Cats Domesticated Humans

Actually, this interesting NY Times story on a cat DNA study says that it appears cats domesticated themselves somewhere in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. But anyone who has ever been owned by a cat knows the truth.

From Steve

I’m still having SERIOUS server problems. I just can’t load big sites like Daren’s, Carel’s, Pluvi’s (well, I can if I am willing to refresh for a half hour or more and if it doesn’t disconnect– which it does literally hundreds of times a day, some times three or four times a MINUTE!)

I also can’t use Blogger, of course. And it is playing hell with book research and illustration search.

Cynics in my town say Gilanet is trying to force us all to their DSL, which is expensive and doesn’t work much better (Lib has it at the PO). The only other option , Wild Blue, is good but over $300 in startup costs which we don’t have.

Please, everyone: I haven’t lost interest! It is even hard to use email under these circumstances, though I may try to blog “through” Reid and Matt if this goes on longer. But I’ll Be Back!

Here are a few things to tide you over:

A photo of Paul Domski’s Zoltar, from our Ataika and Kyran, learning to be a partner to Paul’s baby Goshawk Frieda.

A request: go to this site, whatever your politics, to sign a petition to save small-circulation intellectual journals from death by new postal rates cynically engineered between Big Media and the PO. Journals from Mother Jones and The Nation on the left, to liberal American Prospect, to National Review and American Conservative on the right are all united (!) against this threat to diversity of opinion.

A quote, from The Lady With Big Black Dogs:

“By default, the idea that it is possible to cover every contingency and nuance of daily living with written legislation is absurd on the face of it and draconian at the bottom line.”

Another pic, from Annie D, which she sent with the following caption: “Carolyn could never figure out why she didn’t quite fit in amongst the Goth crowd.”

More to come– though it will probably take three tries to send this one…


PS: one hangup…

Petrified Forest

Today’s LA Times tells the story of Clyde Friend, who has discovered a forest of petrified trees on his property in an undisclosed location near Yakima, Washington. The standing trees were apparently engulfed by a lava flow about 15 million years ago, and now are preserved in a basalt hill covering an area of about 2 acres. The fact that the trees are still in a life-like vertical orientation is astounding. So far trees as tall as 24 feet and as thick as 24 inches have been observed.

Mr. Friend has done the right thing by alerting professional paleontologists who have studied this deposit. Apparently one mystery is why no tree roots are preserved in this ancient forest of hickory, elm, maple and sweet gum. But Friend seems obsessed by the notion of digging the whole thing out and destroying it. The trunks fall apart as they are freed from the basalt matrix.

One line in the story raised my hackles:

“He uses his heavy machines to break away large chunks of rock, and then drops to his knees with a hammer and chisel to chip around the trees, like an archeologist unearthing dinosaur bones.”

Archaeologists don’t excavate dinosaur bones – paleontologists do.

Mammoth Figurine

Isn’t that just beautiful? It’s a 35,000 year-old figurine of a mammoth carved from mammoth ivory. Der Speigel reports that it was recovered from the site of Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany along with several other ivory carvings, including one of a lion. Click the link to see more pictures, including other views of this little mammoth.

What I find fascinating about this story is that Vogelherd Cave was excavated in 1931. The researchers saved several thousand bags of the excavated deposit and these carvings were found recently as the bags of soil were being reprocessed. That’s thinking ahead.


Steve really has some good ideas sometimes. Yesterday when I posted this he sent me an e-mail, “Reid – make sure you send that link to Laura Niven, she may have more to tell us.” Laura Niven is an archaeologist friend of Steve’s (and now a virtual acquaintance of mine) who specializes in European Paleolithic and works at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Well she did have more to tell us in a couple of e-mails today. It turns out her dissertation was on the faunal assemblage from Vogelherd Cave and she knew all about this project and these figurines.

I will digress for a moment on how archaeologists work to provide some context for her remarks. When archaeologists excavate, they work in regular, rectilinear units (horizontally) and dig in regular, controlled levels so they can record the horizontal and verticle locations of artifacts and features that they find. Without this control it is impossible to understand the depositional history of the site and make accurate interpretations of age and association. As dirt is excavated from a unit and level, it is sifted through a screen to recover small artifacts and other remains that the excavator can’t see as he is digging. The excavated soil is called backdirt, and if you are lucky you have it piled in a location where you won’t have to dig later.

In the 1930’s when Vogelherd Cave was excavated, it wasn’t standard practice to screen backdirt and as a result many small artifacts were missed. I misinterpreted the Der Speigel article to mean that the original excavators had saved their backdirt, but Laura tells me that is not the case here. According to her, the University of Tubingen researchers relocated the 1931 backdirt piles at the cave a couple of years ago, put the dirt into bags and carried them back to their laboratory. There they waterscreened the backdirt, presumably through very small-meshed screens, and recovered the figurines. Reexamining old backdirt piles isn’t a practice that I’ve heard of before.

This puts the interpretations that are advanced about the age (35,000 years BP) and cultural affiliation (Aurignacian) of the figurines in question, as they have been recovered “out of context” as we say, in the jumbled backdirt piles. You can’t tell if they came from six inches or six feet down in the site. Laura tells me the upper (younger) levels of the site date as late as 5,000 BP. More from Laura:

“Chances are, the mammoth is Aurignacian, but none of the figurines from Vogelherd were ever directly dated. Apparently, ivory doesn’t retain collagen, so the chances of getting a good [radiocarbon] date are very slim. The previous ones were found mostly in the Aurignacian find horizons (one was actually found in the backdirt back in 1931). The finds are about 90% Aurignacian overall at the site, and although there are a few dates suggesting a Gravettian occupation [more recent 28,000 – 22,000 BP], there aren’t any Gravettian artifacts, so despite stylistic similarities with Gravettian figurines, they consider them Aurignacian.”

Thank you, Laura! So now you have the rest of the story. The age of the figurines is an estimate. That doesn’t keep that mammoth from being beautiful, though.

New Dog Book

Steve’s friend Ted Kerasote, winner of the National Outdoor Book Award, has a new one at B&N I could not resist. Merle’s Door, Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, is parts memoir, polemic and canine biography. It is also an unapologetic love story and, I admit, a tear-jerker there toward the end.

Merle is a mostly-lab mixed breed who sniffs Ted out on a camping trip and makes a remarkable connection with this man, who, against twinges of better judgment, adopts him on the spot. As Merle says, in translation by Ted,” You need a dog, and I’m it.”

This translation business is a hallmark of the book. Blurbs on the back alluded to the feature, calling it the best human/dog translation in print. I’m not an expert here, but I can attest that as a tool for character development, Kerasote’s dog dialog is dead on. I feel I know Merle now pretty well.

Merle’s many opinions as expressed by his companion person help to develop the book’s central argument, which is that dogs given the freedom to roam and make choices become complex thinking beings, in fact tantamount to people. It’s clear from early in the story that Kerasote views this dog as possessing the full range of emotion, cognition and willingness to comment he would give any human person.

Indeed, he extends this view liberally along the way, granting the same by analogy to wolves, coyotes, cats, crows and of course, other dogs.

I am sympathetic to this view. Like Kerasote, I’ve been blessed with the company of dogs from birth to death and never doubted what goes on behind their eyes. Likewise, I grant my hawks tremendous powers of memory, forethought and opinion—assumptions I feel are necessary to successfully training and hunting with them.

So why am I on edge?

I think it was the guilt trip, layered on pretty thick by Kerasote, against those of us who do not live in a small village in the middle of a National Forest, and thus cannot set our captive dogs to roaming. It is arguable, and Kerasote concedes this, that even in his and Merle’s idyllic setting, the dangers of open range to domestic dogs are considerable. The author notes neighbors’ dogs being shot, run over and eaten, and recounts many close calls with Merle.

Yet Kerasote’s conscience with regard to his freethinking dog is unassailable: Merle is a person, therefore Merle must be free. To his credit, Kerasote seems the most doting of dog companions, and spares nothing (save confinement) to see that Merle is safe. In point of fact, Merle lives a very long time and has, by this accounting, a rich and wonderful life.

My small annoyance with Kerasote’s disapproval of “normal” suburban life for dogs did not prevent me from enjoying this book. I read it fast and cried real tears at the end.

But I have to wonder if personhood for dogs—and this book accepts nothing less—is the best thing we can give them? How many of us are ready to release our dogs unto their own recognizance? How many of our dogs are ready for that?

Mirror Image

Hat tip to Arthur Wilderson for this story, a write-up about a remarkably similar phenomenon in England to what we’ve been discussing over here lately: nostalgia for free-range children who spend their days outdoors. Good title, too: Rearing Children in Captivity

At the school gates of Birchington Primary School, on the Kent coast, a group of mothers chat about their childhood.

‘I used to go to the woods and build a den,’ said one.

‘I would always go to the park on my own, just so long as I was back before dark,’ said a second.

The other mums nodded.

All remembered the adventures of their youth – long days spent out of sight of their parents. ‘Happy days,’ they said.

So do they let their own children enjoy the same freedoms?

‘That would be irresponsible,’ replied one. The rest agreed….

Going On About Helen

I’m going to break a small confidence and relate a thing Steve said to me in the privacy of his kitchen.

I was going on about Helen MacDonald, drunk after our detour to the Golden Spur and full of good meat from the Bodio larder. A point at which, in other words, I was babbling.

Steve leveled his gaze and said, “Don’t gush.”

I am a serial gusher. Hop over to Fretmarks and read more like this:

“And as the sun rose and broke the fog, the flat expanses of reeds stretched and glowed into the distance. The air was full of a host of marsh harriers. Everywhere you looked, they sailed over the flat planes of reed, wings set in a characteristic half-raised plane, like a self-willed paper aircraft.”

Looking for that Pot of Gold

A thunderstorm just before sunset Monday night gave us this big double rainbow as seen from our deck. It and the pyrotechnics of the storm provided dinnertime entertainment for us and Mr. & Mrs. Peculiar (Jackson and Nikki) who we were delighted to have as house guests.

The sunset wasn’t too bad, either.

Frozen Dead Guy is a Hot Commodity

The Denver Post ran this oddball local story today. In the small town of Nederland in the mountains west of Boulder, Bredo Morstoel, who died in 1989, lies frozen in a metal coffin, awaiting the day when medical science has advanced enough to revive him and fix the heart ailment that killed him. Morstoel’s grandson in Norway sends money every month to a man in Longmont who keeps the coffin packed in dry ice.

Nederland has done its best to capitalize on this strange situation by holding an annual “Frozen Dead Guy Days” festival featuring coffin races. Money line from the article:

“In a town that has become increasingly awash in ordinary battles over stoplights or chain stores, Grandpa Bredo keeps Nederland weird.”

I might just have to make it up to Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Why We Blog II

Well, I guess it’s my turn.

It may sound a little strange, but at least to some extent I blog because I was invited. Though I had read blogs and commented on them for ages, I really had no idea of doing it myself until Steve asked me to post here. Now it’s hard to imagine not blogging. I guess I have always had a faint itch to write, but it was never strong enough to drive me into print the way it did Steve and Matt. Blogging has lowered that barrier to entry and gives me the writing outlet that I always needed and never had. I find it satisfying, especially when a post “clicks” and people want to comment.

After blogging for a while I found that I was sort of pre-adapted for it. I’ve always been something of a data hound and for years I have kept files of newspaper and magazine articles that interested me. Those of you on the receiving end of e-mailed articles I’ve sent know that I’m still at it and that they serve as the basis for lots of posts here. It’s nice to make use of something I had begun to consider an obsessive habit.

One of the things I have come to enjoy about blogging is the way it changes how I look at things. In the past I would encounter issues or articles that I would find mildly interesting, consider them, and pass on. Now I see them and think, “That would make a great post!” That forces me to think more clearly and critically about them and often to do more background research to put a decent post together. That’s a good thing.

As Matt mentioned in his post, the community aspect of blogging is wonderful. It’s a privilege and a joy to collaborate with people as intelligent and wise and funny as Steve and Matt. Also I would never have believed that I would meet so many smart and fascinating people from all over the world who comment here and post on our brother and sister blogs. They are always bringing in ideas I haven’t considered and making connections I would never have made. The first time I log on each day, it’s with a sense of anticipation as I look forward to seeing what’s happened in the neighborhood while I’ve been away.