Monday, March 9, 2015

Spring Break

I spent my Spring Break at the Middle American Research Institute (MARI) studying ancient pottery. I brought a couple of students with me. They seemed pleasantly unperturbed, and even excited, to be laboring through their holiday. Of course, you have to remember that to go to Daytona Beach for Spring Break, my students have to drive several hours north, where it's colder and less fun than here by the beach in south Florida. It goes without saying that my students are the best, so I was not surprised by their interest and enthusiasm.

MARI has really excellent collections. Even though I've examined a couple of them before, I didn't realize how great they are, or how extensive. They have quite a few highly significant type collections that will well repay study if you're interested in Maya or Central American ceramics. Our goal was to prepare for our ceramic analysis this summer in Nicaragua, where we hope to study materials from the northwestern corner of the country, near Honduras and El Salvador. For this purpose, the MARI collections could not have been better suited because they include significant material not only from Honduras and El Salvador but also from Costa Rica.

I cannot fail to mention that the staff were extremely hospitable and graciously answered a hundred annoying questions. I thank them sincerely.

We brought our new portable digital microscope with us and took it for a test drive. I bought a Dino-lite AM4515ZT because it seemed to have, at an affordable price, the resolution and magnification that would help us record and analyze ceramic pastes. I tried out a lower resolution, simpler, and cheaper model first, but it was disappointing. Fortunately, the new model came along just in time for the trip to New Orleans. In the near future, I will post some photos of sherd pastes to illustrate what it can do. I think it will be excellent for comparing pastes and analyzing temper sizes and shapes. It cost about $770. It offers polarized as well as regular light, automatic magnification recording, a good range of magnification (20-220x), and a 1.3 megapixel camera. We found that the use of polarized light was extremely helpful for enhancing the contrast between clay and temper. Note that to use magnification in excess of, say, 20 or 30x, you really need to have a stand for the instrument because no one can hold it steady enough to take clear microphotographs.

Now I need to find affordable digital image processing software for isolating the temper from the clay. The one that everyone seems to recommend (Image-Pro) costs more than $5500, which is beyond my budget for this project. Cheaper programs exist, but I don't know whether they will really do the job. Let me know if you're aware of something cheap that really works!

The best reason for visiting the collections at MARI is, of course, the New Orleans food. We ate at:

Antoine's on Monday,
Pascal Manale's on Tuesday
Court of the Two Sisters on Wednesday, and
Franky and Johnny's on Thursday.

Unbelievable food.  I gained several pounds in less than a week. If I lived there and ate like that every week, I'd be dead in a year, but what a way to go.

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