26 October 2008

Rock me Cleopatra

Should be working, but I'm blogging instead. What is the world coming to? Well first of all, there is going to be a rock n' roll musical about Cleopatra. Yes, Cleopatra. It will likely star Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hugh Jackman as the hunky Marc Antony. I guess the director is trying to make an ancient version of "Chicago?" This could be kind of good or really, really bad.

For you doctor types, two ancient Egyptian mummies more than 3500 years old (dead?) have evidence for the earliest known malaria. Scientists have speculated that malaria was prevelant in Egypt, but before this hard evidence came to light this speculation was soley based on "historic" reports from Herodotus and random papyri. 

In slightly sadder news, AP is reporting that the Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad will most likely not reopen for another 2 years. The museum's director Amira Eidan I think put it best, that the reopning of the museum to the public must be the, "very last step in Baghdad's journey to absolute normalcy." Sad to say it, but will there ever be "absolute normalcy" in Iraq? I'm glad the museum is being cautious, but there is also something to be said about opening the museum as a moral booster to the country's citizens. The museum however does have a long way to go from being seen as a tool of the government to a resource of knowledge, history and pride to the Iraqi people. I can only hope that day will come in my lifetime.


19 October 2008


...that is how many dissertation pages I have written. I really needed an ego boost this morning so I decided to count. Only 100 more to go right? I feel like I have gotten so far, but lack the energy and modivation to finish. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that every grad student reaches this point...right? And just as I was going to be productive (yeah right) all this great news came in!

CNN International reports, under the "Technology" section (strange), that archaeologists in Rome have uncovered a "city of the dead" (see right). Actually it is a necropolis where the tombs and graves were ornately decorated to resemble city buildings and streets. Pottery evidence shows that the necropolis was used in the Medieval Period as a residential area. Uh eww?

The Mainichi Daily announced that a Japanese team working at the site of Tell el-Kerkh in Syria have uncovered the oldest crematorium. Specifically archaeologists from the University of Tsukuba uncovered "cremated bones" and deep pits used for cremation. Is it just me or does this sound strange to you? If a bone is fully cremated, wouldn't it just be ash? The article doesn't specify but I image they found pits filled with ash and human bones inside. Unless there is evidence that the bones were charred, I don't know if I am buying this cremation thing. Guess I'll have to read the final site report, though it will most likely be only available in Japanese. Nic, I may need your help on this one!

In other news:
-the New Eden Project is trying to restore the marsh lands of southern Iraq that were decimated by Saddam.

-rotten fish entrails are helping to more precisely date the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. As if 79 AD is not enough, we just had to know that it most likely happened in July or August of that year and if you are really liberal, it was August 24 as Pliny the Younger recounted.

-the Field Museum and the Oriental Institute (both in Chicago) are teaming up to teach Iraqi archaeologists the basics of artifact preservation. This is part of a larger Cultural Heritage Project funding by the US to help "preserve the history of Iraq." Too little too late?

-finally, in case you didn't know this already, Greek medicine derived in many ways from ancient Egyptian (and I'll add, ancient Mesopotamian) medicine. Remember people: the foundation of our modern western world lies in the Middle East and not Greece/Rome!

15 October 2008

Laptops in the sand

I just read an article in the latest SAA Archaeological Record, the official magazine of the Society for American Archaeology. It got me so excited about using laptops in the field! Now I know there are some projects out there that have the luxury of the dig house being "down slope" or working conditions in which the normal elements of dirt and heat are not issues, which enables use of laptops on site. However, the rest of us have suffered with endless hours of data entry back in the dig house after 8 to 10 hours of excavating since normal laptops could in no way handle the heat, dust, and wind conditions of working in the arid regions of the Middle East. And until now, tablet PCs and other such devices have been a) too expensive, b) not rugged enough for the job and/or c) succumbed to several issues including screen glare, weight, and overall bulkiness.

The article by Searcy and Ure (I'll provide a link when the SAA has it up!) tested the Panasonic Toughbook Touchscreen PC in "archaeological situations" and overall, it passed with flying colors. The coolest features to read about are the Toughbook's long battery life (8 hours), simple use of 'hibernate' mode while in the field, durability, tight sealing against the elements, and best of all a brighter outdoor-readable screen. The fact the system uses Adobe Illustrator to digitally map trenches, top plans, etc. in real time just makes it even better. Plus Bluetooth technology makes it easy to fileshare between computers, even at site.

The price tag however ($3,000) does put the stink into it though. BUT, educational discounts are beautiful when it comes to computers and if you write it into your grant budget ahead of time, you could probably cover at least 2 or 3. Man I can't wait to start my own project with these!!

05 October 2008

Uses of archaeological sites: learning space or party place?

This article from the J-Post raises an interesting question that I will put to you, my readers (all 2 of you): should a national park alongside the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, which is home to fragile archaeological remains, be used for concerts and other cultural activities? In short, should archaeological sites be used to host events? 

Israel is not the only country dealing with this issue. Rome is pretty much a huge archaeological site as are many of the major cities in the Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, Amman. But what the article is talking about here is the modern-day use of archaeologically significant areas. Think of the "new agers" and Druids at Stonehedge, which coincidently was just featured in a great article in the latest Smithsonian Magazine, or the Mother Goddess groups at Catalhoyuk. All these sites serve as a nexus between parties vying for use of the past, from the archaeologists who want to preserve and protect, to the local governments who also want to protect but also market for tourism, to groups who feel spiritual/religious connects to these ancient places and to other tourists who just want to say, "hey I've been there" and are not going back so they are really not personally invested in the place.

In the end, I think it needs to be a balancing of all, which I know sounds very hippie of me. Archaeological sites should be protected but people should also be able to see them, experience them, visit and come away with a new knowledge or appreciation of the past and how it fits in with their lives today. And I'm not just talking on a personal level. We look to the archaeological past for a connection with individuals and humanity. For the former, we often fall into the trap of thinking/saying "hey they were just like us" when in many many respects, the cultural, religious, and social circumstances of people living in Neolithic Europe or Bronze Age Mesopotamia were much different. What many seek is the latter: the underlying nature of humans that prevails despite space and time. 

I think these connections can only come through learning and experiencing the archaeology. This of course can't be accomplished by hosting a rock concert next to the Wailing Wall. I am a fan of outdoor museums where posted labels, docent tours, and activities all coincide to bring a holistic experience of learning and understanding. Add in some teaching about the importance of preservation of archaeological sites and how the average citizen can do that and you have a winner in creating culturally-minded and educated visitors/viewers of the archaeological past.

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