January 31, 2012

More ancient cancer

Filed under: Egypt, Public Health — acagle @ 8:25 pm

Ancient Mummy Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer

Scientists have diagnosed a 2,200-year-old mummy with prostate cancer, suggesting that the disease is linked to genetics rather than the environment.

This is the oldest case of prostate cancer discovered in ancient Egypt and the second oldest in the world. The oldest detection of prostate cancer came from the 2,700-year-old skeleton of a Scythian king in Russia, and led scientists to suspect that cancer was actually quite prevalent in the past despite rare recorded cases.

At first I thought it read “Badger”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:23 pm

Archaeologists and pagans alike glory in the Brodgar complex

Archaeologists are notoriously nervous of attributing ritual significance to anything (the old joke used to be [ed.: Used to be?] that if you found an artefact and couldn’t identify it, it had to have ritual significance), yet they still like to do so whenever possible. I used to work on a site in the mid-1980s – a hill fort in Gloucestershire – where items of potential religious note occasionally turned up (a horse skull buried at the entrance, for example) and this was always cause for some excitement, and also some gnashing of teeth at the prospect of other people who weren’t archaeologists getting excited about it (“And now I suppose we’ll have druids turning up”).

The Brodgar complex has, however, got everyone excited. It ticks all the boxes that make archaeologists, other academics, lay historians and pagans jump up and down. Its age is significant: it’s around 800 years older than Stonehenge (although lately, having had to do some research into ancient Britain, I’ve been exercised by just how widely dates for sites vary, so perhaps some caution is called for). Pottery found at Stonehenge apparently originated in Orkney, or was modelled on pottery that did.

Blogged on this thing once before, but it’s starting to look rather more important than I gave it credit earlier.

Wherein I link to a socialist web site

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:19 pm

But an interesting little essay: A friendly response to William Whitlow’s comments on Thomas Kuhn

Let me first state unequivocally that my comments are in no way intended to support a post-modernist view of science. As an archaeologist trained in the U.S., where anthropology encompasses four sub-fields – social/cultural anthropology, physical/biological anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics – I am painfully aware that at least one of these subfields, social/cultural anthropology, has been devastated by the injection of post-modernism. The effects of this theoretical transformation were recently codified by the American Anthropological Association, which declared that anthropology is not a science, reversing its previous position. The effects of the post-modernist onslaught have not been nearly so pronounced in anthropological archaeology, though attempts have certainly been made.

It actually provides a pretty fair description of pre- and post-New Archaeology, one that I can’t really quibble with all that much. I think he gives a bit of a short shrift to the culture historians and their methods though:

The most frequent artifact types, defined in a formal, stylistic way, represented the essence of a culture. Those traits that occurred with lower frequency were effectively seen as random noise. The focus was on identifying the characteristic trait list of any given archaeological site or stratigraphic layer and then comparing this profile to other sites and layers. One might summarize this approach as glorified butterfly collecting.

Well, in a way, but that ignores much of the chronological concerns of culture historians. A LOT of what they were doing revolved around telling time in the absence of radiocarbon dating. Types and their aggregates were largely developed for seriation and only later assumed to represent something like the ethnographic “cultures”; it was actually quite rigorous and quantitative in its own way. . . .and worked rather remarkably well, in so far as it could.

Nothing particularly new there for those who have gone through the rigors of grad school, but worth reading for an introduction to the last 70 years of theory in archaeology (well, mostly from about the 1930s through the 1960s).


Filed under: Historic — acagle @ 8:07 pm

Gallows found amid mystery

A DOZEN archaeology students had no way of knowing if they had half a gallows, or three-quarters of a gallows yesterday.

The 2m wide oblong of stone-block foundation marks the place where, on January 31, 1860, John Vigors was executed for “shooting at one John Baker with intent to kill and murder him”.

But the length of the the platform, through which Vigors and four other men dropped, remains a mystery because the far end lies beneath the Oatlands swimming pool.

That’s actually a bit creepy if you ask me.

Mohels Without Borders

Filed under: Public Health — acagle @ 4:25 pm

AIDS Prevention Inspires Ways to Make Circumcisions Easier

The day of the assembly-line circumcision is drawing closer.

Now that three studies have shown that circumcising adult heterosexual men is one of the most effective “vaccines” against AIDS — reducing the chances of infection by 60 percent or more — public health experts are struggling to find ways to make the process faster, cheaper and safer.

The goal is to circumcise 20 million African men by 2015, but only about 600,000 have had the operation thus far. Even a skilled surgeon takes about 15 minutes, most African countries are desperately short of surgeons, and there is no Mohels Without Borders.

I posted on something similar a while back for some research I was doing. The protective benefits are certainly real and what was once perhaps a purely “stylistic” cultural trait may end up being functional after all — if, in fact, it had some functional backing to begin with — with a different distribution among various populations.

I can imagine what future archaeologists are going to make of these devices. . . .

January 30, 2012

She’s so fat. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:35 pm

The world’s oldest “Yo mama” joke is 3,500 years old

The world’s oldest “Yo mama” joke is 3,500 years oldAround 1,500 BCE, a student in ancient Babylon inscribed six riddles on a tablet. 3,500 years later, these proto-jokes lose a lot in the translation, but one thing’s for sure: the Babylonians are saying something about your mother.

The tablet in question was first discovered back in 1976 by an archaeologist named J.J. van Dijk during excavations in present-day Iraq. Sadly, the tablet itself has since disappeared, but van Dijk left behind a copy of what the tablet had to say, as well as the delightfully pissy assertion that the tablet featured “very careless writing” and so was obviously the work of a student.

Not quite as old as the first fart joke, but still. . . .


Filed under: Conservation/CRM — acagle @ 8:32 pm

Buried in history: Secrecy protects local Indian mounds

Indian mounds are mysterious snakes of dirt rising along the river floodplains, sacred calling cards left by another people from another time.

Piled hundreds of years ago as daises for burial grounds, temples or the homes of chiefs who were considered descendants of the sun, the mounds are scattered in remnants across the Lowcountry, as well as the state and nation.

If you roam or hunt a Lowcountry woodlands, you might well have stepped across one.

Yeah, the safest archaeological site is the one that’s never found. Sad, but true.

Rebuilders of the lost tomb

Filed under: Biblical archaeology, Conservation/CRM — acagle @ 8:30 pm

Top archaeologists condemn Israeli plan to rebuild ancient tomb

An unusual plan to rebuild the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium site, southeast of Jerusalem, has spurred opposition on the part of top archaeologists.

The plan, which is being promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes building a lavish mausoleum in its original size out of light plastic material, and turning it into a visitor’s center. The plan is the first of its kind in the realm of Israeli archaeological digs, as most sites consist of either miniaturized or renovated historical sites that use the original materials found at the site.

Not entirely sure if they’re only really objecting to the building of the structure itself or whether it would be accurate either in architecture or location. Tough call on some of these things. I’ve always thought it would be neat to rebuild some of these old monuments to their original look if it could be done safely and perhaps even with an eye towards preserving what is left. They were covering the Sphinx with stone to make that look like it (probably) would have, but I recall there being some controversy over whether it was helping or hurting the underlying stone. True, there’s some value in seeing the actual old parts of it. . . .would anyone go see a replica of Tut’s tomb? I kinda doubt it. OTOH, wouldn’t it be cool to cover the pyramids in their original white limestone?

Ice Age Death Trap!

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:24 pm

The Snowmass thing: Snowmass Ice Age discovery getting national attention

In October 2010, archaeologists uncovered what will probably be the discovery of a lifetime for some of them.

In Snowmass Village, near Aspen, thousands of Ice Age fossils were found. It was one of the most significant discoveries ever made in Colorado.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science took charge of the excavation and now they’re about to get more national exposure.

Short article, but there’s a video of an interview with the project director. Which doesn’t say a whole lot either, but there you are.

How to become an archaeologist

Filed under: Amateur, Historic — acagle @ 8:13 pm

‘Getambe Jones’ and the lost Railway halt

Apart from the above named attributes, I have or own the following:

1. A pair of dust-covered, heavy duty, walking shoes with impressive logo (impervious to snake bite but with a small crack in the upper of the left one).
2. A grey, slightly unkempt beard giving me an eccentric professorial appearance.
3. An“Indiana Jones” type hat.

One of the rules of this game is to set about discovering something that is easy to discover and then hype it. There is no point wasting time and energy trying to discover the lost continent of Atlantis, for example, which is probably too big and difficult to dig out anyway. So I decided to set my sights on something more manageable.

Being retired and at a loose end, I decided one morning that I should set about trying to discover The Lost Railway Halt of Getambe (near Kandy).

Actually a rather entertaining little treatise on a bit of amateur archaeology.

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