Misunderstanding our past, present and future

It’s obvious, when you think about it. Of course not all Neanderthals were ‘cavemen’ — half were women.

SheanderthalAeon Essays
Archaeology is no exception to biases against women’s interests across science and the humanities. Since the early days, a tendency to conceptualise humanity’s deep origins as populated literally by ‘cavemen’ has led to presumed male activities being presented as most visible and interesting. … In fact, for most of the subsequent 160 years, female Neanderthals – if featured at all – tend to be fewer in number, peripherally located, and limited to ‘domesticated’ activities including childcare and skin-working. They are essentially scenery, in the words of the anthropologist Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, rather than active providers working on stone knapping or hunting and, in addition, they’re often fearfully lurking, hidden in dark grottos.

The world is a very different place now.

Why eye-catching graphics are vital for getting to grips with climate changeThe Conversation
One misconception about the climate crisis is that warming will be uniform across the world. Deniers cite cold fronts or blizzards as evidence that warming is exaggerated, or hark back to past heatwaves – such as that experienced by the UK in 1976 when temperatures exceeded 35°C – as proof that the scientists have got it wrong. Apart from this misleading conflation of weather (daily conditions) and climate (long-term conditions), this kind of argument misses the complex patchwork of effects that interact to create what gets reported in the headline figures. Maps can be an invaluable weapon against this misunderstanding. … [W]hat is needed are more universally accessible visualisations that are able to show where we’re heading in no uncertain terms.

How on earth would you protect future generations from something with a half-life of over 700 million years? Use your imagination.

The art of pondering Earth’s distant futureScientific American
We do not, of course, live in these imagined worlds. In this sense, they are unreal—merely fictions. However, our capacities to envision potential futures, and to feel empathy for those who may inhabit them, are very real. Depictions of tomorrow can have powerful, concrete effects on the world today. This is why deep time thought experiments are not playful games, but serious acts of intellectual problem-solving. It is why the safety case experts’ models of far future nuclear waste risks are uniquely valuable, even if they are, at the end of the day, mere approximations.

Just give it back, it’s not yours

The events of a year ago prompted some people to question the legitimacy of various colonial-era museum collections. This debate is far from new.

What the “Nefertiti Hack” tells us about digital colonialismHyperallergic
The story of the Nefertiti bust provides a window into the European domination of excavations in Egypt and other Mediterranean archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th century. French, German, and British excavators were often supercilious in their defense of looting cultural heritage from classical sites in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to be “protected” within European museums. They also developed cunning methods for carrying out their work. In the Nefertiti bust’s case, overwhelming evidence suggests its removal to Germany in 1913 was not legal then and remains both illicit and unethical today — a wrong yet to be rectified. […]

Although the artists originally stated that they had gone into the museum and guerrilla scanned the Nefertiti bust using a hidden Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor, in reality they were likely involved in a double-blind hack. As Geismar concludes, it appears that an inside (wo)man with access to the museum’s 3D data released the scan to the artists. Subsequently, Al-Badri and Nelles released the files under a Creative Commons open license (CC0) for anyone to use. Geismar remarks that the hack drew “attention to museum hoarding [practices] not just of ancient collections but of their digital doubles.” The hack used the tools of “data collection and presentation to undo the regimes of authority and property over which the museum still asserts sovereignty.” Such museum interventions also underscore that the “digital repatriation” of objects by museums can never replace physical repatriation.

The discovery of the famous bust of Nefertiti in EgyptThe Yucatan Times
Egypt has not waived its demand. The archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who requested his loan in vain during his time as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, continues to demand the return of the piece. And the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, owner of the bust, continues to insist on the legality of the acquisition.

Let’s go shopping down Memory Lane

You wouldn’t think the humble carrier bag would be such an evocative thing.

Plastic fantastic: Vintage carrier bagsThe Guardian
Hull-based artist Aaron Thompson’s Instagram project Carry a Bag Man is a trip down memory lane. … So far, he’s photographed more than 250 for Instagram, from shops such as WH Smith, Topshop and HMV.

Many of them are likely to bring back fond memories of the shopping sprees in January sales from years gone by. “The effort put into advertising back then was so much more creative and out-there,” he says. “It’s great to look at a bag and get that burst of nostalgia as soon as you see a design you’ve totally forgotten about.”

But what shall we buy with our hundreds of carrier bags? Thousands of beer cans, of course!

The archaeologist who collected 4,500 beer cansGastro Obscura
Maxwell’s work blurs the line between rubbish and relic, raising the question of when beer cans become valuable artifacts worthy of study and preservation. But in many parts of the country, any object on public land that is at least 50 years old is considered historic and therefore eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966—as long as they meet certain criteria. This makes the ability to date beer cans a useful skill for archaeologists.

For Maxwell, this trash was a treasure trove. “The cans were weird and old and mysterious looking,” he says. “They had punches to open them instead of pull rings, and all I knew was that they predated me.” Maxwell learned to decipher their stories by pouring over collectors’ guides and trade magazines, and summers spent hunting along the highway developed into a lifelong passion for collecting and studying beer cans. Over the decades, Maxwell amassed 4,500 cans, which he recently cut down to 1,700 due to a lack of storage space.