Lithics II

It really pays to read about your topic >1 week before it starts. Sunday morning (6th) before Lithics began, I thought I’d best open the portal to see what was coming up. I saw:



Cue mini-heart attack.

Thankfully they were multiple choice questions, ensuring we would rock up to class with at least a bit of background knowledge, having done prior reading.

So yes, last-last weekend I read up on stone tool manufacture in record time. Did you know that:

• Aboriginal Australians would hunt emus and dingos with stone tools.

Adzes are a stone tool, kind of like the sister tool to the axe (pronounced “ads”, like the annoying things you try and skip before a YouTube video)

• When the adzes wear down after a lot of use they become adze slugs, named so because you get the little sliver left behind and they can indeed resemble a homeless snail

• There are numerous ways you can crack a open a stone by hand and every pathway regarding stone flaking has been modelled and documented and described by physicists (what?*) … because of the angles of fracture can be theta and gamma and so on etc

• …and the previous point is why stone tools will have predictable features compared to an untouched rock sitting around.


On day two we got to recording different kinds of stone tools.

The main takeaway the lecturer wanted us to take away was that recording forms should be able to be stand-ins for people i.e. if you aren’t around to describe a rock, all your notes should be able to point someone else in the right direction.

Document, document, document! I think that really applies in all industries, such as accounting.

Image credit:

Our lecturer wanted us to try recording a mystery item at the start of classes with little/no knowledge, then return at the end of the course and see what the difference was.

I don’t know if I knew what the heck Silcrete was but for some reason I put that down as the raw material for the mystery item.

BTW if in doubt, silcrete (and a lot of volcanic rock) is glittery.

I now think my favourite stone is chalcedony because it was the prettiest thing in class (is that shallow? Oh well.) Some of it looked like frozen cola cola and some of it like frozen white mist.

I should have taken more photos but we were busy recording and I didn’t want to be rude with my phone out. So here’s a stock image.


One more fun fact: if you ever find a stone that’s nice and smooth and suspect that it’s an archaeological artefact purely “because it fits so well in my hand!!!”

…it’s not.

Do you have a favourite kind of stone? Do you know your birth stone? Does life spring up on you sometimes?

*I think physicists are examples of the cleverest people who look at the weirdest things with their time.


Pooling some trivia

In my role, I need to know how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, so I attended a session this week. The cycle is a bit funny ironic: Need to learn CPR -> hope that you never need to use CPR -> wish fulfilled -> forget CPR -> need to learn CPR.

Anyway, some learnings from the session:

• As first responders, you are expected to Send for help. The instructor told us specifically not to say, “call an ambulance” – I guess if a pack of bystanders happened to be tourists from overseas, you waste less time in case they get the number wrong. 🚑🚑🚑

• The correct thing to say is “call 000!” (Or insert locally relevant number). The other number for Australians is 112.

• Nobody has ever been successfully sued for breaking ribs while administering CPR. People have tried, though. Seems a tad ungrateful, doesn’t it?

• Currently, the estimated time it takes for an ambulance to reach a victim/patient in our state is about 40 minutes, which is absolutely terrible.

• Parents can sometimes misjudge their child’s ability to stay safe in a pool – forgetting that swimming lessons might be in warm water, whereas cold water elsewhere gives the child a shock.

A pool. Image from

• The blue-ringed octopus is found near our waters, and despite being tiny creatures, their bite can paralyse the muscles you use for breathing.


No real uni-related things in the last fortnight (and none for a while).

I have recently taken up tutoring some primary school kids, and that’s been fun. Out of nowhere, one child asked me if watermelons float or sink in water. I was completely flummoxed. I told her I would find out for her and come back with an answer next week – (“Do you have a swimming pool?” “No, I meant I’ll look on the internet for you”).

Turns out that:

• Watermelons are buoyant in water.


Hope everyone is well in blog-land.

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.


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:

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.

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:

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

Dangers but as dry as bones

Once upon a time there was a fictional archaeologist who we shall call Drew. He didn’t follow any safety guidances and shimmied down a narrow hole to find a Lost Artefact. It was a pit of snakes and they all bit his un-gloved hands before 6m of soil collapsed in on him.

The end!

We’ve come to an extremely important point, and I have been pondering…

Why is learning about Work Health and Safety (Occupational Health and Safety in some parts) often so dull?

It’s as if everybody collectively agreed that, because the consequences of screwing up WHS can mean injury or death, the information must be delivered in a serious(ly dry) manner, like pages of legislation to read.

Or, because WHS is necessary instruction in hazardous work sites, we can economise on ways to keep it interesting, because people have to engage with it anyway.


Couldn’t it be the other way round?

If we have to engage in learning something, we should invest more effort in keeping it engaging, so that newcomers to learning about hazards place extra value on care and keeping on top of, you know, not accidentally swallowing mercury, or falling 8m off a cliff.

I’m not saying we should clown around with this info, but to spice it up just a little.

Surely it can be interesting! Here are some possible safety nightmares for diggers, just off the top of my head:

• being buried alive • mosquito bites • dengue fever • malaria • Japanese encephalitis • crocodile attacks • snake bites • scorpion bites • mercury exposure • lead exposure • asbestos exposure • heat stroke • hypothermia • viral infections from wild animals eg bats • injury from a trowel • chased by monkeys • chased by boars • dehydration • falling • poisonous plants • tetanus from rusty nails…

A quiz, perhaps? Get everyone to brainstorm what they think can go wrong at the beginning of a project, then gather and see what people may have missed before moving forward.

As a paper-pusher just starting to learn about how people find themselves in hazardous situations, I don’t have a good solution yet re: a wildly exciting delivery of safety measures.

I imagine the most stimulating way to drive home* what some dangers of Archaeology are is via Virtual Reality, which just isn’t easily available everywhere at the moment. Maybe in 20 years, it will be normal for the new archaeologist to see for themselves what it’s like to fall down an excavation site virtually first, and so avoid it literally.


One example I have of people changing things up for Health And Safety is the airline, Air New Zealand. They regularly make their in-flight safety videos just a little bit fun and different. See this one (closed captions available on YouTube)

Anyone have other suggestions?

Two bits of trivia this week:

• Archaeology is more than 90% about knowing how to manage a project. (Which is answering the three questions of: How much money? How much time? How big is it?)

• Archaeologists working for the government dig about 5-10% of the time, and Archaeologists hired commercially dig about 80% of the time. So varied!

All images from

*speaking of driving home, I took a wrong turn on the way back from uni, again.

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


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?

Australia, journal

Kangaroo Island: Fire and Water

Vivonne Bay

Here we went exploring. This bay is the second place in a row I’ve learnt that was named after a very nice lady, Catherine de Vivonne.

(The other place and person was Adelaide, the Queen in the 1830s, who was kind and 27 years her husband’s junior. She influenced King William to cut out swearing and drinking, and was loved by all.)

Anyway, over at Vivonne we found some ruins!

Stairs from the beach to nowhere

These weren’t terribly old ruins – the charred bits indicated they were probably burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfires – that time when pretty much all of Australia was ablaze.

There were no signs saying NO CLIMBING, so we went up for science.

The view at the top.

The fires on Kangaroo Island that summer ravaged 48% of the whole place. This report also details the destruction of habitat for various species. That summer, you could see red skies and smoke from more than 150km away.

A lot of animals died, sadly. But there still is surviving wildlife. Like this jewel-like bug…

… and this endangered and rare bird, the hooded plover:

Seal Bay

At Seal Bay (which would probably have been better named Sea Lion Bay), there are often many sea lions on the beach. You can pay to watch as animals flaunt the life we runners of the rat race all dream of (although to be fair, they do spend 3 days at sea hunting, and 3 days recuperating).

Zzzz. The dream!

A little inland lies the skeleton of a young whale that was maybe trying to do the same thing as the sea lions, but never made it back to the water. Poor thing.

The young whale, which conservation park has fenced off for teaching purposes. RIP.

Dolphins at Penneshaw

Driving along the coast, the partner spotted some blobs in the water and wondered aloud if they were dolphins, at which I yelled “WHERE?” and jumped out the car.

So now I can say I’ve seen the rival species to our intelligence in the wild. Seriously, if you have ever seen pictures of a dolphin’s brain you would possibly be alarmed, and glad they don’t have feet and opposable thumbs, or the world might have been theirs while we were fluffing around in caves, discovering fire. Maybe.

Ever explored some old abandoned sites/tempered your SO’s language/beached yourself/seen interesting creatures?