December 17, 2014

A million mummy march?

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 7:50 pm

Million-Mummy Cemetery Unearthed in Egypt

The remains of a child, laid to rest more than 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was found in an ancient cemetery that contains more than 1 million mummies, according to a team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The cemetery is now called Fag el-Gamous, which means “Way of the Water Buffalo,” a title that comes from the name of a nearby road. Archaeologists from Brigham Young University have been excavating Fag el-Gamous, along with a nearby pyramid, for about 30 years. Many of the mummies date to the time when the Roman or Byzantine Empire ruled Egypt, from the 1st century to the 7th century A.D.

So anyway.


Seems it’s all Roman though, no Dynastic burials. Still, it will hopefully provide excruciatingly large amounts of health, pathology, and demographic data. That’s one project I would totally go back for.

“An archaeologist? You must be really smart.”

Filed under: Academia — acagle @ 4:38 pm

Scientists Are Not That Smart

The popular image of scientists is of a tiny, elite (and possibly deranged) minority of people engaged in esoteric pursuits. One of the three most common responses when I tell somebody I’m a physicist is, “You must be really smart. I could never do that.” (The other responses are, “I hated that when I took it in high school/college,” and, “Can you explain string theory to me?” This goes a long way toward explaining why physicists have a reputation as lousy conversationalists.)

While the idea that scientists are uniquely smart and capable is flattering to the vanity of nerds like me, it’s a compliment with an edge. There’s a distracting effect to being called “really smart” in this sense — it sets scientists off as people who think in a way that’s qualitatively different from “normal” people. We’re set off even from other highly educated academics — my faculty colleagues in arts, literature, and social science don’t hear that same “You must be really smart” despite the fact that they’ve generally spent at least as much time acquiring academic credentials as I have. The sort of scholarship they do is seen as just an extension of normal activities, whereas science is seen as alien and incomprehensible.

He gives an apt analogy:

To turn things around a bit, I’m a decidedly mediocre carpenter. Not because I lack any of the physical or mental skills needed for the task — I can and have built things out of wood for home improvement projects. I’m not good at it, though, because I don’t particularly enjoy the process and so don’t seek out opportunities to engage in carpentry. I can do it if I have to, but my work is slow and plodding, and when I try to speed it up, I make mistakes and end up needing to start over. Professional woodworkers or even serious hobbyists, who do enjoy those tasks and put in the time practicing them, are vastly better at the essential tasks. This is not merely physical, either — they’re also better at the mental aspect of the job, figuring out how to accomplish a particular construction goal, which is where I generally fail most dramatically. But you’ll never hear anyone say, “A carpenter? You must be really smart.”

The big “but” in all this is that I believe that many, many scientists really do think this way, and play upon that to their own advantage. Which is the primary reason I hesitate to refer to myself as “a scientist” since, in my mind, a lot of scientists have gone off the rails in their pursuit of elite stature in areas other than their chosen discipline.

Good article; read the whole thing.

December 16, 2014

Sounds kinda woo-woo if you ask me

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 11:01 am

A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying

It makes no sense, but the paradox is essential to civilization, according to Edward Slingerland. He has developed, quite deliberately, a theory of spontaneity based on millenniums of Asian philosophy and decades of research by psychologists and neuroscientists.

He calls it the paradox of wu wei, the Chinese term for “effortless action.” Pronounced “ooo-way,” it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.

Tierney gives short descriptions of Confucian and Taoist views, which I have no idea how accurate they are. But the opposing views make some intuitive sense. I think he gets to the heart of my philosophy near the end:

He likes the compromise approach of Mencius, a Chinese philosopher in the fourth century B.C. who combined the Confucian and Taoist approaches: Try, but not too hard.

Which sort of parallels the discussions I’ve brought up a few times regarding “critical thinking”. You need to “go with the flow” to the extent of using your reasoning ability to evaluate things critically, but you also have to go through the rote learning process first in order to have a basis for that evaluation.

But then, I’m obviously not the first to note such a duality. . . .

Easter Island update

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 9:06 am

Was SWEET POTATO to blame for Easter Island’s downfall?

It is thought that the rich and fertile land allowed the population time to develop a rich culture and gave them time to carve the distinctive moai stone heads that the island is now famous for.
However, the destruction of the palm forests that covered the island led to much of the fertile soil washing away while the introduction of pests like the Pacific rat also damaged the natural wildlife.
It was thought that the trees were cut down to provide fuel and building material for the inhabitants.

I don’t think the land was ever all that fertile, and they experienced a marginal existence. At least, this is rather at odds with other research.

Five minutes before the first person said “Ouch! Damn it, that’s hot!”

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 8:55 am

Cave Find Suggests When Humans Figured Out Fire

Early humans first began to master fire around 350,000 years ago, helping to drive the development of complex culture among our ancestors, new archaeological evidence has revealed.
Flint fragments discovered in a cave in the limestone cliffs of Mount Carmel, close to Haifa on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel, have provided the oldest signs of humans controlling fire.
The Tabun Cave is an archaeological site that holds evidence of having being inhabited by humans and their ancestors for around 500,000 years.

It’s problematic because fire occurs naturally. I find it a bit odd that they weren’t finding actual hearth features here, although they could be in another area awaiting discovery. That would more or less seal the deal that they were controlling it at the time, although it doesn’t say whether or not they were actually starting it themselves (you could keep a single naturally-started fire going indefinitely).

The fact that it was flints is also neat. Heating chert (the larger class of material to which flint belongs) changes the character of the stone to (generally) improve its knappability. So they apparently (maybe, hard to tell if they were doing it intentionally) knew that heating stone changed its properties.

Tell us something we don’t know

Filed under: Academia — acagle @ 8:44 am

Doctorates Up, Career Prospects Not

The numbers suggest that more people are seeking terminal degrees and that universities are welcoming them with open arms — but the data on what the Ph.D. holders do with their new degrees raise questions about whether the credentials will pay off for the individuals themselves, at least in the short term.
Just 62.7 of doctorate recipients in 2013 had what the survey defines as a “definite commitment” of employment or further study, down sharply from the usual rate over the last 20 years, as seen in the chart below.
It will probably surprise few that humanities Ph.D.s were least likely among the disciplines to have a clear career path after finishing their doctorates, at 54.8 percent (10 percentage points lower than the 64.8 percent rate for that group in 2008).

I found this interesting:

But the proportion of social science Ph.D.s with definitive post-graduation plans who went on to postdocs in 2013 rose to 36.2 percent, a share that has risen steadily since 1993, as seen below.

I don’t recall there ever being much of a post-doc route in anther/archy, but I’ve been seeing a bit more of that now, albeit mostly in areas that are technology related (gene sequencing, chemical analyses, etc.) that have some crossover applications. But it’s largely another data point highlighting the effects of degree inflation. Comments are interesting, too.

December 13, 2014

Public health in ancient. . .everywhere

Filed under: Mummies, Public Health — acagle @ 9:04 pm

Heart Attack of the Mummies

Recently, a multidisciplinary team of researchers, co-led by Thomas, examined CT scans of mummies from all over the world—from ancient Egyptians to pre-Columbian Peruvians to nineteenth-century Aleutian Islanders—and found widespread incidence of calcified arteries. They published their results in a series of papers in the journal Global Heart. One study, comparing scans of 76 ancient Egyptian mummies and 178 present-day Egyptians, found similar rates and severity of calcification after adjusting for age. These results are forcing experts to reconsider the long-held assumption that atherosclerosis is caused by uniquely modern habits: lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and smoking.

I need to go through those papers. It doesn’t surprise me at all since I don’t really believe that diet has much impact on such things; mainly because epidemiology is a very weak science and there tends to be a lot of groupthink going on, often for decades. I just downloaded several of them, and they may be open access; just search on the journal web site for ‘mummy’ or something and see if you can get to it.

We’re just skin-packed sperm delivery systems, after all

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 10:42 am

Study proves high heels do have power over men

The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.

Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.

Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal “Archives of Sexual Behaviour,” may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.

I’ve contemplated these things before from the anthropological perspective. I’m assuming in the study that they put the same woman in the same outfit and such but with different shoes so they were able to control for the effect of the female herself. I wonder if there’s an element of simple height at work as well, not just the usual suspects of heels as presented in the article (“a lengthened silhouette and sensual jutting buttocks”). At any rate, it seems like a decent study.

December 12, 2014

History revealed

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 10:59 am

Well, not quite yet anyway: Time capsule found at Massachusetts Statehouse

Crews removed a time capsule dating back to 1795 on Thursday from the granite cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse, where historians believe it was originally placed by Revolutionary War luminaries Samuel Adams and Paul Revere among others.

The time capsule is believed to contain items such as old coins and newspapers, but the condition of the contents is not known and Secretary of State William Galvin speculated that some could have deteriorated over time.

Officials won’t open the capsule until after it is X-rayed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to determine its contents. The X-ray is scheduled for Sunday.

They don’t say too much about it. It was removed earlier and put in a copper box — good move — but the condition of the contents is unknown. I’d say that if it didn’t get any moisture damage it might be in pretty good shape.

December 11, 2014

For the search engines

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:32 pm

I don’t expect anyone here to know this but my latest diary may have a name: Clarence C. Lyons. He was born in Yakima, WA in 1936/37, died in Seattle (I think) around 2013. He dated someone named Barbara Ball (b. Jan. 8 1936) and also Shirley Noble (b. May 11, 1937). He lost his driver’s license for a year in January 1954.

I think it’s Lyons. His writing is difficult to read.

Thank you.

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