The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anthropology, Secret Societies, and Modern Politics

In a previous post in which I wrote about the political organization known as the Family, I wrote about how their philosophy was really just the latest re-packaging of the concept of the divine right of kings. I also mentioned that the Family is rather reminiscent of a common anthropological phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the vocabulary that anthropologists use to talk about this particular phenomenon is remarkably similar to the vocabulary that conspiracy believers use, or to terms that have become pejoratives and been stripped of their descriptive meaning in common use. So, please, keep that in mind when reading this. I am not assuming that the Family is a vastly powerful arm of the Illuminati or some such nonsense. The terms I use (which will include "secret society" and "cult") I use because they are the correct anthropological terms, not because I am trying to go for shock value.

Okay? Okay.

So, anyway, in anthropological terms, the Family is both a secret society and a cult. A cult is simply a group that is organized around a shared set of rituals and/or beliefs. By the anthropological definition of the term, every religious group is a cult, and arguably many political and social groups would also be considered cults. Secret societies are, just as the term suggests, organizations that keep some important aspect of themselves secret. Some may keep their even their existence secret, but this is unusual. More often, secret societies are well-known to exist, and even their membership may be well known. What they keep quiet is typically what goes on behind closed doors. Most secret societies are organized around a central set of beliefs or rituals, and most (though not all) secret societies are, by definition, cults.

In the case of the Family, they are not what I suppose you could call a "strong" secret society. While they try to not attract attention to themselves, and they don't publish their membership, they also don't go through great pains to hide their membership or their ideals, even letting a journalist (Jeff Sharlet) live in one of their houses and speak with many of their members. Nonetheless, they do strive to prevent their members from mentioning associations with the Family, especially when proposing policy that the Family favors. And the organization of the Family involves placing members into "prayers cells" in which each member keeps their eyes on the other members (the Family describes this as "keeping them accountable), which "encourages" members to conform to the group's norms and keeps information generated within the Family in small circles.

So, while the Family doesn't go through the efforts to hide itself or its membership that some groups have been known to, and has even allowed its general philosophy to be learned by a journalist, it does qualify as a cult and a secret society: it tried to remain more-or-less hidden while working in its area of influence (by preventing its members from flaunting their membership, especially when doing policy work), it is organized in such a way as to keep scrutiny on its membership, and it is organized around an esoteric (arguably mystical, with its origin story involving the founder receiving a personal message from Jesus) understanding of a major religion.

So, in order to understand this better, let's put this into a broader context.

Cults and secret societies are nothing new. Every human society that we know of had a religion, and therefore had cults. The concept of elite cults, those that cater to/keep an eye on the powerful, is probably as old as human social hierarchies. Cults are neither new nor alarming. So, let's stop worrying about that for the moment, shall we.

What about secret societies? Well, these have been pretty common. In most cultures, there are organizations that engage in the transmission of specialized ritual knowledge only to the initiated, and the initiated may only come from one segment of society. In some groups, this means that all men are members of one cult and all women are members of another. In other cultures, only members of particular lineages are allowed to be members of a particular secret society, while in still others it is based on wealth. Very often, it is held that the beliefs and concepts in which initiates are trained would be dangerous (sometimes even physically dangerous) to non-initiates.

In prehistoric California, along the Santa Barbara Channel, there was a secret society known as the 'Antap (the term 'Antap comes from the native word for Jimson weed, a hallucinogenic that was used in society rituals). In order to be a member of the 'Antap, one must be initiated as a child, having had the membership purchased by one's parents. Without being a member of the 'Antap, you would be hard-pressed to rise to a position of prominence. At the same time, there is evidence that the eligibility for membership was largely dependent on being from the correct, "noble" lineages. If one looks into the mythology of the region, there is evidence that the 'Antap were feared as powerful sorcerers and/or shamans. So, in this region, a Secret Society was used to organize leaders, and also possibly to create a threat of supernatural power to those who might oppose the existing power structure, though it may also have served to give the belief in supernatural power to those who were in power so that they might be more bold.

Moving into ancient Rome, we find another sort of secret society - the mystery cult. These were cults in which initiates were introduced to new or esoteric beliefs regarding either the known and popular gods of Rome, or else were introduced to new or foreign gods. Membership was often (though perhaps not exclusively) reserved to those who could afford the cost of early fees or offerings. These organizations might serve the psychological needs of their members better than the Imperial cult or the ethnic cults, and/or they might serve to make social connections and help form political alliances between members of Roman society.

Even early Christianity, though different from the mystery cults in many ways, had many aspects of the secret society - members often kept their association quiet, meetings were held in secret, and while the tenets of the religion weren't exactly secrets, they were so widely misunderstood that they might as well have been.

Continuing up through history, we see elements of Secret Societies in the way that Medieval priests were considered to be the only people allowed to read and interpret the Bible. The Jewish Cabala, long before it was the celebrity belief du-jour of Madonna, began as a mystical movement (or rather, several mystical movements, as there are several Cabalas) that had many aspects of the secret society as well. Many trade guilds were essentially secret societies organized around the protection of the artisans and tradesmen that were members.

During the Renaissance and up through the enlightenment, many new secret societies formed. Some were attempts to resurrect ancient Greco-Roman mystery cults, others were new political and/or scientific organizations. Most of these were short-lived (ironically, the Illuminati, probably the most feared of these secret societies in modern conspiracy-mongering circles, lasted only a few decades before falling apart), but some, such as the Freemasons, continue to this day.

On into the modern day, secret societies are still common. The Freemasons, and other associated groups, are found in almost every town in the western world. Fraternities and Sororities, with their central rituals, initiation practices, and assumed lifetime membership, are themselves secret societies. The Mormon Church, with its desire to prevent non-members from entering the Temples, is structured as a secret society. There are numerous secret societies within Catholicism, and even a large number in mainstream Protestantism.

And, generally, there's little wrong with this. When people go on about the Mormon temples, or the Skull and Bones club, or the Knights of Malta, or any of a number of other groups, I am filled with a gigantic sense of "so what?" Most of these organizations have only minimal impact on non-members, and are simply the latest manifestations of very old human organizational principle, and really nothing to be too terribly worried about.

Some of these practices can even be useful. While a jury is not a secret society, there are elements of the secret society structure that are involved in jury formation and selection. Likewise with military and police departments - not secret societies, but borrowing from some of the organizational principles. Intelligence organizations - oh, yeah, heavy secret society elements there, too. Which is, like it or not, necessary for these sorts of organizations to function.

Where they should be scrutinized, and laid bare, is where groups such as the Family try to influence public policy that impacts all of us, and not just members. Secret societies in religion and social gatherings are fine, but in a government in which the public is expected to take part and make informed decisions? Well, having a group that tries to not be seen influencing public policy is horribly distorting to that process (in fact the Family leadership often talks about how their strength is their invisibility). So, here's to the journalists telling us about such groups.

But, always keep in mind, this sort of organization is nothing new, and long after the Family is gone, other groups will do the same thing, just as other have in the past. It seems to be a basic behavior that is embedded in the human social fabric. And also keep in mind that while such groups are bad for a government such as ours, there are many other factors at work - such as generally financial political corruption - that are much worse. The Family is simply the latest in a long line of secret societies. We shouldn't pay it more heed than necessary simply because it looks mysterious, lest we lose sight of other, bigger threats.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Photographic Evidence of my Dark Side Connections

I promised in an entry earlier this week that I would post some photos from the presentation that I gave at Lucasarts, so here they are (please note, all of these photos came from my girlfriend Kay's camera, and most were taken by her).

Jawas dig me.

I have written before about various different...for lack of a better word I'll call them "adventures" that I have had due to my career path. Whether it be getting stuck in the mountains, encountering boats in the desert, having near-panic attacks on helicopters, battling macrobiotic dieters, being attacked by hornets, or having weird run-ins with cattle, I have had some very, well, unique experiences. Of all of these, though, the coolest by far happened recently, and that was the opportunity to speak at Lucasarts, one of the subsidiaries of Lucasfilm.

As stated in the previous post, what made this so cool wasn't simply the chance to give a talk on anthropology and use Ewoks and Sand People as my ethnographic examples (though that was very cool), it was also the chance to talk ot some very enthusiastic costumed hobbyists, meet many Lucasfilm employees, and get a tour of Lucasfilm's San Francisco facilities(courtesy of my friend Stacy, who set the whole thing up to begin with).

It was a damn cool day, and here's the photographic evidence.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, the day started with me meeting a group from the Twin Suns Star Wars club from the Visalia area. The fellow in the photos is Barry, who dresses as Obi Wan Kenobi, and in this photo looks as if he is threatening me with a lightsaber (he was actually showing off his prop-building prowess, which is quite remarkable).

After meeting the fine folks from the Twin Suns, we headed to the main lobby, with this delightful statue out front:

Not to quibble, but I really think that Yoda should have been en-pointe with the water spraying from his mouth.

You might think that Lucasfilm would be a wild place, filled with whimsy and amazing things, but as shown in this phot, it really is just a workplace like any other:

At the lobby, we met with the Stormtroopers of the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion, where Kay, her sister, and her father all were interrogated by these minions of the Empire.

...and then time came for me to give the talk:

...leading to the Stormtroopers bringing me in as one of their own. Now I can force the galaxy to do my bidding! (see how Francisco cowers in fear!)

Members of the 501st Legion, Twin Suns, and myself, Kay, and Stacy

But I hid my connection to the Dark Side well, and even the old Jedi Master still sought my counsel:

After the talk, we took the tour. These buildings were filled with movie propos, special effects models, and alot of photo opporuntities. Here's a selection:

And, as a parting gift, here's a photo to warm the very cockles of your heart. Jar-Jar Binks getting what he deserves:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Divine Rights, Ancient Mythology, and Modern Politics

Earlier today, I was listening to an interview with Jeff Sharlet, a journalist who has been writing extensively about the semi-secret sectarian political organization known as the Family. As I listened to the interview I was, as I always am when I hear discussions about this group, by the way in which this organization embodies two things that I remember well from my academic training. The first is historical, the second is anthropological. I'll write about the historical one today, and the anthropological one in the next week or so.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Family began as a religious organization dedicated to recruiting powerful individuals, especially politicians, in order to advance a political agenda that included union-busting and an advancement of lassies-fare free-market economics. It had this agenda because it's founder, one Abraham Vereide, claimed that Christ came to him in a vision and announced that the Christian churches of the world had it all wrong, and that Christians should not be ministering to the poor and downtrodden, but rather to the wealthy and powerful so that the wealthy and powerful could re-shape society into a more Christian mold, thus (allegedly) improving society for everyone. Mind you, by "improving society for everyone," what the leadership of the Family actually means is that they wish to force everyone to obey their own particular interpretation of Christianity, and as this group is both very power-friendly and has a strong current of anti-Catholicism (which they manage to keep under wraps for the most part), their vision of Christianity is likely one that not even most hard-right-wing Christians would recognize.

The organization has traditionally focused on economics, but has recently begun adopting many of the causes of the modern religious right (anti-abortion and anti-homosexual politics), and then running with them. And it has long reached outside the U.S. in its search for powerful men to whom it wishes to minister. It was tied in to U.S. Support for the regime that led to Somalia's current problems, and more recently it has backed Ugandan politicians wishing to push for the death penalty for homosexuals*.

The rationale given for the backing of these sorts of disgusting individuals is that the Family holds that the New Testament is a document not about the things most of us think about - hope, faith, tolerance, etc. - but rather a document about power. David Coe, the current leader of the Family, will often say that those 20th Century men who most understood the Gospel were Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung. He will immediately follow this up by saying that he believes these men to have been evil, and that their policies were reprehensible, but that their rise to power represents that they understood, and that they rose to power because God wanted them there and they are therefore God's representatives on Earth.

And this brings us to the historical concept that this reminded me of - the family's core philosophy is nothing other than a modern re-packaging of the concept of the divine right of kings.

The divine right is a mythological construct, it is a model that seeks to make sense of the condition of the world by reference to the supernatural: if God controls all, then nobody can reach a position of power unless God wants them to do so. Since God controls all, anyone in a position of power, therefore, is there to carry out God's will.** Although it reached its apex with the Medieval Period, it was nothing new even then, and there is archaeological evidence that this sort of belief has been around for as long as humans have had permanent social stratification (so, for at least the last 10,000 years or so).

This concept began to be eroded in the west with the rise of a middle class during the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods - even the Magna Carta, though preserving an aristocratic social order, helped to ease this out of the way. Governmental changes in northern Europe during the Renaissance introduced new, non-monarchic models, damaging the divine right concept even further. By the late 18th century, it was struck a fatal (though slow) blow by the rejection of monarchies in what would become the United States and in France (though France reinstated a monarchy, and an empire with Napoleon Bonaparte, before too terribly long).

By the dawn of the 20th century, royalty was becoming obsolete, and by the middle of the century, even powerful countries that retained a monarchy (such as the United Kingdom) either relegated their monarchs to largely ceremonial roles or greatly diminished the monarch's power and influence.

And so, here in the early 21st Century United States the notion that anyone is divinely appointed rather than being selected based on merit seems weird and un-natural. However, this belief is itself the creation of a modern mythology about American meritocracy (the actual rode to power in the modern U.S.A. is paved with many different materials, merit only one of them, and sometimes a minor one).

Regardless, the idea that those in power, whether there through inheritance, conquest, or election, are chosen by God is a natural consequence of the belief that God is all-powerful. That even most religious people in the western world today don't recognize this speaks to the fact that most people don't really think through the propositions that they claim to believe to their conclusions. In some believers, such a belief can actually be beneficial to social cohesion after political upsets ("well, I voted for McSmarty, but McBrainy won, such is the will of God, and I suppose I'd better work to make things good under McBrainy"), but as is shown by the rather odd alliances formed by the Family, and by pretty much all of Medieval history, this can also be a destructive force in that it provides a way for those who support despots to persuade themselves that they are doing what is good and right.

The Family's activities are, at any right, proof that ideas that most of us had thought dead with the end of the chastity belt as a fashion accesory are in fact alive and well. Perhaps it's simply a permanent part of humanity's cultural landscape.

* Listen to the interview for further information, and while you're at it, write to the White House and your elected representatives and let them know that you oppose these sorts of human rights abuses. Uganda is dependent on U.S. assistance in a number of ways, and as such, we can do some good here.

** A similar idea underlies the trial by combat: clearly you can not win a fight unless God wants you to win it, so whoever wins a fight must be on the side of God's righteousness and therefore should be the winner of a trial.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Teaching Anthropology to Stormtroopers

So, yesterday I woke up early, made the trek up to San Francisco's Presidio, and did the Voodoo that I do so well. I delivered the talk.

Things got off to a rough start. An old friend of mine was driving from Portland to Los Angeles, and needed to stop at my place for the night. This was not a problem. However, the fact that he didn't arrive until nearly midnight and I needed to be gone around 7 the next morning was a problem. So, Kaylia and I dragged our sorry carcasses out of bed, got in the car, fortified ourselves with coffee, and headed north to San Francisco.

We had prepared for gnarly traffic, but encountering no such thing, we arrived at Lucasarts an hour early - just in time, as it turns out, to pull into the Lucasarts garage and see Obi Wan Kenobi helping two other people pull large plastic boxes out of their car.

This would presage the rest of the day, really.

As we had plenty of time to kill, we went over to have more coffee with Obi Wan and his friends, one of whom would be dressed as a female Tusken Raider before the day was done, the other of whom was just a very pleasant, mellow guy. I also knew that a number of people dressed as Stormtroopers would be joining us at the lecture hall. I have written about bad experiences with costumed hobbyists, and was a bit wary when I heard that such a group would be in attendance. But, as it turns out, these folks were all very friendly, very nice, and had a great sense of humor about what they were up to.

At any rate, we slouched about with the costumers for a while, first at the coffee shop, and then at the Lucasarts lobby, and finally my friend Stacy (who had set this whole thing up) came to gather us. We headed over to a small theatre, where the stormtroopers, Jedi, Sand People, and Lucasarts employees got comfortable, and I set up my computer to start the presentation.

My original intention had been to give a brief overview of anthropological theory and then spend most of my time talking about how this might be applied to alien races in Star Wars. In the end, I actually ended up using Star Wars as a way of introducing topics that are of interest to anthropologists and archaeologists, and providing a large number of examples to illustrate points from North America and Australia.

The talk done, we headed over to the dining area. I realized two things:

A) Lucasfilm employees have the best cafeteria on the planet. Aside from a wide variety of outstanding food, they also have views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

B) There are very few things more surreally funny than watching a Stormtrooper do such mundane things as order a sandwich and get Coke from a soda fountain.

From there, Stacy led us on a tour of the facilities, including the opportunity to look in on ILM's offices/workshops in San Francisco, and also the chance to check out the merchandising office. All in all, it was a very cool back-scenes look at how Lucasfilm works.

I was also asked if I would give the talk again. And, if invited, I think I will.

Kaylia took photos, and I will post some in the next few days. In the end, we had very sore feet, were very tired, but were very happy that we had come. It was an excellent experience, and one that I would welcome again.

I wonder, if I were asked to speak again, if they would be interested in a talk on the archaeology of San Francisco. That is a fascinating topic.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Other Side of Raiders of the Lost Ark

Egypt, 1936

What the Hell?

I mean, really, what the Hell?

Am I the only soldier in the Reich smart enough to not climb onto the side of a moving truck? Especially when that moving truck is being driven by a...a...what the Hell nationality is that guy anyway? Is he French? He must be French.

No, he doesn't have the same accent as that Belloq guy. And, besides, would a Frenchman really be running around the desert wearing a leather jacket?

He looks like he wants to be a cowboy. Maybe he's American. No, no, those wheelchair-electing, corn-fed, pseudo-neutral bastards are way to pansy-ass to be kicking around in the desert, so far away from Jack Benny and baseball. Linberg's too good for them.

Nah, what's the old saying? Only mad dogs and Englishmen? Yeah, only a fucking brit would be stupid enough to be wearing a leather jacket in Egypt during the summer. Yeah, he's gotta' be English. That's probably why he's unshaven, he's hoping that his scruffy appearance will distract us from his bad teeth. What was his name, anyway? Jones? Yeah, Jones. Jones is an English name, I think.

Whoa, damnit! The truck swerved again...and I hear the palm fronds rubbing against the side...and there goes Ernst and Freidrich rolling on the road behind us. You idiots! That's what happens when you climb on a moving truck.

Damn it all. Life was going so well. Ilsa and I are about to celebrate our tenth anniversary. I've finally paid off that house out near Munich. And now der Fuhrer has us gallivanting all over the place looking for "ancient occult artifacts." I didn't join the army to look for artifacts! I joined the army to get the money to pay off the house, and maybe to serve my country. I figured that at best I'd be at some sweet post in the homeland for a few years, and at worst I'd be fighting like a soldier is supposed to.

But instead I get stuck watching a bunch of guys dig holes in Egypt. Fucking Egypt.

And why are we out here? To find the Ark of the Covanent...wooooo...spooky! It's a fucking gold box. If der Fuhrer wants a fucking gold box why the fuck doesn't he fucking make a fucking gold box in fucking Berlin? You don't fucking have to go all the way out to fucking Egypt to fucking find a fucking gold box!


I'm really beginning to winder about this Fuhrer guy. I mean, yeah, at least he's not as bad as the Weimar government (though that's like listing diseases that are better than Syphilis), and he got the economy functioning again. But now he's getting weird and obsessive and racist and shit.

Ahhh! The truck swerved again...and there go Johann and Werner. Let's see, that leaves Gunther. Gunther's tenacious, he'll get this Brit.

Oh, hey, a gunshot. That was definitely a Luger. Good, Gunther just shot the bastard. He'll have this truck under control in no time, and then we can go pick up the others.

So, yeah, anyway....weird and obsessive and racist. I hear that he's got someone else out looking for the Holy Grail, that he wants to invade Paris because he thinks that the bones of Napoleon are magical...and I am beginning to think that those stories about him thinking there's a hole in the north pole that you can fly planes through aren't just stories.

He's kind of a yahoo. Why did we let him take power any...

Gah! Can't that guy drive in a straight...oh...there's Gunther...he doesn't look too badly hurt...but he's definitely not getting back on the truck...


I suppose I'd better kick the fucking cockney bastard out of the cab. But I'm sure as hell not climbing on the side, let's see if I can lift myself up top...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sexism and Field Archaeology

The author of the Digging the Dirt blog (if you don't read his blog, then you really should) has an interesting post about sexism in archaeology. Within the post there is a discussion of the role that sexism plays in whether or not women pursue a career in archaeology.

And this leads me to a couple of questions. The first is whether or not sexism plays a more significant role in archaeology than in society in general, and the second is whether or not my own professional behavior is at-fault.

To the first question, the BWA (British Women in Archaeology)* states that 1 in 3 women in archaeology have experienced sexist comments while at work, and 60% know someone who has. To be honest, I am surprised that the number is that low**, but it would be fair to say that any level is unacceptable. Likewise, an article in the September 2008 edition of the Society for American Archaeology's newsletter the Archaeological Record found that women were significantly more likely to have experience with the career plateau-effect known as the "glass ceiling"***, illustrating that sexism in the workplace isn't just a British phenomenon.

As with all fields of employment, the role of women is increasing (and their well-being improving) within archaeology, according to two Society for American Archaeology Bulletin articles on the subject, though problems such as pay disparities continue.

This matter is made a bit more complicated by the fact that our academic training would generally lead us to regard women as our equals (both due to the content of coursework and the fact that half or more of our fellow students are women). However, there is a very definite macho culture amongst many field archaeologists (especially the older field technicians) that tends to alienate many women entering the field. The two seem to balance each other out, but both are very much present.

If you follow the hyperlinks here, you'll see that this pretty much squares with what is seen in other lines of work.

While, no doubt, many people will seek to explain this away with claims about fundamental differences between men and women leading to different competencies, an analysis of actual differences between men and women in terms of cognitive, personality, and leadership traits indicates that such claims are essentially myths propped up by our culture's mars/venus confirmation bias rather than fair observations of reality.

This is, however, not an easy issue. Cultural assumptions about the role of women in family life may play a role, and these assumptions are difficult to deal with (though, like everything else involved here, they have been changing). It has also long been assumed that women might not rise to positions of higher authority because of career choices, but there is evidence to suggest that this isn't true.

Regardless, what is seen in archaeology indicates that it has the same issues as the rest of society, which is not good for women, but is an improvement over what it had been. Whether or not progress with continue or things will stagnate is open to question, but there is reason to be at least cautiously optimistic. It is well to be aware of the problems, and to do things to try to correct them where and when we can.

Okay, so on to the second issue - as a project manager, is my own behavior part of the problem?

This is difficult to assess. Of course, I want to say "no." I hire many women to work as field technicians, and the hires who I choose (as opposed to those who my boss or colleagues urge me to choose) are around 50% women. Of the people who I trust both as field techs and as other project managers or co-managers, the majority of them are women - but to be fair this is likely due in large part to the fact that most of the project managers in my company are women, rather than being due to my own preference. When I think of field techs who I am willing to bring onto projects or suggest for promotion, there are slightly more women than men on the list but all such promotions are justified based on their experience and proven qualifications, I hadn't even realized the gender ratios until I stopped to write this blog entry.

So, on the surface, I am doing rather well in this regard. In fact, I would say that, overall I probably am doing very well. However, regardless of how we may evaluate ourselves, the problem lies in how our assumptions that we may not even be aware of influence our behavior. For example, there's one person I can think of who is astoundingly sexist, to the point that I have heard him blame the current economic problems on women going to work rather than "staying home and being moms and housewives," and he has stated that the sign of a strong and independent woman is that she looks for a husband who is financially capable of taking care of her, and yet he believes that all of his notions are based on good solid facts rather than on really questionable assumptions and bizarre, convoluted reasoning.

So, am I different?

I'd like to think so, and certainly if I am harboring sexist tendencies they are nowhere to the level of that guy's. But the problem is that he doesn't think that he's sexist or misogynistic (despite the fact that he obviously is), which leaves me wondering whether or not the difference between him and I is one of degree rather than type.

In the end, all that I can do is keep in mind that I may have biases that I am not even aware of, and to try to spot them when they creep up. In doing so, perhaps I will be able to do my part to improve the situation within my field.

* While I think that the existence of a group such as this is a good thing and I am happy to know if its existence, I was struck by this apparently self-contradictory statement on the website: [The BWA] does not exclude men but does provide a women's-only forum. There may be a good argument for having a women-only forum, but how do you "not exlude" someone by exluding them?

** It should be noted that this is based on a survey with 85 respondents, and without a description of the survey methods, definitions of what constitutes a sexist comment, etc. All of which means that these results should be taken with a grain of salt. The reality could be worse or better than these results indicate, we just don't know.

*** Neal, L. "Glass Ceiling Syndrome for Women in Archaeology", in the SAA Archaeological Record (8) 4: 31-24.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ewok Archaeology

A few months back, while I was sitting in a hotel room with the air conditioner turned up full-blast in the vain hope of avoiding the 110 degree evening in western Kern County, I received an email from a friend of mine who works at Lucasfilm (appropriately, Return of the Jedi was playing on the television at the time). She informed me that Lucasfilm is in the habit of bringing in experts in different fields to speak about what they do in the hopes that this exposure to other lines of work and points of view will benefit the employees both as professionals and as people.

On the whole, a pretty cool idea, really.

My friend had informed her boss that she knew an archaeologist, and so he asked her if the archaeologist would be willing to come and speak. This email that I had just received was the invitation. Without hesitation I responded in the affirmative, not having the foggiest idea what I would talk about.

Now, if the group that my friend works with was responsible for developing the Indiana Jones property, then this would be easy. I could come up with all sorts of ways that archaeologists can approach our movie pseudo-doppelganger. But this was a group responsible for developing the Star Wars property.

I hadn't a clue.

However, I have, over the source of my career, been very vocal as to the necessity for archaeologists to address the public in new and creative ways (I am a particular admirer of blogger DiggingtheDirt's idea of archaeology gigs), so I figured that I really ought to do this.

And so, sandwiched in between a lot of last minute project deadlines and too much travel, I have been writing a presentation, titled (at my friend's suggestion) "Ewok Archaeology." I am looking at two different groups from Star Wars - the Ewoks and the Sand People - and attempting to use anthropological/archaeological theory to fill in many of their gaps. It's been an interesting project, working my research muscles on a fictional creature, and I am quite enjoying it.

However, I am very nervous about the presentation (public speaking is always nerve-wracking). Still, this may be a way of subtly introducing archaeology and anthropology into places where most people wouldn't expect to see them, and that is very cool.

In retrospect, the University of Corruscant should have seen the flaws inherent in sending children out as ethnographers. However, nobody else would fit the costume.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wonder, Awe, and a Glorious Dawn

One of the things that I find I am often accused of (always by people who don't know me very well, if at all) is that my lack of belief in the supernatural (or, more accurately, my acceptance that most of the symptoms of the supernatural that most people cite are actually easily explained and mundane things) is a clear sign that I lack a sense of wonder and awe about the world. The moment that someone says this, I know that I am speaking with someone who hasn't a clue as to what my views are.

It's true, I don't believe in ghosts, I don't worship gods, and I don't believe that the "ancients" (whoever they are conceived to by the the nit who is bothering me at that moment, from Mayans to ancient Hebrews, from pseudo-historic European tribes to escaped Atlanteans) held the absolute real Truth about the universe. And that is why those who accuse me of lacking a sense of wonder and awe are imbeciles. Belief in these things does not infuse one with a sense of wonder and awe of the world, but instead replaces reality with a safer, more toned-down alternative with which one can play the awe game until it gets scary, and then safely put the thing away. A naive clinging to supernatural beliefs does not suffuse the universe with mystery, instead it places limits on us finding true mysteries by distracting us into thinking that the universe plays by our rules (though we may pretend that these supernatural rules somehow come from elsewhere, they are - and bear all marks of being - products of our own minds).

Getting past these things, however, one is confronted with the very real universe. A place so huge that while our intellects can make the necessary calculations, we can never even truly feel the size of it. A place so old that the age of one planet in it dwarfs our comprehension to the point that many of us go scurrying back to the safety of supernaturalism in order to not have to confront it.

The universe may contain many of the things that our notions of the supernatural hold to. Perhaps there are ghosts, perhaps psychic powers do exist, maybe there are beings powerful enough to be considered gods. While I find these things unlikely, they may be true. The universe is large enough that we have been unable to see even a fraction of it, and we understand even less. But, and here's the key, if these things do exist, odds are that they are just as dwarfed by the vastness of the cosmos as we are here on Earth. Even if they are real, they are only a small part of a much larger whole, and probably no more or less significant than we are. So, again, if the supernaturalists are right, they still are looking only at a tiny corner of the world around them and arrogantly declaring it to be the whole (or at least the most important part of the whole).

And here's the important thing - we have begun to develop the tools necessary to separate what is real from what is simply our perceptions, our wishful thinking, and our arrogance. Obviously, the tools that I am talking about fall collectively under the label of science. It is a curious thing that scientists are often accused of arrogance by the supernaturalists, when the tools that comprise science are all admissions that our own perceptions are limited and fallible and that we need something more reliable if we are to find any sort of truth. Everything from the replicability of experiments to the use of mathematics wherever possible to the requirements of peer review are all admissions of this basic level of humility. Individual scientists can be arrogant, as can any other person, by science itself is only held to be arrogant by those who haven't a clue as to how it works.

And the things that science has shown us - from our early ancestors to the outer reaches of space to the earliest moments of the universe to the inner-world of the sub-atomic particle - are amazing, wonderful, and awe-inspiring. More importantly, science has shown us how little we actually know. The vast majority of stuff filling the universe is referred to as "dark matter", an arbitrary label for a thing or things whose identity we don't know. Likewise, a mysterious force is causing the expansion of the universe to continue accelerating. We call this force "dark energy" because, once again, we haven't a clue as to what it is. Closer to home, we are only now beginning to work out how the brain works, how consciousness functions, and how we think and feel. We are still trying to figure out the paths by which a group of tropical primates spread throughout the world to become the most impactful species on the planet. And the way in which our manufactured tools have become part of our evolutionary path is still unknown.

And you know what, these, and literally millions of other matters both related and unrelated, are real mysteries. I have yet to meet anyone who actually knows of them who hasn't spent a sleepless night pondering the stars, who hasn't had to sit down for a while to consider the mind-blowing fact that they don't contain a single cell that was present in their body at birth, or who hasn't had their mind blown by the realization that within our bodies at the sub-atomic level exist the same processes that exist within every other piece of matter in the universe. Consider further that we would not exist at all had it not been for massive stars converting hydrogen into every other element in the universe before exploding and spreading those materials into the universe.

Mystery? Awe? I have plenty of both, more than any theologian or ghost hunter or self-proclaimed medium. And unlike them I don't have to place topics off-limits to preserve the mystery. I don't have to ignore psychology or brain physiology as the believer in psychic powers or ghosts does in order to preserve my notions about the world. I don't have to declare that the origins of the universe are off-limits (as the Vatican tried to do to a group of physicists including Stephen Hawking) in order to maintain a gap in which a god can hide. I don't have to declare that new data is wrong simply to preserve my pre-existing notions about any topic. The mysteries that I see are real, and when they are solved, they will reveal even more mysteries, like a Russian doll filled with wonder. Arrogantly declaring something to be the truth will not make a bronze-age middle eastern sky diety any more real, not make psychic predictions any more accurate, and won't make pseudo-medicien any less harmful - but putting aside our childish clinging to these things and accpeting that the universe is more amazing than those who have advocated for them has ever imagined will make us better as people, as a species.

The way that we teach science is probably part of the problem. Most non-scientists incorrectly believe that science is the rote memorization of facts, and that the scientific method is a cut-and-dry process rather than the dynamic, amazing, and often messy thing that it really is. We need better communication. Currently, the best people doing this are Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who is, frankly, the coolest scientist ever, that's not my opinion, that's a fact), and Stephen Hawking. In the past, the best was Carl Sagan. But we need more. We need charismatic, intelligent people who can communicate the wonder, awe, fun, and truth of this approach to knowing the world. Who can show why this is both a stimulating and profoundly humbling way of looking at what the universe is, and, as part of the universe, what we are.

In recognition of this, I point you towards this video making the rounds of the internet. It's funny in concept, but actually rather beautiful in execution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Testing (or not) a Psychic Archaeologist

Some time back I posted an entry on an experience that a former boss of mine had with a self-proclaimed psychic archaeologist. I received a number of responses to this entry, but amongst the least expected was an email from someone who was hoping to work as a psychic archaeologist. I have had a few email exchanges with this individual (who I will refer to simply as "M"), and she does seem to be sincere in her belief that she can locate archaeological materials psychically.

Here is M's original email to me:


I stumbled across your web site when I googled "psychic archaeology" and I have a question for you. I'm intuitively gifted and have been working with a teacher to develop these skills. I believe everyone can become "intuitive," or "psychic" if you want, because I think it's just using more of your brain. I also believe that everyone has a unique talent tied to that intuitive side of ourselves. Some people use their intuition to create amazing desserts (I know a psychic pastry chef) and some use it to teach and some use it to heal people (I had a psychic acupuncturist who was fabulous). So, if you are already thinking I'm a freak, then maybe I'm talking to the wrong guy. But alas, I will continue anyway.

I believe my gift is finding things--ancient artifacts to be more exact. I've had some experience with finding people. My intuition led me to solve my aunt's missing person case in 2006. I drew maps and collected information which ultimately led to the townspeople in Missouri finding her body nine months after she died (she died of natural causes and quite simply laid down by the side of the road to die). She was 260 miles from her home and about 20 miles from where her car was later found. She was on the side of the road between two tiny towns in the northwest Missouri. My map was right on. The information I received led me to follow clues and solve the case. More recently, I've been dreaming/visioning on finding ancient artifacts. I think I'm really gifted but I have not had a chance to try it out and see. I'm willing to try it with an archaeologist who is also willing but I don't know anyone. These services would be for free for the first or even second guinea pig just so I can get started and have some early success.

I went to the CPAK conference last year and received psychic hits on the work of every presenter there. I had information for all of them but I did not pass it along. I don't really know how to approach anyone with this. For some reason, I found your site so I'm asking you two questions, I guess. Being an archaeologist, how would you approach another archaeologist if you were me? And, do you have any advice for me or know anyone who might be interested in my services?

I'm quite serious. I have a BA in Psychology from UCLA and a Master's in Educational Technology from SDSU. I work for UCSD right now teaching instructors how to teach online. I'm a wife and mother and I live in San Diego, CA. I'm just curious what you think. I'd love to receive a response--it's OK if you're laughing and just want to tell me to get over it--just let me know what you think.


And here is my response:


I have reviewed your email again. You say that you wish to be able to work with archaeologists and to be taken seriously by them. Understand that most of us have encountered people who claim to have the same abilities that you do, and have generally found such claims lacking. Most of the time, the folks who make these claims are perfectly honest and perfectly sane and have approached us in good faith, but they have proven to be mistaken about what they believe that they can do. Given the education background that you describe, you no doubt know as well as anyone the ways in which our senses and memories can lead us to mistake mundane events and mild coincidences for rather more amazing things. So, this is the stage onto which you are entering. The people who you wish to convince are going to be skeptical, and with very good reason.

Still, if you have the abilities that you claim, that is an extraordinary thing, and it will require extraordinary evidence. Extraordinary evidence is, of course, not easy to come by. You need to ask yourself two questions: 1) are you willing to go through a very long and very strenuous testing process? 2) Are you willing to accept the results of testing, even if it is disappointing to you?

If the answer to either of these questions is "no", then it's probably not worth your energy or time to pursue this matter. If the answer to both of them is "yes", then I can give you some advice, but you will ultimately have to find other, better qualified people to help you out.

If you are going to prove yourself, you will have to be strenuously tested. The test will have to be designed in such a way that it eliminates chance, and such that nobody can honestly accuse you of trickery after the fact. Essentially, it needs to eliminate mundane explanations to the point that if you succeed, it will be clear that you have an unusual ability. This means that you would have to be able to both describe your abilities AND describe the conditions under which they work. It also means that the test will be replicated multiple times to eliminate random chance. Further, it means that the test will have to be performed under conditions of close scrutiny and it probably will be stressful. Even after the testing, the results will be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the test protocols eliminated all reasonable possibilities other than what you describe.

This will be the case not because people distrust or dislike you, and you are not being singled out, but because this is how science works (take it from someone who has written for other researchers, we rake each other over the coals because it is the only way that the truth comes out from our work).

The testing would have to be done by people qualified to do so. This may include archaeologists, but might also include stage magicians (as they often do things by mundane means that appear similar to the talents that you describe for yourself), psychologists, engineers, etc. I am not qualified to do this sort of thing, but if you contact the people at the James Randi Educational Foundation (, they have a lot of experience designing and carrying out test protocols. And don't worry, contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, these folks really are trying to get at the truth of the matter and aren't merely "debunkers" out to discredit psychics.

But before you will be listened to by archaeologists in the field, you will need to be able to demonstrate that you can do what you claim under controlled circumstances. Again, you are not being singled out, this is true of every kind of consultant with whom we work, from forensic canine handlers to tool manufacturers.

Good luck,


I have heard back from M, and in a very kind and politely-worded email, she stated that her choice was to not go through with any form of testing as she says that this would be too restrictive. While I can't say that I am surprised, I was a bit dissappointed. The world would be a better place if all of us were willing to have our beliefs challenged, but ironically it seems that it is typically those who try to exhort the rest of us to "open our minds" who are the least likely to allow themselves to be challenged in such a way.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Caveman Fallacy

Anyone who talks to me, reads this blog, or has been in a room with me for more than ten minutes knows that I am possibly the world's youngest curmudgeon. So, bear that in mind as you read...well, any of my blog entries.

Okay. So, I have been noticing a trend common in both certain types of marketing and in defending particular lifestyle choices that people make. It is really a form of the Appeal to Nature fallacy, but it's a specific form that, as an anthropologist (and especially as an archaeologist) tends to get under my skin. I tend to refer to it as the Caveman Fallacy - and it is the notion that whatever humans do in our "natural" state is what is best for us physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

Before I get into one of the big problems with this, I should note that dealing with this fallacy is complicated by the fact that there is a kernel of good sense buried deep, deep within the recesses of it's ungainly edifice. Examining our evolutionary past can reveal good, useful, and important information about the problems that cause us grief now. For example, understanding the world of our ancient ancestors can help us to grasp why we process information the way that we do in our modern world. Looking at the food gathering habits of modern hunter-gatherers can help us to look for possible ways to address diseases such as diabetes (though, to be fair, it can also reveal why our ancestors tended to die at a young age and have high rates of infant mortality). So, the notion that looking into the human past can yield valuable information for modern peoples is not an unreasonable one. What makes the Caveman Fallacy a fallacy is both the over-simplification of the human past that goes into it, and the way in which it tends to be applied unthinkingly.

Okay, first off, there is the problem of defining humanity's natural state. Some folks refer to this as the "cave man", but of course the cave man, with his tiger-skin cloak and a club with which to whack his intended prey and mate (often one in the same), is really just a creation of popular culture and doesn't actually describe the true human past. This version of the human past has been used to promote everything from high protein diets to aggressive foreign policy. It's bullshit, and is one side of the 18th/19th century tendency to see all non-Europeans as primitive.

The other version, ascendant in the here and now, is that the natural state of humans is that of innocent farmers (occasionally hunter/gatherers), in balance with nature, living a peaceful and idyllic life, with nothing in the way of disease or hunger. This variation is used to sell everything from herbal supplements to manufactured (but allegedly "native") religions aimed at white folk. This version is also bullshit, and is the flip-side of the 18th/19th century tendency to see all non-Europeans as primitive (or in this case, "noble savages").

With a bit of variation, the Caveman Fallacy routinely groups all past (and some present) humans into one of these two categories.

But the truth of the human past is much, much messier. First off, what the hell is humanity's natural state? Ever since we became our present species, a few hundred thousand years ago, we have been using tools. Technology pre-dates us as a species, and therefore if we are to define a natural state as one in which there is no technology to alter the environment, then humans, by definition, do not have a natural state. Some folks will try to skirt this by pointing to some point in our collective past - mobile bands of hunter-gatherers, sedentary bands of hunter-gatherers, early farmers, early town-dwellers, etc. - as humanity's natural state. However, the claim that any of these are more our natural state than any other point in human history is completely arbitrary. Each stage of human culture has held the seeds of everything that was to come later, and each stage bears the marks of what came before. If we have a different society now than that of our early ancestors, it is because of incremental change beginning with the first hominids (or even earlier), and everything we are now is derived from what we were before. We have always used technology to alter our environment, whether it was made of wood and stone or made of silicon and copper - technology is just as much a part of our evolutionary path as upright walking and depth perception. The truth is that we are just as much in our natural state now as our ancestors in the African Savannah were and this belief that human-manufactured things are unnatural comes purely from the rather arrogant belief that we are separate from the rest of the species on the planet*.

In short, either we have no natural state, OR we are still in our natural state. Any claim otherwise is nothing but the creation of an arbitrary and meaningless label.

The second problem comes when the people using the Caveman Fallacy make their claims about the specifics of the human past. They are typically factually distorted, if not outright false (where I come from, people call such claims "fuckin' lies").

For an extreme example, let's take a claim that I have heard made by many raw food proponents. I have heard many of these folks claim that the introduction of cooked foods into the human diet is responsible for many of our current maladies, and that the use of raw foods led to a shortening of the human lifespan. This is not true in precisely the same way that the surface of the sun is not cold. In fact, cooking predates anatomically modern humans, and while there are some foods that are better for us raw, cooking actually "pre-digests" many foods for us allowing us to get more nutrition from most, and making some that would otherwise be inedible both palatable and nutritious. The paleoanthropology and archaeology both back this conclusion up very firmly, and any claim to the contrary betrays an individual completely out of touch with reality.

Then you have variations on a theme used by both the ravenous meat eaters and the pro-vegetarian folks. These folks both claim that our ancestor's diets were very different from our own, and that we should eat as they did for improved health. It is true that their diets were very different, but to claim that eating as they did would lead to better health is debatable at best - bear in mind that it is very recently in human history (really, with the advent of the modern diet, modern sanitation, and modern medical technology) that human lifespans have nearly doubled and our infant mortality rates have dropped. That being said, looking to our evolutionary past may provide useful information about how we process foods as well as why we crave what we crave, and this may be useful in looking to our current health, provided that we remember that what our ancestors ate was not necessarily the optimal diet either (what with limited food choices and seasonal starvation and all).

The difference between the meaties and the veggies lies not in their basic claim, though, but rather in what they believe the past to be like. The meaties see humans of the past as mighty hunters, killing beasts and eating their meat, keeping lean and healthy through the exercise necessary to catch the animals, and through the intake of animal proteins itself. The veggies, on the other hand, look to the past of human the gatherer (interesting to note that the veggies tend to be more gender inclusive in their view of the human past), and see us as natural herbivores eating off of the landscape without need for animal proteins.

Both of these views contain elements of truth, unfortunately filtered through a thick membrane of ideologically-driven psuedoscience. For the meaties: the human lineage has engaged in meat-eating probably since the time of the Australopithecines, if not before. However, this has probably been a mix of hunting and scavenging, "man the noble hunter" is a myth and nothing more. Meat has been important to human evolution (if you look into how we digest it, it is one of the more nutritious foods a human can eat), but most humans gained the vast majority of dietary calories from vegetable foods.

As for the veggies, everything from the tools that accompany early archaeological sites (pre-dating anatomically modern humans by millions of years) to the evidence from biology and physiology (humans have numerous traits of both carnivores and herbivores, an unusual combination) and from primatology (contrary to what many people believe, other primates - most notably chimpanzees - will eat meat when they can get it) indicate that meat has been a part of the human diet from the beginning. It has been a small part of our diet, but if the archaeology, paleoanthropology, ethnography, and biology are any indication (and, umm, they are), then it has been an important part of our diet even if small.

All of this brings us to the third problem with the caveman fallacy - most of the claims about the past ultimately, even if they were true (and they rarely are), have little to do with today. So what if meat has been important to human diets in the past? With the variety of foods available to most of us, the average person living in the U.S. or Europe can gain all of the nutrition they need from vegetable resources today, and there may even be beneficial side-effects to doing so***. By the same token, even if past humans gained most of their nutrition from vegetable foods, a fair (and non-ideological) assessment of the biological and medical literature shows that including meat as part of our diet makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet (although most of us in the U.S. do tend to overdo it and could stand to consume less meat).

Likewise, claims about how human relations worked in the past, about how our ancient religions worked, etc., even if they are true, must be filtered through modern culture, meaning that the past is not as relevant as the present.

But, it must be remembered that the Caveman Fallacy is different from the examination of our past to look for clues to how we evolved or for keys into underlying elements common to humans. For example, consideration of early human environments, such as the African savanna, may help us to understand why human cognition evolved as it did, or why our senses are calibrated as they are. But this is fundamentally different from saying "X is good, because X is what 'natural' humans did!" That is just plain stupid.

*That being said, an argument can be made that we have used technology in a way that has, or soon will, extend our environment's carrying capacity to its limits, and we may be looking forward to a major population crash. If this happens it will not, however, be proof that our current level of technology is unnatural. On the contrary, it will be proof that we are still very much part of the natural world, and that we are just as subject to resource stress and environmental degredation as everything else.

**There are, however, many exceptions, and unless you are going to claim that hunter-gatherers in vegetable poor environments are somehow less natural than you, you can't claim that humans naturally eat little to no meat.

***As someone who enjoys meat, I take little pleasure in informing my fellow meat-eaters that the reality is that cutting down or eliminating our meat eating will likely have good effects on our environment, as well as our wastelines. However, it won't be the panacaea that many folks seem to think it will be, so while it may be a worthy goal, reducing or eliminating meat consumption will only solve a few problems.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Knights Templar Coming out of the Woodwork!

While I was exiled in western Kern County for my recent large project, I was re-acquainted with the History Channel. At this point in time, most of the History Channel's programming seems to be dedicated to whipping up fears over the impending 2012 non-event and trying to persuade their more gullible viewers that everyone from the old salt Nostradamus to Leonardo DaVinci* was a 100% accurate prophet who foretold the end of the world some time in the next few years.

Indeed, the Hysteria Channel would be a better name.

Buried in between these shows, however, are a few of the more run-of-the-mill psuedohistory shows. Amongst these was a show which "gave the evidence" (more like gave the supposition) that the Knights Templar, after having been persecuted in Europe, escaped to North America. The evidence for such a thing is scant, at best. There's the Kensington Runestone, which is far from having been cleared as a hoax. There's rock art that can be interpreted as indicating medieval armored men or European symbols, but if you are familiar with the rock art of the world you tend to find these claims more than a little lacking. There's some enigmatic structures which wouldn't seem out of place for medieval Europeans, but also are very much of types that the colonists from the 17th century onward were building in North America. Other than that, there are a few legends and bits of local lore that seem intriguing, but don't add up to much - a pile of poor, equivocal and vague evidence does not equal a single piece of good evidence, much less a compelling case (contrary to what Sam Spade might have thought**).

What struck me as I watched this was not how ludicrous it was, but rather how frustratingly close the folks on the program were coming without ever quite hitting on the subtle reason why archaeologists and historians don't take them seriously.

These folks have taken a few pieces of messy and unclear evidence, reached their conclusion, and then tried to make their case not by amassing further evidence and working out the proper context of their materials, but rather by ignoring the flaws in their current evidence and building up a case for possibility and mistaking that for probability or even certainty.

What is frustrating about this is that the basic scenario - that a small group of Europeans wandered into the Americas before Columbus - is not all that far-out. We know that the Vikings did it, so the technology and know-how was present in Europe. But if anyone other than the Vikings came over, we have yet to find clear evidence of them in the Americas and they were awfully silent about it in their own written record***. So, we are left with a distinct possibility, one that seems so tantalizing, with absolutely no solid evidence to back it up.

One of the more curious things about the people on the show is that they consistently state thing such as "the archaeological establishment doesn't want you to know about THIS!" I have written before about why that is not true. However, one thing that I left out of the previous discussion is that, contrary to what many of the proponents of these claims say, we wouldn't have to re-write history or prehistory if the claims were proven true.

You see, even if the Knights Templar made it to North America, they did very little that changed the lives of the people living here at the time. They also did very little to change Europe. If they had any significant influence in either place, then there would be much more evidence laying about in the form of changes to the archaeological and alterations to the historic records. If they did make it here, that would be interesting, and it might answer some questions about European history, but at most it would require a very mild tweaking of our histories, and more likely it would be relegated to an interesting but ultimately unimportant footnote.

It would still be good for the career of whoever proved it. After all, it would provide sensationalism enough to sell books and television shows, not to mention motivate funding agencies, and it might provide some interesting information about how humans adapt to unusual landscapes. However, these would still be minor, if glitzy, contributions to both archaeology and history. A small amount of information would be added, but little (if anything) would be re-written.

And that is another element that makes these folks frustrating. In addition to mistaking their wishes and assumptions for facts and data, they also overstate the importance of their alleged findings. And yet, all the while, they accuse us of arrogance. Go figure.

*The Leonardo DaVinci one was particularly hilarious. In it, the producers used a reference in one of his diaries to a nightmare he had as a child coupled with vague water imagery in a couple of his paintings to "prove" that he had predicted a global flood that would destroy humanity.

**Okay, he wasn't looking at evidence but rather reasons to act. Besides, that passage from the Maltese Falcon was pretty damn good, and revealed more about his character than anything else in the book. What does this have to do with prehistoric North America? I haven't a clue, just ignore me.

***One person on the show asserted that "everyone knew about the Americas and were coming here routinely before Columbus!" Really? They were awfully silent about it if they were coming, which one would think that some scribe or another would bother to jot down. Not to mention that, for a continent of people who knew where the continents of the Earth really were, they had some awfully peculiar ideas about the size and nature of the world.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Little After-Halloween Treat

For those of you recovering from last night's festivities, here' a special little something from the Seanachai: