Suburb Designs Its Neighborhood around J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth
I'll meet you at the corner of Saruman and Aragorn
Want to move to Middle-Earth? It'll cost you. You need well over half a million euros to afford a house at Gimli, Legolas or Celeborn. But the one at Palantir will only set you back only €320,000, and the houses on Tolkien Avenue start from as little as €240,000 (1).
No, Middle-Earth has not joined the eurozone. It's rather the other way round: a small part of the Netherlands has styled itself after J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional world, the backdrop for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Welcome to Geldrop, an unassuming suburb of Eindhoven that has nonetheless given the Netherlands a prime minister and Andy Warhol a pop art model (2).
The town also created the world's densest Tolkien-themed street grid: an estate covering about a quarter of a square mile, containing about 50 streets, avenues and paths carrying names taken from Tolkien's various epics.
The area was built up in the late 20th century in Genoenhuis, a district of Geldrop bordered by the E34 motorway in the south and the Eindhoven to Weert railway in the east. On the map, part of the estate looks ring-shaped – which gave one town planner the idea to link the area to Tolkien.
Themed street names are not uncommon, usually for districts planned and developed from scratch. Some examples:
Indeed, the practice is particularly popular in the Netherlands, and the positioning of the themed street names in Geldrop exhibits a degree of consideration that goes beyond merely plonking down some random names on a map.
The main road through the area is called Laan van Tolkien, or Tolkien Avenue (3). North of that lane are roads named after the men of Gondor: Faramir and Boromir, Denethor and Aragorn. South of those streets and south of the cemetery, but still north of Tolkien Avenue are a number of streets named after men and women from Rohan: Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn.
A bit further south are roads reminiscent of Elvish persons and places: Galadriel, Arwen, Legolas, Celeborn, Nimrodel, Amroth and Lorien. Geldrop seems particularly keen on the dwarves who appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are almost all here – and so are some of their forebears, many (but not all) in the southwest: Gimli, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Ori, Fíli, Kíli, Farin, Thorin and Durin.
Of course, the great wizard Gandalf cannot fail to make an appearance, nor Frodo. Other hobbits represented on the map are Pippin (both as Pepijn and Peregrijn), Merry (Merijn in Dutch), and Sam Gewissies (Gamgee). Other street names include Erebor, referring to the Lonely Mountain; Palantir, the name of the 'seeing stones'; Yavanna, a goddess from the Silmarillion; and Bombadil, after Tom Bombadil, a mysterious fellow and possibly the oldest creature in Middle-Earth.
In the northeast of 'Little Middle-Earth' are names referring to Numenor, a continent west of Middle-Earth: Cirion, Anarion, Elendil, Valandil, Elros, Silmarien. Even smaller paths have not escaped the attention of the tolkienophile town planner: there is the Groene Weg (Greenway), the Zilverlei (Silverlode) and the Haradpad (Harad Road), for instance.
The place names in Little Middle-Earth follow the general rule that negative names are to be avoided (although not an absolute rule, see #744). Plenty of good guys here – in fact, all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring get a mention – but just one bad dude makes an appearance on the map: Saruman, the wizard who goes over to the Dark Side. No street named after Sauron, the Evil Lord himself, no Orc Way, no Mordor Road, not even a Gollum Close. But also, strangely: the central character from Tolkien's oeuvre is conspicuous by his absence – no Bilbo.
Geldrop has the largest collection of Tolkien-themed street names in the world, but not the only one. There is a smaller grouping in Chelmsford, England. It includes Gandalf’s Ride, Hobbiton Hill, Arwen Grove, Thorin’s Gate, Celeborn Street, Goldberry Mead, Gimli Watch, Treebeard Copse, The Withywindle, Butterbur Chase, Lorien Gardens, Gladden Fields and Meriadoc Drive.
There are more Tolkien-inspired street names sprinkled throughout the world, in smaller concentrations.
Many thanks to Andrew Porter, who pointed to a recent article in the Guardian about Geldrop's fantasy district. Map from Bing Maps. Street sign picture from this page at Tolkien Brasil (which has many more). Warhol image here at eindhovenfotos.nl.
Strange Maps #823
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(2) Dries van Agt (1977-'82) and Apollonia van Ravenstein (b.1952, pictured), respectively. Other famous Geldropians: the writer A.F.Th. van der Heijden; Viktor Horsting, half of the Viktor & Rolf fashion brand; and model Lara Stone, the now ex-wife of British comedian and celebrity David Walliams.
(3) As noted by the Tolkien Library, plenty of places and things have been named after the author himself, including a crater on Mercury, a small asteroid between Jupiter and Mars, a giant tree on Vancouver Island, a Dutch schooner (available for cruises and events), a Street in Orlando and a Lane in Jacksonville, a bar in Zagreb and a restaurant in Birmingham. Reports of a Bistro Tolkien in Bruges, owned by the same proprietors who run The Hobbit bar across the street, are false (or at least outdated). The bar opposite is now called The Habit.
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- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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