Makin’ some changes

I was very excited today to see a ute (pick-up truck, if you’re American) with some words including ‘Heritage’ printed on the side, because I guessed they would be archaeologists. Went to look up their logo and they were! Felt like spotting adventurers off to raid tombs or lost arks.

After I published my last post, I thought of a punny title for it. It should have been named “Get your Genes during Black Friday Sale”. Har har. But it was already ten hours after blogging when this occurred to me so I left it.

To my lovely readers: in general, do you view it as cheating to go back and edit blog posts?

In various professions, going back to change timestamped notes can land people in legal hot water, because you are changing what you said you observed at the time.

But this is an online diary with lots of silly humour, and not a formal document that will be used in court as evidence (at least I think).

I have gone back to add a missing word or correct grammar here and there. Even after my best efforts at proofreading, mistakes often slip through. My writing is prone to this.

Here’s a dxamne an example of what happens I’d if I don’t press gdelete delete. I makye make typing errors all the time. In contraxt contrast, my partner is quite slow and measured in his woofing* Writing writing. I make the joke that I was built for speed and not acxuraxy z accuracy.

*Courtesy of autocorrect.

It feels different when the editing is actually about changing information. Editing posts runs the risk of altering the context of things.

To cite one extreme – albeit deliberate – example, in my Reddit surfing days, I once saw one game that someone had started, which was: “Ask me a question, and then edit your post to make me look like a bad person.”

Someone might start with an innocuous question, such as: “What did you do with your food scraps after last night’s dinner?”

The original poster might say: “Fed the last little bits to my dog.”

And the asker might go back and change their first comment to, “What became of your high school bully?”

The entire thread had a lot of morbid humour like this. As you can see, it changed the entire story from start to finish. Behold, the power of post publication edits.


Changing things up: BCE

Writing over mistakes must be very nearly as old as writing itself. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of edits from way-back-BCE. Here’s something from Ancient Egypt where someone tried to Ctrl+Z:

Also, Ramesses II (c. 1303–1213 BCE) was a pharaoh who inherited some temples, fancy hieroglyphs and all, from his father. Instead of having a whole new temple erected, which would have cost a lot, he just carved over his dad’s old glyphs to talk about himself. It also turns out he did this a lot to a lot of other old kings’ stuff. I found a whole cool paper from escholarship.org about old rulers who did this:

On the subject of changing stories: I’m still learning about the Ancient Romans, and finding lots of examples to show that they (like many cultures) did this a lot. The main theme I’ve been detecting is that the Romans were a very proud people, and they embellished their stories to elevate the status of the story’s subjects, and by extension, themselves.

Unless, of course, the founding fathers of the empire truly were the sons of the war god, Mars. Would this have made them Martians?

👽 checklist: Pale face ✔️ Blank eyes ✔️ creepy “come to Earth to rule civilisation” vibes ✔️

Anyway, to me, going back to old blog posts and adding the words “UPDATE:” or “EDIT:” in capital letters on an online writing feels a little bit more palatable. Otherwise I will feel like I’m lying about what I did write and suddenly the friendly WordPress community around this blog is subject to a mini-state straight out of 1984.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter on something so informal, as long as it’s done sparsely and in good faith, and I can loosen up.

What’s your approach?

The first two images on this blog were from pexels.com

Image of Romulus and Remus was found on Wikimedia commons.


Ancestors and holiday thoughts

There’s a Black Friday sale here for Ancestry/DNA testing, which is weird. For one, Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Australia.*

I suppose clever people in various Marketing Departments have done the research to show these sales boost revenue around this time, even in countries Down Under. But to me it makes about as much sense as, say, a doctor offering buy-one-get-one-free blood tests during the week of Valentine’s Day.

A friend warned me to think about the privacy concerns around DNA testing, which I did consider.

My reluctance to share information is probably better described as pettiness than true cautiousness. For example, since I got a new phone, I have refused to re-download WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram just to have the childish and inconsequential delight in the fact that Facebook (whose track record re: ethics make me cross) will never know 100% what happened to me after the old device started failing.

But I still use a smartphone, and Google, probably eighty times per day, and so the inconsistency would border on hypocrisy if I said it was anything about data protection. Also, the idea of sending a company my own DNA sample doesn’t faze me… much.

No, what really put me off is apparently the tests aren’t super helpful if you’re not of European descent.

One reviewer of his genealogy test gave his experience 1 out of 5 stars. He’s Korean, he said, and his pie chart of his ancestry came back as one single-coloured circle telling him he was 100% Asian. Wow.


Sounds like getting an graph that looks like a flag of Japan when you ask for your ancestry is $80 well spent.

And so, I will fall on the good old-fashioned method of just beleaguering my family across the globe with questions.

Dad says that the cousins can only check for the names of Great-Great-Grandpa and Great-Great-Grandma on the Eve of Chinese New Year. I.e. Around February.

I have literally never heard of such a custom. I wondered if there was a cultural significance/superstition, such as only disturbing the ancestors during festival-time, when everyone is thinking about cultivating kinship values, filial piety etc. Or maybe it’s so damn noisy everywhere with people that all the spirits can’t sleep anyway.

Seriously, Dragon Dances are LOUD

But Dad said he didn’t know, so maybe he just didn’t want to keep pestering his cousins, courtesy of his nosy millennial child.

*I still wish everyone a happy weekend with lots of food, contentment and reasons for gratitude!

Images from pexels.com

ancient rome

Romans in Britain

I’ve been working so much that I went into a furniture store today, thinking I’d visited it last week, and the staff lady who greeted me said I’d stopped by two weeks ago. It felt like a week of my life had just vanished – yeesh. Talk about alarming. Learning History at least provides an illusion that I’m doing something about that.


I’ll admit, I was surprised to learn that Britain was once a province of the Roman Empire. I’d never thought about it, and maybe had some faraway, nebulous inkling that Rome and Britain had traded ideas like letters between penpals, or that things were magically imported like couches that were Made in Vietnam.

But the truth makes absolute perfect sense and should surprise no one. Maybe this is common knowledge in the Northern Hemisphere or I missed something at school. Why else would we have Roman names for the months of the year…

January was named after Janus, the two-headed Roman god of Beginnings.

…or use Latin in so many everyday things, from the binomial nomenclature (how scientists name species) to the justice system?

As proven by Elle Woods in the film Legally Blonde. This court case didn’t even have a mens rea.

Romans conquered and occupied Britain from 43 to 410 CE. They introduced many things, like roads, and coin-based currency. And nowadays when people take a bath in the baths in the City of Bath*, they have the Romans to thank.

Over 60% of the English language has its roots in Latin.

“Britain” comes from the Latin word Britannia, who is also a Roman goddess. She was based on the goddess Minerva, who was based on the Greek goddess Athena, but became an icon in her own right.


At a guess, if the Romans had never occupied Britain, it might today be called Albion, or Pritani (some earlier names). We may never know.

Reading for those interested:

Fun fact – the female name Britney means ‘from Great Britain’, even though Britney Spears is American**. How about that?

Yay Britney! Also an icon in her own right.

All images except the Legally Blonde screenshot are from Wikimedia Commons.

*I wonder if the baths are still open re: COVID restrictions?

**Her conservatorship ended this month, to which I say Happy Freedom Britney! I grew up with strict Asian parents but her situation was on a whole ‘nother level.

ancient rome

The future is nigh! Some notes on tech

New learning today: the pointy thing on a sundial is called a gnomon. Who would’ve thought? It sounds so delightful for some reason. Maybe it’s just how it sounds.

What is mind-boggling is that the guy running the virtual futurelearn.com Rome class, Professor Matthew Nicholls built the entire ancient city by himself, kind of like a gigantic Lego City, only computerised. Or, perhaps, a Minecraft City, only less blocky. It’s geographically accurate – based on archaeological and historical archives and took him five years to do. He had no formal training in graphic design. Hats off to his efforts.

Here is a 38-second screen recording* of me interacting with a digital Porticus Octaviae. Jerky movements are from me awkwardly navigating on a touchscreen, sorry.

The real structure was built possibly in 146BC by a Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, with the two temples honouring the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno.

*Hopefully this video does not breach copyright laws. I figured the course and the information is free and they are getting some free press. Anyway I will leave this here for as long as I am not being sued by the University of Reading.

If I am sued and have to take that down, there are several videos on YouTube about this computerised city of Rome.

It does look like the future of Archaeology is, well, futuristic. Going through some e-newsletters, I found that the University of Auckland has been given $1mil to put together a digital library of Māori stone tools.

It appears that Artificial Intelligence will then be used to look at unearthed fragments, cross-reference the object against the repository, and then spit out all the information it can tell us about what the item likely was and where/when it came from.

It’s almost spooky how clever technology is now.

I once read about the “Black Box” effect about machine learning, which is that we present the neural networks with a problem (input), and as it becomes more intelligent, it will become less and less clear to us humans how the output/solution was reached.

Another creepy thought is that we will never know the exact moment in history when a computer becomes what you might describe “self aware” / “sentient”. Machines are very likely to outsmart us one day and I am just not ready to change my lifestyle for when a cold robot despot determines the most logical solution to all problems is to enslave Planet Earth and all its biological creatures. Hopefully it never does.


Ooh! One last futuristic thing: following the last dig on genealogy, I am thinking of doing one of those genetic tests that puts your different ethnicities in a pie. Apparently the results are often surprising. Wonder what would come back?

Image: pixels.com. The only socially acceptable human pie, probably.

Earth beneath the family tree

According to the New York Public library there are 20 reasons why people should write their family histories.

I’ve literally never probed about my own ancestry. I did always think I should probably get round to it before everyone dies and then the story is lost. This week I finally got to asking about it. Here’s a tiny bit of that history:

Once upon a time, when the Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was around, young men traveled across the sea to make their fortunes.

My Great-Great Grandpa at the time was 17 when he made his trip. He traveled, without family, from Fujian Province in China from a city called Nan’an, to an island with the Portuguese name Formosa.

Source: Getty images

I would assume it was by boat, and that he didn’t swim, because:

a) it was before 1895

b) the trip was about 161km/100miles

c) Great-great-Grandpa carried with him a Taoist statue at the time, no doubt to bring him blessings. The statue was of Tudigong (土地公 “Lord of the Soil and the Ground”).

It’s not explicitly said on Wikipedia but the association of Tudigong is with wealth – I mean, the earth is the means by which farmers and land barons get rich, so it makes sense.

Great-great-Grandpa most likely didn’t bring a girlfriend with him. Women weren’t allowed to travel across the sea on such expeditions at the time, so the travellers went out with the local girls instead. My family thinks he likely got married this way, to an Indigenous lady. It sounded like he did find his fortune – I wish I knew more about her.

He had at least one son, Great-Grandpa, who grew up and became something called a Dàishū.

It’s funny because a Dàishǔ (note the different inflection) translates to “Kangaroo”.


There’s no proper word in English for the actual job title and the translation apps I’ve tried have been a little bit off.

(By the way, despite what the above image looks like, if you ever need to translate anything from another language, Deepl.com is always far more accurate than Google Translate. Would gladly shout this from a rooftop.)

I am sure that for his career, Great-Grandpa did not choose to become a book or a professional marsupial. The closest description I could get is a sort-of-lawyer who deals with documents and transfer of property ownership. The level of responsibility is greater than that of a bookkeeper, less than a magistrate. Anyway, he became a community leader, and so he did sufficiently well for himself and the fam.

I guess Tudigong enjoyed the boat trip across the strait and smiled on father and son.

That island, by the way, is present-day Taiwan, where Great-great-Grandpa’s Tudigong is still housed. He’s looked after by a distant cousin.


(… Before anyone thinks we became Crazy Rich Asians – I’m a child of immigrant parents, and shouldered my own rent and student loans.)

Thanks for reading this personal stuff! Depending how it goes, I’ll leave this blog post up.

Other interesting finds:

The Indigenous people of Taiwan share similar DNA to the Māori people of New Zealand, tracing back 60,000 years. After NZ and Taiwan discovered they are sisters from similar misters they now want to be BFFs, which is cool.


When Han Chinese people emigrated to Taiwan, the Indigenous people were assimilated and sinicized (a new word I learnt, which means to become like-Chinese) so much so that most people have lost this very specific aspect of language and cultural identity. Sad times.

At least, with growing awareness and sensitivity, there are concerted efforts to revive the culture in schools.

What’s awesome is that on Spotify, you can find Indigenous Taiwanese songs and voices – thank the miracles of the internet. Some of them are very pretty.

Here’s one by artist Ilid Kaolo.

And another by the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe:

And one by Sangpuy. The beginning reminds me a little bit of the music from the film ‘Spirited Away’.

ancient rome

Ancient Rome: from an amateur’s eyes

Here is an exhaustive list of everything I know that’s related to Ancient Rome. I can write such a list because it’s laughably brief. Since proper historians always write their sources, if I had any recollection about where I learnt it from, I added it in italics. Otherwise, it was probably trivia from school or pop culture, from so long ago I’ve forgotten how I know it.

Here we go:

I. Rome was/is in present-day Italy.

II. According to legend, its founders Romulus and Remus were fostered by a she-wolf as babies. – I learnt this when I was a child from the book Wolf Children by Sue Isles

She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus by Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

III. Their ruler Julius Caesar named the month of July after himself, and the procedure of a Caesarian section is also his namesake.

IV. He went out with Cleopatra.

V. He was stabbed on the Ides (15th) of March by Brutus – Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, which we looked at in high school

VI. The Romans built aqueducts, which had running water. (Whether this was a sewer system, or drinking water, I am yet to read up on.)

VII. They built pillars.

VIII. They built the Colosseum, where they watched fighting.

IX. They built statues.

X. They got really mad at Jesus. – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

XI. Romans did glassblowing – my partner, who sometimes does glassblowing

XII. When Mount Vesuvius blew up it buried the Roman city of Pompeii in ashes – of which the discovery was, arguably, where Archaeology was born. – Three Stones Make A Wall by Eric H Cline

XIII. Romans had Roman numerals, of which I can work out numbers around I – XX.

…And that is it!

I suppose if I want to be an archaeologist, I should know more than exactly XIII things about a famous ancient civilisation.

The graduate program I am doing at university is geared toward Australian pre-history/history and real-world, practical applications of professional archaeology – unlike the bachelor degree which is, I heard, better for academia and covers world history. So, there will be some self study and catching up to do. This list, then, serves as a bookmark in time, as from today I intend to bulk up what I know just as a bodybuilder beefs up with protein shakes.

Sources I will begin with:

The World of The Romans – book by Dr J F Drinkwater and Dr Andrew Drummond.

The History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan. The partner was obsessed with listening to this years ago, before I even thought of Archaeology, so the story must be good. It won an award in 2010 as the best educational podcast. It’s available as a free podcast online, and begins with the famous myth of how Rome was founded and ends with the fall of the empire.

• The online course Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City, which I found on futurelearn.com. It appears to be a series of lectures where the class is taken through a 3D digital model of what Ancient Rome was like. The next run of lessons starts in two days, if anyone is interested in signing up.

Screenshot from the web page

Pretty neat. I bet the ancient Romans never even began to fathom this was how their great(x60) grandchildren and others around the globe would remember them. Probably anyone who time-travels back to ancient times and is discovered with a smartphone would be tried as a witch*, even if they don’t have reception.

I wonder how future generations will study us, if humans are still around?**

*My partner just made the point that the Romans probably wouldn’t have tried the time-traveler as a witch, as trying witches came later as a power trip against Pagans, with Christianity as the primary excuse.

**I read an interesting suggestion on a forum once, that reported UFO/UAP sightings are people travelling from the future, who visit the present day on history excursions. Some accidentally get seen. This explains why so-called aliens don’t communicate with us, to prevent changing the course of history.


Week of wondering

Things I have done in the last week:

1. Wondered what there is to do, relevant to Archaeology, between now and Semester 1.

As a 20-something-year-old, I was always dying for the end of year break – those lovely 6 long weeks of luxurious nothingness, when studying wasn’t imperative. 10 years later, the summer holidays are approaching and I am looking for things to read and to study. Go figure.

2. Signed up to AAA Inc.

There are quite a few societies with this name according to Google e.g. American Automobile Association; All About Architecture; Australasian Association of Aryuveda… how interesting! Of course the relevant one was the Australian Archaeological Association.

Yay! Always feels special to be in an in-group. I have sent them $60 without knowing anyone else in it. Hmm. It looks legitimate, but will update here if I have unwittingly joined an internet Ponzi scheme.

Hopefully ancient structures are the only kind of pyramid I encounter.

3. Started researching where I might go digging in 2022.

I found out that there is a tiny town in Australia where an excavation is being planned for next year. In the 19th Century there was a gold rush in Australia, certainly in the state of Victoria. A lot of artefacts would have been left at these old mining sites.

For a person to join in and excavate, the fee is like, $1100+ (and this is the student price!)

Plus you have to pay for or arrange your own accommodation. Getting there will require taking two flights ($600+ return) and driving two hours to reach the middle of nowhere. The alternate route, says Google Maps, is to drive nonstop for 10 hours from home.

Both of these seem like wildly impractical and difficult options. I am now wondering what it would cost to embark on such an adventure, which seems laden with mystery and meaning. If this dig is a yardstick at all for excavations in general, archaeology sounds extremely expensive. And Fun Fact: archaeologists do not keep the things they find. Generally the items go to be studied and/or housed in museums.

Now I’m left wondering – just how do archaeologists make money??

More to come.

All images in this post from Pexels.com and/or the WordPress media library

End of Short Course

And just like that, the week-long short course in Human Osteology is over!

Before today, I had had a vision of myself becoming the Hermione Granger of the Archaeology School: That is to say, walking out of the Human Osteology test having received full marks. I would be serenely emitting a cool aura, with my newly-minted wisdom and immaculate smarts in the world of skeletal identification. When asked how it went, I would be laughing demurely yet truthfully – “Mm yes, I did in fact get everything right”.

But that went out the window, thanks to a question in the quiz. Out of a collection, we were asked to identify one bone that came from animal remains. There was a long bone that looked strange in the fuzzy photograph, and long story short I pretty much circled a person’s leg thinking it came from a giraffe.

Image from Pexels.com

It sounds ridiculous, but to be fair, the lecturer had tricked us earlier this week with a picture of a cat femur, which looks very similar to a human femur.

My answer:

Photo of part of the test paper. Reasoning was not completely silly.

But the final result was fine and everyone passed, so hooray!

The Dean of Archaeology came in at the end to have a chat with us. We learnt that some archaeology schools have courses where they bury animal carcasses and go excavate it a year later, to see what uncovering that would be like in the real world. Then, the class buries a fresh carcass so the students the following year can do the same thing and have something to excavate. The Dean is considering introducing such a topic.

All in all, it’s been a satisfying week. I gained new skills. Giraffes notwithstanding, I can now determine from a pile of bones the minimum number of humans in those remains, the biological sex of the individual, their (broadly speaking) likely ancestry, stature, and age at death.

This week I had conversations with interesting people too – in fact, come to think, I talked to archaeologists in person for the first time ever (they really exist!). Several of the students this week already have bachelor degrees in Archaeology and life experiences in the field.

One guy said he does land surveys, working with First Nations people to see if there are sacred burial sites so people can avoid disturbing them. Another girl has a job which changes from project to project. Her stories ranged from moving grave sites – uncovering objects which people held dear and fighting for the items to be kept with the owner’s remains – to flying in helicopters and trying to get away from thunderstorms.

It all sounded very unpredictable and exciting.

“It can be dangerous,” she said.

My line of work has been rewarding in its own way. But, just about all the highlights have occurred literally within the enclosure of four walls.

A long time ago, I read this quote, and have always remembered it:

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.

Robin Sharma

In the past, I used to laugh about the unchanging nature of desk work with the joke that one day, on my death bed, I’ll look back over my life like a reel, only to discover that a huge segment of the whole thing just appears entirely the same.

Chronological bar graph to represent variation in events over lifetime. See how exciting it is? No, neither.

I laughed, but also privately worried that it would be true. Hopefully, this is something that can be avoided.

For the time being, the first week of study is finished, and it’s back to business as usual this weekend.


Don’t Steal Great-Grandma

I learnt a new word today, walking through the university grounds as a new person. My partner was showing me around. Pointing at something obscured behind some big trees, he said that was where people put their children, in something that sounded like a crate.

Me: “in a what?”

Anyway, the word I learnt was crèche. I guess which one you use depends on how much you like your child.

On Day 2, the class focused on Ethics, i.e. How to Not Be A Jerk When You Find Dead People. Interestingly, there isn’t a standard code of conduct, like a Hippocratic Oath for Archaeologists in this country. There is one in the USA, so we had a look at that.

Archaeology in Australia, where I’m writing from, has a gnarly history. Around the late 1800s-early 1900s, people just dug up whatever they liked.

Essentially, objects were stolen, graves were looted, and real human remains of people’s great-grandmas were sold to museums in places such as the UK, Germany, Poland, and others.

The finders making off with everything cited “scientific purposes”. This became the touted alibi to completely ignore people’s sensitivities, and disregard those to whom the artefacts rightfully belonged – in this case, the First Nations ie Aboriginal Australian people.

If I found out my family’s remains were being traded like late 19th century Pokémon cards I’d probably be more than a bit disturbed. Australian Aboriginal culture is big on heritage, and connection to the land and earth – which probably made things extra bad in worlds of hurt.

Today there are efforts, led by descendants, to repatriate the remains so the dead can be laid to rest. Below I’ve added the 2min trailer and a link to the 30min documentary.

Returning our Ancestors Trailer

These days, artefacts are slowly trickling back. Some museums, such as the British Museum, are notoriously reluctant to return things. Probably if they return one thing, they have to return everything that has contested ownership, and then there would be big rooms with only a few things left to show. They might have to resort to displaying retired Beefeater hats or something.

On a similar note, quite recently I discovered an award-winning podcast quite flippantly titled, ‘Stuff The British Stole’.

I didn’t name it it wasn’t me

Each episode tells a story of how a valuable historical artefact went on a big adventure and wound up in the UK.

The first one I stumbled on was like something out of a movie. Ingredients: child kidnap, the wealthy elite, Italian criminals, and precious wood sculptures called the Motonui Panels from New Zealand, which have very special significance to the Māori people.

Basically, the panels were smuggled out of New Zealand and sold overseas to the late, rich art collector George Ortiz (1927–2013).

One day his young daughter was kidnapped and held for the ransom sum of approximately $2million USD.

Having no access to GoFundMe, Ortiz had to sell his private artwork to generate the ransom. When the Motonui panels went to the auction house at Sotheby’s in London, the NZ government sued him for selling stolen artwork.

I’ll let you listen/read for yourself how that all went down.

The link to the podcast is here.

I’ve attached the interactive ABC article here.

Anyway, learnings this week: don’t steal people’s grandparents, or children, especially not with crates, and generally it’s a good idea to get consent before you take anything.


Day 1, 1/11

The last post about the camel’s brush hair should have said they are predominantly made with squirrel fur; after that it’s a mix of other animal hairs, my apologies to my dear readers who were deceived I am sorry

After several wrong turn-offs* this morning I made it in to the university. Our small class of about 10 people was given a crash course on skeletal anatomy and we handled genuine human bone plastic replicas.**

Some learnings:

• Forensic anthropologists and archaeologists have to be familiar with something called siding. Which is not about choosing your team in an argument, but figuring out how you orientate each bone so you know left from right. Which is wild, because human carpals and tarsals are all very nearly shapeless blobs and all our phalanges look the same.

Sided phalanges

• Archaeologists get hired in droves during mining booms, to look at sites before extractivist corporate overlords go in and ruin everything. Feels ironic that a profession about preserving heritage gets employment when, y’know, we plunder our earth’s resources

• When human remains are uncovered, the police get called, and once a crime scene is ruled out, they just rebury the remains and people build whatever they need to on top (At least I’m 99% sure I heard correctly what the lecturer lady said, much to my shock).

Generally we had a marvellous time!

*The university is ~30min from my house with big signs and well marked roads. Getting lost while driving is a recurring theme of my life, am vaguely concerned about what this will mean when I am hunting for dig sites via unnamed dirt paths in the wilderness.

** Plastic replicas joke was repurposed from the TV show Friends, as told by palaeontologist Ross. As a class, we were still expected to get into the habit of treating them with respect.