Tuesday, January 29, 2008


So, we lost a good one last week:

Ex-Alberta NDP leader dies

EDMONTON - Pam Barrett was a firecracker of Alberta politics who fought for the little guy, never backed away from a scrap and became a respected opponent of her political foes.

The former leader of the Alberta New Democrats died in hospital Monday night after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 54.

I had the great priviledge of meeting Pam Barrett socially, at a party one evening, and she was a most impressive individual. Probably my favourite moment of her career was her forcing Ralph Klein to back away from legislation which would have prevented those mentally handicapped people who were sterilized without their consent or knowledge during the 1960s from suing for compensation. Barrett and the NDP backed the provincial Conservatives down despite being outnumbered, seat-wise, about 20-to-1 (she was actually pretty good friends with Klein, despite their political differences - I wonder what she would have done with Ed Stelmach?).

Pam Barrett will be missed!

Insert Bitching About The Weather Here!

Yes, it is cold here (our little thermometer bottomed out this morning, so at the warmest it was -40). Edmonton Transit, to their eternal credit, has broken out the cold-weather protocols - increased frequency of busses, express routes stopping where they usually don't, etc. However, it's gonna be nasty around here for the next few days. At least the wind has stopped; it was -35 and blowing hard yesterday, and the hour I spent outside clearing wind-packed drifts was not a pleasant time in any way, shape, or form.

Anyway, weather-bitching over, catch-up blogging to follow!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Interactive Edition

Gentle readers, I am need of your aid. I've been working on a little project related to Greek mythology, and in the course of it I came across this image:

Click the image for a truly gigantic version.

The provenance of the piece is unknown, although it originally decorated the base of a statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and probably dates to the third century A.D. The statue was part of the collection of Cardinal Albani, and was set up in his villa at Porta Salaria in about 1763. When the Papal States capitulated to Napoleon in 1797, the piece was seized under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino, and taken to France. Although it was formally returned to the Vatican in 1815, Louis XVIII of France re-purchased it along with several other confiscated works of art, and it resides today in the Louvre.

What is depicted on the relief is the creation of the human race from clay by the Titan Prometheus. He is seated, in the shade of a tree, on the right hand side of the image, and is just finishing the moulding of a male figure. On the left side of the image is the goddess Minerva, easily recognizable by her helmet and spear, and by the gorgon's head on her breastplate. Between them a number of newly created people are cavorting about.

My question for you folks is this: What is Minerva holding in her right hand, and what is she doing with it? It looks a little bit like a bird (her iconic owl, perhaps?), but if so she's holding it in a very strange way. Anyway, post theories, speculation, ideas, etc. in the comments! Also, if you have any thoughts on who the being in the tree is, I'd love to hear those as well! For the record, the project was simply to find images of Prometheus; I'm interested in the Minerva figure out of mere curiosity.

Click here - you know you want to! (Friday Archaeology Blogging will be along shortly)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Close to Home Edition

First off, Happy New Year to everyone!

Now, down to business! We've had archaeological happenings right here in Edmonton over the past few days! The city is in the midst of extending the LRT (that's the subway, in case anyone's wondering, although the current stretch is above ground) into the south side of Edmonton, and the other day the construction crews managed to turn up human remains. These were quickly deemed to be "historical," and the anthropologists have been called in.

Yet unidentified human remains

The city has since decided to do exactly the right thing, and proceed with great care and caution in the area involved:

City halts LRT work
Archeologist called in after human remains unearthed

Native activists breathed a sigh of relief after the city halted construction on a controversial stretch of the south LRT extension until an archeologist can be hired to supervise the work.

City hall announced the move yesterday, four days after human remains were discovered by excavation crews working near 111 Street and 43 Avenue.

Now, the main question revolves around the identity of the body found. Chances are quite good that is a member of the group of Cree who settled in the area under Chief Papaschase in the 1850s. For awhile, they lived on a reservation of about 40 square miles in what is now the southern section of the City of Edmonton, but, in the later years of the 19th century, a combination of famine and bureaucratic slight-of-hand saw them removed from that land and merged rather abruptly with the Enoch Cree to the west (they were actually treated quite shabbily by various levels of government, and there has been recent litigation over this). Interestingly, one of the major inciters of the removal of the Papaschase Cree was Frank Oliver, one of Edmonton's early movers and shakers, and a man who now has an entire neighbourhood named after him. There is a great deal more information about the Papaschase Cree here.

One other issue has been raised by the discovery of these remains, and it's the problem of what to do when development and archaeology butt heads. Edmonton is not, for example, Rome, where long experience has led to the creation of laws and guidelines that allow development to proceed and archaeology to be done properly. It's a bit tricky; the laws must protect archaeology without tempting the developers to conceal, or worse, destroy archaeological sites (I should point out here that I'm not accusing all developers of being prone to that sort of thing; a recent development near where my father lives in Ontario turned up archaeological remains, and the developer immediately halted work, called in archaeologists, redrew the plans for the development to protect the site, and generally carried on as though he found the archaeological finds far more interesting than he did the construction of his building). No such laws exist in Edmonton, and it would be a good idea for City Council to sit down and draw some up, particularly as this particular Council seems very eager to embark on large construction projects!