Get a Load of This Nonsense in Syria and Iraq

What we have here is premeditated and wanton destruction of major cultural resources on a grand scale in Iraq. Check this out:

http://news.yahoo.com/iraq-jihadists-blow-jonahs-tomb-mosul-official-220531959.html

In addition to these actions against ancient cultural resources, these ISIL morons who have taken over a large and very irregular swath of land in Syria and Iraq have announced the following:

1) All Christians in ISIL territory must convert to Islam. Those who refuse will have their heads whacked off by the sword.

2) They have issued a religious fatwa (edict) that all girls/women between the ages of 11 and 46 in ISIL territory must report to have their clitoris cut out.

In the days of Franz Boas, a post like this would have resulted in accusations that the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is being unfairly ethnocentric.  It would have been followed by this admonishment:

“We must understand that this is the unique traditional culture of these Sunni Arabic people going all the way back to around A.D. 700.  It is their unique cultural adaptation, and it works for them.  We must accept it for what it is and not be judgmental about it.”

No.  We do not care how old some of these cultural traditions are in certain places within the Arab world.  This is just plain crazy.  We here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog judge it to be so, and we do not care what Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, or Margaret Mead might have thought about it.  This stuff is just plain crazy.

Unwritten Rules in Professional Archaeology: Last Call

Just like a late night bar about to close, this is the last call for unwritten rules in professional archaeology.  It is July 12, and the deadline date is midnight on July 14.  All unwritten rules on any archaeological subject from anyone on the planet are still welcome here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog.  You can still submit anonymously by e-mail if you wish (see previous main posts below on this blog).

The very high worldwide enthusiasm for unwritten rules in professional archaeology took a sudden, immediate, dramatic, and extremely deep nosedive when we asked for the unwritten rules in academic archaeology.  It was as if we had entered a zone that had a huge, flashing neon sign above it saying: FORBIDDEN ZONE – THOU SHALT NOT ENTER.  In fact, no one has submitted a single unwritten rule in academic archaeology,  Nada.  Indeed, the whole matter reminded us of an old Gahan Wilson cartoon:

We would like to attribute this sudden silence to some sense of perverse sacredness surrounding academic archaeology or some fear factor that has always been present in academic archaeology circles.  The fear factor might be stated as:

“Gosh!!!  I’ m working in CRM right now, but I am thinking about graduate school in archaeology.  If word ever got out that I had submitted an unwritten rule about academic archaeology…my goose might be…”

However, to be perfectly honest with you, ALL unwritten rule submissions went “dead as a doornail” (to quote Charles Dickens) at precisely the moment when most summer archaeology field schools were ending and with the onset of the Fourth of July holiday celebration here in the United States.  It may just have been that everyone needed a vacation from archaeology and a trip to some palm-fringed beach.

Nonetheless, we will make like Paula Abdul (See the Today’s Music button above) and ask some questions “straight up” to all of you fine readers.  Straight up…now tell us:

1)  Is academic archaeology a sacred cow—and if so—why?  Why is it so sacred that no one would submit even one unwritten rule.

2)  Does the thought of posting an unwritten rule in academic archaeology strike fear in your heart—and if so—why?

3)  If the answers to Questions 1 and 2 are “yes,” does the academic system in archaeology really deserve so much sacredness, and should it be allowed to continue operating in a manner that induces such paralyzing fear?

4)  If the answers to Questions 1 and 2 are “yes,” what can you do personally (each one of you) to change that academic system—to make it more warm, safe, and nurturing.

Okay.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog closes this post with our second example of an unwritten rule in academic archaeology:

You have just received a B.A. in anthropology or archaeology and have arrived at another university to pursue a graduate degree in archaeology.  In conversations with your new professors, do not develop even a small habit of “dropping the names” of the famous archaeologists you have studied under as an undergraduate.  A number of archaeologists around the world have deep personal enmity with other archaeologists, and you may not know who detests whom.  Some are not above transferring that old grudge directly onto you if they see you as being too closely affiliated with an archaeologist they personally detest.

Indiana Jones and Happy Fourth of July

Hi Everyone.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is taking this opportunity to wish you a happy Fourth of July holiday.  We hope and trust that American archaeologists are not slaving over a 2-m square today.  Instead, this is the day when we slave over a hot grill, ribeye steak, a cold beverage, family members, and fireworks.  For those of us with archaeological and historical tendencies, we usually do something fun and interesting that is related to American history and culture.  If you do not live in the United States but would like to be a slave to such things, then go overthrow your government today and meet us back here next year.

You may have already seen this today, but just in case you have not, we encountered a video piece asking the question: “Was Indiana Jones a good archaeologist?”  Our answer here at the blog is “no way.”  Everyone knows good archaeologists do not excavate when lightning is flashing in the sky.  Here is the video feed:

https://screen.yahoo.com/buzzfeed/4-ways-indiana-jones-actually-231146756.html?vp=1

 

Unwritten Rules in Archaeology: Where Are the Academic and Museum Archaeologists?

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog offers its thanks to everyone who has submitted their unwritten rules in professional archaeology so far.  Keep them coming  as they enter your noggin!  This is the summer 2014 field season in the northern hemisphere, and most archaeologists are engaged in some sort of archaeological fieldwork.  Therefore, it is not surprising that most of the already submitted unwritten rules are focused on fieldwork and CRM archaeology.  if you say the word “archaeology” here in the American southeast, the knee-jerk response in the brain goes immediately to field archaeology.  However, everyone knows that archaeologists tend to spend far more of their time teaching, doing laboratory work, researching in the library, and writing reports.  With that thought in mind, we would like to hear the unwritten rules in laboratory archaeology, academic archaeology, and museum archaeology, and all of you human osteologists, zooarchaeologists, paleoethnobotanists, etc. are welcome to chime in here too.

As an example, we can offer up one classic unwritten rule in academic archaeology that has been firmly in place for many decades.  Some undergraduate and graduate archaeology students who are unfamiliar with this rule get really angry when they first encounter it, and some are invited to leave the university archaeology program forever when they throw a 7-megaton nuclear hissy fit over it.  Here it is:

It was your creative idea.  You did nearly all of the hard work in the field, laboratory, and library, including writing up 95 percent of the results for publication.  You thought this was your big chance for solo authorship of an important article in a major archaeological journal.  Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, your academic advisor or lead professor is the major author on the paper and you are relegated to co-author.  Swallow hard and submit graciously because this is a lot more normal than you might think it is.  From your professor’s perspective, having your name sitting next to his gloriously famous name on the “by line” makes you look like one hell of a great up-and-coming archaeologist, and he gets to enlarge his curriculum vitae along with yours.

So, keep the field archaeology and CRM unwritten rules coming, but do not forget to tell us your unwritten rules in laboratory archaeology, academic archaeology, and museum archaeology.

Unwritten Rules in Professional Archaeology: A Caution

Hi everyone.  The Part 1 post about unwritten rules in professional archaeology went viral all over the world—not the usual viral like millions of people—but compared to the normal level of traffic we get here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, we consider it viral from our own perspective in terms of the number of views per day and the distribution of those views across the globe.  It is abundantly clear that people who love professional archaeology all over the world are really interested in this subject, and the assorted unwritten rules in archaeology are already beginning to filter back to us.

IMPORTANT CAUTION.  For those of you who plan to submit your own unwritten rules in professional archaeology, we gave you our e-mail address so you could remain anonymous—if you so desire.  However, If you choose to click the LEAVE A REPLY button at the top of our main post and send your unwritten rules that way, there is a very high probability that your name or some other means of showing the world your personal identity will automatically show up with your reply.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would really prefer that you send us your unwritten rules by e-mail at tcbkjbbrown@comcast.net.  We here at the blog do not intentionally sell your e-mail addresses to other people/organizations or hand them off to friends, acquaintances, and colleagues—and especially not to spammers.

In light of this post, If you do choose to click the LEAVE A REPLY button and leave your unwritten rules in your reply, we are henceforth going to assume that you want your personal identity known to every person and every archaeologist on the planet.  If you have already clicked LEAVE A REPLY and did not know that your identity might be visible along with your unwritten rules, we would be happy to delete your reply so no one can see it.  Just contact us by e-mail at the address above and let us know that you would like us to take it down.

We want to give you plenty of time to think about your unwritten rules in professional archaeology before your send them to us.  Therefore, we are setting a deadline of Monday, July 14, 2014 (midnight EDT) to send your unwritten rules to us.  Many thanks to all of you here at home and around the world for your interest and participation.

Unwritten Rules in Professional Archaeology – Part 1

Here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, we have been giving some serious thought to the subject of unwritten rules in human culture.  Some limited research has revealed to us that nearly every aspect of human culture has at least some small set of unwritten rules associated with it, and these rules often vary from one culture to another.  For example, one of the most famous sets of unwritten rules in American culture is focused on the establishment and maintenance of personal space between one person and another during a conversation.  We Americans like to keep varying degrees of personal space between ourselves and other people, depending on the specific social context in which a conversation occurs.  You can read a few syllables about it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_contact_and_personal_space_in_the_United_States

It occurred to us that similar sets of unwritten rules are probably operative on a conscious or unconscious level in the world of professional archaeology.  These are rules that no one has written down on paper and said, “See this!!!  It’s a rule!!!  You must abide by it stringently at all times.”  Nonetheless, just from working in the discipline of professional archaeology for many decades, archaeologists have picked up on or sensed that such unwritten rules are nonetheless there, and many archaeologists expect other archaeologists to know what those unwritten rules are and to abide by them.  While these unwritten rules may exist, some archaeologists might not be aware of them, some might not subscribe to all of them, and their application may vary somewhat with regard to particular social and situational circumstances.  Moreover, the unwritten rules may change with the passage of time.  The content and context of an unwritten rule may change over time.  Old unwritten rules may disappear.  New unwritten rules may be added.

Here is just one example.  Back in the early 1970s, when contract archaeology as we think of it today was in its infancy, it always seemed to us that there was a strong unwritten rule that the conduct of archaeology must be geographically and politically bounded in the southeastern United States.  While not 100 percent unthinkable, it was generally understood that contract archaeologists based in Kentucky should keep their butts out of Tennessee, and contract archaeologists based in Tennessee should keep their noses and trowels this side of the Kentucky state line.  (We just picked those two states at random but could have picked any two other states.)  Of course, that unwritten rule pretty much disappeared as cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology expanded and evolved over time—and space.  Today, no one thinks much about it or feels any deep animosity when a Georgia CRM firm does work in Tennessee or vice-versa.

We are wondering what the unwritten rules are in professional archaeology today?  In the next few days, we are going to be writing private messages to various archaeological friends and acquaintances and asking them to submit to us a list of of current-day unwritten rules in professional archaeology.  If you are one of the many valued readers who visit this blog and would like to submit your own list of unwritten rules in professional archaeology, you may send it by e-mail to the following address:

tcbkjbbrown@comcast.net

In addition, we here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog will add some unwritten rules of our own to the list, just in case others might fail to put them on their lists.  We will compile a comprehensive list of the unwritten rules that are submitted and present them in Part 2 of this post.  Please write down your rules as simple, concise, and meaningful one, two, or three sentence statements such as the following:

1)  Members of the public may visit our excavations at the site any time on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Professional archaeologists we do not already know and love need to call first and make an appointment because it makes us damned nervous when such colleagues show up suddenly and unannounced.

The names of the individuals who submit their lists of unwritten rules will not be published on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog (if that is what you wish), and they will remain confidential here at the blog.  If you submit unwritten rules on your own blog via “pingbacks” or you otherwise wish to have your name associated with the rules you list, then that is fine.  In keeping with Blog Policy, all submitted unwritten rules will be subject to editing prior to publication in Part 2 of this blog post.

This should be both fun and interesting, so please participate.  What’s that you say?  The word “professional” in professional archaeology reflects a level of seriousness and “face presentation” to the general public that is incompatible with the word “fun.”  We smell an unwritten rule.  Can you put it into words?

Why Are Sandy’s Eyes Incomplete: A Hypothesis

Background

The Great State of Tennessee now has an official state artifact. The Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, its officers, and its members deserve enormous credit for advancing the idea of a state artifact and lobbying for it on Capitol Hill in Nashville. The Tennessee General Assembly and Tennessee State Senate just passed the bill in recent weeks, and Governor Bill Haslam has signed it. This artifact is named “Sandy,” and Dr. David Dye, an archaeologist at the University of Memphis, has taken what the Archaeology in Tennessee blog considers to be one of the best photographs of him. You can see that photograph below:

Sandy

The best available information indicates that Sandy was found in 1939 on the Sellars site (40WI1), which is near the city of Lebanon in Wilson County, Tennessee. Sellars is a Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1475) mound center in the Nashville Basin (Smith and Miller 2009: 38 and 43). The Sellars site has the unique distinction of being the only Middle Cumberland mound center located on the floor of the Inner Nashville Basin, an area where native limestone rock is often exposed at the ground surface over large areas or lies only a few inches below the ground surface. Naturally occurring prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) and American red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) glades are common in this area.

Sandy acquired his name long ago, apparently because someone in the 20th century thought he was carved from a hefty chunk of sandstone. However, Smith and Miller (2009: Appendix A, Table A.1) indicate that he is actually carved from siltstone. His height is 47 cm (18.5 in).

This Mississippian statue is famous at both the national and state levels in the United States. Being a long-time stamp collector, I can tell you that Sandy has been the featured image on one U.S. postage stamp in a set of stamps dedicated to the art of Native Americans. For many years Sandy was also the official logo of the Tennessee Archaeological Society, a professional-amateur archaeological organization that was dissolved in 1977.

A full description of Sandy and the fascinating story surrounding his discovery are provided in Smith and Miller (2009). This book can be purchased from The University of Alabama Press in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Some Brief Artistic Considerations

As you can readily see in the photograph above, the ancient person who carved Sandy was a master artisan―arguably an artistic genius in his own time and place. However, he intentionally gave much more artistic attention to the head than he did to the rest of Sandy’s body.

One can perhaps argue whether Sandy represents a real Native American person who was alive at one time in prehistory or whether he is a supernatural being in some ancient mythological narrative. For our purposes here, it really does not matter because both the ancient human and the ancient mythological being had a persona that was well known to the people at the Sellars site, and the ancient artistic master labored long and carefully to accurately capture it. This persona consisted of three critical parts: (1) the physical appearance of the individual; (2) a strong sense of his personality; and (3) the essence of his demeanor in a moment of social interaction. From the attention to detail on Sandy’s face, it is clear that the artist was reaching for all three and that he succeeded in capturing them in what one might call a nearly perfect constellation of anatomical and expressional elements. One could argue that even selection of the siltstone medium was specifically designed to recreate the facial skin pores on an elderly male. However, even with all of that wonderful attention to detail, one critical element is missing from the face. For some unknown reason, the artist chose to leave out the irises and pupils on Sandy’s eyes.

Smith and Miller (2009:21) note that the known Mississippian statuary does not have the pupils of the eyes represented in stone. We assume their term “pupils” is referring to both the central pupil of the eye and the iris that surrounds it. They further indicate that some of the statues have the pupils represented by applied paint. For example, the famous marble statuary pair found at the Etowah mound site near Cartersville, Georgia, has nicely painted irises and pupils represented by simple black circles, probably because Native American eyes tend to be black—with the iris and pupil not easily distinguishable from each other. A rapid perusal of the statuary photographs in Smith and Miller (2009) suggests that most of the statues with no iris and pupil are those that were crudely executed by ancient artists who were not nearly as talented as those at Sellars and Etowah. However, of those ancient Mississippian artists who were indeed very talented, some were willing to “go for it” on completing the eyes. The artist at Etowah was willing to do so, but the arguably more talented artist at Sellars did not. This is not to say that all Mississippian statues without irises and pupils were solely related to questionable artistic talent. It is quite possible that the absence of these anatomical features was related to widespread and shared ideological or folklore narrative concerns, with some chiefdoms like the one at Etowah not sharing in those concerns.

Sandy and his Incomplete Eyes

I have always wondered why the ancient artist who sculpted Sandy did not complete the eyes, especially considering his enormous talent and his extraordinary attention to detail on the face, head, and neck. Our Euroamerican culture has generated the long-standing notion that the “eyes are the window to the soul.” Although ancient Native Americans in the Middle Cumberland region may not have shared in that notion, one would nonetheless think that completed eyes would be essential to fully and accurately capturing the real life personality and demeanor of the Sandy individual.

In the ancient of days (1960s), I was a student at Gallatin Junior High School in Gallatin, Tennessee. Such institutions are called “middle schools” today. Nearly every student had at least one study hall period in those days, and all study hall students assembled in the school library, which was well stocked with periodicals. A number of bored study hall students were sometimes in a pranking frame of mine, and one of their favorite articles of mischief was to draw crossed eyes and mustaches on fashion models and other people depicted in the magazines. My mind was not one with their tribe on this issue, but I must confess that I have always wondered what Sandy would have looked like if the ancient artist had completed his eyes. In light of all the recent media publicity surrounding Sandy and his new status as an official state artifact, the issue of his eyes came to my attention again, and this time I was unable to resist membership in the Magazine Graffiti tribe. I had to see Sandy with eyes.

The first issue in doing this was where to find a photograph of Sandy that exhibits an excellent, clear, straight-on view of the face and eyes. An enlarged version of David Dye’s photograph (above) was deemed the best for this purpose. The next issue was: “What kind of eyes?” As previously noted, Native American eyes tend to present themselves anatomically as singular black circles where the iris and pupil are not clearly distinguishable from each other. Considering the ancient Sellars artist and his careful attention to facial details, it was assumed that he would have depicted such eyes, which would have been the eyes he was familiar with in his own community. The last issue was how to draw in the iris and pupil on Sandy. Recognizing that my artistic talent is on the same plane as that of the person who sculpted statue CSS-063 in Smith and Miller (2009:155), I knew that any of my freehand circles would be a similar disaster. Obviously, it was necessary to use a draftsman’s template and select the circle hole with the most appropriate diameter to mesh with the selected photograph. A decision was made to use a Staedtler Professional Sketch Master Template with a generous selection of circles. After a little trial and error exercise, one of which resulted in a Japanese anime Sandy that only Lady Gaga could appreciate, the 3.175 mm circle was selected as the best option.

With the last preliminary issue addressed, Insertion of the iris and pupil began in earnest. (We will call both just the iris henceforth.) Immediately, an old artistic principle that every cartoonist knows presented itself. The positioning of the iris on the sclera of the eye to a large degree controls overall facial expression and thus the appearance of the Sandy persona (the sense of personality and individual demeanor that was mentioned earlier). Indeed, just a fraction of a millimeter change in the position of the iris vertically, horizontally, or in any location between appeared to result in some degree of shift in Sandy’s overall facial expression―with greater changes in position resulting in more profound shifts in expression. Moreover, the moving of the iris appeared to be engaging in subtle dance movements with that “nearly perfect constellation of anatomical and expressional elements” the ancient artist had gentled into Sandy’s overall face. At the recognized risk of crossing over that perilous and ephemeral line in the sand where one imagines (probably wrongly) that he can get inside the mind of a prehistoric person, an issue argued over for years in archaeological method and theory, I was nonetheless trying to capture that perfect iris positioning that might have been the look the ancient artist would have aimed for had he tried. I just tried it a few times, and the foregoing iris positioning problem gave me immediate fits of tension and frustration, and it was evident that it would continue to do so no matter how many times I repositioned the iris. However, in one of those few tries, I might have captured the unique Sandy persona I was looking for in this exercise.

As a result of this exercise, I suspect that our excellent ancient artist at the Sellars site was well aware of the delicate relationship between iris positioning and overall facial expression. He was most likely aware of how this iris positioning would variably dance with the unique combination of facial elements he had given to Sandy. Perhaps most important of all, he understood what a simultaneously delicate and perilous artistic maneuver it would take to perfectly capture the Sandy persona he hoped to obtain, especially with primitive painting and carving tools. Basically, our artist recognized that he had just one shot at getting it right, and the odds were highly against getting it right in that one shot―and now we descend into clichés to make our final point. As the old saying goes, “discretion is often the better part of valor,” and our very talented Mississippian artist may have recognized that “it is sometimes best to leave well enough alone.” Therefore, our operative hypothesis can be stated as follows:

The artist who sculpted Sandy made a conscious decision to avoid completing the eyes because he understood the technical issues involved in iris placement, their implications for varying facial expressions, and the inherently high risk of obtaining an undesirable expression in the single attempt available to him.

Photographs of Sandy with Completed Eyes

The items below are a few PDF photographs of Sandy with completed eyes. You can see how the slightly varying positions of the inserted irises result in concomitantly varying overall facial expressions. The first photograph might be what the ancient artist would have gone for, but that is of course pure conjecture on my part.

The only scanner readily available to me on a Sunday afternoon was not behaving at its best. Therefore, after you click on each of the PDF files, you should attempt to reduce the magnification level to 75 percent, if WordPress will allow you to do it.  That maneuver will provide you with a “best look” at each photograph. Just for some amusement, the last photograph is our accidental Japanese anime Sandy.

Now, prepare to be haunted by our best shot at the full face of the ancient old man who may have been the progenitor of the ancestral chiefly lineage at the Sellars mound center:

Sandy with Eyes No. 1

Here is Sandy with some iris positions that vary from those in the preceding photograph.  Notice how the facial expression changes:

Sandy with Eyes No. 2

Sandy with Eyes No. 3

Finally, we have the Japanese anime Sandy:

Sandy with Eyes No. 4

One other significant issue needs to be addressed here. In the discussion above, and even here, our Leonardo da Sellars is referred to as a “he.” The Archaeology in Tennessee blog recognizes that many women in American archaeology and anthropology have been on the receiving end of both conscious and unconscious male prejudices across many decades and that these prejudices have not only hurt women but have bled rather thoughtlessly into our past interpretations of the archaeological record. With that thought in mind, we acknowledge that the sculptor of Sandy could have been an exceptionally talented Native American woman.  In addition, and we know this is speculation, extraordinarily talented people often have additional defining characteristics that set them apart from the other people in a community, and the possession of such characteristics may have imparted some special level of status in a ranked society.

References

Smith, Kevin E. and James V. Miller, Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2009.