Antikythera Mechanism


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.

Quick Reads


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.
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(From an archaeological perspective) is vandalism of ancient sites a bad thing?


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?

Rollright Stones - Kings Men Stone Circle
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?
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A small squeak of annoyance


Vecchi strumenti
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.

It’s the cultural high point of the year


Above is Daz Sampson’s Teenage Life, the UK entry for Eurovision 2006. It could be a clas­sic this year. Finland have sent Lordi, Germany have sent their best entry since Stefan Raab (inventor of wok racing) with Texas Lightning. Iceland’s entry Congratulations by Silvia Night included a line which may, or may not be, “The vote is in, I’ll f*****g win”. Sadly it didn’t get past the semi-final being as it was beaten by Armenia and 22 other coun­tries. It didn’t work for Cliff Richard either — he came second when he sang Congratulations.

I’m wary of mak­ing pre­dic­tions because vot­ing in the Eurovision is so vari­able. I’ll stick my neck out and say that Cyprus might give Greece 12 points this year. There’s some­thing about the Greek entry with year that might go down well with the Cypriote public.

It’s usual when the British entry does badly to blame block vot­ing by small coun­tries. There’s also broader polit­ical influ­ence as well. Jemini lost out in 2003, scor­ing zero in the after­math of the Iraq inva­sion, which I thought was unfair. When you listen to the per­form­ance impar­tially then really you can only come to the con­clu­sion that it’s a shame you can’t give out neg­at­ive points. They said the per­form­ance was off-key due to tech­nical glitches. Yet on some notes they weren’t merely off-key but off-crowbar too whilst try­ing to break into the Mansion of Melody.

There’s an inter­view with Daz Sampson on YouTube. I saw him on News24 as well yes­ter­day. I agree with him, one reason for some poor UK res­ults is that we’ve sent some ter­rible stuff. Recently the UK and some other coun­tries have sent aural wall­pa­per. If the fun entries do well this year then hope­fully there’ll be more to watch at Eurovision than the voting.

Is reality the second best option?


Puma over Visoko
A British Puma flies over Visoko. Photo by Torbein.

I wasn’t too sur­prised by some of the responses to the Bosnian Pyramid posts, though the quant­ity was high. One reason for not writ­ing more on it was the sheer num­ber of vis­it­ors. I’ve had to pay for increased band­width which I can’t really afford to do again. There were a few people that noted I was an idiot, which told me noth­ing I didn’t know already, but no flaws in my reas­on­ing. I assume that means that every­one accepts that the press releases com­ing out from Visoko are so non­sensical even an idiot can spot the errors. Therefore if you want to archae­olo­gic­ally exam­ine the hill to find out what happened there in the past then the dig is prob­ably a bad idea. There are lots of import­ant things on the site and Osmanagić doesn’t seem to be aware of the prob­lems he has record­ing it. Or else doesn’t care. But is the dig really about find­ing his­tory or cre­at­ing myth?

And if it’s not a pyr­amid, then we make one,” said a man from Visoko after we asked him what he thinks of the pyr­amid shaped hill.

Nearby, the man­ager of a food fact­ory was flog­ging “Bosnian Sun Pyramid” pralines. Hawkers sold hast­ily prin­ted T-shirts and brandy in pyramid-shaped bottles while crafts­men turned out pyr­amid souven­irs. Retiree Rasim Kilalic turned his week­end home near the dig into a café. “Please God, let them find a pyr­amid,” he said, rush­ing to serve crowded tables.

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