Sunday, June 26, 2016

Say Archaeologists Dig Up Dinosaurs again...I Dare you

The theme of the blog for those who missed it the first time


Seriously, though...say it!

New site! And a visit to an old one

We have had a guest from the University of Leiden staying with us, and she was interested in seeing some of our salt-making sites. I have wanted to re-visit Rubén Darío since I realized that the pottery we surface-collected there was so very different from anything else we had seen in our collections.

Because Rubén Darío is located near many of the salt-making sites (at first, we assumed it was one), I thought we could kill two birds with one stone, visiting Rubén Darío and then moving along to the salt-making sites.

Rubén Darío was as buggy as ever, not surprisingly, especially since it has been raining frequently. The mosquitoes were terrible even though we were well-armed with repellent. One stung me on the lip so viciously that it felt like a bee or a wasp, and I suppose that it is possible it was.

Not content with examining the pottery scattered on the near side of the stream, we crossed over on a fallen tree, and our guide took us to see more material on the far side. I've been over to the far side in the past, and so I knew there were sherds on the other bank, but I had never explored over there. Our guide, Davíd, took us to see a pile of stone and earth full of sherds.

Pile of rocks, dirt,and sherds
I thought it might be a fragment of a mound, but he explained that it was probably a push-pile from when the dug the canal. Canal? I asked. He said, oh, yeah, that stream is a canal that was excavated to drain the pastures further inland. He explained that it was excavated a long time ago, before he was born. I knew the stream seemed peculiar--unnaturally straight and deep, with vertical walls--but I didn't know it was artificial. That helps to explain why the stratigraphy seemed so strange. It's possible that the site was deeply buried before the canal excavation cut through it. We'll need to explore that possibility. Davíd then walked a little further downstream (toward the Estero Real) and up onto slightly higher ground and showed us more patches of sherds, as well as what might have been the remains of a couple of structures on top of the hill.

Possible structure

Then we went to another nearby site that we had walked past very briefly the year before. We had thought it might be another salt-making site, and indeed, on this visit, we looked more closely at the pottery and decided it was probably briquetage.

We also noted that the mound at the site, although fragmentary, was larger than I remembered. I paced off 34 m before I got to the recent road cut that damaged it. It is also more than 2.5 m high, possibly 3 m or even more. I decided we should probably name the site Nolasco.

Mound at Nolasco. Note the large size of the stones in the retaining wall.

We visited another site or two that day. Overall, it was a good day in the field, despite the heat and the bugs.

Florida State University to dump Antarctic ice core curation facility

There was a report in Nature on Thursday saying that Florida State University was going to close an NSF-funded curation facility that stores and makes available for research ice cores from the Antarctic. Being involved in curation and paleoclimate research and the Florida State University system, this is disappointing but hardly surprising news. The government of the State of Florida finds the subject of climate change to be anathema. Curation--in any field--never seems to receive proper attention or funding. Storing specimens, I guess, just doesn't smack of sexy new discoveries, although the study of scientific collections is absolutely essential to the whole scientific enterprise. And, despite endless lip service, and the efforts of some dedicated individual administrators, the Florida State University system is not really committed to science, scholarship, or research because the legislature views the system as an expensive jobs training program.

Yet another sad day for science and education in Florida.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Student Archaeology Journals

Two new student archaeology journals seem to have had successful launches.

Inter-Section: Innovative Approaches by Junior Archaeological Researchers has its first issue out. It is based at the University of Leiden, which, unusually for Europe, has an active program of New World research. The journal's home page is here. The journal has an attractive interface and was professionally designed. I didn't try to download articles or the whole number, so I don't know if it's possible, but it seemed easy to read online.

The International Journal of Student Research in Archaeology also looks very professional and attractive. It's first issue can downloaded whole from Dropbox, and individual contributions are apparently available on It does not appear to be connected to a single university,and the students running it are quite an international group, though perhaps predominantly European. Love their logo, the crossed pen and trowel. The pen is mightier than the trowel, of course.

It's always great to see young folks engaged, ambitious, and making things happen.

The hard part will come with the transitions, as students leave and are replaced by new generations. Students are by their nature transient (or should be, although we all know that one permanent graduate student), and therefore it is hard to create continuity within the flux. All professors probably see how student organizations die and resurrect every few years as classes graduate. It is often difficult for the faculty to recruit new student leaders for organizations. I'm not sure what would happen with organizations that are not based in a single institution. I'm not saying continuity is impossible for students, but they will need to work at it actively, worry about it, develop a plan, have a policy. 

Where's my cane? I need to shake it someone.

Good luck to both journals!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"...and the blessed land a-heaving like the sea with earthquakes..."

So said Billy Bones, the pirate, thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The USGS says that in the last five days there have been eight, count 'em,,eight (8, ocho, waxak) earthquakes starting with last Friday's 6.1 magnitude shocker. Not aftershocks, of which there have been myriad, but separate quakes.

The number drops to seven if you don't count the one off shore, but rises to 9 or 10if you include the nearby ones off of El Salvador.

Except for the offshore ones, they've been concentrated along the southern edge of the Nicaraguan depression, running east from Puerto Morazan.

What the heck is going on? Is the volcano looming over us going to explode? (It's actually unusually calm.)  Enough is enough. My students and I are getting a tad jittery. Of course, if we were from California, I'm sure this would be nothing, bread and butter, not worth getting out of bed for, but since we're not from the left coast, we're taking it a little harder.

Text us when we can let go.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Follow Wdget Does Not Work (although feel free to keep trying it)

And I'm not surprised. I don't understand why Google would make it so extremely difficult, if not impossible, to follow their bloggers, but I would bet that it's not a sweet and altruistic reason.

Hating Google right now....

Test Post to See If the New Subscriber Gadget Is Working

I hope the new "Follower" widget works. No one has been able to follow my blog for years. Blogger is the worst blogging platform, except for all the others I've tried.

If this works, I'll say so in the next post.


Equipment review

When you've owned as many GPSs as I have, and if they're as critical to your work as mine is, and if you use them as much as I do, then you will love or hate yours, or both, as I do mine.

I have a Garmin Oregon 500. When I bought mine 7 years ago, it was more than twice as expensive as any GPS I had ever owned, and I was really excited by the color touch screen and base map, features I'd never had before.

When it arrived, the touchscreen was poorly calibrated, so the instrument systematically miscalculated the position of my finger. I fixed that, but the screen has always been clunky and insensitive. You have to tap it hard to get it to respond. Maybe that's intentional--a feature designed to make the instrument more durable in the field, perhaps--but I've broken a lot of nails using it. Good thing I don't care too much about my manicure.

But the most annoying feature about the model is the organization of the menus. It's very hard to find the command you want. I've always found the intuitiveness of the command interface the most attractive feature of Garmins, which is why I've bought about 15 of them over the years, but with this model they really lost their way.

Actually, the single worst problem with it is that it's nearly impossible to get it to just display the data from a waypoint after you've recorded it. There are  couple of ways to get to the data, but they are really work-arounds and you have to go through a large number of screens to get to right ones.

Another weakness is that it sucks the juice out of batteries like a chimp eating a mango. I could have driven a Tesla to Moscow with all the batteries I've run through.

Also, the chip can come loose if you put it on the dashboard and drive like hell down a dirt road. Fortunately, if you open the back and take out the batteries, you can slide the chip back into its slot.

On the positive side, the damn thing has taken a heck of a beating and still works as well as it ever did. It's been through a hell of a lot of bangs, dings, swamps and scorching heat.

In 2013, it fell of my belt (apparently)--the damn carabiner never wants to hook onto my belt loop and I'm too fat to see whether it's hooked on properly--in a freshly plowed field along the north bank of the Rio Negro here in Chinandega. We were exploring the ancient site of the town of Somotillo, which moved to its current location in the early 1700s. I was getting dizzy from the heat when I realized it was missing--no shade in a plowed field--but I remembered where I had taken the last waypoint, and we went back and, amazingly, found it. Then we waded back across the river to the car, which was parked in the shade. I turned the key and looked at the display on the dash and it said 44 degrees. That's over 110 degree F, in the shade.

Nicaraguans are not joking when they say that Chinandega is the hottest part of the country. I've looked at the NOAA satellite data, and it really is.

So, the Garmin has been whacked, soaked, and fried--everything but breaded and baked--and it's still working.

I should probably name it, but I can't think of anything appropriate, like the name of a drunken sailor.

So, it's time to get a new GPS. I will probably get another Garmin, but my enthusiasm for brand has dipped a little.

Kelsey finds her first site!

I hope Kelsey forgives me for blogging about her, but I woke up at 2:00 am with a fluttering in my left ear that made think an insect had crawled into it, and so blogging seemed like the natural thing to do. The alternatives were: 1) keep working on the informe, which I will probably do when I finish blogging, or 2) peer review a couple of articles that are waiting in my Inbox. I didn't think it would be fair to the authors to review their cherished work while tired and grumpy, so I'm blogging.

Last Sunday, we decided to take a drive in the countryside. I wanted Aaron, one of my students, to see a bit of Chinandega, which is very picturesque, because he has never been to Nicaragua before.

If you follow the paved road north out of El Viejo, ancient Tezoatega, keeping the volcano on your right hand, you eventually come to Tonalá and then Puerto Morazán, where the road ends at the Estero Real,  It's a beautiful new road, which replaced one that felt like one giant pothole and looked like it had last been paved when Sandino was fighting the Marines. A few kilometers north of El Viejo, there is a turn-off to an even newer paved road to the left, about 8.5 km (as the crow files) north of the plaza in El Viejo. This second, smaller road is paved with what they call "adoquines," which are concrete paving blocks set together in an interlocking pattern.

The "adoquinado" road runs north, and after about 2 km, it comes to the village of Cuatro Esquinas, where I found a site last year. That site has the distinction of being the one I found at highest velocity. By the speedometer, I was doing about 50 kph when I saw the potsherd on the side of the dirt road there.I slammed on the brakes, threw the SUV into reverse, and backed up to the site. The sherd was only 2-3 cm across, so my three passengers were suitably amazed when I pointed to it through the window.

When you get to Cuatro Esquinas, there is a dirt road going west near the southern end of town. About 2.5 km along this road is the village of Amayo. To get there, you have to turn right (north) at the T-junction, and drive about half a klick. From the town, drive west another half a click and turn north.  On Sunday, we were winding our way south along that same road, when Kelsey asked me to stop. I looked out the window and there was a stone mound on a platform in the fallow field. Kelsey dismounted and said there was pottery along the edge of the road. We whipped out the camera and GPS and took a couple of photos and a GPS point. A young teenager carrying two kittens, one in each hand, strolled up.

(Another big aftershock just rattled the house--in real time as I'm typing. It's been more than 24 hours since the quake and we've felt dozens of aftershocks.)

The youngster introduced himself as the custodian of the farm, and he allowed us to go into the field and look at the mound. He also pointed out a couple of other nearby mounds.
Here's the mound, looking east from the road. The mound appears to be sitting atop the north end of a long platform.

Aaron, standing tall on the mound, flanked by kittens.

The loose rocks are mound fill. The cobble size is typical of the mounds in the region.

Looking north from the first mound toward another one pointed out by the watchman. The low mound is slightly left of the electrical post.

Kelsey playing with the kittens on the slope of the mound.
Lovely site. Nice drive. It's always a good day when you find a mound site. I'm pretty sure this is Kelsey's first. She decided to name it Tecomatepe, an indigenous toponym we found on the local INETER topographic quadrangle map sheet (2754_2). Good name for a sweet site.

The kittens were really cute. They acted like puppies.

Back to the informe! I wonder if I can write a type description before the next aftershock hits. (There's a sentence I never expected to write.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Earthquake update

The aftershocks continued through the night. One of the early aftershocks was reported to magnitude 5.1 and another 4.8. Those rattled us pretty well, too. The government has gone into emergency overdrive mode, but I still have seen or heard reports of serious damage, injuries, or deaths. I heard a report on the TV or radio laast night that 4 houses had collapsed in Puerto Morazan, but I haven't heard it repeated. On the TV this morning, one of the officials, possibly a geologist, said that the building code prohibits construction on active faults, but I don't know if it's enforced. There seem to be many irregular settlements.

The quake was certainly strong enough to do a lot of damage, so the lack of destruction and casualties reflects well of the country's institutions.

Earthquake in Chinandega

The quake hit while we having dinner in a nice restaurant--Los Portales--in Chinandega. I've been in smaller quakes,but nothing like this. It was powerful, although we  could stay on our feet. We ran out into the courtyard by the pool. I've heard reports that it was a magnitude 6.1 centered on Puerto Morazan, a small, very poor town on the Estero Real about 30 kmnorth of us.

The aftershocks are continuing even now, at least 45 minutes later.

We're all okay--Kelsey and Aaron and my Nicaraguan family.

I haven't seen a lot of structural damage--no collapsed buildings in the street.

A lot of people are hanging out in the street, presumably to avoid injury if an aftershock knocks the house down. I also haven't seen buildings with large cracks in them.The electricity and water are still functioning.

However, my shaving cream can did fall into the sink,and I may need an extra scoop of ice cream to settle my stomach.

There have been many aftershocks, which continue.