March 15, 2017

Mesoamerican democracy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 6:49 pm

It wasn’t just Greece: Archaeologists find early democratic societies in the Americas

Both cities support Blanton and Fargher’s belief that the best predictor of collective rule is a strong internal revenue source—that is, taxes. Revenue sources are admittedly difficult to detect from artifacts and buildings. But after surveying 30 premodern societies documented ethnographically and historically, the researchers found that states with internal revenue sources were characterized by a high level of public goods and services, a strong governmental bureaucracy, and citizens empowered to judge the ruler’s actions. “When taxpayers are paying for the state, then the people in charge know they have to do the right thing,” Blanton says.

Collective states may have another tendency that can be spotted archaeologically: They attract people from beyond their borders, who bring artifacts that can be linked to other cultures. “When you have a collective formation that’s funded by internal resources, it’s in the interest of those in government to bring in more people,” says Gary Feinman, an archaeologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, and a co-author on Blanton’s 1996 paper. Economic equality and markets may also attract immigrants to collective societies. “People move where they think there’s better opportunity—where they can make a living, where their kids are going to do better than they did. That’s always a motivation,” Feinman says.

Interesting read, although I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m a bit skeptical that one can get political organization from material remains.

I knew Feinman from my undergraduate day, btw.

March 8, 2017

Down the rabbit hole. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 4:12 pm

Literally!

A rabbit hole in the UK conceals the entrance to an incredible cave complex linked to the mysterious Knights Templar.

New photos show the remarkable Caynton Caves network, which looks like something out of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The shadowy Knights Templar order is said to have used the caves.

The Sun reports that the caves are hidden beneath a farmer’s field in Shropshire. The site was visited by photographer Michael Scott after he saw a video of the caves online. “I traipsed over a field to find it, but if you didn’t know it was there you would just walk right past it,” Scott said.

February 21, 2017

What to do, what to do. . . .with all those artifacts.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:41 pm

Artifacts down the street: Exploring urban archaeology: Archaeologists continually unearth artifacts in our cities. It’s time to showcase them.

But after the artifacts are dug out of the ground, what comes next? Today, many municipalities are grappling with how to take care of their artifacts and preserve them for future study. While archaeological finds abound in a City like Toronto, they’re not currently housed in a single location. Currently, artifacts—whether pottery, shoes, furniture, or glassware—are documented and stored by the licensed consulting archaeologists who discover them. They wind up kept in offices, storage lockers, garages, and basements. What good are archaeological excavations and keeping all this stuff if no one looks at it and our stories remain buried in boxes?

Nice ideas but it will take an obscene amount of $$$$$.

January 23, 2017

All fall down. . . .twice.

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:49 pm

Archaeologists uncover new clues to Maya collapse

Archaeologists have long puzzled over what caused what is known as the Classic Maya collapse in the ninth century A.D., when many of the ancient civilization’s cities were abandoned. More recent investigations have revealed that the Maya also experienced an earlier collapse in the second century A.D. — now called the Preclassic collapse — that is even more poorly understood.

University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata and his colleagues suggest in a new paper, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that both collapses followed similar trajectories, with multiple waves of social instability, warfare and political crises leading to the rapid fall of many city centers.

The findings are based on a highly refined chronology developed by Inomata and his colleagues using an unprecedented 154 radiocarbon dates from the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala, where the team has worked for over a decade.

While more general chronologies might suggest that the Maya collapses occurred gradually, this new, more precise chronology indicates more complex patterns of political crises and recoveries leading up to each collapse.

As they note, they don’t really explain why, but getting a handle on the chronology is a big first step.

The Pompeii Principle in action

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:45 pm

The truth is in the garbage: New research examines ancient Roman trash

I’m surprised (sort of) that this hasn’t been done before. The article makes it seem surprising that they wold be “recycling” lots of stuff, but that may not be surprising; it’s all in cost-benefit calculations. Then again, I’ve dug through dumps and there’s plenty of junk in them. But re-use, especially with lithics, can play havoc with functional analyses.

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.

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