April Pieces Of My Mind

  • I’m not very bothered by archaeological interpretations that are proven wrong. I’m afraid of those ideas that have become accepted even though there is no way they can ever be tested.
  • “… it was common knowledge that local witches had killed old Mayor Niels Iversen Scribe by means of performing their bodily functions at his front door during the night.” Skalk 2013:2 pp. 13-14.
  • Found a great podcast: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. Two very well-read and funny spec-fic guys talk about books, history, gaming, writing.
  • Guy writes me to sell an event to the Swedish Skeptics, calls me lagom nödig in an attempt to be chummy. This means “in urgent need of defecation”, when what he probably meant was lagom nördig, that is, “nicely nerdy”.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

18 thoughts on “April Pieces Of My Mind”

  1. “ideas that have become accepted even though there is no way they can ever be tested”
    -If those ideas seem in line with the zeitgeist they will probably be accepted despite flimsy evidence. Once entrenched, you have to wait for that generation of professors to retire. The mythology about a rapid influx of indo-europeans 2000 BC is a case in point.


  2. No, I mean interpretations that can’t be tested. If they are replaced, then they are likely replaced by equally untestable ideas.


  3. Minds abhor a vacuum; Rorscach tests and artefacts of dead cultures have meaning imposed on them by the viewer because we seem wired that way.
    I am surprised students are not taught the dangers of seeing patterns in white noise (like “backward messages”).


  4. My daughter’s alarm clock music:

    Is it not possible to apply the scientific standard – if an interpretation is not falsifiable, it is inadmissible?

    Birger, was there a rapid population increase 4,000 years ago? I keep reading about it while hunting my Y haplogroup, which I suspect was Norse.


  5. Sorry John, these are the humanities. There is no such thing as an inadmissible interpretation. And I must say that your use of the word “falsifiable” here smacks of the same kind of naïve scientism that mars all of my own work.


  6. John, I don’ know enough about proxies for population growth. If the transition to agriculture was gradual, I suspect the population curve closely tracked it. Warmer climate?
    BTW, I just realised Joss Ackland, the guy who played the creepy “chummy” guy in the backseat of the video also played Mustrum Ridcully, top wizard, in the film “Hogfather”.


  7. It’s an affliction in certain circles, there’s no question. It wounds me to see my daughter politely masking her own infection in certain circles to avoid giving offence to those who would find it offensive. She’s an altogether more gentle creature than her father.

    What might look like an ‘explosion’ plotted at one scale looks like a gradual transition at another. I mean, if you plot a transition to agriculture on the timescale of the whole of the existence of Homo, it looks like explosive chain reactions starting at different points on the globe. Plotted on a scale of human generations, it looks like a far more gradual transitional process. I was reading just recently of a find that suggested evidence of cultivation of millet in one location of northern China 14,000 years ago, which is really early. A global climate-enabled transition over a timescale of 10,000 years or more is hardly an explosive event.


  8. Untestable hypothesis: A young woman from the first English colony in North America had cut marks on her skull, which has been interpeted as signs of post-mortem cannibalism. I thought unless you actually find coproliths with human DNA it is difficult to prove cannibalism as opposed to other reasons for cuts on bones.


  9. Typo: should be “interpreted”.
    John, I think there were cases of horticulture in present-day Oceania even further back. For some reason horticulture does not automatically lead to agriculture.


  10. #11 Yes, there were practices that encouraged the growth of food-bearing plants in Australia – selective burning. Dating the practices could be problematic – systematic burning was also done as part of hunting. It is arguable that the knowledge that clearing other vegetation by burning encourages the spread of germination by the food bearing plants is a step en route towards developing agriculture. It is a logical step in that direction, but whether the next step would ever be taken is an imponderable.

    #10 From my reading, they found evidence that the skull of the girl had been broken open. Maybe not definitive, but highly suggestive. Elsewhere, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) recorded that some of the settlers dug up the remains of a ‘savage’ who had been killed and ate them, and a case of a man who was executed for murdering his wife, ‘powdering’ her remains and eating the powder, with some rather tasteless joke about whether she would have been better roasted or whatever. Smith has been regarded by some historians as an unreliable witness given to exaggeration and story-telling, but as more evidence is uncovered at the Jamestown site, he appears to gain in credibility. But I need to be careful – I am something of a Pocahontas fan, the idea of a child enthusiastic to reach across a cultural gulf appealing to my imagination, and having the will to believe is dangerous.


  11. The find context offers additional evidence in the Jamestown case. The girl’s bones were in a kitchen midden. And any human bones with cut marks on them in an Early Modern Christian context are very highly suggestive of cannibalism. Mind you, I don’t think the Jamestowners killed the kid. She almost certainly died from malnutrition and/or disease. Survival cannibalism is in my opinion ethically unproblematic. It’s the aesthetics that bother me. (-;


  12. Yes.

    They have sort of made the aesthetics even worse for me by producing a reconstruction of the girl’s face, which is irrational of me, but then I suspect that was the reaction they were hoping for. I simply can’t conceive of digging up a corpse and cracking open the skull to eat the brain, having eaten whatever bits I could from the outside of the head – but then, I’ve never been facing certain death by starvation, or violence if I creep out of the stockade to try to dig up a few roots.

    Birger, I realise your reference to horticulture with a deep time history in Oceania was no doubt more to PNG garden plots, but it reminded me of the Australian practices – not horticulture as such. I’m not sure what to call it. I know the term ‘firestick farming’ – maybe that’s it.


  13. I heard Björk Guðmundsdóttir once performed a bodily function in a place not normally reserved for the purpose, but my understanding was that was an act of protest about something. She wasn’t actually trying to kill anyone. Perhaps she was just lagom nödig, I don’t know.


  14. Heh. If you get sick of Qu’Appelle Valley, this one should quite well as an alarm, too.


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