Friday, May 14, 2010

Monkey and the Inkpot--Archaeology

I grabbed a couple of recent issues of the magazine Archaeology from the library this week. Archaeology has always seemed like a fascinating fusion of strict science (appealing to the SF writer in me) and romantic discovery of other cultures (appealing to the fantasist in me). I'm well aware that the reality of archaeological work is far from that romanticism...so I'm very happy there are those willing to do the tedious work so that I can keep my wide-eyed excitement with the things they uncover.

These two issues range everywhere from Paleolithic India (where some scientists think the evidence shows a continuity of human settlement that doesn't fit with the usual dating of certain events in the evolution of homo sapiens) to 19th century New Jersey (where Napoleon's older brother had a mansion). Sense of wonder stuff.

One especially interesting article is on the Salado style of pottery, which spread in the American Southwest from about AD 1275 to 1450. The pottery is strange in the way it crosses cultures, bringing particular patterns and motifs with them...but most of the rest of the cultures keep their own distinct aspects. So it's not a matter of these various peoples all suddenly becoming homogeneous. The writer argues that a surge in women refugees (their men having been slaughtered in a series of wars) led to a new, as the writer calls it, "poor women's religion" as a way of forming solidarity among these people of various cultures and incorporating them, eventually, into the community. The cultures they came to were often matrilineal, so the refugee couldn't just marry in to the community. Instead, then, this new religion served to diffuse tensions and bring the refugees in to the local society.

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