May 4, 2016

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb Potato?

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 4:13 pm

The sinister, secret history of a food that everybody loves

The argument depends on the differences between how grains and tubers are grown. Crops like wheat are harvested once or twice a year, yielding piles of small, dry grains. These can be stored for long periods of time and are easily transported — or stolen.

Root crops, on the other hand, don’t store well at all. They’re heavy, full of water, and rot quickly once taken out of the ground. Yuca, for instance, grows year-round and in ancient times, people only dug it up right before it was eaten. This provided some protection against theft in ancient times. It’s hard for bandits to make off with your harvest when most of it is in the ground, instead of stockpiled in a granary somewhere.

But the fact that grains posed a security risk may have been a blessing in disguise. The economists believe that societies cultivating crops like wheat and barley may have experienced extra pressure to protect their harvests, galvanizing the creation of warrior classes and the development of complex hierarchies and taxation schemes.

I like the storage aspect, and a limited time for harvest means more organization and technology. The anthropologists are skeptical.

April 23, 2016

Going Greek in the Holy Land

Filed under: Biblical archaeology — acagle @ 11:00 am

Jerusalem Dig Uncovers Ancient Greek Citadel

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered the remnants of an impressive fort built more than two thousand years ago by Greeks in the center of old Jerusalem. The ruins are the first solid evidence of an era in which Hellenistic culture held sway in this ancient city.

The citadel, until now known only from texts, was at the heart of a bloody rebellion that eventually led to the expulsion of the Greeks, an event still celebrated by Jews at Hanukkah. But the excavation in the shadow of the Temple Mount, called Haram esh-Sharif by Muslims, is stirring controversy in this politically charged land.

“We now have massive evidence that this is part of the fortress called the Acra,” said Doron Ben-Ami, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority who is leading the effort.

Stirring controversy? Wow, never saw that one coming. . . . .

I’ve been reading Sailing the Wine Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill. Good and easy to read introduction to ancient Greece.

April 19, 2016

A couple of complementary links

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 4:06 pm


One creative attempt to estimate how widespread such dishonesty really is involves comparisons between fields of varying “hardness.” The author, Daniele Fanelli, theorized that the farther from physics one gets, the more freedom creeps into one’s experimental methodology, and the fewer constraints there are on a scientist’s conscious and unconscious biases. If all scientists were constantly attempting to influence the results of their analyses, but had more opportunities to do so the “softer” the science, then we might expect that the social sciences have more papers that confirm a sought-after hypothesis than do the physical sciences, with medicine and biology somewhere in the middle. This is exactly what the study discovered: A paper in psychology or psychiatry is about five times as likely to report a positive result as one in astrophysics. This is not necessarily evidence that psychologists are all consciously or unconsciously manipulating their data—it could also be evidence of massive publication bias—but either way, the result is disturbing.

Read, as they say, the whole thing. He makes several salient points about the various biases that can creep in on a macro level having to do with the business of science, but as I’ve argued here before there are globs and globs of biases that can creep in apart from that. One portion that struck with me is the way science is operating in society these days:

Which brings us to the odd moment in which we live. At the same time as an ever more bloated scientific bureaucracy churns out masses of research results, the majority of which are likely outright false, scientists themselves are lauded as heroes and science is upheld as the only legitimate basis for policy-making. There’s reason to believe that these phenomena are linked. When a formerly ascetic discipline suddenly attains a measure of influence, it is bound to be flooded by opportunists and charlatans, whether it’s the National Academy of Science or the monastery of Cluny.
. . .
The Cult is related to the phenomenon described as “scientism”; both have a tendency to treat the body of scientific knowledge as a holy book or an a-religious revelation that offers simple and decisive resolutions to deep questions. But it adds to this a pinch of glib frivolity and a dash of unembarrassed ignorance. Its rhetorical tics include a forced enthusiasm (a search on Twitter for the hashtag “‪#‎sciencedancing‬” speaks volumes) and a penchant for profanity. Here in Silicon Valley, one can scarcely go a day without seeing a t-shirt reading “Science: It works, b—es!” The hero of the recent popular movie The Martian boasts that he will “science the sh— out of” a situation. One of the largest groups on Facebook is titled “I f—ing love Science!” (a name which, combined with the group’s penchant for posting scarcely any actual scientific material but a lot of pictures of natural phenomena, has prompted more than one actual scientist of my acquaintance to mutter under her breath, “What you truly love is pictures”).

I loathe that IFLS site as well as its bastard children involving bad language and archaeology and refuse to even link to them here. Because, you know, watching Big Bang Theory doesn’t make you a Science Geek.

Related is this: A Decades-Old Study, Rediscovered, Challenges Advice on Saturated Fat

So what was the result? Despite being one of the largest controlled clinical dietary trials of its kind ever conducted, the data were never fully analyzed.

Several years ago, Christopher E. Ramsden, a medical investigator at the National Institutes of Health, learned about the long-overlooked study. Intrigued, he contacted the University of Minnesota in hopes of reviewing the unpublished data. Dr. Frantz, who died in 2009, had been a prominent scientist at the university, where he studied the link between saturated fat and heart disease. One of his closest colleagues was Ancel Keys, an influential scientist whose research in the 1950s helped establish saturated fat as public health enemy No. 1, prompting the federal government to recommend low-fat diets to the entire nation.

We just don’t know much about anything really.

April 14, 2016

Lost civilization round rock. . . .found.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:20 pm

Mysterious giant sphere unearthed in forest divides opinion

This round rock could be the oldest stone sphere made by human hands, says Bosnian archaeologist Semir Osmanagic.

Discovered in a forest near the Bosnian town Zavidovici, the ball has a radius of between four and five feet, and an “extremely high” iron content.

Dr Osmanagic believes the sphere proves the existence of an advanced lost civilisation dating back more than 1,500 years ago.

Wonder if he found it at the base of the pyramid. . . .

April 6, 2016

Technically, it was the diseases

Filed under: Public Health — acagle @ 7:03 pm

Ancient DNA shows European wipe-out of early Americans

The first largescale study of ancient DNA from early American people has confirmed the devastating impact of European colonisation on the Indigenous American populations of the time.

Led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the researchers have reconstructed a genetic history of Indigenous American populations by looking directly into the DNA of 92 pre-Columbian mummies and skeletons, between 500 and 8600 years old.

Published today in Science Advances, the study reveals a striking absence of the pre-Columbian genetic lineages in modern Indigenous Americans; showing extinction of these lineages with the arrival of the Spaniards.

Why should I hate Indiana Jones?

Filed under: Indiana Jones — acagle @ 7:00 pm

It’s just a movie.

The War of 1812 and Proxy Buttocks

Filed under: Battlefield archaeology, Historic — acagle @ 6:58 pm

Mass Grave From War Of 1812 Gives Archaeologists First Evidence Of Buckshot Injuries

The night of June 6, 1813, was dark and chaotic. As American troops advanced into the Niagara Peninsula, a battle ensued between them and the British army attempting to raid their camp at Stoney Creek in Ontario. Unable to coordinate a standard infantry line, both sides launched into close-range, hand-to-hand combat. Given the atypical nature of the battle, a group of archaeologists set out to see if the injuries found on two dozen skeletons in a mass grave from this War of 1812 skirmish were also atypical.

The Battle of Stoney Creek mass grave was excavated in 1998 and 1999. Containing 2,701 fragments, the collection represents at least 24 people who were likely hastily buried following the raid. The British lost 23 men, and the Americans 17, with over 200 more injured, missing, or captured. Previous studies on the excavated skeletons using stable isotope analysis revealed some of the soldiers had a more European diet, while others had a more North American, corn-based diet, suggesting both sides may have used the same grave to bury their dead. And in three of the individuals’ hip bones, there were injuries that seemed to have resulted from muskets.

April 5, 2016

Archaeology going to pot(s)

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 6:52 pm

Ancient Non-Stick Pan Factory Found in Italy

Giglio and colleagues found more than 50,000 fragments of lids, pots and pans of various sizes and thickness, each featuring a very distinct coating.

“All the defective artifacts were dumped here. These pieces help us enormously to reconstruct the way the pottery was manufactured,” Giglio said.

Many of the fragments featured the thick internal red-slip coating that provided a non-adherent surface, making the pots and pans ideal for cooking meat-based stews.

Yup. At Memphis my area had (apparently) been a dumping ground for a ceramics manufacturing outfit and, in addition to various penii, we found at least a couple whole little vessels, both of them fairly well deformed. Which I thought was kinda neat: the little bowls that ended up rejected were the few to survive the millennia intact.

March 31, 2016

Homo hobbittus update

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 8:52 am

New Homo Floresiensis Dates May Quash Cryptozoology Theories About ‘Hobbits’

When the “hobbit” remains were thought to date to as recently as 12,000 years ago, these legends about Ebu Gogo started sounding like they could refer to H. floresiensis. The new Nature paper, however, uses cutting-edge analysis of geology to push the date of disappearance of the “hobbits” back to 50,000 years ago. Or, at least, this is the date that the “hobbits” left the cave at Liang Bua. Research authors Thomas Sutikna and colleagues write that, “Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago — potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans — is an open question.”

I’ve been mostly on the fence about this. A whole bunch of microcephalics running around didn’t seem plausible to me, nor did such a recent holdover of mini Homo erecti(ish) guys. This doesn’t push the latter back all that far, but it seems a little more plausible to me.

March 22, 2016

Bodies, bodies everywhere!

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:05 pm

Iron Age remains of 150 people discovered at Yorkshire housing development site

A “hugely important” Iron Age burial ground has been unearthed at a housing development site in Yorkshire.

The 2,000-year-old skeletons and personal effects of 150 ancient Britons was discovered in the small town of Pocklington in east Yorkshire, during excavations at a site which property developer David Wilson Homes had earmarked for 77 new houses.
As The Guardian reports, 65 small square burial mounds were discovered across the site, with archaeologists uncovering human remains, jewellery, and ancient weapons like swords, spears and shields.

Doesn’t say much about the preservation but it ought to give yet more demographic and disease data.

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