May 31st, 2017

Viking Age Outlaws

The Hallmundarhraun lava field—basalt dark, with great swells and a froth of white moss—looks like a stormy sea whipped into a frenzy and frozen in place. It begins under the Langjökull glacier in mountains to the east and winds some 30 miles to Hraunfoss—literally, “Lava Falls”—where a crystalline river of meltwater pours directly from its wide, stony face. When the lava flowed at the end of the ninth century, shortly after the Vikings arrived on the island, it was probably the first volcanic activity of its kind that northern Europeans had ever witnessed. Those early residents of western Iceland may have heard eruptions, seen a fiery glow on the horizon, and tracked its spread across the landscape, a spread that ultimately consumed around 90 square miles.

Hallmundarhraun, just a few hours’ drive from Reykjavík, is riven with lava tubes which form when fresh molten rock flows through an existing field of cooled lava. Over time, the ceilings of some of these tunnels partially collapse to form caves. There are some 500 across Iceland, and around 200 hold evidence of human occupation. One of these caves is Surtshellir, part of a lava tube complex that is Iceland’s longest, at more than two miles. It is named for Surtr, the elemental fire giant of Norse mythology, the "scorcher" or "blackener," ruler of Muspelheim, who will kill all gods and life at the end of time. Inside is one of the more enigmatic archaeological sites on the island.

Deep within the cave, archaeologists discovered an oval-shaped stone enclosure that could be among the oldest standing Viking structures in the world. And, in the center of the enclosure, the archaeologists found a lead cross, and then three other lead pieces. They had been pecked and gouged, suggesting they were used as official weights. Archaeologist Kevin P. Smith thinks that they were not dropped by outlaws, but rather placed there (and not burned) deliberately—to end a tradition of ritual offerings around the time Christianity came to Iceland. "It has closing deposit written all over it," he says.

The strange artifacts and patterns of color and origin, to Smith, echo this more mystical explanation. In the Landnámabók, it is not outlaws that Surtshellir is explicitly tied to, but the poem of praise to the giant. Traditionally, such poems were powerful incantations, still remembered, in this case, hundreds of years after the island-wide conversion to Christianity. Smith’s theory is that the cave was the site of rituals dedicated either to keeping Surtr in or to supporting Freyr, a Norse god of fertility and agriculture who opposes Surtr. The enclosure, in addition to resembling a Viking hall, could also be interpreted as a ritual stone boat, related to the mythology of giants. The colors of the beads are also associated with Freyr, and the absence of black beads or jasper is interesting, as the color is tied to Surtr.

The labor involved and the value of the remains suggest to Smith that the rituals were organized at the chieftain level. "The punch line is that it worked," he says. "The volcano never erupted again."

Kemo D. 7

Source: Archaeology Magazine

The Inevitable

The untold – and terrifying – story behind the earthquake that devastated Nepal on a Saturday morning in 2015 begins with something that sounds quite benign. It’s the ebb and flow of rainwater in the great river deltas of India and Bangladesh, and the pressure that puts on the grinding plates that make up the surface of the planet. Recently discovered, that causal factor is seen by a growing body of scientists as further proof that climate change can affect the underlying structure of the Earth.

Because of this understanding, a series of life-threatening "extreme geological events" – earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis – is predicted by a group of eminent geologists and geophysicists including University College London’s Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards. "Climate change may play a critical role in triggering certain faults in certain places where they could kill a hell of a lot of people," says Professor McGuire. Some of his colleagues suspect the process may already have started.

It sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood apocalypse-fest – indeed the movie 2012 featured the Earth’s crust collapsing after a rapid heating of the Earth’s core. The mechanism here is rather more mundane, though potentially no less devastating. Evidence from the end of the last Ice Age has already shown that the planet’s uneasy web of seismic faults – cracks in the crust like the one that runs along the Himalayas – are very sensitive to the small pressure changes brought by change in the climate. And a sensitive volcano or seismic faultline is a very dangerous one. The disappearing ice, sea-level rise and floods already forecast for the 21st century are inevitable as the earth warms and weather patterns change – and they will shift the weight on the planet.

Professor McGuire calls this process “waking the giant” – something that can be done with just a few gigatonnes of water in the right – or wrong – place.

Kemo D. 7

The Original Legend of “El Dorado”

Thousands of years ago, long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in modern day Colombia to discover this legend for themselves, the leader of the Muisca tribe was said to cover himself in gold dust, float into Lake Guatavita, and toss gold and other treasures into the waters to honor the gods. While this legend may be ancient, it appears to be the real deal. Located just a couple hours north of Colombia’s capitol city of Bogotá, Lake Guatavita is believed to be the site of the El Dorado legend, with actual gold being recovered from the lake since the Spanish arrival in 1536. Multiple treasure hunts have taken place at the lake since the Spaniards’ first attempt to drain the water using gourds in 1545, which only lowered the water level slightly, but did help recover quite a bit of gold.

Since then, multiple draining attempts have taken place (with one attempt killing hundreds of workmen), the most recent attempt taking place in 1911. Nowadays, even swimming in the lake is banned by the Colombian government, but apparently there aren’t too many people making treasure hunting trips to the area anyway. As of 2002, a report stated that “A lonely ranger with a shotgun [was] the only guardian of the mystery of El Dorado.” If you’d like to see a bit of the El Dorado legend for yourself, you can visit the Gold Museum in Bogotá, which features a few of the treasures found in the lake along with the “The Muisca Raft”, which was made sometime between 1500 and 1200 BC and depicts the golden king preparing to offer tribute to the gods.

Kemo D. 7

Heart of Darkness

In 1961, Yale University psychology professor Stanley Milgram placed an advertisement in the New Haven Register. “We will pay you $4 for one hour of your time,” it read, asking for “500 New Haven men to help us complete a scientific study of memory and learning.” Only part of that was true. Over the next two years, hundreds of people showed up at Milgram’s lab for a learning and memory study that quickly turned into something else entirely. Under the watch of the experimenter, the volunteer—dubbed “the teacher”—would read out strings of words to his partner, “the learner,” who was hooked up to an electric-shock machine in the other room.

Each time the learner made a mistake in repeating the words, the teacher was to deliver a shock of increasing intensity, starting at 15 volts (labeled “slight shock” on the machine) and going all the way up to 450 volts (“Danger: severe shock”). Some people, horrified at what they were being asked to do, stopped the experiment early, defying their supervisor’s urging to go on; others continued up to 450 volts, even as the learner pled for mercy, yelled a warning about his heart condition—and then fell alarmingly silent. In the most well-known variation of the experiment, a full 65 percent of people went all the way.

Until they emerged from the lab, the participants didn’t know that the shocks weren’t real, that the cries of pain were pre-recorded, and that the learner—railroad auditor Jim McDonough—was in on the whole thing, sitting alive and unharmed in the next room. They were also unaware that they had just been used to prove the claim that would soon make Milgram famous: that ordinary people, under the direction of an authority figure, would obey just about any order they were given, even to torture. It’s a phenomenon that’s been used to explain atrocities from the Holocaust to the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

“To a remarkable degree,” Peter Baker wrote in Pacific Standard in 2013, “Milgram’s early research has come to serve as a kind of all-purpose lightning rod for discussions about the human heart of darkness.”

Kemo D. 7

Paris Climate Accord

Pulling out of Paris is the biggest thing Trump could do to unravel Obama's climate legacy. It sends a combative signal to the rest of the world that America doesn't prioritize climate change and threatens to unravel the ambition of the entire deal. Trump's decision is not surprising, but incredibly stupid, short-sighted & selfish. Bad for the economy, security & health. Injustice for all...

Kemo D. 7
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