Ancient Egyptians Knew How to Party

Here’s how the ancient Greek traveler and historian Herodotus describes the festivities surrounding a great festival held every year in honor of the goddess Bast, popular with both native Egyptians and foreign residents like Greek mercenaries and traders:

When they celebrate the festival in Bubastis, they do these things. Men and women sail there together, huge numbers of them in every boat. Some of the women shake rattles and some play flutes the whole way there; the rest sing and clap their hands. Whenever they sail by a city, they put in to shore and do the following: some of the women keep doing what I described, some call out tauntingly at the women in the city, some dance, and some stand up and hoist up their dresses. They do this at every city along the river.

– Herodotus, Histories 2.60

(My own translation)

Now, Herodotus was an outsider describing customs he didn’t entirely understand, and he certainly got some of his facts wrong. Still, many of the details he recounts of daily life in Egypt seem to have come from his own observations, and more than a few hold up on comparison with Egyptian literature and art. In any case it sure sounds like the ancient Egyptians knew how to have a good time!

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The Valley of the Whales

In the western desert of Egypt is a valley known as Wadi al-Hitan. Like some of the other famous valleys in Egypt, such as the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, this valley is a kind of graveyard, but this one is for whales. Not that people buried whales here; rather, the desert preserves the fossils of a wide variety of sea life from millions of years ago, when this region was under a shallow sea. Among the most striking and important fossils at the site are the remains of several different species showing different stages of the evolution of ancient land mammals into the whales we know today.

Wadi al-Hitan is today preserved as a UNESCO site in recognition of both its stark natural beauty and its paleontological significance.

Images: An excavated fossil skeleton of a prehistoric whale, photograph by AhmedMosaad via Wikimedia. Spine and skull of a Dorudon atrox, photograph by Christoph Rohner via Wikimedia. Vertebrae on the desert sands, photograph by Jolybook via Wikimedia.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Daisugi Allows Log Harvesting without Killing the Tree

Daisugi is a forestry management technique reminiscent of pollarding and bonsai that produces straight logs without killing the tree. Developed some 600-500 years ago in Japan, it’s still being used to harvest sustainable, durable logs.

Basically, some of the top shoots are pruned so that they’ll grow straight up, and the shoots only are collected when they reach the desired height. It’s not a fast method, as it takes decades to be able to produce logs, but reportedly they come out stronger, more flexible, and knot-free. And the tree stays alive.

Also, the daisugi-managed cedars make amazing shapes in the woods! They would be so interesting in a speculative or fantasy story—or any story, really. Below are a few examples.

Spoon Tamago Yusuke Narita Long Shot
Spoon Tamago Ai Hirakawa Daisugi in Fall
Wikipedia Bernard Gagnon Ryoan-ji Garden

Just another example of how ingenious we people are in manipulating our environment. 🙂

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Images: Long shot by Yusuke Narita via Spoon & Tamago. In the fall by Ai Hirakawa via Spoon & Tamago. Ryoan-ji garden, Kyoto, Japan by Bernard Gagnon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Hoplites, the Chigi Vase, and the Problems of Artistic Sources

Art can be a priceless source of evidence for early history, especially for areas and periods with limited surviving written sources, but, just like texts, artistic sources can be tricky to interpret.

Chigi Vase, reconstructed frieze via Wikimedia (7th c. BCE; painted pottery)

Take, for example, this scene from an archaic Greek vase (commonly known as the Chigi Vase, named for one of its modern owners). It provides us with some of our earliest evidence for Greek hoplites and the phalanx formation. Although we understand a lot about the essentials of how hoplite warfare worked, many questions remain unanswered about the precise details of both how a hoplite battle was fought and how the hoplite style of warfare developed over time. Arguments about these topics often depend in part on interpretations of the Chigi vase.

The vase depicts warriors arming themselves and marching into battle as hoplites. Many of the characteristic features of hoplite armament and warfare are on display: heavily armored fighters with large round shields and spears confronting one another in a head-on clash. We can date the creation of this vase to the seventh century BCE, around the same time that the hoplite style of warfare first appeared, so this artwork offers us crucial evidence about what the earliest phase of hoplite warfare looked like and how early some of its defining features emerged.

We can be fairly confident that the artist who painted the decorations on this vase was familiar with the realities of hoplite warfare. The ranks of the phalanx were filled by small farmers and prosperous crafters, including potters and artists. If the painter of this vase was not well-off enough to have fought as a hoplite themselves, they would certainly have known people who had. At the same time, the images are also artistically stylized in ways that make it hard to be sure how much we can rely on them as evidence.

For example, all the warriors shown on this vase are similarly equipped: they have the helmets, breastplates, greaves, and round shields that we think of as the standard parts of the hoplite panoply. Is this vase evidence that hoplite equipment was standardized from an early period, or did the artist depict a standard set of armor to create a pleasing image at a time when real hoplite gear was more of a hodge-podge with individuals equipping themselves as best they could? This question goes to more than matters of artistic taste: one of the most vexed questions in the history of the hoplite phalanx is whether it developed gradually out of older, less rigorously organized styles of warfare or it was created as a fully-realized concept in some particular place and time. Because hoplite warfare was connected with the rise and subsequent fall of early Greek tyrants, understanding the origins of the hoplite phalanx better would have implications for our understanding of major developments in political and social history. Knowing what the Chigi vase painter had in mind would tell us some important things about the early history of ancient Greece.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Macramé Inspiration Photos for Speculative Writers

There are times when my expertise and interests affect my response to the stories I consume. (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.) Lately I’ve been noticing the presence or absence of textiles in my media, and how those textiles came to be.

I’m using macramé as an example of a technique that’s not getting much attention—in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a story using macramé even as a background element—despite its versatility.

For example, in a fantasy world, you don’t always have to have woven or embroidered wall hangings decorating the lord’s hall. You could also have a ginormous macramé room divider like “Ocean”, below, by Bali-based fiber artist Agnes Hansella:

Colossal Agnes Hansella Ocean

Apart from being refreshingly non-Eurocentric (if we consider the earliest records of macramé-style knots coming from Babylonian and Assyrian carvings), large-scale macramé works obviously require a high level of skill to complete, which makes them a perfect option for displaying a character’s wealth and social capital.

And even in smaller sizes, macramé can come in intricate shapes that in no way resemble the 1970s handiwork that may stereotypically come to mind (plant hangers, wall hangings, or cute but perhaps not entirely flawless friendship bracelets).

Etsy TBiaDesign Macrame Wall Shelf

Speaking of small, when writing this blog post I leared that some people make micro macramé, where the working yarn or cord is quite thin. The result is almost lace-like:

Etsy AmeEtTiss Macrame Fillory Cuff

You can make an almost endless range of items with macramé. If you can make cording (like bracelets), you can make anything used for supporting, holding, or edging, for instance like belts, suspenders, bands, animal harnesses (think of ceremonial processions etc.), pulls, straps, or decorative edges.

Macramé also does not need to be made from only unbleached or single color cord; on the contrary, colorful combinations can be quite eye-catching:

Etsy Toni Lasee kitdesignsbykith Green Macrame Belt

If you can make flat surfaces (like wall hangings), you can create items that could also be made from fabric, like table runners, curtains, cushion covers, pouches, or bags.

Pinterest Blue Macrame Bag

I could also imagine a macramé-style outer garment worn over fabric clothes looking fantastic. Indeed, someone else has had that very thought—check out these outfits promoted as Coachella or Burning Man costumes:

Etsy SeyanaStyle Macrame Vest and Dress

Depending on the type of cord, you could even make more utilitarian household items like chair seats, hammocks, lampshades, or baskets.

Etsy CraftingMode Big Macrame Basket Birch Green
Etsy Irina Kharebava Macrame Lamp Shade

As with all creative work, the maker’s skill and imagination are the limit.

Images: Agnes Hansella via Colossal. Wall shelf by TBiaDesign on Etsy. Lacy cuff by AmeEtTiss on Etsy. Green belt by Toni Lasee at kitdesignsbykith on Etsy. Blue bag with macramé strap via Pinterest. Macrame vests by SeyanaStyle on Etsy. Rectangular basket by Phing Chutima at CraftingMode on Etsy. Lamp shade by Irina Kharebava on Etsy.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Beautiful Reconstructions of Mesoamerican Cities

Here are some beautiful computer reconstructions of important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.

Tenochtitlán, Mexico, by Advestudios

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, US, by Advestudios

 

Advestudios, which produced these images, also creates videos and 360 vistas. Their work is wonderful for helping to picture these sites as living, functioning cities and settlements.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

 

Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 6

The Dominion war heats up, taking the characters of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in lots of new directions, some more interesting than others. Here’s our take on what season 6 has to offer.

  1. “A Time to Stand” – 6
  2. “Rocks and Shoals” – 7
  3. “Sons and Daughters” – 0
  4. “Behind the Lines” – 3.5
  5. “Favor the Bold” – 5
  6. “Sacrifice of Angels” – 6
  7. “You Are Cordially Invited” – 8.5
  8. “Resurrection” – 2
  9. “Statistical Probabilities” – 4
  10. “The Magnificent Ferengi” – 8.5
  11. “Waltz” – 3
  12. “Who Mourns for Morn?” – 7.5
  13. “Far Beyond the Stars” – 8
  14. “One Little Ship” – 9
  15. “Honor Among Thieves” – 0
  16. “Change of Heart” – 4
  17. “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” – 0
  18. “Inquisition” – 2
  19. “In the Pale Moonlight” – 7
  20. “His Way” – 1
  21. “The Reckoning” – 4
  22. “Valiant” – 2
  23. “Profit and Lace” – 2
  24. “Time’s Orphan” – 6
  25. “The Sound of Her Voice” – 4
  26. “Tears of the Prophets” – 5.5

This season’s ratings are all over the place. There are a number of strong episodes in the 7-9 range, but also multiple 0s. The average comes to 4.4, in line with season 5 and a bit less than seasons 3 and 4. It seems a bit unfair to average out this season’s episodes, though, because there are so many different things going on. The Dominion war storyline runs through the season and provides a lot of solid episodes. There are also big moments of character development, some good—Worf and Dax getting married in “You are Coridally Invited”, everyone’s favorite barfly getting a backstory in “Who Mourns for Morn?”—some less good—Kira doing a reverse Back to the Future on her mother and Gul Dukat in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” Quark learning what it’s like to be a feeeemale in “Profit and Lace”. Then there are some episodes that just come out of nowhere, like Sisko having a vision of twentieth century science fiction and racism in “Far Beyond the Stars.”

At the bottom end of the scale, we have a trifecta of absolute 0s. There’s “Sons and Daughters,” in which Worf’s son Alexander and Dukat’s daughter Ziyal both get to have strained relationships with their respective fathers. There’s “Honor Among Thieves,” in which O’Brien inexplicably has an undercover mission infiltrating a seedy crime syndicate, an episode with no good reason to exist, let alone be in this series. And there’s the aforementioned “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” a limp episode for such a pretentious title that is both overly contrived and weightless at the same time. I’ve mentioned before that it sometimes feels like there was a frustrated noir writer in the writers’ room, and they have their fingerprints on this season as well. “Honor Among Thieves” is straight-up noir, and “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” leans hard in the same direction. It’s as uninterseting now as it was before.

But this season also has some great episodes at the other end of the scale. The best of the season is “One Little Ship,” at 9, in which a miniaturized Dax, Bashir, and O’Brien in a miniaturized runabout help rescue the Defiant from being captured by the Jem’Hadar. It’s a fun episode that gives all the characters something to do and nicely balances the silliness of its main conceit with the seriousness of the ongoing war plot. Two more episodes that also strike a good balance between goofiness and gravity are “You Are Cordially Invited” and “The Magnificent Ferengi,” both at 8.5. In “You Are Cordially Invited,” the weighty question of whether Worf and Dax can make it as a couple despite their differences is interwoven with Klingon wedding rituals that are as gloriously over the top as you would imagine. “The Magnificent Ferengi” finds Quark, Rom, Nog, and some of our other favorite Ferengi mounting a rescue operation when their Moogie is captured by the Dominion, and it goes both hopelessly wrong and delightfully right.

For all that Deep Space Nine is remembered as the dark, gritty version of Star Trek, filled with tension and war, it has also given us some of the goofiest, most wonderfully weird episodes of the franchise.

Image: Little O’Brien and Little Dax contemplate big problems on the Defiant, from “One Little Ship” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Quotes: Infohistory Is a Mess

Elizabeth Bear’s scifi novel Machine has a succinct sum-up of just some of the problems concerning information retrieval:

“Wait,” I said. “How can information decay?”

“They used to call it bit rot. Servers get taken down, data falls through the cracks and doesn’t get backed up. Physical substrates are destroyed or damaged, or degrade over time—especially the primitive ones. A holographic diamond is very durable but can’t be changed once it’s written to, and magnetic media only lasted a decan or so under ideal conditions.

“And even if the data is preserved somewhere, that somewhere might not be networked. If it’s networked, it might not be indexed. Even if it’s indexed, it might be half the galaxy away and take two or three ans for the file request to get there, be fulfilled, turn around, and come back. And then you might find out that you needed different files entirely.” He huffed with great satisfaction. “Infohistory is a mess.”

– from a discussion between Dr. Brookllyn Jens and the medical librarian AI Mercy in Machine by Elizabeth Bear [original emphasis]

Despite this being from a fictional work, it rings very true. My librarian heart was delighted to read an account that acknowledges not just the physical difficulties of dealing with old media—whatever shape that media might take, from cuneiform to CDs—but also the search-related problems. Metadata, or in case of libraries, the information about the items in the collection, doesn’t feature in stories very often. Also, it is why good reasearch librarians and archivists are worth their weight in gold.

Bear, Elizabeth. Machine. London: Saga Press, 2020, p. 203.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Trailer for Debris

Has anyone followed news on Debris? It’s a new tv series described to be a bit like Fringe. Here’s a trailer:

DEBRIS | Official Trailer by NBC on YouTube

The story follows two agents, one from MI6 and the other from CIA, who investigate debris—surprise, surprise—from an alien spacecraft falling to Earth.

Debris is set to debut on NBC on March 01, 2021.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Dracula Parrots

Hey there, handsome—what an amazing coloring these Dracula parrots (Psittrichas fulgidus) have!

Flickr Peter Tan Pesquets Parrot Head Shot

Endemic to New Guinea, they are also known as Pesquet’s parrots, and can be quite sizeable: 46 cm / 18” total length and 700-800 g (24-28 oz) in weight.

Flickr Meen Zhafri Pesquets Parrot Silhouette

Apparently, habitat loss and overhunting have pushed the species into a vulnerable status, and, according to BirdLife International, the population in decreasing.

Flickr Charles Davies Pesquets Parrot in Flight

*sigh* Why can’t we as a species take better care of our nice things? It’s not like we lack the brain power.

Found via Nature & Animals on Twitter. (NB. Seems to require a login in order to see post.)

Images: Head shot by Peter Tan via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Silhouette by Meen & Zhafri via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) / KL Bird Park, May 2010. In flight by Charles Davies via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.