Category Archives: Archaeology

Roy Chapman Andrews

         Roy Andrews may be the most popular (and likely) candidate for the inspiration behind Indian Jones. It is had to argue with the look, the hat, the field gear, the gun. But, one must remember that mot all field gear looks that way, and in general, so does field gear. Also, the time periods are pretty similar and toting a gun across the globe was less of a hassle then. Hopefully I will get to expand on Andrews a bit later after re editing a paper I wrote on him, but for now a short sweet introduction to get all the players on the board.

        Not much is known about it life before he graduated from college in Benoit, Wisconsin and became a professional explorer and he took great pains to control his image once he was. He wrote many books about his adventures and even some for children. He was, without a doubt the world’s most famous explorer in the 1920s. Where they difference comes is that he was a paleontologist not an archaeologist. Point of fact, he really wasn’t a trained paleontologist either. But he traveled to far off lands and discovered things, and just as importantly, he wrote about them. He was also a noted man to publicized the new trends and products. He always had a kind word for Dodge vehicles. Dodge was also a large financier of his expeditions.


        He had a brief pre-Dino life which involved whaling for the American Museum, but he is really known for finding the first dinosaur eggs in Mongolia. He really wasn’t out dinoing then either. The scientists at the American Museum were convinced that the earliest ancestors of man would be found in the far east. (interestingly enough, some modern findings are suggesting they may not have been as wrong as the Leakey’s and Don Johanson had hoped)

So introducing the first of the many facets that would make their way into spielberg’s hero: Roy Chapman Andrews.

       For full effect you can read the plethora of books written by Andrews, which if you are intested in him, you should. For a one hit wonder encompassing his most popular expedition you can read Dragon Hunter by Charles Gallenkamp.

The Making of an Indiana Jones…

Beginning sometime near the end of the last century I worked mainly between three major identity crises. I had (still have) a common tendency to find common ground with a character in a movie or book and slip into some sort of anachronistic version of that person in the real world. The funny thing is pieces of each of them have stayed and wedged firmly into the makings of a psyche that is truly unique. After swillowing between the likes of Don Johnson’s Marlboro Man, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and Elvis high school finally ended and I was able to make a clean slate and move into the more lucrative field of college.

Actually the first go round gave little change to the situation at hand and I had to wait six years to find some kind of direction.  In 2006, however, I began again.  This time I soaked up all that the world of higher education had to offer. In a few years, quite without trying I developed a lasting image on campus, all it took was a fedora. I have always worn some kind of hat, and began a daily wearing of a fedora not long after beginning college for the second time.  Soon after I was invited to begin paleontological field work in the Uinta Basin in Utah.  Working in the desert of America’s southwest, sifting through Eocene dirt for microfossils became the highlight of the year.  I was still into Archaeology though, and took off for a Maya field school in the Orange Walk District of Belize. Hosted by the University of Texas, I learned many things about what it took to be a lifetime academic archaeologist. I also made some of the best friends I have ever had.  This reinforced the nomenclature that had taken hold back home. I was Indiana Jones.

I pondered on this a bit, and with the study of the history of field explorations in the American west for fossils, and further research into Archaeology led me to the conclusion that for as many people that take on the persona of the world famous archaeologist, there are nearly as many people behind the character.  Over the next few chapters here, I will look at some of the more famous, and perhaps infamous versions of the man that has came to be the most famous Archaeologist of all time.  Some of the names will be familiar, some may be new, each have some claim to the “inspiration of the character Indiana Jones.” But the truth resides somewhere out there in the abyss of popular culture, popular perception of exploration, and popular accounts of those same explorations, usually by the explorers running the show.

Let’s look at what we know about Dr. Jones historically, not counting the novels, or the prequel series. Every child born in the 80s should have grown up with the Dr. Jones stories. The Raiders of the Lost Ark is film classic that has gained a cult following without actually being a <shudder> cult film. This happens when movies are just good. Everything is great about this movie, except many professional archaeologist disagree with the methods and adventure going on in the film. And they should, there lives are filled with countless hours of dedicated research, painstakingly publishing findings, and the delicate dance of back-stabbing while avoiding being stabbed in the back. The closer the profession deals with humanities origins, outcomes, arts, evolution, the more cutthroat the game. Either way, great fun, great movie, great hero of the ages.

Number 2. Well, that is what it is. This movie had such promise, great location, great mythology, dark storyline, pretty awesome movie poster, even a comical little asian kid. What could possibly go wrong? Kate Capshaw, that’s what. I have watched countless hours of television and film (years if you do the math) and there are rarely few times I dislike someone in a movie more than her in this film.  I remember thinking as a child that this was an ill placement.  I remember wishing as an adolescence that someone would just kill the bitch in he first few scenes and let Ford and Shortround carry out the adventure on their own. Alas, that did not happen and this poor, poor, length of heat exposed tape remained the least favorite of the trilogy for decades. It was a sure way to decide on friendships: if person in question ever said that the Temple of Doom was their favorite film, you immediately (even subconsciously) removed them from your list of people you ever knew and with little help tried to find an open construction site in which to drop them into a cement mixer.

What could save such an awesome work of cinema from its horrid sequel? Sean Connery, of course. Probably the best all around film to come out of the decade (Ghostbusters are up there in the running, you’ll understand why I vote for Aykroyd later) It had everything the original had, and nothing that the sequel had, and that was a great combination. The only complaint I have about this great ending to a trilogy is how they treated the beloved Sallah. In the original he was a trusted, capable, and noble friend. In this he ends up more like a bumbling sidekick for comic relief. Knights, The Holy Grail, and melting Nazis, what is not to love.

Many, *MANY*, fans will tell you that there were ever only three and they steadfastly refuse to even discuss the fact that there might have been rumours of a fourth installment. The power of this thought process is legendary, look at how the whole world has forgotten the first Hulk movie and the demon-hulk-poodle. But, for the record there was a fourth installment. What was bad about it…aliens, Shia Labeouf, Ox being a mental invalid through most of the film, Connery not coming out of retirement…What was good about it…<chirp, chirp>… There were some good things, it happened in South America, we got another Indiana Jones movie, who Shia Labeouf was, the intricate contraption that housed the ending of the movie, the conquistador mummies, and my personal favorite: “If you untie me I am going to punch you in the face” <untie> *punch.*

The ending of the series has left us again without a hero archeologist. It has also left us with a trilogy boxed set and a loose fourth dvd that we bought to have the whole set even though we never watch 2 and 4. There’s the background on how I see it, and possibly How I came to be. Working backward from me to the movies to the men behind the myth I hope to shed some light for myself and possibly others on what makes an Indiana Jones.

For the record, I still wear Don Johnson’s vests from Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, I still have severely oversized sideburns, I still wear hats, and depending on just how nihilistic I feel upon awakening I may or may not wear my blood-stained smiley face button to work. I was also told I could not dress up as Rick O’Connell from the Mummy movies for halloween because it needed to be “something I did not wear every day.”Regardless of all that has been built upon, it is an undeniable fact that the older I get the more I look like Dan Aykroyd. But, hey, he is helping fund Dr. Phil Currie and team’s dino digs in Canada, so why not. And there was Ghostbusters.  

How do all these equate to an Indiana Jones?

The day of the whistlepig

      I had fully intended a post on woodchucks on the second as is customary for Groundhog day, however a death in my wife’s family has put me a few days behind.  With all the services ending today, it is nice to be able to sit and talk of nothing by pointless nature facts and look up pictures of groundhogs on the internet.

So here is goes. I will spare you the redundant mythos about shadows and sly references to Bill Murray and just go with a short, sweet introduction to marmots.

Personally, I think he looks as trustworthy as any meteorologist.

     Groundhogs, whistlepigs, woodchucks, or the land-beaver, the latter of which sounds like some villain from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle series, are all the same animal.  Their relatives all prefer the highlands and rocky heights, whereas these guys are the lowland plains and fringe forest dwellers.  Being lowland means they have slightly different ties to their Clans and an almost understandable accent.   (–scottish jokes, groundhogs are not racists, and kilt jokes are hard to make on animals with such short legs. Also google could not find a single image of a woodchuck in a kilt, therefore one must not exist.)

     Groundhogs are nicely sealed against their habitat. They are painted with two coats.  They have a grey undercoat with a nice arrangement of “guard hairs”that give them the “frosted” appearance, i.e. natural highlights.  They are also proficient burrowers moving roughly a cubic meter of soil (about 710 lbs (320 kg)) when getting down to business. There are several active members in the groundhog local that are pushing for the 500 lbs work week, but the rallies have yet to draw up much support.  Burrows, in which extended family can all dwell,  separately of course, groundhogs are keen on their own space.  Be it ever so humble, small burrows usually have a front and back door.  Larger estates may have up to five means of entrance and egress.  Most whistlepig flats contain about 14 meters (46ft) of hallways, and can reach as far as 1.5 meters (5ft) underground. In unfortunate situations these homes may undermine building foundations.  Burrows are not the only confusions with prairie dogs. 

      When out and about, they remain ever on alert.  If the sentries see any suspicious characters they will let out a high-pitched whistle as a warning. Hence, whistlepig.  They may emit low barks, or chatter there teeth.  Squeals usually indicate fighting, serious injury, or capture. When frightened the hair on their tails will stand straight up giving it a brush like appearance. Evidently all major predatory animals have an innate fear of hairbrushes, this is second only to the natural fear of fire.  Although an animal that when frightened could set its tail on fire would be incredible.

The last few seconds you can hear the whistle.
Shadow, schmadow, I can see my house from here.

      So these large hole dwelling fiends are not much good outside a burrow you say?  They are actually quite good swimmers and can climb trees when escaping danger.  They do prefer to retreat to a burrow for the home field advantage and will defend themselves with they extremely sharp claws and “big, pointy teeth” (technical term, +10 for you if you know the source.) Groundhogs are territorial and tend to be agonistic, that is they tend to search for their own truths in the word, no, no, no, wait they are agonistic, NOT agnostic.  That just means they tend to fight amongst themselves to determine dominance and the true path, so maybe they are Baptist. In that case they usually disagree about minutiae interpretation of Groundhogdom  and take half of their congregation and start a new burrow.

         Groundhogs do build separate burrows, but it has nothing to do with differences in theology.  Groundhogs are some of the only animals that truly hibernate, and the separate burrow is for sleeping purposes. In most areas they sleep from October to April. In more temperate areas they can hibernate for as little as three months.  I am not sure if Pennsylvania is considered temperate, I hope so, otherwise people wake them up early for no other reason than to determine if they see there shadow, and they are given no coffee or hot chocolate.   
      A few more random points of interest:  They are used in medical research on Hepatitus B-induced liver cancer.  Once infected they are at 100% risk of developing liver cancer.  They are using them as models for testing Hepatitis B and liver cancer therapies.  Some woodchucks decided to not take the medical school rout and instead became Archaeologist.  Groundhogs are known to have revealed at least one archaeological site in the U.S.  The Ufferman Site in Ohio has never been excavated by humans, instead, numerous artifacts have been found in the midden piles of the local groundhogs.  Their diggings have surfaced significant numbers of human and animal bones, pottery, and bits of stone.  

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck? Aside from Geico commercials they don’t actually chuck wood. They play jai-lai.  The etymology of woodchucking might relate to the Algonquian (some argue Narragansett, and by “some” I mean “wikipedia”) name of the animal: wuchak. Given the explorers penchant for bastardizing native languages (and people, ahem, different post) it should be little wonder that we don’t wonder how much wu could a wuchak chak, if indeed a wuchak could chak wu.

Some wuchaks don’t bother chaking wu, some are gentle
poets who take the time for the small things in life.
Although given their aggressive behavior, they are little old contrarians.
This photo says everything: “Stop and smell the flowers, dammit.”

   I hope that this short reading will give shed a new light on an overexposed and under-appreciated little mammal. I also sincerely hope that if you will never be able to hear that tongue-twister again without at least thinking of the phrasr “chaking wu.”

The Great Northern Penguin and other bird brains

      There are no penguins in the arctic, at least not anymore.  In the 1960s Robert Silverberg wrote a hat trick of books about natural history and science.  Funny thing, when I ordered them from Amazon they came discarded from Jr. High libraries.  After reading two of them I realized that Jr. High students must have been capable of much higher degrees of thinking than the standard secondary children are forced to endure today.  They are written in a plain spoken and easy to understand manner, that in no way detracts from their scholarly contribution to knowledge.  But enough about the state of education in the 21st century, back to the northern penguins.

     The penguins of the north are more commonly known as the Great Auk.  This flightless bird was nearly 3 feet tall and weighted in a bit over ten pounds.  Early European explorers found them a very convenient food source.  See where this is going?

     Nomenclature has always been terribly interesting to me, and these are no exceptions.  According to one story recounted by Silverberg says the fishermen of Brittany gave the bird a Celtic name, pen-gwyn, which translates to “white-head.” Others argue that it comes from the Latin pinguis which means fat.  A third school of thought has something to do with pinioning which basically means making a bird unable to fly.  Either way they name took hold and was reason enough, according to Silverberg, for Sir Frances Drake and other voyagers in the late sixteenth century, to call the different black and white flightless seabirds “southern penguins”

    They eventually became rare on the rocky Islands of the Northern Atlantic where they would breed.  Silverberg says that between 1833 and 1844 they were systematically removed from the Island of Eldey off Iceland. One by one brought back and sold to some eager Museum representative.

    One paragraph from the book I will repeat here in full. (I take some interest in whether this is the first time Silverberg’s work has been uploaded in a blog but that is neither here nor there:

On June 4, 1844, three fishermen named Jon Brandesson, Sigurdr Islefesson, and Ketil Ketilsson made a trip to Eldey.  They had been hired by an Icelandicbird collector named Carl Siemsen, who wanted auk specimens.  Jon Brandssonfound an auk and killed it.  Sigurdr Islefesson found another and did the same.  KetilKetilsson had to return empty-handed, because his two companions had just 
completed the extinction of the Great Auk. 
(p. 94, The Auk, the Dodo, and the Oryx. Robert Silverberg, 1967) 
     As short as that was I feel that I should offer you a twofer here.  For some readers this means you can stop here and come back later, for the rest of the story. (only without Paul Harvey)
   Per request I dug back through some posted articles to find something interesting on crows, magpies, ravens, etc.  Not hard, these guys are more than meets the eye. That does not mean they turn into monster trucks or tanks and attack one another. But, that they are pretty good problem solvers. 
   I am going to this the lazy way and post the links for the studies.  I have other things, which are more pressing for my education, even if they are extremely less interesting than this blog. Hopefully that changes soon, but whatever.  
   Back in May of 2009 Rebecca Marelle reported for the BBC about Rooks making tools. There are a couple of videos in the article.  Basically it shows rooks using tools, not unlike the chimps using grass to catch termites, and you know how we all swoon over chimp termite catching. 
   Rooks are part of the corvids, the same group as new caledonian crows. Both of which are known for their tool use prowess. This Sciencedaily article reveals just how well the crows can use tools, and how many they can use at a time.   Apparently they can use up to three tools in proper sequence without being trained.  This is similar to another article I read in BBC knowledge where they could choose.  There was one straw, too short to reach the food in a wooden cage, and another straw long enough, but behind another cage like barricade. The birds used the short straw to get the long one, and then use the long one to get the food.  
    Another article about rooks show them actually making tools. Again back in 2009 this study shows rooks making a hook to get food from a graduated cylinder looking device.  
   Maybe Aesop was right, maybe they even use rocks to raise the water level to drink.  Food for thought.  I leave you with another tidbit I read in BBC knowledge but cannot find a link to.  Magpies have a self awareness at least on par with some mammals.  Most bird will attack a reflection of themselves.  Exceptions in this case would be parakeets who love the company of their reflection and play with it affectionately.  Magpies in the study were given the “dot test.” I am unsure the technical name for this test but they place a small colored (usually red) disc sticker on the bird and then present the subject with it’s reflection.  The magpies to a man (bird) all attempted to remove the colored discs from themselves. They recognize that they were the bird in the looking glass.  Cognitive abilities. Amazing to watch, too.  
    I will leave this mostly scientific and scholarly post with two of the best examples of how intelligent magpies can be: 
 Finally one on the teamwork prowess and brotherhood that unites crows everywhere: