Damage at Fajada Butte?

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I’ve had a go at set­ting up an archae­oastro­nomy chan­nel on Youtube. Jsefick’s account is a bit of a gold­mine for that as he has plenty of videos with inter­est­ing archae­oastro­nom­ical con­tent. Searching for videos to favour­ite today, I found video above that there was an unau­thor­ised land­ing at Fajada Butte. I found it extremely help­ful as it taught me two things.

1) Fajada Butte is a restric­ted area.
That’s very handy to know as I’m the sort of per­son who would drive out some­where on the off-chance of see­ing some­thing. If I ever visit the south­west­ern USA, then Fajada Butte is the sort of place I’d try and take a trip to because of a pet­ro­glyph site fam­ous for an effect known as the sun-dagger. This is a spiral behind a couple of rocks. There’s a gap between the rocks so that on spe­cific days of the year a shard of light shines onto the spiral, like a dagger.

I’ll be hon­est, I don’t know how much of this is coin­cid­ence. Still, there’s plenty writ­ten about it by intel­li­gent people, so it’s the sort of thing I’d like to see. However, as the guide men­tioned in the top video, Fajada Butte is so restric­ted that even they have very lim­ited access. This is a shame, but I can see why it might be neces­sary. It’s handy to know before you go.

2) Butte rhymes with chute, not shut. Small lin­guistic details like these are import­ant if you decide to go on a trip to “look at some buttes”.

For more about Chaco cul­ture, I highly recom­mend vis­it­ing Gambler’s House.

Archaeoastronomy on YouTube

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I’ve just found this video on the 2009 Conference on Archaeoastronomy of the American Southwest. The 2009 present­a­tions look like they were really inter­est­ing. As a whole I find archae­oastro­nomy in the American south­w­est inter­est­ing because the meth­ods used are often very dif­fer­ent to Europe. We simply don’t have the eth­no­graphic data for a lot of sites over here. However, the wealth of his­tor­ical records from Classical Greece and Rome leads me to think there might be some use­ful tips I could pick up on method. I shall have to start sav­ing my pen­nies and see if I can afford to go to the next one.

In the mean­time there’s plenty of other inter­est­ing films to watch on John Sefick’s YouTube Channel.

America really really REALLY isn’t the new Rome

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[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Las Vegas Trevi Fountain
Las Vegas Trevi Fountain. Photo by *nathan

I’m run­ning out of emphasis. On Sunday the Independent ran a story US ‘mir­rors Roman Empire’ in Iraq war. It’ll be dis­ap­pear­ing behind a pay wall soon. Potentially this could be a really inter­est­ing story. The Romans made repeated attempts to con­quer the east and failed. For instance is the Coalition of the Willing run­ning into sim­ilar dif­fi­culties in the ter­rain? But the par­al­lel isn’t with the inva­sion of Mesopotamia. Continue read­ing

America really really isn’t the new Rome

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[A ver­sion is cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial based, ulti­mately, on the Pantheon in Rome. Photo by dbking.

Now this could be a car­ni­val in the mak­ing. A round-up of all the America is the New Rome stor­ies on the web. I’ve already pos­ted on how you can inanely cherry-pick ele­ments of the past to bol­ster a polit­ical asser­tion. It’s an unquench­able well.

It’s awful polit­ics though. Important polit­ics issues are hid­den behind what is often poor his­tory. In many of the America is the new Rome art­icles there’s an idea that situ­ations lead to inev­it­able con­sequences, like the idea that if America is the new Rome then moral decline and the fall of Empire are inev­it­able. You end up with the situ­ation where people argue that soci­ety is mono­casual, or close to it, rather than the com­plex inter­play of cre­at­ive indi­vidu­als. An example is an ana­lysis by William Federer which I found via The Lighthouse Patriot Journal, but a search on Google shows it’s been quoted with approval by many dif­fer­ent people. It’s a shame because you could prob­ably write a whole book about the errors in it:

Rome fell September 4, 476AD. It was over­run with illegal immig­rants: Visigoths, Franks, Anglos, Saxons, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Lombards, Jutes and Vandals, who at first assim­il­ated and worked as ser­vants, but then came so fast they did not learn the Latin Language or the Roman form of gov­ern­ment. Highly trained Roman Legions mov­ing rap­idly on their advanced road sys­tem, were strained fight­ing con­flicts world­wide. Rome had a trade defi­cit, hav­ing out­sourced most of its grain pro­duc­tion to North Africa, and when Vandals cap­tured that area, Rome did not have the resources to retali­ate. Attila the Hun was com­mit­ting ter­ror­ist attacks. The city of Rome was on wel­fare with cit­izens being given free bread. One Roman com­men­ted: ‘Those who live at the expense of the pub­lic funds are more numer­ous than those who provide them.’ Tax col­lect­ors were ‘more ter­rible than the enemy.’ Gladiators provided viol­ent enter­tain­ment in the Coliseum. There was injustice in courts, expos­ure of unwanted infants, infi­del­ity, immor­al­ity and per­ver­ted bath­houses. 5th-Century his­tor­ian Salvian wrote: ‘O Roman people be ashamed… Let nobody think oth­er­wise, the vices of our bad lives have alone conquered us’.

The corn dole was insti­tuted around 50BC and as surely as night fol­lows day over five hun­dred years later the city of Rome fell. Except it wasn’t Rome — it was Ravenna that fell in 476, the cap­ital of the Western Roman Empire, but I assume Rome was syn­onym. Gladiators provided viol­ent enter­tain­ment in the Colosseum? Not after AD 404 they didn’t — the Emperor Honorarius banned them. Attila the Hun was com­mit­ting ter­ror­ist attacks? No. Not only is ter­ror­ist is not a syn­onym for nasty, Attila died in 453. He wasn’t ter­ror­ising any­one. Infidelity? That’s a human con­stant in all soci­et­ies. So is talk­ing, but so far no-one has sug­ges­ted Rome could have remained great if it had embraced mime. Or if they have I haven’t heard them.
Continue read­ing

The Newark Earthworks: Public Heritage or Private Property?

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[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Newark Earthworks
Newark Earthworks. Photo by kind per­mis­sion of robpg

The Newark Earthworks are a huge array of geo­met­rical pat­terns built by the Hopewell people some time between AD 100 and AD 400. Above is a photo of a small frac­tion of the Newark Earthworks. Unless you have an air­craft you can only pho­to­graph a small frac­tion at any time because the site is huge, cov­er­ing four square miles. To be truth­ful you’d prob­ably want an air­craft any­way because there’s another prob­lem. The site is now the golf course of the Moundbuilders Country Club, and there’s a lot more to golf than hit­ting a small ball with a stick. There’s the stroll around well-maintained park­land. There’s also the exclus­iv­ity. Some clubs take the idea of golf as a non-contact sport to extremes, avoid­ing con­tact with swathes of soci­ety. This doesn’t seem to be the case at the Moundbuilders Country Club, who seem happy to grant full access to the course to any­one will­ing to pay $5,800*. However,
some people are unwill­ing to pay the rate for full access or even the $1250 for lim­ited access which, accord­ing to a report in Indian Country Today, is lead­ing to fric­tion between golfers and non-members and even arrests.

Does it have to be like that?
Continue read­ing

Supernova?

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Supernova
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.