an iron fist. His mausoleum is apparently enormous – the only part that has been excavated is the Terracotta Army, but there’s a palace extending back beneath the hill behind where that lies. After his death (of mercury poisoning from an “elixir of immortality” which was anything but) the Han Dynasty ruled over China for about the same time period as the Roman Empire existed – and this was the next topic.

Well, sort of. What he actually covered was the final fall of Egypt, Cleopatra & Caesar’s relationship and then their deaths (skipping quite quickly over the Mark Anthony bit) and Egypt’s assimilation into the Roman Empire. The spin he was putting on this was that Caesar effectively saw that Cleopatra was worshipped as a god in Egypt and thought this was a good idea so went home to Rome to do the same. Leading to the Senate not being happy and murdering him (but actually all his successors were worshipped as gods, so the idea took hold). And then he cast the rise of Christianity as being partly a reaction against this politicised religion in the empire, people going back to a faith in something that was more personal to them. This wasn’t quite the spin I was expecting, so it ended up feeling like he’d kinda skewed things to make it fit his theme for the programme.

Early Christianity through to its establishment as the religion of the Roman Empire was told through the lens of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and his subsequent spreading of the gospel throughout the empire, and Perpetua’s imprisonment and martyrdom for her faith. And ending with the Romans having effectively assimilated the faith into their political & military structures.

The feeling of stretching to fit the theme was not helped by the next side-story which really did seem shoehorned in. We had a brief trip across to the Americas, and the Nazca people. These are the people who made the massive line drawings on their land, and their civilisation collapsed around 600AD due to human exacerbated environmental disaster. Basically they were cutting down trees to create more arable land, but then when they had 30 years of excessive rain the lack of trees meant the soil was washed away. Which made the succeeding 30 years of drought even less survivable than it otherwise would’ve been. This didn’t really fit the theme, but it happened in this time period so they told us about it anyway, with some reference to the religion and the increased numbers of human sacrifices during the end of the civilisation as they frantically tried to appease their gods.

And then it was back to the theme – with the meteoric rise and spread of Islam. They did another good job of juxtaposing the stories told to highlight the similarities between the different topics. In this case we had the almost martyrdom of Bilal to mirror Perpetua’s martyrdom as the entry point for the story of early Islam. Bilal survived, however, to become the first muezzin. And the spread of Islam by conquest was contrasted with the slower spread of Christianity by the travels of the Paul and the Apostles.

We were running late this week, so only had time for a half hour programme for the second one of the evening. We have had a couple of episodes from the middle of a series called In Search of Medieval Britain sitting on the PVR for ages, so we watched one of them. The premise of this series is Alixe Bovey (a lecturer in medieval history at Kent) travelling about the country following the Gough Map (a map dating to 1355-1366 which was donated to the Bodleian Library in 1809). In the episode we watched she visited Melton Mowbray, Lincoln and Sherwood Forest. In Melton Mowbray she helped make an authentic pork pie from the era. In Lincoln she visited the cathedral, which for 200 years held the title of tallest building in the world. Then the spire fell down in the 1500s (probably because the wood frame rotted) and it was no longer taller than the Great Pyramid. It was still the tallest point in Lincolnshire though. And finally in Sherwood Forest she told us about real outlaws (who were a much more murderous and unpleasant bunch than the fictional Robin Hood), and visited the oldest pub in the country. She also talked to some people who were making authentic medieval beer – with hissop instead of hops as the bittering agent. It was amusing to see her not drink any on camera, the “oh it’s delicious” after the camera panned away from her was pretty fake I think πŸ˜‰

I wish we’d managed to record all of these, this one was quite fun πŸ™‚

Vikings; Andrew Marr’s History of the World

We watched the third & last episode of Vikings last night. This one was split into two – firstly Oliver covered the Vikings’ exploration to the West and then in the second half he looked at how the Vikings stopped being Vikings. So the programme started off by looking at Viking ocean-going ships, and a bit of sailing & rowing in a replica, and talked about how you had to be a bit flexible in your destination given their navigational technology. And sometimes when you were heading for Shetland you might end up in Orkney, but that’s OK. And sometimes you might end up somewhere completely different – as happened when a boat blown off-course discovered Iceland. I think he was saying that Iceland was a complete accident, but after they found out there might be new lands out in the ocean they deliberately went looking for them. So they settled Greenland and even made it to the east coast of North America. The further flung colonies died off, but the Icelandic people are descended from those Viking colonisers and even some of their traditions lasted into modern times (like their government was a proto-democracy from as long ago as the Viking era). There was an amusing segment of Oliver having to eat various traditional Viking “delicacies” (in a restuarant in Iceland that has this as its theme), like “rotten shark” and various bits of a sheep one doesn’t normally eat (testicles, brains). Accompanied by descriptions from an Icelandic man who was dressed up like a Viking and very much in “torment the foreigner” mode πŸ˜‰

The second half looked at how and why the Vikings stopped being what we think of as Vikings. Some of this came down to conversion to Christianity – while there’d been Christians in Denmark from fairly early on in the Viking era it wasn’t until the late 900s that Harald Bluetooth (the King of Denmark) converted and made Christianity the official religion of the kingdom. This was apparently largely for political reasons, as it made it less possible for the Holy Roman Emperor to add Denmark to his territories if that meant he was attacking a fellow Christian ruler rather than a godless heathen people. Other rulers in Scandinavia followed suit, and the differences between the old religion and the new changed the focus of the people. No longer was life all about heroic deeds and gaining enough glory so that when you died in battle you went to Valhalla. Now you should focus on living as good (and meek & mild) a life as possible to avoid eternal damnation in the hereafter.

And it finished up by looking at the re-conquest of England by Canute (grandson of Harald Bluetooth), and how his empire of most of Scandinavia and England gave him social status within Europe to a degree where the son of the Holy Roman Emperor married Canute’s daughter. I was vaguely entertained by them spelling Canute like that, as I thought we spelt it “Cnut” these days … perhaps that’s easily mis-read? πŸ˜‰

A good series overall πŸ™‚ I think it’s a shame it was done in three episodes, it made some of it feel quite shallow. In particular I think this episode could have been split into two and filled out an hour for each very easily. I’d’ve liked to hear more about the Greenland and Newfoundland colonies in the first half, and seen some of the evidence for them. And I’d’ve liked a bit more about the legacy of the Vikings in the second half – a particular thing I felt was missing was that the Normans are descended from Vikings (if I remember correctly) and this wasn’t even mentioned.

The second episode of Andrew Marr’s History of the World covered “the Age of Empires”, starting with the Assyrians and stopping just short of the Romans … which seemed an odd choice of stopping point given the title, but I guess we cover the Romans next time. As well as the Assyrians it covered the Persians, Alexander the Great, Athens & their democracy, and a very well juxtaposed series of segments on the Buddha, Confucious and Socrates. The primary theme was how this era was defined largely by war and brutal conflicts between peoples, and how this wasn’t unmitigatedly bad for society. Teachings & innovations that are still followed today grew out of people dealing with this violence.

So he looked at how both the Persians and later Alexander the Great tried to integrate their empires of disparate peoples, which could be viewed as the first attempts at a multicultural society (after the violence & slaughter that lead to the empires). Obviously the democracy of Athens was held up as the birth of the government type most in use throughout the West – but he didn’t shy away from pointing out how it wasn’t quite what we think of as democracy, and in many ways only worked because those who could vote had free time to do so because their slaves were doing the work. And Marr also highlighted the accidental nature of history here – if the Persians had conquered Athens like they tried to do then perhaps we’d have a different form of government now, at the very least it wouldn’t be called democracy. Another accident of this sort is that the Persian King Cyrus freed the Jews from their exile in Babylon, and this had a large impact on the development of Judaism. Were Cyrus not to have conquered Babylon, or not to’ve sent the Jews home, then again the world might be very different today.

The pieces about the Buddha, Confucious and Socrates looked at how these men had such different impacts on their societies but started in many ways from similar places. All were a reaction of sorts to the violent world around them. The Buddha went out from his privileged life, and sought answers to what the meaning of life was and how one should best live. He reached Enlightenment and taught and promoted a peaceful inward looking religion with no hierarchy or restrictions on who could follow it. Confucious also went out from a privileged life to walk and teach among the people, but his message was about creating a peaceful well-ordered society by conforming to the rules for appropriate behaviour. Heavy on respect and outward appearances, focused on the good of the whole people rather than the salvation of a single person. Socrates wasn’t leaving a life of privilege but he was reacting to the violent and uncertain world around him – Athens and in particular its democratic form of government felt under threat. But he didn’t react by conforming, or by retreating from the world to seek inner peace, he reacted by questioning and pushing at the boundaries of what was proper or traditional. Trying to shape a better world by never being satisfied with the easy answers. And then this lead to his death, executed as a traitor in a situation which no society since has had answers to either – if you allow free speech, at what point do the needs of the society outweigh this? What should society do when someone’s right to question runs into the society as a whole’s needs?

While I enjoyed most of the episode, and also found it thought provoking in places, there was one bit that made me roll my eyes a bit. There was a segment on the development of the alphabet, which managed to make it seem like the Phoenicians were the first (and only) people ever to connect what was written down with the sounds that were made. So it ignored completely the evidence of syllabic writing systems (like Linear B where every sign is a particular consonant+vowel combination), which can also be read back by sounding out the symbols. The difference with the alphabet as we use it is the flexibility it gives, where you can phonetically write down languages not constructed in the same way as the language the alphabet was originally designed for (this is harder to do with syllabic systems if the syllables are not the same across the languages – think about Linear B and then think of how English isn’t always consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel). I guess that segment was just very simplified, but it was almost to the point of being wrong.

The dramatic reconstructions continue to amuse me with their irreverence and melodrama. Croesus about to be burnt to death was particularly amusingly done. I’m really not normally a fan of playacting bits in history programmes, so I feel the need to mention again how entertaining they are πŸ™‚

Vikings; Andrew Marr’s History of the World

Started off TV night with the second episode of Vikings – it’s only a 3 episode series, which seems a shame. This middle one talked about the Vikings as traders which is something more Anglo-centric views of the Vikings tend to forget. He started by telling us about the eastern Vikings (from what’s now Sweden) and how they spread through Russia setting up small settlements on the way. They traded as far afield as Constantinople and with parts of the Islamic world. One of the things we were shown was an Arabic book describing the appearance of the Vikings (both men & women on these trading missions) and calling them Rus (I think he said it meant “rowers”) – which is where the word Russia comes from. They were allowed to trade in Constantinople, which was hard to get permission to do and some clearly settled there. He also showed us some graffiti in the Hagia Sophia from the 9th Century in Viking runes, which apparently says something like “Halfdan was here” πŸ™‚ The Vikings brought silks and spices and other luxury goods back from the east, to places like Birka (near Stockholm) where grave goods etc that have been found show that this was a wealthy market town. The Vikings exported amber & furs which are found in abundance in the north, but also slaves. The programme made a big big deal out of that, but I didn’t think it was that surprising. I guess the story we tell about Vikings is normally more kill-rape-plunder not kill-capture-plunder-sell.

The second half of the programme expanded on that – the western Vikings (from what’s now Norway) and their settlements in Dublin in particular (an important hub of their slave trade). And then moved a bit away from their trading activities to talk about their conquest & settlement of a large part of England. This being different to what they had done in Russia & in Ireland, because the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at the time in England were wealthier and more organised. So it wasn’t so much a case of setting up a settlement and being the most sophisticated group in the area, more that they first had to fight to take the places and then live there in greater numbers & with a more organised occupation of the area. It felt a little odd the way we suddenly went Anglo-centric again after focusing so much on the Viking point of view earlier, but I guess it is a big part of the Viking story.

Second programme of the evening is another one we’re not timeshifting much! Andrew Marr is doing a series about the whole history of the world, in 8 one hour episodes. Which is quite a tall order, as the article on bbc news that alerted us to this admitted. So part of the interest is seeing just how they manage it πŸ™‚ And also we’ve liked Marr’s previous serieses that we’ve watched – two about the history of the last 100 years in Britain, one about mega-cities and one about the Queen. This feels like a big budget programme, there are a lot of dramatic re-enactments and a lot of CGI as well as exotic locations. The re-enactments I thought had just the right level of irreverence, given particularly at the beginning they’re not exactly going to be accurate representations of a particular event so instead they’re little vignettes with a degree of melodrama or humour. Which fit well with Marr’s narration, being as that was full of snark and cynical one-liners as well as facts.

This first episode covered a vast swathe of time, from the first humans leaving Africa approximately 70,000 years ago through to the end of the Minoan civilisation about 3500 years ago. Which is pretty impressive when you think about it πŸ˜‰ The title was “Survival” and the theme was exactly that – we had people spreading out and surviving against all the odds no matter what nature flung at us. The broad sweep of the story is something I already know, but the stories picked out did highlight things I didn’t know or cast a different light on things I do. For instance I hadn’t really thought about how the development of the needle was a great step forward in hunting technology in the Ice Age, because fitted clothes in layers protect against the weather better than just wrapping an animal skin round you. So you can stay out longer in the Ice Age weather while hunting. And the retelling of a Chinese legend about the man who organised a great civil engineering programme to dig channels to dissipate the force of the Yellow River floods which damaged so much of the land & people was completely new to me.

The programme didn’t present it as all progress all the time, either – stressing, for instance, how agriculture is good for feeding extra mouths but the consequences of doing the work of farming and living closer to each other & to the livestock actually reduces people’s life spans. And how while our tribalism was our great strength as hunter-gatherers (enabling us to work together in groups of the right size for survival), it’s not so good once we start to settle down and perhaps need to work together with other tribes to get things done.

Oh, and bonus Egypt – telling the story of a trial in Deir El Medina in the time when that village was the place where the workers on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived. The vignette for that was particularly hammed up I thought (and well done, too), making it seem almost more soap opera-ish than it already was.

A good programme, looking forward to the rest of the series πŸ™‚