Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part nine: the history within

Vajravarahi Mandala,
Tibet, 19th century
About the most extreme "fringe" equivalent to the "archaeological record" would have to Akashic records. The idea, which was derived from Buddhist writings by the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky in the nineteenth century, is that the universe has left a permanent record of everything that has taken place. I doubt that many archaeologists would give the idea even the slightest consideration, after all, the nineteenth century had a number of dotty ideas and there seems to have been a widespread public interest in holding seances and believing in fairies and elves and so on in that time.

In contemporary society, the Akashic records have been given a more scientific slant through two different models: the most widespread is its comparison to Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious. Jung developed his ideas through his intensive studies in alchemy which is full of classical and early Christian mythological imagery. He also looked deeply into eastern religions and his use of the mandala earned him some criticism from sceptics who wondered why the mind would be constructed according the the tenets of eastern mysticism. His answer to them all was simple: because eastern religious practices are inward-looking, they are likely to have developed methods that are sympathetic to the inner workings of the human mind. Jung would have his patients draw mandalas as part of their individuation process.

The second take on the Akashic records comes from the Hungarian philosopher of science, Ervin László in his book: Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of EverythingLászló's main point of departure is quantum mechanics, and while he has a chapter about consciousness, Jung is absent as a reference.

The two views do have a tenuous connection with epigenetics. László says (p. 47 second ed.):
"However, the classical Darwinian tenet regarding the isolation of the genome is not correct. There are many ways that the genome is affected by what happens to the organism. Through the "epigenome" (an array of chemical markers and switches located along the double helix of the DNA) even the way the organism is nourished affects how particular genes work: whether they are switched "on" or "off"."

Jung's patient, friend, and correspondent, Wolfgang Pauli had big problems with Darwin's idea of natural selection. For him, the mathematics just did not work at all (p. 27ff). See also, my blog entry on the topic. Later, epigenetics appears to have done much to resolve Pauli's problems and has even given at least some credit to the previously dismissed Lamarckianism.

Looking at the biological aspects of the Akashic records, can we possibly apply the idea to archaeology? We know that only certain "imprinting" takes hold in evolutionary epigenetics. Nature seems to take such incidents as missing the bus, losing a promotion or having a failed relationship as trivia having no real connection to our survival as a species. If I learn to play the piano, my subsequent offspring will gain no benefit from my efforts and will just have to take lessons, themselves. We can, however, imagine certain circumstances where man is faced with serious threats to survival where a few survive and we can imagine that such threats were not unique, but happened again and again according to natural environmental cycles. Epigenetics seems to be telling us that the methods of survival in such time became part of a genetic "subroutine" along the idea of the computer programing function of If.../Then. So that the survival traits of many people who lived through such times would not be wasted: a set of signals indicating similar circumstances would trigger a gene to be turned on or off and the actions of that gene will deliver a special package of directions to increase the chances of survival.

None of this could have any direct influence on the nature of a single archaeological site, but if a collection of similar sites were taken into consideration we might just approach some of the workings of evolutionary epigenetics. We do see similar interpretations of natural phenomenon within widely different and unconnected cultures and as we all share the same brain structures regardless of how our cultures differ, we can expect to share similar reactions to some of the same stimuli  — especially if these stimuli will have a great impact on whether we survive.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Food poisoning
Chinese Ming dynasty woodcut
I'm not really up to continuing with my current series today as I was struck with food poisoning yesterday, and while I have recovered from that I consumed nothing but coconut water and a little ginger ale for 24 hours and writing burns a lot of calories that I don't have to spare. So today I plan to do nothing but rest and regain my strength. My coyote hybrid who never eats when I am not home, decided to ignore his food while I was sick, too.  I was able to have a simple plain omelette for breakfast this morning and he did share a bit of that. I will be back with the series tomorrow.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part eight: wysiwyg

EllesBB, Acrylic on linen canvas
What you see is what you get (wysiwyg) is a familiar term for anyone with a computer. In looking for a lead graphic for this installment, I came across the image of this painting. Not only do I like the painting, but I thought that its title really said something about modern art. Some people will buy a painting of cows resting under some trees because they like cows or pastoral scenes. The artist will know something of the market for any subject that he or she might pick for a representational painting. With modern abstract works, however, there is a very good chance that the painting might mean something to the buyer that is very different from what the artist was thinking. So besides liking the painting, I thought that her title for it was very clever, too. Of course, what I see is what I get and perhaps the artist picked the title for a different reason. We would have to ask the artist to get the truth of the matter.

I have heard it said that archaeologists always find what they are looking for. This does not mean that the archaeologist "witches" for remains with a cleft stick, a pair of bent wire coat hangers, or a metal detector with a phenomenally good discriminator. It means that whatever indicators brought the archaeologist to that site also brought the archaeologist's ideas to their work and these will be reflected in any subsequent excavation report.

So how can we discriminate what is brought to the work by the excavator from what the same evidence might suggest to a different excavator or later interpreter? What could happen in archaeology if there were more introverts and less extraverts doing such work? What checks and considerations might be encountered in the archaeology of the future? Can we ask an artist what they meant two thousand years after their death? We will start to look at these issues on Monday.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part seven: catching up

Catching up on the news
photo: Ron Hoffman
It would be wonderful if new discoveries prompted everyone to suddenly change gears about the way they think about the subject matter of the discovery. I suppose that it does happen in some disciplines like particle physics because it is a relatively small academic community and independents and amateurs with particle accelerators in their basement just do not exist. Also, the Internet has its origins with physicists who wanted to communicate with each other rapidly. In those dark days before the Internet, information was passed by "snail-mail". I remember that exchanging an idea or two between Canada and the UK took about three weeks, round trip.

I remember one such communication with Colin Haselgrove about the dating of the Le Catillon hoard sometime in the last half of the eighties. I had put forward a date sometime in the first few years of the first century AD and based that on the destruction of the main Coriosolite port and the devaluation of the Durotriges stater to a coin that no longer contained any silver at all (It appears that Coriosolite coins were being processed at Hengistbury (where there is a Durotriges harbor) to extract the silver for usage in their own coinage. Colin Haselgrove had dated the same hoard as being sometime in the third quarter of the first century BC based on a brooch type found in the hoard and its distribution patterns in Roman forts north of the Alps. What was not in question at all, however, was the nature of the hoard. With a large percentage of coins with chisel test-cuts to see the internal metal, and the presence of scrap metal, it was clear that this was no "refugee hoard". I call these sorts of hoards "recycling hoards" to differentiate them from the closely related "founders hoard" where a craftsman might store some of his metal for future use. Yet, when the latest Le Catillon hoard was discovered, all of the early reports were saying that the hoard was buried by refugees fleeing Caesar's troops. This was a typical explanation for such hoards back in the fifties and before, but the first Le Catillon hoard was unearthed in 1957. By the early sixties, the idea of the Jersey hoards all being refugee hoards was still in vogue, but later studies had changed that, somewhat and Le Catillon 1 had enough evidence to seriously doubt the earlier dating, especially with the Durotriges coins that it contained.

Some years before I started my study of Coriosolite coins, I had been invited to recatalogue some Greek coins of Euboea by Colin Orton, the then curator of the Coin Department at the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary. It was the Wallace Collection, about three times larger than the British Museum's collection of the same region, but only part of it (the Euboean League coinage) had been published. At that time, the Nickle had a fully equipped numismatic lab complete with an electron microscope and the ability for XRF analysis. Visiting numismatists from around the world were amazed at seeing these facilities, but Calgary is an oil-town and XRF analysis has a wide application in that business. So after Orton retired, the hyenas moved in to strip the lab of anything useful. What had been unique in the world was exchanged for yet another geology department that could conduct XRF analyses. After my book on the Coriosolite coinage had been published at Oxford (BAR International Series), I went to a talk about Armorican coinage at the Nickle. The speaker had obviously never even encountered my book and showed little signs of having read any of the French literature on Armorican coins either. Coins were being improperly described and the main point of the lecture was an observation that would have been completely invalidated if the speaker had been aware of the chronology of Coriosolite coins. Let's just call it a "fringe" interpretation based on what something looked like to a modern mind with no real background in the material.

There is always a cultural lag in discoveries. The specialist dealers like Chris Rudd will give my reference numbers for Coriosolite coins, but most general dealers do not, even though the previous classification obscured the distribution patterns to the point that none were visible at all.

There can even be delays of information in particle physics, but these are usually because of having to wait for proofs. Here's my favorite from the Wikipedia entry for Wolfgang Pauli:
"In 1930, Pauli considered the problem of beta decay. In a letter of 4 December to Lise Meitner et al., beginning, "Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen", he proposed the existence of a hitherto unobserved neutral particle with a small mass, no greater than 1% the mass of a proton, in order to explain the continuous spectrum of beta decay. In 1934, Enrico Fermi incorporated the particle, which he called a neutrino, into his theory of beta decay. The neutrino was first confirmed experimentally in 1956 by Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan, two and a half years before Pauli's death. On receiving the news, he replied by telegram: "Thanks for message. Everything comes to him who knows how to wait. Pauli."
Patience is a virtue for the researcher.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part six: what lies beneath

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Damsel of the Sanct Grael
(Holy Grail) 1874
The key to a successful trucking business is in keeping the vehicles in top condition. I have friends who were in the gravel business and this was told to me more than once. The good craftsman or mechanic also takes very good care of his or her tools. How would we apply this idea to archaeology? The most important tool of the archaeologist is not a trowel or a resistivity meter, but the mind. It is this tool which actually creates the "archaeological record" out of the bits and pieces of archaeological evidence.

The most basic division of the mind is into two parts: the conscious, thinking, mind and the unconscious (or subconscious) mind which not only contains the things we have forgotten or repressed, but characteristics of us as human beings. At its deeper levels, it contains instincts and perceptions that we cannot even translate into words or pictures. At the meeting place of these two minds we have dreams, imagination and symbols that seem significant to us without a clear understanding of why. The unconscious has a compensatory function to the conscious — quite a few discoveries have been made through revealing and symbolic dreams, although little credit is given to this agency in any subsequent scientific papers. Science, after all, is about what can be observed and measured and the unconscious is called as such because it cannot be fully observed and measured. In a sense, the only evidence is gives us is anecdotal and symbolic: we see only an apparency of something else and we cannot measure that.

It is the interpretation of the material evidence which is the main function of the archaeologist, but those of us who are most comfortable working with the material, are those most likely to scoff at any psychic agency, and in an extreme case might even deny the very existence of an unknowable part of the mind. Such a person is an extravert. Jung says:
"Now, when orientation by the object predominates in such a way that decisions and actions are determined not by subjective views but by objective conditions, we speak of an extraverted type. If a man thinks, feels, acts, and actually lives in a way that is directly correlated with the objective conditions and their demands, he is an extravert. His life makes it perfectly clear that it is the object and not his subjective view that that plays the determining role in his consciousness. Naturally he has subjective views too, but their determining value is less than that of the objective conditions. Consequently, he never expects to find any absolute factors in his own inner life, since the only ones he knows are outside himself." (Psychological types)
All of us are either extraverted or introverted and these qualities might be expressed weakly, moderately or strongly. When the extravert suffers exhibits extreme mental illness it might manifest itself as narcissism, sociopathy, or psychopathy. These are the sort of people for whom most of us feel little sympathy. We are not seen by such people as individuals so much as part of their own environment. Being incapable of looking inward at all, they cannot, of course, look inside another person and usually only project their own, unexamined, personality onto others. The introvert, on the other hand, is more likely to express any serious mental illness with depression or a bi-polar disorder. We find it much easier to sympathize even if we do not fully understand the condition. The introvert, at least, can see us as independent human beings.

My favorite extravert was a scientist. Wolfgang Pauli was not so strong an extravert that he was completely incapable of self examination. He was no psychopath. Some have called him "the conscious of physics" because of his strict adherence to proofs. He had some problems of which he was aware and this brought him to Carl Jung. Apart from their doctor/patient relationship, they soon became friends and Pauli could relate to Jung's interest in the mind and contributed much to the latter's thinking through his knowledge of theoretical physics. Jung, like myself, was an INFJ, while Pauli was an ENTP. Extraverts and Introverts are often drawn together as opposites can attract. Sometimes, the extravert/introvert relationship is described as "ideal", but I do not think this indicates that such a relationship is always very easy. There can certainly be a lot of fire, though.

As the extravert is a materialist, field archaeology would be commensurate with that sort of personality, but far less so, would be theoretical archaeology which deals more in philosophy than material science. What percentage of field archaeologists are extraverts? I don't know and I doubt that many field archaeologists would be curious enough about the subject to study the matter. The absence of any such study is almost proof, itself, of the extraverted nature of most field archaeologists.

What happens, then, when an archaeologist takes on a "fringe subject" like King Arthur? The identification of Arthur's castles in the legends would be one valid area of interest as it provides a reality from the pages of legends. If an archaeologist was interested in Homer's Odyssey, then Odysseus' sailing itinerary might be of greatest interest. Again, it would be the conversion of part of a legend into fact. When asked about myths or alchemy, the extraverted field archaeologist might think about how both of these are primitive attempts at science.

Jung's extensive research into alchemy was very much at the core of his development of his psychological theories, but it was not a study of the transmutation of metals — turning lead into gold. The alchemist's patron might have thought so, but the alchemist was really interested on his own transmutation into a higher state of being. Jung's major work in this study was Mysterium Coniunctionis. Jung's wife, Emma, was deeply interested in the Arthurian legends and her unfinished work, The Grail Legend was brought to its published state by Marie-Louise von Franz.

Emma Jung defined the Grail Maiden as the anima of Perceval and points out that she is also Perceval's kin. The subject takes on some archaeological interest where Emma discusses its incest aspect and gives examples with the ancient Egyptian god-kings and also refers to the alchemical symbolism of "the King and Queen celebrated an incestuous hieros gamos (divine marriage)." (p.177ff).

The above excursions into Arthurian romances and alchemy is not discussed much in archaeology despite the influences on history because is is all "of the mind" and is not material evidence. Yet, the strongly expressed extravert would be the most susceptible to having their interpretations of the material influenced by their own unconscious because of its compensatory function which seeks to find a balance between the conscious and the unconscious. I have seen interpretations of archaeological evidence that seems to me strongly influenced by the unconscious, perhaps some things from a forgotten legend, or an expression of personal psychology that shares the same archetypes that we find in myths and legends. These stories persist, successfully, because of their importance to the psyche. The extravert can easily forget the source, or can dismiss it completely because it is not material. Human agency can be neglected in archaeological writing and, as I mentioned in yesterday's post things can seem to change themselves in such writing. The archaeologist should endeavor to discover what lies beneath — not just the material below the grass in a field, but the far more active material that lies beneath the archaeologist's own consciousness.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part five: movements and memes

Richard Dawkins
"Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976
book The Selfish Gene, which popularised
the gene-centred view of evolution and
introduced the term meme."
Photo: David Shankbone
"The term 'Celtic' helps imply that this material has a link to, or possible origin in, the European continent. While links there certainly are, there is no reason to believe, on the basis of present evidence, that Celtic art was introduced to Britain from the outside. Had this been the case we might have expected to see a horizon of imports into Britain followed by obvious British imitations, ... The conclusion we draw from this is not that Celtic art started independently in Britain, but rather that these islands were part of the area in which Celtic art grew up, so that insular communities participated in its genesis rather than receiving influences from the outside. Such a view gets away from the dichotomy of local origin versus outside influence (possibly through migrations) and it also questions the insular nature of British society." (Chris Gosden and J.D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' art, in, Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxford, 2008.
The quote above differs from E. M. Jope's comment on page 1 of Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford, 2000:
"The initiating stimuli for this rise evdently came from Europe, yet at the crucial time, the fouth-third centuries B.C., we can point to practically no imported pieces that might have served as potential exemplars; the new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers."
in that Jope is not trying to account for, or work around any pre-existing dichotomy but uses the physical evidence to formulate the hypothesis that continental influence on British decorative metalwork came about, not through influence from imported objects but from the arrival of people trained in continental workshops. Jope's hypothesis comes directly from inductive reasoning and is not referent to previous theories or models.

While not explicit, the Gosden/Hill quote refers to a long history of theories and models about the Celts arrival in Britain, the earliest expression being the dichotomy of the insular adoption of certain cultural traits as opposed to such traits being brought by invaders. The invasion model soon fell out of fashion and that part of the dichotomy was replaced with models of migrations. Because the previous models were not really explained, the mention of both a dichotomy and (possibly) migrations leaves a "black box" source for that line of reasoning in the minds of any reader unfamiliar with the academic history of the subject. Thus, much of the information in the more recent publication comes from deductive reasoning using existent theories without clarifying the exact nature of those theories. There is no example of the exact nature of the agency which introduces coninental features to British-made objects. The text continues with examples of how certain continental forms could have been easily copied by local individuals. We then imagine that all examples of British Celtic art can be so explained.

It would have been a simple matter for any British workshop to take a continental design and apply it to the mold for a uniface plate to then be cast where only one surface bears a detailed design in bas-relief. The technology for making such a plate would long precede the style depicted on it. My example of a British finial in the Plastic Style turns Jope's hypothesis into a theory because the innovations did not rest entirely in the style, but in the fact that a complex small shape "cast in the round" was able to be made at all. All examples of this technological development are expressed on objects of the Plastic Style (which was given a distribution range from Bavaria to Bohemia, with a western outlier from France).
Science was able to prove that the finial was certainly made in Britain because of the ratio of Co to Ni in the alloy and this was quite the surprise to scholars of early Celtic art as not even an imported example of the Plastic Style has previously been found in Britain. Furthermore, the course that British Celtic art then took used, and further developed the repoussé technique to simulate the designs that could have been cast by the workmen in the Plastic Style workshops. The individual who made the finial was trained in. or trained by a member of, a continental workshop and when his workshop went out of production, the technology was lost. No one could have made a similar object without "inside information" of the technique for detailed "in the round" small casting.

Theories, movements, and fashions in study are not always explicit in studies and in the example above, their presence is only indicated by two words: dichotomy and migration. Sometimes. the details of a previous model are forgotten and what survives are memes that came about from these models but which then gained an unexamined life of their own. One must look out for subtexts and their attached memes in academic writing. The differences in the two text examples here can be seen where Jope describes an actual human agency for change and does not have things changing themselves as if by magic.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part four: not so grand narratives

Caesar crossing the Channel
from Bill Nye's History of England, 1900
One of the main courses in the postmodern diet is its identification and criticism of the grand narrative which the postmodernist likes to replace with a "tapas menu" of "little narratives" (micronarratives).

Grand narratives promote, and then reflect the current social mythologies but when the grand narrative becomes too far removed from the social mythologies it becomes replaced with a new grand narrative and sometimes even a new mythology which encompasses the Zeitgeist.

When I was at school in England, we were taught how Britain brought civilization to Africa in the nineteenth century. Today, the same events are more likely to be exaplained as how Britain subjugated and brought colonialism to Africa. Yesterday's heroes (such as Cecil Rohodes) become today's villains in accordance with current nationalist views and pointed views of history and archaeology serve as handmaidens to state indocrination.

Without deliberate attention, influences from previous grand narratives still survive as believed realities: there is still a very strong belief that the Romans brought civilization to Britain in much the same ways that Britain was believed to have helped civilize Africa, even though the current anti-colonization popularity would serve just as well for Rome's interest in Britain.

What might be seen as a revealing micronarrative can also be indicative of the effect of an unnamed meme (while the meme is always a specific statement that becomes incorporated into individual's belief models, or mythologies, the influence of a number of memes is less obvious and these help to maintain some grand narratives that have become mostly extinct in the overriding belief structures of the day.

My favorite example of such an "infected" micronarrative comes from a footnote in my Penguin edition of Caesar's Conquest of Gaul. Responding to Casar's statement:
"Caesar made active preparations for an expedition to Britain, because he knew that in almost all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons." (IV.3.20.)
the editor says:
"Although there was much intercourse between Gaul and Britain, the military aid which Caesar says the Gauls received from the Britons cannot have been of much importance, and in any case the Romans were now in control of the Channel. ... (Note 27).

the editor then goes on to explain the Roman's "important motive" of glory over a distant and unknown island... an explanation in keeping with the colonialization of and bringing civilization to Britain.

Memes and their effects do not come with stated evidence (probably because of a strong peer-belief in the previous and perhaps even forgotten memes). In order to evaluate such a statement we must assume no such beliefs at all and look at what sort of evidence could settle the question. Fortunately, there is only one type of evidence that could address the subject of British reinforcements in Gallic battles and that is the findspots of the gold stater (Gallo-Belgic E) which strong evidence has identified as the currency paid to Celtic troops in those campaigns. I chose the fiigures given by Simone Scheers in Traité de numismatique celtique, II, La Gaule Belgique. Because of its 1978 publication date, very few of the British findspots can be assumed to have been discovered because of much metal detector use there as most of the figures mostly predate the publication by many years and metal detecting was just starting to become popular in Britain in the early seventies.

I found out from the numbers and findspots of Gallo-Belgic E in Britain, that the physical evidence does, indeed, support Caesar's statement. The British finds generally are missing the larger hoards that might be attributed to payments to tribes for the supply of their troops and instead have many smaller finds that we would expect to have been paid to individual mercenaries or small groups of the same (auxilliaries). Why would such evidence be neglected? It would argue for the idea of cross-Channel culture and thus against the idea of a primitive and unspoilt people about to become civilized by the Romans; that the Celtic presence in Britain at the time consisted of a small number of elite (which is also an oxymoron because Caesar also explains that elite status was measured only by the size of the leader's military presence); It also makes it much easier to forget about, or to lessen, the importance of the Celts military service for Greek leaders starting at about 400 BC. These campaigns were the impetus for the Celts adoption of coinage in the first place and later copy the subjects shown on the coins paid to them by the Greeks.

The most strained part of the footnote was that the Roman's controlled the Channel. Caesar had very little good to say about how his ships fared in Channel crossings. One ship was swept hopelessly off course, ending up in the west country after trying to reach Kent and the Roman galleys were hopeless against rough seas, shallows and sand bars causing Caesar to commisssion Gaulish-built ships for his expeditions to Britain. The subject of the Romans surviving the crossing is valid, but the idea of them controlling the Channel is laughable, especially when it comes to the Celtic shipping routes to Hengistbury and further west.

So to spot the influences from previous grand narratives. simply look for the "matter of fact" types of statements where the author seems to think that providing any justification is completely unnecessary. It can often be a gold mine to the contrary.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part three: anything goes

Original sheet-music from the musical
Anything Goes
One of the commonest complaints about postmodernism is that "anything goes", meaning that the postmodernist might take a specific viewpoint as the core of a particular study. One of the most dominant viewpoints that has received much support is feminism and that support has shifted so much public reaction to the topic that what might have been first thought of as an eccentric view has now become more mainstream within archaeology.

I don't think that the postmodernist is the real author of this "anything goes" method, rather, the postmodernist recognizes that many unrevealed influences can be at the core of even the most established "truths" and has decided to bring one such influence to our attention. Without the postmodernist intervention, the anything that has already gone remains unidentified and the truth might only be an apparency.

The idea that aliens from outer space were instrumental in building the Egyptian pyramids is a valid hypothesis, but calling it a theory necessitates some scientific proofs. Call me rash, but I don't believe we will see such proofs ever presented. The idea of aliens being involved with the pyramids is thus a modern mythology and can be studied as such. We could even come up with how such ideas might have evolved from reports of divine intervention and that "visitors from outer space" are a modern and atheistic or agnostic mythological equivalence to the idea of angels. The mythologist might also point out that depictions of angels are influenced by Roman depictions of the winged Victory, and that the Greek meaning of angel (ἄγγελος) is simply "messenger" and that word could be validly used in English language Biblical texts. No one need think of wings unless the text mentions them.

Another modern mythology is that none of the inhabitants of ancient Britain were called Celts. What is most curious about this mythology is that it is usually presented, not as a hypothesis (which it is), and not even as a theory, but as a fact. Its stated basis is that the word 'Celt' is not attested in literature about Britain prior to the seventeenth century. All that this proves is that British Celts do not appear in the literature prior to the seventeenth century. Of course, there is an awful lot of stuff about the Celts that we now have proof of existing that also did not appear in the literature even a few decades ago. As to whether any ancient Briton believed that he or she was a Celt cannot be proven by such an absence of evidence explanation.

Whether anything actually occurred in previous times has no bearing on whether it is, or is not, a mythology. A mythology is a set of beliefs that serve, or served, a function in people's lives and the fact of their historicity has no bearing whatsoever on the belief's validity as a mythology. The truths of a mythology are not historical, they are metaphorical. Joseph Campbell said "People are killing each other over their choice of metaphors". Not understanding the nature of mythology can be a very serious matter indeed.

Monday: what are the clues that a myth might be being labelled as a fact?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part two: the archaeology of thought

Michel Foucault
free-use image
I was drawn to reading Michel Foucault's The Order of Things: An archaeology of the human sciences after discovering the act of classification to be a destructive activity. I had wanted to create a more detailed typological study of the coins of the ancient Celtic Coriosolite tribe of Brittany by looking at the evolution of the coin-die designs. It had struck me that the current classification was based on the observance of several very noticeable design motifs, yet the designs on the coins had a very numerous collection of motifs. I reasoned that what was most noticeable today might not have been most noticeable to an observer in the time that the coins were made: even a visually small device might have had deep significance to someone who understood its visual language. The modern classifier, having no such knowledge must stick with what is seen but not necessarily understood  — devices that are visually dominant; devices that are commonly repeated; devices that seem to be grouped together with some relationship to the chronology. All other considerations are ignored.

Thus, classification becomes like the serpent Ouroboros eating its own tail: replacing the thoughts of the creator with the thoughts of the classifier. I knew that I would have to make contact with the thoughts of the creator of the work to avoid this subjectivity otherwise I would just be seeing horses in the clouds.

It was no easy task and I almost gave up on it, but I found an important clue in a set of minor variations — a clue as to how the die engraver was thinking about the designs. If you change one element within a composition, the whole composition will change and other compositional problems will emerge, and then also have to be changed. By discovering a small section of the complete work that exhibits a chronology that can be checked against other features, and found to be true, the reasons for changes can be inferred to have been due to certain tenets: that of the art (as the series of coins expresses that art) and of religious belief (as the devices have mythological connections). I looked at these subtle changes as my Rosetta Stone.

The biggest surprise to me was that as I began to arrange the dies in their order of manufacture based on sets of these subtle changes which proved their validity by overlapping each other, I not only began to understand the die engraver's thought processes more clearly, but also realized that what I was being left with was a total negation of the very idea of classes within a classification system. There was nothing left but the physical remains of a time period in the die engraver's thought processes. Each example of these remains was embodied within a single set of coin dies. There was no such thing as an objective class unless that class could be understood as the product of a modern classifier. The only valid units in the system were individual objects (coin dies which have left the evidence for their existence in their products). A classification system defines the classifier and the not the object being classified.

Foucault's work confirmed my suspicions, but where do we go from there? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part one: introduction

Athanasius Kircher's Map of Atlantis (c.1669)
The hikers unpacking their jeep at the bottom of the hill were oblivious to the sight of the UFO travelling from north to south along the Rocky Mountains west of Elbow Falls. The sight puzzled us: in a clear blue sky, an elliptical white light blinked visible and invisible very slowly on its silent journey south. When it was invisible, there was nothing to be seen, not even a speck in the sky. It would reappear just where you would expect it to be according to its speed. The light was too large to have been the sun glinting off an aircraft window. I did not think it was a "flying saucer", but I had no idea of what it was. Some time later, I was listening to a science radio show about rare forms of lightning when my UFO was discussed. The phenomenon had been attributed to a sort of lightning connected with the earth's magnetic field and had only been reported three times. I was pleased to know what it was: after all, thousands of people have reported "flying saucers" but very few people had seen what I saw that afternoon.

The whole experience reminded me of the Fátima sightings in 1917 which had been identified by many observers as a visitation of the Virgin Mary. Other explanations have since been offered such as a mass hallucination or an atmospheric phenomenon. UFO fans, of course, have other interpretations. No one would have thought, in 1917, that the Fátima sighting was a "flying saucer" as even the term had not been invented at that time and no one was talking much about invasions from space without referring to H. G. Wells' novel.

When people try to interpret the strange, they do so from the perspective of their time. What might have been understood as a divine event hundreds of years ago is now seen as a scientific phenomenon today, but even that explanation could be mocked by scientists in the future. We no longer think that the electron orbits the nucleus in just the same way that a planet orbits its sun. Quantum physics has moved Newton much closer to the Fátima observers than he was before.

Fringe archaeology, which is sometimes given the risky term Pseudoarchaeology by dyed-in-the-wool sceptics has become of some interest to postmodernist archaeologists. It includes not just ideas of visitations from ancient aliens and lost continents, but also divining or "witching" for artifacts and anything else that lies outside of the current academic thinking in the subject. But what of those things that are accepted today by the "expert" that will be the source of much amusement and derision by future archaeologists? Is it possible to predict what might become? Are there signals already in the accepted literature? This series will focus on these questions.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

I'm back

Western saddle
Photo: Borsi112
After a rather long winter break, I'm back in the saddle again. My time off has not all been relaxation and celebration. In my ongoing quest to gain the pensions due to me I have finally run into the bureaucrat from hell  — you know the type, the person who is not only wrong and inefficient but utterly rude, irresponsible and who can never admit any fault. This time it was a Provincial employee.

Christmas dinner was at my daughter's house. I arrived with presents for her, her husband and my grandchildren together with my traditional two-bite sausage rolls and mince tarts. my son-law's mother provided the turkey and my daughter baked a ham. I also made my own turkey dinner as Safeway has had frozen turkeys on sale for 99 cents a pound for the last thirty years or longer and I can never resist such a deal. I know of nothing else that has had no price increase in thirty years and even ground beef is five times more expensive. Of course, I ended up with a lot of left-overs and made turkey soup, turkey and mushroom pies, and turkey and sweet potato pasties. Perhaps I will buy a deep freezer this year and next December will buy several such turkeys.

Having become fed up with eating turkey in its various forms, I was not sad to see the last pie vanish and decided to prepare something as far removed from turkey as possible. I had always wanted to make some real Texas chili so I found a great recipe and Co-Op had all of the right ingredients including real Mexican dried chiles and the best masa farina, although I bought the beef elsewhere as I needed a lot of it and saved by buying a couple of large "family packs". I varied the recipe a little bit as I like to cook stewing beef in a slow cooker for a better texture so my homemade chili sauce was a bit too thin and rather than adding more masa farina, I spooned off the sauce and reduced it on the stove to intensify the flavours. I made it of medium hotness because I wanted to be able to taste the recipe rather than just making my mouth numb. I can highly recommend that recipe. It contains no beans, tomato or chili powder. I gave a serving to a friend who had lived in New Mexico and was familiar with real chili con carne. He took it home and let his wife and kids try it. All said it was the best chili they had ever tried. He joked about my opening chili restaurant, but I said that the cost of a bowl of good chili would come as a shock to anyone used only to the cheap canned varieties with all the beans and tomato in them, even though they are the merest ghost of the real thing. My chili did not last as long as I had hoped. Next time, I will use ten to twenty pounds of beef and freeze a lot of it.

Still no Coriosolite staters from the big Jersey hoard for XRF analysis. Trefor had emailed me saying he had hoped to be able to work on them over the Christmas break, but I had replied saying that everything slows down over Christmas whether in academia or business (save for retail, of course).

I had said that I would be continuing my mythology series next, but the next topic in the theme is going to be complicated so it will be its own series. I'm calling it Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" and it will start tomorrow. Let me know what you think if you try that chili recipe.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's greetings

The Mountain Exhaled
 A winter cloud sweeps over the Victoria Glacier at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
photo: Laszlo-photo

Have a happy and safe holiday and I will be back with more on the current series in early January.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Mythology — part six: personal mythologies

Piegan Medicine Bags
While the movies and other fictional media can provide us with our need for mythology by allowing us to identify with the hero and find other parallels to our own life, we also have a habit in collecting what we call "souvenirs". These can be something to remind us of a vacation or any other special moment, place or person. We don't think of such things as sacred objects, but they are the sort of thing that the Plains Indian shaman would include in their medicine bags or bundles.

In primitive societies there is no "separation of Church and State" and all things have their connections to the sacred. The feelings we have about special things are no different from what the shaman saves for the medicine bundle, they are just given another name.

As we grow older, our lives gain a meaning that is personal to us. We can call that a personal mythology. There are stages to a life well-lived. Joseph Campbell says that as soon as the movie hero wins the battle and gets the girl, the credits roll. In mythology, however, the hero's role continues past the movie endings. He returns to his people to act as elder and mentor. We tend to forget about this stage of life and Hollywood rarely acknowledges what we forget. I am sure that you have encountered many people who have become stuck in their ways and try to relive, instead, previous times of victories and personal satisfaction. Perhaps you should ask such people what the young can learn from their experiences — try to move them along a little bit. Perhaps all they need is a medicine bundle.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Mythology — part five: inspiration

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1769
Being married to a poet for twenty years can teach you a lot about inspiration. The first thing I noticed was that my wife included a number of archetypal and mythological images in her poems without ever having studied Jungian psychology or mythology. Although I already knew that writing poetry often presented such images to the poet and there was something about poetic forms that could contact the unconscious, watching the actual practice of poetry gave me a number of ideas about how and why this happens. My wife used both formal and free verse but the latter was frequently obsessive verse. She would spend most of her time editing her poetry and sometimes she would work on a poem for many years to get it just right: she would repeat the lines over and over to hear and note how they scanned. The rhythm was almost everything.

I saw that there was little difference between the shaman beating a drum and the poet reciting the work in progress. Both would experience the rhythm presenting an idea, most often as a single word, which would be imbued with feelings of numinosity. In transcendental meditation, the order is different: It starts with a highly charged word or sound given as the mantra and the repetition of that word delivers the formerly unconscious material surrounding it. Maslow called such incidents "peak experiences". After many years of writing poetry, my wife gained an ability to detect such peak experiences in what others wrote or spoke about and was thus able to translate other people's experiences into poetic forms. She describes this process in her account of what inspired her poem Anne. A friend of Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote to her after its publication to say that she had read the poem to Anne while its subject was on her death bed, further confirming that she "had got it right".

What inspiration provides is maintained by evolution: the story teller keeps to mnemonic rhythms and sounds and the repetition delivers the suitably imbued material which will then resonate with the same material in the collective unconsciousness of the listener. The poem survives by delivering its numinosity and being remembered and repeated, thus. It becomes a meme. I don't think that the stories came out of religious beliefs, I think that the religious beliefs evolved from the stories and they gained their power from that numinosity that surrounds, and makes significant, certain parts of the unconscious.