Back to the Blog!

Despite the fact that I am still on the “Model T ” iMac and its incredibly slow speed, I thought I had best jump back in before the world passes me by! I have a bunch of purely bloggish referrals i have collected in the past week, even a few which have gotten past the sharp eyes of Reid, Matt, O & P— and some that haven’t but that I think I should call more attention to.

Plus there is all the material and photos from my Turkish trip– dogs, PIGEONS, culture, food, more. Because photos send so slowly on this computer I will be trickling these through over several days or more, through Reid.

Bloggish referrals, first. Here is a New York Times story on the “resurrection” of the quagga, a zebra- like equine from South Africa. Much is made of whether it is a “real” quagga or not, but according to Jonathan Kingdon, in Volume 3 B of his magisterial 7- volume East African Mammals, the quagga is a mere race, conspecific with the common zebra. So why should it not be possible to breed back to the lost “morph” by selecting quagga- like individuals, as taxidermist Reinhold Rau has done?

But it is a good article, barring some oddly sad PC observations about how taxidermy was evidence of white South Africa’s attitudes of “dominion”, as opposed to present day museums’ emphasis on African culture and videos. Such very liberal scientists and cultural commentators as Kingdon, Oliver Sachs, and the late Stephen Gould, all of whom have written essays in favor of old- fashioned “Cabinet Museums”, might disagree.

Re Anne Hocker and the Washington Times: pigeon keeping is now illegal in Chicago. A federal court found that keeping pigeons is not a fundamental right. Probably not, but the question might be framed better. Don’t people have a fundamental right not to have ancient and harmless pastimes suddenly criminalized?

Notoriously, handguns are also banned in Chicago,which has not affected the crime rate at all.

A new carnivore has been found– photographed!– in Borneo. What is it?—- looks like some kind of civet to me. Though Borneo has been well studied, this discovery reminds us of how much is just… out there, if we don’t destroy the habitat. In Borneo, we are still doing that…

Odious and Peculiar link to this Scotsman story on how Stalin planned to breed human- ape hybrids as invincible worker and soldiers, and incidentally to “destroy religion”. Yeah, that always works. Stalin still holds my title as “Worst 20th Century Tyrant”, though I realize that Hitler and Mao will always be contenders. Related more detailed story here.

Reid found me this NYT science article on the “Cute Factor”. I remain suspicious of “cute” , perhaps because we are all so susceptible to it, and I am not alone. “….said Denis Dutton, a philosopher of art at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the rapidity and promiscuity of the cute response makes the impulse suspect, readily overridden by the angry sense that one is being exploited or deceived. “

And speaking of Hitler: “The new Beetle looks like a smiley face,” said Miles Orvell, professor of American studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. “By this point its origins in Hitler’s regime, and its intended resemblance to a German helmet, is totally forgotten.”

Another piece from the invaluable NYT Science pages– did you know that if you eat meat with shot in it , the lead may end up in your appendix? Remarkable X- ray!

Only: IT IS NOT BUCKSHOT! Buckshot is used for, well, bucks. BIRD shot is used for birds.

Of course, I’m sure the writer has opinions on guns…

More to come…

Ancient Irrigation in Peru

This news release describes archaeologist Tom Dillehay’s discovery of irrigation canals in coastal Peru that may date as early as 6700 years ago. Recent research keeps pushing the inception of agriculture and urban life in Peru back in time. The pace of research in this important region has increased due to the more stable political situation in recent years.

On the Peruvian coast examples of settled towns and large scale communal architecture have been found as early as 5200 years ago in the Norte Chico, which could make them as early as Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. Charles Mann has an accessible summary of recent research there in his book 1491. According to Mann and as alluded to in the description of Dillehay’s work, the principal crop grown in these earliest sites was cotton. A case is made by some that the earliest domesticated plant in the area may be cotton rather than any food plants. This upsets the assumptions that we have had about the development of advanced societies – that agriculture supplied the stable food source that allowed settled life. On the Peruvian coast, the marine fisheries may have provided that stable food source rather than agriculture. Cotton was more important than food plants as it was used to make twine for fishing nets, increasing the fishing yield.

Interesting stuff and possibly another paradigm overturned.

Breakfast on the Trail with Frank Hamilton Cushing

A while back Steve said we should do more food-blogging, doubtless inspired by the good things our blog-sister Roseann Hanson puts up at Three Martini Lunch. So I wanted to pull my weight in that regard, though not to short myself, a few weeks ago I did post a coot recipe that Rebecca O’Connor told me she almost had to use.

So the inspiration for this food post comes from Frank Hamilton Cushing, an ethnologist from the Smithsonian Institution who lived and studied the Indians at Zuni pueblo in western New Mexico from 1879 – 1884. This book is a collection of his writings from which the photo above of Cushing in full Zuni regalia and the account below is taken.

This comes from the story of a road-trip Cushing took with two of his Zuni compadres, Pa-lo-wah-ti-wa and Kesh-pa-he. They were going on a journey of several days on horse-back and Cushing was taken aback that they were taking essentially no supplies: a couple of small bags of cornmeal, some corn-bread, salt, pepper and their cooking utensils. Cushing was told that they would show him how to live off the land.

On their stop for the first night, Cushing’s friends quickly caught a couple of rabbits that they roasted on sticks before their campfire. They also made what we called “stick bread” in Boy Scouts, a rolled-out coil of dough, draped around a stick and toasted before the fire.

The next morning, Cushing (his friends called him “Little Brother”) and the Zunis get ready for breakfast. I’ll let him tell the story:

…Kesh-pa-he appeared, leading the horses.

“There’s a nest just outside of camp!” said he.

“Where?” exclaimed Pa-lo-wah-ti-wa, catching up his hunting knife and cutting a twig like the one with which the rabbits had been captured the evening before. “I’ve been telling Little Brother how hunters make ‘rat-brine,’” said he, with a grin, and a stirring motion of the knife he was whittling with. “He is so hungry for some that his breath is hot and his eyes moist with anxiety! – look at him!”

Thereupon both rushed to find the nest in question. It was composed of sticks, stalks, and abundant cactus spines – with which the Southwestern wood-rats cleverly protect the approaches to their houses – all piled compactly about the roots of a large juniper tree. With a prod all this was soon demolished, and the holes in one of the roots examined.

“They’re in!” called out Kesh-pa-he excitedly, and forthwith the flexible sapling probe was introduced, twirled a few times and withdrawn, two squirming, staring-eyed rats well twisted to its end, and another prodding brought out one more. The rats were choked en route to our camp, and perhaps a little too soon for their own comfort, thrown into a bed of embers, where, after roasting a few moments, they bloated up into oblong balls, became divested of their tails, legs, ears, winkers, and all other irregularities, and when pulled from the fire, looked like roasted potatoes overdone. They were “shucked” in a twinkling – came out clean and white except for a greenish tendency of what were once their under-sides – and were forthwith mashed into a pulp between two stones – meat, bones, visceral contents and all, and stirred into about a pint of salt and water. Thus concocted was the “rat-brine;” green in color, semi-fluid, and meaty in taste – for they made me eat some of it, I do not regret to say – and very aromatic in flavor; a quality which the rats derive from the trees in which they live and on the berries and leaves of which they feed. Disgusting indeed would this delicacy of the hunter be, were the wood-rat of the Southwest anything like his various Eastern representatives and cogeners; but he is not. He lives on but one or two kinds of food all his life, and the peculiar flavor of the sauce made from him is due to the way in which – visceral contents and all – he is worked up into “rat-brine.”

Bon apetit!

Archaeologist in New Orleans

This article in today’s New York Times about an archaeologist working with FEMA on Hurricane Katrina reconstruction is interesting as far as it goes, but leaves a lot out concerning the role that cultural resources (archaeology and history) play in those Federally-funded efforts. Much of the work that FEMA sponsors is considered Federal undertakings, and as such is subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which means that studies of historic and archaeological properties affected by them have to be done and significant resources protected.

There are many archaeologists, historic architects and historic preservationists (far beyond the woman mentioned in the article) working in Louisiana and Mississippi right now on this mission. My employer has support contracts with FEMA for this type of activity and I and my wife have been repeatedly asked to go for 30 to 90 day stints. Were our schedules with current clients not so onerous we would. Connie spent the month of October, 2004 in Florida, working for FEMA and the Corps of Engineers doing just that after the three hurricanes that hit there that year.

With all the historic buildings and resources in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that is a big job. Just wanted to fill you in on that.

It was also interesting to see in this article that some of Dr. Dawdy’s previous excavations in the city may have uncovered a bordello.

The New Middle Ages

I don’t agree with everything Eric Jager says in his LA Times op-ed piece, but I will second his strike at “presentism” or our predisposition to view contemporary times as the summit of knowledge and enlightenment looming above the ignorance and intolerance of past ages. I find this particularly irritating when public figures in past ages are judged by contemporary standards, but that’s not really where Jager is going.

Jager believes that we have no right to refer to the emerging 21st century as the “Information Age” as he sees major elements in our behavior as a species that haven’t changed since Medieval times: “…legalized torture, rampant religious fanaticism, widespread poverty and illiteracy, the threat of mysterious plagues, fascination with magic and the occult and suspicion of science, what else would you call it?” but the New Middle Ages. I have a feeling he picks the Middle Ages as he is a professor of Medieval Literature. But why stop there, you could go back as far as you want in human history and find all of these things. It’s evident to me that will all the advances we’ve made, there are still many things about us that have not changed since the Pleistocene, and we should never forget it.

But I do concur with him that we should keep a rein on our self-esteem as “modern” people. As an exercise, imagine yourself in Europe or North America in AD 1800, just knowing that you are at the summit of modern science just as we do today, then consider the knowledge and technology gap between then and AD 2000. Now turn around and imagine what ignorant, benighted clucks the people of AD 2200 will consider us to be.

And they will!

Photos from Turkey

Steve continues to experience computer problems that make it impractical to load posts into Blogger, but he does have e-mail. He was able to send me these dog and bird photos from his trip that I have loaded below.

The dog photos were taken in rural Kurdish areas and the pictures of birds are from larger towns. Just to whet your appetite. More to come soon.