Iced Joe

A new friend recently re-introduced me to an old friend. I was at the TAS (Texas Archaeological Society) Field School in June where I made a lot of new friends. One of these friends always had a iced coffee drink in a Starbucks cup -one of those reusable ones with the straw. It’s important to note that there is no Starbucks in Del Rio, which is where the Field School was this year.

It turns out that he was topping off with coffee, milk, and ice from the hotel’s continental breakfast each morning.

I first drank iced coffee on fishing trips with an aunt and uncle. They mixed milk and coffee together in a gallon milk jug and refrigerated it the night before. It was a great treat while out on the lake in the early summer mornings.

Since then, I’ve always taken my coffee with no additives. Just hot, black and strong. This afternoon, however, I still had about a third of a pot of coffee left from the morning. Since it never tastes good reheated, I decided to pour it over ice and added some milk. No sugar. Just milk, ice, and coffee. I still prefer a nice, hot cup of joe, but iced joe ain’t half bad.

The related links below seem to offer “recipes,” but I say keep it simple. Let your coffee reach room temperature (you know… that pot you brewed this morning that still has some left over). Fill a cup or glass half full of ice. Pour coffee over it to about 2/3 full. Add milk (I prefer whole, but 2% or skim if you like). If sweetener is your thing, go for it. If you use hot coffee, you’re going to need more ice.

Hat tip to Paul, my archaeologist friend with the mystery cup of Starbucks!

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‘Diggers’ are to archaeology as pro-wrestling is to sports: fake

Looter pits in Georgia

“Professional” wrestler (former) Ric Savage now has a television show on Spike TV called “American Diggers.” They’re Americans and they dig. Anyone with a garden shovel can make this claim.

The problem is, they fancy themselves as “diggers” of artifacts and relics. And this is a problem because they really don’t know what they’re doing.

I’m not being “snobbish” or trying to appear aloof. I sympathize with why someone would want to dig up a yard or field for historical relics and artifacts. They’re valuable. They’re cool. They’re history. There’s a story behind every single bullet, belt buckle, button, and even thrown out pig bone that can be recovered.

But that story cannot be told if the contexts of the finds aren’t carefully and meticulously cataloged, diagramed, and documented. In addition, some artifacts need to be conserved with great care. A common misconception that those not trained in archaeology have is that removing it from the dirt starts the act of preservation. In fact, the opposite is probably true. A given artifact is now being exposed to variables it wasn’t previously: oxygen, water, wind, oily human hands, etc.

Ric Savage, the trained “professional” wrestler, was quoted as saying:

“Diggers are looked on as the trailer trash of the archaeology community and the archaeologists are thought of as the brains, but that’s not necessarily the truth,” Savage said. “The higher the education people get, the higher the snobbishness that goes along with it.”

I think Ric got it half right. Diggers are looked on as trailer trash. They’re not looked on as being a part of the archaeological community at all. That’s because they are not. To be a member of the archaeological community, you would first need to be trained as an archaeologist. Savage takes the low-road of ignorance when he attempts to berate those with educations as snobs, but such criticism only works with those that refuse to obtain an education.

Archaeologists are the brains of archaeology. That is an undeniable truth. It isn’t that their educations increase their “snobbishness” -rather it’s that their educations increase their knowledge. Like I said, I understand the motivations behind wanting to dig up relics and artifacts. But, my education has shown me why this is ethically wrong. “Digging” in this manner utterly destroys context. And context has far more value than the few dollars Savage gets from selling the metal bits he rapes from the ground since this is what we can use to understand the past. Where an artifact is in relation to other artifacts and features can tell us how it was used, by whom, when, how it was disposed or left in situ, etc. Context can tell us about trade, conflict, social hierarchy and stratification, and much more.

I realize there are probably many who consider themselves to be”amateur archaeologists” and take their roles seriously and care deeply about history and getting it right. But “diggers” aren’t amateur archaeologists. They negotiate with land owners to rape their lands for cultural artifacts with the promise that the land owner gets a cut (either in artifacts or money). They plunder the landscape with holes in roughshod manner and, in a few hours, can remove all the “valuable” artifacts from a site, leaving a scarred and raped patch of land that can more closely resemble the pockmarked surface of the moon than an archaeological site. Artifacts are quickly pulled from the ground without regard for their positions or placements and chunked in a bucket, sometimes a bag.

Contrast this with a true archaeological excavation that is meticulous and planned and can take days, even years to properly excavate as every layer is documented with diagrams and coordinates of artifacts and features as they are uncovered one centimeter at a time.  Artifacts are carefully extracted, sometimes preservation begins in situ as the artifact is carefully handled to prevent destruction or damage.

Diggers treat artifacts as commodities to be sold to the highest bidder on Ebay and Craig’s List.

Archaeologists treat artifacts as evidence of past cultures and civilizations that need to be carefully managed for further analysis or to be shared with the public through museums.

We cannot ever get back the contexts lost to looters (a.k.a. diggers). It would be better not to recover the artifacts at all if the choice is to remove them in the roughshod fashion of looters. Better to leave the remains of a long-lost culture buried until proper excavation by trained archaeologists is possible or feasible.

I say diggers are looters. Not because what they do is illegal (many times it is -but they will never admit to digging public or government lands), rather because what they’re doing is stealing from future generations. They’re stealing the possibility of understanding a culture or civilization. They’re going for the loot, and leaving the data behind in the piles of dirt they discard in heaps, forever lost as contexts to the past. There’s no question that private land owners have the right to do with their land what they please. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Join me in making a change. Click the link below and sign a petition at Change.org to have “American Diggers” removed from Spike.TV. The Petition is titled Stop Spike.TV from Looting Our Collective Past and it has, at the time of this writing, over 13,000 signatures. It could use yours.

Grave Dowsing?

Survey of possible graveyard site along a highway destined to be four-laned.

What’s a water dowser do when his method is demonstrated time and again to be nonsense on stilts? Turn to dowsing for graves, I suppose. It wasn’t mentioned if the dowser who worked for Mississippi landowner about to lose a strip of pastureland to a new highway project used a forked stick or metal rods, but one thing is clear, he didn’t actually find any graves (click “A Grave Matter” for the story).

But that hasn’t stopped MDOT from sending out a CRM team to clear the area. It’s their due diligence, after all. If all they had to go on was a “dowser’s” word, I would say they should dismiss it out-of-hand and get on with the highway project. Imminent domain can be a pain in the butt when you’re a landowner, but at least he isn’t loosing his home. And the highway addition will benefit the whole of society in his area. Not to mention they probably offered him reasonable compensation.

But since there were some anecdotes from local residents, the CRM survey is the right thing to do (plus, it means some archaeologist are gainfully employed!). The landowner hired an attorney to intercede on his behalf and they’re complaining that the equipment used is a single-antenna GPR (ground-penetrating radar) instead of a dual-antenna.

“The research is pretty clear that the dual-antenna system gives you a better depiction,” the attorney said. “The rules have been changed, so it’s frustrating.”

The dual-antenna is probably nice to have, but not necessary for something as straight-forward as locating graves. The single-antenna GPRs are also called monostatic since they use the same antenna to transmit and receive the electromagnetic (EM) wave, whereas a dual-antenna GPR is considered bistatic since it transmits on one antenna then receives on another. Both have their advantages, the monostatic probably being the easiest and fastest to use. The bistatic GPR works a little slower, but it’s datasets are somewhat smaller and give better resolution. Bistatic is what you want for the precision of locating pipes and cabling under city streets. Monostatic is plenty sufficient to find a few graves. But the CRM team was also using a magnetometer, which could be very useful if gravestones are buried.

That the landowner used the services of a “grave dowser” is laughable, but the response of MDOT and the CRM team to the possibility of genuine cultural resources was appropriate. Particularly since there was some apparent anecdote suggesting an otherwise undocumented graveyard was present as well as some alleged “Indian mounds.” Clearly the landowner is hoping to deflect the project away from his own property.

Bad news mister landowner… if they find a graveyard that isn’t Native American, they’ll very likely just move it. The good news is, major highways are good for picking up cans so there’s a potential opportunity for income!

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SciCulture – A New Site

I’ll still be blogging here, but I’ve also just launched a new site called SciCulture (www.sciculture.com) and it’s my hope to entice a few new bloggers to make it their home. So if you know anyone that might be interested, have them contact me at cfeagans AT sciculture DOT com.

I’m still working out some of the kinks, but SciCulture will be more or less a hub for science news and discussion. I’m working on some news feeds, but there’s an active discussion forum (The Science Forum) linked as well as an example of the blogs format (WordPress).

Potential bloggers would have their own subdomain that can be linked to directly (eg. blog.sciculture.com) and control of their content, style, and ads if they so choose. The only requirement is a sidebar section that links to other SciCulture blogs and the main site.

SciCulture is in the development stage, but I hope to see it grow! Please offer me any suggestions or constructive criticism you might have.

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Atlantis Rising’s Micheal Cremo and the Calaveras Skull

Michael Cremo is the author of the pseudo-archaeological tome Forbidden Archaeologist and has a regular column in that woo-woo rag Atlantis Rising. In the March/April column, Cremo revisits the so-called Calaveras skull, which was long-ago revealed as a hoax.

Cremo is an old-earth, Vedic creationist (weird, eh?) and his failed position has always been that man isn’t a recent addition to the animal kingdom, rather an old, old one. Cremo consistently argues, albeit without evidence, that Homo sapiens was not only on the planet millions of years ago, but with “high-civilization” as well.

In his “Calaveras skull” column, Cremo beats a very dead horse by arguing that this is the most “notorious human fossil discovered in the nineteenth century” and that it proves “[t]o have a human like us existing over 2 million years ago”, which, he notes, “would be devestating to the currently dominant evolutionary theory of human origins.”

It would be if it were the case. But it isn’t. This skull was discovered by miners in 1866, allegedly beneath a layer of Pliocene lava which was about 40 m below the surface. The state geologist, Josiah D. Whitney, which Cremo mentions, had already published his belief (unfounded) that humans lived with mastodons and elephants in ancient North America, so he was ripe for the hoax. The hoax was revealed as early as 1869 when the San Francisco Bulletin reported the hoax, admitted by a minor to a minister: ”miners freely told him that they purposely got up the whole affair as a joke on Prof. Whitney”[1].

Cremo writes:

However, there are several different hoax stories told by contemporaries of Whitney, which I have reviewed in my book… The cannot all be true, and if some of them are not true, perhaps all of them are not true.”

Uh… yes, Michael, they can all be hoaxes. This is fallacious thinking on your part. Indeed, a hoax is not only supported by evidence, but it’s the most parsimonious explanation for the skull.

The evidence:

Admission of a hoax published in 1869.
Admission of a hoax by the person who planted it, as revealed by his sister[2]
Fluorine analysis in 1879 which showed recent age of the skull[3].
The Skull has features consistent with recent Native American cranial morphology.
Radiocarbon dating in 1992 which established the age of the skull to about 1,000 years ago (consistent with recent Native American burial)[4]

Cremo mentions the radiocarbon dating and writes:

At first glance this seems damaging to the claim that hte skull is at least 2 million years old. However, the authors of the study admitted that because of the small sample size they were unable to perform adequate pretreatment of the sample.

But what Cremo fails (refuses?) to acknowledge is the rest of their admission. Perhaps Cremo expects his readers won’t bother to track down his sources. Taylor et al complete their discussion on the sample size and pretreatment thus:

We certainly acknowledge the possibility that non-in situ organics in the bone may not have been totally excluded by the pretreatment techniques employed. However, to adjust the age of UCR-2161 B/AA- 1879 from, for example, 10,000 to 740 years, more  than 85 percent of the final sample product would have to be contaminated with modern carbon.  Given the pretreatment techniques employed, this, in our view, is extremely unlikely[5].

Cremo is full of it. He has a conclusion to which he seeks data to confirm. At best he’s ignorant and goes about his conjectures haphazardly and without regard for data. At worst, he’s deceptive for his “cause,” which is Vedic mythology.

 

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References and Notes:
  1. Notorious Calaveras Skull (2009). The Notorious Calaveras Skull. Archaeology. Retrieved from http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/hoaxes/calaveras.html []
  2. Weber, C. G. (1981). Paluxy Man – The Creationist Piltdown. Creation/Evolution Journal, 2(4). Retrieved from http://ncse.com/cej/2/4/paluxy-man-creationist-piltdown []
  3. Weber, C. G. (1981). Paluxy Man – The Creationist Piltdown. Creation/Evolution Journal, 2(4). Retrieved from http://ncse.com/cej/2/4/paluxy-man-creationist-piltdown []
  4. Taylor, R. E.; Payen, L. A. and Slota, P. J., Jr (April 1992). The Age of the Calaveras Skull: Dating the “Piltdown Man” of the New World. American Antiquity 57 (2): 269–275 []
  5. Taylor, R. E.; Payen, L. A. and Slota, P. J., Jr (April 1992). The Age of the Calaveras Skull: Dating the “Piltdown Man” of the New World. American Antiquity 57 (2): 269–275 []

Newt Gingrich: Americans are an Invented People

He didn’t say that in those exact words, but he might as well have. In a recent interview with the Jewish Channel, Gingrich a professor of history until he failed to gain tenure, referred to Palestinians as an “invented” people[1].

So are they an “invented people?” In as much as any nation is an artificial construct, sure. Gingrich cites the dominance of the Ottoman Empire, which flourished until 1923. Gingrich said in the same interview linked above that the Palestinians were simply Arabs who had a chance to go wherever they wished. I suppose the Palestinians were not expected by Gingrich to have any ancestral routes. Perhaps he sees Arabs in general as all nomadic and without legitimate ties to any region. If so, this view would be a bigoted one on his part.

So the Palestinians did not have a nation during the dominance of the Ottoman Empire. Neither, for that matter, did Israel. This nation was invented by the United Nations in 1948[2]. In fact, the United States was a nation invented by a handful of rebels, referred to as terrorists by the British, in 1776. Indeed, the nation and the American people that emerged from the terrorist actions of the 1700′s had no ancestral ties to the land they now occupy. The people that do have ancestral ties to these lands were murdered, marginalized, moved and made an insignificant minority so the Europeans could invent a nation -a new people called Americans- in the increasing dust and ash of British Empire.

Unlike Americans and the British Empire, Palestinians did, in fact, exist prior to the Ottoman Empire. Robert Drews describes the role the Palestinians played as part of the “Sea Peoples” described on the Medinet Habu, an Egyptian temple of Ramesses III (1198-1166 BCE). Originally referred to as the “Philistines,” the Assyrians called the region of modern Palestine “Palashtu” or “Pilistu“. The word, , “Palestine” itself comes from the Greek word Palestine in Greek (in my head I just sounded remarkably like Toula’s father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). It was probably first used by Herodotus in the 5th century BCE. The Byzantine Romans called the region “Palaestina”[3].

While the Arab people did, indeed, reside in this region; and while they were, indeed, largely pastoral, that in no way implies that they do not have an ancestral tie to Palestine. The term “Arab” as an ethnonym may have been used by Shalmaneser III who mentions a king named Gindibu of mâtu arbâi (Arab land). And biblical mythology mentions the Aravi (Arabs) who were Semitic tribes that lived in the deserts between Syria and Arabia. The Philistines probably weren’t Semitic peoples originally, but they definitely were absorbed into the local Semitic cultures by the end of the 7th century BCE. The place-names mentioned above stuck and, thus, Palestine is a real region and the people who ancestrally call this their home are really from there.

So, if Palestinians are an “invented people,” then equally, too, are the Americans and the Israeli’s. Neither the United States or Israel existed prior to 1776 and 1948 respectively. If we accept Gingrich’s fallacious (and dare I say bigoted and ignorant) claim that Palestinians are an “invented people,” then he must also apply that to the very nations he portends to support with that rhetoric. Indeed, it would seem that the Palestinians have a far better claim to the region than either the Israeli’s (Jews who were moved there following WWII) or the Americans (Europeans who committed genocide on Natives in the 17th and 18th centuries). The Palestinians, as a people, have been residing in Palestine since before Christianity and Islam and probably since before Judaism.

Sorry Newt. You don’t get to rewrite history to suit your own bigoted desires.

References and Notes:
  1. http://marker.to/5WoiGA []
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel []
  3. Drews, Robert (1995). The end of the Bronze Age: Changes in warfare and the catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C. []

Feminism and Classism in the Context of MTVu in University Public Spaces

I came across this article today on the Serendip forum at Bryn Mawr College. The author posts photos and a transcript of several “napkin notes,” a Bryn Mawr tradition for communicating with the dining facility (which I find fascinating by itself!), which are debating the appropriateness of MTVu in the public space of the dining hall.

Free of charge, MTVu provides televisions and a feed for universities to place in dining halls, recreation rooms, break areas, etc. The idea is that MTV is getting their programming to a target audience -perhaps the target audience: young, college-age, men and women.

But its the extent to which the programming is aimed at women that has recently come under fire, as this ‘napkin note’ suggests:

“I don’t want MTVu in the Dining Halls, because I don’t want to see degrading images of women while eating breakfast. We should be feeling empowered, not overdressed.

~Sophia

Sophia’s voice and others, through ‘napkin notes’ have addressed the inappropriate nature of MTV videos being forced on the students eating at the Bryn Mawr dining hall. In case you didn’t know, Bryn Mawr is a women’s college. Another student posted a ‘napkin note’ in response to Sophia’s:

“Dear Bryn Mawr College Dining Services,

You are all amazing people. To run this dining hall is like running the world. To deal with these dumb whiny bitches is too much! If they are trying to take the television out of the dining hall b/c they say that too many of the music videos objectify women, then they have meaningless and idiotic lives. You shouldn’t take the dumbass bullshit from these privileged students. If they feel as though they are being objectified, they should write to MTV who shows the videos and, most importantly, the artists who produce the music. To complain about music videos and a television?! Most of the women, girls really, who complain, don’t respect the spaces that they live in. They have no reason to complain about this place. Don’t take the TV away. Rather, tell the snooty dumbasses to SHUT THE FUCK UP! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT REAL OBJECTIFICATION IS!!!

Sincerely,
c/o 2015
POSSE SCHOLAR”

Posse Scholars are academic leaders within the Bryn Mawr student body and, her profanity notwithstanding, the ‘napkin note’ author raises another perspective on the issue, which is one of classism. The Posse Scholar author mentions “privileged students” and “snooty dumbasses.” The key word here being “snooty.” While dumbass is a class of person, it’s the “snooty” description that suggests, as does “privileged” that she considers herself to not be of the same economic or social class as those students who are objecting to MTVu in the dining hall.

Could objectification of women be relative to class?

Click the link above to the original discussion and see the ‘napkin notes’ themselves.

Don’t Be a Rick: Anthropology and Liberal Arts in the Republican Gunsights

So we should clue he and those who think like him in. Spread the word. If you have a blog or a site that can share it, go to the links below and embed this Prezi slide show.

 

For those that aren’t aware, Florida governor Rick Scott recently derided the science of anthropology as being less valuable and worthy only of cuts in budgeting and funding from the state. This could have a significant impact on Archaeology education as well as research being performed by graduate students in various post-grad and doctorate programs throughout the state. His criticism was essentially that graduating anthropologists were not being prepared for the job market and they did not benefit society. This is what he said:

We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job((Marc Bernier Show, 10/10/2011, http://www.marcberniershow.com/audio_archive.cfm)).

The American Anthropological Association fired off a response across Scott’s apparently ignorant bow:

As an association, we are a group of over 11,000 scholars, scientists, and professionals who are dedicated to studying humankind in all its aspects, including through archaeological, biological, cultural, medical, and linguistic research… Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, the African American heritage, and infant learning.

The timing is interesting. As the United States enters a political campaign season for the Presidency, it may be that right-wing conservatives are trying to appeal to their base by spouting rhetoric about jobs and taking digs at academia at the same time. In a state where another Rick (Perry) installed his own “people” on the University of Texas Board of Regents, there was a decision to eliminate several “non-producing” master’s programs, including that of my own anthropology department.

The good news is that I’ll still be able to get my own master’s degree, but the bad news is that it might not carry the weight it would have. The worse news is, the undergraduate population is rather large and many of them were looking toward our graduate program for the future -the graduate faculty are truly top-notch at my university.

There were many flaws in how the Regents arrived at a conclusion that the department was “non-producing” (that was a term that I heard not that I can source, by the way), but they have their own agendas and political alignments that cloud their abilility to see reason.

“Mainstream” Archaeologists…?

Here’s a line I noticed on a mystery-monger site, posted by some well-meaning, if somewhat ignorant, significance-junkie.

“… the often ridiculously closed society of “mainstream” Archaeologists, who sometimes prevent truths from seeing the light of day in order to save face.”

Wow. Isn’t that statement just loaded with fallacious intent?

The term “mainstream” in common usage refers to the ordinary, the norm, what’s expected, and that which is generally the status quo. When those outside of science couple this term with a discipline of science, what they’re really saying is, “those people who actually *do* science.”

So a “mainstream archaeologist” is really just… wait for it… an archaeologist. You’re either an archaeologist or you aren’t. You’re either a surgeon or you aren’t (I’d be immediately suspicious of anyone offering me medical advice who uses the term “mainstream surgeons” to refer to those who do surgery differently then himself!).

It’s a bit like “independent scholar,” that loaded term used by those that don’t have training in academia or standing with any institution of higher learning, yet consider themselves “learned.” Perhaps they are. But, again, would you trust your medical advice to an “independent scholar” of medicine? I’d rather mine had her training supervised by an experienced and learned scholar of a recognized, accredited institution of higher learning, thank you.

What those who toss about “mainstream archaeologists” and “mainstream historians” would *like* to say is that they have a version of truth that exists which disagrees with science and reality, and they don’t consider scientific method a valid norm when it disagrees with their conclusions. They do, however, love science when it coincides with their notions.

Which brings us to the last part of the flip comment above: “… who sometimes prevent truths from seeing the light of day in order to save face.” For some -like those who find undo significance in the otherwise mundane; who hunger for mystery and dislike prosaic, rational explanations- “truth” is a term that is relative. You’ll hear them say it and read it in their writings: “truth depends upon the observer,” and “what is true for one person might not be true for another,” or “we are all entitled to believe what we want.”

The majority of these folk aren’t interested in finding any truth that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived conclusions. Whether it be Michael Cremo followers and their “out of place artifacts,” believers in ancient astronauts, proponents of high civilization in Yonaguni, Japan at 10 kya, or creationists who reject an earth that is older than 4 kya.

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Arizona Wildfires

People. Fire. Climate.

Using a $1.5 million NSF grant, a team led by the University of Arizona plans to study the how humans in the American Southwest responded and reacted to forest changes due to wildfire and climate.

Living in a drought stricken region of the U.S. myself, and having witnessed the devastating effects of wildfires first hand, I fully agree with Swetnam when points out that “drought and dry conditions are going to keep going on, so there’s an urgency in understanding what’s happening.” What his research team seeks to discover is what ways might we be overlooking as we try to coexist with forests as climate changes occur.

They’ll study “how people and climate and fires have interacted in one place over long time scales” and hope to “learn something fundamental about how the people-fire-climate system works.”

“What amount of change with regard to fuel, forest densities, how often you burn it or don’t burn it, leads to forests that are sustained through time?”

Ethno-archaeological methods will likely be used in working with existing tribes in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains region (tribes of the Jemez, Zuni, Hopi, and Apache peoples). They’ll also gather substantial amounts of tree-ring data from the region along with other archaeological methods that will allow the team to detect the fire history of the forest through time. Data gathered by the team will end up in a database which can be used to create dynamic computer models.

More information can be found at:

UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research
http://ltrr.arizona.edu/

UA School of Anthropology
http://anthropology.arizona.edu/

UA College of Education
http://www.coe.arizona.edu/

Quotes above and the full story can be found at http://uanews.org/node/42041

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