Friday 27 July 2012

Who Said Anything About Class Warfare?


I'm sitting once more in the Grand Bar in the Grand Hotel in Grand Ol' Brno, in the ... [I'll stop there]. I feel a bit like I'm not in Kansas any more. What cost 25 this morning in Skalný Mlýn just cost 80. It's So good to be Back in the fast lane. I feel so much like I belong! I'm not really complaining, because I got a deeply discounted room in this place in return for a not-so-deeply discounted return trip via British Airways. [Remember? The ones who lost my suitcase for five days?] Among other things of the grand variety about tonight's accommodation is that this renovated early twentieth century place of the bourgeoisie has twelve-foot ceilings in every room. Check this out.

So, it's not all that bad!
Now, on to the good stuff.
Despite my misgivings about the brief time I've had to contribute to this year's fieldwork, I'm very happy that I've finally been able to convince myself that I was dead-on 20 years ago when I concluded that the primary carnivore bone modifier in evidence at Pod Hradem Cave was a canid--most likely wolf. The confirming observations come in the form of numberless pieces of bone, small and large, chewed to shit by an animal clearly lacking the bone consuming abilities of hyenas. There are still, clearly, some hyaena-bothered specimens, such as the proximal ulna, which has almost no cancellous bone, whatsoever, and which was split down the middle with the olecranon process pried off. Impressive. So, we know they were there. Again, something I was able to ascertain in 1992.
So, here's to cave-dwelling and ravening animals of all stripes! [He says, as he tips into his mouth the last of his Starobrno draft pilsner costing 80 units.]
Now, as for the immediate future for the subversive one...
I've tried to keep my eye on the news ticker in the past three weeks. I've been very pleased to see that the nutters are still pounding away at the myth machine. Word has it that now we think the Neanderthals used medicinal herbs and baked chiffon cakes [or something equally as ludicrous]. So, my work's cut out for me when I get back in the saddle at World Headquarters.
For now, have a safe time while I'm journeying! And think of me in 8 hours, when I have to get up befor God to catch the bus to Vienna.

This post was made possible in part by the kind and generous gifts I received from several of my subversive friends. I am in their debt, if only for their friendship.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

I visited Pod Hradem Cave today for, I think, the first time this year. The weather has been so [forgive me for this and the above use of a scatological expletive] shitty that the path was too treacherous for my archaeologist's knees to attempt. By the way, the meaning of the rhetorical question that is the title of today's blurt is to be gleaned later on, and, oddly enough has nothing to do with bears. So...on we go.

I took some piccies at the cave that I'll share with you. The first is a view to the right of the entrance. The cave is about 470 m asl, and the highest point of land uphill is about 570. Thus, the cave is formed in what amounts to a promontory in what would otherwise be a very steep talus slope, very near to a precipice with a much steeper [plus or minus vertical] pitch. The precipice lurks where you can see daylight above the talus slope that develops on either side of the cave. This one on the right and the other on the left side of the cave entrance [shown below it] comprise sediments from higher up the slope. [duh!] The two coalesce in front of the cave, which, barring recent clearing to access the cave, produces something akin to a baby's bib, collecting coasts from directly above and directing them into the cave mouth.

It's possible to see a portion of the talus slope to the left of the cave entrance in the photo above. This geomorphological situation is critical to accurate interpretation of what's in the cave in the entrance tunnel, the slope of which is between 20 and 30 degrees downward as you move into the cave. I can't emphasize enough, and I've discussed this with the PI, Lad Nejman, that anything small enough to be transported on 20-degree slope when it's bucketing rain could have, and very likely did enter the cave from outside. Clasts such as burned and charred bone, charcoal, organic matter of every other sort, even the bones of little creatures nesting in the small solution crevices that occur above the entrance in the cliff face, visible in the shot below.

This view includes the LED lighting array that we're using for illumination. I took my iPad into the cave hoping to take a piccie or two, but after one I realized that, while our primate eyes are able to make sense of the dim light, my 21st century marvel couldn't. Here's a view of a cave bear tibia in situ. It's the blur in the middle of the larger blur.

I've prolly bored you enough with my tame existence here in the Moravske Kras. So, I'll finish up with my thought for the month [perhaps the first ever and the only]. Somewhere in this subdued diatribe is the answer to the question of why I titled this blurt as I did.

It follows as the night the day. Wild fantasies about the abilities of pre-modern human Hominidae keep piling up. And there's no end in sight. Whether the extreme claims derive from genetics, geomorphology, geochronology or plain old, garden-variety 'dirt' archaeology, there seems to be no limit to the imagination of the practitioners, nor to the credulity of the editors, referees, and the overwhelming majority of the discipline's members. My suspicion is that even the most well-meaning scholars are either too busy or too limited in their understanding of the totality of scientific knowledge that goes into making knowledge about the past.
I have personal experience to bear this out [not mentioning any names]. One, for whom I have great respect, and who investigates cognitive evolution, is already busy enough wrestling with the ins and outs of brain function and how each corresponds with changes in the hominids to spend time critically examining each outrageous claim that comes down the pike. This archaeologist has also allowed that geomorphological subtleties are lost on him. Another, a geoarchaeologist whose analytical work I have no quarrel with, seems content to let the archaeologists make sense of his findings as they relate to hominid behaviour. As you can imagine, I believe this has led to some quite erroneous claims for hominid behaviour in the Pleistocene [Lower, Middle, and upper].
I strongly suspect that these are not isolated cases. Only a very few archaeologists that I know possess the intellectual propensity, the diversity and depth of cross-disciplinary knowledge, and the wherewithal to be critical of all but the most mundane archaeological inference. As a result, every new [and usually startling or spectacular] claim is accommodated within a previously formulated working theory. How can I expect the rest of them to exercise their critical faculties when, to my way of thinking, the best of them are so credulous? I can't! And, obviously, the work of any unsuspecting archaeologist will either perpetuate an old erroneous theory or, sui generis, create a new one. I flatter myself in presuming to call this blog The Subversive Archaeologist, because in reality I am anything but a subversive. I seek only a reasoned approach to archaeological observations, one that's based on well-warranted assumptions and the widest range as possible of modern analogues against which to compare those observations.
[As the Subversive Archaeologist's readers will already know, I'm hamstrung by an abysmal grounding in chemistry and physics. Thus I'm unable to examine the technical claims made by practitioners of those sciences and must rely on my understanding of geomorphology, and a good encyclopaedia, to have any hope of being critical of an archaeologist's erroneous claim made on the basis of chemical or physical analysis.]
Most of the time it seems like an exercise in futility. [Which, as it happens, is a phrase that once graced the first and, alas, final draft paper I was going to write with Diane Gifford-Gonzalez on the vicissitudes of using measures of utility in zooarchaeological studies. That pesky R. Lee Lyman beat us to the punch, as it turned out.] In all seriousness, there are so many claims that are all but wild speculation that I am discouraged by the magnitude of the job ahead for the discipline, much more for a purportedly more objective archaeologist who presumes to refer to himself as subversive.
I'll leave you to ponder.
By the way. I was unable to steal the time to blog while I was lately ensconced with my Czech family. I hoping that you'll understand, and accept that my aim of 'live-blogging' my experiences here has fallen flat on its face.
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Thursday 19 July 2012

I'm Having Too Much Fun!

I'll get to talking about some of this year's archaeological coolness after I effuse for a while about my temporary 'office' in one of the most beautiful areas in Europe. So, hang in there.

It's Hump Day. And I'm officially half way through my 2012 field excursion at Pod Hradem Cave, which overlooks the Macocha Gorge in the Czech Republic, Europe's deepest canyon, at 190 m. The gorge and over 2000 caves of various sizes occur in the Moravian Karst, a region of uplifted calcareous rock in the southeastern part of the CR.

The area is well known among palaeoanthropologists for its Pleistocene cave deposits, and equally prized by rock climbers, spelunkers, speleologists, and just plain folk.

Since the late 19th century the Moravian caves have been exhaustively searched for clues about humanity's early Central European experience. Localities such as Sloup and Pod hradem have provided hordes of information regarding palaeoenvironment, palaeobiology, and palaeontology, alongside the archaeological findings.

I'm not a rock climber, but I know some, and I have a close relataive who enjoys the activity. The Moravian Karst's crags and crevices, free-standing formations and sheer precipices would, I think, keep all but the most jaded climbers happy for weeks, if not years.

The Karst is also a place where you see the hallmark of all such geophysical bodies, disappearing watercourses, underground rivers, and cave voids with fantastic [in the true sense of the word] travertine formations, stalagmite and stalactites, and large areas of standing water. A hundred metres or so from Pod hradem Cave is the starting point for an underground river tour of the Punkva Cave, which transports you from the summer's heat into the year-round cave environment--about 6 degrees Celsius and about 100 percent humidity. Take a jacket! At the midpoint it's all ashore to view the Macocha Gorge from the bottom of the abyss. At most a tenth of the height of Colorado's Grand Canyon, it's still an impressive sight, whether you're cantilevered out over it from the upper aerie near the Chata Macocha [my temporary residence], or at the bottom, breaking your neck to see the light at the top.

Most of you'll remember that I take a cable car and a train to the field lab every work day, and Punkva Cave and its neighbour are both within about 100 m of the lower station, shown below in one of the many tourist ads to be found in shops and information kiosks all over this region.

I hope your patience to this point will be repaid in some measure by the following archaeology talk. Keep in mind that thus far I've spent almost as much time with my Czech family than I have in the lab sorting the heavy fraction. However, some patterns have emerged that I think are really kewl.
2011 and 2012 have seen the first sediments from Pod hradem Cave that've been collected using 3-mm sieves. As such, I'm getting a really up-close look at the sorts of things that I never saw while I was examining the skeletal material excavated in the 1950s. For example, I'm finally seeing the degree to which everything skeletal has been comminuted in the trackway of the cave's annual visitations by the ursine behemoth, the cave bear.
The cave's entrance is only about 3 m wide and at most a couple high, and the wall and ceiling form an arch. So, history's largest bear would have been constrained to a 1- to 2-m wide pathway over very-fine silt- and clay-sized particles containing [mostly] pebble-sized clasts of cave break-down products. The excavation is taking place at the point where the sloping entryway, which is also the day-lit area, gives way to the larger gallery that is mostly in darkness. It's logical to think that any human visitors might have considered the area optimal. From a taphonomic point of view, this is still an area where the bears and other large mammals would likely have trodden. The upshot is that everything but the most robust skeletal elements has been reduced to cm-sized and smaller fragments. I'm seeing, in all likelihood, what's left of the foetal/neonate vertebral bodies and mandibles. Most are a small portion of very thin cortical bone with barely visible cancellous tissue adhering on one side.
I'm also finding that there must be a lower size limit to the degree of comminution that a cave bear can produce in a soft substrate. The samples I'm seeing comprise those tiny fragments of very young bears, and they contain sub-microscopic, complete skeletal portions, such as long-bone epiphyses of some very small rodents, and microtine molars [about the size of a pinhead]. Here, too, are the developing crowns of cave bear deciduous teeth, from the peg-like anterior dentition to the scimitars masquerading as canines, and the breakfast-tray-shaped molars.
The cave bear teeth are interesting in and of themselves for their bunodont morphology and the degree of wear that they undergo during the lives of these mostly herbivorous ursids. But beyond that, it's easy to infer that these animals were visiting the cave on an annual period, because you don't see the complete spectrum of dental development. You see developing teeth at certain stages, and erupted teeth that form a natural series based on easily discerned and distinctive levels of dental attrition. The same is true of the sub-adult long bones--foetal or neonate size and what are probably yearling sized, but nothing in between.
As I've promised previously, I hope to be able to grab some images illustrating these points while I'm in the lab next week.
In the meantime, once again until Sunday night, I'm in Czech food heaven. Here's a picture of some of my friends, standing before the converted stable behind the clock tower where I did my dissertation research. The Pod hradem collection was housed at the level of the window in the clock tower, which, as you can see, puts it in the attic of the building.

For now, as the Czechs would say, Na shledanou.

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This post was made possible in part by the kind and generous gifts I received from several of my subversive friends. I am in their debt, if only for their friendship.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Show Me a Dog or a Cat with Molars Like This

I'm posting this so mon Capitaine Dr. Ladislav Nejman can see just how much like a cow or a horse was the degree of occlusal wear on cave bear cheek teeth.
Occlusal view of a well worn Ursus spelaeus molar

Here's a lateral view of the same tooth

And here's a small pastiche of a cave bear's dental toolkit, complete with a well-worn molar like the others shown here

Here follows a lateral view of the overall occlusal wear on an old gaffer

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- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday 14 July 2012

Silent Running

I'm ensconced with my Czech family through Sunday night, and they're keeping me very busy--eating, and looking at photographs of the half dozen or so lifetimes that I've missed since 1992, when I made my life-long friends here while I was doing my dissertation research on the 1950s Pod hradem Cave faunal assemblage.

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This post was made possible in part by the kind and generous gifts received from Catherine Pasquale, Don Kerr, Sheahan Bestel, Katrina MacDonald, Diane Hanson, and Iain Davidson. I am in their debt.

Thursday 12 July 2012

A Long-awaited Reunion!

A most welcome sight. My wayward travelling companion has finally arrived at the Skalní Mlýn Hotel. All the contents survived intact!

Now is when I find out if I packed everything I need. Soap. Check. Toothpaste. Check. Ibuprofen. Check. Two bottles of Napa Valley wine. Check. Yep. It looks like all the important stuff made it. Life-saving medicines. Yawn. Check. Skivvies. Check. Shorts. Check. Flip-flops. Check. All present and accounted for!
Of course, my belongings arrived only hours after I bought one of only three t-shirts in existence in the little burg of Skalní Mlýn, shown below.

Anyone who wants to make a killing selling souvenirs to tourists might consider setting up shop in this place. At last count there were 12 such establishments in the neighborhood which stretches all of 100 m from end to end (and includes the entire hotel), plus the small plaza outside my hostelry, which takes up about 100 sq m. It's a very small world from my perspective!
As for the archaeology of Pod Hradem Cave, I hope to have a look at some of the larger pieces of bone today (larger, that is, than the extremely small material that I've been sorting). And if it's allright with the PI, Dr. Nejman, I'll put up some piccies later.
For now, that's the way it is from the temporary world headquarters of the Subversive Archaeologist.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
This post was made possible in part by the kind and generous gifts received from Catherine Pasquale, Don Kerr, Sheahan Bestel, Katrina MacDonald, Diane Hanson, and Iain Davidson. I am in their debt.

Beyond the Pale.

Each day I've been expecting to see my suitcase awaiting my return to Chata Macocha. And each evening for the last four I've endured uncomfortably sweaty disappointment.

But that's not why I came here tonight. Instead it was to rail against the dying of the light. Or words to that effect.

It seems that, once more, we're hearing of the crucial role that alcohol plays in cultures across space and time, and it gives me comfort, as I sip my fave white wine, that, barring the enormous downside of its abuse alcohol induces the feeling of well-being and helps to stave off those negative feelings that, for me, attend the progressive senility of my body and the effect that it has on my feeling of well-being. [Call it pathetic. Call it what you will. The ancient and modern people of the world couldn't have got it that wrong!

From the news ticker comes yet more evidence of the fundamental role that alcohol has played in complex societies since 'forever.'

From Xinhua comes news of ancient winemaking in what's now called China.
Most of us, I'm afraid, don't immediately think of drink when we think of Chinese cultures, recent or ancient. It's a thoroughly uninformed viewpoint, as I now discover, and one that clears up what was, for me, a huge anomaly in my construction of how cultures have developed over time.
As many of you know, I'm a fan of the notion that, at least in part, the domestication of, especially, grains was driven by drink [apologies to Mickey Dietler for the phrase] and the social role of drink in many cultures through history. The Inca had their corn beer, the Neolithic Europeans their mead, the Mediterranean peopjles their grape wine, and so on. For me, given the enormous ritual and social role that alcohol has played theoughout time, it's hard for me to imagine that booze making wasn't part and parcel of the intensification of grain growing from the earliest times

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This post was made possible in part by the kind and generous gifts received from Catherine Pasquale, Don Kerr, Sheahan Bestel, Katrina MacDonald, Diane Hanson, and Iain Davidson. I am in their debt.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Live From the Hotel Skalní Mlýn, Moravian Karst, Near Blansko, Czech Republic.

Morning espresso. Sunshine. Waiting to start the day. Hotel Skalní Mlýn.

The crew will arrive in their nine-seater Mecedes van in about half an hour.
For the time being only one meter-square excavtion unit is being plumbed. Most, if not all of the excavated sediments are transported to the valley floor from the cave about 100 m up the cliff. A small team is tasked with wet seiving in the nearby Punkva River, frosty cold from its long underground journey through the Moravian karst. I and a couple of students are washing the faunal remains recovered in situ, and I'm pawing through the dried bulk samples. We work in the kitchen of a condemned building that was an outpost of the Czech Geological Survey. It's about 100 m from where I'm sitting right now at the hotel. This photo was taken yesterday in the 'lab.

Pod hradem Cave has a very slight imprint of human activity, and through the first week and a half of the 2012 season not a one lithic artifact has been recovered. The crew are, understandably, a little hungry for something other than cave bear remains. I see what the excavators don't, which usually includes foetal or neonate bits, and much carnivore-modified mature bear long-bone fragments. As was the case with the material recovered in the 1950s, with which I'm very familiar, that carnivore is almost certainly a large canid--one of the extra-large Pleistocene flavour.
Live, from the Skalní Mlýn Hotel, this is the subversive arrchaeologist.

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This has to be the craziest week of my life. British Airways misdirected my only suitcase.  Through a series of unfortunate events, it appears that now they've returned it to my home address, half way around the world from me. I've been without so much as a change of clothes since Saturday morning in Santa Cruz.  I'm desperate. I'm also out of my medications as of tmorrow morning. In short, I'm stuffed. So, I'm sitting in my downwind room so as to not offend anyone in the restaurant, with a bottle of dry white and a glass. I'm effectively stranded. I'm in a lovely little hostel at the top of a precipice [no irony intended], and dozens of km from the nearest stores. Because I'm the worst kind of shy about inconveniencing anyone, And because each day I've expected to have my suitcase delivered to me, I haven't been 'proactive' about rectifying my circumstances temporarily. I'm in contact with BA now, but it's clearly too late to do any good for at least the next couple or three days (optomisic estimate). Wish me luck. - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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Monday 9 July 2012

Wheels Up!

OK. I get no points for planning! This is the first opportunity I've had to get online since leaving the good ol' U S of A, which is not what I intended. I'll get to a comment on the recent news in a little bit. First, though, a bit about th trip thus far.

The drive from Santa Cruz to San Bruno was traffic-free and pleasant, with me telling Steph about last year's Pod hradem Cave trip and getting all nostalgic for my Czech family [As was almost always the case in the run-up to my leaving the family nest last September, I hadn't talked much about it at the time.]

. At SFO I had an order of maguro and ebi, nigiri-style, and the best bloody Mary I've ever had, made with some crushed fresh basil. Amazing! Two full servings of vegetables to go with the raw fish. And all virtually fat free! Living a virtuous life and maintaining a healthful diet is my constant goal! Life was never so tasty! I joked with the barkeep and watched Serena Williams win her fifth Wimbledon title at 30+ years old.

The flight left on time. The rather large man sitting next to me lucked out and no one sat beside him, so he occupied the one and a third seats at the window. Clear skies over much of the US, and smooth sailing for the most part. Word had it that it was going to be 96 Fahrenheit in Chicago, where I was to change planes and lay over. Unless the Great Lakes dried up in this summer's drought that meant that the whole place was going to be swimming in 100% humidity.

For some reason I got heaps of leg room on the Chicago to Heathrow run and 1.5 seats to spread out in. But I didn't have wi-fi, because it was $12.95 for the duration of the flight, and for some reason my frugality valve shut off when I saw that. That meant, of course, that I couldn't live blog, as promised. Instead, I'm working on a three-day time delay. So, sue me!

Now, to the news!

Australopithecus sediba apparently ate like a giraffe, according to an article in

Here's a passage from the article.
Talk about a high-fiber diet: the newest member of the human family, Australopithecus sediba ate enough bark, leaves, and fruit that its appetite was more like that of a chimpanzee's than a human's. That is the conclusion of a new study, in which an international
team of researchers used state-of-the-art methods to analyze the diet of two australopithecines that fell into a death pit in Malapa, South Africa, almost 2 million years ago.

What? Who knew that chimps and giraffes had the same dietary needs! Given that I was blabbing on about intelligent design just the other day, you'll forgive me if I pause to ask the rhetorical question, 'Who got the intelligent design? the long necked one or the big-brained one!
Come to think of it, there's something very wrong with the above-quoted passage. Nobody's claiming they were buried? This is South Africa, after all! No claims for the earliest something or other, as was the case at Kathu Pan 1, Sibudu Shelter, or Wonderwerk Cave? Seriously, I'm incredulous!
It's all the more wonderful that no such claims are emanating from Malapa, given the preposterous claims from Atapuerca for ritual disposal of the dead in the Sima de los huesos! [you'll have to check with Professor Arsuaga or Paul Pettitt on that one!]

Allright. I have internet acces now. And I'm ready to broadcast. So, here goes nothing!

Catch you next time!

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Friday 6 July 2012

Wheels Up in 16 Hours. But First, I Skewer Intelligent Design

Soon I'll be whooshing through the atmosphere in the direction of fun. As long as I'm able to tap into Czech telecommunications, I should be back here on Monday.
     In the meantime I just saw this on the news ticker:
Human Origins and the Fossil Record: What Does the Evidence Say?
It's published in Evolution News and Views, a front for the Discovery Institute. Their metier is what is euphemistically referred to as intelligent design. The article pointed to here is by Casey Luskin, a lawyer, and will be worth watching because he proposes, in a series of articles to advance his thesis, as follows:
Hominin fossils generally fall into one of two groups: ape-like species and human-like species, with a large, unbridged gap between them. Despite the hype promoted by many evolutionary paleoanthropologists, the fragmented hominin fossil record does not document the evolution of humans from ape-like precursors.
I know that it's like shooting geese in a swimming pool, but I have to take him at his word, and I'm compelled to deconstruct his thesis to show it for the straw man that it is.
     Luskin's thesis can never recover from his first statement, which contrasts what he calls ape-like and human-like. Such a false dichotomy side-steps, charlatan-like, the issue of how 'ape-like' both apes and humans are. Even if one were to ignore all of the genetic and morphological differences between primates and the other mammals, and even if one were to ignore the evidence for the unmistakable relatedness of the higher primates (and it's a prodigious trait list), there still remains a formidable corpus of traits that we humans share, one-to-one, with the other apes, and which give lie to Luskin's main premise. 
     For example, in the Order Primata the apes exhibit the autapomorphic absence of a tail. I can't imagine Luskin having an explanation for the preponderance of tails among mammalian groups and the absence thereof among the extant apes and their closely related fossil precursors. But it's easy to see that we humans don't have a tail because we share a close common ancestor with the other apes--no other explanation is possible [unless Luskin were to argue that God thought it was a good idea to deprive chimps and gorillas of tails, too, when he was intelligently designing His special creations, humans]. 
     Dentally, compared with all of the other dentate animals, the apes possess adult teeth according to this pattern: 4 upper and 4 lower incisors, 2 upper and 2 lower canines (or cuspids, to the dentists), 4 upper and 4 lower premolars (or bicuspids to the dentists) and 6 upper and 6 lower molars. Moreover, apes, which includes all of the fossils that Luskin would term ape-like, have a 5-cusped third molar. This is why its so easy for us to identify fossil apes from even individual teeth, because of the unique morphology of ape molars.
     It is, then, utterly pointless for Luskin to point to anything called ape-like as distinct from anything human-like, for both groups are, demonstrably and unequivocally apes. And, if Luskin is happy to conclude that 'human-like' fossils are the result of God's intelligent design, then he'd have to conclude equally that God was designing the other apes along the same lines. I doubt very much that Luskin could explain the similarities amongst the apes as a function of intelligent design, any more than he can logically conclude that humans were the result of a different, more intelligent, supernatural design.
     I could go on. But I think it would get redundant.
     Hit these bastards where it hurts the most. Confront them with the truths they refuse to see. I hope I've made it a little easier today.
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Thursday 5 July 2012


Kudos to the ATLAS and CMS teams for actually observing [sort of] an elementary particle 133 times as massive as a proton--125.3±0.6 gigaelectronvolts according to CMS; ATLAS says it's 126.5±0.6 GeV. I don't think they'll be hassling over the precise figure, especially since both come with a statistical probability range that encompasses the other. Fabulous. These observations are all the more incredible because the boson decays in about the time it takes for light to travel the diameter of a hydrogen atom's nucleus! [updated the distance travelled by light in about 10 to the power of -25 seconds. Still rough, but closer to the truth than the length of your nose, which was what I had in the earlier version of this post.] 
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Wednesday 4 July 2012

Some Good News From the Andaman's

Early this year I railed against some disgusting news from the Andaman Islands, where an influx of tourists were visiting every possible depravity on some heretofore isolated Andaman Islanders. 
     The Jarawa weren't contacted by any Indian officials prior to 1996. Then someone built a road through their lands. According to the report, 'activists were outraged when media reports and videos surfaced of local policemen forcing bare-chested Jarawa women to dance for tourists in exchange for food.'
     From the news ticker today comes this good news.

India's top court bans tourism near Andaman tribe

The Jarawa aren't completely protected from harm by this ruling--it only proscribes tourists from going within 5 km of the Jarawa settlement. But it's a step in the right direction. Now if they could just close the road the human safari operators might have to close, too.
Show your support for this blog. Remember that when you purchase from Amazon by clicking any of the links on the right, you'll be getting great discounts and supporting the Subversive Archaeologist's field activities at the same time!

Update: About Those Recent Temperature Records

Well, Dr. Davidson, your comment on the previous blurt has spurred me. And here's what I've discovered. These data are from the NOAA (odd that it could be pronounced Noah, since we're talking about sea level rise and the concomitant effect on human populations).
Record-breaking daily high temperatures for the month of June in the US as a percentage of the total number of observations. Data taken from
This scatter, minus the usual eye-controlling regression line, is a portrait of the US June record-high temperatures since 1906.
     I've chosen to represent the data as percentages of stations reporting. It's clear from the raw data that the reason we're hearing alarming absolute numbers of record-breaking temperatures has more to do with the absolute increase in numbers of stations reporting to NOAA than with any real intensification of temperature records. In 1906 there were just 15 stations for which there were observations. By 1953 there were 75,399 stations reporting in June. In 2012 there were 171,442. 
     I'm a little bemused by these data. 
     The HUGE spike is 1933, the year that saw the beginning of the Dust Bowl on the North American prairies. No surprise there. Those record highs parched the plains and the wind took care of the rest. The more recent spike in 1988, coincidentally [or maybe not] was the year Dr. James E. Hansen of NASA first testified to Congress [in June of that year] that global temperatures had risen beyond the range of natural variability.
     But consider this: before the post-WWII era of the automobile there was much stochastic variability in the new record temperatures each year. Since about 1950 the world's consumption of fossil fuels has grown more than 400 percent, yet the graph above shows what seems to me to be a remarkable quiescence. Anyone with an idea as to why that would be is welcome to weigh in.   

It's said that records were made to be broken. Perhaps that's true. Don't be buoyed by the idea. Despite the near absence of unusually high numbers of June temperature records since the 1950s, what we're seeing in these data is evidence of a steady [and inexorable] advance in the maximum daily temperatures in the US and its territories. In a world that was metastable climatologically, you'd expect data such as these to hover around zero--some years positive, some neutral (since you wouldn't record lower temperatures if you're tracking higher temps).
    I see nothing hopeful in these data.
    Thanks to Iain Davidson for forcing me to look more closely at the data on record-high temperatures. It's much clearer to me now that we're in real trouble. And, from the slope of the trend line, we're nowhere near equilibrating the world's climate. It's gonna be really bad down the road.
     As I said previously, wish us luck. 

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More than 1,000 temperature records broken in a week!

Call it what you will. 'Global weirding' seems the best fit of the data (a term that my daughter picked up in her high-school chemistry class). Taken together, and regardless of how you interpret the extreme weather, there seems no doubt that our world's climate is behaving badly.
     In all, 251 high temperature records were broken in the US on one day last week. Fergawdsakes, it was hotter in Kansas than in Death Valley! Some records were broken by several degrees fahrenheit. Nothing incremental about 3 degrees in excess of history when you're talking about numbers in the vicinity of 100. Three percent! That's an enormous jump. That's wrath of God type stuff [if you're into that sort of explanation]. It's happening on a grand scale. Well... 'grand' if you're into weather records, tornadoes, train wrecks, and such. Not so grand if you're talking about the biosphere.
     There is an archaeological side to global warming. And you don't have to be a subversive to appreciate it. Everywhere there's a delta or an estuary, the flora and fauna will be affected first and worst there. As sea levels rise, and rise with increasing speed, our world will become a laboratory for what the human world looked like on the continental shelf at the end of the last ice age. The words 'human misery' will pale in the coming decades as metre by metre the sea encroaches on the most fertile, most densely populated regions in the world.
     Wish us luck. I think we're gonna need it.

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Monday 2 July 2012


Once again, PNAS abdicates its mandate and lets this most unscientific crap infest what are widely regarded to be its rigorously empirical pages. 
I'm so very tired of seeing this tripe repeated again and again. Whenever there's a circle and a line superimposed in the rock art record, they're automatically (and I mean knee-jerk automatic) interpreted as female genitalia. Nothing new in this now [forgive me] somewhat stale story from [I've been otherwise occupied and was unable to opine until this afternoon.]
     In the first place, the interpreters have clearly never seen a vulva! If they had, they'd know that there's no circle or oval in which appears the vertical line described by the vagina-obscuring labia minora in their unexcited state. 
     If anything [think about it, boys and girls], an observer looking straight at that vertical line would see anything but a circle or an oval. They'd see the hourglass described by the woman's inner right and left thighs, with the vertical line in the centre. Depending on the angle, they might see the navel. A circle? Are they kidding?!!
     Randy White ought to be ashamed of himself for making this claim. But Harold Dibble can be congratulated for his understated and oh-so-professional response to the claim.
As for the long-standing tradition among archaeologists working in France of interpreting such images as vulvas, Dibble says, "Who the hell knows" what they really represent? Dibble adds that such interpretations could be colored by the worldview of Western archaeologists whose culture probably differs greatly from that of prehistoric peoples. "Maybe it's telling us more about the people making those interpretations" than the artists who created the images, Dibble says.
You think???!!! You can't even blame this on androcentrism! This is pure fabrication!  
     This petroglyph from Abri Castanet resembles nothing so much as a horseshoe crab. But a horseshoe crab petroglyph at 37 kya wouldn't make PNAS. So they make this shit up and get it published. I'm, frankly, disappointed.
     In fact, I'm so disappointed, I'm gonna crack a bottle of my favorite rum: 
That's 300 years, folks. In fact, they've been making it in Barbados, traditionally thought to have been the birthplace of rum, since before 1651. A document from that year contains this almost inscrutable sentence: 'The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.'
     I've never heard it called a fuddling before, but if you think about it, what else does booze do but be'fuddle' the mind. 'Fuddling' would be a natural nominative for such a substance.
     Anyway. They didn't have Coca-Cola in them days, so Ima drink it with some cold water and a splash of orange juice. Care to join me?

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