Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dawn over Ellesmere Island, with wolves


According to this post, dawn is finally breaking over Ellesmere Island as the big wolf pack returns to its usual haunts. It’s a beautiful sight; the island has been without daylight for something like four months.  Even Barrow, Alaska doesn’t go that long! Oh, and the wolves, one of whom is a wolf called Brutus, which they’ve been studying intensively, is prominent in the picture.  Arctic wolves are beautiful creatures.BTW, Brutus is the one with the radio collar.  He’s more in the background, but his radio collar is very obvious.

Anne G


Computer trouble

After a week of essentially having no computer access, except through my local public library, I am now back online.  I can blog once more.  I don’t have very much to say at the moment, other than the fact that apparently hard drives in laptops don’t tend to last a long time, unless you really take care of them.  It was kind of an “ugh” situation, but I hope everything is fixed now!

Anne G

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hungry wolves come home

It seems like the huge wolf pack that's been roaming around Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island has decided to come back to their territory on Ellesmere. Apparently they couldn't find much in the way of wolf chow on Axel Heiberg, and not much in the way of wolf chow in their territory, so they searched some more, out of their Ellesmere territory. They managed to sustain themselves, apparently, by dining on leftover muskoxen that were killed by somebody or something else. That pack seems to be pretty strong. And you can read all about it here;

Anne g

I'm trying again

Drat! The attempt at putting up the link didn't work. Don't ask why.

But now I've got it, so you can read all about the Neanderthal Parallax 10th anniversary if you like.
Anne G

Oh dear!

Sorry. For some reason, there wasn't a link to the "10th anniversary" post. I'm fixing that now.

10th anniversary of the Neanderthal Parallax

If you click on the link, you will find that Robert Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy began today, with Hominids, the first in the series. It's one of Saywer's most popular books. And, after reading it, I can see why.
Anne G

Sunday, February 14, 2010

To clone or not to clone? Neandertals, that is

This past week has seen a bunch of articles, in various venues, about the possibility of cloning Neandertals back into existence.  You, gentle reader, can get an idea of what this is all about in Archaeology Magazine, and also here, and here, and  here. If you read through all the links, you will find varying degrees of enthusiasm or caution about the idea.


I must, for the record, admit that I would naturally be very interested if Neandertals were to somehow show up again.  But then, I would love to see a few woolly mammoths, too.  Trouble is, woolly mammoths though just as extinct as the Neandertal population, are not and never were, human beings.  When you get into the idea of cloning a human being -- and I definitely consider Neandertals to have been human beings, however they may or may not have been related to "us" -- gets into territory that definitely makes me a bit queasy. Even Svante Pääbo, the geneticist who sequenced the first Neandertal genome back in 1997, thinks it would be unethical to do this. From the Max Planck Institute, he has said on a number of occasions, that he thinks it would be unethical to do this. If you read the articles, apparently a number of people agree with this.


Though the idea of having Neandertals around, to compare and contrast, excites my fantasies to some degree, I tend to agree with those who think it would be an unethical idea.  On the other hand, if you read the article, it's obvious that there are people who are "behind" the idea.  And in any case, regardless of whether or not people think it's a good idea to clone Neandertals back into existence, it's probably reality to say that once enough knowledge about the cloning process becomes available(as applied to humans, at least), someone is bound to try to clone a Neandertal. 


So the questions become manifold.  First of all, why would anybody want to do this?  To study what the differences between "them" and "us" really are, the enthusiasts reply. Some enthusiasts might also claim it would help us understand how certain diseases work in human populations.  Others might be more interested in presumed differences in brain function, or language capabilities. The list of reasons for cloning Neandertals is potentially endless.  Which raise a lot of questions right there. 


First, would this Neandertal simply be considered an "experiment"?  If so, that should raise a lot of red flags.  It's all too easy, even with "modern" humans, to consider certain groups "other" or "not us".  And this has happened in recent history -- if one googles  the "Tuskegee study", they will find a good example of the sort of thing that makes me queasy, and should make any person with half a brain queasy too.  This raises further questions of how a Neandertal under such circumstances would even be regarded.  Because if he or she was regarded as "human", it seems to me he or she would have to be given the kind of basic human rights everyone is now thought to be entitled to.  If people started thinking of Neandertals as basically "subhuman" -- and some people, even scientists, still sort of do -- then it would be only a short step to the kind of thinking that put Jews and other people some Germans didn't like, into Auschwitz and other such horrors.  There is no guarantee that such thinking has been entirely wiped out, even in the 21st century. 


So, in order to be protected, a Neandertal would have to be given full human rights, assuming it would be possible to clone one at all in some relatively near future. If he or she were given full human rights, then they would have to be allowed to consent to any experiments performed on them for scientific purposes, with full understanding(assuming, as I tend to, that a reasonably intelligent Neandertal would be able to fully appreciate the implications) of the possible consequences.  Otherwise, it might end up being very much like people who claim aliens from outer space abducted them, and performed experiments on them.  Most of us consider that people who make such claims are slightly crazy, but can anybody imagine how a Neandertal might feel, if these things weren't fully explained to them, or if, for whatever reason, they couldn't fully understand the reason?  I'm not entirely sure some of the enthusiasts for cloning Neandertals back into existence, have fully consider this.


If, however, any such project decided to clone a small population of Neandertals, there might be less opposition, provided, of course, that all of them were given full human rights and responsibilities.  After all, there doesn't seem to have been any indication that their brains were anything much different from "ours", though their skulls were slightly larger.  But corrected for overall size, the amount of brain inside a Neandertal skull would have been roughly the same as a "modern" human's. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be any archaeological indication that they were unable to do anything contemporary "modern" humans could do.  They certainly seem to have had at least the potential for such capacities.  My guess is, that if they didn't exhibit some of these capacities, this was probably due to (a) what was available in their environment and (b) restrictions partially imposed by population size.  Neandertal populations, as I've said elsewhere, seem to have been quite small and scattered, which at times and in places, may have hindered the kind of  communication that fosters the adoption of new ideas. Nevertheless, they seem to have been perfectly capable of "upgrading" their toolkit, and doing things like painting and decorating themselves, as finds from places like El Sidrón and Arcy-sur-Cure seem to show. And these things, in addition to the burials I've mentioned elsewhere, and the find, in Bruniquel Cave, of a rectangle or oval, deep in its interior, with a burned cave bear bone inside this oval or rectangle suggest that they were perfectly capable of symbolic thinking and language.


So what are we left with? Well, the anatomical differences are fairly obvious, but even here, most people probably wouldn't "recognize" Neandertals if they were walking around dressed in modern clothes(this, by the way, forms part of the premise of my Invaders trilogy; medieval people never heard of Neandertals, and though some of them recognize "something" about them, in some situations, they have no idea what it is). So unless these differences were pointed out to them, people mostly wouldn't "have a clue".  And if they did  "have a clue", how would they react?  I don't know, but this is another reason, which again the cloning enthusiasts seem not to have considered, why they would need to be protected by legal, basic human rights, and treated as any other human being.  I doubt eve everyone would be equally enthusiastic about Neandertals, once they started walking around the Earth again, and formed their own social groupings, which might or might not include "modern" humans in some circumstances. 


So for now, I remain queasy about the idea of cloning "a" Neandertal.  I would be a bit less queasy it if it was going to be a bunch of them, but I would still be somewhat queasy. Fortunately, it seems that at the present time, even cloning woolly mammoths(some scientists are actually working on this) seems not to be feasible.  At the present time, cloning Neandertals seems even less so.  So I remain queasy at the idea of cloning "a" Neandertal, or even some Neandertals, into existence.  But I'm not going to actually try to "do" anything about it till the day comes that it might be possible.

Anne G

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A little more on the whole "self publishing" bit

I'm not offering very much at the moment.  A bunch of things I was planning to post, I would have posted, had not some other interesting tidbits come through.  And this is one of them. I am acquainted with the author, and she claims she's "done everything right".  But she still can't get published.  Which is all too common, I'm afraid.  First, please don't get me wrong.  At the moment, before the novice author tries anything else, they should at least attempt to sell the traditional way, IMO.  Because -- and believe me I've seen it -- there's quite a bit of "self published" crap out there. No, I'm not talking about small, independent presses.  They often find authors that are very good.  I've seen some of those, too.  What I'm talking about is authors that have an idea, think they can write, but don't bother to polish things too much or don't bother with the research necessary for their topic, or who knows what else.  But they still want to "independently publish" because they think their idea or story will "sell itself".  This particular author has done the best she knows how to do, has tried very hard to sell her book the "traditional way", but has failed to get a "bite".  And I know she's not the only one.  I know someone else -- personally -- who is having the same problem.  So what is an author like this to do?  I don't know, but she offers one answer, that might be at least worth thinking about.

Anne G

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Robert Sawyer's "Neandertal problem"

In addition to having a "publishing problem", Robert Sawyer has, IMO a "Neandertal problem" as well.  Again, it's not because he exactly negatively portrays Neandertals in his books Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids.  His Neandertal characters are very engaging, and he writes very well of them.  Still, he has a problem.


Maybe I should call it a "religion problem", because it became very obvious, when I was reading Hominids, that he honestly believes "religion" is bad.  So he wrote his Neandertals in such a way that they were very, very "rational" , and never developed spiritual beliefs.  Which prompted person of the cloth to write him and ask if "Is it a copout that Neandertals never had religion?"   Sawyer gave a very "rational" answer, which reflects his beliefs, far more than it reflects any beliefs about the unknown, Neandertals might or might not have had.  And that shows very strongly in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy as well. 


For example, in the very first book, Hominids, Sawyer goes to great pains to deny that Neandertals ever buried their dead.  To do this, he apparently has read the now-discredited theories of Robert Gargett, who claimed, in effect, that Neandertal burials weren't "really" burials.  Gargett did a useful service in pointing out that, in some cases, what looked like Neandertal burial sites, may have been the result of something else.  Gargett was especially hard on the Shanidar "flower burial", which he claimed, in essence, was "just accidental", as was the evidence of flower pollen.  Some people still believe this about the flower pollen, however it is odd that five of the six pollens found at the Shanidar site are used as traditional herbal medicinals to this day, and also that these flowers bloom in the spring, whereas the excavation of Shanidar Cave took place in August. 


Furthermore, if you know how to look evidence for deliberate Neandertal burial is reasonably easy to determine.  Most, if not all, Neandertals that are known to have been buried, are buried in a "flexed" position.  People who just "drop dead", or even fall in a faint, never, as far as I know, fall or drop dead in a "flexed" position.  The Kebara burial, for instance, is shown buried flexed, minus the skull, but whoever buried Mr. Kebara, thoughtfully left his jaw and his hyoid bone(the bone that attaches your tongue to the rest of your throat so you can talk), for future humans to ponder.


Then there's the famous(or infamous) La Chapelle Aux Saintes fossil.  The excavators(two brothers who also happened to be Catholic priests), took a photograph of the fossil.  Click the link and look closely at the fossil and see how it lies.  All of these practices suggest deliberate burial, which suggests some kind of rituals were involved.  If rituals were involved, this practice also suggests, at least intuitively, some kind of spiritual beliefs.  We have no idea what these spiritual beliefs, if any, might have been, but rituals of this kind do, at least, suggest some form of symbolism or symbolic thinking.  And I don't care who they are, nobody is completely rational when they lose some important or well-loved member of their family or band, or tribe, or whatever. 


So the real question here isn't whether it's a "copout" to create Neandertals who never "had religion".  The real question here is, how much of our own beliefs or nonbeliefs  about Neandertals(or anybody else, for that matter), are we simply "imposing" on poor Neandertals, who aren't here to defend themselves?  Of course, one can argue that the same could be said of people who claim they had a "religion", and they would be right.  We have no way of actually knowing, absent a time machine.  But there is enough archaeological evidence, which, for his own purposes, Sawyer seems to have conveniently ignored, to suggest that they did have some sort of ritual or spiritual beliefs -- about something.  We just don't know what.


Finally, we should keep in mind that all of us have "spiritual beliefs" of one kind or another.  Heck, even many atheists have "spiritual beliefs".  They just don't rest on believing that a deity exists.  So, my final question to Mr. Sawyer and other "rationalists" of this type is, why can't we accept the idea that Neandertals had them, too?

Anne G

Robert Sawyer's "publishing problem"

Robert Sawyer, a highly respected science fiction writer(I really like some of his work), has a publishing problem.  No, I don't mean that he can't get published.  He can.  You can get his books in any halfway respectable bookstore that sells science fiction.  He's against "self publishing" science fiction.  Totally against it.



He claims, in effect, that you will never, ever find a science fiction writer who self publishes.  This may or may not be true.  Writers who write science fiction are often a quirky lot.  And there was "vanity publishing" back in the days of classic writers like Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, etc.  "Vanity publishing" back then had a very bad reputation, and for very good reason.  Also, there was no such thing as e-publishing.  For that matter, there was no such thing as the Internet.  So I can see where he's coming from. 


I should also add that I've seen at least some "independently published" fiction(some of it is actually a type of science fiction).  The quality varies, and the audience for some of this stuff may be rather limited.  In some instances, I think the writers know this, and that is why they go this route.  Occasionally, the writer goes this route after trying to get a "bite" from some agent(very hard to do these days).  These writers have done all the right things that they're supposed to do, but gave up in despair of ever having their books published. 


However, a lot has changed in recent years, and many of the publishing houses(including the ones that publish science fiction) are subsidiaries of giant corporations, and "traditional" publishing is not in a happy state right now.  It's always been hard for an unknown writer to get him or herself published, and perhaps even harder for a writer of science fiction who can't break into one of the magazines(and there aren't very many of those any more,  either).  Is Mr. Sawyer completely unaware of this?  It almost seems as if he is.  And, unfortunately for Mr. Sawyer, I think it is only a matter of time before a lot of material ends up e-published anyway.  Again, this may not be true of science fiction, but I wonder.  I don't know how much time will pass before this is the case, but I am pretty sure this will happen; the publishing business at the moment is in a fluctuating state.  And because of this, if there isn't some science fiction writer who has "self published" somewhere, there soon will be, and people will read him or her.  And, perhaps, Mr. Sawyer will end up having a very red face.

Anne G

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wandering white wolves

Well, here goes.  My first blog on the subjects I mentioned yesterday is going to be -- gasp! -- wolves.  Partly because it's late at night(I got home kinda late tonight, and I'm tired and sore from exercises), and partly because some of the things I'm going to be blogging about over the next few days are going to require long blog posts. 


This isn't about the wolves of Washington State this time, though you can all be sure I'll be blogging about them whenever there's news about whatever is going on with those particular wolves.  This post is about a wolf pack that has been traveling around Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands, which are jammed up there, very close to the North Pole.  It's still dark up there; the sun won't rise again for maybe another ten days or two weeks(and if you want to know where Ellesmere Island or Axel Heiberg Island are, Google Earth would be a good place to start).  In any case, these wolves have traveled over the ice, presumably in search of muskoxen to dine on(their principal food, apparently), from Ellesmere Island to Axel Heiberg Island, and back, and now they appear to be traveling south toward a tiny settlement called Grise Fjord, whose inhabitants are all Inuit, and probably shot most of the wolves that lived around Grise Fjord until the Canadian government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to settle some Inuit people there, back, I think, in the 1930's.  Anyway, if you go to Wolves of the High Arctic, you can track their movements.  Someone asked exactly where the URL for Wolves of the High Arctic was, and I'm basically replying to that person.


An unusual thing about this particular wolf pack is, it's very large for a wolf pack.  The usual size of a pack is about 7-10 wolves.  This pack has some 20-odd.  How that happened, I wouldn't know.  Maybe a lot of the territory around them is essentially wolfless, or maybe there are just a lot of muskoxen to be had for their dinners.  Or maybe something else is going on.  In any case, the site itself is very impressive, I think, and is part of a study that includes David Mech, a famous wolf specialist.  So anybody interested in wolves, or maybe just looking at some pictures of them(in those regions, they tend to be white or nearly white), it's a wonderful site, and I highly recommend it.

Anne G

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A plethora of goodies on various subjects

There is an absolute plethora of bloggable subjects cluttering up various parts of my computer today, and I didn't even realize it!  I've been busy the past few days, mostly with more writing(have completed or revised two more chapters in the second book of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Trilogy With Neandertals), and haven't, lately, had much time to do any serious blogging. 


But never fear, there's plenty to blog about.  First, two stories from Julien Riel-Salvatore's fine blog, A Very Remote Period Indeed,  both on the presence of Neandertals in Poland north of the Carpathians, some 80,000 years ago.  Then there's an equally fascinating piece on preserving an 11th century bridge in England, with sugar, on Got Medieval.  And let us not forget My Beloved Wolves!  There are stories and updates on the Wolves of the High Arctic(in this case, Ellesmere Island -- if you don't exactly know where that is, you might want to search through Google Earth or an atlas).  Their travels are interesting.  All wolves' travels are interesting, for a variety of reasons.


Last but not least, I have my own thoughts about why only certain people are interested in medieval history and society, and why few readers of historical and other genres deal with "medieval" except as fantasy.  I will also have something to say about how this impacts my own history, and my writing. 


In any case, stay tuned.  I'll be blogging about some of this stuff, a little each day or so.  I'm not deserting anybody, though I haven't started 2010 with a huge number of blogs.  But that's another story to tell -- later.  Much later.

Anne G