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Jeff Baker
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Archaeologist
Archaeologist

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Here is a photo of Ruby, my pitty, and her little brother, Beaker.
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My knowledge of music history is pretty much non-existent, so keep that in mind as you read this introduction. But, I do have some criticisms about this article. The finding of this early piece of music is a significant and important find, but, reading that the researcher is claiming we are "looking at the birth of polyphonic music" raised some suspicions in my mind.

The Wikipedia entry for polyphony has a more complex history than is presented in this article, noting two other early works that date to ca. 900 AD that also discuss polyphonic techniques. The Wikipedia entry also suggests that polyphony was more common in secular tunes vs. sacred tunes.

This is a major issue in many medieval studies, where, we have better records from churches than from secular authorities. Researchers have a bad habit of extrapolating out from what the church was doing and applying it to the medieval European society as a whole. Some of the Catholic Church authorities believed that polyphony was evil and associated with the devil's music.

It is possible then, that in the 9th century, polyphony was widespread in secular works, but, not in church hymnals.

The Wikipedia entry can be found here (and, has not been updated as of yet with this new information):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony

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via +Karen Schumacher

This is a very well-written and well thought out article. It intersperses the old model of the demise of the Greenland Vikings with new data.
The traditional view of the Vikings in Greenland is that they were ultimately done in by a worsening climate with some help from human induced environmental degradation. It was thought that they were unable to develop a system of agriculture that was sustainable in Greenland’s environment. A colder environment after 1300 played an even bigger role in their demise, because the simple farmers were unable to cope with a changing climate.
But, the newer research proves that the Greenlanders had adapted to their environment and were more reliant on seafood than their relations in Iceland or Scandinavia. Their economy appears to have been focused upon acquiring walrus tusks. These were traded back to Europe where the ivory was highly prized.
The new research shows that the Vikings created soils on Greenland. This is not a unique event in human history. The number of cultures that create/created soil in places where the existing soil is/was thin is fairly large and widely distributed including east and southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin, and Portugal.
I do think this article misses one thing. The argument is made that the Greenland Vikings were primarily hunters with some part-time agriculture. But, they are overlooking one point, the sexual division of labor. In most preindustrial societies, women did most of the farm work. Men would be involved, but, there work was often concentrated in times when labor demands were the highest. A similar pattern could have occurred in Greenland, where the males helped with the initial planting, and then headed off on the walrus and seal hunts, while the women kept an eye on the crops and the herds.
Although the current model still emphasizes climate change as a causal factor it also points to changing economic patterns as a factor. In the 13th century, Portugal and other maritime countries began to open up trade routes with sub-Saharan Africa. These routes provided access to elephant tusks, which provide a higher quality ivory than the walrus tusks. I suspect that the economic factors played a bigger role in the abandonment of Greenland than the cooler climate, but, that is a matter of debate.
Like any large group of humans, the Vikings in Greenland were neither stupid, nor stubbornly wedded to their traditional way of life.



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This article on Galileo is a very interesting read. During his life, Galileo was not some lone figure championing the role of science in understanding the universe and taking on the Catholic Church, but, one of a number of researchers coming to similar conclusions, including Johannes Kepler. Kepler was a better scientist, but, Galileo was a better writer. In our times, think of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. Hawking has probably accomplished more than Sagan did, but, Sagan was one of the greatest scientific communicators of his era.
"Galileo achieved considerable fame in his lifetime, but in the 17th century his reputation rested firmly on his telescopic discoveries. His contribution to the debate over the heliocentric view of the solar system was rather minimal, and despite the best efforts of Marin Mersenne (the century’s greatest science communicator) to publicise his Discourses, they didn’t have that great an impact. Today it is often claimed that Galileo is one of the giants on whose shoulders Newton stood, but he plays a rather minor role in Newton’s masterwork, Principia Mathematica (1687). By the 18th century, Galileo was slipping into obscurity outside of Italy. Then he experienced a remarkable resurrection." https://aeon.co/ideas/galileo-s-reputation-is-more-hyperbole-than-truth

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I find article like this highly frustrating. The research into the volcanic eruptions is an interesting contribution to our geologic knowledge. But, the discussion of the “impact” this eruption had on Classic Maya civilization is utter rubbish.
The “dark age” the article is talking about was originally called the Maya hiatus. This event was identified in 1950 by Tatiana Proskouriakoff (who later played a major role in deciphering the Maya glyphs). Proskouriakoff noted that there were no known stela dating to the period between 534 and 593 (less than 60 years). At many (but not all sites), there was little in the way of monumental construction. In the mid-1970s, Gordon Willey referred to the hiatus as a “rehearsal for the collapse,” and argued that it was a Lowland wide phenomenon. These ideas fit the available evidence at the time. But, there has been a considerable amount of new research in the intervening time period.

In 1986, Diane and Arlen Chase identified a ball court marker at the site of Caracol. This marker discusses several battles between Caracol and Tikal between 556 and 562. In the 562 battle, Tikal’s ruler was captured and killed by Caracol.

Also in the 1980s, a number of looted stela began appearing whose dedication dates fall within the “hiatus.” These stela were associated with what was termed the “snake kingdom.” The snake kingdom is now known to be associated with the site of Calakmul (the latest of two capitals of the snake kingdom). During the “hiatus” Calakmul, Caracol, and other allies continued to erect stela and build monumental buildings. Much of the archaeological work documenting these activities took place in the late 1980s and the 1990s. In other words, the hiatus was limited to Tikal and its allies. For at least 25 years, it has been clear that the Tikal Hiatus was the result of a series of military victories by Calakmul and its allies.

Calakmul is located northwest of Tikal, Caracol is located to the northeast. Piedras Negras, located to the west of Tikal, also does not show signs of the hiatus. It is worth noting that Piedras Negras is located between Tikal and the El Chichon volcano. If a volcano caused the hiatus at Tikal, why didn’t it impact Piedras Negras or Calakmul (both of which are located closer to the volcano than Tikal)? There is absolutely no need to claim that we have no idea why the hiatus occurred, or to claim that it was a Lowland wide event. The hiatus was clearly related to the wars between Tikal and Calakmul.

It is also worth noting that there are a large number of lakes, wetlands, and aguadas that have been studied for paleoenvironmental data in the Maya Lowlands. None of these studies have identified evidence of the volcanic eruption. I suspect that the prevailing wind patterns blew the ash from the volcanic eruption eastward toward the Gulf of Mexico rather than south-southeasterly (toward the heartland of the Classic Maya).

One final note on the impacts of volcanoes on preindustrial civilizations. Mount Vesuvius, located approximately 125 miles from Rome erupted in 79 CE. This eruption destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but, did not cause any adverse effect to the Roman Empire.

El Chichon is located over 240 miles from Tikal. To my knowledge, there are no Maya cities that were destroyed by the eruption of El Chichon. Yet, we are supposed to believe that it caused Tikal and most other Maya cities to go into a major decline?

Here are a few links talking about the long battle between Tikal and Calakmul:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/19/world/maya-carvings-tell-of-a-war-of-2-superpowers.html

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/calakmul/Calakmul-Tikal.pdf



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I'm not sure how much I trust WaPo, but, it is a start.
I'm boosting the signal on this one, and I encourage it to be passed along -- FB, etc.

This is at once simultaneously terrifying and offering nuggets of hope,.

The hope is that the press is an ally of the people.

Federal employees and everyone else: Share info anonymously w/ @WashingtonPost using Secure Drop system. Thank you. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/securedrop/>

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I have not yet had a chance to read the journal article that this research is based upon. I will provide some more indepth comments once I have the opportunity to read the journal article. Based upon the summary provided at the link, I have several comments to make.

First, most of these comments pertain to the Late Classic collapse rather than the Late Preclassic collapse. For a variety of reasons (some of which I will detail below), we simply don't have enough data from most sites to discuss the timing or nature of the Late Preclassic Collapse of the Maya. I won't dispute the existence of a Late Preclassic Collapse (I don't know of too many scholars who would), but, are knowledge on the timing and nature of that collapse are not well understood at the present time.

For understanding the Late Classic collapse, Ceibal is not the best site for determining the timing of the collapse. Most sites in the southern Maya Lowlands underwent a dramatic population decline between the Late Classic (600-830 CE) and the Terminal Classic (830-930 CE). At Tikal, the population in the Terminal Classic was about 20-25% of the Late Classic Peak. The Terminal Classic Population at Yaxha was about 20% of the Late Classic Peak; in the Upper Belize River Valley the Terminal Classic population was less than 1/2 of the Late Classic Peak; Becan's population was 20% of the Late Classic peak.

Ceibal on the other hand actually increased the population from the Late Classic to the Terminal Classic. The population then crashed by the start of the Early Postclassic.

Second, the argument that the Late Classic Collapse was rapid is not a new argument. Pat Culbert (who was my dissertation advisor) talked about this frequently in the classes and seminars I had with him. John Lowe also has discussed the rapidity of the collapse in his book The Dynamics of Apocalypse. In conference papers I've presented (I have never published any of these arguments), I have argued that the population collapse was fairly rapid. Other researchers have also proposed similar arguments. The proponents of the drought hypothesis support a rapid decline (for those who have read my posts for some time are probably aware that I disagree with the drought hypothesis).

At Tikal, peak populations probably occurred between 670-730 CE. By 760 CE, epigraphic, architectural and environmental data all indicate that Tikal was in decline. So, less than 30 years, or one generation.

But, it is good that we now have concrete data from one site that can be used to more accurately date the timing of the collapse. While I am skeptical of the relevance of the data from Ceibal to other sites in the southern lowlands, this research will hopefully stimulate researchers to conduct similar research at other sites.
"Using the largest set of radiocarbon dates ever obtained from a single Maya site, archaeologists have developed a high-precision chronology that sheds new light on patterns leading up to the two major collapses of the ancient civilization.
Archaeologists have long puzzled over what caused what is known as the Classic Maya collapse in the ninth century A.D., when many of the ancient civilization's cities were abandoned. More recent investigations have revealed that the Maya also experienced an earlier collapse in the second century A.D. -- now called the Preclassic collapse -- that is even more poorly understood.
University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata and his colleagues suggest in a new paper, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that both collapses followed similar trajectories, with multiple waves of social instability, warfare and political crises leading to the rapid fall of many city centers.
The findings are based on a highly refined chronology developed by Inomata and his colleagues using an unprecedented 154 radiocarbon dates from the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala, where the team has worked for over a decade".

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For those of you into map porn, here is an interesting map of the US from 1884.

+Adriel Wiggins

+Mz Maau

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Rescued from a private share. This is awesome. I'm not sure if turning this beauty into a trilogy would improve it.

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This is a very cool find. Ben Franklin's first publication. Franklin is one of my favorite characters among the Founding Fathers. A bit of a libertine, but, also honest about his indulgences. He definitely tried to treat other people the way he wanted to be treated. If I could meet any of the founders of this nation, Ben would be it. He was the Joe Biden of his time.

+Michelle C because a librarian would probably get excited about this find too.
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