Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hibernation Time!!

Ironically, since it's coming on summer... Anyway, I am at this point off doing archaeological fieldwork, so there won't be very many if any posts for the next couple of months. I may drop in sporadically, however! Anyway, keep leaning on the wingnuts everybody, and we'll see you in July.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Blogging Fred Phelps

I doubt that Fred Phelps needs much introduction to politically aware progressive types (which is a pity; the world will be a better place when the response to his name is universally "who?"). The only reason I bring him up today is to segue neatly into introducing the latest blog to hit our blogroll: Empires Fall. They've got an excellent piece on Phelps, with video and links and everything, and in general they're well worth a look!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Archaeology Blogging

Wow, this week just flew by! Anyhoo...

21 April 2006
EXCLUSIVE Forty-nine skeletons, each with its head cut off, have been found in a Roman grave. It's a murder mystery that stretches back nearly 2,000 years and experts are trying to solve the crime and establish...
By Claire Donnelly

IT IS an 1,800-year-old murder mystery that has baffled Britain's finest historians.

More bloody and mysterious than an episode of Waking The Dead, this is a real-life detective story set in Roman Britain.

At its centre are the mutilated, decapitated skeletons of 49 huge men, tossed in a hillside grave after suffering horrible deaths.

Their heads were hacked off with such force, their necks were shorn clean through.

The battered remains all show the signs of the men's desperate attempts to defend themselves -collarbones, shoulder blades, a knee, and a jaw - all slashed to the bone in their struggle to survive.

A Roman building in York

The article goes on to speculate about the reason for the these mens' murders:

Beheading was used as a punishment in the Roman world -belief that the soul resided in the head made it particularly terrifying - but it was not usually used on worthy Romans like these legionaries.

One explanation was that the men were errant soldiers who faced a Roman court martial.

As Miranda Green, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Wales explains: "The only reason we can see for their beheading was if their crime had been a particularly terrible one -like cowardice."

This raises the spectre of one of the harshest forms of discipline used by the Roman army. Under this punishment, the soldiers of a disgraced legion (often one which had broken in battle) were assembled and divided into groups of ten. One man in each group, chosen by lot, was then killed by the other nine. The practice, known as "decimation" because of the one-in-ten factor, was carried out rarely, but is known to have been carried out on the Third Legion Augusta in A.D. 18., among others.
It is entirely possible that these bodies are the victims of a decimation.

Another theory - and one backed by historians - is that the troops were victims of the particularly vicious political purge that followed the Emperor's [Septimus Severus, in this case] death in 211AD.

When Severus died, it sparked a bloody war of succession between his sons, Caracalla and Geta.

Septimus Severus

Caracalla(left) and Geta(right)

This too is a plausible scenario, especially because the pottery evidence from the grave supports the date. Septimus Severus died at York, where the bodies were found, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the dead men were some of Severus' soldiers who found themselves on the wrong side of the feud between Caracalla and Geta (the feud was won in fairly short order by Caracalla).

However, I would like to propose a different possibility. Early in the reign of Septimus Severus, in the 190s A.D., a man named Clodius Albinus set himself up as a sort of "Emperor" in Britain and Gaul.

Silver coin of Clodius Albinus

He was eventually defeated by Septimus Severus, and is relatively unimportant in the context of Roman history. However, there is an interesting passage concerning him in the Historia Augusta, a moderately reliable fourth-century series of biographies. The author of Albinus' biography has the following to say about the man's personality:

"Toward his wife he was unbearable, toward his servants unjust, and in dealings with his soldiers brutal. For he would often crucify legionary centurions, even when the character of the offence did not demand it, and he certainly used to beat them with rods and never spared. From David Magie's translation of the Historia Augusta, "Clodius Albinus" XI.6, emphasis mine.

So, once again, there is the possibility that the men were killed under Clodius Albinus' harsh discipline. However, lacking further information about what, precisely, was found in the graves, it is very difficult to make a secure choice between the various possibilities.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My God, We've Been Tagged!!!!

Falls to ground, clutching chest. "Nooooo! Not tagged! Not now!! Activates Genesis Device. "From Hell's heart I stab at..." [Um, you do realize that all being tagged means, in this case, is that you have to list five weird habits you have, and then pass the meme on to five more blogs, don't you? - Ed.] "Oh, well, that's ok then. Ahem."

Anyway, we have been tagged by the rev. So here goes, 5 weird habits of the Oi! Thump! set...

  1. Before doing any work at my computer, I always play three games of spider solitaire. Always. It's sort of like the pre-game warm-up or something.

  2. I have far too many weird gaming habits to mention, so here's just one. I have been known to bench dice for rolling badly.

  3. If the English soccer team I support won its last game, then I get the score for the next one from the same source. If they lost, I switch sources. Unfortunately, this season I was forced to discover many sources for overseas soccer results.

  4. I tend to let my e-mail Inbox fill up with hideous numbers of messages before I delete the spam and sort the rest.

  5. I find it very difficult to leave the house without a book. This is probably due to having ridden the same bus on an almost daily basis for many years, and thus being fairly thoroughly bored by the scenery.

Ok, so some of those are more superstitions than habits, but nonetheless!

And now to share the wealth!! The deal is that I pick five blogs to tag myself. Hmmm, let's see (A number of people I would have got have been gotten already)... According to the rules, the folks below are supposed to post five weird habits of their own, pick five more people to tag, and then post a comment on the new taggees' blogs informing them of the fact.

  1. Flash Point Canada.
  2. WTF Is It Now?
  3. Hairy Fish Nuts
  4. donkey o.d.
    ...and one random one! (let's make a new friend!)
  5. Blowing Smoke

Friday, April 14, 2006

Short Friday Archaeology Blogging

We gots pyramids!!!!!!

Indiana Jones of the Balkans and the mystery of a hidden pyramid
By Nick Hawton in Visoko, Bosnia

DRIVE 20 miles northwest of Sarajevo through the mountains of central Bosnia and you enter the broad Visoko valley, dissected by the meandering Bosna River. Beyond the river sits the town of Visoko, watched over by its minarets. And beyond Visoko rises an extraordinary triangular hill, 700ft (213m) high and looking for all the world like an ancient pyramid.

"Pyramid" can be one of those "wince" words for archaeologists, because mentioning it does tend to bring out the strangeness. The fact that we have pyramids in both the old and new worlds has prompted a large number of people who ought to know better to suggest that they were built by the same cultures. This misses the point. A pyramid is an extremely logical and stable shape for a large construction, being wider at the bottom than it is at the top, and the mere fact that multiple cultures built them is not proof that those cultures were talking to each other.

Anyway, to return to our Bosnian pyramid. There's been no real evidence brought forward for what sort of date it might have (although ludicrous numbers like 12,000 years ago are being hurled around), which is not a good sign for the overall professionalism of the excavation. Nor, indeed, has there been any concrete proof that it's actually a pyramid rather than, say, a bunch of tunnels cut into a pre-existing hill. However, it is unquestionably something, and a pretty damned impressive something at that.

Fuck, Mackay, Grow A Spine!!

Better blogs than this one have already commented on this piece of appalling sycophancy, but I thought I'd get my two cents' worth in as well.

Fri, April 14, 2006
Pete makes nice with Condi Rice

WASHINGTON -- Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mac-Kay was so appreciative after his first visit yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he nearly ran out of superlatives.

I had thought that I was past being surprised at the depths to which the Conservatives would stoop, but I must confess that I was wrong. Fuck me, what a gang of whimpering little quislings they are.

"I'm delighted to be here. I've always been a fan of yours," he told Rice at a news conference.

In hindsight, I am amazed he didn't ask for her autograph.

"And much of our discussion today confirmed what I already knew about you from having followed your career.

"We're very grateful and I personally extend my thanks to you for your generous and very kind invitation to be with you."

Mackay afterwards wrote a 3,000-word LiveJournal post in leet speak about how Rice totally roxx0rs.

Rice smiled politely.

Hoping, no doubt, that Mackay would not actually wet his pants.

Anyway, perhaps I'm being a little hard on ol' Pete here. Perhaps his gushing praise of Rice is based on sincere professional respect, and the sure knowledge that the current points of contention between Canada and the U.S. can now be worked out to the benefit of all. Let's find out!

United States Hails Decision on Canadian Softwood Lumber Imports
World Trade Organization Appellate Body says imports threaten U.S. lumber industry

The United States has hailed an April 13 report by the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body that says dumped and subsidized softwood lumber imports from Canada threaten the U.S. lumber industry with “material injury.”

Ok, so not so much on the softwood lumber dispute. What about the whole border ID thing?

U.S. says border passport a must

WASHINGTON (CP) - There'll be no wiggle room on new U.S. security requirements for travellers when Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay meets Thursday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, American officials say.

Hmmm. So Mackay's just going to let us take it up the ass on this one, too? Jesus Christ, man, what are we paying you for? In other Canada-US related news, there's this:

Canada's Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has a meeting scheduled with Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary for late Tuesday, but there is no word on whether they will discuss the new rules.

Is it legal to have that much incompetence in one room at the same time?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Friday Archaeology Blogging - Special Saturday Edition

Well, in honour of my having written the departmental German exam yesterday, I thought I'd go on a bit about the early Germanic peoples who plagued the Roman Empire through much of its existence.

An Ostrogothic Helmet

The Germanic tribes poured out of the lands to the north-east of the Roman Empire in a series of waves, and achieved a number of signal successes. On October 6th, 105 B.C., the combined tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutones annihilated a Roman army at Arausio (modern Orange, in France), killing about 80,000 soldiers by most accounts. At the Battle of Teutobarger Vald in A.D. 9, as discussed on these pages awhile ago, the Cherusci under Arminius wiped out three Roman legions. In the years that followed, the Germanic tribes were by-and-large kept in check, although it was often a full-time job to do so. Marcus Aurelius, in particular, spent much of his reign scrapping against the Marcomanni in the area of what is now Austria.

However, in the later years of the Roman Empire, the tide could no longer be fully stemmed. In the third century in particular, the Germanic tribes became a serious problem; in the 270s, the Juthungi advanced all the way into central Italy before being defeated, an intrusion that prompted the first re-fortification of the city of Rome in centuries. In A.D. 378, at the Battle of Adrianople, a Visigothic army managed to kill the Emperor Valens and destroy his army. And of course, in A.D. 410, Alaric's Visigoths sacked the city of Rome itself, an event which prompted St. Augustine to write his City of God.

The Visigothic sack of Rome - Click for larger version

In fact, it was the Germanic peoples who put an end to the Western Roman Empire. In A.D. 476, Odoacer, chief of the Heruli, removed from power Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor, and tersely informed the Eastern Empire that the West would go it alone. Ironically, the man the Eastern Emperor sent out to rectify that situation was Theodoric, an Ostrogoth. By the end of the Western Empire, the Germanic tribes were well-established in the borders of the Roman Empire, often with the blessings of whoever happened to be in charge. Germans had risen high in the Imperial bureaucracy and military hierarchy, and most of the actual emperors were little more than figureheads. Furthermore, the Germanic tribes had begun carving out kingdoms of their own; the Saxons, among others, in Britain, the Franks in central Europe, and the Vandals in North Africa being just a few examples.

Vandalic silver coin

Not surprisingly, given their rather nomadic nature, the Germanic tribes have not left much in the way of archaeological remains that date to earlier than their integration into the Roman empire, although individual artefacts are not uncommon.

Anglo-Saxon Brooch

However, a number of cemeteries have been discovered, which reveal a rather bizarre habit among many of the Germanic tribes. These people often deliberately deformed the skulls of their fellow-tribespeople (both men and women), possibly to look more imposing, or possibly for some reason that we have no idea about.

Deliberately deformed skull of an Ostrogoth

This practice, visible in between 1 and 80 percent of Germanic burials, depending on the tribe, was presumably carried out in infancy, and probably used tight bands to direct the skull's development.

So What Did We Miss?

As is usual for the weeks when I'm too busy to do much blogging, this past one was eventful. Let's see:

  • Ralph Klein announced that, instead of hanging around clinging to power like a particularly clingy leech, he's going to resign. In a few months. You know, after he does some more powery sort of stuff.

  • Preston Manning apparently wants Klein's job, and rather surprisingly, is early leader in polls taken this week. Oi! Thump! remains skeptical; for one thing, the polls only show that Manning would win the first ballot, so a lot would depend on who a lot of the delegates' second choice is.

  • The explosion at the Toronto Tim Horton's was apparently a suicide.

  • The baseball season began. This is good.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Quote O'The Day

The award goes to Escambia (Florida) County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead, upon the occasion of his ignoring the plaintive squawks about religious persecution, and shutting down a backyard creationism museum for not having bothered to fill out the proper paperwork:

"Scripture also says 'Render unto Caesar what Caesar demands.' And right now, Caesar demands a building permit," County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead said.

Via Maru.

Just Checking In

I'm off in a few hours to write the Graduate German exam, not, I'll confess, with any great sense of optimism (fortunately, I get a do-over if it doesn't go well). Hence the lack of activity here this week. I will be back tomorrow, or perhaps later on today (should Trivialia, the Muse of Blogging, be with me). Friday Archaeology Blogging is probably on for tomorrow in any case.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blow Up The Rim

Yes, tasteless, I know, I'm sorry...

Blast at Toronto doughnut shop kills man
Last Updated Sun, 02 Apr 2006 16:44:08 EDT
CBC News
A man died in an explosion at a Tim Hortons outlet in downtown Toronto on Sunday, police say.

Later in the afternoon, a police robot was used to remove a parcel from the store, which is on Yonge Street just north of the intersection with Bloor Street. Explosives experts then detonated the package.

Well, this is interesting. Accident? Organized Crime? Terrorism? Everybody's being fairly cagey on the details right now, and to be honest they may not be much known for certain yet. What develops out of this bears keeping an eye on...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Because The Sight Of Animals Attacking Small Children Is Funny, Goddammit!

Click and enjoy...