Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bishop's Sea: Nanook


The Nanook, or Tanfield Valley, site, has appeared in these pages before. Lying along the southeastern coast of Baffin Island, it is a fairly prominent site of prehistoric settlement. Michigan anthropologist Moreau Maxwell excavated here from the 1960s to the 1980s, apparently informed of ancient relics by a local informant.

As for "Nanook" itself, I'm reminded of Henry Collins' excited description of the Sadlermiut site, published in a 1954 National Geographic, and inspiring generations of speculation that appear to end, sadly, in concluding that there is no there, there. I'm obviously very impressed by the fact that the population of the high Arctic did not exceed 5000 people at any point in prehistory, because I repeated it twice in two paragraphs in my last "Nanook" post. It remains, I think a fair point that any site with eighty house ruins, several hundred graves, and hundreds of meat caches is going to bulk very, very large in the human story of the high Arctic. Something significant happened here. The  disappointing thing about Sadlermiut is that it happened too recently to be romantic. Nanook is another matter.

Unfortunately, it is not similar to Sadlermiut in having numerous ruins. The far southwest of Baffin Island is resource-rich, for the High Arctic, and had a high prehistoric population, and within the region, the Tansfield Valley stands out  as what pioneering investigator, Moreau Maxwell, called an oasis. Although tending to damp in the summer, it is an obvious camp ground. The problem was the lack of obvious ruins, although that can be explained by the absence of good building stone, and alternatives such as ivory, sea mammal bone, and caribou antlers, all unavailable for various reasons. Instead, Moreau concluded, structures in the area would be cut from sod, a scarce resource in the area, in general, but copiously available here.

Maxwell's excavations justified the hypothesis. In particular,  he was struck by ruins that could be interpreted as the foundation walls of a (Norse-style) sod longhouse, although many other explanations have been put forward. Along with the exciting discovery of muskoxen fur, analogous to the bison, muskox and brown bear hair found at the famed "Farm Beneath the Sands," the prospect beckoned of larger exchange networks uniting the farthest northern reaches of the High Arctic with the Canadian boreal forests, and perhaps beyond.

This attracted Canadian Museum of Civilisation (now "History") archaeologist, Patricia Sutherland,  and her Helluland Project, with the usual (or "highly controversial," choose your preferred modifier) agenda of looking for Norse, which she tentatively concluded she had found. As is equally usual, in the absence of anything signed in authentic, contemporary handwriting, nothing definitive was found, and killjoy DNA studies soon revealed that the supposed exotic hairs were nothing of the kind. Good thing hair analysis was never relied on for anything important! The problem is that the carbon dates have yielded Medieval, that is, pre-Norse carbon dates. Since we seem (for now) to have moved beyond dismissing paradigm-upsetting carbon dates as Bad Science, it is at least worth considering what that might mean. Sutherland is willing to go for "early Medieval" seafarers, and points to the new, early dates for the settlement of the Faeroes and the situation in Iceland as a license for going halfway towards full "Wayfarer-"dom. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March, 1948, II: Necessity is to Invention As . . .




R_. C_.,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Father:

I hope this finds you well, as I'm personally a bit frazzled, having been up to the city again, this time to look for a place to stay, as it would be a scandal if I moved into with Queenie or the Cs. I've even resorted to the 'Ks.", so if I end  up staying in an (indoor) tipi, you will know why!

Not only to the city but to Oakland, as Mother made a flying visit to her sister's nurses. (Who were a bit mystified by  the origins of her authority, or why she looked like her sister.) My presence was commanded, so that Mother could snub me --although she relented when I asked whether I had had rubella far enough to promise to send me my medical records. A nurse dismissed for the crime of getting too close to Uncle Henry, she was off to Chicago, cool and distant as ever, and me to work.

I have decided that I do not like work. I  hope lawyering is nothing like it.


Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie

Happy Mother's Day!


Monday, May 7, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March 1948, I: The City and the Stars



R. C.,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Father:

You were right to tell me not to worry about Magnin's, and for the good of my ego I will not question the way you put it. "I shall give them another call if I have to," means that some of my natural charm was not lost on them, after all!

The disadvantage of sealing the deal is that I my little course on how to be a shop assistant required me to drive up to San Francisco through fog and rain, and then down again, at which point the old Lincoln was so ungallant as to be a regular John Lewis, although it turns out that it was striking for a new distributor, and not portal-to-portal pay. And so much for fetching bacon and eggs for a week on the morning shift. Speaking of which, I need to get this done, as Andy Chu must be getting tired of sitting out in his car for me to bring it down to him. Can you imagine the scandal if I invited him up to wait in the living room with the beaus? I have no idea how I will summon up a smile if Mr. Straight is there again tomorrow, and I must, because so much for a week's pay!
Yes, it's anachronistic. That's why I softened you up at the head! This post isn't late because I had to drive somewhere, but it is late for work reasons. 

So, yes, I was having second thoughts about giving up the life of a spoiled heiress --until Reggie called to see why I'd missed my call, which is because I was stranded by the roadside outside Redwood City. As for Andy cooling his heels outside now, and at the Benevolent Association all yesterday, part of that is down to me being on the phone too long --but as you pay Reggie's bills, you will know that anyway.

Perhaps I'll back Andy's stake the next time he has to spend a day playing penny-stakes mah jongg while he waits for me to finish. No. . . I should probably have to claim it on my income tax.


Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie.

Sacred Spring, indeed.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XI: Ancestral Voices


As a city gradually dissolves under the pressure of a labour shortage About-Which-Nothing-Can-Be Done-And-I'm-Sorry-There-Are-Too-Many-Employers-For-"Monopsony"-To-Be-An-Explanation, this ends up being a truncated and slapped-together post; but at least there is some interesting scholarship to report. Part of it veers close to a new version of linguistic determinism that I'm dubbing "Calligraphic Determinism. (Basically it's about how speculative thinking within a knowledge community requires a script that can support new concepts by generating new words. You can compound them all you like; they need to generate spoken words, and that means some kind of rules of grammar? I think?

This might suggest to you the direction of a post put together all too quickly under pressure of loss of free time to overtime pay, coffee intoxication, and some scholarship about Sumerian and the emergence of the Mediterranean oecumene. But first, in due deference to the stimulative effects of morning coffee on top of all-too-little-sleep, a digression about sibyls.



They're the ancestral voices prophesying war, by the way. First, "ancestral." I continue to be struck by Niall Sharples' picture of Early Iron Age Wessex reviving the pre-Bronze Age tradition of ancestors of whom they in fact knew exactly nothing, and who were probably not their ancestors at all. (Since the current hot take is that the Beaker People replaced Neolithic Britons in the Early Bronze Age. Colour me skeptical, but the Beaker People did gussy up Stonehenge. Maybe they were appropriating the ancestors, too?) Second, "prophesy," because, in spite of what seems obvious about oracles and sibyls, sibyls don't do prophecy. Something much, much more interesting is happening. I guess that should be obvious from the fact that sibyls have been a big thing in literature ever since Virgil made the Cumaean Sibyl into Aeneas' guide to the underworld. That Sibyl admittedly did then predict the rise of the prototypical early Iron Age state, the Rome of the monarchy, but that is where literature differs from reality, and that distinction is possibly even at least glimpsed in Iron Age writing.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Iron Age/ Industrial Revolution Origins, Plus Housekeeping

By Stone Monki - 100_9866.jpg.ok.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28214332
So Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins Research Base was inaugurated on 16 February, 1948, by President Gabriel Videla, "the first head of state to visit Antarctica." It is officially the capital of Antarctic Commune, and the way things are going, will probably be the northernmost inhabitable place on the planet in fifty years or so. The Wiki article  says that Chile began to perform acts of sovereignty in the Antarctic the year before. 

Either someone's been Google Translating out of the Spanish, or this might belong on Pornhub. 

President Videla and some Wehrmacht cosplayers enjoy an old time Antarctic summer. (Enjoy some Chilean goose-stepping here. It's oddly compelling, I have to say.)
The Economist does not mention that the Chilean Antarctic Expedition was a response to Operation Tabarin, and the islands in question were actually the South Shetlands, and specifically, Greenwich Island, on which Chilean "Base Arturo Pratt" is located. My bad! As for The Economist, it is not clear that President Videla was ever on Greenwich, and it is certainly not clear why it would be trying to start a war with the southern cone of Latin America over possession of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Maybe there's coal there?  

In other news, the prototypes of the Neo-Assyrian Royal Annals might be epic literature, with an "Epic of Sargon" predating and informing the more famous Epic of Gilgamesh? I don't know that this gets us anywhere: We've reached the point where writing about technology is batting its wings against the same cage as writing itself. Ancient scribes aren't up to anything as ambitious as a year-chronicle, so they're not up to telling us how iron was made. 

Okay: Enough of that. I started this post with the idea that I was going to recap my explanation of the origins of the British Industrial Revolution. (Spoiler: It happened because of export subsidies, high taxes, especially revenue-raising tariffs on imports, and persistent, large, state deficits. If you're wondering why I decided to talk about that this week; Yeah, me, too. Kidding! Before the week turned out to be about porn stars, there was a stir on the tariff front. If I were postblogging Monday --and I'm frankly beginning to think that someone needs to make that project happen-- you'd know what I mean.)

Unexpectedly, the post did not develop in the direction of recapping state spending on wars, generating foreign exchange for the use of, and export bounties/tariffs. Recall that I jumped aboard a project of reinterpreting the beginnings of the Iron Age because I'm all about the relationship of early iron production to woodland management. At first the connection seemed obvious. Iron axes are good for woodland clearance; charcoal is necessary for making iron; more woodland clearance makes for more charcoal. Positive feedback! (Or, "hysteresis,"  if you're an economist and want to show off your Latin, rather than a former physics undergrad, and want to show off your Introduction to Partial Differential Equations scars.) It was only recently that the revelation that salt, soda and potash are made from charcoal as well, impinged. Soda, being a primordial industrial component (and substituable for potash) leads to glass and detergents. The latter, in turn, leads to the production of "luxury," that is, clean and dyed, cloth.

Okay, well, my postblogging has directed attention to British exports of coal, and natural resource exports have also been in the news of late. Rather than directing you to the political side of the Kinder Morgan question, here's a link to a recent post by Liveo di Matteo at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. So what about coal and the origins of the Industrial Revolution? A scorching hot take would be that, if "Dutch Disease" were real, British exports of coal ought to have retarded industrial development. Certainly the old time English were obsessed with the idea that exporting raw yarn was like exporting jobs and revenues!(In the stone age of economics, people thought that a combination of tariff barriers and subsidies could be used to promote industrialisation and national prosperity. Nowadays, we've turned economics into a science, and can resolve such questions by simply inputting some data series into one of those computer models I hear so much about every time we ask at work why computers can't order carrot juice.*)

On the other hand, English exports of coal were subsidised. One way of understanding that is that by undercutting competitive fuels, coal might have made those competitors cheaper, and promoted growth in other industries. Since charcoal and firewood make salt, soap and glass,there's a valid line of inquiry here. In Iron Age or even Industrial Revolution studies, it's hard to get at soap, and even hard to get at salt, but glass is pretty robust. What might turn up if one pursued that line of inquiry?
Vann Copse, Waverley, Surrey. It's the local government area that includes Godalming, if you were wondering, and it is in the Weald, as probably doesn't surprise you at all.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Postblogging Technology, February 1948, II: The Dipstick Problem

Star Leopard
R_. C_.
Vancouver, Canada.

Dear Father:

So, the truth finally came out about Don Bennett in Britain, last week; and I, as a seasoned Atlantic crossing veteran of two round trips, could not be more pleased! It's bad news for the British aviation industry, but perhaps we'll forgive it when we're enjoying the two promenades, complete bar, and roller-skating rink they're putting into the Brabazon. 

Speaking for myself, you may still hear about me roller skating around a drive-in this summer. My interview with Magnum's was a DISASTER!! They told me I'd get a call later this week, but that was just pity. I don't know what went wrong? I waltzed in there like I was going to own the place and. . . 


Wait, never mind, I know what went wrong! It was Ronnie being Ronnie. 

Also, and to be hundred percent fair to myself (because someone has to), I was agitated by some unexpected difficulties regarding interviews for my Senior Thesis. Someone very important to the history of it all has gone missing, and no-one knows or cares where he is? Hmmph.

Uncle George (and Grace) used to do a thing where, if an article was particularly important, they did a separate letter. This month's Fortune has a huge article about weather control (you know, cloud seeding and the like).  It gets a little bit non-technologically technical, with a discussion of the insurance implications, which are obviously huge. If this works (and it looks like it does), it's only a matter of time before some of our neighbours try using it to protect their orange crops, and we need to know where we stand, soonest. Also, I thought it would be fun to march right into the law library and find out what's what! I hope that you like my little paper!


Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie.
Obviously the real point is that Fortune has fallen hook-line-and-sinker for this b.s. At this late date, we're talking more sociology (anthropology?) of science than history, but' it's still an interesting bump on the road to our modern world. Along with Armstrong of FM and Ventile fabrics (illustrating that fashion doesn't have patents, but does have innovation), there's a lot in here to justify a "Patent Troll" tag.


Friday, April 6, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, IX: Chariotry, Cavalry, Infantry and Casseroles

Pinned twice from a website where this is buried deep in the archives. It's an "Iraqi casserole." That's all I know.
The words of Tiglath-Pileser I (1114--1076BC), strong king, unrivalled king of the universe, king of the four quarters, king of all princes . . . attentive purification priest, to whom by the command of the god Samas the holy sceptre was given . . . whose weapons the god Assur has sharpened and whose name he has pronounced eternally for control of the four quarters, capturer of distant districts to borders above and below, radiant day whose brilliance overwhelms the regions,splendid flame which covers the hostile land like a rain storm, and who by the command of the god Enlil, having no rival defeats the enemy of the god Assur; . . . 

At that time I marched to the insubmissive land Katmuhu which had withheld tribute and impost from the god Assur, my lord. I conquered the entire land of Katmuhu. I brought out their booty, property and possessions. Their cities I burnt, razed and destroyed. The remainder of the (inhabitants of the city of) Katmuhu, who had fled from my weapons (and) crossed over to the city Seressu which is on the opposite bank of the Tigris, made that city their stronghold. Taking my chariots and warriors I hacked through the rough mountain range and difficult paths with copper picks and made a good way for the passage of my chariots and troops. I crossed the Tigris and conquered their fortified city, Seressu. I spread out like grain-heaps the corpses of their men-at-arms in the battle. I made their blood flow in the hollows and plains of the mountains. At that time mL laid low like sheep, with the army of the land Katmuhu, the army of the Paphu which had come to the aid and assistance of the land Katmuhu. I built up mounds with the corpses of their men-at-arms on mountain ledges. I allowed the River Name to carry off the bodies of their warriors out to the Tigris. I captured in battle their king, Kili-Teshub, son of Kali-Teshub, who is called Errupi. I carried off his wives, his natural sons, his clan, copper kettles, five bronze bath-tubs, together with their gods, gold and silver, the best of their property. I brought out their booty. I burnt, razed (and) destroyed that city and its palace."

Welcome to the Late Bronze Age.