April 20, 2015


Filed under: Historic, Remote Sensing — acagle @ 7:29 pm

Ghosts from the past brought back to life

Myriah Williams and Professor Paul Russell from Cambridge’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC), believe that a 16th century owner of the book, probably a man named Jaspar Gryffyth, summarily erased centuries’ worth of additional verse, doodles and marginalia which had been added to the manuscript as it changed hands throughout the years.

However, using a combination of ultraviolet light and photo editing software, the 16th century owner’s penchant for erasure has been partly reversed to reveal snatches of poetry which are previously unrecorded in the canon of Welsh verse. Currently, the texts are very fragmentary and in need of much more analysis, although they seem to be the continuation of a poem on the preceding page with a new poem added at the foot of the page.

“What do they study in the Pacific Northwest?”

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:25 pm

Mostly boring junk: Historical archaeology: Learning about, understanding our recent past

Historical archaeologists work on a wide range of sites all over Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Early missions like Cataldo near Coeur d’Alene (ca. 1850-1853) or military fortifications such as the Valley’s own Fort Walla Walla (active between 1858 and 1917) are studied to learn early European settlement and its effects on Native American peoples.

Homesteads, farmsteads, mines, railroads and trolley systems, roads and trails, whole neighborhoods and even irrigation ditches such as the circa-1905 Burlingame Gardena canal are examined for important trends in settlement patterns, technological advances, coping strategies during environmental and economic challenges and impacts from industrialization and urbanization on the American West.

Actually the historical stuff is more fun, in a way, because you recognize a lot of the stuff.

Except when you find your childhood toys in an archaeological site. That’s rough.

April 16, 2015

Some old junk

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:32 pm

Ummmm. . . . literally: 18th-Century Sex Toy Found In Ancient Latrine

Polish archaeologists digging an ancient latrine in the Baltic city of Gdańsk have stumbled upon a 250-year-old sex toy.

The phallic object is “large, thick, made of leather filled with bristles, and has a wooden tip,” the Regional Office for the Protection of Monuments in Gdansk said in a press release.

Dating from the second half of the 1700s, the artificial penis was found “preserved in excellent condition.”

Desert Fox

March 24, 2015

Richard III Update

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:04 pm

After all the initial hoopla. . .more hoopla! King Richard III begins final journey to the battlefield where he died 530 years ago

On Sunday, Richard’s coffin left the University of Leicester where it has been since the remarkable discovery, accompanied by the team who made the find, in a hearse to Fenn Lane Farm in the village of Dadlington, the site believed to be the closest to his death.

Richard fell fighting to hold onto his crown against the invading forces of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII. William Shakespeare famously depicted him going down fighting shouting “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Philippa Langley, a screenwriter who led the search for Richard III, said it was the end of an “extraordinary journey”.

I rather like the fact that they’re taking him past the battlefield. Makes for nice closure.

Argentine Nazis. . . . .I hate those guys.

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 6:58 pm

Argentine archaeologists find secret Nazi lair in jungle

A team of Argentine archaeologists investigating a series of ruins in the jungle, close to the border with Paraguay, believe they have discovered a secret Nazi lair.
The cluster of stone structures, now covered by thick vines and accessible only when using a machete to cut through the undergrowth, contain stashes of German coins from the late 1930s, fragments of “Made in Germany” porcelain, and Nazi symbols on the walls.
“We can find no other explanation as to why anyone would build these structures, at such great effort and expense, in a site which at that time was totally inaccessible, away from the local community, with material which is not typical of the regional architecture,” said Daniel Schavelzon, leader of the team.

Color me skeptical. The buildings just don’t strike me as something anyone would build in the 20th century. I would guess a more likely scenario is that older existing buildings were used as a hideout for a time by recalcitrant Nazis after the war.

March 10, 2015

Franklin Expedition update

Filed under: Historic, Underwater archaeology — acagle @ 7:00 pm

Ice divers and underwater archaeologists to study Franklin shipwreck

Not really much there, but I thought I’d send along the update anyway.

February 4, 2015

Lost civilization yet another famous dead body. . . .found?

Filed under: Cemeteries, Forensic archaeology, Historic — acagle @ 7:56 pm

Did Archaeologists Just Find Miguel de Cervantes, 400 Years After His Death?

Family crypts all over Europe contain mummies, valuables—and a hodgepodge of random bodies. Between the high death rates of days gone by and lax record-keeping, it’s often difficult to determine who lies in any given vault. That’s what happened to Cervantes: though his will stipulated that he be buried in a Madrid convent, his final resting place was never known for sure.

But that might have changed this weekend, when archaeologists found pieces of a casket with Cervantes’ initials in a crypt at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians. The find was clustered among the bones of at least ten individuals, one of whom could be Cervantes. Coffin-makers used metal tacks to form the initials “M.C.” on a now-brittle, decaying piece of wood.

They’re just popping up all over the place these days.

February 2, 2015

The Arrrrr-chaeology of Medicine

Filed under: Historic, Public Health — acagle @ 7:59 pm

(heh) Blackbeard’s Booty: Pirate Ship Yields Medical Supplies

Archaeologists are excavating the vessel that served as the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, and the medical equipment they have recovered from the shipwreck suggests the notorious buccaneer had to toil to keep his crew healthy.

Blackbeard is the most famous pirate who ever lived. His real name was Edward Teach (or possibly Thatch), and his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was formerly a French slave vessel named La Concorde de Nantesthat Blackbeard captured in November 1717. Blackbeard was able to capture this ship easily because much of its crew was either sick or dead due to disease.

They mention mercury as being used to treat syphillis and show a syringe which was used to squirt mercury up the urethra on the assumption that the mercury — being poisonous (not that they knew how it would work) — would kill the source of the infection. But it was also used in tablet form (I believe Lewis & Clark brought them along) and also was rubbed into the skin and inhaled in vapor. I would guess it probably would occasionally work, but would often be deadly, although they were probably aware of the nasty side effects.

January 30, 2015

A bit of fairly recent history

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 9:29 am

When bread bags weren’t funny

There is nothing so romanticized as old-fashioned cookery, lovingly hand-prepared with fresh, 100 percent organic ingredients. If you were a reader of the Little House books, or any number of other series about 19th-century children, then you probably remember the descriptions of luscious meals. When you reread these books, you realize that they were so lovingly described because they were so vanishingly rare. Most of the time, people were eating the same spare food three meals a day: beans, bread or some sort of grain porridge, and a little bit of meat for flavor, heavily preserved in salt. This doesn’t sound romantic and old-fashioned; it sounds tedious and unappetizing. But it was all they could afford, and much of the time, there wasn’t quite enough of that.

These were not the nation’s dispossessed; they were the folks who had capital for seed and farm equipment. There were lots of people in America much poorer than the Ingalls were. Your average middle-class person was, by the standards of today, dead broke and living in abject misery. And don’t tell me that things used to be cheaper back then, because I’m not talking about their cash income or how much money they had stuffed under the mattress. I’m talking about how much they could consume. And the answer is “a lot less of everything”: food, clothes, entertainment. That’s even before we talk about the things that hadn’t yet been invented, such as antibiotics and central heating.

I didn’t have bread bags, although both of my parents were dirt poor growing up. My mother baked her own bread and to this day I feel a bit of a twinge of guilt whenever I buy it in the store. We would have been counted as lower middle class I guess. I had more than one pair of shoes, but I do remember buying the cheap jeans and my mom making some clothes for us and herself. She canned a lot of vegetables for the winter; supermarkets in the midwest could get some produce during the winter but it was kinda pricey and not all that good.

And this doesn’t even take into account how sick most people were most of the time and how close to an early death everyone was. Most of my family of my grandparents’ generation died in their 50s or 60s usually from stroke or a heart attack. And a lot of their siblings died in their youth or infancy as well.

If you want to learn anything at all about history, a good place to start is ignoring Hollywood.

January 27, 2015

The Dark Light Ages?

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 10:50 am

Good review of a book on the so-called Dark Ages (Medieval). The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”

How the myths that led to the creation of “The Most Wrong Thing On the Internet Ever” is well documented in several recent books on the the history of science. But Hannam wisely tackles it in the opening pages of his book, since it would be likely to form the basis for many general readers to be suspicious of the idea of a Medieval foundation for modern science. A festering melange of Enlightenment bigotry, Protestant papism-bashing, French anti-clericism, and Classicist snobbery have all combined to make the Medieval period a by-word for backwardness, superstition and primitivism, and the opposite of everything the average person associates with science and reason.

Hannam sketches how polemicists like Thomas Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, all with their own anti-Christian axes to grind, managed to shape the still current idea that the Middle Ages was devoid of science and reason. And how it was not until real historians bothered to question the polemicists through the work of early pioneers in the field like Pierre Duhem, Lynn Thorndike, and the author of my astrolabe book, Robert T. Gunther, that the distortions of the axe-grinders began to be corrected by proper, unbiased research.

He weakens things a bit by calling the current research (which he agrees with) “unbiased” but none of this was really new to me in general outline although many of the details were. One bit to note, regarding Galileo and his generation:

Hannam gives the context for all this in suitable detail in a section of the book that also explains how the Humanism of the “Renaissance” led a new wave of scholars, who sought not only to idolize and emulate the ancients, but to turn their backs on the achievements of recent scholars like Duns Scotus, Bardwardine, Buridan, and Orseme. Thus many of their discoveries and advances were either ignored and forgotten (only to be rediscovered independently later) or scorned but quietly appropriated. The case for Galileo using the work of Medieval scholars without acknowledgement is fairly damning. In their eagerness to dump Medieval “dialectic” and ape the Greeks and Romans – which made the “Renaissance” a curiously conservative and rather retrograde movement in many ways – they discarded genuine developments and advancements by Medieval scholars. That a thinker of the calibre of Duns Scotus could become mainly known as the etymology of the word “dunce” is deeply ironic.

This is fairly typical: to distinguish one’s own work, it’s common to tear down the work of the previous generation. The New Archaeology made a big deal out of making the culture historians out to be totally unscientific collectors of interesting objects and tinkerers with chronology, while they, in contrast, were enlightened Scientific Anthropologists.

I may snag Hannam’s book. Currently I’m reading Asbridge’s history of the Crusades which has really changed my views (which were admittedly rather 2-dimensional) of the period. Also made me appreciate my life, given the horrors and deprivations the typical soldier around the turn of the last millennium faced.

UPDATE: On the subject of the Crusades, one bit of the book really kind of disturbed me. Seems during the 5th (I think) Crusade, they had to ferry knights to shore (at Damietta) from some of the larger ships to some smaller craft. Apparently, one knight mistimed his jump to the smaller boat and, being weighed down by mail, etc.. . . . drowned. Can you imagine that? You leave your home to travel for months on a Holy Crusade to fight for Christ and then before you even set foot in the Holy Land, you die jumping from one boat to another.

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