Saturday, September 16, 2006

Friday Archaeology Blogging

Friday Archaeology Blogging is like a fine wine; it's a lot better if you let it age awhile before uncorking it. Anyway...

Neanderthals' 'last rock refuge'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News, Gibraltar

Our evolutionary cousin the Neanderthal may have survived in Europe much longer than previously thought.

A study in Nature magazine suggests the species may have lived in Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar up to 24,000 years ago.

Ah, Homo Sapiens Neandertalensis, long thought to be a genetic ancestor of modern human beings, but now believed (probably correctly) to have been another distinct species of human. The main debate about Neanderthals these days revolves around what happened to them, and it is this that makes the Gorham's Cave discovery so important. 24,000 years ago is roughly 5,000 to 10,000 years later than the previously accepted date for the end of the Neanderthals. There have been a number of theories as to what happened to Neanderthal Man:

  • Destroyed by modern humans. This one's unlikely, or at least unlikely to have been the main reason for the end of the Neanderthals. Without doubt, Neanderthals and "modern" humans did come into contact, and some of that contact was probably violent, but there's nothing to suggest that the two species tried to wipe each other out all across the map. Nor were the Neanderthals "accidentally" wiped out by (this is the theory that "modern" humans were so superior at hunting the the Neanderthals couldn't compete, and that the species died out as a result); all the evidence indicates that Neanderthals were excellent hunters.

  • Died out as a species due to interbreeding with "modern" humans. Again, this is unlikely to have been the main cause. Genetically, we do carry Neanderthal traits (for example, some people have a slight bump on the very base of their skulls, right at the back of their heads, and this speaks of a Neanderthal somewhere way back on the family tree), but probably not enough to indicate a full-scale merger of the two species.

  • Climate change. This is the mostly likely scenario. Severe climate change occurred about 30,000 years ago, and temperatures dropped again roughly 24,000 years ago. It's entirely possible that isolated pockets of Neanderthals survived the first drop-off, but succumbed to the second one. So why did Neanderthals die out while modern humans survived? Good question. Presumably, "modern" humans had either the numbers or the traits (or both) to survive, while the Neanderthals did not.

A Neanderthal skull found in 1848 at Forbes Quarry, Gibraltar.

A couple of final thoughts on Neanderthals:

  • It is of course, entire possible that Neanderthals held out in places even later than they did at Gorham's Cave. However, it is highly unlikely that they survived long enough to have fought a battle against Alexander the Great's Admiral Nearchos off the coast of Arabia in 325 B.C. (Arrian, Indica 24). A few modern scholars have tried to argue that Nearchos' opponents were Neanderthals, but since the only description of this mysterious Arabian tribe is that they were hairy and apparently quite primitive, it's a bit of a stretch. Far more likely is that Nearchos simply encountered a group of neolithic Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

  • My own pet theory about Neanderthals is that they represent the folkloric roots of the mythical race that became modern fantasy literature's dwarves. Neanderthals were short, broad, probably hirsute, and lived primarily in caves. In addition, the geographical range of Neanderthal Man overlaps somewhat with the areas where folktales and legends about dwarves first appeared. I am well aware that this is possibly a very silly theory (the geographical element, in particular, is not perfect), but the old folktales had to come from somewhere, and there is no reason why they could not have been inspired by early humans' memories of Neanderthal Man.

Compare and contrast, kiddies!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy etc. etc...

We got tagged. Twice. Once by The Rev. over at Kevin's Woodshed, and once by Annamarie at Verbena-19 (duly added to the "Blogs I Like" list). And so, here goes!

A book that changed my life

Wheelock's Latin (6th Edition). This book not only changed my life, it is still changing it. You see, one of the reasons that there hasn't been much action around here the last couple of weeks is that I have been busy teaching Latin 101 to 30-odd eager students, using the aforementioned as a textbook. It's great fun, and I hope the kiddies are learning (their first actual thing for marks is on Friday, so I suppose we'll know then), but it's quite tiring and requires a lot of work. Anyway, Wheelock's Latin has been the standard North American Latin text for about fifty years now, and it's really quite good at it.

A book I've read more than once

Far too many to count, in this category. However, I'll select one, and I thought I'd go with a graphic novel (that's a comic book for big people). Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan is one that I've come back to a number of times. It's basically Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail set in a near-future, sci-fi sort of world. It's wildly and darkly funny, and the art's good too!

What book would you take to a desert island?

Probably Lord of the Rings. A classic, and big enough to help me get through a lot of hours waiting for rescue!

A book that made me laugh

Plug time!! If you have not read the works of Terry Pratchett (and really, pick any of them), then you have been missing out. Dry in the same way Douglas Adams was, Pratchett manages to avoid Adams' cynicism, for the most part, while staying uproariaously funny. I would, if I had to pick one of his books, recommend Guards! Guards!

A book that made me cry

Euripides' The Trojan Women. It's actually a play (which I've both seen performed and read), and as an anti-war screed it's impressive in its ferocity and emotional depth. And, unfortunately, all to apropos today.

A book I wish had been written

The part of Vergil's Aeneid that he didn't manage to get written before he died. Actually, Vergil didn't want any of the work published at all, and asked that it be destroyed after he died. Fortunately for posterity, his friends went against his wishes.

A book I wish had never been written

Beyond the obvious suspects, I would have to say about 90% of the crap that festered on the Self-Help shelf in the bookstore I used to work at. Utter garbage, designed to bilk already unhappy people out of their money while doing nothing for their state of mind. I was actually at a local Chapter's yesterday (big bookstore chain here in Canada, for those of you not from these parts), and was disgusted and nauseated to see that they'd actually renamed the Self-Help section. It is now called the "Success Library." Think about that for a minute.

Books I am currently reading

For fun, Shadowmarch by Tad Williams. Good, honest, swords-and-sorcery fantasy from an author who's skilled and experienced in the genre. Professionally, Il Princeps e il Suo Impero: Studi di Storia Amministrativa e Finanziaria Romana by Elio Lo Cascio. It's all about the economy and monetary policy of the Roman Empire, which, dry though it may sound, is actually quite interesting, and my specialty besides.

Books I've been meaning to read

I've had a copy of The Rules of the Game, the autobiography of former top soccer referee Pierluigi Collina, sitting around my bedroom for some time now, and I just haven't had time to get to it. I'm looking forward to it, though!

What turned me on to fiction

Having The Hobbit read to me when I was little. Simple as that!

Final thoughts

I know people who have never read a book that was not assigned to them by a teacher/professor (and contrary to what one might expect, most of these people are not young, x-box-playing, cell-phone-jabbering tyros, either), and I think that's kind of a waste, myself.

Ok, and now to spread the wealth! Five completely random victims...

1. Ceej, who runs both marathons and Ceej-try-2-keep-up.
2. Paige, over at Paige From My Book.
3. The mysterious She who posts at Falling Into You...
4. Alfonso, who brings us Today's Word (it's "penchant").
5. Kristykay, who blogs at spacebeer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Quick Update

We're into the busy time now, as term is lurking right around the corner, so Friday Archaeology Blogging will be along at some point this weekend. In the meantime, here are a couple of notes:

  • We have a lovely right-up over at Harper Valley, on account of having won Round 5 of Scout's "Famous Stupid People" contest! Many thanks to Scout, and if you're not familiar with Harper Valley, you should be!

  • On a less happy note, I e-mailed Mark Bonokoski about the homeless man's dog being stolen, and he e-mailed me back to let me know that Trouble had still not been restored to its rightful owner. Not good.