Using Laser to Map Ancient Civilization in a Matter of Days – NYTimes.com

As an archeology geek with interest in the Mayans, I go squee: Using Laser to Map Ancient Civilization in a Matter of Days.

Then, in the dry spring season a year ago, the husband-and-wife team of Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase tried a new approach using airborne laser signals that penetrate the jungle cover and are reflected from the ground below. They yielded 3-D images of the site of ancient Caracol, in Belize, one of the great cities of the Maya lowlands.

In only four days, a twin-engine aircraft equipped with an advanced version of lidar (light detection and ranging) flew back and forth over the jungle and collected data surpassing the results of two and a half decades of on-the-ground mapping, the archaeologists said. After three weeks of laboratory processing, the almost 10 hours of laser measurements showed topographic detail over an area of 80 square miles, notably settlement patterns of grand architecture and modest house mounds, roadways and agricultural terraces.

It has an interactive graphic! It’s awesome! The city is huge!

Chewing

Today in history — Chewing!

Cooking is something we all take for granted but a new theory suggests that if we had not learned to cook food, not only would we still look like chimps but, like them, we would also be compelled to spend most of the day chewing.

Without cooking, an average person would have to eat around five kilos of raw food to get enough calories to survive.

The daily mountain of fruit and vegetables would mean a six-hour chewing marathon.

It is already accepted that the introduction of meat into our ancestors’ diet caused their brains to grow and their intelligence to increase.
Meat – a more concentrated form of energy – not only meant bigger brains for our ancestors, but also an end to the need to devote nearly all their time to foraging to maintain energy levels.

As a consequence, more time was available for social structure to develop.

If God didn’t want us eating animals he wouldn’t have made them out of meat! Go team carnivore!

Today in Egyptology

King Tut felled by malaria and broken leg.

Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun suffered from a cleft palate and club foot, likely forcing him to walk with a cane, and died from complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria, according to the most extensive study ever of his mummy.

The findings were from two years of DNA testing and CT scans on 16 mummies, including those of Tutankhamun and his family, the team that carried out the study said in an article to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

That’s awful anti-climatic.

Norman Centuries

Today I pimp a podcast and a website!

I listened to Lars Brownworth’s original series, the 12 Byzantine Rulers, when it first came out. It was awesome and what got me hooked on academic-leaning podcasts. 12 Byzantine Rulers was recently mystically transformed through occult ritual into dead tree form and it is still available in the full run on iTunes. It was written up by the New York Times and it’s a tremendously fun listening experience at about 15 minutes a pop.

HOWEVER, now he’s doing the Norman Centuries on how the Vikings turned into Normans and became Middle Ages conquering machines. Vikings! Crusades! Norman Conquest of England!

The first episode is up on the webpage and the RSS feed for the podcast is running. I cannot pimp this podcast enough. If you even passingly enjoy learning about the more obscure corners of history, these podcasts are fantastic.

The Internet! Sometimes it’s for learnin’!

A Complaint about the American Revolution!

I have a complaint about the American Revolution!  Which is a strange sort of complaint, so perhaps it is not a complaint about the Revolution itself, which sort of happened a while ago, but about the history books that have sprung from it and which I consume in overly large doses like Fritos.

My complaint today has to do with the treatment of supporting cast, or more to the point, lack thereof!  Most of the book on the actual war itself are very focused on His Excellency, George Washington, and how awesome he is.  He’s always played by some very important leading man, like Brad Pitt or Christian Bale or Johnny Depp.  Tall and good looking, an imposing red-haired figure at 45 in his blue coat with excellent buckles, how can you miss him?

But I contend his supporting cast is more awesome and my specific complaint is the total lack of coverage of Henry Knox who, when he does get to appear on screen, is played by a comedian or some second-string sidekick who can pull off a nebbishy bookseller from Boston who whips out the super-secret winning plan at the last moment.

Like most of the supporting cast of the American Revolution, he was awesome. Hauled cannons in sleds from Upstate New York to Boston in the middle of winter! Orchestrated the Crossing of the Delaware! (Someone had to come up with that plan.) A founder of the Society of the Cinnicinati, a bona-fide somewhat Secret Society! First Secretary of War and founded the US Navy! And he was such a horrible insane tyrant in his old age up in Maine he was the model for Col. Pynchon in Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables.

Yet he is relegated to being played by a Topher Grace in the history of the Revolution when the movie is made and the book adaptation released. Compared to Washington, who has all the best lines, who cares about a crazy Bostonian with a flair for coming up with completely implausible plans that somehow work?

My problem with the American Revolution in general and the history books in particular is the same problem I have with True Blood: I get tired of the Mary Sue main characters (although in history there are rarely Vampire boyfriends) and find the secondary cast so much more interesting. The secondary cast has all the color and flair! These main guys? Sure they can stop bullets and fly, but where’s the fun in that?  The secondary cast is so cool it’s difficult to believe they weren’t just made up.  By me.

I shake my fist in muted history-nerd rage.

(Yes, I’ve read Angel in the Whirlwind, and it has awesome parts about the secondary cast.  McCullough’s 1776 has some nice in-depth on secondary characters on both sides of the conflict.)