Urban Archaeology

 

We’ve had friends and family members living in Atlanta for close to 30 years, and although I knew it was the hub of important aspects of American history, it never occurred to me to think of it in archaeological terms. At first consideration, I think about archaeology as the study of ancient cultures in far away places. Yet, with family in countries like Greece, I acknowledge that awesome layers of history can be just under the surface, or deeply buried and unearthed as cities grow with constructions of buildings and transit infrastructure.

This piece in the Georgia State University Magazine made that quite clear.

Treasures of Terminus

From its days as a railroad boomtown to Sherman’s tinderbox to one of America’s great cities, Atlanta’s history runs deep. The Phoenix Project, more than 100,000 artifacts collected by a team of Georgia State archaeologist in the 1970s, tells the city’s story through unearthed historical objects.

There is buried treasure at Georgia State University. Stacked high and deep in more than 500 boxes stashed throughout the labyrinths of Kell Hall, more than 100,000 artifacts tell the story of Atlanta’s history.

These boxes contain the lost pieces of a tumultuous past that dates to the city’s earliest days — bullet casings from the Civil War, mystery tonics in antique glass bottles, creepy toys, fashion accessories, ancient grooming tools and much more. Many of them still await examination and haven’t been opened since archaeologists first packed them four decades ago.

This massive array of objects is called the Phoenix Project, and Georgia State professors and students have been methodically studying, cataloging and mapping each item since 2011.

Collected all over the city between 1976 and 1980, the objects belong to the largest archeological collection ever associated with Atlanta. They are the fruit of one of America’s earliest urban archaeological projects — the roving excavation that followed construction crews as the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) cleared land, leveled blocks and tunneled underground to build the first iteration of its rail system.

Jeffrey Glover, associate professor of anthropology, has curated the Phoenix Project for years in hopes of providing the public with a different kind of city history, a slice of Atlanta’s past through the lens of historical objects.

Catalog No.: P1848/170 Swamp Root Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure, c. 1890, manufactured by Dr. Kilmer & Co., Binghamton, NY.

Choosing one box among hundreds, Glover removes a small amber bottle that once held Valentine’s Meat Juice, a concentrated beef tonic from the 1870s. Advertisements said it could help with gastroenteritis, dysentery and even cholera.

“It was supposed to bring vitality,” Glover says, “like an early energy drink.”

From another box, he takes out the misshapen head of a porcelain doll. Featuring dark, empty eye sockets and covered in burn marks, the scary toy looks hungry for souls. While Glover affectionately calls it the “creepy doll head,” its official artifact ID is “a3161,” written in impeccable script with archival ink across its neck.

That’s because the archaeologists who bagged all this stuff in the 1970s methodically described and organized each item using a numbering system adapted from the Georgia Department of Transportation. For example, the “a” in “a3161” stands for “general artifact” while the number indicates the item was the 3,161st general artifact to be cataloged from that accession. (And there are about 100 accessions.) Containers, such as glass and pottery, begin with “p,” and building materials with “m.” Plant remains use “eb” for “ethnobotanical” while animal bones start with “ez” for “ethnozoological.”

Just one of the standard cardboard bankers boxes can contain dozens, if not hundreds, of artifacts, each wrapped in brown paper and labeled with a unique artifact ID. Though they’ve all been recorded in a logbook alongside a one-line description, unwrapping each one is like opening a birthday present because you don’t know exactly what you’ll get.

“It’s an excavation of boxes,” says Lori Thompson (M.A. ’16), assistant laboratory director at New South Associates.

Continue reading

Home Team Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.

The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

When Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words

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With none of the usual traffic clogging the capital, Sunday football devotees took to the streets.

I remember car free days in Paris with pleasure, sunny autumn weather topped by cyclists, pedestrians and skaters enjoying wide boulevards and narrow city lanes alike. New York City has a smaller scale version, with a 2 mile stretch of lower Broadway, plus a mile up in Washington Heights.

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The event also allowed skateboarders to show off their skills.

No traffic days taking place in developing countries somehow feels all the more impactful, especially considering it’s a monthly event, rather than an annual one! Thanks to the BBC for bringing this to our attention with the story No traffic in Addis Ababa as Ethiopia marks Car Free Day:

Thousands of people have marked Car Free Day in cities across Ethiopia by walking and exercising.

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The measure was implemented by the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was came to office last April after his predecessor resigned.

Major roads were shut as Health Minister Amir Aman led the walk in the capital, Addis Ababa.

This was the first Car Free Day held in Ethiopia to promote healthy living, and to reduce pollution on roads usually clogged with traffic.

Tents were also set to offer free health checks to those who were walking and exercising.

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All photos by Eduardo Soteras, AFP

Mr Amir is trying to change that and Car Free Day will be held on the last Sunday of each month, he adds. Continue reading

A Photographic Big Year

It’s a relatively small world among the birding /photography community in India, and once I saw Gururaj Moorching’s photographs I reached out for an introduction to ask him to contribute to our Bird of the Day series. He started his own birding journey in 2012 after a trip to Kaziranga and another trip to the Rann of Kutch where he came across the two books “Birding on Borrowed Time” and “Lifelist” by the late Phoebe Snetsinger. We’ve been publishing his gorgeous photos for over 3 years, and I was thrilled when he shared his plan for a Photographic Birding Big Year.

In our own way we’ve documented his birding travels within our series, and we applaud this amazing achievement of photo-documenting 951 of India’s 1,317 species of birds in just one year (2018).

Gururaj is currently working on a book expected to be published this spring, but he recently spoke with Deepthi Sanjiv from the Bangalore Mirror about his experience.

“When I had a chance meeting in April 2015 with naturalist Marmot Snetsinger in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, I was elated. Her mother, the late Phoebe Snetsinger, was a legend in birdwatching circles. She was the first person to have crossed 8,000 birds on her Life List in 1995 and watched 8,398 species of birds across the world.”

When Phoebe took up bird watching, she had a rare type of melanoma and the doctors had given her a year to live. She defied death for another 17 years since her diagnosis. I was inspired and I could especially relate to her as I faced a similar health predicament. Phoebe’s book “Birding on Borrowed Time” inspired me to take up birdwatching and photographing birds with intensity and a sense of urgency…

…Ornithologist Shashank Dalvi, India’s first birder to complete one ‘Big Year’ and record 1,128 species of birds in 2015, mentored Gururaj. He helped Gururaj list out travel plans to get maximum results and devised a calendar plan, based on the seasons and locations across India.

“It is not a mean task to chase 1,317 species of bird found in India, including Adaman and Nicobar Islands. My love to travel, food and meeting new people made the journey interesting in this amazing country of huge diversity. Birding community in India is a well-knit family. I received great support from birders, guides and naturalists who were eager to share any information on bird movement and even opened their homes, kitchen and hearts to me. Rofikul Islam, a gifted naturalist from Kaziranga, stood by me throughout the year, and was the inspiration behind my decision to pursue a Photographic Big Year, which was the first of its kind,” said Gururaj.

“A deep sense of contentment comes over me at the end of this sojourn,” he said.

The entire article can be found here.

 

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

Continue reading

The Mystery of the Lorax: Solved

Dr. Seuss has held an important place in my life, stretching from my own childhood and into parenthood, and connecting the dots between the pure joy of reading and powerful messages keeps him at the top. So what fun to discover the story, species and science behind the inspiration for his most impactful books!

Who Was the Real Lorax? Seeking the Inspiration for Dr. Seuss

What inspired the creature who was “shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy?” The one who spoke in a voice that was “sharpish and bossy?” He spoke for the trees, yet he called them his own. All that he left “in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with the one word … ‘UNLESS.’”

In 1970, millions of people observed Earth Day for the first time, and the Environmental Protection Agency was born. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” topped the charts.

And in La Jolla, Calif., Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was fighting to keep a suburban development project from clearing the Eucalyptus trees around his home. But when he tried to write a book about conservation for children that wasn’t preachy or boring, he got writer’s block.

At his wife’s suggestion to clear his mind, they traveled to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, an exclusive resort where guests watched animals along Kenya’s Laikipia plateau.

And if you haven’t guessed by now, it was there that “The Lorax” took shape — on the blank side of a laundry list, nearly all of its environmental message created in a single afternoon. Continue reading

Poisson d’Avril Redux Two

It’s a rare occasion that we republish one of our posts on this site – but April 1st is a special day, is it not? And as the weather warms, a little bit of lighthearted Spring frolicking won’t go amiss.

It was unlike me to have missed acknowledging the Vernal Equinox last week but please note that it wasn’t forgotten. In much of the northern hemisphere spring began sprouting all over the place, sometimes unseasonably early, and the first day of spring was observed in all its glory in Crist’s Holi series.

So I’m being careful not to miss April 1st and in the spirit of that celebration am sharing some of artist Ken Brown‘s collection of turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th that is!) French fantasy postcards that celebrate “Poisson d’Avril”, the French equivalent of April 1st or April Fools’ Day. Continue reading

“Feast for the Eyes”

Ori Gersht’s Off Balance, 2006. Photograph: Ori Gersht/Aperture.org

I highly recommend this combination of retro covers from classic food and homemaking publications, stylized food presentations and deconstructed recipe imagery. Guaranteed to make you smile. (Check below the jump for more of my personal favorites.)

Repast lives: a history of food photography – in pictures

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Early Classic Period Puzzles

Early Classic Period Polychrome Vessels

Almost from its inception there have been archaeological studies of the Maya sites at Chan Chich by nature of the lodge’s stated purpose to protect the area from further lootering. Professor Thomas Guderjan lead some of the early field seasons (1988 and 1990) studying the Maya Settlements in Northern Belize. At that time, the two Dos-Arroyos Polychrome Vessels illustrated above were some of the only artifacts found on site, but the subsequent seasons, spanning close to 20 years at this point, have yielded extensive data and additional artifacts.

These two vessels remain on display in the restaurant area at Chan Chich Lodge. Although both had been repaired by Guderjan’s team, the one on the left had broken over the years. Just before this season’s team fully dispersed, I took the opportunity to request some puzzle practice.  Continue reading

The Technological Wow Factor of Archaeology

Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.

In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading

Maternal Instinct vs Species Survival

©JOOP VAN DER LINDE/NDUTU LODGE

The more time we spend at Chan Chich Lodge the more we see the seasonality of birth patterns in the wild. There clearly seems to be a “baby season”, that starts with the cats and moves down the food chain to their mammalian prey, as well as birds. Although no photo captures, several jaguar cubs were sighted earlier in the year, followed by dozens of fawns and baby collared peccary. Even the Gallon Jug Farm has welcomed 4 baby horses to the fold, with a fifth on the way…but we’ll talk about that another day.

This unusual news from Panthera.org, an important Big Cat Conservation NGO who uses our 30,000 acres as part of their Jaguar Corridor research, perhaps makes a little bit of sense within the context of those patterns.

We thank Susie Weller Sheppard for sharing these field notes.

Earlier this week, Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Luke Hunter received photos from our partners at KopeLion with some astonishing content: the first-ever evidence of a wild lioness nursing a leopard cub.

Taken on Tuesday by a Ndutu Lodge guest in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the images show a 5-year-old lioness, known locally as ‘Nosikitok,’ suckling a leopard cub estimated to be just 3 weeks old. Continue reading

Archaeology in Miniature

After spending a few days participating in the 2017 CCAP dig I went to visit the lab where the artifacts are cleaned, sorted and tagged. While Phil and I were doing the most basic work, Tomás and Mnemo were carefully cleaning out a burial pot that had been found in the chamber next to our new unit.

Using dental implements and small wooden sculpture tools, they were essentially repeating the process that we’d begun in our unit a few days earlier – carefully excavating the packed earth layer by layer – albeit in miniature. Continue reading

Archaeology Lab 101

Much of the scientific rigor involved in archaeology is related to the careful documentation of what often appears to be a proverbial needle in a haystack: tiny flakes of chert stone, potsherds, or obsidian can be found in the layers (or lots) of a dig unit.

In this tropical environment we’re dealing with wet, loamy earth, so those stone or pottery fragments are frequently covered in mud, and who better to clean much of these items than interested novices. Continue reading

Getting Your Archaeological Feet Wet

Day #2 at CCAP began with the same sense of camaraderie as Day #1 as we continued the process of clearing out topsoil, clipping roots, hauling soil and stone, and yes, working on walls. Each conversation with the team was informative, as we discussed the upcoming step of closing out the “lot” we’d started and opening the next one of the unit – basically as we approached the change-over of levels for the precise documentation required at an archaeological dig.

We were quite close to that point when we stopped work for lunch, returning with high energy to move on to the next stage. But it’s green season in Belize, and Mother Nature had other plans for the day. Continue reading

A Day In the Life of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project

When Crist wrote about the Chan Chich Archaeological Project in April it was in anticipation of the group’s arrival. Now that we’re several weeks in I’ve had the opportunity to assist them first hand, in part as a “guinea pig” for guest involvement as citizen science participants. Fellow contributor Phil Karp (a veteran of many citizen science programs) was enthusiastically up  for the experience as well.

The team of archaeologists and field school students, led by Texas Tech University associate professor Dr. Brett Houk, is studying the ancient Maya at Chan Chich and surrounding sites. Several weeks into their dig they’ve made significant progress, and they gamely accepted the challenge of taking novices into their ranks.

We began at the beginning, well known to be the very best place to start, with a new “lot” located next to a well-established excavated area. Continue reading

Southern Roots Run Deep

Ms. Gomez grew up pulling mangoes from the trees and buying sugar cane from the vendors gathered outside her parochial school. Evan Sung for The New York Times

While Crist may have had the good fortune to enjoy a taste of Kerala with Asha Gomez during travel away from our home there, I was busy exploring the market byways for local ingredients and food ways. What a fascinating story to hear that Asha is actually experiencing that same sense of discovery and exploration within her own home state.

It looks like Crist might have gotten his wish for Asha to come to Kerala, after all!

A Chef’s Quest in India: Win Respect for Its Cooking

“I think I had disconnected myself from this place in some way by saying for so long that the U.S. was home,” said Ms. Gomez, 47, who had moved from the Indian state of Kerala to the state of Michigan as a teenager. “There is still so much a part of me here. I think I had forgotten that.”

Ms. Gomez had come to this land of ports, tea estates and spice gardens not only to reconnect with a part of herself, but also to find new ways to use her camera-ready personality and kitchen chops to lasso Kerala’s beautiful food culture and drag it back to the United States.

“I have to remove people from the mentality that all Indian food should be clumped up into nine dishes that are not really Indian dishes,” she said. “Not all Indian food belongs on a buffet line at $4.99. Indian food is 5,000 years of tradition and history, and it belongs right up there with French cuisine.”

Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.

“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said. Continue reading

Biomimetic Yarn-Bombing

Image © 2016 CHOI+SHINE

I’ve long been fascinated with urban space art installations in general, and fibre based pieces in particular. Somehow I missed hearing about the Singapore based i Light Marina Bay Light Art Festival in March, but I’m happy to have discovered it now.

The festival is an annual event, and this year’s theme of Biomimicry and Sustainability strike multiple chords. London/Seoul based architectural firm Choi+Shine created The Urchins for this site specific installation. 

This project is inspired by sea urchin shells, which are enclosed yet light weight, delicate and open.  Their textured and permeable surface interacting with light creates openness, while the pattern’s mathematical repetition brings visual rhythm and harmony.  Against light, the sea urchin natural form reveals one of the most spectacular patterns found in nature. Continue reading

Foraging Forays

Taking a break from packing for my upcoming return to Belize, I joined a group of old friends from the Georgia Mushroom Club in a foray near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Fresh air, a walk in the woods, good company, and foraging for mushrooms – what better way to spend a morning?

The weather has been warm and wet, great conditions for mushrooms and we were happy to find patches of chanterelles. As we searched we talked about Chan Chich Lodge and Belize, and that we’re in the midst of brainstorming collaborations with the staff and local community who carry the ancestral knowledge of the old Mayan and Belizean foodways, and chefs who focus on foraging in the creation of their menus. We’ve recently discovered a variety of foods that are plentifully available from the Chan Chich forests, and are excited to incorporate them into our culinary story.  Continue reading

Cry Sadness Into The Coming Rain

Gottlieb ǂKhatanab ǁGaseb aka Die vioolman (The Violinist) plays traditional Damara music at the funeral of Ouma Juliana ≠Û-khui ǁAreses on the family farm beneath the Dâures. Uis District, Erongo Region. December 2014

As an international company, our team tends to be spread out across the world, so more often than not many of our posts is a surprise to the rest. It was with that sense of synchronicity that I read Crist’s piece on Gerhard Steidl’s conservation work yesterday while I was in the midst of writing about this upcoming publication.

Born in Namibia, photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke spent decades capturing life in remote places in Italy, the USA and numerous parts of Africa. Returning to Namibia after years away, she found the once familiar landscape drastically changed.

Cry Sadness Into the Coming Rain is a forthcoming publication by Steidl, Germany, 2017.

With strong memories of my formative years growing up on the edge of the Namib Desert in what was then known as South West Africa, I have returned to explore my obsession with this place and my lifelong curiosity for the notion of shelter. I have covered thousands of dusty kilometres across remote plains, through dry river beds, over sand dunes and salt pans, through conservancies and communal lands to photograph families in desperate, forgotten outposts. I try to capture the ‘transhumance’ – the search for work, forage and water – and the remnants of former habitats alongside once productive land.

In coastal towns I move with women and children across stretches of desert from one garbage dump to another – often with the loot they carry in their quest to create shelter and eke out a living. I focus on human enterprise and failure, on the bare circumstances of ordinary women and men forced to negotiate life, and of an environment in crisis. Continue reading