Ritual Deaths at Ur

One of the most famous archaeological finds of the 20th century, was the discovery of the royal cemetary at Ur. Leonard Woolley made the discovery of the 4,500 year-old tombs in the 1920s in southern Iraq. The burials showed fabulous sophistication in rich gold work and jewelry. One of the gold headdresses is shown in the picture. The buried kings and queens were accompanied by human sacrifices – handmaidens and warriors were put to death and buried in rows near the royal persons.

I remember reading about this in two of my early books on archaeology when I was eight or nine years old: The Wonderful World of Archaeology and All About Archaeology. They told the story of the sacrificed people drinking poison and lying down in neat rows to die and accompany their masters to the next world. Quite an image.

Well, as usual, a re-analysis of the remains shows that wasn’t quite the case. They were really bashed in the head rather than poisoned. Some people insist on taking the romance out of everything.

Claude Levi-Strauss, RIP

Claude Levi-Strauss, a French cultural anthropologist, died earlier this week at the age of 100. He was a giant in cultural anthropology and was much in the mode of the stereotypical French intellectual. He was one of the founders of Structuralism, and did much to show that the sophistication and elaboration of the mythologies and religions of even the most “primitive” of societies, shows that all of us have similar intellectual abilities.

I remember reading his Tristes Tropiques my freshman year for the introduction to cultural anthropology class. I must admit it was a bit too subtle and theoretical for my 18 year-old brain to really grasp. My main take-away was his assertion that myths use human beings to reproduce themselves.

His work was so long ago and he lived so long, he really seems to belong to another age. Seeing his obituary was like picking up the paper and reading of the recent death of Franz Boas or Alfred Kroeber.

Dinner Guests

Late Sunday afternoon this fellow dropped by the house for a visit. I was on the deck and had to shoot through the trees, so you can see some of the limbs in the picture.

He brought his lady friends with him. We got 22 inches of snow earlier in the week, and I’m sure the remaining green grass in our patch of lawn must have looked pretty appetizing.
The kids got to tag along, too. These two fawns spent about 10 minutes staring at us while we were up on the deck. We must have looked so strange to them.

Lift: A Memoir

The respect of your peers is great. Writers crave that. Praise from a mentor is even better. But nothing beats a star in a national review.

Congratulations to our friend Rebecca O’Connor for the following starred review in Publisher’s Weekly—and of course for penning the memoir that earned it.

From PW:

Lift: A Memoir Rebecca K. O’Connor. Red Hen, $18.95 (208p) ISBN 1597094603Novelist and nature reference author O’Connor (Falcon’s Return) crafts a lyrical tribute to the spiritual connection between humans and birds in this memoir of the excruciating, transformative process of training a peregrine falcon: “Falconry is a religion, a way of thinking, a means of experiencing life.” Indeed, readers will find almost as much spiritual content as natural. Despite O’Connor’s icy-clear voice, her descriptions of training a young male falcon are fascinating for bird lovers and civilians alike: “when the falcon connects a high-speed dive… the duck remains a piece of the sky and only its body careens to earth.” Surprisingly, periodic flashbacks to a troubled childhood—an abusive stepfather, an absentee mother—bolster her story rather than distract, turning a falcon’s “serious and unmerciful” eye back on her own life, and discovering inexplicable wells of generosity and forgiveness for the family who wronged her. O’Connor packs a lot of intelligence, poise and feeling into a few pages, making this a consistently rewarding read. (Nov.)

Find out for yourself and buy Rebecca’s book here!