The enduring turtle shape:
A large stone statue of a turtle stands in the grasslands of Asia.  Much that was near it is gone, but the turtle remains.  It is a good shape for endurance.

My big brother once entertained me with the story of a man who was visiting a farm in Virginia.  He chanced upon a large ancient looking turtle.  On the back someone had carved:

G. W.

Seizing the reptile he frantically found the farmer and blurted out that the carving might be from George Washington.   The farmer said laconically, “That ain’t nothing’” and after a brief search turned up a bigger, more time worn turtle.  On the back was written:

Year 1

Having gullible and literal mind I recounted the story to my father who said, “The farmer carved both turtles himself.  A scratch on a turtle will heal.” 

Even by the dungeon light of the adult world the turtle is a survivor.  I think a tortoise has been known to live 176 years.  The shape is key.  It is oval, flattened on the sides, more flattened on the top and yet more so on the bottom.  The same shape is seen in the invincible cockroach.  The same for the trilobite, which endured from 526 million years ago to 250 million years ago; the last trilobite was closer in time to us than to the first.  There are more species of beetles than any other order of animals; according to Wikipedia they constitute 25% of all life forms.  And another form that is a modern success story is the automobile.  A lot of people prefer one that is tallish and squarish, but the engineers keep coming up with optimized ones that have the turtle shape.

The story of the tortoise and the hare may be the best known of Aesop’s fables.  They are good icons for contrasting the swift with the enduring.  People of course are of the hare disposition.  That’s why the story works.  And people are never more ambitious then when they start to build empires. 

Villages last.  When William the Natural ordered the Domesday Book as an inventory of his lands thousands of villages were recorded.  They are all pretty much still there.  No empire in existence at that time remains as such, unless you consider England herself, which is arguably an empire.  Empires, civilizations, dynasties, regimes just about all face a 300 year brick wall.  They entail a mating pattern in which the elite do not marry cousins and thus die out. 

The biggest empire in history was built by Ghenghis Kahn.  That’s the biggest empire that consists of a contiguous area or land.  As usual you have to exclude those Brits.  It was bigger than America, bigger than China, bigger than Rome.  Its capital was the great city Karakorum.  Here is a picture of it today. 

Ancient tutle statue on plains of Asia that stood at the gate of capital of the biggest land empire in history.  The city is gone.  Nothing else but grass is in the picture.
SCIENCE vol. 337 no. 6102 September 28, 2012 page 1599.  That’s the stone turtle I mentioned at the beginning, set to guard the city gate. 

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