Alun Salt is an ancient historian / archaeologist based in the University of Leicester, UK. His PhD thesis was an archaeoastronomical analysis of Greek temple alignments in Sicily. He also has an MPhil in World Archaeology. His research interests include ancient technology, cosmology and colonisation processes. He is currently dividing his time between a few part-time jobs in the university and at the Annals of Botany.
The LA Times is currently going through 100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu. It is a lot older, but its existence was revealed to archaeologists in 1911, so this summer marks the 100th anniversary of work at the site. Exactly what the site is has been debated for many years. Current favourite is that it was a royal estate, but this does not rule out important ritual functions at the site as well. This is the view most people try and take of the site towards the peak of Huayna Picchu, which also has temples on it, so it is possible that Machu Picchu was placed intentionally at a specific point in the landscape, in this case about 2.5km or 1.5 miles up in the landscape.
As an experiment, you can download wallpapers for June based on this photo in 4:3 or widescreen formats. I’ve prepared them at hi-res, so they may need to be scaled down to fit your monitor. Let me know if they work in the comments below and I can produce more for July onwards.
Katy Meyers has another excellent post at Bones Don’t Lie. To Exhume or Let Rest in Peace This relates to two burials. The first is the Leatherman, who I had never heard of and is a fascinating topic in his own right. The other is the exhumation of the Mona Lisa model. My first reaction to the Mona Lisa dig was “I’d hate to be the artist under pressure to produce a facial reconstruction”. When I found out that was the purpose of the dig I was then baffled as to why. Will the result show that Leonardo Da Vinci was actually an terrible artist and all his paintings are rubbish? My guess is examination of the skull will reveal that the enigmatic smile was more of a toothy grin.
From Powered By Osteons comes news of the 9,000-year-old La Jolla Fisherman and -woman. UC San Diego is caught up in a rumpus over whether bones discovered while constructing the university’s President’s house should be studied or given to native Americans.
@archasa posts her slideshare presentation on Research Blogging which is relevant to archaeobloggers.
This week’s stunning archaeological site threatened by a dam is are the Basha-Diamer carving in Pakistan. I didn’t know about these, but sadly it looks like I’ll have plenty of people to share my ignorance with.
Scots Gaelic speakers should catch Talamh Trocair: Arc-eòlas coimhearsnachd before Tuesday. It’s from BBC Alba and it’s on the iPlayer. I don’t know if this is available outside the UK. It could be BBC Alba want to protect the commercial rights so that both Scots Gaelic speakers outside the UK have to pay to watch. English speakers can follow the programme on Community Archaeology with subtitles.
One of the strangest world’s oldest claims comes from North Carolina with the news that Blackbeard Ship Discovery May be world’s oldest. I thought it was an odd claim as I’ve seen plenty of older ships, but this is the oldest shipwreck in the world that’s off NC’s coast. There may be older shipwrecks in the world, but they’re not off NC’s coast and therefore presumably don’t count.
The Wukoki Ruins are part of the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. The area seems to have been occupied between AD 500 and AD 1225, with the Wukoki Ruins occupied between 1110 and 1210. The National Parks Service has a nice line on their website saying that the current native peoples in the area still see the site as having spiritual significance so, despite no one living there anymore, the site is not abandoned.
This photo uses High Dynamic Range imaging, in order to get the sky and shadows properly exposed. Using the more traditional point ‘n’ click method there’s a good chance the sky and shadow areas would show a lot less detail. For more information on HDR photography in archaeology, see High dynamic range imaging for archaeological recording from the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory by David Wheatley (doi:10.1007/s10816-010-9100-1). A pre-print of it is available in Southampton’s archives.
Photo: Wukoki Ruins by Anita Ritenour. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY licence.
Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey were sharing a stage for the first time in 30 years. The legends wowed the crowd with the classics “We all come from Africa” and “Let’s look at Lucy”. If ogling a three million old ancestor doesn’t send a shiver down your spine then you’re clearly in need of a soul transplant. The Scientific American page uses Storify. Does anyone want to cover Twitter hashtags and Storify in a couple of blog posts?
At Powered by Osteons, Kristina Killgrove has news about Female Sacrificial Slaves. If you prefer your sacrificial slaves to be male, she can cater for that too. It includes some interesting comments on problems communicating between archaeologists in different regions.
The AAA are looking for blog columnists. The work is monthly and based around the themes: Teaching Strategies, Field Notes, Multimedia Matters, Media Notes, Review Roundups. They’re open to other possibilities.
Paris for Perverts by Tony Perottet looks at the brothels of La Belle Époque from the late 19th century to the Great War as heritage site. Historical titillation, or a chance to give a voice to a profession that is usually ignored by polite society? (h/t @astrojenny)
Undergraduates who are probably from the University of York (UK – not York University CA), have been doing a grand job at Harewood House near Leeds. The dig has relevance beyond West Yorkshire, as the fortunes of the Lascelles who built the house were based on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
[A]ll in all I would say the book was not worth the money, despite all the promises of China discussions in the Table of Contents. Reading this book will not help you understand China better. I’m pretty sure it will not help you understand Europe better. If you are looking for something that can explain everything in general but nothing in specific, this may be the book for you.
Ouch! If you have a cruel streak you’ll be amused reading the whole thing.
I’m putting together a collection of links for an experiment tomorrow. I’ll see what the reaction is before I do it again. If ma.gnolia were still active then it would be easy to post, but adding the links by hand is a bit more of a chore. A tool that is making it a bit easier though is trunk.ly
Trunk.ly looks at your Twitter feed and sees what links you’re posting or re-tweeting. It also looks for links in tweets that you mark as a favourite. It then follows the links to see what the page is and stores the links for you. If you’ve hash-tagged the tweet then that hashtag becomes a tag in trunk.ly.
You can also add links from Facebook accounts, del.icio.us account and RSS feeds. This might be a slight concern for some people. In my case Twitter and del.icio.us are public and Facebook I largely keep private. Not only can you see your own links, but it’s possible to follow other people’s trunk.ly accounts and for other people to follow you. So if you’re adding links from private accounts into trunk.ly, you might want to make your trunk.ly account private too.
The reason I’m using trunk.ly is that it follows the places where I’m most likely to leave links at the moment. It’s also forgettable – and that’s a good thing. I could store links in del.icio.us or send links to a twitter account to keep track of them, but this often takes an effort. Whatever it is that I do end up doing there’s a good chance I’m tracking it with trunk.ly and I don’t consciously have to remember to update that account too to keep up to date with my links. I don’t know how easy it will be to search as the number of links grow, but for now it’s doing the job of tracking what I’m looking at well and it makes it much easier to scoot back and pull the links out for posts like tomorrow’s.
Geoff Smith has gathered some dissenting opinions. Elsewhere John Hawks explains why there’s still room for doubt about the findings. One reason for the debate is that dating is a major part of archaeology, because we look to see if artefacts are before or after each other in date, or if they come from around the same time. The new dates change what we thought we knew about Neanderthal settlement in the Caucasus. At the same time archaeological isn’t just about gathering as much stuff as you can and arranging it in date order. It’s also about how remains relate to each other. Certain tool types are common with Neanderthal activity, so for some places if you find a lot of Middle Palaeolithic tools, but no Neanderthal bone. Pulling together different strands of independent evidence, at the moment it seems more likely that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens did co-exist, not least the genetic evidence for interbreeding. It’s hard to see how interbreeding could happen if one of the partners wasn’t there at the time.
Sadly my first reaction is that Big History takes a complex and majestic story and abridges it to the point of triviality. My first reaction to Smail’s Deep History wasn’t complimentary either. It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about but rather that combining the story of human action in the past with the biological foundation of human physiology is not new to archaeologists, particularly to Palaeolithic archaeologists. What won me over to Smail’s way of thinking is partly the reminder that Historians are not Archaeologists, and that this is novel to historians, and also Smail’s book On Deep History and the Brain. While cognitive science and neuroscience have an input in Palaeolithic archaeology, this influence seems to diminish as we get closer to an archaeology of the modern-day. There are some exceptions. Lambros Malafouris is exploring the possibility of a Neuroarchaeology of the Bronze Age. I’ve had a go at combining Extelligence and TXM to the classical period, but not with any success that I’d want to publish yet. I’d be delighted to see other examples in the comments, but I think the development of cognition is seen as an evolutionary problem in the palaeolithic more often than it’s seen as a continual learning problem in humans of all periods. It’s possible that Big History could provide a framework to pull similar work into more recent periods. Continue reading Can archaeology make a small contribution to Big History?
I don’t think that telling bloggers “Go, be social with one another and form a community” is that best way to seed a community. There are also effects that happen when you pull people on to a similar subject, even if it’s a loose focus. So we’re going to have themes that run for a month. For we’ve decided stylistically that themes will be based around a word (with an optional subtitle). For June the theme will be ‘Distance’, so here’s a CFPo, a call for posts rather than papers.
It’s an intentionally abstract term because archaeology usually involves thinking across a distance in different ways. It’s often the study of human behaviour of a different time, but it can also be a matter of a different place. It involves translating what you see and placing your findings in terms of your own culture – or an imagined pan-academic culture. Here is different to there and how we come to terms with that difference matters. You can take the prompt in other ways. Does academic archaeology ignore commercial archaeology from inside an ivory bunker? Is there an Atlantic divide in archaeology, or is there a bigger intellectual distance between European archaeologists and the English-speaking world? Or there are practical problems. What is the most remote place you’ve worked? What techniques have you developed to record a site from a different vantage point away from the work area?
I’ve got a hit-list wish list of people I’ll try to get blogging on the theme who I’ll be contacting later in the month, but that’s no reason to stop you saying you’d like to take part now. Either leave a comment on the Facebook page or below and I’ll arrange an account for you. For the sake of my nerves I’d like some completed posts ready before June starts, but the posts will be scheduled to appear throughout June. If you’re not a blogger, but want to take part I can convert plain text or a rtf / doc / pages file into a post for you. Yes, some non-bloggers are on my wish list too.
If you’d like to run a theme of your own, then that would make me very happy too. Again contact me or Colleen Morgan via the Facebook page or the comment form below and we’ll try to sort something out.
Not all entries in June have to be on theme, so if you’ve got something you’d like to say and want to give Distance a pass you can do that.
Some books become landmarks through recognition of the scholarship within. Even if they are superseded decades later, people still refer back to them as defining an approach. Some books are landmarks simply by virtue of existing and African Cultural Astronomy is one of these. If it the book were awful, it would still be important as it gathers work on a much neglected area of archaeoastronomy. Thankfully the book has only one major problem.
The book is the product of people brought together by the 2006 Ghana Solar Eclipse conference. It’s part proceedings and part textbook. The textbook element is a necessity as while there’s interest in archaeoastronomy from archaeologists, anthropologists and astronomers, they often aren’t speaking the same language to each other.
I forgot this, so after reading Jarita Holbrook’s excellent introduction, my first reaction to Barth Chukwuezi’s chapter on ethnographic methods was “Oh dear, this is a bit basic”. In fact the whole first section is basic in places, and necessarily so. The following chapter on the geography of Africa by Basil U Eze is probably also elementary to anyone familiar with the continent. In this light, far from being bad Chukwuezi’s chapter lays some much-needed foundations in Anthropological method for astronomers who may have never seriously considered what the issues are. The following chapters on The Astronomical Gnomon (J McKim Malville) and Naked Eye Astronomy for Cultural Astronomers (Jarita Holbrook & Audra Baleisis) talk about basic astronomy, and how you integrate that into cultural practice.
The remainder of the first section is about teaching Cultural Astronomy. Some of this I found a struggle. Its not bad, but teaching African cultural astronomy in the USA clearly has baggage and opportunities that you don’t get with teaching about the prehistoric British Isles in the UK. It’s not irrelevant or of tiny niche interest, at least no more niche interest than archaeoastronomy in general, but it’s going to take me time to pull out what I can use from this section. Some of the chapters here might be focussed on Africa, but have wide appeal. Others are interesting, but personal stories and so less useful to me.
The second half of the book is a about current research. Like all conference volumes the chapters vary, but plenty are well worth reading. J McKim Malville et al. have a chapter on Astronomy at Nabta Playa which makes sense, even if I’m not sure to what extent I agree with it. Nabta Playa is a stone circle in southern Egypt and various claims with varying degrees of sanity have been made about it. I’ve been wary of any of the claims as there’s just the one data point. Malville et al.‘s chapter is thorough about what has been found. While it can’t magically produce a comparative circle, the one circle that is there is placed within its archaeological context rather than being purely about drawing lines to various star rises. I still don’t have a firm opinion on Nabta Playa, but re-reading this will be my first action if I suddenly decide I need to get one.
My favourite chapter is the following one – Romans, Astronomy and the Qibla: Urban Form and Orientation Islamic Cities of Tunisia by M. E. Bonine. The qibla is the direction to Mecca and used as a focus for prayer for Muslims. Inside a mosque it’s indicated by a mihrab, a prayer niche in the qibla wall. Obviously building a wall is an architectural feature and while some mosques do have skewed interiors to indicate the qibla, most mosques are built around the qibla. An analysis of alignments shows that in reality most medieval mosques in Tunisia are misaligned, if the aim is to face Mecca. What Bonine points out is that most mosques are rectangular, and in a city grid, which means the qibla in turn affects the orientation of city streets. This would be fine, except some of these cities are older than Islam, so the grid came first. It means that medieval Muslims weren’t stupid, but quite sensibly following prior orientations and placing the mihrab in the most appropriate wall. But what it interesting is that these misalignments are all wrong in a similar way. They’re all around 90º to the midsummer sunrise. Bonine traces the alignments back in time to the Roman period and the practice of centuriation, the division of agricultural land along fixed axes. This is close to what Michael Hoskin has called Archaeotopography, which he prefers to Archaeoastronomy as a term because it doesn’t assume that an orientation has to have an astronomical significance.[ref]Hoskin, M., 2001. Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations: A New Perspective on Mediterranean Prehistory, David Brown Book Company. 0954086716 (Mendeley)[/ref]
The remaining chapters are much more literary and anthropological than archaeological. The Timbuktu Astronomy Project, the Yoruba and the Igbo all get chapters. The coverage of East Africa is lighter, but not wholly ignored; Opata covers some East Africa astronomy in his chapter on Lore and Literature. I don’t know if the bias towards the west is due to the conference being in Ghana, or a reflection of the focus of current work. It does mean anyone looking for another round of arguments about the Borana calendar and its archaeology will be disappointed. A common theme through all the anthropological chapters is that the wealth of knowledge about the sky in Africa has barely been touched. This is a shame as it could vastly help archaeological interpretations of sites as a reality check on astronomical practices. All in all the research chapters show how more research in Africa could be fruitful.
So what’s the major problem? Shawna Holbrook in her chapter on Leadership points out that one of the difficulties in organising the conference in Ghana was the local attitude “All Americans have lots of dollars.” It might not be true, but you can see where that belief comes from. Publisher Springer-Verlag is not, as far as I know, based in Ghana – so why they’re charging $169 / £112 for 264 page hardback book is a mystery. If you don’t want to pay that for a hardback book the price for the softback is $169 / £112. If the book isn’t Print-on-Demand then Springer have been badly ripped off, because it certainly feels like a POD book. It’s a massive problem for a book of this type because Africa is huge. Few people will be interested in all of it. So if you’re interested in the Igbo, it’s far more sensible to get the chapter photocopied on inter-library loan than persuade your college library to buy the book. That’s a huge shame because it then means you miss out on the other chapters, which could spark some other line of inquiry. It’s reasonable to expect Springer to charge more than plain POD for a book, because they’re going to have additional costs in marketing the book, and if that marketing means that more people get to read the book, that’s a justifiable cost. But if they really do need to charge $169 / £112 to make the book happen they urgently need to revisit their production processes. For comparison Lulu could produce a similar POD book for around £20 hardback or £10 paperback.
I paid £25 for my copy via Abebooks. If you’re interested in African astronomy, and you can find a cheap copy via re-sellers, it’s well worth a look.
We can open the site up to more authors. More authors means more people finding bugs before we start getting a large readership. If you have something you’re burning to write we can set you up with an author account now. Just volunteer on the Then Dig Facebook page. Telling people to write something is a good way to make a mind go blank. Archaeology is good, but if you need more of a prompt than that, here are a few suggestions.
Technology & Techniques: This is verging into ProfHacker territory, but I’d like to see a post of series of posts on how to get the most out of Scrivener. There’s also plenty of scope for discussing teaching issues or outreach techniques. For tech blogging a few subjects that come to mind are Dropbox, Geotagging, Photosynth, Helikite & Balloon based photography, del.icio.us and Twitter. And everyone knows more about iPhone apps than me.
Reviews: I have a book review scheduled for Friday. It’s a volume associated with a conference, but you’re welcome to go beyond books. Books are getting ridiculously expensive these days (see my forthcoming review). What about archaeological content in media we can access? TV, film, games and websites? Seen a good museum exhibit recently? Tell the world about it.
News: The current Big Thing I’m getting on my feeds is the body of a girl found dating from around AD 50 has been found outside a Roman town. The injury in the back of the skull says murder, and the burial indicates ‘a Pagan rather than local burial’. Simply saying “Hey! Dead girl found!” like a few blogs are tells me nothing new. Someone taking the time to explain that actually a female aged 16-20 was not a ‘girl’ in this period would be saying something interesting, particularly if they can tie it in to more that we know about gender archaeology and the ancient world. Another route might be to mention that while AD 50 is technically post-Jesus it’s highly unlikely Christianity was present in Britannia at the time so Pagan is not a helpful term. Here’s what we have found as evidence of the variety of religious beliefs in the Roman Empire…
Links: Sometimes you simply read a post on someone else’s blog that’s cool. Why not link to it? Or the first paragraph or two of a post on your own site if you like. We’ll want someone to do that, so why not you?
Add your own comments or ideas below. You can also claim dibs on these here or on our Facebook page.