Monday, December 29, 2008



The foregoing is not a defensive, but an illustrative statement of what anyone following this site and linked blogs of Michael M. Hobby can anticipate encountering. If conventional or general opinion can be matched to the data, we will agree with our colleagues; to the extent it doesn't, as is often the case for students imprisoned within their classes and forced to absorb and be tested upon often outdated, inaccurate dribble, then alienate ourselves we will from opinion disparate from the facts without explanation or academic defense or gross aberrations of fact and probability.

We have now entered a period in which the remarkable advances of archaeology must be based increasingly on geoarchaeology, and the hard sciences generally, all of which are material to and cognates of archaeology. We cannot permit consensus or compliantly general opinion to retard, inadvertently or by design, a much-needed re-definition of the great vista of Precolumbian history which lies before us in disarray. So much information and so many facts have accumulated on the margins of consensus that a new schematic of history must be sketched, put to paper, and made available.

We must actively discourage the practice of reporters and talk show commentators conducting "wooden" or "air-headed" interviews with “experts,” whose intent is to suppress data which cannot be explained by the theories the expert has taught for decades, often without significant updates.

This applies to hard science experts just as much as it does to pedants in the archaeology classroom. I can still recall taking a course in biochemistry, the notes for which the professor had developed in the heyday of the x-ray machine. A friend and I were so dismayed, we couldn't tolerate further attendance, so we dropped the class. There was nothing we could say; he was professor emeritus and coincidentally, the member of the faculty who passed out our diplomas at graduation years later. A hard science consensus which I generally accept with notable exceptions is Plate Techtonics theory. As geologists, that is our model of earth's geophysical history, with some limitations.

However, I also accept portions of the Expanding Earth hypothesis first advanced by Carey in 1956. (See, for instance: In my opinion, models limited exclusively to different mechanisms fail on two counts:

1) Exclusive mechanisms increase polarization and by their assertion imply that no mechanism of a competing model has relevance.

2) Accepting any model unquestionably tends to divert attention from any underlying material or arguments which might tend to refute the preferred model.

Both have a tendency to retard scientific progress. In defense of Plate Tectonics, it should be stressed that factors or mechanisms not addressed within Tectonic theory are not necessarily exclusive. There is ample room for consideration of other agencies. The exclusiveness is an attitude of adherents, an unnecessary one.

This is a fledgling example of a mammoth-sized problem that is a certainty, the elephant in the room of every academic institution. Troubling, as such institutions are to teach the fundamental importance of critical thinking, not becoming subject to the opinions of the faculty to whom you are exposed by circumstance, often falling prey to errant opinion. The appearance of consensus may arise, but what is needed are global and site-specific data within a geoarchaeological context, apart from the geologic time scale, which we use for prehistoric as well as historic periods. Global evidence of geologic phenomena need to be filtered through more than a single lens. For instance, Angular Chronology, can separate the mass of (largely unpublished) dissertations, site reports, etc. addressing the historic period into Broad categories within which resolution of chronologies with the identical order of magnitude. The tell-tale systemic anomalies and other problems become demarcated and more resolvable.

READ WIDELY is my advice to serious students within any discipline. Why? Because, notwithstanding the manner in which students and the public are informed, there actually is no "consensus." Take, for example just the relationship between the Toltec city of Tula and the Toltec portion of Chichen Itza. Depending upon which professor or which professional archaeologist you speak to, you will NOT get the straightforward answer you seek. Each will generally assert with confidence which came first, it's relationship to Quetzalcoatl and other characters. However, is the particular opinion based upon a long chronology or a short chronology? How many carbon-14 dates are available, and are they well-synchronized with other data? Are the ceramic phases (if any) substantial, even published? To glimpse just how broad and deep archaeological questions can be, see the following Tula/Chichen Itza discussion:

I know some will respond, “Tell that to the geezer heading or sitting on your dissertation committee.” Believe me, I get it! My honor's thesis was blocked at Tulane University even though I had won the New Orleans Geological Society scholarship as the top student in 1981. It wasn't blocked for academic reasons. It was blocked simply because the teacher of one of my fondest classes, micropaleontology, a great professor and learned advisor was offended because I addressed comments pertaining to uniformitarianism made by the authors of one of the textbooks, written by two friends of his at a consorting institution in another state. Hey, if you put it in print, you've entered the public forum. If it's a textbook, you're a candidate for the Inquisition, because students are reading (and in all likelihood believing) what you have written. Don't expect to hide from open arguments against your assertions. That's my opinion.

Interestingly, a few years later, a new geology department chair, who had been the Dean of Science the year of my graduation, contacted me, apologizing for how I had been treated, and asserting that the geology department would now be happy to publish my honors thesis. Why? It wasn't really from a sense of institutional shame or personal embarrassment about having watched my thesis be blocked. It was because important new work being done at Berkeley had put catastrophism in the forefront of geological opinion, markedly due to the discovery not only of tektite falls off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico marking the spot of meteoric impact, but also of a global iridium anomaly(a mineral rare in the earth's crust, but rich in meteorites) which correlates to the Cretaceous extinction, and is potentially typical of the most sudden and horrific extinctions that terminated other geologic ages, such as the Permian extinction. Had my thesis not been blocked, it would have put Tulane geology in good company. Quien sabe?

This is the merest of starters, and this post is just a hint at truly significant things to come which, if you share an interest in such matters, you will want to follow from time to time. This website is still in the design and organizational phase, but keep an eye on us.

Reply to Global Warming Blog Posts

Response to Global Warming Forum Errors
I am dismayed by the venomous, accusing attitude, oneupmanship, and smugness of the pro and anti Global Warming groups; further, the majority of the anti comments seem to be centered in the right-wing, anti-tax, anti-government, and perhaps politically Libertarian groups.
The earth is dynamic, which causes environmental data to be skewed within virtually all contexts. There is no evident “proof” of either pro or con arguments I encountered in this blog, after disregarding the political gibberish on either side, which is misplaced, void of import and renders scientific questions unanswerable due not to scientific, but political pursuasion. There are detractors from all scientific knowledge for reasons usually unworthy of merit or comment. Any scientific view against which detractors are isolated or punished directly or indirectly is not proven by the strength or degree of government or religious pursuasion and power. The power of the Inquisition did not survive the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, or Kepler, notwithstanding the Giordano Bruno’s it put to the stake or the rack.
What does merit attention are those factors which are evident, not all of which are generally understood or even known.
For instance, while admitting that the atmosphere is thinner at the poles, one blogger commented in a degrading fashion that while Arctic glaciation was disappearing, Antarctic glaciation was increasing. Apparently, this quasi-question posed to the comment he hoped to refute was offered as “scientific” evidence that global warming is a myth. There are significant flaws immediately evident in such retorts, which account for the fact that most posts are “anti,” and “pro” comments are a useless gesture, since once bound to political pursuasion, opinions voice that aspect in lieu of science, (which some perceive as an enemy?)
It is correct that the same planet . . . ours in this case, can manifest warming at the Arctic pole and cooling at the Antarctic pole, but this has little to do with the (at least stated) subject of the blog. I will give an example on both sides which might at least inspire in-depth consideration:
Richard McNeish, an archaeologist of note who died from extended exposure to Guano [bird excrement] during excavations of cave deposits in northern South America, encountered and discussed the anomalous fact that during the height of the Wisconsin glaciation in the northern hemisphere, melting was occurring in the southern hemisphere. Conversely, periods of glaciation in the southern hemisphere were concurrent with melting of glaciers in the northern. Why is this “pro”? Because it was offered as evidence by an “anti” detractor that global warming was a myth. Kudos, but not as he thinks.
Further, the change from “global warming” to “climatic change” is not an evasion, but required by McNeish’s discovery alone.
“Global” implies that the same phenomenon is occurring globally, whereas it actually occurs hemispherically (though not always) in terms of glaciation. “Climate change” is the more accurate description, as it cannot be argued that melting in the northern hemisphere is not accompanied by increased glaciation in the southern.
As McNeish’s observations were disregarded by many climatologists within the context of his time, I suspect that many on the “pro” side are troubled by data which should not disturb them at all, because there is no actual anomaly. Multiple instances of glaciation and concrrent melting were exposed by the data.
This should, if left unpoliticized, concern us greatly. In Greenland, for instance, meltwater is eroding the rock-ice interface at an increasing rate. The ancient Piri Reis map of pre-glacial times before ice-core drilling was completed at either pole, correctly depicted Greenland as THREE islands and also showed the northern Antarctic coastline, both free of ice! It has been credibly posited that either the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets have, or, more importantly, COULD have, slid into the oceans. If today, the Greenland ice sheet massively shifted into the sea, catastrophic destruction would result along coastlines, which are particularly vulnerable to damage from tsunamis and other tidal waves.
Off the U.S. Gulf Coast and the Mediteranean coast are submerged ruins and fire circles now beneath up to 300 feet of water. If gradual, Venice’s can result, but if rapid, as if Greenland’s or Antarctica’s ice slid into the sea, it could interrupt the Gulf Stream which makes Europe, especially western Europe, inhabitable. Thus, European scientists are concerned, and should be. But we ourselves would also fall victim to catastrophic change.
There will always be those who for any number of reasons make what should be scientifically adjudged conclusions based upon the impact they foresee it having on their lifestyles and fortunes. But if this blog topic is to be taken seriously, the political distraction must give way to open-minded and forthright presentation and interpretation of the data available or being accumulated.
If you think the earth is “globally” cooling, you are as incorrect as those who think the earth is “globally” warming. Both positions argue against not only McNeish and Piri Reis discoveries, but substitute knee-jerk opinion for reflection, long-term research, and measured response . . . one which only a “global” alliance of governments can effectively address.
Galileo wrote to his friend, Kepler: “Oh, my dear Kepler, why are you not here to see the learned professor of astronomy at Padua [university] refusing even to look through my glass [telescope]. What shouts of laughter we would have at this glorious folly!”
If the Greenland ice sheet should slide into the Atlantic, or the intensity of northern hemisphere drought, storms and other weather patterns becomes critically severe, there will be few shouts of laughter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Examples of Geoarchaeology

I'm occasionally asked, "Exactly what is Geoarchaeology? Here are two examples:

1) A team of archaeologists from Tulane University was at an ancient Mayan site in Belize, sitting in the middle of a swamp about a mile inland from the coast. We know the maya farmed the swamps, as other precolumbian cultures did, down to and including the Aztecs, but they didn't build their city in the middle of one.
So, a geologist was flown in, but only circled the area between the Caribbean coast to the ruins one time before landing at a makeshift airstrip not far from the site. When he arrived at the camp, all eyes and ears were pegged on him for help in answering the question: "Why did they build in the swamp?"
"They didn't," he replied. "They built this city on the coast next to the river. Progradation is ongoing here. The river carries suspended sediment from the highlands and drops it when it enters the sea, forming a delta. This entire area is a delta. The coast is constantly moving out; that's what progradation is. When they built this city, the Maya had no idea it would one day be sitting in the middle of a swamp. Delta deposits can be as much as ninety percent water. Over time, they settle, squeezing the water out to the surface. The swamp follows the coast."
"My god," I thought. "How ignorant I am! How can I ever be a really good archaeologist if I'm not a geologist as well?"
That's one of two reasons I decided to get a second Bachelor's degree in geology. I'll tell you the other one later.

Example number 2:

When I was at Cal State, Stanislaus getting my Masters in hydrogeology, I also took a couple of additional courses related to my archaeology (Latin American Studies) degree from Tulane; one was a study of calcareous algae that I took under the tuteledge of an oceanography professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz; I wanted to better understand the strand line above Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. It was formed at the water's edge when the lake was at a much higher elevation anciently - when the city of Tiahuanacu flourished. The only problem is, that strand line dips hundreds of feet from its northern edge to its former southern edge some 400 miles to the south. It was in fact once an inland sea. Oyster beds are still visible on some of the ruins at former lake elevation.
Lakes don't tilt, but I wanted to understand the calcareous algal deposits as part of solving the archaeological implications of the tilted stand line.
The other course was an Archaeological Field School offered by Cal State. We were studying the Indians of northern California that summer. Our professor pointed out the depresssions in the boulders along the river where Indian women had ground acorns into meal by rolling a stone over the shelled acorns
(acorns were very abundant and substituted for corn in that general area). Over time, bowl-shaped depressions were worn into the rock, giving a metate appearance much like the metates used in Central and South America as well.
One day, we were walking across a dry riverbed and he pointed to a bowl-shaped depression in one of the boulders near the center and at what was the bottom of the river when it was flowing.
"There's another metate depression worn into that boulder." he said.
Some of the students, myself included, thought it odd that women would be grinding acorns in the middle of the river, even if it was intermittently dry, when the entire river was lined with more accessible (and much more convenient) boulders, so I took the time to examine it more closely.
"This is not a metate depression," I said. "It was formed by hydrogeologic processes."
Our professor had gained great respect for me over the summer because I was able to identify which rocks had been heated in the fire and then dropped into the acorn mush - the Indian method of boiling and cooking it. I could distinguish them in the lab by the exfoliation apparent on the surfaces. Still, somewhat embarrassed, he asked me how I could tell it wasn't formed by women grinding acorns.
"Sometimes," I explained, "a small stone becomes lodged within a slight depression in a boulder or slab of rock and due to the current, it swirls and spins continuously, eventually smoothing and deepening the depression. That's what caused the depression in this boulder at the base of the streambed. In fact," I added, stooping and picking up the rock responsible, "this is our culprit."

I hope the foregoing illustrations will help bloggers understand how uniquely helpful geology is to archaeology, much as astronomy is in archaeoastronomy.