Clayton E. Ray on Forgotten Knowledge and Objective Mistakes

More from Clayton E. Ray:

discoveries do not stay discovered; they must be tended like a garden. (p. 15)

 

approach to truth is a fragile dynamic that requires continual vigilance. There may be some validity to Gould’s (1996:110) claim that “persistent minor errors of pure ignorance are galling to perfectionistic professionals,” but this has no bearing on the overriding requirement that each professional strive assiduously to get things right and never knowingly let even “minor errors” persist.(p. 16)

Reference:

Clayton E. Ray 2001.  Prodromus. In Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III.  Edited by C.E. Ray and D.J. Bohaska. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, number 90:1-20.

Whether in the Library or in the Field, Always Dig Deeper

I don’t think I have ever read an introduction to a collection of paleontology papers that had more gems than Clayton E. Ray’s “Prodomus” to a volume on Miocene/Pliocene Lee Creek Mine locality. Like this:

Having flattered myself that I had unearthed essentially everything, it is salutary to be reminded through several oversights that in antiquarian, as in paleontological, research one can never do too much digging. Returns in each are apt to be unpredictable and to be meager in relation to time invested (hardly “cost effective”), but there will always be something new, and, to comprehend it when found, one must be steeped in the subject.  (p. 1)

Clayton E. Ray and a walrus skull at the Smithsonian. Source: Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. No. 11-008, Image Number: OPA-974R1-B.

Reference:

Clayton E. Ray 2001.  Prodromus. In Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III.  Edited by C.E. Ray and D.J. Bohaska. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, number 90:1-20.

 

“Almost any collection is a good collection”

Making use of museum-based collections — even, or especially, from sites excavated nearly one hundred years ago — is essential to regional research. Julia A. King writes about collections-based research in the first of a series of posts on collections and curation at the SHA’s website. King’s insight comes from her work on the “Colonial Encounters: The Lower Potomac Valley at Contact, 1500-1720” project, which synthesized data from over 30 archaeological sites in Maryland and Virginia.
One unsurprising conclusion: “Perhaps the most troubling issue we observed is a disciplinary mindset (for want of a better phrase) which continues to foster the never-ending field season, resulting in un-cataloged or under-cataloged collections along with no site report.”

Read it at SHA.org

Rock and Roll Christmas Songs

Here’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s list of 20 “essential” rock and roll holiday songs. The somewhat random list includes Brenda Lee (no, not that song), Elvis (of course), Ray Stevens (what?), Louis Armstrong (a rock and roller?) and more. Listen to all of them here.

How Ancient Egyptians Did Math

Mathematician David Reimer on how Ancient Egyptians did their maths, and how it was different from modern mathematics.

In an article for The College of New Jersey (where Reimer is a math professor) he says:

the Egyptian way of thinking about math is deeply satisfying. “Today, we’re taught to do math in a step-by-step way—you do this step, then this one, then this one. If you follow exactly what you’re told, you get the right answer,” Reimer says. “But in Egyptian math, there are any of maybe five to eight tools that you can apply. It’s not a mindless algorithm; it’s more like a Sudoku puzzle.”

And he wrote a book about it:

Count Like an Egyptian

John Lawson on Passenger Pigeons in Carolina

John Lawson arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1700. At the end of the year, he set off with nine other people on a two month long excursion through South and North Carolina, arriving on the Pamlico River on the 24th of February, 1701. Along the way, they encountered passenger pigeons more than once.  On one occasion, after crossing a river, they “saw several Flocks of Pigeons, Field-Fares, and Thrushes.” (1709:42) Several days later, while waiting for one of the men to return with some horses that had run off, the others

went to shoot Pigeons, which were so numerous in these Parts, that you might see many Millions in a Flock; they sometimes split off the Limbs of stout Oaks, and other Trees, upon which they roost o’ Nights. You may find several Indian Towns, of not above 17 Houses, that have more than 100 Gallons of Pigeons Oil, or Fat; they using it with Pulse, or Bread, as we do Butter, and making the Ground as white as a Sheet with their Dung. The Indians take a Light, and go among them in the Night, and bring away some thousands, killing them with long Poles, as they roost in the Trees. At this time of the Year, the Flocks, as they pass by, in great measure, obstruct the Light of the day.(1709:44-45)

When Lawson wrote his book several years later, he incorporated additional knowledge he had obtained about the Carolinas. According to Lawson, pigeons did not breed along the coast of the Carolinas (“They leave us in the Summer.” 1709:140), but large flocks did roost there during the winter. He intimates that the size of these flocks could vary by year, with a particularly large number of pigeons seen in 1707, “the hardest Winter that ever was known” (1709:141) in Carolina. Yet these flocks paled in comparison to “the great and infinite Numbers of these Fowl, that are met withal about a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, Miles to the Westward of the Places where we at present live; and where these Pigeons come down, in quest of a small sort of Acorns” (1709:141)

Recalling his winter expedition, he wrote how

such prodigious Flocks of these Pigeons…had broke down the Limbs of a great many large Trees all over those Woods, whereon they chanced to sit and roost; especially the great Pines, which are a more brittle Wood, than our sorts of Oak are. These Pigeons, about Sun-Rise, when we were preparing to march on our Journey, would fly by us in such vast Flocks, that they would be near a Quarter of an Hour, before they were all pass’d by; and as soon as that Flock was gone, another would come; and so successively one after another, for great part of the Morning. (1709:141)

These flocks may have been traveling from roosts to feeding areas, or may have been working their way north to nesting grounds.  Lawson asked the local natives “where it was that those Pigeons bred, and they pointed towards the vast Ridge of Mountains, and said, they bred there.” (1709:142)

Lawson1709

 References:

Lawson, John

1709       A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel’d Thro’ Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. London.

Powell, William S., ed.

John Lawson, 1674-1711. In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/lawson/bio.html

Infant Burials, Antler Foreshafts at c. 11.5kya Site in Alaska

Ben Potter and colleagues’ work at the Upward Sun River Site in Alaska is making news, and the Smithsonian has the best headline:

Ice Age Babies Surrounded by Weapon Parts Found in Alaska

Foreshafts and bifaces from the Upward Sun River Site, Alaska. Source: University of Alaska-Fairbanks/Ben Potter/Smithsonian.

Details are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required):

New insights into Eastern Beringian mortuary behavior: A terminal Pleistocene double infant burial at Upward Sun River