Latest Works of Art

Here are three pieces I recently completed.

Above is a modified print produced by Frances Lubben.  I left the mountains (middle section) while painting in the upper section the night sky and lower section a glacial lake.   The constellation of Havoc, the wild dog of NW DC, is another stab at building the dog legend.  The frame I built from flooring (the bottom grooved side) and attached wasp nest paper.

I recently added red coral to my braided water-iris piece with opihi shells.   The coral was in a “gift box”  of different beach taxonomy.  I had never seen such striking red and wanted to produce as many wafers from the clump of scarlet coral as I could – enough to line the two borders.  The pieces are fixed to rods protruding from the back board.

The above sculpture is a series of die casts used for threading pipe.  Magnets keep the steel together and help mount it to a block of wood.

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Impressions on Prehistoric Pottery

Below is a sherd brought to me by a neighbor.

I’ve seen these tight striations before (the two parallel patterns) and had always assumed it was a cord (only) that produced such impressions.  However, the zig-zag of 90 degrees suggests that a stick? with perhaps cord tightly spooled, created these designs.

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Those 130,000 Years Old Californians

Big archeo news with the publication of a Nature article claiming that hominids butchered a Mastodon 130,000 years ago in what is now San Diego, CA.   It’s a huge anomaly since the generally accepted date for humans in the Americas is around 15,000 years ago.   I think this might be another case of animals adopting tool-use behavior (like monkeys in South America).   Elephants have been observed using rocks and sticks for various tasks.   Could this be the case of an exceptionally pissed off Mastodon hammering the remains of a dead rival?  Dunno.

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Happening Today

I just returned from the Kennedy Center expansion site along the Potomac River this morning and got to see a construction team of amigos digging up the old ground surface (well below fill).  You can see the rich soil being dug up to build foundations for the subterranean parking garage.

I hope somebody from the National Park Service might see what is being dug up there.


My previous post comments on this development.

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More Archeo Obliteration along the Potomac in DC

I keep thinking that development along the Potomac River in Washington DC has all but erased the archeological record, but said development continues to gobble up little untouched portions.  The latest is the Kennedy Center’s expansion along the banks of the Potomac River.   This is a big project and thus required an environmental/cultural impact study.   The “Preservation and Historical” consultant for the expansion project is listed as Robinson and Associates, but the work seems to have been carried out by Stantec (subcontracting subcontractors is a great method to avoid accountability!).   Stantec’s Phase 1 Archeological Investigation stated the obvious in its conclusion – “Given that the terrestrial portion of the Kennedy Center Expansion project APE has a high potential for Native American and Historic period resources, and that there is a potential that fill has capped and protected those resources, additional archaeological investigations are warranted if final plans for the proposed project indicate excavations will continue below the currently documented depths of fill.”

The so called “geoarcheo boring measurements” provided by Langan Environmental and Engineering Services, Inc. suggested the fill ranged on the site between 19 – 29 ft.  In a report presented by the NPS/National Capital Planning Commission the impact on archeological resources is negligent because:

  • GIS elevation change modelling and geotechnical borings indicate:
    • 19 feet or more fill along west and south portions of project area
    • 29 feet along I-66
  • Construction plans indicate removal of:
    • 18 feet or more along west and south portions of project area
    • 28 feet along I-66
    • Conclusions  About 1 foot of fill could protect any resources potentially present

Here are the incredible coincidences that apparently spared the archeological record of the expansion project.

Note the underground garage that presumably does not cross those thresholds.

You can see a time-lapse of the excavation here.

More recent photos:

I wonder about the incentives for archeological non-discoveries.   Obviously, an archeological firm that has a track record of finding nothing would be much sought after by developers.  This fact, coupled with the tacit approval of government agencies (DCHPO, NCPC, NPS)  leaves little chance for archeological discovery.

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Failing Marks for Clay Projects

This is one of those blog entries that I am not terribly proud to post.  I have been working with clay over the past two months and the results have been mostly disastrous.

I first built a coil-construction pot and attempted to fire it in a bonfire.  When I placed the bowl in a metal pot and put it in the fire, the metal disintegrated and subsequently the bowl.

I then tried to make a half-bowl dog-head effigy that could be mounted to the wall.  I figured it might be delicate so I used a portland cement wash on the inside to give it greater structural support.   When I dampened the outside of the bowl in order to apply color, fissures started to appear and the half bowl eventually Humpty-dumptied.

After failure, I visited the Katzen Arts Center where I saw this:

Well, if nothing else it gave me the sense that a talentless ceramicist still can do okay in the art game.

My latest foray with unfired clay is below.   It’s an outside mobile made of vintage yoke/barn pulley weighted with a clay/coir slab and a basic anatomical figure.

I’m not sure what to do with it at this stage. For the time being I will leave it to the elements, and probably to my record of clay ephemera.

After last night’s wind the slab of clay remains mysteriously intact!

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Fresh Out of the Ground

Archeologist are working on several test pits at the pocket park on the next block.  Finds thus far – pottery sherds, flakes, and this Minnie ball.

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Up For Auction

Yesterday I visited Dixon’s auction on the Eastern Shore where I bid and lost on a Clovis point.   Accompanying the point was a handwritten message about who found it, along with “where” and “when.”  The stone had barnacles and barnacle scars and I believe was an authentic Clovis point.   I spoke with the winner afterwards who thought it was made by the “Delaware indians.”  At that point I rolled my eyes and regretted pulling out of the bidding that ended at $170.

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Women’s March on the National Mall

Of the many issues raised by protesters at the march, it’s this  sentiment that I find most daunting.   I wonder who’ll be blamed when all his lofty promises fail to materialize?

Youngsters generally had more hopeful messages.Salty signage provided comic relief throughout the march.


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Book Review – Arrowheads and Stone Artifacts: A Practical Guide for the Amateur Archaeologist by C.G. Yeager

I was asked by my friend and neighbor Michael Dolan who is editior for American History magazine to review an advocational archeology book.  It follows:

In this third edition of his DIY handbook, C.G. Yeager draws on decades of experience as an avocational archeologist hunting artifacts in Colorado and Wyoming. The book’s geographical emphasis on the high plains sometimes imparts a provincial feel. However, from the ethics of amateur archeology to methodologies for displaying finds, for the novice collector this guide explores practical themes relevant throughout North America.
For the self-empowering prehistorian, Yeager’s chapter on stone tool types, illustrated with sketches, is perhaps the book’s single most useful passage. Though Yeager skews his discussion to his personal stomping grounds, he does cover artifact types encountered throughout North America. Employing the colloquial “arrowhead” but acknowledging that the term encompasses a range of projectile points and blades, he reminds the reader that “arrowheads” could see use as knives, as opposed to being fitted to a shaft and launched with a bow or throwing stick.

I do take issue with some of this section’s descriptors. In defining “stunner” points—projectiles with blunt or crescent-shaped business ends, meant not to pierce but to clobber—he might have cited examples from the Great Basin, where such tools have been linked with waterfowl hunting. The sight of geese strolling golf courses with arrows sticking out of them suggests early humans might have realized sharp points might not work that well for killing birds.

Another example of incomplete analysis on Yeager’s part: discoids, stones shaped to be circular, which he generalizes as “ceremonial”—an archaeological catchall. The artifacts, also known as chunkey stones, enjoyed distribution across the continent; George Catlin painted Plains Indians using discoids in games.

My final beef is with the author’s characterization of stone balls. Yeager lists some accepted theories on their functionality—”in games and cooking”—but ignores their worldwide use as sling stones.  In subsequent editions, I hope the author addresses the implications of new technology in the curation of artifacts. The smartphone—capable of mapping, imaging, and logging information— is as important and disruptive hunting and gathering tool for today’s archaeologist, professional or amateur, as the debut of the bow and arrow was for early humans 1,300 years ago. Save for an overly regional bent, Arrowheads and Stone Artifacts stands out informatively in the sparse genre of archaeoavocational literature.

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