January 19, 2017

Fight! Fight!

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:48 pm

A ‘militant archaeologist’ is famous for finding a lost city. Some say he just stole the credit.

Tax rolls from the late 13th century indicate that nearly 400 buildings and plots of land once stood in Trellech — on a damp, landlocked hill.

“How in heaven’s name can you have a town of that size in a location as unlikely as Trellech?” Ray Howell, then an archaeology professor with the University of South Wales, said in an interview with BBC Radio in 2006.

The working theory: Ancient Trellech was an enormous weapons factory — funded by the lords of Glamorgan to make iron for the endless wars that shaped medieval Britain.

I don’t have much to say on it although one might imagine the amateurs aren’t doing the best archaeology. Interesting stuff though. Reminds me of an argument from Egypt about the definition of cities. See here for a bit on that I wrote.

January 14, 2017

In praise of the. . . . .wine cooler?

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 5:01 pm

Desert Fox

Yes, you read that correctly: I have praised the wine cooler. Otherwise known as a spritzer, that classic bottled beverage from the 1980s and the bane of wine connoisseurs everywhere.

There is a reason for this, apart from my being a child young adult of the ’80s and drinking. . . .well, not terribly many of these things. Of course, the ladies I was often after would drink them, so I at least had some skin in the game, so to speak. No, I like the idea for historic purposes, namely because it represents Civilization itself.

You read that correctly.

I speak, obviously, of the ancient Greek habit of mixing their wine with water. The Greeks figured anyone who drank their wine straight was an uncouth barbarian, and that it would likely drive the imbiber insane, perhaps even unto death. Why? I’ve seen a number of explanations. One is that their wine, produced to travel, was much stronger and more concentrated and intense than what we think of as wine, and therefore it needed to be diluted in order to be able to drink it without gagging. Imagine it being more like wine syrup than our normal sort of wine.

It also added another layer of complexity to the entire ritual surrounding entertaining. One often had what amounted to a wine steward or a wine master (magister bibendi) in charge of the mixing, who would no doubt have his (probably) own preferences as to what constituted the optimum ratio of water to wine and who would oversee the entire process.

The other postulate is that wine was generally drunk over long periods, what we call session drinking, often beginning before a meal and lasting through it and afterwards. Thus, the mixing diluted the wine sufficiently to avoid being plastered the whole time. Maintaining a certain decorum while drinking allowed the cultivated Greek to discuss art, politics, and poetry for several hours while still enjoying a satisfying buzz. This contrasted with the barbarians who would drink to simply get smashed.

There’s also something of a public health idea as well, such that one is not really diluting wine with water, but vice versa: bacteria-laden water could be made potable by adding in some alcoholic wine and thus allowing one to drink enough to satisfy one’s thirst in relative safety while also getting a nice health buzz. I’m not sure this one flies since I don’t think the amount of alcohol present (unless it was, in fact, much stronger than typical modern wines) was enough to really sterilize the typical water that was available.

As for the origins of the modern wine cooler or spritzer, well, try here. I make no claim to accuracy by providing that link, btw. But in reality, the concept goes at least as far as the Greeks and perhaps even earlier. Still, even growing up I learned the basics through the Catholic Mass wherein the celebrant mixes a bit of water with the sacramental wine. The theological justification for this, apparently, was that water represented humanity and wine the Divine, thus inextricably intermingling the two, as in Jesus, and our own sharing in that.

From what I’ve seen on the Interwebs, the modern wine cooler was killed off by a tax on wine that made it too expensive to go diluting it, when one could make similar malt-based concoctions much more cheaply. Again, I merely link; it may have simply run its course.

I do have a soft spot for the old Bartles and Jaymes commercials. That to me is the quintessential Wine Cooler of the ’80s. I haven’t seen it in years, although I just did a quick search on their web site and found that it’s available in my (Seattle) area. I doubt I’ll go buy any. I’d much rather mix my own up, which I admit I don’t do very often — or haven’t, at any rate — although at the moment I have mixed a 50-50 blend of a nice riesling and some Diet Sprite (because I had the latter on hand), which is rather greater than the generally maximum of 2:1 water:wine ratio favored by the ancients.

So go ahead. Buy a cheap jug of wine, some soda water (or Sprite!), recline on your favorite couch with some friends and discuss eastern art and dramas (intellectual llamas optional), and enjoy four millennia of history in your glass.

And, um, try not to play Madonna on the stereo.

January 10, 2017

Waste not, not want?

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:46 pm

15th-century disposable cups found in Martin Luther’s Wittenberg

Single-use cups aren’t a modern invention. Archaeologists have discovered the shards of thousands of porcelain cups in eastern Germany that were thrown away by wealthy revelers over 500 years ago.

It was by wealthy people, apparently, who can generally afford to be wasteful.

See also (if the link works): The Concept of Waste in an Evolutionary Archaeology (PDF)

November 17, 2016

Excellent preservation

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:47 pm

Great Ryburgh dig finds 81 ‘rare’ Anglo-Saxon coffins

Some decent photos, too.

October 19, 2016

New book

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 1:02 pm

Well, it’s finally published: Kom el-Hisn (ca. 2500-1900 BC): An Ancient Settlement in the Nile Delta, edited by Robert J. Wenke, Richard W. Redding, and Anthony J. Cagle.

Kind of the literary equivalent of Sominex, but feel free to purchase.

Really, this has been a long time coming. I’ve been agitating to get the monograph out ever since I discovered a draft of it from the late 1980s. This is one of the big reasons I’ve become fairly rabid about not excavating unless it’s absolutely necessary: People — even archeologists — are just not that good at preserving things over the long term. Even with the best of intentions, things can go wrong. And people tend not to see much past their own lifetimes.

October 5, 2016

From the genetics files

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 6:52 pm

Analysis of DNA from early settlers of the pacific overturns leading genetic model

More than 3,000 years ago, a group of people set out from the Solomon Island chain in the southwestern edge of the Pacific Ocean and steered their outrigger canoes toward the horizon, with no land as far as their eyes could see. These people and their descendants were the first to cross more than 350 kilometer stretches of open ocean into a region known as Remote Oceania. Now, DNA sequences are for the first time telling us more about the ancestral origins of these people, and their genetic legacy that lives on in Pacific Islanders today.

A scientific team led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, University College Dublin, and the Max Planck institute for the Science of Human History, and including Binghamton University Associate Professor of Anthropology Andrew D. Merriwether, analyzed DNA from people who lived in Tonga and Vanuatu between 2,500 and 3,100 years ago, and were among the first people to live in these islands. The results overturn the leading genetic model for this last great movement of humans to unoccupied but habitable lands.

Neat stuff although I thought the part about the X-chromosome bit was sort of gratuitous Feministing. I mean, duh, yeah, there were probably women along too, because, you know, reproduction.

September 18, 2016

One good thing and one bad thing.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 2:42 pm

Good thing: Indy Gear
So yeah, get yer stuff.

Bad thing: David Morgan

David Morgan of Woodinville, WA died July 8, 2015. Born May 21, 1925 in Vancouver, Canada, David is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dorothy, their four children (Olwen (Robert Ruggeri); Barbara (Chip Zukoski); Meredith (Ed Orton) and Will), six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Met the guy a couple of times at his store here around Seattle. He’s the one who made all of the whips for the Indiana Jones movies. Last time I was there they showed me around the place (see here). David gave me a few demonstrations of cracking one of said whips, but when he suggested that he could snap a cigarette out of my mouth I demurred.

RIP.

September 6, 2016

Amazing how much a little more work changes things.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 1:23 pm

New Findings Have Archaeologists Rethinking Valley of Oaxaca History

The evidence collected during these recent excavations illustrates this adjustment. One significant feature at Lambityeco that underwent a dramatic change was its ball court, an important ceremonial and recreational structure in prehispanic Mesoamerica. Originally, the ball court at Lambityeco (discovered in 2015 by the museum team) was designed and laid out in a pattern that was very similar to the way the ball court in Monte Albán had been; they were built with the same orientation and both were entered on the north side. Less than two centuries later, however, the people of Lambityeco sealed the north entrance to the ball court there, and created a new stairway on one of its corners, a major change. Around the same time the iconic frescos, one of the findings that originally seemed to connect the two settlements, were covered and never re-created.

Feinman was one of my profs at UW-Madison way back in the day.

September 3, 2016

Tom Wolfe does evolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:36 am

Tom Wolfe: My Father, the Provocateur

If the direct link doesn’t work, use this one from teh Googles.

I haven’t been following this latest book all that closely, but he seems to be going after both Darwin and Chomsky on language:

Charles Darwin held that the human brain and language evolved together, but my father thinks that speech is an entirely separate phenomenon, unrelated to our physical development.

And unlike the linguist Noam Chomsky, against whom my father also contends in the book, he doesn’t think that language is an innate part of our makeup. He sees it instead as our greatest invention—the code that has made possible all of our other inventions, from the spear to the internet.

“The heart of my thinking is that language is man-made,” he tells me. “It’s not a result of evolution, and it is only language that enables human beings to control nature.”

If you’re from the Rindos/Dunnell school, it’s a distinction without a difference. You can’t have language unless you have the biological capacity for it, so whether we “invented” it or it somehow arose “naturally” it doesn’t really matter: it’s part of the phenotype and will be selected upon regardless of the source of the trait.

August 29, 2016

This is cool.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:17 pm

Plus it’s fun to type palimpsest: Hidden Images Revealed in Pre-Hispanic Mixtec Manuscript ‘Codex Selden’

Also known as Codex Añute, the manuscript consists of a 16.4-feet (5 m) long strip composed of deer hide that has been covered with gesso, a white plaster made from gypsum and chalk, and folded in a concertina format into a 20-page document.

Researchers have long suspected that Codex Selden is a palimpsest, an older document that has been covered up and reused to make the manuscript that is currently visible.

The manuscript underwent a series of invasive tests in the 1950s when one page on the back was scraped, uncovering a vague image that hinted at the possibility that an earlier Mexican codex lay hidden beneath.

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