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Friday, August 27, 2010

Lost Civilizations of North America

When one thinks of advanced ancient civilizations in America, names such as "Maya", "Aztec" and "Inca" immediately come to mind. Few, other than knowledgeable archaeologists or historians, would include words like "Anasazi" or "Hopewell". Yet it is true that, north of the border between Mexico and the United States, lie the ruins of ancient civilizations that easily rival and in some ways even surpass the cultural brilliance we so often associate with their better known counterparts to the south. This point is convincingly made in the recently released documentary entitled "The Lost Civilizations of North America". Through an exploration of the architectural and artifact remains from sites such as Cahokia as well as an engaging series of interviews with prominent scholars in the field, this documentary expounds on the salient cultural remains (some not without controversy) that underpin the various schools of thought about the origins, development and achievements of these lesser known ancient civilizations. What sets this production apart from perhaps any other is its treatment of the development of the applicable theories of cultural evolution and how these theories fed into historical national policies toward Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, and the resultant "wanton destruction" of their cultural remains. Whether one agrees or not with the facts and points advanced, the film is a refreshing and intellectually expansive experience for those of us who are willing to think a little beyond the generally accepted paradigms about North American anthropology, archaeology, and history. Anyone interested in viewing the full documentary (63 minutes) may acquire it at www.LostCivilizationDVD.com.


Documentary Trailer


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Monday, August 02, 2010

Live From The Field: Smithsonian Team Involves the Public in Real Time

The Smithsonian Human Origins Program Base Camp at Olorgesailie, Kenya
Photo courtesy the Human Origins Program


I
t is not often that we find working scientists, in the midst of their fieldwork, willing to expend the effort and time to draw the general public into their domains as their work unfolds upon the scene. This can be said to some degree for scholars and excavation directors who, while busy at work on their excavation sites, will take the time to address crowds of tourists and visitors at historically significant locations and inform them about their projects and the latest finds. Rarer still is the occasion where the public is given the opportunity for
live visual and audio contact with key scientists at an important site thousands of miles away, where discoveries are being made that will help "write the books" about their subjects. A Smithsonian Institution team of scientists at the famous site of Olorgesailie, Kenya, have done just that for the first time on August 2, 2010. With a little help from ground technology and a satellite, a Smithsonian staff "transported" a Washington, D.C. group of interested public participants into the African field location, briefly oriented them about the site, showed them some representative finds, and entertained a series of questions from the live audience. Thanks to the outreach of Dr.'s Briana Pobiner and Alison Brooks, who conducted the session from the African location, that public audience walked away from the session enriched with a better understanding and appreciation for what was going on at the remote location and it's significance to the field of human origins research. They learned, for example, that in addition to the well-known discoveries already made there about hominids who lived there more than 600,000 years ago, work in the area has recently revealed evidence of a later human presence (around 300,000 years ago) with more evolved tool-making skills, made from materials that had to be obtained from more distant locations. This implies a social capability for developing a network of contacts to make this possible. One does not read as much about this in the easily available public literature, but this group got the scoop first hand, straight from the scientists themselves, almost as if they were standing before them in a room. There were a few technical glitches, to be sure, given that this was a first attempt (such as audio clarity being obstructed by the affect of the stiff African breeze at the remote site on the equipment there), but this somehow bestowed a sense of reality to the event that one could not get by reading a dispatch or an article.

Program planners hope to do this again. I, for one, give them my vote.

More information about the scientists and the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution can be obtained by going to http://humanorigins.si.edu.

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