There’s been a couple of interesting posts on the Peru Illness Flap recently. If you haven’t been reading about this, somewhere in the Andes near Lake Titicaca villagers saw a flash of light and heard a bang. They went to investigate and found a crater. They say there was a strange smell and that people are getting ill.
I’d been planning to blog about this when there was more information, so I was pleased to read Hysterical about hysteria on the SciAm blog. A lot of sites have been rubbishing the idea that this was an extra-terrestrial illness, which is fine, but George Musser at SciAm gets it exactly right when he argues that if you want to talk about the incident’s effect on the local people simple Geology isn’t enough. Geology is great when it comes to rocks, but it’s a remarkably poor method to investigate people. Continue reading
I’m making a note of this because I missed it when I was on campus today. There’s a report in Nature on the discovery of the earliest damming in prehistoric China. From the Register-Guard:
Stone Age Chinese began cultivating rice more than 7,700 years ago by burning trees in coastal marshes and building dams to hold back seawater, converting the marshes to rice paddies that would support growth of the high-yield cereal grain, researchers reported Thursday.
New analysis of sediments from the site of Kuahuqiao at the mouth of the Yangtze River near present-day Hangzhou provides the earliest evidence in China of such large-scale environmental manipulation, experts said.
This is interesting because the transition to farming is an interesting subject, but Neolithic Chinese farming may us something about Global Warming according to palaeoclimatologist Bill Ruddiman. Continue reading
Following yesterday’s post on the roots of archaeology, I’ve read an interesting post David Gill’s Looting Matters weblog about an obsession with context. The key quote is so good I can’t help lifting it:
“The archaeological community’s obsession with context puzzles numismatists.”
Lest you think the good professor is writing with his underpants on his head I should make clear it’s a quote from an article he read. It makes more sense if you see numismatics as an heir of antiquarianism and archaeology as a pretender. Archaeologists are more likely study the pasts of peoples who simply don’t appeal to the wannabe-country gent. It would seem a bit odd though as not all numismaticians are parochial in their studies.
Of course if you are a bit of a social dinosaur you may not have noticed changing times. This might explain bizarre claims like:
“Numismatists believe that all coins carry useful information about the political, military and economic situation at the time they were issued. Indeed, numismatists derive their own context from the study of design devices used on coins, the number and chronology of dies used to strike given series, and the metallurgical content of various issues. For that reason, numismatists categorically reject the claim that coins lose value as historical objects if the circumstances of their discovery are not preserved.”
Ok, how wrong is this? For a start a coin can contribute to historical research by examining its art and its context. Lose that context and you lose the data. You cannot tell what artefacts a coin was found with purely from its inscriptions, no matter how intensely you study them.
But that’s only half the problem.
At the weekend in the times there was a comparison between antiquities looting and ivory smuggling in the Times. It is an apt comparison. The death toll in elephants can be disproportionate to the amount of ivory recovered. Similarly an increase in coin supply from Bulgaria, sorry Thrace, ((Exporting coins from Bulgaria, as well as Greece or Turkey, the other two countries which could be described as Thrace, is illegal. Unfortunately if you list the coin as Thracian then it’s extremely difficult to find where the source is and hence cannot launch a prosecution. You’d have to be a pretty shady character to do that though so you wouldn’t expect to find anything if you check Ebay for Thracian coins would you?)) may be connected with the bulldozing of archaeological sites in Thrace Bulgaria. The fact that this sort of thing is illegal has led some people to conclude that criminals might be involved with the antiquities supply.
It’s not a thought that occurs to all dealers, nor it seems all numismatists. The trade relies on dealers and lawyers who don’t think too hard about the context of their finds. Read David Gill’s thoughts on the subject and laugh or cry.
But this antiquary’s direct descendants are those bearded men in Time Team digging trenches in soggy English fields or circling in helicopters to reveal the geometry of our ancestors’ labours. Not just archaeology, but all sorts of amateur passions — brass-rubbing, architectural history, every kind of yen to collect every kind of old clobber — have their origins in the activities of these bewigged gentlemen (it seems to have been a wholly masculine business). It was antiquaries who invented local history. If you live in an English county, its first history will almost certainly have been compiled by some batty clergyman with time on his hands who corresponded with the Society of Antiquaries.
It’s received wisdom that Archaeology grew from Antiquarianism. I attended a talk at a TAG conference by Ronald Hutton who argued that this might not be so. For some reason a past is important to most disciplines. Even Computing courses have been known to start with Babbage’s Difference Engine. It’s hard to underestimate its importance in C++ programming, but it’s probably about as relevant as the phase of the moon. It may be interesting but for practical programming it just doesn’t matter.
The connection between archaeologists and their past in contrast probably does. One reason is that unquestioned assumptions made by previous archaeologists can pass on and become increasingly irrelevant. The other is that if you spend your days up to your elbows in the past of other professions you may start thinking about your own. You’ll also find, if you’re an archaeologist based in the UK, that almost everything interesting has already been whacked open with a pick-axe and plundered by antiquarians. At least physically we follow in their footsteps.
However Hutton, if I understand him correctly, argues that the reason archaeologists follow antiquarians isn’t a simple case of evolution.Continue reading
The Red Fort where faith will soon triumph over Archaeology. Photo (cc) dijitalboy.
If you’ve been following my del.icio.us feed you’ll have already seen I’ve been reading the archaeological news coming out of India recently. I’ve held off commenting, because I’m not very familiar with Indian archaeology. You should bear that in mind when reading on. I’ve also spent a few days trying to pull together who believes what happened when. And today I found the post ABC of Ram Sethu at E-mc^2, which says more or less the same thing. As far as I can tell the story is this:
Around 1.75 million years ago Ravana, King of Lanka was being a pest. As a bit of foresight Ravana had ensured that he was invulnerable to the attacks of Gods, Demons and celestial folk, but left out men and animal from the list. Vishnu spotted the loophole and incarnated as the human Rama, to get round some legal paperwork. Ravana kidnapped his wife and during the ensuing rumpus Rama built a bridge to Sri Lanka.
Around 125,000 years ago geological action started to form a bar of rocks and shoals creating a string of islands or shallows between southern India and Sri Lanka.
Around 2000 years ago the poet Valmiki composed the Rāmāyaṇa, which described the events of 1.75 million. Unfortunately he neglected to state whether Rama was homo sapiens or homo erectus, which could have helped a lot.
This sets the scene for a controversy around the dredging of a channel through the Ram Sethu. In 2001 the BJP, then the ruling party in India decided a channel through the Ram Sethu might be a good thing. At moment shipping has to travel round Sri Lanka. A channel could cut out a day’s travel so they started a feasibility study. Continue reading
I went down to the bottom of the garden to fill the feeder this morning, and had the eerie sensation of being watched from the trees. I looked but didn’t see anything for a while until I saw a contemptuous flick of a tail. Then the squirrel moved out of its hiding place at started staring at me. It could see me standing by the recently filled box and was getting impatient.
I’ve been meaning to test my camera for a little while, but haven’t really had the opportunity. The sound on the video surprised me, and the clicking to refocus means I’ll have to find the silent switch. The photo is an attempt at pseudo-HDR. HDR is a photographic technique to bring out more colour and detail in photos. Ideally you mix a few photos together, but the squirrel was far too fast for that, so I’ve tried reprocessing a .RAW image. It hasn’t been a huge success as far as I can tell as it looks like a .JPG file would to me. For more on HDR you should visit Why Don’t You Blog? which has a few posts on the subject.