May 14, 2015

Star Wars archaeology

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 7:10 pm

I ordinarily wouldn’t run this but it’s from the utterly fabulous Kristina Kilgrove (she’s been seen around these parts before), and you can tell I haven’t been checking my feed for a while because this is from 10 days ago and why did my mom have to give birth to me on May the Fourth??!!

Star Wars Archaeology

If your social media feed is anything like mine, a bunch of punning Star Wars fans have already exhorted “May the fourth be with you!” today. Since the original film was released the year I was born, I have grown up with the movies… although I confess the last one I saw was The Phantom Menace one late night back in college.

May 12, 2015

Not exactly news. . . . .

Filed under: Egypt, Mummies — acagle @ 6:57 pm

70 Million Mummified Animals in Egypt Reveal Dark Secret of Ancient Mummy Industry

In what is described as Egypt’s “dark secret,” a staggering 70 million mummified animals have been found in underground catacombs across Egypt, including cats, birds, rodents, and even crocodiles. But surprises awaited a research team when they scanned the animal-shaped mummies and found many of them empty!
A team of radiographers and Egyptologists from University of Manchester have used the latest medical imaging technology to scan hundreds of elaborately-prepared animal mummies which were collected from over thirty sites across Egypt during the 19th and 20th centuries, reports BBC News.

It’s commerce, baby. Lots of “animal mummies” were sold for offerings to pilgrims outside of the temples, so in order to maximize profit why bother with making actual mummies of actual animals when you can just put some bones in some wrapping and form it to look like the critter inside?

One other thing to remember is that to Egyptians “sacred” can mean something other than what we think it means. We would think of something ’sacred’ as something one wouldn’t harm, whereas certain ’sacred’ animals would be sacrifixed in the thousands as offerings.

May 11, 2015

“Yellow blubbing milk, the swallowing of which needs chewing”

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:40 pm

Ancient Irish ate very little beef or fish despite abundance of both

There was an “extraordinarily high” number of cattle here from earliest times and an abundance of fish in the waters, yet Irish people ate very little beef or fish, a new paper has found.
UCD honorary professor of archaeology Liam Downey and environmental archaeologist Dr Ingelise Stuijts collated and analysed a body of research that looked at food consumed from the time of the earliest documentary sources up to the late 17th century.
Dr Downey, a former Teagasc director, said some of the findings were surprising. “Ireland was covered with cattle from time immemorial. In fact, cows were the currency,” he said. “Therefore, isn’t it very surprising that the ordinary people were not eating much beef? Now the wealthier classes undoubtedly were eating beef but not the ordinary people.”

I’m a little skeptical. They seem to be relying on documentary evidence rather than archaeological, which can be quite biased. They note that beef was primarily consumed by the elites, while the lower classes made do with sheep/goat and pig — similar to Egypt in that regard — but the fish part is surprising. Perhaps it wasn’t mentioned because it was so common? Just guessing there, but I’d be surprised if the picture wasn’t quite different archaeologically.

A sad story

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:05 pm

Medieval ‘Witch Girl’ Likely Just Suffered From Scurvy
A Medieval teenage girl found buried face-down last year in northern Italy suffered from scurvy and was rejected by her community, according to new study of her burial.

Dubbed by Italian media as “the witch girl,” the skeleton was unearthed in September 2014 at the complex of San Calocero in Albenga on the Ligurian Riviera, by a team of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology at the Vatican.

The site, a burial ground on which a martyr church dedicated to San Calocero was built around the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., was completely abandoned in 1593.

That’s too bad, as she was probably chronically ill and had a short unhappy life. The article speculates that she may have been prone to other behavioral anomalies such as seizures.

Here’s hoping they give her a pleasant place to rest in peace once the analysis is done.

May 7, 2015

Experimental archaeology done right

Filed under: Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 11:26 am

I may have linked to this before at some point, but here’s Messy Nessy’s article on Building a castle the old way:

But it wasn’t enough just to use medieval construction techniques, materials and tools. For Michel Guyot the project had to go full on “Game of Thrones”, from the period costumes, diet and lifestyle adopted by the builders and craftsmen to the “horses-only” policy used for transportation around the site.

Why? That’s a perfectly reasonable question. It all boils down to a rare practice called “experimental archaeology”, which is pretty much the only way to truly understand and investigate how they did things back then.
. . .
It’s a hands-on approach of rediscovering old forgotten skills and learning exactly how to use them rather than merely relying on theories.

I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to go full-blown medieval, with appropriate dress and diet, although you would get an idea of the sorts of problems you’d get using undernourished people. But the fact that they’re doing this over a long period of time gives them the opportunity to tinker with different techniques that can really only be gained with long-term experience. You’ll never completely recreate what it was like without resorting to physical abuse of the workforce — it was medieval times, after all — but I think it gets you closer to learning the technical skills and strategies employed than trying to do a single task in a week or so.

May 6, 2015

Guaranteed to put most of you to sleep

Filed under: Theory — acagle @ 7:11 pm

Unless you’re total arch-math geeks: A Theoretically-Sufficient and Computationally-Practical Technique for Deterministic Frequency Seriation

Abstract:

Frequency seriation played a key role in the formation of archaeology as a discipline due to its ability to generate chronologies. Interest in its utility for exploring issues of contemporary interest beyond chronology, however, has been limited. This limitation is partly due to a lack of quantitative algorithms that can be used to build deterministic seriation solutions. When the number of assemblages becomes greater than just a handful, the resources required for evaluation of possible permutations easily outstrips available computing capacity. On the other hand, probabilistic approaches to creating seriations offer a computationally manageable alternative but rely upon a compressed description of the data to order assemblages. This compression removes the ability to use all of the features of our data to fit to the seriation model, obscuring violations of the model, and thus lessens our ability to understand the degree to which the resulting order is chronological, spatial, or a mixture. Recently, frequency seriation has been reconceived as a general method for studying the structure of cultural transmission through time and across space. The use of an evolution-based framework renews the potential for seriation but also calls for a computationally feasible algorithm that is capable of producing solutions under varying configurations, without manual trial and error fitting. Here, we introduce the Iterative Deterministic Seriation Solution (IDSS) for constructing frequency seriations, an algorithm that dramatically constrains the search for potential valid orders of assemblages. Our initial implementation of IDSS does not solve all the problems of seriation, but begins to moves towards a resolution of a long-standing problem in archaeology while opening up new avenues of research into the study of cultural relatedness. We demonstrate the utility of IDSS using late prehistoric decorated ceramics from the Mississippi River Valley. The results compare favorably to previous analyses but add new details into the structure of cultural transmission of these late prehistoric populations.

I’ve always found seriation fascinating, although I haven’t studied it much. It is, in fact, one of the very few truly archaeological contributions to science, although the theory behind it was always more or less implicit. But it was archaeologist who noticed that the frequencies of certain items vary in predictable ways that corresponded to, apparently, spatial and temporal dimensions. The paper, I think (I only perused it earlier), goes into that in some detail.

I tried something similar many years ago, translating a seriation program written by someone else (can’t remember who offhand, will get it later) in FORTRAN and really got into the method and algorithm in detail. Trouble was, it took some fudging to make it work, it wasn’t at all automatic, which is what they are into here. I also think the author fudged it in his American Antiquity paper. At any rate, give this a read, it will really give you a good background on the method.

I’ve also always wanted to do a detailed examination of the Americanist method of seriation compared to Petrie’s Sequence Dating and look at what sort of interaction (if any) went on while both were being developed. One of these days. . . .

May 5, 2015

Big ol’ fat non-news

Filed under: Indiana Jones — acagle @ 7:04 pm

‘Indiana Jones’ movie in the works, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy confirms

All right!

All eyes have been on that galaxy far, far away recently, but Lucasfilm hasn’t lost sight of its other major film franchise.

Production company president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed to Vanity Fair that there are plans for a future installment in the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

Yeah!

But wait. . . .

“When it will happen, I’m not quite sure. We haven’t started working on a script yet, but we are talking about it.”

Harrison Ford could be dead by the time the talking is done. So, meh.

May 1, 2015

New papers out

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 10:09 am

From the British Museum.

This issue of BMSAES presents results from fieldwork projects undertaken in a broad range of settings: ancient Egypt’s cemeteries (Elkab, Edfu), quarries (Gebel el-Silsila) and desert routes (near Kharga Oasis). Readers are also invited to make a closer acquaintance with three less familiar deities: ‘Amun-Ra, lord of the sky’, the snake goddess Werethekau, and Min, patron of quarrymen.

April 28, 2015

No river of skulls after all?

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:05 pm

Rethinking Roman-Era Skulls From London’s Liverpool Street Dig

Cremated human bones have been found packed in an old cooking pot, near the site where Roman-era skulls had been found along the former banks of the Walbrook River. It had been thought that the skulls had eroded out of burials and tumbled downstream, but the cremation burial suggests that skulls could have been placed there. “Certainly no river ever carried off the cooking pot with its cremated bones which was unquestionably deliberately placed here. And the horse skull we found with one of the skulls didn’t come out of some equine graveyard, that was clearly also placed there,” Jay Carver, lead archaeologist of the Crossrail project, told The Guardian.

I recall linking to the original story and wondering whether the whole skulls washing downriver was really the case or not.

Gaming archaeology?

Filed under: Media, Pop culture — acagle @ 7:02 pm

As MMOs Continue to Grow Leaving Old Areas Behind, Gaming Archaeology has Risen Up to Explore and Remember their Past

MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars have been going strong for years now continually growing their player base and the areas open to them. They’ve become so large that the games have taken on the same traits as real world cultures. As they continue to grow the community moves to new areas, new hub cities, leaving the old ones behind. Just as real world cities are abandoned and forgotten old hub cities in MMOs are quickly forgotten. Yet those old cities and areas don’t completely disappear.
Players have discovered that those old areas are still holding on waiting for someone to come back to them. That’s inspired a whole new in game hobby of gaming archaeology, where players hunt down forgotten places to see what’s still there. Players who have jumped into this new hobby are quickly discovering how much old content in games like World of Warcraft is still there. Unlike ancient cities in the real world, those old digital spaces are perfectly preserved. They don’t suffer the same decay which means all those old AI characters are also still buzzing about.

I was going to suggest that maybe this has some analogy for abandonment scenarios, but there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of secondary uses for such things. Be kind of interesting to set up something similar that doesn’t have all the quests and wars and junk and see what people do with it.

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