forensics, fun stuff, lithics, news, university, world

Lithics and Lost Limbs

This is Part IV of a series on a short intensive class I did on Lithics.

Q: When was the earliest known successful surgical amputation?

A) 700 years ago

B) 3100 years ago

C) 7000 years ago

D) 31000 years ago

⌛️

If you chose option C, you were almost correct. Up until recently, the earliest known amputation of a limb was dated to 7000 years ago, courtesy of a Neolithic farmer in France who’d had his arm cut off.

The information has now been updated with a recent discovery. At the time of writing this blog post, the correct answer is Option D.

In 2020, a group of researchers went to a cave in Indonesian Borneo and found a skeleton they named “TB1” with a missing left lower leg.

Image credit: cropped from pexels.com

They took, dated and analysed it and were astonished. The skeleton was 31000 years old, and the bones in the left leg had been cleanly “obliquely sectioned” ie sliced diagonally, and healed, with no signs of infection.

This showed that the cut was intentional as it ruled out the individual losing their leg by being mauled by a prehistoric animal.

So it suggested that people were practicing amputations in the Late Pleistocene, and had some idea about using plants to prevent infection.

Read about it here!

This story is what I did my assignment on. The task was to analyse and fact-check a media article about lithics.

I must say, before embarking on the homework assignment, I thought it was complete bunk.

A picture of a complete bunk. Image credit: wikimedia

Reasoning: surgery has only been consistently successful since we became aware of germ theory and anti-microbial management; we didn’t discover lenses for magnification until Anton Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)… and yet we are expected to believe that a prehistoric hunter-gatherer was able to:

“…successfully navigate veins, arteries, nerves, and tissue, and keep the wound clean so that it healed successfully.” Source: (University of Sydney)

⁉️❓

Well, after doing the research (as our lecturer intended) you could knock me down with a microlith. The discovery was actually made by a team of archaeologists with different specialist backgrounds (from geophysics and geochemistry to paleopathology) and published in peer-reviewed Nature in September this year.

Which makes it all look pretty darn legitimate.

My mind changed completely as I did the assignment. An interesting bending of reality.

Other fun facts:

• A strong contender for the stone that was used for surgery is obsidian, which is dark and shiny and looks like glass. It is sterile when first cut and extremely sharp – some surgeons today have experimented with it but it’s not FDA approved for actual cutting up of people in 2022.

An obsidian arrowhead from Wikimedia Commons

• Obsidian was mentioned in the media articles/interviews but not the scientific paper. This is likely because the surgery was done on TB1 6-9 years before they died – the surgical scalpel was not buried with them, and so the choice of obsidian is actually speculation not science.

• The other possible reason that TB1 had their leg amputated was as punishment, rather than life-saving surgery. However…

• The authors suggested that TB1 would have needed super careful and an inordinate amount of care by a lot of people as they healed. Also, when they died, they were buried in a careful, respected way. This suggested that they weren’t a social deviant and so punishment was considered unlikely.

• “Stone Age” is really a broad term used by laypeople, and archaeologists actually mean a very specific time in African prehistory when they use these words! But for the purposes of describing TB1’s story to the public, the words “Stone Age surgery” were thrown around a lot.

Link to the original Nature article if you want to have a read.

Surgery! Image credit: pexels.con

And that was my homework!

How are you? Would you have believed that humans were capable of performing surgery 31000 years ago?

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fun stuff, journal, lithics, university

Lithics, Line Art & Limericks

An unlucky lithics student named Joan

Couldn’t tell between ice cream and stone

She ran into grief

When she fractured her teeth –

She’d fancied a taste of a Hertzian Cone.

Image credit: pexels.com

• A Hertzian Cone is a kind of break that happens when you chip a material which fractures conchoidally such as glass, rock, chocolate and frozen toffee (I’m not joking). Link is to the Wikipedia page.

Most people will recognise the above format as the Limerick, popularised by Edward Lear who lived in the late 19th century.

Our class was encouraged to write limericks about Lithics over the week and submit them, and then the teaching staff would collate and judge them over drinks at the student pub (very serious business!).

Anyway, that limerick was the one I was most proud of. The judges preferred another one of mine though – which was among the several poems that got read aloud, and that was nice!

A classmate won a bottle of wine for their funny poem. This, and the fact that someone brought in a surprise cake for the whole class in celebration of a fellow student’s birthday made me feel that this entire experience was really wholesome.

Good times!

🍰🍰🍰


I enrolled in a topic on Lithics

But found myself confronted with Physics

So when given a rock, I went straight into shock

And couldn’t record its specifics.


… And recording we did a lot of, for the next few days.

We got into a bit of drawing. There are some specific conventions and methods that archaeologists must follow when drawing stone artefacts – it’s actually more of a technical recording than realism, like a map.

Something that blew my mind: I have done other kinds of drawing AND I did maths to the very end of high school, but somehow I’d never used a set square for drawing before in my life.

I’d always just thought this thing was another kind of ruler. The more you know.

Image credit: dreamstime

So anyway, we got to using those to draw outlines of some artefacts…

Image: mine!

… and adding the conventions – parallel lines for flake scars (where thin bits have come off), and stippled dots for anywhere that’s a rock cortex (ie the outside bit).

Drawing of a flake!

That second poem was tongue-in-cheek. We had a lot of fun and am unbelievably grateful that I enrolled!


Did you know what a set square was?! Do you like limericks/have your own favourite one?

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fun stuff, world

Old Books on Language

In the last couple of weeks, I have learnt about the existence of three Very Old Books – all of which have an interesting history and share the theme of language. In order of increasing age they are:

I. The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg (~20 years old)

Found this at a second-hand book fair. Outlines how English emerged and evolved from 500AD to present day.

Fun facts:

• Experts in linguistics believe that if you travel to Friesland, Netherlands and listen to the locals talk, you will hear something that closely resembles the ancestor of English.

•Apparently and very importantly, the word ‘cake’ is Old Norse in origin.

• The first English dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall and appeared in 1604. Which brings me to…

II. This tattered dictionary (~32 years)

Almost as old as A Table Alphabeticall me, this was left at our house by a Roommate of Years Past and appeared during a spring clean.

Going through it, I have learnt that a hyponym is a word for something which falls under a broader category (eg a poodle is a hyponym of dog), and that Dunlop is a Scottish cheese. Sounds yum. Maybe some fellow bloggers have tried it?

III. The Voynich Manuscript (~600 years old)

One of the world’s unsolved mysteries. I learnt about this one while traversing an internet rabbit hole. This book is therefore not in my possession, but rather sitting in a library of ye olde manuscripts and books at Yale University.

Image credit: wikimedia commons

You may have heard about it, as it is a famous world mystery. The Voynich Manuscript is a handwritten, hand-drawn handbook and resembles (probably loosely) a Girl Scout’s log of plants and star signs, and written in a weird code, dubbed Voynichese, that linguists and cryptologists have been trying to crack for over five centuries.

The majority of it still remains untranslated, but people have made a tiny bit of progress. I enjoyed the late Professor’s Stephen Bax’s explanations on how how he decoded the word Hellebore, and a few words from there.

This is a very interesting topic to delve into, if you have the time.

📚

Know any fun facts about English/another language? Do you like codes? If you’ve tried Dunlop cheese, would you recommend it, or rather another kind? Have you heard about the Voynich Manuscript? What’s the oldest book you own?

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fun stuff, journal

Phones and fun times

Today I snapped this image in an old folks’ home, and thought how funny it was that they’d used the kind with the spinning dials. My parents kept one in the house as a novelty item when I was growing up. In my day (ie 90s), phones had buttons.

By the way, it has dawned on me these last two years that there are five year olds out there who do not recognise landline telephones, by courtesy of their parents only keeping smartphones at home.

I can practically feel the G-force from the speed with which humanity is hurtling toward new technological vistas. Or maybe it’s just existential panic.

☎️ 📞 📲

Anyway, out of interest, I got Googling. According to The Smithsonian, the first evidence of a device for long-distance communication, concocted by a genius/geniuses of centuries past, dates back to 1200-1400 years ago.

The object uncannily resembles the modern day version of two paper cups joined by a string, only this was made of resin-coated gourd and cotton twine. It came from the Chimu empire in Northern Peru.

Here is the Smithsonian article about it!

Image: pexels.com

This is an update regarding two other little story arcs I started in previous blog posts.

• I am still doing working memory training with Dual-N-Back.

Before I began, I thought progressing to some of the levels beyond N=3 sounded impossible… and then I reached them. More than anything, this has boosted my general confidence. I feel less afraid of completing instructions, and probably this forms a big part of doing anything without screwing it up.

At the moment, I am working on maintaining a high accuracy at N=5.

This graph from the app is, for me at least, really interesting to see.

People online complain about how boring N-Back is, but the activity still holds my attention* somehow.

In the last month, I checked my emails a great deal.

In late August, most applicants received an invitation to an interview, or they were sent a rejection letter. Not me! Would you believe that history repeats itself? Thirteen years after the first time it happened, I have been placed on a waitlist** for med school AGAIN.

⬆️ ➡️ 🔃 🔁 🔄 ⚠️

Oh, well.

How are you? Do you have a story about five-year-olds or phones?

Image credit: pexels.com

*Maybe as I find other areas of my life so tear-inducingly boring, staring at squares and listening to nonsensical strings of letters seems fun in comparison.

**Waitlist for the interview, rather actual school admission.

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fun stuff, journal

Working memory workout

This week I am confronting myself! I have a not-so-excellent working memory and I am finally doing something about it.

Working memory is different to long-term (and even short-term) memory for recall. As is described in the book Human Physiology by Lauralee Sherwood, it is like “the erasable blackboard of the mind”. It’s the ability of the brain to contextualise information as it’s coming in, and using that to execute actions immediately/near the same time.

Image credit: pexels.com

So for example, I can spout silly trivia I learnt at age 10, such as ‘The longest recorded flight for a chicken was 13 seconds.’ = long term memory 🐔

But if someone was, say, giving instructions prior to starting a complicated board game, the verbal directions do not land well. The explanations go over my head, like a record-setting flying chicken. I have to participate in one/more rounds of the game first, then we are good.

I also misplace my keys a lot.

🎲🔑❓

Thankfully, I have discovered that neuroscientists designed a game for training working memory. The game is called N-back.

Basically, there are squares that pop up in a 3×3, like a budget game of Whack a Mole. Except, instead of hitting garden creatures, you hit a button that says Position Match when a square pops up in the same place twice in a row. ❗️This is N=1. Easy.

But then the level gets harder (N=2), and you press if the squares pop up not consecutively, but only after another square pops up (eg if the third square is a repeat of the first).

N, or the number of squares back that you have to remember, becomes +1 if you get 90% right.

Then you have to throw the audio into the mix because the app shouts random letters at you like an audio alphabet soup – you hit Sound Match if it repeated itself too.

Image: pexels.com

It sounds confusing because it is.

When I first tried to Google how to play, it made no sense. I thought, great, I can’t work on my working memory because my working memory isn’t good enough to understand the instructions.

Eventually I found a good app that came with an explanation, and have been trying it for a few days. My initial sense was overwhelmingly I don’t know what I’m doing after N=2.

But today, I noticed I remembered to do things, such as send a text message when usually I might have forgotten. Yay! Whether this is a coincidence, or an upgrade of some brain software, remains to be seen.

I like this app, because it records stats, but there’s a number of them out there.

Here are some cool papers I read.

The first one I found; How it Helps to Improve Post-error Performance; Supporting article.


My study&work life has had some developments … but no conclusions, so I will tell that story when the time is right.

*

What’s your go-to piece of trivia? Do you enjoy brain training games? Are you someone who loses their keys, or well organised?

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fun stuff, journal, news

Shining some Light

Recently, a serendipitous discovery was made at Cincinnati museum. There was a (in my opinion) fairly ordinary looking plate from the century with engravings of the Buddha’s name, that was kept in storage for the last six-ish decades.

The curator, Dr Sung, found that if light was shone and reflected off in a certain way, it depicted a meditating Buddha. Which I reckon is terribly clever on the part of the artist, who lived in the 15th-16th century and likely never looked up ways to make this happen on WikiHow.

The reflection in question:

Above images: Rob Deslongchamps from Cincinnati Art Museum

Quite cool!

I first saw this article on Good News Network, which is a network with only good news – a lot of which is relevant to historical discoveries (I’ve taken to blocking most news sites on my phone in the last few weeks because the headlines are all doom and gloom.*)

On the subject of light, there is currently an event this week/month across central city that is showcasing different light effects/art made by people, which is awesome.

Shiny!

Some fun stuff related to light:

• In ancient China, people believed that solar eclipses were happening because a giant dragon was eating the sun (talk about high on the Scoville scale 🌶🌶🌶🌶🌶)

• On Wikipedia, Nikola Tesla’s name does not come up on the list of scientists who contributed to the incandescent light bulb. (I wasn’t sure if it was one of the things he and Thomas Edison had competing bragging rights over so I checked).

• By a small degree, green light relaxes the eye muscles for focusing, more so than yellow or red light.

💡🐉🚦

I briefly did some homework about rock art while deciding on topics, but eventually decided to select the topic on looking at stone tools in Australia. This actually came down to scheduling, as it fits much better with everything else in my life. This particular topic is a short intensive that starts toward the end of the year.

Perhaps this means I will restructure this blog and/or diversify content – have to decide!

How are you? Do you peruse or avoid the news? What your tolerance level for spicy food? (Mine: mild) Has your blog changed as you changed, and how?


* I saw this quote the other day, and quite liked it:

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fun stuff, journal

Auckland Museum

I have been on a break to see fam. Here’s a smattering of random facts and photos I gleaned from a trip to Auckland Museum.

• New Zealand broke off from a supercontinent Gondwana millions of years ago.

• At one point, Gondwana formed the southern part of an even bigger supercontinent, Pangaea.

This big chicken bird, now extinct, is/was a Giant Moa. When it walked the earth it reached 3m in height. Sexual dimorphism meant that females were bigger than males.

The Moa egg had a volume of up to 4 Litres, or roughly the equivalent of 60-65 chicken eggs. That is one big breakfast…

Every bird is the cutest bird (says me), and this statement extends to the NZ national icon, the kiwi*. At school, I learnt that:

• the kiwi’s egg takes up more space inside the female’s body than any other bird.

• unlike most birds, which have their nostrils quite close to their face, the kiwi has its nostrils at the end of its beak for sniffing out insects.

🐜🦗🐜

Speaking of which, there were a lot on display.

The New Zealand weta is one of the heaviest insects in the world. It is herbivorous and presumably harmless, given circulating photos of people holding them with their bare hands, but I think I just wouldn’t.

These beetles look a lot like jewels.

There were a lot of bugs… all dead.

When I was growing up, the museum had a tank of live cockroaches, which I would stare at endlessly in horrified fascination. Sadly, it wasn’t there this time round.

🪲🪲🪲

Re: the natural world, there was a whole section on Volcanoes, as most New Zealanders basically live on top an active site.

• Volcanoes are necessary for life to form on a planet.

• The Jarkata Incident, is an aviation event which happened in June 1982. Mt Galunggung in Indonesia blew up, unbeknownst to the pilots of British Airways Flight 009, who were headed to Auckland, and the commercial plane flew right through the volcanic ash. All the engines failed, and the debris damaged the windscreen, yet the pilots managed to land the plane safely. What heroes!! Here’s the wiki page on it.

✈️✈️✈️

If you have ever wanted to experience a volcanic apocalypse, there is a simulator in the museum which shows you over 12 minutes how things might look and feel if a volcano erupted in Auckland. The simulation happens in a fake living room, with a large screen that resembles a window to Auckland harbour, and the room shakes as if in an earthquake as well.

Here is the fake living room and its aftermath, after the house had been engulfed by a fake tsunami.

🌋🌋🌋

So anyway, after the apocalypse we went to see bowls.

There was a room full of ancient art from around the world, including ceramics, I saw this humongous Japanese bowl, which was designed for bread-making, but really would have been perfect for the Moa egg.


Auckland museum has various sections dedicated to Polynesian and Māori culture and history.

Food knives. I would totally feel badass buttering my bread with something like this.
Check out these shields…

I found this little story particularly interesting:

This tea-towel was made in the 1960s, and was kindly gifted to Auckland Museum so that the woman depicted, Harimate, a respected ancestor, would be spared being treated like an ordinary dish cloth.

Would you, hypothetically, use a tea towel for drying crockery, if a family member’s face was on it? I think I wouldn’t, particularly for parents and grandparents. But if it was a sibling and I had lost a recent argument about who was doing the dishes … hmm.

🧽🧽🧽

*If you have ever wanted to see what kiwis look like when they are happy, here’s a video that was released from a sanctuary.


I received results for last semester. My grades were surprising, as I did better in the one I was worried about, and worse in the one where I thought I was kicking butt. As no one will see these grades, they may matter as much as Instagram Likes or high scores in an arcade game. But, I passed, so yay!

👾👾👾

I hope everyone is fine. Have you been to New Zealand? Have you slept through an earthquake? I have. Are you freaked out by bugs?

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fun stuff

On Blades and Boulders

This post includes some trivia and other updates:

• In 1907, the last mountain in Japan thought left unclimbed was Mt. Tsurugi. A team went up the mountain that year… and found that someone had left a sword there. Later this sword turned out to be over 1000 years old* (Wikipedia).

That sword is now enshrined in a museum, and you can read its leaflet here. A sword is a pretty badass way to leave a marker somewhere. Imagine if one had been left on the moon, instead of a flag.

🗡🗡🗡

On the topic of Japanese blades:

• Japanese chefs’ knives are some of the most expensive in the world. Making them is an art craft that has been handed down over many generations.


• I am deciding whether for Semester 2 I would prefer to take a topic on Rock Art or Stone Artefacts.

Fun fact:

• Some Indigenous cultures make markings on cave walls for gender-specific viewing – only women are meant to see some paintings, and men others. If I study rock art this coming semester, I could tell you why. 🎨🪨

• On the other hand, stone tools are the ancestors of knives, which is decidedly awesome.

• The above aside, I have not applied for further topics in Archaeology for 2022; the reason being that a clean multiple of X (ie X, 2X, 4X) number of uni topics have to be completed by December, to keep non-Archaeology options on the table for 2023. I could apply for more later, but won’t yet. Watch this space.

• I turned a year older. Encouragingly, a friend commented over one lunchtime that I was not fretting about the usual existential crises. This might be attributed to currently having partially-baked life goals, or being in a food coma that afternoon, or both.

One of my favourite cartoons. Artist unknown, but they are spot on.

Anyway, how are you? Do you like knives? If you were hypothetically forced to enter and view one of two museum exhibitions by a short and obsessed museum warden – one full of cave paintings and one full of stone tools – which room would you select?

Image credit: pexels.com

*Yes, I did read about Mt. Tsurugi in a viral social media post before recycling this here.

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Australia, fun stuff

Art Gallery of SA

If you enter the Art Gallery of South Australia, you will find many items, some of which may well have been found by archaeologists, as well as stuff by contemporary artists. I visited last week before the whole hospital/appendix* debacle and will now present some photos.



There are all kinds of fantastic, like this upside down tree…

And a framed image of someone having written pi to one million digits… (I wonder if the figure has been cross checked?)

The photo reel on my phone seems to go in for a while, so here are just a couple of favourites.

Here is a link to the directory of all the art in the galleries if you want to have a look.

A fitting thought:

What’s your favourite kind of art? Do you like art from a particular time period?


*Brief health update after the page break, for the non-squeamish and interested. TLDR; I am home and fine. Thank you for the kind wishes! 🌸

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fun stuff, journal

The archaeology of poisons and medicine

Greetings from a hospital bed in a friendly neighbourhood!

I rocked up to work on Saturday morning with what I thought was bad gas. I thought I would push through the day but it got difficult to stand and talk. Suspecting something was wrong, I left and checked myself into hospital. A few hours of worrying I would pass air in a busy waiting room, four different COVID tests and one blood test later, the doctors confirmed were extremely sure I had appendicitis.

Long story short, I had a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) and am now minus one vestigial organ, dosed up on a good number of painkillers, and feel great (for the time being, as the drugs are working).

Image credit: pexels.com

In the spirit of what’s been happening, I got to looking around about anaesthesia, then poisons and drugs, and ancient medical procedures. So here is a post on them! Warning: Skip if you are squeamish.

• The word “toxic” comes from the Greek word toxon, meaning “bow”. The association likely comes from hunting, and archaeologists think that Paleolithic humans poisoned the tips of their spears to hunt, but to prove this happened is tricky. The detection of these poisons is an area of archaeological research.

• According to this article on the history of anaesthesia, the ancient Italians would put a wooden bowl over a patient’s head and knock them until they were unconscious so they could carry on with surgery. Certainly seems a lot cheaper than hiring an anaesthetist.

Image credit: pexels.com

• Once upon a time, people tried to get around feeling the pain of doctors cutting them open with opium and alcohol.

• The first successful application of anaesthesia as we recognise it today was done by a dentist, William Morton, in 1846. What a dentist was doing knocking someone out to remove their neck tumour I am not sure, but hooray for Dr. Morton! (?)

Trepanation is the process by which folks as far back as the Neolithic period literally bore a hole in people’s skulls to get rid of something bad in the person’s head. The procedure was possibly superstitious in origin than truly medical (eg to get rid of bad spirits). Trepanation is the oldest surgical procedure discovered by archaeology.

Hieronymous Bosch’s The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, c.1488–1516

Couching is the earliest method of getting rid of cataracts. A cataract is the clouding of the crystalline lens in the eye (almost universal in humans as we age), and couching is when you literally poke them with a needle so the opaque lens falls into the eye. It was documented practice as early as 800BCE in ancient India.

Sadly, couching is still practiced in developing countries, and trepanation in … developed* … parts of the world.


How are you this week? Know any poisons/medical related trivia? Do you still have your appendix? 

*See first comment on this post by Ashley L. Peterson.

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