I wanted to pass on the online version of this article ("The Fine Scale of Time" by Megan Sexton) that ran in the USC Times earlier this fall. It's a short piece about my work at 38FA608. The photo is me examining some of the conjoining lithic debris from the Guilford-age deposit at the site. Enjoy!
I'm happy to announce that "Passenger," my 10'-story-bear-with-butterfly-wings, has been accepted into the 2019 ArtFields competition. It's an honor to be included, and somewhat of a validation of the amount of time and energy I put into the piece. The idea percolated for months (years?) before I began bringing it into reality last May. I sweated over it all summer and we went through several love/hate cycles together. I'm glad it's in.
Since I finished the piece in November it has been gathering leaves in the driveway behind my house. I walk by it almost every day and barely notice it. It's a strange feeling to go from thinking about and struggling with something almost every day to forgetting it's there. Especially when it's a 10' bear with butterfly wings.
If you like art and you live in the region, I hope you'll visit ArtFields in Lake City this spring -- it's a really cool event and you'll see a lot of fantastic artwork. I hope "Passenger" ends up somewhere in town where you couldn't miss it if you tried.
A final plug: voting is still open for Jasper Project Artist of the Year. I've been nominated in the Visual Arts category. If you like my artwork, please take a moment and vote for me!
The second student project video from this year's Forbidden Archaeology class is now posted on YouTube. In this video, three students discuss some of the evidence that's bandied about for the extra-terrestrial origin of the Anunnaki. They've already gotten their first thumbs down. Enjoy!
As I mentioned earlier, we're making videos in this year's iteration of my Forbidden Archaeology course. The twenty students in the class split up into seven groups and have been working on developing their topics, doing their research, and preparing their scripts.
Last Monday, we taped the speaking parts for the first video and I edited it together over the break. The videos briefly explores the history of ideas/claims that the earth is hollow, and then discusses reasons why that can't be true. Here it is:
I had several goals in mind when I designed this video project. First, it was one opportunity (among several in the course) for students to go through the process of understanding the history/context of a claim and evaluating it based on evidence. Second, I wanted them to think about how to present a message in the format I gave them and all the constraints that come with it. Third, I wanted to produce what I call "persistent resources" that can live independently online and be found by curious people looking for information. I chose the video format because my sense is that we can reach a different audience than would be possible using writing.
Like many of the things I've done so far in my brief teaching career, this is an experimental project. I hope these videos turn out well, I hope the students get something out of it, and I hope they prove to be useful resources for others as well.
I spent most of my art time during the summer and fall working on "Passenger," a 10' tall sculpture depicting a bear with butterfly wings. It's my entry for ArtFields 2019, the submission deadline for which was November 5. It was a push but I got it done, got it photographed, and got it entered. I'll find out on December 18 if it made it into the competition. I'll let you know either way.
There are more pictures of the finished piece in the gallery section of my art website. I made five videos over the course of making it. It was easily my most ambitious art project to date. As with most things, it didn't turn out exactly how I had pictured it when I started. But it did come pretty close to my vision, and there are many aspects of it that I really like.
I didn't realize until about halfway through making this piece that the posture I chose for the bear -- standing, head forward, with slumped shoulders -- is really similar to the posture I chose for a small plaster sculpture I made all way back in the early 1990's when I was living in Carbondale, Illinois. That posture, in turn, was based on the painting "Male Model" by Henry Matisse, which was the cover image on my copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. According to my notes in the jacket, I read that book in 1992 and 1996. I carried my little plaster man sculpture around with me for years, unfinished, until one holiday spent alone in Ann Arbor (Christmas-New Year's 2008? 2009?) I went to work. I built him a set of wings from the odds and ends I had sitting around -- worn out clothes, tin cans, old screws, umbrella parts. I poured what was left of the enamel model paints I had over his shoulders.
I can't really put my finger on why the pose appeals to me and seems to be lurking somewhere in my subconscious. And I don't think I could really dissect the piece and explain and assign meaning to all the different parts. It just doesn't work that way. Some of you may think it's frightening, or threatening, or ugly, or whatever. Maybe it's all those things to you. But to me it's much more than that. There's beauty and currents in it that, for me anyway, aren't just about aesthetics. I guess that's why I don't paint pretty pictures with trees and sunsets and boats. No offense to those of you that do.
Anyway, this creature is now living in my driveway until further notice. I have no idea how ArtFields makes their decisions, but I'm hoping my lack of enthusiasm for delving into the meaning of the meaning of the piece in my entry doesn't hurt my chances of getting in. Ultimately, in my opinion, good art is about feeling something deep in your heart and in your bones (whether you're the creator or the audience). If I need to explain to you how the piece is supposed to make you feel, I didn't make good art. And if I can explain to you what the piece makes me feel, I didn't dig deep enough.
This year in Forbidden Archaeology, the students are making videos as group projects. They are currently working on finishing up their scripts, and we'll start taping segments next week. There is a range of a topics, but all have something to do with "fringe" claims about the human past. Barring any total breakdowns, there will be seven student videos in all. Hopefully I'll be able to start posting them in December.
As I was planning out what to this semester, I decided that making videos would be a way for the students to work on several different elements of critical thinking and communication. It would also give us an opportunity (I hope) to engage with a different audience than the 2016 class did with their blog posts. It's an experiment, so I won't really know what the broader impacts are until the videos are done and we see what the reaction is.
I made an example video so the students could get a better idea of what I was thinking of in terms of length, graphics, etc. I chose to talk about the "red-haired cannibal giants" of Nevada, and I threw this video together in a few hours on Friday afternoon. Enjoy!
Back in June, I wrote about a week spent along the Broad River with colleagues from the South Carolina Heritage Trust and some of my own students doing fieldwork associated with a research grant I received from USC. I have finally completed a video showing some of that fieldwork. I plan on doing another one explaining the analysis and results (which will be completed this calendar year or soon after). Enjoy!
You may have noticed that I haven't been regularly blogging about the course this year. That's by design. After wearing myself out the first time around in 2016, I decided I would put less effort into intensive public/fringe interaction. I think it has worked out well. I'm enjoying teaching the course much more. There will be still be student writing online to read eventually, and we'll be making videos this year. I'm just not killing myself to invite everyone else into the classroom.
On Friday we finished our section on Atlantis in this year's edition of Forbidden Archaeology. We spent most of the class watching and discussing a talk by Graham Hancock titled "Is the House of History Built on Foundations of Sand?" I wanted the students to watch carefully as Hancock made his case, asking them to think about his logic, the structure of the talk, and the evidence he presented to support his claims (many pieces of which they have already been exposed to).
I have not paid a whole lot of attention to Hancock in the past. I haven't completely read any of his books, and I think that this was the first time I have ever listened to an entire talk. He spent the first portion of the talk discussing the recent evidence for the hypothesis that an impact by a comet or meteor triggered the Younger Dryas. (The Younger Dryas is an anomalous cold period that occurred about 12,900-11,700 years ago during the transition from glacial to inter-glacial conditions.) He spent the last part of the talk highlighting some purported evidence (e.g., Gobekli Tepe, the Sphinx) supporting the claim that refugees from Atlantis occupied the Near East after fleeing their island's destruction.
The linkage that Hancock makes between the hypothesized extra-terrestrial impact that triggered the Younger Dryas and the destruction of Atlantis is, when you listen closely, peculiar. Following a quotation of Plato's description of Atlantis disappearing into the sea "in a single day and night of misfortune," Hancock describes the cataclysmic effects of extra-terrestrial impacts on the earth. He first discusses the idea that a comet wiped out the dinosaurs. He then moves on to the Younger Dryas impact research, repeatedly referring to "the cataclysm" of the impact.
So a comet or meteor wiped out at Atlantis?
No, the dates are all wrong for that. The Younger Dryas starts at about 12,900 BP (10,950 BC). Believers set the date of the destruction of Atlantis at 11,550 BP (9,600 BC). So, apparently, all the extra-terrestrial fireworks did nothing to the Atlanteans. They prospered for another 1300 years, conquering the world and mining orichalcum while the planet suffered a return to full glacial conditions.
After all the attention paid to violent cataclysm, Hancock actually attributes the destruction of Atlantis to sea level rise at the end of the Younger Dryas. Sea levels are lower during glacial periods because more of the Earth's water is tied up in ice sheets. Sea levels rise in inter-glacial periods because more of the Earth's water is in liquid form. As far as the culprit in Atlantis demise at 9,600 BC, Hancock points specifically to "a dramatic pulse of sea level rise" known as Meltwater Pulse 1b.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that, although there is debate about the magnitude, timing, and cause of Meltwater Pulse 1b, no scientist thinks it was so sudden or so rapid that it could have swallowed up a continent "in a single day and night of misfortune." Estimates of sea level rise range from about 6 to 28 meters, occurring over a period of several hundred to over a thousand calendar years. At least one study suggests the pulse didn't even start until hundreds of years after the purported submergence of Atlantis.
In other words, the events/processes of neither the beginning nor the end of the Younger Dryas appear to be a good fit for the Atlantis story. The hypothesized cataclysmic impact is too early, and the sea level rise is too slow. You can throw all the science in a blender and talk about cataclysms and sea level rise, but there's no science on the Pleistocene/Holocene transition that I know of that is concordant with any aspect of the Atlantis tale.
Regretfully, I have to announce that there will be no Spring 2019 season of the Broad River Archaeological Field School. After raising funds last spring and getting approval to teach the course pending sufficient enrollment, I recently learned that a decision was subsequently made to not even officially offer the course in the spring semester. That decision -- about which I was neither consulted nor informed -- was made way back in June. I only found out about it accidentally late last week when a student asked me why the course wasn't in the catalog. I'll spare you the who/what/why details. It's a frustrating situation.
I'm writing this blog post not to complain, but to inform those of you who have followed our progress over the last couple of years that I won't be going into the field with students again in the spring as I had anticipated. I'm going to reach out to each of the generous individuals that donated to the GoFundMe campaign and offer to refund his or her money. I will gladly hold on to the funds (which I transferred to a private account) if the donors sign off on a change of plans. If I end up retaining any of the money, I'll use it to continue my research program at 38FA608 (and/or some of the other sites that we have now identified nearby) in a modified form. I just won't be able to involve undergraduates to near the same degree as I did with the field school.
Anyway . . . stay tuned. I've always been good at scrambling and making the best of the hand I'm dealt.
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