Introducing Archaeopix Search

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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.

A busy week

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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.

[vod­pod id=Groupvideo.2185678&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

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

Neanderthal Ethics

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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.
Continue read­ing

Perfectly preserved or recklessly wrecked? Thoughts on space heritage.

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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.

The persistence of landscape

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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.

See also:
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

Making sense of art

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I was going to put Brian Hoffman’s post Aniakchak Art — The Bone Face into a Vidi post. Instead I’m post­ing sep­ar­ately because:

  1. He’s got a really inter­est­ing prob­lem, one faced by archae­olo­gists across the world.
  2. 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.

Reburial Redux

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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:
http://​www​.box​.net/​s​h​a​r​e​d​/​z​5​k​2​b​v​7​ao9
http://​www​.box​.net/​s​h​a​r​e​d​/​s​a​1​o​j​v​z​mnl

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.