August 2nd, 2013

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Option one: At the time of the entry of the United States of America into the Second World War, Japanese nationals as well as Japanese-Americans were interned in a number of detention camps. Most of these are long abandoned, and some have been destroyed. Decades later, the people who had been kept in these camps are demanding that this denial of justice be acknowledged and taught by preservation of these sites, or, if not possible, markers at the sites. At this one, there has been significant damage to the original facility. It had been in the news recently, at least locally. 34 degrees 14 minutes 01.70 seconds N, 118 degress 16 minutes 15.74 seconds W
Dead Dog Cat

I'm posting my coursework from the Archaeology class I was taking on Coursera; just catching up

Option 1: I found in my home office a bag filled with collected items from my whole life.

So the first shuffle was by how much I liked the items.  The stack at the top of the page I liked the most, at the bottom, the least.  Among the items on top were the regalia I won in college as a Chancellor's Marshal, and a letter from the woman who's become my wife.  I kept this bag of items becasue each of them had some meaning to me, at least at the time I got them, so personal like versus dislike tells me how much my interests and values have changed over the years.  Pay no attention to the demonic kitten on the dog pillow.

The second shuffle was based on materials: paper, wood, cloth, stone, metal, plastic.  Materials could indicate the likely survivability of these items, were this bag to be found several centuries from now in some future archaeological dig. Note that I am now officially boring to the kitten.

In the third shuffle, I put the items into stacks of function.  This inculded toys/games, musical instruments, educational items, lighted objects, containers, instruction booklets, identifying items such as an expired passport, ornamental items, odd clothing types, hand-written material.  I feel that this is the most important way to divide these items.  Function of these pieces relates heavily to why we bother making them at all.  Please note that we are now kittenless.

The final shuffle of items is by color.  I put them into white, black, silver, yellow/gold, purple, red, brown, blue, multi-colored, and blue & gold in honor of my alma mater, UCLA.  I think that this is the most stupid way to divide the piles.  It doesn't suggest anything important about any of these pieces.  Note that a this point my wife wanted to play with an item or two.

The last portion of this essay is supposed to be me ruminating on what I've learned about myself by doing this exercise.  Honestly, I've already noticed changes in myself as time has marched on.  In this bag resided a variety of stuff ranging from tiny toys from my youth to oddments that I filed in there in my forties.  When I look at many of these things, I feel a lack of value and interest in many of the treasures, but some of them stimulate memories about which I will always want to be reminded.

Dead Dog Cat

another one

Option 1:

I selected three items from the kitchen of our home.

First is a stoneware piece, circular, open, with a base, covered in a black and grey unpatterned glaze, made of a coarse whitish clay.  It is approximately 12.5cm in diameter with a 3cm lip.  The underside has a legend pressed into it that states "bennington potters bennington vermont *1627 ya".  It is relatively heavy, but I don't have a scale to weigh it on.

Next is a ceramic object that is vaguely dome-like with a circular base attached.  The ceramic is not coarse.  It is covered with a brown glaze.  It is open-topped, with a lip.  The dome is also breached on two sides with oval openings.  The interior of the dome at the base has undulations that are circular, but the center is flattened.  The base is 8cm in diameter, while the open top is 5cm in diameter.

Finally, there is a ceramic piece that is a hollow sculpture 7.5cm tall with a 2.5cm irregularly-shaped base.  This artifact has the shape of a bird with neck outstretched vertically.  The body and head are of a black glaze, the beak is yellow, and the eyes white dots.  The beak is sculpted wide open, and there is a hole in the center of the oral region.  The base of the object is also open.  Due to the hollow interior, it's difficult to assess the coarseness of the material used to make the item, but the surface of the glaze is very smooth throughout.

In this photo, item one is left and down, item two is in the middle, and item three sits right and up.

Clearly, the first artifact is some form of plate.  The indentation in the center might be used to catch fluids, but that seems unlikely due to lack of depth.  However, it might be possible for it to hold some sort of thick sauce, while the band around the center might hold some other items to dip, such as chunks of bread or vegetables.  Another possibility could be honey in the center, with pieces of fruit on the periphery.

The second item might be some kind of candle holder, though liquid wax would pour through the ovals near the base.  It's unlikely to have been some form of pedestal to present an item due to the opening at the top.

The third object might be an item of worship for some sort of bird deity.  It seems unlikely to be a musical instrument, with no apparent openings for fingering.

(In reality, the plate is a teacup saucer, the brown object is a base intended to keep warm a small chocolate fondue, and the standing bird is a pie whistle.  But if you'd never seen them before, how likely would you be able to guess their functions?)

Dead Dog Cat

more of the same

Option 2:

My choice on the bucket list is Normandy, France; to be specific, I choose Omaha Beach, one of the beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

For various reasons, I chose this site.  First of all, my father-in-law, now deceased, landed in the seventeenth wave of the invasion there.  Secondly, of all five invasion beaches, that one was the bloodiest.  Thirdly, being that I'm of Jewish descent, and because family members of ancestors, teachers and friends were slain by the Nazi regime, I view this event as a turning point in the history of Europe.

Let us first look at the maps used by the US Army forces landing there:

This was produced to give the soldiers an idea of the terrain ahead of them, as well as to give them the best intelligence possible of the positions that they expected the enemy forces to hold.

Some photographs of the invasion follow:

It's not hard to see how difficult the terrain would be to attack.  There's a long open beach with little cover and beyond the smoke lies a headland from which the Germans could perform plunging fire on the men and equipment approaching.  Although I don't know this for certain, I suspect that the smoke is due to the naval bombardment in advance of the arrival of the landing craft wave.

Furthermore, we have this photo:

I don't think that the reason this shot is poorly focused is because of bad camera work, but because the platoon was under fire from the defending forces.  In the left upper corner you can see one of the defensive emplacements, an X-shaped sharpened steel construction intended to impale boats and landing craft.  I think in the distance in the upper right you can see a wrecked landing craft.

Here's a bit more:

Once actually ashore, and past the barbed wire that can be seen in the foreground of the photograph, the surviving soldiers had to race uphill into enemy fire to drive the Wehrmacht troops out of their positions, and throw them back so that further waves of men and equipment could land on the beach.  The casualty rate for the first several waves was very high, high enough that General Eisenhower considered the possibility of pulling them back to the ships, but in the end men of the landing force were able to clear the heights of their tormentors and move inland.

There are memorials in the area, and tour groups that go there often.  One such tour group offered this map of the region on their website:

Utah and Omaha beaches were American landing sites, while Gold, Juno and Sword were British and Canadian.  As it turned out, the British forces were stymied by Caen, but in time the US Army broke out at Saint Lo, taking Cherbourg and starting the race to Paris, and thereby leading to the fall of the Germans.  This was a major change in the course of history, and colored the rest of the Twentieth Century.

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Option 3:

I should preface this by saying that as I have a demanding job, and am taking this course for fun, I don't have the available time this week to go to some of the available museums or sites of archaeological interest in my area, though I'd have been happy to do so.

That being said, I have been to Masada, a site that at the time was undergoing archaeological study, which continues to this day.

Masada was a fortification and palace built deep in the Judean desert not far from the Dead Sea.  It figures prominently in the histories of the Jewish War against Rome.  The fort was held by Jewish Zealots under siege by the Romans, and is famed because when the Legionaires were about to breach the walls, the garrison committed suicide rather than be taken into slavery.

My experience there was not recent.  I went on a summer's stay in Israel in 1972 with a large group of teens from Southern California, and we studied, worked in agriculture, and toured the country for much of that summer.  One night, we boarded buses and drove towards the Jordanian border.  Nearing dawn, we climbed a goat path up the side of a mountain, reaching the top as the sun rose.  We were atop the mountain fortress, long torn apart.  Inside the ruins of the site's original synagogue, we had morning prayers and then later wandered the site.  Having reviewed photographs on Google Images recently, I can see that in the intervening decades much reconstruction has gone on, but at that time some quarried stones were apparent, and the bases of some walls.  We could look out over the surrounding terrain and see the campsites for the Roman legions that invested the fortress as well; Google Images shows me that these sites have also been worked on since those days.  All this history that had up to that moment been vague in my mind became more concrete.  I could comprehend the choices that my ancient brethren had to make.

In the grander scheme, the whole trip I chose to do to learn more about what it meant to be Jewish.  I went to Masada because that's where they took us, but in reality I went there because though I'd heard much about the Holocaust and other events of persecution, I really didn't have a clear understanding of Jewish identity.  Israel gave that to me, but especially climbing Masada did.  I enjoyed and treasured that very much.  Would I do that again?  Well, I'm not fifteen anymore, and though I could probably climb that goat path, they now have a sky cable to the top; I'm much more likely to use that means to get up there than hiking it.  Someday I expect to return to Israel, and when I do, I will see Masada.

I do not have my slides of the trip digitized, something that I will have to do someday, but here is a photo of the area that I found for download:

You can see the Dead Sea in the distance.

For good measure, here's a photo of one of the Roman camps:

Dead Dog Cat

last one, honest.

Option 2:

I must start this essay by admitting that in the time allotted, I had too many work and social committments to address that I had no time to go to a museum, so my work here is based on my own history rather than a recent event. I apologize in advance, but with only a week to work with, I couldn't find the time to go.

That being stated, I have a long history with Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History; they have an extensive collection of folk artifact's from all over the world. One corridor in the collections has a blank wall on one side, and a glass one on the other. Overhead are several speakers. Behind the glass wall is a full collection of an Indonesian gamelan orchestra spread out throughout the room on the floor, just as they would be were players present. The speakers constantly play gamelan music to give the viewers an idea of how such an orchestra sounds.

What makes this particular display so interesting takes a bit of explanation. When last we lived in Chicago, we were friends with a woman whose husband was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in Indonesian Studies. They were also members of the Field Museum. At one point, members were told that an orchestra leader from Indonesia would be spending a sabbatical at the Field Museum, and as part of his time there, would be teaching a leading a group of interested members in playing gamelan music. She had spent several months learning pieces with a couple dozen others, and she invited us to a recital of their work. Of course, we went!

First of all, they played the instruments in place, in the room devoted to them. Secondly, the audience wasn't crammed into the little corridor outside, but was allowed to be seated on the floor in the orchestra's room. In this way, we experienced the music not only aurally, but vibrationally as well. It was delightful. The experience was one that would be understandable to anyone; the instructor not only taught the players, but spoke clearly to the audience about what would be played, and its meaning.

I would recommend to anyone a trip to the Field Museum, if visiting Chicago, Illinois, and I'm sure that the gamelan instruments would still be on display. It is a world-class museum with many more items of archaeologic interest that is well-worth the time and effort to visit.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Let me apologize before I'm flooded with complaints; I've forgotten how to lj cut, and so several of the photos turned out pretty damn large. Please forgive me...