Extended Project H1: Rivers are a key factor in the sustainability of a settlement, as can be seen by contrasting the fortunes of Colchester and Silchester.

(Click here) Rivers are a key factor in the sustainability of a settlement, as can be seen by contrasting the fortunes of Colchester and Silchester

Silchester (or Calleva) and Colchester (Camulodunum) were both Iron Age fortified settlements. After the Roman Conquest in 43CE they became influential, defended Roman towns of a high status; as proved by the unusual wall construction at Silchester, and the fact that Colchester was the capital of Britain until the Boudiccan revolt of 61CE. However, after the Romans left Britain in 410CE their fortunes diverge. Colchester was resettled by the Anglo Saxons by 450CE, and gradually developed once again into an important commercial centre. Population estimates for the town based on recording from the Domesday Book suggest that about 2,000 people were living there in 1086, whilst by the year 1400 this had increased to 8,000 people. Silchester on the other hand was not re-settled by the Anglo Saxons, instead the nearby former roman town of Dorchester on Thames was chosen. The small village which had been on the site of Silchester was abandoned in around 1400, possibly due to the Black Death. A key reason why Silchester was not re-settled in any meaningful way by the Anglo Saxons was that it was 10 miles away from the nearest river. This meant that it was not on a good communications or trade and so was not suitable for the Anglo Saxon way of life. This stunted the town’s rejuvenation, and contributed heavily to it being abandoned later. Colchester on the other hand had been an important trade port under the Romans (due to its location on the river Colne). The Anglo Saxons were also then able to trade from this settlement, and it grew once again, becoming one of the country’s principle towns. Therefore on the basis of this comparison it appears that ease of trade was a key determinant of which settlements would prosper in the Anglo Saxon and Medieval periods, and that rivers (and easy access the coast) were more important for trade than roads during this period. This lead to towns with good road connections but poor waterway access declining (Silchester for example), whereas towns with good road access which were close to rivers and the sea developing further (Colchester).

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

HIV/AIDS in Botswana, breaking the vicious circle?

AVERT (an international HIV/ AIDS charity) estimated in 1999 that two out of three of the global population infected with HIV/AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa; despite only 10% of people living there. Since then the number of HIV/AIDS infections declined only very slightly. UNAIDS said in 2008 that the Sub-Saharan accounted for 67% of all HIV/AIDS cases and 75% of all deaths from the disease globally; with the most heavily affected region being the southern tip. This prevalence prevents socio-economic development in the region, and promotes political instability. The most obvious effects include illness and death; however it also causes economic damage, social stigmatisation and large numbers of orphans and young carers.

Botswana is severely affected by HIV/AIDS, but due to its largely peaceful recent history, it receives little international attention. AVERT says that, as of 2009, 320,000 people live with HIV/AIDS in the country. This is 24.8% of the population, meaning that Botswana has the 2nd highest rate of infection in the world. As a result, life expectancy in the country has fallen from 65 in 1990 to 53 in 2009; however, this most recent figure is far higher than in 2000-05, when it was less than 40. This is in stark contrast to the country’s estimated life expectancy without the disease, which would be 74.4 according to the United States Census Bureau (the highest of all Sub Sahara African nations).

Countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS cases suffer what is known as a negative feedback or a vicious circle. This cycle leads to larger and larger numbers of people becoming HIV positive, which makes the situation worse:

 HIV/AIDS leads to poverty if untreated

Antiretroviral drugs are the only treatment for HIV, but they are not a cure. These expensive drugs maintain an individual’s white blood cell count so that their immune system is not weakened by the disease, and so people do not become ill as easily. If these drugs are not available, the infected individual is unable to work and so falls into poverty. This is also true if one or both parents in a family die, leaving their orphaned children unable to support themselves effectively.

Poverty increases chances of infection

When in poverty, infection rates rise due to several factors. Firstly, children cannot afford to be educated and so are not aware of the dangers of the disease and how it spreads, meaning that they are more likely to become infected. Secondly, many women are forced into sex work in order to sustain their family. Thirdly, as less people work due to sickness, the government receives less tax income, meaning that it cannot increase education rates or afford more antiretroviral drugs. These lead to more people falling into poverty and more becoming infected by the virus.

The government of Botswana have tried to break this feedback loop through several health and education initiatives since the first case of the disease in 1985. First, blood donations for transfusions were screened to prevent people becoming ill through medical care. In the 1990’s the focus shifted to education. This reached urban populations far more effectively than rural populations, as well as those who were not in poverty (as they were able to go to school for example). Due to the fact that many children do not attend school due to poverty, or having to look after sick parents, there is still a lack of understanding of the disease, and many inaccurate perceptions such as only sex workers and homosexuals being able to get the disease. Another scheme which was tried was an ABC campaign which had been effective in Uganda. This encouraged people to Abstain, Be faithful, and ‘Condomise’ (use a condom). This campaign however was also ineffective as public behaviour did not change despite the number of messages.

Despite this, huge government investment, as well as money from non-governmental organisations and charities, has meant that the country’s most recent attempts at treating HIV/AIDS have been reasonably successful. In 2007 the government spent US$31.3million on providing Anti-retroviral drugs to all those in need of them, whilst providing universal treatment access (available to 80%+ of the population). This ‘Masa’ scheme (‘Masa’ being a Setswana word meaning ‘a new dawn’) is the first of its kind in Africa. It aimed to: enable people to live longer and healthier lives; lower the rate of transmission; decrease the numbers of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS every year; and maintain skills in the workforce so that the country can develop. 161,219 people were being treated by MASA in 2010, which is 93% of the needy population. This national treatment programme has been so successful it is now seen as a model for other African nations to follow.

‘Masa’ has provided a break in the positive feedback loop experienced by many in Botswana, as the Anti retroviral drugs mean that infected individuals are able to remain economically active. This means that these people in many cases are able to improve their living conditions and send their children to school. This reduces the chances of further HIV infections. However, in order to reach the government’s ambitious target of having no new infections of HIV by 2016, it must be coupled with effective prevention schemes. In Botswana these include:

• Increasing Public education & awareness
• Increasing AIDS education for young people
• Condom distribution & education
• Targeting of high risk adult populations
• Improvement of blood safety
• Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT)

In order to achieve no new infections by 2016 huge levels of funding must be provided, focused on successful prevention schemes, not just treatment. This will be a significant challenge for a country with a GNI per capita of US$6890, and will need large levels of international aid in order to be successful. However, it has the potential to succeed, although it may take time.

Botswana has been able to break the negative feedback loop created by large infection rates of HIV. Effective treatment due to large levels of investment has meant that infection rates are slowing, whilst the levels of development in the country are increasing. In order to prevent further infections, investment must now be focused on increasing the effectiveness of preventative schemes rather than just focusing on treatment. However, Botswana has taken very large steps forward in its fight against HIV/AIDS, which have meant that it has been able to break the vicious circle it found itself in.

All statistics are from AVERT and UNICEF

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

Beringia – Lost World of the Ice Age

Climate and Sea level change are cited as the main evidence that humans are changing the planet. However, the earth’s history has been dominated by these same two phenomena, even before mankind started to pump harmful gases into the atmosphere.
Over the past 2 million years, much of the Northern Hemisphere was dominated by vast glaciers. This meant that much of the planet’s water was locked up in vast ice sheets, which lead to sea levels up to 150 metres lower than today. This meant that shallow areas of what is the modern day sea became exposed land masses, completely changing the planet’s characteristics.

One of these areas was a land bridge which connected the eastern most reaches of Siberia and the US state of Alaska in place of the Bering Striates. This body of water is approximately 53 miles wide and 50 metres deep, connecting the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, whilst separating North America and Asia. Previous fluctuations in global sea level lead to it giving way to the “lost world of the ice age” (Professor Elias) or Beringia.

This land bridge was never covered by ice as the region was too dry for glaciation to occur as the land mass blocked moisture from the pacific, leading to very little snow. This, coupled with the fact that there was a layer of unfrozen soil 20 – 30 cm thick lying on top of the permafrost, allowed grasses and herbs to grow, as well as shrubs in the wetter areas. The vegetation was, in turn, able to support large herbivores such as Mammoths, Horses and Long Horned Bison. Inevitably predators soon followed, leading to Beringia being populated by animals such as the Pleistocene Lion, the Scimitar Cat and of course, Humans.

It is thought that humans migrated to Beringia about 15,000 – 3,500 years ago. This was during a period when the earth’s climate had warmed sufficiently for them to survive here, but the ice sheets had not caught up with the new temperatures. This meant that the sea levels remained low enough for Beringia to not be submerged, whilst humans were able to live here.

There is little archaeological evidence of humans in the area, especially compared to the numerous animal and plant fossils, because permanent settlements were not established. These early humans had to follow the herds, and so lived in tents or caves. There are also no graves, as the permafrost meant that it was impossible to dig below the 30 cm deep active layer. However, there is sufficient evidence for the theory to have developed that this was early humans’ route into the Americas from Asia. Amongst this evidence there are unique carvings of people wearing tailored clothing, which would have enabled them to survive the harsh conditions.

This land bridge began to shrink due to rising sea levels 11,000 years ago, before the continents of Asia and North America were finally separated 10,000 years ago. As the ice receded, humans were able to move down new corridors in the ice sheets, spreading south into Canada- an area which had been dominated by ice. Other animals which had populated Beringia were not so fortunate, most of which became extinct.

Beringia is evidence of the complicated climatic history of our planet, and proves that sea levels fluctuated long before industrialization and the emission of greenhouse gases. However, as well as being an interesting geographical case study, Beringia is also a key piece in our understanding of the history of our species which helped to shape the world as we know it.

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

This article was written using information from the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre’s website, as well as my own notes from a lecture at the Royal Holloway University given by Professor Scott Elias.