25 December 2012

Stalking Turkish Santa Claus

This article appears in PORK #9, out now from Goblinko. Read it all here!

We drove out of the scrub-covered hills into a valley covered in greenhouses and dust. Everything was warped and bent in the July Mediterranean heat: the giant tan mountains to our left, the huge azure sea to our right, the palm trees and the battered red trucks and the squat concrete housing blocks. A week of 100 degrees and 90% humidity changes your brain chemistry, but not enough to explain what we saw next: a giant statue of Santa Claus in the middle of the roundabout.

We were in Demre, a sprawling farm town on the Turkish coast, with houses sprinkled amid a forest of greenhouses filled with vegetables and fruit. Except for the pictures of Santa Claus hanging everywhere, the 3-story concrete apartment blocks and shabby storefronts with blingy neon signs could be anywhere in Anatolia. But this town is special: a long time ago, when the town was called Myra, a young man named Nicholas was was appointed bishop of its Christian congregation. As bishop, Nicholas was known for giving secret gifts, saving the town from famine, and even getting tax breaks from the Emperor. He died on December 6, around 350 AD – and the legend of Saint Nicholas was born.

In Demre we parked and walked over to St. Nicholas’ church. It was ‘under restoration’ and covered in scaffolding. Built in the 9th century, it was part-ruined inside, with some nice Byzantine mosaics. For hundreds of years, the faithful came here to visit the Saint, whose bones oozed a magical healing liquid. Today Nicholas’ tomb is empty. It was smashed wide open in the year 1087, when passing Italian sailors took advantage of a recent Turkish invasion to break into the church, steal Nicholas’ skull and long bones, and bring them back to Bari, where he is now the patron saint. (Fortunately, the bones kept secreting the magical ‘manna’ in their new location. You can buy some today if you’re ever in Bari.) Batting cleanup, some Venetian sailors stopped by during one of the crusades a dozen years later and took the rest of the bones (mostly the small stuff) back to Venice.

We emerged from the coolness of the church into a stew of heat and humidity. Three Russian women were clustered around a statue of the saint, kissing its toes and muttering prayers while they nodded catatonically. In the square outside, the air of contemplation evaporated under an onslaught of souvenir shops covered in gaudy Cyrillic lettering: St. Nicholas is one of Russia’s most popular saints, Russian tourists have recently bought up big chunks of the Turkish coast, and so gift shop owners in Demre speak Russian now.

Across from the gift shops, of course, was another statue: this time a 12-foot high bronze Santa Claus, in his full fur suit and surrounded by children. The weathered inscription on the base commemorates the “International Santa Claus Activities of 1997”, with participants from 27 countries. It hurt my brain a little bit, imagining a gaggle of Japanese, Kazakh, and Finnish children running around this dusty Turkish farm town doing ‘Santa Claus activities’. (What were they doing? Giving presents? Sliding down chimneys? Deciding who’s naughty or nice?) 

Demre’s mayor, Süleyman Topcu, got into Santa in a big way about 10 years ago. The nearby coastline is gorgeous everywhere except Demre, so the northern European tourist hordes drove right through without stopping to spend their euros and rubles. (Demre does have some cool ancient cliff tombs, but those were nerds-only back then.) Topcu hit on Santa Claus as his town’s meal ticket. I imagine his internal dialogue was something like: “these tourists love Santa, and we have Santa’s motherfucking home town RIGHT HERE!!!” A few years later, the jolly fat man in the red fur suit stares down at you from lampposts and storefronts throughout the fierce Mediterranean summer. Even the city logo wasn’t spared.

Now keep in mind that Turks are Muslims (the drinking kind, but still), and have a pretty limited interest (like, none) in Christian holidays. This wasn’t going to get in the way of
Demre’s Santa boosters, however: the local Father Christmas foundation started a petition in 1997 to bring St. Nicholas’ bones back from Italy to their ‘rightful resting place.’ After all, Santa might have been from here, but having a (literal) piece of the guy would be much better marketing. The Turkish government did the locals one better in 2009. As part of its campaign to get some of Turkey’s more spectacular archaeological finds (like Priam’s treasure or the Pergamon Altar) back from the countries that looted them in the 19th century, the Minister of Culture demanded that Italy return the Saint’s bones to their original resting place. Archaeologist Professor Nevat Çevik said that everyone should respect St. Nick’s wishes: “he would have said ‘bury me in Bari’ if he wanted to… the remains should be back in his grave so that St. Nicholas can rest in peace.”

Of course, no law covers 900-year old cases of body snatching. The Turkish side also underestimates how crucial magical monastic mummies and saintly skeleton secretions are to Italian Catholicism. There is, in fact, a complete lack of mummies or skeletons on display in your typical mosque. So the repatriation request was always doomed to fail. But Demre has succeeded in roping in tourism: over 400,000 people visited the ‘Father Christmas ruins’ last year, and an endless parade of Russian girls in bikinis and heels mince around the once lonely cliff tombs striking dramatic poses. Local gift shop owners have become experts on sourcing St. Nicholas icons from Chinese factories, and are happy.

For our part, an hour in Demre was quite enough: we drove off into the heat haze, and quickly found some jungle ruins with a much better beach.

21 December 2012

Apocalypse blah

I know, I know. It’s December 21, 2012, this is a blog about archaeology and popular culture, and I’m supposed to say something witty about how the world hasn’t ended yet. But to tell you the truth I’ve always been bored to death by the nonexistent ‘Mayan’ ‘Apocalypse’, because it’s so stupid. The Maya Calendar is just… a calendar. The world doesn’t end on the New Year, or Chinese New Year, or the Age of Aquarius, or the millenium. And, as far as I can tell, no one really believed the ‘apocalypse 2012’ thing anyway (unlike the Y2K hysteria).

I’ve heard second-hand that there’s a lot of hippy freaks running around the pyramids in the Yucatán this last week, and there's lots of amusing tidbits out there if you care to look:

A Mexican Indian seer who calls himself Ac Tah, and who has traveled around Mexico erecting small pyramids he calls "neurological circuits," said he holds high hopes for Dec. 21. "We are preparing ourselves to receive a huge magnetic field straight from the center of the galaxy," he said.
There's also some action at a pyramid in Serbia (!)
In Serbia, the place to be is the southeastern, pyramid-shaped Rtanj mountain, rumored to be spared when the rest of the world turns to rubble.

Local residents are cashing in, with hotels being booked out by visitors.

Darko, a 28-year-old designer visiting from Belgrade, told the AFP news agency: "I do not really believe that the end of the world is coming, but it is nice to be here in case something unusual happens."
The Huffington Post liveblog has much more like this:

Stay classy, New York Post
All this seems like a good way to fill up a slow news day (and a slow hotel season): the HuffPo has it right when they described it as a ‘worldwide frenzy of advertisers and new agers'. An unholy alliance if there ever was one.

The only people handling this thing with any dignity are actual Maya communities. Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú has declared that Maya communities will speak tomorrow with their take on the new calendrical era and what it means for humanity. Stay tuned. In the meantime enjoy those magnetic fields.

10 December 2012

Berlusconi: the Mummy Returns

"Return of the Mummy": French daily Libération's snide comment on Silvio Berlusconi's return to Italian politics (after announcing his retirement at least 1000000 times). Not that he will win, but maybe there'll be some undead bunga-bunga.

Stolen from Luca Pareschi's Facebook feed (Grazie, caro!)

09 December 2012

Pharaoh Morsi

Revolutions always spawn great graffiti. Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian prime minister, was mocked as 'pharaoh' for his seizure of dictatorial emergency powers (now, apparently, cancelled - or maybe not?)
I love this stencil.
Via the Guardian
Here's a couple more caricatures in the same vein from around the webs:

This one is from the US Republican Party! Their newfound dislike of Egyptian dictators is charming, let's hope it keeps up.

And another from the Temple of Mut blog.

02 December 2012

Hard truths about North Korea's unicorn lair

I SO wish (Gawker)
"North Korean archaeologists discover unicorn lair" is maybe the best lede ever. Yesterday this amazing press release from North Korea got splattered all over the interwebs: 
Pyongyang, November 29 (KCNA) -- Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668). The lair is located 200 meters from the Yongmyong Temple in Moran Hill in Pyongyang City. A rectangular rock carved with words "Unicorn Lair" stands in front of the lair. The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).
The 'unicorn' in this case is a Kirin, a chimera-like beast common to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythologies. The Kirin is right up therein the power rankings with dragons and phoenixes, and has a very decent beer named after it.
Maltier than your average unicorn
Like everything in North Korea, bad translation + opaque political posturing = wackiness. But as Sixiang Wang notes at sci-fi blog IO9:
The English release poorly translated the name of a historical location, Kiringul, as "Unicorn Lair," a very evocative name for Westerners. But in Korean history, the name Kiringul has a rather different significance. Kiringul is one of the sites associated with King Tongmyŏng, the founder of Koguryŏ, an ancient Korean kingdom. The thrust of the North Korean government's announcement is that it claims to have discovered Kiringul, and thus to have proven that Pyongyang is the modern site of the ancient capital of Koguryŏ.
The mausoleum of Tyongmong (Japan Focus
Koguryo is one of these kingdoms, like Troy, Camelot, or Israel, that is kind of legendary, kind of historical, and also key to national identity. The kingdom left archaeological traces from Manchuria (in China) through the Korean peninsula and has been claimed by all three countries. There are over 10,000 Koguryo tombs, many with cool wall paintings. In 2002, South Korea and China traded accusations about the theft of two of these murals from a tomb in North Korea. China and North Korea competed to claim Koguryo on the World Heritage List first, giving UNESCO a giant headache which it solved by putting the Chinese and North Korean sites on the list at the same time in 2004. Adding to the complication, some people think the (long extinct) Koguryo language might have been related to Japanese. The political machinations remind me a little of the struggle over Philip of Macedon's tomb at Vergina (Greece), which has variously been claimed as Greek, Macedonian, Albanian, or Bulgarian heritage.

The Kiringul 'Unicorn Lair' (via IO9)
North Korea, mind you, has a history of weirdo nationalist archaeology (which also suits South Korean nationalists) and of associating its rulers with magical powers. The fact that the 'lair' happens to be in Pyongyang strengthens North Korea's claims to be the inheritor of Korean history, and as Wang speculates in that IO9 article, its claims that Kim Jong Un is the latest in a line of superhuman rulers.
Moon and Sun dieties from a Koguryo tomb (Japan Focus)
The hard truth about the unicorn lair: it's more politics than cheerful insanity. I wish it was the other way around.

Read MOAR:

No, the North Korean government did not claim it found evidence of unicorns [IO9]
The contested heritage of Koguryo [Japan Focus]
North Korean archaeology of convenience [Far Outliers]

Post scriptum: I love that a science fiction blog has the web's best coverage of an archaeology story. For more on the connections between the two, read: Archaeology is Science Fiction. And don't miss:  more unicorn coverage on Archaeopop.

10 November 2012

One Minute Meme: All Creative Work is Derivative

Nina Paley's One Minute Meme for Question Copyright:
The whole history of human culture evolves through copying, making tiny transformations (sometimes called "errors") with each replication. Copying is the engine of cultural progress. It is not "stealing." It is, in fact, quite beautiful, and leads to a cultural diversity that inspires awe.

This video's got me grinning ear-to ear. Music by Todd Michaelsen. Thanks to Patch Crowley, whose Survival of Antiquity tumblr is the ideal form of archaeopop sensibility.

The 'making of': Nina recruited a team to take go to the Met in New York "to find clear examples of visual language evolution". 900+ images and a lot of photoshop later, she had the images to make this video. Take a bow, Jesus!

06 November 2012

Osiris-Themed Roller Coaster

"Fly Osiris", the new roller coaster at 'Parc Astérix' in France. The "new PHARAONIC attraction"! Whatever you want to say about the French, at least they like a little archaeology in their theme parks. Spotted in the Paris Metro. Bonus points for the ironic graffiti (Osiris = god of the dead)

05 November 2012

Rise of the drones

The drone revolution reached archaeology this summer. Archaeologists from Vanderbilt University are using a backpack-sized styrofoam drone called Skate to map the early colonial Peruvian site of Mawchu Lllacta from the air.

The drone can carry 1080p HD video cameras, infrared sensors, cameras, or other instruments. You can program its flight path to cover a desired area, then let it go. As Prof. Steven Wernke explains in the above video, can gather data equivalent to 3 seasons of ground-based mapping in about 10 minutes. What do you do with it then? Make a 3D model of the site, identify new features, really, whatever you want.
The Aurora Flight Sciences Skate drone
Another drone in archaeological use is the Microdrones md4-200, which was fitted with a stereoscopic camera in order to reconstruct some Scythian burial mounds in Russia and record this pyramid in Querétaro, Mexico.

Aerial surveillance never had such a funky soundtack.

Now I tend to think of drones as sinister, immoral military technology, which they are. Aurora brags that the Skate puts "first-hand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for pop-up and fleeting threats... in the hands of the individual warfighter". They illustrate this with a goofy promo video, which dramatically reenacts a US soldier using a Skate to track down a trailer-dwelling redneck. Unconstitutional as hell, but that's a feature, not a bug. The interest in these things goes all the way to the top: the attentive news reader will have noticed Barack Obama's nauseating personal involvement in murder by drone in a number of countries. Drones are bad news for civil liberties and the rule of law.

On the other hand, many commercial technologies, including the interwebs you're reading this on, originated as US military projects, then trickled down to any number of useful consumer technologies. GPS on your iPhone, high-quality satellite imagery (Google Maps), and many more fit in this box. And drone tech is getting dirt cheap, spawning whole communities of DIY drone enthusiasts. Apparently Bill Gates wants to deliver vaccines to places in Africa using drones. And for the price of an iPad (the cheapest one mind you), you can go to Amazon and buy yourself a drone that you can control with your iPhone via wifi. I hear protesters in certain countries are using them to monitor the police now. The best part is, in the US flying your own spy drone is still legal!

Anyway, from this point of view it's no surprise that archaeologists are taking up the technology. It makes me a little sad that all those pre-digital age site mapping skills I learned as a wee sprout are now transcended, but the alternative is so much better. Finding sites, mapping sites, monitoring conservation, maybe someday even doing geophysical survey - all these things can be done at high quality for extremely low cost compared to a few years ago. I predict this technology will be close to mandatory within a few years.

03 November 2012

Hobbits run afoul of trademark

Kevin Stead/COSMOS
It seems the contemporary masters of Middle-Earth would rather not have hobbits in the fossil record. Reports the Guardian:
It was, perhaps, inevitable that Homo floresiensis, the three-foot-tall species of primitive human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, would come to be widely known as "hobbits". After all, like JRR Tolkien's creation, they were "a little people, about half our height". But a New Zealand scientist planning an event about the species has been banned from describing the ancient people as "hobbits" by the company which owns the film rights to The Hobbit.
Dr Brent Alloway, associate professor at Victoria University, is planning a free lecture next month at which two of the archaeologists involved in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Professor Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna, will speak about the species. The talk is planned to coincide with the premiere of The Hobbit film, and Alloway had planned to call the lecture "The Other Hobbit", as Homo floresiensis is commonly known.
But when he approached the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns certain rights in The Hobbit, he was told by their lawyer that "it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark HOBBIT."
His first mistake was asking in the first place - I doubt these guys are patrolling the halls of academe for trademark infringement. Or then again, maybe they are. At any rate, the talk title was changed to "A newly discovered species of Little People – unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis." "Little people" still has a pleasantly Tolkeinian ring to it, I suppose.

The Tolkein Estate was uninvolved in this particular bit of mean-spiritedness.

02 November 2012

Stone Age Zombies vs. Oldest Gay Caveman

Look, scientific proof of caveman zombies.
Every generation writes the past it wants to read. This week, my favorite greenwashing network has a seasonally-appropriate article on Stone Age zombies:
The zombie apocalypse may be much more than a plot device exploited by modern horror movies. In fact, fears about the walking dead may go back all the way to the Stone Age. Archaeologists working in Europe and the Middle East have recently unearthed evidence of a mysterious Stone Age "skull-smashing" culture, according to New Scientist. Human skulls buried underneath an ancient settlement in Syria were found detached from their bodies with their faces smashed in. Eerily, it appears that the skulls were exhumed and detached from their bodies several years after originally being buried. It was then that they were smashed in and reburied separate from their bodies.
According to Juan José Ibañez of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, the finding could suggest that these Stone Age "skull-smashers" believed the living were under some kind of threat from the dead. Perhaps they believed that the only way of protecting themselves was to smash in the corpses' faces, detach their heads and rebury them apart from their bodies. 
But here's the creepy thing: many of the 10,000-year-old skulls appear to have been separated from their spines long after their bodies had already begun to decompose. Why would this skull-smashing ritual be performed so long after individuals had died? Did they only pose a threat to the living long after their original burial and death?
Who the heck knows? People do weird stuff with bodies. Sky burial? The Paris catacombs? Until recently in some parts of Greece people would exhume their relatives five years after death and wash their bones with wine. But did these ancient Syrians think the dead would come back in search of spicy brains? Notice that Ibañez (a colleague and a fine guy) doesn't make any such claim - it's the journos trying to make archaeology 'hip and relevant'. It's not the first such 'find': we also have ancient zombies at Hierakonpolis in Egypt, Cahokia in Illinois, Easter Island, and Ireland.
It reminds me a lot of the gay caveman story from last year:

Does he set off your gaydar?
The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb in the Czech Republic with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves. "From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova. "Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual," she added. 
The papers had too much fun with this one (headlines: "first gay caveman", "the oldest gay in the village", "caveman outed"), provoking rebukes from the excavators. As John Hawks noted, "to have a 'gay caveman,' you need a skeleton that is both gay and a caveman. And this ain't either!" Indeed, we're talking about the Bronze Age here, and 'non gender normative' is far from our concept of 'gay', (as Kristina Killgrove and Rosemary Joyce elegantly explain). In practice every culture has many ways to express gender, even in ours which sometimes pretends that there's just two kinds.

But ultimately these stories - like a lot of popular writing about the past - are about making our  contemporary cultural obsessions seem normal by finding them in an excavation trench. The LGBT struggle for equal rights has been all over the news for a decade now (and winning). And with the proliferation of zombie-themed media in recent years you'd think there was a zombie community in the midst of some kind of recognition struggle too. I've been sloggin my way through AMC's zombie-themed soap opera (much too much family drama for my taste), and puzzling what's behind this increasingly crazy obsession. Why are the US Marines running actual zombie combat drills? Why does the CDC have a zombie preparedness page? I want to say it's a mélange of American fears: foreign hordes, terrorists, and the loss of our empire rolled up together. But I'm still scratching my head.

Regardless, keep your eye out for these archaeological headlines that seem a little too hip to be true: they're pointing to our own present cultural obsessions more than the past. With that in mind, let's look at the logical next step: Clive Barker directs 'Zombies vs. Gladiators'!!! 

"My brief to myself on this project is to give the audience not only zombies they have never seen before but also a Rome they have never seen before"!
 I'm so excited!

02 October 2012

Autumn Lull

It was a quiet summer at Archaeopop and the trend is continuing into fall. I needed a break from the blog; I love it but it consumes a surprising amount of processing power. After three years, I'm also chafing a little bit at my own self-imposed limits with this blog - sometimes I just want to forget about archaeology and talk about other things. I occasionally daydream about leveraging the blog toward some kind of social media celebrity, but that way lies mental illness, divorce, and let's be honest, poverty. Privacy is the new celebrity anyway, right?

These musings are by way of saying I'm not sure yet what you'll be seeing here in the next few months. There's definitely a new PORK article coming soon (or just read it here), and I'm sitting on some academic articles, story ideas, and a pile of cool photos that I hope to share sooner or later.

And thanks for reading, it makes it all worthwhile.

Sums up the mood at Archaeopop. Spotted in Venice.

30 August 2012

This is what 500 tipsy archaeologists look like

Yep, pretty much like everyone else, but with much more obscure conversation starters. ("So you're working on the Norwegian Iron Age?"). I made it to the Old Student House in Helsinki for the opening party for the European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting, after a few rounds with a Scotsman, an Englishman, and an honorary Welshman who lives in Bosnia. I know that sounds like the setup for a bad joke, but I'm not sure what the punchline is yet. The house band is packed with hipsters but they're playing reggae, Michael Jackson, and Elton John; or at least they were when I ducked out for a burger.

Helsinki is trippy, it's filled with blondes and people wearing parachute pants with giant decals all over them. Beer is very expensive.

Also, some people were giving papers today, including myself. More conference highlights later in the week/end.

Also, I'm back from vacation - so the blog will be too.

01 August 2012

Etruscan Lands Toilet Paper

That would be 'Etruscan Lands' toilet paper, provided to us in our hotel in Orvieto. A perfect way to make archaeology part of your everyday life.

The Etruscans were the most powerful and developed pre-Roman civilization of Italy. Orvieto was one of their centers, so the 'Etrusploitation' is pretty heavy around there. Then again, Orvieto has a ton of awesome Etruscan stuff, like the sweet necropolis at Crocifisso del Tufo!

24 July 2012

Modern Mummification

Raised on a steady diet of mail-order esoterica, weirdos need to go the extra mile to impress me. Here's one: the cult of modern mummifiers called Summum.

Cat Mummification in Progress (Wikimedia) 
Founded in 1975 in Utah by Summum Bonum Amon Ra ('Corky Ra' to his friends), Summum is a cocktail of neoplatonism, early 20th century hermeticism, and the special revelations Corky Ra received from small blue extraterrestrials. A bunch of his lectures are online, some with great titles like 'Mummification, Kung Fu, and Ale'. It's pretty good stuff as far as new age groups go. They also sell special meditation wine that is aged inside a pyramid:
The sacramental nectars of Summum are just such natural condensers of charged elemental energies. Based upon an ancient pre-Egyptian formula, these soma nectars are produced in a large pyramid in Salt Lake City, Utah. Within the pyramid, they are left in a creative state for seventy-seven days, then aged from one to fifteen years. The nectars are called "publications" because they contain spiritual concepts and information.
This paragon of infographics helps us visualize the process. This is definitely the world's only pyramid that is also a bonded winery.
This is what I really mean when I tell my wife that I'm working on a 'publication' (summum.org)
This is all very entertaining, but what we're really here for is the mummification. The 'modern mummification' process (which they call 'mummification of transference') is different from the ancient Egyptian equivalent:
“The ancient Egyptians turned people into a dried-out object like beef jerky. But our wet process keeps the body fresh and supple,” said Ra. “When, after several months, we remove the bodies of animals that have been kept in my special preserving solution in a sealed tank, their owners are surprised to find their pets have soft fur, eyes that look normal and healthy and there is a total absence of rigor mortis.“ The body being mummified is taken from the preserving liquid vat, cleaned, covered in soft lanolin cream. It's then wrapped in 27 layers of gauze, the only similarity to a typical mummy. The body is then encased in resin (like the natural amber holding dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park) and then painted over and sealed in with a plastic paint. They are next covered in plaster used in broken bone casts and finally, if an animal, covered in gold leaf paint or any other color. 
Finally, they are put into solid metal mummiform containers, like the one holding 'Rooster', a bull mastiff (shown here as the gold leaf was being applied). Once finished, you can put the mummy on display in your home, or wherever.

This public access TV video has some great images of the process:

More video from Nat Geo (with some truly goofy moments) and Discovery (who get Corky talking about the little blue extraterrestrials).

It seems like Summum's bread and butter is pet mummification; so far it seems only Corky himself (who died in 2008) has been given the full human treatment. (He and his mummiform rest inside the pyramid, presumably not far from the wine.) According to an interview in Edit International, almost 1500 people have paid up in advance to be mummified after death, including British tycoon Mohammed El-Fayed! According to Corky,
We are dealing with 167 of the rich and famous and their children, some of them movie stars who want their bodies to last as close to forever as possible. They have contracted with Summum to be perfectly preserved with their genetics and DNA to become the advanced beings of the future. We had to sign special agreements with their lawyers that their names would not be used.
One of the implications of 'modern mummification' - or so everyone hopes - is that it will preserve the body and DNA well enough for later revival and pave the way for immortality. It's an archaeopop twist on cryonics and other flavors of 70s futurism - supporting my contention that archaeology and science fiction are more or less the same thing in popular culture.

Corky Ra with a friend (source)
I find myself totally liking these people. They're new age but in no way sinister, and provide a bizarre but interesting service. They seem so All-American. Hopefully one day I can make it to the pyramid!

22 July 2012

600-year-old underwear found in Austrian Castle

It sounds like a punchline to a very nerdy joke, but the science checks out: a cache of linen found in Lengburg Castle in East Tyrol is the 'missing link' in underwear history. Carbon-dated to about 600 years BP, the find was kept on the down low until it could be authenticated. 

Physorg reports:

Fashion experts describe the find as surprising because the bra had commonly been thought to be only little more than 100 years old... Although the linen garments were unearthed in 2008, they did not make news until now says Beatrix Nutz, the archaeologist responsible for the discovery. Researching the items and carbon dating them to make sure they were genuine took some time. "We didn't believe it ourselves," she said in a telephone call from the Tyrolean city of Innsbruck. "From what we knew, there was no such thing as bra-like garments in the 15th century."

The university said the four bras were among more than 2,700 textile fragments — some linen, others linen combined with cotton — that were found intermixed with dirt, wood, straw and pieces of leather. "Four linen textiles resemble modern-time bras" with distinct cups and one in particular looks like today's version, it said, with "two broad shoulder straps and a possible back strap, not preserved but indicated by partially torn edges of the cups onto which it was attached." And the lingerie was not only functional. The bras were intricately decorated with lace and other ornamentation, the statement said, suggesting they were also meant to please a suitor. While paintings of the era show outerwear, they do not reveal what women wore beneath. Davidson, the fashion curator, described the finds as "kind of a missing link" in the history of women's underwear
Lest the lads feel left out, also discovered was this sexy number, which is a pair of men's underwear:

"We didn't believe it ourselves," she said in a telephone call from the Tyrolean city of Innsbruck. "From what we knew, there was no such thing as bra-like garments in the 15th century." The university said the four bras were among more than 2,700 textile fragments — some linen, others linen combined with cotton — that were found intermixed with dirt, wood, straw and pieces of leather. "Four linen textiles resemble modern-time bras" with distinct cups and one in particular looks like today's version, it said, with "two broad shoulder straps and a possible back strap, not preserved but indicated by partially torn edges of the cups onto which it was attached." And the lingerie was not only functional. The bras were intricately decorated with lace and other ornamentation, the statement said, suggesting they were also meant to please a suitor. While paintings of the era show outerwear, they do not reveal what women wore beneath. Davidson, the fashion curator, described the finds as "kind of a missing link" in the history of women's underwear.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-07-year-old-linen-bras-austrian-castle.html#jCp

 Good for budgie-smuggling and not much else!

09 July 2012

Modern Charioteers: Robot Obama

Last week we saw some sick modern motorcycle chariots. I wouldn't want you to think the chariot revival is only for manly biker men, so here's something for you Berkeley types:


via Wackymobile
Drink it in.

This chariot previously came in George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger models. Designer Bob Schneeveis is a neurobiologist and longtime alternative energy designer. Watch his hysterical interview with the 'Hippie Gourmet' here (embedding disabled) to see robot George Bush in a gladiator outfit pulling two hippies in tie-dyed shirts and funny hats around Schneeveis' neighborhood.

Here's the chariot in action at Maker Faire SF 2011! (Sans Obama head)

02 July 2012

The Modern Charioteer

In my usual morning reading about the global economic meltdown my mind was blown by this modern-day charioteer cruising on the interstate. He's driving this thing with reins. Note the NASCAR billboard!
via Art Car
Chariot racing was the main spectator sport of Greek and Roman civilization, complete with heroic riders, politicized racing factions and city-destroying sports riots. Our anonymous driver above isn't the only one to feel the magic. Youtube user Magician132 has video of his awesome motorcycle chariots in action at Sturgis. He sells these things!

Says Magician132:
I build three a year and the price range is around $100,000.00. It's worth every penny. You can have three or four people with you and carry a bunch. The best way I can describe riding on my chariot is as follows, especially doing about 70 MPH, that's when you really get this feeling that comes over you, picture yourself standing on a flying carpet as everything goes floating by, it's awesome. That's the feeling, nothing like it.
They were going to do an exhibition at Daytona Beach in 2008, with WCW wrestler Buff Bagwell as the celebrity spokesman! But the shipping company lost some crucial parts so it didn't happen. Bummer. This looks like a sickeningly awesome ride.

Because I'm a nerd, I have to point out that this idea was first explored back in the early days of motoring. Check out this German four-bike chariot from 1938.

via Silodrome

01 July 2012

Archaeopop in PORK: Occupy the Anthropocene

I've been doing an Archaeopop column for PORK, the Pacific Northwest's magazine of Rock n' Roll, Weirdo Art, and Bad Ideas. Issue #7 is out now, read it online here. This month, a meditation on Occupy, trash, and the anthropocene.

Yes I am jumping on this Occupy bandwagon, because it’s for real. As philosophy, it’s a serious upgrade of the hippy ‘be here now’: because it’s not just being, but OCCUPYING. Don’t be the navel-gazing wallflower, get in the pogo pit. Be French Canadian and go around banging on a pot. Whatever you do, live your life in full view.

Human history is filled with daring occupations, big and small. I was reading in Science magazine today about the first people to occupy the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. They showed up 9,000 years ago, as soon as the glaciers melted – even before plants started growing out there – and made lives for themselves. In fact, humans got everywhere in really ancient times with nothing but stone tools, and knowledge of the stars. Last issue I wrote about how maybe people came to ancient America from the east as well as the west. Even more impressive is the people that made it from Africa to Australia 50,000 years back, or the Polynesians and Melanesians who journeyed to the Pacific islands and even Madagascar. Those people weren’t just sitting around ‘being’, they were occupiers.

Now let me get to the other half of the title. The anthropocene is the geological age we live in right now. It means ‘new human age’. That’s right, we’ve changed the chemistry and geology of the earth enough to have a whole new age named after us. Like it or not, the world we live in is made by our own hands. We’ve been terraforming the planet for at least 50,000 years and even the deserts of Australia and rainforests of Brazil have the stamp of humanity on them. After thousands of years of thinking of nature as either our implacable enemy, or our utopian Eden, we have to come to terms with the fact that nature… is us.

Now a lot of people left and right are seriously invested in pretending that humans are just spectators in this world of ours. The fundies think that climate change can’t happen because it’s not in the magic book. Deep ecologists have the idea that the world is some kind of holy virgin being raped, so everyone should castrate themselves to make it stop. We live in a culture of propaganda and delusion, where driving a Prius saves trees and coal is clean. Occupying the Anthropocene is about cutting through this haze by naming and claiming all that we do as humans. If we think of the world as one big archaeological site – because it IS one – then we can use an archaeologist’s eye to understand what’s really happening. What do you find at a dig? Human acts and the traces they leave. It’s garbage, but it’s also treasure – because it tells us about things that really happened rather than what others want us to believe.

A vignette: Archaeologist Bill Rathje ran an excavation for 20 years in a Tucson landfill. Then he went and talked to the families whose trash they were digging up. Guess what? The truth was in the trash! People recycled less and threw away much more. They ate more junk food, drank more booze, and looked at more porno magazines than they admitted. But they weren’t lying, they just didn’t want to remember the truth. As Rathje said: "That what people have owned -- and thrown away -- can speak more eloquently, informatively, and truthfully about the lives they lead than they themselves ever may." (Rathje died in May at age 66. I think he’s a hero of the Anthropocene.)

You get it, don’t you? You know you’ve felt like garbage for a lot of your life. Maybe they literally threw you in a dumpster at some point. But listen – it’s good to be trash, because trash where the truth is. If you can see the people and things that have been discarded, you can lift the veils of propaganda about ‘how the world really is’. To do that, you need to become an archaeologist and learn to see patterns in a random stream of waste.

Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, once visited a British garbage dump and found the meaning of love. He said, “to recreate, if not beauty, than an aesthetic dimension in things like this – in trash itself – that is the true love of the world. Because what is love? Love is not idealization. Every true lover knows that if you really love a woman or a man you don't idealize him or her. Love means that you accept a person with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points, nonetheless the person is an absolute for you, everything that makes life worth living. You see perfection in imperfection itself. and that's how we should learn to love the world. A true ecologist loves all this.” [Points to huge pile of garbage.]

Our Anthropocene era is a hot mess, a glorious ruin, and it is sometimes dirty and ugly. But turning away in shame is a betrayal. We’re all hideous bags of mucus and blood, bacteria and crap, but we still love and are loved. In that spirit we have to Occupy the Anthropocene, jump in the mosh pit of the world, wade shamelessly into environmental degradation, get a bloody nose from the fumes, and write it a love note anyway. To kick a destructive habit you have to look the problem in the eye, challenge it to a fight, and keep punching until you win. It’s an alchemical process: Occupy, archaeology, and everything else worth doing takes base matter – ancient trash, hippies, whatever – and tries to transmute it something eternal. Lead into gold, garbage into history, and – we can hope – discontent into revolution.

30 June 2012

Rihanna and the Sphinx

Rihanna sings "Where have you been" at the Hackney Music Festival last weekend. 

I like the glowing pyramid behind the Sphinx. This is totally part of her Illuminati mind control conspiracy program. Between that and those stocking-shorts things she's wearing, I think I've become a minion.

A chicken dressed like Julius Caesar

Or so they say. The tunica is not bad but I don't know what's up with the sash.
(Timothy Archibald)
Why, you ask? You see, Smithsonian Magazine was doing a story on how popular chicken is as a food, and they needed some illustrations, and the photo editor was like, "what if you were to take portraits of raw chickens, dressed up as some of the most famous leaders in history?" You can't make this stuff up. See the rest here.

17 June 2012

Agamemnon vs. a leg of lamb

Wait wait, there's also this incredible dubstep number about Agamemnon and a leg of lamb. There's booty clapping.

Another fine production of rathergood.com. But the song on iTunes, along with many, many more in this vein!

Return of the Viking Kittens

Was listening to Zeppelin this morning and I had the realization that I NEVER SHARED THE VIKING KITTIES HERE. Watch as they drive their ships to new lands.


This meme is so old it's dead (2004?) but that doesn't mean we can't have a revival. Original flash video is hosted here. Mastermind Joel Veitch has a website packed with strange flash videos and weirdo songs. I like these Stalinist Laibach kitties and this hard techno track about ultraviolent German coal mining machines and Godzilla.

09 June 2012

Madball Mummy!!!

Pork Magazine Tumblr
SEAN of PORK MAGAZINE just did this sweet mummy mad ball. Remember mad balls, the 80s weirdo grossout toy? I wish I could have one of these in the flesh. Sean sez:
Via the Pork Magazine Tumblr. Mummy mummy mummy! I gotta post some mummies videos one of these days.

Lego Göbekli Tepe

This brilliant model of the ancient neolithic shrine at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey is by someone named Carl. Nice work, Carl! Via Archaeosoup productions (Twitter / Facebook).

Today's battle cry: Occupy Archaeology... with LEGO!!!!!!!

Music to Dig By: Cut Copy, 'Pharaohs and Pyramids'

Australia's Cut Copy play with archaeology lately. Check out the video for 'Blink and You'll Miss a Revolution', featuring some medieval Planet-of-the-Apes dudes resurrecting the band via ancient rituals in an cave shrine. Wha!? It's off last year's album, 'Zonoscope'.

Cut Copy - Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution from Cut Copy on Vimeo.

I also dig 'Pharoahs and Pyramids':

  Cut Copy - Pharaohs and Pyramids by modularpeople

House is burning, she's so cold / Hands of silver, hands of gold / Rising from a pyramid
She'll take you where the pharaohs live / Neatly packaged, sleek design / Glossy pamphlet, neon sign / Borrowed like a cigarette / So that way you'll be good, I guess
That's Egyptological in only the most abstract way of course. 'Pharaohs and Pyramids' is the classic Cut Copy sound. I think this is their best album so far, including the tracks where they sound EXACTLY like Andy McCluskey from OMD!

03 June 2012

Society of the Flaccid Trowel

Are there days where your trowel is not so firm? Perhaps your sidewalls are sagging more than they used to? There's a group for you.
This is perhaps my favorite coffee mug, but the owner won't let me steal it. You can get your own over at Coyote Press.

29 May 2012

Child Care for Archaeologists

Some of us have normal baby pictures. I have some like this:

That's me at a tender age, plopped into a test excavation unit at Fort Mason, San Francisco, circa 1978. My mom was getting her CRM business started at the time and got the contract to do monitoring and Phase I excavations there. I remember her saying that the Army guys she was liaising with were flabbergasted that their archaeologist was not only a young woman but showed up with a baby on her hip!

If you think about it, the excavation unit is the perfect child care facility: lots of dirt to play in and the kid can't get out. Hopefully I'll have a chance to do this with my kids some day.

20 May 2012

Pentametron: All the Tweets, in Iambic Pentameter

Pentametron is an algorithm that combs Twitter for iambic pentameters and puts them together into  poems. There's something for everyone, even soccer fans.
 If that one makes too much sense, there's plenty of straight-up surrealism:

Creator Ranjit Bhatnagar explains how the algorithm works (via the Daily Beast)
If it knows all the words, it checks the [Carnegie Mellon University] dictionary for the stress patterns of the words, which add up to the rhythm of the tweet. If the rhythm seems to match the pattern of iambic pentameter, the tweet goes into a bin of potential lines of poetry. On average, about one in every 50,000 tweets qualifies.
Bhatnagar takes inspiration from the the surrealists, but with a modern spin:
It's fascinating to me that on the internet of free phone and video calls, one of the most popular sites just moves words around. Lots and lots of words. One of the goals of Pentametron is to show how weird and interesting this giant flood of language is.
When I was reading a lot of ancient Greek I always loved the arcane intricacies of poetic meter. I'd love to see what kind of trochaic trimeter or Sapphic stanzas Twitter spews forth, but in the meantime I'll have to content myself with a some more of these romantic iambs:

Thanks to Umlud's Place for tipping me off to this one!

07 May 2012

Tennis greats as terracotta warriors

Rafa poses with his doppelganger
I'm not sure I entirely understand this one, but here's some pictures of tennis greats re-imagined as terracotta warriors. Above, Nadal. Below, Federer. But which is me, and which is mini-me?!?

Apparently this has been done twice: once for the 2007 Masters Cup in Shanghai, and another round in 2010 for the Rolex Masters Shanghai. The final lineup: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, Andy Roddick, David Ferrer, Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet.

Read more about it here and here. Me, I'm confused. Which dead king are they guarding?!?!

This is just... trippy.
Hat tip to Archaeosoup Productions for turning me on to this.

Want more terracotta kitsch? Made of Legos, perhaps? Click right here!!!

04 May 2012

Archaeopop news roundup for May 4

Enmeshed in writing a paper about museums and historic preservation in Gaziantep, Turkey, so I'm just tossing you a few morsels to distract you.

Paul Krugman and Ron Paul debate Roman monetary policy. Krugman: "I am not a defender of the economic policies of the emperor Diocletian."

Tomb of the McMummies creator wants to branch out: "I would like to include mummies from different cultures and fast food chains such as Taco Bell Aztecs, Pizza Hut Pompeii, and scurvy Pirates made from Long John Silver's." 

Looters take over the Crac des Chevaliers. The situation in Syria is bad, bad, bad.

The Getty lays off their whole education department. Now James Cuno can use the money to buy some of those artifacts being looted in Syria!

All you ever wanted to know about Etruscan sex life. "They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths."

A fantastic time lapse video showing the origins of globalization.

My obsession with weird chainmail is officially out of control (via Drunkethics):

Love the DIY Lego 'stache