December 16, 2014

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.

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.

Whoopsie wooo. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 1:48 pm

This Greenpeace Stunt May Have Irreparably Damaged Peru’s Nazca Site

The Peruvian government is planning to file criminal charges against Greenpeace activists who may have permanently scarred the Nazca Lines World Heritage Site during a publicity stunt.

As The Guardian reports, the Nazca lines “are huge figures depicting living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary figures scratched on the surface of the ground between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago.” The figures, which can only be seen from the air, are believed to have had ritual functions related to astronomy.

The ground around the site is so sensitive and so sacred that Peru has even forbidden presidents and top officials to walk where the Greenpeace activists went. Peru’s Deputy Culture Minister told the BBC: “You walk there, and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years.” Tourists generally get to see the site from the air, or, on rare occasions, are equipped with special foot gear.

On the one hand, I’m guessing more than a few people have probably walked around out there. On the other hand, dopes.

December 2, 2014

Greek tomb update

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:52 pm

Decent slide show from Discover.

Into the theoretical maw

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 9:17 am

On the (dis)unity of the sciences

“A typical thesis of positivistic philosophy of science is that all true theories in the special sciences [i.e., everything but fundamental physics, including non-fundamental physics] should reduce to physical theories in the long run. This is intended to be an empirical thesis, and part of the evidence which supports it is provided by such scientific successes as the molecular theory of heat and the physical explanation of the chemical bond. But the philosophical popularity of the reductivist program cannot be explained by reference to these achievements alone. The development of science has witnessed the proliferation of specialized disciplines at least as often as it has witnessed their reduction to physics, so the wide spread enthusiasm for reduction can hardly be a mere induction over its past successes.”

I would go further than Fodor here, echoing Dupré above: the history of science has produced many more divergences at the theoretical level — via the proliferation of new theories within individual “special” sciences — than it has produced successful cases of reduction. If anything, the induction goes the other way around!

I don’t have a lot to say on this, apart from the fact that I am rather more inclined to this view than I used to be.

UPDATE: FWIW, I’ve never really referred to myself as “a scientist” even when I’ve been doing more than social science (i.e., biomedical/epidemiology). I think it’s something of a term people use to shield themselves from criticism that they might be biased. “I’m not politically motivated at all, because I’m A Scientist!

November 24, 2014

“Archaeology is a combative science”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:24 pm

Bronze Age Lost Its Cutting Edge Before Climate Crisis

Climate change—so often and so recently coupled with the decline of early civilizations in the Near East, the Indus Valley and the Mediterranean—may not have ushered in the collapse of the late Bronze Age after all.

A new study suggests that Bronze Age cultures everywhere collapsed not because of sustained drought or flooding, but because of technological change. The gradual spread of iron foundries and smithies, they say, undermined the economic strengths of those centres with monopolies on the production of, and trade in, copper and tin—the elements in the alloy bronze.

It’s only Ireland, mind you. Changing climate can have different effects in different places and it’s not always bad, though cooler is usually worse. Plus many of these “collapses” aren’t necessarily what we think of as collapses, but simply major changes in settlement patterns.

November 20, 2014

“Scruffy, knowledgeable, underpaid”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:56 pm

Oh, shut up.

‘Lives in Ruins’ by Marilyn Johnson

The largest cemetery of Revolutionary War soldiers in America lies roughly five miles from the Hudson River, beside a commercial stretch of Route 9 in Fishkill, N.Y. What was once a 70-acre military city and the Continental Army’s largest supply center now hosts a Blimpie, a McDonald’s, and a Godfather’s pizza. The old headquarters for Washington’s generals is a small museum, but most of the site’s original history has been forgotten.

A contract archaeologist named Bill Sandy found seven graves in 2007 while surveying the land for commercial development, and later studies found evidence of hundreds more graves. Sandy has partnered with historic preservation societies that hope to buy the land and commemorate the site. But for now the area is in a state of limbo, partially developed and partially preserved.

At least from the description, it sounds like a pretty good read. At least, I agree with a lot of the sentiments expressed there.

November 18, 2014

Now this is cool

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:15 pm

New Preservative Could Save Ancient Ships for Archaeologists

A novel polymer network that soaks into wood and provides artefacts with structural support while simultaneously protecting against biological degradation has been developed by scientists in the UK. The team say the polymer network could be a ‘one-stop’ material for tackling the main issues conservators face when treating and drying historical objects.
. . .
The treatment contains the natural polymer chitosan, sourced from shrimp shells leftover from the seafood industry, and guar, derived from the plant, functionalised with a host molecule, cucurbit[8]uril, to form a cross-linked polymer network which can lock together and provide structural stability within damaged wood.

I don’t have much experience with conservation and didn’t know any of the problems associated with PEG. Nice that the new stuff can be made from waste materials, though the big thing will be whether it can be made cost effectively.

November 17, 2014

Short but sweet

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:52 pm

Bronze Age Razor Unearthed in Siberia

Excavations at a 4,000-year-old site in Siberia have revealed a thin bronze plate that could have been used as a shaving implement, reports the Siberian Times. Expedition leader Vyacheslav Molodin of the Siberian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography says that while his team has provisionally identified the artifact as a razor, it was probably also used as a knife.

Dunno how likely that is. I’ve always thought that razors had to be generally much sharper than regular/general purpose knives, but then I’ve never tried to shave with a jackknife or anything. I imagine anything would probably do in a pinch. If they had obsidian you could make spectacularly sharp razors.

November 16, 2014

“Genealogy is bunk,”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:10 pm

How DNA Is Reshaping How We See Ourselves—and Our History

That was one of the most fascinating parts of writing this book. When I first started talking about it to people, I kept coming up against this attitude, which was very perplexing to me, because genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the world.

At the same time there’s this widely held notion that genealogy is a ridiculous, self-indulgent pastime. I think that comes from a few different things. First I think it comes from the misuse of genealogy and our ideas of inheritance. Not just in the eugenics of Nazi Germany. Many other countries had ideas about lineage and genealogy, and biology, which they believed made them superior to others. Some pockets of the world are also still very much class-based, and people don’t want to return to that.

There’s also a notion in America whereby we want to see ourselves as completely in charge of who we are. We don’t want to think of ourselves as having been shaped by the past.

Interesting little article. I’ve always not cared too much about my ancestry for the reasons given there: It won’t affect me in the here and now very much. Well, there was some lore that one of my ancestors was an “Indian princess” and I was rather keen on getting some of the Native American Minority status goodies, but it looks not to be the case. On the one hand, it’s kind of a trivial observation: yeah, we’re a product of our ancestry since our parents taught us a lot of what they were taught, etc. OTOH, so what if one of my ancestors was a war criminal or something? They’re dead, I had nothing to do with it, so it doesn’t really matter what someone did in the world of, say, 150 years ago.

Still, it is a rather fascinating hobby, I won’t deny that. We’d all like to know more of our personal stories.

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