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?

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:

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

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! 🌸

journal, fun stuff

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:

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:

• 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.

fun stuff, journal

The World’s Oldest Song

Q: What sort of fish is the most musical fish?

A: A piano tuna!

(Learnt this when I was 8 from my Year 3 teacher and I thought it was lame even then. It is a free Dad joke for anyone adding to their repertoire that makes everyone groan.)

I’ve been dabbling around on an old piano I found for a steal on Gumtree, which is like Craigslist (I think) or TradeMe but for Australians. It is noticeably out of tune when you get to the higher registers, and its re-tuning is a work in progress (pending and not by me), but it makes noises that are non-offensive enough, so that’s cool.

Out of curiosity, this evening I Googled, “what is the oldest song in the world?”

Turns out that the oldest known piece of music is called Hurrian Hymn Number 6*, and dates to approximately 1400BCE, and is from modern day Syria.

The sheet music isn’t like anything we would recognise, because it was actually transcribed from Cuneiform.

An example of Cuneiform, probably. Image from

How some clever musicologists figured out how to convert 3000+ year old dents in clay into an actual playable melody is beyond me. But its awesome that they did, because now we can hear what music from then sounded like.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from the oldest known song in the world:

YouTube also has a version, and the comments are pretty good. Top comment is someone saying the song was so metal, it created the Bronze Age.**

Thoughts on the tune? What instruments and/or music do you like? Any idea how to start interpreting Cuneiform? Know any good puns/jokes, of the fatherly kind or otherwise?

*No. 6 is the only surviving hymn of 36, according to Wikipedia.

**Bronze Age: 3300 – 1200 BCE.

journal, university

Between a rock and a hilly place

This appears to be a pile of rocks. It sits on top of a hill, in Glenthorne National Park, South Australia. It was not known about until very recently, when a worker involved in the development of trails stumbled upon it, in the tall grass.

Photo: mine

The worker’s colleagues all said it was probably just nothing, but he said he had a funny feeling it was significant:

• From the hill, you can see many fields, and the ocean in the distance; it is a peaceful view.

• The rocks were clearly not from around the National Park. Some were rounded, which only happens to rocks that have been made smooth by the ocean

• The placement of the rocks looked very intentional, with some edges interlocking, not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. This suggests that they were all hand placed.

The deliberate placement of this pile of rocks lead the gentleman to conclude that this was likely a grave.


The construction workers eventually agreed to fence the rocks off out of respect.

This remains unconfirmed, but likely. In discussions with the head Archaeologist on our team, I gathered that they thought it probably was not a human’s grave, as:

• The present-day National Park was owned by very important, influential colonialists in the 19th Century, and people who died would have had Christian burials down by the Church.

• Non-Christian persons around at the time would have been Aboriginal Australian, who do not like to have hard objects over their resting places, so this is unlikely.

• Another reason this could have been a private burial was that this was a scandalous one, like a lady of the night. However, the elevation, sentimental atmosphere of the hill and the rock placement would seem at odds with this hypothesis.

Glenthorne National Park is on land that was owned by the First Police Commissioner of South Australia, Major Thomas O’Halloran, who sailed to Australia from London in 1838. As mentioned, he was very influential, and he owned stallions in his time, which is like a modern day squillionaire collecting Maserati sports cars.

The worker and head Archaeologist suggested this was likely the grave of a prized horse, if not Major O’Halloran’s most prized horse.

An Arabian horse. Photo by Ealdgyth, from Wikimedia commons.

The grave will unlikely be excavated (I have since learnt on the field trip that it is common consensus in Archaeology that digging is often the last resort for investigating a site, due to its destructive nature*).

The site obviously meant something special to someone, and we now have the technology to analyse/scan what is under the earth without disturbing it with shovels, and so this is what archaeologists are going to do for further research projects.


So there you have it! Our field trip last week was at Glenthorne. The horse grave was a little diversion from the main project though. Archaeologists are actually looking for this house:

c.1919 Image credit: State Library of South Australia

This three story mansion was called Glenthorne House, built in the 19th Century. It passed down wealthy colonialist families before it was given to the military, who billeted soldiers there.

The house was burnt down in 1932, and questions remain around why it happened: Did the army blow it up on purpose? Where did they hide the rubble?

And that’s what we were digging for – an unresolved 90-yo mystery. I felt a little bit like I was in a Scooby Doo episode when I heard the brief.

*I could rename this blog, but Dreams of Surveying doesn’t have the same ring to it.

journal, university

Intro to being a pro

In first lecture of Introduction to Professional Archaeology, they went into the discussion of what it means to be a “professional”.

This is something that surprised me. In all my years at school this was only mentioned once in passing as “being paid for your knowledge”. That was it!

Who knew that there is a whole oeuvre about professionalism out there in the world.

There is no hard definition about what makes a profession, but there is a consensus that the criteria include:

• having an established system of technical skills and knowledge in a specialty

• having your skills toolkit transferable into a different setting fairly comfortably – if you exclude this criterion, what you are doing is then a job.

• community sanction*, as in, an in-group that agrees you can work as one of them

• a standard of ethical conduct.

When I think of the word “professional” my mind wants to conjure an image of a suit and tie, which is probably not necessarily in the criteria.

Professionals tend to be thought of as having a healthy income, but Archaeology is an example that we should really regard professions as “an attitude, not a rate of pay”.

A good question they asked was: would you consider painting as a profession, or a trade?

I mean, houses do get professionally painted so I would have said both.

What do you think makes a profession?

Some fun archaeological facts uncovered during this week’s content:

• Beer was invented over five thousand years ago, as is confirmed by the discovery of breweries in Ancient Egypt. Drinking beer was safer than drinking water because the fermentation process stopped people of antiquity from getting dysentery.

• A lot of what we know about modern landfills was confirmed by archaeologists. I know from background reading this is called garbology.

• It is a complete myth that biodegradable items going into the trash is better than plastic (because of methane being released), and

• Hot dogs have been found entirely intact in landfill strata estimated to be several decades old. Ew…


More fun stuff to come! I will do my best not to make this blog a repackaging of the whole university course.

*how the word sanction can mean both approval and political ostracism, I am very interested to know.

All images from


Lost in transit, not translation

I ordered Indigenous Writers of Taiwan in November last year from Blackwell’s UK. Nothing arrived for three months, so I wrote to them and asked for a refund. Blackwells’ was surprisingly good about it. They declared the book Lost In Transit, and credited money to me.

Then my book arrived. Cue feeling like a goose.

Image credit:

I wrote to them again to tell them and PayPal’d them the proper amount to buy the whole guilt-free, if red-faced, reading experience.

This book is the first ever anthology of books written by Indigenous Taiwanese writers translated into English. Looking forward to reading about village life/warrior life as it was in Taiwan, and some general opinions from fellow Taiwanese people.

Some facts:

•According to archaeologists, humans have lived on Taiwan for 15000 years.

• Indigenous Taiwanese folk are divided into two broad groups: plains people and mountain people, the former whom were just about entirely assimilated by Han Chinese (sad)! Once upon a time these two groups were made up of 14 tribes.

• All tribes kept pigs and chickens, however eating chicken used to be seen as a social taboo (I have pet chickens, and think they would totally get behind this).

• The tribes were/are very diverse. The language spoken by one tribe was not necessarily understood by another ie not mutually intelligible.

• There are currently concerted efforts to keep these languages alive.

• Japan occupied Taiwan between 1895 and 1945, and according to the introduction, many Indigenous Elders still identify with the Japanese.


I wrote in an earlier blog post that my family thinks Great-Great-Grandma was an Indigenous lady. It turns out this notion is not a full consensus as some family members disagree, they think she emigrated.

The historical fact of women having restricted travel is still there however.

I don’t suppose we will ever be entirely sure, but Dad also found a family tree written by a cousin, and Great-Great-Grandma’s name was on it, and translates to [Surname] Yellow Sweet. That was nice.

In conclusion: the patience muscle is an excellent one to exercise. This was a timely reminder because it turns out there’s one more week until online classes start.

Anyone waiting for something to happen?


Before This Blog

Image credit:

After an Ultra Bad Work Day in 2021, I thought, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m going to change my career to something, anything else.” I jumped onto a university website to look at what degrees exist.

Archaeology, of course, came first under ‘A’.

(I liked telling this story to a few friends as it got some laughs. It made me sound like someone who creates their travel plans by pointing blindly at a world map. The partner jokes that if I had started elsewhere I’d be doing Zoology.)

In truth, I looked at this list, and realised I knew nothing about Archaeology as a profession. Curious, and bored, I Googled, “is Archaeology boring?”

One of the top results is Dr Colleen Morgan’s blog post, Stop Saying Archaeology is Actually Boring. She exhorts those in the profession to please, for the love of Ancient Egyptian Gods* stop beginning their presentations to the lay public with, “you might think that my work is like Indiana Jones, but it’s not nearly so exciting. Anyway, here are some broken pots I found…”

Her writing about her career is compelling and vibrant. My favourite quote of hers would have to be:

As archaeologists we are the discoverers and keepers and storytellers of the different ways we have found to be human.

Dr Colleen Morgan


Reading that line gave me the feeling that my inner escape artist had just been handed a passcode out of a locked room. I went on a massive reading spree after that.

I do mean to reach out to Dr Morgan personally, but wanted to do it when I had made some headway into the Certificate first. I hope this namedrop isn’t too creepy. She (phD and awesome) is a lot more famous than I (Miss Nobody) am, anyway.

Another article I read soon after was from, which describes the reality of Archaeology in a fun way: “It’s like putting together an enormous puzzle after your dog chewed the box with the picture to shreds and somebody stole half the pieces.”

It was a Hasty Generalisation, but after a few articles I thought, Archaeologists are good writers!

I went down a big rabbit hole reading about both archaeology and forensic anthropology for a few weeks before I made Dreams Of Digging.

*my embellishment, and I’ve paraphrased to summarise the gist of her plea.


On Islands: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

I wanted to continue on the theme of islands.

Image source: Pexels,com

I’ve just finished reading a novel very much steeped in history: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, set on the island of Cephalonia, Greece in WWII and sweeps all the way to about 30-40 years ago.

The film and the book are about as similar as volcanic pumice and Greek yoghurt. The author Louis de Bernières was famously unhappy about this, so far as to say in an interview, that he felt like a parent whose baby had had its ears put on backwards. This is a tale probably nearly as old as page-to-stage itself.

Anyway, de Bernières also said:

“History ought to be made up of the stories of ordinary people only.”

I thinks he means this in contrast to, e.g. the dictators and megalomaniacs who started wars and ruined the lives of such ordinary people but still somehow awarded a place in history books. Not fair.

The novel reflects his attitude, as the narrative changes around a lot between chapters – first person/third person, different POVs. It actually brings to mind of what you would discover if you pilfered a historian’s scrapbook dedicated to documenting the lives of ordinary Greek villagers and occupying Italian soldiers at this time. You get to meet Pelagia, her father, Captain Corelli and all their friends.

… The way I’ve described it sounds fun and light to read, but it also has quite heavy content, because of war and all its crimes which are quite viscerally depicted.

The language is sophisticated and very good.

Important takeaways:

• At this time it was the Greeks vs the Italians (so of course, this sets up a backdrop that allows a Romeo & Juliet kind of relationship).

• there was a massive earthquake in Greece in 1953, aka The Great Kefalonia earthquake, which killed between 400 and 800 people.

• a mandolin can be played with violin music, and a mandola can be played reading viola music.

• One account of Pelagia’s father adopting one named Psipsina, I learnt that pine martens exist, and they are cute.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Some haunting quotes:

“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I … had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found we were one tree and not two.”

“He had struggled for a better world, and wrecked it.”

“Life is… a brief flame in a bowl of oil between one darkness and another one that ends it.”

More personal updates:

1. We’ve left Kangaroo Island as it was a brief visit, and are back in the Real World. I may post more photos later.

2. I have been ruminating, like a lot, about what I’m doing with my life. This is reflecting on aspirations that I had before I started being interested in Archaeology. Just for fun, things I’ve wanted to be have included: a lawyer, a pirate (thanks to Disney’s POTC series), a doctor, a writer, an illustrator. I am assessing closely what I will regret not trying for in later years, and what the right reasons are for pursuing anything, and what those reasons might mean for me.

How is everyone? Anyone seen this film/read this book; visited Greece/an island; had identity questions/career conundrums?