Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blogging update

No blogging for a few days as I am out doing nothing that involves a computer. For your interest and enjoyment, here is a link to Sequim, WA where I will be. Eating at least twice at the 3 Crabs; YUM.

Posting will resume on or about April 1. No foolin'!
Paleoanth update Human Ancestor Fossil Found
A small piece of jawbone unearthed in a cave in Spain is the oldest known fossil of a human ancestor in Europe and suggests that people lived on the continent much earlier than previously believed, scientists say.

The researchers said the fossil found last year at Atapuerca in northern Spain, along with stone tools and animal bones, is up to 1.3 million years old. That would be 500,000 years older than remains from a 1997 find that prompted the naming of a new species: Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man, possibly a common ancestor to Neanderthals and modern humans.
Early Egyptians Revered Lowly Donkeys
When archaeologists excavated brick tombs outside a ceremonial site for an early king of Egypt, they expected to find the remains of high officials who had been sacrificed to accompany the king in his posthumous travels.

Instead, they found donkeys.

No other animals have ever been found at such sites. Even at the tombs of the kings themselves, the only animals buried alongside were ones full of symbolism like lions.

But at this funerary complex, overlooking the ancient town of Abydos on the Nile about 300 miles south of Cairo, the archaeologists discovered the skeletons of 10 donkeys that had been buried as if they were high-ranking human officials.

There's a few good bits in there, notably regarding domestication. They indicate that the critters were not distinguishable from wild forms which sort of, but does not entirely, undercut one of those Signs of Domestication (morphologically different, out of natural range, etc.); they're not really mutually inclusive.

Too bad it's not the same today. One thing I just hate hate HATE about working in Egypt is the poor quality of the animals. Donks (homar) are widely abused, not necessarily intentional physical abuse -- though that does happen -- but they don't receive the best care, generally.
Remains of rare Roman roundhouse found during sewer works
One of the most important archaeological finds for decades has been uncovered during a sewer improvement project in Poulton.

The remains of a Roman roundhouse, thought to date back to the second century, have been discovered on grazing land close to the town.

The find was made by workers from United Utilities who were involved in preliminary excavations at the start of a £10 million sewer improvement scheme for the area.
To Catch a Thief
In the fall of 2006, a history devotee named Dean Thomas was surprised by something he saw on eBay, the online auction house. Someone was offering 144-year-old letters sent by munitions companies to Philadelphia's Frankford Arsenal, a major supplier of the Union Army during the Civil War. How had he missed these? Thomas wondered. Hadn't he combed the records of that very arsenal in that very conflict? "Boy, am I a dummy," he thought.

Good show. Not a while lot of 'archaeology' there, but neat nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Digging Savannah
One of the most fascinating aspects of archaeology is dealing with the unexpected.

Archaeologists with the Coastal Heritage Society have been digging in Emmet Park and Madison Square. They’re looking for evidence from the Revolutionary War era, but are encountering surprises from other periods of history along the way.

“We’ve found an Indian site, a midden or trash heap,” says Rita Elliott, curator of exhibits and archaeology for the CHS, says. “We’ve found oyster shells, animal bones and pottery.”
Archaeologist raises fears over new port site
DROGHEDA Port Company`s plans for a new deep water port at Bremore near Balbriggan have run into controversy after a leading Meath archaeologist said that the chosen site was of huge archaeological and historical significance and could have been the place where St Patrick first landed in Ireland.
The company plans to build the major new port at a cost of €300 million. However, Meath archaeologist Professor George Eogan, known for his work on the Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth archaeological sites, says that the area contains a unified prehistoric cemetery of mounds that extends for over a mile, from Gormanston, north of the Delvin river, to Bremore, which is to the south of the river. The river marks the boundary between Meath and Fingal.
He said that Bremore had the appearance of being a landing place for early people coming to Ireland and that passage tombs were the likely burial places for people coming from the Iberian peninsula.

The actual remains at the site seem a better angle than it possibly being maybe the place that some say St. Patrick may have landed at some point.

I noticed the 'Drogheda' which is a significant aspect of one of my favorite books.

Please, no snickering.
Earliest Signs Of Corn As Staple Food Found After Spreading South From Mexican Homeland
Corn has long been known as the primary food crop in prehistoric North and Central America. Now it appears it may have been an important part of the South American diet for much longer than previously thought, according to new research by University of Calgary archaeologists who are cobbling together the ancient history of plant domestication in the New World.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U of C PhD student Sonia Zarrillo and archaeology professor Dr. Scott Raymond report that a new technique for examining ancient cooking pots has produced the earliest directly dated examples of domesticated corn (maize) being consumed on the South American continent. Their discovery shows the spread of maize out of Mexico more than 9,000 years ago occurred much faster than previously believed and provides evidence that corn was likely a vital food crop for villages in tropical Ecuador at least 5,000 years ago.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The lowly sweet potato may unlock America’s past
One of the enduring mysteries of world history is whether the Americas had any contact with the Old World before Columbus, apart from the brief Viking settlement in Newfoundland. Many aspects of higher civilisation in the New World, from the invention of pottery to the building of pyramids, have been ascribed to European, Asian or African voyagers, but none has stood up to scrutiny.

The one convincing piece of evidence for pre-Hispanic contact has been the humble sweet potato, which is of tropical American origin but widely cultivated across the Pacific islands. Until a few years ago it was assumed that this was the result of Spanish transmission, dating to the early colonial period, but archaeological discoveries in the Cook Islands show this to be wrong: excavations at Mangaia yielded carbonised remains of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) dating to AD1000, five centuries before Europeans entered the Pacific Ocean.

They modeled accidental and natural drift patterns from South/Central America to various points in the Pacific. Must read this paper.
Mummy update

UofL team determines gender of science center’s mummy
A University of Louisville research team recently helped the Louisville Science Center learn more about an old friend — a 2,600-year-old friend.

Actually, the friend, a mummy called Then-Hotep, is more like a family member, having been one of the most popular attractions at the science center and its forerunner, the Natural History Museum, since the early part of the last century. But throughout all of those years, it kept one big secret: Nobody knew its gender.

Until now. Under the leadership of professor Aly Farag, director of the Computer Vision and Imaging Process lab at J.B. Speed School of Engineering, the UofL team applied technological and forensic expertise to verify that Then-Hotep is a female.
Bison bones bolster idea Ice Age seafarers first to Americas
A series of discoveries of ancient bison bones on Vancouver Island and nearby Orcas Island in Washington state is fuelling excitement among researchers that the Pacific coast offered a food-rich ecosystem for Ice Age hunters some 14,000 years ago -- much earlier than the prevailing scientific theory pegs the arrival of humans to the New World.

Fourteen separate finds of remains of the extinct species bison antiquus -- an ancestor of the plains buffalo that would become a staple much later for Midwest natives -- show the islands were once part of a coastal grassland refuge from the glaciers that enveloped the rest of Canada and the northern U.S. at that time.

And among the relics found in areas including the Saanich Peninsula is a particularly tantalizing piece of evidence: a leg bone from Orcas Island that appears to have been butchered by a human -- hundreds of years before humans were thought to have migrated to North America.

Unfortunately, there are no artifactual remains associated with the bison bones; human interference is inferred through breakage patterns which, as one of the investigators notes, is inconclusive. Still, tehre will probably be increased work around the islands. Count me in!
Egypt Discovers Statue Of Ancient Queen
Archaeologists in Egypt have found a giant statue of an ancient queen at the site of two already huge Colossi of Memnon in southern Egypt. Reports indicate that the statue represents Queen Tiy, the wife of 18th dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III.

It is approximately 12 feet tall (3.62 meters). The entire site is expected to be excavated over the next five years, archaeologists said on Saturday.

The colossi's twin statues stand at the entrance to the road that leads to Luxor's famous Valley of the Kings.
Whoops DEAD WRONG: Bad assumptions, ignorance played havoc with old city cemetery
The messy past of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum grounds is coming to the surface, and it’s getting in the way of the future.

For 40 years it has been known as Fort Fisher, a tree-shaded riverside park that centers around Waco’s most popular museum. Until recent years, the 35-acre site also housed a major RV park and was the grounds of the Brazos River Festival.

It now appears Fort Fisher may sit atop hundreds of deceased Wacoans, including rich and poor, Confederate soldiers, a World War II veteran and a former slave who became a Texas legislator. Burials range from 1856 to 1966, archives show, contradicting city leaders’ speculations that the cemetery was abandoned since the early 20th century.
Rome to 'paint' Trajan's Column with light
Archaeologists want to use light to recreate the brilliant colors once seen on Trajan's Column in Rome.

The chaste white of Roman temples and monuments is a product of centuries of wear that has removed the original paint. The archaeology department in Rome is discussing the technical details of creating a light beam that would temporarily repaint the column, with the power company Acea and researchers at Rome University, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Sounds like a neat idea. I wonder how they'll do that.
When post-modernism comes back to bite you Reason and Common Ground: A Response to the Creationists' 'Neutrality' Argument
Although it is a well-established scientific fact, evolution remains a controversial subject in the United States, and especially the issue of teaching evolution or creationism in public schools. An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal "ways of knowing," and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority. Several creationist writers have argued that science's exclusive reliance on natural causes (so called "methodological naturalism") is an a priori assumption, or an arbitrary preference, and therefore that both it and religion are equally valid epistemologies. In addition, they argue that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment prohibit government from endorsing or granting "preferences" to science over supernaturalism.

This article is a response to these theories. In Part I, I argue that science is an objectively superior means of knowing, and that methodological naturalism is not an a priori assumption, but both an a posteriori preference and one that is necessary for any valid epistemology. I also reject the argument that naturalism or "humanism" are "religions" or that science requires a "leap of faith." In Part II, I address whether the First Amendment requires the government to remain "neutral" between supernatural and naturalistic worldviews. I conclude with some general observations on the conflict between science and supernaturalism.

Haven't read the whole thing yet. Reader comments welcome. (Via Insty)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My history of computers I

Based on my old History of Cars post I decided to put together a similar history of My Computers. Most of these will be ones that I actually owned, but a couple are those that I just used heavily or have particular memories of (note that I didn't specify good or bad memories).

There is actually a decent amount of archaeological content in this, as most of the work I did on these infernal contraptions has been while studying or doing archaeology. Plus, computers have been a significant, if often under- or over-used part of the archaeological tool kit. There were a lot of papers and books in the 1970s and '80s on "Computers in Archaeology", many of them dealing with all the way cool analytical tools that would become available with the advent of mass storage and processing power. In many ways, a lot of it kind of dead-ended; like so many other methodological and theoretical toys that archaeologists became infatuated with over the years, many saw them as something that in and of themselves would revolutionize archaeology. And, in fact, they did, but not really in the way people thought. This actually mirrored my own evolution in my relationship to these things. That should become clear as the essay progresses. I'll do a few posts on this, so this will be a series. Since, you know, I can blab all day long about this geeky stuff.

This first one will have little archaeology in it, so feel free to skip.

First up, the TI-99:

My family bought one of these, for no apparent reason really, just that back then it was the thing to have. I did a fair amount of research before the purchase and it seemed to be a good value for the money. Technologically, it probably was. OTOH, we didn't have much use for it. We didn't do any sort of "business" applications on it (no word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) and I wasn't a big nerd yet so I didn't do any programming on it either. There were a couple of games that came with the machine, but those got old fast. It was really one of those things that a lot of people bought without really knowing why.

I still have one, though not the original. My Spousal Unit's mother acquired one (or had one?) that had mostly never been out of the box much. So it's sitting in a clost in the original box with a bunch of the original manuals and software titles. I heard they were going for a decent amount of money a while ago. I keep threatening to do something with it, though then as now I'm not sure what. About the only reasonable thing I can think of would be to use it to control a bunch of Christmas decorations but I'm probably too lazy to do that. Hence, it will probably sit in that closet until 2020 when there will be another revival and I'll yank it out and sell it for big bucks.


After that, I didn't own one until 1987 when I was in grad school. I was a computer science major as an undergrad before venturing into archaeology and back then we used mainframes or minis. EXCEPT for my very first class -- Structured Programming -- where we used some early PCs. We used Pascal as the language, which I still have a fondness for. I learned Pascal, machine and assembler, and some C. Most archys at the time were using Fortran since most of them learned their computing through engineering schools. I didn't even see Fortran until late in the '80s when I had to translate some old programs.

We used Digital's PDP-11 series for the most part. Usually through terminals (batch processing) but one semester they made us write a program using the old card readers. We had PDP-11/45's and 70's connected by the old phosphor green single-piece terminals. Ah, I remember signing up for time on them and having to go down there at like 11 at night to madly spend my allotted hour madly debugging what I'd written. And then we'd print it out on those old wide-page line printers that sounded like machine guns when they were ripping through pages and pages.

I eventually drifted out of comp sci because I wasn't all that enamored of computing in and of itself; I liked the programming process, but only if the end product was something that really interested me. And writing linked-list sorting algorithms didn't do it. Before I left I took another programming course (needed the credits) and got a 4.0 out of it, so it wasn't really for lack of talent. And it's paid off financially since statistical programming put me through grad school.

My advisor in grad school, Dr. Robert Wenke, was into "quantitative methods" which was why I went to Washington. In fact, the first two years I didn't get much of that. I remember we did some assignments on something called "the Cyber" which I absolutely hated with a white hot passion. I much preferred the Vax's: Vax1, Vax2, and Max. I actually saw Vax 1 and Max once; much smaller than I thought they'd be. Again, accessed via terminals, but these were either green or white phosphor. I used SPSS on it and a few other things. Not really anything heavy duty.

Er, I did use BBs a lot and discovered some games. Something like D&D was going on at the time -- sort of graphical; you maneuvered around the screen and it had character-based graphics. Can't remember the name of it offhand. And email, I discovered email then, too. This was like 1986-1987.

Wenke had a "portable" a couple of Kaypros. I don't recall using them much. But then I bought my first computer, which will be the next post.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Archaeologists Discovered Ancient Mycenaean Harbour Town in Greece
Archaeologists recently announced what they call a “remarkable find” – the discovery of a relatively intact Mycenaean settlement, dating from 3,500 years ago, in the southern part of Greece.

The site, called Korphos-Kalamianos, is partly underwater and lies along an isolated and rocky shoreline in the Saronic Gulf in the western Aegean Sea, about 100 kilometres southwest of Athens. Considered by archaeologists to have been a military outpost, the entire town’s plan is preserved and consists of more than 900 walls, as well as building remains and alleyways and streets.
200 year old skeleton indicates those of Native American
Archaeologists today removed the skeleton that was found beneath the floor of a south valley home earlier this week. Early indications are that the bones are hundreds of years old and Native American.

The experts from the Museum of Archaeology in Cedar Crest were asked by the state to examine the remains and the property where they were discovered, when they uncovered numerous artifacts.

Archaeologist, Deborah Sweat said the wheel barrel looks to contain the whole body.
Is jawbone the ancient souvenir ancestor of the humble snow globe?
IT is the 14,000-year-old version of a snow dome.

Travellers during the late Ice Age would pick up an etched horse jawbone as a souvenir of their time in Europe.

Arriving in Wales they would then display the trinket in their cave as a memento of their time abroad.

And now experts believe this 11,500BC example is the “oldest ever piece of Welsh artwork”.
In safe hands
The work of archaeologists reminds us of our own mortality and tells us that we must preserve our cultural heritage, not just for ourselves but also for future generations. That is the reason why I believe archaeology has to be given a higher prominence and status in government thinking than perhaps it occupies now.

There are big issues facing archaeology. The most important is to see that the teaching of history is related to the archaeological dimension, so that students can see history not as a list of dates and events, but as an understanding how people and societies lived in the past. Secondly, there needs to be more attention paid to seeing that local people can help unearth the past of their own community.

The key factor in the work Steve Sherlock undertook at Loftus was that it involved Loftus people acting as volunteers in the discovery of their past.

It's an opinion essay and worth reading. He makes a number of good points, the most notable being the involvement of locals and adequate facilities for storing excavated materials. The former gives local stakeholders some responsibility for their own area's history by using volunteers to do some of the planning and recovery work. The second is probably more important and knottier, in large part because it takes funding. The more development that requires remediation, the more space you're going to need to store the stuff, and store it adequately for the long term.
Lost civilization ditch. . . .found Archaeologists find historic ditch in Lichfield
ARCHAEOLOGISTS working on the site of a planned shopping and leisure complex have unearthed an historic ditch.

A team from Onsite Archaeologists working at the Friarsgate development in Lichfield for the last six months made the discovery after removing concrete and tons of earth.

The ditch was found in the District Council House car park on Frog Lane.

The experts believe it would have been used to stop traders entering the city without paying the toll at the city gates. It may also have been used for defensive purposes.
FINALLY a new and actually witty archaeological pun ARTIFACTUAL INTELLIGENCE
On most days, the job of the state’s archaeologist is anything but riveting.

Dennis Griffin spends the bulk of his daylight hours sorting through permit applications to ensure that developments don’t disturb sensitive historical grounds. He does some research, looks for signs of historic or prehistoric stuff in the vicinity and then signs off.


But a few weeks ago Griffin’s job became just about the most interesting vocation in Oregon, especially if you’ve got any affinity for all things ancient. Phone calls started pouring into the State Historical Preservation Office about strange things that were “washing up” on Oregon beaches — things that, as it turned out, had been there for decades, waiting to be rediscovered by harsh winters that munch beaches and anemic summers that fail to replace that sand.
Archaeologists dig deep into hall's history
An 18th century greenhouse heating system and a 15th century boundary wall are among various findings at the ongoing Ayscoughfee Hall dig.
At the end of January Norfolk Archaeology Unit workers moved into the grounds of the Spalding hall to delve into the rich history of the building, excavating near the well and digging trenches into the grass.

The work aims to gain a better understanding of the history and archaeology of the gardens and the way in which they developed over time and several schools from the area have toured the grounds.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Walk like an Egyptian a typical biped Upright Walking Began 6 Million Years Ago
A shape comparison of the most complete fossil femur (thigh bone) of one of the earliest known pre-humans, or hominins, with the femora of living apes, modern humans and other fossils, indicates the earliest form of bipedalism occurred at least six million years ago and persisted for at least four million years. William Jungers, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University, and Brian Richmond, Ph.D., of George Washington University, say their finding indicates that the fossil belongs to very early human ancestors, and that upright walking is one of the first human characteristics to appear in our lineage, right after the split between human and chimpanzee lineages. Their findings are published in the March 21 issue of the journal Science.

UPDATE: Speaking of upright walking. . . .the reason for no posting yesterday was a result of me going to a physical therapist for, yes, lower back problems!

Had 'em for years. My lower back (spinous erector) muscles would spasm a lot. Talk about pain. It's been on and off for years, which I thought was due to the weight room. In my misspent youth I used to squat 350 pounds, which I kind of thought might have had something to do with it. I gave up squatting a while ago, but the ol' back went out again a few weeks ago and finally decided to see a sports medicine guy about it. He diagnosed a problem with my shoulder a while back and the PT fixed that up nicely, so I thought it was time to give him a go at the back.

He (the doctor) said it was probably a disk, but the PT Guy said it was more like just the muscles due to, um, horrible posture and such. So he spent an hour torturing me and now I've got some exercises to do to strengthen my lower back and general hip area muscles. And correct my posture. I can tell those muscles are weak because they've been sore ever since. Not spasm-sore, just basic soreness.

I've thought for a while the whole bipedalism issue is what is responsible for the raft of lower back problems people have, but now I'm starting to rethink that. Maybe. The thinking goes that the lumbar curve is somewhat "unnatural" due to causing the spine to go upright from a (probable) quadrupedal ancestor. Trouble is twofold: First, the PT guy indicated that one is supposed to maintain that lumbar curve to avoid back difficulties; exactly the way it's supposed to curve. What causes the problems is sitting and standing wrong and pushing the curve backwards -- straightening it out, so to speak. That suggests to me that we're okay with the curve, but more "modern" (see below) living has screwed up our natural and back-appropriate posture.

What's "modern"? That's the second fly in the ointment. On the one hand, I'm not clear to what extent past peoples had lower back problems. One would have to review the literature on skeletal abnormalities going back in time. I have memory tickles of various arthritic vertebrae on older skeletal material, especially those involved in the Giza pyramid complex. Did Pleistocene hunter-gatherers suffer similar conditions? Would enough of them have lived long enough to have developed symptoms that would express on skeletal remains? So there's my next research project.

Other than that I'll just sit around complaining about my achin' back. . . .
Early Americans Arrived Thousands of Years Earlier Than Previously Believed
A team led by two Texas A&M University anthropologists now believes the first Americans came to this country 1,000 to 2,000 years earlier than the 13,500 years ago previously thought, which could shift historic timelines.

The team's findings are outlined in a review article in the journal Science entitled "The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas," which synthesizes new data suggesting the migration from Alaska started about 15,000 years ago.

Coulda sworn I blogged on this a while ago but I can't find anything on it. I have the issue of Science and will go through it soon.
On blogging So You Want to Be a Blogging Star?
“Don’t go into blogging to make a living,” Mr. Cuban warned in an e-mail message. Still, he and other top bloggers with day jobs agree most people could attract a following on the Web. And whether a person blogs to make a little money, to influence opinion or just for sheer ego gratification, amassing a large audience is the goal.

Here’s what a number of successful bloggers with successful nonblogging careers say are the ways to think about getting into the business of blogging.

Pretty good article and I think it hits all the right key concepts. Especially:
-- Write about what you want to write about, in your own voice.
-- Just post it already!
-- Keep a regular rhythm.

All those are good. If you end up trying to write Like An Expert people will get bored with it. I think people read blogs for the same reasons they like to visit with different people: they like hearing what other people have to say about stuff. Although at times I do lapse into professor-speak (can't go calling post-processualists fuzzy-headed mentalists, donchaknow) I usually try to just blab. Learned through many hours on forums. That's also part of the "Just post it" too, although to be honest I think most people have the opposite problem, IYKWIMAITYD.

Posting regularly also helps. Several times I've discovered blogs only to find that the author doesn't post regularly. How often do I check? If I know he/she posts several times a day I'll go back often; once a week, I'll go back less often. But if there are months between postings and then a flurry, forget it. It's all about generating and maintaining a certain relationship with your audience.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ancient Roman gate discovered
PART of Colchester's ancient Roman wall has been uncovered.

Parts of the South Gate were discovered while gas mains were being laid by Morrisons in Queen Street, Colchester.

Philip Crummy, director and chief archaeologist of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, said the remains found showed the original Roman gate had been remodelled in medieval times.
Forecasting Tsunami Threats Through Layers of Sand and Time
Azhii peralai: from the deep … large waves.

This is the expression for ‘tsunami’ in Tamil, the oldest language in southern India.

For an ancient dialect to have its own phrase for destructive waves triggered by earthquakes, the people of Tamil Nadu likely experienced tsunamis periodically through the centuries, says Halifax scientist Alan Ruffman.
Everybody kills Hitler their first time. (h/t Amaxen at TPW)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sad news of a non-archaeological nature Insty has a post on Arthur C. Clarke's death: "The world is better for his having lived, and worse for his having died."

He was one of my favorites. I've blogged on 2001 a few times, and read a bunch of his books besides the Odyssey series. I read the second of the Rama series last summer and started the third installment, but haven't finished it yet. Frankly, of the three biggies mentioned by a link in that post -- Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein -- Clarke was probably my fave, though I really liked Heinlein's earlier stuff.

Thanks for the books, ACC. And the movie; it was great. You did well.
Clovis Overkill Didn't Wipe Out California's Sea Duck
Clovis-age natives, often noted for overhunting during their brief dominance in a primitive North America, deserve clemency in the case of California's flightless sea duck. New evidence says it took thousands of years for the duck to die out.

A team of six scientists, including Jon M. Erlandson of the University of Oregon, pronounced their verdict in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online, March 13) after holding court on thousands of years of archaeological testimony taken from bones of the extinct sea duck uncovered from 14 sites on islands off the California Coast and 12 mainland sites from southern California northward.

The link there says that the paper is available for free on the PNAS web site but when I tried to get at it, it would only do so if I purchased access. Happily, I have university access. I'm going to read the paper in the next couple of days, but they also have a short essay accompanying it by Don Grayson (refs below). He writes, in part:
This work establishes that people coexisted with, and fairly obviously preyed on, a flightless, ground-nesting bird for some 8,000 years. In the Greater Antilles, there is strong evidence that people coexisted with ground sloths for 1,000 years (14). We are thus now learning that rapid extinction is not the only possible outcome for such vulnerable species as flightless ducks and huge sloths, even if it is a common one. We are also learning that late Pleistocene species that became stranded on islands did not always require a human presence to end their existence. Mammoths became extinct on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea after 5,700 14C years ago even though people did not arrive there until historic times (15, 16). A similar event occurred in Ireland and on the Isle of Man, where the giant deer Megaloceros was lost shortly after 11,000 14C years ago, again before people arrived (17).

It is all so much more complicated than we thought only a few years ago. What has made the difference is the construction of individual species histories. Rather than assuming that everything was lost at the same time and for the same reason, an assumption that is still routinely made for North America, focusing on the histories of individual species takes into explicit account the fact that, as Henry Gleason (18) once put it, every species "is a law unto itself." Paleoecologists and ecologists alike now recognize that "Gleasonian individualism" is the general rule, not the exception. If that is the case, the knotty problem of understanding the North American extinctions is not likely to be solved until each species involved has been provided with its own history. This process is well under way in Eurasia, but has barely begun in North America (19).

True enough. The chronology of each species' extinction is differently attested as is their role in human predation.

UPDATE: reading the paper now. This is the crux of what they're doing:
The bird’s persistence into the Holocene was generally
attributed to a relatively recent development of watercraft by
Native Californians (10). Once good boats became available,
California Indians were able to reach the islands, islets, and
offshore rocks the birds used as breeding colonies—then exploit
them into extinction.
Archaeological data from the last decade provide new insights
into the antiquity of watercraft use along the California coast
that have important implications for the chronology and duration
of Chendytes’ exploitation.

If people were not out in the Channel Islands until relatively recently AND the duck went extinct shortly thereafter, it makes a fair circumstantial case for humans causing the extinction. OTOH, if they can be shown to have been there AND using them as part of their subsistence for a long time before that, it doesn't absolve humans from a role in the extinction, but it basically nullifies the blitzkrieg model. (I posted this article some time ago)

They provide dates for the earliest secure exploitation >10k BP and that "by at least 7,500 calendar years B.P., coastal peoples had a significant presence throughout the duck’s California range and regularly exploited them. . .". They also put the youngest direct date at 2,720–2,350 calendar years B.P. Thus, humans had been exploiting them for at least 8,000 years.

They relate this study to that of megafauna generally:
Our archaeological chronology for the extinction of Chendytes shows
that exterminating even such a vulnerable species from continental settings took millennia of hunting by Native Americans. In contrast, Clovis peoples show no sign of such prolonged exploitation on a larger continental stage.

. . .

Along the continental mainland of North America, the protracted span of hunting that led to the extermination of Chendytes lawi contrasts with both the insular situations and megafaunal extinctions as envisioned in the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis. The Chendytes record is consistent with the Eurasian situation in suggesting that the extermination of entire populations from continents, particularly multiple species, should have been protracted and archaeologically visible if overhunting was the sole or primary cause.

It's particularly interesting because the island model of rapid extinctions has been used as a model for continental extinctions. In this case at least, an insular species survived well after human contact. They don't go into it in great detail, but one wonders if perhaps rats were missing from this equation. Terry Hunt and colleagues have argued that rats had a large role in the degradation of Easter Island. If humans were only partially exploiting this species as a relatively small part of their diet -- especially if the species were spread out over a number of reasonably inaccessible islands -- then one might expect extinction to take longer. If rats had fully colonized all or most of the islands along with the humans, that might have sent them to the brink quicker.

Um, just speculation on my part. I'd like to see a lot more on the exploitation patterns. Good stuff though.
Beer update

Bronze Age burial 'with beer mug'
The skeleton was "crouched" which was typical of the time
A 4,000-year-old Bronze Age skeleton has been unearthed by archaeologists working on a site in east Kent.

Canterbury Archaeological Trust said the curled-up skeleton was an example of a "Beaker" burial because of the pottery vessel placed at its feet.

Education officer Marion Green said the "beautifully decorated" pot could have been "a type of beer mug".

They have a photo of the skeleton but you can't see the mug.
The Neanderthal-Human Split: (Very) Ancient History
Fast evolution, in fact, probably drove the initial Neanderthal/human divergence, which likely began as genetic drift -- random changes in DNA. As the two groups parted ways, their changing environments likely drove more substantial changes in body shape and size, in response to differing needs.

Weaver and colleagues Charles Roseman and Chris Stringer created a model to determine how long it would have taken genetic drift to create the cranial differences observed between Neanderthal and modern human skeletons.

The model used prior information on how microsatellites, aka "junk DNA," can change, or drift, over time in a species. Over time, those changes can accumulate enough for an entirely new species to evolve.

They're determining the most recent common ancestor.

UPDATE: See also this.
Aerial scanning reveals details of ancient sites
New technologies seem to make almost everyone's job easier, and archaeology is no exception. One of the newest and most exciting tools in the archaeologist's kit is aerial laser scanning, sometimes referred to as Light Detection And Ranging, or LiDAR. It works a bit like radar, but instead of using radio waves, it uses infrared laser pulses. The echoes can "see" through trees and shrubs, revealing the precise contours of the ground surface.

In the April issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, University of Vienna archaeologist Michael Doneus and colleagues report the results of a LiDAR survey of the Iron Age hill fort of Purbach in eastern Austria.
Alexander the Great update This item got sent around the EEF lists and also appeared in my Inbox: The Sword In The Stone Yields New Evidence In The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great
In 2004 Andrew Chugg published the hypothesis that the corpse identified as St Mark the Evangelist, which was shipped to Venice from Alexandria in the early ninth century, might actually be the remains of Alexander the Great. At that time this suggestion rested mainly on circumstantial evidence, but now a large block of sculpture found embedded in the foundations of St Mark's Basilica in Venice just a few metres from the Saint's tomb has been independently identified as a funerary relief from a high status Macedonian tomb of the 3rd century BC. Stone tests have revealed a fossil mix which seemed at first to suggest a Roman quarry near Trieste, but it has recently transpired that the stone used for the core blocks of the pyramid of Cheop's son at Abu Roash in Egypt is also remarkably similar. This pyramid began to be quarried for sculptural stone by Alexander's successors in Egypt, probably in order to embellish their monuments in Alexandria, including Alexander's tomb. Alexandria lies just 100 miles down the Nile from this mostly destroyed pyramid, which would have been the most convenient source of good quality stone for the city at the time.

Eh. Kind of a stretch. He's saying that "similar" stone occurs in both Italy and Egypt. Okay, fine. But you can find similar stone with similar fossils in Texas. That's not a dismissal, but you really need to go deeper than that (which the book may do for all I know).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Online articles alert Past Horizons magazine.

Via Kris
Iron Age remains found on school site
Archaeologists have found what they think is the remains of an Iron Age settlement under part of a Wearside school.

The surprising discovery was made by experts carrying out a study for contractors Balfour Beatty, who are working on the new £17.3m Northumbrian Water-sponsored academy to replace Castle View School.

The study is part of planning conditions laid down by Sunderland Council because school is on the site of the historic Hylton Dene, but archaeologist Dr Andy Towle said he did not expect to find Iron Age remains.
Miners Arrested for Damaging Chinese Archaeology Site
A group accused of operating clandestine mines across an important but sparsely guarded complex of neolithic Chinese culture is now facing criminal trial, Chinese government officials say.

The illicit iron-ore mines, accompanied by crude on-site refining facilities, seriously defaced the Niuheliang site, which holds some of China's earliest known temples, altars, sacred sculptures, and stargazing structures, according to the officials.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Recent archaeology Don't know if I posted this yet, but I found a couple of sites that are rather fascinating: Cars in Barns and Classic Cars Rotting.

I got directed to these sites by a post over at, where I get a lot of info on maintaining my II. Lot of neat stuff going on such as taphonomy, sedimentation, differential decay, etc. Parts of some of these cars have obviously been stripped, and the link to the M-II site has some discussion of what parts might be useful to take. =) Scavenging! ("Did post-historic man kill this or just scavenge it?")

Some of the parts are already being covered by a layer of organics which is slowly turning into soil. You can also see in many of the pics that plants have begun to take over and will eventually destroy some parts of the cars just by physically pushing through them.

See? Another use for cars as teaching tools in archaeology.
Nice of 'em State Plans To Treat Ancient Indian Bones With Respect
The state, which has ultimate say about what happens to prehistoric bones found at a construction site this week, will try to bury the remains as close as possible to where they were found.

The recommendations of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes will play a large part in the ultimate decision, said Ryan Wheeler, state archaeologist.

"Their recommendations are very important to us," Wheeler said.

Unless it really is 10-12,000 years old, then reburying it right away would be something of a tragedy.
Archaeologists find chapel remains on Nelson dig
ARCHAEOLOGISTS found signs of the old Wesleyan Chapel, but no signs of Bradley Old Hall, when they excavated the grounds of the soon-to-be demolished Nelson Youth Centre.

There are plans to build a new youth and community centre, as well as provide facilities for homeless young people, on the site as part of the Bradley Masterplan.

This has identified the area around the bottom of Hilldrop as the "hub" in the plan to brighten up that area.
Path to Chinatown in San Jose lot
The five-acre lot in Japantown seems as flat and innocuous as can be. Yet historians and neighbors haven't been so palpably excited about a construction site in two decades.

Or, more accurately, about what lies beneath it: Heinlenville. It was San Jose's last Chinatown.

Starting on Tuesday, historians, archaeologists and two community members will spend 10 days digging on the block bounded by Jackson, Sixth, Taylor and Seventh streets. Their hope? To find a trove of post-1887 artifacts from the lost community that provided a rare sanctuary amid the anti-Chinese hostility gripping California.

UPDATE: More here.
USU lab helps archaeologists at Glen Canyon
Utah State University's luminescence geochronology laboratory is helping archaeologists and geologists study ancient sites threatened by erosion by the Colorado River.

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded $2.3 million to study archaeological sites below Glen Canyon Dam, including at least one that may have been in danger of further erosion during the recent high-flow experiment.

In the test, bureau officials released about 41,500 cubic feet of water per second for 60 hours. The experiment is to check whether spring flooding, curtailed since construction of Glen Canyon Dam began in 1963, would benefit native fish, rebuild sandbars and return fine sediment to the Colorado River system.
Why We're Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data
While there is a certain grand mystery to some aspects of human behavior, others can be easily explained. Just find yourself a garden-variety house cat, along with a $10 laser pointer.

Many cat owners know that the lasers are the easiest way to keep the pet amused. The cats will ceaselessly, maniacally chase it as it's beamed about the room, literally climbing the walls to capture what they surely regard as some form of ultimate prey.

Obviously, cats are hard-wired to hunt down small, bright objects, like birds. But since nothing in nature is as bright as a laser, they are powerless to resist its charms.

Cats and lasers are useful in explaining some of the more addictive aspects of Web use. . .

Only one of my cats finds my laser pointer interesting anymore. Of course, the older two don't find much of anything interesting anymore unless it involves warmth, food, or scratches. THe little one is far more fascinated these days with a squirt of water from a syringe.

Anyway, he explains our fascination with reading web sites as a hard-wired drive to discover new information and supports it with some neuroscience research:
In other words, coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

Makes some intuitive sense, but I'm not sure how all the evo-psych stuff really pans out. It's currently rather fashionable to link everything we do to the selective pressures faced by our Paleolithic forebears. Not there's anything inherently wrong with that, but it does tend to produce a lot of just-so stories that have little empirical support.

One thing though:

For most of human history, there was little chance of overdosing on information, because any one day in the Olduvai Gorge was a lot like any other. Today, though, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.

Technically, of course, back when the area was inhabited it wasn't a gorge at all; that came later with the rift system.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and it no doubt caused a bunch of opioids to be released in my head.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Peru archeologists find Inca temple in Andes
Researchers have found the ruins of an Inca temple built for religious ceremonies in the Andes mountains, at a park in the archeologically rich region of southern Peru that includes Machu Picchu.

The temple measures 2,700 sq feet, includes 11 rooms of various sizes and an area in the shape of a Chacana, an Incan religious symbol.

"This was an adoration center," said Oscar Rodriguez, a researcher at the Sacsayhuaman archeological park that, like the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, is a popular tourist destination.
Oldest Animation Discovered In Iran
Long considered a modern invention, animation has apparently been lying about its age. A 5,200-year-old bowl found in Iran’s Burnt City in the 1970s features a series of five images that researchers have only recently identified as being sequential, much like those in a zoetrope. Giving the bowl a spin, one would see a goat leaping to snatch leaves from a tree, as seen in the video clip below.

There's a little animation of it at that link. I count 9 separate images in that one.
Experts: Unearthed bones likely 1,000 years old
Archaeologists say instead of discovering a crime scene, a construction crew in Tampa unearthed an apparent historical site earlier this week.

On Tuesday, deputies were called to the site, which is located off of U.S. Highway 301 near Martin Luther King Boulevard. They say a construction crew was digging for a septic tank when they found human bones buried between five and six feet underground.

At first, investigators thought the bones could be related to some sort of criminal activity, but archeologists from the University of South Florida and the Hillsborough County Medical Examiners Office say the bones are likely more than 1,000 years old.
Indian DNA links to 6 'founding mothers'
Nearly all of today's Native Americans in North, Central and South America can trace part of their ancestry to six women whose descendants immigrated around 20,000 years ago, a DNA study suggests.

Those women left a particular DNA legacy that persists to today in about about 95 percent of Native Americans, researchers said.

The finding does not mean that only these six women gave rise to the migrants who crossed into North America from Asia in the initial populating of the continent, said study co-author Ugo Perego.

The women lived between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago, though not necessarily at exactly the same time, he said.
Homo hobbitus update

As expected, Hawks has an extended discussion on the recent report of small-bodied human remains on Palau.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Semi-breaking semi-new news Greek team finds ancient skull that underwent surgery: reports
Archaeologists have unearthed the skull of a young woman in northern Greece who is believed to have undergone head surgery in the third century, Greek news media reported Wednesday.

A Greek team discovered the skeleton at an ancient cemetery in Veria, with the skull including an injury that led them to conclude the surgery had been performed.

"We think that there was a complex surgical intervention that only an experienced doctor could have performed," said Ioannis Graikos, the head of the archaeological dig.

I say semi-new because trepanation isn't all that rare.
Blogging update There comes a time, gentle readers, when a faithful blogger must come clean and fess up to his or her failings. And in that spirit of reconciliation, I must hereby confess to something of a sin that I committed recently, one which may, in fact, call into question my very existence as an ArchaeoBlogger, a transgression so heinous and far removed from the rituals of polite society that there rests the vaguest, if not, dare I say, imminent, threat of a complete loss of those readers which I, in my humble position of purveyor and primary contributor to this humblest of blogs, do solemnly appreciate and hold in the highest regard possible in such a largely, if not exclusively, anonymous sphere of communication; readers who, if I may be so bold to assert with the utmost confidence that I have in my possession and which has been nurtured and carefully cultivated over lo' these long years of providing near daily posts to elucidate and make manifest both the pleasures and rigors of that discipline which we call archaeology, deeply and with the greatest sense of both wonder and intellectual curiosity continue to peruse this site for whatever tidbits of archaeological lore may happen upon their field of vision, even going so far as to continue reading long, run-on sentences that are composed solely for the purpose of my own edification and amusement.

Anyway, I plum forgot to blog anything about the opening weekend of 10,000 B.C. which apparently did quite well financially. My bad. Hawks covered it though.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Archeologists Find Ancient Cemetery in Egypt
The El Hibeh tell — a mound of ancient human architecture, artifacts and debris — is so rich with the remnants of human life in central Egypt that shards of pottery literally crunch under a visitor’s feet. Beads, jug handles, and even bits of fabric are visible to the naked eye, making collection and cataloging both an exciting and daunting task.

Pretty good article. It is mostly focused on the Discovery Channel's "Bone Detectives" series that filmed there. It's an excellent site, too. Wenke went there his first season in Egypt and there is still material from that season sitting in a local museum. One of my future projects is to document all that stuff.

UPDATE: Here's Berkeley's web page on that project.
Update on the North Sea handaxes here. With photos.
Remains of Roman villa discovered
The discovery of the remains of a Roman villa in Cambridgeshire has left archaeologists "blown away".

The villa, hidden deep in more than a square mile of ancient woodland at Bedford Purlieus, near Peterborough, had gone unnoticed over the centuries.

Experts believe the remains at the site, just off the A47 at Wansford, probably date back to between the second and fourth centuries AD.
Homo hobbitus update Discovery Challenges Finding of a Separate Human Species
More bones of unusually small-bodied people who lived long ago have been found on another Pacific island, and some scientists say this calls into question claims that the first such specimens, from Indonesia, represent a separate human species.

In a report released Monday, Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described finding the skulls and bones of at least 25 individuals in two caves in Palau, in the Western Caroline Islands of Micronesia. The people apparently lived there 1,400 to 3,000 years ago.

. . .

“Based on the evidence from Palau,” Dr. Berger’s team concluded, “we hypothesize that reduction in the size of the face and chin, large dental size and other features noted here may in some cases be correlates of extreme body size reduction in H. sapiens.”

Yet another twist! I wasn't able to get to the paper, the website at PLoS is reeeeally slow. They seem pretty confident that these are typical, if reduced in size, H. sapiens. Question remains as to what caused the body size reductions. One might immediately think of the usual miniaturization that sometimes goes with island species (e.g., dwarf mammoth). The article doesn't say anything about whether there was some genetic thing going on that would cause portions of a population to be so tiny.
Ancient graves found in Greece
Greek workers discovered around 1,000 graves, some filled with ancient treasures, while excavating for a subway system in the historic city of Thessaloniki, the state archaeological authority said Monday.

Some of the graves, which dated from the first century B.C. to the 5th century A.D., contained jewelry, coins and various pieces of art, the Greek archaeological service said in a statement.

Thessaloniki was founded around 315 B.C. and flourished during the Roman and Byzantine eras. Today it is the Mediterranean country's second largest city.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Something that usually doesn't get much press History in obsidian
A long time ago - a very long time ago - obsidian was all the rage. Abundant in Oregon and relatively easy to craft, Native American cultures used the volcanic rock to make prehistoric tools: knives, spear tips and the like.

"They're razor sharp, sharper than any steel could be ground," said Dennis L. Jenkins, Ph.D., senior staff archaeologist at the University of Oregon, who presented Friday at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.

In his lecture, entitled "Obsidian: History Through the Volcanic Glass Window," Jenkins touched on the wealth of information contained in the rock artifacts found all over the state, and how archaeologists can trace the movement of those artifacts from their original source.
Neanderthal treasure trove 'at bottom of sea'
The cache was found 8 miles off Great Yarmouth and is the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered. It had been feared that the ice sheets that destroyed most pre-ice age Brit-ish landscapes had done the same to the land surfaces which existed where the North Sea is now.

But archaeologists now suspect that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. What's more, they are now certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes do survive there. On land they have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, later human settlement and natural erosion.

Unclear why a bunch of gravel was excavated and shipped anywhere. Do they mine the bottom for gravel? The article notes that fishermen have retrieved some stuff over the years, presumably due to their nets grabbing stuff off the bottom. Still, as I've argued before, the anoxic bottom of the world's oceans will eventually turn out to be bigger than any "lost civilization" imaginable.

UPDATE: Aha, according to this it was the result of dredging.
Archaeologists discover the final resting place of outlaw Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly, the 19th-century bushranger who eluded police for two years before being caught in a hail of bullets, has been tracked down again. His bones, which were feared lost, are believed to be among human remains dug up at a former prison site.
Fight! Fight! Firm says city mismanaged burial site at Ranger museum
An archaeological firm that was fired from a job excavating human bones at the city’s Texas Ranger museum expansion site is claiming the city has mismanaged the project.

The city this week terminated a $437,000 contract with American Archaeology Group to relocate human remains from the site, a former burial ground. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum director Byron Johnson said the city chose to “part ways” with the firm over differences of opinion about the archaeological process, but he said he can’t say much more because the firm has threatened a lawsuit.

Officials with the archaeology group, which is based in Lampasas, say the city hasn’t told them why they were axed. However, they believe the contract was canceled because their work was too thorough for the city’s liking.

Long article that seems to give both sides. This:
In one picture, the skeleton of a woman lies under a blue water pipe. Her dress is still intact, and the material is synthetic, suggesting the burial was as late as the 1950s or ’60s, Bradle says.

Is troubling though.
Lost civilization waterhole. . . .found Dig uncovers Iron Age waterhole
Archaeologists have found what they describe as a remarkable Iron Age waterhole on the site of an extension to York University.

The waterhole complete with a preserved wickerwork lining was revealed during excavations in Heslington village.

The structure also contains fragments of wood giving clues to the landscape of the time, about 2,500 years ago.

Seems kind of. . . .boring. But it looks to have organics preserved, hence the apparent importance.
Archaeologists Unveil Finds in Rome Digs
A sixth-century copper factory, medieval kitchens still stocked with pots and pans, and remains of Renaissance palaces are among the finds unveiled Friday by archaeologists digging up Rome in preparation for a new subway line. Archaeologists have been probing the depths of the Eternal City at 38 digs, many of which are near famous monuments or on key thoroughfares.

Over the last nine months, remains — including Roman taverns and 16th-century palace foundations — have turned up at the central Piazza Venezia and near the ancient Forum where works are paving the way for one of the 30 stations of Rome's third subway line.

"The medieval and Renaissance finds that were brought to light in Piazza Venezia are extremely important for their rarity," said archaeologist Mirella Serlorenzi, who is working on the site.

UPDATE: More Roman stuff here.
Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog
Beware the underdog narrative in science journalism. This narrative severely misrepresents how science really works. It's designed to elicit our sympathy for a not-yet-established theory, maybe one that is socially attractive, and to arouse our indignation against the staid community of eggheaded scientists. This underdog narrative plays on our emotions, it makes for a good read, and helps us feel good about ourselves when we stand up for our convictions.

What gets lost is the scientific method, the idea that novel proposals need to be thoroughly vetted and tested, no matter how intuitively attractive they are.

I link because I've written on this before in various places. I usually describe it as Hollywood Science: You know, the outsider, working by and large alone, shunned by colleagues for his/her "unconventional" views, who finally triumphs against all odds and the dogmatic dismissals of said colleagues. Makes a great story -- sometimes it even comes close to reality -- but is hardly ever the case.

Darwin, though he did work alone (as did a lot of gentlemen scientists back then), was not much of an outsider. He'd published a lot of more ordinary works (e.g., barnacles) and was considered a member in good standing of the science community. And all of it went through a long vetting process, not just "accepted as dogma" from the get-go.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Just finished reading a paper in the Jan 2008 American Antiquity by Lisa Frink and Karen G. Harry on Alaska ceramics. Here's the abstract:
Arctic Alaskan ceramics offer several interpretive challenges for the archaeologist. In contrast to most cross-cultural patterns, these cooking vessels were produced by hunter-gatherers living in a cool and humid environment and were used to cook meat rather than starchy seeds. Additionally, when compared to cooking vessels and techniques from other areas of the world, their shapes and textures are atypical and appear poorly suited for their intended use. At first impression, these vessels might appear to reflect simply a lack of technological expertise. However, we argue that when considered in relation to the local social and environmental context under which these vessels were produced and used, these apparent contradictions can be understood.

It was okay but largely a hypothesis-generating work rather than anything providing firm conclusions; in that respect, it was kind of disappointing. The problem they addressed was the seemingly poor quality of the ceramics that nonetheless survived for quite a while in that area. I was expecting more of an engineering exercise, but it was almost entirely descriptive.

The first third probably could have been dropped as it consisted mostly of attempting to support the idea that contemporary sources have reliable information to provide on past practices. I found this rather weak. For example, none of their informants had ever seen these ceramics being used to cook anything and only one or two had ever seen a pot being made and even in those instances the pots weren't being made for anything, just to show someone how it was supposed to have been done. Example:
most of our consultants had never witnessed pots being made or used, two brothers we interviewed (both in their later 60s) remember being shown by their mother how to make a ceramic cooking pot. According to one of the brothers, she made the cooking pot not because she intended to use it (according to the elders, they never saw her cook in anything other than a metal utensil), but because she wanted them to have the knowledge just in case it was ever needed.

Although the replacement of clay cooking pots by metal utensils had begun as early as 1833 when Russian cast iron kettles and sheet iron pots were introduced into the region (Nelson 1983 [1889]:317; Oswalt and VanStone 1967:4; Ray 1975), elder recollections suggest that at least some clay cook pots continued to be used into the late 1800s. For instance, Joe Friday (1983), who was born around 1897, witnessed his kinswomen making ceramic vessels and reported that the food was good when cooked in them.

Recollections from decades past and single instances by a couple of eyewitnesses adds little to the credibility of the observations and seems included more for political rather than scientific reasons. Still, the authors note that these sorts of observations tend to drive hypothesis generation than provide actual data. Then again, people have been saying that for decades.

The latter half of the paper is far more informative. In it, they examine the environment in which the vessels were made and used. The inherent cold and dampness of the area is argued to drive the use of porous, thick-walled vessels than can dry over a longer period of time with less chance of cracking due to thermal expansion. A relative lack of fuel -- mostly driftwood -- for firing also explains the low firing of the vessels. The technology is limited by available resources and environmental constraints.

They describe the cooking process as one in which meat is boiled only slightly and over short periods (to keep heat from melting the sod of which houses were constructed). They relate this to retention of Vitamin C which is destroyed by cooking.

The point of the whole exercise is embodied in the following observation:
As has been noted many times before, every decision in pottery manufacture entails a series of trade-offs. While selection of a particular tempering agent or production technique may improve some aspect of the vessel's production or use, at the same time it may worsen others. Therefore, in choosing how to manufacture a particular pot, the potter must decide which of the many desired characteristics she considers most important.

True. In any set of ceramics there are a variety of wares for different functions, all of which are constructed using various tradeoffs in manufacture and utility. In my own work, we have thin, hard, finely made bowls used primarily for serving and big cruddy "bread molds" that look like they were slapped together by 8-year olds (and they might have been!). See the discussion here.

It will be interesting to see if the investigators follow up this study with some experimental work to see if the techniques described really function as advertised. Interesting, to be sure, but a lot more data needs to be presented to support the conclusions.

Ref: Frink, L. and Harry, Karen G. The beauty of "ugly" Eskimo cooking pots. American Antiquity 73(1) (Jan 2008): p103-120.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kris Hirst on archaeological fiction:
Prehistoric fiction gives me the creeps. In fact, prehistoric fiction--that is to say, stories set in the prehistoric past, whether books or movies--has always given me the creeps, but I hadn't realized the broader implications of that until I started reading Rob Swigart's newest 'teaching novel', Stone Mirror.

I must disagree with her here: [10,000 BC, the movie is] apparently better than the version with Raquel Welch in a furry bikini. . .

I'm not sure anything could be better than that. Except of course, you know. . . .
Okay, I am posting this
Medieval belt buckle discovered

Archaeologists unearthed a medieval belt buckle in Perth following work to repair a collapsed sewer.

The group were allowed to examine the area in the Kirkgate as Scottish Water repaired the network.

The copper alloy buckle is believed to date back to the 12th Century and was found along with animal bones, shells and pottery.

This has been all over the place, but I'm not sure why. Okay, it's a belt buckle. A nice belt buckle, but a belt buckle nonetheless.
'Scuse me? 'Wha's like us?' Historian questions BBC's choice for new flagship series
A LEADING historian has criticised BBC Scotland over their choice of presenter for a new ten-part series on Scottish history.

Best-selling Scottish writer Professor Tom Devine has questioned why the BBC picked Neil Oliver to front the show which promises to "explode the myths" of Scotland's romantic past.

. . .

He asked: "Why are they using an archaeologist as a presenter? There surely is an army out there of young and telegenic historians."
Missing Roswell Archaeologist FOUND! Second Crashed UFO with Alien Bodies
SAUCERS & ALIENS e-Magazine published by today announced the details on the long rumored Roswell Archaeologist said to have found a second Roswell UFO crash site in 1947 on the plains of San Augusta, a few miles from the original location.

“We are very pleased to be breaking this story. UFO researcher and lecturer Art Campbell has done extensive on-site investigation at San Augusta” says publisher Randy Haragan. “His extensive book UFO Crash on the Plains of San Augusta 1947 featuring complete details of the crash including the report of bodies found.”


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Shell mound dilemma: Dig it up or let it erode
"There's a great debate on whether Spanish Mount is a ring or a midden,"

Judge says. It's an important distinction because middens appear to be little more than trash heaps, while rings show an architectural element that signifies something greater than simply a dumping site.

"The question becomes is this garbage, or are they building their midden from nearby middens?" Judge asks. "Is the landfill being utilized for architectural material?"

Today, only a small portion of Spanish Mount remains. The rest has eroded into Scott Creek.

Money seems to be the issue regarding whether to excavate or not. On San Juan Island, we were told that the U- or horseshoe-shaped middens were supposedly piled up that way around a house structure that would provide a certain amount of insulation. Instead of dumping it somewhere else, remains would be piled up around the house. Seems an awfully smelly way to insulate one's house though.
Homo hobbitus update 'Hobbit' hominids were dwarf cretins, say scientists
Anthropologists have fired another salvo in a feud about diminutive "hobbit" people whose fossilised remains were found in a cave on a remote Indonesian island four years ago.

Combatting a bid to have the hobbits enshrined as a separate branch of the human family tree, they argue the tiny cave-dwellers were simply Homo sapiens who became stunted and retarded as a result of iodine deficiency in pregnancy.

Dubbed after the wee folk in J.R.R. Tolkien's tale, the hominids -- just a metre (3.25 feet) tall and with a chimp-sized brain -- lived around 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores.

I dunno, this seems a bit weird. An entire tribe/group of dwarf cretins? Or maybe they were exiled there?
Here's an update on this story. The Ministry says they rarely refuse an exhumation request, but that still may cause delays because an application is required.
Pre-archaeology How primates crossed continents
Several teeth of mouse-sized primitive primates have been unearthed in Mississippi that are older than any other such fossils found in Europe or North America.

The record-breaking tiny chompers suggest that the creatures travelled from Asia to North America across the Bering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, and then later journeyed on to Europe across another land bridge linking North America to Greenland and Scotland.
Evidence of commerce between ancient Israel and China
Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries - during the time of the Crusades �ceramic vessels reached Acre from: Mediterranean regions, the Levant, Europe, North Africa, and even China � reveals new research, which examined trade of ceramic vessels, conducted at the University of Haifa.

This research, conducted by Dr. Edna Stern under the direction of Prof. Michal Artzy and Dr. Adrian Boasz, examined pottery found during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority of Crusader period Acre and pottery found in shipwrecks around the Mediterranean coast. According to Dr. Stern, during these centuries, Acre � in addition to being the gateway for Christian pilgrims into the Land of Israel, was one of the busiest commercial ports in the Latin East that had commercial links to Europe, the Islamic world and the Byzantine Empire.
Archeological sites found on Fraser River Bench Lands
Some archeological digging is in store for a couple of areas on the Fraser Bench Lands.

As part of the process of developing the 107-hectare site, an archeological survey was conducted, and two sites were found to be of significance, L&M Engineering planning director Heather Oland confirmed Tuesday.

She said the sites will be excavated once the snow has melted and prior to development taking place in the vicinity.
Skeleton could hold secret to Stonehenge
A SKELETON, which has been on prominent display in Salisbury Museum for nearly a decade, could hold the secret to Stonehenge's mysterious past and show the site to be an arena of gladiatorial combat, an archaeological expert has claimed.

The skeleton, that of a man who had been killed by arrows in 2,300 BC, was discovered in the ditch surrounding the stones during excavation work, carried out by Professor Richard Atkinson and J.G Evans in 1978.

After being analysed, the skeleton was donated to Salisbury museum, where it has been on display as a key part of the museum's Stonehenge exhibit under the title of "the body from the ditch".

Seems a tad bit. . . .imaginative.
Ancient tomb found on Greek island
Road construction on the western Greek island of Lefkada has uncovered and partially destroyed an important tomb with artifacts dating back more than 3,000 years, officials said on Wednesday.

The find is a miniature version of the large, opulent tombs built by the rulers of Greece during the Mycenaean era, which ended around 1100 B.C. Although dozens have been found in the mainland and on Crete, the underground, beehive-shaped monuments are very rare in the western Ionian Sea islands, and previously unknown on Lefkada.

Earlier post on the finding of Ithaca.
Blogging update

Sorry about the lack of posting. This $%#^@$(@^ cold just will.not.quit. I stayed home yesterday (Wed) and actually felt quite OK by the afternoon, but then this morning I was all stuffed up and coughing again. I think I'm on the downside of it, but apparently the stupid bugger takes forEVER to go away. Posting will resume shortly.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Disease update Nasty, nasty cold I've got going. It's lingering. Every day I think I will start to turn the corner, but then I just feel a different kind of lousy. Thankfully not the flu, but still. . . .

Plus, I keep waking up at like 3 am and not getting back to sleep. Too much stress, I guess.

In other news, 10,000 BC starts Friday. No, I won't be going. Probably will watch it on DVD eventually. But at least we know the basic plot:
In the year 10,000 B.C., a hunter (Steven Strait) loses his woman (Camilla Belle) to an evil warlord, so he gathers together a massive army to cross the wilderness fighting all manner of man and beast to find a lost civilization and mount a daring rescue.

Be interesting to see whereabouts this "lost civilization" is/was.
Hmmmmmm. . . Bulgaria Train Fire Hell Targeted Renowned Archaeologist - Colleagues
Rumours that the fire in a Bulgarian train that killed eight was an assassination attempt against a famous archeologist have spread in his hometown of Shumen.

Professor Rasho Rashev, director of the National Archaeological Institute with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, was among those who died in the Sofia-Kardam night train fire.

The 64-year-old renowned expert and lecturer in Bulgaria's Middle Age history was identified following an autopsy and DNA analyses.

Rashev's colleagues local 24 Hours daily an assassination attempt might have been provoked by his efforts against treasure looters.

That's nearly the whole thing. I didn't take it very seriously until the looting aspect was mentioned. Still, I don't know enough about the incident to say either way.
nnovative Archaeological Survey Reveals Unknown Aspects Of China's Past
Imagine future archaeologists trying to understand Illinois, California or New York based on a few excavations in each of those states. They might excavate small areas in city centers, since those sites would probably be the first ruins they would come across. Meanwhile, the archaeologists they might fail to notice or study farms, suburbs, shopping malls, canals and airports.

Although still relatively unknown to the general public, an archaeological method that is being practiced at several locations around the world helps scientists overcome such bias toward large, readily noticeable sites. The method is called a regional settlement pattern survey. It involves walking systematically over a large landscape to find traces of archaeological sites on the surface of the ground. This field procedure can yield a holistic, integrated view of how settlement has shifted in a region over the course of history.

I started to boggle when I learned what this 'innovative' technique really was, but as the article states, it's not something the general public probably knows much about.
Old Indian dugout at Fernbank 'one in a million'
A Waycross man went fishing in a South Georgia river two years ago and caught a 17-footer. It goes on display today at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

The catch is a dugout canoe, possibly created more than 300 years ago from a longleaf pine. It turned up in the shallows of the Satilla River one July day in 2006 when a fisherman noticed something odd just underneath his johnboat. What looked like an old log turned out to be a canoe, formed by fire and hand. It is one of just a handful of dugouts known to exist in Georgia.
Repatriation. . . .but not in the US Anger as burial site digs are blocked
Severe cutbacks in researchers' freedom to study bones and skeletons from ancient graves have been imposed without warning by the Ministry of Justice. The move has caused consternation among archaeologists, who say that the restrictions will badly damage their ability to study Britain's past.

The ruling means permission for digs at burial grounds and old churchyards will be denied in some cases, while in others excavated human remains will have to be reburied within two months of their discovery.

While reading through it, I was thinking that if they didn't want archaeologists digging up cemeteries then just don't give them permission rather than allowing it but only for 2 months. Seems that this part of the new rules would apply to mitigation work, too. Seems a bit draconian to me.
Dig is uncovering history feared lost
To the untrained eye, what lies in the burned-out shell of Dyar House does not look like much. White ash, charred debris and twisted metal, orange with rust, cover the floor of the building, which was gutted during the 2003 Cedar fire that burned nearly all of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park's 25,000 acres.

But to the state archaeologists excavating the site, the rubble is priceless. Amid the wreckage lie thousands of artifacts, including Kumeyaay pottery, lanterns and scales once used in a historic gold mine.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Archaeologists appeal for funds to reveal island’s Roman secrets
An excavation is about to start at one of the most important Roman villas in Western Europe. Its spectacular mosaics were saved by readers of The Times five years ago after being placed on the World Monuments Fund’s list of the most endangered sites.

One of Britain’s leading archaeologists is to explore the 1.6hectare (4acre) site around Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight. Barely 15 per cent of it has been excavated and the dig is expected to last five years.

Sir Barry Cunliffe, Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University, said that the north side appeared to suggest a large assembly hall with side aisles.
City of David Dig Reveals Information on Ancient Postal System
Artifacts from City of David excavations in Jerusalem reveal an interesting tidbit of information about the ancient postal system in Israel.

In an archaeological excavation being carried out at the “Spring House,” near the Gihon Spring in the City of David – in the valley east of Jerusalem’s Old City, soil was excavated which contained pottery shards that date to the Iron Age 2 (eighth century BCE).

“Whereas during the ninth century BCE, letters and goods were dispatched on behalf of their senders without names, by the eighth century BCE the clerks and merchants had already begun to add their names to the seals,” concluded the Antiquities Authority.
Medieval wall painting discovered
Fragments of an ancient wall painting dating back to medieval times have been discovered during restoration work at 13th century Stuston church.

Last year villagers rallied to the cause when it emerged that £185,000 was needed for urgent repairs to make the nave, porch and vestry roofs watertight.

English Heritage and other funding bodies promised £165,000 towards the project - on condition that the small community of 140 souls met a December 2007 deadline to prove their commitment to making up the shortfall.

Small and not terribly detailed photo of the painting at the link.
Archaeologists from Durham University will be returning to a London borough site where a 19th century historian once found flint tools and animal bones.

This time, however, the latest sonic drilling equipment will be used to take samples from the earth, for the ongoing Ancient Human Occupation of Britain II project (AHOB).

I don't remember linking to this in the past. There's probably a lot of junk sitting around in museums that has had only cursory examination but may suggest locations that still may have material.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

In memoriam Leonard D. Cagle, 1930-2005.

That would be my dad and today is his birthday. We lost him to post-operative complications in November of 2005. I miss him a lot. He retired and quit smoking in the early 1990s and had a good retirement. He worked hard all his life and deserved to have some time for himself, which really turned into time for us, too. Because of the labor and smoking he didn't have a lot of energy for fun for most of his life; and, of course, we as kids didn't seem to have enough time for him either. After he retired he just blossomed. I never knew he was that much fun! Or that funny. He would tell stories of growing up in Alabama that we had never heard before. It was the first time I really knew my dad.

I tend to view life differently these days. So many people attended the funeral Mass that I had never met. It touched and amazed me that he had had such a positive impact on so many people. I started to realize what was really important in life after that.

So, I'll be toasting him with a glass of Riesling later on; he discovered wine during those retirement years and Riesling was his favorite. You were a good dad, Dad and it was an honor to be yer kid.