Friday, 31 July 2015

Viewpoints 3: pattern recognition

Kelheim ( Lower Bavaria ). Archaeological Museum:
 Bronze application ( 3rd century BC ) from the
La Téne culture cemetery at Kelheim-Mitterfeld.
photo and caption: Wolfgang Sauber
In his thesis, Castriota reveals that the grammar of Celtic ornament which appears as "patterns" in Jacobsthal's work and which was continued by Sir Cyril Fox and Martyn Jope is not really a grammar but a glossary of ornament. A grammar is what is followed by the artist in the commission of the work. In his forthcoming supplement to Jacobsthal, Vincent Megaw will not be including patterns at all and he explained to me that people will have to use their eyes. This is good advice and I think that patterns can not only emphasize a particular view, but can prevent alternative views through its labeling and context in the work.

The need to break down motifs further into elements is not well reflected in the published patterns by Jacobsthal and Jope who not only include motifs as patterns but combinations of motifs, especially with continuous decoration. Fox restricts his patterns to single motifs, alone.

Early Celtic art has no published manifesto of its aims as we frequently see in modern art movements, and its narrative content, in the rare incidences where we suspect that such is being presented, is based on mythologies that if committed to writing later are so changed that reconstituting the original stories is impossible. On top of everything else, the separation of artistic and mythological elements, as with separations of "Church and State" was just not any sort of consideration in prehistoric art and cultures.

On Monday: dealing with elements and motifs. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Viewpoints 2: classification decisions

I was a little concerned with the subject matter of yesterday's post because I had just located, purchased and downloaded a PhD thesis I had been looking for for quite a while. It is David Richard Castriota's
Continuity and Innovation in Celtic and Mediterranean Ornament. A Grammatical-syntactic Analysis of the Processes of
Reception and Transformation in the Decorative Arts of Antiquity, 1981 thesis submitted to Columbia University, published by University Microfilms International and available through ProQuest.

With my study of Coriosolite dies I had decided, in 1985, to break up the design motifs into design elements and I was not sure how Castriota dealt with motifs in his thesis. It turns out that I did not need to be concerned as in his abstract he says:

"The extension of the concept of grammar in language to the study of the visual medium of ornament must span a large formal gap. Consequently this approach requires relatively objective and consistent bases or criteria if it is to prove useful. The more familiar art historical concept of the motif is a valid one, but it is a flexible term which applies to many art forms of varied configuration, type and complexity. As such the term "motif" is not sufficiently specific or precise to enable a consistent basis for formal analysis on the analogy of grammar. In addition, many ornamental forms characterized as motifs are clearly made up of smaller components. Therefore it is necessary to utilize a more graphic and geometrical method of pattern recognition to distinguish and characterize the fundamental formal components of ornament."
Once I had obtained my elements from the motifs my interests were, first, to use changes in the designs to determine a more focused chronology than was possible before using the usual sort of coin classification system which looks only at a few features and second, to reconstitute meaning from the motifs and elements. Apart from identifying specific design elements and trying to establish their original meanings, I had no interest in classifying the elements any further. Castriota, however, must do so in order to fulfill his goals which was how Celtic art developed and evolved. So he explains (also part of the abstract):

"The study of the Celtic transformations of Southern ornament requires a more objective and consistent means of formal analysis. Patterns are intelligible as groupings of basic two-dimensional components or elements. These may be arranged with an areally discrete structure as proximate, tangent, or conterminous forms, and also as a really continuous series, connected by juncture. These arrangements may be characterized more precisely on the analogy of the syntactic structure of words in language, as paratactic and hypotactic connections. Larger aggregates of elements consist of serial arrangements, as strings , and more elaborate structures, perimetral and complex aggregates, and still more elaborate closed string aggregates, network strings, and valenced mass compositions."
A classification system is not an anatomy of related groups of objects but a system applied to a group of objects for a specific application and the value of any classification system is dependent on how well the system is able to meet the goals of said system. Classifications, then, are to a degree subjective because the researcher determines the qualities that are taken into consideration.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Viewpoints 1: elements and motifs

We are taught to read at a young age and soon become familiar with such terms as "vocabulary" and "grammar". If and when we gain an intellectual interest in art, we tend to look for similar structures in its understanding because, although stressing literacy, no one has ever taught us how to look.

Yet words are nothing more than a map of a viewpoint; a description of a reality as seen or imagined. Someone had to be looking at some part of the process. Sight, of course, is just one of the senses, and we experience reality through all of them. Evolution tends to favor people who do not block out ambient sounds with headphones while crossing road and railroad tracks. Even if you are distracted and looking the other way, you can at least hear the train.

As our survival depends on something similar, we have a tendency to prefer situations that we can sum up in a glance and make decisions based on the whole picture. Whenever we experience this sort of survival kick in, we describe it as "being in the zone". In this state, all of the complex calculations are unconscious, learned, and automated. This works just fine for my dog: he likes routines; he dislikes novelty and anything sitting on the sidewalk that was not always there is to be distrusted. For humans, it is a rare experience as we have to do so many different things and it becomes impossible to do many of them so well as to experience "being in the zone". For everything else, we have to pin down facts with words like butterflies pinned to a board.

So we start with an ABC approach as if learning to read, and even use letters, just for the familiarity. A motif is a design bearing a meaning. Imagine that each letter in the word "motif" is one of those plastic fridge magnets, and they are all lying in a box at different angles and in random order. This is an easy puzzle: we already know our letters and which side is up, and there is no other word that they can spell but "motif".

In using letters as design elements we have already adopted an entire classification system for these design elements. In this case, it is the English language. The problem in interpretation in prehistoric examples of motifs is that they and the elements they are constructed from are following a classification system very different from the English language but yet broadly-related to the structures of written language itself. You might say that they are the antecedents of written language that can contain other qualities which have never been adopted into written languages.

The trick to understanding is to first reveal the underlying system.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Viewpoints: introduction

I had intended to do something on Steampunk but after reading Peter S Wells, How Ancient Europeans saw the World:  Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times, Princeton University Press, 2012, that will have to wait. Wells speculates about doing the sort of things that I have been doing and writing about for thirty years. In chapter nine, he compares the layout and something of the styles of the Celtic La Tène 1 scabbard from Hallstatt (detail illustrated right) with the "procession plate" of the Thracian work for Celtic clients, Gundestrup cauldron (illustrated below). While such layout and style could have influenced thinking, such thinking would have been outside of the culture. The Greeks, for example, seeing the two examples would think of mainly Thracians, but perhaps also of Etruscans: people who were still following something of the styles that the Greeks had followed in an earlier age. It might be seen as slightly barbaric or just "old fashioned", but it might have also been seen in a better light by people interested in "ancient wisdom".

Within the culture, however, such compositional devices act as a familiar roadmap through the composition. In the procession plate to the left, it is read from right to left on the bottom and then left to right on the top. This would confuse an ancient Egyptian used to reading hieroglyphs from the direction that the figures face. The branch forms a register to tell the observer that the scene is divided into two "episodes" and the large figure on the left spans both of the episodes and is also the director of the scene.

Meaning, however, existed prior to the artist creation and the latter is an expression of it. While the mythological subjects of both examples are related, they are not the same. A better parallel to the wheel turner on the scabbard is the wheel turner on the cauldron, but its significance apart from its use just as one of the elements on the scabbard composition is ignored, even though it is discussed by Jacobsthal and the Megaws deemed it important enough to get a colour plate in Celtic Art.

In this series I will discuss the vocabularies and grammars of decorative art focusing on the Celtic but drawing from other cultures as well. It is related to semiotics but the latter approaches the subject deductively, by offering, first, its own grammar. I can only work with this material in an inductive manner.

Monday, 27 July 2015

I'm back

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefield
I think that next year, if I feel the urge to take a vacation, it will be to one of those places
where the closest thing to a life and death decision is whether to go down to the restaurant or phone for room service. I am finding some irony in the fact that British Columbia's wildfires were a concern in getting to the Upper Fraser but not so much for where we were going as it is a rather damp area with low fire risk, yet it was the part of the journey with the highest fire risk that resulted in having to turn back. There was no fire but hours of rain over a 150k stretch of highway and with low nighttime temperatures. This was just what the province needed, but it was not so good for campers. First no campfires were permitted, now the problem would be to get one started at all.

What really did it, though, was that the storage box Monte built onto the top of his 4WD, was not waterproof. I did not know about that until the rain started. With a wet sleeping bag and clothes, I had no choice but to call off the trip and turn back. Only fools allow enthusiasm to get in the way of safety issues.

A pleasant surprise was that coydog Tristan traveled very well. He seemed not to trust people as much as he did at home and would not let anyone get too close. He knew he was in unfamiliar country that must have had different smells, and he was taking no chances. He would be the perfect companion for a long distance trucker.

Just before the rain started, I took the above photograph at North America's most famous Glacier, the Athabasca Glacier. The glaciers are definitely shrinking. There was another good view down the road, but it was blocked with screens so you could not see it unless you paid for the bus tour that took you behind the screens.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Before I head off

This might be the last posting for about a week to ten days as Monte and I are off to the Upper Fraser River in British Columbia next week to find (or create) a route to his property there. If we drive into Prince George some time I can find a Wifi hot spot where I can try out my tablet's Blogger app. Other than that, I will have only satellite GPS, messaging and emergency beacon.

I was pleased, this morning, to hear from John Germain on Britarch, that the Bulletins of the Societé Jersiase are now open access, so now, so is my very first publication (1993):

(page 113-115 and about the first Le Catillon hoard).

For some reason, my digital camera's output to my computer has stopped working so I have to buy a card reader for it today or I will be stuck using my tablet's camera. I also have to get a blue tooth speaker with more oomph than what I have right now, which would not scare off a ground squirrel, let alone a bear. I also have to move my collection and other valuables to a friend's safe before I go, get some fishing tackle, get groceries and bake some pasties for the trip.

I might not be able to publish any blog comments past early next week and until I return, so be patient. There are still no wildfires between where we are going and the coast from where the prevailing winds blow, so the air quality should be good. Wish us luck!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Reliving Myst

Myst Cover (fair use)
Are you old enough to remember Myst? 1993 was an important year for gaming with the introduction of Myst and Doom. Yesterday, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought the latest version (realMyst with free roaming option). It comes with some caveats: depending on whether you opt for playing with lesser graphic detail, you will find that it runs a little slow. It does not bother me much, Myst was far from a fast-action game and you cannot even die in it. You can also decide whether you want to break from the original point and click on established paths and go free roaming instead (you can neither pass through solid objects nor fall off the cliff). I tried the free roaming, but might go back to point and click to better experience the original game. The story remains the same, though.

The graphics are richer because they can be. Originally, it had only 256 colours, but the developers wisely did not use the usual garish 256 colours out of the box, but created custom 256 colour palettes for each scene. Myst was highly praised for its artistry: the original had an appearance somewhere between a watercolour drawing and and a Japanese woodcut. As a game, it contrasted (almost archetypally) with Doom: Myst being ethereal with puzzles to solve, and Doom being action/violence. When I first saw Doom, in 1993, I must admit to being concerned about such violence in a game. I really took to Myst, though.

Sometime after I get back from my trip to the backwoods of British Columbia I will be starting a series on the archaeology of modern popular culture, and Myst will get the ball rolling. In the meantime, watch this interview with the originators of Myst and Doom (caption by Vimeo):

DOOM MYST 20 Years After from NYU Game Center on Vimeo.
There are few games as important or influential as DOOM and MYST. While DOOM founded what would become one of the defining genres of video games, MYST introduced a huge new audience to the digital art form.

Join us for an evening with two of the most important creative forces behind these two world changing games, John Romero (DOOM) and Rand Miller (MYST), as they discuss their visionary works. The free-wheeling conversation, moderated by Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Game Center, will find the two legends meditating on their subsequent careers, sharing their thoughts about the development and future of the game industry, and commenting on the legacies of each other’s work.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Domenico Gnoli

Domenico Gnoli's grave
Inspiration can come from anywhere. A few days ago I was attempting to learn how to fly a radio-controlled drone quadcopter so we could spot routes from the air on our expedition to the Upper Fraser. At first I tried flying it indoors but it would crash into something within a few seconds of taking off. I decided to take it outside. That seemed to work: with all of that extra space it took twice as many seconds to crash into something like a tree, the fence or the house. When it comes to anything mechanical, I'm all thumbs. I soon realized that my flying a drone was going to be just as successful as when (in my younger years) I tried to learn how to rehair violin bows. It did not last a day: I made something of a mess of cutting the impossibly small piece of wood that holds the hair in place; then the hot hide glue stuck to my fingers, the piece of wood and about $20 worth of horse hair (not just any horse hair, but the most expensive kind). I decided that Monte should be the pilot on this trip. Not being very good with my hands seems a strange claim for someone who used to make something of a living from being an artist, especially when it came to pen and ink drawings which were excruciatingly detailed. I thought about this again after the qaudcopter fiasco: it's not so much about being bad with my hands, I'm bad with my fingers. I could do very consistent cross-hatching with a pen, but the motion is created by the wrist, not the fingers. In painting large pictures, it was gesture that got the paint on the canvas: often a sweep of the whole arm, sometimes just the forearm. My fingers had nothing to do with my art past unscrewing the pain tube, and even I can handle that. I had no problems with gesture and had success with dancing and acting. Painting, to me, belonged with those two. I gave up painting when I realized I would never become another Cézanne, and I gave up pen and ink when I realized I would never become another Domenico Gnoli.

Domenici Gnoli bridged surrealism and pop-art: some of his paintings suggest someone who had become fascinated by a detail of a bowler hat in a René Magritte painting, but it was his pen and ink that really got to me. That was what I had been trying to do with the medium all along. I just did not realize it at the time. His pen and ink was surrealism and the paintings were mainly pop art. It was shortly after I discovered Gnoli when he died a far too early death like another great artist draftsman; Thomas Girtin. Joseph Turner had said that he might not have become so great had Girtin lived. In their younger years, they shared the same work with Turner's watercolour over Girtin's drawing.

Take a close look at some of Domenico Gnoli's drawings (tip: click on each image). Then watch the following video for more of his work:

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Route planning

Forest routes between Eaglet and Hansard Lakes in the Upper Fraser, British Columbia, view is about 50,000 feet (click to enlarge)
Yesterday was quite productive: I was able to plot several potential routes through the forest to reach Monte's quarter section. These approximate routes have been entered into my inReach Explorer and I can navigate along them while leaving locational messages for friends and relatives back home. This area is in the middle of the sub-boreal spruce zone and has the largest, unspoiled, river systems in the world.

The route lines are approximate as I wanted to be able to zoom on on the photographs in places. The photographic information, however, is ten years old and a lot could be now growing over those roads if they are rarely traveled. Bridges can be out and roads washed out during flash floods after storms. The routes that humans pick are also chosen by animals like the moose and the grizzly bear. I'm hoping that the latter are well fed despite the recent lack of moisture in the area, as it is only the predatory bears that will want to approach humans. If you make enough noise, most bears will move away from you. Young male grizzlies who are "strutting their stuff" can also be aggressive, but the breeding season is over. The hunting season has yet to begin, so we are unlikely to get accidentally shot.

Finding these routes was a surprise: maps we had looked at before had none of the old logging roads marked, not even the highest scale government maps. I was on the Delome site synced to my inReach Explorer as the gizmo, itself, carries only a featureless route map. Pairing it wityh my tablet, though, I can plot routes over better maps. The above screen shot was above a Google Earth image, but when I first saw the roads appear it was as I zoomed in on the relief map. Funnily, they do not appear on the third map type: the road map. This is what I first drew over. I placed the two way-points on Camp 27 Road

The lower way point marks the start of the route that I thought we might be able to take, and the upper way point does the same for the route that Monte plotted. Both were uncertain routes, and we thought that we might have to cross areas that had no logging roads, but might have a few hunter's ATV trails we could hack or chain saw our way through with the 4WD.

Monte was overjoyed when I phoned him about it and sent him copies of the maps. He told me that he had heard such a map existed, but had not been able to find it in three years.

The lake from which one of Monte's creeks issues is visible above the higher route line. It runs though the deepest ravine in the area which reaches Monte's land about 140 feet below at the base of a high hill that looks like it should have a hillfort or a castle on it. Monte's hill overlooks the lake that feeds his creek., and all the lands to the south. I'm hoping there is bedrock visible in the ravine or in the creek on Monte's land. There is gold in the area and we are bringing a pick, shovel and gold pan. If there's no gold visible in the pan, then the fishing rod gets unpacked. Have to check out the resources. Did I mention that the grizzlies really like to follow the creeks as well as roads and cut-lines?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Vincent's 80th birthday book

This post is a follow up to my blog post: Celtic art in Europe: making connections. Essays in honour of Vincent Megaw on his 80th birthday.

After waiting months for my some of my pensions to be processed, I can finally start buying books again. It should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read my previous blog about it that the Festschrift for Vincent Megaw would be the first major purchase. I first learned of its existence in an email from Vincent, himself. Yet, I had a problem: should I buy the hard copy or the e-book? The reason I had a problem is because I had started to think about the question too early. So, if you ever find yourself in any dilemma stop thinking about it and trust to Providence.

Providence visited me in the guise of my daughter and my son-in-law, who were concerned about my forthcoming (second) expedition to the backwoods NE of Prince George, British Columbia. Where we are going, there is no cell-phone reception. Last time, we went in on foot but this time it will be by 4WD. My limited experience with this mode of transportation leads me to believe that a 4WD allows people to become stuck in far more remote places than can easily be reached on foot. It really does not matter that you have a winch when you are stuck in the middle of some muskeg and the only tree close enough is a very young sapling. My son-in-law suggested renting a satellite phone, but I bought an inReach Explorer, instead, which has both GPS features and a satellite messaging system (including an SOS button for the world's major search and rescue service). This cost me about twice what the rental of a phone would have cost, but one more expedition will pay for that. I also have an option to suspend the service costs for any number of months for only $4.95 per month. As this gizmo can be paired with tablet, I bought one of those, too. Previously, I had thought of buying an e-book reader, but the tablet serves well for that, and e-book readers cannot install the Google Earth app for Android. Limited functionality compared with the desk top version, but still useful for the expedition as the maps just do not show the sort of roads we will be traveling on through the forest. Even then, a lot can change in the forest on logging roads that have not been used since being captured by Landsat years ago, as we found out on the first expedition.

So, I started buying some books and music for the trip on Google Play (Jack London seemed appropriate for the reading material). I thought I would see what they had in books on Celtic Art and there was Vincent's birthday book. If I ordered the hard copy it would probably not arrive in time for the trip; a hard copy would add weight; one can select and copy in an e-book for taking notes and giving quotes; simple touch-operated translation for the French and German papers; it was cheaper as an e-book; the books are not just downloaded to my tablet, but I can also access them from any computer from the Google site; bears cannot eat on-line digital files. What dilemma?

I thought that I might write a review of the book when I get back from the trip, but this is such an important collection of papers that any attempt at an expository review could hardly do it justice. The introduction in the book is the first chapter, and it spends enough time to do a good job of that. Why the publishers do not offer that introduction as a free sample is beyond me, it would sell many copies. There are some papers that will inspire some commentary for this blog and talking about one or two of them might even take the form of a series. My only complaint is that the book is formatted fine for hard copy, but the small print and double columns make it less than ideal for an e-book as the publishers did not bother to do anything but convert it to PDF. In better format was Peter S. Wells, How Ancient Europeans Saw the World (which I also bought). There, even the table of contents are links and it is single-columned with readable text I don't need to zoom.

What surprised me completely about Vincent's birthday book is when I read what people I knew had to say about Vincent, and also reading the same from people I did not know, but have read and have discussed some of their ideas with Vincent. It gave me the strangest sensation of eavesdropping. Of course, many will be drawn to this book because one of the contributors is John Collis, who might be fairly described as being Vincent's arch rival, at least in matters of Celtic identity. Collis does say though, that "the written word actually hides a friendship between us goes back many years!"  Vincent has said much the same to me about John Collis in email. This book has many levels.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Celts: Art and Identity at the British Museum

The Daily Mail has an interesting article with a slide show and videos about the upcoming exhibition: Celts: Art and Identity. It starts in September at the British Museum, but in March it will open in Edinburgh.

Will it prompt a new fad for everything Celtic? Collectors always face a Catch 22: whenever anything collectible becomes popular, its financial value increases. The collector's holdings become more valuable which is always pleasing to the collector, that is, until they go to buy the next item for the collection. If the exhibit is exceptionally popular and the Celtic fad becomes big enough, then can we expect it to be followed by a lot of Celtic fakes appearing on the market? Apart from the coinage, fakes of early Celtic art are so rare that I cannot even remember seeing one. What is common now, though, is that all sorts of non-Celtic artifacts are sold as Celtic. Caveat emptor, and buy the books before the antiquities.

Have a great weekend, I'll be back here on Monday

Thursday, 9 July 2015

You can't get there from here

Aleza Lake area, British Columbia. Eaglet Lake is on the far left (click the image to enlarge, the link to explore)

A little more than 100 people live in the area shown on this Google Earth image. On the 23rd of this month, my friend Monte, myself and my coydog Tristan will be setting out on a 1,400+ kilometer road trip there and (hopefully) back. The goal of our expedition will be to reach Monte's quarter section (160 acres). You can see an implied cleared rectangle of land west of Hansard Lake and north of Aleza Lake. That is a section, and Monte owns the top left hand quarter.

A couple of years ago, we tried to get in on foot, going between Aleza Lake and the small nameless lake to the left. We ended up at impenetrable marshes and had to turn back. There used to be a bridge across the creek that feeds into Hansard Lake From Aleza Lake, but it is no longer in any condition to cross. The land to the west is owned by a rancher with the improbable name of Lloyd George. While he cannot grant Monte permanent access, he can reach Monte's land across his and has let his cattle graze there, and has agreed to take us in on that route the next time we are there. We are going to try and find our own route through Crown land.

We will first drive (4WD) up Camp 27 Road, which you can see snaking up to the left and then to the right from the Upper Fraser Road to the east of Eaglet Lake. We will then take the fork to the right at the point where Camp 27 Road starts to head to the left. From there, we will the go north east past the approximate 50 acre rough square of cleared land and then downward to the quarter section bordering Monte's land to the east. Monte recalls that land is owned by someone in Calfornia, but providing there are no "private property" notices, we can legally cross it. We might have to find a route through Crown land directly to Monte's quarter section. The map is deceptive: it shows Monte's land as freshly cleared which make the aerial photograph about fourteen years old. The forest can change dramatically in that time. From photographs taken recently from a small plane, Monte's land is now mostly meadow dotted with a few trees. Lloyd George told us that the beavers have moved in on the main creek that meanders through Monte's land. This should be good and hopefully what was a marsh surrounded creek is now a series of beaver ponds created by their damming the creek.

My InReach Explorer will be taking GPS readings every ten minutes and sending emails with a short message and the map coordinations by email via satellites to our friends and families back home. If a tragedy strikes and we are too injured to walk out and the 4WD has failed us, an emergency beacon will be activated and a helicopter will be dispatched to rescue us. I will have Google Earth on my tablet (there is no cell-phone reception there), other maps, a compass, bear spray, hand flares, Bowie knives, machetes, a chain saw, gold pan, camping gear etc. I will also be taking a tiny "ghetto-blaster" with Bluetooth which can play tunes from my tablet. I am thinking that another bear deterrent will be some loudly played songs from Einstűrzende Neubauten:

I am hoping the bears will think we brought a small army with us. Another gadget we are bringing is a radio-controlled drone quadcopter with a video camera attached. It can fly more than 150 feet up and get video footage of what it sees. Monte is also bring his video camera to document the trip. I think it unlikely that there will be much of a problem from forest fires as that area is much damper than a lot of British Columbia, but there is a still a province-wide ban on even campfires in a campground (there are no campgrounds, motels, gas stations or shops in the area shown on the map). We will be camping some kilometers to the east, at Amanita Lake (don't eat the mushrooms) not far from McGregor river (I must get a jet boat one day):

See how desolate this area is?

Even before we reach the general area , we will be taking another risk: driving to the upper Fraser from the Yellowhead Highway via the Bowron Forest Service Road. It will save us an hour and a hundred kilometers. That road has potholes, an "iffy" old wooden bridge and it sometimes gets washed out. A similar road not far away is this one that someone risked exploring on a motorbike:

This is exactly what we will be facing (another road off Eaglet Lake through the forest). You can see how the forest reclaims the roads that people make through it (for logging, gold mining and hunting):

When the man on the video says "This would be even hard to walk", he is telling the truth. Monte and I walked along an overgrown ATV trail there in 2013, but it ended in marsh. A bear growled at us from its day bed in the forest close to us, but it (thankfully) did not make itself visible to us (grizzlies will often charge if surprised thus).

Finally, this is Amanita Lake where we will camp at least one night:

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

It's Stampede time again

Yipee-ki-yay! This is not my usual sort of greeting, but the Calgary Stampede ("The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth") is underway and all Calgarians are expected to get into the spirit. Perhaps if I do not, an old Calgary law might be invoked and I will be given a horse and a Winchester and escorted to the edge of town by the sheriff.

I thought about going to the parade that kicked everything off and getting some photographs for this blog, but I have settled for a couple of recycled Stampede Rodeo photos I took few years ago. I have been past the Stampede grounds four times since it started, on the train (standing room only) buying a pack for my coydog Tristan, and then returning it for a refund when it did not fit (it also looked uncomfortable for the dog). A couple of tourists took his photo when we were on the train.

In recent years, Calgary has been trying to get away from its "cow-town" image and has been stressing the city's business importance. But "oil town" did not go over too well when the politicians started siding more with the big oil and gas companies than the public who had some problems with them. The Conservative Party in Alberta split into two factions creating a new party. So there was now a right wing party and an extreme right wing party. Perhaps they thought that the Liberals would never get elected in Alberta, and never even considered the socialist New Democratic Party. Not too bright of them. Strange things can happen when you split votes like that. The NDP got elected and no one was more surprised than themselves. Only one or two of them expected to get a seat in parliament.
Calgary is still cow-town, it's in our blood. Mess with us and we will put together the lynch mob. The conservative party swings silently from the spruce trees.

Years ago, Royal American Shows operated the Midway. Now it is the Canadian Conklin Shows (read all about it here). I preferred the former. There is no place for respectability at a carnival. There has to be burlesque in the western theme; there has to be "the giant Parisian sewer rat" that turns out to be a coypu; there has to be freaks. It's a carnival. Take all of that away and you have only a show that gives you rides and takes your money in various sorts of gambling games where you pay more for the tickets than you get in the prizes even if you are the champ. That part was always about impressing your date with the cheap giant stuffed toy that just cost you $80 by trading up on the smaller prizes.

The Calgary Stampede Board, greedy as ever, decided to eliminate the private area for the carnies that was hidden in the middle of all of the power generators. It was a social place for them where they could get a nutritious home-cooked meal (can you imagine carnies having to survive on midway food for a whole touring season?). The Stampede Board saw no profit in that. Many of the carnies left at that point, including my old friend Scott and the Stampede had already moved the sideshows to less busy parts of the midway.

For north American rodeo, though, the Calgary Stampede is still Carnegie Hall; the Oscars; the Nobel Prize.

If I do relent and visit the grounds this year, I will get you some more recent pictures.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 6

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828 Que pico de Oro! (What a golden beak!)
Aquatint. Plate 53 of Los Caprichos,  1799

"This looks a bit like an academic meeting. Perhaps the parrot is speaking about medicine? However, don’t believe a word he says. There is many a doctor who has a ‘golden beak’ when he is talking, but when he comes to prescriptions, he’s a Herod; he can ramble on about pains, but can’t cure them: he makes fools of sick people and fills the cemeteries with skulls."

For the third time, I present this print by Goya "What a golden beak!" together with what he had to say about its subject. This time, I'm making it bigger. John Howland's comments about my last post reminds me that the public in general might be mystified about what collectors do and what they think about some of the issues brought up by various archaeologists with regard to so-called "cultural heritage" matters.

With "real world" issues about collecting or with any subject at all, for that matter, a lot of people believe that academics are the people to ask. Yet, if something is wrong with their car, the same people will ask a mechanic, not an academic. As I said in my comment to John Howland, if an archaeologist tells you to buy only those things where the dealer will tell you where he or she obtained the item, then that, alone is proof that the archaeologist either does not know what they are talking about, or is trying to get you to believe in some sort of conspiracy among dealers. If they do not tell you about the privacy laws that binds the dealer, seek advice elsewhere. For any sort of advice, check the person's qualifications to be safe. If an academic is telling you anything about coins, simply ask what they have published on the subject. Of course, a lot of rubbish has also been published, but if someone is telling you about coins and promoting any sort of academic approaches and has never had anything published on the subject then you should be rather suspicious. If the academic does have a history of a decade or two of publications on coins, they might still be wrong about something: numismatists often specialize in only one area of the subject. It does little good to ask a specialist in Celtic coins anything much about Byzantine coins, but you do not ask the bakery department of your supermarket about cooking roast beef, either. Having even an archaeology doctorate on a numismatic subject does not mean that a person will know anything about coins other than what is focused in their thesis.

I have never been an academic, and thus have never needed to publish for the worry of perishing. Yet, I have several academic publications consisting of journal papers (5); an encyclopaedia entry on Celtic coinage, and a ten year study published as a book at Oxford. In fact it was only the book which was written "on speculation" of publication. Everything else I have published was by request (one from an independent numismatist; one from a numismatist at a cultural organization, the rest from working archaeologists). It was also an archaeologist who nominated me for an FSA and other archaeologists who "seconded" that nomination, and presumably also voted me in. It was also an archaeologist who arranged to have my book published by Archaeopress at Oxford. Any academic worth his or her salt would blow me out of the water as far as publications go as that is the bread and butter of their very career. The best generalist numismatists can be found in the ranks of coin dealers. While an academic with tenure can get away with writing almost anything, the coin dealer's very survival depends on their understanding of the subject. So ask one anything about coins, but also make sure that if they have no publications of their own, they can cite several years of having a coin business, and it probably will be best if that business has walls and display cases and their hours posted on the front door.

Collectors might be independent or museum curators, the concerns of both are about the same. Museum staff really in the know can cite many years of experience. Museum jobs are more time-consuming than you might think and the personal projects of museum staff can take many years to finish if they do it on "company time". I have collected, bought and sold, and worked as a cataloger in the military department of Glenbow museum, so I am both specialist and a bit of a generalist, too. One of my journal papers 'on request" was not even to do with anything Celtic, it was on the nature of primitive religions and its focus was a Indian of the Blood tribe (Blackfoot Confederacy). It was published in England.

Tomorrow, a new topic.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 5

Arrest of a propagandist, Ilya Repin, late 19th century
Someone, whose name I will not mention, once said "Collectors are the real looters". Had it been said by someone not as prominent, it might have become a meme. As I am not that prominent, perhaps I might be able to start a meme (memes seem to emerge from nothingness). How about something in the same style? I know: "Journalists are the real terrorists". Without journalists, we might actually have to personally experience a terrorist act. Of course, politicians, too, can benefit from being terrorists: politicians sometimes are able to get more votes by convincing the voters that they are going come down very hard on violent crime (often this is done when such crimes are actually diminishing because later, a declining violent crime rate can then be used as "proof" that the politician's promises had been fulfilled). The message seems to be "Vote for me or you will be murdered in your beds". Remember, terrorism is not killing or blowing things up, these are actions that can create terror. Terror is terror.

Aiding and abetting anyone to commit a criminal act is often treated just as harshly as the commission of the crime. It would be a huge stretch, though, to convince juries that journalists are the real terrorists. I have a number of friends who are always telling me horror stories from the news because they know I do not follow the news except for things in which I am actively involved, or have as a major interest. While I try to discourage such reporting, I would not want my friends arrested as terrorists.

The anti-collecting lobby has actually done a great service to terrorism in recent years by being so vocal about the looting of archaeological sites and then blaming most of it on collectors. Back when the collector/looter saying originated, looting was mainly profit-driven, but as the anti-collecting lobby was so vocal and aimed almost all of their rhetoric on dealers and collectors, the terrorist organizations saw a splendid opportunity to add to the fear caused from violence with getting citizens to fight each other over something. Not only that, but by targeting archaeological sites and objects for their violence under the pretense of religious laws against idolatry, they could also get ordinary people to hate other ordinary people within the same country. It was a terrorist's dream come true.

Every week, it seems, a number of archaeologists encourage people to break the law by saying that collectors should demand a chain of ownership record for any artifact or coin that is purchased. Fortunately for the archaeologists in question, they are only breaking the law if a dealer goes along with the request and supplies details of the object's last owner. This violates privacy laws in most jurisdictions. Any dealer's purchase is recorded together with the seller's identity. If an object is thought, by the police, to be stolen they can obtain a warrant for that information and it can be used in court. The archaeologist's either do not know, or pretend not to know about the crime they are promoting, and while no journalist is going to pay very dearly for spreading fear, archaeologists might not be so lucky as their advice, while technically "aiding and abetting", might not easily get them arrested, but could quite easily get them named in a civil case brought about by a dealer whose business was threatened by their advice. In such a case, the person who actually refuses to buy something unless its prior owner is identified might not even be named in the suit at all as they are the victim of the archaeologist. Even so, I don't think I could succeed with the creation of an "archaeologists are the real terrorists" meme. They have certainly contributed, though, and ideally so for iconoclastic terrorists as their own claims that the past is worshipped cannot thus be easily refuted at all. Given all that is going on, having someone pay a huge settlement for attempting to connect an honest businessman with terrorism would not be too much of a surprise to me.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 4

Most of the coins of the Fishpool hoard.
© Trustees of the British Museum 

When I first started looking at the British Museum collections database, their details on the Fishpool hoard confused me. While the number of coins in the hoard that they give is accurate, they do not mention that the museum does not have at least 85 of the coins. These went straight to the market and were sold at the Glendining "Fishpool Hoard sale of October 17, 1968. I first became aware of the hoard from an article in Seaby's bulletin not long after that. Seaby's also had some of the 85 coins for sale. It is also not mentioned that because some of the coins could be grouped together from their wear patterns that did not correspond to other, similar, coins in the hoard, it was thought that the hoard was more of a "bankers hoard" than that of an individual and represented the savings of a number of people. I think that more coins would have been released to the market had it not been for some impropriety committed by all but one of the finders. It is unclear as to whether the "lucky little boy" included his four coin reward with the rest of the Glendining sale. The coins are still circulating among collectors with two of the Fishpool coins in this Baldwin sale of just a few years ago. Not the huge differences in values over the years.

Back in the early sixties, when I first started to collect coins, it was very common for museums (especially the British Museum) to retain only those Treasure Trove hoard coins that were needed for their collection. The rest were allowed to the market where they might inspire far more than by sitting in a museum case while the visitors filed by.

One of the greatest advantages of allowing a hoard to be sold at auction is that its catalogue soon becomes a standard reference as not only are the coins properly catalogued, but details of the find and the background history of the hoard is also included. No taxpayers were inconvenienced by the production of this catalogue. No taxpayers footed the bill for the coins not retained by the British Museum. The catalogue had a far greater circulation than any paper on the hoard.

Unfortunately, such hoards are now treated as fetish objects and are imbued with the same psychic significance as was given to saint's relics in the history of the Christian Church. Science pays dearly for this attitude as many museums are reluctant to allow the even slight damage from polishing a 40 micron area of a metal object for a fairly accurate electron microprobe analysis. This was a test I eagerly had done to the first British find of the early Celtic plastic style. I expect the British Museum will be less curious about the second example. Don't hold your breath waiting for science on that one. Religious proselytizing is the archaeological raison d'être of today. Welcome to the new dark ages.

Wishing all my American friends a very happy Fourth of July, I'll be back on Monday with more in this series.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 3

Robert's shop
photo: Robert Kokotailo
There are seventeen museums and public art galleries listed for the Calgary area, but if you are interested in the ancient, classical, world, there is nothing for you here. Well, almost nothing. Instead of searching in the museums, you could visit my Friend Robert Kokotailo at  Calgary Coin Gallery. He will be able to show you lots and answer all of your questions, too. Unlike a visit to a museum, if you see something you like, you can legally take it home with you. Many people have made their first contact with the ancient world at Robert's shop. I have helped him out on occasion, during busy times, and the times I value most are those when I encourage someone to collect these things. Other people have taken ancient coins and objects to Robert to identify and authenticate and he never charges for a verbal opinion and a valuation (insurance valuations are more work and charges will apply).  He is also the best person I know for detecting fakes. If you are uncertain about a coin you own, Robert can either put your mind at rest, or confirm your worst suspicions.

I have worked at two museums in Calgary: the major one being Glenbow Museum, where I started doing inventory work and ended up as a cataloger in their military department. The other museum was military, too, but it occupied a large room (actually an adjoining Quonset hut) at Crown Surplus. I did little in the museum and mostly served customers in the shop. The star of the exhibit was a complete and working Centurion Tank, although later the British Army delivered Gord another tank in need of some restoration: a Churchill. Crown Surplus is now celebrating its 60th anniversary, so if you get a chance, drop by. Gord is the nicest person.

Both Robert and Gord adapted to the WWW very well, Robert switched from his old mail lists to two different web sites, and Gord started with the 'net early enough to score the enviable domain name "". He has turned down a high offer for that name.

Nowadays, people can deal in ancient coins, antiquities and military antiques with only a virtual store. The market used to consist of the very big dealers who were internationally known; smaller dealers with a shop who were mostly known only locally, but who could reach more customers with a mail-out list. Photographs of stock for both types of dealers were usually a little sparse because photography and printing was expensive. With the web and digital cameras, dealers can illustrate almost everything, and no one really needs a shop. Often, though, a shop can serve also as a museum, or even have one on its premises. It then becomes a valuable part of the local culture which is not supported by your taxes. Who can argue with that?

What would be funny if it was not so tragic is when customs officials (and this has happened in the U.S.) require a dealer's or auction catalog photograph of an object as proof against it being smuggled into the country. The vast majority of coins and antiquities sold before the WWW were never photographed by the sellers. Honest representatives of the anti collecting lobby have not done their homework about the history of the market, and the dishonest do not care to mention that. You should be able to identify which is which from their writing style. Only an honest person can write honestly. It should be fairly obvious to most readers.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 2

The person who had the most profound effect on numismatics in the twentieth century is, as far as I know, not a numismatist. Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the WWW, and numismatics will never be the same again.

If I had to choose just one numismatist who best used this new technology to educate people about their favorite topic in the early days of the WWW, it would be Doug Smith for his "Doug Smith's Ancient Coins (originally, "Ancient Greek and Roman Coins"). Since he first uploaded his web site in 1997, many other dealers and collectors have followed his lead. A number of auction houses and coin dealers retain archives of sold coins on their web sites and many of these allow free reproduction of their images for non-profit use. The V-Coins Mall provides the facility for their dealers.The research pages of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (C.N.G.) being the best-known and I have made much use of their free images.

The last time that I visited the coin department of the British Museum was in 1966. At that time, the door of that department had no sign on it. The Greek coins that were displayed for the public were all British Museum electrotypes. If you wanted to see a specific coin you had to go to the coin department and sign in with details about why you were there. The British Museum Greek coin catalogues were almost hopelessly out of date, but at least they are now on line (thanks to another amateur, Ed Snible).

Other people got permissions from auction houses to maintain search engines of coins sold. Most notable among these are Coin Archives and Ancient Coin Search (AC Search).

With such a profusion of amateur and professional numismatic educational sites it is necessary to clarify where the best knowledge in numismatics might be found. At the very top of the list are the specialist collectors: when I recatalogued the Wallace collection of Euboean (Greece) coinage, I handled about ten times the number of coins in the British Museum Catalogue. This is the sort of collector to approach for your toughest questions.

For general inquiries about ancient coins, do not visit a museum: they actually see very few coins compared with the larger dealers in ancient coins. Most professional numismatists are also dealers. Some of them gave up more financially rewarding professions in order to be around what they loved. While still professional, such people are true amateurs at heart. For anyone with literacy problems, an amateur does it for the love of the subject, and passion is what leads to expertise. An amateur is not someone who does something badly, as in "amateurish".

A couple of anti-collecting bloggers have been deliberately feeding everyone disinformation by saying that the real professional numismatists are all academic. While this provokes much laughter among dealers and collectors in the know, the public are easily duped. Understand it this way: the larger dealers and auction houses depend on their knowledge for their livelihood. If they are lacking in that knowledge, their business will suffer. They also see far more coins every month than are seen by any museum staff. Nothing much bad happens to academic numismatists unless their errors are severe and they have no tenure. I met such a numismatist. This person had a Ph.D from Cambridge University, but such qualifications are usually given to a very specific subject within numismatics and is no guarantee that other aspects of numismatics will be understood very well. This person became the curator of a museum collection. Someone brought that person a Ptolemaic Egyptian bronze coin for identification. Even a ten year old beginning collector of ancient Greek coins would recognize a Ptolemaic bronze coin (ten year olds can afford one). He or she might not know which Ptolemy issued the coin, the designs are often very conservative, and require expert knowledge, but that a coin is Ptolemaic rarely presents much of a problem for the beginner, and they have some features unique to them. This curator, however, did not even recognize the very common coin as being Ptolemaic. The very last action taken by this curator, was to have all of the Greek silver coins sent to a jeweller to be buffed so they would be nice and shiny for the public.

So how can you tell if an academic really knows their stuff? Two questions should serve your problems:

How long has this person studied coins? If it is more than twenty years then you might be OK. Numismatics has no degrees, such are degrees in other subjects like history or archaeology. No one is going to be an expert after only the few years necessary to obtain such a degree unless they had a lot more years of study than just that.

How much help are they giving to beginners and even advanced collectors through the various numismatic fora or their websites and blogs?

Actions always speak louder than words.

Tomorrow: how the WWW changed the ancient coin market.

To my Canadian readers, have a very happy Canada Day!