Friday, November 8, 2019

Palimpsest Notes - from Bob Stelton


Archaeology Ain’t What It Used To Be
Archaeology used to be an arduous adventure. Alfred Maudsley’s adventuring carried him across the globe and into the jungles of the Yucatan. Brilliant insight brought him into the depths of the Yucatecan jungle with state-of-the-art cameras that would provide clear photos of structures and panels of Maya hieroglyphs that would be deciphered by future generations of scholars.
John Lloyd Stephens cast aside a career before the bar.  In 1836, he met Frederick Catherwood and the two planned their epic exploration of Central America. They recorded the actual adventures in Incidents of Travels in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841).  With his paints and pencils, Catherwood added special life to that remarkable achievement.

WWII and the end of an era
Scientific archaeology’s nativity was accompanied by its expansion into the present discipline. If the aspirant expects to achieve a career in the discipline a Ph.D. is now a requisite.
World War II interrupted archaeology’s progress but proffered the miracle of Carbon-14 dating and there were other gifts.  Thermoluminescence along with a raft of new technologies followed by the miracle of LiDAR with its ability to penetrate deep jungles. The uses of DNA analysis on bones has dramatically changed archaeology. Digging has become quite meticulous at some sites where the questions being asked are most significant.  At Old Vero Man site, Florida, archaeologists are checking the dirt for ancient flora and fauna DNA (including human).
Meanwhile, Mexico, along with others, has published LiDAR images of large tracts of land online. Takeshi Inomata, an archaeologist, has discovered 27 Maya sites through examination of these images online, as reported by The New York Times.
 Recent adventures have been in the lab and not in the steamy jungle of the Petén.  Adventure now can be at home with the computer!


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