Saturday, April 22, 2006

Empty temple and empty mind.

I drove to Wooster, Ohio today to participate in my first atlatl competition of the season. A short explanation, an atlatl is a stick with a hook on the end that is used to throw long arrow-like darts with tremendous power. Our Ice Age ancestors used them to hunt mammoths. The Aztecs used them to spear invading Conquistadors. The Inuit and Aboriginal Australians still use them today.

I did very well for not having thrown at all since the middle of last year. But when it came time in the afternoon to throw for the official World Atlatl Association score, I screwed up big time. When before I was hitting the target nearly every time (missing only once or twice in a set, very good for me) when it was time for the real deal I missed as many times as I hit. My only excuse was that it was the end of the day and my arm was tired. Had I thrown for the official score at 1pm instead of at 3pm I would have done better.

My second point. . .

In the latest Ohio Atlatl Association newsletter there was an review of "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" by Charles C. Mann. It started with an illustration:From right to left, top to bottom, Atlatlists from the city empire of Teotihucan pay a visit to Tikal of the Maya, January 14, 378 A.D., resulting in the empty temple syndrome. The former Mayan ruler, having "entered the water", was replaced by the son of the ruler of Teotihucan.

I haven't read this book yet but this explanation of the carving's meaning seems needlessly euphemistic. It's pretty clear to me that the ruler of Teotihucan sent an army to visit his neighbor. The temple is empty because all the priests have been killed and the deposed Mayan ruler was probably tied up and chucked in the river to "swim with the fishes." Perhaps archaeologists and historians don't like to make assumptions about why the temple is empty after the atlatl-armed warriors pay a visit but I think that gives a skewed view of history.

"Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage" by Steven LeBlanc addresses the tendency of historians to romanticise pre-historic people. They look at "modern" examples such as the Native Americans and think that they lived peacefully with both their human and animal neighbors. This gets perpetuated in the media. In point of fact, early peoples did all the same things that their European conquerors did. They moved into new territories, depleted the local resources and came into conflict with their neighbors over those now scarce resources. Our impression of the natives living in harmony with nature is skewed because when we got to know these people their populations had already been decimated by diseases that the explorers had inflicted upon them. When most of your population dies, it's much easier for the survivors to find enough to eat. Europeans experienced just this sort of thing with the prosperity of the Renaissance coming after the horrors of the Black Death.

Ancient people were just like us and historians should say there was war instead of trying to call it "empty temple syndrome" like it's some sort of great mystery.

My third and almost unrelated point. . .

Tonight on the Sci-Fi channel, they are presenting the Sci-Fi Original "Mammoth." I think the line from the commercials says it all:

"We have an alien-possessed mammoth on the loose and if we don't stop it the government is gonna' kill all of us."

This gem of a line is delivered by Vincent Ventresca (Remember the "Invisible Man" series?) to Tom Skarrett, whose response is to fold over in in laughter. Yea, Tom, I'd laugh this guy out of the room as well.

Who writes this crap? The Sci-Fi channel has become the 21st Century's B-movie studio turning down "Farscape" and "Firefly" so they could churn out drek like "Mansquito". And a mammoth? They've had just about every other big animal they could think of run amok so they had to resort to bringing back a mammoth. Ok, I can imagine a mammoth frozen in the Siberian tundra being melted and brought back to life. ("Iceman" did a good job thawing out a caveman. Heck, even "Encino Man" was amusing.) But a re-animated mammoth probably isn't going to behave much differently than a wild elephant. Nothing exciting there. I know! Let's have it possessed by an alien. It's B-movie gold!

I wish I had a mammoth target to hurl darts at.


Anonymous said...

Hi--I am the author of "1491." I came across your blog and was tickled that you liked the illustration, which is a favorite of mine. I just wanted to reassure you that in the book itself I made it very clear that the army from Teotihuacan came to the Maya region and deposed and killed the ruler of Tikal, exactly as you suggested in your blog. --Charles C. Mann

Der Geis said...

The review in the newsletter did seem to suggest that, I just didn't make comment to that in the blog. "1491" is on my wish list and I do intend to buy and read it. Given the significant amount of money I spend on books (a couple of hundred dollars so far this year), I figured I would wait for it in paperback to at least save myself a few bucks.