Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXXI: Queen of Victory


John Byrne, "Goblin Queen" (From a story by Chris Claremont)

Good news! My employer has been persuaded that "But I don't wanna!" is not an adequate argument against the labour code requirement that I get an extra day off to celebrate the birthday of our undying Queen-Empress.That's next week; this week I celebrated it with lots of overtime instead, so I am going to pluck another low-hanging fruit before engaging with postblogging next week. 

So the story here is that the Indo-European languages emerge into the light with The Proclamation of Anittas, a unique document on Old Hittite extant in an early as well as late-Kingdom copies, anchoring the  use of the Hittite tongue to a c. 1600BC central Anatolian context.  And I am engaged here in the fun and low-stakes enterprise of arguing that this is not only the oldest Indo-European, but the source of the language family. Today we're going to go a bit further and single out an individual:  Puduhepa, the Queen of the Night. 

Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXX: Quoi?


This one originally qualified as a response to something I read online: not here, of course: Over at Quora, where the best of the resident historical geneticists, Ygor Coelho, accepts the final collapse of the "Yamnaya expansion" thesis as far as it concerns ancient Anatolia --and then reconstructs it. 

Some time ago I wrote that my understanding about the origins of the Indo-European language family and the early Indo-European migrations, after reading many scientific papers about the archaeogenetic findings in connection with the archaeological ones, had been evolving to favor the Pontic-Caspian Steppe hypothesis, but not in its classic “Yamnaya hypothesis” (too late to be really representative of Proto-Indo-European, as opposed to some Indo-European branches, possibly those ancestral to Greek, Armenian and perhaps Albanian), and also in complete disagreement with those population geneticists that were interpreting the data as an evidence of an origin of Proto-Indo-European south of the Caucasus, probably close to Armenia.

It could also qualify as a book review, in that I took the decision to spend a lazy Saturday working this material over as an invitation to read Eric Cline's  After 1177: The Survival of Civilisations. Also, Narendra Modi is going to win re-election in India on his "Sure would be a shame if an ethnic cleansing were to just happen around here" platform, and if I can't do anything about that, at least I can direct some impotent aggression towards his Hindutva loons. 

So, first, Professor Cline. I read  1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed as a somewhat less than passionately felt book, and that is even more true of  Survival. That's not to say that it is a bad read, much less bad scholarship. I see omissions and neglect in the literature, But Cline has a professional expertise in the field so that is much more likely to be my misperception than reality, except insofar as I was hyperfocussed on his treatment of the brilliant Saro Wallace, and found his use of her work shallow. To be fair,  Travellers in Time came out too late to be considered; but Cline's whole monograph is permeated with the idea of a "successful collapse," and Wallace offers a mechanism for it that would explain what Cline finds so mysterious about the Phoenician anti-collapse and which might have come into his treatment of Israel if he had taken Finkelstein more to heart. (A redistribution of everyday economic activity across elevations enriches the "Phoenician" city states and makes the Kingdom of Judah possible). 

Oh, well, maybe I'm just white knighting it But, you know, Cline only catches fire when it ambles off the reservation to talk about climate change. I'm totally on board with worrying abot climate change, but the presumed "mega-drought" plays an important, if not quite starring role in Collapsed, and is central to Survival, is rooted in archaeobotanical studies, and drawing universal conclusions from localised archaeobotanical sites is a fraught activity, as witness repeated revisions of claims about forest cover changes based on revised understandings of the environmental history of specific sites. I get that Cline would like to use the enormous amount of money he has made for his publisher and turn into public intellectual clout in the service of something more important, but there are fine young scholars out there failing to get tenure-track jobs, and I'd like Cline to back off them if he can.  

Back to Ygor, who, as an Internet warrior still has his bones to make, and can get down into it. Ancient Anatolians do not have Steppe ancestry, and that's that. The Indo-European language family was not spread into Anatolia by a wave of demic advance. "Migration." So then he fixed it by finding a mutual ancestral group in the southern Caucasus in the right timeframe for Proto-Indo-European (4000BC, according to him. 

No disrespect to Ygor, but this is crazy. It's like, "I read some historical linguistics stuff on the Internet, and now I'm going to do a genetic study of the recovered DNA of more than 200 Neolithic individuals and unleash enough statistical analysis software on them to take a Lunar lander to the Sea of Tranquility and back." 

See? This is why linguistics is secretly the hardest historical science. We all take it for granted that we're not going to understand what the historical linguists are talking about, so we just nod along. It's like the Grand Unified Theory. Or it would be if we were using the contradictions between General Relativity and quantum mechanics to justify some light genocide. 

Saturday, May 11, 2024

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, January 1954: Dieselpunk


Did anyone else reading this frequent Young and Bloor in the early Nineties? Remember the giant poster of Pamela Anderson as Barbed Wire? There's something about comic book movies about girl characters where a dyke director (I assume) gets hold of the property and makes a movie with an aesthetic that says, "Hey, straight guys, we're just not going to apologise for not being for you," and then the straight guys don't go to see it and everybody looks at the box office and is,  like, "What happened?' I mean, I don't want to be the culture warrior here. I liked Birds of Prey well enough. But "we're going to shoot Ella Jay Bosco like she's chunky (she's not!) because you should be ashamed of your male gaze" is quite a message to swallow to enjoy me some movie. While I am determined to validate the artistic choice, I am wondering how you get to spend eight figures on a movie when your head is that far up your ass. It's not like you got the MoD (MoS) to pay for it!

By MigMigXII - Animated from CAD drawing, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Speaking of which, this cool animation adorns the Wikipedia article about the Napier Deltic, an 18-cylinder opposed-piston diesel engine consisting of six layers of cylinders arranged in a stack of equilateral triangles. Beginning as Napier's visionary submission to an Admiralty requirement for a diesel engine suitable for Coastal Forces, as of January of 1954 it has been at sea in a proving boat for almost two years, and is about to go into service on 18 "Dark" class 50t patrol boat, as noted in The Engineer for 5 January 1954, which covers the current state of the Royal Navy (which absolutely needs 60 cruisers and its battleships, but which can afford to cut the size of its new aircraft carriers from the excessive 37,000t displacement of Eagle and Ark Royal.) The article also notes that the Deltic has "been covered fully in these pages." But in the first half of whatever month the article ran in, damn it! Apart from the "Darks," Deltics went into a number of subsequent large coastal classes and several classes of British railways locomotives, Especially the Class 55, which made an indelible impression on the trainspotting public running 100mph services and hitting 125mph descending Stoke Bank with its distinctive noise. (Did I mention that this high speed, high power diesel was noisy? And smoky? I know. Next thing I'll be saying that it rattled!) Boring and conventional engines rule the diesel engine world today since given the costs involved in high speed rail infrastructure they might as well be electrified. The Deltic isn't precisely forgotten, but it is a curiosity of a bygone age, and not the only one in this post.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Postblogging Technology, January 1954, I: Night of the Comet


R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

We're back in London, fully settled in, and back on the edge of the Comet investigation. It will probably be flying again, although James is pessimistic, mainly because he has lost confidence in De Havilland. The children are settling in, with Jim-Jim very cutely looking forward to nursery school, which we've discussed. 

Your Loving Daughter,