A post from Revise and Dissent archived here. You can add your comment on this at HNN.
At Leicester there’s a small group of people who will evangelise to whoever will listen about the Very Short Introduction series. In recent years the series, published by OUP has gained the ultimate in accolades. The format has been ripped-off by other publishers. The concept, a pocket-sized introduction to the problems of an academic field is easy enough to copy, but there is more to the success of the series than that. The writing is usually extremely good and History: Very Short Introduction by John Arnold is an excellent example.
The book opens with an action sequence. It concerns Guilhem Déjean, a man on the trail of Cathars in Languedoc. His arrival in the village Tarascon sets in train a series of events which leads to the murder of Déjean at the hands of heretics who seek to hide from the Catholic church. It’s a pacey and well-written start that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film, if James Bond relocated to 14th century France.
The point of the graphic opening is to give the reader a piece of the past to work with. Certainly there’s a story to be told, but is that it? Arnold asks “Is history the truth of the past re-told in the present?” In this book Arnold aims to show that history is not synonymous with the past. As David mentioned earlier, History is an investigation and this book tackles the questions of what we investigate and how we can do it. He also challenges the reader to think about what history is for, a point to which he returns at the end of the book.
You can read an overiew of some of the other flaws in the Bosnian Pyramid saga at Revise and Dissent in the posting Bosnian Pyramids: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Atlantis
Thanks, if that’s the right word, go to Doug Weller for passing along a better map of the equilateral triangle connecting the peaks of the Bosnian pyramids. It turns out that Bosnianpyramids.com is not an official site, so my measurements based on that don’t necessarily disprove the claim that the peaks of the pyramids mark the vertices of a triangle with “not one minute difference”. So I’ve looked at this map.
What I’m interested in is whether or not there are three equal angles. The easiest way for me to check is to measure the lengths of the sides and calculate from there. What I’ve done is put the map into Google Earth, placed it over the ocean, to ensure I’m measuring it flat and measured the three sides. The lengths of the sides will not be accurate, but their relative lengths will because their lengths will all be out by the same factor.
Measuring the three sides I get:
Sun — Moon : 2563
Moon — Dragon : 2638
Dragon — Sun : 2598
If you click on the photos you’ll see those measurements are metres, but in reality that’s misleading because the overlay is almost certainly not scaled correctly. It’s just the relative lengths that matter because the vertical and horizontal scaling will be out by the same factor.
You can work out the angles in degrees for the triangle through the Cosine Rule which will work because it’s independent of units. Alternatively you could use the Triangle Calculator which does the same thing with much less effort. Using this I get angles (converted from decimal degrees to degrees and minutes):
Sun: 61º 29′
Moon: 59º 55′
Dragon: 58º 37′
Is that an equilateral triangle?
I’d heard that an announcement was forthcoming about the Antikythera Mechanism, but I wasn’t expecting anything till October. The plan was to read around it when I had time this summer and then appear terribly wise in the autumn. So while Badgerminor at Orbis Quintus and Glaukôpis at Glaukôpidos are talking about it, I still know very little about the mechanism that you can’t pick up from the newspapers. If I get time I’ll read round the subject for autumn, but it’s one of those things which is very odd. Even being able to read it might not solve many questions about its use. Or maybe it will. The publication will have more info.
There’s also an official page from X-Tek, the people doing the scanning and an official website for the project which has an animation of the mechanism.
Beyond that there’s nothing I can say that Wikipedia doesn’t say already. No photo either because there’s nothing on a CC licence and my own photos, if I could find them, are so blurred they give me a headache. I hadn’t worked out how to focus inside glass cases when I took them.
Update: There’s now the press release and some comments on the letter in Nature on line.
Is this a Supernova? Photo by John Barentine, Apache Point Observatory
I picked up the story Ancient rock art chronicles exploding star yesterday, but I don’t know what to make of it. It’s another example of how a news story misses what is so interesting.
Briefly, a talk at the 208th meeting of the American Astronomical Society suggests that a Hohokam petroglyph might depict the great supernova of AD 1006. The remnants of this explosion can only be seen through a telescope today, but at the time it may have been the brightest star in the sky by a long way. Bright enough to read by. It’s not surprising that there are historical records of it around the world, but no record of it has been found in North America till now.
The talk relates an image to another petroglyph depicting Scorpius. This is what I find both really interesting and a bit odd, because I don’t know how they worked out the petroglyph was a constellation and that it was Scorpius. The picture looks like a scorpion, but does that automatically make it a constellation? If it does then must this scorpion be in the same part of the sky as the Graeco-Roman constellation Scorpius?
The only constellation records I could get my hands on from the region are the Navajo constellations. In these one part of Scorpius, along with Sagittarius, is part of a man with a staff. The other part is an entirely different constellation, the Rabbit Tracks. I’ve asked on HASTRO-L and Steve McCluskey has said that there’s no reason to assume continuity between Navajo and Hohokam cultures, they’re too far apart in time, geography and economic patterns, so you wouldn’t expect the astronomies to be similar.
Unlike the Navajo there is no living Hohokam people so interpretation has to be purely archaeological. Unfortunately (?) there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of petroglyphs in the American southwest. Simply picking glyphs to fit a theory would be easy, and with such a bright star it would be really really strange if no-one drew it. So the news report tells me nothing I can get excited about. It tells me that ancient Americans saw a supernova which shone around magnitude –7.5 but I could have guessed that. The really exciting and archaeologically useful bit, that it might be possible to identify constellations in petroglyphs, is completely glossed over.
I’ll have to wait for the publication before I can make sense of it.
There’s an initiative launched on World Book Day to get the UK, reading. Quick Reads are as described as “are exciting, short, fast-paced books by leading, bestselling authors, specifically written for emergent readers and adult learners.” which could sound a bit patronising. However there are some excellent authors contributing which you can see on this BBC website, along with previews. Some times historical author Tom Holt has an SF book. Tom Holland’s The Poison in the Blood is about the death of Paris. Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe is also on my to read list, but the first one I got was a story set in an archaeological excavation of a Roman villa dating from AD 70.
The first of the postings to Revise and Dissent. Commenting is closed here, but you can comment on this post at HNN.
If you’re desperate to hear the answer and can’t bear suspense I’ll drop a hint: I’m hardly going to get any dissent if I say yes am I?
The Kings Men Stone Circle – Rollright Stones – Oxfordshire
On the way back from Oxford today I stopped by the Rollright Stones to get some photos. There are plenty of good photos on the net. Flickr has a few, as does the Megalithic Portal. The problem with these photos is that they emphasise the stones, which normally is one of the major attractions of a stone circle. The Rollright Stones are a particularly good place for this because unlike somewhere like Stonehenge you can get among the stones. Unlike Avebury the circle tends to be relatively empty too. The wardens are friendly people and the lack of facilties means that it tends to be quiet. It’s a very nice place. Sometime in the early hours of April Fool’s Day 2004, or possibly late the previous evening, someone daubed the stones randomly but fairly comprehensively with yellow paint. Over two years later the paint still defaces the stones as you can see from the photos below. Is it a problem?
Vecchi strumenti. Photo by –Zelig–.
Recently I’ve been working on a solution to a problem on calendars in South Italy and Sicily. A few cities have calendars which start in the autumn. The assumption is that this is connected to the autumnal equinox, but I’m not so certain. The autumnal equinox makes great sense if you have geometrical astornomy, but these calendars pre-date the accurate astronomy of later Greece. I think it could be tied to other observations. There’s a problem in proving this though. I need to corroborate some of my assumptions with independent evidence. Working with Greek cities this should be easy, but the Greek cities in Sicily don’t have that good a historical record. However, there is also the possibility of looking at pottery and I’ve found a couple of vases which fit nicely. Unfortunately they’re Apulian vases.
This should be good news. Apulia is the heel of Italy, so these vases come from exactly the right place. Yet there’s very little archaeological record of these vases. Up to ninety per cent of Apulian vases were first known when they were put up for auction. It is possible that they were all stored in grandmothers’ attics during the Second World War. Indeed there are so many vases that it would suggest that the attic is the safest place to hide if you’re in a war zone. An alternative explanation is that a trade which is happy to buy artefacts with no provenance and no questions asked helps drive a demand for Apulian vases. What is more likely capacious attics or illicit smuggling? Who knows?
If I cannot provenance the vases then their use is limited. I’m trying to tie the observations to specific sites and ‘South Italy’ simply isn’t good enough.