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A Postcard Map of Scottish Tartans
Yes, We Clan!
Strange maps may be found hiding in antique atlases or down some of the internet’s more obscure cul-de-sacs . But sometimes, curious cartography greets you on your very doorstep, hand-delivered by servants of the commonwealth. Like this postcard, sent from the Isle of Lewis  in the Outer Hebrides. It is both a map, showing the vaguely volucrine  shape that is Scotland; and an infographic, connecting 20 numbered dots pinpointing clan locations to as many tartans  next to the map.
Outside the scotosphere , clans and their assorted tartans and kilts conjure up an impossibly romantic image of Scotland, or a faintly ridiculous one. But while they’ve now been reduced to mere folklore, clans - basically, extended families with easy access to weapons and a knack for bloody vendettas - were an essential part of Scotland’s history for well over a thousand years. Reflecting that is the bewildering variety of clan tartans, and the importance attached to them by their present-day descendents .
Each year, about 150 new tartans are registered - adding to the thousands already officially recognised. Most of those are ‘modern’ patterns, created after the repeal of the Dress Act, which from 1746 to 1782 forbade the wearing of tartan. The Dress Act was part of a concerted attempt to crush clan society, which had formed the backbone of the Jacobite Rebellions, put down at the Battle of Culloden .
But even the pre-Culloden variety of tartans is as bewildering as the forever intertwining and bifurcating genealogies of the clans themselves. Producing a comprehensive map would be a nightmare. If all the space you’ve got is a postcard, the best thing to do probably is pars pro toto : show a small sample to illustrate the rich variety of the whole range. This holds not just for the tartans, but also for the clans themselves - as this all too brief overview of their histories shows.
(1) Clan Chisholm
Of Saxon and Norman origin, clan Chisholm fought against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), and later became notorious cattle-raiders and Justices of the Peace (though not usually in the same generation).
(2) Clan Chattan
A confederation of 16 different clans, through blood ties or for mutual defence. The present-day incarnation of the confederation includes the clans Mackintosh, Macpherson, MacQueen, MacThomas and MacBain. Clan Chattan entertained a centuries-long feud with clan Cameron, culminating in the Battle of the North Inch (1396), a chivalrous contest to the death in which only one Cameron survived, against 11 out of 30 Chattans.
(3) Clan Kennedy
Not to be confused with its Irish counterpart, Kennedy is also the name of a Scottish clan. The Scottish Kennedys were supporters of Robert the Bruce, founders of the University of St Andrews, and builders of Culzean Castle, which is haunted by seven different ghosts and figures on the reverse of the Bank of Scotland’s five-pound note.
(4) Clan Stewart
Now an armigerous  Lowland clan, the Stewarts claim descent from Banquo, a local chief best known for his appearance in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The clan obtained the hereditary title of High Stewards of Scotland, whence they took their name. A Walter Stewart married Robert the Bruce’s daughter Marjorie, founding the Scottish royal House of Stewart (a.k.a. Stuart), which would rule both Scotland and England after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. The House of Stuart ended in 1714 with the death of Queen Anne, who was succeeded by her Hanoverian cousin, George I. The two Jacobite Uprisings  thereafter were led, respectively, by James Stuart (a.k.a. The Old Pretender) and his son Charles (The Young Pretender, or Bonnie Prince Charlie).
(5) Clan MacDonald (riding)
One of the largest Scottish clans, and a.k.a. clan Donald, the MacDonalds share a common ancestor with clan MacDougall in a mid-12th-century King of the Hebrides named Somerled. Because of their support for his cause, Robert the Bruce proclaimed that the clan Donald would always have the honour of occupying the right flank of the Scottish army. The MacDonalds were later heavily involved in clan and civil wars; the so-called War of the Three Kingdoms was to a large extent a feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbells.
In 1692, about 40 unarmed MacDonalds were slaughtered by Campbells in what became known as the Massacre of Glencoe. The Current high chief of Clan Donald is Godfrey James MacDonald of MacDonald, Eighth Lord MacDonald. Ironically, he prefers Burger King.
(6) Clan Macnab
A highland clan possibly founded by the son of an abbot , and centred on the town of Killin, the Macnabs wielded considerable power until they took up arms against Robert the Bruce, who ravaged their lands. The Macnabs distinguished themselves on the Royalist side during the Civil War, but their lands were again ravaged, and their clan papers again lost, this time at the hands of Covenanters .
(7) Clan MacGregor
This Highland clan claims descent from the Siol Alpin, the clan cluster that produced Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland. Some research suggests the clan’s original Gregor was a son of King Macbeth.
In the late Middle Ages, the MacGregors were ousted from their lands by clan Campbell, and became outlaws. They were so efficient at poaching and cattle-rustling that other clans paid them off to leave their lands alone. Their outlaw status peaked in 1603, when the King made it a capital offence to even bear the name MacGregor. The clan was reestablished in 1774.
(8) Clan (Red) Comyn
The Highland clan Comyn were once powerful pretenders to the Scottish throne. A John Comyn was known as the first ‘Red’ Comyn, while his son John II Comyn acquired the nickname ‘Black’ Comyn. The grandson, John III, was another ‘Red’ Comyn. This third John led the Scots in their war for independence, attacking Carlisle and defeating the English at the Battle of Roslin in 1303. In 1306, the Red Comyn was (probably) stabbed to death by Robert the Bruce, his rival pretender to the Scottish throne. John IV was roundly defeated by Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. Castle Grant was taken from the Comyns, and the skull of their chief kept as an heirloom by the Clan Grant - some even say the skull had hinges on top, so that documents could be kept in it.
(9) Clan Sinclair
This Highland clan based in the North of Scotland was originally Norman, hailing from Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. Ironically, considering his Viking ancestors, it was a Henry Sinclair who repelled the last Norwegian invasion of Scotland (1263). Other Sinclairs fought off the English on several occasions. Another Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, is rumoured to have travelled to Greenland and America just before the year 1400. The clan holds the barony of Roslin, and are the builders of Rosslyn Chapel - well known to readers of the Da Vinci Code and other students of the occult.
(10) Clan Home
The origin of this clan is a matter of some dispute. What’s certain, is that almost all of the significant members of this clan were called Alexander. A Sir Alexander Home fell against the English - in France, at Verneuil, in a battle of the Hundred Years’ War. Another was created Lord Home, and was ambassador to England. Yet another fought at Flodden Field, and another still was executed for treason - his head displayed on the tollbooth at Edinburgh. An Alexander (‘Alec’) Douglas-Home was British Prime Minister in 1963-’64.
(11) MacLean of Duart
The Macleans of Duart are a sept  of the Clan Maclean, and are centered on Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, where their chief has his seat. The other main sept of the clan are the Maclaines of Lochbuie.
(12) Clan Carnegie
The Carnegies used to be known as the Balinhards, who go back to at least 1230. The clan produced a Scottish ambassador to France, and reputedly also cup-bearers to the Scottish kings. A James Carnegie was known as the ‘Black Earl’ for his supposed knowledge of magic, learnt at Padua.
(13) Clan Crawford
Clan Crawford’s last chieftain, Hugh Ronald George Craufurd, died childless in 1942 in Calgary, Canada. The first may have been Thorlongus, an Anglo-Danish chief who fought against William the Conqueror. In between, we have Gregan, who saved Scottish King David I’s life from the attack of a stag (in 1127); and John Craufurd, who died from an injury received while playing football (in 1612).
(14) Clan Huntly
The history of Clan Huntly, named after Huntly Castle, is closely interwoven with that of Clan Gordon, which was led by the Earl of Huntly. Alexander Gordon, who escaped alive from the Battle of Halidon Hill, was the first Gordon to be called ‘of Huntly’, after the castle, the ruins of which still stand in a town of the same name, located in the what was once known as the District of Gordon. The Earl of Huntly at one point also owned Balmoral Castle, now the Queen’s residence when in Scotland. The Red Gordon, one of several clan tartans, is sometimes known as the ‘Huntly’.
(15) Clan MacFarlane
In past, more violent times, the Moon in Scotland was known as MacFarlane’s Lantern, for the clan was famous for its daring night-time raids on the English during Scotland’s Wars of Independence. The last chieftain of this once much-feared clan died in 1886, since which time its chiefship is dormant, although the clan remains armigerous.
(16) Clan Fraser
Reputedly of French origin  and with a dominant presence in and around Inverness since the 13th century, the Clan Fraser has traditionally been very prominent in political and military matters, both in Scotland and abroad. Many Frasers fell at Culloden; later Frasers would distinguish themselves leading British regiments into battle in North America. Frasers emigrated en masse to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - furnishing the latter two with a Fraser Prime Minister each.
(17) Clan Galloway
Probably descendants of immigrant Englishmen, the Clan Galloway, named after the region in southwest Scotland, allied itself with invading Norsemen rather than with other Scottish clans.
(18) Macleod of Lewis
One of two branches of Macleods - the other one almost inevitably being the Macleods of Harris, the Macleods of Lewis are a Highland clan with a history of large holdings the Hebrides and on Scotland’s west coast. A disputable tradition traces both clans to the two sons of the original Leod  (himself the son of Olaf the Black, King of the Isle of Man), Torquil (progenitor of the Lewis branch) and Tormod (forefather of the Harris branch). Family feuds killed off the main branch of the Macleods of Lewis, whose present chieftain, a resident of Tasmania, descends from a minor branch of the old clan.
This Lowlands clan was named after an earldom, which was named after an area known as ‘the Lennox’ (and centered on Lennoxtown). A large part of the clan was massacred by clan Colquhoun in 1424, but the Lennoxes bounced back enough to march into England to besiege Carlisle Castle. Henry Stuart, eldest son of the 4th Earl of Lennox, was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father of James VI, king of Scotland - who later elevated the earldom of Lennox to a dukedom.
Various spellings include Stairline, Starling, Stewling, Strifeland, Strivelend and Styrlink. Clan Stirling’s origins can be traced to a mid-12th century royal land grant. A royal Scottish land grant, as high-ranking clan members were endowed with high positions at the Scottish court, and more than one chieftain fell in battle against the English (at Halidon Hill in 1333, and again at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547). The Stirling martial strain endured well into the 20th century, with Sir David Stirling founding the 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) during World War II and commanding it to great effect behind enemy lines during the North African campaign.
Strange Maps #582
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
 Or should that be culs-de-sac? After all, the plural of ‘bag end’ is ‘bag ends’, not ‘bags end’.
 As it happens, marked by the (18) on this map. Lewis is the northern, flatter and more inhabited part of the island of Lewis and Harris. Due to their different physical appearance, both parts are often referred to as if they were separate islands. Together, they constitute the third-largest island in the British Isles (840 sq. mi), after Great Britain and Ireland.
 Bird-like. Or is that just because the map of Scotland always reminds me of Edwin Morgan’s Chaffinch Map of Scotland? (see also #329)
 Originally referring to a method of production, the word tartan now signifies the patterns - multicoloured and criss-crossed - usually associated with Scottish clans.
 Scotland and the Scottish diaspora.
 The Scottish Tartans World Register holds records of over 2,800 different tartans, while the Scottish Tartans Authority lists around 3,500 different patterns. However, both lists are non-authoritative; the only official one is the Scottish Register of Tartans, launched in early 2009 and maintained by the National Archives of Scotland. The SRT not only records historical tartans, but also is the place to submit registration of new ones.
 Won by the loyalist forces defending the ruling House of Hanover, the Battle of Culloden (1745) not only was the last pitched battle fought in Britain, it also spelled the end of the clan system as a political force in Scotland.
 A figure of speech using a part to represent an object or concept in its entirety. The reverse is a totem pro parte.
 Without an official chieftain, but retaining the right to bear arms (i.e. a coat of arms).
 The ‘Fifteen’, started in 1715 and the ‘Forty-five’, started in 1745 and defeated at the Battle of Culloden.
 Which is what the Gaelic Mac an Aba means.
 17th-century presbyterian militias fighting to make their doctrine that of the Scottish state.
 A separate family branch, especially of a clan.
 Tradition lists Anjou as the home region of the family, the original name of which may have been spelled as ‘de la Frézelière’.
 a variant of the Old Norse name Ljotr (‘Ugly’).
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
The tomb that held the cheese lies in the desert sands south of Cairo. It was first discovered in the 19th century by treasure hunters, who eventually lost the knowledge of its location, leaving the Saharan sands to once again conceal the tomb.
“Since 1885 the tomb has been covered in sand and no-one knew about it,” Professor Ola el-Aguizy of Cairo University told the BBC. “It is important because this tomb was the lost tomb.”
In 2010, a team of archaeologists rediscovered the tomb, which belonged to Ptahmes, a mayor and military chief of staff of the Egyptian city of Memphis in the 13th century B.C. In the tomb, the team found a jar containing a “solidified whitish mass,” among other artifacts.
“The archaeologists suspected [the mass] was food, according to the conservation method and the position of the finding inside the tomb, but we discovered it was cheese after the first tests,” Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, told the The New York Times.
To find out what the substance was, the team had to develop a novel way to analyze the proteins and identify the peptide markers in the samples. They first dissolved parts of the substance and then used mass spectrometry and chromatography to analyze its proteins.
Despite more than 3,000 years spent in the desert, the researchers were able to identify hundreds of peptides (chains of amino acids) in the sample. They found some that were associated with milk from goat, sheep and, interestingly, the African buffalo, a species not usually kept as a domestic animal in modern Africa, as Gizmodo reports.
Those results suggested that the substance was cheese, specifically one that was probably similar in consistency to chevre but with a “really, really acidy” taste, as Dr. Paul Kindstedt, a professor at the University of Vermont who studies the chemistry and history of cheese, told the The New York Times.
“It would be high in moisture; it would be spreadable,” he said. “It would not last long; it would spoil very quickly.”
The researchers also found traces of the bacterium Brucella melitensis, which causes brucellosis, a debilitating disease that can cause endocarditis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, malaise, muscle pain and other conditions. It’s a disease usually contracted by consuming raw dairy products.
“The most common way to be infected [with Brucella melitensis] is by eating or drinking unpasteurized/raw dairy products. When sheep, goats, cows, or camels are infected, their milk becomes contaminated with the bacteria,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote on its website. “If the milk from infected animals is not pasteurized, the infection will be transmitted to people who consume the milk and/or cheese products.”
Dr. Kindstedt said one reason the study is significant is for its novel use of proteomic analysis, which is the systematic identification and quantification of the complete complement of proteins (the proteome) of a biological system.
“As I say to my students every year when I get to Egypt, someone has to go ahead and analyze these residues with modern capabilities,” he told the The New York Times. “This is a logical next step and I think you’re going to see a lot more of this.”
'The Great Pyramid of Chee-za'. An artist's interpretation of a very ripe, slightly deadly Egyptian tomb cheese. (Credit: Creative commons/Big Think)
However, Dr. Kindstedt did offer a bit of caution on the conclusions the researchers drew from the findings.
“The authors of this new study did some nice work,” he told Gizmodo in a statement. “But in my view, on multiple grounds (I suspect in their zeal to be “the first”), they inferred considerably beyond what their data is capable of supporting within reasonable certainty, and almost certainly they are not the first to have found solid cheese residues in Egyptian tombs, just the first to apply proteomic analyses (which is worthy achievement on its own).”
As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.
- A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
- The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
- Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Economic inequality is a constant topic. No matter the cycle — boom or bust — somebody is making a lot of money, and the question of fairness is never far behind.
A recently published essay in the Journal of Economic Literature by Professor Guido Alfani adds an intriguing perspective to the discussion by showing the evolution of income inequality in Europe over the last several hundred years. As it turns out, we currently live in a comparatively egalitarian epoch.
Seven centuries of economic history
Figure 8 from Guido Alfani, Journal of Economic Literature, 2021.
This graph shows the amount of wealth controlled by the top ten percent in certain parts of Europe over the last seven hundred years. Archival documentation similar to — and often of a similar quality as — modern economic data allows researchers to get a glimpse of what economic conditions were like centuries ago. Sources like property tax records and documents listing the rental value of homes can be used to determine how much a person's estate was worth. (While these methods leave out those without property, the data is not particularly distorted.)
The first part of the line, shown in black, represents work by Prof. Alfani and represents the average inequality level of the Sabaudian State in Northern Italy, The Florentine State, The Kingdom of Naples, and the Republic of Venice. The latter part, in gray, is based on the work of French economist Thomas Piketty and represents an average of inequality in France, the United Kingdom, and Sweden during that time period.
Despite the shift in location, the level of inequality and rate of increase are very similar between the two data sets.
Apocalyptic events cause decreases in inequality
Note that there are two substantial declines in inequality. Both are tied to truly apocalyptic events. The first is the Black Death, the common name for the bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century, which killed off anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of Europe. The second, at the dawn of the 20th century, was the result of World War I and the many major events in its aftermath.
The 20th century as a whole was a time of tremendous economic change, and the periods not featuring major wars are notable for having large experiments in distributive economic policies, particularly in the countries Piketty considers.
The slight stall in the rise of inequality during the 17th century is the result of the Thirty Years' War, a terrible religious conflict that ravaged Europe and left eight million people dead, and of major plagues that affected South Europe. However, the recurrent outbreaks of the plague after the Black Death no longer had much effect on inequality. This was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the adaptation of European institutions to handle pandemics without causing such a shift in wealth.
In 2010, the last year covered by the essay, inequality levels were similar to those of 1340, with 66 percent of the wealth of society being held by the top ten percent. Also, inequality levels were continuing to rise, and the trends have not ended since. As Prof. Alfani explained in an email to BigThink:
"During the decade preceding the Covid pandemic, economic inequality has shown a slow tendency towards further inequality growth. The Great Recession that began in 2008 possibly contributed to slow down inequality growth, especially in Europe, but it did not stop it. However, the expectation is that Covid-19 will tend to increase inequality and poverty. This, because it tends to create a relatively greater economic damage to those having unstable occupations, or who need physical strength to work (think of the effects of the so-called "long-Covid," which can prove physically invalidating for a long time). Additionally, and thankfully, Covid is not lethal enough to force major leveling dynamics upon society."
Can only disasters change inequality?
That is the subject of some debate. While inequality can occur in any economy, even one that doesn't grow all that much, some things appear to make it more likely to rise or fall.
Thomas Piketty suggested that the cause of changes in inequality levels is the difference in the rate of return on capital and the overall growth rate of the economy. Since the return on capital is typically higher than the overall growth rate, this means that those who have capital to invest tend to get richer faster than everybody else.
While this does explain a great deal of the graph after 1800, his model fails to explain why inequality fell after the Black Death. Indeed, since the plague destroyed human capital and left material goods alone, we would expect the ratio of wealth over income to increase and for inequality to rise. His model can provide explanations for the decline in inequality in the decades after the pandemic, however- it is possible that the abundance of capital could have lowered returns over a longer time span.
The catastrophe theory put forth by Walter Scheidel suggests that the only force strong enough to wrest economic power from those who have it is a world-shattering event like the Black Death, the fall of the Roman Empire, or World War I. While each event changed the world in a different way, they all had a tremendous leveling effect on society.
But not even this explains everything in the above graph. Pandemics subsequent to the Black Death had little effect on inequality, and inequality continued to fall for decades after World War II ended. Prof. Alfani suggests that we remember the importance of human agency through institutional change. He attributes much of the post-WWII decline in inequality to "the redistributive policies and the development of the welfare states from the 1950s to the early 1970s."
What does this mean for us now?
As Professor Alfani put it in his email:
"[H]istory does not necessarily teach us whether we should consider the current trend toward growth in economic inequality as an undesirable outcome or a problem per se (although I personally believe that there is some ground to argue for that). Nor does it teach us that high inequality is destiny. What it does teach us, is that if we do not act, we have no reason whatsoever to expect that inequality will, one day, decline on its own. History also offers abundant evidence that past trends in inequality have been deeply influenced by our collective decisions, as they shaped the institutional framework across time. So, it is really up to us to decide whether we want to live in a more, or a less unequal society."
Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.
- A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
- The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
- The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
A lot of ideas that people had about the internet in the 1990s have fallen by the wayside as technology and our usage patterns evolved. Long gone are things like GeoCities, BowieNet, and the belief that letting anybody post whatever they are thinking whenever they want is a fundamentally good idea with no societal repercussions.
While these ideas have been abandoned and the tools that made them possible often replaced by new and improved ones, not every outdated part of our internet experience is gone. A new study by a team at Carnegie Mellon makes the case that the use of tabs in a web browser is one of these outdated concepts that we would do well to get rid of.
How many tabs do you have open right now?
We didn't always have tabs. Introduced in the early 2000s, tabs are now included on all major web browsers, and most users have had access to them for a little over a decade. They've been pretty much the same since they came out, despite the ever changing nature of the internet. So, in this new study, researchers interviewed and surveyed 113 people on their use of — and feelings toward — the ubiquitous tabs.
Most people use tabs for the short-term storage of information, particularly if it's information that is needed again soon. Some keep tabs that they know they'll never get around to reading. Others used them as a sort of external memory bank. One participant described this action to the researchers:
"It's like a manifestation of everything that's on my mind right now. Or the things that should be on my mind right now... So right now, in this browser window, I have a web project that I'm working on. I don't have time to work on it right now, but I know I need to work on it. So it's sitting there reminding me that I need to work on it."
You suffer from tab overload
Unfortunately, trying to use tabs this way can cause a number of problems. A quarter of the interview subjects reported having caused a computer or browser to crash because they had too many tabs open. Others reported feeling flustered by having so many tabs open — a situation called "tab overload" — or feeling ashamed that they appeared disorganized by having so many tabs up at once. More than half of participants reported having problems like this at least two or three times a week.
However, people can become emotionally invested in the tabs. One participant explained, "[E]ven when I'm not using those tabs, I don't want to close them. Maybe it's because it took efforts [sic] to open those tabs and organize them in that way."
So, we have a tool that inefficiently saves web pages that we might visit again while simultaneously reducing our productivity, increasing our anxiety, and crashing our machines. And yet we feel oddly attached to them.
Either the system is crazy or we are.
Skeema: The anti-tab revolution
The researchers concluded that at least part of the problem is caused by tabs not being an ideal way of organizing the work we now do online. They propose a new model that better compartmentalizes tabs by task and subtask, reflects users' mental models, and helps manage the users' attention on what is important right now rather than what might be important later.
To that end, the team also created Skeema, an extension for Google Chrome, that treats tabs as tasks and offers a variety of ways to organize them. Users of an early version reported having fewer tabs and windows open at one time and were better able to manage the information they contained.
Tabs were an improvement over having multiple windows open at the same time, but they may have outlived their usefulness. While it might take a paradigm shift to fully replace the concept, the study suggests that taking a different approach to tabs might be worth trying.
And now, excuse me, while I close some of the 87 tabs I currently have open.