June 1, 2016

Beer: Is there anything it can’t do?

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 7:20 pm

Archaeologists discover remnants of the oldest known beer brewery in China

Archaeologists have discovered the remnants of the oldest known beer brewery in China, unearthing an array of ancient pottery vessels including funnels, pots, and jugs containing residual traces of the beverage from about 5,000 years ago.

Uncovered at an archaeological site at Mijiaya in northern China, the beer vessels were found in pits dating back to between 3400 and 2900 BC. A faint chemical residue inside the pottery is what gave away the kit’s original purpose, with the researchers finding evidence of ancient grains used as ingredients in beer fermentation.

The researchers think the early evidence of barley suggests the grain may have entered China primarily for its use in making alcohol, before going on to find a home in other agriculture.

Some people have been arguing that for a while now, that much of cereal agriculture was intensified for making beer rather than as food, per se (beer was generally regarded as food until very recently).

May 26, 2016

Well, huh.

Filed under: Neanderthals — acagle @ 3:08 pm

Neanderthals built cave structures — and no one knows why

Little video at the link which gives a decent overview of the area. The burning certainly points to people doing it, but there are apparently no other artifacts present, which seems very odd to me.

May 23, 2016

Okay. I don’t really get this at all.

Filed under: Media, Pop culture — acagle @ 7:13 pm

The future of archaeology starts with No Man’s Sky

Archaeogaming, as defined by scholar Meghan Dennis, is “the utilization and treatment of immaterial space to study created culture, specifically through videogames.” It’s a new field of study that is only now starting to dig its way into academia. Three books on the topic are scheduled to arrive in 2017 alone, the latest of these being The Interactive Past, which was successfully crowdfunded by the VALUE project on Kickstarter.

I just don’t know about this. I did always think that the sort of video games like Civilization might be a good way to study how people go about making decisions based on a number of factors in simplified-but-real-world(ish) scenarios, but I kinda don’t get this.

Speaking of vampires. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 7:03 pm

Which we weren’t, actually, but whatever:
Archaeology of the Undead

In folkloric sources as diverse as Babylonian literature, the shroud-eating Nachzehrer of Germanic tradition, and the Chiang-Shih “hopping vampires” of Chinese legend, notions of corpses rising from the grave have long been documented. But what these new archaeological datasets reveal is that these ancient accounts weren’t just stories that our ancestors told to each other on dark and stormy nights. Many of our forefathers were genuinely scared, taking time and trouble to ensure that the dead stayed where they belong.

Pretty good little summary article. One of the studies is available online here. They do note that — as I think I’ve mentioned once or twice — that one shouldn’t automatically assume “vampire” whenever a burial looks funny, although they may often have been thinking more like “zombie”.

I’m tired of zombies, btw.

May 17, 2016

Megafauna extinctions

Filed under: Extinctions — acagle @ 11:46 am

The Extinct Ice Age Mammals of North America

University of Washington Anthropology Professor Donald Grayson and recipient of the 2015 University Faculty Lecture Award delivers the University Faculty Lecture on April 28, 2016. Toward the end of the Ice Age, North America saw the extinction of an astonishing variety of often huge animals. Mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, lions, armadillos the size of small cars, sloths the size of elephants, beavers the size of bears, and many others were all gone by about 10,000 years ago. We do not know what caused these extinctions, but our knowledge of the Ice Age archaeology and paleontology of the deserts of western North America provides a novel opportunity to examine the common but contentious argument that people were behind all of them.

Video of the lecture.

May 16, 2016

Tiny, tiny mummy

Filed under: Egypt, Mummies — acagle @ 7:22 pm

Mummified body of miscarried baby found in tiny Egyptian coffin

The tiny body of a miscarried baby, dating back more than 2,000 years, has been discovered hidden in a tiny Egyptian sarcophagus, no bigger than a shoe-box.

The care with which the foetus was mummified and interred in the miniature coffin – with its arms crossed protectively over its chest – betrays the devastation felt by its parents, who took great pains to ensure its journey to the afterlife.

Egyptologists at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge made the discovery after scanning the coffin using modern imaging techniques for the upcoming exhibition Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of ancient Egypt.

I kinda bleeped over this earlier, but I decided it’s interesting. They didn’t say who it may have belonged to though, but one would suspect a royal, due to the crossed arms and the care of the body.

Action! Romance! SEX!!!

Filed under: Media, Pop culture — acagle @ 7:04 pm

In other words, fictional archaeology: ‘The Dig’: a timeless tale of ancient English treasure

Edith Pretty is an English widow who owns the land where the treasure is buried. Basil Brown is a local self-taught archaeologist, hired by Edith, who makes the initial discovery. Edith’s young son Robert follows the hunt with mounting excitement, and several competing archaeologists and museum bureaucrats converge on the site once they realize what is at stake.

“The Dig” has a feeling of hush about it, in part because the reader knows the turmoil of war that the country and these characters are about to be plunged into. There’s the restraint with which the English express themselves, even when some cutthroat museum politics are involved. And there’s the sense of awe and wonder that unfolds as the ground gives up its secrets. Archaeologist Peggy Piggott recalls watching three exquisite pieces of gold being gently extracted from the earth.

I probably shouldn’t include the sex part; people tend to hump like bunnies when out in the field.

May 4, 2016

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb Potato?

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 4:13 pm

The sinister, secret history of a food that everybody loves

The argument depends on the differences between how grains and tubers are grown. Crops like wheat are harvested once or twice a year, yielding piles of small, dry grains. These can be stored for long periods of time and are easily transported — or stolen.

Root crops, on the other hand, don’t store well at all. They’re heavy, full of water, and rot quickly once taken out of the ground. Yuca, for instance, grows year-round and in ancient times, people only dug it up right before it was eaten. This provided some protection against theft in ancient times. It’s hard for bandits to make off with your harvest when most of it is in the ground, instead of stockpiled in a granary somewhere.

But the fact that grains posed a security risk may have been a blessing in disguise. The economists believe that societies cultivating crops like wheat and barley may have experienced extra pressure to protect their harvests, galvanizing the creation of warrior classes and the development of complex hierarchies and taxation schemes.

I like the storage aspect, and a limited time for harvest means more organization and technology. The anthropologists are skeptical.

April 23, 2016

Going Greek in the Holy Land

Filed under: Biblical archaeology — acagle @ 11:00 am

Jerusalem Dig Uncovers Ancient Greek Citadel

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered the remnants of an impressive fort built more than two thousand years ago by Greeks in the center of old Jerusalem. The ruins are the first solid evidence of an era in which Hellenistic culture held sway in this ancient city.

The citadel, until now known only from texts, was at the heart of a bloody rebellion that eventually led to the expulsion of the Greeks, an event still celebrated by Jews at Hanukkah. But the excavation in the shadow of the Temple Mount, called Haram esh-Sharif by Muslims, is stirring controversy in this politically charged land.

“We now have massive evidence that this is part of the fortress called the Acra,” said Doron Ben-Ami, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority who is leading the effort.

Stirring controversy? Wow, never saw that one coming. . . . .

I’ve been reading Sailing the Wine Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill. Good and easy to read introduction to ancient Greece.

April 19, 2016

A couple of complementary links

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 4:06 pm


One creative attempt to estimate how widespread such dishonesty really is involves comparisons between fields of varying “hardness.” The author, Daniele Fanelli, theorized that the farther from physics one gets, the more freedom creeps into one’s experimental methodology, and the fewer constraints there are on a scientist’s conscious and unconscious biases. If all scientists were constantly attempting to influence the results of their analyses, but had more opportunities to do so the “softer” the science, then we might expect that the social sciences have more papers that confirm a sought-after hypothesis than do the physical sciences, with medicine and biology somewhere in the middle. This is exactly what the study discovered: A paper in psychology or psychiatry is about five times as likely to report a positive result as one in astrophysics. This is not necessarily evidence that psychologists are all consciously or unconsciously manipulating their data—it could also be evidence of massive publication bias—but either way, the result is disturbing.

Read, as they say, the whole thing. He makes several salient points about the various biases that can creep in on a macro level having to do with the business of science, but as I’ve argued here before there are globs and globs of biases that can creep in apart from that. One portion that struck with me is the way science is operating in society these days:

Which brings us to the odd moment in which we live. At the same time as an ever more bloated scientific bureaucracy churns out masses of research results, the majority of which are likely outright false, scientists themselves are lauded as heroes and science is upheld as the only legitimate basis for policy-making. There’s reason to believe that these phenomena are linked. When a formerly ascetic discipline suddenly attains a measure of influence, it is bound to be flooded by opportunists and charlatans, whether it’s the National Academy of Science or the monastery of Cluny.
. . .
The Cult is related to the phenomenon described as “scientism”; both have a tendency to treat the body of scientific knowledge as a holy book or an a-religious revelation that offers simple and decisive resolutions to deep questions. But it adds to this a pinch of glib frivolity and a dash of unembarrassed ignorance. Its rhetorical tics include a forced enthusiasm (a search on Twitter for the hashtag “‪#‎sciencedancing‬” speaks volumes) and a penchant for profanity. Here in Silicon Valley, one can scarcely go a day without seeing a t-shirt reading “Science: It works, b—es!” The hero of the recent popular movie The Martian boasts that he will “science the sh— out of” a situation. One of the largest groups on Facebook is titled “I f—ing love Science!” (a name which, combined with the group’s penchant for posting scarcely any actual scientific material but a lot of pictures of natural phenomena, has prompted more than one actual scientist of my acquaintance to mutter under her breath, “What you truly love is pictures”).

I loathe that IFLS site as well as its bastard children involving bad language and archaeology and refuse to even link to them here. Because, you know, watching Big Bang Theory doesn’t make you a Science Geek.

Related is this: A Decades-Old Study, Rediscovered, Challenges Advice on Saturated Fat

So what was the result? Despite being one of the largest controlled clinical dietary trials of its kind ever conducted, the data were never fully analyzed.

Several years ago, Christopher E. Ramsden, a medical investigator at the National Institutes of Health, learned about the long-overlooked study. Intrigued, he contacted the University of Minnesota in hopes of reviewing the unpublished data. Dr. Frantz, who died in 2009, had been a prominent scientist at the university, where he studied the link between saturated fat and heart disease. One of his closest colleagues was Ancel Keys, an influential scientist whose research in the 1950s helped establish saturated fat as public health enemy No. 1, prompting the federal government to recommend low-fat diets to the entire nation.

We just don’t know much about anything really.

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