I’ve been quiet recently as I’ve been working on various things. One of them is now public and may be helpful to educators and bloggers. Tom Goskar and I have put together the site Archaeopix. The front of the site is a clear
rip-off homage to Astronomy Picture of the Day. I like that. It’s an excuse to say “Hey look at this thing!” and generally be positive.
The clever bit is the search page.
Searching Flickr can be hit ‘n’ miss. Generally if you want to use a photo for a blog or educational handout and you need it quickly, it needs to be licensed under a creative commons licence. You can search on Flickr for cc-licensed photos, but a search for “Rome” will bring up everything with Rome in it. Groups are handy because they’re themed. So you could search the Archaeology group for Rome. The problem then is that you’ll find a lot of ©opyright photos. You really need a group which is all cc-licensed. Chiron is a good example of that. However Chiron’s strength is that it focuses on the classical world, which means you won’t find prehistoric Europe in it, or anything Mayan. This is where Archaeopix search comes in.
Using this you can define what you want to use the photo for. You can specify if you want to use the photo on a commercial site or if you want to be able to mess around with the image for a poster. You can then specify which group you want to search in. The default is Archaeology, but there’s others like Chiron, or Southwestern Archaeology. The search looks at the Flickr API, so that only photos matching a suitable licence turn up in the results.
It won’t turn all Flickr groups into Chiron clones, but it makes them more useful. If you’ve any suggestions on improving the search leave me a comment below. Or you could just look at the Taj Mahal’s Evil Twin — which is today’s photo.
I’ve finally worked out why I feel so rushed. Once reason is that I am rushed, but the other is I’m losing two days a week at the moment going in to various hospitals. Apart from the lack of time I’m feeling fine. I’ve stopped bleeding and hopefully should pass the assessment next week to take chemotherapy.
One thing I’d been planning to record presentations and put them on the web when I’d moved on to the next one, but I’d never got around to producing a final version of the Delphinus presentation. This week I was on the 365 Days of Astronomypodcast for Apollo’s birthday. I needed supporting material for the IScience website, so I finally got round to recording the presentation.
Sadly that’s around four years out-of-date. There’s a follow-up paper I’m writing which will have information a couple more festivals. I’ve mentioned a connection between Spica and the Thesmophoria before briefly. I had a paper finished, but while polishing it I found it could be improved by looking at it from another perspective. The re-worked version should be finished in June.
Next week I’ll put up another recorded presentation which is about 2 years out-of-date but which is closer the other other paper I’m writing which should be finished at the end of April. At the end of April I hope I’ll be able to post some other news.
In the meantime I can point you to another couple of sites. Andrea Lobel is working on Cultural Astronomy in the ancient Middle East. There’s also LookUP on the Jodcast’s
Here’s an oddity I started thinking about following a tweet by Dr Kiki who pointed to this article Return of the Neanderthals: If we can resurrect them through fossil DNA, should we?. The strange thing was my reaction to this. The answer seems obvious. I thought I’d missed the boat on this when The Philosophers’ Magazine blog covered it. Again the author, Jean Kazez, missed the obvious objection, so I left it in a comment, and it was easily dismissed — or rather ignored. Seeing as two people see no problem with what I see as an insurmountable problem I have to be open to the idea I’m being dogmatic.
I’ll admit I thought the idea of extra-terrestrial heritage sites was nonsense when I first heard it. A few people have changed my mind, especially the work of Alice Gorman who has made the point that a lot of history could be lost if we think of satellites purely as junk. Now she’s considering what should be on a space heritage list. Greg Fewer has already suggested that a Lunar and Martian sites and monuments record is needed. Alice Gorman is expanding that idea to anywhere off-planet. How do you draw up a list of space heritage sites?
Alice is using a Facebook application and there’s a discussion board to go with it. She mentions two things about her list that are odd. One is that the list is supposed to be a coherent list. There could be gaps in her list which need to be filled. In contrast something like the New 7 Wonders list just needed seven top wonders. There was no overall aim.
The other is she’s very open about the importance of nationalism in the list. Archaeologists can get very worked up about nationalism. Just glancing over to my book shelf I can see a couple of books on the topic, and the dangers of nationalism in interpreting archaeological sites and artefacts. Alice Gorman’s very honest about taking a different tack, and I think she’s absolutely right. Space exploration doesn’t really make any sense without considering nationalism. I think if you’re going to make a meaningful list, one that’s actually accepted and used, then you have to take that into account.
Why would you need such a list? Already plans are being drawn up to revist Tranquility Base by private corporations. It’s not going to happen next year, but if investment follows the recession it’s not impossible we’ll see Richard Branson landing on virgin soil* on the Moon. Sooner or later someone will decide the world would be better off without a specific piece of junk — or else declare it derelict and salvage it for its historical value. While it’s not an immediate threat, I think Alice Gorman’s work would be important in establishing the principle that some of these satellites have heritage value. The alternative is realising that after they’ve been lost.
That’s why I’d respectfully disagree with the Ghost Writer who says, in an otherwise excellent post, that Exoarchaeology is a pseudoscience. (Now if the word xenoarchaeology had been used I might have agreed. The only remotely good xenoarchaeology paper I can recall was one which proposed massive orbital structures might create diffraction patterns visible in starlight)
*It wouldn’t actually be soil, it’d be regolith because there’s no organic component.
John Peterson has a treasure trove of papers on his website if you’re interested in Roman landscapes. One of his papers which I’ve been reading is a terrific demonstration of why Landscape archaeology matters. Iron Age and Roman square enclosures near Venta Icenorum (PDF) looks at the layout of Roman land divisions. What Peterson shows is if you were to say, “I’m a Roman archaeologist, I’ll just look at the Roman stuff,” then you’d be missing out on a lot of what might explain a landscape.
The paper looks at eight Roman or Late Iron Age enclosures just north of Venta Icenorum. These seem to be funerary monuments. They’re aptly placed, because they’re among Neolithic and Bronze Age burials. Further, they’re also integrated with a Roman cadastre. This would be form of land division, laid out by a Roman survey. Why would the Romans care about Neolithic use of the land? This was a period perhaps three thousand years before the Romans arrived.
Peterson thinks it makes sense in two ways. One is that these mounds would have been useful references for survey. If your system for dividing the land breaks down it’s easy enough to go back and do it again. Another suggestion he makes is that it’s about power. If these mounds have meaning then putting them within a Roman framework tames them an Romanises them. They don’t need to have kept their Neolithic meanings into the Iron Age, but they do need to have a meaning for this to matter.
It’s a strong argument against having rigid boundaries between the study of time periods, but it’s rare to see someone linking Roman use of land back to the Neolithic. At the same time it’s not a totally wild idea. Roy Loveday (1998:14–31) has commented that the routes of Roman roads tend to share the same orientations as route through nearby henges. Is that because local topography makes that the easiest direction to move in, or are the Romans following the tracks of the Iron Age Britons, who followed the tracks of the Bronze Age Britons and so on…
It’s not enough to have panoramic vision though. You also need to tie it back in to something meaningful. That’s what I like about this paper. The time scale may be epic, but Peterson brings it back to why that matters to someone studying Roman Britain.
Loveday, R. 1998. ‘Double Entrance Henges — Routes to the Past’ in Prehistoric Ritual and Religion. eds. Alex Gibson and Derek Simpson. Gloucestershire:Sutton Publishing Ltd. 14–31
I was going to put Brian Hoffman’s post Aniakchak Art — The Bone Face into a Vidi post. Instead I’m posting separately because:
- He’s got a really interesting problem, one faced by archaeologists across the world.
- He’s got some nice photos, and I’m a sucker for nice photos.
So here’s the problem. You’re digging in Alaska and you find a bit of bone with a face carved on it. Now what?
In the past I’ve tended to ignore much of Art and Art History. My earliest introduction to it was as art appreciation which I’ve tended to feel alienated from for various reasons. It doesn’t help that my memories of Art class were killing time in Pottery because the Technical Graphics class didn’t have enough space. So I never really understood Art. I still don’t understand Art, but now for much more interesting reasons.
Art is much more interesting when you don’t merely look at form, but also process. The favoured story at the moment is that Art exploded as part of some great leap in thinking around 35,000 years ago. I don’t agree, it’s a terribly Eurocentric perspective and African archaeologists have pushed back the dawn of art twice as far at the very least. Unlike a lot of firsts, the argument over when the first Art emerged is worth having because Art as symbolic respresentation on concepts is something which makes humans very special. There’s argument over the precise definition of Art and whether or not that can be applied to pre-Renaissance societies because it also carries a lot of social and cultural baggage. Nonetheless the practice of creating symbols and patterns which refer to something in an abstract way is found around the world. Reading art can be like reading language. I was amazed to discover in a Psychology evening class that even things like perspective have to be learned. It’s culturally specific and, if you follow the Extended Mind hypothesis (which I will explain in more detail in a future post) it may even be part of the scaffolding of thought.
So back to Hoffman’s Aniakchak art. What can it tell him?
Initially he thought it told him about cultural diversity. It seemed the Aniakchak were producing different art and so thinking about the world in different ways. Nonetheless he’s kept and open mind and kept question his own interpretations. Now he’s looking at similarities to Kachemak art, which dates from around the same time. He’s also bearing in mind that Art never exists as a Platonic ideal, but has to have a physical presence. The materials you use are going to have an effect on the art you can produce.
What I like about this is that his work isn’t making a lot of assumption about meaning. The artefacts must have had meaning to people who made and used them but this, like the words they spoke as they used them are lost. Nonetheless by looking at the form, the context and thinking about the chaîné opératoire the process of creating the artefact it is possible to make meaningful comparisons and analogies with other local peoples. It shows that a minimalist approach doesn’t have to be Spartan in its outcomes.
Following Yvonne’s comment, I’ve uploaded the two podcasts I recorded on Pagan reburial in the UK to Box.net. You should be able to access them at:
The reburial of remains issue is live again and it’s interesting for a couple of reasons. One is the ethics of studying and storing human remains and the claims a religious community can make on the rest of society. This makes good headlines. The other requires a bit more thought. Do the concept of the Pagan (or Christian or Muslim) community make sense?
The current reburial flap is centred around a fringe Pagan group. From the podcasts you’ll see it’s not a mainstream Pagan position. Yet really what the public and the news media want from Pagans is simple and daffy stereotype. White robes, long beards, made-up names and lineages. We’ll skip pointing fingers at the dresses prominent Christians wear. The point is what makes a good story are people who play up to the stereotype. Enter CoBDO®.
CoBDO® is/are the the Council(s) of British Druid Orders. Back in the day when they were CoBDO® they were, if I understand correctly a minority group amongst Pagans. Since then CoBDO® have split from CoBDO West following a fight in a pub. I don’t know if CoBDO West is a registered trademark or not if they legally a CoBDO or not. Hence the vagueness over whether CoBDO is singular or plural. Anyway it’s all a big fight and the Judean People’s Front is hoping to stick it to the People’s Front of Judea by grabbing bones from a museum in Avebury for burial. Even if English Heritage do say the bones can be reburied, there’ll be a big fight to be had over whether it should be a CoBDO® or CoBDO West ceremony which is performed.
This is all a concern to the majority of Pagans who don’t feel the need to get involved in a big shouting match to make a point. By playing to the worst stereotypes of the media a small group of people is getting to define what it means to be Pagan. That’s why I found the two interviews with Yvonne Aburrow and Emma Restall-Orr interesting. You have two people from two different Pagan positions both with criticisms of this campaign. It’s a microcosm of a position taken by the media for all religions. Journalists and politicians are quite happy to talk with leaders of the Muslim community or the Jewish community, but is there a community and who gets to speak for all? Does acceding to religious requests mean that the government will be endorsing one form of a religion over another?
As for the content of the argument that the bones should be reburied, that’s an argument for tomorrow.