When in Rome did they start doing as the Romans did?


Archived from Revise and Dissent

Julian Forum. Photo by Gauis Caecilius.

You may have noticed a the news story that the skel­eton of a 30-year-old woman had been uncovered dur­ing excav­a­tions in the Julian Forum. They tend to share a head­line which sug­gests that the skel­eton is 300 years older than Rome. This is pecu­liar. The LA Times for instance says that the skel­eton dates from the tenth cen­tury BC. Rome was said to have been foun­ded in 753 BC, which is the eighth cen­tury BC. Mathematical puzzles aside, how do the archae­olo­gists know this woman dates from before Rome?

As it hap­pens she was found with a neck­lace and some pins, and she’s not alone. There are many crema­tions, so there’s plenty of ways of giv­ing a rough date to the burial. It’s not the date of the burial that I’m ques­tion­ing. It’s the found­a­tion of Rome. Famously it wasn’t built in a day, but does it really make sense to say it was built in a spe­cific year either?

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Bryn Celli Ddu


Bryn Celli Ddu. Photo by AJ Bear.

An archae­olo­gist has dis­covered that the pas­sage into a burial mound on Anglesey was built to catch the rising sun on the sum­mer solstice.Steve Burrow said he was “elated” when the sun filtered in through trees as he sat in the Bryn Celli Ddu chamber.

BBC NEWS | Wales | North West Wales | Ancient monu­ment aligned to sun

I thought this was known already, but it seems not every­one accep­ted Lockyear’s meas­ure­ments. I’m sur­prised that it was thought the meas­ure­ments were the prob­lem. I would have expec­ted it to be the inter­pret­a­tion that was the prob­lem. I’ll blog on this tomor­row at Revise and Dissent and i-Science. Right now I’m test­ing Flock.

History: A Very Short Introduction by John Arnold


A post from Revise and Dissent archived here. You can add your com­ment on this at HNN.

History VSIAt 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.
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More Bosnian Trigonometry


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?
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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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