Inch by inch, they gently pick through the soil in search of thousand-year-old relics. Racing against onsetting mould yet painstakingly meticulous, archaeologists in Norway are exhuming a rare Viking ship grave in hopes of uncovering the secrets within.
Who is buried here? Under which ritual? What is left of the burial offerings? And what can they tell us about the society that lived here?
Now reduced to tiny fragments almost indistinguishable from the turf that covers it, the 20-metre (65-foot) wooden longship raises a slew of questions. [continue, see photos]
My friend, the late Vine Deloria Jr., once chided me for remarking too often a time when dogs could talk. I had to admit that he was probably right. I had discovered that Kiowa elders used this formula to indicate something that had happened far back in time. This or that happened a long time ago when dogs could talk. It seems to me a charming and appropriate expression. It is the kind of thing that reveals more and more of itself in the fullness of time. That, by the way, is a mystery which distinguishes the oral tradition, and it is a foundation of language itself. Language seems always to exceed itself, and certainly it exceeds our grasp of it. We know that a certain province of experience is ineffable, that there are limits to what language can express. But the fact is, we have no inkling of what those limits might be. Lewis Thomas has told us that we are at the beginning of language. I suspect that to be true. [continue]
Deception is the name of a new game in the Malnad region, but it is aimed at harming nobody. Farmers in the region have resorted to painting the fur of dogs to fool monkeys into believing that they are tigers. This, to save their crops from the simians, which were destroying them with utter impunity. [continue]
The article includes a photo of a transformed dog.
I was 11 years old when I asked my mum for piano lessons, in 2010. We were in the fallout of the recession and she’d recently been made redundant. She said a polite “no”.
That didn’t deter me. I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk. I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one – keeping the sound they made on the computer in my head. After a while I could hear the notes in my head while pressing the keys on the paper. I spent six months playing scales and chord sequences without touching a real piano. Once my mum saw it wasn’t a fad, she borrowed some money from family and friends, and bought me 10 lessons.
I still remember the first one. I was struck by how organic the sound of the piano was, as I had become familiar with the artificial electronic sound. The teacher tried to explain where middle C was but I could already play all the major and minor scales, as well as tonic and dominant functions, and the circle of fifths. [continue]
The case has been almost completely absent from Norwegian history, despite the fact that it caused an uproar at the time. It was the talk of the town in Trondheim, between the remote villages from the south to the north of Trøndelag, and even all the way to Nordland. The story itself, and the characters that emerge from the court records, could easily be from the pages of a fantastic and macabre novel, she says. The trial against Finn-Kirsten started in the isolated mountain village Støren in 1674, and rumbled on until 1677. After that, it disappeared into the darkness of history. Finn-Kirsten Iversdatter was the last person to be executed for witchcraft in Central Norway, with over thirty people from all levels of society at risk of the same fate throughout the trial. [see full article]
For the well to-do residents of Georgian London, serving chilled drinks at a festive party was a more complicated process than today. In the absence of electricity to make ice cubes and keep them frozen, they had to source their ice from elsewhere.
For the most discerning hosts, that meant using blocks of purest frozen Norwegian fjord, which was shipped to London’s docks and then carefully stored until required to be chipped into glasses and clinked.
Archaeologists have now uncovered a link to the capital’s lost ice trade with the rediscovery, under one of London’s most prestigious addresses, of an enormous 18th-century ice store, the existence of which had been almost entirely forgotten. [continue]
Eleven thousand years ago at the end of the last ice age, Norway was buried under a thick layer of ice. But it didn’t take long for folks to wander their way north as the ice sheet melted away. The first traces of human habitation in Norway date from roughly 9500 BC.
Steinar Solheim is an archaeologist at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History who has worked on numerous excavations of different Stone Age settlements around Oslo Fjord. Now he and colleague Per Perrson have investigated longer-term population trends in the Oslo Fjord region, based on 157 different Stone Age settlements. All were inhabited between 8000 and 2000 BC.
The two researchers tried to determine whether the population during this time was stable, or if living conditions were better or worse for people who lived here during different periods. [continue]
You’ve probably come across the website called Medium. All kinds of people and organizations have used Medium to publish their articles. It feels a bit like a huge blog, with a variety of interesting, and sometimes famous, people posting articles. It all seemed just so wonderful.
The thing about using somebody else’s “free” service to publish your stuff is that you are not in control of your own content, or how it is handled. It seems that this lesson is one that people on the internet keep forgetting, and having to re-learn. Now many are realizing that Medium is not a benevolent charity, and that their business model involves making money from the content you provide for free.
There is a lot to be said for publishing your own content on your own website.
Spoiling old dogs in their twilight years by retiring them to the sofa and forgiving them their stubbornness or disobedience, doesn’t do our four-legged friends any good. Regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions and can slow down mental deterioration in old age. Physical limitations, however, often do not allow the same sort of training as used in young dogs. In a new study, a team of researchers led by cognitive biologists from Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer interaction as a practical alternative. In the training lab, old dogs responded positively to cognitive training using educational touchscreen games. The aim now is to get the interactive “dog sudoku” ready for home use. [continue]
That’s a happy development. I have some low-tech puzzle games for my dog, and she is very happy when I take them out of the closet. I wonder how she would react to the touch-screen games.
A previously unknown language has been found in the Malay Peninsula by linguists from Lund University in Sweden. The language has been given the name Jedek. (…)
The language is an Aslian variety within the Austroasiatic language family and is spoken by 280 people who are settled hunter-gatherers in northern Peninsular Malaysia. (…)
The community in which Jedek is spoken is more gender-equal than Western societies, there is almost no interpersonal violence, they consciously encourage their children not to compete, and there are no laws or courts. There are no professions either, rather everyone has the skills that are required in a hunter-gatherer community. This way of life is reflected in the language. There are no indigenous words for occupations or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell, but there is a rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing. [continue]
I rely on RSS feeds to keep up with my favourite websites. For years I’ve been using a marvellous RSS aggregator to read news feeds on my Android device. But it went terribly wrong, alas. So I’ve been testing other Android RSS apps, looking for something that will work well for me.
A physician’s job has always been to heal the sick and give advice on how to stay healthy. There were medical treatments, to be sure – leeching, purging, and my personal favorite – eating ground up powdered mummies. Yes. You read that correctly. For thousands of years, eating the ground up mummified remains of long-dead embalmed human beings was considered good medicine. That’s what they taught at them ancient medical schools. The demand for powdered mummies was so great that sometimes hucksters would simply grind up dead beggars and plague victims and sell them as mummies.
The history of medicine is the history of the placebo effect. This mummy-eating practice died out in the 16th century was was replaced by other equally useless procedures – such as the lobotomy to cure mental illness. Hey, let me shove this ice pick through your eyeball and mash up parts of your brain like I’m mashing a potato. The inventor of this procedure received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine. This was the cutting edge of medicine circa 1949. Any criticism of this mashed-brain strategy could be legitimately met by “Did YOU win a Nobel Prize, buddy?”
“The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?’ ” says Sugg. The answer, at first, was Egyptian mummy, which was crumbled into tinctures to stanch internal bleeding. But other parts of the body soon followed. Skull was one common ingredient, taken in powdered form to cure head ailments. Thomas Willis, a 17th-century pioneer of brain science, brewed a drink for apoplexy, or bleeding, that mingled powdered human skull and chocolate. And King Charles II of England sipped “The King’s Drops,” his personal tincture, containing human skull in alcohol. Even the toupee of moss that grew over a buried skull, called Usnea, became a prized additive, its powder believed to cure nosebleeds and possibly epilepsy. Human fat was used to treat the outside of the body. German doctors, for instance, prescribed bandages soaked in it for wounds, and rubbing fat into the skin was considered a remedy for gout. [continue]
Most people regard hierarchy in human societies as inevitable, a natural part of who we are. Yet this belief contradicts much of the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens.
In fact, our ancestors have for the most part been “fiercely egalitarian”, intolerant of any form of inequality. While hunter-gatherers accepted that people had different skills, abilities and attributes, they aggressively rejected efforts to institutionalise them into any form of hierarchy.
Instead of foraging in the past for inspiration, Mr. Haatuft asked himself a hypothetical question: “If western Norway were a region of France, what would the chefs here brag about?”
His theory is that the prestigious classic cuisine of France is “farm food that was beautified and refined” to suit the tastes and whims of rich people. In Norway, he said, there was never enough wealth to transform food into cuisine. (That changed after oil production began in the North Sea in the 1970s, making modern Norway one of the world’s wealthiest nations.)
Traditional Norwegian food is famously bland, with infinite recombinations of fish, potatoes, flour and milk. But those porridges and dumplings were often spiked with intense tastes like smoked lamb and reindeer, salt-fermented salmon, goat salami and pickled root vegetables. The country has top-quality dairy products, berries that grow sweet in the 18-hour days of summer and complex aged cheeses. Extraordinary fresh seafood is harvested from the cold waters of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, and preserved using time-honored traditions that are just as complex as French charcuterie.
“A French chef here would brag about the smoked mackerel,” he said. “He would clean out the dark parts to make it beautiful. He would add butter to make it rich and smooth, and make the flavor of the ingredient shine.”
That is precisely what Mr. Haatuft does at Lysverket. [continue]
Several years ago, I switched to a low-carb paleo diet. This did me fantastic amounts of good, but there was one problem: leg cramps at night. Sometimes I’d wake several times a night with really, really painful cramps in my calves. I’d have to get up right away, put weight on the affected leg, and even then – oh, the pain!
The environment for sleep itself changed dramatically between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ekirch writes, going from straw pallets on the floor to wooden frames with pillows, sheets, blankets, and mattresses filled with rags and wool. Sixteenth-century clergyman William Harrison recalled people in his childhood sleeping with “a good round log under their heads, instead of a bolster” and wrote that pillows “were thought meet only for women in childebed.”
Still, when beds were introduced people took to them eagerly. Quoting historian Carole Shammas, Ekrich writes that we might think of the early modern era as “The Age of the Bed.” Beds were the first and most valuable piece of furniture families acquired, accounting for a quarter of the value of a modest household. They were also often infested with bugs and shared by several people. [continue]
I use more index cards than anyone I know, and Carl Linnaeus has fascinated me since I first heard of him years ago. So imagine my delight at finding this article: How the index card cataloged the world.
The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.
* * *
In 1767, near the end of his career, Linnaeus began to use “little paper slips of a standard size” to record information about plants and animals. According to the historians Isabelle Charmantier and Staffan Müller-Wille, these paper slips offered “an expedient solution to an information-overload crisis” for the Swedish scientist. More than 1,000 of them, measuring five by three inches, are housed at London’s Linnean Society. Each contains notes about plants and material culled from books and other publications. While flimsier than heavy stock and cut by hand, they’re virtually indistinguishable from modern index cards.
The Swedish scientist is more often credited with another invention: binomial nomenclature, the latinized two-part name assigned to every species. Before Linnaeus, rambling descriptions were used to identify plants and animals. A tomato, for example, was a mouthful: Solanum caule inermi herbaceo foliis pinnatis incisis. After Linnaeus, the round fruit became Solanum lycopersicum. Thanks to his landmark study, Systema Naturae, naturalists had a universal language, which organized the natural world into the nested hierarchies still used today—species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, and kingdom. [continue]
How cool is that?
If you happen to wonder why I use so many index cards, take a look at Introducing the Hipster PDA over at 43folders.com. I came across that page years ago, and adopted a variation of that approach for organizing things. It’s not the only method I use, but it is highly useful and satisfying.
Have you heard about Mastodon? It’s a social network that is growing like crazy, and it’s not like the annoying networks you’ve come to hate. I joined a while ago, and like it a lot. I published a page about Mastodon here, to give readers an idea of what it is and why I like it.
Sometimes when I don’t have the time or inclination to publish a blog post on Mirabilis.ca, I share interesting things I’ve found over there, on my Mastodon account. So if you like Mirabilis.ca content and wish for more, you might like to come hang out on Mastodon.
So, yeah. If you would like to be part of a social network that is friendly, non-commerical, and just generally a good thing, maybe give it a try. On Mastodon, I am @firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me there, if you like. I’d love to have your company.
A Walrus article, Rise of the Robots, claims that “Automated trucks will transform an industry and put millions out of work.”
Hermann is just one of the thousands of truckers who can be found on BC’s roads at any given time. In Canada, more than 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people—it’s the second most common occupation reported by men. In 2010, truck transportation contributed $17.1 billion to our country’s GDP. It’s a similar scene in the United States, where about 3.5 million people drive trucks for a living.
But the job isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the hours spent yakking on the CB radio, the straight runs across the country. And many drivers predict that the days of watching the miles slip by under glinting chrome grills will soon be over altogether. Today, investors in Silicon Valley are pouring millions of dollars into making the first autonomous trucks, which will be able to drive and manage themselves, making humans unnecessary. “If they can get a computer to do my job,” Hermann says, “they can get a computer to do any job.” [continue]
Do you know any people who drive trucks for a living? I do, and it is troubling to think about what will happen when their jobs disappear.
It is hard to imagine Eric Bloodaxe and other feared Viking kings and chieftains wearing blue linen underwear. However, if the research carried out at the University of Bergen is correct, we should get used to the idea.
Textile fragments from Viking graves in the counties of Rogaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Hordaland in Western Norway have now been analyzed.
Research carried out by textile conservator Hana Lukešová and professor of nanophysics Bodil Holst at the University of Bergen has produced remarkable results: Vikings did use linen underwear, often dyed blue. [continue]
A study by archaeologists has revealed certain people in medieval Yorkshire were so afraid of the dead they chopped, smashed and burned their skeletons to make sure they stayed in their graves.
The research published by Historic England and the University of Southampton may represent the first scientific evidence in England of attempts to prevent the dead from walking and harming the living – still common in folklore in many parts of the world.
The archaeologists who studied a collection of human bones – including the remains of adults, teenagers and children excavated more than half a century ago, and dated back to the period between the 11th and 14th century – rejected gruesome possibilities including cannibalism in times of famine, or the massacre of outsiders. The cut marks were in the wrong place for butchery, and isotope analysis of the teeth showed that the people came from the same area as the villagers of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire – a once flourishing village which had been completely deserted by the early 16th century. [continue]