More OA


Chuck Jones has poin­ted me to ABZU as a source of open-access mater­ial. It’s been hugely use­ful / dis­tract­ing already and I have another paper I need to write up on Greek fest­ivals now. It’s wonderful.

…but I’m also hav­ing a very strange day with the journ­als. It seems the February 2005 edi­tion of the Journal of Social Archaeology is open today. I men­tion it as it has the paper The cul­tural land­scape of inter­plan­et­ary space by Alice Gorman avail­able for free. It’s an inter­est­ing take on the space race, nation­al­ism and archaeology.

There’s a good vari­ety of top­ics in the issue, so grab it while you can get it.

Suicide is ageless


Base image: Suicide © iStock​Photo​.com.

A press release from the Royal Society of Psychiatrists. Reproduced because I’ve only seen snip­pets of it the Scottish press.

“Death is by my sight today, like a well trod­den way…
Death is by my sight today, like the long­ing of a man
to see home…
I am laden with misery…”

Analysis of an ancient Egyptian poem by a psy­chi­at­rist and an Egyptologist shows that it describes the psy­cho­path­o­logy of sui­cide with great accuracy.

Dispute over Suicide was a poem writ­ten by an unnamed Egyptian writer between 2000 and 1740 BC on papyrus in hieroglyphics.

The writer is known as ‘The Eloquent Peasant’, and was com­mis­sioned by King Meri-ka-re to write a poem in order to dis­suade people from com­mit­ting sui­cide.
Continue read­ing

Why Open Access is important


[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

While wait­ing for the pho­to­copier on Wednesday I picked up Garrett Fagan’s art­icle on pseudoar­chae­ology in Archaeology Magazine from a couple of years back. I’ve read with interest Cornelius Holtorf’s paper on Alternative Archaeologies (free ver­sion is alas off­line, but you can read dis­cus­sion about the paper at Graham Hancock’s site) and Katherine Reese’s book chapter from the per­spect­ive of a former believer. There’s a range of views, but one factor I think they’d all agree on is that there is a need to make inform­a­tion avail­able. Reese’s own response was to set up the In the Hall of Ma’at web­site, which Archaeology repor­ted.

I think the Bosnian Pyramid saga is an excel­lent example of what hap­pens when inform­a­tion isn’t access­ible. Here’s a quote from Osmanagic.

The civil­iz­a­tions did not migrate from Middle and West Europe, but from here toward them.

He is right.

On pyr­am­ids, ali­ens and whether experts he named com­ing to his site had been sent by Zahi Hawass or even been to Bosnia, he’s wrong, but the claim that places like Bosnia are hugely import­ant to European pre­his­tory is abso­lutely right. This is why many archae­olo­gists are hor­ri­fied that he’s dig­ging the site and the way he’s doing it. The idea that south-eastern Europe was the cul­tural and tech­no­lo­gical engine of Europe really isn’t dis­puted. It’s writ­ten in the land­scape at places like Karanovo below.

Tell at Karanovo. Photo by kind per­mis­sion of Raluca.

Continue read­ing

Doctor Who 2006


Doctor Who 2006 is over. If this had been the first series of the relaunch then people would be ecstatic about the series. But we’ve had Christopher Eccleston already. This series has been mixed.

There’s been more miss­able epis­odes. Love and Monsters fea­tured a mon­ster cre­ated by an eight year old in a com­pet­i­tion, and was a pretty good demon­stra­tion of why TV pro­du­cers rarely ask eight year olds to design vil­lains. The opener New Earth isn’t as bad, but epis­odes intro­du­cing new char­ac­ters tend to be poor in plot and given the rel­at­ive lack of Doctor in The Christmas Invasion, New Earth was partly about intro­du­cing the new Doctor.

However, when it went right it went bril­liantly. The pre-series hype was all about the Cybermen, but there were other bet­ter epis­odes. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit worked both in the set-up and finale. School Reunion, with Sarah-Jane and K9 could have been dire, but actu­ally worked both in char­ac­ter and plot. My favour­ite epis­ode of the series though was The Girl in the Fireplace. Saying why is dif­fi­cult. The epis­ode is like Gorgonzola, being both cheesy and full of holes, but the chem­istry between the Doctor and Reinette makes it enchanting.

The sea­son finale also beats last year’s fin­ish. Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways was good and with the death of major char­ac­ters looked like an impossible situ­ation. That was excit­ing until it turned out it really was impossible and the end­ing required a magic wand to fix everything. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday starts at least as well, but the end­ing is so much better.

The cast has gen­er­ally improved. David Tennant wouldn’t have been my choice for Doctor, I’d have gone with Richard E. Grant, but he is usu­ally good in the role. He cer­tainly seems to enjoy it. Mickey Smith became a more inter­est­ing char­ac­ter rather than spare part and Noël Clarke did a good job mak­ing the growth con­vin­cing. Billie Piper improved as Rose. I was also pleased to not see Slitheen this time, but I wouldn’t rule them out from mak­ing a return next year.

When it was bad 2006 was worse than 2005, but on the whole the series was bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous series. Parts of it, like the domestic life of Rose, integ­rated bet­ter with the storylines and added to them. It looks like the Christmas spe­cial will be a bit of a breather from all that, so it’ll be inter­est­ing to see how they tackle the 2007 series.

And then there’s Torchwood com­ing this autumn.

Displaying astronomical alignments in academic papers


[Cross-posted to i-Science]

Segesta alignment
Astronomical align­ment at Segesta

There’s a couple of paper which have come out recently which use dif­fer­ent tech­niques for indic­at­ing astro­nom­ical align­ments at archaelo­gical sites. The image above is one I put together for a poster to show why hori­zon alti­tude is import­ant as well as azi­muth. It’s quite tight, so it’d be no good if you wanted to see where sun­rise was in mid­sum­mer for instance, and chart­ing the paths of astro­nom­ical bod­ies over a site is a prob­lem. By and large you can treat a site as a small flat area, so there’s not usu­ally any car­to­graphic prob­lems in account­ing for the curvature of the earth. The sky in con­trast is very curved over every archae­olo­gical site, so how to you dis­play that in a paper?

The Megalithic Portal put me on to an inter­est­ing art­icle pub­lished in Information Visualization: A Sky Dome visu­al­isa­tion for iden­ti­fic­a­tion of astro­nom­ical ori­ent­a­tions by Georg Zotti. The abstract includes:

This paper presents a novel dia­gram com­bin­ing archae­olo­gical maps with a folded-apart, flattened view of the whole sky, show­ing the local hori­zon and the daily paths of the Sun, Moon and brighter stars. By use of this dia­gram, inter­est­ing group­ings of astro­nom­ical ori­ent­a­tion dir­ec­tions, for example, to cer­tain sun­rise and sun­set points could be iden­ti­fied, which were evid­ently used to mark cer­tain days of the year.

Unfortunately Information Visualization isn’t a journal archae­olo­gists get, and it costs $30 to down­load the paper. What I can talk about though is a con­fer­ence paper on his own site: A Sky Dome Visualisation for Identification of Astronomical Orientations, which includes in the abstract:

This paper presents a novel dia­gram com­bin­ing archae­olo­gical maps with a folded-apart, flattened view of the whole sky, show­ing the local hori­zon and the daily paths of sun, moon and brighter stars. By use of this dia­gram, inter­est­ing group­ings of astro­nom­ical ori­ent­a­tion dir­ec­tions, e.g. to cer­tain sun­rise and sun­set points could be iden­ti­fied, which were evid­ently used to mark cer­tain days of the year.

The two look as though they’re likely to be similar.

The idea is actu­ally rather clever and I’ll go through a very sim­pli­fied ver­sion of a dia­gram based on his method.
Continue read­ing

Three links


There will be a longer write-up but I’m mak­ing a quick note for when I get home. For now there’s just three links.


If you have deja-vu I covered this earlier this year.

update 5 mins later: and a fourth link which also points to another Arnall for­mula I hadn’t seen.

The Economics of Bad Archaeology


On May 8, about 100 Town Meeting voters approved tak­ing key parts of an approved 3-lot devel­op­ment on an 11-acre par­cel to save what some claim is tied to an ancient Native American culture.

This land abuts the 90-acre town-owned King Philip’s Cave land off Mansfield Street. To fin­ance this tak­ing by emin­ent domain (or nego­ti­ation with the developer), the town will bor­row $600,000.

In these lean times, the town has post­poned many pro­jects, but to save this par­cel, it will likely cost $721,000 over 10 years at cur­rent interest rates and reduce next year’s cap­ital budget by $600,000.

The aver­age annual debt ser­vice of $72,100 would pay the salary of a full time exec­ut­ive assistant-planner, or a senior teacher or six times the amount needed to main­tain the library’s accred­it­a­tion annually.

Since Prop 2 1/2 was adop­ted by the state, Sharon’s Town Meeting required that even a few dol­lars added to an oper­at­ing budget requires bal­an­cing reduc­tions but the mod­er­ator does not sub­ject bor­row­ing to any such bar­rier. Hence, when just over 100 voters out of Sharon’s 11,548 registered voters showed up on the third night, they were free to vote any amount they deemed necessary.

So what moved this hand­ful of voters?

Frederick Martin, a pro­fes­sional phys­i­cist and a Dedham-based ama­teur archae­olo­gist, has been advoc­at­ing the town “to pre­serve the hill where the equi­nox sun rises dir­ectly at its sum­mit, where the sol­stice sun­rises occur at either end, and where sky­line stones exist” since the devel­op­ment pro­posal first came to Planning Board in 2001.

Martin believes Native Americans aligned stones at the site to meas­ure time more than 2,000 years ago, but pro­fes­sion­als ques­tion the legit­im­acy of his claim.

TownOnline​.com — Opinion & Letters: Bailey: Article 19, a $600K les­son in Town Meeting style democracy

There’s much more to be read on this story.

There seem to be two con­nec­ted issues here. One is “Is a Native American site worth spend­ing $600K to pre­serve?” I don’t know. I haven’t seen the site. If it’s a couple of rocks then maybe not, but if it’s a hitherto unre­cog­nised major site then the people of Sharon may have got them­selves a bar­gain. Slightly more press­ing is whether or not the site is what it’s claimed to be. I get wary when equi­noc­tial alig­ments are claimed for sites. If the people are fully informed, and choose to spend the money any­way, then it’s their money. But if this is a fantasy then it’s a fantasy that leaves $600K + interest for future gen­er­a­tions to pick up.

If you’re inter­ested in see­ing the site, Mansfield Street is at lat­it­ude 42.074420° and lon­git­ude –71.179640° and covered well by Google Earth. The site is some­where around that.