Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 1

A Collector's Cabinet
Hieronymus Francken II, 1578 - 1623
public domain
You often hear some archaeologists claiming that things can disappear into private collections. This probably originates in the media image of the wealthy collector from the forties and the fifties. He is usually sitting in a wing-back armchair in his secret vault sipping a brandy while admiring some stolen work of art. Did such a person ever actually exist? probably not. A more realistic statement from the archaeologists would be that things can disappear into museum collections. Any major museum can only display a minuscule percentage of its holdings. The museums were very much siding with those archaeologists when I first went online in 1995, but now the same archaeologists are now also picking on the museums for not following their ideas about due diligence (needless to say, none of these archaeologists have any personal experience of conducting due intelligence themselves). Very few collectors or dealers are being sympathetic to those museums. There is a saying in Hollywood, something like: be kind to those you meet on your way up, because you will probably meet them again on your way down.

I'm going to have a little fun with this series.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Early North Americans

The shore of Calvert Island, British Columbia
photo: A. Davey
Archaeologists digging on the shore of Calvert Lake in British Columbia, Canada, might have found sets of the oldest human footprints to be found in North America. The footprints could date to thirteen thousand years, but there is a slight snag: the land had risen at that location so the footprints are nowhere near as deep as might be imagined. Because of the unclear stratigraphy, it is also possible that the footprints are only two thousand years old. I hope for the former, of course, but suspect the latter.

Canada Geese on the Columbia at Kennewick, Washington
photo: Bobjgalindo

Just south of British Columbia is the state of Washington and in 1996, on the banks of the Columbia River at Kennewick, skeletal remains were found of a man that was carbon dated to about nine thousand years. Because of the unusual structure of the bones which appeared different from the local native populations, some archaeologists speculated that "Kennewick Man" might have been European. The local natives, said that he was one of their own and fought to be able to conduct a funeral for him. Well, the score is now official: Native population: 1 Archaeologists 0.

Friday, 26 June 2015


Frying up some grub at camp, 1905
I am being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. In the past, I thought that a sophisticated camp site would look something like the photo on the right. My favorite camp site always consisted of a fire that was not too far from two trees where I could set up my string hammock. I would get into the sleeping bag first, and then get in the hammock (it requires a little practice). If there was any chance of rain, I would rig up a plastic sheet on a line above the hammock that was drawn back so I could see the stars when it was clear, and quickly pull it over me if it started to rain. I really don't like tents.

After buying the Delorme inReach Explorer, I finally decided to get a tablet to go along with it. The apps on my tablet can communicate with the GPS/ emergency beacon with Bluetooth, and it doesn't matter if I'm out of WiFi range as long as I have downloaded any apps, maps, etc. first. Monte has suggested setting up an expedition Facebook page so friends and relatives can track our progress. We will have, anyway, a Delorme MapShare page where our routes will be automatically recorded:

For anything that requires WiFi, a drive into Prince George will probably be required. The two way messaging is limited to 160 characters. OMG! am I being primed for Twitter too? Tell me it is not so.

After picking a tablet that seemed appropriate, and sending the link to my daughter, my son in law found a much much better one on sale for not much more. It also is loaded with some useful apps like Google Maps, and even a "turn by turn" GPS app for the car journey. My browser did not like their web site and the "order button" never loaded so my daughter ordered it and might even pick it up from the store instead of getting it shipped. Have a great weekend, I will be learning how to operate my new gizmo.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Space age in the backwoods

Navstar-2F satellite of the Global Positioning System (GPS)
The expedition to get to my friend Monte's land is a month away. Friends and relatives are concerned for our safety and Monte's oldest son is worried that, without a gun, Dad will be eaten by a grizzly. My daughter and son-in- law suggested that I rent a satellite phone as cell-phone reception in the area is almost non-existent.

After looking at various options and their products, I have decided to purchase the Delorme inReach Explorer which advertises itself as "The world’s first satellite communicator with navigation built-in". The cheapest solution would have been the Spot Gen3 emergency satellite beacon, but it has no two-way communication and its satellite plans are by the year. The Delorme inReach Explorer has plans which allow you to suspend service when not needed for only $4.95 a month and to switch back and forth between plans instantly and at no extra charge. A lesser model, the SE, omits the navigation features and just tracks. That might have been adequate for this trip as we are fairly familiar with the surrounding territory, but we could run into a maze of trails in the forest which are not mapped, besides, different trips are certainly in the future and this gizmo works anywhere in the world. An added bonus for the Delorme is that, until the end of this month, I can get a $75 rebate on my satellite service.

Right now, I should get ready to go buy the gadget at Mountain Equipment Co-op, with a few other odds and ends like some bells for us and the dog, bear spray, and protection from the commonest predators of all: bugs.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Loaded for bear

 Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
I will be taking a week's break (give or take) from this blog toward the end of July as I will be going to northern British Columbia (NE of Prince George). It will be the second attempt that my friend Monte and I will make to reach his land. This time, though, we are loaded for bear: 4WD with a winch and extra chain; chain saw; camping equipment, GPS gadgets and of course, bear spray, noise makers, hand flares and a Bowie knife (that's a knife).

As the hunting season will be closed at that time, we should not have to worry about hunters (unless they are poachers), but I'm getting Tristan a red bandanna just in case as he looks too much like a wild coyote for my comfort (he's a hybrid). The area where we will be traveling has a bear density (mean) of 12 bears per 1,000 sq. k. most of these will be black bear, but there are grizzlies, too. In a survey of a few years ago, different 1,000 sq.k. blocks had between 8 and 27 bears within them. While the risk of an attack is very low, we will be following all of this advice, and the Bowie knife will be the last defence against an aggressive bear which is viewing us as food (playing dead would just make for a quicker lunch for such a bear, and you cannot outrun them). Tristan will be on a leash always in the back country, I will sleep with him in the back of the vehicle and he will be wearing a bell or two, just in case.

The backlog of my Alberta Senior's Benefit was placed in my account this morning, so I am now "officially" retired and have a few bucks to spare for the trip. As it is an El Nino year, we expect it to be hot and dry in that region. As most of the small lakes are usually surrounded by marsh, we expect that traveling through such areas will be easier than it was a couple of years ago. Last time, I did find one small area that had cell phone reception, but Monte's land (a quarter section/160 acres) has a fairly high hill on it and it might also get some reception. So, until I leave, the blog will go on as before and it will resume once I'm back home.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Boudicca and Birdlip?

Birdlip Mirror
There is quite a lot of attention being given to a hypothesis that the person who is buried with the Birdlip Mirror is Boudicca of the Iceni. While not completely out of the question, the connection between the Dobunni and the Iceni does not depend on either any connections with Boudicca specifically, or that the amber in the grave might link her to that burial. I think that the Jurassic Way was a well-used route between Dobunnic and Iceni territories. It was a route that was not only convenient for chariot travel, but avoided much contact with the Belgic tribes of the southeast.

Still, a closer look at the human remains in the three graves discovered at Birdlip woudn't hurt, would it?

Monday, 22 June 2015

...Ghoulies and ghosties

A psychic's sign
photo: Bohemian Baltimore
"...And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night..."
From a traditional Scottish prayer.

So-called "reality TV" came about as a result of a writer's strike in the U.S. Most of it consists of putting members of the public in unusual situations to see how they react to it and to each other; some variations pick a profession like picking for antiques or running pawn shops. Of course, the chances of some of those great discoveries actually occurring are far less than what seems to be happening. One show that is interesting me at the moment is The Dead Files. Their web page blurb says:
"On The Dead Files, physical medium Amy Allan and retired NYPD homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi combine their unique and often conflicting skills to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America."
The premise is that Amy investigates through paranormal abilities and Steve uses police work to get the background on the building and the families involved in various "hauntings". They claim that they do not confer on any case until after each has investigated it in their own way. Of course, we have no way of telling if that is true. While this fact might bother some people, it does not bother me because my main interest in the show, past its entertainment value, is purely mythological.

Whether a myth is true or false, or based on something real is of no relevance to me whatsoever, I am only interested in its structure. You might think that the days of mythology are over for us, but you would be wrong. Current myths are more believed than the traditional myths of long ago, so much so, that we do not usually even recognize them as myths at all. The thoughts we have when we experience any creative work from a novel to reality TV actually consist of mythological elements that are reactions to the "plot". Mythology, itself, is really the original psychology, it was never a crude method to discover how nature works. That is a modern attitude and a modern misunderstanding.

The most important division between eastern and western belief is that the former is far more introspective. In the Buddhist scriptures, it is explained that demons etc. that are seen by a person after they die, and that try to drag that person down are really just of their own creation and knowing that will free that person from their effect. For most psychics in the west, though, these are actually real entities; real demons of a sort.

Yet, many psychics, including Amy, look at some phenomena as residual energies left after a traumatic event; an energy that plays on a sort of loop and can be experienced by some observers, or as an energy projection from a living person (a poltergeist). Psychics are all introverts, and thus form a sort of transition between typical western extraversion and materialism, and the eastern meditative religions that are essentially introverted and psychic. The greatest psychological health, for an individual or a society is that which produces something in the middle, that which balances mythos and logos. The two main roles in The Dead Files represent mythos and logos. Their resolutions require both. It is in the interplay where insights about modern western mythology can occur. If, and how much is fiction, is immaterial. A work of fiction is only enjoyed because it "reads" as if it was real, and it is the mythology which gives it an impression of authenticity. A few people believe that many works of fiction are actually real experiences from the author's life. That actually happened to my wife once: one of her friends imagined that a short story that she wrote represented something that happened to my wife that she did not want to admit. I'm not sure whether he believed her when she said that it was an invention.

How far I might go with this line of research is unknown to me at the moment. I am finding the thought intriguing, though.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Alberta Works (sometimes?)

Alberta Flag
Alberta Works is the department of the Provincial government who loaned me some money while I was waiting (a very long time) for my Federal pensions to be processed. Now, what the Federal government does not tell you is that Alberta Works expects everyone to live on about $900 a month although another branch of the same government had said that this was too little. Apparently, the departments do not talk to to each other. Actually, I once did live on about $900 a month  (give or take) when I was a starving artist back in the seventies.

After the Federal government deposited my backlog of payments into my bank account, I requested a statement from Alberta Works, explaining that I had just received my Federal payments. The invoice arrived on the first of June with a note saying that I could pay it at any of their offices, so the next day I wrote them a cheque and tried to give it to them at their closest office to where I live. I was told that this particular office could not accept payments.

After getting the address of another office, not too far away, I presented my cheque there. The woman at the desk told me that her receipt book was being audited in another department and I would have to wait while she phoned to have someone bring it back. About ten minutes later, I was officially debt free (I had already paid back the other loans that I had needed to meet my expenses).

Yesterday (June 18th), I got a nasty letter from Alberta Works with the threat of the file being referred to a private collection agency unless I paid, or arranged to make payments for my outstanding debt of $3,613.00. I had received the invoice on the 1st of June, paid it and got my receipt on the 2nd June. The cheque money came out of my account on June 5th. The letter was actually dated June 10th although it was postmarked June 15th.

Most people would probably phone them to say that the debt was paid promptly, but I am curious as to just how inefficient this department really is. It already seems obvious that the departments do not communicate with each other but now. it seems, neither do offices within the same department. I am not responding at all to the nasty letter (being polite and helpful are qualities apparently disallowed there).  I want to see what comes next. Will they realize their mistake and do nothing? Will they sell my account to a collection agency? (that would be especially funny). Or will they realize their mistake and send me an apology for all of the inefficient and rude treatment I got? For you gamblers out there I am offering ten to one odds if you want to bet on the latter. ;-)

One more thing before I go: coydog Tristan is now exhibiting very civilized behavior to other dogs, even small ones (whom he especially did not seem to like). Tristan is on the right in this photograph I took this morning. Next to him is Chihuahua Indy, the most well-behaved, calm and happy chihuahua I have ever met. He and Tristan have played together twice now. The older dog on the left tolerates Tristan's youthful enthusiasm, but will growl at him when Tristan gets too insistent that he play. Tristan then backs off. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Celtic Coin Index development

Yesterday, William emailed me from his secret cyber-bunker to say that he is developing remote access to edit and add records to the Celtic Coin Index Online. Hence the "log in" button on the main page of the development site. The normal site is just as it was before. The development site is a copy so that I can test the features as they are being developed without screwing up any data. After logging in, the records can be accessed to edit through one page or through an "edit" link which will then appear on each record.

William was unaware of the rumors of severe cut-backs to the Portable Antiquity Scheme and that the British Museum "stand alone" Celtic Coin Index is no more, so it is a timely development. Google "Celtic Coin Index", it no longer even has its original Oxford site, the Calgary site is all that remains.

We could probably save the British government a huge amount of money by doing something similar for the PAS. William's database is also on a very fast server: years ago, the hosting Lexicom ISP was proofed against even power failures or a breakdown of the local telephone system. Lexicom  hosts the CCI as part of its philanthropic activities and community services and it is impervious to economic downturns, wars and that sort of thing. William is a database/server wizard, eschewing commercial applications, William says "I like to roll my own".

I will be able to grant password protected access to edit or add any records, and that service will be made available to museum staff and to anyone else authorized to update the records. It is early days yet, but after I told William of the changes at the B.M. he is moving it up in the list of his priorities.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Canadian dog news

She went to the cobbler's
To buy him some shoes;
When she came back
He was reading the news.
While I try to avoid the typical bad and sensationalist news that desensitizes us to the things that we should be caring about, I now and again run into some quirky news stories worth repeating. The following three dog stories came about from noticing one headline link while checking the weather for the day, and that led me to the other two.

The first story comes from Calgary. What would you do if someone offered to sell you some jewelry on the street? I would simply refuse the offer, it would be fairly obvious that the jewelry would be either fake or stolen (but most likely the former posing as the latter). I cannot imagine phoning the police about it, but I can imagine that some people might. I think that most, though, would not try to engage with the crook first. What then ensued reads like a rejected script idea for a Police Academy movie. The only person involved who was oblivious to the subsequent events was the crook.

Next, we have all lost things on planes or at airports, usually baggage or a coat, though, not a dog. This story does not answer the question that I had: why would you want to take your dog to Cuba? The main point of the story seems to be the involvement of folks using Twitter to resolve a problem. Hundreds of people got involved (would such people be called Twitterites or just Twits for short?). What was not emphasized was that it seems that the matter was resolved by the dog-owner and airport staff in Canada and Cuba. The Twitterites just got to fret about a lost dog.

Herakles wrestling the Nemean Lion
Photo: Andreas Praefcke
Finally, something that I think is newsworthy, and another local story. Wrestling with a mountain lion to save your girlfriend's dog? Something worthy of Herakles I think.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Second British find of the early Celtic plastic style

Linchpin terminal of the Celtic plastic style,
Cambridgeshire, 3rd century BC
photo: Reused under UK Open Government License 
Yesterday, my friend Kyri emailed me to tell me that another example of the plastic style (scroll down on linked page) was discovered in Cambridgeshire about three months after I published the first example from my own collection and which was found in Oxfordshire. He was told about this by its former owner, Dr. Costas Paraskevaides of Art Ancient who had generously donated the object to the British Museum while it was still undergoing a review for an export permit. (Case 16).

It seems, from the mention of it being assigned two of the three Waverley criteria, that an export permit would not have been issued. This is hardly surprising: an assistant keeper and a retired keeper of the British Museum both expressed regret that the identification and significance of my own example had been missed and that it had been issued an export permit. Just about everyone core to the subject of early Celtic art had heard of my example after Vincent Megaw had spread the word about it. It was a very exciting discovery of art-historical and archaeological significance even as a stray find (which is most typical for this sort of material).

Correct identification is often a problem for such extremely rare examples of an art style not widely understood. The latest example has been described as 4th century BC but it is really of the 3rd century BC (or just afterward). My finial example was first described by a dealer as a "decorative pin", but I am almost certain that it is a sword pommel and it has iron within its ferrule. This latest example was first thought to be sword pommel, but now it is understood to be the top terminal of a linchpin.

The shape of the linchpin is typical for continental examples, but not for the British, and to the best of my knowledge, no such shape nor anything similar is recorded from Britain. This does not mean that it is not British however, after all, we have only two British finds of the style.

The first discovered example of the British plastic style:
MD find, Oxfordshire, 2009, published Nov. 2013 (my coll.)
Although it seems most likely that the two objects are from the same workshop, there is a possibility that the linchpin is from a continental workshop as it is more of a bas-relief style than the finial in which the triskele design is bent at 90 degrees and flows from the top of the finial to its sides. Both, however, display the trumpet shapes common in British early Celtic art, but formerly known from later examples.

Fortunately, there is a simple test to determine whether it is of British manufacture: if an XRF analysis reveals a high (up to about 0.3%) cobalt content paired with a very much smaller nickle content, then it is British. I would expect (or at least hope) that the British Museum will have such an analysis performed. Early Celtic art can be full of surprises so it is best not to assume anything until the results are in.

The Catch 22 in all of this is that by my publication of new Celtic finds, I am making it more possible for export permits to be refused which is going to reduce my own acquisitions. I have no intentions of donating my own example (other than perhaps leaving it to my family) but I might be convinced to sell it to the U.K. at a considerable reduction of any appraised value. Years of study of this material deserves some reward and, unlike academia, career advancement is only open to those with careers.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Still living with a coyote hybrid (Coydog)

Urban coydog Tristan
As it will soon be two years since I adopted Tristan and Living with a coyote hybrid (Coydog) has been my most popular post, I thought it time for an update.

Every day (weather permitting) we go to one of two dog parks. The first dog park where he roamed free was fenced, but the one illustrated on the right has no fences at all. Tristan knows he is supposed to keep on the grass, but whenever he goes close to the sidewalk or a bike path he will stop or return to me on command. He is also getting along well with other dogs, although both dog parks are not well-used. Today, we encountered no dogs at all. On the way home, however, we encountered a cat: it came up to us with its tail raised in friendship. I told Tristan to say "Hi" and they sniffed noses. Tristan showed no hostility but seemed to want to play. Had I not been so surprised by this meeting, I might have thought to get a photo of it.

Tristan hears a sound along a side trail in the wood
In the centre of this dog park is a wood with a small creek running through it. Tristan likes to go in the water and often runs through the water with his lower jaw under the surface as if trying to scoop up fish like whale feeding on plankton. I keep trying to get a good photograph of this, but I'm ready to give up with the camera on automatic focus and the darkness of the wood combined with Tristan's speed in the water would make it difficult to get a clear shot even on manual. Perhaps I will try it with a flash on manual next time. Wild coyotes are expert fisherman (video)

I never have to worry about Tristan getting too far ahead of me on the trails through the wood because if I am out of his sight for about a minute, he comes back to make sure I'm not lost. Although Calgary does not allow dogs to be of their leash on the streets, I have risked a fine by training him to walk at heel, sit at the curb and cross the street only on command while off the leash. I think this is important as a dog might be well trained to do such while on the leash, but if the dog got out on his own, he might not be so well-behaved. I think the laws are poorly written: dogs should be under control at all times, and some dogs do not need a leash top be properly controlled. Tristan seems to understand the importance of such exercises and is even better behaved off his leash than on it.

We finally met the Wolf Man, he is a neighbour who I have heard owns a wolf-hybrid. We stopped by a garage sale at the community centre and a man looked at Tristan and said "He has some coyote in him." Most people do not recognize a coydog. We got into a conversation and, as so often happens with dog owners especially of "difficult" breeds, he brought up methods of training etc. He did not believe in giving the hybrids any raw red meat as it would reinforce their wild side. I have heard this before, but I don't really believe it. My own philosophy is very different; I think it best to allow Tristan to express his wild side, but by hunting mice or by chasing squirrels (he has not realized that he cannot climb all trees, just some of them). If a behavior is too suppressed, I think it possible for a dog to act it out when in a very stressful situation. Better to give it a harmless channel from the start and make sure that the dog knows what is allowed and what is not.

One slightly problematical side of me keeping him away from small children and animals at first is that he is now not too sure about small children. I think that he believed I was keeping him away from them because they are dangerous. The other day, a small girl tried running up to him. He gave a couple of warning barks and retreated toward me for protection. His training will require some adjustment.

Tristan will be coming camping in northern British Columbia with Monte and myself in a month or so. We are going to make another attempt at getting to his remote quarter section. As it is grizzly bear country, we will be taking hand flares and noise makers, but I am also going to buy Tristan a red bandanna for his neck so that some hunter does not mistake him for a wild coyote. Our food will be suspended from the branch of a tree some distance from the camp, of course. I think Tristan is trained enough to be able to handle the trip properly, but I am going to be extra cautious of course, especially when it comes to potential encounters with black or grizzly bears and moose. This trip will be with a 4WD equipped with a winch, a come-along and extra chain, and a chainsaw for felling any trees that have overgrown the trails.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Detectorist discovers important hanging-bowl escutcheon

Medieval enameled hanging-bowl escutcheon, 6 - 7th Century AD
(click to enlarge)
photo: Portable Antiquities Scheme

"Littlehampton man’s find stuns British Museum"

Reader's of this blog will know that I am not very impressed with the hype one sees in archaeological reporting, so when I saw the above headline in the Littlehampton Gazette my first reaction was a sarcastic thought. That soon changed when I saw the photograph and realized that "stuns" might even be understatement. Thankfully, no paramedics had to be called to apply the paddles to any of the British Museum staff. Compare this example with what is in the British Museum.

I do know that staff at the British Museum have been stunned before: over my brooch from Champagne (better than anything in the B.M.'s Morel Collection), and over the fact that an export permit had been granted for my Plastic Style finial because its true identity and importance had not been recognized at first, and especially when a friend had shown them an uncancelled and genuine reverse die of a Henry II Tealby penny that had been found in the Thames and that he had inherited from a brother of H. G. Wells. I mean, they are only human.

The excitement started as soon as Tyndall Jones showed it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme's Field Liaison Officer (FLO), Sephanie Smith who did a truly excellent job of recording it in the PAS database. I am more of a stickler for proper cataloging than anyone I have met, and I would be proud to have done such a good job. Here's a tip: When you catalogue in this fashion, you will understand much more about the object than by just studying it.

Hanging-bowl escutcheons are a bit of a mystery: they can be called Celtic or Anglo-Saxon but their genesis remains unknown. No prototypical workshop has been located and some are of the opinion that it might be in Ireland. The latter might alleviate one of the problems that I have with this style being called Celtic, and that is that I can find no unbroken continuity of styles between the pre-Roman early Celtic art and the early Medieval. Ireland, at least, was never Romanized. There appears to be no Irish continuity either as no enamel work at all has been found there dating from the second to fourth centuries AD. I know enough about art to understand that a culture cannot put break in an art for a couple of centuries and then resume its evolution as if nothing had happened. The knowledge of the art lives in a brain which was trained in it by those with experience, and not though some sort of Lamarckian genetic inheritance.

Although this period is far from my specialty, allow me the following little hypothesis: style is frequently identified by its design elements and motifs, but less through its composition. When we have an art that is decorative and not figurative and it uses a lot of curved lines, the meeting of two or more curved lines, whether drawn freehand or by compass can create certain geometric shapes that we find pleasing. The reason for this pleasure comes from the unconscious which, according to Jung, at a level deeper than that of the dream state, has an apparent fondness for numbers and geometry. Thus cultures with no connections can manifest the same geometry, especially if they are the sort of culture that places importance in the magical, visionary, or inward-looking (the mandala, too, is an unconscious symbol).

When most people, today, hear the word "tribal", they think of a style of tattoo. So let's go with that: I have selected some nineteenth century photographic and artistic records of New Zealand Maori tattoos (click all to enlarge). I picked early tattoos because more recent tattoos could be influenced by the modern tattoo fad. Look at them and notice the same design elements and motifs that you can see in early Celtic art and in the so-called Medieval Celtic art. However, the composition insists that other motifs be included, too, such as the encircling lines around the mouth and the curved radiating lines in two opposed registers on the forehead. Sure, we can see cusps, interlocking spirals, and broken-back curves, but apart from a few elements, the composition finds no Celtic parallel. The similarities are expressions of the collective unconscious which is not restricted by space or by time.

Maori man with a tattoed face

Barnet Burns with Maori tattoo

King Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Got milk?

photo: Stefan Kühn
Today's post is a short one as it is going to get rather hot today so Tristan's visit to the dog park will be early this morning. As a follow up to yesterday's post "Well-travelled ancients", Denmark is making more genetic discoveries. This one is revealing that lactose tolerance in northern Europe is much later than was originally thought and it also confirms that our ancestors were, indeed, well-travelled.

All that I am waiting for now is for British archaeologists to reveal the nature of the secret force field that somehow kept the Celts from entering Britain while it appears that they and many other people were moving all over the neighbourhood.

Nebra Sky Disc
photo: Dbachmann

The article also refers to the Nebra Sky Disc which contains British tin. The trade agreements over this metal would have set up relationships which would have lasted a very long time and such trading concerns would also have impacted on the patterns of fosterage and distant marriages. Everything is connected.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Well-travelled ancients

Travellers at rest.
Pieter van Laer (1599–after 1641)
There is an underlying perception in archaeology that people did not travel very far. Some genetic tests have seemed to indicate that the relatives of people who lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago, are still living in the same neighbourhood. I suppose there is something to that if we confine ourselves to averages, to the centre of the bell-curve. By the same sort of reckoning, we all have an IQ of 100 so it is very doubtful that anything so complex and counter-intuitive as quantum mechanics will ever be discovered. Just a minute, something must be wrong with that statement...

Of course, we do know that some people travelled very great distances: the movements of Genghis Khan's armies are often measured in degrees of longtitude and lattitude instead of kilometers, and the United States would not exist at all were it not for pioneers from Europe. Roman and Greek empires stretched over three continents. So perhaps we really believe that apart from historically important events, we generally stay put.

So when the Gundestrup cauldron was discovered in a bog in Denmark and it was realized that its workmanship was Thracian and some of its subject matter was Celtic, an explanation was required that would be a comfortable fit for our sensibilities. So what historical fact could allow for Denmark, Thrace and Celtic imagery in the same scenario? The wanderings of the Cimbri of course. After all, ordinary people like artists and artisans did not change history and led mostly uneventful lives in the 'hood. The Scordisci tribe were recruited as supplying the Celtic iconography because they were adjacent to Thrace and the Cimbri supplied the remaining criteria.

It is always tempting to associate discovered objects with known historical events. I do it myself quite frequently. It often works, but sometimes things can go wrong. A lot depends on our assumptions and the degree of evidence that we require to confirm our ideas. I have noticed that when a theory is of the "this will rewrite history!" variety, the amount of supporting evidence required is far less than for something quite mundane. This is why we have confidence tricksters, we really want to believe in "get rich quick schemes". It is possible for a small investment to turn into millions very quickly, think about lotteries. Perhaps it is my time. The confidence trickster can spot that attitude at a hundred paces.

When Anders Berquist and Timothy Taylor said of the Gundestrup cauldron: "How Thracian silversmiths occupied themselves in the interval between the late 4th and late 2nd/early 1st centuries BC is unclear." They were restricted in their dating by the Cimbri hypothesis. The latter was so tempting that saying something like "As the style predates the Cimbri's journey, this event cannot have been a factor" could be softened to allow for it to be proven through other means. But that is a slippery slope and the other evidence was also allowed some inconsistencies to make for a better fit. Again, there is nothing wrong with this approach as most archaeological evidence is fragmentary, anyway. Thus an inscription to King Mithridates on one piece of supporting evidence was considered to refer to Mithridates VI of Pontus whose dates tarry with the Cimbri, instead of Mithridates II of Commagene which I think far more likely.  I am confident that there was a Thracian revival in the time of Augustus, and the Stara Zagora phalera (which is compared with Gundestrup cauldron) belongs to this movement (Hooker, forthcoming). Its style has some important differences between both the earlier native Thracian styles and the more classical Sicilian-inspired art which followed it. The native style on the Gundestrup cauldron is typical for the earlier native Thracian style, though. My own dating range for the Gundestrup cauldron is sometime during the last three quarters of the 3rd century BC. and it was most likely made before 250 BC.

Now we have another Danish find that proves that people did indeed travel great distances in antiquity without having an important event to justify it: The remains of a Bronze Age girl long assumed to have been Danish was actually from the Black Forest in Germany.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Frugal archaeology

Funding to the arts takes a nose dive whenever the economy is suffering. It is not difficult to understand why: at such times more people are more worried about the basics of food and shelter than what they see as a luxury. Yet, the arts make up quite a large portion of the economy as you could easily see by staying for the credits after the movie.

Archaeologists, when threatened with cutbacks, are quick to point out that archaeology brings tourists and they bring their money. Rarely is the cost of supporting added tourism mentioned in such accounts, but tourists need parking spaces, accommodation and good roads to take them to such attractions, and the attractions feel the need for expensive interpretive centres to attract even more tourists. How long would it take to make back the money spent on such a project? I have never seen this matter discussed at all.

The professional call is always for more funding and it does not seem to be too sympathetic towards lean spending in lean times. This is hardly surprising: ask anyone if they think they should have more money. I have yet to see any suggestions about limiting the amounts of grants to better reflect real costs. Some years ago, a museum in England got about ₤40K to build an online database of their collections. With that money, someone bought a database application for the job which cost less than ₤1,000 and then they imported their catalogue files and the software constructed the web application at the click of a mouse. When my wife and I generated the web pages for the Celtic Coin Index online or resampled and added the photos, it was the software which did all the work after a couple of mouse clicks and we did not even have to be there at the time. Most of our work was in designing and building the applications. When I saw the museum's final product, I noticed that they had left the software's logo on each page (this was a "placeholder" in the software that was supposed to be replaced with the logos of the company who purchased the software). Perhaps there were other expenses I could not imagine besides the cost of the software and perhaps half a day's actual labour for one person, but I could not see how a grant of ₤40K could be justified. Some grants are structured so that a portion of the amount can go to the institution's coffers without any need to justify its spending.

A lot of money has been spent in the UK buying hoards of coins or artifacts under the Treasure Act. In times past, such hoards were mostly released to the market with museums retaining only what was needed in their collections. Nowadays, artifacts have been fetishized. Entire hoards are retained as display objects even though the public could only really see only a small part of the hoard. The past had been made "sacred" and there is little differences between an exhibit in a museum and some saint's relic in a church in that respect.

Britain is more fortunate than some other countries in that independent, amateur archaeology is permitted. Some professional archaeologists like to give the impression that the amateur lacks proper qualifications for the task, but many amateurs are retired professionals, anyway. They also give good training to those of their numbers who have had no previous experience. When reading such criticisms, one has to ask if their motive might be more personal, something more like a turf war over income than the desire to have things properly recorded.

So pay attention to the complaints. Do they simply demand more money, or are there suggestions about how to reduce the expenses of archaeology through the granting of an appropriate amount for the task and the use of unpaid, but expert, work done only for the love of the subject? Make sure that the foxes are not guarding the hen house.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Canadian animation seeks museum

Not Canadian, but Eadweard Muybridge would have to be
included in a museum of animation.

"For years, 600 boxes of animation cels and other materials have been hidden away in boxes, and moved several times from place to place." Elaine Della-Mattia, Sault Star.
In this time of economic woes, museums have been suffering. Not considered essential by most people, museums are increasingly resorting to the deaccession of some of their holdings just to stay competitive. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, the task is even greater. They have an animation collection that was appraised at about $11 million in 2009, but it has no museum at all. A museum might cost about $8 million, but that is a tall order for a town with a population only about 75,000.

Yet, a world class animation museum would not only bring in tourist dollars, but it would express the fact that Canada has been important in the history of animation since the time of Oscar winner Norman McLaren who was a pioneer in animation technique. But would this already be a world class collection? The two news reports linked here mention three parcels of material from Canadian productions. That is perfectly acceptable providing there is other material present that shows the history of animation and Canadian content should certainly be emphasized in a Canadian museum.

Personally, I would contact the award-winning Canadian animator, Richard Reeves who had attended Sault College of Applied Arts & Technology in Sault Ste. Marie. Following and innovating on the traditions of Norman McLaren, Richard would have much to advise about the foundation of such a museum. My wife was an animator and introduced me to Richard. We visited him when he was living on a small island of the British Columbia coast and had a great time there (apart from when I fell in an abandoned well while I was picking peaches). Here is one of his best known animated shorts, hand drawn on film (including the sound track).

Another notable Canadian animator died in 2013: Frédéric Back beat Norman McLaren by earning two Oscars and being nominated for two more. I met him only once when he brought the following Oscar winning animated film to Calgary's Quickdraw Animation Society, The Man who Planted Trees:

I wish Sault Ste. Marie the very best of luck in getting an animation museum. Canada really should have one. I also hope you liked the movies (sorry there was no popcorn).

Friday, 5 June 2015

Early Celtic bracelet fragment

Early Celtic bronze bracelet fragment, continental, late 4th-3rd cent. BC, 64 mm.
Time for another piece from my collection. This time it is an unprovenanced continental
Celtic bracelet fragment retaining the female side of the "clasp". The other side is about the same.

It is unusual in that each "bead" part of the cast design is flattened on the front, back and sides which makes the "clasp" opening an oval with straight sides. It appears to have been modified after casting as the ring edging the interior side of the clasp is slightly flattened on the top and bottom. Also, most bracelets of the general type are not fully "in the round" like this one on the interior edge that would be in contact with the skin. Instead, their interiors are somewhat flat.

The closest parallel is Jacobsthal 247 from Waldalgesheim (late 4th century BC) which has bas-relief decorated "beads".

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

How to be a terrorist victim

Demonstration against ISIS in Hanover last year
photo: Bernd Schwabe in Hannover
It has been about forty years since I was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Services operative (ex Canadian Intelligence, the equivalent of the British MI5). I volunteered for this work after I learned of a planned terrorist attack in Calgary that had targeted three downtown office buildings for bomb attacks. People commonly tell me about their problems, and I commonly try to help them. Sometimes, my help does nothing at all: three women have approached me with stories of spousal abuse but, despite my best efforts, I could nothing for any of them. The first time, I thought I had made a difference. The woman I worked with told me she was going to move out that very day, but she didn't, and the following morning she arrived at work with a fresh bruise on her face. I was really disappointed in myself. I was a teenager. What did I know?

So when a workmate told me that he had been invited to join a terrorist cell, I knew that any help I gave could not be just for him. Sure, I think I could have easily talked him out of it. He already had serious doubts, that's why he came to me. But what would it matter if I prevented the creation of another terrorist? There would be plenty more lining up to take his place. I realized that I would have to betray his trust and, after he left, I made a phone call to someone who would know who to contact.

The would-be terrorists were all Métis, a distinctive cultural group who had been politically active for a few years hoping for better representation. Genetically, they are a mix of European and First Nations people and their culture originated in the seventeenth century. The leader of the terrorist group was not Métis at all, but I did not know that at the time, neither did my workmate.

I got a phone call after lunch. The conversation started like this:


"What time do you get off work?" the man's voice asked.

"Four-thirty" I replied.

"I'll meet you in the parking lot then, I'm driving a ...".

At no point did he give his name, nor who he worked for, nor what the phone call was really about. He didn't have to.

In the car, he flashed his badge and told me his rank and name and that the purpose of the RCMP Security Services was to guard against the Communist infiltration of Canada. He explained to me, as we started to go for a drive nowhere in particular, that as an SS agent he could never come into physical contact with anyone whom they were investigating and that such contact was only made via operatives. As the RCMP SS had been getting some bad press around that time, he addressed that problem too. He explained that were you to route a foreign agent through the Canadian justice system, several new agents would have replaced him or her before there was even a preliminary hearing. They did things their own way and it was the only practical way to operate. This was nothing new to me and I sympathized with him about the situation. Just over ten years after this, the SS was no more, being replaced by a civilian agency who would follow the letter of the law. Nowadays, they still call in the RCMP for "tricky cases" but not much is said about that...

He explained to me that the Métis terrorist group would have been started by a Communist agent, most likely KGB. Part of the Soviet organization would send agents to places where minority groups could be convinced to fight against perceived injustices through terrorist acts. He said that the real purpose was not in the creation of violence, but to spread fear and dissent, "to break the backbone of the country" as he put it. The KGB had no interest at all in any minority groups problems, such groups were nothing but cannon-fodder to them.

So I volunteered and over the next few weeks reported to various agents, meeting at a different restaurant each time to pass on my information. Once, the same agent told me that if my cover became blown, I could offer my workmate police protection in return for any information. This surprised me: "You would really do that? I asked incredulously, "Of course not!" he laughed. There was another agent who reminded me of the TV police detective Columbo, just as rumpled, he looked as if he shopped at the Salvation Army, and acted as if he was not even listening, but he never missed anything and would ask me about something I had said earlier using verbatim quotes. Although my own role was minor, and they must have recruited many more operatives, the terrorists were scattered and their explosives were captured (2,000 lbs of explosives in a shed just outside town). My workmate never joined the terrorists, I just had him ask his recruiter various things to "help him make up his mind". I was relieved not to have had to offer him the fictional police protection.

The terrorist threat never became public knowledge. It was a completely successful mission: no one had been terrorized at all. Most terrorists are dupes who start out as idealists. What they are really fighting for is not what they think it is.

Whenever you hear about a terrorist attack, you are also hearing about about a government with an inefficient intelligence network, or a government that is using foreign terrorism to propagate their own "domestic terrorism" in order to reduce their own citizen's freedoms. Reporters make almost as good dupes as idealists. Think about it. If there was no demonstration, or if the demonstration was not reported, then ISIS would have been very disappointed.

What really saved the German Muslim's demonstrations came from an unusual source:

"The campaign was welcomed by the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann. 
""It is good that Muslim associations are putting up a fight against the terrorism of fanatical Islamists," Graumann told Deutsche Welle."

Well done, Dieter Graumann, ISIS must have really hated that response. That their actions brought Muslims and Jews together was not something they wanted at all.

I am not giving you weekly reports of the ISIS destruction of archaeological sites, nor am I trying to convince you not to buy any Syrian antiquities because they might be looted from such sites. To do so is to play into terrorists hands, to become a dupe. They want you to be indignant, upset, and to obsess on what they are doing. That is why they are doing it. If you can make collecting such things "politically incorrect", then you can be sure that studies of such things and their cultures will diminish. That is exactly what ISIS wants. Certain archaeologists, by acting as if all antiquities are sacred, are playing into the iconoclastic belief structure of ISIS (perhaps this dogma was picked by ISIS as the time was just right for it). Not only that, but these same archaeologists are making people wonder if they care more about ruins than the people who live near them, so it is a double bonus for ISIS.

That's all I'm saying about the subject. I do not want to promote terrorism any more than this. Refuse to be a victim.