Friday, September 25, 2009

Anglo-Saxon Treasure Trove

Sales of metal detectors are bound to go up, at least in the UK. A treasure hunter with such a device (which means an everyday guy, I suspect) stumbled upon the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found by an amateur, in a field in England. It was buried there around 1300 years ago--all this according to National Geographic. They've posted pictures too.

The lucky guy is Terry Herbert, and the field belonged to his friend. Here's a picture of Herbert, along with a MSNBC story. Over 1500 gold and silver items were found there, near Burntwood. It's all very manly jewelry, much with inlaid garnets. I copy this one picture here, but you really should see the NG site. The find is amazing.

The fellow cataloguing the find believes it is war loot, partly because so many pommels are included in the stash. The poem Beowolf, which the Anglo-Saxons wrote, refers to collecting pommels from enemies' sword handles as trophies, he said. (The Celts collected heads. Pommels didn't smell nearly as bad, I'm sure.)

The preliminary translation of this runic writing reads: "One bracelet to rule them all, one bracelet to bind them..."

Wouldn't that be fun? Then we could imagine that JRR Tolkien had access to some secret historical documents predating the Masons and Rosicrucians, and that his mythology of Middle Earth actually hints at long-secret truths... Actually, I've met people who do believe that.

In fact, the inscription is Latin (how droll) and reads "Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee..." Truly.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Magical Thinking

I first came across the term Magical Thinking when I read Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking. (Wonderful book, made me cry.) Never having studied psychology, I assumed she invented the term to describe her irrational connections and thoughts while she struggled to cope with her husband's death.

Now I learn that Magical Thinking describes a whole host of unscientific reasoning that every culture on earth practices. Magic and shamanism, creative visualization, positive thinking, viewing life as a metaphor, pretend, hero worship--all are examples. In fact, Psychology Today recently published an article on Magical Thinking, which is how I learned about it.

And what I find most interesting in that article is that the ONLY people who don't practice Magical Thinking are the clinically depressed. Who wants to be in that cohort?

Here's the quote, given in a section of the article discussing rituals and how we use them to give ourselves an illusion of control:

In fact, a fully accurate assessment of your powers, a state known as "depressive realism," haunts people with clinical depression, who in general show less magical thinking.

My dog tries to engage me in magical thinking. These last two days she has conducted a blitz campaign to convince me, against all logic, that scratching her back before beginning any activity will enhance my success and enjoyment of the activity. If I stand, sit, type, read, prepare to eat or drink, she's there--hopping onto my lap or the nearest surface, swaying her back down to invite my fingertips to the best spot. "Go ahead," her anxious eyes plead. "Everything will be better if you scratch. I promise!"

Actually, the magical thinking is on my part, imputing all those motives to a dog.

So what does all this have to do with my usual topics? Well, it makes the Celts and other cultures less removed from us in their thinking. So they were superstitious? You want superstitious? Watch Nomar GarciaParra's movements before he curls into his batting stance and waits for the pitch.

And what about those emails we're afraid not to forward to five people in five minutes? How many of us get suckered into arguments on the radio, without having any verified facts at hand to guide our passions? We're magical thinkers to our core, just like the ancient Celts, Romans, Egyptians, Athabaskans, or anybody else.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Original Spinners and Weavers

There are three fat spiders in this picture. The wind was blowing one of them (top leftmost), but you can still see her.

I don't like spiders, but I am grateful to this trio who inspired me to compare weaving with web spinning. If spiders are sloppy with their webs, they don't eat. If they don't repair the web, food gets away.

I compared them to a hardworking woman of the Iron Age in my novel, and the first few chapters are now online. Go, me! The entire novel is complete, so if anyone knows an agent and would like to get me out of a hundred slush piles, please drop me a line!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NEW Oldest Fabric Ever Found!

We just keep moving the date back a couple of thousand years at a time, right? The previous oldest fabric was 28,000 years old and found in the Czech Republic. (article here)

The new and current title holder goes back 34,000 years. Found in the Republic of Georgia, this material is flax, and it's twisted and dyed. It may be pushing it a bit to call it cloth, but it is a textile. Here's an article in Science Daily, and there are some microscopic photos of the strands attached.

It seems only yesterday that I wrote an article for a still-unpublished Encyclopedia of Invention which claimed that the oldest woven material was found in Turkey, and dated to about 20,000 years ago. The bit of cloth was wrapped around an antler and had fossilized. No one imagined that any fabric older could have survived. (NY Times article)

Sigh. Actually, it was 3 or 4 years ago that I wrote about that--that's how fast discoveries are being made.

The reason I decided to study history was that my previous field--computer networks--changed so fast and I got tired of having to learn a new operating system every other year. I figured what I learned in history would be subject to changing opinions, but that the stark facts and evidence would remain the same.

Silly me.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is It Journalism Vs. Media Now?

Here's a sad comment about the state of journalism, taken from The Atlantic Online, October 2009:

"With journalists being laid off in droves, savvy political operatives have stepped eagerly into the breach. What’s most troubling is not that TV-news producers mistake their work for journalism, which is bad enough, but that young people drawn to journalism increasingly see no distinction between disinterested reporting and hit-jobbery."

As a writer, I think I know the difference between opinion and news, but I'm constantly amazed by how the line is blurred not just on every station, but in every gathering where a political topic is raised.

The author of the quote is Mark Bowden and the article is titled "The Story Behind the Story." Good read.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Van with Gall

What remains to be said? For years, this work of art has been parked in the same lot each day. Sometimes I see a man wildly arguing or preaching to people who stop to talk. I've always assumed the topics of conversation would be a bit limited, so I just pass and do my Dilbert imitation ("Don't make eye contact....don't make eye contact")

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tearin' Up Tara

The Hill of Tara in Ireland is being excavated in parts because of work on the M3 Highway. The good part of this is that exciting finds are being made.

For instance, the remains of a NINE THOUSAND YEAR OLD fishing basket was found in Clowanstown, County Meath, the Irish Times reported last week. They can date the basket because it was made of alder saplings, which are radio-carbon datable. . . possibly to the Mesolithic. I'm getting verklempt. Read more about it at the National Road folks' commissioned report or at TaraWatch while I compose myself.

Nine thousand years old. A small wooden dugout, possibly a toy, was found nearby, along with axes and stakes and cherts and stuff.

This was revealed at an archaeological conference last week. Other finds include:

  • "3,335 lithic finds or stone tools, including 144 polished stone axeheads and fragments"

  • "a portion of an unfinished block wheel which has been dated to the late Bronze Age (2200 BC-600 BC)"--the oldest ever found in Ireland

  • Pottery--some grooved--and beakers, a few pieces dating back to 2900 B.C.

  • Spindle whorls (weights) that may be nearly as old

  • In Tipperary, remnants of a palisade enclose a natural mound, deliberately enlarged with layers of glacial soil. “The first known major Neolithic landscaping project” an archaeologist said

  • Remains of wooden trackways and platforms built over wetlands during the Neolithic, over four thousand years. (This was County Longford, where an N4 bypass was under construction.

So what's the bad part of these wondrous finds?

They're tearing up the richest, most ancient heart of the country to put in a frickin' road!

The EU filed a lawsuit in 2007. The Smithsonian and other organizations have expressed their condemnation over the possible loss of historical site of interest to all. A petition asking the United Nations to declare the Hill of Tara a World Heritage Site is stalled because Ireland must first approve it, and Ireland is playing the bad guy in this skit.

If you'd like to sign a petition asking the UN to take action, go here. The goal is to gather a million signatures by the end of 2009, and present them to the UN in NYC, urging them to take action. The tally is not even close, so far. So go sign, tell your friends.

This area was occupied by people over nine thousand years ago. No one should go tearing it up for a stupid road!