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In which the news is not all completely infuriating!

30 Sep

Some of it is hilarious! In the midst of the Polanski business (here’s a free tip, readers: if you don’t want to go to jail for raping a child, maybe you shouldn’t rape a child), here are some articles that have shown up in my reader and did not make me want to punch a lot of people!

First of all, the Telegraph reports that apparently archaeologists are now thinking that the Battle of Bosworth Fields actually took place about a mile away from the site that’s been previously used to mark it. Awkward!

Also from the Telegraph comes news that a dude who made some wacky claims about Hitler’s skull fragment on a History Channel special never actually examined the fragment. Hey, remember when the History Channel wasn’t all WWII all the time? Yeah, me neither.

And the Times reports that a Van Dyck self-portrait is due to be sold! They also say, however, that “modern detractors argue that van Dyck is to blame for 400 years of flattery and airbrushing in depictions of the famous and the powerful”; maybe I am not so up to date with the art history world, but I have never heard this at all. Is this true?

Or if “what wacky times we live in” is your thing, the BBC reports that a PoW camp in County Durham is for sale on eBay!

Ah, that was refreshing. By the way, for those of you who’d like to know whose movies to illegally download borrow from your friends instead of buying from now on, the LiveJournal celeb-gossip community ohnotheydidn’t has a list of people who’ve signed the “Free Polanski” petition. Fortunately, most of my favorite celebrities and imaginary significant others are not really important enough for anyone to have asked their opinions on the matter, so I can continue with planning our imaginary weddings, but man, this is bad enough. Et tu, Tilda Swinton?

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In which trash may not be after all?

19 Sep

…but it probably is.

Apparently, archaeologists from Hanford, in Washington, are digging through an old landfill in the city! Hanford was a pretty significant site during the Manhattan Project that ultimately resulted in the atomic bombs, and among other things, the Hanford site produced the plutonium used in those bombs; the goal, from what I can tell, is to learn a little more about the era.

Landfills, trash heaps, and the like are usually pretty useful for archaeologists, actually, so this isn’t as far-fetched and ~wacky~ as the tone of that article might suggest. That said, I don’t think I’ve really heard much about excavation for such recent history, so that is new to me.

Alas, they don’t seem to be finding much thus far. Oh well, you never quite know with history, and even less with archaeology.

In which some cave paintings set me off.

16 Sep

So there was a neat article that popped up in my RSS reader from the London Times, about how there’s been some speculation that the cave paintings at Pech-Merle are not all by dudes! The article is here, and this is pretty interesting stuff, but there is a lot in that article that is…not exactly irritating, but kind of weird and off-putting, pretty much from the first paragraph.

Cave art seems always to have been thought of, for no especially good reason, as the work of men.

Okay, that’s fair enough, I guess? I never thought much about it one way or the other, but I guess that’s as good an opening for an article about ladies doing cave-paintings as any.

Perhaps it is because much of the art lies in deep, dark caverns,

Wait, what? Is there any way anyone can find to interpret this that does not boil down to “this is why we figure dudes made them, because everyone knows ladies are afraid of the dark”? Any way at all?

or because many of the paintings and engravings are of large food animals such as mammoth and bison, which men might be supposed to have hunted.

Wait, what? Because…ancient ladies would’ve been completely divorced from the process of hunting, if they weren’t hunting those animals themselves? If they weren’t the ones out there killing the big tough animals like the manly men were, there is no way they could possibly have known what those animals looked like? Seriously, dude, I do not understand what you are saying here.

Cartoons have often suggested that women played a part, however, with the animals shown as a shopping list, or as home décor.

I recognize that this is not meant to be lending sexist cartoons the same weight as actual scholarship, let alone saying that those cartoons may be right, but I don’t know, man, something about this sentence is still just rubbing me the wrong way. That might just be that it’s hard to get sarcasm across in print, though.

Handprints are not found in all, or indeed most, caves, however, and since many are those of men, it is so far impossible to say firmly which if any of the great animal friezes in caves such as Lascaux or Chauvet might be women’s work.

NONE OF THE IMPORTANT STUFF WAS BY LADIES, RIGHT? RIGHT?

While Professor Snow’s research shows that we cannot rule out either sex in any cave as the world’s first muralists, no doubt cartoonists will find in his findings a fertile new field for their humour.

IN CASE YOU DIDN’T CATCH IT THE FIRST TIME, LADIES LIKE TO DECORATE THINGS AND GO SHOPPING, AND THAT’S PRETTY HILARIOUS. Like, seriously, though, if cartoonists have already been making jokes about cave paintings being ~ladythings~, what the heck is finding out that these paintings may actually have been made by women going to accomplish? The jokes have already been made, and instead if you are the type of person who says that the only reason an ancient woman would’ve painted something would’ve been by way of a) decorating or b) nagging, JUST LIKE THOSE ARE THE ONLY THING LADIES ARE GOOD FOR NOW, AMIRITE OR AMIRITE, you instead are probably just going to cite this as proof of that. If, meanwhile, you are genuinely interested in this finding, you will probably just get irritated at how clumsily-written this article is.

In which I run the risk of bewildering people…

14 Sep

…with my love for ancient stone axes. Specifically, in this case, a number of stone axes found in the Kalahari Desert, in the dry lake basin of Lake Makgadikgadi. As you can see from the picture along with the article, they are pretty big. The picture also looks like they’re made of flint—if not, something relatively soft you can flake away, because those have definitely been flaked. Mostly I mention this Totally Fascinating Piece Of Information because I spent a semester cataloging flint tools at the British Museum and it’d be nice to think that didn’t go to waste in the interval while I’m saving up for grad school.

Even if you’re not kind of a dork about Stone Age flint tools, this is pretty exciting. Professor Thomas of Oxford University explains that “the interior of southern Africa has usually been seen as being devoid of significant archaeology,” but they’ve found a bunch of artifacts around the lake dating from the Stone Age.

Also, in response to a request from reader lyndseyjenkins, I saw my way to making an About page! I am not sure exactly what is supposed to go on these, since I figured no one would be that interested in me in particular. If there is anything essential that I’m missing from that (or you think I’d be a valuable addition to your workplace), let me know!

In which a venture is proposed.

14 Sep

The New York Times says that Dogfish Head brewery in Rehoboth Beach has a new idea for beer, using a traditional Peruvian method! This sounds pretty exciting—

“You need to convert the starches in the corn into fermentable sugars,” the always entertaining Mr. Calagione said by phone from his headquarters in Rehoboth Beach. “One way is through the malting process. But another way — there are natural enzymes in human saliva and by chewing on corn, whether they understood the science of it, ancient brewers through trial and error learned that the natural enzymes in saliva would convert the starch in corn into sugar, so it would ferment. It may sound a little unsavory.”

Um.

“We’re going to have an archaeologist and historians and brewers sitting around and chewing 20 pounds of this purple Peruvian corn,” he said. “You kind of chew it in your mouth with your saliva, then push with your tongue to the front of your teeth so that you make these small cakes out of it, then lay them on flat pans and let them sit for 12 hours in the sun or room temperature. That’s when the enzymes are doing their work of converting the starches in that purple corn.”

—okay, though, I have to say, if I get to drink it afterwards, I am so up for historically-accurate beer. I need to round up some historians to make beer with. Or at least drink beer with.

This attempt in particular ended up flopping pretty epically, but man, now I am all jazzed about historical beer. Drinking it or making it. Look, being a Serious Historical Expert does not pay all that great, and I will definitely take Serious Historical Beer-Making as a job. I mean, it combines two of my favorite things: history and beer.

In which there is a lot of saturated fat.

13 Sep

Wow, looking at my stats apparently there has actually been traffic to this blog lately! I am surprised, and now I am sure I’ve jinxed it and I’m probably going to forget all about it soon. Consider yourselves warned. I should also apologize for my lack of interaction; besides generally being terrible at replying to comments and having a pretty terrible couple of days (I spent about six hours straight on Friday crying for no really good reason, that was good times), I am not used to having comments to reply to! It is a strange and somewhat disturbing development. But I really appreciate the thoughts, and, heck, the traffic. It is very cool to know that people are interested in hearing me yammer about things. Well, okay, let’s be honest: complain about things.

Anyhoo, I feel like I have neglected the whole history aspect of this blog pretty badly lately, and that is a shame! Like I say, I had a pretty lousy couple of days, so today my mother and I got together and made brown-butter oatmeal cookies. I saw this recipe in the June issue of Vogue while waiting around for a job interview yesterday, and I didn’t quite trust myself to be stealthy enough to rip it out, nor was I quite shameless enough to just rip it out regardless of stares. Fortunately, the Internet exists, so I used the magic of Google and turned it up at another blog! Hooray!

I would give you delightful photos, but alas, I have lost the charger for my camera’s battery. Instead, because I am sure you are wondering what the heck this has to do with history (we can have a philosophical debate about this, I’m sure—rather, people can, but I am pretty crappy at philosophical debates, so I will probably not have much to say—but I’m fairly certain the June ’09 issue of Vogue does not have that much significance as a primary historical source just yet), here are a few facts about butter throughout history! Who doesn’t love lists of random facts about butter.

  1. According to Peter Hammond’s Food & Feast in Medieval England, gentry families could (did is probably another matter, but they could) purchase butter all year ’round, although “fresh butter must have been in very short supply at some times in the year”. Hammond also says that butter was apparently “very heavily salted”, citing by way of example that “in 1305 the Bishop of Worcester used 1lb of salt for every 10lbs of butter or cheese”.
  2. This 1835 article on butter suggests that “The Romans, who adopted it as an unguent or medicine to anoint the bodies of their children, learnt the invention from the Germans; but neither Greeks nor Romans applied it to the art of cookery.” However, historian Andrew Dalby finds that Northern Europeans did eat butter during the classical period. Frankly I consider that article even more interesting than the facts it contains, since I find the way historical studies and writing have progressed to be pretty interesting in and of themselves. Personally, I’m reassured by the fact that I am not the first person to think it would be interesting to learn a little more about the history of butter. When you start saying to yourself that butter might be interesting to learn about you also start to get a little troubled by the state of your life.
  3. How far back brown butter might go, I’m not sure; a little cursory Googling turned up a recipe from 1918, and no instructions for how to brown butter are given, which suggests that it would’ve at least been common knowledge among chefs. It’s not hard to imagine that someone, somewhere along the line, probably came up with the idea of cooking butter, especially since it’s made in much the same way as clarified butters like ghee.
  4. Just a couple of weeks ago, a couple of peat workers in Ireland found an Iron Age barrel filled with butter out in a bog. Alas, it’s now hardened into a waxy substance called adipocere, so there can be no exciting museum heists that result in cookies made with three-thousand-year-old butter. :(
  5. The seventeenth century finds samp (dried and powdered corn) mixed with milk and butter and “eaten hot or cold” as a breakfast staple in the North American colonies; it comes recommended by Roger Williams! If it’s good enough for the founder of Rhode Island, it’s good enough for you.
  6. The first time I tried to type out “other” in Item #3 there, I came up with “udder”. Apparently I cannot resist a pun.

Plus, the cookies were incredible.

In which there is some 3700-year-old excitement

8 Sep

CNN reports that a 3700-year-old wall in Jerusalem—rather, the segments of it that have been uncovered thus far—is causing a bit of a stir! It’s about eight meters high, made with massive boulders (one archaeologist says about 4 or 5 tons on average). This is not only impressive but it is pretty baffling, because no one is quite sure how they might’ve done it: four or five tons is what we Serious Historical Experts refer to as “pretty fucking enormous”, and “no way am I moving that on my own, fuck you”, and a fair bit of Serious Historical Study has determined that there wasn’t much in the way of construction equipment with which to move 4- or 5-ton boulders 3700 years ago.

…OR THERE WASN’T THAT WE KNOW OF. Which is basically the point and is why this is so exciting: this is how science works, too, which is that once in awhile something will happen that you really do not expect to happen, and then you figure out what caused the difference, and that’s how knowledge moves forward.

Plus, big wall! Made of enormous fucking rocks! Admittedly, I’m a fairly dull person, but I think this is pretty cool.