Andy was right about the photo of Libby a bit below, but didn’t guess the place. The photo was taken in 1966, when she was digging on the important early American Hell Gap archaeological site in southeastern Wyoming, east of Guernsey, under the leadership of the legendary Cynthia Irwin- Williams.

Libby got her degree, and dug at some other early American sites, including one near Cabezon in New Mexico then called “Anasazi Origins”. But eventually she left and pursued other careers, from Outward Bound instructor and Himalayan trekking guide to professional private chef and head of Patagonia mail order. She still has the best eye for human artifacts and tiny tools I have ever seen, but it is mostly just for fun, and we leave them in the field.

The enormous collection of tools and bones ended up at Harvard for a while, but when our friend Laura Niven was going for her advanced degrees in Wyoming , almost 20 years ago, she found that they had been “repatriated”. We found out when she called us in excitement, having found Libby’s name and that of her older sister, Elizabeth and Eleanor Adam, on many of the labels.

In recent years, what with hanging out with the Farmers (Reid and Connie are BOTH archaeologists) and working with the Forest Service as “site guardians”, we have again gotten interested in such things, though as a biologist manque, I favor the  end of the Pleistocene with its monsters and “first contacts”,  Paleoindian  better than “Pueblan”. So when we knew we were going up to Wyoming, we asked Carlos to set us up some time with theGeorge Frison Institute. Frison himself was someone who wrote one of my favorite American anthropology texts, Survival by Hunting.

 One illustration in the book is of particular interest. Ranch- born, Frison knew that eagles were common and effective predators on pronghorn, though it is still hard to convince some people today. A rancher friend of his painted the scene, which closely resembles three wild kills I have had described to me.

The woman who was teasingly referred to as “The Mysterious Libby” was welcomed to the collection by Marcel Kornfeld, who also found that picture of Libby. By the time we left, she was considering returning to dig as a volunteer next summer. I hope to get her to tell a few tales of her digging days in a bit.

Arabia Steamboat Museum

… which may be the most unusual museum I have ever seen, not just in KC. The Arabia was a commercial Missouri river two- paddle steamer (its wheels, one restored and running, were 28 feet high, its length 130 feet; despite its topheavy overloaded superstructure it could float in two feet of water when empty, though it was never empty when working). Someone told me to think of it as a floating Wal Mart servicing the frontier. It was laden with a full cargo when it hit a snag and went down very fast in 1856, with only one casualty, a mule now renamed Lawrence; both Lawrence and the snag and the boilers that registered on the high end metal detectors are on display, as well as a selection of goods, some archaic, some modern, that seems impossible. Apparently cotton, and iron that was too close to salt pork rotted– everything else could be preserved, though some of the big bent timbers needed years of showering with chemical solutions. The result is that you can momentarily immerse yourself in another world.

The whole thing was a private project of the Hawley family, a father and two sons, one of whom died in an accident after the dig, and two friends. They spontaneously decided to dig one of the many sunken boats now buried in the cornfields along the river’s banks by the inevitable meanders of flatland rivers. They heard a rumor that the Arabia was in a farmer’s field, and confirmed it. Special metal detectors confirmed the presence of the boiler, which does not sound remarkable until you realize that it was 40 feet under ground. They immediately began to excavate using pumps to keep the pit relatively dry, which was necessary as they hit water 10 feet down. Everything they found from rolling pins to mule bones, had to be preserved in some way or other. At first they had perceived of their dig as a treasure hunt, but it became a labor of love; I shudder to think what it must have cost. They got everything out, shut off the pumps, and in two days the water had filled the hole again. They did this so swiftly that the farmer was able to get in another corn crop without a missed season.

The artifacts speak for themselves; a few of my favorites below.

The only book cover I saw was an ornate gilded leather one for the popular epic Ossian, later proved to be a fake:

Unlike the personal hunter’s guns above, these state of the art Sharps were being smuggled to abolitionists in Kansas by wealthy patrons. I told Jen they were the Eevil black AR-AK high- tech shooters of their day, which of course they were…

It was a rainy day and we were the only patrons. Mr Hawley himself emerged from the shadows of the museum’s theatre to answer our questions. He told us there are still marvels and finds to come; he has the merry manner of a man who has followed his dreams.

“New” Petroglyph

… from none other than Andrey Kovalenko— see below.

Andrey says: “This rock art is located in (تیمره) Golpaygan, Isfahan in the central part of Iran. GP Location is: 33° 38′ 31.43″ N 50° 19′ 27.30″ E. There have not been any scientific examination (Magnetic Polarity Chronology, Uranium Thorium, Carbon 14 HL) to date the age of petroglyphs in Kheomein and Golpayganm specifically but from other findings in the same area it can be said that the petroglyphs date back to Pre-Agriculture era — Isfahan – Iran.”

Altai Roads

Or Central Asian roads in general, are not like western roads. The highway from Ulan Bataaar to Olgii is over six hundred miles long, but it is not paved. It is studded with old car parts and camel bones; sometimes, when the land is flat, its ruts seem to stretch a quarter mile wide and more. In the winter even the “Highway” can just vanish.

When I saw the road where the tomb below was found I did a double take– it certainly looked like ones I had driven on. “Altai Princess” road:

But I think it is just proximity (in a American- Western or Central Asian sense of close, maybe less than one hundred miles away), or the kind of high- desert- with- permafrost environment. Here is my similar road, which also has kurgans, a scant few miles south in Olgii.

On such roads, from Mongolia to the Ukraine, stand the balbals, enigmatic markers, often holding bottles– for ritual snuff?

But though these cultures trained hawks (and may even have invented falconry and more) I have only see one Balbal, in an Olgii museum, that pictured a bird….

More Ink

My New Hampshire friend Dr Hypercube, who is a blogger, falconer, Steampunk dandy, fine shotgun nut*, breeder of tropical frogs, and fellow aficionado of Central Asian art, sent me another great tattoo, a tiger, from Rudenko’s Frozen Tombs of Siberia (anyone know where to get an affordable copy?)

If I ever get a tattoo at my advanced age, it will be Pazyrik.

He also sent an image of his own new ink, a heart once used as a target by Annie Oakley, which he got from an Annie Leibovtz photo:

* He is looking for an affordable Manufrance Ideal– anyone have a lead on that?

Ruins 2

As readers may know, we are Forest Service “Guardians” to a little pre and post- Columbian (400- 1700?) pueblo near town. Mostly we just visit and document any changes, whether caused by natural erosion or “intruders” from kangaroo and pack rats to blundering cows and teenaged Navajo partiers. Today we joined FS Archaeologist Matt Basham to document some damage, but also to photo some post- colonial influences in the form of crosses of two datable types.

The cow damage had been inadvertent; the rancher there is conscientious, but a young cowboy from Alamo working for him had brainlessly put a 250 pound salt block ON a prehistoric stone structure, making cows trample the wall and pottery shards into pieces too small to identify, and also attracting passing cows and tempting them to bed in the ruin and trample and break more. Luckily unlike deliberate vandalism or looting it is easy to fix. Some shots:

Photographing the crosses was more fun. The pueblo tried to remain neutral in the Pueblo Revolt, and kept trading with the Spanish. The first two are simple; the third is a more ornate type known variously (and confusingly?) as both a Franciscan and a conquistador’s cross. As always, right and/ or double click to embiggen.

The kiva looks like a mere depression but then it is a lot older. Later I will post a remote sensing shot that shows the walls, underground.


Libby and I participate in a Forest Service program as “site guardians” for a known archaeological site, a rather large pueblo of perhaps 200-some dwellings. From any distance, despite its size, it is almost invisible– which in these days of thoughtless looting and vandalism, is probably A Good Thing.

Peculiar has some things to say (as well as more photos):

“This ruin doesn’t look like much. It’s never been thoroughly excavated, only a few test spots have been dug… But this was a big one, two stories and something like 250 rooms, with numerous kivas. It’s further south than you might expect, a little outside the area most people think of when contemplating Pueblo archeology. It’s also thought that it was inhabited until a while after the Spanish entrada.

“Over-publicizing locations is often a potential moral dilemma in landscape photography, and much more so when archeology is involved. I know of this site only due to local contacts, including the designated caretakers. But though it’s almost completely unknown, it’s also distressingly accessible. I’ve therefore chosen to pass on posting the more dramatic angles on the site, because they contain features that would allow someone sufficiently familiar with New Mexico geography (like a pot hunter) to get a pretty good idea of the location.”

Same here. But there is still plenty to see.

Libby and Taik search a kangaroo rat midden. They can be destructive but make great places to see pot chips, arrowheads, and bones, as they turn over amazing amounts of soil.

Notice how the ranger has strategically placed dead cholla so nobody will drive over the ruins.It will surprise no one that we have to replace them periodically…

We also report graffiti and vandalism– though a modern misspelled religious petroglyph is going to take some work to remove.

Tamgaly Rock Art

Whether because of (quite plausible) shared ancestry or (more I would think) the “Darwinian” demands of environment, climate, and materials, both rock art and vernacular architecture resemble each other in central Asia and the dry west. Compare Reid’s images below to these from Tamgaly, in the dry steppes a couple of hours north of Almaty in Kazakhstan.

The site:

A similar local site- basalt, stone cairn “wolf watchers”, petros nearby…

Hagay and his cousin with panels (Asian T shirts– don’t ask):

More panels, some separated by hundreds of years or more– this is a palimpsest, not a unified work.

The horned horse, which Gorbatov painted– we both saw saker falcons there…

The enigmatic Sunhead– similar images exist in America:

There is half a book’s worth more to say, one I hope to write eventually. Meanwhile Reid probably knows more than I do. For a good overview read Renato Sala’s account in Kazakhstan by Dagmar Schreiber. Not only is he my go- to guy on the subject; it is the best book, and full of work by Kazakh friends of Q.

Soon: architecture (Canat to Kazakhs: “Stev lives in a Kazakh house– he even puts plastic on the windows!”)

And re Sala: an Almaty- based Italian archaeologist and the leading expert on rock art, he is still very Euro– shaven headed and stubbled, kissing his fingers through a haze of Gauloise smoke: “..and the women here are so beautiful, no? Jengiz or Stalin or somebody must have killed all the ugly ones!”

My other side

I was asked by email if I knew anything about the history on my Italian side. Not from books is my answer. Bodios (and my grandmother on that side, Sylvia Arzeni) came most recently from Ispra on the east shore of Lake Maggiore a few miles south of the Swiss border; a village called Bodio sits on the river that flows into the north end of the lake, in Switzerland. I am always interested in info from the region. There is a sub- Alpine tunnel there, and here is a pic of, well, a car wreck.

My grandparents’ generation spoke “real” Italian and often German, but at home a “patois” (their word) that resembled the French that folks of the same age spoke in Provence when I was there in the 90’s, including “ng” endings like the Medieval French you see in Villon’s poems- all use “pang” rather than panno or pain for bread, “ving” (“buon ving”) for wine instead of vino or vin. My contemporary cousins seem to speak Italian and French– the second is what I have used to communicate with them.

The old ones, some who have been in Massachusetts and Vermont for two generations longer than my own immediate line, were good stone masons and brilliant bird-eating poverty cooks, but unlike the rowdy venturesome Scots on my mother’s side they tended to stay in their Alpine valleys, where I suspect they have been since the glaciers receded. If they don’t have that odd Mongol gene that some Lombards carry I suspect this is our most famous ancestor.