To Do: View Rock Art in Aruba

I have to go here someday:

Rock art from Fountein Cave, Aruba. CC. Source: Photo by Nvvchar, Creative Commons BY 2.0.

The rock art of the Caquetío people, according to archaeologist Harold Kelly of the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, includes geometric, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic motifs in red, white, brown, and black. The art at one site, Cunucu Arikok, stands out for its complexity, variety, and quantity. “The combination of white and red colors in a single depiction is something that is not only unique for rock art of Aruba,” says Kelly, “but also the rest of the Caribbean, as far as we know.”

Malin Grunberg Banyasz


The Wagner Borrows a Passenger Pigeon

The Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia has many interesting things in its natural history collection, most still exhibited in their Victorian era display cabinets. But one thing they don’t have is a passenger pigeon. So they borrowed one from the nearby John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge.  The mounted specimen will be on display at the Wagner until September 2014.

Economics and Adjunct Teaching

A building in Academia.

Pretty much nailed it:

Just say no. Don’t be an adjunct. Or rather, be an adjunct only if you have a day job, or you’re retired, or if you have a family to raise and a breadwinning spouse. If you love to teach, teach high school. Or get some other kind of real job. Let the law of supply and demand do its work, because drastically reducing the supply of academic victims is the only way colleges will stop victimizing them.

Charlotte Allen in the Los Angeles Times

World War I Archaeology and More: Open Access Articles

For the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, Maney Publishing has made available for free download 100 scholarly articles dealing with World War I, including several on battlefield archaeology. The articles will be available to download, with no sign in necessary, through August 2014 at their website:
A sample of the articles available:
The Spanish Lady Comes to London: the Influenza Pandemic 1918-1919
Andrea Tanner, The London Journal
Academic Freedom Versus Loyalty at Columbia University During World War I: A Case Study
Charles F Howlett, War & Society
‘An Infinity of Personal Sacrifice’: The Scale and Nature of Charitable Work in Britain during the First World War
Peter Grant, War & Society
They don’t like it up ’em!: Bayonet fetishization in the British Army during the First World War
Paul Hodges, Journal of War & Culture Studies
Naming the unknown of Fromelles: DNA profiling, ethics and the identification of First World War bodies
J L Scully and R Woodward, Journal of War & Culture Studies
‘Those Who Survived the Battlefields’ Archaeological Investigations in a Prisoner of War Camp Near Quedlinburg (Harz / Germany) from the First World War
Volker Demuth, Journal of Conflict Archaeology
Not so Quiet on the Western Front: Progress and Prospect in the Archaeology of the First World War
Tony Pollard and Iain Banks, Journal of Conflict Archaeology
Archaeology of a Great War Dugout: Beecham Farm, Passchendaele, Belgium
P Doyle, P Barton and J Vandewalle, Journal of Conflict Archaeology
Excavating Under Gunfire: Archaeologists in the Aegean During the First World War
David W J Gill, Public Archaeology
Remembering War, Resisting Myth: Veteran Autobiographies and the Great War in the Twenty-first Century
Vincent Andrew Trott, Journal of War & Culture Studies

“quite a famously extinct species”

A female passenger pigeon in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand
A female passenger pigeon in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand

The Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand has three passenger pigeons in their collections, including this somewhat pale female donated to the museum in the nineteenth century by German ornithologist Otto Finsch.

Dr. Erich Dorfman, author of the quote above, described their specimens in this blog post.

Seneca Subsistence and Trade in the Eighteenth Century

A recent study of bones from an early historic Iroquois site includes a comparison with the much earlier animal bones from the Lamoka Lake site as well as some interesting passenger pigeon finds.

Adam Watson and Stephen Cox Thomas studied animal bones from the early 18th century Townley-Read site in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Seneca who lived at the site may have hunted deer year-round. Deer hides, as well as furs from other animals, would have been traded with European colonists. The detailed taphonomic analysis also indicates that deer bones were likely processed to extract the fat-rich grease from the spongy portions of the bones. This is usually considered to be evidence of nutritional stress, but they make the case that processing for bone grease was “a planned accumulation of resources rather than an ad hoc response to seasonal food shortfalls.” (p. 115)

Also of interest is the identification of passenger pigeon bones from one feature at the site. Passenger pigeon, of course, tends to be present at prehistoric archaeological sites in the region with good bone preservation, but in this case, four of the bones are from immature pigeons, providing good evidence specifically for the procurement of squabs in the springtime.

A small number of American eel bones, in contrast, are more likely to indicate fishing in the fall, when eels are heading downstream to spawn.

As a whole, the assemblage has some interesting differences from both earlier and later archaeological sites in New York.  The authors provide a detailed and well-researched analysis of the animal bones from this Iroquois site to make the point that “the evidence for economic resilience and stability at Townley-Read contradicts a narrative of pervasive and unimpeded decline, and reinforces the importance of continuing to build and test empirical models grounded in both local and regional archaeological and historical data.” (p. 115)

Watson, Adam S. and Stephen Cox Thomas

2013The Lower Great Lakes Fur Trade, Local Economic Sustainability and the Bone Grease Buffer: Vertebrate Faunal Remains from the Eighteenth Century Seneca Iroquois Townley-Read Site. Northeast Anthropology 79-80: 81–123.


Passenger Pigeon DNA Article Results in Misleading Headlines

OK, that in itself is not news. But the new article by Chih-Ming Hung and colleagues has resulted in headlines like “Humans Aren’t Solely to Blame for Passenger Pigeon Extinction” (Discover Magazine!) and “Humans not solely to blame for passenger pigeon extinction” (ScienceMag!!). Oh, those are actually the same headline.

GrrlScientist over at the Guardian does much better with “Passenger pigeon extinction: it’s complicated” and provides a pretty good review of the paper, including this important quote: “Dr Hung, Professor Shaner and their colleagues were not looking to discount or disregard the pivotal role that people played in the extinction of this bird. Instead, they were seeking to understand how humans could have reduced this seemingly endless population from billions to none in such a short time period.”

What’s less reassuring is the next line: “Dr Hung, Professor Shaner and their colleagues propose that the passenger pigeon’s population was already in a natural nosedive phase simultaneously with human over-exploitation in the late 1800s, and it was the combination of these two pressures led to its sudden extinction.”

And she also unfortunately repeats the contradiction that European immigrants, while engaging in their own “uncontrolled hunting” of passenger pigeons somehow also managed to  relieve hunting pressure by Native Americans.

The obligatory public domain image of a passenger pigeon

New multifaceted study of passenger pigeon and extinction

A new article to be published in PNAS combines aDNA research with ecological niche modeling and population studies to examine the causes of passenger pigeon extinction.  You may think you already know why and how they went extinct, and yeah, you’re probably right. But it’s always good to get more genetic data on Ectopistes, and potentially the most interesting part of the study will be their work on population dynamics of passenger pigeons. A more detailed look at this paper is in the works.

The article, Drastic population fluctuations explain the rapid extinction of the passenger pigeon, is pay-per-view at the PNAS website.

Fossil Mammal Names Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Etymologies

"I Am No Condylarth!" Art by the Brothers Hildebrandt
“I Am No Condylarth!” Art by the Brothers Hildebrandt

Figured out the Lord of the Rings and other Middle Earth references encoded in the scientific names of these fossil condylarths? Here is Leigh Van Valen’s original explanation of how he came up with the names. Impressive how he managed to mix in allusions to Greek, English, and Egyptian meanings for some of the names.

Oxyprimus galadrielae “Galadriel (Sindarin [Elvish], radiantly garlanded woman), wise elf-queen of the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.”

Protungulatum gorgun “Gorgûn, the Woses’ name for orcs in the Lord of the Rings”

Deltatherium durini “Name of many dwarf-kings in The Lord of the Rings; Durin I began Khazad-Dûm. Allusion is to size”

Chriacus calenancus “Sindarin (Elvish) calen, green; anca, jaws. Reference is to inferred herbivory.”

Thangorodrim thalion Genus from “Thangorodrim, the mountainous triple fortress of Morgoth in The Silrnarillion. Reference is to Purgatory Hill.” [the site where the fossil was collected]. Species name “Sindarin (Elvish) thalion, strong. Reference is to the massive morphology and the generic name.”

Arctocyonides [Claenodon] mumak “Mûmak, name used in Ithilien for the animal hobbits called an oliphaunt, resembling a large elephant. Reference is to size.”

Platymastus palantir “Quenya (Elvish) palantir, distant watcher, one of 7 globes made by Fëanor that gave visions through spacetime. Reference is to the long duration of the genus.”

Platymastus [Aletodon] mellon “Sindarin (Elvish) mellon, friend, the password of the west gate of Khazad-dûm in The Lord of the Rings. Reference is to similarlty to P. palantir, presumptive diet of plants, and obliquely to the English word melon and Greek mellesis, delay, from mello.”

Mimotricentes mirielae “Míriel (Quenya, Jewel-woman), Númenorian queen in The Silmarillion, forced into marriage and the loss of her throne.”

Desmatoclaenus mearae “Meara, any one of the great horses of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings.”

Deuterogonodon noletil “Quenya (Elvish) nólë, knowledge, and til, horn. Reference is to the apparent relationship of D. noletil to uintatheres.”

Litaletes ondolinde “Quenya (elvish) ondo, rock, and lindë, song. Reference is to Rock Bench and to the hidden city Ondolindë or Gondolin of The Silmarillion. The Rock Bench specimens and others were formerly as hidden (and unsorted).”

Bomburia “Bombur, a fat dwarf in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Reference is to size and morphology.”

Protoselene bombadili “Tom Bombadil, the Hobbit name for a simple, powerful, and very old being. Reference is to these three traits.”

Litomylus (?) alphamon Sindarin (Elvish) alph, swan, and amon, hill. Reference is to the locality [Swan Hill], with allusion also to Alph, the sacred river of Xanadu; Amon, usually the Chief Egyptian god; alpha, the letter; and Greek monos, single.”

Maiorana noctiluca Maiorana is derived from Middle Latin maiorana, marjoram, with allusion to Latin decompositions as larger or May frog, and things pertaining to the larger, or to the gold of Maia or May. Quenya (Elvish), wandering angel. Allusion is to the pleasantly splcy Maiorana family.”

Tinuviel eurydice Sindarin (Elvish) tinúviel, daughter of twilight, or nightingale, Beren’s name for Lúthien in The Silmarillion. Eurydice: Eurydice vanished just before being led from Hades. Reference is to Purgatory Hill [the site where the fossil was collected], the late occurrence of this species, Lúthien’s rescue of Beren from Sauron’s dungeon, and their escape from Morgoth’s deep tunnels with a silmaril.

Fimbrethil ambaronae “Fimbrethil, entwife loved by Fangorn in The Lord of the Rings. Reference is to partly primate-like morphology and the disappearance of both Fimbrethils.” Quenya (Elvish) ambarona, one of Fangorn’s shorter names for his forest. Reference is to the dimness of the forest and of the affinities of this species.”

Mimatuta morgoth Mimatuta: “Sindarin (Elvish) mir, jewel, and Matuta, Roman goddess of dawn. Reference is to ancestral position, with allusion to Latin mius, imitator, and tuta, safe, and to Mim, dwarf of The Silmarillion, and Latin tuta, examined.” Morgoth (Quenya [Elvish] mor, dark, and goth, universal enemy). Fëanor’s name for Melkor, the power-lustful Vala of The Silmarillion. Reference is to the Hell Creek Formation.”

Mimatuta minuial Sindarin (Elvish) minuial, the time at dawn when the stars fade. Reference is to the dawn of the Cenozoic and the fading of the Mesozoic stars.”

Earendil undomiel “Eärendil [father of Elrond], who, (in the Silmarillion) sailed with a silmaril to get the aid that defeated Morgoth.” Quenya (Elvish), undómiel, evening star, which Eärendil with his silmaril became.”

Anisonchus athelas (later synonymized with Anisonchus eowynae) Sindarin (Elvish) athelas, kingsfoil, a healing plant in The Lord of the Rings. Reference is to the joining of phylogenies.”

Anisonchus eowynae Éowyn, woman of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, who killed the chief of the Nazgûl and was cured of his poison by athelas.

Mithrandir Mithrandir (Sindarin, gray wanderer), elvish name for Olorin [i.e., Gandalf] wisest of the Istari in The Lord of the Rings. Reference is to the subtleness of the differences between the subgenera.”

Ancalagon “The mightiest dragon of Morgoth, in the Silmarillion.”

Niphredil radagasti “Sindarin (Elvish) niphredil, white-flowering forb of open woods in Neldoreth and Lothlorien.” and “Radagast, naturalist of the Istari in The Lord of the Rings.”


L. M. Van Valen. 1978. The beginning of the Age of Mammals. Evolutionary Theory 4:45-80