Monday 29 December 2014

Christmas in England: Seventh and Last

No longer in England. But this is the actual Christmas bit, including the run-up.

On the 22nd I travelled south to Oxfordshire, hoping to get another taste of the best ale I ever had. That was in the summer of '77, which I spent at Exeter College, Oxford. I visited the brewery, pictured below. It's a Victorian 'tower' brewery, one of only a very few that have survived and which continue to produce, a century on. What a magic place it was! Literally out in the middle of you-no-where. Not far from Oxford, all things considered, but thoroughly country. Check out the photo below it. That's country England, 2014-style. Not a whole lot different from 1964, or 1924.

Hook Norton Brewery, Hook Norton, OXON.
Near Hook Norton, OXON.
Paul Preston and Katie Davenport-Mackey, who invited me to be at TAG 2014, also invited me to stay with them over Christmas, in Southwaite—a country hamlet about 20 km south of Carlisle, in northern England. Paul's parents, Richard and Sue, made very sure that I ate and drank well during the two days of my stay.

I arrived on Christmas Eve. Paul and Katie drove me at dusk to a Neolithic stone circle on a flat-topped knoll in the midst of a circle of impressively craggy and high mountain peaks in the Central Pennines. I was thrilled. Later that evening, at Richard and Sue's place, we had a smoked salmon terrine and mousakka, real ale from a cask, purchased from a nearby microbrewery, Spanish wine, Middle Eastern Araki [the analogue of ouzo, to go with the mousakka], and a lot of laughs.

Then on Christmas Day, we had a feast in Richard and Sue's sun room, which had been decorated by the grandchildren the day before. Have a look—Christmas crackers, a manor or two in the distance. I was very lucky. The turkey was succulent, and the trimmings were classic—Brussels sprouts, parsnips, roast potatoes, and on, and on. It was comfort food times 5!

That's about it. There had been moments, after my crash-and-burn at TAG, when I considered making my way home and missing Hook Norton, my old friend Alec, and Christmas in Cumbria. I'm very glad I didn't. Instead, I made lemonade!

Happy New Year, Dear Reader! See you soon.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Christmas in England: Part the Sixth

So, Gargett, your horse threw ya! And ya don't wanna get back up. Could be that was the first—and no doubt the worst—such equestrian event in recorded history. Then again. Maybe not. 

Regardless. Okay, Dr. self-described Subversive—what're you back here for? If you don't want to get back on the g.d. horse, why'd you bother to stand up? 

Good question. Don't rush me!

First. My horse didn't throw me! The wheels came of my cart. Big difference, as far as I'm concerned. Both are embarrassing as Hell. But when I get on a horse, it's just me and the horse. That cart was carrying a load that's both precious and irreplaceable. When those wheels came off, not just my not-so-very-valuable physical self hit the dirt: out of it spilled every receptacle of self-confidence and self-motivation that had accrued to me in the past three-plus years of having your ear, and with them even the store of indignation at the stuffed shirts and bullies that roam the halls and stairways of the ivory tower within which we're constrained to work, but is very much NOT the edifice that you and I want archaeology and paleoanthropology to be. 

And whether or not you think ALL THAT should have been the result of my 'little' prat-fall at TAG, it's how I felt.

Kay. So. Yesterday I woke up sick as a dog. But with the prudent application of decongestants and analgesics, and after a cuppa the all-powerful elixir—tea, off I drove, to Liverpool, to cash in my voucher for an evening at the world's most famous night club, the Cavern, where the Beatles played 292 times in their early career. I had a good meal at Browns at Liverpool One—pan-roasted cod on fingerling potatoes with a tiny-shrimp and caper butter, and a glass of Chenin Blanc. Then I saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Then I walked up Piccadilly Lane toward the Beatles' unoffical shrine to see the house Beatles cover band. Today, I'm feeling somewhat better. Still snivelling and coughing up chunks. But feeling like the worst is over. The worst of the illness, that is.

The cart accident is still very much with me. As is the spectre of having to pay for this little escapade, which was to've been an apotheosis, of sorts. Talk about hype!

Tomorrow it's off to Oxford, with a brief stop at a little village called Hook Norton, to tour the brewery where they make the best ale I've ever tasted. That was back in 1977, in the early days of the Campaign for Real Ale, which turned the tables—one hopes forever—on the megabreweries and their monostyle bitters and lagers. Then to the dreaming spires, home of Inspectors Morse and Lewis, and mine, too, for six weeks in 1977.

Keep your ears and eyes open. I'll be back soon.

Thanks for joining me today and any day, for that matter. And if I get too busy, please accept my early and best wishes for a joy-filled holiday!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Christmas in England: Part Fire; Part Water.

Yesterday was the day-long "Bridges over troubled waters" symposium at TAG 2014 in Manchester. I was there not to present a paper, but to be the discussant, which is a role usually reserved for experts in the matters under consideration. Unfortunately the 'expert' discussion proved to be hesitant, tentative, and generally scatter-brained. The less said about it, the better. [O' course, if you're the kind o' person who checks out the police band on the radio for in-progress crimes in your neighbourhood, or who gets a kick out of watching old film of the Hindenburg Disaster in slow motion, you could, if you wanted, scroll down to the bottom for a kind of "You were there" experience. Be my guest. It isn't pretty. And, frankly, if you knew me the way I know me, I'm the only person whose opinion counts on this occasion.]

After nearly 20 hours of reflection [minus the, oh, 13 hours of avoidant sleep], a bus trip to and from the venue during which I decided that I couldn't face the sea of participants and attendees again and so returned to the hotel to hide, I can say this much about the experience: I ask too much of myself in my self-proclaimed subversive persona. And I know that I asked too much of myself yesterday when I hoped to mend fences in a decades long dispute between two kinds of archaeologists.

That dispute is, I believe, based on incommensurable world-views, each grounded in philosophically untenable presumptions about our 'project.' I'm talking about the Processual/Post-Processual, Science vs Anti-Science, Objectivist/Relativist [you name it] schism that has, I'm saddened to learn, persisted unabated since the late 1970s. "Bridges Over Troubled Waters," as I've previously written, was aimed at finding a way past this schism.

The other day I wrote, "It's cold out here" in reference to the feelings of anomy that accrue to me as I try, again and again—with limited success—to put my finger in the dike of bad archeological inference, especially when it comes to my area of interest—the so-called modern human origins debate. Mine is an almost utterly thankless metier [excepting, of course, for the thanks and encouragement that I get from a very few old and mostly new 'friends' that I hear from on Facebook or Twitter, whose support I sincerely appreciate,, and which is the reason that I was invited to be present at TAG 2014].

Back to asking too much of myself. The 'work' that I do, and about which I feel alternately buoyed and desperate, calls on my wide, but often shallow, expertise in a number of scientific disciplines, my brush with Realist philosophy of science and, broadly speaking, epistemology—how we know what we know. I'm not patting myself on the back, but I think that I'm perhaps uniquely qualified to do the 'work' that I do precisely because of the breadth of my experiences in archaeology and out—both as a student and in practice. That experience allows me to spot a bad geoscience-based inference as easily as a fallacious argument, a wildly unempirical assumption as easily as an inferential house of cards.

I'm certain that most of the people of whose work I'm critical would consider my efforts to be in vain, and they'd be right, but not for the right reasons. I've managed, I think, to point out numerous failures in reasoning in many, very high profile, paleoanthropological research publications. I believe that I've correctly identified crucial flaws in long-standing presumptions. And yet, zombie-like, those presumptions still infest the views that underpin archaeological inference. It doesn't matter if I'm right or if I'm wrong; but it would be a great encouragement if I didn't feel—constantly—as if I was fighting a futile rear-guard action, with no hope of reinforcement.

And so, there I was yesterday—after an entire day of research presentations that ranged from the almost totally 'data-based' to the almost entirely heuristic—thinking that I could possibly achieve, in that small forum, what Alison Wylie's work has, evidently, been unable to achieve in 30 years. I couldn't help but fail. And I did so—royally. Hell, even Alison would've been unable, in 15 or 20 minutes, to persuade the attendees to shed their empiricist world view and instead adopt a realist philosophy of science, which, if I have read Wylie's works correctly, has the potential—the ability, in fact—to heal the divide of which I've spoken, between, on the one hand radical, contextual, anti-science post-modern anthropology and archaeology, and the equally radical 'I don't do theory' cadre of [sometimes] smug, 'hard-science,' types who thumb their noses at efforts to get at the human beings [or bipedal apes] that left the traces they observe and record, distill and interpret.

I'm actually the lucky one, because I'm not bound by either extreme and, albeit in the way of an accolyte, see Wylie's work as, if not "the" way through, at least "a" way through the schism, and which, at one and the same time promises to leave the proponents of both extremes with their dignity, at move archaeology forward, with a unified purpose—the task of squeezing the most out of the meagre traces of past actions in the aid of learning as much as we possibly can about the individuals and societies that left the traces behind when they passed from the animate to the inanimate state of being As I see it, all that's needed is for the others to pay attention. But then, world views are such that they don't readily accept a different way of 'seeing.' So, perhaps it is a pipe dream.

Many thanks to Paul R. Preston, Katie Davenport-Mackey, Seosaimhin Bradley, and Tom Elliot for inviting me to be present at their symposium. Even if they're too polite to voice the truth, I at least can: I believe that my effort was an embarrassment that they neither expected or deserved  for the confidence they placed in me.

I had tried to come up with a prepared statement, since, having known myself all my life I knew that I'd lose the plot were I to have attempted an extempore presentation. Unfortunately the thoughts that I'd jotted down mysteriously evaporated at about 08:30 as I was adding a couple of new thoughts to the text in an iPad app hat I use, called Evernote. Poof! There it was . . . gone! As I was constrained to pay attention to the papers throughout the day, there was no opportunity to recoup my lost thoughts. So, when the time came, I attempted to 'wing it.' Disaster ensued. There might have been but twenty people in the overly large lecture theatre. It may as well have been twenty thousand. Each half-baked thought was accompanied by a half-dozen different feelings--most were kith and kin to terror. Not, for me, a great emotion, nor one conducive to remembering or articulating anything complex than a telephone number.

The organizers were polite, and one or two members of the audience said that my spell in front of them had given them cause to reconsider their presuppositions about the nexus of 'data' and 'theory,' which most of the presenters seemed to think were separate entities.

I should definitely stick to writing and 'publishing' unrefereed criticisms of other peoples' work, and leave the task of overcoming the philosophical schisms to the grown-ups.

Monday 15 December 2014

Christmas in England: Part Tree. Tagging Along at TAG Manchester 2014

TAG 2014 in Manchester.

Sitting in the conference reception area while the first (afternoon) sessions are in progress. I'm feeling way too much like an ethnographer right about now and not enough like an archaeologist. I know  almost no one here, although last night I did meet the balding pate sitting at the left of the red settee in the foreground. He's Ray Rivers, a physicist from University College London. He accompanied Paul Preston (Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation), Katie Davenport-Mackey (Leicester), and Tom Elliott (Worcester) and me last night while we had real ale and Chinese food in the north quarter of old city Manchester.

My analogy up above refers to what Iain Davidson once told me is the fundamental difference between the role of ethnographer and archaeologist. Most field ethnography is undertaken by solitary individuals who set themselves apart from their subject; most field archaeology is undertaken by small hordes of well-socialized people in an intensely social context. My own personal circumstances are such that, while I like people, I have trouble inserting myself into their society, unless invited, and then only if I have no reason to think I'll be negatively judged. So, at times like this I spend a lot of time acting like an ethnographer wishing I could be doing field archaeology! Can you say, "Wallflower?"

This profoundly influences my experience of events such as this, as you might imagine!

"Why," you ask, "aren't you sitting in on the papers?"

Good question. My only answer is that, at the moment I'm overtaken by my worries about how I'll come across tomorrow afternoon during my 15 minutes of fame, discussing false dichotomies like science vs who knows what, and the notion of data vs data-free archaeological interpretation. And I got tired of sitting here trying to write what amounts to a 'paper' on epistemology and getting hopelessly bogged down, when all the while I'm supposed to be getting ready to comment on a bunch of live presentations about the substance of which I can only vaguely guess at the moment, based on some fairly abstruse abstracts.

Worse, I'm not much at extemporizing. So, if you're pretty good at math you can calculate that the next 24 hours are gonna be pretty unpleasant for me! Hence my present behaviour--using you as an excuse not to think about what's ailing me. I do hope you'll forgive me for exploiting you in this fashion!

Never fear! Relief will arrive in the near future--the Plenary lectures that begin at 17:30, and the Wine Reception at 19:30!

Ahh . . . the life of an itinerant archaeologist!

Envy me, if you will. I think I'd gladly change places with you right about now!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Christmas In England. Part deux, December 13, 2014

Much better, thank you!
I woke up this morning to dry floors, lit bathing facilites, and a ceiling light that stayed off!
I had a buffet breakfast that included rashers of bacon—including back bacon A.K.A. Canadian bacon—spotted Dick, Cumbrian sausage, stewed tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, cooked egg, and fried bread, and some really good [probably Turkish] brewed coffee.
Then I drove seven minutes to this place, in Didsbury [sounds a bit like Budleigh Babberton, don't it?], south of Manchester.
A thoroughly pleasant staff and clientele. I watched Middlesborough take apart Derby County in an English football match, then highlights of England and Sril Lanka's sixth ODI and of the first Test Day 5 and of Australia v India at Adelaide.

Now I'm having an alcoholic ginger beer in the Resident's Lounge at the Britannia Country Hotel.

Life is . . .  sweet!

Tomorrow I meet the organizers of the TAG Manchester session that I'll be discussing on Tuesday. Can. Hardly. Wait.


Friday 12 December 2014

Christmas In England. Part One

If you've been on the dark side of the moon for a while, you may not know this: your Subversive Archaeologist has accepted an invitation to be the discussant for a session at TAG Manchester 2014. So, here I am, live blogging the trip, from the Brittania Country House, Paltine Road, Didsbury, near Manchester.

It's kind of a new, Olde Word-y sort of place, not far from the University of Manchester, where the conference is being held. And it's a world of improvement over the hole I stayed in last night, which was a so-called bed and breakfast called the Citi Place on Ashton Old Road. Below ground room with a shared toilet [which I don't remember seeing when I booked it], which would've been all right if it'd had paper towels in the paper towel dispenser! And I wouldn't have minded the below-ground room if it hadn't been for the water [fresh, I hoped] seeping up through the cracks between the artificial planks of the floor, the shower/sink closet with no light, and the single ceiling light that kept blinking on, randomly, after I'd turned it off! I felt lucky to wake up this morning undiseased and not electrocuted [although, clearly, if I had been, you wouldn't be reading this right now--so, forgive me for the poetic license]. Oh, and let's not forget the smell. And the wardrobe that couldn't be opened, 'cause there wasn't enough room between it and the bed. Or the bookshelf [an odd appurtenance for a B&B, come to think of it] with one of these on each of its three shelves

I think you catch my meaning!

So. Here we are. Comfortable, showered, in the "Residents Lounge," having a Hobgoblin real ale, and wallowing in the memories of my tour of Old Trafford, the stadium where Manchester United play. What a glorious history!

So, to business.

The TAG starts on Monday. As you may already know, my brief is to comment on a session titled Bridges Over Troubled Waters, which seeks to mend the perceived divide between theory and data. Thanks to my brush with philosophy of science in the 1980s I happen to think that it's a spurious divide. But it remains to be seen how that'll go down with the crew at TAG 2014. Regardless, I'm very much lokoking forward to it!

Be back soon!

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Is It Science If It's "Just" Criticism?

I'm used to being upbraided for my often-disparaging treatment of archaeological and paleoanthropological inferences that I find unpersuasive [at best] or ludicrous [at worst].

So, this morning it was déjà vu all over again when noted scholar Pat Shipman took me and Scott Cleland to task in a comment thread on "Palaeoanthropologica," the Facebook page originated by Charles T. G. Clarke, which he co-moderates with Michael "Mick" Vernon. It lists 808 members—a great many of whom are academics well-known in our little discipline.

The catalyst for Pat's chastisement was Joordens et al.'s claims for pierced and decorated shell ornaments and tools—said to be about 500,000 years old—from Trinil, the type locality of Homo [Pithecanthropus] erectus, on the island of Java, in Indonesia. The authors have examined Eugene Dubois's collection of freshwater molluscs, gathered from the same depositional context as the original H. erectus discovery. One of the objects is shown below—an ancient specimen of the still-extant species of freshwater mussel, Pseudodon vondembuschianus trinilensis (Dubois 1908).

Putatively decorated Pseudodon shell, from Joordens et al.'s "Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving," Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature13962. Published online 03 December 2014. Scale bar in a and c is 1 cm; 1 mm in d.
I believe there are plenty of good reasons to doubt the conclusions that these authors have reached, including their dating of the sediments found within articulated bivalve specimens in the collection. But I'm not here to take on that task—at least not this minute.

Instead, I want to highlight Pat Shipman's assertions regarding the proper route that a scientist should take when what amounts to a failure of the peer-review system results in publication of claims based on patently equivocal evidence presented as faits accomplis.

Have a look at this comment thread at Palaeoanthropologica. Scott Cleland's contribution, in particular, is interesting, because he provides an illustration of naturally pierced bivalves from Korea, and questions the degree of effort of Joordens et al. in ruling out natural processes to explain their observations.

The bottom line, from my perspective—and this should be the bottom line for every serious archaeologist—is that when arguing about taphonomic processes all effort should be made to specify as wide a range of processes that are capable of producing the phenomenon observed, and even then to admit that it may never be possible to rule out natural processes. For that reason, these authors' conclusions, stated almost matter-of-factly, are at best provisional and at worst mythopoeic.

Pat Shipman spent a part of her career publishing on taphonomy. My so-called career was focussed on the taphonomy of Middle Paleolithic purposeful burial, and archaeological site formation processes in general. However, along with the rank and file of paleoanthropology, Pat doesn't see my scholarly contributions as inherently scientific—to say nothing of my efforts here at The Subversive Archaeologist, which I'm almost certain is the target of her reference to "a snide critical paper" in this snippet from one of her back-and-forths with Scott. According to Pat,
[Y]ou DO NOT publish a snide critical paper but instead politely approach [those you would criticize] with your data and invite them to co-author a paper with you discussing the implications of your finding. THAT [is] doing science. It is oh-so-easy to criticize someone elses' work and much more difficult to improve on it and contribute to science.
Perhaps Pat Shipman is right in saying this. I happen to disagree. For various reasons, all of which I've laid out explicitly in these pages over the past 38 months. But just for the record, here is a short list of reasons why "doing science" the Pat Shipman way is a non-starter.

1. Even if one is a tenured academic, there is scant likelihood of finding other scholars amenable to having their earth-shattering conclusions questioned, much less who'd be happy to work together with to undermine the conclusions that garnered them so much praise and attention.
2. Even if one is a tenured academic, there is no perceived value in criticizing the work of others, especially if the background research is unfundable—often the case, just ask Gary Haynes—or if access to the material in question is restricted, or if the conventional wisdom is so heavily against what you have to say that no one would publish it anyway.
3. It's an insidious and anti-intellectual mistake to assert that criticism—by itself—is unscientific, or that it must be accompanied by research that would either help to achieve a better understanding of—or, once and for all—eliminate any ambiguity in explaining the origin of a given phenomenon or nature of a past process. Pat Shipman isn't alone in believing this. This assertion has been my constant companion for going on thirty years, and I just didn't have the intestinal fortitude to withstand it.
4. For those of us who, for whatever reason, work outside the academy, all the bets are off. The currency of academia is fundable research—the greater the funding, the greater the prestige attached to the enterprise. Whether in or out of the academy, research is expensive in both time and treasure. If you're not reporting on the oldest or the best or the biggest in our discipline, you're nowhere. And if you're on the outside, forgeddaboudit.
5. Our discipline cries out for a critical tradition, not just because we're all, presumably, trying to get ever closer to an accurate understanding of the past, but because—from Piltdown to purposeful MP burial—the public deserves better than to pay for research that results in loosely argued, and evidently fantastic, claims for bipedal ape behaviour.

In these pages I've presented hundreds of reasons as to why widely accepted knowledge claims are based on, at best, equivocal evidence. That they haven't been published in reputable scientific outlets has one, simple, explanation—nobody in a position of power wants to hear them.

One of Pat Shipman's early co-authors was Erik Trinkaus. She, of all people, should know that her expectation of a warm and fuzzy collegiality is a pipe-dream. All I ever did to Trinkaus was to take apart his precious criticism of my argument, which I did in a perfectly civil manner, in a refereed publication. For that, I was refused a hand-shake and shown his back when an opportunity arose to meet him in person. Such acts are reprehensible, and in the life of a young academic are crystalline moments that presage only worse in years to come. And the messages that I've received from countless others in senior academic positions have been consistent, and consistently disheartening.

Some of my friends and colleagues think that it's weak of me to speak of such matters—that I should 'suck it up' and 'fight on,' regardless.

All I can say is that it's lonely out here. And a chilly climate that awaits those who would be critics in our discipline.

As many of you know, I am no longer an academic. In 1994 I earned a PhD at the University of California, and I had only a very brief career as a Lecturer in Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology at the University of New England, in Armidale New South Wales, Australia, from mid 1996 through mid 1999. Since that time I had an artificially  truncated career in cultural resources management, and languished in low-level administrative positions.

Since I began The Subversive Archaeologist in 2011, at Iain Davidson's urging, I've experienced the highs of knowing that my message is reaching many more than would ever have been the case if I'd remained in the academy, and the equivalent lows of knowing that the vested interests are still unwilling or unable to abide criticism—whether couched in scholarly language, or shot from the lip.

I very much appreciate the support that I've received from the online community—my Google+ circle-mates, Facebook friends, Twitterites and followers. All up I reckon there have been about 500 who, at one time or another saw fit to tag along. Thanks to all of you! I hope it's been worth it.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Call For Nominations: The Dawson Awards 2015

Charles Dawson (1864–1916)
It is with extreme pleasure that I call for nominations for the inaugural
Charles Dawson Prize
in recognition of the nefarious amateur archaeologist said to have been responsible, in 1912, for mounting the Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni) hoax, which set paleoanthropology back at least four decades. Heck! Even if Dawson wasn't the perpetrator, his name belongs on these awards because he should've known better than to fall for such a cheap trick!

Tip o' the old brown fedora to Leon Jacobson for suggesting that The Subversive Archaeologist host an archaeological equivalent of the much-revered Darwin Awards. It took less than a second to decide in whose honour this prize should be named.

One Grand Prize will be awarded, along with honourable mention for two runners-up. The awards will be announced on the first of April, 2015.

First and foremost, the Dawson Prize will be given for ignominious achievement in the archaeological sciences—broadly construed as those endeavours that contribute to knowledge of human or bipedal ape past behaviours and cognitive or cultural abilities and achievements—from observations made during excavation, or from excavated materials.

Nominees must possess advanced degrees, although it isn't necessary that they be in archaeology or anthropology. Any discipline that aids or makes possible archaeological or paleoanthropological interpretation is a potential candidate. However, possession of an advanced degree is crucial. How else to gauge how far the mighty are fallen?

The work in question must be reported in a peer-reviewed publication, to ensure that the Dawson Prize is shared equally by the researchers and their enablers—the estimable referees. The more high-profile the publication; the greater the failure, and more apt and just the deserts of this award. Publications such as Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and their ilk will garner the most attention from the judges—work published in PLoS ONE will be considered only in the absence of nominees who publish in scholarly vehicles of long standing.

Special weight will be given to research findings that are uncritically parrotted in the media as having huge scientific importance. Included are minor- and major-market newspapers, and web sites devoted to science writing—especially archaeology and paleoanthropology. If you wish to have your nomination considered for this criterion, please include links to several examples.


To expedite judging, the following minimum information will be required from you.

1. Name(s) of those responsible for the research.
2. Full bibliographic information for the publication(s).
3. A hint as to why you think the work is deserving of the Dawson Prize.
4. Your name and affiliation, if you're fortunate enough to have one—an affiliation, I mean.

Submit nominations using the Comments function at the bottom of this announcement.


Let infamy reign!

Saturday 6 December 2014

Compliments of the Season . . .

Artist unknown*

Season's Greetings!

That’s what an old friend of my parents, a perspicacious salesman, used to say when he arrived at our front door for his annual—pre-Christmas cocktails—visit. In retrospect, it was an eerily early act of cultural sensitivity. It was the 1960s, after all! I’m stealing the idea because, as an atheist anthropologist who grew up in an Abrahamic culture I know that almost anything I might want to say to an anonymous reader that refers to a specific year-end holy day could end up being an even longer and unwieldy sentence than the one you've just ploughed through.

So, Season's Greetings, it is!

It's time for shrimp on the barbie for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, and for putting another log on the fire for residents of northern temperate climes. The only real cross-cultural and pan-geographic reference that one can make is that, for a moment—at precisely 23:03 UTC on Sunday, December 21, 2014—the sun will appear to stand still as it reaches the southernmost point in its annual parade between the Tropics. That instant should be long enough for each one of us to recall friends and loved ones, the quick and the dead, and to say "Thank You" to everyone who's given us a little joy on this journey through life. As for me, I'll be thinking especially of the clicks that brought you and others to The Subversive Archaeologist on more than half a million occasions since October 2011.

Regardless of how you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you joy in abundance, now and forever.
* Many thanks to whomever is responsible for creating this enchanting and evocative image. It's found, uncredited, on numerous sites on the intertubes—but I was unable to locate the original source.