thinking about archaeology

Archive for April, 2013

More Easter Island photos

Rano Raraku 1

Searching through my Kodachromes for pictures to illustrate the British Archaeology feature I wrote about earlier today, took me back nearly 20 years – I was on Rapa Nui in 1994. Here are some that didn’t make it into the magazine. There were then, it seemed, few tourists on the island, but there was more than enough going on: the huge reconstruction job of re-erecting all the statues on a rebuilt platform at Tongariki was underway, what was then a biannual arts festival (Rapa Nui Tapati) happened while I was there, and I was lucky enough to meet Georgia Lee on a visit of her own. And the weather and light were terrific.

Rano Raraku 3

Rano Raraku 2

Rano Raraku ship carving

Tongariki 1

Tongariki 2

Tongariki 3

Tongariki 4


reed boats racing

Ahu with statues Naunau

Tahai statue sea

Hoa Hakananai’a in British Archaeology

Cover with Spine

The new British Archaeology contains the first printed report on our study of the great Easter Island statue in the British Museum. The feature makes a great spread, and the results are really interesting.

I wrote about our work in the BM at the time here and here. Now the analyses are well advanced. In March James Miles gave a presentation about the technology of the survey (using photogrammetry and RTI in news ways) at the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference in Perth (see session 30 here). In British Archaeology we focus on the what we can see on the statue. The key points are:

  • Contrary to popular belief, the statue was not made for a coastal platform, but always stood in the ground where it was found on top of a 300m cliff
  • When it was half-buried by soil and food debris, small designs known as komari, representing female genitalia, were carved on the back
  • At a later date the whole of the back was covered with a scene showing a male chick leave the nest, watched by its half-bird, half-human parents – the story at the heart of the island’s unique birdman ceremony, recorded in the 19th and early 20th centuries
  • In its present plinth, the statue leans slightly to one side

You can read the case for this, and more, in the magazine. You can find it online and in the Apple store; the printed magazine goes out to members and subscribers today, and will be in the shops on Friday.


And watch the video here.


Welcome to the verbal equinox

My last post had one clue to stuff in the next British Archaeology, this one has three. Just more pictury things I liked recently.


First a simple idea put into practice that really works.  • P • I • T • O • T • I • was a short-lived digital rock art exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge University. But you can still see it online, and it’s worth a look. It’s not exactly clear who did what, but it says that it “grew from years of research” by Christopher Chippindale and Frederick Baker of the Cambridge University Prehistoric Picture Project. It shows panels from the prehistoric art in Val Camonica, Italy, in a way that no images such as the grabs above can do justice. Go see.

NY Driver’s Licenses

I also really liked this feature on the Evolution of the New York Driver’s License, with all the images of which these are a small selection.


And finally, a still from a new movie about Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki voyage. Heyerdahl had some odd ideas about history and human culture, some of them rather dark, but he was a fascinating man who deserves more attention than he gets outside Scandinavia. Whether Kon-Tiki Sails Again lives up to the man remains to be seen, but I look forward to finding out.

There’s much going on at Stonehenge, and one day I hope to catch up with some of it here, though there’s plenty of press coverage of developments at the visitor centre. But I did want to record the seasonal image one writer conjured for posterity:

“Many gathered last week to celebrate the verbal equinox at Stonehenge.”

Googling digging Google doodles

Or, let’s look at the rather curious selection of archaeological motifs in the Google search logo. A new British Archaeology has gone to the printers, leaving me as usual with an exhausted shrunken brain, so it’s nice to look at some pictures. Here’s the first round. There are clues to what’s in the new magazine, but I doubt any of them will be visible until the magazine’s out on April 12 (April 10 for CBA members and subscribers).

I noted an archaeological Google doodle last year, and we had another one recently to celebrate the centenary of Mary Leakey’s birthday. I thought it’d be fun to google the Google doodles, and came up with this lot that are loosely archaeological.

Google doodles 1

First ones that really are archaeological, from top left:

Mary Leakey’s 100th Birthday, Feb 6, 2013
Howard Carter’s 138th Birthday, May 9, 2012
Abu Simbel, Oct 22, 2012 (apparently on October 22 and February 22 the sun shines on all the figures except for Ptah, an underworld god)
100th Anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu, Jul 24, 2011
Discovery of the Aztec Sun Stone, Dec 17, 2009
End of the Mayan Calendar, Dec 21, 2012
Opening of the Acropolis Museum, Jun 20, 2009

Google doodles 2

Then a couple that are more geological:

Scientists unveil fossil of Darwinius masillae, May 20, 2009 (I reviewed the trade book about this for the Sunday Times)
Nicolas Steno’s 374th Birthday, Jan 11, 2012 (The Danish pioneer in geological stratigraphy and understanding fossils, 1638–1686)

Google doodles 3

Here are two more academic ones, the Flintstones’ 50th Anniversary (Sep 30, 2010) and Asterix’s 50th (Oct 29, 2009). So where’s Tintin?

Google doodles 4

Lastly you can bring in quite a few under the rubric of national days. These are from a nice series by Kevin Laughlin:

Bolivia Independence Day 2012, Aug 6, 2012 (the stone arch at Tiwanaku)
Nicaragua Independence Day 2012, Sep 15, 2012 (the 16th century El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepcion)
Honduras Independence Day 2012, Sep 15, 2012 (Copan ruins)
Argentina Independence Day 2012, Jul 9, 2012 (The colonial Casa de Tucumán)
Peru Independence Day 2012, Jul 28, 2012 (Chan Chan ruins)

Google doodles 5

And others:

Jordan National Day 2010, May 25, 2010
Jordan Independence Day 2011, May 25, 2011
Morocco Independence Day 2008, Nov 18, 2008
Morocco Independence Day 2008, Nov 18, 2011
Croatia Independence Day 2011, Oct 8, 2011
St. Patrick’s Day 2012, Mar 17, 2012 (worth a look for Jennifer Hom’s notes on how she worked from the Book of Kells)

It’s really not difficult to think of ideas for more. Stonehenge? Easter Island? An actual pyramid somewhere? Anything in China? Australia or New Zealand? You can suggest things to Google, worth a go.