Tag: History

The Archeological Find That Broke History

In the mountains of Turkey lies a series of buried monoliths going back nearly a dozen millennia. It’s an archeological site known as Göbekli Tepe, and it’s changed everything we knew about the rise of human civilizations.


This is a piece of a brick from a 2,000 year old Roman fort that I visited in England maybe 20 years ago or so. I just saw it laying there on the ground and… took it.

I know, it was wrong, if everybody took one there wouldn’t be anything left, but it was my first time overseas and I’d just never seen anything that old… and it blew my mind.

Some actual human being who was walking around at the same time as Jesus picked up this brick and placed it on wall and smeared it with mortar and created a dwelling for someone else to live in.

Before that, a different person transported it there on a horse and cart probably, and before that, another person sold the brick to that guy, and before that a different guy altogether formed the brick and put it in a kiln.

Because that’s how a civilization works, lots of different people doing lots of different specialized jobs, working together in a system that provides for everyone.

It took a long time for human beings to advance to this point, to go from bands of hunter-gatherers – generalists, basically – to specialists. And the conventional wisdom has always been that it had to do with agriculture.

It took the agricultural revolution to not only provide a more stable food source but also it forced humanity to specialize and congregate and create systems to produce it and distribute it and trade with it. And it was out of that necessity that the first cities sprang up.

Most of these early cities were centered around the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city-state of Uruk has always been considered the first city going back to 6000 years ago.

This is how civilization began as we understand it. It works. It makes sense. The pieces all fit together perfectly…
And then we found Göbekli Tepe.

For hundreds of years, the locals of the Anatolia region of Turkey knew of a unique hill in the Germuş mountains that rose slowly over the surrounding landscape to a moderate height of about 50 meters.

They called this hill “Potbelly Hill” and used it for sheep pasturing and agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe means “potbelly hill” in Turkish.
And that’s just what it was, a random hill with sheep on it until the 1960s, when it was first examined by a team of anthropologists from the University of Chicago and Istanbul University.

They found limestone and flint artifacts and assumed it was an abandoned medieval cemetery.

And that theory held until 1994 when German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt got ahold of the researchers’ reports, and he saw something different.

He had been was working on a survey of prehistoric sites in that region and something about the reports just didn’t read right to him. So he went to check it out for himself.

When he got there, he immediately knew he found something special, saying,
“In one minute – in one second – it was clear.”

What was clear to him was that this was no mere cemetery, and certainly nothing as recent as the middle ages. This was something much bigger, that probably went back to the stone ages.

He returned the next year with five colleagues, and that’s when they they discovered a series of megaliths, buried just below the ground.

Some were buried so close to the surface that plows scarred them.

These megaliths would become Schmidt’s life work for the next 20 years. But at the time, his team didn’t find any signs of a settlement. Things like houses, trash pits, or cooking hearths.

They did discover evidence of tool use, like blades and stone hammers, which actually matched artifacts in nearby sites that had been dated to around 9000 BCE. So they assumed this site was roughly that age as well.

Carbon dating on the structures later on would confirm that assumption. Making Göbekli Tepe twice as old as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
Like Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe’s structure includes circles of T-shaped limestone pillars, many of them featuring etchings of animals on them, like birds, foxes, lions, and scorpions.

The site’s pillars are arranged in circles of up to 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter.

And since there’s no evidence that it was used for animal domestication or farming, archaeologists believe hunter-gathers may have built it.
Thing is, the site features some architectural complexity that could’ve been too advanced for hunter-gathers.

A study published in the Cambridge Archeological Journal in 2020 explored the question of whether the site’s round enclosures were a cohesive scheme or built without reference to each other.
As study co-author and archaeologist Gil Haklay told Haaretz at the time:

“There is a lot of speculation that the structures were built successively, possibly by different groups of people, and that one was covered up while the next one was being built. But there is no evidence that they are not contemporaneous.”

The researchers used a computer algorithm based on standard deviation mapping to analyze the underlying architecture.

What they found was that three of the enclosures look like they were designed together in a triangular, geometric pattern.

So, the site comprises two, main layers.

Layer III is the oldest, made up of large, curvilinear enclosures, and it’s from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period around 8300 to 7500 BCE.

Layer II is from the early and middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B periods around 7500-6000 BCE.

It features smaller, rectangular structures with lime-plaster floors all crowded together with shared walls.
Layer III’s enclosures experienced a series of backfilling events indicating like they were intentionally buried. This is has been a major component of the study’s theories around the history of Göbekli Tepe.
Because the structure’s center points formed an almost-perfect triangle with sides measuring 19 meters (63 feet) in length.

So the question becomes, did the original builders build one enclosure first and then planned the other two based on it to create a triangle? Or did different groups build them over time?

According to archaeologist Anna Belfer-Cohen, who, full disclosure, was not a part of the study, quote:

“[I]t is more likely that there were many different groups that considered this entire area sacred and converged on it to erect the enclosures, rather than a single group that went crazy and just constructed these complexes day and night.”
So, who were these people? And what were they doing there?

Was it a settlement or a city of some kind? Schmidt didn’t think so, mostly because there’s so few residential buildings and not much evidence of cultivation in the surrounding land.

Instead, he believed the site was a sanctuary and regional pilgrimage center where people gathered to perform religious rites.

The site does contain a lot of butchered animal bones, which may be evidence of feeding large numbers of people or for sacrifices.

But recent evidence shows that Schmidt may have been wrong about that. In fact, the site may have supported a semi-sedentary population from the beginning.
And it was kinda found by accident.

After Schmidt died in 2014 the site became a bit of a tourist attraction, so they decided to put up a giant fabric canopy to provide shade.

To do so they had to dig deep into the earth to build a foundation for the canopy, way deeper than they’d ever dug before down to the bedrock.

And it was way down there that they found evidence of houses and a year-round settlement. So, it may have been a thriving village with large buildings at its center for special events.

They also found a large cistern, channels for collecting rainwater, and thousands of grinding tools for processing grain.

As Schmidt’s successor Lee Clare told BBC in August 2021:

“Göbekli Tepe is still a unique, special site, but the new insights fit better with what we know from other sites. It was a fully-fledged settlement with permanent occupation. It’s changed our whole understanding of the site.”
So, cool, Göbekli Tepe was a fully-fledged civilization. Except not cool. Because that kinda breaks history.

As I said before, our understanding has always been that places like this were only possible after the advent of farming. Stonehenge, the pyramids, even the astronomical site of Nabta Playa that goes back 7,000 years, all of these coincide with the earliest use of agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe may even go back as far as 15,000 years ago. Not only way earlier than agriculture, but way before there were domesticated pack animals or metal tools. This whole thing was done by human hands.

This required massive amounts of effort and coordination. Which leads to maybe the biggest mystery of all – why? Why was it built in the first place?

A pair of chemical engineers made headlines in 2017 when they suggested that the animal carvings on the site’s pillars lined up with the positions of stars thousands of years ago.

They argued in a paper published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry that the vulture stone carved on Pillar 43 is a “date stamp” for a comet strike 13,000 years ago.
As the study’s lead author Martin Sweatman said in a press release:

“It appears Göbekli Tepe was, among other things, an observatory for monitoring the night sky. One of its pillars seems to have served as a memorial to this devastating event — probably the worst day in history since the end of the Ice Age.”

This idea… isn’t shared by everyone. The archaeologists on the ground weren’t buying it, saying quote:

“It is highly unlikely that early Neolithic hunters in Upper Mesopotamia recognized the exact same celestial constellations as described by ancient Egyptian, Arabian, and Greek scholars, which still populate our imagination today.”
To be clear, I don’t think they’re suggesting that the positions of the stars would have changed in that time, just that when they looked at those stars, it’s unlikely they would have seen the same symbols that future civilizations would have seen.

Keep in mind, the Greeks thought this was a bear. So, you know… interpretations change.

Maybe even more mind-blowing is that Göbekli Tepe was just the beginning. Turkish archaeologists working in the countryside around the site have found dozens of similar hilltop sites, all of them with T-shaped pillars and dating from around the same time period.

And in fact, some of these other sites show evidence that people were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants. So some believe the Göbekli Tepe site may have been a last-ditch effort by a hunter-gatherer society to hang on to their vanishing lifestyle as the world was transitioning to farming.

A society struggling to adapt as a new technology takes hold? What must that be like?

One piece of evidence supporting that theory is that Göbekli Tepe’s stone carvings feature animals that you wouldn’t have seen every day in that area.

As Clare said:

“They’re more than just pictures, they’re narratives, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
So we know that Göbekli Tepe wasn’t alone. But now we know that it may not have even been the oldest.

Boncuklu Tarla in southeastern Turkey resembles the discoveries found at Göbekli Tepe but could be 1,000 years older than Göbekli.

Located 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Göbekli, Boncuklu Tarla’s excavations have unearthed houses, private and public buildings, 130 skeletons, and more than 100,000 beads.
Karahan Tepe is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Göbekli Tepe and is considered its sister site.

Findings suggest it was active during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, and has a lot of similarities with Göbekli’s Layer II.

These include 266 T-shaped pillars and animal reliefs depicting birds, gazelles, insects, rabbits, and snakes.

The site also includes circular homes and ceremonial structures, like one chamber that contains 11 giant phalluses watched over by a bearded head with a serpent’s body.

Like you do.

Unlike Göbekli Tepe, there are more depictions of humans at Karahan Tepe. This could mean people then began to see themselves as distinct from the animal world.

The site was intentionally buried and abandoned over time. Which seems to be the fate for most of these Turkish sites. For reasons that we may never know.
But before I close this thing out, I feel like if we’re going to talk about ancient cities, we probably should talk about Jericho.

Göbekli Tepe gets a lot of attention because it’s sexy and mysterious, but Jericho is almost as old, and it’s been continuously inhabited this whole time.

Jericho is, in fact, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.

The famous Tower of Jericho is one of the first indications that hunter-gathers stayed and built a community in the area, and it was built around 12,000 years ago.

The exact purpose of the tower has long been debated. It was built to be seen, and it could have been a gathering place for the community.

Jericho likely transitioned completely to farming around 7,000 years ago.

There’s evidence that people there grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, and wheat. They also domesticated goats and sheep.

The city was also located next to a huge spring, making it an ideal place to live for many years.
So Jericho was able to adapt with the times and transition to new technologies, new societies, new religions even… But they are the exception to the rule. Most ancient cities eventually fall and crumble under the weight of time.

And I’m sure there are many other ancient cities to be found. Fully-fledged civilizations confidently sure of their superiority and place at the center of a universe that was created just for them. People who couldn’t possibly imagine their great cities and ceremonial places could ever be forgotten to history. And yet, here we are.

I guess you could say, feeling timeless is timeless.

What Was The Worst Year In Human History? | Answers With Joe

We’re living in trying times, maybe you heard that somewhere? But there have definitely been worse times to be alive. In today’s video, we look back at some of the worst years in human history, including one year that historians seem to agree was the worst of them all.


Dear Advertising Industry,
It is April of 2022. The pandemic has been going on for two full years and yet I still continue to hear the terms “unprecedented times,” “trying times,” “new normal” in every commercial block of any television program or pre-roll ad. On behalf of, well, everyone, I am writing to humbly request that you please, for the love of God, stop.

We are all well aware of the clogged toilet this world has become and don’t need to be reminded of it or for our anxieties around said chunk-filled bowl to be weaponized against us in an attempt to take our dwindling reserves of money.
And at the very least, understanding that weaponizing our anxieties is in general the whole point of advertising, it would be preferable that you at least, you know, try to be original? Use a different phrase? Come at it a slightly different way?

Allow me to make some recommendations.
Instead of saying “unprecedented times,” perhaps something along the lines of, “post-decency years”
Instead of “trying times,” try “the excruciation hours.”
Instead of “the new normal” how about “the old abysmal”

These are options I just came up with. Surely if you put all your 20-something junior copywriters in a room with a bottle of whisky and a bag of edibles for a day they could come up with something that would really sing.
So with that, I look forward to hearing what you come up with. Good luck and happy flibbity-floobity.  Ooh, I’m gonna keep that one.
Signed, the world.

The Times We Live In

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote American Revolutionary Thomas Paine.  Over a hundred years later, British statesman Joseph Chamberlain said no time he could remember had brought so many “new objects for anxiety.” Sound familiar?
These days, we’re reminded constantly that things are bad.  We live in troubled times, unprecedented times.  Times of the new normal.
And I’m not here to say we don’t have problems.  We definitely do.  But as Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire.
Yes, I just went from quoting Thomas Paine to Billy Joel. Don’t judge my journey.

Believe it or not, there have been worse times to be alive than any in recent memory.  Today, I’d like to take a look at some years considered the Worst Ever by experts.
There is one that seems to be the agreed upon worst, and we’ll get to that later but first let’s start with some contenders.

1347 – The Black Death

Spoiler alert, pandemics are going to be a bit of a theme on this list
The Black Death began in the 14th Century, when a variety of bubonic plague swept through the Near East, North Africa, and Europe
Picture it: it’s Sicily, 1347. A fleet of trade ships docks at the port of Messina. Everybody in town comes running see what’s on the boat because… well they didn’t have internet back then, it was the thing to do.
But as they get to the dock, they find out the ships have a surprise waiting for them. And that surprise is that most of the soldiers were dead.
Of those who were still alive, most of them were sick, their bodies covered in sores, called buboes in Latin, thus the name of the plague.
Now they knew about the importance of quarantining in these situations, but before officials could get the ships quarantined, the plague leapt to the onlookers
Inside of a year, it was all over the continent
By the time it had runs its course, something like 200 million people had died

http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art213.htm — most ironic website name ever, based on this page
For scale, 200 million was 30 to 50 percent of the European population at the time
Like, Covid sucks, and we all know someone who has died or at least know someone close to someone who died, but imagine if half the people you know developed strange swellings, started bleeding and vomiting, and then just died within a day.
You’d be pretty freaked out, right?

Well, people in the 1300s were freaked out too. And when people freak out, they tend to gravitate toward their worst impulses. Like finding a group of people to blame.
Throughout the Black Plague, attacks were levied at Jewish towns and neighborhoods, killing thousands of Jewish people, it’s actually known as the Medieval Holocaust.
Funny how a disease that kills Christians and Muslims and Jews equally is somehow the Jews’ faulthttps://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2841&context=facpub
So yeah the Black Death was just about as horrible as you’ve heard. Probably worse. And it reshaped the world in some ways.
But the first outbreak can be traced to that fleet of ships, which is why 1347 is our first contender for Worst Year Ever.

1177 – Bronze Age Collapse

And speaking of ships, our next contender involves a group of people who… probably had ’em. They’re called the Sea Peoples.
The Sea Peoples are one of the biggest mysteries of all time, nobody seems to know where they came from but suddenly in the 13th century BCE, they appeared out of nowhere, attacking Egypt, Palestine, Cyprus, and the Hittites.
And whoever they were, according to archaeologists, they helped trigger the collapse of the Bronze Age in 1177 B. C.
I say “helped” because they were far from the only problem. In fact, they were probably the result of other problems.
Like a lengthy drought in the decade before the Sea People’s invasions, that drove them to raid other countries for resources.
And a famine that had already raged across the empires the Sea Peoples attacked, which made them especially vulnerable.
The tomb of Pharoah Ramses III records a devastating battle with the Sea Peoples. Egypt won, but went into decline soon after.
But the Hittites got it worst of all. Its capital city was destroyed and they basically ceased to exist as a people.
Another Sea Peoples victim was the Canaanite city-state of Megiddo

There are ruins on the Mound of Megiddo from that conflict, though it’s not alone, there were a lot of battles fought over Megiddo over the years, which by the way, is where “Armageddon” comes from.
Are you Armageddon it?
Ultimately it was a perfect storm of disasters and conquest that destroyed multiple economic systems all at once. Civilization was set back hundreds of years and some empires were lost forever.
All this tumult started circa 1177 B. C. which is why it’s a contender for Worst Year Ever.

1816 – The Year Without A Summer

I’ve mentioned the Year Without A Summer in past videos, mostly in just a, “huh, isn’t that an interesting nugget of information” kind of thing.
Turns out it was a pretty traumatic event.
The previous year, 1815, saw possibly the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history at Mount Tambora, in Indonesia
It ejected 180 billion cubic meters of material and may have killed as many as 90,000 locals. But the problems were just getting started
There was so much ash from Tambora, and other, knock-on eruptions, that temperatures around the world plummeted.

The next summer was so cold, people actually froze to death in snowstorms – and I’m not talking about in some distant part of the north; this was continental America.
This snow and frost damaged crops and triggered famines across Europe and China.
This destabilized society and riots broke out in England that became known as the Bread or Blood riots.
In India, colder temperatures flipped nature on her head and caused a drought in their monsoon season and flooded during their usual dry season.
And this affected way more than crops, it actually had the weird effect of causing a local strain of cholera to mutate to adapt to the flipped weather. This mutation was able to bypass human immunity and caused one of the largest cholera pandemics of all time. It eventually killed 2 million people.

All of that is a lot of damage from one volcanic eruption. But that’s how insane the Mount Tambora eruption was.
And that’s why 1816 is a contender for the Worst Year Ever

1914 – Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

So far on this list, disease and disaster have played the largest role in making years the worst. 1914 is a little different.
What made it terrible was politics. And war. Which is like spicy politics.
The first half of the year was pretty calm, as things go.

The biggest story of the first six months was the accidental sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland.
Which everyone seems to have forgotten about, but 1012 people died, it’s the 7th deadliest shipwreck in history.
But yeah, that was the good part of 1914.

Because in June of 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. His wife, Maria, was also killed, by the way, that’s another piece of news that often gets forgotten
He was assassinated by a terrorist – or freedom fighter, depending on who you listen to – with the goal of uniting the citizens of Serbia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Austria-Hungary had conquered part of Serbia in previous years so this was something that had be boiling up for a while but this assassination is what sent both countries into war.
Both called on their allies to help out, and within a few months, the world was neck deep in what we now call the First World War.
Over the next four years, from 1914-18, about 20 million people were killed. Up to half of them were civilians
Tens of millions more were displaced and scattered throughout Europe, which helped spread illnesses.

It’s estimated the pre-Columbian population may have been as high as 112 million, so we may be talking about 100 million deaths. It’s just staggering.
One particular wave of influenza became especially virulent and spread around the entire world, infecting half a billion people, and eventually killing 50 million people.
This was of course the Spanish flu, which by the way didn’t begin in Spain, but all the other countries had sort-of censored reporting about it except Spain. So since they were the ones that were talking about it, it kinda got stuck on them.https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html
Now most of the suffering in all this occurred in the years that followed 1914, but it did all start from events that happened in 1914.
Which is why 1914 is definitely a top contender for Worst Year Ever

1492 – American Epidemics

Yeah, we’re going there.
For 400 years, the year 1492 has been celebrated in American culture as the year America was discovered.  (a beat) There is a contingent of people on this continent that see it differently.
We’ve all heard what a monster Christopher Columbus was but the biggest effect his “discovery” had was completely unintentional.
Because while yes, millions of natives were killed in war or enslaved, these are a drop in the bucket compared to the deaths caused by foreign diseases
The indigenous peoples of North and South America had been separated from the rest of the world for tens of thousands of years and had never been exposed to things like smallpox, influenza, or our old friend the bubonic plague.

These and many other diseases killed countless millions of people. Various studies have put the population decline between 50 and 95%.
It’s estimated the pre-Columbian population may have been as high as 112 million, so we may be talking about 100 million deaths. It’s just staggering.
The only disease that we think went the other direction was syphilis, which sucks, but didn’t exactly have the same impact. In fact, Europe’s population increased by 25% in the 100 years following Columbus.
And supporting that growth required resources. Which the “New World” was ripe with. And thus began the violent conquest of North America in earnest, which drove families, tribes, nations, and cultures to the brink of extinction.

So no. They don’t celebrate Columbus Day.
And it’s why I think 1492 should be a contender for Worst Year Ever.
But still there is one year that many scholars say is worse than all of these. A year that’s worse than the years that started the Black Death, the Bronze Age Collapse, an Endless Winter, a Global War, and the near-Genocide of Indigenous Americans
I’ll start with an appeal to authority. The theory I’m about to explain is not mine

The Case for 536

Medieval scholar Michael McCormick put forth the theory that the worst year of all time was 536 AD. And much like 1816, the culprit was a massive volcanic eruption.

Frozen Summer

Actually possibly two volcanoes according to ice samples and tree ring data, it’s thought that there may have been one in El Salador and one in Iceland.
Regardless, clouds blanketed the Sun from Europe to Asia, and global temperatures fell. And they stayed down.
Just as in 1816, there were summer snowstorms, crop failure, and widespread famine, we have actual records of people starving in Ireland and China.
All this hunger weakened the population and caused outbreaks of disease, one of which would go on and become the first true global pandemic.

The Plague of Justinian

This became known as the Plague of Justinian and it did the most damage around the Mediterranean and Middle East, just destroying the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires.
It featured all the plague hits – buboes, vomiting, and swift death, and it wiped out 40-60% of the population.
It became known as the Plague of Justinian because Justinian was a Byzantine emperor at the time and while this was going on, he insisted on having a big old war.
He was trying to reunite the Western and Eastern arms of the Roman Empire, and he was brutal about it. According to the court historian, Justinian demanded plague survivors pay the taxes of their deceased neighbors to pay for his wars.
So, Famine, Plague, War… We’re running out of horsemen here.

Climate Disaster

But it wasn’t just a Mediterranean problem, archaeological evidence shows there were floods in Peru around 540
It’s not known if the volcanic eruption had anything to do with it, but it led to the large scale migration of the ancient Moche civilization, who abandoned their cities and disappeared. 

Economic Collapse

Back in Europe, the economy collapsed for more than 100 years.
They actually know this because silver mining leaves traces in the atmosphere and ice core samples show a huge gap in the century following 536.
Is it Really the Very Worst?
So, to review, 536 was a Year Without a Summer that kicked off a period of starvation, plague, war, climate change, and economic upheaval. In other words, “Trying times”
What was it like to actually live through the worst year ever?
As humans, with a limited life span, we have a hard time seeing the historical context of the times we live in. For the most part, we just keep our heads down and try to make it another day.
But labels like “worst” and “best” depend on historical context. After all, one bad year might spark a century of innovation.

The Personal Touch

But between the plague, famines, and floods, there’s a high probability that one of those would have personally affected you in the period kicked off by 536.
And this is at all levels of society. I mentioned Emperor Justinian’s court historian earlier – he lost a wife, kids, and grandkids to the plague
But he had no idea what was going on in South America. Didn’t even know it existed.

Worst Years Today

Whereas today we know all the problems happening all around the world all the time. On top of the plague and now war.
I don’t know I think there’s an argument to be made that our communication infrastructure could be causing us to feel more anxiety, confusion, and panic than at early times in history.
So in that sense… Maybe we actually are living through some of the Worst Years Ever
But of course that same communication technology is making us more able to find solutions to these problems and innovate and adapt.  Maybe that will be our legacy.
Look, the last few years have been…not great. But when we look back in the decades to follow, when our descendants look back in the coming centuries, with some historical context, maybe it won’t all be bad.
Maybe it’ll be seen as the catalyst for a period of radical advancement that set the world on a whole new course.
What that course turns out to be is up to us.

Historical Figures That May Not Have Existed

Ancient history is as much myth as it is history. So it’s sometimes hard to know who from our history was real or just a mythical character in stories. Here’s a few that are worth taking a look at.



In Defense Of Columbus Day… Sort Of

Today is Columbus Day in the United States, but with more people understanding the truth, that Christopher Columbus was a wretched human being, I try to find something positive to take out of the day.

Watch the video above or listen to it in audio form in the podcast player. If you aren’t subscribed to my YouTube channel or my podcast, click one of the links to the side to get the rest of my videos and podcasts when I release them.

Thanks for watching!


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