Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts

04 September 2019

Think Green




Meeting an old friend in Galway Cathedral.
by Robert Lopresti

In August my family spent three weeks in Ireland, the ancestral home of one-eighth of my genes.  I wish I could tie it to mysteries or writing, but I really can't (except for the ending of this piece, as you will see).  I suppose I should just be grateful I have no crimes to report.  But, in any case, here are my random  observations from the Rocky Road to Dublin.

* Speaking of crime, we were warned in advance that "People there are so friendly you will think they are trying to get something from you."  We found that to be an exaggeration, but in Galway, where we spent the first week, some people did go above and beyond. The same woman helped us in two different neighborhoods, making me wonder if she was following us.

* In Galway (but not Dublin) every supermarket sold packages of pancakes, just like you might buy tortillas or naans here.  They often said "American style!" although I have never seen them sold that way in America.

* And speaking of food oddities, This photo shows a combination I never expected to see:

*One more food thing!  Pizzerias in Dublin don't seem to believe that basil goes on a Margherita pizza.  It was invented to honor the queen of Italy and has the colors of the national flag.  Red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella), and green (basil).  You guys are apparently honoring Switzerland. 

* Every shop in Dublin bragged of "Ireland's Best Coffee!" or "Dublin's Favorite Burger!" or "Best Ice Cream!"  If someone had promised "Temple Bar's Third-Best Tea!" I would have purchased some just out of gratitude for the change.

* By coincidence we arrived the week of the Galway Races, which is a Big Thing in the horsey world.  Every day one of the main streets was stuffed with buses taking people off to the track.  Thursday was Ladies Day and it looked like prom night, with the city full of young women in fancy dresses, wobbling along on five inch heels.

* One of the highlights of our trip was taking the ferry to Inis Mor, largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast.  They say there are three thousand miles of stone walls on the three islands, and I believe them.  We rented bikes and peddled our way to Dun Aonghasa, a fort that is at least 2,500 years old.  When I put this photo up on Facebook one my friends asked: "Is that blood on the gateposts?"  Could be, could be.

* My favorite living Irish non-mystery author is Roddy Doyle.  (You may have seen The Commtments, based on his first novel.)  A few years ago he created a Twitter account as research for a novel.  Doyle filled it with conversations between two imaginary friends in a pub and this proved so popular that he turned it into a play, which has been performed in pubs in the British Isles for a few years.  Two Pints just premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.  We got to see it, and it is hilarious.  I hear it is coming to America  next year, so be on the look-out.

* Being archaeology nuts we made a special trip to Newgrange, a 5,000-old-passage tomb in County Meath.  What you see in this photo is a man-made hill. On the winter solstice the sunrise shines straight through the passage into the tomb.  You can enter a raffle to be one of the lucky people inside to watch it happen, but be warned that, this being Ireland in December, you may see nothing but fog and rain.

*We also visited Tara, the famed home of Celtic history.  Unfortunately, it is much more interesting from the air.  On the ground you see mostly rolling hills and can't detect much of the ancient patterns.  Not surprisingly, there are signs warning that drones are not permitted.

* If you know your Irish history you know that the General Post Office in Dublin was the center of the Easter uprising in 1916.  (So legendary did it become it that the joke goes that "thirty brave men marched into the post office and ten thousand heroes marched out.")  You can visit the GPO now and see a terrific exhibit that tries to explain the whole event with its bloody background and bloody aftermath.

* The National Library of Ireland currently has an excellent exhibit on W.B. Yeats.  It is definitely worth an hour of your time featuring recordings of his poetry, rare copies of his books, and art connected to his life.   (His brother and the unrequited love who was his muse were both fine painters.)  What struck me as weird was I did not see a single mention of what I think of as his most famous poem.  

Also on display was a survey Yeats received from some university on the subject of creativity.  One question asked: what did he do in the fallow periods when he was waiting for inspiration to strike?  His answer: read detective stories.  Good man!

The reason we scheduled our trip for August was to coincide with the World Science Fiction Convention, which was held in Dublin.  Some of you may remember that I reported here about an earlier Worldcon.  This one was also plenty interesting and I'll tell you about it in two weeks.  In the mean time have a cup of third-best tea, or something..





















26 October 2017

The North Forty


by Eve Fisher

With any luck, my husband and I just got back from a much-needed vacation, so here's an update from my friend Linda Thompson. She wrote this letter to a mutual friend of ours who lives in New York City, who likes to keep informed about life in Laskin, South Dakota... 

...Every summer as you know, a friend of mine goes on a dig with a group of archaeologists.  I've suggested that he could find really interesting things by staying in town and excavating my garden, but he just laughs.  He has no idea what can get buried in a small town.  Remember when Mary Olson killed her husband?  That asparagus bed's still pretty lush...  (I know, I know, it was never proven he was ever buried there, but you can re-read all about that here in "The Asparagus Bed".)

But the truth of the matter is, my friend only interested in dinosaurs.

Image result for wall drug dinosaur

Of course, America's been dinosaur-happy for a long time.  I was, too, once, but I got over it when I learned that birds were direct descendants of dinosaurs, which sounds sillier in a book than it does watching a flock of pelicans.  Pelicans are 30 million years old.  Pelicans are sharks with wings.  In flight they look like large albino pterodactyls, and I'll bet they'd whip the pants off of any leather-winged pterosaur stupid enough to not be extinct.  On the water, they patrol the lake with the same carefree approach of prison search-lights on a moonless night with bloodhounds baying in the background.  If I were a fish, they'd give me a heart attack.  As it is, they just give me the willies.



Of course, once you start observing things like that, you can't stop.  At least, I can't.  I started watching the crows and flickers stalking my yard, head cocked, one eye staring cold and unblinking down at the ground until they spot their prey.  Maybe I saw "The Birds" too young, along with "Psycho" and "Marlin Perkins' Wild America", but I believe birds spook more people than me:  why else would carry-out fried chicken be available in every convenience store in America?  It's our way of reassuring ourselves of our place on the food chain.



The reason I'm able to make all these observations is that my yard is the neighborhood wildlife sanctuary.  Besides the birds, a tribe of rabbits comes and frolics on my lawn every night.  This isn't because I leave out little nubbins of carrots and pretend that I'm Beatrix Potter.  It's because I have the only chemical-free lawn on my block, full of dandelions, clover, and creeping charlie.  (You can imagine how popular I am with my neighbors.)  The rabbits love it.  They eat and gambol and do all the things that rabbits do.  They must stay up all night doing it, too, because morning always finds a couple of them sprawled out on the grass like limp cats.  Sometimes a cat is sprawled out like a limp rabbit, not five feet away.  Who's imitating whom, I don't know.  All I know is that they're all too tuckered to move.

Now I don't mind the rabbits eating all the clover they can hold.  I'm certainly not going to eat it.  Nor do I mind them fraternizing with cats, although I think it proves the truth of the phrase "hare-brained".  What I mind is this Roman-orgy atmosphere they give the place.  The way some of them look, I expect to see little togas and vine-wreaths lying under the marigolds and zucchini.

Solanum melongena 24 08 2012 (1).JPGAnd there's the problem.  You see, my garden is in my front yard because it's the only place that gets enough sun to grow anything but moss.  In any major urban center - say 12,000 and up - I would have been run out of town on a rail for plowing up perfectly good sod to grow vegetables.

But here in Laskin, it's a tourist attraction. Every walker in town stops at my chicken-wire fence and comments freely about the condition of my soil.  My neighbors bring their out-of-town visitors over for the afternoon, which tells you something about the entertainment options of Laskin.  I stepped outside one day and found a dozen people, none of whom I knew from Adam's off-ox, standing around wondering why I put the beans there, why my peppers weren't blooming, and what in the world was THAT?  (Eggplant.)

No my North Forty is good clean family fun.  It's also a lot of hard work.  Note to Martha Stewart:  the real key to a perfect garden is to put it in the front yard, where every weed becomes public knowledge.  God knows that after years of this, my character has been thoroughly shredded, and what I should do is just quit, but that would start even more rumors... 

I need an excuse, a reason, like an excavation.  I believe there's something under the potato patch.  We just haven't looked properly.  I need professional archaeologists.  After all there are dinosaurs on the property already, and it's not my fault if they've evolved to the point where they have feathers...

30 November 2011

Digging Up Old Crimes


by Robert Lopresti

We just got back from San Francisco, which felt like deja vu all over again, since we were there last fall for Bouchercon.   Even stayed at the same hotel.  But this time we were attending a very different conference: the fourteenth annual Biblical Archaeology Fest.

I discussed this event the last time my wife and I attended it.  I won't repeat myself except to explain that this is not a religious event, but a chance for archaeology buffs and wannabees to learn from the experts (who are actually meeting together across town).

And I heard a lot of wonderful lectures on subjects ranging from the horned altar of Gath to misconceptions about second Temple-era Judaism, but I will stick to two lectures that I can reasonably tie to crime.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill's talk was titled "No, No, You Didn't Find That."  He is an archaeologist and since he is willing to face cameras and was for several years working in Los Angeles, he became a go-to person when someone made an outrageous claim about archaeology.  This happens with depressing regularity.  (Does anyone keep track of how many times Noah's Ark has been discovered in the last century?  Or the Ark of the Covenant?)

A pseudoarchaeological claim is generally made by an amateur (who will often argue that the elitists - e.g. those with training - are conspiring against him).  There are a lot of possible motives: money, fame, religious or other ideology.  Cargill offered his "magic formula" for success in pseudoarchaeology:  start with a media blitz (as opposed to attempting publication in a scholarly journal or conference), misinformation dump (forcing critics to go through piles of irrelevant stuff, disproving it all), and attacking the critics.

One fun example: Glenn Beck claiming that the Dead Sea Scrolls were texts being hidden from Emperor Constantine.  What's a difference of three centuries between friends?

Law and Order: Ancient Canaan
Rami Arav has had an interesting career.  With his fresh doctorate in hand he moved back to Israel and began searching for a place to excavate in his native Galigee.  Aware that no on e had determined the site of  Bethsaida (the third most mentioned place in the Gospels).he set out to find it, and in ten days he did.


He duly reported this at a conference in front of an audience of about ten people (the air conditioning had broken down).  One of them happened to be a reporter who wrote that the site of  the miracle of loaves and fishes had been discovered.  Two days later everyone in the world wanted to interview Rami Arav.  The result is 25 years later he is still digging at Bethesda - or more accurately at Geshur, the huge ancient city whose ruins Bethesda was built on.  Arav estmates he has dug up about 4% of the site's 25 acres.

Amazing story, but what does this have to do with crime?  Well, Arav explains that archaeologicists "are like C.S.I.  First we take thousands of pictures.  Then we bring in experts.  Geologists, biologists,  chemists, computer experts, paleozoologists," and so on. (Quotation is approximate.)   He says archaeologists only deal with mute witnesses (texts get passed on to other scholars, but ruins can nonetheless provide remarkable evidence.

For example, one issue about the Geshur era (say, 3.000 years ago) is the question of law and order: was there a reliable system of justice, or something more like anarchy?  Is there anyway to find out without written texts?

Well, one of the things Arav's workers found was a four-meter wide paved road outside the city.  Nobody builds a paved road that wide for pedestrians or people on horseback.  That road was for wheeled wagons.  Now, think about that.  The merchant wouldn't bring a wagon pulled by animals to the city if he wasn't fairly comfortable that it would be there the next time he looked for it, and that someone would take an interest if it disappeared.  So there was law and order in Geshur.  Cool, huh?

I have 19 pages of notes from the conference, but I'll be merciful.  Meanwhile, keep digging.