Photos of readers

December 17, 2019 • 2:30 pm

I’m going to restart this feature, as I have a few photos left. In the meantime, please send me one or two (no more) photos of yourself that you think gives a good idea of what you’re about, along with a brief description. We use real names in this feature, so be aware. And if you want your pet featured with you in a photo, that’s fine, but give its name (we prefer cats but aren’t exclusive).

Today’s photo is of Tony Eales, who happened to contribute the photos for this morning’s “Readers’ Wildlife” section. Here he is himself, along with a description.

While I don’t work as an archaeologist anymore, this is one of my favourite photos of me. This was a rockshelter site that I excavated for my (sadly uncompleted) PhD. The deposits were 4.5m deep with a hearth at the bottom which dated to around 10,500 years BP. BP stands for Before Present and “present” is taken to be 1950CE, which is when radiocarbon dating was invented. This is the standard way to report dates for Aboriginal sites in Australia since the whole BC/AD or even BCE/CE thing is pretty meaningless here.

I did a calculation that the particular hole in the photo took 700 person hours to dig, it was a metre by a metre and was excavated in half a metre squares each 30mm at a time. If you were down in the hole digging there was no way to get yourself out, you relied on someone up top handing down the ladder. For one volunteer I had working with us it was too much, he did his requisite four squares and then refused to ever go back down the pit again.

23 thoughts on “Photos of readers

  1. I have to put in a complaint on this one. If we could see a picture before Tony goes down in the hole maybe. That could be anyone down there.

  2. Thanks Tony, pretty cool to peer into the lives of people who lived so long ago, but not work for the claustrophobic like me!

  3. I have mild claustrophobia, so I’d probably end up like the volunteer you mentioned.

    That’s an old hearth…humans have been in Australia for 40,000 years. I wonder when they started using fire. Maybe they already invented it before arriving on the continent.

    1. They almost certainly did. There is some evidence that Homo erectus used fire a million or more years ago. Certainly by 125,000 years ago controlled use of fire by our ancestors–for cooking–was widespread.

      There is even the suggestion that the invention of cooking made our big brains possible. Here is the problem: brains use a lot of energy, about 20% of the calories we use in a resting state. Cooking makes food easier to digest and nutrients more readily available to the body.

      This article from 2008 discusses the pros and cons of the idea:

      1. It’s not a problem if both brain size and meat-eating grew together, though it does make cause and effect harder to untangle. They would really have to grow together anyway.

      2. That’s something I can sink my reduced dentition into. 😎
        Looks like the main problem with the idea is that Homo erectus, who would have been involved in this evolutionary path, did not likely use fire.

        1. Homo erectus, who would have been involved in this evolutionary path, did not likely use fire

          Hmmm, I think that claim needs some support. Most archaeology references consider that Homo erectus probably made use of fire, even if they didn’t fully control it (e.g. using lightning-struck fires, but not being able to start a fire on demand).
          Unfortunately, diaries were not features of Palaeolithic toolkits.

          1. Yes, I’ve read opinion that erectus made fire, but it seems to be controversial. Probably no good fossil evidence.

            1. There are hearths securely dated well into the erectus time range, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fire was controlled, only that it was able to be used when found, and even kept going for extended periods – until the next rainy season?

      3. Thanks for this information…obviously, the technical skills of ancient homo sapiens is not my forte. 😉

        I took an anthropology course at University and remember reading that using fire for cooking also killed their prey’s parasites, which obviously improves health.

        1. killed their prey’s parasites, which obviously improves health.

          … if the prey species parasites could infect a human (hominid) through the oral/ digestive route. Not all can.
          Hmmm, didn’t I see a claim recently that there are evolutionary trees for some big cat parasites, which cross over into human lineages in the not-too-distant past. I didn’t follow it up, but that would imply that there was cross-over of parasites when humans were at the stage of driving predators off a kill (or scavenging their kills after they left).
          It also implies that the parasite loading didn’t have that much an effect on the hominids. If they all had about the same parasite loading, then it wouldn’t result in differential survival, which is what is needed for it to be a driver of evolution.
          It’s only in the last how many generations (2, 3?) that appreciable numbers of humans have had a minimal parasitic load. When people look at things like coprolites, the parasitology is pretty uniformly grim, by modern, western, standards. Get outside the west, and parasite loadings go back to normal.
          If you find yourself in the Jorvik Centre (the Danelaw era name for Eboracum, latterly “York”), they do a fair bit of slightly gleeful discussion of the parasitology of the poo samples.

  4. What a great experience. Digging and finding. I’ve always wanted to do that. The closest I ever got was pulling interesting bottles out of a dump.

    1. Ha ha, I did that in my youth too. Turned out to be a “plague pit” – material dumped and buried after an outbreak of something nasty, if not necessarily Yersinia pestis.

    1. Wild horses would slow me down, but not stop me.
      OTOH, harnessing a couple of wild-horse power to a winch would make getting in and out easier.

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