March 30, 2011

From the annals of largely useless but utterly cool technology comes. . .

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 3:04 pm

The steam-driven turntable:

Shipwreck archaeology (recent)

Filed under: Historic, Marine archaeology — acagle @ 1:58 pm

Anyone from this neck of the woods knows something about the Kalakala, an old ferryboat from the pre-WWII days up here in Seattle. It’s got that classic Art Deco streamlined look and must have been a gorgeous site plying the waters of the Sound between Seattle and Bremerton. Unfortunately, once it was retired after 1967 it’s fate was a tad less glamorous: it was beached up in Alaska and used as a fish processor, but eventually abandoned and left to rot.

A few years ago, someone discovered it up there and decided that it had to be rescued (see the History at the link above, or do a search on the Web for more) and after freeing it from the beach was towed down to Seattle to await some sort of refurbishing and hopefully a new life. Its arrival here was certainly rather celebrated (see the linked photos). Sad to say, it wasn’t to be, at least not yet. It sat in Lake Union for a time until it was designated a hazard to navigation, and was towed off again, first up to Neah Bay and thence to Tacoma. It’s situation has not improved:

It’s sad, but I’ve always been a bit cynical that the restoration efforts would ever amount to anything. What can you do with an old boat, especially one that large and with that specific a purpose? About the only thing I could think of was to refurbish it as a ferry and use it on a small run somewhere, although that may not even be possible. A restaurant? Too big and difficult to access. A tourist ship? Probably too big and cumbersome. This story tells more of the tale and includes an interesting comments section. Sad to say, the best option is probably cleaning the damn thing out and turning it into an artificial reef. Rather ignominious, but fitting I think.

Folk science

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 9:11 am

Hawks posted a link to this post by John Wilkins on the old “Turtles all the way down” story and how it’s used:

These anecdotes serve to legitimate the narrative of the teller of tales, to show they are on the right side of history, and to lessen our appreciation for the ordinary person. And they are pernicious.

Good points, IMO. But he also gives some credit to what he calls the “folk science” behind it:

While folk science is often wrong, it is also often right, and we find evidence of clever people making good inferences any time, culture or region you care to investigate. In my species book I state that people were not stupid and bad observers before Darwin, and that Darwin did not make us clever and good observers. It turns out that humans all have pretty much the same neural material between their ears, and achieve much the same cleverness no matter what they are placed into.

SJ Gould used to make this exact argument over and over again. He often argued that the treatment of the history of science is often told solely from the perspective of the modern practitioner such that the history itself represented something of a gradual unfolding from the ignorant to the obvious conclusion of what we “know” today. During the last 50 years or so it’s often taken on a Villains vs. Good Guys sort of story where church people are cast as the evil anti-science forces of darkness with the good and rational scientists leading the way out of ignorance and into the light of reason. It’s a handy foil to make your current viewpoint the obvious one.

Anyway, read the whole thing, especially the comments.

UPDATE: Also James Burke from one of his series:

Somebody once observed to the eminent philosopher Wittgenstein how stupid medieval Europeans living before the time of Copernicus must have been that they could have looked at the sky and thought that the sun was circling the earth. Surely a modicum of astronomical good sense would have told them that the reverse was true. Wittgenstein is said to have replied: ‘I agree. But I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun had been circling the earth.’

The point is that it would look exactly the same. When we observe nature we see what we want to see, according to what we believe we know about it at the time.

You don’t mess with the Zahi

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 8:28 am

Hawass is persuaded back into Egypt Minister of Antiquities role

Zahi Hawass‎, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that he had been re-‎appointed as Minster of Antiquities following a meeting with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf ‎on Wednesday. ‎

Hawass first took up the newly-created post in the cabinet when ex-president Hosni ‎Mubarak installed him late in January.‎

After a number of artefacts had been declared missing in the wake of the 25 January revolution the Egyptian archaeologist had stepped down from his post.

That’s the whole thing.

March 29, 2011

“Braaaaaains! Braaaaaaains!”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:10 pm

Brain dead: 2500 year old perfectly preserved British brain found

A 2500 year old British skull is not a major surprise for archaeologists, but a brain inside it, now that’s not your average Kinder surprise. The fact that shrunken fragile organ still exists raises some serious questions about organ preservation and how often researchers can expect to find this kind of things.

What’s interesting is that aside from the brain, all of the skull’s soft tissue was gone when the muddy body part was extracted from a site where the University of York was planning to expand its Heslington East campus.

I’m not entirely sure why they decided that archaeologists don’t like preserved soft tissues. We usually kill (or at least think about maiming) for that stuff. Can’t find the source of the quotes either.

Funny, but I was thinking of the zombie connection when I clicked over to the story and guess what the first graphic to show up was?

UPDATE: More here.
Aha, and here. Apparently the source is an article in JAS.

A mammoth(s) find

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:06 pm

Archaeologists Unearth Remains of Two Ancient Mammoths in California

Faculty and students from Foothill College, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University are excavating a site in Monterey County where two Columbian Mammoths, an adult and an infant, have been found.

The team has uncovered about 10 percent of the skeletal remains, which are heavily fragmented and will need conservation and restoration. Archaeologists have also found hair, which may allow scientists to extract DNA. If successful, this will be the first published recovery of DNA from Columbian Mammoths, and it will also help experts learn the how they’re related to Wooly Mammoths and modern elephants.

I sent an email to them to find out what the deposits were like that they found preserved hair. I’m guessing it’s a wet site, but who knows.

Pre-Clovis update

Filed under: Pre-Clovis — acagle @ 2:40 pm

Artifacts upend theory on first North Americans

A massive cache of 15,500-year-old artifacts from a Texas flood plain is providing what archaeologists are calling the first unequivocal evidence that the people of the well-known Clovis culture, long thought to be the first humans to inhabit North America, were not.

Archaeologists had previously found several sites, such as the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania and the Paisley Caves in Oregon, that appeared to predate the Clovis culture and its distinctive fluted spear points, but the paucity of artifacts from those sites made such a conclusion highly controversial.

More of an update than anything else, although I noticed this: The tools included 14 spearheads that looked similar to the Clovis points, but lacked the grooves. Which is, I think, the most significant thing about this. They quote someone as saying no other site has been convincing, which I suppose is a viable opinion, but not one that I hold. OTOH, this actually seems both earlier and related to Clovis which makes it far more significant IMO because it gives some inkling of a source for Clovis.

Dangerous archaeology (?)

Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 2:35 pm

Loaded mystery pistol found in Victoria Tunnel

An archaeologist has been brought in after an old pistol was unearthed during construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel near Auckland’s waterfront.

The semi-loaded pistol was discovered in an old well last month, and it could have even been a murder weapon.

“The pistol was found on the very base of the well so it looks like it was thrown in there while the well was still in use,” said Archaeologist Sarah Phean.

I like that. There’s a linked video that has a quick photo of the gun, it’s a double-barreled pistol with one of the barrels having been fired,, hence the mystery.

Old tech update

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 2:30 pm

A deeper history for the humble handaxe

If only some crafty caveman had been awarded the patent, the world’s first fortune could surely have been made licensing the tool. Especially since a paleontology team reports in the current Science journal that stone tools exported themselves out of Africa to India perhaps 1.5 million years ago more than twice as long ago as previously suspected.

“Here, we present age estimates obtained from excavations at Attirampakkam, an open-air Paleolithic (prehistoric) site situated near a meandering tributary stream of the river Kortallaiyar, northwest of Chennai, in southeast India,” begins the report led by Shanti Pappu of India’s Sharma Centre for Heritage Education.

Apart from yer basic rock or pointy stick, probably the oldest and longest-lived tool in existence. I haven’t kept up with my Paleolithic archaeology that much, but there used to be some controversy over whether the axes were tools themselves or just a source of flakes or both. I tend to think they were probably tools themselves since their shape seems so regular, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have functioned as a portable core as well.

Bodies update

Filed under: Cemeteries, Rome — acagle @ 2:25 pm

As per this earlier post: Archaeologists unearth 150 Roman graves in Canterbury

Canterbury – An ancient burial ground has been uncovered by archaeologists in the southern England county of Kent. The Roman cemetery dates back to around 290AD.
It was during the late era of the Roman Empire when around 150 men, women and children were buried along St Dunstan’s Street, a Roman suburb of Canterbury. The site had been home to Halletts garage for several years before it was pulled down and the local authority prepared the land for housing. That was until a skeleton was discovered by workmen.

Not a whole lot more at the new link, but it does have a photo of one of the graves and the preservation, at least on that one, seems to be excellent.

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