Tag Archives: neolithic

A Very Neolithic Halloween

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Mornings at the Çatalhöyük dig house were a chaos of tools and tea cups. Too many archaeologists were crammed into a small outpost in the middle of the dusty Anatolian plain and civility came later in the day, after breakfast. It is a very particular way of living that not everyone can cope with; in print I’ve compared it to Goffman’s Total Institution:

“a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life”

The specialists would retreat to their respective labs–paleobot, osteo, zooarch, lithics, pottery, finds–but the excavators would climb up the tell to escape, pushing squeaky wheelbarrows full of tools. The real prize was to be the first to get away, as you got the best tools and a wide open vista of blue sky and long, golden-brown grass. For a moment you could imagine that you were alone on that big hill, fat with archaeology and promise. And quiet. A little wind flapping the tent, but otherwise, gorgeous, gorgeous quiet.

Of course the chaos of the dig house would eventually clamor up the hill after you, and the day would roll on, but you’d hardly notice by then as you were stuck in, troweling, drawing, taking photos, bagging samples and artifacts. We were digging in Building 49, a smallish mudbrick building that fit onto a sheet of permatrace–so under 5m square, almost bijoux, but full of paintings and people buried underneath the floor.

All archaeologists are atheists, but we are all atheists with ghost stories. Actually, that is not even remotely true, I’ve met my share of witches and christians in the trench, and we are a profession ripe with superstition. I take it as part of my professional ethics not to believe in ghosts or anything remotely supernatural but if you study humans, then you must acknowledge a sort of placebo-effect of religiosity–if you believe it is true, then it is true for you. This is a convoluted way of saying that if you deal with the remains of people for long enough, you will eventually come across things that creep you the fuck out. Sometimes it’s not even in the ground.

So on that sunny, slightly misty morning in July, I pushed my rusty wheelbarrow up to the side of the trench. There was a fine layer of dew covering the archaeology, plaster floors, low, muddy walls, and pits where we’d dug several of the eventual 15 bodies to come out from beneath the floors of the house. I was preoccupied with a series of scrappy paintings layered on top of each other, black lines, then squiggles, then hands, then red.

That morning, there in the dew, a line of footprints snaked across the floors and platforms that we’d carefully uncovered the day before.  I was digging with two other archaeologists that year and we all stood at the edge of the trench, staring down at the footprints. The feet that had made the prints were bare, medium sized, and it was obvious where they’d came out of the trench and left the tent. What wasn’t obvious is where they’d entered the trench.

You see, nobody was allowed on the tell outside of working hours. I’d worked on projects before where people had illicitly come in the night and messed around in the archaeology to hunt for whatever treasure they thought we were after. In this instance, nothing was out of place. Someone probably just had a sunrise amble across the tell. Barefoot. Yeah.

So after a little while we just got on with it, took out our tools and went to work. But we never figured out who took a stroll through the Neolithic that night and I remember wondering if we should have recorded the prints before I used a small brush to gently whisk them into oblivion.

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Happy Halloween!

Neolithic Water Wells, Laser Scanning & Open Access Archaeology

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There’s a lovely new article about Neolithic water wells at PLOS:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051374

The article discusses the timber-framed wells dating to over 7,000 years ago, claiming that “the first farmers were also the first carpenters.” The preservation in these wells is fantastic, and images of the whole ears of einkorn (early wheat) accompany the article.

Other interesting points from the article include the fact that they block-lifted the wells in order to excavate them in a controlled environment. One of the blocks weighed 70 tons! Block-lifting involves cutting around the targeted feature or artifact and taking the whole thing with you, including the surrounding dirt. Archaeologists often wish they could just block lift things and take them away, though the process can destroy the context around the artifact being block-lifted, as in the case of the paintings cut off the walls at Catalhoyuk. In the case of a well, this process can be performed safely, assuming that the well does not cut through earlier stratigraphy.

Once in the lab, the team laser-scanned damn near everything, as far as I can tell. This is productively shown in the detail recorded for the timbers, and the ability to show the adze work and fitting for the timbers. I am curious about the time differential–how many hours did it take for the laser-scanning team to process and manipulate the imagery versus how long would it have taken for an archaeological illustrator to do the same? I am still not sold on photogrammetry and laser scanning as a substitute for drawing, especially as drawing archaeology is an aid in understanding the archaeology as much as recording, but this article is a fantastic argument for using laser scanning to record and reconstruct timbers. Additionally, timbers are difficult for archaeologists–they’re rarely in good shape and once you take them out of the ground it is a race to record and conserve them before they disintegrate before your eyes.

Finally, the team uses dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) to corollate the dating of the well, but also to determine that the trees used to construct the well originated from at least 46 mature oak trees that felled at “just above breast height”, then “split in half with wooden wedges that were hammered in using wooden mauls” and then worked into their final length with adzes and burning.

Fantastic detail, solid methodology and well presented in an open access journal–this small article about Neolithic wells gives me hope for archaeological publishing!*

*Though PLOS certainly could make it easier to embed and share article images. I had to download and re-size and re-upload to make this work out.

Basket Weaving at Çatalhöyük

I uploaded the above test clip for the longer machinima that I posted about a little while ago.  It took an immense amount of work to get this far, and this is only a tiny clip of a somewhat awkward avatar doing a single animation.  I used Jing for the video capture and downloaded Soundflower for the system audio redirect.

I think I’ve complained before about having a hard time finding a variety of avatars on Second Life.  Well, this lady is definitely in a different  mode than my usual avatar.  “Wearing” an identity like this one is deeply uncanny, and the reactions and perceptions of other people you meet in Second Life are absolutely different.  I decided to follow a fairly popular strain of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük in dressing her as a goddess figurine in the bandeau that I made for a decidedly younger character.

Once again, the exercise of recreating this small scene raised more questions than it answered:

She’s weaving reeds, so it must be summer.  Were there cicadas?  Yes.  Why would she be doing this inside by firelight during the summer?  It would be excruciatingly hot and smoky.  What about her vision?  I’ve put her in a less than optimal situation for weaving, that’s for sure.   Why isn’t there anyone with her?  Could she hear other people?  Maybe sheep! We’ll add some sheep sounds. I think she’d be humming to herself.  But what sounds?

It’s a lot of interpretive responsibility, wearing these second skins.

The Neolithic Strikes Back!

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Remember this?

So, it turns out that most of the red pigment in B.49 was made out of cinnabar.  From wikipedia:

Because of the high toxicity of mercury, both the mining of cinnabar and refining for mercury are hazardous and historic causes of mercury poisoning. In particular, the Romans used convict labor in their mines as a form of death sentence.  The Spanish also used shorter term convict labor at the Almadén mines, with a 24% overall fatality rate in one 30 year period.

Doh.

Furnishing the Neolithic

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The Porno Baskets of Çatalhöyük

For Cal Day I’m furnishing the inside of one of the reconstructed Neolithic houses so we can change up our tour a little bit from our open house.  In a lot of ways it has been a great mental exercise–having to figure out if I thought the ceiling was plastered, move the ladder to the correct angle coming out the top, decide if I wanted to put a goat/sheep or three on top of the house, things like that.  I’m still not very good at the build tools in Second Life yet and we’re running out of time, so I’ve been getting things as close as possible on my own and then faking the rest with different purchases.  Of course, these purchases are a little…off from what we know about the artifacts, but I’m doing my best.

I went hunting for baskets the other day, with the lovely preserved basket impressions that we get in the middens in mind, and found a few serviceable examples.  The island where I got them was medieval themed and I thought nothing much of it until I found that most of the materials had some kind of action programmed into them.  The plates turned you into a serving wench, the bucket made you scrub the floor, things like that.  An interesting take on Latour, if I do say so myself.

Except…when I saw some of the other items.  And I’m not just talking about the bed!  I figured out that the whole island was themed after a series of science fiction books set in a world called “Gor” where the women are enslaved to the men as part of a “naturalized” social order.  Well then!

So, these baskets.  While they don’t have anything preprogrammed into them–at least I’m somewhat certain of that–they are basically BDSM set dressing.

I’m reclaiming them for the Neolithic.

Open House at Catalhoyuk in Second Life

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Just a quick reminder that I’ll be around on Second Life for most of today (especially after 12) at Okapi Island (125, 93, 47) for Remixing Catalhoyuk Day.

We’re getting some neat coverage; a writer for Archaeology magazine was out a couple of days ago, and I talked to the editor of the Second Life architecture blog today for a bit.

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Okapi/128/128/0

My name is “Clementine Glass” on there, for what it’s worth.