History begins at Sumer, Samuel Noah Kramer

          These last weeks a paper/grant maelstrom have prevented me from devoting much time to the blog, so this post has taken me quite a while. I have tried to distract myself reading some old archaeology books, among which there was a classic on archaeological divulgation: History begins at Sumer, by Samuel Noah Kramer. A renowned expert on Sumerian language and epigraphy active on the mid- 20th c., this book reminds us of a time when divulgation was considered to be an important part of the life of the scholar, before indexed journals and points for tenure deprived us of general books by foremost scholars.

Kramer Sumer

Do not get me wrong, it was not an easy book, and it took me a little while to read it. Although this kind of books was destined for the general public, the scholars who wrote them tried constantly to remind the reader of their great intellectual capabilities by writing them in the most convoluted manner possible; this makes sometimes difficult to get engaged with them. This is also true in the case of Kramer’s work, although in all fairness the intrinsic difficult of the Sumerian texts does not help either.

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Feitos Alternativos: Un Campo de Batalla Arqueolóxico

En tempos recentes a política dos Estados Unidos ten motivado unha preocupación global nos efectos na nosa sociedade polo que ten sido chamado Feitos Alternativos. Basicamente mentiras. Que os gobernos mintan é unha constante histórica; non se pode dicir moito máis diso. Pero o que estamos a confrontar eiquí non é a ocultación ou rexeitamento de feitos. É a máxima, a profunda crenza por algunhas persoas de que existe outra realidade baseada nas súas opinións é que resulta igualmente válida. Confuso, non é? Clarifiquemos algúns conceptos primeiro, pra saberes de que estamos a falar.

Recreación da Atlántida no Parque Nacional de Doñana. Photo credit NatGeo.

O que estamos a discutir eiquí non son opinións, isto é, interpretacións de feitos baseadas en coñecemento persoal, experiencias, e tamén prexuízos. Imaxinemos que hoxe está a chover fora e que a temperatura máxima é de 12ºC. Se ti es coma min este será un bo día, xa que esta temperatura no norte non é demasiado mala. Pero para outros amigos e parentes que tamén son do norte dirán que é un día horrible, xa que odian a chuvia e 12ºC non é precisamente verán. Pero se ti es dun lugar árido o mellor adoras ver chover, mentres que se es islandés farás mofa da xente que se queixa de frío con 12ºC. Todas estas son opinións persoais, e resulta perfectamente ben sentir sobre este día de chuvia coma che apeteza, pero eiquí está o truco, ninguén dirá que non está a chover (está a caer auga do ceo) e que a temperatura está por enriba da conxelación pero non está a derretilo asfalto. A chuvia e a temperatura son feitos, non opinións.

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Fake News: An Archaeological Battleground

In the recent years the development of political affairs in the US has started a global concern on the effects on our society of what has been called alternative facts. So, basically lies. That governments lie is a constant element throughout history; nothing much to say about that. But what we are confronting here is not the occultation or rejection of facts. It is the statement, the profound belief by some people that there is another reality based on their opinions and that it is equally valid. Confusing, is it not? Let us clarify some concepts first, to be clear about what we are talking about.

Recreation of Atlantis in Doñana National Park. Photo credit Raising Atlantis.

What we are discussing here are not opinions, this is, interpretations of facts based on personal knowledge, experiences and personal biases. Let us imagine that today it is raining outside and the maximum temperature is 12ºC. If you are like me that would be a fine day, since you like rain and, being from Galiza, 12ºC in winter is not too bad. But I am sure other friends and relatives from the same place will consider this day a miserable one, since they hate rain and 12ºC is not precisely summer. If you are from a very arid country you would love to see the rain and if you live in Iceland you would make fun of those crazy guys who believe 12ºC is way too cold. These are all personal opinions, an it is absolutely fine to feel about this rainy day the way you want but, and here is the trick, nobody will ever question that it is raining (water is pouring from the sky) and the temperature is above freezing but not melting the asphalt. The rainfall and the temperature are facts, not opinions.

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Podcast Library (I):

As I mentioned some days ago in a previous post, this has been the year of the podcasts for me. Not that I did not know them before, but only at the very last months of the dissertation I was able to find in (a lot of) them the distraction I needed. I know it is paradoxical to claim that I found distraction of a dissertation on archaeology by listening to podcasts on archaeology, but I can only plead that they are also very funny! So I thought I could make a list of my, so far, favorite ones. If you are looking for something to listen to, I hope this list can give you some good ideas!

1.- Archaeological Fantasies:

This is by far my favorite podcast, and in fact I already wrote a previous post on it. The aim of this show, led by Sara Head with Ken Feder (my idol on fighting pseudoarchaeology) and Jeb Carb as regular hosts, is to dismantle all pseudoarchaeological and fringe theories regarding the human past. And the list is quite long… In the over 100 episodes so far they have covered some of the most common, as well as the least-known, topics on the fringe such as my beloved Atlantis, the dark side of archaeogenetics, the myth of the European mound-builders, the solutrean hypothesis, archaeoastronomy and Göbekli Tepe… The list is endless! And it is still very active. For me it is very useful to listen to some educated voices that dismantle piece by piece all these fringe perspectives in archaeology and anthropology. Even more importan, they make very clear the dark sides of many of these pseudotheories, such as their inherent racism, male whitewashing, and postcolonialism.


2.- The Fall of Rome:

This podcast came as a great surprise, and it is a pity no more episodes are available. Patrick Wyman presents in 21 episodes a brilliant narrative about the collapse of the Roman Empire, a fascinating period that does not usually receive the attention it deserves. Cultural misconceptions of decay and collapse, rather than change and innovation, that overemphasize the classical world lost over the new political entities being created makes the 4th to 6th c. CE less attractive to the general public, and let us be honest to many scholars too, than the heyday of the Roman Republic and Empire between the 2 c. BCE and the 2c. CE. History, archaeology, climate science, network models… are all brought together to explain this historical event beyond the pillaging, bloodshed, and civilization vs. barbarism that characterizes old narratives. As I said, pity we have no more episodes. A must listened to.


3.- Myth and Legends:

This is undoubtedly one of the largest podcasts out there. It may come as a surprise to some of you that I am including it in this list. Obviously, it is not a podcast on archaeology explicitly, but it covers in its now over 130 episodes legends and myths from many cultures we usually perceive as archaeology research topics. This is not quite my favorite way of approaching this field of folklore, probably because my wider anthro training makes me have a more flexible interpretation of what I mean by archaeology. Myths and legends, past and present, are important elements of cultural identity and transmission, that is why I perceive them, at least in my mind, as part of my archaeology prism. Anyway, a lot of episodes on Herakles and Ragnar Lothbrok!


4.- The History of Exploration:

As opposed to the Fall of Rome, which covered in the end the complete temporal framework of its topic, this podcast intended to present all humankinds’ history of discovering the world, but stopped after 9 episodes with the explorations of Polybius. A real pity, because the material we have available is very interesting, and I confess I discovered a great deal of information on early Greek and Punic travels to sub-Saharan Africa I was not aware of.


5.- This is not exactly a podcast in archaeology. Well, it is not at all. But due to my research with divers I presume I cannot avoid including it here. The idea of the podcast is rather simple: to interview for about an hour very big names in the sport of freediving. It is very interesting to me, as an amateur freediver who got into the sport as a way of exploring a research topic, to find all the different ways of facing freediving, from pure sport/competition/results based mentality to something that, sometimes, gets very close to a spiritual movement. For me it is fascinating how an activity practiced all around the world and across time for, mostly, harvesting the sea, has become at the same time a hypermetric sport and a new age-influenced movement. Perhaps this podcast is too specific for anybody not interested in the sport, but I can assure you that it is a more fascinating topic that you may think at first!