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February 28, 2007

Cameron's Jesus tomb debunked

The other day I wrote about the manufactured circus surrounding the discovery of a cave reportedly containing the ossuaries of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. The scientific evidence is to be presented not in an academic journal but on a Discovery Channel TV special this Sunday. Unsurprisingly, archaeologists all over the world are starting to speak out. William Dever is one of them and his comments in a Washington Post article pretty much sum up my feelings as well:

"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight," said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated."

Dever goes on to comment:

"I've know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period," he said. "It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction."

Jodi Magness, a UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologist as quoted in the same Post article:

[Magness] expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this," she said.

Posted by Will at 04:03 PM | Comments (2)

Four Stone Hearth #10

Carl at Hot Cup of Joe is officially the most creative (and busiest) archaeologist-blogger out there with the latest edition of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival. In edition 10, he treats each entry as a translated ancient tablet. You'll have to check out it to understand.

Posted by Will at 10:57 AM

February 25, 2007

Stick to sinking ships and aliens, James

Update: skip below for some links and a video of the documentary trailer.

File this post under the "um, this is random" department: director James Cameron is set to unveil a documentary he is making that among other things, claims that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead and that he had a son with Mary Magdalene. Not that I need James Cameron to provide evidence of either tidbit, but what's really strange (and unsettling) is that he claims to have archaeological and DNA evidence of it all, including the coffins of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. From a Time.com blog post:

Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,"King Kong", whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. News about the film, which will be shown soon on Discovery Channel, Britain's Channel 4, Canada's Vision, and Israel's Channel 8, has been a hot blog topic in the Middle East. Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.

It's important to remember that we live in a post-Da Vinci Code, quasi-academic world where the lines between entertainment and science are blurring faster than ever before. We'll have to see what really happens at the press conference on Monday, but I'm having a hard time believing that this is legit (legit in the sense that Cameron is serious about his evidence).

Update: a story from Discovery.com

Update 2: Now you can watch this morning's press conference online by clicking here (a direct link to the video that will open in your default player). The Lost Tomb of Jesus show is to air this Sunday night at 9pm ET on the Discovery Channel. Like a good scientist, I'll reserve judgment until I see the show, but in the meantime you can watch a series of interviews with the filmmakers and browse the official Discovery.com website about the show...it's very shiny and soooo Indiana Jones!

Also, I did some Googling and Talmor Media is behind the promotion of the film. They have a truly over-the-top website at www.jesusfamilytomb.com with all sorts of "archaeological" information and a section on theological implications. Talmor Media's YouTube Page has a bunch of video clips if your anxious for a preview. Below is a trailer for the documentary that comes across more like a Hollywood production than a documentary. It has a bitchin' soundtrack that I want to play every time I'm on a dig, regardless of the situation.

The whole production and hype is interesting and the show itself will probably hold my attention, but the archaeological discovery of the millennium? Sheesh...

Posted by Will at 07:56 PM

February 24, 2007

Florida's Undeground Weirdness Magnet

There's a piece in the St. Petersburg Times this morning that puts into words what I've been thinking for over a year now: Florida is weird. Consider, for example, the recent headlines of Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut who drove from Texas to Orlando to confront a lover's lover, the Anna Nicole Smith drama down in Ft. Lauderdale, and a middle school principal right here in Tampa who bought crack from an undercover cop right in his office. Remember Debra Lafave, the would-be attractive Tampa teacher except for the fact that she molested one of her students? That happened before I moved to Tampa but apparently she is a waitress somewhere in the area. Politically, there was Mark Foley from Palm Beach who had creepy chats with young congressional pages. Palm Beach County can also be blamed for the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Some stories are just plain shameful and embarrassing, like when the entire country converged on Pinellas Park (just across the bay from me) and refused to let Terry Schiavo die in peace.

The media carries a lot of the blame. They latched on to the fact that Lisa Nowak was wearing a diaper when she drove from Texas to Florida. Um, fine, but what about all the murdering tools in her car? That seems of more consequence to the story than a diaper. Similarly, the media seemed to be seduced by Lavave's good looks. How could such a pretty woman have sex with such a young boy? Oh, by the way, that's illegal and stuff but she's so pretty!" And nothing needs to be said about the circus in Ft. Lauderdale.

My point is that strange things happen in every state of our union. Florida does seem to get its unfair share of weirdos and oddball stories, but the media who controls the flow of information from this state does nothing to help Florida's image. One could argue that Florida is a strange place by virtue of its large population. I think it's more than that. Carl Hiaasen, an author and columnist for the Miami Herald pretty much hits the nail right on its weird, strange, whacked-out head:

"This is a place where people come, and they're either running away from something or running after something," Hiaasen once said. "It's not where a stable, honest person comes. ... Anybody who lives here is just teetering on the brink of lunacy. And once you get used to the fact that you live in such an exuberant cesspool, then the art can begin."

I like to think that I'm a stable, honest person but after almost two years of living in Florida, I'm starting to second guess myself. Dave Barry, in a brilliant column in Friday's Miami Herald, believes that there is a giant Underground Weirdness Magnet:

"It's buried here somewhere," he wrote in his weekly column that ran Friday. "It has to be. How else can you explain why so many major freak-show news stories either happen, or end up, in South Florida?"

Posted by Will at 11:29 AM

February 23, 2007

Steven Pinker on Point of Inquiry

Be sure to check out this week's episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast with guest Steven Pinker. Pinker is one of the "superstars" of the academic world and has done a lot of work with language and human cognition, including some research with implications for linguistic anthropology. One of my personal heroes, Pinker could read the phone book and one would be enthralled for hours.


I hate to sound like an advertisement, but for those unfamiliar with Point of Inquiry it is a weekly podcast produced by the Center for Inquiry. I've been hooked for about a year now because it's so damn enlightening. Past guests include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, James Randi, Paul Kurtz, and many of the writers and editors for the magazines Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. Both magazines and their contributors have been major influences in my "escape to reality".

Posted by Will at 05:32 PM

February 15, 2007

Four Stone Hearth #9

A special, short-notice edition of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is up at Hot Cup of Joe. Props to Carl for filling in for Boas Blog. There are some great entries this week so check it out.

Update: Boas Blog has come through...more posts there.

Posted by Will at 07:08 AM

February 13, 2007

Good news?

Coming a day after Darwin's 198th birthday, I find it sad (and embarrassing) that in 2007 it is necessary to rejoice over the following news item:

Kans. ed board OKs evolution-centered science
TOPEKA, Kan. - The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning evolution that had made the state an object of ridicule.
The new guidelines reflect mainstream scientific views of evolution and represent a political defeat for advocates of “intelligent design,” who had helped write the standards that are being jettisoned.

Just for kicks, I copied the full text of the AP news story but replaced "evolution" with "gravity" and "intelligent design" with "intelligent adhesion." The result (below the fold) is comical yet just as ridiculous as the current "debate" about evolution.

TOPEKA, Kan. - The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning gravity that had made the state an object of ridicule.
The new guidelines reflect mainstream scientific views of gravity and represent a political defeat for advocates of “intelligent adhesion,” who had helped write the standards that are being jettisoned.
The intelligent adhesion concept holds that the laws of physics are so complex that they must have been created by a higher authority.
The state has had five sets of standards in eight years, with anti- and pro-gravity versions, each doomed by the seesawing fortunes of socially conservative Republicans and a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The board on Tuesday removed language suggesting that key gravitational concepts were controversial and being challenged by new research. Also approved was a new definition of science, specifically limiting it to the search for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe.
“Those standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what gravity is,” said Jack Krebs, a math and technology teacher who helped write the new guidelines. He is also president of Kansas Citizens for Science.
The state uses its standards to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science. Although decisions about what is taught in classrooms remain with 296 local school boards, both sides in the gravity dispute say the standards will influence teachers as they try to ensure that their students test well.
John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the Intelligent Adhesion Network, said under the new standards, “students will be fed an answer which may be right or wrong” about questions like the origin of life.
“Who does that model put first?” he said. “The student, or those supplying the preordained ‘natural explanation’?”
The Board of Education’s swing back wasn’t likely to settle the issue, given many Kansans’ religious objections and other misgivings about gravity.
“I don’t think this issue is going to go away. I think it’s going to be around forever,” board chairman Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who supports gravity-friendly standards, said before the vote.
“There’s this, I think, political agenda to just ensure that gravity is the driving, underlying notion that has to be accepted in Kansas science standards in order for Kansas to keep its head up in the world, which is just bizarre,” said board member Ken Willard, a Republican who supported the 2005 standards.
The debate has branched off into history, with the current board planning to delete a passage about abuses of science.
The wording mentioned the Nazis, forced sterilization and the decades-long Tuskegee syphilis study, in which public health officials falsely told poor, black men with the disease that they were being treated for it.
Critics claim the board is trying to sanitize the sometimes ugly history of science, while scientists argue the passage was inserted by supporters of intelligent adhesion during the last revision and unfairly targets abuses perceived as linked to gravity.
Last year, legal disputes or political, legislative or school debates over how gravity should be taught cropped up in at least seven other states. But none of those has inspired attention — or comedians’ jokes — like Kansas has since a conservative-led state board deleted most references to gravity in rewriting the standards in 1999.
Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” had a four-part “Gravity Schmgravity” series in 2005, and hearings that year drew journalists from Canada, France, Britain and Japan..

Posted by Will at 07:56 PM

February 12, 2007

Darwin Day!

I almost forgot...happy 198th birthday to Charles Darwin and happy Darwin Day 2007!

Posted by Will at 01:37 PM

Science, academia, and religion

Where should institutions draw the line between doing good science and permitting religious freedom? What is the value of research that is sound but is later used to mislead students? The New York Times has published an article today about Marcus R. Ross who was awarded a PhD. in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island. Not a small achievement by any means, except that now he now teaches at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia. The article brings attention to the Creationist movement and their lust for young students with advanced degrees from legitimate universities. Although unsettling, I don't see it as becoming too much of a problem but it's important to know that it is happening and needs to be called out for what it is: a misuse of good science. I agree that good and relevant research can be carried out whatever your personal beliefs, but I find it a travesty that the degree that results from such research should be used to propagate a completely faith-based (and thus unsupportable) view of the world.

Read the article here.

Posted by Will at 07:50 AM

February 11, 2007

The "history" of indie rock

I don’t like clichés, but I have noticed over the past couple of years the growing number of artists and music groups that appropriate a historical period as part of their image. Unconsciously or not, I am usually attracted to the music of such groups and while in theory their product should stand on its own, it doesn’t make the group less desirable to me that they are historically literate or dress like historical figures. I want to share some of my favorite groups and artists that look to history for inspiration and sometimes their sound. All the groups I talk about here are some of my favorite.

tod.jpgPerhaps the most fitting band for me to like is …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (or, “Trail of Dead” for short). Intriguing name, indeed. Formed in late 1994 in my home state of Texas, one would expect Trail of Dead to be some sort of crazy thrash metal band who worships Dimebag Darrel and Ozzy (when he used to bite the heads of off bats). Instead, Trail of Dead is one of the most artistically talented bands to emerge in the past decade and have, among other things, become the quintessential indie rock band. So why are they so fitting for me personally? Because much of their stage persona is derived from the ancient Maya civilization (note they formed well before Apocalypto was a glint of blood in Mel Gibson’s eye). Legend has it that the band’s name comes from a Maya ritual chant. Like Apocalypto, there’s little about Trail of Dead that is true ancient Maya, but the imagery and artwork is engrossing and adds to the pseudo-mystery of the band. At least they don’t focus on blood or dress like Maya kings.

decemberists.jpgOne of the more famous indie bands to appropriate historical imagery is The Decemberists. Their name is a variation of that given to the 19th century political uprising in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Portland-based band even dresses like historical figures for photo shoots. It’s hard to get a firm grasp on one particular historical period: their music and lyrics have to do with 19th Century Russia, Civil War-era America, and almost everything in between. Their music is good, their lyrics read like a novel, and they make catchy, happy (sometimes sad) pure indie rock music.

queen.jpgThe Good, the Bad, and the Queen is a band that I only found out about today and prompted me to write this post in the first place. I don’t know too much about them yet but their sound is great and they are made up of former members of really good bands. As a result, they are undoubtedly stuck with the questionable label of “side project.” The band consists of Damon Albarn of Blur, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, the former guitarist from the Verve Simon Tong, and according to Wikipedia an Afrobeat pioneer named Tony Allen. As they’re still new to me, I’m not completely sure of their use of history, but the name and album art (pictured) is clearly reminiscent of a historical period.

newsom.jpgJoanna Newsom is a young musician from California that plays the harp, piano, and harpsichord and offers up her own brand of singing. Yes, her singing style is truly unique and I’ve never heard anything like it, but her music is mind blowing in its scope and sincerity. It’s emotional, beautiful, heartbreaking at times, and uplifting at others. Newsom’s connection to history comes from the classical feel of her music and the artwork of her latest album, the 5-song LP Ys. This is not an easy album to digest if you’re used to pop music that you hear on the radio. It’s even a bit difficult to those in to weird indie music, but after a few listens I was hooked and it became one of my favorite albums to relax to before going to bed.

Posted by Will at 01:16 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2007

Religion and archaeology in Jerusalem

Another example of the clash between religion and science, this time at the very location where it all started, Jerusalem. From Time.com:

jerusalem.jpgAmid the old city of Jerusalem and rising above it is the ancient site of Solomon's Temple and the point from which the Prophet Mohammed journeyed to Heaven. Holy to Jews and Muslims, it is as dangerous these days as a ticking atom bomb. Any readjustment of its ancient stones can detonate outrage among millions of faithful around the world. On Friday, Muslims in Jerusalem protested against Israeli excavation work next to al-Aqsa, one of Islam's holiest shrines, which sits atop the site. Around the world, Muslims declared a universal "day of anger," Israeli police stormed into the Muslim compound and fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths trying to hurl stones at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Israeli police claim that 17 protesters and 15 police officers were injured in the clashes, but Palestinians say many more were hurt in skirmishes around the mosque grounds.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 06:32 PM

February 05, 2007


I was browsing the Washington Post this morning and saw this story. I almost couldn't believe my eyes:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals -- including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders -- in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

The anthropologist in question is Lt. Col. David Kilcullen of Australia, who has studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia. Kilcullen will be chief adviser on counterinsurgency. Also,

Kilcullen has served in Cyprus, Papua New Guinea and East Timor and most recently was chief strategist for the State Department's counterterrorism office, lent by the Australian government. His 2006 essay "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency" was read by Petraeus, who sent it rocketing around the Army via e-mail. Among Kilcullen's dictums: "Rank is nothing: talent is everything" -- a subversive thought in an organization as hierarchical as the U.S. military.

So, not only do we now have an actual anthropologist in a position of (potentially) great military power, we have a man in charge who actually reads...anthropological literature. I have yet to decide if Kilcullen is a good decision or not (I know absolutely nothing about him or his policies) but we're definitely moving in the right direction if fresh ideas are being explored. Are we finally on the right track in Iraq?

Update: Ed Batista wrote an article about a month ago about Kilcullen that talks about his article on counterinsurgency. Also, Savage Minds had a post about social scientists and the military (with some good discussion in the comments) and links to a New Yorker article about the issue.

Posted by Will at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

February 01, 2007

Sharing anthropological knowledge: the future

I met a colleague the other day in my department who is also a blogger and actually came across Nomadic Thoughts through the growing network of Anthropology-related blogs on the internet. I was pleased for two main reasons: I'm not the only one who does this at USF and I didn't realize that the internet-based anthropology movement was as big as it is. The website Anthropology 2.0: Rethinking Why and How "Information is Power" sums up many of the aspects of internet publishing and idea sharing such as the debate surrounding Open Access and blogging in general. So what is Anthropology 2.0? Marc (author of the 2.0 website) writes:

Anthropology 2.0 may refer to the current stage in the evolution of anthropology, as a discipline being impacted by information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as cell phones, computers and the Internet. Similar to computer software upgrades from the original version often identified as 1.0 to the new and improved 2.0 version, the current stage of the Internet’s evolution is popularly called Web 2.0. The term Web 2.0 also implies that creating, collaborating and disseminating information is easier and more widespread than before.

The many who communicate professionally online are far ahead of the curve in my opinion. The internet has permeated virtually every aspect of our lives and a growing portion of the population, especially in research fields, literally cannot do their job without an internet connection. Traditional ways of sharing knowledge will always be with us (journals, conferences, etc.) but the future of the discipline is online and I predict within 10 or 15 years, maybe less, as older generations of anthropologists retire and newer ones ascend to positions of power as department chairs, journal editors, and society presidents we will see a more profound move to "digital academia." It also helps to recognize the fact that the field of academic anthropology (and even archaeology in the public sector to an extent) is all about who you know. By maintaining a presence online, potential connections are increased dramatically. This is particularly important to job seekers.

That being said, I can easily recognize the hesitancy of academics and students eyeing academic jobs to share their thoughts about the field and their research in an online setting (department politics, anyone?). The realm of public research has much to gain from electronic dissemination and idea-sharing. As my favorite graduate school professor often reminds her students, "all archaeology is public." This is especially true when public funds are underwriting cultural resource management projects. One of the great debates within public archaeology is what to make of the mountains of "gray literature" that is produced from government or privately contracted projects. This, I feel is where the effects of Anthropology 2.0 will be most felt and why non-academic research will experience a revolution of sorts in the coming years.

Posted by Will at 09:58 PM

USF Anthropology second in the nation

USF Anthropology Department Named Second in U.S. in Public Engagement by the Center for Public Anthropology
TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2007) – The University of South Florida’s department of anthropology is second in the nation in public engagement, according to a recent ranking by the Hawaii-based Center for Public Anthropology.
The ranking assesses academic departments’ levels of public visibility and engagement, using factors such as citations in public media, collaborative programs involving the community, and the engaged scholarship and outreach of individual faculty members.
The USF department of anthropology is widely recognized for its focus on applied anthropology, and has several active engaged units, including the Alliance for Applied Research in Education and Anthropology, the Center for Applied Anthropology, and the West Central Regional Public Archaeology Center.
The ranking included 394 schools, with Michigan State University at the top, followed in the Top 10 by USF; University of Pennsylvania; Arizona State University; University of California, Berkeley; Emory University; University of Arizona; University of California, Irvine; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Boston University; University of Washington; and Harvard University.

Full news release here.

Posted by Will at 09:50 PM