January 27, 2015

Bring on the kittehs. . . .

Filed under: Agriculture, Egypt — acagle @ 4:04 pm

Ancient Egyptian Kitten Skeletons Hint at Earlier Cat Domestication

The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.

The bones come from a cemetery for the wealthy in Hierakonpolis, which served as the capital of Upper Egypt in the era before the pharaohs. The cemetery was the resting place not just for human bones, but also for animals, which perhaps were buried as part of religious rituals or sacrifices. Archaeologists searching the burial grounds have found everything from baboons to leopards to hippopotamuses.

Really hard to say what’s going on. “Domestication” doesn’t necessarily mean “pets” as they may have been hanging around for a long time subsisting on the various rodents associated with agriculture, or even food stored by regular hunter-gatherers. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were all tame and friendly and rubbing around peoples’ legs. Plus, a lot of the cats were bred specifically to kill as part of religious sacrifices, which strikes us as not acting very kitty-friendly, even though they would have been truly domesticated. But then, as Ive often said, these “origins” questions can be vexing.

The Dark Light Ages?

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 10:50 am

Good review of a book on the so-called Dark Ages (Medieval). The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”

How the myths that led to the creation of “The Most Wrong Thing On the Internet Ever” is well documented in several recent books on the the history of science. But Hannam wisely tackles it in the opening pages of his book, since it would be likely to form the basis for many general readers to be suspicious of the idea of a Medieval foundation for modern science. A festering melange of Enlightenment bigotry, Protestant papism-bashing, French anti-clericism, and Classicist snobbery have all combined to make the Medieval period a by-word for backwardness, superstition and primitivism, and the opposite of everything the average person associates with science and reason.

Hannam sketches how polemicists like Thomas Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, all with their own anti-Christian axes to grind, managed to shape the still current idea that the Middle Ages was devoid of science and reason. And how it was not until real historians bothered to question the polemicists through the work of early pioneers in the field like Pierre Duhem, Lynn Thorndike, and the author of my astrolabe book, Robert T. Gunther, that the distortions of the axe-grinders began to be corrected by proper, unbiased research.

He weakens things a bit by calling the current research (which he agrees with) “unbiased” but none of this was really new to me in general outline although many of the details were. One bit to note, regarding Galileo and his generation:

Hannam gives the context for all this in suitable detail in a section of the book that also explains how the Humanism of the “Renaissance” led a new wave of scholars, who sought not only to idolize and emulate the ancients, but to turn their backs on the achievements of recent scholars like Duns Scotus, Bardwardine, Buridan, and Orseme. Thus many of their discoveries and advances were either ignored and forgotten (only to be rediscovered independently later) or scorned but quietly appropriated. The case for Galileo using the work of Medieval scholars without acknowledgement is fairly damning. In their eagerness to dump Medieval “dialectic” and ape the Greeks and Romans – which made the “Renaissance” a curiously conservative and rather retrograde movement in many ways – they discarded genuine developments and advancements by Medieval scholars. That a thinker of the calibre of Duns Scotus could become mainly known as the etymology of the word “dunce” is deeply ironic.

This is fairly typical: to distinguish one’s own work, it’s common to tear down the work of the previous generation. The New Archaeology made a big deal out of making the culture historians out to be totally unscientific collectors of interesting objects and tinkerers with chronology, while they, in contrast, were enlightened Scientific Anthropologists.

I may snag Hannam’s book. Currently I’m reading Asbridge’s history of the Crusades which has really changed my views (which were admittedly rather 2-dimensional) of the period. Also made me appreciate my life, given the horrors and deprivations the typical soldier around the turn of the last millennium faced.

UPDATE: On the subject of the Crusades, one bit of the book really kind of disturbed me. Seems during the 5th (I think) Crusade, they had to ferry knights to shore (at Damietta) from some of the larger ships to some smaller craft. Apparently, one knight mistimed his jump to the smaller boat and, being weighed down by mail, etc.. . . . drowned. Can you imagine that? You leave your home to travel for months on a Holy Crusade to fight for Christ and then before you even set foot in the Holy Land, you die jumping from one boat to another.

January 26, 2015

I’m afraid I couldn’t not post this

Filed under: Forensic archaeology — acagle @ 8:21 pm

Mysterious Murder Of 724-Year-Old Italian Warlord Solved By Analyzing His Poop

Okay, I just linked to that one for the headline. The better story is HERE

A study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science has finally solved the sudden and unexplained death of Cangrande I della Scala.

The Italian warlord (who was also a patron of famed poet Dante) was born in 1291, eventually becoming the most powerful ruler in the history of Verona when he took charge in 1311. In 1329, the victorious warrior was planning to take over yet another territory, the Treviso region, but following his success, he fell violently ill — some stories blame it on drinking toxic spring water.

On July 22, 1329, he died at the age of 38. Rumors quickly spread that the triumphant king had been poisoned.

Cangrande’s body was exhumed in 2004, 675 years after his death, and was found to be extremely well preserved. In fact, along with signs of arthritis, tuberculosis and possible cirrhosis, researchers also found regurgitated food in his throat and traces of fecal matter in his colon and rectum.

They found medicinal herbs in his colon along with a plant pollen said to be poisonous. Photos show the “mummy” which is in really pretty good condition without(?) having been deliberately preserved. Interesting to compare the coffin carving with what’s really inside, too.

Yet another thing I’ve never heard of

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:15 pm

Moat ruins found in Japan may be part of a burial mound for an ancient emperor

Archaeologists in Japan have unearthed a huge stone-paved moat in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, which they believe is part of a burial mound for an ancient emperor. The finding adds to a string of fascinating discoveries in the small village of Asuka, from pyramid-like structures to multiple carved granite stones in peculiar shapes dotted across the region.
According to The Asashi Shimbun, the remnants of the moat, which were found at the archaeological site of Koyamada, measure 48 meters (158ft) in length and 3.9 (13ft) to 7 meters (23ft) in width. The moat is lined with 40-centimeter quartz diorite boulders along its northern slope, while the southern slope is covered with flagstones stacked in a staircase pattern, and the bottom is covered with smaller rocks.

They reconstructed it (“artist’s conception”) to look much like the stepped pyramid at Saqqara. Pretty significant structure, too.

January 23, 2015

Tut-Gate continues

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 1:53 pm

It gets weirder and weirder (via EEF ):

“(..) Egyptian Museum General Director Mahmoud El-Halwagi
dismissed all accusations and told Ahram Online in a telephone
interview that the mask is safe and sound and nothing
happened to it since he took office last October. He
explained further that the beard is in its original position
on the mask, and is as it has been since the mask was
discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. “An archaeological
committee was assigned to inspect the mask and beard in order
to write a detailed report on the mask’s condition,” El-Halwagi
said. He added that the mask is periodically subject to cleaning
and conservation and that if any gap had been found the museum’s
conservators would have noticed it and repaired it. Minister of
Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online that what has
been reported in newspapers is unfounded. He explained that the
beard has a fixed location on the mask and cannot be misplaced.
The mask’s face has a hole on the chin where the pin of the
beard entered. To hold the beard in place strongly, Eldamaty
said, a conservation material is used and then removed after
drying, and that was what had happened last year during
periodical restoration carried out on the mask. Within two
days, the assigned archaeological committee is to send back
its final detailed report on the mask.”

“(..) The director of the Egypt Museum, Mahmoud Al Halwagi,
confirmed to the BBC that a translucent adhesive material
had appeared on the burial mask. The ministry of antiquities
was now investigating how this happened, he added.”

Shoe-Goo: Is there anything it can’t do?

January 22, 2015

[insert Irish cow joke here]

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 8:16 pm

Antiquity of dairying on Emerald Isle revealed

As dairy farmers across Europe anxiously await the lifting of EU milk quotas in April this year, new research from the University of Bristol, UK has revealed the antiquity of dairy farming in a region famous for its dairy exports: Ireland.

Research published today in the Journal of Environmental Archaeology shows that dairying on the island goes back approximately 6,000 years, revealed through traces of ancient dairy fats found in pots dating to around 4,000 to 2,500 BC.

Dr Jessica Smyth of Bristol’s School of Chemistry analysed nearly 500 pots from the Neolithic, the period when people switched from hunting and gathering to farming. In Britain and Ireland, this change occurred around 4,000 BC, more than 1,000 years later than on the Continent.

I have nothing much to say on this.

“Friends don’t let friends skip leg day”

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 12:29 pm

The Rise And Rise of the Spornosexual

I’m embarking on Walker’s three-month Warrior Workout because I’m investigating men’s bodies. That is, ahem, I’m investigating the trend of men getting increasingly… ripped. Jacked. Pumped. Whatever you call it, it’s a certain type of “fit”. “There’s this big thing now called ‘physique training’,” Walker says. “It’s all about having abs, looking like a fitness model.” It’s a look that has come to prominence in recent years. “It used to be bodybuilding,” Walker adds, “but that look’s unattainable — you have to take steroids. With physique training, instead of spending 10 years trying to build mass, you just get really lean.”

Slight language warning.

I found much of the discussion enlightening from an image ideal perspective. We are all aware of the general changes in the idea of female beauty — Reubens’ rather ‘full figured’ women to todays plastic-busommed Barbie dolls — but most are only passingly familiar with the male changes. Someone wrote an article not long ago about her dismay at the disappearance of the “manly man” from the screen and in real life: Those big, tall, barrel-chested men that were held up as something like the male ideal, such as Robert Shaw in From Russian With Love:

Then we went full-blown bodybuilder:

It’s mediated somewhat to a leaner and not-quite-as-bulky Hugh Jackman as the article notes:

(You’re welcome, ladies)

I, of course, take something of a middle ground. I certainly qualify as a gym rat and I’m certainly buffer than yer average 50-something, but I don’t take it nearly to that extent. Yes, the way I look is a good chunk of why I work out — though not from a “OOooo he’s h.o.t.” perspective (I wish), but more from a general aesthetic one — but it’s also because I don’t want to be limited physically by much of anything. And, you know, it feels great, I like the gym atmosphere, and errrmmmm yes the eye candy is a nice fringe benefit. I don’t have a 6-pack, and don’t really care.

This isn’t really new, someone wrote a book about it a few years ago called The Adonis Complex which is pretty much the same thing. I’m not even sure this is a real different phenomenon from what’s gone on in the past, just a different focus. Different groups used to pay attention to their looks in different kinds of extreme ways; think of the big pompidou’s of the 1950s or the long hair of the 1960s and ’70s or even the zoot suits of the 1940s. Even cigarettes were a form of behavior that gave off social cues.

Frankly, I could think of worse ways for men to be drawing attention to themselves.

January 21, 2015

Either way. . . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:34 pm

Woman’s Death Attributed to 19th-Century Polar Bear Attack

It had been thought that the woman was killed by a gunshot wound because of the holes on either side of her cranium, but museum archaeologist Karen Ryan and her colleagues thought it more likely that the woman had been attacked by an animal. They created a 3-D image of the skull, and sent it to the Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project at Idaho State University, where the technicians compared the wounds to the bites of different Arctic animals without actually handling the woman’s remains. An adult female polar bear made a good match.

Whoopsie woo

Filed under: Antiquities Market — acagle @ 8:31 pm

Embattled STL archaeology group releases statement

The St. Louis Society of the Archaeology Institute of America (AIA) released a statement Wednesday

night defending the group’s decision to place 4,000 year old relics on the auction block last fall.

The decision drew the ire of archaeologists across the country.

At the AIA national convention in New Orleans last weekend, members voted in favor of stripping the

St. Louis Society of its charter unless it removed its current board members by February 1.

I was talking to someone who’d been to the meeting about this. There was nothing at all illegal about what they did, it just ticked some people off (although it may have violated their charter).

Hmmmm. . . .

Filed under: Digital Archaeology — acagle @ 8:29 pm


“What became apparent is that history is quite arbitrary — whoever has the loudest voice, has their version of history recorded. Archaeology is more evidence-based, it just makes the historical record more accurate,” says Boulton, who applied this thinking to the digital sphere.

As to how he got dubbed a “digital archaeologist,” Boulton recalls a conversation with lead singer of punk band Gang of Four, Jon King. “He said this was archaeology: ‘You’re digging up websites and restoring them to their former glory. You’re recontextualising them and they’re telling us about dotcom culture.’”

It is kind of sad how much digital media content gets lost.

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