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Huge color-coded map shows the world's most ancient and recent borders
No international borders, no international order—and yet, most land borders are not very old: more than half were drawn after 1900.
Borders between countries are inviolable and immutable: That’s the principle which underpins the international order. If changing them is such a big deal, those international borders must be venerably ancient. Wrong! As this map shows, more than half their total length was delineated after 1900. Less than 1% of the world’s current land borders were drawn up before the year 1500.
The oldest border has a specific birthday: 8 September 1278. That’s when Roger-Bernard III, the count of Foix, and Pere d’Urtx, the bishop of Urgell signed the so-called Tractat de pareatge. This feudal charter established their joint sovereignty over the mountain territory of Andorra and fixed its borders.
The county of Foix has been extinct since 1607, but the charter still holds: high in the Pyrenees that separate France from Spain, Andorra continues its existence as an independent condominium. Its ceremonial heads of state (officially ‘co-princes’) are the bishop of Urgell and—as the legal successor of the counts of Foix—the president of France.
The remarkable longevity of the arrangement makes Andorra’s borders the oldest ones in the world (1). This September, they will be celebrating their 740th birthday.
On the other end of the spectrum is the northern border of South Sudan, the world’s newest country since it voted to split from Sudan in 2011. However, the new border itself is older than independence: it’s made up of bits demarcated in 1924, 1956 and 1960—all when those borders were still well within the unified Sudanese state.
The only exception is Abyei, an oil-rich region disputed between Sudan and South Sudan. Its borders were defined in 2009 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. That makes them the youngest international border in the world—sort of: while its status remains in dispute, it’s unclear whether the northern or southern segment of the dotted line encircling the region will end up separating Sudan from South Sudan (2) (3).
As indicated by the South Sudanese example, borders can be much older than the countries they separate. Take for instance the land border of East Timor (4), the first nation to gain independence in the 21st century. It voted to secede from Indonesia in 2002. The new international border was decided by neither country: it was fixed by their former colonial overlords, Portugal and the Netherlands, back in 1902.
This map was put together by Reddit user PisseGuri82, who traced each currently existing border to the earliest codification he could find. The map does not take into account older borders that were not officially defined, nor more recent border corrections that were relatively minor. That is an imperfect method, leaving much room for discussion, and improvement.
“However,” says the mapmaker, “I'm hoping this overview gives an interesting look into how the concept of modern borders has spread throughout the world, in which regions they've meandered, where they've settled in and where they were simply imposed once and for all.”
According to this map, which colour-codes the borders according to period, the total sum of international land borders in the world is 256,613 km (159,452 miles). Some 52.2% of that total was defined in the 20th century, and a further 37.1% came about in the 19th century.
Compare that to the long stretch of history from the start of the 13th to the end of the 18th century: 600 years, producing no more than 9.6% of the world's current borders. Just 0.4% were set after the year 2000. Double that amount, about 2,200 km (1370 miles) remains to be defined.
Let's have a closer look at some of the world's borders—click here to explore the zoomable map.
- The U.S. has land borders with just two countries: Canada and Mexico. For the most part, they came about in the 19th century. The Alaska Panhandle has the youngest border, defined only in 1903. The only stretch older than the U.S. itself is the border demarcating Québec in Canada from New York and Vermont in the U.S.: drawn up in 1763, more than a decade before American Independence.
- Upon gaining independence from Spain, Latin American countries generally followed the uti possidetis principle, respecting the colonial borders as they existed at the time (i.e. 1810). Various conflicts between the new states have led to new borders, many dating well into the 20th century. Part of the border between Ecuador and Peru still dates from 1810, but most of it is from 1942, making it the youngest border in Latin America.
- The Treaty of Madrid (1750) defined the border between the South American possessions of Portugal and Spain. Much of the borders of Brazil with its neighbors still date to that treaty, making them the oldest borders in the Americas.
- The oldest international demarcation in Africa is the northern part of the Morocco-Algeria border, defined in 1842. Many African borders date back to the Berlin Conference (1884-85), where Europe’s colonial powers divided up the continent between them. A large part of Africa’s borders was defined in the 20th century—notably the ones between countries in western Africa, when they were still French colonies (and those borders thus still were of secondary importance).
- A surprisingly late border is the one between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, most of which was defined as recently as the year 2000. Neighboring country Oman’s borders are not much older: All were defined in the 1990s. Traveling north, the same goes for at least part of the borders with Saudi Arabia of the UAE (1970s), Iraq (1980s), Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan (1960s).
- The Treaty of Zuhab (1639) ended a war between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires and established what is now the border between Iran on one side, and Turkey and Iraq on the other. It is the oldest border in Asia.
- The Line of Control between India and Pakistan is Asia’s youngest international border. It was established when the Simla Agreement (1972), the peace treaty which ended the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, converted the cease-fire line between both sides into a more permanent arrangement, which India and Pakistan pledged to respect, “irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.” However, Pakistan has denied Indian allegations that leaders of both countries had agreed to turn the LOC into a full-fledged international border.
- Many borders on the Indian subcontinent still carry the name of the British officials who drew them. The Durand Line (1896) divided British India from Afghanistan. It remains poorly marked, highly porous and, to the local Pashtun who live on either side, an irritant or at best an irrelevance. The Macartney-MacDonald Line (1899) was drawn south of the Johnson Line, granting China a larger portion of the disputed Aksai Chin region. Pakistan and China have adopted the line as the basis for their common border. It has been suggested that India and China do the same to resolve their border dispute in the region. As it is, they are separated by the mutually recognized cease-fire line of 1962. The McMahon Line (1914) agreed between Britain and the then independent state of Tibet, establishing India's border with China (but disputed by the latter). The Radcliffe Line (1947) partitioned British India in two separate states: mainly Muslim Pakistan and mainly Hindu India. What followed was a massive population exchange—up to 14 million people moving across the new borders and up to two million dead of disease, starvation or intercommunal violence.
- The border between China and (North) Korea is the oldest one in East Asia, even though it was formalized only in 1712, long after its first introduction in the 15th century. The border between North and South Korea is one of the youngest ones in Asia: basically, the cease-fire line at the end of the Korean War (1953).
- Mongolia’s northern border with Russia also largely dates from the 18th century—from the Treaty of Kyakhta (1727), to be precise, but its southern border with China is an entirely 20th-century construct, with large parts as young as 1962.
- Europe is home to some of the world’s oldest international borders. But three relatively recent events have generated a lot of fairly new borders: the Congress of Vienna (1815), resetting European order after the Napoleonic wars; and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the Potsdam Conference (1945), doing the same after the First and Second World Wars.
- The eastern border of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is remarkable, and not just for its antiquity. First established at the Treaty of Melno (1422) between the Teutonic Knights and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it was long the easternmost border of the German Empire, with the Russians on the other side. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, it became an international border again, but with the Russians now on the other, western side of the border.
- Even though Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s, the borders of the new republics are all much older, dating back as far as 1683, when the Ottomans and Austrians were the dominant regional powers. A lot of local borders owe their existence to the First Balkan War (1913) and the Second World War (1945). Yugoslavia’s northern border with Italy around the disputed territory of Trieste was settled only in 1954. But apparently the last word on former Yugoslav borders hasn’t been spoken yet. Kosovo and Montenegro, the two youngest ex-Yugo countries, are still going through a demarcation process. If that leads to significant changes, perhaps they will snatch the title of world’s newest international border from Abyei.
Strange Maps #932
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) At least according to this map. Some stretches of the Spanish-Portuguese border may be older, some commenters on Reddit have pointed out. The mapmaker has promised to produce an updated version of the map.
(2) Until such time when a referendum can be held to determine the permanent status of the Abyei Area, its 125,000 residents are considered to be simultaneously citizens of both Sudan and South Sudan. It’s the world’s largest-scale experiment with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to date.
(3) Actually, the newest border on this map is a line drawn across Antarctica - but since territorial claims are frozen on the Frozen Continent, borders are even more hypothetical on Earth's southernmost continent than anywhere else.
(4) Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: East Timor is mislabelled on this map – it’s placed over West Timor, which remains a part of Indonesia.
Physicist Frank Wilczek proposes new methods of searching for extraterrestrial life.
- Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek thinks we are not searching for aliens correctly.
- Instead of sending out and listening for signals, he proposes two new methods of looking for extraterrestrials.
- Spotting anomalies in planet temperature and atmosphere could yield clues of alien life, says the physicist.
For noted theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, finding aliens is a matter of figuring out what exactly we are looking for. To detect other space civilizations, we need to search for the specific effects they might be having on their worlds, argues the Nobel laureate in a new proposal.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Wilczek says that it's a real challenge to figure out which among the over 4,000 exoplanets that we found so far outside of our solar system might host extraterrestrial life. The classic way of listening for space signals is insufficient and inefficient, says the scientist. What might really help are new developments in exoplanetary astronomy that can allow us to get much more precise information about faraway space objects.
In particular, there are two ways we should focus our attention to turn the odds of finding alien life in our favor, argues the physicist.
1. Atmosphere chemistry
Like we found out with our own effect on the Earth's atmosphere, making a hole in the ozone layer, the gases around a planet can be impacted by its inhabitants. "Atmospheres are especially significant in the search for alien life," writes Wilczek "because they might be affected by biological processes, the way that photosynthesis on Earth produces nearly all of our planet's atmospheric oxygen."
But while astrobiology can provide invaluable clues, so can looking for the signs of alien technology, which can also be manifested in the atmosphere. An advanced alien civilization might be colonizing other planets, turning their atmospheres to resemble the home planets. This makes sense considering our own plans to terraform other planets like Mars to allow us to breathe there. Elon Musk even wants to nuke the red planet.
The Most Beautiful Equation: How Wilczek Got His Nobel
2. Planet temperatures
Wilczek also floats another idea - what if an alien civilization created a greenhouse effect to raise the temperature of a planet? For example, if extraterrestrials were currently researching Earth, they would likely notice the increased levels of carbon dioxide that are heating up our atmosphere. Similarly, we can looks for such signs around the exoplanets.
An advanced civilization might also be heating up planets to raise their temperatures to uncover resources and make them more habitable. Unfreezing water might be one great reason to turn up the thermostat.
Unusually high temperatures can also be caused by alien manufacturing and the use of artificial energy sources like nuclear fission or fusion, suggests the scientist. Structures like the hypothetical Dyson spheres, which could be used to harvest energy from stars, can be particularly noticeable.
Similarly, there might be instances when our faraway space counterparts would want to cool planets down. Examining temperature anomalies of space bodies might allow us to pinpoint such clues.
Focusing on the temperatures and atmospheres of other planets might be not only a winning strategy but something specifically encouraged by other civilizations who want us to find them. "An alien species that wants to communicate could draw the gaze of exoplanetary astronomers to anomalies in its solar system, effectively using its parent star to focus attention," expounds the physicist.
You can check out Wilczek's full article here.
Wilczek: Why 'Change without Change' Is One of the Fundamental Principles of the ...
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves.
Because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Olympics will unfold in a stadium absent the eyes, ears and voices of a once-anticipated 68,000 ticket holders from around the world.
Events during the intervening days will likewise occur in silent arenas missing the hundreds of thousands of spectators who paid US$815 million for their now-useless tickets.
After 48 years teaching classics, I can't help but wonder what the Greeks – who invented the Games nearly 3,000 years ago, in 776 B.C. – would make of such a ghostly version of their Olympic festival.
In many ways, they'd view the prospect as absurd.
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves; instead, the heart and soul of the festival was the experience shared by all who attended. Every four years, athletes and spectators traveled from far-flung corners of the Greek-speaking world to Olympia, lured by a longing for contact with their compatriots and their gods.
In the shadow of dreams
For the Greeks, during five days in the late-summer heat, two worlds miraculously merged at Olympia: the domain of everyday life, with its human limits, and a supernatural sphere from the days superior beings, gods and heroes populated Earth.
Greek athletics, like today's, plunged participants into performances that pushed the envelope of human ability to its breaking point. But to the Greeks, the cauldron of competition could trigger revelations in which ordinary mortals might briefly intermingle with the extraordinary immortals.
The poet Pindar, famous for the victory songs he composed for winners at Olympia, captured this sort of transcendent moment when he wrote, “Humans are creatures of a day. But what is humankind? What is it not? A human is just the shadow of a dream – but when a flash of light from Zeus comes down, a shining light falls on humans and their lifetime can be sweet as honey."
However, these epiphanies could occur only if witnesses were physically present to immerse themselves – and share in – the spine-tingling flirtation with the divine.
Simply put, Greek athletics and religious experience were inseparable.
At Olympia, both athletes and spectators were making a pilgrimage to a sacred place. A modern Olympics can legitimately take place in any city selected by the International Olympic Committee. But the ancient games could occur in only one location in western Greece. The most profoundly moving events didn't even occur in the stadium that accommodated 40,000 or in the wrestling and boxing arenas.
Instead, they took place in a grove called the Althis, where Hercules is said to have first erected an altar, sacrificed oxen to Zeus and planted a wild olive tree. Easily half the events during the festival engrossed spectators not in feats like discus, javelin, long jump, foot race and wrestling, but in feasts where animals were sacrificed to gods in heaven and long-dead heroes whose spirits still lingered.
On the evening of the second day, thousands gathered in the Althis to reenact the funeral rites of Pelops, a human hero who once raced a chariot to win a local chief's daughter. But the climactic sacrifice was on the morning of the third day at the Great Altar of Zeus, a mound of plastered ashes from previous sacrifices that stood 22 feet tall and 125 feet around. In a ritual called the hecatomb, 100 bulls were slaughtered and their thigh bones, wrapped in fat, burned atop the altar so that the rising smoke and aroma would reach the sky where Zeus could savor it.
No doubt many a spectator shivered at the thought of Zeus hovering above them, smiling and remembering Hercules' first sacrifice.
Just a few yards from the Great Altar another, more visual encounter with the god awaited. In the Temple of Zeus, which was erected around 468 to 456 B.C., stood a colossal image, 40 feet high, of the god on a throne, his skin carved from ivory and his clothing made of gold. In one hand he held the elusive goddess of victory, Nike, and in the other a staff on which his sacred bird, the eagle, perched. The towering statue was reflected in a shimmering pool of olive oil surrounding it.
During events, the athletes performed in the nude, imitating heroic figures like Hercules, Theseus or Achilles, who all crossed the dividing line between human and superhuman and were usually represented nude in painting and sculpture.
The athletes' nudity declared to spectators that in this holy place, contestants hoped to reenact, in the ritual of sport, the shudder of contact with divinity. In the Althis stood a forest of hundreds of nude statues of men and boys, all previous victors whose images set the bar for aspiring newcomers.
“There are a lot of truly marvelous things one can see and hear about in Greece," the Greek travel writer Pausanias noted in the second century B.C., “but there is something unique about how the divine is encountered at … the games at Olympia."
Communion and community
The Greeks lived in roughly 1,500 to 2,000 small-scale states scattered across the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
Since sea travel in summertime was the only viable way to cross this fragile geographical web, the Olympics might entice a Greek living in Southern Europe and another residing in modern-day Ukraine to interact briefly in a festival celebrating not only Zeus and Heracles but also the Hellenic language and culture that produced them.
Besides athletes, poets, philosophers and orators came to perform before crowds that included politicians and businessmen, with everyone communing in an “oceanic feeling" of what it meant to be momentarily united as Greeks.
Now, there's no way we could explain the miracle of TV to the Greeks and how its electronic eye recruits millions of spectators to the modern games by proxy. But visitors to Olympia engaged in a distinct type of spectating.
The ordinary Greek word for someone who observes – “theatês" – connects not only to “theater" but also to “theôria," a special kind of seeing that requires a journey from home to a place where something wondrous unfolds. Theôria opens a door into the sacred, whether it's visiting an oracle or participating in a religious cult.
Attending an athletic-religious festival like the Olympics transformed an ordinary spectator, a theatês, into a theôros – a witness observing the sacred, an ambassador reporting home the wonders observed abroad.
It's hard to imagine TV images from Tokyo achieving similar ends.
No matter how many world records are broken and unprecedented feats accomplished at the 2020 games, the empty arenas will attract no gods or genuine heroes: The Tokyo games are even less enchanted than previous modern games.
But while medal counts will confer fleeting glory on some nations and disappointing shame on others, perhaps a dramatic moment or two might unite athletes and TV viewers in an oceanic feeling of what it means to be “kosmopolitai," citizens of the world, celebrants of the wonder of what it means to be human – and perhaps, briefly, superhuman as well.
The ancient Greeks wouldn't recognize some aspects of the modern Olympics.
Vincent Farenga, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
A new brain imaging study explored how different levels of the brain's excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are linked to math abilities.
- Glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity.
- Scientists have long known that both are important to learning and neuroplasticity, but their relationship to acquiring complex cognitive skills like math has remained unclear.
- The new study shows that having certain levels of these neurotransmitters predict math performance, but that these levels switch with age.
Why do roughly one in five people find math especially difficult?
You might blame teaching methods, which some argue explains why the U.S. lags behind other countries in standardized math test scores. You could point to math anxiety, which affects about 20 percent of students and 25 percent of teachers, according to surveys. And there are also medical conditions that make math difficult, such as dyscalculia, a learning disability that disrupts the normal development of arithmetic skills.
But another explanation centers on neurotransmitters. In a new study published in PLOS Biology, researchers explored how the brain's levels of GABA and glutamate relate to math abilities over time in students of varying ages. The results showed that levels of these neurotransmitters can predict students' performance on math tests. However, this relationship seems to flip as people get older.
GABA and glutamate are responsible for regulating brain activity. In the mature brain, GABA is the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter, helping to block impulses between nerve cells in the brain, which can calm feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear. GABA is made from glutamate, the brain's major excitatory neurotransmitter that helps send signals throughout the central nervous system.
Researchers have long known that these neurotransmitters play crucial roles in learning, development, and neuroplasticity. That is partly because they are thought to help trigger developmental windows (or "sensitive periods") during which neural systems become more plastic and better able to acquire certain cognitive skills.
"Importantly, sensitive periods vary for different functions, with relatively simple abilities (e.g., sensorimotor integration) occurring earlier in development, while the sensitive period for acquiring more complex cognitive functions extends into the third decade of life," the researchers wrote.
GABA, glutamate, and math
Still, the exact relationship between GABA, glutamate, and complex cognitive functions has remained unclear. The new study explored that relationship by focusing on associations between the neurotransmitters and math abilities, which "provides a unique cognitive model to examine these questions due to its protracted skill acquisition period that starts already from early childhood and can continue for nearly two decades," the researchers wrote.
For the study, the researchers measured levels of GABA and glutamate in the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) of 255 students, ranging from primary school to college. The participants completed a math test as their brains were imaged. About a year and a half later, the participants repeated the same process.
"The longitudinal design allowed us to further examine whether neurotransmitter concentration is linked to MA [mathematical abilities] as well as predict MA in the future," the researchers wrote. "Crucially, adopting this design allowed us to discern the selective effect of glutamate and GABA in response to natural (i.e., learning in school) rather than artificial environmental stimulation, thus allowing us to test the knowledge gained from lab-based experiments in high ecological settings."
The results suggest that GABA and glutamate play an important role in math abilities, but that the dynamic switches with age. For the young participants, higher GABA levels in the IPS were associated with higher scores on math tests. The opposite was observed among older students: higher glutamate levels correlated with higher scores. Both results held true on subsequent math tests.
Although the study sheds light on how neurotransmitter levels at different stages of development contribute to learning some cognitive skills, like math, the researchers noted that acquiring other skills may involve different processes.
"Our findings may also highlight a general principle that the developmental dynamics of regional excitation and inhibition levels in regulating the sensitive period and plasticity of a given high-level cognitive function (i.e., MA) may be different compared to another high-level cognitive function (i.e., general intelligence) that draws on similar, albeit not identical, cognitive and neural mechanisms," they wrote.