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Articles to 2016-10-22

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.


Just like Epstein et al. (list of 2016-09-09) Knapp et al. demonstrate the remarkable resilience of nature. The short-term response to change often looks catastrophic but turns out not to be in the longer term. Viewing the vast climate swings of the past it obviously has to be thus. Of course single species or even large numbers of them may easily fall by the wayside, and in the larger picture of things this may well include humans.


I can’t agree with David Reich as cited in Culotta & Gibbons. Out of Africa II by anatomically modern humans (AMH) explains nearly all of current humanity, but that emphatically does not make the first spread culminating in Neanderthals and Denisovans unimportant. Just when and how AMHs developed modern behaviour and when and how they spread from their ancestral homeland is one of the most important questions currently being explored.


“May you live until 120” is the traditional Jewish birthday felicitation, derived, it is said, from the lifespan of Moses. From the new result by Dong et al. this turns out to be a well chosen compromise between optimism and realism. Considering the age of this tradition, this is one more point demonstrating the depth of wisdom preserved in Rabbinic teachings.


Just like Thual et al. (list of 2016-09-15) Chen & Majda demonstrate the true value of well-chosen modeling. Theirs is a simple model with few, interpretable variables and parameters and it exhibits a lot of interpretive power. This is not one of those climate abominations with more tweakable parameters than data, intricate and positive feedback, and totally unpredictable outcomes, that can be made to fit anything. I wish more readers and editors would become aware of the difference.


Last week I spouted utter nonsense about a climate phenomenon – see the correction there. This week we get the primary article by Osprey et al. There certainly is something there worth investigating. That said the link to anthropogenic climate change stays weak and tenuous, but if it gained them funding, let’s not begrudge them that.


Previous climate cycles before the anthropocene were driven by the sun alone and carbon dioxide was either a result or more probably part of the feedback cycles of the changes in temperature. What Snyder documents is a correlation, she does not show a mechanism. So her results can not tell us what independently changing the atmospheric composition alone will result in. There is good reason, of course, to expect some warming, but now that it’s working against the sun, it’s bound to be much lower than that, which occurred when both drove in the same direction. That said, let us not forget Alley (list of 2016-05-21) but see also Anagnostou et al. (list of 2016-05-26).


In Kappes et al. the right diagram in figure 1B is obviously wrong. Why has neither of the two coauthors seen such a glaring mistake?


There is one value everybody, even archaeologists, considers first, well before any thought for material, form, or style, when buying any kind of vessel or pot for their own household – it is also the one single value never given in descriptions of archaeological finds. Ünlü is no exception here. Another point practitioners of the humanities consistently miss is the value of approximate numbers or even orders of magnitude. And a third thing every archaeologist knows once he leaves the office and comes home is, that a pitcher only makes sense if it holds about 3–5 (10) cups.

I have estimated the volumes of all the vessels shown in Ünlü by inscribing the equivalent cylinder and eyeballing its approximate effective diameter and its height to a sensible filling level. Where only photographs are shown, I also had to estimate the wall thickness, so my numbers are rough guesses only. Assuming the scales shown are in cm (something Ünlü does not deign to tell us) the volumes of the vessels in cm3 are in the order they appear:

Cups: 170, 90, 90, 110, 90, 200, 180, 520, 27

Pitchers: 85, 35, 750

Disregarding spirits, which came later, current glass sizes vary from 0.1 l for wine to 2 l (5 l) for communal beer boots and pitchers from 0.25 to 1 l.

So in spite of their striking two-handled design those cups were certainly not meant for communal drinking. If they were indeed designed to go from hand to hand, then what we have to envisage is a symbolic sip, comparable to what we know from Christian ritual. The exception might be the first one despite its one handle, as its round bottom makes it impossible to set down. Even the largest cup shown is no bigger than a standard Bavarian wheat beer glass, which is frequently drained in a single swallow. Diluted wine, a custom we probably can project back from Greek times into the Bronze Age, is no stronger than modern beer and was most likely consumed in similar ways.

Except for the last one the sauceboats shown were certainly not used as pitchers. Instead they might have contained condiments or sweeteners to be added to the wine.

The most important, if not the only measurement we ourselves consider, when choosing vessels for a purpose today, is their volume. How can it be that it is kept in nearly total disregard by archaeologists?

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