June 12, 2004

Saturday Morning Links

Some links to amuse, enlighten, or entertain you:

  • The New York Times profiles the folklorist Adrienne Mayor, who's written some fascinating stuff on knowledge of fossils among native Americans and the ancient Greeks.
  • Is America really a politically polarized nation? In The New York Times, John Tierney asks a group of experts who disagree with the conventional wisdom.
  • The Washington Post looks at the relationship between Shostakovich and Stalin.
  • From AL Daily: Michael Lind tells us more about the dark side of Winston Churchill, while First Things reviews the travel writing of Evelyn Waugh.
  • The Morning News features an odd little interview with Martha Nussbaum. (via Butterflies and Wheels)
  • The Washington Post interviews Mikhail Gorbachev on the end of the Cold War.
  • The Boston Globe ideas section interviews Marcus Rediker (a labor historian who's turning his attention to pirates) and looks at the novels of Philip Pullman.
  • Can a computer uncover artistic forgeries? The New York Times reports.
  • According to The New York Times Magazine, Dublin has been forced to ask itself an unexpected question: how do you celebrate Bloomsday without any Blooms? What's the state of Irish judaism?

I'll probably be too busy to post more today, but I'll be back tomorrow... As I often do, I expect to add some Sunday links to the list above.

The most interesting of these articles, I thought, was the New York Times profile of Adrienne Mayor. An excerpt:

[W]hen Ms. Mayor's first book, "The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times" (Princeton University Press), came out four years ago, this late-blooming outsider with no advanced degrees caused something of a sensation among high-ranking anthropologists, paleontologists, geologists and others. She used Roman and Greek texts to argue that some fossils were used to support or create myths about strange creatures in the ancient world.

"Art historians think that Ms. Mayor may well have solved the puzzle of the Corinthian vase depicting Heracles shooting arrows at the head of the monster of the Troy legend," John Noble Wilford wrote in The New York Times in 2000. She noticed that the mysterious monster's head closely resembled the skull of an extinct giraffe.

Now Ms. Mayor is at it again. She said her third and latest book, a combination of history, archaeology, folklore and old-fashioned detective work, would be the first scholarly attempt to set the record straight about Native American contributions to paleontology.

American museums often juxtapose Indian artifacts with dinosaur remains, Ms. Mayor said, but curators never seem to make the connection between local native cultures and the evidence of remarkable creatures from another age that the Indians had encountered on their lands. ("The message you get is that both are extinct," she said.) So she took on the task of documenting the extensive paleontological knowledge of many Indians, expanding a historical record that showed that they often served as sources and guides for early fossil expeditions.


The Comanche people in Oklahoma, she said, told stories about grandmothers' sending them out to find the bones of monsters, which they would grind into a powder for medicine or mix with water to set bones.

"They said you could tell if it was the right bone if it stuck to your tongue," Ms. Mayor said. Researching that report, she discovered that paleontologists do indeed lick bones to tell whether they are real fossils, because the real ones cling to the tongue. (Fossil bone is hydrophilic, which means that it absorbs moisture.)

Fun stuff!

Posted by Ed at June 12, 2004 10:10 AM

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