Posts Tagged ‘paleontology’

What, after all, is Art?

September 1, 2014

Paleolithic News Item

StuartFinlayson-dn26134-1_300

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.”

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*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…)