Sunday, 27 April 2014

Down the Rabbit-Hole with the Subversive Archaeologist

You've read the blog. Now, thrill to the book!

I'm aiming this volume at senior undergraduates and post-graduate students who need a quick primer on the controversial views of the Subversive Archaeologist, Rob Gargett. Still in preparation, Neanderthals: Down the Rabbit-Hole with the Subversive Archaeologist will be published in serial form, in the iBook format, beginning this spring. Look for the first chapter in late May. For each part you'll be asked to contribute a nominal sum to further the Subversive Archaeologist's investigations of all manner of questionable archaeological inferences. When you've collected all of the parts, you'll receive a unitary version of the publication, including all of the serialized parts, a powerful index, and illustrative material in addition to that which appeared in the serialized version.

Here's a teaser for Chapter 1, which is well underway. One of the myriad original illustrations to look forward to.

One feature of the interactive experience is the Marshalltown trowel. Click on it and you'll see important and original background information, as you can see in the enhanced version of page one, displayed below.

Keep checking back for news and updates.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Neanderthal Childhood? WTF? Spikins et al. Should Get A Grip!

A number of colleagues have commented that the original article used unnecessarily violent language with respect to Penny Spikins and Paul Pettitt. While I feel that the original text merely evinced poetic license, I have nonetheless moved the piece to a separate page that must be accessed only through this page.

Those wishing to see the Subversive Archaeologist's pithy remarks with respect to Penny Spikins's theory of Neanderthal childhood are welcome to click over to the original content at

Thank you for visiting, and for your cooperation.

So long!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The OS Wars Through the Eyes of the Subversive Archaeologist

As a quasi-retired, semi-unemployed, academic archaeologist I have plenty of time to ply my trade, and keep up with current events. But I have to admit that after the disappointments of the G.W. Bush years, and the let-downs bought on by the current POTUS, SCOTUS,* and successive iterations of the United States Congress, my interest in the news of the day has flagged. So, when I'm writing I use my late-model iMac. When I'm recreating, I sit in front of an Apple TV-assisted giant flat screen, being entertained by whatever I can get free through the Apple TV, including my basic subscription to Netflix. For long stretches I amuse and inform myself with an iPad Air. I'm Apple rich, but penny poor. In my small world Apple does: Droid doesn't [for all kinds of reasons that I won't bore you with]. When I hear the A-word [i.e. Android], I'm at pains to keep the bile from rising in my gullet. This Tech War is fought on hardware—and I'll take Apple over the so-called competition any day.

"But, Rob, where are you getting all these goodies from? You're practically a ward of the state; your credit-card debt must be stratospheric!"

Easy answer: "Prioritizing! Something I'm getting very good at, and my credit-card principal lessens, incrementally, by the month."

"So, what's all this to do with archaeology, Dear Boy?"

Not a lot, really. It has more to do with my on-line avocation and the tools that I use most of the time in its pursuit. Shielded by choice from real world news, I've become an avid follower of Apple, Inc., and each technical advance they introduce. I'm being a bit silly, I know. But for me it's kinda like following geopolitics. Samsung, wielder of the weird—Google's Android mobile operating system—versus Apple's iOS—the world's most popular mobile operating system.

"But, wait. I thought Samsung outsold Apple by a ton!"

You're right, of course, within limits, but I've heard different when it comes to the number of people actually using their Android devices to do what you and I do almost constantly—use the world-wide web to stay informed. Today I found some seriously empirical evidence to support that claim.

I've known for a while that The Subversive Archaeologist is fast approaching 350,000 page views. Today should see that milestone passed. I know that datum because the service I use to mount this blog——provides statistics for my amusement. I'm astonished, as ever, by the staggering numbers of 'hits' I get. So, as always, thank you for your support. Wanna see some of my evidence?

This first graphic is capped from the SA stats page, just a few moments ago. Daily visits are averaging about 800--900, and the all-time number stands at 349,486.
In terms of the Apple iOS—Google Android wars, look below at the past month's tally of the operating systems behind page views. Before we get to the mobile results, you might be surprised, as I am, to see the magnitude of the gap between Microsoft Windows users and Mac users. Compared to the way it once was, this represents massive growth in Apple's market penetration. Windows wins, with 57%; but Apple's not that far behind, at 35%. Oh, yeah, and Linux garners 1%.

Now to mobile. iPhone and iPad combine for 944 of the 25,654 visits last month. Android, supposedly the Apple defiler—the guts of vastly more mobile units than those running iOS—added up to 313, almost exactly just 25% of the iOS/Android total. Furthermore, as you can see, the numbers are very small for Canadian RIM's BlackBerry. Believe it or not, this imbalance in OSs used for accessing the Subversive Archaeologist is reflected everywhere else on the web. People use Android far less for web access than iOS. Quite astounding. Lots of theories, most having to do with the difficulty obtaining web access for vast numbers of smart phone users. 

I couldn't let you get away without showing you the Top 10 geographic origins of machines visiting this site. I'm a little suspicious of the tallies for the Ukraine and China. But the rest are at least more plausible.


United States


So, there ya have it! That's the way it is, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
* Odd, isn't it, that for the past five decades or so SCOTUS, constitutionally the third branch of government by the people, of the people, and for the people, seems less like a third branch, and more like a fifth column in its fascist, Christianist, and Christian Supremacist manipulations of the United States Constitution and the corpus of legal decisions taken at the highest level. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Levallois Technique: Human Evolution or Intelligent Design?


I'm feeling my oats, today. I've been thinking about my efforts to overturn ideas about the Levallois technique of chipping stone. For a great many archaeologists it represents a technically complex process that is governed by the desired end product. This view is so deeply entrenched in palaeolithic archaeological theory that it is tantamount to orthodoxy. I've tried to dispel this idea using sarcasm, innuendo, irony, satire, and . . . oh, yeah . . . empirical observation, to no avail. A few days ago, sitting on the porcelain throne, it came to me that there's an almost one-to-one correspondence between the way the Levallois is viewed and . . . *waits while the room becomes suddenly, deadly quiet* Intelligent Design [ID]. If you're not familiar with this so-called scientific theory, all you need to know is that ID is the movement formerly known as Creationism [or the theory of Special Creation]. Yup. ID is the same old poppycock about the ultimate goal of a Christianized supernatural being that has been a pain in the ass for science since the nineteenth century [where it should have remained], and is now very much favoured by Christian Supremacists in North America. Same bull; different moniker. So I'd like to bring my novel argument to the intertubes—run in up the flag-pole, as it were—to see if anyone salutes.

Speaking of saluting. Let's hope that if someone metaphorically 'salutes' my newest brain-child, it won't be in the same manner as these youthful citizens were doing in May 1942 while the group was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America, in Southington, Connecticut ;-)]. This tiny slice of US history was brought to you by the Subversive Archaeologist's irony allele.

This was,  indeed, the posture prescribed when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States, from the time American socialist Francis Bellamy wrote it in 1892, until it was replaced in 1942, for fairly obvious reasons. This image was captured in May 1942 by photojournalist Charles Fenno Jacobs, who was at the time employed by the US government. The US Congress formally adopted the Pledge in 1942. At that time a new-and-improved approved salute was written into law. Photograph in the Library of Congress.
I found it on this web site

Now, back to our story.
[If you're in need of a Levallois technique refresher, I've created a special Subversive Archaeologist Primer that recaps my past arguments, and provides links to SA articles that bear on this matter.]
You may know that I've repeatedly called for the revision of palaeoanthropological thought on the Levallois technique. You remember? The Levallois method of knapping stone is claimed to be a way to reduce a block of stone in a complicated sequence that achieves a desired end-product [that even modern humans have a lot of trouble replicating]. Of course, being able to replicate a stone artifact cannot, logically, stand as evidence that the object being replicated was manufactured with the same end point in mind. It's the fundamental fallacy of stone artifact-replication experiments.

François Bordes
Nevertheless, on the basis of François Bordes's ingenious 'reverse-engineering' of Middle Palaeolithic artifacts, French archaeologists have, for over half a century, described the presumed Levallois technique as très pensée [~ingenious]. I've prattled on about the [very real] possibility that, rather than its being a really ingenious method, it's ingenuity is entirely in the minds of the archaeologists that construct its use in this way. There's another logical fallacy at work here, too. It's this: the orthodox view of the technique was constructed from a experience-near, source-side analogy* to the way modern humans have prepared stone tools over the past 40 ka or so. It's completely bass-ackwards. We should be trying to understand the Levallois technique from the point of view of what came before. That's crucial if we're ever to achieve a more objective understanding of the cognition behind this behaviour. [Notice I didn't say, merely, "objective." At best we can hope for an objectivity mitigated by our understanding of the intellectual and cultural 'baggage' that we carry with us in our quest for knowledge of our past.]

This proposition, while independently theorized by your favourite subversive archaeologist [but not in print], isn't original. In the early 90s Iain Davidson and Bill Noble recognized the same theoretical bias, calling the phenomenon the 'Finished Artifact Fallacy.' Indeed, most palaeolithic archaeologists labour under the anachronistic and erroneous mind-set that imagines a stone-worker's intent can be directly inferred from an artifact's morphology. It's not just bad inference-making; it's bad science!

Schematic representation of the Levallois technique, involving removal of a 
great number of preparation flakes intended to set up for removal of a 
final flake with a morphology that was envisioned before the process began.  
Kayso, in the Levallois Technique the two major claims are 1) that it first demands careful preparation to produce what's called a tortoise shell-shaped core, and 2) that the tortoise-shell core is the platform from which will be struck one and sometimes two flakes that have a morphology akin [only akin] to an artifact shape for which modern archaeologists claim a certain function based on its topological resemblance to stone artifacts known from the ethnographic record [and a lot that aren't]. It's . . . pardon my French . . .absurde, in the first place, to think such thoughts, and in the second place, abracadabrantesque, simply to assume it was so. As the basis for one's inferences of Middle Palaeolithic bipedal ape behaviour and cognitive complexity, we need a bit more than weak argument and a leap of faith!

The Levallois Point is a perfect example. I took the photograph below while excavating at Kebara Cave, Israel, in 1989.** Well, actually,*** the original depicted only the Levallois Point in the middle. I've superimposed a Dalton Point  and a generic fluted point, from North America's Archaic and Paleo-Indian Periods, respectively. I've brought them in to illustrate how patronizing it seems to me to look at the one in the middle and say that it bears enough of a resemblance to the generic type category, 'projectile point,' to be considered one and the same thing. In fact, it's downright condescending to point *cough* to the item in the middle and say that it must be such a tool—sub-text: "We all know those big, lovable blockheads, the Neanderthals, couldn't quite get the symmetry in the way that modern humans can, nor, for that matter the idea that a simple flake can be turned into such a shape through judicious application of retouch." Patronizing? I'll say! And so 1990! [Aside: at the end of the day, 'retouch' may be seen as the only, real, Middle Palaeolithic innovation in stone-tool making. Just sayin.]

Left, Dalton Point; middle, Levallois Point; right, fluted point.
That brings us to today's matter. A lesson in how to talk to dyed-in-the-wool advocates for a genius behind the so-called Levallois technique. Forget highfalutin talk about equifinality, and misplaced formal analogy.**** Forget trying to show them that Bordes's Levallois core and flake types are a load o' hooey. Instead, get straight to the point *coughs [again!]* and embarrass the Hell outa them. How? Let me count the ways! Well, actually, the way. One. Just one.

It's rather easy. You need only point out to them that their view of the so-called Levallois technique uses the same ill logic as the theory of Intelligent Design promoted by Christian Supremacists as the holy alternative to evolution by natural selection.

That's it, Rob? That's the best you can do? You said as much in the first paragraph! What gives?

Need I say more?

Oh, all right! I'm really sorry for dragging you this far, and having said so very little about my novel idea. What I've said is all there really is to say about it. Seriously. So, I ask you again, "Need I say more?"

All right! No need to yell! My last word? OK. Today's final word will be a riddle. What do you get when you prepare a Levallois tortoise-shell core but don't remove the final flake? Answer: a hand axe, of course!

* Gotcha! Experience-near, source-side analogy means those that are based on knowledge constructed in the present, and which are then used to infer that a process or phenomenon from the past is the result of the same process or phenomenon in the present. Or, words to that effect. Sort of.
**Thanks again, Ofer and Paul, and the rest of the équipe for letting me play in the dirt with you at Kebara! Sorry about the whole burial thing. Nothing personal!
*** There's a strange harmony between what the English say to contradict or to affirm the reality—actually—and what the French say in a similar social context—en verité, [literally 'in truth']. In fact, the French word actuellement [literally 'actually'] is actually used to signal something that is happening 'as we speak,' as it were. My mischievous, satyrical historical--satirical side thinks this may reflect the long-standing [but for the past couple of centuries, simmering] antipathy between the French and the English over who owns what, where. 
****  A formal analogy is made when two things—whether processes or phenomena—that share some similarities—usually readily observable—are claimed to be more or less the same, by presuming other—usually unobservable—similarities.  It was Alison Wylie who first brought to my attention the distinction between formal analogies and relational analogies, those analogies in which causal relationships between different processes or phenomena that can be observed or inferred. For me, formal analogy is like inferring that a doggy bone in the shape of a real bone is, in fact, a real bone; while relational analogy describes the reasoning behind identifying once-living organisms from their fossils. 

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Out Of The Closet: Into What? The Subversive Archaeologist Comes Clean

For almost a year my presence here at The Subversive Archaeologist has been increasingly infrequent, to the point where in the past four weeks I've wandered in only four times, and said anything about archaeology, per se, just once.

A month and a half ago I presented you with a partial explanation for my prolonged absences since this time last year, by which time I'd been blogging almost constantly for 2 years and 6 months. Such a shift; such a personal let-down.

I don't know if it's possible to express how disappointed I am in myself for being such an occasional visitor to my own intellectual home. But you probably don't need me to tell you; I've said something similar so many times, you must be numb by now.

So, instead of more mumbo-jumbo and circumlocution, and for what it's worth, today I'm going to tell you the underlying cause. It's a personal risk for a number of reasons. First, I could be derided and scorned. Second, I could be ignored and further marginalized. Third, I could convince myself that, given the circumstances and my recent history, there's little-to-no point of continuing, and just go 'off the air' permanently. On the other hand, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I might be doing some good for somebody else, since I'm more-or-less beyond recovery.

I have suffered my entire life with Avoidant Personality Disorder. It's a peculiar and evidently very rare distortion of the Self that hurts no one but the individual. For most of my life the string of negatives in my day-to-day experience seemed incoherent. Especially, depression seemed ready to put the brakes on anytime, anywhere. When, about 10 years ago, I discovered that there was a clinical diagnosis that mirrored my longstanding emotional experience, it was both a revelation and a relief. Here's how the World Health Organization recognizes the diagnosis as Personality Disorder F60.6 - ICD10—Anxious [Avoidant].
characterized by feelings of tension and apprehension, insecurity and inferiority. There is a continuous yearning to be liked and accepted, a hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism with restricted personal attachments, and a tendency to avoid certain activities by habitual exaggeration of the potential dangers or risks in everyday situations.
Most people experience shyness, almost all yearn to be liked and accepted, nobody likes rejection or criticism [unless asked for], and many suffer from various phobias that cause them to avoid certain circumstances or experiences. By contrast, the life of one with Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is profoundly, negatively, affected. Healthy personal relationships are rare-to-nonexistent: friendships, intimate relationships, parent--child relations, those with superiors and authority figures, and many, many others are made difficult-to-impossible. Jobs are either avoided or endured: rarely enjoyed. Gatherings can be an emotional free-fall: some, at least, of the so-called wallflowers are sufferers. For me, scholarly meetings were spent mostly in the bar, hoping that anyone would come and talk to me, so hard was it to initiate conversations with strangers. Speaking extempore in a group of peers is nearly impossible. Asking questions? Same. Standing before a class to lecture or facilitate learning was least comfortable of all. Like speaking, writing was always difficult, as was asking for support—financial or otherwise.

Where my performance on The Subversive Archaeologist is concerned, the convergence—over the past year or so—of the fallout from my maladaptive life choices has made for a mostly downward-trending emotional 'roller-coaster.' The depression manifests itself in a deep loss of interest in so much that it makes even washing the dishes or changing one's clothes unimportant.

There are times when the self-disappointment and depression are felt less keenly. That's where [mostly] white wine comes in. Alcohol [and many other substances that are abused] is a powerful dis-inhibitor. It's my belief that my greatest psychological inhibition precludes a positive self-image. Thus, for me, despite its inherent down side, alcohol ameliorates my inhibition and allows me to feel less like a waste of space.

This condition is so rare that it's unlikely you or anyone you know suffers from it. But for some of the readers, this self-revelation will 'resonate,' either because they're afflicted, or because someone in their family or their circle of acquaintances suffers the effects.

So, Friend, I hope this explanation will somehow explain and EXCUSE my desultory presence here. I've actually been waving, not drowning, more and more these days. So, perhaps I'll be back in the short-to-medium term, rather than the alternative.

Thanks for your attention.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Anchor What? No. Angkor Wat! Take A Stroll Around This UNESCO World Heritage Jewel In Your Web Browser. Virtually. For Reals!

Some time ago I blurted out that Google Earth had begun doing pedal-powered "Street Views" of some well-known world heritage properties. The Late-Classic Maya site of Tulum was one of the first, along with Monte Alban in the Valley of Oaxaca [Pronounced WahHAHka. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed. I used to call it OhAXuhkuh myself until I went to archaeology school]. See instructions at the end of this post if you're not familiar with Google Street View. And, in the unlikely event that you don't have Google Earth installed, ask a passing 10-year-old for help.

Today there's news of the latest addition to the Google heritage horizon: the fascinating and evocative Khmer Empire temple, Angkor Wat, in what's now Cambodia. It's more than just a computer gizmo—it's truly an aid to learning. Did I say an aid? I meant an indispensable aid—one that paupers like me can use to go, virtually, right there, and be one among the other tourists that wander in and out of the images. [Calling them 'images' really doesn't do justice to the technology, even if what you experience is, after all, just a gabillion images stitched together, magically, on the Google campus.] [You can tell I'm impressed. Can't you?]

With the exception of this view of Angkor Wat, and the Google Earth screen capture below,
the images on this page are from Evans et al. 2013 (see below for detailed reference).

A click of your mouse, and you're on your way to the largest religious edifice on the planet. First a Hindu, and later a Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat. 
This is the same Angkor Wat that recently made headlines for contributing some revelations of an intensive LIDAR aerial survey, published a few months ago in PNAS.
Evans, D.H., Roland J. Fletcher, C. Pottier, J.-B. Chevance, D. Soutif, B.S. Tan, S. Im, D. Ea, T. Tin, S. Kim, C. Cromarty, S. De Greef, K. Hanus, P. Bâty, R. Kuszinger, I. Shimoda, and G. Boornazian.
2013 "Uncovering archaeological landscapes at Angkor using lidar." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Published online before print July 11, 2013. [Permalink—]
If you've just read the caption above you'll know that Lidar picks up relief changes on the order of 0.5 m, while its horizontal accuracy is about 1 m. Forget the theodolite, Barney! I'll take one of these site maps, any day!

The montage below better illustrates the incredible power of Lidar. Compare the image at top with the two below it. The upper, Lidar, image is bursting with features on the ground that have yet to be mapped or investigated.

The authors didn't stop there. They expanded their focus to include a couple of other centers, lesser known outside of Cambodia, and by few scholars but archaeologists, and Medieval historians or theologists. 

Refer to the map above for locations of these next two areas that completed the Evans et al. survey. Away from Angkor Wat, the survey focussed on the upland site of Phnom Kulen, birthplace of the Khmer Empire, and early capital. The area had been surveyed and mapped before. But, take a look at the features that Lidar revealed, in the image below. The green bits were known ahead of time. All the red is newly documented. Feel free to be a tad boggled. Ground truthing will probably take decades!

Shaded relief map of terrain beneath the vegetation in the Phnom Kulen acquisition area, with elevation derived from the lidar digital terrain model at 0.5-m resolution and 4× vertical exaggeration. Green denotes previously documented archaeological features; areas shaded red contain newly documented features indicative of an extensive urban layout. (Data and image: Archaeology and Development Foundation–Phnom Kulen Program.)
Finally, a third site, Koh Ker. What we knew before, above, and what we know now, below.
The 10th century “ephemeral capital” of Koh Ker.
Upper: previously identified features in the central area (Shimoda I, Sato K. 2012. "Religious concept in the layout of the ancient Khmer city of Koh Ker." Udaya 10:25–56).
Lower: lidar-derived hillshade model of terrain beneath the vegetation from the same angle, with elevation derived from the lidar digital terrain model at 1-m resolution and 2× vertical exaggeration, showing an array of previously undocumented elements such as ponds, reservoirs, and mounds that are not delimited in space by any form of enclosure. Red denotes a modern road.
* Go ahead. Open Google Earth. Make sure that you've checked the Places layer under Primary Database. Type 'Tulum, Mexico,' in the Search window, and click 'Search.' That'll get you to the present-day town of Tulum, in Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Scroll over to the coast and do a little coastal survey. When you see the cartoon evergreen tree that denotes the archaeological ruins, light up the navigation aids to the right of your monitor, then click, hold, and drag the little brown person on the green pad toward the tree. As soon as you start to move it toward the coast you'll see purple lines appear, superimposed over the satellite image. Hover over one of the purple lines and let go of your mouse button. In an instant you'll be dropped down in the midst of the Maya ruins of Tulum. Amazement will almost certainly follow. The same instructions will get you to Angkor Wat [except for the part where you type in Angkor Wat instead of Tulum]. More amazement!