Sunday, 24 February 2013

Southeast Asian Scripts and Sanskrit

Everyone on the net seems to be talking about Napoleon Chagnon.  I have nothing to add to this debate and it has descended into name-calling.  A lot of the same accusations are flying again - Chagnon hates the Yanomami, Neel and Chagnon had Yanomami people kill one another in exchange for axes and money, etc. - despite their having been debunked repeatedly.  It's boring and annoying, so I'm going to focus on something else: southeast Asia inscriptions and Sanskrit.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Mick Aston interview with Oxbow Books

Mick Aston, familiar to many Britons as one of the archaeologists on Time Team, has answered questions in an interview with Oxbow books.  As Oxbow is a local company (their office/bookshop is right around the corner from mine), and as the questions are quite good if local British archaeology is your thing, I thought I'd post the interview on here for any interested parties.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sedentary Foragers (and other non-industrial economic peculiarities)

A lot of people think that the 'Neolithic revolution' happened in more-or-less a single bound: sedentism, farming, pastoralism, ground-stone celts, pottery, and so on, all happening together, or causing one another.  In many causes, these traits do co-occur.  The domestication of animals in the Near East coincided almost exactly with the domestication of grains, and while the domesticating communities didn't use pottery, they did use ground-stone tools and other Neolithic-y traits.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Eteocypriot in the Ashmolean Museum

I was recently in the Ashmolean Museum, one of the oldest and greatest history museums in the world (certainly one of the greatest in terms of the quality of its research - it is, after all, a part of Oxford University).  As it is free to enter, like many museums in Britain, I tend to pop in there whenever I get the chance.  I also happen to be an amateur epigrapher.  Recently, I've been trying to find out more about the Cretan and Cypriot scripts - Linear A, Linear B, Cypriot, and so on - and as the Ashmolean happens to have some of the best Cretan and Cypriot collections in the world (especially for a museum of its size), I went in with a high-quality notepad and jotted down some samples for my own amusement.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

'Linguistic Time Machine'

There's a big buzz at the moment about the new programme, developed at Berkeley, to reconstruct past languages.  The media is treating it as if it's an entirely new thing - as if the software alone gives academics the ability to reconstruct proto-languages - but, of course, it isn't, and most of the methods of historical linguistic analysis have been around for about 150 years.  The computer just makes it easier.

Monday, 11 February 2013

David Graeber and Brad DeLong (etc)

The most remarkable comments thread I've seen in a while has just been going down on Savage Minds.  David Graeber has been trying to defend his book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, from sceptical economists and sociologists, and the whole thing has descended into farce, with Berkeley economist Brad DeLong turning up, ad hominems flying about the place, and accusations of lying and misreading showing up in nearly every comment.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Atheist and Sceptic Movements

When it comes to social movements or organisations, I'm not a joiner. At Oxford, I tended to hang out with people from other colleges.  I have never been a member of a religious movement.  I've never become such a huge fan of a band that I stopped listening to other bands or genres.  I'm not patriotic or nationalistic.  I've never liked being part of a group in that way, despite being a generally sociable guy; I like being around people, I just don't like joining things.  I'm especially suspicious of movements based on abstract concepts.  They always involve some flexibility in the core concept - 'atheism' defined however you like - because the aim of a movement can never be simply finding out about an idea or promoting something for its own good.  Movements have to be made into larger movements, because the larger a movement is, the more revenue and/or prestige the founders and those associated with them will accrue.

Cognitive Causes

The way humans work, in general, is that events in their nervous systems cause physical actions in their bodies.  This is the same process as occurs in all animals.  Sparrows' actions are caused by events in their nervous systems.  Humans just have more complex nervous systems than sparrows do.  This seems to me to be an important point: if humans do anything, ever, it is due to things affecting their nervous systems, which in turn cause physical actions.  This is the route of causation in all of human action, and as all of human society and culture reduces to the actions and thoughts of individual humans, it is the way in which social and cultural phenomena are caused as well.  In order for 'the economy', 'culture', 'neo-liberalism', etc, to affect human actions, they have to affect human nervous systems.

Friday, 8 February 2013

'Anthropology Is Not A Science'

Gene Expression by Razib Khan is a wonderful blog about the human sciences by a sensible, scientifically-minded chap who also manages to write clearly about complex topics - even about race, a topic that is nothing if not a minefield.  I've followed Gene Expression on and off for years, and I was subscribed to it while it was part of the ScienceBlogs fold.  It left a long time ago, as did many other excellent blogs, causing an unfortunate fragmentation of the science blogosphere and making it harder to keep up with the blogs I used to follow; many of them have joined other blogging stables, including Freethought Blogs (which has largely abandoned the topics covered by ScienceBlogs) and Discover magazine (which has taken the lion's share of the good ScienceBlogs content).

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Corpus of Cham Inscriptions

The inscriptions of Campa ('Champa') are now available for free online as part of the Corpus of the Inscriptions of Campa project.  This is good news indeed for southeast Asianists with limited budgets.  Campa was an assortment of Indicised Austronesian-speaking kingdoms that existed in southern Vietnam in the first millennium CE.  The Cham people had enemies to the north, in the form of Dai Viet (Annam/Annan), and to the west, in the form of Angkor.  They were also responsible for the oldest discovered inscription in southeast Asia, the Vo Canh inscription.  Their kingdoms were assimilated into Vietnam in the last millennium.

Cham Script (a later development; h/t wikipedia)