From Nearing Zero,
If you visit www.archaeoastronomy.com between now and May 5 and look at their very cool graphic of the Earth’s orbit, you’ll notice that the festival of Beltane is on its way. Beltane is the origin of what are now the May Day celebrations and part of what is often referred to as the ‘Celtic Calendar’. This is the idea that the year can be divided into eight parts. Between them the solstices and the equinoxes divide the year into four parts and four additional mid-quarter days placed between a solstice and an equinox divide the year into eight. Controversially many people hold that the calendar isn’t merely Celtic, but has roots deep in the Stone Age which can be seen in the alignments of stone rows in the British Isles. The evidence is ambiguous but intriguing. Some of the events as clearly observable and some rely on abstract geometry.
Additionally some people claim that these days are shared by the world. This is absolutely true. So are days like July 14th, but July 14th is really only significant to the French. Were the days of this eight-fold calendar significant across the world? Certainly the easiest event to see is the solstice and there is evidence that this is something noted by cultures across the planet.
I managed to do the Newcastle conference in as a day-trip. It involved a 3:30 departure and I didn’t get back till 1:30 the following day, so technically it was only a 22 hour trip. Like last year it was a good event. Not one of the papers gave me the urge to yell “For Godssake step away from the lectern and stop stealing the oxygen!” Which is always a good thing. The hosts were as friendly as ever. I can’t recall anywhere that I’ve been to where I’ve thought the hosts unfriendly, but Newcastle strikes me as a department sited on a natural spring of hospitality. It’s probably right next to the other two springs which must provide the endless supply of red and white wine that they seem to have. The only disappointment was the relative absence of classicists giving papers this year. Fortunately the archaeologists and historians made up the shortfall without a noticeable drop in quality.
British Archaeology issue 80 is online now at the website of the Council for British Archaeology’s website. Features this month are Silbury Hill, Sutton Hoo ship and the Brougham Amazons. Thanks to the ADS you can check the archive data and see if the interpretation in British Archaeology matches yours.
I’m off to Newcastle-upon-Tyne today for their Postgraduate Forum conference. I went last year and was slightly shocked to discover that I was the only person giving a talk who didn’t have some sort of Newcastle connection. I’m hoping this year that there’s a bit more enthusiasm from outside. The reason I’m returning is that I enjoyed last year’s event hugely. It’s a very friendly department. As a bonus there were no bad talks.
Like any society, when you join the Classical Association you get a lot of other material than the receipt. Amongst the book offers etc were two thin black booklets I overlooked. I’ve only recently returned to them after hearing Brian Sparkes’s presidential address at the CA conference. The booklets weren’t opportunities to send more money to the CA, but the past two published presidential addresses. I thought Brian Sparkes made a good address. I’ve just finished Fac et Spera by Peter Jones from two years ago and that’s thought provoking too.
I think in many ways the evolution / creationist debate (if you can call one side’s habit of sticking their fingers in their collective ears and yelling “I can’t hear you!” a debate) is symbolic of life. Sometimes you don’t want to choose the least worst option. You want a reason to be excited about something. Creationism will never be viable because it offers no explanations for existence. Personally for me it’s not enough that Creationism is awful. The reason why I do get excited about, rather than merely tolerate, the theory of evolution through natural selection is that it’s a beautiful concept. I recently finished re-reading Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation and it remains awe-inspiring.
I’ve seen that displaying ancient Greek in PowerPoint is proving to be a problem for some people at recent conferences. Text that worked find on their computer becomes a mangles mess of boxes. Most of this time this is discovered about a minutes before the talk is due to start. It doesn’t have to be like this. One way to ensure the correct display of text is to convert it into an image and insert it into the slide, but this is fiddly and difficult to edit. There is, however, an easy way which treats the text as text but is also rather reliable. PowerPoint can display Unicode.
Having praised the Physicists for the use of arXiv. I’m now going to out myself as a hypocrite. I recently heard confirmation that my first paper, ‘Knowing when to consult the oracle of Delphi’ (co-authored with Efrosyni Boutsikas) will be published. It’s not in an open access journal, nor will the offprint appear in an open archive. It’s certainly a problem, or at least half a problem. In my defence, apart from AJA there are no suitable open access journals to publish in. The DOAJ lists the Stanford Journal of Archaeology, but with the last volume online being volume II, 2003, I think it’s dormant. Now I have a paper I’d like people to read it. I’m trying to come up with some options disseminate the paper as widely as possible without miffing the publishers mightily but I’m open to suggestions.
All the world’s a stage, especially when gazed at widescreen. And the silver screen, complete with all-round surround sound and images that can scramble a passing retina at 500 paces, might just be the ideal medium to portray the drama of life’s longest tapestry, and carry it on wings of celluloid to the widest possible audience.
That thought struck me when, long after the hype had passed, I finally got to see the striking ecostratigraphic predictions of The Day after Tomorrow. Now, here’s where the long sweep of earth history collides with the short attention span of Hollywood, and most informed scientific input, one has been forewarned, has wound up on the cutting room floor…
…It’s a shame that, somehow, no narrative device could be found to engineer a dinosaur or two into The Day after Tomorrow. The saurians have always been great cinematic crowd-pleasers. As a child I was deeply impressed by the shamelessly eclectic One Million Years B.C. (to which I have already paid stumbling hommage) which didn’t quite manage to mix dinosaurs and mammoths, but, in throwing in Stone Age people, giant spiders and Raquel Welch, could fairly be said to have touched all bases.
read it all
He also has other entries online including some fascinating discussions of Time and Geology. For other excellent columns visit the the Palaeontology Association and click on ‘correspondance’ on the left.