Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sustainability in unexpected places: archeology 1

In Sustainability news from Michigan's research universities for the week ending June 25, 2011, I made the following scheduling note.
There will be a bonus part four, sustainability stories from archeology.*
*Yes, archeology. I make a point of finding sustainability stories in the strangest places. In the lecture on sustainability I give to my students, I present a list of the usual suspects, such as food, energy, and water, and then include tourism. Trust me, I can find sustainability in almost any issue, including war.
In Sustainability news from midwestern research universities for the week ending June 25, 2011, I changed my mind about the order in which I'd post this entry.
As for what's up next, I think it will be the sustainability in archeology post. I have all the articles I need for that one. Part three proper requires some filling out, just like last week's part three, so it will have to wait.
As for why archeology, other than my wanting to make a point that one can find sustainability angles in almost any subject (one of these days, I'll post about sustainability in reality TV; that should be a hoot, but don't hold your breaths, as it could be more than a year before I get around to it), I have other reasons. First, it's a good way to show that sustainability issues, environmental, social, or economic, have been around a long time. Second, archeology makes for an example of a cultural issue in sustainability in its own right, both in terms of maintaining a rich and diverse culture and in terms of promoting a bearable built environment. Finally, I have a rich source of archeology articles to use. A poster who goes by the name of annetteboardman on Daily Kos has been sending me archeology articles for Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday for more than two years. The convenience alone would explain why I chose to blog about sustainability in archeology first.

If some of these articles look familiar, it's because I included them in Weekly roundup and sustainability news from national commercial sources for the week ending June 11, 2011. The rest were first posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Summer Solstice 2011 edition). Hey, I'm an environmentalist. I recycle.

General Sustainability

New Scientist (UK): Early Americans helped colonise Easter Island
22:34 06 June 2011 by Michael Marshall
South Americans helped colonise Easter Island centuries before Europeans reached it. Clear genetic evidence has, for the first time, given support to elements of this controversial theory showing that while the remote island was mostly colonised from the west, there was also some influx of people from the Americas.

Easter Island is the easternmost island of Polynesia, the scattering of islands that stretches across the Pacific. It is also one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.

So how did it come to be inhabited in the first place? Genetics, archaeology and linguistics all show that as a whole, Polynesia was colonised from Asia, probably from around Taiwan. The various lines of evidence suggest people began migrating east around 5500 years ago, reached Polynesia 2500 years later, before finally gaining Easter Island after another 1500 years.
What's sustainability-related about this news? Just that it's about Easter Island, which is a notorious example of societal and environmental collapse. I would be remiss not including it in "A blog about societal, cultural, and civilizational collapse, and how to stave it off or survive it." As the saying goes, no one, or in this case, no place, is completely useless; it can always be used as a bad example. As Jared Diamond found out, Easter Island makes for a spectacular "bad example".

Environment, including science and technology

LiveScience: Egyptian Mummies Hold Clues of Ancient Air Pollution
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 03 June 2011 Time: 08:45 AM ET
Ancient Egyptians may have been exposed to air pollution way back when, according to new evidence of particulates in the lungs of 15 mummies, including noblemen and priests.

Particulates, tiny microscopic particles that irritate the lungs, have been linked to a wide array of modern-day illnesses, including heart disease, lung ailments and cancer. The particulates are typically linked to post-industrial activities, such as fossil-fuel burning.

But after hearing of reports of such particulates being found in mummy tissue, Roger Montgomerie, a doctoral student at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester, decided to take a closer look at mummified lung tissue. His work represents the first attempt to identify and study particulates in multiple Egyptian mummies.
Remember what I wrote above about sustainability problems having been with humans for a long time? Air pollution is one of those problems. In this case, it's most likely indoor air pollution.

Agence France Presse via Lascaux's 18,000 year-old cave art under threat
by Laurent Banguet
June 23, 201
They call her the Old Lady, for she is some 18,000 years old and frail, which is why she is protected by steel doors, security cameras and the gentlest nurturing the 21st century has to offer.

Tucked away on a hillside in Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwest France, the dame of Lascaux is an Ice Age treasure.

Her walls are covered with remarkable pictures of horses, extinct bison and ibexes, painted when Man was still a hunter-gatherer and his survival far from certain.

But the cave is also at threat from invisible invaders: microbial contaminants resulting from some awful mistakes made last century.
Preserving culture and the built environment--yes, sustainability issues, especially when there is a scientific and environmental angle to them.

Columbia Tribune: NRC considers MU’s timeline for radiation
By Janese Silvey
Jeff Wilcox hasn’t experienced any symptoms or illnesses he suspects would have been caused by the low-level radiation in his building on the University of Missouri campus.

Still, he’s not exactly comfortable being required to wear a dosimeter — which measures the radiation he’s exposed to — when he’s working in Pickard Hall. That and the radiation signs in parts of the building are a little unnerving, he said.

Wilcox, who has worked at the Museum of Art and Archaeology at Pickard for 35 years, expressed his concerns during a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing yesterday. It was part of NRC’s yearlong process to consider the university’s request to indefinitely extend a federal timeline that would require MU to clean up the radioactive material at Pickard within two years.
I'd use this article for the transition from science and the environment to society, but I have an even better choice for that role.

BBC: Iron-Age brewing evidence found in southeastern France
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the occupants of southeastern France were brewing beer during the Iron Age, some 2,500 years ago.

A paper in Human Ecology outlines the discovery of barley grains that had been sprouted in a process known as malting; an oven found nearby may have been used to regulate the process.

Beer brewing's heritage stretches back to the Bronze Age in China and the Middle East, but this is the earliest sign of the practice in France, where wine-making had already taken hold.
What, me pass up a food-related post? Never! Besides, food makes for the perfect transition from science to society, a technique I've used many times before.

Society, including culture and politics

Mail Tribune: A family's trash has a story of its own
By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
The printing on what appeared to have been the bottom of an old pickle jar caught our attention.

"June 9, 1903. Portland, Oregon. Kerr Glass," read the embossed print on the glass turned purple by the sun.

We recently dug the broken remnant out of an old dump we are cleaning up on our Sterling Creek property south of Jacksonville.

Yes, the broken piece is trash. Garbage. Junk.

But it is antique junk, albeit we will never know its story. Whose hands once held the jar? Were the pickles dill or sweet? Like my late great aunt Gladys, did they toss in a hot pepper to allow the pickles to bite back?

The glass offers a tantalizing glimpse of those who once walked our land. Actually, they would have likely been late arrivals, given the fact miners first flocked to Sterling Creek in the early 1850s in search of gold.
Remember, there is no away; everything must go somewhere. Also, archeology is all about examining people's trash. Once trash becomes old enough, it becomes valuable and worth preserving.

Speaking of preservation...

Irish Examiner: Looters target wreckage of German U-boat off Cork
By Dan Buckley
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
TROPHY hunters have targeted the recently discovered German U-boat that sank off Roche’s Point in Cork during the First World War.

The Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating several incidents in which clothes and other personal items belonging to its 27-strong crew were looted from the 49-metre, 400-tonne German vessel UC-42. It sank during a mine-laying operation in 1917. The hull appears to have been damaged by rogue divers attempting to remove a propeller.

The underwater archaeology unit of the Department of Arts and Heritage has received reports of damage to and removal of pieces of the wreck and other objects from the site.
A wreck isn't really trash, but it has been discarded, even if not by its owners' choice.

The Independent (UK): Half of all ancient Aboriginal rock art at risk of being lost
Archaeologists launch campaign to save Australia's indigenous paintings
By Kathy Marks
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Aboriginal elders call the ancient paintings and engravings that dot the landscape their history books.

But while Australia has some of the world's most outstanding and abundant rock art, experts say half of it could disappear over the next 50 years unless it is better protected.

Urban development, mining and vandalism – as well as erosion and other natural processes – are among threats to the art found in rock shelters, often in remote areas. Some sites have already been bulldozed, or had paintings defaced or carved out. Many Aboriginal communities have lost their connection with the art, which their ancestors looked after and retouched over generations.
Art isn't trash, either, but its preservation is about sustaining a culture.

Huffington Post: Is Gaddafi Stashing Rocket Launchers In The Roman Ruins Of Leptis Magna To Stymie NATO?
Posted: 06/22/11 12:46 AM ET
Embattled Libyan leader Muammar el-Gaddafi may be hiding weapons among some of the most spectacular Roman ruins in the Mediterranean, daring NATO to risk damaging the site if it decides to destroy the cache. The site, Leptis Magna, is located in the Libyan town of Al Khums, halfway between the capital of Tripoli and Misurata, a city that has seen some of the fiercest recent fighting. Leptis Magna was the birthplace of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who assumed power in 193 A.D. and greatly enhanced the city's infrastructure over the course of his reign.
As if there weren't enough reasons to hate Gaddafi. Also, remember what I keep repeating about war being a sustainability issue? Case in point. So is the next item.

Agence France Presse via Google: Iraq's ancient Ur treasures 'in danger'
By Jacques Clement (AFP) – 6 days ago
UR, Iraq — Standing before the imposing ziggurat which was once part of a temple complex at the Sumerian capital of Ur, Iraqi archaeologist Abdelamir Hamdani worried about the natural elements that are eating away at one of the wonders of Mesopotamia.

"Is there anybody thinking about preserving these monuments?" asked the doctoral student from New York's Stony Brook University who is one of the leaders of a nascent project to conserve the few unearthed remains of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of civilisation.

The buried treasures of Ur still beckon foreign archaeologists who have begun cautiously returning to Iraq, but experts like Hamdani say that preserving the sites is more urgent than digging for more.
Even civil unrest and the aftermath of war made archeology as a sustainability issue more acute.

Al-Ahram: Antiquities ministry denies any misappropriation of public funds using artefacts
An official from the antiquities ministry alleges that the independent press and political opponents are behind a rumour campaign to settle old scores
Nevine El-Aref , Monday 20 Jun 2011
On Sunday, the Public Funds Prosecution investigated accusations made by archaeologist Nour Abdel Samad that former First Lady Suzanne Mubarak and Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass abused their official government positions and misappropriated public funds in the form of national artefacts.

Hawass had said during a talk show that a Tutankhamun exhibition collected $17 million in donations for Suzanne Mubarak’s charity fund which Abdel Samad said was illegal as the charity is privately owned.

The archaeologist also accused Hawass of illegally signing a contract with the National Geographical Society to exhibit unique Egyptian artefacts in the United States and Australia.

The accusation points to the contract which allowed artefacts from the Tutankhamun collection to be sent to Minnesota on an exhibition in which runs until 15 April 2012 without documenting the number or types of the pieces. It also said that the Egyptian Museum sent 143 artefacts to Washington between 30 July and 14 October 2002 which have not yet been returned.
Now, what discussion of archeology in crisis would be complete without mentioning Egypt? Don't answer that; it's rhetorical. Do answer this--isn't Zahi Hawass supposed to be one of the good guys?

Speaking of good guys in archeology, check out the next story.

The Western Mail via Wales Online: ‘Indiana Jones in reverse’ wins archaeology ‘Oscar’
by Robin Turner, Western Mail
Valuable archaeological sites are being “decimated” to service a full-scale industry in selling human history, according to the man dubbed “Indiana Jones in reverse”.

Swansea University archaeologist Dr David Gill said many fortune hunters are abandoning all care in recovering artefacts and resorting instead to means, like mechanical diggers, that produce quick results.

The 48-year-old from Sketty, Swansea, has now been given one of the highest honours in the rarified world of antiquities for his work in getting artefacts returned to their countries of origin.

The reader in Mediterranean archaeology has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Outstanding Public Service Award.
Good for you, Dr. Gill!

As you could probably tell, I began the transition from society to economy with the entry about Dr. Hawass. Time to continue to bend the circle.

The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah fires its state archaeologists
By Brandon Loomis and Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune
First published Jun 21 2011 12:40PM
Updated Jun 23, 2011 10:57AM
The Utah Department of Community and Culture on Tuesday laid off the state archaeologist and two assistants, leaving the Antiquities section with just two employees: those responsible for maintaining a database necessary for development of roads, railways, buildings and other projects.

Department acting Director Mike Hansen said he was simply carrying out budget cuts ordered by the Legislature to eliminate programs that receive state funds and that do not carry out requirements of state or federal law. A plan from state Human Resources suggested consolidating the three positions into one new "forensic archeologist" job that will be posted Wednesday.
Of all the states to lay off their state archeologists! I'm not just writing that as a scientist who used to work for and beside archeologists. I'm also expressing that as someone with deep family roots in Utah.


The Guardian (UK): Archaeology dating technique uncovers 'property boom' of 3700 BC
English monuments, including Maiden Castle and Windmill Hill, found to have been built, used and abandoned in single lifetime

A new scientific dating technique has revealed there was a building spree more than 5,500 years ago, when many of the most spectacular monuments in the English landscape, such as Maiden Castle in Dorset and Windmill Hill in Wiltshire, were built, used and abandoned in a single lifetime.

The fashion for the monuments, hilltops enclosed by rings of ditches, known to archaeologists as causewayed enclosures, instead of being the ritual work of generations as had been believed, began on the continent centuries earlier but spread from Kent to Cornwall within 50 years in about 3700 BC.

Alex Bayliss, an archaeologist and dating expert at English Heritage, said: "The dates were not what we expected when we began this project but prehistorians are just going to have to get their heads around it, a lot of what we have been taught in the past is complete bollocks."
More in the next article.

Cardiff University (UK) via New computer dating technology changing the history of Britain
June 7, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- In a new study called Gathering Time published this month, archaeologists from English Heritage and Cardiff University have been able to create an accurate timeline of the first 700 years of settlement in Britain. Using a newly refined computer and dating system, the researchers have been able to accurately date battle, migrations and construction. This new dating system has changed what was originally believed to have taken place over a time span of 700 years and narrowed it down to less than 100 years.

An example of the new dating technique can be seen with Windmill Hill. Originally it was believed to have been built between 3,700BC and 3,100BC. The new dating technique has narrowed down that time frame to between 3,700BC and 3,640BC.
Like air pollution, it seems that real estate booms and busts have been with us for a long time.

With the mention of air pollution, this linkspam has now come full circle. Part three (this post was really part four out of order) will be posted sometime tomorrow, after I do some promotion on Kunstler's blog.

Now, it's time to play Rift with my wife. See you all tomorrow!

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