Monday, March 13, 2006

Ev-psych and egalitarianism Is Egalitarianism Instinctual?

Is there an "egalitarian instinct" bred into us by millennia of hunter-gatherer living as my colleague Max Borders asserts? And is this instinct channeled by Marxists and other central planners in an attempt to create egalitarian socialist utopias?

"One of the most misunderstood words in evolutionary theory is 'egalitarian.' Nearly all hunting-gathering societies are described as egalitarian; so are most autonomous village societies. Ask ten archaeologists to define an egalitarian society, however, and five will reply, 'a society in which everyone is equal in prestige or status.' That answer is wrong, since there is no society in which everyone is equal in prestige or status."

So wrote archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent V. Flannery in their 1996 book Zapotec Civilization, about their work in Mexico's Oaxaca Valley.

The column links to another on the subject. Talk about a complicated subject. But the whole "definition of 'egalitarianism'" thing seems like yet another example of archae-/anthropolgists using a word for years that everybody knows what it means and then spending years arguing about what the term really means (see: "culture").

Artifacts reveal distant past

It's been 16 years since Frederica Dimmick, the National Park Service archaeologist at the Cape Cod National Seashore, first saw ''the little hearth area with blackness all around it.''

A big gale in the fall of 1990 had battered the coastline, eroding a small bluff just enough to reveal an American Indian cooking pit. When Dimmick arrived to help with an archaeological excavation, she saw a small circle of stones and wood burned by charcoal, right on the beach. It was as if the natives had put out the fire, and left the day before, not thousands of years ago.

Mummy exhibit opens six-month run in Mobile

An exhibition of Egyptian artifacts could draw 100,000 visitors during its six-month showing in Mobile, organizers say.

Called "Mummy: the inside story," the exhibition opened Thursday at the Gulf Coast Exploreum, showcasing more than 90 Egyptian funerary objects, including the coffin and mummy of Nesperennub.

"It was awesome!" said Daniel Zieman, a sixth-grader at Corpus Christi School in Mobile. He was among the first visitors Thursday.

Battlefield archaeology update Battlefield dectectives survey a battle for all ages

Doug Scott is on the heels of a bloodthirsty killer.

In Centralia on Friday, Scott, a former Department of the Interior archaeologist, swept the ground, metal detector in hand, and tramped over the wet morning grass in search of evidence of one of the Civil War's most notorious characters in his most famous battle: the Battle of Centralia.

Scott and his team are looking to get to know the man known as William "Bloody Bill" Anderson and the Union soldiers he slaughtered on a September afternoon 142 years ago.

I was thinking the whole 'battlefield archaeology' thing was kind of a gimmicky term but it seems to be used more and more. Maybe it's developing into a real subdiscipline, although it doesn't seem to use any really distinct methods. Feel free to comment or email if you think otherwise though.

There's money to be made Missoula man makes living sleuthing plundered, looted archaeological digs

A pitted and rusty Civil War bayonet and a finely hafted 800-year-old stone ax head lay on Martin McAllister's coffee table near a small pile of stone arrowheads.

"This ax was more than likely placed with a burial. You can see it's had very little wear," McAllister said, picking it up and turning it on his palm.

The array of objects had been seized from grave robbers and looters. The items themselves aren't worth all that much to collectors the stone ax might bring $800, the bayonet as much as $1,000.

But the damage done by those who plunder historic sites is far greater.

Assessing that damage as well as training law enforcement groups and federal agencies is McAllister's business. He owns Archaeological Resource Investigations, a one-man company ready to grow, he said.

Hadn't heard of this sort of work before, a CRM company involving itself in sort of an ancillary law-enforcement role (though frankly CRM is not my specialty). The income potential seems limited since it appears as if the work would be funded by government agencies rather than private forms looking at mitigation and/or identification. Website of ARI.

Heh. In 4,000 years what will archaeologists think of my LPs?

I found the "papyrus" in our attic by looking for the ice melter in our garage. It wasn't a perfect storm, but the sidewalk needed the crystals that must have been stored out of sight. I moved the canvas used to bundle fallen leaves. What was that clattering down from a dusty shelf?
It was a cassette tape of "Ben and Sweets," saxophonist Ben Webster and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, dated 1987. Soon other cassettes cascaded from the old zippered case left over from some bygone car cleaning.

"Ben and Sweets" was from an album recorded long before, in 1962. Playing the tape again was like hitting rewind in my memory. Remember the theory that memory is like a recording? Everything is there, you just have to find the play button.


Future archaeologists will have a lot of musical papyrus to unearth.