Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Stonehenge: settlement may have housed its builders

Stonehenge is one of those classic sites one thinks of when archaeology is discussed. Now, archaeologists working at Durrington Walls on the Salisbury Plain about 2 miles from Stonehenge itself think they've located the settlement that the neolithic builders of the monument called home. With hundreds of residents, this settlement becomes the largest in Britain of its time 2,600 to 2,500 BCE. The houses excavated to date have the same layout as those at Skara Brae.

"In what were houses, we have excavated the outlines on the floors of box beds and wooden dressers or cupboards," said archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University. [...] "It is the richest - by that I mean the filthiest - site of this period known in Britain," Professor Parker Pearson told BBC News. "We've never seen such quantities of pottery and animal bone and flint."

Read More at:
Stonehenge Builders' Houses Found [bbc.co.uk]
Stonehenge Settlement Found: Builders' Homes, "Cult Houses" [nationalgeographic.com]


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Archaeology and the Public: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

afarensis asks "where are the children?" in the context of where are they in the archaeological record. In another context, I can answer that they're at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, learning about science and archaeology. Look below the fold to get the full scoop.

A private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Crow Canyon "is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and preserving the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo Indians (also called the Anasazi) who inhabited the canyons and mesas of the Mesa Verde region more than 700 years ago." The center is located near Cortez, Colorado and has on-campus education programs where students of all ages can participate in field and laboratory research as well as general education on topics of archaeology and science.

Vila Schwindt has a brief article in the Cortez Journal that describes the center and some of the curricula available as relayed to her by Lew Mathis, of the program's educators.

Crow Canyon's program starts with a general introduction to the chronology of cultures in the Southwest.

It's hands-on stuff where they're looking at artifacts and making comparisons between a collection from a certain period to a later period, and as the week progresses, it goes into greater detail.

The very first thing students do is meet the staff. Then they go with their educator and start either "Windows into the Past" for elementary students, or "Inquiries into the Past" for older and adult students.

Crow Canyon has courses for kids and educators alike designed to give kids an idea what archaeology might be like as a career through a three-week camp, and to give teachers a valuable experience in understanding the Pueblo Indian culture that they'll be able to share with their students.

In addition, Crow Canyon hosts a variety of summer camps for various age-groups, programs for school groups, day tours, and even domestic and international archaeology trips to destinations like Chaco Canyon and Eygpt!

I wish I would have discovered this place years ago! At least I have a good idea for a family vacation or future summer camp for my daughter once she's of age.

I'll be adding more "Archaeology and the Public" in the future, so keep an eye on that label in the side bar.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Basic Concepts: Pottery in the Archaeological Record

I've read a few other science bloggers who are posting some basic concepts articles, clarifying specific topics in their fields of endeavor at a level designed to reach the lay person. It hasn't escaped me that a large portion of my visitors reach me through search engines and may be students or the generally interested who are looking for basic information. So I thought it might be useful for some visitors if I create a basic concepts post of my own and, depending on the number of hits it gets, I may continue the series. Of course, I'd be willing to accept any questions or suggestions for future topics and hope that each topic sparks questions and comments.

Why study pottery and ceramics in archaeology? Look below the fold and see...

  1. There's a lot of it. Nearly every culture has used some form of fired clay at some point in time for purposes that range from food/water storage and cooking to writing and religious figurines.
  2. It's extremely durable. Other materials used by humans are far less so: paper, leather textiles, etc. deteriorate more readily than durable materials such as metals (which do deteriorate), glass, stone, and ceramics. Of these four materials, stone and ceramics are the most valuable when looking at neolithic cultures since they predate metal and glass.
  3. It gets ignored. Most pottery remains end up broken and all semblance of the original vessel or object is lost and, thus, of little interest to looters or casual collectors. When other items have long since been removed or plundered, broken pot sherds will remain for archaeologists to study.
  4. Pottery is common. For a society that sues pottery, it is usually present in all social strata, giving a good overview of the day-to-day activities in a society.
  5. Pots break. A lot. Because of this, people in antiquity had to replace them just as they do in modernity. A consistent industry of ceramics allows for changes and trends to develop which are present in the archaeological record and allow for seriation.

The Basic Recipe
At a minimum, pottery includes three ingredients: clay, a tempering agent, and water. The water and clay are mixed to form a paste and another substance is included to strengthen the mix and improve firing characteristics. Substances other than the original clay in the pot's material are referred to as inclusions, including the temper, but not all temper are inclusions. Temper generally refers to material that's intentionally put in the mix for a specific purpose -all other inclusions are accidental. Mineral from the clay source, sand, gravel, grass, insects, ash from firing, etc. can all find their way into the pot's mix.

Once the paste is created, the next step is to shape a pot. The most basic pottery is hand-formed -perhaps a small vessel pressed into a bowl shape. A more advanced form is made by coiling rolled out strips of clay into the final form, smoothing the interior and exterior as the potter gos along. Further advanced forms of pottery are thrown on a wheel, spinning the lump of clay while the potter shapes the vessel, thinning the wall and building up the vessel with a skilled and patient hand.

Once the basic shape of the pot is formed, the exterior can be treated before firing to give the pot a stylistic representation or functional form. Slips are very watery clay that's painted on the surface, often giving a different color that allows the potter to create a design. But slips are also functional in that they seal the pot, allowing the vessel to better hold liquids. Glazes can be added for much the same reason, but will create a glassy surface that is more watertight. This is achieved by adding substances like tin or lead. Other decorations can be added to the exterior of pottery through punctations, incisions, embossments, stampings, and burnishing. Pots can be very simple or extremely elegant.

The Finished Product
Once the basic form is created, the slip or glaze added and other decorations applied, the pot is ready to be fired. This could include the use of an enclosed oven with an open top or a pit where the fuel is stacked around the pottery. A potter was likely to create many pots to be fired, since there was always a risk of a pot exploding or cracking during the process. Broken bits of potter could be used to segment the kiln, protecting against fragments from neighboring pots that do explode. Also, the positioning of pots and fuel, and type of fuel used affected the oxygen levels in the kiln, which in turn affect the metallic oxides in slips and glazes, thus producing varied results in color and luster.

When examining the ceramic remains of a society, archaeologists are able to determine dates, levels of stratification, trade patterns, technological innovation, religious affiliations and beliefs, and so on. Analyzing form and function can lead archaeologists to discover things about economic activities in a given society and being able to distinguish between utilitarian and ceremonial functions can offer clues to the status of individuals in burials or residents of a home. Analyzing pottery styles can reveal the nature of restrictiveness a society had: standardized style can imply formal and rigid expectations from the society; less standardized and formal styles could imply fewer societal controls on the potters. Style can also reveal trade patterns and evidence of contact with other societies as trends and fads "catch on" as they are diffused from one society to another. Similarly, technical analyses of a pot's paste can provide evidence for trade patterns as a pot's paste is matched to clay deposits many miles away and

  • Ceramics and Pottery - These two words often get used interchangeably, but "ceramics" can also include tiles, bricks, tablets, and the like - thought the term "pottery" isn't exclusive to just vessels and containers. All products constructed by people of clay can be considered "pottery," but products that are fired, baked or heated as a means of finishing the product -rendering it more durable- are considered ceramics.
  • Sherd - a broken piece of pottery in the archaeological record
  • Seriation - a relative dating method that places artifacts in chronological order by using form to show stylistic changes over time -the evolution of pottery, for instance.
  • Inclusion - material included in the clay mix that forms the final pot, either intentionally, as with tempering agents, or accidentally, as with sand or ash.
  • Temper - an inclusion that is intentionally added, usually to strengthen a pot or to improve firing characteristics.
  • kiln - an oven or pit used to fire, or heat, finished pots to a high temperature which strengthens the pot and vitrifies a slip or glaze.
  • slip - a coating of clay, usually of a different color, which can often give the appearance of a paint.
  • glaze - a coating melted onto the exterior of a pot that seals it, making it watertight, and creates a glassy surface.


Friday, January 26, 2007

The Perceived Threat of Linguistic Diversity

A Four Stone Hearth PostIn a recent discussion about culture and cultural diversity, of which I was more of a bystander than active participant, the topic moved to race, as so many of these kinds of discussions do. And it’s at this point in such discussions that I usually move on, but it wasn’t’ before one of the participants made the comment that he found the steady influx of immigrants to be a threat to his own culture, listing the ways: loss of his own culture’s physical features through interbreeding; loss of jobs to immigrant workers; the strain on the educational system; etc. The one concern that really stuck in my mind, even after I checked out of the discussion, was the threat to his culture’s language as the language of immigrants replaces or infuses his own.

Language is no doubt an integral part of culture. If you accept the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, as many linguists do, then you understand that language influences habitual thought through a kind of linguistic determinism (language determines the way we think). The extent to which language affects culture is debatable, but it’s clear that as languages both infuse and diffuse with cultures, changes in culture occur.

In my own community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, the influence of the Mexican culture is prominent and the affect of the Spanish language obvious. Most businesses and government offices have literature in both Spanish and English, and many businesses exist that cater only to Spanish-speakers. It certainly helps to understand at least a smattering of Spanish when conducting day-to-day business and greatly improves one’s chances of being hired if bilingual.

This linguistic diversity doesn’t come without a fair bit of resistance and rejection, however. Many of my neighbors are quick to associate cultural presence of Spanish-speakers to the problem of illegal immigration and, in some ways, this is a fair association. The population of illegal immigrants in North Texas is significant, but it isn’t clear to what extent the illegal population is a sub-set of the much larger, overall Hispanic immigrant culture here.

It is clear, however, that language can be a cultural divider as easily as it can a unifier. Shops in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods whose signage is only in Spanish generally cater to only Hispanic customers. The obverse isn’t true, of course, since one can visit any Wal-Mart or McDonalds and find Hispanic customers who speak little or no English. But rarely will the average white Texan shop at the local taqueria or Mexican market. A local chain of pizza restaurants, Pizza Patron, have recently fallen under heavy criticism and even threats simply for deciding to accept pesos from customers, giving dollars as change.

Part of the resistance to change in culture is reasonable: being around those whose language you don’t understand is naturally disconcerting; trying to conduct business with speakers of foreign languages is challenging; and obtaining or sharing an education can be difficult to say the least. But looking back on the concern mentioned in the first paragraph, the danger of losing one’s culture, particularly language, to immigrants seems largely unfounded. It is true that changes will occur in any culture that allows another to infuse with it, but it’s also true that the diffusing culture changes as well. In both directions change will occur –some good, some bad. But I truly wonder about the efforts that some in government are taking to see to it that English is the "official language" and I worry about those that think if they can control the language people speak, they can "preserve their culture." There are endangered languages in the world, but English isn’t one of them. Indeed, English is one of the languages that is fast wiping out many others.

In North America, only about 194 languages remain out of the hundreds that once existed. 73 of these are spoken only by adults over 50 and 49 spoken only by a scant few individuals. These figures are, at best, from the 1990’s, so they’re certainly much lower baring some sudden, massive revival where young people took the time to learn the languages of their elders. I heard it said once that Oklahoma was home to more dialects and languages than all of Europe. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the Native American population in the state is high. Interestingly enough, it’s also where a state-level Senator is pushing a bill to make English the official language. In her words:

The purpose of this bill is to establish a policy that unifies the state...“It unites us as a common people with diverse cultures. It unites us with a common language... English is the language of success. If you want to succeed in government, economy or school you have to be able to speak English,” Senator Kathleen Wilcoxson, R-Oklahoma City, said.

Instead of passing laws restricting languages, we should be focused more on teaching them. I have friends in Europe who I converse with on a regular basis whose first languages are German and Danish, yet their mastery of English rivals that of many Americans their age. In the United States, we appear to be slow to figure out what Europeans have long understood: speaking and writing in only one language is a limiting factor in economics, academia, and politics.

I'll leave this post with a quote from the Linguistic Society of America and its position on "English only," which is a measure that consistently rears its ugly head on both state and national levels:
The English language in America is not threatened. All evidence suggests that recent immigrants are overwhelmingly aware of the social and economic advantages of becoming proficient in English, and require no additional compulsion to learn the language.

American unity has never rested primarily on unity of language, but rather on common political and social ideals.

History shows that a common language cannot be imposed by force of law, and that attempts to do so usually create divisiveness and disunity. This has been the effect, for example, of the efforts of the English to impose the English language in Ireland, of Soviet efforts to impose the Russian language on non-Russian nationalities, and of Franco's efforts to impose Spanish on the Basques and Catalans.

It is to the economic and cultural advantage of the nation as a whole that its citizens should be proficient in more than one language, and to this end we should encourage both foreign language study for native English speakers, and programs that enable speakers with other linguistic backgrounds to maintain proficiency in those languages along with English.

You can find the source for the quote above in the links section below.

Related links:

Pizza Por Pesos
Pesos Lift Pizza Patrón's Profile
Bill would make English official state language
Caregivers help expand children’s language skills
What is an Endangered Language?
Resolution: English Only


Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog Critic reviews my friends at Scienceblogs

Blog critic, ggwfung, an anonymous blogger and critic with his own blog, Ideas Man, has written an article at Blogcritics titled ScienceBlogs Network Reviewed - the A's. In it, he gives an apparent thumbs up for the only two anthropology blogs at Scienceblogs, but doesn't seem so enthused about three of my other favorites there. Indeed, I just realized that its the blogs that start with "A" at Scienceblogs that I like the most!

Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist's new blog (he's formerly of Salto Sobrius), gets a "well done" and is described by ggwfung as "crisp" and "clean" in style. And, according to the anonymous critic, should he be reduced to a single word for Martin's blog it would be "robust." I can't argue with him there -Martin does a good job.

ggwfung also liked afarensis, giving him a "seven out of ten" score and commenting favorably on afarensis' style and content. Perhaps ggwfung finds a natural appeal to bloggers that don't capitalize their nom de blog, or perhaps he has an affinity for anthropology/archaeology bloggers. Either way, he didn't pull the punches on the rest of the "A"'s.

Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock, one of my all-time favorite blogs, is accused of "spinning around in dizzy circles." His implication that Coturnix posts at a fantastic rate is fair, but I strongly disagree with his assessment that Coturnix's posts are "haphazard and trivial." If this *is* the case, then haphazard and trivial are what his readers want -his appears to be one of the more visited and commented blogs at Seed. 1200+ visits per day is not a figure to sneeze at. ggwfung gave Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science "a low rating" and, to Tara at Aetiology, he gave "[a]n ambivalent rating" (whatever that means). His criticisms of these women included their tendency to blog about their personal lives and to engage in chit-chat. Both Janet and Tara are fine bloggers and, while I seldom post at either, I visit them regularly. I enjoy reading about their personal lives and the lighter posts that are intermixed with scientific ones. And its clear that ggwfung didn't bother to click the tags of "Ethical Research", "Professional Ethics", "AIDS/HIV", or "Infectious Disease" at either of these fine blogs. For, if he had, he would have been presented with some of the very best writing available on blogs or other popular media in these subjects. And, being presented with such glaringly fine examples of what good science blogging is about, ggwfung would never have been able to write critiques that were so far off the mark and still be considered intellectually honest. Instead, it looks as though ggwfung, the "Ideas Man," visited the blogs of scientists-slash-parents in the post-holiday season and based his critiques from there.

Next time, look a little deeper, "Ideas Man."


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Egyptology Online Karnak and Avaris

The Near Eastern Studies department of Johns Hopkins University is scheduled to roll out an educational website on January 19, 2007 titled Hopkins in Egypt Today.

Also, Tell el-Dabca (a.k.a. Avaris) has its own homepage. Avaris was the capital of the Hyksos in Lower Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyksos were Canaanite immigrants and Manethos referred to the them as heku-shoswet, and, Hellenized, it became "Hyksos," which means rulers of a foreign land. This later became a general Egyptian term for Asiatic foreigners. Pharaoh Ahmose I (18th Dynasty) sacked Avaris and chased the Hyksos to southern Canaan to their fortress, Sharuhen near modern day Gaza. Ahmose laid siege to the fortress for three years before he stormed it.

Look below the fold for quotes and further discussion.

Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins
The goal of the site is:

to provide the viewer with the elements of archaeological work, including the progress of excavation. The daily results are crucial to an understanding of how field investigation takes place, since decisions must be made on the basis of ongoing work. The people involved in the work are also an essential feature and contribute profoundly to the final outcomes. The focus of our diary is thus often on the people and their activities.

Returning for her 12th season, Professor Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins will oversee archaeological work at the Temple of the Goddess Mut (pronounced "moot") at Karnak (in Luxor, Egypt).
Mut was the wife of the great national god of ancient Egypt, Amun, whose central temple at Karnak is the largest existing religious complex in the world. Mut had her own temple in the southern precinct of Karnak, and the main temple was linked to it by two different paved alleys flanked by rows of ram headed sphinxes. The god Amun's statue was brought to the Mut temple when rituals occurred commemorating the birth of a son to Amun and Mut. That son, Khonsu, a moon god, has his own temple at Karnak as well.

Avaris Online
The site appears to be run by Professor Manfred Bietak, the Professor of Egyptology at the University of Vienna in Austria. He's also director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo (Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Kairo). It could be run by one or more of his grad students, however. I couldn't tell for sure.

While obviously still under development, there is already a great wealth of information for the student interested in the Hyksos period of Egypt (that would be me). Descriptions of the sites and the excavations as well as artifacts and features recovered are included as well as a detailed bibliography. Of course, if you plan to study or write on the Hyksos, a familiarity with German is a must! The site is in both English and German, but most of the references are from German language publications. Here's a short quote from the site:
After the conquest of Avaris by Ahmose c. 1530 BC the major part of the town was abandoned. The citadel, however, was destroyed and enormous storage facilities set up, among them numerous silos. On top of those remains traces of a camp with bonfires a, ovens and postholes of tents were encountered. Bodies probably of soldiers were buried without any offerings in pits. Also bodies of several horses were found in this stratum.

Go. Visit these sites. Get your learn on.
Hopkins in Egypt Today
Tell el-Dabca Homepage


Stolen & Looted: Convicted Smuggler and Looter Reveals Trade Secrets

Pietro Casasanta spent five decades robbing his country of priceless artifacts and cultural items which he sold on the open market. According to Signor Casasanta, however, his efforts should earn him a senator's seat instead of a jail cell.

Look below the fold to find out why.

The testimony that allowed Casasanta's description of the methods and extent to which he and his people plundered Roman villas and archaeological sites of their artifacts and art came during the trial of Getty curator (former) Marion True and art dealer (former) Robert Hecht, who are both charged with trafficking in stolen antiquities. Though he never met with or dealt with True and Hecht directly, Casasanta was providing the court with an overview of the way the illegal antiquities market worked in Italy. He claimed that his plunders saved art that would have been destroyed anyway in development projects and fancied himself just in his work:

I saved thousands of artifacts that would have been ground into cement. ... It's a shame that they don't make me a senator for life.

Apparently, much of the art he recovered was in the rubble being moved for construction of buildings and public works, but rather than share the treasure with the Italian public, he chose to profit from the finds. He even admitted to "excavations" of his own and the manner in which the loot was processed:
Casasanta told the court he would poke around construction sites and find treasures in piles of earth that had been dug up. But he also organized his own vast excavations – largely the ruins of ancient Roman countryside villas – working in daylight with two or three people using bulldozers over thousands of square yards.

He also explained how he and other looters would give their finds a clean record by selling them to themselves at international auction houses through dummy companies or straw men.

“This allowed me to legalize the piece and put a price on it,” he told the judges.

Its good to see the Italian and Greek governments working hard to get a handle on their national treasures. To paraphrase Colin Renfrew, it's the curators and dealers who are perhaps the most complicit since those that plunder antiquities of their nations wouldn't have a market without them. I think the on-going trial of True and Hecht (of the Hecht co. department stores chain) will be on the minds dealers and curators for years to come.

Source: Witness in Italy antiquities case reveals secrets of art looting


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Science Blogging Anthology Now in Print

The Open Laboratory - order here
Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006 has been published and is available for purchase and download at Lulu. For those of you that didn't know, Bora Zivkovic, whose nom de blog is Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock, put this anthology together and edited the submitted entries. I was proud to play a very small, bit part by being one of his fellow bloggers that voted on the entries. And the cover is beautiful! I suggested a couple of designs to Bora, but I must say that whoever designed this one did a far better job than anything I tried. I sure hope he/she got an "About the Cover" credit because it's well-deserved. I'll be buying my copy this week!

Zivkovic, Bora (2007). The Open Laboratory. The best writing on science blogs 2006. Chapel Hill, NC: Lulu. 336 pp.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Forbidden Archaeology? Some So-Called Out of Place Artifacts

I visit various internet sites each week that range from the scientific to the down right kooky. I must confess that "Kooky" fascinates me. But even on the science sites that have active message boards, there are frequent mentions of so-called "out of place artifacts" (OOPA's?). Very often, these "artifacts" are used by someone to "prove" a conclusion they already have about the age of the planet or a greatly exaggerated antiquity of humanity. Ironically, I've observed that some of these artifacts can be simultaneously used by different proponents of contradictory claims to support both a "young Earth" and an ancient humanity (millions of years).

Below the fold, I'll discuss some of the "top ten out of place artifacts" as claimed by that infamous ragazine, Atlantis Rising (Jochmans 1995). The list is over 10 years old, but they are among the more commonly mentioned artifacts.

The Baghdad Battery
The very first item on the Atlantis Rising list is the infamous "Baghdad battery," a clay pot dating to around the 3rd century CE and found in Iraq. Often referred to as a "battery" by significance-junkies and mystery-mongers, it obviously isn't since there were no electrical devices present in the early first millennium for which a battery would be required. But, of course, this is exactly the sort of thing the significance-junkie looks for. Suddenly, an innocuous clay pot becomes part of a grand conspiracy to which archaeologists are willing accomplices in a cover up. Ignored are the more probable explanations for such jars, one of which includes that vessels of this type were for scroll or papyrus storage. They were typically 5 inches long and contained a rolled up copper sheet and an iron rod. The ends were capped with asphalt plugs, which would have interfered with the conduction of electricity.

They would, however, have been very efficient at hermetically sealing papyrus and, since each of the "batteries" found to date have were found open to the environment while in situ, any papyrus inside would have long since deteriorated, leaving a slightly acidic residue. Experiments testing the "battery" hypothesis yielded about 25mW from one of these tested as a possible galvanic cell. A penlight requires about 1100mW. Tests were conducted since a couple of electricity-related hypotheses exist regarding the purpose of these jars: a way for electroplating metals such as gold or elektrum; and for ritualistic use by some "magical" means by a sorcerer who used a weak acid in the vessel and attached it to metal statue. Touched by believers, they would then feel a tingle, verifying his "power." The former suggestion of electroplating has fallen out of favor, however, since gilding metal by fire using mercury is far more effective. Very little gilding was able to be procured from models of the "batteries" which only produced a very weak current.

"Electron Tubes" from Dendera, Egypt
Atlantis Rising lists this as their #2 OOPA and it's a relief of the Late Ptolemaic period's Temple of Hathor in Dendera, Egypt. Atlantis Rising describes the relief as depicting "cathode ray tubes," verified by no less than three electronics engineers or technicians! Somehow, we're to accept that the engineers and electricians aren't to succumb to their credulity or find undo significance in a graphic relief that has accompanying texts which state the "cathode ray tubes" to be on a solar bark, the barge used by Ra (the sun god) to traverse the sky. The "tubes" are symbols of fertility, specifically a lotus held by Horus with an emerging snake.

"Neanderthal" Skull with a "Bullet Hole"

Listed as its #8 OOPA, Atlantis Rising claims that a 38,000 year old Neanderthal skull, excavated in 1921 in present-day Zambia and residing in the Museum of Natural History in London is from victim of a rifle shot to the head. The Atlantis Rising article states the wound is a neat entry hole with "no radial split lines" and a shattered cranium opposite the hole as an exit wound. From the article:

If such a weapon was indeed fired at the man, then one of two conclusions can be made: either the specimen is not as old as it is claimed to be, and was shot by a European in recent centuries, or the remains are as old as claimed, and the marksman was ancient too.

Of course, its the latter conclusion that significance-junkies and mystery-mongers at Atlantis Rising arrive at, though I'm sure there are no shortage of young-earth creationists willing to buy into the former.

The article misses the mark on some basic information right off the bat. The skull, known to paleoanthropologists as the Kabwe skull and sometimes the "Broken Hill Man," is dated to between 125,000 and 300,000 years old, not 38,000. It was also found in a limestone cave, not 65 feet down in "lead rock," as Atlantis Rising suggests. I took particular issue, as I'm sure many readers familiar with hominid evolution did as well, with the claim of "Neanderthal" associated with a skull found in Zambia. Surely Neanderthals in Zambia is newsworthy by itself, never mind the "bullet" hole!

As it happens, the skull was originally dubbed Homo rhodesiensis by Arthur Smith Woodard, but is now commonly considered to be H. heidelbergensis or perhaps a close relative. But this isn't all Atlantis Rising got wrong: the parietal bone opposite the hole is not shattered at all. This appears to be a bit of exaggeration added to the skull's lore to satisfy the significance-junkies. After all, if someone is to be shot in the head with a rifle, one expects an exit wound. One also expects the shot to kill the individual. Interestingly enough, the hole on the Kabwe skull shows signs of healing, demonstrating beyond doubt that this guy wasn't dead from the wound. At least not initially. From the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution website:
The cranium shows evidence of disease and wounds that occurred in the lifetime of this individual. Ten of the upper teeth have cavities, and dental abscesses of the upper jaw are clearly visible in the upper photograph (above the right incisor/canine) and the middle photograph (above the first molar). Additionally, a partially healed wound is visible in the bottom two photographs, above and anterior of the hole for the ear. This wound measured roughly a quarter-inch across, and was made by either a piercing instrument or the tooth of a carnivore. Exactly which is unclear.

The other artifacts mentioned in the Atlantis Rising article included the Ashoka Pillar, the Antikythera "computer," Egyptian planes, South American jets, crystal skulls, Ica stones, and metal spheroids. Perhap I'll go into detail on these "artifacts" in future posts.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Obligatory but Genuine Thanks to the Canadian Museum of Civilization

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has a website with educational resources on ancient civilizations. I poked around the site and can see how it might easily be of interest to grade school teachers or students seeking information on early and ancient civilizations.

I find myself owing a humble bit of thanks for linking to my Egyptian Chariots article on their page that discusses transportation in Ancient Egypt. I get several hits per day from that link and I hope the readers are getting some useful information. If ever anyone wondered why I bother to put citations in a blog post, this is one of those reasons. Hopefully some young (or perhaps old!) scholars have found use for them and were able to find these articles and texts in their local library for more detailed study.

Look beneath the fold for an interesting idea.

Because of this, and in a recent post at Afarensis, I'm thinking of starting a regular feature that highlights some basics of archaeology and anthropology. An "archaeology 101" post, if you will. Actually, I've been considering this for months and even have an unfinished post somewhere on pottery and ceramics in the archaeological record. I gather that the ScienceBlogs bloggers are discussing the idea putting together "basic concepts" type posts, and I look forward to seeing what Afarensis and, hopefully, Aardvarchaeology (the only anthropology blogs there) do. These guys constantly put out some great posts anyway, so if you haven't read them I urge you to go look.

I suggested at Afarensis that we might consider dedicating an issue of the Four Stone Hearth to "anthropology 101," where each carnival submission highlights a basic concept in archaeology, ethnography/cultural anth, bio-physical anth, or linguistics.

Anyway, I'd be interested in what both the anthro-bloggers and readers think of this sort of thing. Post a comment and let me know, especially if you've stumbled on Hot Cup of Joe for the first time :)


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stolen & Looted: Getty Curator on Bail and Italians to Ask Japan for Return of Antiquities

Marion True, already on trial in Italy for dealing in looted artifacts, posted bail of $19,000 US this past Wednesday. In December, the Getty returned a gold wreath and marble statue to Greece, just months after returning other artifacts including a tombstone and a marble relief (see my earlier post). And Italy is expected to request the return of antiquities from Japan, where 50 items smuggled out of Italy are alleged to reside in the Miho Museum.

Read more of these two developments below the fold.

Marion Being True?
Marion True, of course, maintains her innocence. She's critical of the Getty for returning the artifacts without making any attempt to explain the circumstances of their procurement. True is apparently insistent that the Getty was "fully aware of the risks" involved and that she initially tried to dissuade them from procuring the items but later, according to Greek prosecutors, advised the Getty's board to obtain them. Greek officials, however, aren't as interested in True as they are a Serbian middleman and Swiss-based antiquities dealer Christoph Leon.

Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Curato!
The Miho Museum, a private museum in Shiga, western Japan, may have a fresco and sculpture from ancient Rome that is in dispute and, according to a museum official, there are less than 50 artifacts from the Roman period. The Associated Press picked up this news form a Japanese news report in Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest daily newspaper, that indicated the Italian government plans to put together a catalog of 100 antiquities that have been smuggled or otherwise illicitly removed from the country. The report also indicated that the Italian government planned to "ask the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency to cooperate in recovering them."


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pseudoskepticism from the "Junkman"

Edit: Click here for a discussion and definition of Pseudoskepticism.

Every Friday, I look forward to the newest edition of the Bob Park email "What's New?" It isn't a full newsletter, and Bob usually doesn't go into a lot of detail. But in a few short paragraphs, he summarizes the top 4 or 5 silly things in government or academia that go against reason and critical thought. I highly recommend subscribing to his weekly What's New? email. Look below the fold to see what he has to say about Steve Milloy, the author of Junkscience Judo and frequent columnist for Faux News (did I write that out loud?).

THE JUNKMAN: EXXON USES MILLOY TO DOWNPLAY GLOBAL WARMING. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on Wednesday describing Exxon Mobil's efforts to manipulate public opinion on Global Warming. In doing so the report further exposes the role of Steven J. Milloy, the notorious "Junkman" who wrote Junk Science Judo (CATO, 2001), and a column for Fox News. WN reported a year ago that Milloy, who masquerades as a fearless debunker of bad science, in real life works for oil and tobacco giants http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn020306.html .

Jim Lobe wrote an article that I found at the Inter Press Service News Agency titled, ExxonMobil Accused of Disinformation on Warming, in which he describes Milloy's affiliations and loyalties:
Steven Milloy, for example, whose Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (ASSC) was created by tobacco giant Philip Morris in 1993 to raise questions about the link between second-hand smoke and cancer, has served as a member of the Global Climate Science Team (GCST), which ExxonMobil helped create in 1998, and run the Free Enterprise Action Institute to which the company has contributed 130,000 dollars -- or almost two-thirds of the group's total expenses.

The article linked above is a fascinating read. It doesn't take a genius to see why a major oil company would be interested in misleading the public and, consequently, public policy about the environment. Any more than it is clear why tobacco companies want to mislead the public about cancer. What's fascinating is the guise of "skepticism" that is donned by those that are doing the misleading. Lets be clear: these are not true skeptics. They have conclusions to which they seek supporting data and reject data that is un-supportive. I don't know the extent to which human activity on the planet contributes to global warming, but it is abundantly apparent that misuse and careless handling of petroleum products is bad for the environment. It's also clear that petroleum by-products are not beneficial to the environment and reasonable to conclude they have a lasting impact on it.


Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List

Have you ever wondered what science has to say about astrology? What the real scoop is on crop circles? What about that "face on Mars" that was such a big thing a few years ago? Or maybe you wanted to know if the astronomical connections claimed for such archaeological sites as the pyramids and Sphinx at Giza had any credibility.

To get started in any research endeavor, it helps to have a good bibliography. If you ever wanted to read up on skeptical opinions of any of the topics above (and more), you'll want to look below the fold.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has a wonderful resource list. Indeed, if you're interested in astronomy, you might find their whole site fascinating. But the page I landed on that I didn't hesitate to bookmark was their Skeptic's Resource List, a bibliography that covers many pseudoscientific claims in the astronomical field.

As an example, I'll include a single entry (of many available) for each of the topics above:

Culver, Roger & Ianna, Philip Astrology: True or False. 1988, Prometheus Books. The best skeptical book about astrology, full of useful information.

Nickell, J. "Circular Reasoning" in Skeptical Inquirer, Sep/Oct. 2002, p. 17. A concise review, by a skeptical investigator. (On line at http://www.csicop.org/si/2002-09/crop-circles.html)

Sagan, Carl "The Man in the Moon and the Face on Mars," Chapter 3 of his book, The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House.

Krupp, E. "The Sphinx Blinks" in Sky & Telescope, mar. 2001, p. 86. Examines some astronomical connections suggested for the Sphinx and the Pyramids and finds them wanting. (See also, Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1997, p. 64.)

Stenger, V. "Quantum Quackery" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb. 1997, p. 37. Quick summary of the arguments against quantum mechanics having "new age" implications for human powers. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9701/quantum-quackery.html)

Okay, I included one extra, but only because I happened across the Stenger citation and noticed the link. I've read that piece and recommend it to anyone who's getting tired of running into quantum-this and quantum-that used to explain every thing from God to consciousness to weight loss.

Each of the titles in the table of contents for the list has a list of both printed resources as well as websites to visit. Such a list is invaluable for teachers who undoubtedly encounter questions about such popular topics from their students as well as the skeptic looking for sources of information to dispel myths and pseudoscientific positions.

Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List (Version 3.0; August 2003)


Monday, January 08, 2007

What if almost every day you heard talk radio hosts talking about killing your friends?

Blogger Spocko, the nom de blog for the author of Spocko's Brain, writes of a radio station, KSFO AM 560, which does just that. And he's linked audio clips of the show in this post.

More below the fold

Apparently the hosts of this radio show have called for the deaths of various American politicians and business men and women in their hate-filled and inciting broadcasts (Spocko's letter to the Wall Street Journal). Spocko is writing advertisers and posting their comments on his blog with audio clips to support his accusations. If Spocko is telling the truth, and it looks like he is, this radio station is off the deep end! The the hosts of one or more shows on the station demanded that callers mock Islam, called for public hangings of New York Times editor Bill Keller and suggested that a Sears’ Diehard battery be attached to an African-American’s testicles.

And here's the rub: KSFO 560 AM is owned by ABC Radio Disney.

On the Daily Kos, Spocko is quoted as saying:

In mid-December I got confirmation that a major national advertiser, VISA, pulled their ads from the Melanie Morgan and Lee Rogers show, based on listening to audio clips I provided them. I also think that FedEx, AT&T and Kaiser are considering pulling their ads. Visa isn't the first advertiser who has left KSFO, multiple advertisers have left the station, especially from the Brian Sussman show. In July of this year when KSFO lost MasterCard as an advertiser someone from KSFO "outed" me on a counter-blog (which I won't link to). This same person has also threatened me with local and federal criminal action for using the audio (which I clearly used under the fair use portion of copyright law). And because they have suggested violence toward me (in addition to talking about suing me "for everything I have") I have chosen to remain anonymous.

I think this is a good case of how blogging can effect change and do good journalism. Had Spocko not spent so much time and personal effort on reporting on KSFO (and personal risk?), these nutters could have gone ahead full-steam and unchecked. Now, with advertisers pulling out, you can bet their management is clamping down on them at least somewhat. There is such a thing as free press and freedom of speech in the United States, but that goes both directions. Spocko is also free to report on their antics, exposing them to advertisers who are free to support them -or not.

Oh, and watch this YouTube video that includes some of the shows audioclips.

More info:
Spocko Rocks ABC! Micky Mouse blinks! Updated: Spocko jumps in
The Ogre's Trumpet Blaring
I am Spocko


Sunday, January 07, 2007

ArtiFACTS: Recent News in Archaeology and Anthropology

The holidays nearly had my full attention but now I'm going to post a bit more often. I'll start with continuing with the ArtiFACTS series, rounding up some recent news in archaeology and anthropology.

Here's a few of the topics I've found this week:

  • Ancient Roman Road Found in the Netherlands
  • Bulgarian Archaeological Discoveries of 2006
  • Can You Hear Me Now?
  • Apocalypto an Inaccurate Distortion of History

They're discussed below the fold.

Ancient Roman Road Found in the Netherlands

Dating between 30-350 CE, the road is being excavated near Amsterdam in Houten about 30 miles away. Though probably used for trade and civilian activity, Romans used the road for military purposes in their conflicts against Germanic tribes and is thought to have connected Traiectum and Fectio (the modern cities of Utrecht and Vechten, respectively).

Hessing said the road was built of a sloping mound of sand and clay, interspersed with layers of gravel and smashed seashells, which would have stood about a yard above nearby fields. The top layer of hard-packed gravel is unusually well-preserved at the site.

Dendrochronology of wooden posts used by the roads builders and pot sherds used in filler may help pinpoint more exact dates.

Bulgarian Archaeological Discoveries of 2006

7th - 8th century CE tombs were discovered on Cape Kaliakra along with a medieval sword. A 5000 year old, 6.3 inch gold and platinum dagger was discovered in a Thracian site in central Bulgaria. Also recovered at the same site were 500 tiny gold rings were (part of a jewelry ensemble), a golden plaque, silver and bronze vessels and ritual daggers, and pottery.

Excavation began in 2002 of Sostra in norther Bulgaria where a castle, settlements and a necropolis have so far been revealed. Sostra was destroyed by the Huns in the late 5th century CE, but its diamond shaped castle was impressive at 130m square. Recent finds in 2006 include 12 inscribed stones as well as "[c]eramic and glass vessels and jewellery, coins, and a ceremonial bronze mask, attributed to the Thracians."

Archaeologists of the National Institute for Cultural Monuments only had to travel 50 meters to begin excavation of a Roman amphitheatre in Sofia. It was discovered during the construction of a hotel on Dondoukov Boulevard. Later construction of the headquarters building of Bulgaria’s National Electric Company revealed the western portion of the ampitheater. Coins and vessels recovered so far indicate a construction period between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.

This just scratches the surface. Click the link above to read about many more archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria, including three chariots in a vinyard, a Thracian tomb containing murals and a breastplate that gave clues to the Thracian concept of time.

Can You Hear Me Now?

A Pakistani mobile phone service company has erected a transmission tower at a protected site in Mohenjodaro, the cradle of the 5000 year old Indus Valley Civilization.

Apocalypto an Inaccurate Distortion of History

Mayanist Kam Manahan of Kent State takes issue with the Mel Gibson film.

What? Mel guilty of distorting historical reality in a film with an obscure language and overt violence?

Still, the link above is to a question and answer type interview with Manahan that's very interesting. His criticisms include the portrayal by Gibson of the Spanish conquest as a "benevolent event" and the sacrificial overkill. Manahan points out that, while there is good evidence that the Maya sacrificed captured elites during elaborate rituals following conflicts, there is no evidence that the commoners were routinely sacrificed in the manner Gibson showed. Manahan goes on to note the reciprocity involved in Maya sacrifices:

Sacrifice was the fundamental way in which the ancient Maya honored what we call the sacred covenant: that by offering blood back to the gods that had created them, they would ensure that these gods would continue to ensure their sustenance and prosperity.

At the core of this tenet is the concept of reciprocity -- life must be given in order to ensure that life will be received.

The most common way that the sacred covenant was honored was through autosacrifice -- ritualized bloodletting of one's self.

Maya art shows both male and female elites sacrificing themselves by piercing genitalia or tounges. I recall a mural or pot that depicted a king's wife pulling a string through her tongue, catching the blood in a vessel. Manahan also took issue with the fact that Gibson mixed elements unique to various periods such as 300 BCE with 1000 CE in the same scene.

Didn't Mayanist Richard Hansen consult for Gibson on the project?


Monday, January 01, 2007

Hatshepsut Exhibition at the Kimball Art Museum

I finally attended the Hatshepsut exhibit that was previously shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and San Francisco's Fine Arts Museum. Fort Worth's Kimball Art Museum is, apparently, the exhibit's final venue. I couldn't use my digital camera to record any of the artifacts even without flash and one of the security guards prevented me from even using it to record the placards, some of which were very wordy and informative. So I was limited to my notebook and pencil, much to my wife's dismay at being stuck in a crowded museum with the only nerd taking notes.

Titled Hatshepsut: from queen to pharaoh, the exhibit included many artifacts that ranged from an ashlar block of a temple, stelae and bas relief sections to ceramics and jewelry. There were also several large statues as well as false doors and the sarcophagus of Hatshepsut herself. The exhibit spanned roughly six or seven galleries, occupying the entire South Galleries wing. I attended on Thursday, January 28th at around 3pm and it was crowded. The wait to get tickets alone was about 30 minutes and it took about an hour and a half to get through the exhibit (though my wife finished much earlier). Overall, I enjoyed being able to see stelae, bas reliefs, papyri and the like up close, but I found it far too crowded. It was difficult to move about without bumping into someone else, particularly in the first gallery of the exhibit. That's not to say, however, that the exhibit itself was "crammed" into a small space. There was, luckily, lots of floor space to move around -it was just filled with people.

Here's a highlight of some of the artifacts on display (I'll link to photos or info on the internet where I can):

Block Statues of Ruiu, Satepihu, and Senenmut. The latter's inscription includes a royal offering to Amun.

Dish of General Djehuti, from the reign of Thutmose III. The pharaoh dedicated this solid gold dish as recognition for service as general, scribe and treasurer. The inscription on the side reads: Given in praise by the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Men-kheper-Re, to the hereditary chief, the divine father, the beloved by God, filling the heart of the king in all foreignlands and in the isles in the midst of the great sea, filling stores with lazuli, electrum, and gold, keeper of all foreign lands, keeper of the troops, praised by the good gold lord of both lands and his ka - the royal scribe Djehuti deceased.

Heart Scarab of Hatnofer, a serpentine and gold funerary offering of exquisite detail and beauty. The base is engraved with chapter 30A of The Book of the Dead, where the deceased addresses her own heart, exhorting it to not bear witness against Hatnofer's spirit in the final judgment in the afterlife. Hatnofer's name was inserted over an erased text, evidence that the pendent wasn't originally intended for her. Inscribed in the serpentine on the base of this pendent are a full 12 registers of text, not an insignificant feat considering its only a few inches in diameter. This was one of my favorite two items in the exhibit. Interestingly enough, I found a couple of the smallest items, this scarab and the Magical Jar (below) among the more interesting, rather than the monumental items of block statues, false doors , bas relief, etc. Perhaps it was the intricacy of the work, knowing that the hands that created the works were skilled beyond even the abilities of modern craftsmen (photos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Figured Ostracon with Gridded Sketch, an ostracon is a fragment of pottery or sometimes limestone used to write or draw on. In this case, it looks like a craftsman was using an ostracon to plan a larger image or perhaps this was his "formula," since Egyptian art relied heavily on canonized principles when rendering the human form in two dimensions. The grid represents the formulaic location for each
feature. This allowed the craftman to produce large quantities of work since the process was standardized. There are many who would also dispute the title of "artist" to the craftsmen since they are essentially reproducing the same work in the same manner without stylistic license.

It wasn't until the Armana period that stylistic elements of caricature and realism are introduced. This change in artistic style occurred during the reign of Akhenaton (a.k.a. Amenhotep IV), the "first monotheist" (1387-1330's BCE). The ostracon pictured here and present in the exhibit was from the reign of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BCE) and is ostensibly a representation of Senenmut.

Magical Jar, from the early 18th Dynasty in glazed steatite. This 3 inch tall figuring jar is in the form of Taweret (a.k.a. Ipi), a goddess who protected pregnant and nursing women. Taweret's form is intended to be hideous so as to frighten off demons and the like and she's part human, hippopotamus, crocodile, and lion. I wasn't able to find an image of the actual jar, which was on loan for the exhibit by the Metropolitan Museum in NY, but the image here shows the goddess, which is what jar looked like. Its contents were likely used by a magician-priest by impressing the seal to the skin of a patient after binding a spell to the individual being treated through a recitation. This was one of my two favorite items at the exhibit (see the Heart Scarab above), in spite of the other wonderful artifacts present.

I didn't mention many, many things that caught my eye (and my pencil): false doors, stelae, papyrii, jewelry, and so on. All the things that come to mind whenever anyone mentions Egyptian artifacts and art. Instead, I focused on a few things that seemed a bit more off-beat and interesting in the hopes that I've sparked an interest in Egyptian art, history, and archaeology by showing that it isn't all sarcophagi and mummies. I also didn't discuss the history of Hatshepsut, but if you follow the link to the Kimbell Art Museum, there is a nice synopsis. All of the artifacts I mentioned are found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston(MFA), the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Louvre.


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