Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 6

Convent Trees by the Elbow River
John Hooker, 1979, 12" X 16"
oil on canvas (public domain)
Whenever I finished a painting, it was time "to put the magic in". I never really understood what I meant by this phrase, this was my pre-Jung days. I was reading Hermann Hesse with no knowledge of his influences from Jung, but of course I was still getting Jungian stuff subliminally.

I would leave the painting on my easel, and just look at it. I would notice things about that I really liked, and the funny thing about that is that I had no awareness of such while I was painting it at all. These things all seemed accidental. For example, in the painting illustrated here, the shape made by the upper part of the space between the two trees on the right took on the aspect of a stained glass window. Appropriate for a painting of convent grounds next to a cathedral. It was not deliberate.  I might notice something about a brushstroke, or something about the composition, various different things for each painting (provided I didn't hate it which was far more frequent).

All of my observances had a numinous quality to them, hence "the magic". But I also had the feeling, that before I noticed them, they did not exist. I also had the feeling that if I did not "put the magic in", no one else could notice it either. I did not have any rational explanation for this believe, nor did I feel the need to have one. It was all just part of its "isness".

From the Jungian viewpoint, the "irrational" does not mean crazy, or incapable of analytical thought. It just means intuitive and holistic, "Rational" is just ABC 123, everything in order, law based, and the like. Not very creative at all.

I see this in the best Palaeolithic art, too. We do have the same brains. Of course now we have a lot of data filling our minds, conscious stuff. I wonder which of us has more rules and order and scientific procedures. I wonder which of us had more "magic" instead.

Jung used art to access his patient's unconscious. Are you seriously going to try to tell me that the Palaeolithic artist could not experience the aesthetic and its numinous qualities and that they were all just ancient functionaries of a sort? Obviously you are not an artist if that is the case.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 5

"Old Man" Cro-magnon
I had been going to the Canyon Creek ice caves since the late sixties. There was a different road back then, and I remember one section that clung to the edge of a rock face on one side, and had a drop to the creek on the other. That section was always dotted with fallen rocks up to about a foot in size, and I often wondered if the car would be adequate protection if one landed on it. It never happened, though.

There was only one trip where two of my friends and I penetrated really deeply into the cave. Short of a really narrow crevice parallel with the floor in one of the large chambers behind where the impenetrable ice wall now prevents anything more interesting than a stroll in the "tourist area", we visited every part of the cave that was accessible at the time. "Floor" might be misleading, sometimes it was at an angle and there were many large rocks one had to get over.

One of the more exciting parts of the cave, and perhaps that is true with many caves, was the chimney. We had gone as far as we could in the more spacious chambers and passages when we saw it. It's entrance was about four feet above the "floor" and shining a light into it, we saw that it traveled upward at only about fifteen degrees, so it would be an easy climb. It was very small, though. I went in first. Perhaps you are picturing me crawling through it with the light from my helmet guiding the way. Think again. We took no helmets with lights on them. We were bare-headed and just had small flashlights.

I had less than a foot clearance above my head for most of the way as I crawled on my stomach using my hands and feet to propel myself along, and I had less than a foot clearance either side of me. Not a single photon of light had penetrated the cave for most of the journey so far, and of course we had all done what everybody does: we turned off all the lights and placed our hands in front of our face to see if we could detect them at all. It was utter darkness, the darkness you only find deep underground. Funny, though, all of the journey had been uphill.

It had taken us a long time to get to the chimney, probably about an hour, but we were checking every nook, cranny and crevice along the way, searching for new places to squeeze in and explore. It was cold, yes, but as we often say in Alberta, "It's a dry cold". There was often a very slight breeze coming down to us from deeper in the cave, and we had heard stories that no one had explored it all; that there were potentially dangerous parts; and that there was one passage that would lead right to the top of Moose Mountain.
The air was coming in through just very small fissures, though. Not even wide enough to get a hand in there.

There were only two smells: the limestone smell all around us was sometimes penetrated by the faintest whiff of sulphur. A lot of the rock was quite jagged and fractured: that typical Alberta Rockies look that makes you think that the mountain had just raised itself just before you arrived. On the approach, amidst all the scree, that ran down from the cave were a few tiny brachiopods almost gem-like in their crisp detail. Devonian period, about 400 million years old.  Once, a friend who did not know a lot, said that there must have been a great flood, and mentioned Noah. I laughed. "No" I said. "These mountains are made from an old sea bed".

As we went through the chimney, I could sense the thousands (or would it have been millions?) of tons of rock all around me. At no point, did I experience any fear, or even the slightest apprehension about what we were doing, and if any of my friends did, they did not mention it. Nor did I get the idea that I was pushing myself through any symbolic birth passage, either. The only emotion was looking forward to how far we might get.

"There's a creek here", I said to the friend behind me. More a trickle, really, but it was not just a temporary run-off of rainwater, as it actually had little bed with small fragments of rock that had been carried along. It entered through a hole on the right of me and flowed out somewhere through a crack on my left. But it was tiny: less than a foot wide and just a few mm. deep. I tried to stay dry, raising my body as best I could without banging my head on the rock above. That part slowed us down a bit and we all got a just a little wet here and there.

A little further and the chimney ended in a very short widening section that opened out into a short "hallway" about ten feet high at its lowest point. It was like a "T' intersection of a tiny footpath with a country road not much wider than a single lane. The floor consisted of loose rocks sparkling with a very thin glaze of ice. At each end of that "country road" though was solid ice. We had gone as far as it was possible to go. We rested for a little while and then headed back into the chimney, and got a little wetter in the creek. It was much quicker going out as we had seen everything on the way in, and were starting to get a bit too cold for comfort. No archetypal fears had made themselves known to me during the whole expedition. We made it back to the entrance. I suppose we were in the mountain for about two hours.

Then came the shock. I had never experienced anything like that in my life. As we stepped into the sunlight, the smell of Lodgepole Pine and Spruce was almost overwhelming, and I don't mean anything like those dreadful car air fresheners, or the scent from some cleaning product. It smelt like pine, sure, but it also smelled like some rare perfume. It smelled like life. I had not thought of them for the whole time we were in the cave, but experiencing that magical moment I wondered if our Palaeolithic ancestors had experienced something like that, too, the smell of their world that they had never experienced before coming out of their caves.

As you leave the city, the smells change so gradually you do not even notice any smell. We had smelled nothing at the cave entrance on the way in; I had never smelled the trees on any of my shorter visits there either. It was given us as we had spent so long in that lifeless, dark place.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 4

in the Brno museum Anthropos
photo: HTO
In the introductory quote of yesterday's post we hear of reactions to the Canyon Creek cave: dark, eerie, "I'm cold and I want to get out of here." Elsewhere I have heard damp, slippery, dangerous. My, my. They should really sell tickets.

You can see the potential for interpretations of the Palaeolithic caves based on modern experiences that could be projected backward "Caves symbolized the birth canal, with life emanating from within." Of course, no mother in the history of mothers would have said anything involving the words "get out!" right. What mother would ever say: "just GET. HER. OUT. NOW!!!!!!!"

And what of the baby? Some people say that the birth experience cannot be remembered, while others speak of such memories. Remember, too, that we have two minds and one is unconscious and contains repressed memories that can have an undesirable effect in our lives at some future time. Would anyone want to remember their birth? I'll take the repression please.

A woman from the Scottish Highlands told me a story that people where she had lived had believed that when a baby first cries, it is because the baby can feel the memories of the previous incarnation slipping away. This seemed incongruous to me, something more likely to have been overheard in a California hippy commune in the sixties, "and then we passed the bong around again". Yet, traces of a belief in reincarnation in the Highlands was recorded in 1911. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps there were some strange goings on up there. In Anthony Shaffer's Wicker Man, a thank you to a real Lord Summerisle in the credits got me thinking. I could imagine him telling the location scout "Of course, we hardly ever engage in human sacrifice anymore". It was all pure bunk.

Meanwhile, back on earth, the child's "I am cold" speaks nothing of the birth experience. Then again, this is Canada and it is an ice cave. But you would think that the cold would be repressed. Perhaps that is why we still live here: like the Scottish baby forgetting a previous life, perhaps every Canadian forgets the previous winter as soon as it starts to get warm again, and without such repression Canada would be abandoned after the first winter experience.

Even more prosaically, perhaps most of the complaints heard about the ice caves recently were due to having to endure a long hike followed by a thousand foot climb and the knowledge that you will have to go all the way back again afterward after being only able to explore the tourist area of the cave. And what of that sour gas leaking around there, or the sides of mountains coming down because of industrial goings on behind locked gates?

I wonder what real evidence could exist to say that the Palaeolithic caves symbolized the birth canal and why would new life be represented by bison, aurochs, boars and bears? Most of the animals were food animals, but the bear can be both: Sometimes you eat the b'ar, sometimes the b'ar eats you.

Are archetypal conversations often heard at the models of the Altimira Caves, or is it more often "Look at all the pretty animals! Perhaps we should grab a cappuccino after this; did you spot a gift shop for the postcards?"

Interpretation or projection? and of what? Tomorrow: me, boldly going where no man can go again. What is it like spending a couple of hours deep inside a mountain, and what happens when you come back into the light?

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 3

Map of the Kananaskis Park system

"On a hot dry day my back is soaked in sweat under my pack. I gingerly pick my way through the rock rubble in the inky black cavern. The seven-year-old voice attached to one of the dozen sparks of light, echoes the sentiment of most of the visitors to this dark and eerie place. I'm cold and I want to get out of here." Link
When Meg showed me her easy route to the cave entrance, it was the last time I visited the cave and we brought no lights. I knew that my back was in no condition to go too far into the cave. It was more of a symbolic exercise, and something I believed I could accomplish. What I did not know, at the time, was that the cave, not far behind the ice column, was now blocked by a massive ice flow. All of the visitors could get no further than what is called "the tourist area". It would have been such a disappointment had we actually planned to go deep into the cave. I got the win I was after, that was all that mattered to me.

There used to be a "slide" where the impenetrable ice plug now sits. To pass it, someone had cut foot-holes into it on the left side as you entered. You could hold on to the wall as you picked your way up the incline and this opened out into wider chamber, again, at its top. It was a little more precarious coming back out. I remember once, that a friend thought he might actually leave by going down the middle of the ice flow. I was not sure how he had planned to accomplish this feat, but the rest of us heard a scuffle in the darkness, and saw his flashlight as it slid, freely, down the slope bouncing off a few rocks on the way, presumably, with him following immediately behind as he fell on the ice after losing his grip on it. We did what any friends would do, we all laughed. I might have also yelled "Keep your head down". You always had to be aware of where the ceiling was at all times.

On another trip with the same friend the tables were turned. That was Cougar Canyon, and my first (and only) attempt at cross-country skiing. We were going along the snow-covered creek bed, when I noticed the most beautiful clean stretch of blue and green tinted ice just ahead of me. I was about to say something about how nice it looked when I fell over. As I had been moving fairly fast at the time, I continued onward on my back doing a fair impersonation of a steel ball in a pinball game as I bounced off various rocks. On another occasion, in the same canyon, but in the summertime, our jaws dropped when this same friend pulled half a stick of dynamite from his pack, set it in a slight crevice in a big rock, walked a distance from it and then shot it with his rifle. It did not do too much damage to the rock, but it was pretty hard on our eardrums. We had words, and spoke of rockfalls and stuff. Safety was never much of a concern back then, but that friend was crazier than the rest of us put together.

I know I shouldn't, but I can't help but smile when I see the videos of people going through "the tourist area" with lamps attached to their helmet. I had never even seen a helmet in the caves in all the years I had been going there. It used to get quite busy on the weekends.

Someone had died there. I think it was a child who had been hit in the head by a rock that someone above, who was coming down the scree below the cave entrance, had dislodged. No one, ever, used to go down that scree when anyone was below them. It resulted in the access road being closed several kilometers from the cave. There is a metal gate across the road, now, with linked padlocks that the oil company workers can unlock to get their trucks up there.

Residents of Bragg Creek, the only town in the area, are not happy with all that industry in such a popular recreation area, but the Alberta government listens more to the oil companies. I wonder if that will change, now that the conservatives were replaced by the socialists for that very reason. Drilling for gas, and there is lot of gas at Moose Mountain, can be a dangerous thing. Even a faint whiff of the sour gas, which is also present in the area is cause for concern. "When inhaled in doses of more than 100 parts-per-million hydrogen sulphide attacks the respiratory system, killing you in a matter of seconds." If you have a penchant for horror stories, read the linked article. Believe it, Canada has its dark side. Did you know that it can be illegal to attempt to rescue someone too close to a sour gas leak? All you can do is watch them die or leave quickly and let them get on with it, which is recommended.

There was that time with Michelle, just a few years ago. We had brought my dogs and  had decided to just go for a short hike past the padlocked gate, when some hikers coming from ahead of us warned of a black bear heading our way. Because we had the dogs, the hikers were concerned. Grateful, we turned back. At the parking lot, there was a sudden very loud noise coming from above. I have been near a tornado in Oklahoma, they really do sound like freight train. This noise was much louder. I looked up in horror expecting to see a big commercial four engine jet plane skimming across the top of the trees and about to crash into the mountain. Then I realized that the sound was not moving and it had come on too suddenly. It went on for what seemed far too long, but when it ended in a loud shhhhhhh... I realized what it was. This was the side of part of the mountain coming down seemingly on the other side of the forested ridge in front of us as we stood there. It could only mean that there had been some clear cutting. There was neither a preceding horn sounded nor the sound of an explosion. It was not a planned blast.

We got in Michelle's car and tried to drive up a small road leading in that direction. It was blocked by another padlocked gate. No ice caves in that direction. As we drove back toward Bragg Creek emergency vehicles with lights flashing were on the road heading in the same direction that we were heading. If it had been a response to what we had just witnessed, they were going in the opposite direction. It was puzzling. The answer came on the news that evening: a house just past Bragg Creek had blown up. It was said to be a faulty gas meter. No one was home at the time, thankfully. But there had been no fire. Where we were, gas lines supplied the houses around where the gas meter had blown out. I suspect that the weight of that massive slide had crushed one of them and the weakest meter on the line had blown out from the shock wave of the slide two kilometers or so away. There was no news of a slide in the area.

Being in a whimsical mood, today, I have left a clue or two about a palaeolithic attitude toward caves and how it differs from the modern, and if you have read all of this post and explored its links, you might be able to guess what I think it is. It would be nigh on impossible to tell, from all of that, how I could possibly come up with anything at all about such ancient attitudes, but that, too, will be revealed later. In the meantime, I will leave you with the following, very good, but short, YouTube video by Dan Janzen so you can see the places I mention, and where everything is. The route up to the caves is very different from my old route which consisted of climbing directly up the scree, and then screeing down afterward. Screeing is like skiing without skis and poles, and is straight down. It is difficult to get too much speed, though, because a little wave of scree will create a tiny hill in front of your feet that will act as a brake. I just jump over that, when it forms, to pick up speed again. Of course, never do that if anyone is below you, or even on the approach to the scree. One's own safety is one thing, but the safety of another is paramount, always. If there is the slightest risk to anyone do not do it. While slower than skiing, it really takes little time to go down a thousand feet, and if you see someone arriving as you are going down, you can stop really easily and wait for them to leave the risky area below you.

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 2

Robertson Davies 100th birthday stamp
When we were first together, my wife (Carin Perron, 1957-2003) kept telling me to read Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy, and I kept procrastinating. Finally, she could stand it no longer and read the books to me each night until they were finished. In the nearly twenty years of our marriage, she had never been so insistent about anything. I thought that it indicated only her love of that work. Finally, I realise it is because I, and some of my friends, were within those pages.

Of course, I am not being literal here: we all appeared as fragments. One fragment might have a personality seemingly too close to be coincidental, but with a very different face, or age, or situation, another character might share the same situation, but everything else was different. But Carrie also shared some of these characters: Robertson Davies' Magnus Eisengrim was our mutual friend Nikolai Diablo, who had introduced us. Of course, Nikolai Diablo was not his real name, and neither was Magnus Eisengrim the "real" name of Davies' character. They were both stage names for their Gothic performances. Magnus Eisengrim was the mythological trickster and an archetype. Nikolai Diablo (Scott), is the trickster in human form: a living archetype.

Carrie had captured him, in his younger years, in a poem:

The Magician
After Hours

Great Scott! he leaps,
all purple feet and velvet pants,
as echoing elastic rainbows bound
from his shoulders to his waist
(and such a waste,
his most elaborately vertical self,
billboarded over
by a conspiracy of buttons)
Well, Hello! he shouts, from the magnificent
convexities and concavities of his face,
as his penny-dreadful grin slips,
breathtakingly playful as a guillotine
lurching inexorably down --
and he never stops reverberating
Pity, he's such a magician --
even after hours, nobody sees his hands

When Tim Curry went to Romania to film "Wolf Girl", his "twin" Scott went too, to play "The Amazing Pin Cushion". Scott says he also advised on the carnie life, but Scott also says "Never trust a carnie!" Scott said he got along well with Grace Jones at the time (hmmm.)

When Davies' Liesl takes David Staunton into the ancient bear cave in Switzerland, she is not his Jungian therapist, but he is "reborn" after his emotionally painful experience in the cave (please do not ask for details of that part -- It's "gross").

Liesl was "at home" with the cave. Almost grotesquely as ugly as a gorgon, her very feminine personality was yet magnetic.

Meg had originally introduced me to Scott, and we had all acted together in an experimental live theatre piece called the "Black Castle", the brainchild of Charles Porlier, who is probably best known for his special effect makeup in Jumanjii. Scott and I had the same role, but as Scott was leading his audience toward the end of the sets, I was bringing mine in to the start of them. It was phenomenally popular: the line ups stretched down the block, and it was held over for a second month. Yet, we all had to suffer with half pay at the end because the sets and effects were just so expensive. Scott's take on the character was typically gothic, but I modelled mine as a Cornish version of Gregory Peck's "Captain Ahab". I was a method actor. Many people would catch both versions.

Perhaps this would be the last time I would ever enter that cave. I was in great pain and due to undergo neurosurgery on my spine soon. My G.P. had told me that I had a 50/50 chance of becoming paralyzed from the waist down after the surgery, but I had the best neurosurgeon, and I had great confidence in his skills (Thank you, Dr. Tranmer). I asked Meg to take me up to the cave. I was prepared for a thousand foot climb up the scree to the cave entrance, but Meg knew a kinder route. It was almost magical, we gained that altitude in what seemed like a few minutes. Meg was at one with the mountain. Meg was Liesl, but young and pretty. I was "reborn" after Dr Tranmer's surgery (plus a year's exercises). I could make that climb today, at 65.

There were many other parallels, too, and I found many of my friends in Davies' work. It was only a couple of days ago that I finally "got it", and understood why there were all of those connections. When Carrie read me The Deptford Trilogy, I had not yet started to study Jung, but I had been exposed to his ideas through Joseph Campbell in mythology and through nearly all of the novels of Hermann Hesse. My archetypes had been stimulated and synchronicities had ensued. I had gathered the archetypes' real life correlates around me as friends. When, finally, I started to read Jung in depth. I was at home with it.

So that's how Robertson Davies (and Campbell and Hesse) wrote my life.

Have a revelatory weekend, and on Monday I will take you into the depths of the cave above Canyon Creek, Alberta.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 1

A boar at Altamira
It had to be a boar didn't it? Look at the dark lines
that express shadow, volume and movement against
their absence at the back of the boar's hindquarters.
I have used that trick, too, in my own paintings. So
did Cezanne, so did...
So, my idea about doing something on Palaeolithic art has changed, somewhat. Last night I Googled some basic background stuff so I could provide you with a good summation of the various interpretations of "cave art". I found this one, and I think you should be fairly happy with it. It succinctly expresses all the ideas, and gives us an idea that it might also be a bit of this and a bit of that. It reveals the sorts of problems we face in such interpretations. It is good piece of encyclopaedic writing (which is surprisingly difficult to do, by the way).

Next, I noticed a name on the Google results: Dr. Ilse Vickers, and the phrase "depth psychology". Yes! We are in my country now. I was a little disappointed, too. My main thought about the topic was that I would like to take a Jungian viewpoint, but here it is, already. I do try to present as much originality as possible given this genre which does not give one much time to research before the write-up, what could I possibly offer that would add to what she already presents? What sort of time would be involved in attempting such? Then it dawned on me. I know what I have that she does not, I was a starving artist for years. To be truthful, I do not know for a fact that Dr. Vickers was not also a starving artist at some time, so let's just call it a likelihood. Commonly, students at a university will get some job to make ends meet while they are getting their degrees. I doubt many of them would pick freelance art, though. If you can make any living out of your art then you are one of the freaks of the universe.

But something was nagging at me. It was her first name. Ilse. Then it struck me: the name was reminding me of "Liesl" who took David Staunton deep into the cave in Switzerland in Robertson Davies' Manticore, part of his masterpiece, The Deptford Trilogy. Davies was a Jungian, too. This was starting to look a lot like synchronicity, and as you read more of this series you will see many more reasons than I give, so far, for this numinous experience. It will take on a life of its own (I know all the signs). There will be posts where the Palaeolithic artist gets no mention, but the theme will still be there, to be noticed, or sometimes to be revealed later. Unlike everything I have seen so far, it will focus on the experience of the Palaeolithic artist, and not that of his or her audience.

Tomorrow, how Robertson Davies wrote my life.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Fates

The Fates
Have not been kind to me over the last couple of days. Not only have I been unusually busy (including defending Celtic studies from a Celtoskeptic attack), but the air pollution here has been awful with smoke from wildfires blocking the sky and sun (one person actually saw a sunspot with the naked eye). Then, the night before last, I was feeling ill and a few hours later, came to the very dramatic realization that I had food poisoning. It might have been some commercial creamy coleslaw I bought and neglected to check its date. I threw it out, but now I am suspicious of everything else in my fridge that I sampled that day. So the following day I was not at my best, either. Now I have to get some more food, which will take me out in all the smoke again.

With all of this, I had something in mind for today's blog, but I have covered most of it before, and my new ideas need a different twist to frame them. That might take considerable thought so I'm shelving it for the time being. I was also going to start a piece on Palaeolithic art next, so I am moving that up to tomorrow, and if the smoke does not get me, I should have a couple of free hours to prepare myself for that.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Going up, eh?

High gravity planet footwear
Checking the weather forecast, the other day, I came across this news link to a story about a patent given a Canadian company who has designed an elevator to carry us to the edge of space. At first I thought it was a gag, but Thoth Technology is real, and a press release on their website confirms the story.

I did not know that Canada was so involved in space programs. Despite being a bit concerned about winds hitting the elevator shaft from different directions at different altitudes, I found the whole aspect of Canada in space rather inspiring.

Accordingly, I have started thinking about some new space products. I am thinking first about suitable footwear for high gravity planets. Something like shown in the photo to the right might work for soft surfaces.

Drink container
photo: Sam Cavanagh

Drinking liquids in space presents a problem, but the little device shown on the left is ideal because its operation is intuitive and requires no special training. Considering that the weight of any payload is important, this nifty gadget can also double as an ashtray (again, an intuitive usage which will present no difficulties for Canadian astronauts).

I have a third product in mind, but because I have not worked out all of the details yet, I will have to keep quiet about it. I can only say that it involves frying back bacon in zero gravity.

But first things first. We really need to put a beaver in space for branding purposes.

The Canadian Beaver
photo: aeroprints

Monday, 24 August 2015

British Museum Celtic show video

I am spreading myself a little too thinly today, so instead of a longer post, here is a great video from the British Museum. One of the presenters is one of my favorite scholars of the subject: Fraser Hunter from the National Museum of Scotland, and the show will next move to his museum.

If you watch it on YouTube, check out the British Museum playlist for more.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Celtic king(?) burial from West Sussex

Quite a distance separates the two correlates at North Bersted
and Tal-Y-Llyn and this is fairly normal for high status work.
map: © OpenStreetMap contributors
I don't know how I missed this last year, but a fascinating burial of ca 50 BC has been excavated at North Bersted, Bognor Regis, West Sussex. The grave was found by Thames Valley Archaeological Services during a building development survey. Its media reporting is confused and spotty but I will order the report and give a further post to it later.

The most remarkable find (as far as I can currently tell) are two bronze openwork appliqués from a Celtic shield together with its boss. These are illustrated in the top right photo in the article link above. Openwork early Celtic decoration is more commonly found on the continent, but some of the design motifs, in this case, are distinctly British. At a much later date, there was a bit of a fusion with early Celtic designs and Roman openwork as Celtic workshops started to cater more to Roman clients (especially soldiers). This might partly be the source of the confusion in this report, which says the occupant is a Roman. It also has a quote that Barry Cunliffe said that he knew of nothing like this metalwork. If this was referencing the shield furniture, that is not exactly right. Mind you, some similarities can be subjective and no two high status examples of decorated metalwork are the same anyway. If we allow the same type of object, techniques and shared motifs then we do have a British correlate, the find at Tal-Y-Llyn, Merioneth, Wales (Jope, 2000, Plates 96-7.). Jope even provides a reconstruction of the same shield type. The curved appliqués frame the central spindle boss. In Jope's reconstruction, two openwork roundels are at the centre of the linear border drawn to represent the shapes on both sides of the boss. The most equivalent shared element is the the two circles connected by a diagonal line (or a closed S shape). Jope speculates (p. 250) that red glass originally backed these openwork roundels. That being the case, we can perhaps give the effect as prototypical to some later Iceni mounts. This would also seem to fit well with the attributed date of the burial.

So why am I suggesting a king instead of a warrior as is reported? First, this sort of elaborate metalwork was beyond the means of any common foot-soldier of that period (but not of some who had fought in the much earlier Italian campaigns like the owner of the Witham shield). Second, the burial contains the remains of a shield, spear, sword, Mannheim type helmet (first British find) and "elaborate headdress". This is a curious mixture: a much earlier foot soldier would have fought with a long shield and a spear, and would have carried a very short sword (or dagger). A later cavalry soldier would have used a buckler and would have had a longer sword (spears or javelins are also possible). I will have to wait to see what sort of sword was in the grave. The headdress is something that might have been worn by either a king or a Druid (however, Sean B. Dunham equates the two). We also have to understand that Celtic kings are not the same as what we call kings today. Any tribe would have a number of concurrent kings and one of lesser rank might only control a hillfort or settlement. Perhaps these were more like the city mayor of today. That we have two styles of fighting represented, including one that was rather archaic, and also have a ceremonial headdress, it would seem that the grave has more cultural than personal content and it does seem to add weight to Dunham's theory. I will have more to say when I see the actual report.

Have a Jungian weekend.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

da Vinci's smile technique

La Bella Principessa, Leonardo da Vinci
The Scientific American blog has an interesting piece: "A Second da Vinci Smile Has Been Discovered". It is claimed that the Mona Lisa smile was no accident as the recently discovered da Vinci uses a similar visual technique. This is not to be confused with painting techniques, the two works are very different in that respect. The Mona Lisa is an oil painted by the glazing technique in which multiple transparent glazes build up to the complete image. Each glaze is smoothed out with a badger's hair blender which looks like the head of a shaving brush except that the business end is flat and it has a typical paint brush handle. The brush is bounced repeatedly on the panel while the handle is rotated. The recently discovered da Vinci is in what we would call a mixed technique today.

We do know that da Vinci puttered around painting the Mona Lisa for a very long time and I think it more likely that the original effect was a happy accident that he adapted as a deliberate effect later. It might even have been due to overworking the painting. I would think it would be impossible to predict the exact end result of multiple transparent glazes, so in trying for an effect by using multiple glazes when such an effect had never been attempted before might well have, at the very least, been a trial and error process. So I think that he probably noticed an accidental effect and then worked to emphasize that effect. For the second work, I think he knew where he wanted to go with it and then developed the mixed technique to get there more directly. He certainly did experiment with his techniques, and not always successfully. I feel that my variation in the interpretation better expresses both the ways da Vinci worked and his personality.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Octopus genome and intelligence

Giant Pacific Octopus
photo: Karen
The octopus genome has recently been sequenced and we are starting to learn new things about the intelligence of this "alien" animal.

Cephalopods fascinate me, partly because of the intelligence of the subclass Coloidea which includes octopuses, squid and cuttlefish. The Nautilus (Nautiloidea subclass) interests me mainly for their shell geometry; that they have retained their shell; and have evolved little in 500 million years.

I have two favorite stories about cephalopods: first, a few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends and ordered calamari. One of my friends commented that he would not eat anything that might be more intelligent than himself. The second story is much older and I have forgotten some of the details. I think it happened at the Vancouver aquarium, but I might be wrong. A keeper at an aquarium had a supply problem, one day, with fresh shrimp for the octopus and was forced to give it some shrimp of lower quality. Fixing its eye on its keeper, it stuffed the first shrimp into the aquarium's drain. It is briefly mentioned in this National Geographic article. Now, the octopus was certainly intelligent enough to know what the drain meant. Knowing the shrimp was not at its best would have been revealed as soon as it touched one of its suckers, and its rejection could have been automatic. However, fixing a stare on the keeper, while stuffing the shrimp down the drain reveals quite a remarkable level of abstract thought. The octopus did not react to bad shrimp as if it were an accident of the universe, but assigned blame for the situation and then communicated its displeasure to the only source it could blame. If I order a steak and it is overdone (I like mine blue rare), I will send it back, but I have known people who never had the nerve to do such a thing and would only complain to everyone else at the table. That octopus had attitude. Perhaps that is why my friend's comment about calamari clicked with me.

Compared to cephalpods, mammals are very recent arrivals to earth, and Man is so recent he has barely had time to take his coat off. So the genome of such a longtime inhabitant as the octopus whose distant cousin was the ammonite is an important milestone from an evolutionary perspective. As smart as they are, they do not live very long: the average is about a year, but the giant pacific octopus can make it to three. Breeding is the beginning of the end for them. But why would they need to live longer? They take care of their young only until they hatch, so there is no long term parenting that we see with some higher forms of mammal, ourselves included. The nautilus, while lower on the evolutionary scale, can live up to fifteen years. Evolution cares nothing for the individual, only the species. There are also important differences between the squid and the octopus: the former hunts and protects itself with a light show, while the octopus can change its colour and skin texture, morphing into its background.

In addition to the links above, you might like this article by Dr. Jennifer Mather, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Alberta and Roland C. Anderson, The Seattle Aquarium, Washington: What behavior can we expect of octopuses? 

If you want to see a giant pacific octopus in the wild, there is no better place to dive in the world than Powell River, British Columbia. It is one of my favorite places, and a friendly little town (catch the Blackberry Festival). There is a good Mexican restaurant there that is actually run by a Mexican family, and that is unusual for Canada. It's also a great place for fishing and boating. My former assistant might still live there. Hi Natasha.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Large Durotriges settlement discovered

Durotriges territory (approx)
graphic: Jpb1301
Bournemouth University students have been excavating what is being called Britain's oldest planned town discovered to date (ca. 100 BC), placing Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) in second place. Although the oldest structures at Calleva are rectangular and Gaulish, and perhaps reflect the arrival of Commios from Gaul, the newly discovered settlement appears to be entirely British.

What interests me the most is that it is believed that there are about 200 roundhouses at the site. So far, sixteen have been excavated. This site presents an unprecedented opportunity to compare a British settlement with Late Iron Age Irish settlements (tuath) as described in the early Irish laws. A material comparison is not possible: no Iron Age humble dwellings have been discovered (I think they used beehive shaped houses of peat blocks, others have suggested that they lived in tents as what appears to be a tent peg of the period has been discovered there).

The Irish laws, penned in the early Medieval, are believed to have been first developed in the Iron Age and reveal a tightly structured society where the size of one's house is always according to one's rank in the society. This divisioning of society is completely different from the popular idea of a tribal chief (and family) far above those (the peasants) below: the rank is reflected in the numbers of clients, retainers and livestock permitted. As time went on, it seems that the numbers of divisions did increase, but we really have no information of how Britain compared at the end of its Iron Age. In the middle Iron Age in Britain, the sudden abandonment of hillforts, in some cases, might point to a less structured society where matters of inequality could lead to the occasional revolution.

The newly discovered Durotriges settlement is, so far, showing no signs of military defenses and appears to have been a peaceful place. It should be easy to tell if Ireland's divisions of society came about through a widespread sociocultural evolution as it appears to have from Caesar's description of how all levels of Gaulish society was formed into two factions with druidic (legal) representation at all levels of the society. All that is needed is to record the diameters of each roundhouse, taking note of the numbers of storage pits if they can be firmly associated with a specific house. Then it should be possible to tell if the area of a house was determined by one's status in the town.

The strange arrangement of animal (and one human) remains at the bottom of filled storage pits at the site has led to what I think to be wild speculation about the inhabitants' religious beliefs. For example, the so-called "hybrid" animals such as a sheep given a cow's head does not necessarily point to a corresponding creature in Celtic mythology. It could be as simple as, when recovering the bones of an animal that had been exposed to the elements (and wild animals) in the practice of excarnation, someone discovered that the head and been carried off by an animal and was lost. If they believed that a whole animal was needed, they might just have taken whatever skull was nearby. To argue for a religious system at play, one would really have to cite some corroborating evidence. Had a horse skeleton been discovered with a human head, one could point to Armorican coin designs and a bronze figurine from Trier. There are other "hybrids", too, such as the ram-headed serpent associated with Kernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron, and on my mount from Champagne where the ram-headed serpent has also a fish tail, and hippocamps are also known in Celtic coin design. The sheep with an extra head (presumably given one and not a buried "freak") could also point to a doubt as to which skull belonged to "Bessie" and her owner thought that taking both sheep skulls that were found at the right spot would be the safest move.

Next, I would like to see some evidence for the existence of a pre-Roman Celtic deity being represented in Britain and the syncretistic path that deity took through space and time. The report is indicative of another "offerings to the Gods" meme which never carries any contextual evidence in any such report. The abandonment of a grain storage pit could mean a number of things: its seal was defective and the grain spoiled; its owner died and the grain was distributed among heirs; the entire village was abandoned because of a serious outbreak of infectious disease. Any of these eventualities could have been answered in a ritual manner: we cannot separate religion from any day to day activity at that time. Such a separation is historically later. We cannot even say that any religious practice was Celtic, no ancient author ever called a Druid a priest, they only said that the Druids supervised over sacrifices, ran schools and provided legal representation for the population. If we consider these very different occupations then the Druids were not specialists. Perhaps it would be a better approach to say the Druids were "protective guardians" of their culture which included people who still maintained indigenous beliefs, or that those indigenous beliefs had been locally syncretized with the broader La Tène religion. We cannot, either, associate the storage of grain with hopes for a bountiful harvest as the meaning of the storage pit has nothing to do with growth, only persistence.

The main problem is that most psychological types who are drawn to archaeology, are also the types who do not give much thought to religion and have little interest in it (i.e philosophical materialists). Such types most often substitute isolated memes for any analysis, while they are very specific and analytical about the archaeological material context.

Tomorrow, it's cephalopod time again.

Monday, 17 August 2015

500 posts

Fence posts, Carn Dearg
photo: Nigel Corby 
This is my 500th post on this blog, so I was curious as to how many words I have written here. Fortunately, there is an online counter for this sort of thing (Web Word Count) and you only have to enter the URL to get emailed the results a few minutes later. It turns out that the blog had 371,082 words. That is roughly the size of three average non-fiction books or six novels in the mystery genre. Had I decided to write the latter, and had average success with selling them, my income from writing would equal that of my current pensions. There are far too many "ifs" in this scenario for me to consider becoming a full time novelist and I have never written a mystery novel anyway. My only novel was set in the Neolithic, hardly a popular setting for novels.

An added bonus that I did not expect from the site was that it also gives the number of unique words, so now I know that my active (written) vocabulary is 25,012 words. This realization is both gratifying and alarming. Being a person who believes that the only true synonyms in English are gorse and furze, I do like to pick the right word for the job, and the common improper usage of such words as "myth" and "enormity" annoys me. On the negative side, this means that I will use words that might be unfamiliar to many readers. If the word is mainly specific to a certain discipline, I usually give the Wikipedia link, or something better if I am very familiar with the topic. Being a postmodernist, I can at least take solace in the knowledge that my own postmodern writing is far more intelligible than most. Again, a link the Pomo Generator.

Wondering how my active vocabulary compared to averages, a comment on this page refers to a study reported in the Guardian in 1986 claimed that the average person's active vocabulary reaches 12,000 words at about the age of twelve and then stays at about the figure thereafter. A college graduate will have about 23,000 words, and Shakespeare holds the record in English with about 30,000 words. Looking further, I saw that there were a number of estimates and while the one reported in the Guardian is what is usually quoted, others might be preferable.

Regardless of the accuracy of any of them, my active vocabulary does not match my profile: I left school at fifteen and never attended college. I did, however, learn to read at an unusually early age, and at my insistence. I was reading kid's novels by the time I was four, and my parents lied about my age so that I could get my own library card and they would not have to keep taking me to the library. I also started school at the age of four (going on five). I found school boring and I hated it. By the time I was twelve, most of my reading had become non-fiction. At sixteen, I was a Bertrand Russell fan who had made an unusual shift to being interested in Tibetan Buddhism.

Another Guardian article suggests that seven is the best age to start reading. I strongly disagree, but learning anything is best when it is not forced and the kid is enthused. I think better advice can be found here. Read to your child a lot and try to (sneakily) enthuse them about learning to read. My late wife was a teacher and often said that education is a subversive activity. Be wary, though, that when your reading child starts school he or she is in the same class as kids with the same reading ability or the child might hate school, too. My wife was also an internationally published poet and thought that the best way to get kids to hate poetry was to teach it to them. Perhaps teaching poetry should come later, but do acclimatize very young kids to hearing children's verse. I suspect that it will have a positive effect on how well their unconscious can be accessed by their conscious mind later in life. They should become well-balanced as a result as the unconscious is compensatory to the conscious. When I was that young, neither teachers nor parents seemed to know anything about this stuff, and also appeared not have heard of tutors, either: I did horribly in mathematics partly because I was sick at some crucial times and never caught up. My junior school's headmistress (whose character might have been invented by Roald Dahl) thought that giving me unintelligible arithmetic quizzes as a form of punishment would be a good plan. She should have stuck with the cane, it would have been less damaging.

How long the blog will continue, I cannot say. I never even imagined writing 500 posts. Tomorrow, a large Durotriges settlement has been discovered and I will have something new to say about it.