Friday, May 30, 2008

Stonehenge Secrets

The dating of bodies buried around Stonehenge will be one of the subjects covered on the National Geographic show Stonehenge Decoded. First showing: June 1. But already you can play around on the website, with interactive maps and building simulations.

Turns out Stonehenge may have started out as a cemetery for Really Important People. There are over 200 graves holding cremated bodies, and they date back to periods before the stones were raised. The age of the graves covers several centuries, leading some archaeologists to theorize that this is the cemetery for one great, kingly family that held power for a long time.

It's just too cool. I can't wait for the show. Here's a link to video about the latest discoveries. The story from the June National Geographic Magazine is online too. And this picture's from their site; one of an incredible online gallery.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pictures of Troy

Just polishing up a quick article called "Did Troy Exist?" and after my research on Schliemann, Dorpfeld, and most recently Manfred Korfmann, I came across this site with photographs of the archaeological site of Troy, in Turkey.

Troy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but this website is part of Livius: Articles on Ancient History. And that's all I know--except that the pictures are neat. This one is of the southern gate of Troy VI and VII--the Bronze Age fortress believed to be the Troy where Homer's Iliad is based. It was destroyed over 3000 years ago.

Monday, May 19, 2008

BBC Knowledge

Found the press release about the previously-mentioned BBC Knowledge Magazine.

Doesn't look too promising for freelancers: according to this story, the magazine "will draw on the publisher's existing portfolio of quality specialist factual titles including the award-winning popular science title Focus, BBC History Magazine and BBC Wildlife Magazine."

Why? Why do they not want original content? If this magazine is expected to appeal to National Geographic's readership--a lofty ambition--seems kind of arrogant to assume that recycled stories are the items for which intellectual Americans are starved.

Magazines: Bad News Monday

Here's a quickie: ad pages for the first half of 2008 are down 11.13%, according to MinOnline. That means less money to buy the wonderful ideas of freelancers. Not all magazines were down, of course: Bicycling and Runner's World and a few others are exceptions.

OTOH, The Wooden Horse reports that BBC Knowledge Magazine is scheduled for an American rollout in August. Now that's more my kind of publication!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Crystal Skulls Stolen!

My one-time home town, Claremont, CA, doesn't make the TV news often (although it was among the 5 best places to live last year according to Money Magazine)--but when it does, it's pretty wacky.

A New Age shop called Kindred Spirits had a crystal skull on display, and yup, it's gone. According to the Claremont Insider blog and the Daily Bulletin, the skull was on loan and had been displayed for about four months. The owner says it was solid quartz crystal, probably from Brazil, has healing powers . . . . and there are eleven others and if the set is ever assembled together-which-is-destined-to-happen-information-will-be-revealed-to-humanity (I'm wincing as I write this, but if you want to read more along this vein try

So maybe the thief is collecting the entire set?

The store's owner says the skull "likes to travel." Right, blame it on the victim. Jeesh!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pawnshop Francais

"Paris has the Louvre of Pawnshops" proclaims the Los Angeles Times. Their May 12 story is about a Paris pawnshop founded in 1777, affectionately known as Auntie. It's real name is Credit Municipal of Paris, it's on the Right Bank, and here's its pedigree:

  • Auguste Rodin hocked his statues to pay for tools

  • Claude Monet gave up his wife's medallion, and when she died, he had a friend buy it back so she could wear it in her coffin.

  • Items pawned there recently include an $8,000 bottle of Burgundy ("People can now exchange liquidity for liquidity" jokes the the director-general)

  • Other clients have included Victor Hugo (who set a scene in Les Miserables there), Emile Zola, and Paul Verlaine

The shop, like all pawnshops in France (there are only 19) is run by the city on a not-for-profit basis. Auntie owns "a sprawling underground maze of rooms that now hold 76,000 boxes of jewelry, racks of furs and countless odds and ends as well as a collection of art second in size only to the Louvre.," per the Times. Ma fois, what I wouldn't give to poke around there.

An MSN story gives more details about the wine business there. MSN says that 93% of the customers redeem their treasures, but 2 or 3 auctions per week are held to dispose of unredeemed articles.

The store, at 55 la Marais (a street where shops are allowed to stay open on Sundays) is called "chez ma tante" or Auntie because for 200 years people have been saying they left jewelry or heirlooms "at my auntie's house." Read about the street itself at Paris Info or Paris Marais.

The Bordeaux Undiscovered blog has a nice article on the shop as well, which is where I found the picture. And all these sites use the same phrases in their story so I suppose there was a major press release in April.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Caesar in Gaul

An exciting find in the Rhone River in France: a bust of Julius Caesar tentatively dated to 46 BC. That would be eight years after he put his finishing touches on the conquest of Gaul.

This AP pictures is copied from the CNN story. CBS and other outlets cover it, but all reports seem to be the same, original AP text.

The bust had been thrown into the river with other items, including a bronze satyr about 27 inches high, and a marble Neptune, 5' 9".

"The site has barely been skimmed," according to Michel L'Hour, who is in charge of the divers who found the articles a few months ago. More dives and research will be done this summer.

The site is near Arles, a city founded by Caesar. The Celts had a habit of making river offerings, but to throw a bunch of Roman statues into the river--from a city founded by Romans, who were probably hated--may have less to do with offerings and more to do with revolt. My guess. Since the statues aren't destroyed or broken though, who knows?

Commensurate Pay

Like most freelancers, I troll job boards online. Craig's List, Deborah Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs, Angela Hoy's Writer's Weekly, Problogger, and on and on.

The pay range is amazing. For every precious $50 per post blog, there are dozens that want to pay zip, or near zip. The Curmudgeon (why isn't he posting?) delights in exposing these sleazebags, but I must put in my two cents as well.

One site wants to employ about 5 freelancers to fill its need for 80-90 posts per month. This site is about pet lovers; they expect their writers to contribute reports on shows, training, medical care, nutrition, the works. How much do they pay? $5 for under 500 words, $10 for 500-1000 words, and a whopping $15 for over 1000 words. Just think--one could work full-time to meet their needs, and still earn less than $25 per day. What an opportunity.

But at least they pay. Another site lists "Commensurate" under their pay category. Commensurate with what? Here's what their job posting says about why you should work for them:

" At this point you’re probably asking yourself “Why should I do this? I have plenty of other things to do!” I hear ya! But here’s the benefit:

  • SleazeSite is a powerful brand ... your visibility in the industry will greatly increase by being affiliated with us. And we all know how important image is in the marketing world!
  • We know you have your opinions of the industry… this is the perfect place to rant about that brand that you think has it all wrong… or an awesome ad campaign that really turned you on. Your friends probably don’t care to hear every marketing related thought that runs through you head – but you can let it all out in a SleazeSite blog!
  • Wow does SleazeSite look great on a resume! Add this experience to your list of amazing-ness
  • You can show off to all your co-workers that you write for SleazeSite "

Does that sound to you like a site that will be sending you a 1099 next January? I've figured out what they mean by commensurate. Commensurate with your level of stupidity. If you take this job, you deserve what you get: nothing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Boo, Brian Fagan

Just finished The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian Fagan. It was a fascinating read, up to a point. I planned to get his newest book (The Long Summer is from 2004) when I was done. How fascinating to read about ancient people and how they were shaped by climate, right?

Towards the end comes a chapter called "Celts and Romans: 1200 BC to AD 900." Wow, right up my alley! I've been studying the Iron Age Celts for years! What insights would I glean?

Unfortunately, almost every paragraph about the Celts contained errors of fact and unsubstantiated exaggerations and generalizations. I'll try not to nitpick, but if I can pick out inaccuracies, to me that casts aspersions over the entire book.
Here are some quotes:

  • (speaking, I think, of the time immediately after 1200 BC) "In the well-wooded north [of Europe] the egalitarian farming societies of earlier times had given way to small competing dynasties of local chiefs. . . chief vied with chief in the acquisition of the currency of success. This currency was in the form of prestigious ornaments--Baltic amber, and above all, shiny bronze." I'm suspicious. I can't disprove this, but I don't think it can be proven, either. The presence of Baltic amber and bronze in graves does not imply the other generalizations about their society.

  • "These people had no powerful kings or centralized bureaucracies. . . Most people dwelled in small, round houses. . . " Suspicion gives way to skepticism. How would he know how powerful or bureaucratic kings/chiefs were 3,000 years ago? He can't. Also, he refers to finds in Germany in this paragraph, so presumably we're talking about the continental Celts. Round houses were popular only in Britain.

  • (speaking of the period after 850 BC) "Raiding and warfare were now an integral part of daily life. In some places, war became endemic, so much so that chiefs built strong fortified settlements. . . By 600 BC, temperate Europe was a landscape of hill forts. . . " His cited source here is Barry Cunliffe's The Ancient Celts. I have that book; Cunliffe speaks of a period of stability around 1000 BC that sparked a rise in population "in some areas" and increased use of farmland. "Hill forts . . . were constructed in some number, indicating that the coercive power of some sector of the population was now able to command surplus labor to aggrandize or protect a chosen settlement. . . " Cunliffe also points out that around 520 BC in the Hallstatt zone, some hill forts were abandoned and others grew larger. But I don't think that translates into any of Fagan's generalizations. OK, at this point I am nitpicking; I admit it.

So I'd better stop. Read Barry Cunliffe yourself, or Peter Beresford Ellis, or Simon James, if you want to know about the Celts. Do not trust Fagan's words--I think most experts would not even accept his broad definition of Celt, which seems to cover every tribe in Europe, except those on the Italian peninsula.

This picture, btw, is of the remains of an oppidum, or hill fort, in France near Huelgoat forest. (Fagan claims that the Celts pretty much deforested areas building their hill forts. But the ancient forests were not cut away, and were quite large back then, according to other sources.)

My point, to re-iterate, is when an authority (which Fagan certainly is) gets the facts wrong in one section of his book, or indulges in generalizations so broad that they become fiction, it shadows all his work on the rest of the book. What parts can I trust?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Snail Mail Postage

Letters now cost .42 each to mail. Postcards are .27.

Envelopes over 6 inches wide or 11-1/2 inches long are .83 for the first ounce, .17 for additional ounces. Which makes it convenient if you're just over an ounce with your clips or proposal: it's $1 even.

The Post Office is so thoughtful that way.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Car Park Dig

Gotta love this story from the BBC: "Archaeology Dig in Car Park Site." The car park's already there, and apparently wants to expand--but 1000-year-old curios must be investigated first.

Realizing that big bucks are involved, I've always wondered about the thick, tall fences that surround construction sites. Are they there to keep out prying eyes, as well as potential thieves? For two years, I watched an entire theater complex go up on a previously-vacant lot in Southern California. Mountains of dirt were moved from one corner to another in the first few months. By law (NAGPRA), if anything is found--pottery shards, charred campfire remains--authorities must be notified and work stopped.

But I wonder--would the landowners, investors, or even laborers say anything, knowing that their livelihood would be cut if work were halted? Is that part of the reason for a fence that no one can see through?

Just a thought. I have no real reason to believe that anything was found.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

BLM Finds Way go Fund Archaeology

An innovative way of funding archaeological digs has been hit on in the US Southwest, according to several papers--including this story in the Las Cruces (NM) Sun News. In areas that have been surveyed to death, companies that wish to develop gas and oil resources can choose to fund digs and exploration, rather than pay for more surveys that aren't needed.

The Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is behind this. Just goes to show that our bureacracies can bend in the right directions if everyone cooperates.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Moving Lists

List of things we DON'T have to do anymore when we move:

  • Notify every single newsletter and magazines of new address (Thank you, USPS)

  • Notify every friend and company with whom we do business (again, I kiss your feet, USPS)

  • Wait three weeks for the phone company to send someone out to explain why DSL doesn't work in the new place

  • Wait three days till a phone company technician physically hooks up your phone (the good old days. But I am not kissing Verizon's feet, no matter what)

  • Wait for electric and gas companies to visit and hook up your utilities

I'm old; I remember when utilities were turned off when a place was unoccupied and had to be reconnected by hand. And the post office used to sell moving kits with dozens of postcards for us to send to all our creditors and friends. Yuck.

I have to do so little that I've forgotten to order new business cards. will be my next stop as I surf.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Being Sick is No Fun

But at least I have work to do. And it's work I can do in my bathrobe, sitting around looking up things like fountain pens and American Indian populations and potato blights, in all the books that I refused to get rid of when I moved.

There is a public library across the street, of course. I thought that was wonderful when I moved here...then I found out that the only encyclopedia they have is the World Book Fact Book.

I'm only posting this to prove I haven't died or lost interest in blogging.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Daily Show Researcher

I'm adding that to my list of cool jobs. . . the one I started in the 80s when I heard of a guy who was paid big bucks to fly around the world and spot new trends in hair styles.

Adam Chodikoff gets to cull through videos till his eyes bleed. . . . ok, that doesn't sound so cool, now that I think about it. But as chief researcher at The Daily Show, he's the one who digs up all that archived video that the White House would just as soon we forget about.

Read about him here on the Washington Post site. And watch the clip; it's very funny.

Wish I had more to say but as I'm a sick puppy I'll just crawl back into my cave now.