Stories tagged Historic Perspectives

Apr
01
2014

Maya ball game: When disputes arose during Maya ball games, players would reenact the play in slow motion for officials to determine if they made the correct call.
Maya ball game: When disputes arose during Maya ball games, players would reenact the play in slow motion for officials to determine if they made the correct call.Courtesy anth2589
The new Major League Baseball season is underway with lots of hoopla about the expanded use by umpires of using instant replay to reconsider close or controversial calls during the course of a game. It’s all overshadowed some amazing archaeological findings in Central America, where stele art and cave paintings have confirmed that the Maya ball game was governed by its own set of replay rulings.

Independent teams of archaeologists from the University of Michigan and Stanford have found evidence that disputes in games were resolved by an elaborate replay system. First working independently, they’ve now combined their research into this extensive report, co-published in Science and Sports Illustrated this month.

Of course, video technology was many centuries away in the future. But Maya ingenuity figured out a way to get around that hurdle in a creative fashion. Former Maya ball game players would position themselves around the field observing the actions of their contemporaries. If a controversial play occurred and a coach threw out his challenge marker, the former players would rely on their keen observation and game skills to reenact the play at a slower motion for officials to take a second or third look. According to limited data collected in the findings, officials’ calls were overturned about 36 percent of the time.

Key clue: Heiroglyphs and art on this pot helped researchers figure out that instant replay was a key part of Maya ball game officiating.
Key clue: Heiroglyphs and art on this pot helped researchers figure out that instant replay was a key part of Maya ball game officiating.Courtesy Loryn Leonard
Heiroglyphs explaining the process were careful to note how critical it was to get the calls correct in games, especially those at the highest level where the losing teams would be sacrificed. After three consecutive years of bad calls in championship games leading to the deaths of what should have been victorious players, the replay system was implemented.

Further causing the move to replay rulings was the large amount of wagers gamblers placed on the games each year at Chichen Itza, the Las Vegas of Maya cities. After that run of poor officiating, gambling leaders who had taken huge financial losses on the altered outcomes threatened ball game leaders with execution if they didn’t come up with a more just system of deciding calls.

Ha!
Ha!Courtesy Wikipedia
And looking at the infamous Maya calendar, the new replay system was put into effect on the Gregorian Calendar equivalent of April 1, 1414 BCE, exactly 1600 years ago today, April Fool’s Day 2014.!

Dec
02
2013

Scott Anfinson
Scott AnfinsonCourtesy Scott Anfinson
Hey there! Do you know that we have a State Archaeologist here in Minnesota? Meet Scott Anfinson the 3rd State Archaeologist of Minnesota. Scott came to visit us and while talking to him, we’ve learned some interesting things about the burial mounds in Minnesota. We’ve learned about the Lidars (shots of lasers that are use to scan the ground from above, used to detect mounds) that are used to detect the mounds and the importance of his job of protecting them. We’ve interviewed him with some questions and will like to share some of his answers to you about his job experiences.

What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
When I was 8 years old, I received a book for Christmas, that was all about dinosaurs. It showed mainly these guys who were digging in China in the Gobi Desert… That sparked my interest in digging and archaeology… However, at that time I didn’t know that paleontology and archaeology are different.

What is exactly a State Archaeologist? What is the significance of the job you do?
One of the jobs that I do for the state is, I’m in charge of all ancient burials that were made 100 or 12,000 years ago in Minnesota...
Some people would probably say to me “Why do we need an state archaeologist?.
First of all, I’ll say to them is, “Well who do you want to be in charge of all those 3,000 pioneer cemeteries and 12,000 Indian burial mounds? Who would be in charge if they asked,
“Can I disturb them?”, “Where are they?”
“What are the disturbance?”. I can help them find a solution.
I also help state agencies... It’s against the law to disturb any archaeological site on public property. So they need my help to figure out how to build their road, their trail, or their new visitor center by reducing the harm to the site.

How long have you’ve been the state archaeologist?
Started in 2006. So it’s been 7 years now.

What places you excavated?
I’ve never done archaeology in another country. I do almost all of my archeology right in the Midwest.

Have you ever misidentified anything or changed your mind about something you found?
Happens all the time... When you create a hypothesis, basically it is saying is “I think this what happened”. But you can never prove for sure if that’s what exactly what happened, but you can prove something that didn’t happen... What you do is, you can start eliminating the possibilities until you are left with possibly what probably caused it… Science proves the truth, it is just getting closer to some kind of truth, and that truth can change. For an example, one time when I was working on a site in western Minnesota and I found some burnt bones, which looked very much like hand bones from a human. I thought I had found a cremation burial, but then I noticed that the bone that I found must be a very big guy. I went over to the Bell Museum in the University of Minnesota and took the bones with me to look at them a little more carefully. And they were are actually a paw of a black bear… So I was wrong on my first conclusion.

As you can see the job of the an State Archaeologist is very important to the state. Meeting him, was a great opportunity because just learning what he does, really draws you closer to the importance of archaeology. It’s more than digging, it’s science!

Oct
23
2013

With the announcement of the Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana exhibit comming to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I was thinking back to all the questions I have had regarding dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.
Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Questions like: "Who gets to name Dinosaurs?" "What is this dinosaur named after?" and "What does this name mean?". I thought that I'd take some time here to answer these questions.

Jul
22
2013

Archaelogy Lab's Open House
Archaelogy Lab's Open HouseCourtesy SMM
On Youth Science Day, the KAYSC Heritage Crew joined the Archaeology Lab's open house, located behind the Dinosaur exhibit on the 3rd floor. There, archaeologists presented unique Oneota artifacts that were digged up in the 1959-1960 Sheffield Site excavation.
One of the interesting things that we learned is about the two garden hoes that were found on different two sites, St. Croix (Sheffield) and Red wing. Both are made from a animal shoulder blade and are used for the same purpose, but are not from the same local resources. One was made from a white-tailed deer at St. Croix (Sheffield) and the other was made from a bison at Red Wing. Does the Oneota have a connection with another tribe? Is this a sign of trade or technology exchange?

Mar
07
2013

Good day sunshine: Scientists have found a sunstone on a sunken ship, similar to the devices believed to help Vikings navigate the seas on cloudy days.
Good day sunshine: Scientists have found a sunstone on a sunken ship, similar to the devices believed to help Vikings navigate the seas on cloudy days.Courtesy ArniEin
One legend connected to the Nordic Vikings got a strong jolt of reality with the discovery of a possible "sunstone" on a shipwreck off of Great Britain. Viking lore claimed that the sailors used such a stone to determine the position of the sun, even on cloudy days or when the sun had dropped below the horizon.

The stone is an Icelandic spar about the size of a pack of cigarettes that has a crystal appearance. Due to its shape and material, the sunstone can diffract light into two distinct rays which can be used to determine the position of the sun. This particular stone was found on a ship that sank in 1592 and was found close to other navigational equipment. The theory is that the stone would have been used as a back-up to a conventional compass on the more modern ship.

Why have no Viking sunstones been found? The strongest theory is that the stones were shattered in the cremation rituals given to dead Vikings. Researchers will now be able to tinker with the newly found sunstone to learn more about how Vikings possibly used them.

Feb
05
2013

Royal bones: This is how archaeologists found the bones of King Richard III buried beneath a parking lot in Greyfriar's, England.
Royal bones: This is how archaeologists found the bones of King Richard III buried beneath a parking lot in Greyfriar's, England.Courtesy University of Leicester
Today, many of our former leaders get dropped into the dust bin of cable news commentators and talk radio hosts. But 500 years ago, the options appeared to be a little more drastic.

Researchers yesterday announced that they've confirmed that the bones they found last fall buried under a parking lot in Greyfriars, England, are that of infamous King Richard III.

Further investigation of his full skeleton shows that King Richard suffered traumatic, and fatal, injuries in the course of fighting the Battle of Bosworth. But further analysis also shows that he very likely suffered "humiliation injuries" after his death, signs of displeasure from those who did not agree with his politics or leadership. Click here to learn more about the scientific techniques being used to glean this forensic information from the king. Included is a graphic description of the humiliation injuries King Richard sustained.

Studying bones: Preliminary studies show King Richard had severe scoliosis, but not the hunchback that his post-reign critics want us to believe.
Studying bones: Preliminary studies show King Richard had severe scoliosis, but not the hunchback that his post-reign critics want us to believe.Courtesy University of Leicester
Authorities are also saying that finding the remains of King Richard will reopen the thinking of the young monarch's short reign. Popular depiction since his death was that King Richard was an evil, ruthless killer. Following his demise, a different branch of monarchy came into power and very well could have had an agenda of discrediting his legacy. Already, the discovery of the bones show that Richard III did suffer from severe scoliosis, but probably didn't have the hunchback that legend claims. Could this be the first of several King Richard III myths to be debunked?

After the research is completed, the plan is to entomb King Richard's remains at Leicester Cathedral and to have an interpretive center across the street to tell the details of king's newly discovered story.

Video summary:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/richard-iiis-remains-found-un...

Nov
30
2011

A couple weeks ago, I introduced Buzzketers to scenario-based decision-making (SBDM) as a way to plan for an unknowable future. You can check out that original post here.

In theory, scenario-based decision-making (SBDM) is a four-step process:

ORIENT: Identify the client, issue, and participants.
EXPLORE: Conduct pre-workshop participant interviews to identify both the important certain and uncertain factors/drivers.
SYNTHESIZE: Participants develop different, but equally plausible scenarios. They focus not on what should be, but on what could be. They discuss implications and effects of each scenario and identify possible early indicators.
ENGAGE: Plans of action are developed that answer what should happen if a given scenario “comes true.”
Finger painting: Also less science and more art.
Finger painting: Also less science and more art.Courtesy CrazyUncleJoe

As with most good things, in reality, SBDM is not a tidy four-step process; it’s less of a science and more of an art. Last month, I got to be a fly on the wall at the St. Paul Climate Change Adaptation Scenario Planning Workshop (“Workshop”), an exercise in SBDM that took place right here at the Science Museum of Minnesota. My next post will be primarily about the conclusions of my group and the Workshop as a whole, but first I want to share a general observation:

SBDM is messy because people are messy. We each have unique personalities, experiences, and values that cause us to think about the world around us differently than everyone else. That’s pretty cool! But you can see why asking a group of individuals to collaborate on a thought experiment might be troublesome. It’s kind of like trying to get all the balls in the cart after recess. Order from chaos.

The Workshop’s goal was to have a discussion between three groups of people that don’t often have the opportunity to talk deeply about climate change: public professionals, business people, and academicians. Talk about a group with different personalities, experiences, and values!

Asking scientists and engineers to make educated guesses about the future is tricky. Asking decisionmakers to talk about what could be instead of what should be is tricky. Why? Because doing so goes against how they usually go about their business. Scientists and engineers are trained to study a world that can be measured and repeated. Decisionmakers are trained to make their best judgments for the future and rule out inferior possibilities. In asking them to make educated guesses about a possible future, even if it’s not a future for which they would hope, SBDM asks both groups to go outside their comfort zone.

The beauty of SBDM is that it takes messy people outside their comfort zone to create a masterpiece of a resource that will help plan for an unknowable future.

Nov
18
2011

In preparing to write this post, I was investigating ways in which we as a society plan for an unknowable future. Naturally, I began with psychics (wouldn’t you?). Did you know that there is an American Association of Psychics? Or that right here in St. Paul you can pay $150.00 for your “One Year Future Forecast” or a “Five Year Future Overview” at a place called Astrology by MoonRabbit? And my personal favorite, did you know that in 1995 it broke that the U.S. government had spent millions of dollars on psychic research?
Sketchy in a haunting way: I think I will take my future elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.
Sketchy in a haunting way: I think I will take my future elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.Courtesy stephanie

You’ll be happy to know public officials and decisionmakers (following the lead of businesses) have developed a better method to plan for an unknowable future called scenario-based decision-making. That sounds fancy and all, but it really begins with a simple tool: imagination.

Before you get all up in arms saying, “KelsiDayle, imagination isn’t that much better than psychics,” let me correct you: Yes, it is. At least it can be.

What were you thinking? That decisionmakers willy nilly imagined any old plan for the future?! No. Not when their using SBDM (my fingers are lazy, so I’ve created my own acronym for the much longer scenario-based decision-making… you know, what we’re talking about here). The key to SBDM is plausibility (believability, credibility, or having an appearance of truth or reason). Participants of varied expertise get together and hash out the facts they know and make a list of the important unknowns. Then they use their imagination to project (kind of like predict, but based on present facts) multiple future scenarios that are different but equally plausible given what they know and what they expect might happen to the unknowns. Finally, they create plans for how they might respond to each scenario. Ta-da!

Alright, it’s more complicated than that, but I don’t want to overwhelm you too much… at least not in one blog post, so I’m going to write a series of posts.

Up next, I’ll share about my own experience with SBDM, the city of St. Paul, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

A psychic told me it’s going to be great.

Nov
11
2011

On November 10, 2011, at 17:25 UTC (or 11:25am Central Standard Time), a shallow quake occured in Greece about 11.8 miles NE of the town of Patras. According to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, this earthquake had a magnitude of 5.1 (later downgraded to a 4.6) and was a relatively shallow quake at 5 km (approximately 3.1 miles) below the Earth's surface.

This region is characterized by a high level of seismicity, and small tremors are continually recorded along the coast of Patras. Another interesting aspect of Patras is that in antiquity, there was an ancient oracle, over a sacred spring, dedicated to the goddess Demeter. Professor Iain Stewart from the University of Plymouth has been studying a supposed link between ancient. sacred places in Greece and Turkey and seismic fault lines. Many ancient temples and cities lie along those fault lines and this may not be merely due to chance, but they may have been placed there deliberately.The Temple of Apollo at Delphi with Mount Parnassus in the Background
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi with Mount Parnassus in the BackgroundCourtesy Wikimedia Commons

For example, the Oracle at Delphi has been given a geological explanation. The Delphi Fault (running east-west) and the Kerna Fault (running SE-NW) intersect near the oracular chamber in the Temple of Apollo. In that area, bituminous limestone (i.e. limestone containing bitumen, a tarlike deriviative of petroleum) has a petrochemical content as high as 20%. Analysis of spring water in the area showed the presence of hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene. Geologists have hypothesized that friction from fault movement heats the limestone, causing the petrochemicals within to vaporize. It has been suggested that exposure to low levels of the sweet-smelling gas ethylene would induce a trance, or euphoric state. Could the naturally occuring ethylene account for the strange, prophetic behavior of the Pythia (the priestess at the Temple of Apollo)?

The Delphi research is certainly persuasive, and received favorable coverage in the popular press and Scientific American, but it has come under criticism. Critics argue that the concentrations of ethylene identified by the researchers would not be sufficient to induce a trance-like state, and thus the connection to the mantic behavior of the Pythia is dubious.

Report: Geomythology: Geological Origins of Myths and Legends
Article: Breaking the Vapour Barrier: What Made the Delphic Oracle Work?
Report: Oracle at Delphi May Have Been Inhaling Ethylene Gas Fumes

Related Report: Earthquake Faulting at Ancient Cnidus, SW Turkey

Oct
26
2011

Danse Macabre: Artwork Inspired by the Black Plague.
Danse Macabre: Artwork Inspired by the Black Plague.Courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons
Halloween is coming up soon and what better way to scare the tar out of everybody than with another Black Plague story.

Researchers from Germany and Canada have now determined that the pathogen existing today that infects the human population with bubonic plague is the same one that caused the horrific pandemic known as the Black Plague (aka Black Death) during the Middle Ages,

In the 14th century (1347-1351) the the plague devastated much of Europe. It was brought on by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and thought to have originated in China. Rats, infested with fleas carrying the bacteria, spread the fatal pathogen via the trade routes and across Europe, wiping out one-third of the human population. This is a conservative estimate; some claim as much as 60 percent of the population was eradicated!

Whatever the case, imagine even a third of all your acquaintances, friends, and relatives suddenly dying from what one 14th century chronicler described as “so virulent a disease that anyone who only spoke to them was seized by a mortal illness and in no manner could evade death.”

And it was an extremely horrible death, to say the least, as Michael Platiensis makes clear in his writings from 1357:

“Those infected felt themselves penetrated by a pain throughout their whole bodies and, so to say, undermined. Then there developed on the thighs or upper arms a boil about the size of a lentil which the people called "burn boil". This infected the whole body, and penetrated it so that the patient violently vomited blood. This vomiting of blood continued without intermission for three days, there being no means of healing it, and then the patient expired.“

[Above quoted in Johannes Nohl, The Black Death, trans. C.H. Clarke (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 18-20]

The Black Plague was the second of three great waves of plague that raged across Europe during historical times. The first, known historically as the Plague of Justinian, took place in the 6th century and affected the Byzantine Empire and much of Europe. The last major wave, known as the Great Plague of London, killed about 100,000 of the city’s population in 1664-65. In the two centuries that followed, waves after wave of the plague continued to devastate the European population although on a lesser scale. These outbreaks although sometimes as virulent, were often more isolated regionally or within a city and kept Europe’s population from rebounding for a good century and a half.

The plague presents itself in three ways: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. All three infections are caused by Y. pestis. With bubonic plague, the lymph nodes become painfully swollen into what are termed buboes – hence the name bubonic. Scepticemic plague, the rarest of the three forms, infects the blood. Both bubonic and scepticemic, if left untreated, result in death between 3-7 days after infection. Pneumonic is the most contagious since it infects the lungs and is easily spread through the air in a spray of water droplets. It’s also the most lethal and usually kills its victims in one to three days. Each form can present itself on its own or can progress into all three. It’s thought the Black Plague was mainly a combination of the bubonic and pneumonic forms. (The practice still used today of saying, “Bless you” after someone sneezes is a holdover from the 14th century plague) The only defense against the pandemic was avoidance of fleas and the fatally sick. Not easy to pull off when rats and the afflicted were widespread. Infected families were generally quarantined, their houses marked with a red cross, and left to fend for themselves.

The plague had a tremendous effect on European life in the Middle Ages. The Hundred Years’ War actually paused briefly in 1348 for lack of soldiers. The plague had wiped out too many of them. Economically, wages rose sharply because the workforce was also greatly reduced. Shop owners suffered because no one dared step outside the confines of their own homes, so supplies rose and prices dropped. The removal of the rotting corpses required relatives either doing it themselves and further risking infection, or paying premium prices for some other poor schlub to do it. The dead were buried as quickly as possible, often in mass graves.

In the recent research which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Johannes Krause and his colleagues extracted DNA from the tooth enamel of five corpses from one of these 14th century mass burial sites in London (under the Royal Mint!). Using the latest technology to sequence the DNA fragments, the researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany, and McMaster University in Canada, decoded a circular genome called pPCP1 plasmid that comprises about 10,000 positions in the Y. pestis DNA. When they compared it with the genome of the pathogen’s current strain, the genetic information appeared to have changed very little over the past six centuries. (It should be noted that the researchers suspect the pathogen that occurred in the 6th century may have been a now-extinct strain of Y. pestis or one completely unrelated to bubonic plague.)

So, that means the very same nasty contagion – the one that terrorized and devastated so much of Europe for so many centuries in the Middle Ages - is still with us today. Luckily, the bubonic plague can be held at bay with antibodies if treated in time. But what happens if Yersinia pestis mutates into a strain against which current antibodies are useless? If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, I don’t know what will.

Happy Halloween!

SOURCES and LINKS
Scientific Computing story
The Black Plague by Dr. Skip Knox, Boise State
Plague symptons and signs – in case you get it
Nifty Black Death quiz – thanks Liza!