Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Four Stone Hearth 8

Welcome to Northstate Science and the 8th Edition of Four Stone Hearth, the anthropology blog carnival. We have a range of topics for this edition, all of which have been ordered chronologically (more or less) from our earliest ancestors to computer applications in anthropology. So, let's get started...

Yann Klimentidis starts us off with an article in the current edition of Natural History discussing the reconstruction of hominin faces from the bone structure of the skull. We know that specialists have been able to accomplish this for some time, but new fossils within the last two decades demonstrate the rich array of hominin faces within the last four million years. As Yann points out, the path to modern humans was a well-worn one - it is easy to see something of ourselves in each of the reconstructions (Ken Ham will of course ignore any human characteristics and call every one an "ape", while Bill Dembski will ignore any ape characteristics and use the human characteristics as an example of intelligently designed specified complexity). This particular issue of Natural History is sitting on my desk at the moment so I'll have to take a look!

Afarensis (whose reconstructed face actually appears on page one of the Natural History article cited above) shows us that anatomical structures of the Dikika child have implications for the transmission of cultural knowledge. With the later advent of stone tool production this problem of cultural transmission becomes even more interesting and following John Shea, Afarensis asks what children's activities look like in the archaeological record? An important question given that archaeologists often find tool examples of poor craftsmanship (which further begs the question, are all those imperfect designs we see in nature simply a product of an "immature" intelligent designer still learning the ropes?).

Greg Laden's Evolution...Not "Just A Theory" Anymore asks whether hunting might not serve purposes other than simply caloric intake. Specifically, he questions the possibility that hunting functions prominently in male bonding. And I love this:

When a 19th or 20th century guy archaeologist holds a beautifully made, often phallic-shaped obsidian spearhead in his hands, feeling it’s heft and running his fingers along the still sharp edge, he is bonding with another guy, of a much earlier time period, who could probably have killed his quarry just as effectively with a sharp stick, but opted instead to produce, carry around, display, and use this really cool piece of gear. So it’s a guy thing, and it’s a gear thing. It’s sort of a guys-with-gear thing.

Yep...speaking as a 20th century guy archaeologist, I can pretty much buy that...(wonder if Behe feels the same way about the bacterial flagellum?). Like Greg, I've participated in hunting events with both modern hunters using firearms and aboriginal hunters (Hadza) using bows and arrows. I can certainly understand hunting's social connections.

Tim at Remote Central asks "Who Really Discovered America?".Tim takes up the issue of whether Clovis, pre-Clovis people or European Solutreans were the first to enter North America. This is a hot-button issue as the sudden appearance of Clovis technology in North America without any known lithic pre-cursors has always raised questions (and hackles) amongst North American archaeologists. The hypothesis that European Solutreans got here first also has substantial political implications for Native American land claims. While I don't necessarily agree with the Solutrean hypothesis, I see arguments against it as more political, rather than archaeological, in nature. We chew on Christian creationists and intelligent design activists a lot, but Native American creationism is also a science stopper (and the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about!). In any case, Tim does a great job of laying out some of the issues with regard to peopling of the New World.

Aardvarchaeology introduces us to those Gothenburg Nastys. You know, those grave-like structures containing "...a handful of cremated bones looking a lot like muesli" (and what the hell is muesli?...second thought, I probably don't want to know...). Apparently, these are not the most exciting features to excavate and after reading Martin's post, I can understand why. Geez, and I thought excavating isolated historic refuse dumps was bad...of course neither could be as painful as wading through No Free Lunch.

A.J. Cann at MicrobiologyBytes introduces us to a superb topic that's going make me think twice before picking up that dead chipmunk for my comparative collection: the ancient occurrences of bubonic plague. We all know about the Black Death in the 14th century, but plague has been around for quite a while and can be identified in the archaeological record. More to the point, plague is still with us, and as Cann notes, it would be a good idea if we knew something about its history. (You suppose plague was intelligently designed?). Give this one a careful read...and be very afraid!

Bridging the gap between our evolutionary ancestry and modern conservation problems, raises ethical concerns about the U.S. maintaining chimpanzee populations for biomedical research. Apparently we are the last nation to do so. Of course the issue is where we draw the line between the potential for saving human lives and the ethics of medical experimentation on another animal - our closest living relative.

Several post submittals explore that interesting area between cultural transmission and psychology. Ideas And How They Spread offers us two discussions on the topics of behavior and cultural transmission. In Behavior Trademark Tyrants we find the suggestion that at least three factors contribute to whether or not individuals adopt a certain behavior as a "trademark". The concept of having personal behavioral "trademarks" has implications for cultural continuity and transmission. In a second post you can find of the background for defining a meme. I remember Dawkins posing an interesting discussion of meme transmittal in the PBS Evolution series. Wise Bread posts a discussion on the relationship between food security and generosity. It appears that my willingness to throw change in the Salvation Army Christmas bucket might be closely linked to how satiated I feel at the time. But there are some interesting twists in this connection so take a look. Pick The Brain discusses the distinction between cognition and metacognition and proposes some interesting implications for how we define intelligence and measure success. (I was trying to draw a connection between cognition and intelligent design, but couldn't come up with anything).

Carl at Hot Cup Of Joe has a fabulous discussion (and the only linguistics submittal) of the perceived threat of linguistic diversity. In the concern over illegal immigration and the rising use of the Spanish language in the U.S. there plenty of concerns over the potential loss of "American" culture. Of course, Carl points out that the cultural door swings both ways and the perceived loss of culture to immigration seems unfounded. We may also be ignoring a great opportunity if Americans fail to consider linguistic diversity as a positive force:

In the United States, we appear to be slow to figure out what Europeans have long understood: speaking and writing in only one language is a limiting factor in economics, academia, and politics.

I remember hooking up with a number of students from the U.K. as I was traveling across Tanzania and simply marveling at their ability to collectively strike up a conversation with fellow European travels in about seven different languages. I wish I had spent more time studying French in college.

Kambiz from gives us an introduction to new software for the Mac OS X system that has some significant application anthropological organization and research. Read Kambiz's post to understand more of the connection to anthropology. All I can say is I wish they had a version of this for the Windows operating system!

Finally, many of you are no doubt familiar with discussions taking place on the subject of open access, i.e. the extent to which journal publications should be publicly available as opposed to costing small fortunes to have regular access. At the request of Afarensis and Kambiz, I am also including some recent posts on the subject of open access, in something of a "mini-carnival". Kambiz was gracious enough to supply the general summaries, so I can't claim much credit for working on anything that follows:

The Open Access Issue: Some Recent Comments From the Blogosphere

Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts From Kansas comments on this issue. Here are some snippets from his post on the topic:

Scientists give those publishers their research, typically signing over copyright for that work to the publisher. In many cases those scientists also pay page charges to those same publishers, so that those publishers can have the privilege of taking those scientists'
work from them.

Scientists are beginning to feel that this situation is not equitable, and that the restrictions on accessing those publications online hurt not only authors, but researchers in the field. Congress has heard those complaints, and is pushing for NIH funded research to be made available free of charge on some schedule...

...Whether they are stupid is a harder question. Right now, a chunk of most federal grants winds up going to pay fees to publishers. Those publishers also sell advertising, and charge truly astounding subscription fees. They hire professional editors, and can afford various sorts of specialists. They do not pay their peer reviewers, they don't pay the authors, and they give relatively little back to the scientific community. The exorbitant subscription fees mean that academic libraries are forced to cut subscriptions for interesting but lower profile journals in order to maintain subscriptions to the really essential journals.

The publishers walk away from that system as winners. Society loses.
Researchers have a harder time finding existing research, and the public at large has no way to access most original research. This means that even the scientifically literate public could not evaluate new research that could help them make medical decisions, or be more active participants in policy discussions.

Rex of Savage Minds outlines why Big Content has an issue with this:

The problem, of course, is that Big Content's business model faces a strategic challenge in the digital age. Suddenly we can distribute our creative work across the Internet and make it available to everyone, solving many of the problems associated with distribution.

Afarensis also outlines the problem, and gives us some relevance to what's happening within anthropology itself:

The big publishers argue that Open Access threatens their livelihood. Open Access advocates argue that since most of this research is funded through taxpayer efforts the results of that access should be freely available to the public. A group of anthropologists, for example, is working hard to force the American Association of Anthropologists to adopt an open access model.

Lexis2praxis shows how this movement is uniting anthropology together:

...sometimes cultural anthropology seems, by nature of the discipline, prone to elitism and inaccessibility...

....It seems like anthropologists would be at the forefront of the movement to "share knowledge", but this is certainly not the case among all of the ranks. Recent actions by the AAA have set anthropology that much farther back when it comes to making our presence, and contributions, known to the public and, well, more useful rather than holed up in universities to filter down through other disciplines, and even then so gradually because in many ways we are isolated even in the academic universe.

The web and Open Access Publishing could be a way out of this, and also a way for anthropology to be at the forefront of a movement that could change academia's attachment to elitism and cater to its more "humanistic" foundations. Yet, we have a fragile presence in these areas and therefore are left unrepresented.

One thing the AAA did well, however, is to spawn a movement. I doubt there has ever been this much discussion among anthropologists regarding the goal of the discipline and whether we should embrace Open Access Publishing.

And Kambiz criticizes some of the approaches the PR consultant is taking:

This is pretty pitiful, it is actually despicable for publishers to be doing that. Peer-review can still flourish, if not be more critical and constructed under an open access model. More people can read it, more people can comment on it, more people can know about! They have lost focus of what they are in the business of, to document and disseminate knowledge. Not keep it locked away! Don't they understand the more they keep this information from the public, the more misconception will brew about?

Again, my thanks to Kambiz for providing the information. I have found this all to be an interesting discussion on the issues surrounding Open Access and I am sure there will be more to come.

Thanks for stopping by to read the current edition of Four Stone Hearth! The next edition will be February 14th at Boas Blog. Don't forget to stop by and see what's new and exciting in the world of anthropology...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Four Stone Hearth Coming Up...

I had wanted to get Four Stone Hearth up tonight before the scheduled date, but I'm having computer "issues"....
It will be up by the end of the day tomorrow; thanks to everyone who submitted!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lassen County Times in Review: Jan 23 Edition

Interestingly, not much to comment on this week, except for a couple of quick notes in passing:

- There was a an article on the lack of Fish and Game wardens in the state. I agree - my experience with federal and state agencies is that we have plenty of laws, but not the people needed to actually enforce them. We should be beefing up our law enforcement and prosecution abilities at the state and federal levels;

- The County Board of Supervisor's tabled discussion of their salary raise. Hopefully, the "tabling" part doesn't mean they'll try to slip it in sometime down the road when no one is looking, but giving them the benefit of the doubt for the time being I have to give them kudos for this move.

Until next week...

Apologetics Archaeology?

I have been reading with intense interest the discussions on Finkelstein's Low Chronology taking place at Jim West's blog, Stephen Cook's blog, and at Abnormal Interests. Jim West has also reviewed the Bible Unearthed DVD, based on Finkelstein and Silberman's book of the same name. Briefly, for readers unfamiliar with the "Low Chronology" debate, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein has suggested, among other things, that strata at many archaeological sites in the Middle East originally dated to the 10th century BCE should be "lowered" to the 9th century BCE. This may seem an innocuous adjustment in dates, but in fact it wreaks absolute havoc with the idea that the bible has any but the most minimal historical validity. It pretty much removes the epoch of David and Solomon from historical consideration, at least as it is represented in the biblical texts. As such it is one of the issues at the heart of the minimalist/maximalist debate in bibical...ah, excuse me, Syro-Palestinian archaeology.

I have read Finkelstein's book and found his reconstruction of the traditional biblical chronology rather interesting. There is clear disagreement on the archaeological validity of the "Low Chronology" and I don't claim to have sufficient knowledge to comment, although I find myself reading more on the subject. However, I was struck more with Finkelstein's focus on explaining the archaeology of the region in the context of issues more familiar to me as a research archaeologist: population increase, adaptation, migration and population displacement, environmental context, etc. Finkelstein is an archaeologist whom I expect would feel comfortable in the realm of hunter-gatherer archaeology. I think he ultimately gets what archaeology is all about: understanding past human behavior. More to the point, I think he does what a good archaeologist should: he puts the archaeology ahead of the history as the primary source of explanatory power. And I get the feeling that his critics are ultimately more concerned with the methodological and theoretical approach he uses, than with the archaeological validation of the Low Chronology, per se.

In this respect, I believe I am coming to a different appreciation of the "maximalist/minimalist" debate in Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Probably naively, I had considered this issue solely within the context of interpreting the archaeology in terms of the bible. If you interpret the archaeology in parsimony with the bible, you're a maximalist; if you interpret the archaeology at variance with the bible, you're a minimalist. But in either case, my assumption had been that the archaeology was the same and it is only the differential interpretive weight placed upon one or more archaeological components that leads to the split between minimalist and maximalist. Now I'm not so sure. What Finkelstein does differently from his critics, is to approach archaeological interpretation of the region on basis of, well...the archaeology. His hypothesis testing is based upon questions of understanding past human behavior in the context of the material culture left behind by extinct human populations, without the theoretical crutch of assuming historic texts have already captured those behaviors and events. Textual evidence is at best a secondary source of information, another interpretive tool in the archaeologist's box, if you will. It may come in handy some time down the road...after the chronology has been worked out...after the subsistence and settlement patterns have been worked out...after some questions of culture change have been addressed. Now in actual practice we archaeologists tend to run all those one is going to wait for the perfect chronology before developing explanations of culture change; what I am referring to is how you approach the archaeological record from the very beginning.

I have always been curious about the criticism leveled at Finkelstein that he "selectively" uses biblical text to support his contentions. But this is exactly the level of interpretive power expected by historical texts - the written record of the human past is plagued with error, perspective, limited vantage, experience (or lack thereof), political and economic motivation, and outright deception. The range of interpretive "help" provided by historical texts will range from absolutely zero to some textual fragments that may be very useful; with a whole lot of text of dubious quality either way. I would expect only "selected" text to be of any value in interpreting the archaeological record. In fact, I would argue that the archaeological record provides greater benefit at the interpretation of historical text than the other way around. This is ultimately the crux of biblical minimalism: Finkelstein is using the archaeology to interpret biblical texts; not the biblical texts to interpret the archaeology.

I think this is the appropriate way to approach archaeological research in regions and time periods where historical documentation is also available. If my understanding of the minimalist/maximalist debate is even remotely correct in this regard, I must obviously count myself among the minimalists. And this is not a perspective I would consider limited to the archaeology in the Land of the Bible. Interestingly, we have a similar issue here in California with the use of ethnographies. Ethnographic sources (historical accounts of Native American lifeways) are considered by some archaeologists in the region to be the focal context for interpreting the archaeological record. I have even heard the Smithsonian's Volume 8 (California) of the North American Indian series referred to as the "Bible" of archaeological interpretation (with a devotion among some archaeologists approaching that of Middle Eastern biblical texts!). I would argue that these "historical" ethnographic texts suffer from the same problems I listed above, are of limited value in archaeological interpretation, and that much of northern Californian archaeology remains provincial because of an uncritical allegiance to this "tyranny of the ethnographic record". But that's a post for another time.

While I certainly do not claim a sufficient knowledge of the archaeological material in question (and in reading additional material, I have my own doubts regarding the validity of the Low Chronology), I am nonetheless suspicious of Finkelstein's critics, largely because most of them seem to give biblical texts far greater interpretive weight than is justified, at least relative to the actual archaeology. This is not to say that I think all of them are raving biblical literalists, chomping at the bit to use archaeology to "prove the bible". Some simply see greater interpretive value in historical texts (be they biblical or any other) and reflect this perspective in their archaeological work. I've got no issue with this (other than it is not a methodological approach I would favor - I think it puts the "interpretive" cart before the "data" horse) - for those conducting responsible archaeology, it is simply another approach that ultimately can be tested with additional archaeological data.

However, I have a growing concern with the ethical framework in which some Syro-Palestinian archaeological projects are being conducted, and this has to do with many of Finkelstein's critics for whom biblical texts are not simply invoked as a valid interpretive tool, but are viewed a priori as historically accurate. I think this is a serious integrity issue for the future of archaeological research in the region. In a series of replies to Jim West's discussion of Finkelstein's positions, "working archaeologist" Dr. Joseph Cathey (who further describes himself as an archivist and professor of Hebrew, but with no location specified - a bit suspicious)absolutely rails against West and Finkelstein, suggesting they are compromised by bias, and in doing so, belies a serious bias on his own part. Cathey claims that he doesn't do archaeology with "a bible in one hand" but I quite frankly see nothing to suggest that criticism is invalid. He then levels this against Jim West:

Lastly, I am happily ready to go where the evidence takes me. It seems that it is just the opposite with you – you are the one who has invested whole heartily in a bankrupt 19th century liberal belief which has long ago been cast aside by the advances made in archaeology.

"...bankrupt 19th century liberal belief" seems to be more a political accusation than an archaeological argument - the kind I hear from fundamentalists lacking any sort of reasoned position on an issue (they always trot out the "liberal" label when they've run out of ideas). His last sentence is also a red-herring - my suspicion is that Cathey actually knows very little about archaeology, or what anything but a selective reading of it has suggested. He seems to be one of a growing number of people who begin to call themselves archaeologists after they've schlepped buckets of pottery from Point A to Point B for a while, or spent a couple of weeks clearing debris. If he has professional credentials in archaeology I'd sure like to see them. So I doubt Cathey would go "wherever the evidence leads" unless the evidence substantiates a literal interpretation of the bible. Cathey's blog on the excavations at Gezer leads me to further think he is a biblical literalist disguising himself as an archaeologist in order to attain an air of professional respectability:

If you read the book of Revelation you will notice the Last Battle – the Battle of Armageddon. In this photograph you will see the valley of which the biblical text speaks. If you were standing in the place of the photographer – me – and looked to your right you would see Megeddio. In John’s apocalypse he notes that the battle will take place at har-megeddio a phrase which we have brought into English as Armageddon.

If that is not enough, Cathey's involvement with the excavations at Gezer reminded me of a major concern I have with the integrity of the Gezer excavations as they are currently being conducted. The current excavations are being directed by Steve Ortiz of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and "...will continue in 2007 with consortium members that include Southwestern, Midwestern Seminary, Lancaster Bible College, the Marian Eakins Archaeological Museum, Lycoming College and Grace Seminary". Read articles on Ortiz and you see things like "committed evangelical", "God has called me to do archaeology", and "the solution to doubts about the bible's authenticity is to do your own archaeological work". The Gezer excavations are being led by someone whose sole purpose at doing archaeological work is to "affirm bible history", leading me to have serious reservations about the integrity of the archaeological work being conducted there. I am particularly distressed in hearing discussions of Ortiz's work under the title of "Archaeology As Apologetics". This is a completely asinine description of the real goals of archaeological research - and it completely devastates any authority archaeology may have to tell us about the past. How much evidence at Gezer that doesn't confirm Ortiz's preconceived notions of biblical history will see the light of day?

Everyone has their biases in approaching archaeological research. But some threaten the integrity of archaeology much more than others. Jim West got to the heart of the problem in responding Joe Cathey:

Joe is doing his Joe best to suggest that the “high chronology” upon which he depends for his exegetical presuppositions must be the one and only right chronology. Should that chronology fall, Joe knows that the basis for his understanding of the Old Testament as “historical” text will crumble like the walls of Jericho under the trumpet blast of Joshua’s circling army of musical priests. Joe, in other words, has too much invested in his presuppositions to be objective. And he wants everyone else to be as “un-objective” as he is, and if they are not, then they are “bowing” to the views of someone Joe disagrees with.

Regardless of biases, those of us in the field need to at least be comfortable that the likelihood of contradictory archaeological evidence will not be destroyed in the fervor to demonstrate one's position. I don't think we can be claim that level of comfort for the excavations at Gezer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pathetic Intelligent Design

Could you find a more pathetic editorial "justifying" Intelligent Design?

I.D., however, is a claim that it is far more reasonable to believe life to be designed by an intelligence than to have occurred without purpose...

Meaning: I personally find more comfort in the idea that some omnipotent designer gave me a purpose even though many others are capable of finding their own purpose without the "designer" crutch, therefore evolution can't possibly be true;

...and presents evidence not based on faith to back it up.

Meaning: But only the ID activists know about the evidence so you'll have to trust us for now;

We know when objects are designed. I.D. attempts to quantify how we know this and then apply it to biology.

Meaning: Actually, we have no such knowledge that stands up to testing and have never been able to apply it to biology in any but the vaguest of terms, but if we repeat this enough we figure you'll buy it (unless you're an evolutionist who asks questions);

The results are persuasive, so persuasive that only blind faith can keep one from accepting that life has been purposely designed.

Meaning: We have to use "persuasive" twice because we actually have nothing but rhetoric to offer;

We suspect that I.D. will eventually prevail over the views of the accidentalists who now seem to control things in academia and in our courts.

Meaning: I.D. is so self-evident to those of us who already buy into it that the only reason it hasn't replaced evolution is all those academics and "activist" judges who don't accept our word on the subject.

ID can only succeed if it is legislated into existence.

Four Stone Hearth

Just a reminder....I'm hosting Four Stone Hearth next week (Jan 31)...don't forget so send submissions! I've received a few to date...but what about others?
Anyone else?

So, How Many Atheists Are There In America?

Many mourn the supposed rise in American religiosity over the last two decades, largely because of the negative impact it has on social and academic freedoms. Personally, I have always questioned whether this is more perceived than real. Data from my own experiences (anecdotal, to be sure) suggests quite the opposite. Religious fervor seems be largely concentrated among the older age classes in American society; not only does there seem to be an increasing number of agnostics and atheists among young people, more and more people I know are abandoning organized religion, largely because it demands much (financially and behaviorally, as well as requiring a degree of intellectual suicide) without offering much in the way of spiritual satisfaction (or at least not offering spiritual satisfaction that you can't get on your own). Even among those I know who remain active in "THE CHURCH", their allegience to the pulpit is lukewarm at best. After explaining why I left the church to many friends, I heard a number of arguments as to why I should just stay, none of which bordered on the theological. When I left and explained my concerns, I was surprised at the arguments most gave in response: "Oh, we don't listen to all the behavioral rules, we just go for the Mass"; or "Oh come on, we only go to do something as a family on Sunday", or "Hey, we just go to be social". Now, while I'm not a big fan of organized religion, I do think there is more than just a hint of hypocrisy if you stay within an organization but have no intention of following the rules. Say what you will, but some of us left religion precisely because we understood what was expected and could not in good conscience follow it.

So, it comes as no surprise to me that, contrary to what you might hear on FOX, new data suggests a significant rise over the last decade in agnosticism, atheism and those who remain spritual but with "no religious affiliation". Polling data from 2001 showed that the fastest rising religion in the U.S. is actually Paganism, but there had also been almost a doubling of those who consider themselves unaffiliated since 1990. "Christian" religions also registered a declilne during that time. More recently, the Secular Coalition for America notes that polling data in 2003 indicate that slightly more than 20% of Americans don't believe in God or have doubts about the existence of an omnipotent being. While there is some variation to these numbers, the poll author felt that these numbers were more accurate because the polling methods (online) lessened the stigma of "social undesirability" and allowed people to more freely admit their convictions. Most telephone polls footnote the percentage of atheist/agnostic in this regard as suspected of being lower than most people let on. It is likely that many feel uncomfortable admitting atheism in a personal interview. And today, the Institute for Humanist Studies reports a new survey indicating increasing loss of religious affiliation with each new generation. While America remains the most religious country, those who associate themselves with a specific religion are dropping dramatically with each new generation. Twenty percent of "Generation Next" (18-25 year olds), fall within the atheist/agnostic/no religious affiliation category, nearly double since the 1980s. Among the other findings:

One-in-five members of "Generation Next" say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s.

Nexters are among the least likely to attend church regularly: 32 percent attend at least once a week compared with 40 percent of those over age 25.

Nearly two-thirds of Nexters (63 percent) believe humans and other living things evolved over time. By contrast, Americans over the age of 40 favor Creationist accounts over evolutionary theory.

Nexters are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.

Nexters are among the most likely to say the will of the American people, not the Bible, should be a more important influence on U.S. laws.

And just 4 percent of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

I particularly like the third one; that also mirrors my experience in Anthropology courses - as much as I hear some teachers complain about the numbers of creationists in class, my experience is that there are actually very few. Most students either are already convinced of the data for evolution or seriously want to learn more about it because they weren't exposed to it in High School.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quaking For God, Revisited

Just in case anyone was keeping score on God's efforts to seek revenge on American for allowing abortion...

USGS is reporting no earthquakes greater than magnitude 5.6 anywhere in the world on the 34th anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Nothing eve close to North America. (God seems to be concentrating on the Molucca Sea today - underwater Planned Parenthood office maybe?).

A Stark Contrast In Education

Afarensis posts about three kids expressing their love for science with their blog, I Love Dinosaurs. These kids (and their mom!) really have a sense of wonder, curiosity and love of science and the broader world around them. It is truly refreshing to see young people engaged in an honest search for knowledge. As Afarensis says, "...the world need more of them"!

Contrast the "I Love Dinosaurs" kids with these two, who have a rather depressing view of the world around them. Their curiosity is severely handicapped by a stifling biblical literalism that prevents them from appreciating the awe and wonder of the universe. Instead of seeking knowledge, they are forced to find ways to restrain it within a preconceived worldview. As a result, what knowledge they think they have gained is seriously flawed (as their view of evolution clearly demonstrates).

Too really pains me to see the world censored for young people by adults who are themselves afraid of the world around them.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Following The STACLU Link

I see that my favorite local conservative, FlyAtNight is off for a few days and left his readers with some links to keep them occupied. One of those leads you to the Stop The ACLU blog (better known as STACLU). For local readers, Ed Brayton over at Dispatches From The Culture Wars is forced to frequently address STACLU's constant stream of errors, mischaracterizations, and false information concerning the ACLU and the U.S. Constitution. Here are a few teasers from Ed's site:

Testing the Honesty of STACLU
StopTheACLU Daily Crap Report
An Open Letter to STACLU
More STACLUselessness
STACLU and the Christian Nation Nonsense
More STACLU Nonsense
STACLU's Depth of Analysis
STACLU Gets Worse
Glib Fortuna's Latest Absurdity
New STACLU Idiot
FISA Reform and STACLU
Glib Fortuna Distorts Reality Again
And More STACLU Ignorance
More STACLU Hypocrisy
STACLU Repeats Stupid Argument; Film at 11

A lot more there...but you get the picture...

Want Higher Status in The Fossil Record? Just Breed Slower!

Well, here's a new one to me...the fossil record is explained by differential rates of fecundity among organisms?

Go figure...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lassen County Times in Review, Jan 16 Edition

More to talk about this week...

A Letter to the Editor comes to the defense of LCT's editor, Barbara France, and chastises a "local blogger" for criticizing France. A few people thought this person was referring to me - they weren't; they were referring to another local blog kanwehelp. In regards to France, this letter states:

A local blog states it is getting a mailbox full of e-mails saying people have had enough with her religion. I suppose when a mailbox is used to being empty, getting three or four e-mails can be a flood.
The blog also says Ms. France has not written a legitimate news story or editorial since she began as editor.

As readers of the blog know, I have had my issues with Barbara France; however, I can't say I agree with the accusation that she hasn't written a legitimate news story, although I suppose it depends on how one defines "legitimate". My beef has always been the way she (and other staff members) use the paper to constantly publicize fundamentalist Christianity. I have accused the editors of the LCT, including France, of having an agenda and I stick by that. I also think that when she and others go off on their Christian tangent, they usually get the facts wrong or significantly distort the issue. I can also verify the claim by that many people in the community are sick and tired of the regularity with which this occurs. Many sarcastically refer to our local paper as the "Lassen Christian Times". I have received large numbers of phone calls, emails and general around-the-town verbal pats on the back by local folks after every editorial I've written for the paper. There is a large proportion of the community that doesn't like the Christianity being thrown in everyone's face. The letter writer obviously doesn't believe this kind of complaint is occurring, and I really don't care. It has been sufficient for me to continue writing editorials and it has been sufficient for me to continue writing this blog. The local readership of Northstate Science is growing...

The letter writer wants us bloggers to stay off Ms. France's back because she's a "nice person". You know, I happen to think that she probably is a nice person. I frankly stayed away from commenting on her first editorial when I started this series, in large part because it was kind of a classic "turn the other cheek" sort of thing and I can respect her Christianity on that level. But she and other members of the staff are singly wrong on a lot of things; they misrepresent ideas and issue; they fail to tell the whole story sometimes, and I'm going to continue to call the editor, her staff and other writers on those issues.

And speaking of the editor...Barbara France's editorial this week, Supreme Court of 1973 Changes U.S. History, starts well and good, although the nature of it was predictable from the outset. She sympathizes with those who are fighting (or have loved ones fighting) in Iraq and Afghanistan and bemoans the loss of 3,000 U.S. military men and women in those conflicts. No problem here...I share Barbara's sentiments in this record. But then comes the kicker...

However, that number is insignificant when compared to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow American women to abort unborn babies.

Yeah, here we go...fetal tissue is the same as a young man or woman with spouse, children, relatives, a past history and a potential future. The only thing missing here is the usual obligatory reference to Stallin or Hitler. France quotes figures of 43 million "babies" having been aborted since 1973 or approximately 4,000 per day. Those figures may or may not be correct, but their validity is irrelevant to the point of my discussion: it doesn't matter. France and I take significantly different philosophical stances toward this issue. She, citing her Christian background, would claim these are individual lives the equivalent of any other human being. Aborting one is no different than killing someone. After all, the Pope has declared that lilfe begins at conception.

Sorry, but I don't see it that way. I have three fundamental issues with the anti-abortion mindset. First, it is predominately a religous issue and readers of my blog know that I have a serious distate for anything religious dictating public policy. Attempting to legislatively restrict or elilminate a personal choice on the basis of religious dogma begins to take society down a Talibanesque road that will ultimately destroy this particular iteration of civilization, not preserve it. In addition, declaring a few cells equivalent to a human essence on the basis of religious belief demands that society critically evaluate the historical, philosophical and political motivations of those religious viewpoints. In doing so, we are justified in seriously questioning whether such viewpoints are philosophically accurate, logically and scientifically sound, or even historically consistent. Hence we are further justified in publically questioning whether religions espousing such viewpoints are in fact necessary, or whether they actually pose a danger to the fabric of society.

Second, I see anti-abortion advocates as largely hypocritical at two levels. At the political level I think most politicians and a significant proportion of the the anti-abortion crowd are not personally serious about the issue. It is useful only so far as it functions as both a good cause célèbre to rally a base of voters and as political cover to draw attention away from the real goals of tax cuts, business deregulation and making sure the bulk of national wealth is retained at the upper levels of society. I suspect that if tomorrow the Democrats became raving anti-abortion activists but continued to insist on regulating business and raising taxes, even modestly, few Republicans would jump ship. (I do not, however, believe Barbara Fance is a hypocrite in this regard).

At another level, the obsession with fetal tissue as a respected human life form has reached such a state of hysterical allegiance as to approach the level of cultic fervor. Anti-abortion activists have become the "Cult of the Fetal Tissue". In the mind of a fetal cult activist, a few uterine cells have more status in the human societal pecking order than a six year old in a poor New Orleans suburb. However, the fundamentalist Christian "concern" for human life stops suddenly at birth, when the housing, feeding, education and opportunities for that child suddenly become somebody else's responsibility and by the way, God help you if you dare raise my taxes to create a better societal health care system, educational opportunity or healthier environment for that kid.

Third, I (and many others) simply cannot envision cells in an uterus as the equivalent of a one year old sitting in a car seat in the family Volvo. I agree that there is ample discussion to be had on what stage in the developmental process that equivalency is attained and yes, I happen to think that it comes somewhere before birth. It does not, however, begin at conception and probably does not kick in for some time after that. Certainly not within the initial decision space for a woman to consider having an abortion. Consider this: throw a viable embryo and my daughter into a raging river and I believe almost no one would fault me for jumping in and saving my daughter at the expense of the embryo (except perhaps for a few zealous fetal cultists). However, there is a LONG laundery list of humans, animals, plants and a few inanimate objects I would jump in to save well before considering getting wet for a few blastocytes. The Pope may have defined this blob of cells as life by religous fiat, but it is not a definition that attains any level of practical application to human behavior, except where it intersects with poltical goals.

Barbara France also trots out the Argument-Of-Potentially-Lossed-Contributions regarding the abortion of fetal tissue:

Perhaps we would have a cure for AIDS, Parkinson's, and cancer if one of those 43 million babies lived.

Perhaps we would have a cure for Parkinson's if we stopped treating cells like they had more rights than the Parkinson's patients themselves... Perhaps the potential lies with the poor six year old who won't get a chance to prove herself in medical school because she can't afford to go... Perhaps we lose hundreds of good scientists to leukemia each year because we allow business to run amuck and pollute our environment... Perhaps we lose great contributions to society from people who have to spend all their time working minimum wage jobs just to eat... Perhaps we lost the next Einstein in Iraq this year...

Finally, staff writer Ruth Ellis responds to last week's letter lamenting the potential loss of Cornerstone Christian school to the Susanville community. I posted about this last week. Ruth is an alumni of Cornerstone and her mom teaches I can sympathize with her concern and effort at lauding her time there (hey, I'd be doing the same thing if the University of Wisconsin were going under...). I also appreciate that her paragraph on hard working teachers in the community, regardless of where they teach:

I cover all of the schools in Lassen County; public, private, high school and alternative education and have respect for the teachers who put a lot of hard work and dedication into their students' education.

Great. Thanks Ruth! I think that was a fine tribute to the teachers in the community. Unfortunately, I have to take issue with something written a little further on:

Not only did I receive a good education, but being in a Christian school helped reinforce the biblical foundations my parents were already building at home. Bible classes were mandatory and the high school participated in a mission trip to Mexico every year.

I'm sorry, but all that tells me is that you received a very limited education, had your perceptions of the world reinforced at an age when you had neither the experience, nor the diverse education, nor the intellectual capacity (because of development, not innate ability) to be able to question whether the "reinforcement" was either 1) reasonable; or 2) correct. In effect, you have not come to your beliefs honestly. Furthermore, you work at a small town paper, surrounded by a staff with limited perspective, and apparently lack the education necessary to compete in a wider world. Just how much has that "Christian" education bought you? My advice: get out of town; go to a big university somewhere, find out about other worldviews, other ideas, other outlooks; prepare to listen to criticism of your own worldview - if you do this honestly and find your beliefs still suite you, then you've come by them for reasons other than indoctrination. Just a suggestion...

But not to end on a critical note: Ruth did take wonderful photos and had a good write-up of Diamond View Middle School's rendition of "Oklahoma!", which premiers tonight.

Until next week....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Clearing Debris at the Pool of Siloam

While wondering the internet universe this evening I entered the world of self-proclaimed "archaeologist" Willie Dye and caught this picture on his website:

The picture has the following caption: "Dr. Willie Dye and team working at the Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem (The steps are being carefully excavated)".

The caption leads the uninitiated to assume three things: 1) Dr. Willie Dye has a legitimate degree and professional experience in archaeology; 2) it somewhat implies that he is in charge of the excavation and has a "team" (also implying some degree of prefessional expertise in archaeology) working under him; and 3) they are all engaged in careful, methodologically excavation that requires some degree of expertise.

My biggest issue with so-called evangelical/fundamentalist "Biblical Archaeologists" is the relatively large number of them who have no legitimate degree in the discipline, no formal training in its methods or theory, and absolutely no track record of producing viable data in publication. Yet they continue to portray themselves as "archaeologists" to the masses of uninformed waiting breathlessly to hear that the "professionals" have verified their belief system with "science". This picture and its caption reminded me that both Willie Dye and Carl Baugh visited my little corner of the world years ago (invited by two local boys who had joined Baugh and Dye's "team") and hawked their creationist and "bible-verified-by-archaeology" snake oil to our local community. Never ones to miss an opportunity to proselytize, the editorial staff at The Lassen County Times ran a number of articles on the trip and made every effort to imply that these guys were legitimate archaeologists, conducting important archaeology that was proving the bible correct in every way, and that they were leading the excavations because of their expertise in the field.

Willie Dye and Carl Baugh have no legitimate credentials in archaeology. They have no professional experience in archaeology. They have no publications in archaeology. They are not archaeologists. They and their "team" were volunteers (or part of the many "bible" tours offered by vendors looking for a quick buck). The photo shows them clearing debris, not "excavating carefully". They probably helped out quite a bit and enabled the directors of the project (who were not Baugh or Dye) to get some work accomplished, but their "expertise" was nothing you couldn't have taught a bright ten-year-old in an afternoon. This picture further reminded me of a previous post on the subject of archaeology and its abuse by creationists. Here's a short passage on the nature of public archaeology, volunteerism and the potential for non-professional fraud:

Third, archaeology’s greatest public benefit can also be its greatest weakness. Some aspects of archaeology, unlike other disciplines, are quite amenable to non-professional public involvement. Volunteers are not only welcomed, but frequently encouraged to participate in professional excavations. Digging square holes is not quantum physics, and most people with an interest in the past can be taught to dig and screen dirt with the best of us. Don’t get me wrong: there are frequently times when finesse, experience and skill are required for intricate excavation of special features and the skill level of most non-professionals is inadequate to the task – it is here where the professional archaeologist will usually take over. But a significant part of most large scale excavations is removing lots of dirt and not finessing the excavation of intricate features. Volunteers certainly make valuable contributions to archaeology and some gain a measure of expertise (I work with a few) – but they are not professional archaeologists. Excavation is really only a minor part of archaeology: it is the analysis and interpretation that requires significant expertise in the method and theory of archaeology, the ability to adhere to the methods of science, and skill at formulating cohesive arguments. Most non-professionals know the limits of their often significant contributions. Some, however, pick up a piece of pottery and suddenly become self-proclaimed experts in the field…and creationists will rush in and create expansive expertise out of shoveling dirt for a day faster than you can say “Indiana Jones”. We certainly have the usual creationist cast such as Carl Baugh, Willie Dye, Richard Fales and Clifford Wilson claiming to be professional archaeologists when they have no academic training, no professional field experience, and no track record of having produced reviewable contributions to the discipline. But there are also a growing number of Christian volunteers, willing to pay to participate in archaeological fieldwork in the Holy Land, who then return home to go on the “lecture circuit” and recount how their archaeological experiences are “proving the Bible correct”. Many clearly participate in order to gain a measure of professional authenticity that they then parade in front of home audiences. This is bad enough for archaeology, but it also broadly translates into the perception that these people can speak authoritatively on science in general. After all, they’ve participated with professional archaeologists on professional excavations. If they know something about potsherds, they must also know something about the failings of “macroevolution”, right?

As I said, archaeology's greatest benefit, but also its greatest weakness. It is unfortunate that archaeology is not subject to the same strict legal consequences for quackery as medicine. If that were the case I suspect that Baugh, Dye and most other fundamentalists would have lost their licenses or been jailed long ago.

Will The Real Indiana Jones Please Stand Up?

Today's Chattanoogan is reporting that Dr. Scott T. Carroll, Professor of Ancient Studies and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Antiquity at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mi., is the "Indiana Jones of Biblical Archaeology"...

Really? I thought Bob Cornuke, the President of B.A.S.E. was...

Or was it Ron Wyatt?

Hell, they all look alike...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Frosty's Bibllical Literalism Laid Waste

A number of bloggers have already posted really cognizant discussions on the absolutely clueless drivel to which Frosty and his school board buddies wish to subject children. Ed, John and of course, PZ have some comments. And Matt has a very interesting post on why Gore's film may not be the best tool for a science class - he may be right. However, none of them hold a candle to the brutally frank essay by John Rickards entitled Bible Replaces Brain. John Rickards is in Britain, which has been experiencing its own creationist investation; but after reading about Frosty, John went off:

That was, of course, until I read this joyous little story, serving once more to prove that old Monty Python adage that there’s bugger all intelligent life down here on Earth.

“The information that’s being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is,” Hardison told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn’t in the DVD [of An Inconvenient Truth].”

Wow. On behalf of humanity, I’d like to thank you for playing. And this woman has spawned seven kids. Which means that while, in any just universe, she should be chemically castrated for the good of the gene pool, it’s too late and those poor, poor little buggers are already doomed. It’s right up there with the famous quote by Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt: “We don’t have to protect the environment. The Second Coming is at hand.”

It gets even better when he blows a hole the size of Kansas in this idea that we should have "fair and balanced" treatment on both sides of an issue:

Some things don’t have fair and balanced opinions on both sides - they just have the right one and the wrong one. I’d like to present you an opinion to balance your view that cars run on petrol fed into an internal combustion engine by teaching kids that in fact they’re powered by little gremlins working treadmills under the bonnet, and that if you can’t see them it’s because your mind only sees the illusion they want you to see.

Somehow I doubt you’d want that taught in schools. But if I’d said it a couple of thousand years ago…

Of course the underlying reason for such inane ideas is the concept of biblical literalism:

Biblical literalism - the belief that the book is true in its entirety and should be held as such - is inherently stupid. I say “inherently” because even without thinking about anything else, the Bible is full of contradictions and varying duplicates of the same story, which by their nature can’t all be true...

...I don’t recall seeing a serious push to have geocentricism taught in schools, nor the theory that the stars are crystal spheres, nor that disease is caused by either demonic possession or the wrath of God. Nor is anyone lobbying Washington or Parliament to have slavery or polygamy allowed for the faithful, or to have adultery (including the thought of adultery) punishable by death. Nor do they seem to be mounting much opposition to, say, the war in Iraq, or indeed to wars in general, nor, in many cases, the death penalty. Despite all that “love thy neighbour”, “turn the other cheek” and “don’t kill” stuff that peppers the Bible, and in particular the New Testament...

...Why not? Because these people are so used - and, as children, so heavily indoctrinated - to having the chosen mouthpieces at the top of their churches tell them what to think, what today’s Threat To The Faith is, what “evidence” there is of this or that, that they are wholly incapable of doing anything but parroting this shit back....I’m not suggesting that creationists and other Biblical literalists are hypocrites. No. I’m suggesting that they’re idiots.

Dangerously psychotic fanatics of subhuman intelligence who were turned into such by organisations which prey on adults whose only crime is to be confused, scared and uncertain, and on children with the great misfortune to be born to members or in member-riddled areas and who are deliberately, cynically and criminally brainwashed when they are too young and too undeveloped to defend themselves from people abusing positions of authority they do not deserve.

Saying that you should be allowed to treat someone as a second-class citizen and abuse them freely because the Bible says so, saying that the world is going to end in fire and then the faithful go to heaven and that this should be portrayed as a sensible alternative to learning about the evidence and reasoning behind global warming because it’s in the Bible, saying that there’s no real evidence for evolution and that creationism is an equally solid theory because, after all, it’s in the Bible, is no more than a kind of shorthand. A shorthand for saying, “Hello, I’m either terminally brainwashed and in desperate need of deprogramming or I’m so horribly mentally deficient that there are tapeworms in my own intestines capable of more cogent thought than me. In any case, I shouldn’t be allowed to tie my own shoes without supervision, let alone decide how society should function or what children should be taught, and certainly not to actually produce any progeny of my own.”

If Frosty is going to aire his personal views in public then he deserves no less a response.

Four Stone Hearth at Aardvarchaeology!

The newest edition of Four Stone Hearth is up at Aarvarchaeology! If you're into the exciting world of anthropology, check out the submissions! Forgive the shameful plug, but make sure you look at the exchange between Martin, myself and some other bloggers like Afarensis regarding historic preservation. Makes for some interesting reading.

And you guessed it! The next edition of Four Stone Hearth will be hosted here at Northstate Science on January 31. I'm looking forward to seeing all the new submissions.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Utah Buttars Backs Baloney Bill

Wacky Utah Congressman D. Chris Buttars is at it again:

He wants a state law to stipulate that individual expressions of religious faith are protected on public property.

This is a short article, but the one-liners are absolutely fabulous:

...Buttars is back again with another legislative solution desperately seeking a problem...

Like last year's creationism bill, Senate Bill 111 was created with no intelligent design.

Forget about dogs that won't hunt. This is a bird that won't fly. It has wings of concrete, an easy mark for any lawyer -- which Buttars isn't.

Buttars might have responded to his constituent that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that students can express themselves as long as they don't disrupt school. But that would have taken away his opportunity for religious posturing.

National Park Service Clarifies Position on Age of the Grand Canyon...Possibly

Apparently the National Park Service has just officially clarified its position on the creationist book being sold at the Grand Canyon and declared the following:

In a statement issued by the National Park Service (NPS) Chief of Public Affairs, David Barna, on January 4th, the agency contends that park rangers have been instructed to "use the following explanation for the age of the geologic features at Grand Canyon…The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old."

The Grand Canyon will, however, continue to sell the book in the visitor center bookstore, although in the "inspirational" section and not with the science books. As the article notes, this is the first time the National Park Service has officially distanced itself from the creationist book, which is good, but it still doesn't explain the following:

* Why did the Park Service approve it for sale? Under agency rules, park officials are only to allow display materials of the highest accuracy and which support approved park interpretive themes in its bookstores;
* What happened to the "policy review" on the book promised in public statements and in letters to members of Congress by Barna and other NPS officials?
* Why has NPS refused for the past five years to issue the pamphlet entitled "Geologic Interpretive Programs: Distinguishing Science from Religion" providing guidance to park rangers and other interpretive staff on how to answer questions relating to creationism, evolution and related topics?

I was unaware that the NPS refused to issue a pamphlet providing guidance to park rangers on the difference between science and creationism. That sounds suspicious...So is this:

The Barna statement notes "This book is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore" but omits the fact that this "inspirational" section was created after PEER exposed the fact that the book was being sold as a "natural history." The inspirational section now includes anthropological works on Native American culture but no other work remotely resembling the Vail book.

I'm sure RangerX will have some more enlightening comments on the subject, given his inside sources (I just checked...he does, although it's not what I suspected). In that regard, it is probably good that the book is still on sale, given that there may be some unforseen benefits for science in the park.

"Our only point is that the Park Service should stop selling the book with a government seal of approval," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Nonetheless, we are delighted that the Park Service has, after three years, finally chosen to publicly and unambiguously acknowledge that the Grand Canyon is the product of evolutionary geologic forces."

RangerX's concerns aside about misinformation regarding what the on-the-ground interpreters are being told, I'm glad to see NPS formally clarifying their position...I think.

Monday, January 15, 2007

High School Teacher Stands Up For Evolution

Another brave high school teacher defends evolution in a public format! He could have accessed far more data to support his points than by relying on Wikipedia, but he nonetheless demonstrated why a previous letter writer to the Ventura County Star was depending on ignorant readers to make his case.

Dembski a Modern Galileo?

An interesting discussion on why teaching evolution is important. I followed a few more links on this blog and found this discussion on why intelligent design advocates Dembski and Wells are not the Galileo's of our day, despite the fact that the intelligent design crowd often considers them as such:

Galileo's peers held him in almost universally high regard. So did Einstein's. So did Wegener's. Not all of their peers may have agreed with them, but those peers did recognize their genius. And why would they not? Each of these fellows made excellent and profound contributions to science throughout their lives.

On the other hand, with very few exceptions, Dembski's and Wells' peers in the scientific community seem to hold them in poor regard, mainly because of the paucity of their output and general poor quality of that which they have produced. Certainly they are not luminaries.

And then later, this zinger:

William Dembski doesn't have very impressive output either. He sure has a lot of degrees for someone who has contributed so little to science. Notice that he has far more contributions of a religious nature than a scientific bent. [emphasis mine]

Someone outside of the natural sciences isn't fooled by the propaganda machine of the ID activists.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Excellent Questions from Aardvarchaeology!

Martin at Aardvarchaeology posted some excellent questions regarding my brief comparison of Swedish and American heritage preservation laws. Here's my attempt at some answers:

From Martin:

What happens if a member of the public makes a clearly prehistoric find on federally owned land, without digging or damaging anything, and alerts the local authorities? For instance, a collection of lithics from the erosion slope of a stream gully or the edge of a quarry. (I'm sure he or she would not be held in error.) Who owns such finds?

Excellent question and it reminds me that I was remiss in explaining something important about the law and its consequences. I can tell you that most of us with adminstrative responsibility for historic preservation would not be prosecuting someone who found something and brought it in to our attention (I say most only because there are probably one or two exceptions out there in the larger cultural resource management world). I am personally very greatful when someone alerts me to a site or artifact they've found. I try to believe that most people collect these things because they have an interest: if I can steer that interest away from casual collecting and into something less destructive, I try to take that tact: I'll go out to the site with them; enlist their help to record the site or catalog the artifacts, etc. I do believe education is our best defense against systematic looting. I think we gain more by working with the public rather than lecturing them. I would still prefer it if folks didn't actually pick up anything and just alerted me or someone else to the area's location. Still, I'm not going to slap the cuffs on if you happen to bring something in! We try to save the ARPA prosecutions for people digging or systematically stripping a site.

To this end, the Forest Service specifically has a program called Passport In Time that offers volunteer opportunities for people interested in archaeology or other aspects of historic preservation to work side-by-side with professional archaeologists. In this way members of the public can participate, feel a sense of contribution, and hopefully understand why we archaeologists get a little anal retentive regarding artifact collections from sites. There are other programs in other agencies and often we just look for local volunteers to help us with something without going through a formal program.

Nonetheless, in answer to Martin's question: the artifact is still considered government property and the person would have to turn it over to officials.

What percentage of interesting sites are on federally owned land? E.g., how many of the known Moundbilder mounds? In other words, is the federal legislation relevant in the greater number of cases? Or is it simply a question of trespassing laws keeping archaeological surveyors off privately owned land, so that such land forms white spots on the distribution maps?

Very good question, and one that's not easily answered. Out west, where most of the broader tracts of federal land are located, we probably have a significant number of the known sites on public land. However, there are still lots of those "white spots" (and yes, they really are white on many of our maps) where we have private or state land. Many private areas as you might imagine also have significant sites, however, largely because many of those places were homesteaded or deeded over many generations and tend to occur on the same locations that many Native Americans found attractive. Interesting that you should mention the Moundbuilders: I actually worked for the Burial Sites Preservation Office in Wisconsin in the 1980s and early 90s and we were tasked with preserving many of the mound locations (largely because they were shown in most cases to contain burials). I'm taxing my memory somewhat, but I believe the site protection legislation that passed the Wisconsin state assembly in 1987 specifically protected mounds, even on private property. So again, the short answer to Martin's question is that "it depends". Some communities and states have excellent preservation laws in place (particularly those in the east, where there is less federal land and historic preservation has traditionally fallen to the states and local communities) - others do not.

In regards to "interesting sites": I'm assuming we're talking about important sites that might contribute something of value (data, uniqueness, documentation of significant event, etc.). In the U.S. these would be sites eligible for the National Register. We've found approximately 20% of the sites we formally evaluate are eligible for the National Register. This figure might be skewed somewhat, given that we tend to formally evaluate smaller sites that aren't likely to be considered eligible anyway. This leads me to a question for Martin, however: it sounds as though Sweden's National Heritage Board is roughly equivalent to our National Register of Historic Places...are all sites in Sweden automatically registered with the Heritage Board once identified, or is there a similar "evaluation" process to determine if a site is eligble for registration?

My post didn't say much about sites and land development. Does the US evaluation of an area in advance of e.g. a road development differ with regard to who owns the land? Can the authorities force private land owners to admit archaeologists for surveying in such a case? In Sweden, a road or gas pipeline development will usually operate with a wide corridor of potential placement in the early stages of the project, and then the final placement within the corridor will be influenced by the results of archaeological and biodiversity evaluations. Which of course cover the entire corridor regardless of who happens to own the land.

The short answer to both questions is "yes", although again "it depends". Most projects tend to be either federally or state funded. If federally funded (in any amount) the project must comply with NHPA, so archaeologists must be allowed to survey and if necessary evaluate and mitigate before the project can proceed, even if through private property. State laws again vary, but here in Calilfornia, generally the same thing applies. CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) laws require some degree of historic preservation compliance similar to those at the federal level, although I'm not thoroughly familiar with all the regulations at the state level (being federal, if we're involved at all our processes and procedures generally supercede everyone else so I haven't had the need to be completely up to speed on state and local laws!). Afarensis and Carl might be able to wade in here on their perspectives for the situations in Missouri and Texas.

At the local (generally county or city) level of government, the stipulations again vary widely across the states, but most seem to have some kind of protection for historic resources. Generally this occurs via the permitting process. In many places you can't get a permit to put that 2000 square foot garage up until you've had the area cleared by a professional archaeologist.

On the planning end for bigger projects, it sounds like Sweden and the U.S. are somewhat similar. Our planning efforts fall under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which includes provisions for considering all kinds of issues: water, wildlife, economic, fisheries, botany, and of course...historic resources. We generally try to plan projects within the context of understanding where all the potentially affected resources might be so before project implementation so that there's little need to suddenly change project plans when we sudenly find that the only habitat in the state for the red breasted doodle bug is right in road path. If we do the planning correctly, the hypothetical situation with the Giza pyramid I noted previously should rarely happen.

Did I understand correctly, that a US landowner may dig or dynamite any site on his land as long as it doesn't contain graves? Scareee!

I'm not entirely up on the laws governing private property and I'm sure again, "it depends", but yeah, that's pretty much my understanding. Bear in mind, however, that unless he's just throwing sticks of dynamite for something to do after church on Sunday, he's probably engaged in digging or blowing something up for some kind of permitted project (via county, state or feds). As such, he's most likely needed to have archaeologists conducting survey and raising awareness of any sites that might be located in harm's way.

Again, excellent questions! Hopefully I've gone some distance toward answering them, but I'm more than willing to entertain follow-ups.

Don't forget everyone: Aardvarchaeology is hosting the next edition of Four Stone Hearth - get your submissions in!!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lassen County Times In Review: Jan 9 Edition

Well, time for the weekly review of LCT items and I have to say not much caught my eye or piqued my interest this week. Brad Jenks responds to Patricia Ausmus over the Iraq war discussion, although not very well. Jenks clearly thinks there was a significant link between the Iraqi's, specifically the Hussein government, and Al-Quaeda, therefore the invasion of Iraq was justified. Jenks asks, "Which side of the debate is believable?" Well, I am inclined not to think it's his side. Everything I've read suggests that if you take a few items out of context it's easy to show a direct link, but when looked at as a whole the picture is not clear at all. This seems to be the conservative mode of operating, however, whether it's creationism, economics, religion, Nancy Pelosi, or the war in Iraq - lift a few things out of context and create a story as if it were complete (then call everyone who disagrees with you a liar, as Jenks does). Lift a few disparate pieces of my life out and I bet Brad could concoct a relatively believable story that I'm linked to Al Quaeda terrorists: I have Muslim friends in Africa; I've been to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on many occaisions; I presented a study of Marxist approaches to archaeology in a graduate seminar once; I'm not fond of fundamentalist Christian religion; I also made "Distinquished Expert" in rifle competition, and was actually in East Africa in 1993 when the first World Trade Center bombing attempt was made. So, using what counts as logic these days on FOX: maybe I know something about firearms, hence I possibly know something about gunpowder, hence it's probable that I know something about other explosives, hence it's likely I've used C4, hence it's almost certain my Muslim friends use C4, hence it's beyond doubt they're members of Al Quaeda, hence I must be a member of Al Quaeda - besides which, I flunked the "Do You Want The Terrorists To Win?" test, so that must seal the issue). I'm sorry, but that kind of logic occurs in spades among the neo-cons.

Another letter refers to the potential closing of Cornerstone Christian School. I hate to be cruelly blunt, but this is clearly not a heartbreaker for me. I don’t care for private schools, especially those run by fundamentalists of any religious stripe. With very few exceptions they are centers of indoctrination and an opportunity to isolate children from a larger world perspective. The woman who writes in confirms everything I suspect about the world of private Christian schools:

They start and finish their day with prayer. They pray before meals. They learn the Bible.

Are the children told the Bible is a Bronze/Iron Age text, written by people with no knowledge of science, very little understanding of the broader world around them and writing with some clear political agendas?

Then there’s this:

They learn morals and values and love for one another.

Here again we have the “you can’t be a moral person unless you’re a Christian” bovine fodder argument, which leaves out most of the rest of the world and the millions of people born before 33 A.D. I’m glad to see Dawkins, Harris and a host of other people are starting to trash this line of thinking on a regular basis. Agnostic Mom just announced that she has two articles in the upcoming book on secular parenting edited by Dale McOwen entitled, Parenting Beyond Belief. I would recommend that the person concerned with the closing of Cornerstone pick up a copy and try to understand that there are millions of good people out there who live joyful, moral, family lives without having to buy into second millennium BC mythology.

Finally this:

…I ask that you include Cornerstone in your prayers that God would bless them with more students…

What makes her assume God actually wants the school open? Did she stop to consider the possibility that, even if God exists, He may actually want the school closed because it fails to allow children the freedom of curiosity to explore the wonders of a larger creation without the intellectual shackles of biblical literalism? Of course, declining enrollments may have nothing to do with God. It could just be that most parents want their kids to grow up with more of an open mind and a better ability to the world in its wider context.

Until the Jan 16 edition....

Historic Preservation in Sweden and the U.S.: A Brief Comparison

Earlier this month, the great new blog Aardvarchaeology (Martin Rundkvist) posted a discussion of preservation issues in Sweden that got me to thinking further about the state of preservation law in the U.S. Martin suggests that to his knowledge Sweden may have the strongest legal protection for sites and finds in the world. That may be the case – some of the provisions of Swedish law as Martin describes them would definitely enhance archaeological site protection here if implemented.

So what does American law say? Well, to quote the guru of cultural resource preservation law in the U.S., Thomas King, the initial answer has to be: “it depends”. Unfortunately the American penchant for letting no legal vacuum go unfilled has created a sometimes bewildering array of laws, statutes, regulations and policy regarding historic preservation in this country. Martin’s post on Swedish antiquities law starts with a very simple (and here, frequently asked) question: who owns an archaeological find made by a member of the public? Martin indicates that in Sweden, the important legal relationship is between the authorities and the finder, not the landowner, in large part apparently because there are no trespassing laws in Sweden (a totally alien concept here in the states). At a certain level, the same applies here in America.

In the U.S., historic preservation on public lands (Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife – any lands owned by the federal government) is governed by federal laws, most prominently the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Note that these two laws are the most frequently implemented, but there are a host of other laws that protect cultural resources: American Antiquities Act, Abandoned Shipwrecks Act, Historic Sites Act, American Battlefields Protection Act; there are even some statutes in the Internal Revenue Code and Department of Transportation Act that have a bearing on historic preservation. The National Park Service website has an updated list of federal laws that govern cultural resources: at last count over 50 federal laws exist that touch issues of historic preservation in some way.

So in answer to Martin’s question regarding whether or not a member of the public can collect artifacts or excavate sites on federal (publicly owned) land, the answer is absolutely not. Members of the public not legally authorized to collect or excavate are considered in violation of any of a number of laws (ARPA being the primary one) and can be prosecuted with fines, jail time or both. Those of us charged with protecting archaeological resources on public land spend a good deal of time trying to prevent the illegal collection of artifacts, usually through a two-pronged approach: educating the public on the need to protect cultural resources and vigorously prosecuting those who fail to heed the educational message.

It is principally ARPA that regulates excavation and collection on public lands. Under this statute, the government may issue excavation permits for those with legitimate interest and expertise (usually professional archaeologists interested in research) to conduct archaeological excavations on public lands. The regulations regarding who may or may not excavate are clear. In this context I have always found it amusing that Carl Baugh, Willie Dye, Richard Fales and several other creationist “researchers” claim status as archaeologists or paleontologists, yet none would ever be issued an excavation permit under ARPA. They all lack legitimate credentials, education and experience necessary to be considered the principle investigator or director of an archaeological excavation on public lands in the U.S.

ARPA clearly prohibits excavation of archaeological resources on federal land. However, there are those who believe that ARPA maintains an exception for the casual collection of arrowheads and historic things not over 100 years old from surface contexts. The provision of ARPA specifically reads as follows:

…No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age (16 U.S.C. § 470bb(1)).

And then later…

Nothing in subsection (d) of this section shall be deemed applicable to any person with respect to the removal of arrowheads located on the surface of the ground (16 U.S.C. § 470ee(g)).

I know of some folks who carry a copy of ARPA with them when the collect arrowheads or historic bottles believing that the so-called “arrowhead exception” will protect them from prosecution as long as they’re not digging. They are in for a shock if they ever get caught. In 1996 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a conviction by a lower court ruling against a defendant claiming rights to collect under the “less than 100 years” and arrowhead exceptions in ARPA. Basically the court found that even though the law does not specifically deal with artifacts falling within those categories for prosecution under ARPA, the law does not specifically assume “transfer of rights” for those items when found. The court further emphasized that the government did not intend to allow for collection of these items from archaeological contexts of any kind, surface or otherwise. Finally, the court pointed out that even if such were not the case, ARPA specifically notes that other statutes allow for the government to prosecute for collecting artifacts of any type in any archaeological context (surface or otherwise):

This exception is not intended to encourage removal of arrowheads from public lands, butrather to exempt such removal from the civil and criminal penaltyprovisions of the ARPA. See 16 U.S.C. § 470ff(a)(3); 36 C.F.R. §296.3(a)(3)(iii)…Also, the ARPA expressly provides that the removal of arrowheads can be penalized under other regulations or statutes. See, e.g., 49 Fed. Reg. 1016, 1018 ("regulations under other authority which penalize [the removal of surface arrowheads] remain effective.").

The clear message is that no member of the public can excavate on public land without a permit (and the requirements for granting those are explicit); nor can they collect artifacts of any kind. Other public lands (state, county, municipality, etc.) are governed by a dizzying array of state and local laws as you might imagine – some more lax than others. In general, those state regulations of which I am aware tend to follow the federal lead and prohibit or severely restrict artifact collecting and archaeological excavation.

However, Martin’s question regarded the collection on private land. Of course, in the U.S. trespassing laws come into effect and you can’t just walk on to anyone’s land and start collecting without permission. Assuming permission or you’re the landowner, however, there are very few regulations preventing you from collecting antiquities on your own property. Generally excavating or “robbing” burials is the exception. [The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has spawned a series of state and local statutes regarding the protection of human burials (including non-Native American in some cases). This has become another major law at the federal level (which I have to deal with on a frequent basis in my capacity as Forest Archaeologist) but it is also having effects at other levels. See Afarensis’ series of excellent posts on the issues regarding Kennewick – this was a major NAGPRA issue]. It looks like collection on private land in the U.S. is significantly different from the case in Sweden. Martin reports:

…let me also emphasise that the landowner has very few rights with regard to the sites on his land. They sit on his property, but they are themselves in many ways property of the state. He can't dig them, he doesn't own any finds from them, he is forbidden to change his current agricultural methods on the sites for something more destructive.

This is clearly not the case in the U.S. With few exceptions, the landowner effectively owns the site and its contents. I’m not as certain with regard to the sale of artifacts in the U.S., if obtained legally, but illegally obtained artifacts are prohibited from sale under ARPA. There are other interstate commerce clauses that may also come into effect here.

Apparently, the Swedish rules cited above apply to multiple artifacts coming from a single location. Individual artifacts recovered in isolation fall under different rules depending on the level of precious metal content. In effect, the Swedish landowner doesn’t own complete sites and their contents, but they and other members of the public may be allowed to own isolated artifacts under some circumstances.

In this regard, I would have to agree with Martin and suggest that the preservation laws in Sweden (at least for private property owners) are better than those here. Given Martin’s brief discussion, I think would go so far as to say that if I had the power, I would gladly consider an “isolated artifact” exception (even perhaps on federal land) in exchange for government ownership of all archaeological sites and their contents on all lands, including private. Public interest in historic preservation would be better protected if cultural resource sites could not be considered private property.

One thing Martin alludes to but doesn’t discuss in depth is protection of cultural resources during “project” implementation (road/building construction, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, etc.). For those of us responsible for the protection of cultural resources on public land in the U.S. this is about 95% of our job: ensuring that “undertakings” don’t adversely affect historic properties. Our guiding legislation in this regard is the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). NHPA is complex and its implementing regulations are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations 18 CFR 800, specifically in reference to Section 106. Whole classes are taught on Section 106 of the NHPA and its implementing regulations but basically it boils down to this: before an undertaking can take place, the effect of that undertaking on historic properties must be considered. This assumes several things. First, you have to know if any historic properties exist within the project area, so you have to find any sites that might exist. This typically means some kind of survey is required (not necessarily a typical intensive archaeological survey either, but that’s a different issue). Secondly, you have to determine if these sites are important. “Historic property” actually has specific meaning under the regulations: it’s a site that has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). This might be similar to Sweden’s National Heritage Board. Whether a site is eligible for NRHP listing or not is usually determined through formal evaluation of the site. Finally, if a site is determined eligible, any adverse effects from the undertaking have to be determined and mitigated if they cannot be avoided.

The whole process is complex. The regulations largely discuss how sites are to be located, evaluation procedures, determinations of effect, and potential mitigations. A couple things of general interest: It is often assumed that this regulation “protects” historic properties. Legally it does no such thing. All the law requires is that we “take into consideration” the effects of a project on the resource. Let’s say we’ve done our survey and located the Giza pyramid in the middle of our planned road construction route. Ok, it’s clearly an eligible property (it’s unique, meets certain criteria, has the potential to add to our understanding of prehistory or history, etc.). So what do we do? Well, the road is planned to go right through it, so clearly our project will have an “adverse” effect to the pyramid. The easiest “mitigation” would be to avoid impacting the site and re-route the road. But let’s say we can’t. Can we still put the road through? Yes. We would have to meet with a bunch of interested parties and decide a course of action: we could dismantle the whole thing and rebuild it somewhere else; we could just excavate the hell out of it and recover as much information as possible; we could document the whole thing with photos, drawings, etc. Once we agreed on a course of action and completed what we all agreed to do, the bulldozers could go forth. Legally, the pyramid will not stop the road. I emphasize legally, because there are other considerations that obviously come into play: economic and public opinion/political. Clearly a lot of people are probably going to be upset over the destruction of the Giza pyramid and they will bring pressure to bear on those who want to put the road through. Also, all of those mitigation measures cited above are extremely costly, and it may be more economically feasible to move the road rather than bear the cost of mitigation. In fact, generally archaeological sites are “protected” on federal land in this manner: it’s easier economically to just change the project design.

Again, regulations at the state and local levels vary widely, but these also seem to follow the primary goals of federal legislation. When we turn to private land, the situation is different and does not appear to follow the Swedish pattern. Martin notes that the farmer in Sweden:

…is forbidden to change his current agricultural methods on the sites for something more destructive.

In the U.S. the farmer can pretty much do what they want. There are a couple of exceptions, however. On the local level, county planning usually requires identification of cultural resources on the landowner’s property before they will issue a building, land exchange, parcel split or other permit. Again, this varies considerably across the country.

A private landowner may also be required to comply with NHPA regulations if he receives any sort of federal funding for his project. Federal grants for vegetation management around wildland/urban interfaces, for example, require NHPA compliance before the money can be released. This is what we call the “federal handle”…the project may not actually be located on federal land, but if it is being even partly financed with federal dollars, then NHPA (and other) regulations apply.

I’m not sure how these regulations stack up against those in Sweden (and they are far more complex than I have discussed here - even with regards to private property). It is clear, however, that regulations such as these have gone a long way toward protecting cultural resources around the world. More stringent applications certainly wouldn’t hurt and we might follow Sweden's lead in this regard.