Thursday, March 29, 2007

The archaeology of table manners
Sharing a meal, sometimes sitting face to face with strangers, is a curious act that sets humans apart from all other animals on the planet. So strange is this behaviour, yet so important to the development of society and communication, that plenty of scientists and philosophers have tried to decode the origins and history of the human meal.

Perhaps most famously, Claude Lévi-Strauss proclaimed that cooking marked the very origin of human cultural progress. More accessibly, Margaret Visser's bestselling Much Depends on Dinner introduced the complex anthropology of the modern meal to a broad audience.
Battlefield archaeology update More remnants of battle uncovered at Antietam
In a sun-dappled field, where molten lead once rained from the sky, researchers armed with metal detectors listened for evidence from America's bloodiest day.

Stephen R. Potter, who headed a team of National Park Service archaeologists at Antietam National Battlefield, said Wednesday that the group, which included a couple of amateur metal detectorists, was studying an area of Piper Orchard where the 7th Maine fled from a smaller Confederate force.

"I don't think they would've been able to drive the Maine guys back if they wouldn't have had the artillery that they had, because what we're finding out here is pretty nasty stuff," Potter said.
Archaeologists to descend on Highpoint, seeking farmhouse foundation
A group of amateur and professional archaeologists will look for the foundation of a mid-1800s farmhouse on Highpoint when they examine where York County is planning to put a parking lot.

Members of the local chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology have already conducted a general archaeological study of Highpoint, a plot of land seized by the county for a proposed park of about 725 acres in Lower Windsor Township.
Now, this just mite be news Archaeologists reconstruct the story of Inca empire from fossilized mites
Archaeologists have gleaned important clues on the rise and fall of the mighty Inca empire and the civilizations that existed before it from fossilized mites that survived on the dung of llama, the South American domesticated beast of burden.

The fossils preserved in sediments at a lake about 50 kilometers from Cuzco, which formed the center of activity of the Inca empire, shows how the empire grew in size and influence in the early 15th century. When the Spanish conquistadors came to Peru in the 1530s, the empire was stretching from the current day Colombian border to the middle of Chile. However, in a matter of 100 years, the 30 million population in the region was reduced by 90 per cent, afflicted by newer diseases like influenza and smallpox, brought by the Europeans.

I'm guessing the mites washed in (blew in?) on sediment carried into the lake. But this part:
The research shows that after a period of sharp growth, the civilization's power waned even before the arrival of the Spanish because of the arrival of the European diseases to which the people or the animals had no resistance.

shows how disease can travel well in advance of the actual people who introduced it.
Non-archaeology post No need to thank dinosaur-killing asteroid for mammalian success
It is a natural history tale that every third grader knows: The dinosaurs ruled the Earth for hundreds of millions of years, until an asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula and triggered a mass extinction that allowed the ancestors of today’s mammals to thrive.

The asteroid part of the story may still hold true, but a new study published in the March 29 issue of the journal Nature challenges the prominent hypothesis that a mass extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago played a major role in the diversification of today’s mammals.

. . .

"The previous evidence showed that we did see a die-off of the dinosaurs and an increase in the rise of the mammals roughly 65 million years ago," Gittleman said. "But the fossil record, by its very nature, is patchy. We have found that when you fuse all of the molecular trees with the fossil evidence, the timing does not work. The preponderance of mammals really didn’t take off until 10 to 15 million years after the demise of the dinosaurs."

I wonder if there is still some delay effect. It's been hypothesized that the Cambrian explosion had its roots much earlier.

See also: Ewwwww! UCLA anthropologist studies evolution's disgusting side
Behind every wave of disgust that comes your way may be a biological imperative much greater than the urge to lose your lunch, according to a growing body of research by a UCLA anthropologist.

"The reason we experience disgust today is that the response protected our ancestors," said Dan Fessler, associate professor of anthropology and director of UCLA’s Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture. "The emotion allowed our ancestors to survive long enough to produce offspring, who in turn passed the same sensitivities on to us."
Archaeologists find details on politics in Peru
A team from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and the University of Almeroa has completed its second part of the "Proyecto La Puntilla", an archaeological expedition to the Peruvian province of Nazca, where last year it discovered a new type of construction. The latest findings show that a new political power based on the exercise of violence emerged on the south coast of Peru two thousand years ago. There was a State in which an aristocracy, based in Cahuachi, exercised its dominion on other, poorer communities in the Nazca Valley. The team has also observed practices such as cranial deformation.

The excavations at the necropolis of El Trigal have uncovered new information on the repercussions of the emergence of the State in southern Peru. The archaeologists have found that El Trigal graves are very simple, in contrast with the extravagant tombs of the aristocracy around Nazca.
Archaeologists unearth Roman era artefacts in Kerala
What began as exploratory studies in Kerala, has thrown up enough artefacts and structures of two millennia old Indo-Roman trade era to delight archaeologists, who are looking for the lost port of Muziris.

Archaeological teams in Pattanam village, near the port city of Kochi have been working on a site, which has yielded pottery, amphora, beads and other artefacts that are reminiscent of the ancient Romans.

That's actually pretty neat, as one doesn't expect Roman stuff in India. Or at least I didn't.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

There is an update on KV-63 up.
Slavery archaeology update Team checks shipwreck's ties to those aiding slaves
An archaeological team is trying to determine if a Lake Michigan shipwreck might have had ties to the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape from the South during the 1800s.

A member of the Briggs Project Team said the group has begun analyzing the wreckage off Ogden Dunes beach and has combed through historical records in LaPorte and Porter counties for information about the role the area played in providing fugitive slaves with an exit route to freedom in Canada.

"There's a good possibility you have a big piece of history here in your back yard," Roger Barski told guests of the Ogden Dunes Historical Society during a presentation on the team's research Sunday.
Excavation Begins at Planned Second Interment Site for Cinnamon Bay Remains
Centuries-old human remains found at Cinnamon Bay are now one step closer to being properly reinterred.

Virgin Islands National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild and his interns earlier this month began digging a second pit where the remains will be buried.

The remains are likely those of men, women and children who died in a cholera epidemic. They could have lived during the 1680s to the 1800s, which is when the Cinnamon Bay plantation was in operation.

“There is a good possibility they were not enslaved, because after Emancipation, there was a cholera epidemic there that caused 21 deaths in a week’s time,” said Wild.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Indian gravesite found
A construction crew laying a pipeline may have unearthed an ancient Native American burial site Wednesday, according to a press release issued by the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety.

Human remains and pottery were found near a subdivision located off of South Florida Avenue.

Sgt. Det. Lee Wilder of DPS said his department, along with the Office of the Medical Investigator, are called to the scene whenever human remains are found to determine whether they are part of an archeological site or a crime scene. If it is determined to be old, the state's archeology office is contacted.
Lost and Found
The stylized images of ancient Assyrian kings, with their braided beards and Art Deco muscles, riding out in chariots to hunt lions or men, are now familiar, but until the 19th century nothing was known of them. All evidence had been buried for more than two millenniums under the soil of what is today Iraq. How we came to uncover that world, and how that world reached out toward our own, is part of the story David Damrosch tells in “The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh.”
Man's earliest direct ancestors looked more apelike than previously believed
Modern man"s earliest known close ancestor was significantly more apelike than previously believed, a New York University College of Dentistry professor has found.

A computer-generated reconstruction by Dr. Timothy Bromage, a paleoanthropologist and Adjunct Professor of Biomaterials and of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, shows a 1.9 million-year-old skull belonging to Homo rudolfensis, the earliest member of the human genus, with a surprisingly small brain and distinctly protruding jaw, features commonly associated with more apelike members of the hominid family living as much as three million years ago.
Ye olde book review

Nothing to do with archaeology, so skip on if you don't care. Just got done reading The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker. Excellent book. Nonfiction. From Amazon:
As was customary for girls from elite families in 18th-century colonial Peru, Isabel Gramesón was barely a teenager when she married Jean Godin, a Frenchman visiting the territory as an assistant on a scientific expedition. Planning to bring his wife back to France, Godin trekked across South America to check in with the French colonial authorities, but was refused permission to return up the Amazon back into Spanish territory to retrieve Isabel. So they remained a continent apart for 20 years until 1769, when Isabel started making her way east. Her party ran aground on the Bobonaza River (which feeds into the Amazon), and though almost everyone perished, she managed to survive alone in the rainforest for weeks. Although science journalist Whitaker doesn't directly refer to his own modern trek following Isabel's route down the Bobonaza, his descriptions of the conditions she would have encountered convey his familiarity with the territory, often quite viscerally, ("There are giant stinging ants, ants that bite, and ants that both bite and sting"). His account of the French expedition that brought Godin to Peru and then separated him from his new wife is equally vivid, with exhilarating discoveries and petty squabbles-and richly illustrated with contemporary drawings. Though an early, long digression tracing the history of attempts to measure the size of the earth may establish the context a little too solidly, making some readers impatient, they'll certainly be hooked once the story really begins. Isabel and Jean's adventures are riveting enough on their own, and colonial South America's largely unfamiliar history adds another compelling layer to this well-crafted yarn.

It's really two books. The first half to 2/3 is about the scientific expedition to measure a degree of latitude at the equator in order to see if its length is different than one degree farther north. They did this to test the shape of the earth; that is, whether it was really slightly flattened at the poles. Isabel doesn't make much of an appearance until the second half. This part of the book provides a useful remedy to those fieldworkers prone to whine about the conditions they face while attempting to do useful work. Several in their party died, they faced really unimaginable physical difficulties, spent years doing so, and still managed to do first-rate work. This part tends to be the most detailed and would be of interest to science geeks with an interest in the history of science.

The second half is just plain riveting and eye opening. To the modern reader the time scales involved are difficult to imagine. People would customarily wait for months just to hear word from a couple of hundred miles away. "I'll just sit here in this South American hellhole for 18 months while I wait for a letter I wrote to France to get back to me." Sheesh.

Isabel's journey is. . . .something else. Like the exerpt above demonstrates, it is one of those stories of survival that ordinary people find difficult to imagine. It's so well written that it reads almost like a novel. Mosquitoes, ants and nearly everything else one can imagine constantly biting and stinging; bugs that burrow into your skin and turn into a larva there! (Hate bugs. That's why I work in the desert) It's hard to describe without giving away too much, though obviously she survives her journey.

Thus, if one can make it through the first part, it's definitely worth the read.

And now I'll compose that post about how haaaaaard it used to be to do fieldwork in Egypt without an iPod. . . . .
Why the Greeks could hear plays from the back row
The wonderful acoustics for which the ancient Greek theatre of Epidaurus is renowned may come from exploiting complex acoustic physics, new research shows.

The theatre, discovered under a layer of earth on the Peloponnese peninsula in 1881 and excavated, has the classic semicircular shape of a Greek amphitheatre, with 34 rows of stone seats (to which the Romans added a further 21).

Its acoustics are extraordinary: a performer standing on the open-air stage can be heard in the back rows almost 60 metres away. Architects and archaeologists have long speculated about what makes the sound transmit so well.

Now Nico Declercq and Cindy Dekeyser of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta say that the key is the arrangement of the stepped rows of seats. They calculate that this structure is perfectly shaped to act as an acoustic filter, suppressing low-frequency sound — the major component of background noise — while passing on the high frequencies of performers' voices1.

The apparent fly in the ointment is stated within the article: Declercq cautions that the presence of a seated audience would alter the effect, however, in ways that are hard to gauge. "For human beings the calculations would be very difficult because the human body is not homogeneous and has a very complicated shape," he says. That is, when people are seated, the seats are largely covered up by soft, squishy people wearing soft, squishy clothing. OTOH, it might still be designed for the ideal and still work reasonably well even when the reflective surfaces are partly covered.
Biblical archaeology followup This post linking to an article on the Tall el-Hammam site prompted one of the investigators to comment. Kind of a lengthy comment mostly having to do with the site's identification with the Biblical Sodom. Although I don't know why that was given such prominence; the only part I commented somewhat critically on was the mention of a substance found on a piece of pottery that was linked to nuclear detonations. Still waiting on that.

BTW, the site is listed on the university's web site.

UPDATE: You know, I looked up this 'trinitite' stuff and it appears to just be silica glass formed at the Trinity site. That is, it doesn't appear to be a particularly unusual substance, except maybe that it was radioactive. Most accounts I read pretty much described it as melted/fused quartz. It sounds more as if they found a piece of pottery that had been partially vitrified -- maybe it was tempered with quartz sand? -- which, being fired and all wouldn't be all that unusual, and someone somewhere threw in the trinitite idea.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Apocalypto redux Mel Goes Ballistic -- "Lady, F**k Off!"
After Gibson's presentation, the crowd was allowed to ask questions. Alicia Estrada, an Assistant Professor of Central American Studies at CSUN, challenged Gibson, asking him if he had read about the Mayan culture before shooting the controversial film. Gibson said he had.

Estrada persisted, stating that representations in the movie that the Mayans engaged in sacrificial ceremonies and had bloodthirsty tendencies were both wrong and racist. Estrada and others tell TMZ that Gibson exploded in anger, responding, "Lady, F**k off."

It's just a freakin' movie. . . . .

Actually, it doesn't appear that this was any sort of an honest intellectual disagreement, more like political theater.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Native Relics Unearthed — and Then What?
Where, and to what degree, the past should be allowed to enter the present is the focus of a study East Hampton Town will undertake in the near future. The study’s findings will shed light on a buried culture, as well as help local government and property owners deal with the folks who lived here long before the concept of real estate was born.

Deciding whether the town’s chief responsibility is to preserve historic sites or to protect homeowners’ rights is tricky, with all sorts of ethical and legal considerations. Take the case of Michael and Sharon Falcone, who in June of 2005, after four years of back and forth between archaeologists and town planners, were given permission to build a 4,751-square-foot, two-story house with a swimming pool and a detached garage on an extraordinary piece of property on Lake Montauk.

Good article.
Archaeological Dig Commences On The Independence Mall Grounds
At the controls of a hydraulic excavator, Mayor John Street hoisted the first mound of dirt from an archeological site on Independence Mall yesterday.
The dig was in commemoration of the slaves held by former president George Washington and John Adams centuries ago. It will supplement the site of the President's House, where an architectural design was announced last month of a proposed monument that will be built adjacent to the Liberty Bell Center.
The dig is designed to determine if there are any artifacts in the ground that might tell more about the people who lived and worked in the President's House, especially the slaves.
A Question of Balance
An introductory class in osteology--the study of the human skeleton--led Joan Brenner Coltrain to her life's work: using stable-isotope chemistry to decode the secrets hidden in bones. Almost 15 years of pioneering research later, Brenner Coltrain is a research associate professor of anthropology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a leading researcher in her field. She has a solid publication record, numerous National Science Foundation awards, and her own laboratory at the University of Utah.

Brenner Coltrain's career has not followed the well-worn academic path. Instead, she has carved out a career by making choices consistent with her personal values and priorities. The result has been a richly rewarding journey that illustrates how family commitments can be balanced with academic achievement.
And now. . . .the news from the EEF (first in a couple of weeks, I'm afraid)

Press report: "Integrated project to restore pyramids blocks"

Second part of Dr Hawass's story about his hat, and how it saved him from the "curse of the Pharaohs", although not totally:

Press report: "Ancient Egyptian make-up uncovered"
"A new analysis of ancient Egyptian pots on display in the
Louvre in Paris has challenged what people believed their
contents to be. The four hieroglyphic-covered pots have
been labelled for the past 100 years as Canopic jars holding
the embalmed remains of the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II.
But French chemists now believe that they hold ordinary
cosmetics, the New Scientist reports."
-- Another press report on this:
-- The New Scientist's press report is at:
--Photo of the jars (see EEFNEWS (443)):

Archaeology's Interactive Dig "Excavating Hierakonpolis"
has been updated with four 'Field Notes' about the 2007 season:

End of EEF news

Wait! That EEF news was from a week ago! Here's this week's, too!

Press report: "Mummy is back, and a little more presentable "
"For 51 years, visitors to the St. Louis Art Museum were
fascinated -- and a little horrified -- by mummy Pet-menekh
and the black toe that protruded from his foot wrappings.
After more than 20 years away and an extensive face lift,
the 2,300-year-old mummy returned to the St. Louis Art
Museum in 2001. "

Press report: "Modern technology reveals mummy's past
Extensive research was done on a child mummy in the Saint Louis
Science Center. "The baby mummy had a European mom, and likely
came from a wealthy family. (...) A small snippet of the mummy's
wrapping tested for carbon dating suggested the child had lived
between 30 B.C. and 130 A.D. (...) Three-dimensional images
from CT scans of the child's bones, skull, teeth and body cavity
suggested the child lived to be seven or eight months. (...)
DNA [was extracted] using routine methods. Tests showed the
boy's mother was European." With a photo of the mummy,
which now has gone on display.
-- The press release of the Center and other info about the
research project (incl. a video presentation) can be found at:

Press report: "Investigating evolution and mutation through
ancient DNA research"
"This month Professor Lambert embarks on a new phase of
ancient DNA research. (..) The DNA from mummified Sacred
Ibis, in some cases as much as 6000 years old, will be
compared with samples collected right up to the present
day from the widespread population of Sacred Ibis still
roaming in Africa. (..) One of his collaborators, Professor
Mark Spigelman (University College, London) has developed
methods to sample fully wrapped mummies with an
endoscope that will leave little, if any evidence of this
intrusion in the name of science."

Press report: "A Sliver of Ancient Egypt in Central Park"
"Only 22 [obelisks] remain in the world. Egypt still possesses
five and Rome has 13. The Romans originally looted the obelisks,
but the 16th-century Pope Sixtus V directed their present
locations in the Eternal City. Istanbul, London, Paris, and
New York each have one obelisk.". The story of the only
AE obelisk in the Americans, behind the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, in Central Park.

Press report: "Valley of the bulldozers: Death on the Nile"
About the destruction of Qurna. "It has been decided that
30 of the village houses will be preserved for posterity. Of
course no one will live in them. And the people of Qurna,
what will become of them? They will be off the map. And
if any returning visitors wonder where they have all gone,
they will have left no trace and the question will fade
unanswered. Because the concern of the tourist business
is not the living but the dead, and the longer they have been
dead, the better. "

* Press report: "Pyramid's Secret Doors to Be Opened"
"By the end of this year (..) people all over the world will
know what is behind the second door in the southern shaft
and the third door in the northern shaft," Hawass said."

Janet H. Johnson (Ed.), Life in a Multi-Cultural Society:
Egypt from Cambyses to Constantine and Beyond. SAOC 51.
Proceedings of a symposium held at the Oriental Institute of
the University of Chicago in September 1990. The book was
published on paper in 1992, and now (March 2007) the OI
offers a digitized version, for free (PDF, 40.5 MB).

Some relevant articles that appeared in: Pamela B. Vandiver,
Martha Goodway, Jennifer L. Mass (Eds.), Materials Issues in
Art and Archaeology VI. Materials Research Society Proceedings
Volume 712 (2002, Out of Print). These papers of Symposium II
of the 2001 MRS Fall Meeting are online for free [by mistake?].
TOC of the Proceedings as a whole:
-- Patricia S. Griffin, "Reconstructing the Materials and Technology of
Egyptian Faience and Frit", pp. 323-356 (PDF, 7.03 MB)
"This paper presents a research project undertaken at the Cleveland
Museum of Art to study and characterize its collection of more than
one hundred and fifty Egyptian artifacts made from faience or frit.
An overview of the project is presented here, followed by a summary
of faience technology that draws upon other published studies as well
as the insights gained during this project. Where appropriate, this
technological discussion will be illustrated using examples of Egyptian
artifacts studied during this project. For some objects discussion will
be limited to one or two aspects of manufacture. However, the
proposed manufacturing sequence of several key artifacts will be
described more fully. "
-- Alison Whyte, Susan Stock, Alison Murray, "An Unusual
Dark Patina on Egyptian Copper Alloy Objects in the Royal
Ontario Museum Collection", pp. 269-280 (PDF, 344 KB) [this
one was already mentioned in EEFNEWS (435).]
-- Carolyn Riccardelli, Jennifer Mass, and Jonathan Thornton,
"Egyptian Faience Inlay Techniques: A Process for Obtaining Detail
and Clarity by Refiring" pp. 545-570 (PDF, 2.14 MB):
"The faience of the New Kingdom period is frequently decorated
with an expanded palette of red, black, and yellow. This polychrome
decoration was often accomplished by inlaying one color of paste into
another. The aesthetic success of these inlay techniques reveals a
fundamental understanding of the materials' characteristics before,
during, and after firing, and knowledge of how to manipulate these
characteristics. The goal of this research is to more fully understand
ancient Egyptian faience inlay techniques by characterizing the properties
of a set of standard reproductions. "
-- Dudley F. Giberson, Jr, "Core Vessel Technology: A New Model",
pp. 571-578 (PDF, 243 KB):
"Ancient Egyptian XVIII Dynasty core vessel manufacturing technology
had many sequential steps to make a core vessel, but there were only
three essential elements to the process. One, the base layer of glass
was applied as a frit glass; two, the objects were manufactured over
a vertical heat source; and three, the vessels were made in very low
temperatures (maximum 1500F.)."

Vivienne G. Callender," A Contribution to the Burial of Women
in the Old Kingdom", in: Archiv Orientální, vol. 70, pp. 337-350
(2002) - pdf-file (6.8 MB)
"After a period of virtually total neglect, the theme of female
burials in the Old Kingdom has lately been receiving a little
scholarly attention ...This imbalance naturally reflects the
situation of the cemeteries themselves, where the majority of
tombs belong to men; nonetheless, apart from the wellknown,
general comment that there are far fewer female tomb owners
than male owners, there are some aspects of the information
regarding female burials that need to be brought forward for
our attention."

NOW. . . .end of EEF news

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mummy update

Jet Li unearths role in "Mummy 3"
Jet Li is in negotiations to play the villainous title character in "The Mummy 3," whose plot details are being kept under wraps.

Rob Cohen ("Stealth") will direct the Universal Pictures project. The action will be set in China, with Li's story beginning in ancient times before moving to a post-World War II setting. It is also known that one sequence involves the famous terra-cotta warriors, the collection of 6,000 men and their horses that were originally constructed to protect the tomb of an emperor.

What? Not in Egypt? Sacrilege! And, um, what about Anck Su Namun? That would, errr, detract from the, ummmm, realism! Yeah, that's it. Historical accuracy is my only concern.

Okay, one for the chicks, too:

Interestingly, Vosloo was on a short-lived ABC series called Veritas: The Quest which, IIRC, had some form of ancient history theme. Can't remember for the life of me what it was about though.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A 'dirt-loving kind of guy' mines for finds in old outhouses
The privy in John Hanley's back yard is no longer private.

But after a century of benign neglect, it's a hole once again.

"Staunton is a gold mine," Hanley said earlier in the week. "Beneath almost any yard you'll find jewelry, buttons, bottles - all kinds of artifacts."

Hanley's Sunnyside Street mine is a 3-foot-by-3-foot shaft that roughly corresponds to the business end of an outhouse. The organic matter has long ago converted to soil (and lost its odor); the rest is treasure for urban archaeologists.

Just make sure it's old.
A sampling of today's ArchaeoBlog email senders:

stick nose ("Largest choice of best meds on the net.")
Darina Piccoli ("compose softer")
Li Boobie ("iGo Retire Medusas head")
Brocades P. Boutique and Ike E. Measlier both had no subjects.
Bosnian archaeologists discover fabled ships
A team of Bosnia-Herzegovina's archaeologists have discovered for the first time the remnants of fabled Illyrian ships in a marshland in southern Herzegovina, the team's head said on Tuesday.

Snjezana Vasilj told local media in Mostar that the ships were discovered about eight metres under the water of Hutovo blato, a marshland near the southern town of Capljina.

The Illyrian ships, believed to be more than 2 200 years old, had been known to historians only through Greek and Roman myths and legends, but their existence had never been physically proven, said Vasilj.
Archaeologists investigate nighthawking
A team from Oxford Archaeology has announced plans to examine the practice of 'nighthawking', or the removal of antiquities from archaeological sites illegally.

More and more illicit archaeological treasures and antiquities are being traded on websites such as online auction house eBay, causing concern among experts.

The archaeologists claim that the current monitoring of and law enforcement activity against nighthawkers is piecemeal and more resources are needed to combat the problem.

DO they really call it 'nighthawking' over there?
Skelatal [sic] remains discovered during dig at Mildenhall
As the archeological team from Suffolk County Council was in the middle of a routine dig in the RAF Mildenhall officers' housing area in Beck Row March 12, they knew they'd stumbled across an interesting find when a shovel hit something solid.

That "something solid" turned out to be the skull of a human skeleton -- thought to be almost 2,000 years old.

After just more than a day spent carefully digging out the area using nothing but small trowels and brushes, a complete skeleton was revealed.
Nile comes through again NASA Finds Sun-Climate Connection in Old Nile Records
Alexander Ruzmaikin and Joan Feynman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., together with Dr. Yuk Yung of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., have analyzed Egyptian records of annual Nile water levels collected between 622 and 1470 A.D. at Rawdah Island in Cairo. These records were then compared to another well-documented human record from the same time period: observations of the number of auroras reported per decade in the Northern Hemisphere. Auroras are bright glows in the night sky that happen when mass is rapidly ejected from the sun's corona, or following solar flares. They are an excellent means of tracking variations in the sun's activity.

Feynman said that while ancient Nile and auroral records are generally "spotty," that was not the case for the particular 850-year period they studied.

"Since the time of the pharaohs, the water levels of the Nile were accurately measured, since they were critically important for agriculture and the preservation of temples in Egypt," she said. "These records are highly accurate and were obtained directly, making them a rare and unique resource for climatologists to peer back in time."

The researchers found some clear links between the sun's activity and climate variations. The Nile water levels and aurora records had two somewhat regularly occurring variations in common - one with a period of about 88 years and the second with a period of about 200 years.

Too bad there's nothing to compare pharonic Nile readings with. Or maybe some enterprising grad student out there can go look for something. . . .

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Computer pioneer, developer of Fortran, dies in Oregon at 82
John Backus, whose development of the Fortran programming language in the 1950s changed how people interacted with computers and paved the way for modern software, has died. He was 82.

Backus died Saturday in Ashland, Ore., according to IBM Corp., where he spent his career.

Before Fortran, computers had to be meticulously "hand-coded" — programmed in the raw strings of digits that triggered actions inside the machine. Fortran was a "high-level" programming language because it abstracted that work — it let programmers enter commands in a more intuitive system, which the computer would translate into machine code on its own.

The breakthrough earned Backus the 1977 Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery, one of the industry's highest accolades. The citation praised Backus' "profound, influential, and lasting contributions."

. . .

"Much of my work has come from being lazy," Backus told Think, the IBM employee magazine, in 1979. "I didn't like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701 (an early computer), writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs."

Sometimes I don't know whether to love him or hate him for this. But yes, back in my undergrad days when I was a budding comp sci major, I did write several programs in both machine and assembler. COme to think of it, I spent an entire semester writing assembler programs. . .gee, it must be true that you block out bad memories. Anyway, comp sci programs by that time didn't teach Fortran, that was left to the engineering schools. We were all into structured languages, and Pascal was the big teaching language at the time. But a lot of programs written by archaeologists were initially done in Fortran, so I eventually became pretty familiar with it. In fact, I ended up translating both an occurrence seriation and a surveying data reduction program from Fortran to Pascal and thence eventually to Visual Basic for Access. I was always taught that "GoTo" was just a nitch up from Satan on the Ultimate Evil scale.

And yeah, writing assembler s.u.c.k.s. Pretty darn efficient though. But, as you can tell, it kinda soured me on the whole computer science route. . . .
More 'History of Smut' on ArchaeoBlog The world's oldest condom

More text at the site, but not much. Dates from 1640s.

Also, they're checking Ötzi the Ice Man's wallet again, just in case.

UPDATE: Date changed. 1640s. Rented fingers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The detritus of graduate school

So I cleaned out my file cabinets some more over the weekend. I had already sifted through two drawers several months ago and got rid of a bunch of papers. Papers? Photocopies of journal articles, book chapters, unpublished stuff, etc. Back in that first year or two of grad school back in 19*mumble-mumble* -- actually, mostly only the first year -- we had to read dozens and dozens of papers for two classes: RC Dunnell's theory class and DK Grayson's zooarch class. The former covered almost entirely North American works, mostly from the 1940s onward. Dunnell's theory class was actually two quarters, the first on unit construction and the second on explanation. Grayson had us read and write abstracts on dozens more having to do with all manner of faunal-related papers. MNI, NISP, pollen, and, my personal favorites, pack rat middens and sloth dung.

So anyway, copies of all of them were on hold at the library so every week we'd all trundle over there, check them out, walk over to the copy center and make copies and chat up the little hotties they had working the counters. Lord knows how much money we spent on copies. I saved most of them and, in fact, had my own unique cross-referenced filing system. Each copy would have a number and some key words (author, topic, etc.) and into the files they'd go. I got this system from Aidan Southall who I worked for at U Wisconsin. Eventually I migrated some of the 3x5 index cards over to EndNote. Worked pretty well, actually.

Among the greatest hits:
Kuhn, S.L. 1992 Blank form and reduction as determinants of Mousterian scraper morphology Amer. Ant. 57(1) p 115-128

Hansen Henry P. 1942 A pollen study of peat profiles from lower Klamath Lake of Oregon and California in L.S. Cressman. Archaeological Researches in the Northern Great Basin. Carnegie Institute of Washington Publications 538: 103-114.

Antevs, Ernst 1955 Geologic-Climatic dating in the west Amer. Ant. 20(4) 317-335.

I retained some of them, either because they are hard/impossible to come by electronically or I liked them particularly well. Yeah, you young whipper snappers in grad school now have it easy! When I was your age I had to slog through 10 foot snowdrifts just to go to the library and find a journal article to photocopy -- and I appreciated it!

TV archaeology update As I posted here, I bought the DVD set of Kolchak: The Night Stalker a while back and have been slowly watching my way through it. I watched one last night called The Energy Eater in which an Indian god ("Machemondo") is brought back to life after a hospital was built on the site he resided in. Archaeologically, they go back to Indian legends and European mentionings of him, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, they go a bit off the rails at one point when the supposed expert, a latter-day Indian shaman, points to some petroglyphs in a book that were "from the Neanderthal period". Oye.
Sudan archeology flourishes before the flood
Sudan’s archaeology is finally stepping out of Egypt’s shadow as teams work against the clock to rescue an entire swathe of Nile Valley heritage from the rising waters of a Chinese-built dam.

"The paradox is that, yes, an entire area is being wiped off the map but thanks to the rescue project, Sudanese archaeology is being put on the map," said Sudan’s antiquities chief Salah Ahmed.

The Merowe dam is a controversial hydro-electric project — one of the largest in Africa — being erected on the Nile’s fourth cataract and due to start flooding the valley over more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) within months.

On a Pueblo dig: Exploring enigma of 'lost' peoples

"Higher in the canyon I settled in a copse of half-lit junipers, took off my pack, and pulled out a down sleeping bag designed for nearly twenty below zero," explorer Craig Childs writes in "House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest." "It would be barely warm enough tonight."

Childs battled nature in a search for the truth behind the supposed disappearance of a real prehistoric Native American culture, the Anasazi -- ancient Pueblo peoples whose culture thrived between the 11th and 13th centuries in Chaco Canyon, modern-day New Mexico. He hiked countless miles under summer's oppressive desert sun, and braved subzero temperatures throughout isolated winter nights. Even during droughts the risk of a rare flash flood was always present, even if clean drinking water was not.

The link is a book review. Nothing in the review seems too bizarre. Childs apparently goes along with the more recent arguments on more violent Anasazi.
Fight! Fight! Campaigners hit out as historical sites are dismantled
The group lobbying for the re-routing out of the M3 motorway is hitting out at the removal of a series of ancient underground buildings from the site in the past week.

A team of archaeologists removed the souterrains this week, which date back to the early Christian era.

The National Roads Authority says historical buildings like this were relatively common in Ireland.

Siobh€n Rice of the TaraWatch lobby group says she is heartbroken over the works.

"We have asked time and time again that independent archaeologists be allowed to inspect these sites - and to no avail. All of our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. I don't think it would happen in any other country in Europe - it's an absolute disgrace," she said.

That's the whole thing.
Ancient perfume found on Venus` island
Archaeologists exploring Cyprus, said to be home to Venus, the goddess of love, have stumbled upon the world`s oldest known perfume factory.

A display of the prehistoric scents and 60 objects from the Cyprus discovery can be seen at Rome`s Capitoline Museums, ANSA reported. The distilling equipment is believed to be 4,000 years old.
Hmmmmm. . . . Archaeologists have a dig about colonial relics left on shelf
ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging up artefacts in Sydney are being forced to store them in their own homes because there is no central repository for them.

Although the state's Heritage Act provides for the establishment of a repository for relics of colonial times, the Heritage Office is asking land owners to ensure they look after the items themselves.

The lack of space is preventing students, academics and genealogists from finding the material easily.

It looks as if they're referring to the results of excavations required before building -- kind of an unfunded mandate. "Save everything, and someday we'll have somewhere for you to put it, but for now, keep them at your own expense."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Non-archaeological post
Another adventure into the ancient history known as The '70s. Today I was listening to my old Boston record/LP "Don't Look Back", largely because Brad Delp just died. There's a track that has an incredibly low-frequency note, probably synthesized. As a lad, this fascinated me greatly as it would cause one's woofer to bounce around producing it (if it could reproduce it that is). Anyway, it started booming and I heard a rattling coming out of one speaker:

So I took off the cover and lo and behold, a piece of the rubber surround of the woofer was falling off! I touched it and the whole surround turned out to be dry and flaky and, sure enough, completely shot:

The woofer is the big one in the center; that cone on the bottom is a passive radiator; more about that later. Both cones had bad surrounds so basically the thing is shot. New speakers? Probably not. About 10-12 years ago one of my cats decided to have a go at the other one and ripped two of the cones in that one. At the time, I found someone in Phoenix who sold replacement parts for Genesis speakers. I eventually found this place which seems to be run by a former employee of Genesis Physics, not related to Genesis Loudspeakers who are making speakers now.

Yeah, in my youth I was a stereo freak. Not an "audiophile" since those are the high end snobs who will happily pay a couple hundred bucks for gold-plated connector cables despite their having never passed a blind listening test. (I can almost see the vituperative emails coming in now) I bought these Genesis 2+'s way back in 19mumble mumble and have dragged them around the country ever since. They still sound great so I plan on replacing either the surround material or the drivers.

To be honest, I don't think speaker technology has changed all that much since the '70s. The 1970s were probably the golden age of loudspeaker design and everything since is mostly, I think, a refinement of what was developed then. Genesis was founded by some guys who worked for EPI and left to form Genesis Physics. They made a great speaker for a reasonable price. Their main innovation was an inverted dome tweeter. They also used the passive radiator in some of them. Passive radiators got kind of a bad rap when they first came out because Panasonic used them in their cheapo speakers. Still, it was a good technology for getting those really low bass notes instead of a port; basically, as in the Wiki entry linked above, you could tune the speaker box to move the radiator based on the movement of the air by the woofer. Consequently, these suckers will rattle the house.

Back then, there was a lot of innovation going on and a lot of weird stuff coming out. Electrostatics were probably the best, but they suffered from a lack of bass. A lot of companies tried stuffing more and more drivers onto their speakers and I think Cervin-Vega ended up with like 70 each in one model. That one, incidentally, was the only speaker my stereo-geek store people ever said they couldn't tell from a live performance. C-V's were the rock-and-roller's best friend. Someone I knew had a pair of big 15"-woofer C-V's and we used to blast Foghat out of them. Yeesh. Show my age much?

There was also a weird one where the driver was sort of an inverted cone sitting at the top. Never heard one of those. I think my Ultimate Speakers back then were Acoustic Research AR-9's. There were also Dalquist Dq-10's that had 5-6 drivers each and they were all staggered because sound of different frequency reached the ear faster. By staggering them, they reasoned that all frequencies would reach you at once and that would somehow sound more natural. I did hear those once, but they didn't seem all that exciting.

I still have a soft spot for Advents which my friend Del had; very good speakers. That link is to a modern review of them. The person that does my hair bought some from a friend for her shop and I was soooo jealous. They look great, too.

As I said, speakers don't seem to have changed much. We were even playing around with surround sound then. You could hook up four speakers in serial around a room (which I did) and have a pseudo-surround sound going. I first bought some small speakers called Matrix which were actualy quite good for their size. Then I got a Hitachi cassette deck, and Onkyo amp, tuner, and turntable. And I still have them all! Although the Hitachi doesn't work. . . . .

And the big Bose controversy continues. Geez. The big rap against Bose has always been that they tend to use audio trickery to make the speakers sound better than they are. That is, they use sorta cheapo drivers and position them to reflect off of walls and stuff and make it sound like you're in a huge room, due to all of the reflecting. There's something to this, of course, and personally I find snobbery more than a bit off-putting. Still, I tend to have a reflexive dislike of Bose, influenced by the fact that I got roped into a Bose store for a half-hour infomercial. Used car salesmen, they are. They tend to market to those who have limited experience with audio, mostly people who have heard only small radio speakers with little bass or treble. Hence, you hear these things just filling up a room with sound and it's quite impressive. Some reviewers really liked them in some respects, and they did make a lot of room-filling sound. But once you listened to them (I'm talking about the classic Bose 901's here) for a while, you realize they sound pretty mushy, mostly because they only used a single type of driver for all frequencies.

So, eh, I'll see about getting new drivers and post an update once they go in. In the meantime, I'm listening to some old Jimmy Buffett LPs. I got turned on to Buffett on my field school on San Juan Island, WA. Talk about a cushy field school. We'd bomb around the island, drink (a lot), hang out at the beach, and pretend we were expat bums. Er, plus, I had a bit of a fling with a perfectly lovely young lady named Siendie. *sigh* Jimmy Buffett, archaeology, a touristy island, and a summer romance: sometimes it just all comes together.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Chinese tombs may surpass Egyptian wonders
The tomb of China's first emperor is potentially one of the most spectacular on Earth, but a heated debate is developing over whether to excavate it at all.

Chinese archaeologists have expressed concern that they do not currently have the expertise to properly preserve what they find inside the tomb - located in China's central province of Shaanxi – but new technologies may be closing that gap.

Qinshi Huang's enormous tomb complex is the home of Xian's famed terracotta warriors; 8,000 life-size figures that were discovered by accident in 1974. The tomb itself, though, has not yet been disturbed.

At this point, I'm all for leaving them alone until remote sensing can show exactly what's there. Only because that day is not all that far off.
Unearthing La Tène's Celtic mysteriesAdd story to my swissinfo panel
n 1857 Swiss archaeologist Hans Kopp stumbled on a Celtic treasure trove, including 40 iron swords, at La Tène on the northeastern shores of Lake Neuchâtel.

To celebrate the 150-year anniversary of Kopp's important discovery, three Swiss museums with the largest La Tène collections have got together to launch the "Year of the Celts".

Alongside a series of exhibitions and events to mark the occasion, a three-year research project, financed by the National Science Foundation, will be attempting to shed new light on La Tène culture.

"We launched the project on two levels: for the general public to highlight the richness of our own collections, and on a scientific level to enable us to get much closer to the true meaning of La Tène," Madeline Betschart, director of the Schwab Museum in Biel, told swissinfo.
Modern technology reveals mummy's past
The baby mummy had a European mom, and likely came from a wealthy family. But where he lived and why he died — and at such a young age — remain a mystery. The mummy, exhibited for the first time Thursday at the Saint Louis Science Center, has been the year-long focus of an international team of investigators. The museum said it may be the most extensive research project ever undertaken on a child mummy.

Acquired by a Hermann, Mo., dentist at the turn of the century in the Middle East, the mummy ended up in an attic of some of his relatives, before being donated to the Science Center in 1985.

It sat in a museum warehouse until Al Wiman joined the Science Center as vice president two years ago and suggested that modern medical technology could unlock its secrets.
Mummies' parasites
Ana Vicente and her team at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro began their quest for ancient pinworm RNA at San Pedro de Atacama, a pre-Incan village that was once part of an important trade route to the Pacific coast. Considered the driest place on earth, the region boasts 35 mm of rainfall in its wettest years and is considered a veritable time capsule for archaeologists, says paleoparasitologist Adauto Araujo, "There are so many bodies there, that archaeologists no longer excavate them."

Great graphic:
Ancient Mashed Grapes Found in Greece
Either the ancient Greeks loved grape juice, or they were making wine nearly 6,500 years ago, according to a new study that describes what could be the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes.

If the charred 2,460 grape seeds and 300 empty grape skins were used to make wine, as the researchers suspect, the remains might have belonged to the second oldest known grape wine in the world, edged out only by a residue-covered Iranian wine jug dating to the sixth millennium B.C.
Headless Bodies Hold Secrets to Pacific Migration
The peculiar 3,000-year-old skeletons belong to the Lapita people, the earliest known inhabitants of the Pacific Islands. Their DNA could shed light on how the many remote island specks surrounding Vanuatu were colonized, the researchers say.

"Both Vanuatu and Western Polynesia were first settled by the Lapita culture but their populations are somewhat different genetically and this has not yet been explained," said dig leader Matthew Spriggs, an archaeologist with the Australian National University.

Old news.
Pharaoh's pots give up their secrets
FOR a century, they have been on display in the Louvre museum in Paris, labelled as Canopic jars holding the embalmed innards of the great Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II. But the four pots, covered in hieroglyphs, are not what they seem.

An analysis by French chemists has revealed that the jars in fact contain ordinary cosmetics, produced at a much later date.

. . .

he Louvre now believes the pots were made for a temple to the sun god Amun-Ra. Because Rameses II built the temple, his name is on the jars, but they were probably used to hold ritual ointments, then later recycled as containers for resin-embalmed remains.
(Yet another) Walker "Site" update Let the evidence speak at the Walker Hill Site
Individuals have made gravely incongruous statements about the scientific process being followed, and what can be learned from it. The irony in this situation is that the people making these statements have themselves unabashedly disregarded the scientific process.
We are professional archaeologists, with over 40 years of collective experience in 16 states, as well as overseas. We caution against accepting the OSA's pronouncements as scientifically valid. He fails to substantiate his arguments, and therefore he has no basis for dismissal of the site. The motivations behind the attacks are not known or understood, but we remain dedicated to the scientific method, and we will not be deterred by poorly constructed criticism.
To quote a fellow scientist regarding the controversy surrounding the site, "The nice thing about science is that the evidence tells the story." Let the evidence speak. That is what we, the researchers, are trying to do.

Well. . . .it'd be great if evidence did speak for itself, but most artifacts, I find, don't come out of the ground with tags explaining what they were.
Ancient tombs found in Nayarit
Mexican archaeologists found more than 100 bodies in 29 different pre-Hispanic tombs dating back about 2,000 years in Nayarit.

Raúl Barrera, who leads the archaeological project for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, said most of the remains belonged to women between the ages of 35 and 40.

Archaeologists have not yet been able to determine which civilization the remains are from, although they know the find dates back to the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 600.

The age/sex item caught my eye, though I don't know why. Seems unusual.
Recent battlefield archaeology Digging up the past in Belgium
Today, with the spring sun trying to burn through an early morning Belgian mist, it is hard to imagine that this innocuous looking potato field was once the hellish moonscape of the front line.

By the end of World War I life on the surface had become untenable. Tons of steel fell from the sky in a near continuous bombardment.

UPDATE: More here.
Plus, I missed this:
"It's a mixture of ancient and modern. We've used ground penetrating radar, which gave us a certain trace. And then we've used the ancient method of dowsing, and that matched exactly," said Peter Barton .

Dowsing. Shot that whole thing to bits right quick.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A NAGPRA conundrum Research backs Ho-Chunk claim on mounds
According to research by Beloit College archaeologists, the animal-shaped mounds, which date as far back as 700 A.D., can be traced to ancestors of the Ho-Chunk.

“There are a lot of gaps in our knowledge, but we're using two lines of evidence that seem fairly reliable right now. And it's on that basis that most people assert that connection between the effigy mounds and Ho-Chunk ancestors,” said Dr. Robert Salzer, a former Beloit College anthropology professor and one of the archaeologists conducting ongoing research related to the effigy mounds.

. . .

Members of the Chippewa tribe recognize the validity of the Ho-Chunk's historical connections to the Beloit area as well, but are quick to point out the Ho-Chunk is not the only tribe that can prove a connection. U.S. government documents indicate the region around modern-day Beloit was shared by a number of tribes, including the Chippewa.

Just reading this, the data don't look all that strong to link any particular tribe. But it seems fairly given that a number of "tribes" shared the area in the past.
Archaeologist for a day in Israel
Deep in a 2,000-year-old tunnel system outside Jerusalem, a young woman unearthed a rare oil lamp used in ancient rituals during an archaeological dig.

For Abby Krewson, the discovery is especially gratifying: Krewson is a 10th-grader from Philadelphia participating in a "dig for a day" archaeological experience with her family and a Bible college group.

"I didn't expect to find something like that, so it's very exciting," Krewson said.

I've often wondered how well these things go. I imagine it's okay if the stratigraphy isn't terribly complex and people can basically just scrape away. But then, I've never actually read anything that is particularly critical of these sorts of digs.
Ancient Jewish neighborhood discovered
Israeli archaeologists uncovered the remains of a Second Temple-era Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. A network of ancient streets, homes and ritual mikvah baths were found recently in the capital's Arab district of Shuafat when municipal workers laid tracks for a light railway, Ma'ariv reported Tuesday.

The Antiquities Authority estimated that the finds, which currently spread over an area of some 100 acres, date to a period after the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Evidence suggests the neighborhood was affluent and religiously observant.

"In the digs, many stone tools and caches of coins were discovered, including a rare gold coin with the image of the Emperor Trajan," Antiquities Authority official Rahel Bar-Natan said.

That's also the whole thing. Probably will be updates on this.
Archaeologists: Circular formation may be ancient Indian earthwork
Ball State University archaeologists say a circular formation discovered in a wooded area next to a highway west of Muncie is likely built by prehistoric Indians.

Workers with the Delaware County Office of Geographic Information System found the earthen structure more than a year ago while studying contours on a large topographical map.

The circular formation on a wooded tract near Indiana 32 between Muncie and Yorktown was recently brought to the attention of the Indiana Department of Transportation, which plans to widen that segment of the highway to four or five lanes.

Ball State archaeologist Don Cochran says the 150-foot diameter circle was likely constructed by excavating a ditch around a space archaeologists call a central platform.

That's the whole thing.
Archaeologists make finds at historic fort
A preliminary report by the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology team has been released about its findings during the 2006 season.

Colonial Michilimackinac, an early 18th-century French fort and fur trading village, has been continuously excavated for 48 years. Last year was the ninth season of excavation at the easternmost unit of the fort's South Southwest Rowhouse.

The archaeology team, led by Curator of Archaeology Lynn Evans, spent last summer excavating deep features of the rowhouse, including the root cellar and the south wall. The team finally reached the bottom of the main area of the cellar, first defined in 2000.

Did you know that the Mackinac Bridge will provide you with a driver if you are too chicken have a phobia about such a large, open-water bridge crossing?
Archaeology issues delay bridge bid
Archaeological concerns have delayed the bid opening on a new bridge to replace the B.B. Comer Bridge in Scottsboro until April 27.

Johnny Harris, Division 1 engineer for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said Friday the date was moved from March 28 because of "archaeological issues" in the Tennessee River near the steel-truss bridge, built in 1930.

The department delayed bid opening, he said, after realizing archaeological finds were made by the Tennessee Valley Authority before it raised the river in 1939.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lucy update Lucy fossil is up for travel, African leader says
The president of Ethiopia on Wednesday dismissed the concerns of scientists who worry that Lucy, the famous fossil found in the African country, is too fragile to travel this summer for an exhibition in Houston.

"They are entitled to their opinion," said Girma Wolde-Giorgis, who visited Houston to complete arrangements for the exhibit, which opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Aug. 31.

At 3.2 million years old, Lucy's bones don't belong to the oldest human ancestor ever discovered, but hers is among the most complete skeletons recovered. There are several hundred fragments of bone in the collection, representing 40 percent of a single hominin skeleton. Most of the oldest hominin fossils have been found in Ethiopia, Kenya and Chad.
Reading Between the Lines
A thin beam of X-rays scans the writings of the legendary Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes, a hidden text that may be the most important ancient scientific document discovered since the Renaissance. As faint lines emerge on a large computer monitor at Stanford's Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, I can just barely make out the ghostly image of the Greek letter lambda.

As a Webcast producer for the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, I have been documenting this experimental use of one of the most sophisticated tools of modern science, to decipher a 1,000-year-old book made of goatskin. Known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, dubbed Archie for short, it looks terribly fragile. The edges of most of the book's 174 pages are burned, and tears, holes and spots of purple mold dot their surface. The parchment is smaller than I thought it would be, not much larger than a hardback novel.
Experts reveal 'ancient massacre'
Bones found at a prehistoric burial site indicate they belonged to victims of an ancient massacre, say scientists.

Remains of 14 people were discovered at Wayland's Smithy, near Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire, in the 1960s.

Latest techniques date the bones at between 3590 BC and 3560 BC, and have led experts to believe the people may have died in a Neolithic Age massacre.
160,000-year-old jawbone redefines origins of the species
Modern humans were living in northern Africa far earlier than previously thought, according to scientists. A new analysis of a 160,000-year-old fossilised jawbone from Morocco shows that the homo sapiens in the area had started having long childhoods, one of the hallmarks of humans living today.

It is known that the species homo sapiens emerged in Africa 200,000 years ago, but the oldest fossils that resemble modern humans come from sites in Europe dated to around 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

The latest find shows that the key time in the development of a complex human society came much earlier than previously thought. The longer people had to learn and develop their brains as children, the more sophisticated their society could become. The new study pushes the date that modern humans emerged back by more than 100,000 years.
Philistines, but Less and Less Philistine
Archaeologists have applied more polish to the long-tarnished reputation of the Philistines.

In recent years, excavations in Israel established that the Philistines had fine pottery, handsome architecture and cosmopolitan tastes. If anything, they were more refined than the shepherds and farmers in the nearby hills, the Israelites, who slandered them in biblical chapter and verse and rendered their name a synonym for boorish, uncultured people.

Archaeologists have now found that not only were Philistines cultured, they were also literate when they arrived, presumably from the region of the Aegean Sea, and settled the coast of ancient Palestine around 1200 B. C.
Pig study forces rethink of Pacific colonisation
A survey of wild and domestic pigs has caused archaeologists to reconsider both the origins of the first Pacific colonists and the migration routes humans travelled to reach the remote Pacific.

Using mitochondrial DNA obtained from modern and ancient pigs across East Asia and the Pacific, the researchers demonstrated that a single genetic heritage is shared by modern Vietnamese wild boar, modern feral pigs on the islands of Sumatra, Java, and New Guinea, ancient Lapita pigs in Near Oceania, and modern and ancient domestic pigs on several Pacific Islands.

The study results, published today in the prestigious academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, contradict established models of human migration which assert that the ancestors of Pacific islanders originated in Taiwan or Island Southeast Asia, and travelled along routes that pass through the Philippines as they dispersed into the remote Pacific.
Shameless attempt to produce traffic by linking to a picture of Kylie Minogue's butt Why cavemen liked curvy Kylie
HERE are a few exceptions which will always stand out, but most female stars yearn for a diminutive derriere.

However, it appears that the small and slender bottom is very much a recent trend after an archaeological discovery revealed how Stone Age pin-ups were far from size zero.

Ancient carvings depicting the female form 15,000 years ago reveal that prehistoric women were revered for their curvaceous bodies and prominent buttocks.

The most popular were the cave-dwellers’ equivalents of Kylie Minogue (pictured), whose renowned behind is the world’s most popular posterior.

Said posterior:

Men looking for a mate ignored skinnier women and fought for females with the shapeliest behinds.

Experts said a well-presented bottom was a sign of wealth, health and a good diet.

They also suggested she would be a successful mother, able to produce lots of children and sent out a message to other men that her partner was a strong and successful hunter – making him more attractive to other women.

This has got to be tongue-in-cheek (as it were), a bizarre rendering of the actual work (which I suspect), or really bizarre interpretations by generally good archaeologists (Schild). Seems a bit of a stretch to say these figurines were the Magdalenian equivalent of a Playboy centerfold. That would imply that these things were supposed to directly represent an ideal human form (without a head???), which seems, well, a little screwy.

Besides, I know of no one who would think Minogue's rump, as attractive as it is (if you're into that sort of thing), would be classified as "big".

And I'll just leave it right there. This is a family blog, after all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Archy blog update Came across this the other day, and here's a recent post.
In Defence of Archaeology
Somebody once said to me, "You archaeologists don't really know anything, do you? I mean, it's just guesses, right?". Well, sometimes I do despair about archaeology as a science. Can we actually know anything about what life was like for people in the deep past? Are we doing science at all or just deluding ourselves?

. . .

But the thought that really cheers me is that although archaeology may not always understand societies of the past very well, it wouldn't actually be much easier if we had time machines. Because who really understands today's societies in all their multifaceted kaleidoscopism? Social anthropology and sociology have huge problems in getting any perspective on what's going on. Sure, they can talk to the people whose lives they want to learn about. But they can never be sure whether their informants are telling the truth, whether they actually have the knowledge necessary to answer the questions of social scientists, or if the sample of people they talk to is really representative of the group they aim at.

This is the thing that always annoyed me about the trend in archaeology (especially since the WIlley and Phillips tome) towards being. . .*dramatically building music*. . .Cultural Anthropologists. Nearly every archaeology textbook of the last 40 years has described the archaeological record as being so very "incomplete" and only a bare remnant of a rich cultural past, and if we only had more junk we could realize our goal of reconstructing past behavior and reach the holy grail of archaeological theory: Talking like sociocultural anthropologists. Yes, we certainly need to spend endless hours debating what the true definition of "culture" is and whether structural-functionalism is really worthwhile, and whether we're being sufficiently emic or not.

We really need to get over this whole "incompleteness" thing. A "complete" archaeological record is an absolute myth. Sure, you could imagine a world where every single item ever used by anybody everywhere is preserved after it was made, but then what? If everything we manufactured never decayed, we'd just end up piling all the useless stuff in piles and, poof, there goes context. Or destroying it ourselves and using it in some other context.

The great strength of archaeology resides strictly in the fact that we can't observe behavior directly -- time depth won't allow it. Time is the greatest asset of archaeology and that logically excludes "complete" data.
Archaeologists discover Roman village at foot of Silbury Hill
The Romans did more than stop and stare in wonder at the most enigmatic prehistoric monument in Europe - they built a substantial village at the foot of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, it is revealed today.

Although archaeologists and treasure hunters have been pottering around the hill for centuries, the discovery by English Heritage scientists - through a geophysical survey, without a sod of earth being turned - was completely unexpected. Only scattered Roman remains, including a few coins probably dropped by a traveller, have ever been found in the area.
Archaeology study begins at Forks slave site in Natchez
Archaeologists are in Natchez this week hoping to find intact archaeologic deposits related to the Forks of the Road slave market.
Historians say the Forks of the Road site probably looked like "a sprawling prison camp" where slaves would be haggled over and sold to cotton plantation owners who came from across the South.

The survey is funded by the National Park Service and contracted by the city of Natchez.
Lost civilization dwelling mound. . . .found First-Ever Dwelling Mound Found in Germany
A 7,000-year-old dwelling mound has been found in Germany, causing a stir among archaeologists. It is the first find of its kind in Western Europe.

A room with a view has always been a coveted thing. Over the millennia, humans discovered that it could be achieved by simply staying put over generations and not picking up the garbage. By building and rebuilding on the rubble of their own architectural remains, sedentary humans managed to achieve an impressive height.

It's a tell!
‘Indus Valley civilization was more varied and wider’
Indus Valley civilization was much more varied and wider than historians believed till date,” said Professor of Archaeology and Heritage Management, Boston University, Mohammed Rafique Mughal on Monday.

"Extensive exploration and excavation of sites in the upper Indus Valley and the lower Sindh have revealed a widespread cultural phenomena which existed at that time," said Mughal, delivering the Dr I H Qureshi Memorial Lecture, the Harappan civilization, at St Stephen's College.

Claiming that field researches at Harappan sites—both in India and Pakistan —are leading to fresh interpretations, Mughal said, "While we are still striving to understand various aspects of this civilization, certain cultural patterns are emerging from the current research that offers new perspective to various aspects of the Harappan Civilization."
Paper challenges 1491 Amazonian population theories
There's a scholarly debate brewing about whether pre-Columbian Amazonian populations settled in large numbers across Amazonia and created the modern forest setting that many conservationists take to be ‘natural.'

This view has become fashionable among many archaeologists and anthropologists, and is challenged in a recent paper from Dr. Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology. The findings of Bush’s research may rekindle a debate has major implications for land use and policy-setting in the rain forest.

"We don't contradict that there were major settlements in key areas flanking the Amazon Channel -- there could have been millions of people living there," says Mark Bush, a British-born paleo-ecologist who travels to extremely remote rain forest locations to collect core samples from ancient lakes. He then analyzes those samples for pollen and charcoal and thus is able to conclude with a high degree of accuracy the extent of human settlement in that region.

Hmmmm. This seems to be using only data from Amazonia proper. I had thought that the hypothesis being refuted here was mostly only used in the Maya territories where you have extensive -- and large -- settlements all over the place.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Walker "site" mini-update A chopper? A knife? Or plain old rocks?
Stone pieces found on a hill above Walker, Minn., don't look like prehistoric tools, don't indicate the earliest human habitation in the state and don't even make the hill an archaeological site, the state archaeologist said Monday.

Mostly what was in an earlier post. But there are a few more tidbits:
Sue Mulholland of Duluth, an owner of an archaeological firm and president of the Minnesota Council for Archaeology, said of Anfinson's conclusion, "I think he's slamming the door a little too soon."

Some people in Walker, a county seat of about 1,100 people 190 miles north of Minneapolis, think the site could become a tourist attraction.

Errr. . . to see some glacial stratigraphy and a few rocks?
However, David Mather, the state's archaeologist for the National Register of Historic Places, who was involved with the Walker site, said most archaeologists he talked with felt there were some genuine artifacts, or items they did not feel comfortable dismissing.

But Mather added that "none of the artifacts are what we would call a museum piece, I suppose."

The Walker City Council, which was to discuss Anfinson's report Monday night, has agreed to leave the site alone and access the community center from hilltop streets.

Mather said his office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development branch still believe the site should be preserved for further examination.

"We can professionally disagree," he said. "[But] if it's gone, it's gone forever, and all it will be is a question mark."

Probably a good idea.
Ship excavation sheds light on Napoleon's attack on the Holy Land
Which navy commissioned the boat that sunk off the coast of Acre 200 years ago, which battles was it involved in and how did it end up at the bottom of the sea? The recent findings of marine archaeologists at the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa may provide the answers to these questions.

The ship, which sunk off the coast of Acre during a battle between Napoleon, the British navy and possibly the defenders of Acre, 200 years ago, is under excavation and its finds are beginning to shed light on Napoleon's attempt to conquer the Holy Land.
Colin Renfrew expands our understanding of cognitive archaeology in Assembly Series lecture
Lord Colin Renfrew has been an influential and innovative archaeologist for more than three decades. His groundbreaking research has provoked theoretical debate on archaeological methods and interpretation. He will present this year's John and Penelope Biggs Lecture in the Classics titled "Becoming Human: The Cognitive Archaeology of Humankind" at 4 p.m., March 22 in Graham Chapel, as part of the Assembly Series.
Colin Renfrew

Renfrew is internationally renowned for his contributions to archaeological science, including his work on radiocarbon dating, European prehistory, DNA and archaeogenetics, and the origins of language. In the 1980s, he was a pioneer in the development of social archaeology, that focuses on the dynamics of social relationships in the past and their role in archaeological interpretation. He has dedicated himself to the prevention of looting of archaeological sites, and raising awareness of the ethical aspects of his profession.
Life imitates. . . .commercials 'Stone Age' called insult
"All anthropologists would agree that the negative use of the terms 'primitive' and 'Stone Age' to describe tribal peoples has serious implications for their welfare," the British-based Association of Social Anthropologists said Tuesday. "Governments and other social groups have long used these ideas as a pretext of depriving such peoples of land and their resources."
The edict is the result of a kerfuffle that began last March when Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, described two Botswana tribes as "trying to stay in the Stone Age" and "primitive" during a spirited debate. Though she later said she was misunderstood, Mrs. Tonge was criticized in the British press as "primitive" herself.

. . .

It presents an odd cultural moment for the Martin Agency, a Richmond-based advertising agency that created sullen cave men characters to market Geico insurance. The wildly successful campaign features well-dressed but disgruntled Neanderthals arguing against the use of cave man images to market Geico's claims department -- "so easy a cave man could do it."

. . .

"Anthropologists side with Geico's cavemen," said Ted Nudd of Adweek, an industry publication.

For once, I am nonplussed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bookstore score

That's Willey and Phillips' Method and Theory in American Archaeology, a true classic. I think this is, in fact, the original 1958 edition. A brief synopsis:

Processual archaeology is a form of archaeological theory which arguably had its genesis in 1958 with Willey and Phillips' work, Method and Theory in American Archeology in which the pair stated that "American archeology is anthropology or it is nothing" (Willey and Phillips, 1958:2). This idea implied that the goals of archaeology were, in fact, the goals of anthropology, which were to answer questions about humans and human society. This was a critique of the former period in archaeology, the Culture-Historical phase in which archaeologists thought that any information which artifacts contained about past people and past ways of life was lost once the items became included in the archaeological record. All that could be done was to catalogue, describe, and create timelines based on the artifacts (Trigger, 1989:148).

One could probably argue with that definition, but it works okay. The quote there is probably the most famous (in archaeology circles anyway) part of it, and the subtitle, probably not readable in the photo says: "Archaeology and Anthropology meet in this study of the prehistory of the Americas". Some have argued that processual archaeology really got its start in 1947 with Taylor's A Study of Archaeology but, to my knowledge, Taylor's work didn't have immediate effect and wasn't quite as explicitly theoretical in its approach.

Haven't cracked the thing open (much) yet, but it seems almost new. No dog-eared pages, the spine is not cracked, etc. The original price was $1.95 and I paid $1.98. See, keep these archaeology books long enough and they'l increase in value. . . .
No, it's not Cahokia
"The people who are looting — if they did one and found nothing, they wouldn't come back," he said.

Leach, an amateur archaeologist, is hoping at least one West County city will pass a law to help crack down on the robbing of ancient burial sites.

He's also trying to persuade people to adopt mounds and watch over them. "It's just one person who is going to say, 'They may bulldoze every other mound in Missouri or loot every other mound, but not this one,'" Leach said.

Not a bad article.
Fight! Fight! At ArchaeoBlog!

3 long comments. I, er, actually, didn't pay any attention to the first one. And the last two just came in at about the same time (yesterday or today).

And I'm not all that motivated to look into any deeper than that. But, there it is.

UPDATE: Well, okay, I did a little search:
A new light shines on the Oak Island Treasure Mystery

Keith Ranville's New Oak Island Money Pit Theory


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sorta non-archaeological story ‘Petrified lightning bolts’ give peek into ancient climates
When lightning strikes sand or soil, it melts and fuses grains into features that some have called petrified lightning bolts. Their scientific name is fulgurites, after fulgur, the Latin word for lightning.

Fulgurites are branched, thin, hollow tubes usually 1 or 2 inches in diameter and a few feet to tens of feet long. They are rough on the outside (where sand grains and other material stick to the molten material) but glassy smooth on the inside, with many bubble holes produced by vaporized gases.

They usually are considered mere curiosities, but a recent bit of research reported in the Feb [??] issue of the journal Geology put fulgurites to a scientific use, to obtain 15,000-year-old climate data.

They used TL to date them. Doesn't seem to anything new here as archaeologists have done a lot of climate reconstructions in the Libyan desert. Guess it's one more piece of data though, and might be useful in cases where there is no archy data.
Ick is right Unbrushed Teeth Reveal Ancient Diets
Ick factor aside, ancient tartar-encrusted teeth may be a biological gold mine for scientists, thanks to a new technique for extracting food particles from teeth that once belonged to prehistoric humans.

The method already has solved a mystery surrounding what early coastal Brazilians ate.

In the future, similar studies may reveal clues about other ancient diets, particularly in areas with little plant preservation from earlier times.
Walker "site" update State archaeologist casts doubt on ancient find in Walker
The state archaeologist is casting doubt on claims that an archaeological dig in the northern Minnesota city of Walker has turned up ancient stone tools between 13,000 and 14,000 years old.

Minnesota State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson, in a report released Monday, said the materials found at the excavation site were more likely to have been produced by natural forces such as flowing water or glacial movement.

The majority of the artifacts "did not demonstrate the characteristics that one would expect from humanly produced stone artifacts," he said in his eight-page report.

Hmmmmm. . . . .link to the actual report here. The conclusion is based on conversations with several lithic specialists (who know the area) who were apparently unanimous in their rejection of the objects as cultural. So, they've got an uphill battle to demonstrate that this is an actual archaeological site. I predict it goes nowhere (the absence of any other features or faunal remains is also very troubling).