March 31, 2014

Hitler’s Killing Machine review

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:34 pm


Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine follows Sturdy Colls into Poland, where she meets with a few, a very few survivors of the camp and collaborates (that word is even polluted now) with members of the Treblinka museum as well as aerial archaeologist Chris Going of the GeoInformation Group; and historian Rob van der Laarse at the University of Amsterdam. Sturdy Colls and her team conduct aerial photography using LiDAR (light detection and ranging), a photographic technique that in effect strips away the lovely forest, revealing the contours, bumps, depressions and other landscape anomalies that any archaeologist recognizes as the remains of ancient foundations.

It was certainly interesting but the findings, as these things usually are, were nothing terribly conclusive or exciting in most respects. Not sure why they didn’t just drag a GPR over the place if they wanted to find buried walls, but they didn’t, so there you have it. They found a few items and gave good background, but the actual excavations were fairly uninteresting, IMV. By that I mean some interesting little finds, such as some false teeth and some scattered remains but nothing that nails anything down.

I’m really starting to dislike the overuse of the term ‘denier’ as well as they do here with Holocaust deniers. We’ve seen so many things that “everybody knows” — fat is bad, bacteria don’t cause ulcers, etc., ad nauseum if I spent five more minutes on it — fall by the wayside that calling someone a ‘denier’ these days is just another word for “shut up”.

March 26, 2014

Forensic archaeology

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:37 pm

Scientists unearth grisly secrets of Treblinka

t’s one of the most notorious cold cases of World War II — 900,000 Jews transported by the Nazis to a camp in eastern Poland, never to be seen again. Rare documents and eyewitnesses claimed Treblinka was a death camp even more ruthlessly efficient than Auschwitz-Birkenau, but evidence was thin, because the Nazis destroyed all traces of the camp. Holocaust deniers have even claimed that it was only a transit camp. Now, 70 years later, a forensic investigator and her team have gained unprecedented access to excavate the site for the first time.

Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine, premiering Saturday, March 29 at 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel follows their quest to finally uncover clues that reveal the brutal mechanics behind an operation designed to murder people on a mass scale. It is airing as part of “Women in Science,” Smithsonian Channel’s special month-long programming block celebrating Women’s History Month.

What this really has to do with “Women in Science” apart from the lead(?) being female is beyond me. Should be interesting though, depending on the sorts of analyses they used to obtain their findings. That is, is the “gas chamber” dead bang on or is an inference?

March 25, 2014

Hear! Hear!

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 7:44 pm

Preserving Audio For The Future Is A Race Against Time

The Library of Congress is one of thousands of institutions, large and small, trying to make sure that future historians — and even future archaeologists — have access to those recordings. DeAnna oversees the library’s multi-decade efforts to save millions of the nation’s recordings before they’re lost.

They want to preserve things like a 1963 interview by radio personality Studs Terkel with Bob Dylan, talking about “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

It’s part of the library’s agreement to preserve Terkel’s radio interviews from the 20th century. “[Terkel] is a tremendous intellectual force, so to preserve that archive of 25, 30 years of radio is a great project,” DeAnna says.

Key bit:

And once recordings are made digital, they’re still at risk of being lost. Unless the digital format is updated consistently, it might not be recognized by a computer in 10 years. . . .”Things that were written on stone 1,000 years ago we can still read. Things that were written on books 100 ago we can still read. Most things that were written on computer 20 years ago we can’t read”

This is especially key for archaeological records and data. I’ve got an enormous amount of old data files in various formats — dBase, Access, Excel — that may or may not be readable by the time I’m dead. And media is similarly fragile: I used to have an old reel tape of some data from a site that I couldn’t get read because the university had already gotten rid of their old tape drive. It would be nice if they could come up with a format that’s durable and extremely easy to decode. Interestingly, someone in the comments mentioned the written works by composers which are endlessly repeatable, provided you save at least one copy of the score.

March 11, 2014

The first Olympics archaeological story!

Filed under: Historic, Slavery archaeology — acagle @ 6:54 pm

Won’t probably be quite as much as the London and Athens games provided, but there’s something: Rio’s Race to Future Intersects Slave Past

Sailing from the Angolan coast across the Atlantic, the slave ships docked here in the 19th century at the huge stone wharf, delivering their human cargo to the “fattening houses” on Valongo Street. Foreign chroniclers described the depravity in the teeming slave market, including so-called boutiques selling emaciated and diseased African children.

The newly arrived slaves who died before they even started toiling in Brazil’s mines were hauled to a mass grave nearby, their corpses left to decay amid piles of garbage. As imperial plantations flourished, diggers at the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos — Cemetery of New Blacks — crushed the bones of the dead, making way for thousands of new cadavers.

Long article, but it seems that they’re finding — and probably will continue to find — historic materials.

Of course, of course

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 6:48 pm

Even in death, legendary American racehorse Native Diver is making moves.

The remains of Native Diver are being exhumed at the recently-closed Hollywood Park racetrack to be moved to Del Mar.

Native Diver was the seventh thoroughbred to win a million dollars and the first to do so in California.

Sort of a rescue dig, and they found him! Read to the end.

February 24, 2014

[insert government official joke here]

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 8:21 pm

Archaeologists Find 200-Year-Old Douche Under New York City Hall

Archaeologists digging around New York’s City Hall have uncovered a unique piece of feminine history- a douche contraption dating from the 19th century. The oblong tube, made from mammal bone, was one of several “vaginal syringes” uncovered in the excavation. The early form of feminine hygiene control was a taboo topic in 19th Century society, leaving little information for modern researchers to go on.



Auto-play ad there so keep your sound down.

February 21, 2014

And more forensics. . .on a larger scale

Filed under: Forensic archaeology, Historic — acagle @ 8:08 pm

Archaeologists Discover New Evidence of Nazi Death Camp Where 900,000 Disappeared

A team of forensic archaeologists have reportedly discovered new evidence pointing to Treblinka, a Nazi death camp in eastern Poland where 900,000 people disappeared, going against claims by Holocaust deniers who say that the location was only a transit camp.

The findings are set to air on the Smithsonian Channel in a program called “Treblinka: Hitler’s killing machine,” on March 29, which is part of a special month-long programming block celebrating Women’s History Month.

Described as “one of the most notorious cold cases of World War II,” rare documents and eyewitness have long claimed that the camp where 900,000 Jewish people were transported was even more ruthless than the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Irritating web site, I had to knock down like three popups. I hope the article on this comes out in Smithsonian in longer format.

Actually, that’s a super irritating web site. Started playing some stupid video WITH sound.

February 18, 2014

“Prisoners of war are an example of the extraordinary cost of war. It’s not an easy story to tell, and it’s not a happy story”

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 8:02 pm

South Carolina archaeologists race to uncover Civil War prison

Racing against time, South Carolina archeologists are digging to uncover the remnants of a Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camp before the site in downtown Columbia is cleared to make room for a mixed-use development.

The researchers have been given four months to excavate a small portion of the 165-acre grounds of the former South Carolina State Hospital to find the remnants of what was once known as “Camp Asylum.” Conditions at the camp, which held 1,500 Union Army officers during the winter of 1864-65, were so dire that soldiers dug and lived in holes in the ground, which provided shelter against the cold.

It’s really too bad they don’t have more time, although from the utility lines they say are present I’m not clear on how disturbed it all is.

January 19, 2014

Blast from the past: Antique Archaeology

Filed under: Historic, Media — acagle @ 4:17 pm

This was another post that got quite a few comments (mostly negative!):

I actually watched part of an episode of American Pickers. I, uhhh, wasn’t overly impressed. They call it Antique Archaeology but there wasn’t much. . .well, what you might call explanatory archaeology in it. It’s most definitely not like Antiques Roadshow where they spend several minutes explaining the history of certain objects, what they mean, etc. They’re almost totally focused on prices. The article mentions two other things that bother me. One is they (at least in this episode) sort of prey on what most people would recognize as hoarders (which has its own show, btw). They politely called one guy a “collector” but he was a classic hoarder, albeit one who ended up parting with a few objects; his entire property was filled with random junk, not the sort of single-subject items that real collectors acquire. Second, when I say “prey” I mean prey; they pick up the stuff that will make profit for them, not the owner.

Which isn’t to say it’s a “bad” show; if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a fun program and the hosts are quite genial and seemingly good at what they do. But you won’t learn a whole lot apart from how to make money on old junk.

I updated that post later on after a few comments had come in and I watched it again. I had to confess that I’d watched about 20 minutes of it at like 2 in the morning once when I couldn’t sleep, and probably shouldn’t have based a post on it, mostly because I didn’t watch an entire episode, but also because I was in a foul mood when watching it.

I still don’t watch much of the show, but I think they got better at explaining the significance of a lot of the items they were looking at. I think that’s important to do, and not just because I’m interested in the history of objects. Yes, the drama comes from the selling price and whether they can recoup what they pay for an item; but at the same time there has to be some sort of context given for why an item ought to be priced the way it is, valuable or not. Why would a ratty old motorcycle engine be worth hundreds of dollars when another, similarly old, complete cycle isn’t worth carting away? Otherwise, you don’t really learn anything of value. . .other than what a few objects are supposedly worth. And to their credit — not that I think my criticism had anything to do with it — they got better at that. So kudos to the show. And, um, sorry for the drive-by.

January 18, 2014

A couple of historical items

Filed under: Historic, Media, Paleoanth, Pop culture — acagle @ 4:57 pm

Snipped from Althouse:

First, the history of Velveeta cheese

In America, James L. Kraft became perhaps the most recognizable face of processed cheese when he discovered that heated cheese with added emulsifying salts would form into a solid mass when cooled–and would keep much longer than non-processed cheese. Processed cheese was immediately welcomed by American consumers because of its consistent quality and increased stability.
In 1918, Frey figured out how to use similar technology to help recoup some of the factory’s waste. He learned that by adding a by-product of cheesemaking called whey, which is the liquid released from curds during the cheesemaking process, to the leftover Swiss bits, he could create a very cohesive end-product. Frey named the product Velveeta, and in 1923, the Velveeta Cheese Company became its own corporation.

I have no real history with Velveeta. I vaguely recall my parents always having some in the fridge but I honestly don’t recall ever consuming it. I don’t have anything particularly against it, but I don’t have much desire to eat it.

Also: What’s Wrong with the Paleo diet:

he paleo diet is hot. Those who follow it are attempting, they say, to mimic our ancient ancestors — minus the animal-skin fashions and the total lack of technology, of course. The adherents eschew what they believe comes from modern agriculture (wheat, dairy, legumes, for instance) and rely instead on meals full of meat, nuts, and vegetables — foods they claim are closer to what hunter-gatherers ate.

The trouble with that view, however, is that what they’re eating is probably nothing like the diet of hunter-gatherers, says Michael Pollan, author of a number of best-selling books on food and agriculture, including Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. “I don’t think we really understand … well the proportions in the ancient diet,” argues Pollan on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream below). “Most people who tell you with great confidence that this is what our ancestors ate — I think they’re kind of blowing smoke.”

He explains some of the rationale for cooking food and the changes that processing certain foods undergo to release more calories and nutrients. He makes the basic case, which I’ve made here many times, that there is no single “Paleo” diet: People in different areas and in different times ate whatever was available and it’s devilishly difficult to get anything like a precise read on what they were eating and in what quantities.

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