Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Friday, June 27, 2008

Neandertals hybridized themselves out of existence? Yeah, maybe

Today, on a blog called Remote Central, I just came across a blog entry called "Human Evolution on Trial --- Neandertals", or something quite similar. You can read it all here. It's quite interesting, really, because the blogger seems to conclude that Neandertals hybridized themselves out of existence. Which may well be true. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of some innate "modern" superiority, nor does there seem to be any evidence that the two groups(assuming, for the sake of argument that they were, in fact, two separate species), that they had drifted apart, evolutionarily speaking, to not be, as geneticists put it, "interfertile". Which just means they could have offspring and their offspring could have offspring. There may be fossil evidence of this, though, like just about everything else concerning Neandertals, this is contested. And there's certainly no evidence that disease or mass estermination took place. Neither "modern" humans nor Neandertals, at the time they coexisted, seem to have lived in large enough groups for diseases to spread easily. And "moderns" didn't have a sufficently "superior" technology to exterminate them. Who knows? Maybe there's a little Neandertal in you, and you, and you, so to speak. I would like to thinks so(at least regarding some papulations.

In any case, this is (partly) an underlying theme in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, though some may find this idea to be pure "fantasy". And this is why I recommend reading this blog. Or, for that matter, read the blogger's whole series. You can learn about human evolution, should you desire to do so, quickly, easily, painlessly, and be entertained at the same time. What more can anyone ask?
Anne G

Monday, June 23, 2008

Neandertals were in Sussex

Ripped right from the headlines of the BBC, comes exciting news of a find of Neandertal-era tools. The tools come from a place called Beedon, which is in Sussex, England. It is not a "new" discovery, exactly; Beedon was first excavated in the early 1900's. Later, in about the 1930's, most of the tools excavated were simply thrown away, because somebody decided they were fakes. But a few were overlooked, and it is these that were being discussed. The archaeologist who supervised the new dig, was amazed at what he described as the "sophistication" of these tools. The pictures didn't show much, but according to the same archaeologist, there was at least one blade tool(yeah, as in a knife blade, though made of stone, not bone or metal. . . ). Anyway, it sounds a lot like the "Chatelperronian" tools in what is now France. Perhaps these regional rivalries began back then????
Anne G

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Back to Neandertals --- again!

Today it's away from writing, and back to Neandertals again. Why? Well I saw a cartoon this morning in Parade Magazine. They have cartoons every week, and most of them aren't that interesting. But this one was. Just a note here: I wish I had a link to the magazine and the cartoon, and the painting from which it was derived. I'd like to show both, so you, gentle reader, could actually see what I'm about to describe. Alas, I don't. So here goes:

The cartoon: A man, in obviously modern dress, is standing in a cave, holding a cell phone. Just in front of him is a frightened-looking "cave man" dressed in fur, in front of an even more frightened-looking "cave woman" and "cave child". The "cave woman" is holding a child in her arms. The caption reads "Let me get back to you, Mort. Apparently this new phone has a time-travel function I wasn't aware of."

There are several interesting things about this cartoon. First, it's funny(because cell phones and their "functions" can be daunting to users), and it's funny because of the situation the man finds himself in. Second, whether the cartoonist intended this --- or even knew he was doing this --- the "cave people" are pretty obviously supposed to be Neandertals. Of course, we ought to remember that most people, if they think about prehistoric humans at all, probably think of Neandertals, but have only the vaguest notion of who or what they were. The drawing from which this cartoon is (probably unconsciously) taken, had "primitive men" who were all "modern" humans, but I'll get to this in a moment.

The cartoonist could have just drawn this "cave family" as "modern" humans in fur kilts, so to speak. In the past, this is pretty much what people who drew "cave men" used to do. But he didn't. The drawing clearly --- at least to me --- suggests Neandertals. Which, in itself, suggests many interesting things, but I won't go into them here or now. Some occasion will surely suggest itself.

But the cartoon isn't even "original". It's based on a 19th century French painting of a very similar scene, but as I said earlier, the artist drew the cave-dwellers as "modern" humans. This is not surprising. After all, the so-called "Cro-Magnons" were clearly "modern", which, once Neandertals were firmly distinguished from "modern" humans(at least in the minds of the people doing the "distinguishing" at the time), probably made French men and women feel much better. And I am sure that this cartoon is at best, unconsciously copied from the above scene, assuming the cartoonist has seen it at all(it's not exactly the most famous painting ever done).

But all of this suggests to me that one way or another, for better or worse, Neandertals occupy a place in the collective "modern" unconscious that is unique, if ambivalent. And will probably continue to do so, in parallel to the arguments that continue to flow back and forth, unresolved, in the scientific community, about the "place" Neandertals occupy, in relation to "ourselves".
Anne G

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A fantastic trailer for a forthcoming book!

Elizabeth Chadwick has an absolutely fantastic trailer for her forthcoming book A Time of Singing. It's about an important figure, Roger Bigod, in the time of Henry II. It won't be coming out until October 8(I believe), but when it does, and becomes available, it might be interesting to read it in conjunction with Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death and The Serpent's Tale. They are all set in the reign of Henry II.
Anne G

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Writers' viewpoints, writer's "objectivity"?

It can be really interesting to get readers' comments. This is aside from the fact that I always welcome them, regardless of whether or not I completely agree with them. Mostly, I do agree with them. But even when I do, every so often there is one tht started me thinking. In a previous post, I mentioned that I'm "into" wolves, and a kind reader responded that when writing about wolves, one should be "objective" about them; they are part of nature, neither evil nor good. Now of course I agree with this, siince I happen to know a good deal about Canis lupus and its various relatives, and this knowledge actually, eventually spurred me, in a roundabout way, to start writing what I'm writing now. I should add, for the record, that in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, wolves don't come into it. I have some other things, set in the near future, where wolves do play a part. And it is this that got me thinking.

When I was growing up, wolves were almost always the "bad guys". And "we" were "right" to finish them off. This attitude is very old and rooted iin agricultural and pastoral pasts: when there is a danger of wolves eating your cows or sheep or goats or whatever, then they will be looked at as "the enemy". Never mind that they are just doing what they have evolved to do, namely catch vulnerable: weak, sick, very old, very young, "in the wrong place at the wrong time" prey, usually hoofed mammals, of which there are usually reasonably abundant numbers . Unless something in the environment has drastically changed.

So, for years, people shot wolves(and coyotes, their smaller and more adaptable cousins), pretty much on sight. But at about the same time as Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf was first published(again, for the record, I read it at about that time, but it didn't make much impression on me at first), an environmental consciousness began to flower, and people started looking at wolves quite differently. Yes, as the reader pointed out, after this time, some people started "idolizing" wolves as everything noble in nature, which, in my opinion is just as silly and unrealistic as "demonizing" them. But people who wanted to write anything that featured wolves, could not do what C.S. Lewis did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where wolves are pretty much instruments of evil. This attitude, by the way, is rooted in certain medieval notions of wolves as aspects of the Devil. But even that attitude is rooted even more distantly in agricultural fears.

Be that as it may, far fewer people live off the land and practice agriculture any more. And in many parts of the world, wolves, and their environments, are constantly threatened by various forms of human intervention. Yet people's consciousnesses in most parts of the world have been raised to various degrees, so that now they actually value the environments they live in, not only as a place where "things they need" are produced, but as important in and of themselves, and important to preserve, for the people themselves. This consciousness is even setting in in a number of poor and developing countries where deforestation is extensive. Of course, these places don't have wolves, but they have creatures that are just as important in some symbolic way, and increasingly, people have made the choice to live with them.

This shift in consciousness was brought home to me after rereading the young adult book Viking Warrior, which I mentioned in another post, where the 15 year old hero encounters a wolf pack and thinks of fighting it, then decides the appearance of the pack is a sign from Odin, and "talks" the wolves out of trying to eat him. Nowadays, people just don't write about predators(wolves, bears, lions, etc), in anything like the way they used to, as "enemies" to be "bested" by "manly hunters", but are more likely to see them as "part of nature", though they may have to be careful in encountering them.

Which brings me to the meat of my question: Shouldn't a writer have a viewpoint? Shouldn't s/he express that viewpoint? Supoose they do "love wolves" and see them as "noble expressions of the greatness of nature" or the like? It may be a silly viewpoint, but it is a viewpoint, and more basically, isn't that the reason writers write? To express something they believe about their world, or something they believe in? I'm not suggesting writers and other creative people go on "political" crusades, though I know some who do. Rather, I'm suggesting that it is well-nigh impossible for anyone in a creative field not to have strong ideas or opinions about something. Wht else would make them want so much to be heard, that they take up the difficult task of writing it down, or painting it, or singing a song about it, or whatever they do? If such a person, for example, writes a poem about the nobility and grandeur of wolves in the natural world, and someone reads it, and ends up thinking it is silly, because they, the reader, thinks they are being "objective" about the p lace of wolves in nature, again, so what? It is one reader's opinion. To take another example, I don't much care for the current wave of what I call "Celtomania" in fiction and other places; I particularly don't like the endless stream of romances that feature hunks in kilts and are written about a Scotland that probably exists or existed only in their overheated imaginations, but I tell myself, okay, it's a viewpoint. A phony one, maybe, but a viewpoint still. And I could go on and on. In my view, writers must have a viewpooint, a belief. Otherwise, why write. I don't have to like it; I may end up beig very "objective" in pointing out that the writer's viewpoint is extreme or not grounded in reality, or whatever, but neither I, nor any other creatively inclined person, can ignore the fact that the person has a strong belief that they must express.

And this, by the way, is one of the things that makes "art"(and here, I mean any creative endeavor, no matter how "popular",) often a controversial enterprise. Because the author's viewpoint is probably never going to please everyone. Sometimes, such claims as the person makes are bizarre, such as in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, stringing Da Vinci, Templars, certain Catholic religious organizations, and a lot else, into(in my view) a dreadfully weird mix. But he really thinks he has an idea, and he's really making money off it. It's unfortunate, again in my view, that a lot of people believe much of what I consider complete, though quite entertaining, nonsense, but then, what can I say? I'm mixing Neandertals, medieval England, and some medieval "mythology" all together. Is my "mix" any weirder? I don't know. I am trying to make what I'm doing as historically accurate as I can, but I am sure that, if I can ever get it written and published, and people read it, there will be those who think my ideas are as bizarre in their way as those of Dan Brown. And, just for the record, I don't know what they'll think when I start doing the near future(with Neandertals, of course), and add wolves. . . .
Anne G

Monday, June 9, 2008

The church under the sea

Thanks to the site History Buff, which, by the way, I've just added as a link, I found a nice little story via the BBC on a church that was recently dug out of the sea in England. It was located in the town of Dunwich, which apparently washed away about 500 years ago, thanks to rising sea levels in that region. History Buff also links to the author's website, which is full of links to writers and writing, as well. It's a nice source of "historical news", of all sorts, if one is interested in that. I'm certainly intersted in churches that got washed away in rising tides! It's tragic and romantic, I guess, though I think people just moved elsewhere, rather than letting the sea wash them away, too.
Anne G

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm gratified

I feel a great sense of gratification today. At least one person seems to have the same interests I do, e.g. science fiction, Neandertals, medieval life and anthropology. Would anybody be even more interested if I added wolves? Well, my favorite animals are wolves and cats, in no particular order(not dogs, mind you, wolves). But wolves are not the subject of this blog. Neandertals, medieval life, writing and the writing process, are. But at least one kind person commented, and shared their interests. . . which happen to be (mostly) the same as mine!

Which is odd. Because the people who come here and leave a comment tend to fall into two totally disparate groups: the ones who are interested in Neandertals, and the ones who are interested in writing and/or medieval life. Not, mind you, that I have any objection to this. I'm happy that anybody at all is taking the time to read my blog. After all, it's not like I"m some well-known commentator in the blogosphere, though I do have my opinions, and I'm unafraid to state them. But the writing process, Neandertals, and medieval life, are not exactly the exciting subjects that make up the bulk of the blogosphere. Nor, unlike some bloggers, am I going to try to make myself famous buy describing my life in minute detail. Outside of writing and my interests, my life is really quite "mundane".

Still, you'd think that there would be more people whose interests are like mine, overlaping. And you'd think there would be more writers sharing. Of course, the writers are probably too busy writing whatever they are trying to get published, to run over here.

But nevertheless, it's gratifying to know that at least one person has my "profile" of interests. So, with continued gratitude for at least this much, I'm going to keep right on linking to Neandertal related stuff, and medieval related stuff, and, of course, anything that relates to writing and the writing process. Not to mention that, whenevery my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals gets published, you will be among the first to hear about it!
Anne G

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The abbey in the swamp

Abbeys feature somewhat in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece(s), although they are not a major component. And this particular abbey wasn't even close, geographically, or in the time period I'm writing about. Nevertheless, the story about this North Yorkshire abbey is fascinating; it was built in a swampy area which the monks made into relatively solid ground. This was quite a feat of engineering in its day and with the tools they had available to them. It was also a surprisingly rich area, seeing as it was built in the middle of what we would now call a wetland. A lot of people nowadays tend to think that the folk living in medieval Europe were sunk in ignorance and "superstition", but whateer one may think of monks and "organized religion", I would hardly call them superstitious or sunk in ignorance. And apparently the abbey itself was quite famous in its day. Too bad it took all this time and some archaeological work to rediscover this.
Anne G