📗 Read pages 1-37 of The Celtic Myths by Miranda Aldhouse-Green

📖 Read pages 1-37 of The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends by Miranda Aldhouse-Green (Thames & Hudson, , ISBN: 978-0500252093)

I picked this up the other day while browsing at the library. It’s turned out not to have some of the actual mythological tales I was expecting, but, even better, it has some preparatory history and archaeology which I suspect will make my later reading of them more fruitful and interesting.

Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia

Prelude & Chapter 1

Myths flourish in societies where such issues are not answerable by means of rational explanation. They are symbolic stories, designed to explore these issues in a comprehensible manner.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 15

This makes me think of complex issues of modern science like people (wrongly) believing that vaccines cause autism or in our current political situation where many blindly believe the truth of the existence of “fake news” when spewed by politicians who seem to be modern-day story-tellers.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

Medieval Welsh storytelling was close kin to poetry, and often the poet and the cyfarwydd were one and the same. Of course, modern audiences can only access the tales through their written forms but, even so, their beginnings as orally transmitted tales are sometimes betrayed by various tricks of the trade. Each episode is short and self-contained, as though to help listeners (and the storytellers themselves) remember them. Words and phrases are often repeated, again to aid memory. A third device also points in this direction, and that is the ‘onomastic tag’, the memory-hook provided by explanations of personal and place names.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 22-23

This is interestingly relevant to some of my memory research and this passage points out a particular memory trick used by storytellers in the oral tradition.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

The Classical mythic centaur, which melds the forms of man and horse, has its Celtic counterpart in the Welsh horse-woman, Rhiannon.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 22-23

Origin of the name Rhiannon
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

The weapons used were words and they could literally sandblast a man’s face, raising boils and rashes. The power of words to wound was a recurrent bardic theme in medieval Ireland; […]

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 34

I can’t help but think of the sharp tongued William Shakespeare or old barbs I’ve read from this period before. Obviously it was culturally widespread and Shakespeare is just a well-known, albeit late, practitioner of the art.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

So gessa [singular geis] acted as a device to keep listeners interested, and one can imagine how, perhaps, a storyteller would break off his tale at a crucial moment, leaving his audience to wonder how it would end, avid for the next episode in the ‘soap opera’.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 36

This passage makes me think of the too-oft used device by Dan Brown’s Origins which I read recently.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

… red was the color of the Otherworld.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 36

This is a recurring thing in myths. The red flames of Hell spring to mind.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

[…] this took place at the end-of-the-year festival of Samhain, the pagan Irish equivalent of Hallowe’en, at the end of October. Samhain was an especially dangerous time because it took place at the interface between the end of one year and the beginning of the next, a time of ‘not being’ when the world turned upside-down and the spirits roamed the earth among living humans.

Highlight (yellow) – 1. Word of Mouth: Making Myths > Page 36

Cultural basis of Hallowe’en? This also contains an interesting storytelling style of multiple cultural layers being built up within the story to bring things to a head.
Added on Monday, December 25, 2017 night

Guide to highlight colors

Yellow–general highlights and highlights which don’t fit under another category below
Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word
Green–Reference to read
Blue–Interesting Quote
Gray–Typography Problem
Red–Example to work through

I love Eat This Podcast

Many who follow my blog recently will know that I’ve been binge listening to Jeremy Cherfas‘ wonderful podcast series: Eat This Podcast.

I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”

It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.

Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.

And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?

If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.

Subscription information:

🎧 Neanderthal Diets | Eat This Podcast

Listened to Neanderthal Diets from Eat This Podcast, April 29, 2013
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.

My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?

There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.

  • Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). (A scientific paper.)
  • National Geographic’s early report on Amanda Henry’s discovery of plant remains on Neanderthal teeth and a more recent report from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
  • More on Neanderthal diets at John Hawks’ weblog.
  • Photograph of the Regourdou Neanderthal mandible used by permission of the photographer, Patrick Semal, and the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord.
  • Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
  • Final music played by Ljuben Dimkaroski on a replica of a Neanderthal bone flute found in a cave in western Slovenia.

While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.

Underwater Hebrew Tablet Reveals Biblical-Era Ruler of Judea

Read Underwater Hebrew Tablet Reveals Biblical-Era Ruler of Judea by Tia Ghose (Live Science)
A huge slab discovered offshore in Israel has revealed the name of the ancient prefect who ruled Judea just before the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Reading Katumuwa

Watched Reading Katumuwa from YouTube
Video published on Apr 18, 2014.

This video by Travis Saul features a digital rendering of the Stele of Katumuwa. The ancient stele was discovered by University of Chicago archaeologists at Zincirli, Turkey in 2008. The inscription on the stele, written in a local dialect of Aramaic, is dated to around 735 BC. In word and image, Katumuwa asks his descendants to remember and honor him in his mortuary chapel at an annual sacrificial feast for his soul, which inhabited not his bodily remains, but the stone itself.

This reading of the Aramaic inscription and its English translation is kindly provided by Dennis Pardee, Henry Crown Professor of Hebrew Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. For more detailed information about the inscription, read his chapter featured in this Oriental Institute Museum Publication:

Pardee, Dennis. “The Katumuwa Inscription” in, In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East, edited by V.R. Hermann and J.D. Schloen, pp.45-48. Oriental Institute Museum Publication 37. 2014. Chicago: The Oriental Institute.


The reading is also featured in the video “Remembering Katumuwa” featured in the Special Exhibit “In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East” at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, April 8 2014–January 4 2015.

In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East.

Virginia Rimmer Herrmann and J. David Schloen, eds., In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2014.
Download the free e-book: http://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oimp37.pdf

Remembering Katumuwa

Additional context for the stele

h/t to my friend Dave Harris for sending this along to me.

🔖 Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior by Robin Dunbar (Oxford University Press)

🔖 Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior by Robin Dunbar (Oxford University Press) marked as want to read.
Official release date: November 1, 2016
09/14/16: downloaded a review copy via NetGalley


The story of human evolution has fascinated us like no other: we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about who we are and where we have come from. Yet studying the “stones and bones” skirts around what is perhaps the realest, and most relatable, story of human evolution – the social and cognitive changes that gave rise to modern humans.

In Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior, Robin Dunbar appeals to the human aspects of every reader, as subjects of mating, friendship, and community are discussed from an evolutionary psychology perspective. With a table of contents ranging from prehistoric times to modern days, Human Evolution focuses on an aspect of evolution that has typically been overshadowed by the archaeological record: the biological, neurological, and genetic changes that occurred with each “transition” in the evolutionary narrative. Dunbar’s interdisciplinary approach – inspired by his background as both an anthropologist and accomplished psychologist – brings the reader into all aspects of the evolutionary process, which he describes as the “jigsaw puzzle” of evolution that he and the reader will help solve. In doing so, the book carefully maps out each stage of the evolutionary process, from anatomical changes such as bipedalism and increase in brain size, to cognitive and behavioral changes, such as the ability to cook, laugh, and use language to form communities through religion and story-telling. Most importantly and interestingly, Dunbar hypothesizes the order in which these evolutionary changes occurred-conclusions that are reached with the “time budget model” theory that Dunbar himself coined. As definitive as the “stones and bones” are for the hard dates of archaeological evidence, this book explores far more complex psychological questions that require a degree of intellectual speculation: What does it really mean to be human (as opposed to being an ape), and how did we come to be that way?