Posts Tagged ‘Aunt Ja’

Aunt Ja plays the blues

April 29, 2017

News Report: Scientists find a modified raven bone in a Neanderthal shelter.

I was walking back to camp one day when I heard a sound. It was like somebody was dragging a stick along a very short picket….rock. After a few short time intervals, it became more rhythmic and picked up a beat, which then merged into a syncopated pattern.

I walked into camp, and there was Aunt Ja, sitting on a rock and rubbing a short stick along a scrap of what looked like a raven’s pelvis bone. The bone was notched along the edge, and it was these notches that were making the sound when she ran the stick across them. I asked her what it was, and she said it was a new musical instrument, called a ravenbone.

Aunt Ja said she won it playing rock-paper-scissors with a Neanderdude. Neanders are terrible at that game, because all they know is rock. Well, all we know is rock too, but we know subtle variations that the Neanders haven’t mastered yet. So, Aunt Ja’s rock beat his rock, and before he woke up, she’d taken the ravenbone and walked off.

It sounded cool, with that hypnotic rhythm so beloved of primitive cultures everywhere. I thought maybe we could form a band. Aunt Ja could play the ravenbone. Uncle Ba could play percussion using the slap-dancing rocks, and I could…I could. Well, you can get a pretty nice sound when you pluck on mastodon intestines. You can even alter the tone by getting up close and standing on one end before you twang them, but that can be dangerous.


What, after all, is Art?

September 1, 2014

Paleolithic News Item


Uncle Tok tends to think of himself as an artist, or maybe that’s an artiste (they’re both pronounced “ugh”, but the enunciation is different). We all know he’s a great inventor — look at his barkless birch log canoe, and I’m pretty sure he’s the first proto-hominid to come up with the idea of making your arm longer by tying your shale knife to the end of a branch — but we were less convinced of his artistic capabilities. Sure, he’d spent weeks drawing pictographs of birds on the desert floor the last time we visited Far-South Beringia. And sure, when we visited the Old Country by walking around the east end of the Mediterranean he’d spent a whole summer piling up blocks of stone to prove that it was possible to make a cube that came to a point. But what was the point? Was it really art?

Well, this year we were back at the west end of the Mediterranean. It was our first time back since Uncle Tok had the smart idea of cutting a notch at the top of the Gibraltar Dam to make a thousand-foot waterfall as a tourist attraction.* This year he was feeling artistic as well as entrepreneurial, and he had this wonderful idea about carving the faces of all our tribal elders in the rock that was all that remained of the dam.

Aunt Ja said it would never work. She said the rock was too hard, and that he couldn’t get enough goat’s intestines to let him hang down far enough to do a proper job. Uncle Tok said he was plenty stronger than that rock, and that he’d just find a bigger goat. They argued about it for hours, until Uncle Tok got fed up and wandered off to party with the locals down at the beach. They had this really potent spirit that they made from grapes. They’d put them in a big haggisbag and stomp on them until all the bad tasting juice ran out. Then they’d tie it up until the grapes inside started leaking through, at which point they’d get together and have a ro’tgu’t party.

The next morning Uncle Tok was feeling bad, and crawled off to an un-used cave. We didn’t find him until later that afternoon, when we heard this rhythmic scraping coming from inside. We all dashed up, and discovered him working on an inscription, describing his Rock of Gibralter idea and saying how certain reactionary elements had kept him from accomplishing it. Of course, being proto-hominids and not having a proper written language (the elders were still arguing over whether or not to require a special symbol for a subjunctive clause), he’d had to simplify it. But it was there for everyone to see.

All us kids thought it was great, and that it would really make Aunt Ja sorry she mocked his ideas. But that was not to be. She came in and glanced at it, told him it wasn’t very artistic, told him his supporting arguments were shallow, told him his handwriting looked like a Neanderdude’s, and finally, asked him why he’d written it on the floor of the cave instead of the wall. Uncle Tok looked at her, a little bleary-eyed, then looked around the cave. “Floor? Wall? Tok can never remember which stands up and which lays down.”

*Aunt Ja never forgave him, but I thought it was a good idea to have an inland sea between us and some of our relatives in the Old Country, even if it did mean we had to walk all the way around to visit them.

Med Cruise

January 28, 2012

Some archaeologists believe pre-humans sailed to Crete

As usual with Uncle Tok’s projects, our Mediterranean cruise vacation came to a bad end. It was my fault. I was complaining to him about what a terrible time I’d had at summer camp in Beringia, and about logging on the lake with birch logs. As usual, he completely ignored my complaints about the cold and the narrow logs and getting my legs all scraped by the bark. Instead, also as usual, he homed in on one point and let it drive a whole new line of thought.

“Birchbark! Of course!” He cried. “It’s tough and it doesn’t soften in water!” He started stamping around the cave, waving his arms, the way he did when he got a new idea. “Instead of using birch logs with the bark still wrapped around them, why not carefully peel off the bark, and lay it out in sheets? Then you can use the smooth logs out on the lake, and they won’t scratch your legs! Plus, once the bark dries, you can use it to start fires with!” Then he dashed out to register his barkless birch water transport system with the tribal elders. (more…)

Second prize is TWO months in Berengia

October 18, 2011

Past Horizons: Paleontologists find ancient rock art in Alaska.

I’ll never forget the year my parents sent me off for summer camp the far side of Beringia. Boy, was I bored. And uncomfortable. It was cold, even in summer. It was wet. Even the ground was wet, those parts that weren’t froze. You know how they teach you to dig hip holes so you can sleep better when you can’t make it back to the cave? Don’t try that here, ’cause your…hips… will freeze to the ground and they’ll have to pry you off with flaming sticks.

I did all the usual stuff you do at camp. I learned to get along with Neanderkids, despite their funny looks. I learned to grind up charcoal and mix it with bear fat and paint it on my face, so that I looked like someone with stripes painted on their face. I learned to make a lanyard from mammoth intestines, and use it to carry a buzzard thigh whistle — which is useful if you ever get lost and are dying and there aren’t any buzzards around. I even learned how to paddle a birch log. The trouble with paddling logs up here is that your feet freeze in the water, while your crotch is rubbed raw, because these birches make really small logs.

One of the other things we learned was how to preserve a mammoth by digging a hole in a pond and stuffing it in. The Cave-Ec teacher said it should last a million years. What she didn’t say was that only works in Beringia, and if you try it anywhere south of Denisova you end up with rotten mammoth. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice well-rotted mammoth, but it does make the water taste funny, and you don’t produce any throwable smellystuff for a week.

Then there was the celebration of multiculturalism. Boooriiing. Even the Neanderkids thought it was dumb. We gathered in this big meadow, and beat bones on bones and sticks on sticks and sticks on bones and rocks on… you get the idea. And we sang grunts. And we got lectured on how we are all children of the lightning god, except for those who were children of the buffalo god, or the aurochs god, or the other rocks gods. And so forth.

That’s when I got into trouble. You see, all the Neanderkids were into making noseplugs — these round disks that you would stick up your nose to make it look bigger. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to breathe, so they’d drill holes in the middle. Well one kid, Uk, was really shy, and I stole his plugs while he was beating his rock and scratched “Uk loves Su” on them. It was hard, because we were all illiterate, but everybody knew what it meant. That got Uk and Su mad, and they both complained. That’s when I got signed up for remedial multiculturalism.

They had three or four of us in the class, which was team taught by a Neander and a Person. Team teaching is a lot like the slap dance. When one got tired, the other would come out and drag them off and start over. We sat at these rock desks with a really nice view of the ocean, to remind us that we could be out there logging (and freezing our toes off) and got lectured at for a day and another day. While our teachers were contradicting each other over which proto-hominid had richest spiritual and intellectual lives, I sat there and carved “Uk is a seagulls ass” in the rock. Of course, it just looked like a bunch of lines, but they were spiritually and intellectually rich with meaning. For me, anyhow. And then I carved “Su is a pile of otter offal”. That pretty well filled up the rock, ’cause it’s hard to get lines to alliterate. I would have carved more, but our teacher won the argument, and the remaining Neander faculty came and dragged off their former colleague, and they gave us the rest of the day off so we could all go down to the marsh and dig for mammoths.

Next summer, I told my Aunt Ja I’d rather get a summer job harvesting emmerwheat.

Genetic research confirms that non-Africans are part Neanderthal

July 29, 2011

From EurekAlert.

This is true. I am seeing this happen myself. Well, in a way. Not the whole exchange of genetic material part, but close enough. It happens like this:

A bunch of Anatomically Modern Humans moves into our neighborhood from somewheres up north a small while ago. Now, if you ask anyone around the karst, they will tell you that I am a hard hominid to impress, but even I have to admit that the new AMH’s are in a range that includes awesome. They are tall and erect, and their warmskins do not smell at all. Not like Uncle Tok’s. You can tell when he is anywhere within two or maybe even three sprints, just by the smell. But back to these AMH’s — they have this way of putting rocks in a circle so their fire does not escape, and they pile rocks up in front of their caves so the smilodons do not get in, and their spearheads are to die for! They make anything you can think of out of rock, and a few edged objects of indeterminate purpose, as well. They are true rock stars. (more…)

Who Killed Shanidar3?

June 10, 2011

I’ll tell you who. It is Aunt Ja that kills him, only she doesn’t mean to, and she figures anyway, he deserves it.

It all starts when we camp in Zagros on our way to Denisova for the winter, on account of Uncle Tok having a shared cave up there, and it being his turn. (We do not call it Denisova, of course, that is a word the Anatomically Modern Humans use, but times change, and Uncle Tok says the wise proto-hominid changes with them). We are just settled into our camp, with a very modern fire and separate workrocks for the men and the women and the boysandgirls, when this Neanderdude wanders in. (more…)

Career Options for Early Humans

August 17, 2010

The recent discovery of the choices offered by my old career counselor, Uncle Ba, certainly brought back memories.

I had always thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps — well, not the ones that went into the smilodon cave — but Aunt Ja wouldn’t hear of it. “You are not going to end up a no-good stumblebum like him and Tok,” she yelled. “You want to be a drunken, flat-footed, bug-bit, snake-bit hunter-gatherer all your life?”

Well, yeah. It looked like a fine lifestyle, if you could tell the difference between scree and smilodon droppings.

That was the wrong thing to say. In a trice (I’d spent lots of time at the lore-stone, and knew that was one less than a many), she had me by the ear and we marched (well, she marched, I kindof side footed) over to Uncle Ba. He wasn’t my real uncle, but everyone called him that, because he was always giving advice. He was kindof a shaman, lorekeeper, bee-whisperer, who did counseling on the side, whenever one of his spells gave him hives, or vice versa.

“So, young Ska, you are deciding on your future at last. I am glad. Too many seasons have gone by, and soon you would grow too old, and become unteachable — more unteachable.”

He always talked like that.

“You have come at a good time. Our pre-industrial protoeconomy has many openings for a bright, hardworking lad, but you, too should be able to get a job. I have a list here somewhere.” He unrolled a length of bark with drawings on it. Not Lascaux quality drawings, but good enough for us country folk who didn’t live in limestone canyons. Aunt Ja moved in, to counsel me on the counseling.

“There’s a whole range of jobs in the fashion industries,” he said. “You deal with the manipulation of color and form in the creation of shell ornaments, and fine bandeaux for the upper cave set.”

“I think that’s a terrible choice,” said Aunt Ja. “He’ll end up slicking back his hair, like La, and his boyfriends, prancing about with ocher on his nose and complimenting madam on how good she stinks. Besides, look at his hands. Look at his fingers. They’re so fat he can barely get them in his nose. Can you imagine him weaving something as fine as what I’m wearing?”

She was right. I could barely weave a net from bungee vines, I couldn’t tell burnt umber from burnt bone, and the last time I’d played with shells it had taken her two days to get them out of my ears. She was wearing a very nice bandeaux, though, with a matching string skirt, set off by a hyena-tooth necklace and nose-plug.

“Well, what about one of the professions, then? He could be a dentist. Lots of demand for holes drilled in teeth these days, and not just hyena teeth.” So even he had noticed.

Aunt Ja had to think about this one. Reluctantly, she said “I think we have the same problem we had with the weaving. How’s he going to get both those hands and a drill inside somebody’s mandible?”

I thought I might pull it off, work on it outside, then put it back on, the way you did a hat, but decided not to say anything.

“Ok, ok, (what he actually said was ook, ook, but this is a free translation), there’s another professional job he could do. He could be a counselor.”

“Like you?”

“Oh, no, that would be too much competition, and I’m too old and my arm is too weak to take him on as an apprentice. I was thinking of maybe a new field, like mating counselor.” He reached in his bag and pulled out a slightly curved, carved cylinder.

“Absolutely not!”

“Hmmm. Well that just leaves agriculture. Quite the new thing. People are settling down all over to try it. There’s even some specialized niches that need his ….qualities. I mean, he’s too smart to just have a bang-the-rocks-together-guys job. I was thinking of something like a Jiahu grogmeister.”

Did he just say I was smart? Maybe that was to shock Aunt Ja so she wouldn’t notice what that high-sounding job title meant. Since we were down at the end of his list, and she had run out of options, she agreed. Maybe she was overawed by the idea of having someone in the family with more than two syllables in their job description.

So that’s how I got my job. I spend my days wandering about, collecting big baskets full of rice, and honey and hawthorn fruit — and avoiding the rice snakes and bee stings and thorn scratches. I trudge back and put them into this technological wonder called a clay pot (who would have thought that dirt could hold water?), start a fire, so it is hot on the outside and wet on the inside, put my feet up, and wait for industrial things to happen. Then, when it tastes just right, I invite everyone over, and we trade for stuff.

Even Aunt Ja comes, but I can see she doesn’t approve.

Dad would, though.

Modern behavior of early humans

December 31, 2009

Scientists have discovered that modern behavior by early humans started half-million years earlier than previously thought.

I could have told them that. It was Aunt Ja that started it. Her and Uncle Tok. You see, Aunt Ja was the original domineering mate. We would have called her a diva, if any of us knew how to sing. (I thought we did, but some big shot paleoanthropologist has said that rhythmic grunting was not singing, any more than the slap dance was true dancing.) She was tall, well, tall for a proto-hominid, and her bead string was always just so, to accentuate her hips, and her hair was always stylishly waxed with mammoth dung. When we made camp, she knew exactly where she wanted to sit to chew on the fish sinews, and where the fire should go, and how we should pile the yams and the nuts.

Uncle Tok was, well, a caveman. He was short, fat, and hairy, just the opposite of Aunt Ja. After a hard days hunt, he liked nothing better than to sit back on some hillside, preferably one with a patch of overfermented berries, and watch the hyenas squabble over the remains of some smilodon kill. Him and Dad each had a favorite hyena pack, and they’d make bets on which one would get the head and how far they’d get before the other pack brought them down. If it was a particularly good berry patch, they’d end up yelling advice at the hyenas and flinging chunks of rock at them. One day, they found a really good berry patch, and ended up throwing all their hunting rocks at the hyenas. Then they threw their cutting rocks. They’d have thrown the rocks they used for the slap dance as well, but they were laughing so hard they fell down and forgot to. Then they both were sick, and wandered back to the camp, their arms on each others shoulders, singing (yes, I said singing. Stuff it, anthros.)

So, no rocks meant no cut up game, and maybe no game at all. That meant that Uncle Tok had to make some more if we were going to eat, and Aunt Ja let him know it, in no uncertain terms. She went on about how he wasn’t going to get any yams, any nuts, and any of something else that I wasn’t too clear on until he had made a full set of hunting tools for the group, plus a set of kitchenware for her. She didn’t call it kitchenware, but that’s what she meant. Uncle Tok just stood there, holding his head and nodding when he thought she wanted him to.

Later that afternoon he wandered off, looking for rocks. We kids helped, by running over and pointing whenever we saw a good one. He didn’t seem to appreciate our help. When he came back, he dumped his armload of rocks next to the yams and sat down to eat and knap. That set Aunt Ja off again. Those rocks were going to get in with the yams, and some of the kids would eat them, thinking they were food, and then we’d have another round of kids with tummy troubles. Now, I know the difference between a yam and a rock (you can peel a yam, if you have a sharp rock), but my cousin Tak probably didn’t. That’s why he didn’t have as many teeth as I did.

Anyway, Aunt Ja went on an on, until Uncle Tok got fed up. “Fine,” he said, “I’m moving my stuff over here, and I’m going to use this big rock as an anvil, and you can just go find some other rock to crack your nuts on.” Aunt Ja could see he was steaming mad, and she really hadn’t liked the big rock anyway. It was slanted, and all the nuts kept rolling off. So she said “Fine”, and he said “Fine” again, and then there was no backing out.

And that’s the way the rest of our stay at that camp was. Uncle Tok drew a line in the sand with a stick, and said that all the girls had to stay over there, while all the boys would stay over here and have fun. It didn’t last, of course, but I still remember seeing the little piles of fish bones and flints, and nuts, and yams, each at a different place. Silly idea, but Aunt Ja liked it.

With apologies to Italo Calvino