Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A nice picture

I found a rather nice sketch of the controversial Neandertal fossil La Chapelle aux Saintes.  You know, the one who was all crippled up with arthritis, had almost no teeth, and the earliest photos of the fossil(taken at the time it was discovered) show an obviously buried person. 


Here is the sketch:


4298365396_37d6bfc95e As you can see, he doesn't look all that different from people you and I have known.  Or the differences, such as they are, are decidedly subtle.  But you can all judge for yourselves, I think.  Reconstructions of early humans often follows the conceptions or preconceptions of the reconstructors.


would really like to Dr. John Hawks and his blog for this.  Dr. Hawks is obviously rather multitalented.


Thanks again,

Anne G

Friday, January 15, 2010

What do you do when you're blue?

Fellow writers(and anybody else who cares to comment:


I recently went through a very bad period, that had to do with some personal things I won't go into here.  I am working my way through these things at present, but while I was "actively" going through them, I felt very, very bad indeed.  I felt bad enough so that I got, I think, on average, about four hours of sleep, among other things.  It also affected my writing in some ways, though I never actually stopped writing during this period.  But I was unable to really do much for very long, and though I have committed to doing some critiques for some other writers I know, I haven't yet started on those(fellow writers, don't worry, though, I haven't forgotten your critiques; it's just been hard to squeeze the time to do them, but I will, I hope, get to them by tomorrow!).  I also found myself unable to concentrate and kept making mistakes of various kinds that I ordinarily don't make.  I should also mention that I went through a period of major depression a few years ago, and depression runs in certain members of my family.  I will also mention that I don't like to think about that episode even now, and while my personal stuff that happened just recently wasn't as bad, it was bad enough.  The only thing I can say for this is, thanks to having gone through my depressive episode, I did learn ways to handle other "bad stuff" that comes my way.  One of them was, that doing my writing saved me from feeling even worse than I ended up feeling.  Which is why I plunged myself into writing over the last week or ten days. 


Which leads me to the question I'm throwing out at all of you out there:  What do you do when bad stuff happens?  How do you handle it?  Does it affect your writing?  I'm curious, because writers are all supposed to be tortured souls anyway. Not all of them are, of course, but still. . . . And besides, I could learn something useful for the next time something blows my way.


So thanks in advance for all your replies,

Anne G

Monday, January 11, 2010

Assassination and ambush, caveman style

There's been a fair amount of news about Neandertals floating around lately.  There is even one about "Neandertal artists", which I'll get to later in another blog.  However has an interesting comment about a paper published -- I think -- last fall or so, about the famous Shanidar III fossil.  This was the fossil that, among other things, gave Jean Auel her portrait of the shaman Creb in Clan of the Cave Bear.  I won't go into all the inaccuracies Auel perpetrated in this work, but for those who may have read Clan of the Cave Bear, you may remember that Creb was suffering from arthritis, couldn't move one arm, and limped around, apparently just like Shanidar III. 


One of the authors of the recent paper referred to in, Steven Churchill, apparently became convinced that "modern" humans  succeeded Neandertals because they had projectile weapons, e.g., javelins or long spears, that they could throw over long distances.  He seems to think that an injury to Shanidar III's rib is consistent with a thrown "javelin", which, supposedly, Neandertals didn't have.  They supposedly "only" had thrusting spears. This may be true.  However, there are javelin-like implements, found at the German site of Schöningen, which are dated to approximately 400,000 years!  These also appear to have been used on an ancient species of wild horse, as horse-type bones were found with the javelins or spears.  So these ancient people, whoever they were, were not necessarily getting "up close and personal" with the prey they hunted.  Whether Neandertals possessed such weapons or not is perhaps debatable.  The point is, that these Schöningen spears were not dissimilar to -- and this sort of ties into my own work, in a way -- medieval weapons of a certain type.  I will show an illustration here:



Note that at least some of the fighters are holding the spears above their heads and presumably throwing(or perhaps thrusting them; this would, even in 'moderns" on horses, not be all that different from Neandertals and their "thrusting" spears.  Unfortunately, I can't lay hands on any pictures of the Schöningen spears, but they apparently were held and thrown similarly; the people who found them ran "throwing tests" on them.


I can't say whether Neandertals had such weapons for chasing down prey, but the archaeological record seems to indicate that they had a lot of things that were similar to the range of equipment contemporary "modern" humans had. 


So raises some interesting questions about possible interactions between Neandertals and "moderns".  Steven Churchill, on the other hand, presumes that such interactions as Neandertals and "moderns" may have had, were always what I call "high conflict".  He, and people like him, base this idea on the ecologically-based notion of "competitive exclusion", in which creatures which have similar habits tend to "exclude" each other out of their territories, or else kill each other. Problem with this is, humans, while following some of these ecological rules, some of the time, are more complicated organisms.  Since Neandertals and "moderns" increasingly appear to have had the same range of behaviors and reactions, and probably each had some sort of language, now lost, it's quite likely that, while all between Neandertals and "moderns" wasn't exactly "lovey-dovey" all the time, it wasn't always, and inevitably "high conflict", either.  Besides, as points out, why would someone suffering from arthritis and maybe not able to use one of their arms, be considered a threat to anybody?  It kind of boggles belief. 


To conclude, I don't know how Neandertals and "moderns" living around Shanidar Cave or anywhere else, might have regarded one another.  But I think Dr. Churchill, while he's done some excellent research about prehistoric humans, has just gone off on a sort of personal tangent here.  And an increasing body of research seems to suggest that whatever "happened" to Neandertals, it probably wasn't due to anything as simplistic as his ideas of "competitive exclusion", or some other notions(here implied, rather than explicit) of some Neandertal "lack" or "inferiority".



More about this and similar subjects later,

Anne G

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We might not be in such trouble today if we dealt with financial misdeeds the way Henry I of England did. . . .

Elizabeth Chadwick's Medieval Mondays on her blog Living the History has an uh, interesting entry for this week. . . (sorry, folks, I know it's Tuesday and all that!).  It's about moneyers(or minters, as they were sometimes called).  Some background:  Every town of any size, by law, had a mint where coins -- English silver pennies -- were minted and stamped with a design approved by the king.  These coins circulated for several years(I think it was three), and then, again by order of the reigning king, were withdrawn, and new silver coins, with a new stamp, were issued.  People with the old coins then had to pay a visit to the town mint(in some really large towns there were apparently two or three of them), turn the old coins in, whereupon they would be melted down and new coins made with the new official stamp.  The moneyer/minter charged you a fee for this.  This was how minters made their money, and some of them became quite rich and important. 


Unfortunately, the system was subject to abuse, and it was not unknown for moneyers to cheat.  The king, or at least what passed for his bureaucracy, knew, or eventually found out, and laws kept getting passed.  This didn't necessarily stop anybody, so the kings had to periodically rein in the moneyers.


So here is what one of the current Medieval Monday posts has to say about this situation.  After I read about this solution, I began to wonder whether someone, somewhere, could channel King Henry I to deal with the financial shenanigans of some modern bankers and Wall Street fat cat types.  Nah, I decided.  That would be too big a job even for Henry I!


Early "moderns" and their teeth

PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, has published a paper concerning the teeth of a fossil known as Lagar Velho I or the LV 1 in scientific parlance.  It seems, from a superficial glance at the paper, which was written by several experts who did the study, and who have long had ties with the ongoing research on the Lagar Velho fossil, that there were things about the child's teeth that seem more like that of some Neandertals, than of "modern" humans. 


To give anyone reading this a background, the Lagar Vellho fossil was discovered in, IIRC, 1995. It was thought at first that the child, who was apparently about four or five years old when it died, was an example of early "modern" burial culture, and that was about it.  Then Erik Trinkaus, a Neandertal expert and one of the authors of the present paper, took a closer look.  He said he found that the child's skeletal proportions suggested a mixture of early "modern" and Neandertal traits.  João Zilhão, one of the original discoverers, and also an author of the paper, declared at the time, and has been declaring ever since, that Neandertals "took their last stand" so to speak, on the Iberian Peninsula, and the early "modern" population was a "mixed" one.  Needless to say, these assertions have been disputed, just as almost everything concerning Neandertals has been. 


Whether or not one believes these claims, it is certainly true that early "modern" humans, e.g. Homo(sapiens)sapiens were more "robust", and in some ways, more like Neandertals, than later ones.  This, as Razib of Gene Expression points out, is probably due in part, at least, to the introduction of agriculture in the so-called Neolithic period.  You just don't need as much muscle and bone bulk to grow crops, as you do to go out and hunt or gather your own meals, so it's no wonder people switched to agriculture!  By that time, of course, there weren't any Neandertals, and, when people started switching to agriculture, there probably weren't that many "modern" foragers(e.g., what have previously been called "hunter-gatherers").  Agriculturalist populations were larger, and probably "swamped" the hunter-gatherers. 


Which is food for thought.  At the time they existed, Neandertal populations were even smaller than later "forager" populations, and little groups of them apparently hung on is relative semi-isolation on the Iberian Peninsula rather late.  "Modern" populations eventually filtered their way into the peninsula, but there may not have been very many of them, either, at the time.  Which may account for the "mixed" population, if there was a "mixed" population(people have disagreed about this, too).  In any case, assuming "moderns" and Neandertals "mixed" in the Iberian Peninsula or anywhere else(and they might have, in some places, at various times), there weren't very many of the "mixed" populations, either.  Which would make them easy to "swamp" genetically, even if more "gracile" people didn't originally have some genetic advantage.  In any case, as the PNAS article seems to be suggesting, the "modern European origins" story is rather more complex than some people like to believe.

Anne G

Monday, January 4, 2010

State of the blog

Happy New Year, dear blog readers!


This is the first post of the year 2010.  It is also the first year I've decided to do a "State of the Blog" address, similar to "State of the Union"(though I can hardly compare myself to the President of the US).  2009 has been an interesting year.  While writing my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I've also been writing book reviews.  These have mainly been mysteries, historical or otherwise, but they are all related, in some way, to what I'm doing(though I'm not writing a mystery.  I wouldn't have any idea of how to go about it).  These mysteries have been quite good, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, and this is reflected in the reviews I've done. It's a bit odd, because while I'm writing a work of "romantic science fiction"(for lack of a better term), I haven's seen any fantasy or science fiction that I considered worth reviewing.  I think this is too bad, but I am looking forward to the possibility that this will change as 2010 rolls along. I am not neglecting anything that looks good, and there were plenty of mysteries and historical fiction I didn't review, either.  I just didn't consider these interesting enough(to me) to make the effort of reviewing them.


I hope, though,that the authors were satisfied with my efforts.  I have also become a guest blogger and have acquired "followers", which pleases me. I'm always happy when someone thinks my blog posts are interesting enough to follow and/or comment on. During 2009, I also added the subject of wolves to the subjects I cover on this blog. The reason for that is, although wolves don't appear in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece(s) With Neandertals, they appear in some other works that I have waiting to be finished, and they're an important part of the "scenery" in those places(hint:  these take place partly in a very fictional former timber and milling town in Western Washington State, and there's a convenient forest nearby where the wolves have trotted themselves.  There are Neandertals there, too, hiding in plain sight; it's in the near future).  It also reflects the fact that a couple of packs of wolves have, in recent years, begun to recolonize parts of My Fair State, and I'm happy to have them back.


I've gotten a lot of feedback from many of my posts, which also satisfies me.  One I recently got seemed to really like this blog, and pointed out that my efforts have much improved since I started it.  I'm glad of that, too. And I'm not surprised.  First efforts are just that -- first efforts, and they are often not as good as later ones.  I think in part, this improvement had to do with the fact that the first few posts I did, were a little less focused than later ones.  I have learned not to just "blather on", and I've learned to focus my efforts on just a few things, rather than "going all over the place".  And I am now trying to avoid writing vague posts about "creativity" and the like, unless I have something really "focused" to say about it.


I've also gotten a few brickbats.  In one case(and I think the person who posted the "brickbat" deserves a more thoughtful reply to the blog comment than I could give in a "comment" section.  I was also coming down with something nasty that I think I've finally recovered from, so I may have seemed a little more "intemperate" than I intended to be at the time.  But more on that later.  I will just put up another post.  On the other hand, what is a blog without some controversy?  I'm not one of those innumerable "political" blogs that thrive on controversy, and I don't generally publish such things unless they have pretty enormous significance, e.g. the 2008 elections and their results.  Still, some people may not understand or even dislike what I have to say.  I sometimes take risks, as everyone must, from time to time.  But all in all, I don't even mind this.  It goes with the territory. 


For the future, expect to see more book reviews, more commentary on writers and writing, if appropriate, comments on various Neandertal-related finds, anything interesting related to medieval England, and last, but not least, the state of wolves, especially Washington wolves.  Anything reasonably related to the territory covered in my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece(s) With Neandertals is fair territory, so expect these things when they start coming.  I encourage more people to "follow" me, if they wish to.  Finally, if anyone  leaves a comment, I will make every effort to reply, though some replies may take longer for me to "process" than others.  In the meantime,  keep reading my blog, throw brickbats if you really disagree with me, or don't(I'd much rather have the latter, but as I said, some brickbats are probably inevitable, even here).  And whatever else you do, don't take yourselves, or the world too seriously.  That can be depressing! 


Enjoy your life and your reading life while you can,

Anne G