The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No, I don't believe it either, but Fred Phelps seems to have a useful purpose...

I read this today and thought it was great. We often hear all manner of bullshit about how if laws favoring gay rights are passed then it will result in the rights of Christians being infringed on - with pastors being jailed for hate crimes being one of the usual claims.

However, Fred Phelps, the guy who began protesting the funerals of gay men, but who has moved on to protesting the funerals of dead soldiers claiming that they are dying because god is angry over the fact that the U.S. government is not being as harsh on gays as he thinks it should be. The guy is about as vile and disgusting an individual as you can get, even many of those who may actually agree with him about gay rights tend be be shocked and disgusted by his tactics and speech.

And he has engaged in these activities in places where hate crime legislation does include sexual minorities in the protected status.

And he's still free. No chance of him being arrested, in fact. You know why? Because what he is doing, as disgusting as it is, is protected by the U.S. Constitution. And the same will be true, as it has long been, for every other clergy man, regardless of the state of gay rights. Hell, you can still find perfectly legal racist churches that refuse to perform interracial weddings, allow non-white baptism, etc. etc., and these are perfectly legal.

In other words, when you see the NOM ad claiming that gay rights will lead to Christians being persecuted, just think of Fred Phelps and realize that these people are actively lying to you. They are not concerned about truth, they are pushing an agenda that they are aware will probably not stand on its own merits, so they are lying (just as they were a few months back when many of the same folks were opposed to Proposition 8). Fred Phelps continued freedom proves it.

Or, as the Slacktivist puts it:

"My freedom will be taken away," says one woman in the NOM ad.

How so? She doesn't say. But Fred Phelps' freedom hasn't been taken away, so we have to assume that this otherwise pleasant-seeming woman must be referring to her "freedom" to harass, slander and berate with greater intensity than anything Phelps has done.

It's hard to imagine just what it is that would entail. Phelps shows up at military funerals and celebrates the death of soldiers for defending America as a "fag-enabling" country. Perhaps this young lady wants to do the same, but also, I don't know, to fling feces at the honor guard.

And she's afraid that marriage equality might threaten her freedom to do that.

But the point here is that Fred Phelps is a free man. His only legal troubles stem from instances of direct physical assault -- not from the hateful content of his beliefs. So when the folks at NOM insist that their opposition to same-sex marriage is a matter of "religious liberty," the liberty they're talking about has to be the liberty to exceed the Fred Phelps standard -- the liberty not just to restrict membership on religious grounds, or just to preach against homosexuality as a sin, or to condemn and denounce homosexuals as people hated by God, but the liberty, apparently, to go beyond all that, beyond anything even Fred Phelps has imagined.

The same, by the way is true of other groups who have similar views. Although a few are held up as victims who had their rights to free speech trampled on (such as the "Philidelphia 11"), the truth is rather different than what has generally been portrayed. In fact, most of this campaign seems to be designed to utilize a persecution complex on the part of some folks in order to push an agenda that it's backers seem to fear won't stand on its own merit.

*Note: many people are opposed to laws that specifically target "hate crimes" as opposed to other crimes, and I am not taking a position on that one way or another here, merely pointing out that the thing that these particular anti-rights groups claim as their objection is bullshit.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Department of Awful Statistics

How many time shave you noted that two things are obviously related because one came after the other? For example, my grandfather used to like ot point out that crime increased after teacher-led prayer was taken out of public schools, thus proving that a lack of prayer led to higher crime rates. Mind you at the same time that prayer was taken out of public schools population size increased, income disparities increased, immigration shifted, some crimes (such as sexual assaults) began to be taken more seriously (and thuse more often reported, resulting in a higher official crime rate), and society in general went through a number of shifts. In other words, alot of things happened, many of which actually likley had a causal relationship with crime rates, and prayer in public schools likely had nothing to do with it. However, my grandfather could never be dissuaded from his position.

It's a common logical fallacy called the post-hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy - the claim that because one thing proceeded (or accompanied) another, it caused the other thing to happen.

The fact is that in any complex system (you know, like life) many things are happening at any time, and it is not difficult to find things that happen at the same time, or coincidentlaly with each other which have little to nothing to do with each other, but if you are inclined to champion or demonize something it's not difficult to claim non-existent associations.

This is where statistics are valuable, and also a problem. There are ways to use mathematics to look at the strength of correlation, and from that make a better assessment of whether or not two events are in fact related. There are many methods, and some methods are relevant to certain types of comparisons but not others. However, when people who wish to push an agenda start doing so, they often intentionally mis-use mathematics in order to create a bad argument, but one that is hard for the layman to penetrate.

I saw a great example of this sort of thing in The Atlantic today. Take a look at the graph:

Now read the short article.

The point? Well, it's not that you can't trust statistics. Contrary to the popular view, statistics themselves do not lie, they're simply statements of probability. People do lie, however, and they may create false statistics to do it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Words of Wisdom from Abstruse Goose

Another nut o' wisdom from Abstruse Goose:

For context, click here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Tech Support Blues

Here's a few panels from one of my favorite web comics, Abstruse Goose:

For the rest of it, click here, and then try to watch your tongue the next time that you have to call technical support.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where do the Stories Come From?

In researching stories for my other blog, I have come across this site, which I have decided that I love and think is hilarious. But this nature of this site also leaves me pondering what I think is a rather interesting question about folklore.

The site's authors describe the mission this way:

At we believe that everybody has the right to read about ghost sightings in their own towns or cities. So for the towns and cities around the country that are not lucky enough to have their own sightings we have made up fictional sightings as a public service.

Like I say, hilarious, and alot of fun.

However, they seem to either have the same stories for every location, or else have a simple program set up that combines bits and pieces of different stories into various combinations to create the stories. Most of the stories are just this side of allegedly true stories, and so it sometimes take reading a few to get that these are jokes. Here's a few examples.

A female having a machete in her head was made out in Groveland Wayside Park before dawn hauling a dead body over rocks. The ghost did not appear to be agonized by the witnesses. Residents here argue that this ghost likes startling foolhardy people who come looking for ghosts in Big Oak Flat.


The terrifying phantom of a Barbarian was perceived at a coin operated phone in Big Oak Flat using the phone. When witnessed the phantom approached the viewer who then escaped. One of the residents steadfastly alleges that this ghost could be a well-known former time native of Big Oak Flat. One thing is for sure, this ghost certainly is creepy; one that you shouldn't go trying to find.


A man's body having the head of a raccoon was spotted going bananas in Leroy E Botts Memorial Park before sunrise. There are additional accounts concerning this phantom in the area. No matter what, this ghost sure is menacing; one that you wouldn't want to run into very late at night.


A headless woman is regularly perceived down by Codfish Falls at the stroke of midnight reading a newsletter. Well, this phantom sure is frightening; one that you do not want to bump into on a dark night.


The ghost of a 10 foot tall enormous person is rumored to have been spotted on several instances peeking through building windows in Foresthill late at night.

A barbarian using a pay phone...hmmm....

In case you take issue with my assertion that these stories are close enough to allegedly true stories to be nearly mistaken for them, look through a repository of supposed hauntings such as this one and you'll quickly see that these spoof stories are just slightly on the outlandish side.

Anyway, on to what this may say about folklore...

Although items of local folklore often have at least some basis in fact (dealing with real-life residents, are exxagerations of actual events), many are simply old stories transplanted from elsewhere (for example, how many places have a crybaby bridge, La Llorona, or vanishing hitchhiker story?), and some appear to be the result of hoaxes or tall-tales gotten out of hand. And so that gets me thinking about this site.

The site is set up to invite people to submit their own stories, and it is set up in such a way that it is likely to collect alot of folklore, and the joke stories are distributed in the same site, making it look as if they may also be part of the local folklore. So, I find myself wondering this: will some of these nonsense stories eventually be adopted into the folkore of some of these communities?

Perhaps not, folklore is unpredictable after all, and it's never clear what stories will or will not find traction. However, should I be pumping gas in Foresthill and hear about a sighting of a headless skeleton smoking a cigar while reading a newspaper...well, I think I'll know where the story orignated.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I hear that town Taft is one bad mutha...

So, I have been in Taft. A thrilling city to be sure.

Actually, the project has developed in such a way that I may be out of there earlier than I had previously thought (of course, that still means spending most of the forseeable future out there, so there is that). Still, it should be interesting and should be a bit of a challenge.

What we are doing is archaeological surveys in support of an oil exploration project. Much of the project takes place on federal land, and as such, the National Historic Preservation Act applies. So, I am leading a crew in the field, performing archaeological surveys, looking for sites that might be impacted by the proposed project.

On these types of projects, there is usually an oil exploration crew that goes out and identifies locations to be impacted by oil exploration. They are then followed by the environmental crews (including the archaeologists) who identified locations that contain resources that would be damaged by the project, and then the oil exploration crew returns to the field to make necessary modifications to the project.

So, my crew has been working in areas that had already been examined by the exploration tream. However, because of the way in which we have to work, we move at a slow pace, too slow for the liking of our client. So, our client has proposed two things:

1. More money to provide for a larger crew

2. That an archaeologist accompany the exploration crew to identify issues as the project develops and prevent the need for further follow-up survey.

Point #2 has some problems, but it is possible that we will work them out, and if we do, then the project could run more smoothly and much more quickly. However, even if that doesn't work out, having more archaeologists in the field will allow us to survey more quickly, and we will be able to finish the project long before our original completion date. So, at worst we will move faster.

Also, I will be responsible for three field crews, with another project supervisor helping me out but with me having ultimate responsibility. It will be the most complex project that I have ever had to do - coordinating work and training* for three field crews, and making sure that all assects of the project are covered 7 days a week (because the oil exploration team works 7 days a week). It'll be a challenge, but I am actually realy looking forward to it. It's not a run-of-the-mill project, and I am excited by that.

Anyway, that's where things stand right now. I'll try to keep up the blog, but I suspect that there will be some "dead air" while I proceed with the project.

Oh, and here's some fun facts about Taft:

Taft was originally named "Moro", but the companies that provided train service to Taft were concerned that travellers might mistake "Moro" for "Morro Bay", and so they added an "n" to the end, resulting in the city bearing the name "Moron".

Taft has spent alot of money on it's high school's football team, providing them with state-of-the-art trainign facilities, and yet they continue to lose to the football team from Bakersfield High School, creating a rather well-known high school sports rivalry. This rivalry was the inspiration for the movie Best of Times.

* Required training includes a 9.5 hour class on al of the ways that you can get kiled while working in the oil fields, and how to avoid death by using proper equipment, as well as orientation on the project itself.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I'm preparing to head of to Taft for a long survey project. On the downside, I'll be away from home for an extended period of time in a town formerly known as, and I am not making this up, Moron.

On the upside, I will be dealing with the Buena Vista Lake Bed, one of the western pluvial lakes that contain some of the oldest sites known in the Americas. So, that's pretty cool.

While looking over site records for the area, I came across this lovely quote:

"Site Description: Remains of subterranean structure, possibly the cesspools"

Yeah, this is going to be a fun job.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Quiverfull of Pride

And so Kay’s seven deadly sins parade winds down with the final sin – pride.

I didn’t know what I was going to write about here, until this morning, when I saw this, or for a more concise bit on the exact thing that I'm thinking of, go here. Go ahead, click on of the links. You know you want to, and, frankly, the rest of this entry won’t make any sense if you don’t.

Okay, fine, I'll explain where I'm going to those who have a phobia of links. The links go to an article and a blog entry about the "quiverfull" movement (AKA the patriarchy movement - their own term, not one that they've been labeled with). This movement holds that it is the responsibility of a Christian woman to have as many children as she possibly can, regardless of the impacts to her health (and she is to have essentially no life outside of the home), and that it is the responsibility of a Christian man to get his wife pregnant as often as possible. The basic idea being that they will grow in population, outnumber the "infidels", and be able to enforce their will on the rest of the population. It's sort of like a very slow-moving version of a James Bond villain.

Lest you think that I am being overly alarmist, I will point out that I am not worried that these people will succeed, I feel relatively certain that they won't, and while their numbers are growing at the moment, movements like this have never really succeeded in the long-term and tend to burn themselves out. I also am not exaggerating their aims, they are very open about their plans for world domination (though they call it other things, like "taking the world for Christ" or "remaking the world in a Christian image", but lets call a spade a spade, and let's call plans for world domination plans for world domination, shall we).

Katherine Joyce has studied the quivefull movement, and written articles and a book on them. From one of her articles linked above comes the following quote:

Among yet more extreme believers, such as the pro-patriarchy homeschooling ministry Vision Forum, some movement leaders urge followers to develop a "200-year plan," to chart out generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for centuries to come, along with tasks they want those descendents to fulfill to glorify the family name. "If the Christian Church had not listened to the humanistic lies of the enemy and limited their families," writes Vision Forum founder Doug Phillips in an introduction to the movement book Be Fruitful and Multiply, "the army of God would be more powerful in this hour. The enemy's camp would be trembling."

It's absurd, on one hand, to believe that two hundred years' worth of heirs will follow an ancestor's goals so closely, but it's also a logical extension of the "demography is destiny" argument that Quiverfull relies upon: that through the sheer number of their offspring they will be able to enact their will upon the culture around them.

...and I can't think of a better example of sinful pride, or as it should more accurately be called, hubris, than this. Not only do these people suffer from the grandiose notion that they will reform the world in their image (it's too bad that they are pretty strongly anti-science, as they would make GREAT B-movie mad scientists with that attitude), but they expect that their decendants, long after they're gone, will continue on with their plan as they conceive it now.

Certainly, pushing for believers to reproduce beyond all sanity is not unique to this particular sect - it's a feature of many religions. However, this particular super-villianous twist is something truly odd. The fact that this particular "deadly sin" is so strongly displayed by a group so determined to make the world fit their definition of "holy" is an amazing irony.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A bit more on morality

I saw this article today, and it discusses, in a limited and simplified way, the origins of moralty in our evolutionary history, while briefly referencing the role that culture plays in moral reasoning and development.

The article simplifies the discussion rather greatly, and there is reason to be skeptical of some of the specifics. However, the interesting point is that it discusses morality as a function of our brains in rather the same way that other judgements - about beauty, flavor, and tempurature - are.

No doubt this view will make some folks uneasy (I can already see one particular commenter coming up with some strawman reasons why this is the work of godless heathens who lack any redeeming qualities), but if this view, certainly more complex and modified, is valid, it is important to understand, as it will hold clues regarding how we can continue to function as a population as we move farther from our evolutionary roots as hunter-gatherers on the savannah.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Brooding, Mystical...and Stupid

Yesterday’s griping about site records led me to remember this gem from when I worked at the Central Coast Information Center. A site record was produced for an area in which no evidence of an archaeological site was found. The site description read:

This location has a brooding, mystical quality, and the native peoples would not have ignored it.

Why, thank you Dances with Wolves for notifying us of this remarkable archaeological discovery. I think I’ll head right up there to meditate on some crystals and burn some sage.

Okay, deep breaths....there, now I feel better.

Here's the thing - if a location contains no evidence of human activity, it is, by definition, not an archaeological site. It may have had cultural significance, it may be a place where people went to enjoy the ambiance, it may have been any number of things, and it may even be worth consideration when assessing the cultural resources in an area, but it is not an archaeological site (and in this case there is no evidence that any of the other things are true, either). If it's not an archaeological site, it should not be recorded as one. The record is muddled enough without people doing this sort of thing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How not to do your job as an archaeologist

I am preparing to head out into the field again, this time to work out in the southern San Joaquin Valley. In preparation for this project, I am reading through the records for all previously recorded archaeological sites in the area.

In 1988, a company located in Phoenix, AZ was contracted to perform surveys in this area. Their archaeologist recorded a number of things as isolated artifacts (that is, artifacts that are not associated with a larger archaeological site) that the archaeologist says in the site record are not actually artifacts. This includes rocks that were clearly hit by heavy machinery and broken in ways that look vaguely like artifacts (AKA “tractorfacts”), as well as naturally occurring rocks that are naturally broken in ways that vaguely resemble artifacts.

Now, I could see why these would be recorded if they were “borderline” – if it was difficult to tell if they were archaeological finds or just natural rocks. However, the archaeologist was very clear that these were clearly not archaeological materials.

Let me give you a quick sample of the descriptions off of some of these forms:

“A primary chert flake or fragment which is not an artifact.”

“2 secondary chert flakes…produced by modern plowing activities”

“A secondary white chert flake which is not culturally created”

And it goes on.

Okay, on the off-chance that some future archaeologist is reading this – do not EVER record as an archaeological site or isolate something that you KNOW is not an archaeological site or isolate. It only annoys the people who have to cope with your handiwork down the road.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A short video, worth watching

I saw this over at the Hemant Mehta's blog. It's a pretty good video on what it means to be open-minded, and how we often mistake being gullible with being open-minded. Check it out, it's pretty good.

Vaccines and Hysteria

This morning I read this essay, in which the author talks about attending a conference where a large number of anti-vaccine folk began to spout the usual uninformed drivel about the evils of vaccines. What was interesting about this essay is that, as it discusses specifically the HPV vaccine and HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, the left-of-center and rather bizarre anti-corporate rheotirc that vaccine haters usually spout off has been accompanied by a strong dose of right-wing misinformation as well. It's worth reading, check it out.

Of the entire essay, I think this part is especially worth noting:

When you attack vaccinations, you are really helping Big Pharma out. First of all, you’re being an anti-science crank, and it allows Big Pharma to paint all critics as anti-science cranks, even though with legitimate concerns. Second of all, you’re distracting people from the real issues. The real issues are how they test experimental drugs (in some cases, like the link above), and how they spend their R&D money. People who are freaking out about vaccinations are generally not the same people who are pointing out that drug companies spend all this money on developing mildly different kinds of erection drugs instead of spending that money researching new drugs that we really need, such as more vaccinations. And getting the spotlight off the real problems with drug companies is exactly what Big Pharma wants.

Thanks to Skepchick for the link.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is This Greed?

Kay is running her Seven Deadly Sins festival for the sixth week (one week left).

One of the problems with discussing the Seven Deadly Sins is trying to determine where they begin – that is, when does a healthy sex drive turn into lust? When does to need to relax and not be constantly vigilant become sloth? Where is the line that divides confidence from pride (and really, isn’t the sin hubris, and not pride, anyway)? Where does a desire to acquire goods in order to be relatively comfortable shift into greedily grabbing all that one can?

In the case of greed, it seems that the line is especially subjective and difficult to place. Is it a sign of greed that I tend to store money, saving it for the future, when there are worthy causes to which I can give it now? Certainly, there’s no harm, and a lot of good, in putting money away. However, can I become so fixated on saving money that I fail to do necessary good with it? And is this greed, as the acquisition of money for concern of future need is the motivating factor and not simply financial gain?

I have been struck by this question in the last two days, as I have discovered that, for reasons based on the general oddity of my health insurance policy, I currently owe around $1500 dollars in medical bills. I have the money, and normally would only be slightly annoyed. However, because of a series of events in the last few months, I have had to spend a large amount of money out of my savings account, and it is currently only half of the size that it was on January 1st.

But, of course, this is the entire reason why I have a savings account, so that I can have money ready when the unforeseen occurs, and this money is serving the purpose for which I have saved it. However, I can’t shake the anxiety that I have on paying it out. In other words, the money, though benign in of itself, has gotten a bit of a hold on my psyche, and I can’t stop worrying even though I have nothing to worry about. So, now, is this desire to hold and obtain more money but not spend it even under appropriate circumstances a sign of greed, or simply a sign of me being a worrier?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plane Crash Part 4

This is part 4 of this series. If you have not already, you may want to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.


So, now we come to the 4th and final part of the series on excavating a WWII-era plane crash. In this installment I have no interesting finds, strange characters, or emotional moments. This section is about the efforts that my boss and I made to determine what was to be the regulatory status of the plane crash site itself.

First, I have to give some background – this may not be very exciting, but it’s necessary to understand what happened, so please bear with me.

There is a series of laws that apply to historic sites*, whether archaeological sites, historic buildings, important landmarks, or anything else. If there is any federal involvement, then the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) applies. This law provides some limited protection to historic properties that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The degree of protection depends on which federal agency is involved, as well as circumstances particular to each case – some important sites may receive no protection under certain circumstances, but other circumstances will see even the most humble site being treated well. However, for a site to even be considered for protection or mitigation, it must first be eligible for the NRHP – not necessarily listed on the NRHP but eligible. If a project takes place on Federal land, it is usually only the NRHP that applies (there are, of course, exceptions).

In order to be eligible for the NRHP, a property must retain integrity (in other words, it must be able to convey its significance, how it retains integrity varies by type of property), be of sufficient age (usually 50 years old**, although a property of exceptional importance may qualify for the NRHP at an earlier age), and meet one of the following criteria***:

A) Be associated with important events
B) Be associated with important historic figures
C) Have exceptional value in terms of art/aesthetics, engineering, or be exceptionally representative of a particular period of time, tradition, or method of construction
D) Is likely to produce information important to our understanding of history or prehistory.

A property that is 50 years of age or older, maintains integrity, and meets one of these four criteria is eligible for listing on the NRHP, and therefore may be subject to mitigation or protection measures, depending on the nature of the project that may impact them.

Within California, if a project does not take place on federal land, then the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) applies. Treatment of historic properties under CEQA are similar to treatment under the NHPA (even the same criteria are used), but the focus is on California’s history or local history, and not national history, as is the case with the NHPA, and CEQA is concerned primarily with properties listed on the California Register of Historic Resources (CRHR) rather than the NRHP. The specifics of the process, and who the players are and the roles the play change, but there are more similarities than differences as far as evaluating historic properties is concerned.

One level down there are city and county regulations and ordinances, but most of these either state that the city/county will comply with CEQA, pay lip service to historic preservation without giving specifics, or apply primarily to historic architecture with only limited reference to archaeology.

One other thing that needs to be explained – all of this takes place within the context of environmental review. As practiced in the United States, environmental review, usually conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA – that’s the last acronym, I promise), is about the process, not the conclusion. People often claim that the environmental laws prevent construction or stop projects, etc. I call bullshit on this – the laws are about process, not about conclusion or protection, and projects are stopped by decision making on the part of developers and government agencies, not be the laws. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either wholly ignorant of the process or is intentionally lying to you.

Okay, that’s the regulatory setting. Still with me? Good. I promise this gets more interesting.

This was not a normal project. Normally you perform a small-scale excavation or perform a structural assessment in order to determine whether or not a property is eligible for the NRHP or CRHR. In this case, because of the nature of the property, we had to excavate all that we could first and then determine what was to be done with the site afterwards. The remains were with the coroner, and the wreckage was being taken care of in conjunction with the Navy. Now we had to determine whether or not the plane wreckage or the site of the crash were eligible for either the NRHP or the CRHR, and determine from there whether or not there needed to be any further efforts to protect or mark the location. I should say that, in the end, the pipeline’s owner decided to do some work to mark the spot and show respect to the pilot and gunner. They were not required to do so, but they did nonetheless.

So, the first thing that we had to do is determine what kind of property we were dealing with. Was it an aircraft? Well, for the purposes of this project, no. The plane had been smashed on impact, and lacked integrity as an aircraft. Essentially, from a regulatory standpoint, it had ceased to be an airplane the moment that it broke apart.

Okay, so was it an archaeological site? As it turns out, yes. Archaeological sites, from a regulatory standpoint, can be thought of as the residues of past human activity. As a location of a plane crash containing a fair amount of wreckage but no standing objects or structures, this certainly met that description. So, did it maintain integrity? That’s a tougher call. After the crash, there was some recovery of material, thus disturbing the crash site. However, if you consider the Navy’s recovery of material as part of the events of which the site are the remains, then yes, the site does maintain integrity. To add to this, sediments from a flood quickly covered the location and the crash site was essentially sealed from disturbance. So, it’s kind of a tough call, but I argued that, as an archaeological site, the crash site did maintain integrity. And it was over 50 years old, it was, in fact, 63 years old.

Okay, so does it meet one of the criteria for listing on either the NRHP or the CRHR? Well, to determine that, we had to work out what the historic context of the plane was.

Well, the broad context is World War II. However, that’s big and vague, too big and vague to be useful as any number of things are related to WWII, and only a few of them are likely to gain any sort of legal recognition, and nothing about this crash was especially evocative of WWII (a requirement for listing under Criterion A) so we had to narrow it down. World War II aviation – better, but still big and too vague to be useful. But the plane was on a training mission when it crashed…ah, now we have the proper context – WWII aviation training, and California was a hub for aviation training.

Okay, so now we had to figure out if the crash site qualified for the NRHP or CRHR under Criterion A. Was this training mission especially important in the context of the war? No, it was a standard training mission. Was the crash itself important, either on a national level, a state level, or a local level? No, training crashes were a common occurrence during WWII. One estimate holds that more planes crashed during training during one month in 1944 than were shot down during the Battle of Midway. Also, other than adding some unique elements to local folklore, the crash did not have an impact on the “broad patterns of local or state history.” An argument could be made that the crash was relevant to the history of the county in which the crew were stationed, but the crew were stationed in Stanislaus County and the crash occurred in Monterey County, and because of the way that the regulations are written, this meant that the crash could not be considered locally relevant.

Okay, so it doesn’t apply under Criterion A. What about Criterion B?

Well, the pilot and the gunner were trainees, and as such had not yet had a chance to make a name for themselves as either aviators or military personnel. Neither had a strong claim to fame outside of their military careers. So, this crash site was not considered eligible for the NRHP under Criterion B.

The plane, as described, lacked all structural integrity, and therefore Criterion C was right out of the question.

So, then, we have Criterion D, the ability of the site to contribute important information to the study of history. Because the plane crash was disturbed, and then left to deteriorate for a period of over six decades, it was unlikely to yield useful information regarding flight training, historic aviation, or the lives of WWII military personnel. Other sources, written and physical, have the ability to produce the same information that might be produced from further study of this crash site, and these other sources would likely produce better information.

So, in the end, the site was recommended not eligible for the NRHP or CRHR. I called the State Office of Historic Preservation to see what they thought, and they agreed, though I have yet to receive a final confirmation.

And with that, my involvement with the plane crash site ended.

*In both legal and technical terms, the terms site, property, building, structure, object, landmark, etc. all have very specific meanings. In addition, the terms cultural resource, cultural property, historic property al have very different legal and regulatory meanings. For the purpose of this entry, I’m going to use these terms more-or-less interchangeably, as they don’t particularly matter to people outside of the historic preservation and research community, but be aware that there are probably archaeologists out there reading this and foaming at the mouth because I am treating these terms in such a cavalier fashion.

**When the law was originally passed in the 1960s, this applied primarily to WWI-era and earlier resources. In fact, I have read numerous reports written during the 1970s where Great Depression-era sites and properties were written off because they were a mere 30-40 years old. Now, however, sites of that era are considered to be very valuable to historic archaeologists. Also, we are now having to consider the tract-houses of the 1950s when we look at evaluating properties – an unforeseen circumstance in the 1960s legislation, but these properties do tell us a lot about our history as a culture and a nation, and therefore may be valuable.

***The actual wording of the law spells out these criteria in considerably more detail. I’m simplifying them here because the full text isn’t necessary to understand the general process, and only becomes relevant when you are in the process as a professional. But if you like, the full text is here, straight from 36 CFR 60.4:

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and

(a) that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

(b) that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

(c) that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

(d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.

The Devils of Mt. Mulligan

Yeah, I know, I said I won't make a habit of cross-posting, and I won't, but this is another one relevant to both this site and the ghost story site. I promise I won't cross-post more except where the stories are relevant to anthropology.


Mount Mulligan is known to the Djungan people of northeast Australia as Ngarrabullgan, and it is said that it is home to Eekoo – mountain devils or spirit-people who dwell in the mountains and cause danger and sickness to fall upon those who travel to the mountain. This is especially problematic, as there are numerous water sources on the mountain, while the surrounding area is extremely arid. Only powerful shamans should venture to the mountain, as they alone have the strength to ward or fight off the Eekoo.

Commentary: This story is representative of two aspects of Australian Aboriginal culture. The first is the “habitation” of the landscape with beings who hold great significance in the cosmology and mythos. The other is the use of mythology to warn against entering a dangerous place.

The question in this case is: why is Ngarrabullgan a dangerous place?

The answer is not known. What is known is that it was not always seen as a dangerous place. Archaeological sites dating from before 600 years ago are relatively common on the mountain. And then, suddenly, the number of sites drops off. Something occurred around 600 years ago that made this location less hospitable – whether it was a ecological change and the mythology changed to prevent people from wasting their time looking for resources, or a social change in which only shamans were to have direct access to the mountain’s resources is unknown. Regardless, it appears likely that tales of supernatural menace on the mountain began around 600 years ago.

SOURCES: Academic Publication

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Channel Island 'Antap - and New Ghost Story Blog

As those of you who know me personally know, I have long had a hobby of collecting ghost stories. I have decided to start compilign them in another blog - Sluggo's House O' Spookiness where I will describe the stories and give some commentary on them. For the record - I don't believe in ghosts, but I love the stories.

The below entry is cross-posted over there because it seems like a story that could fit in to both blogs. I don't plan on making a habit of cross-posting though.


Although the native peoples of the area, the Barbareno and Ventureno Chumash, had many stories about the islands, two are of particular interest here, and both were collected by anthropologist J. P. Harrington.

STORY 1: The first story concerns an Italian fisherman in the employ of a Chumash man. They go out to Santa Barbara Island during a fishing trip, and find a large rock containing a cave off of the shore of the island. The top of the cave contains a vent hole, and the Italian man climbs up to it and looks in. He begins acting strangely and returns to the boat. On the trip back to the mainland, the Italian tells his employer that he had seen two men in the cave, both Chumash, and that when water would rush into the cave, they would stand and begin blowing their ceremonial whistles. The Chumash employer returns home and tells his relatives of this. And elderly relative informs him that the whistling ceremony began on Santa Barbara Island, and that anyone who witnesses it will soon die. Not long after that the Italian man drowns while working off of the coast of Santa Barbara.

STORY 2: The second story concerns an Anglo-American (in the mid 19th century, these distinctions mattered) and a Chumash boy who went to Santa Cruz Island to gather abalone. The Anglo man found a cave in the rocks in which he saw two men with a bullroarer and an elderwood flute practicing ceremonial dances. When the water was at high tide, the cave was hidden, but at low tide it was exposed. As waves crashed into the cave, the two dancers were not affected. The man and the boy left to return to the mainland. On the way back, the man fell out of the boat and drowned. The boy returned home and told his grandmother what he had seen. She told him that he had seen the ‘Antap, a dangerous thing to see, and she gave him a potion made of toloache (Jimson weed) to prevent evil from coming to the boy.

Commentary: Probably the two most common things that one hears when an alleged haunting is discussed are: the location of the haunting is built on an “Indian Burial Ground” (usually nonsense), the other is that “The Native Americans have stories about this being a bad place” (also usually nonsense). There are many Native American stories about supernaturally dangerous places and things, but most of the popular ghost stories that claim a Native American link make that claim falsely. But not these two.

These stories, as noted, were collected by the early Californian ethnographer J. P. Harrington. Harrington was an odd and rather controversial figure who has gained both loyalty and notoriety amongst those with whom he lived and worked. ex-wife even wrote a tell-all book about her life with him in an age before tell-all books were the rage. The family of the woman who took care of Harrington in his old age, with whom I am acquainted, claim that the ex-wife’s book is all exaggeration and lies. Personally, I don’t claim to know, but I do know that he was a colorful character and a fascinating story in and of himself.

These stories are interesting because they show the continuation of older traditions, but also the way that those traditions were changed by the arrival of Europeans. The ‘Antap were an actual group in Chumash society – a religious/ritual organization that could only be entered if one’s parents paid for one’s entry during childhood. In order to rise through the ranks of Chumash society and become a person of high status, one must be a member of the ‘Antap. Like many traditional and “mystery cult” organizations, the ‘Antap held that it was dangerous for the uninitiated to witness ceremonies. As a result, the ‘Antap’s ceremonies, and many aspects of ‘Antap society, remained shrouded in secrecy, and the ‘Anatap themselves seem to have become boogie men towards the end of the prehistoric period. By the early 20th century, many have ceased viewing the ‘Antap as human shamans and ritualists at all, and have come to view them as supernatural beings, as seen in these stories (it should be noted, though, that many people continued to view them simply as powerful humans – shamans, sorcerers, or even assassins, but human nonetheless). As such, the ‘Antap had now become associated with places of magical danger.

SOURCE: Academic Publication