Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Poverty Point and Palestine

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to visit Poverty Point. I was blown away by place. I'm a big fan of archaeology in the Near East, and never was that interested in archaeology in the Americas. But the amount of work that went in to engineering the bird shaped mound 3000 years ago was inspiring. Lately Poverty Point has been in the news. It's nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a very cool thing. The nomination will be voted on in June. But, UNESCO recognized Palestine as a country and then the United States quit paying membership dues to UNESCO. Also I hear The Alamo is nominated and in the same predicament. The thing is that Senator Mary Landrieu inserted the World Heritage dues of $700,000 in an appropriations bill but the House deleted it. It seems the Republican Party does not want Landrieu to get credit for this and thus get some votes from the residents of Northeast Louisiana.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"In To Wonder"

Check out this short and interesting animated film by Katherine Hogan. See if you can recognize Kalypso as a drawing.
In To Wonder from Katherine Hogan on Vimeo.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pope Francis

I'm quickly becoming a very big fan of Pope Francis. His emphasis on mercy and inclusion rather than dogmatic enforcement is very refreshing and more in line with my views about Catholicism.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Card from Marj Rabba

I received a very creative card from three of the people who worked with me in Area AA at Marj Rabba: Madeline, Phoebe, and Tova. It's full of inside jokes so I'll do my best to translate. The card is made out of a brown paper finds bag, hence the stamp with locus and basket numbers. So why is there a fat hat-wearing turkey with a beer on the cover with the words "Happy Thanksgiving"?
The turkey is meant to be me. At some point early on one of the volunteers said she liked to cook, and her favorite dish to make was green bean casserole. I think that's cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, some worcester sauce, and then fried onions. I then went on and on about how much Thanksgiving sucked. I think it's also in reference to me wanting to find more in the area, and not being too thankful for the finds that we had. By the way, notice the "y" is filled in with "The Dude." I reminded some of them of the Dude in the Big Lebowski.
Then it's the inside of the card that is the most interesting.
On the left is the infamous insect deity. It was a small clump of mud that looks very much like the picture. We theorized that the insects worshipped it, because with their simple insect minds, they didn't know any better, --it was a god to them. Notice the ant who lost a head in sacrifice. We had many pits of all types in Area AA, hence the "pit emporium" reference. Walls without corners, we had many. Then there is stick figure me complaining that due to age differences (me late 40's, them early 20's), that we had so little that we could talk about. The best part is that there isn't a pop-up, but a pop-down feature. A student named Chas dug a one meter by 3 meter trench looking for bedrock. Instead, we just kept going down to more and more dirt. We started calling it her grave. Finally in the right, there is Gilgamesh displaying good troweling technique while in a nearby tree house. The "Big Sleep" is in reference to Gilgamesh falling asleep one day at fruit break. Funny card, thanks Madeline, Phoebe and Tova, and everyone else in Area AA and elsewhere at Marj Rabba for a memorable excavation.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marj Rabba Updates on Galilee Prehistory Project Blog

If you are interested in learning more about what's going on at Marj Rabba, where my two Xavier students Alexis Parker and Melissa Nguyen are excavating along with Gilgamesh and me, check out these resources for updates:

Marj Rabba is part of the Galilee Prehistory Project. They're blog is here:

Also follow Marj Rabba on facebook.

Rujm el-Hiri

We just finished week two at Marj Rabba. Interesting site, great people. I've been enjoying learning more about the many mysteries of the Chalcolithic period. We work Sunday through Friday with Saturdays off, though we seem to tour something on either Friday or Saturday. Last weekend we toured the excavation at Akko. Today we took a trip to the  Golan Heights to visit Rujm el-Hiri. I had never been here before, and I have to admit that even with a map, it would have been very challenging to locate. Thanks to Chad Hill for navigating us there.


Rujm el-Hiri is an amazing site where giant basalt boulders are placed in circles, all around a central rock quern burial. Some people call it the Stonehenge of the Chalcolithic because the sunrise on the solstices seems to match the orientation of the structure. Here is a picture of the circles from an elevated position from Wikimedia:

A whole lot of people moved a whole lot of rock to make these designs. It very much reminds me of Poverty Point in Louisiana. Lots of questions are raised about the purpose of both Poverty Point and Rujm el-Hiri. There seems to be a debate about whether this was built in the Chalcolithic period or later. There do seem to be several Chalcolithic settlements in the area. It's always hard to date structures such as these. There were burials in the giant central rock quern, but they were robbed long ago. In any event, it's an amazing site.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Gilgamesh Tried to Kill Me at Ein Gedi

I learned some valuable lessons yesterday. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi. As we'll be working at Marj Rabba soon, I wanted my students to learn more about the Chalcolithic period. So our goal was to hike to the famous Chalcolithic temple above Ein Gedi, and talk about Ghassulian material culture, objects such as cornets and the ritual objects from Nahal Mishmar. So we walked in the Nahal David, and then started climbing. The first lesson I learned was that I am older and far more out of shape then I was the last time I did this. The second lesson I learned was that my Birkenstock sandals were not the best choice of shoes for this trek. But the most important lesson came about 30 minutes into the walk. Gilgamesh, carrying our shared backpack, decided without asking that he'd race ahead. Ein Gedi is on the shores of the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth. Because the water evaporates, the place is always very humid, and it's very hot in the summer. It was 41 degrees celcius yesterday, or about 105 fahrenheit. Every time I thought we'd reach the apex, the trail would turn and there would be 100 more steps. I was getting exhausted, but more dangerous, I was getting seriously dehydrated. Also, my students didn't pack enough water for themselves and one student, Alexis, was starting to get a headache, a bad sign of dehydration. Gilgamesh had our large water bottle in the backpack, and that would have been enough for all of us to stay adequately hydrated. I quit sweating, was getting a bad headache, but slowly with much resting we marched up and onward. Finally we came to the Chalcolithic temple. Then suddenly, there was Gilgamesh. He said he had gotten lost. I said to him, with a very dry mouth and breathing heavily, "Gilgamesh, can you think of anything in that bag that I would need to survive out here?" He gave me the water bottle, but it was empty, as he had drunk all of the water. So Gilgamesh agreed to go back down to the visitors center, get the water bottle filled, and then meet us as we were descending. We took some photographs of the temple. But we were too tired to walk up a bit higher to get a better perspective. Here's the temple in a panorama shot:
Eventually we made it back down, found Gilgamesh, and then sat for an hour in the shade drinking liter after liter of water. It all turned out OK in the end, thankfully.

Monday, July 01, 2013

$1.50 Merit Raises for Teachers

The company that profits from red light cameras in Baton Rouge released a study claiming that yes, the red light cameras saved many lives over the past five years. In other shocking news, advocates for Charter Schools claim massive success in education reform for the New Orleans area.

When I travel I get this a lot. People from all over the world have heard that charter schools saved New Orleans' once dismal public education system. I found out yesterday that my wife, a teacher in a charter school in New Orleans, received a merit raise of $1.50 for next year. That's because she reached her school's goal of 80% student achievement on a certain standardized test, or something else, I didn't fully understand. We were re-watching Game of Thrones episodes and that was more interesting than taking the time to comprehend what goal she reached to get the $1.50. But the point is, as far as I am able to speculate, that the governor of Louisiana and all of the other "treat education like a business" people will now be able to accurately claim that they paid high performing teachers more as an incentive for their good work.

We haven't decided yet how Therese will spend that $1.50. Maybe she'll splurge on an ice cream cone, but those likely cost twice her raise. She spends quite a bit, as do all of the teachers I know, on classroom supplies. Maybe she'll get a few pencils and an extra eraser.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The End of Department Chairs at Xavier

Today I am the Chair of the Theology Department at Xavier University of Louisiana. But as the first Summer Session ends on Monday, there will no longer be a Chair of Theology. Instead, all of the Humanities (Theology, History, English, Languages, Art, Music, Philosophy = "THE LAMP") will be grouped into one Division. They will be led by the Division Chair, and each department will be led by a "Departmental Head." For Theology, that will be my friend Mark Gstohl starting in the Fall semester. He will have less release time and benefits, as well as less prestige with the position, than previous Departmental chairpersons.

Why are we doing this? I am not clear. The answers have varied over the past year. At times it was about budget, other times it was about synergy, sometimes it was about the future of education and Lumina as well as SACS, our accrediting agency. We were told that Berea would be our model, but it seems clear that faculty at Berea are pretty upset about their restructuring. But at Berea, faculty voted for the change and they got to vote to decide who would be the Division Chairs. Faculty at Xavier were not allowed to vote for either of these important decisions. We are told that once we see how this works next year, and experience governance from this business model of efficiency with true leaders, that we will embrace the change. I am skeptical but will try to keep an open mind as this moves forward. Several employees in academic support positions lost their jobs earlier this year. So far no tenured faculty have been let go, but many speculate that vacated positions won't be renewed. Times are rough from here in the trenches of higher education. Universities are getting less and less support from federal and state levels. Tuition has gone way up, enrollments have gone down. I very much love my job, my school, my students and the mission of my university. I just need to survive these turbulent times in hope that things get better, or at the very least, that things don't get worse.

Friday, June 07, 2013


This is the summer of the mighty Marj Rabba

I am heading there in early July with Gilgamesh and two of my brightest Xavier students: Melissa Nguyen and Alexis Parker. Leading the excavation are my two friends Dr. Yorke Rowan (Oriental Institute) and Dr. Morag Kersal (DePaul University). 

Marj Rabba is a Chalcolithic site in the hills of Galilee located near Karmiel, halfway between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. 

As most of my professional field work has focused on the Bronze and Iron Ages, I've been reading quite a bit about the Chalcolithic period to get prepared. It's a fascinating time, dating to around 4500-3500 BCE, and it's arguably the beginning of the modern industrial world given the amount of craft specialization that develops. It's a transitional time period marking the end of prehistory, and with writing developing in the subsequent Early Bronze Age, the Chalcolithic period is literally the dawn of history. The name Chalcolithic was coined by William Albright, with chalco referring to copper and lithic meaning stone. So it's the Copper/Stone age. I've worked quite a bit with copper production sites in the Feinan region of southern Jordan. I don't plan on seeing any copper though this summer. Marj Rabba is sort of like Nebraska. As Drs. Rowan and Morag wrote in their field report, "the lack of exotic materials or evocative iconography, suggest a relatively self-sufficient village of agro-pastoralists with a mixed farming economy and only limited exchange beyond the immediate hills of Galilee."

Elsewhere, the Chalcolithic period in the Southern Levant is famous for exotic materials and evocative iconography. Some of my favorite ancient figures are big nosed faces carved into basalt. They're common in the Golan region. Here's one:

Chalcolithic Basalt Pillar From Golan

This reminds me of a few of my wife Therese's uncles, as they have giant noses. Another famous image is this clay seated woman, naked of course, with a butter churn on her head. It's from a religious pilgrimage site at Gilat. 

Notice the red stripes. I'm thinking this would make a great Mardi Gras costume. These artistic designs both highlight the nose but don't incorporate the mouth. My theory is that before writing, people didn't have much to say. I'm curious if they even bothered to give each other names. They probably just called everyone "Uggghhh."

The major debate concerning the Chalcolithic period is the level of social complexity. People argue about a shrine at En Gedi near the Dead Sea. Was it ministered by a priest or a shaman? Those who claim that the social complexity was deep and that major cultures such as the one found at Teleilat Ghassul were widespread argue it was a priest. Those who don't see the social complexity as deep and the Ghassulian culture so widespread instead claim it was a shaman. I really don't think I care too much about that. But I am looking forward to working with this project at Marj Rabba.