Neanderthal Woman versus the No-Electricity

This post is a tribute to Bookstooge’s post Lord Bookstooge versus the No-Internet, which is much funnier than this post is likely to get.

Well, hello, everyone! This weekend, while the world burned, the Neanderthal family in their remote location were going through something that was much less distressing and had fewer long-term implications, though it felt like a crisis at the time. It did result in Neanderthal woman having no access to her blog from Saturday through Tuesday.

On Saturday, Neanderthal woman spent a little time mixing fertilizer into her garden with a rudimentary digging stick. Then the Neanderthal family went on an arduous journey to a distant place. They returned right around the time of sunset. Rain clouds were ringed about their abode, but were only spitting a little and emitting bursts of wind which are not unusual in this particular Neanderthal family’s habitat.

However, at some point the winds became very strong and the woman was forced to close the windows, which she had opened in order to air out the cave. It wasn’t until the torches went out and the Neanderthals glanced into the front yard, that they realized the winds had been very strong and had in fact blown down a spruce tree, completely blocking their road.

Neanderthal woman texted her cave landlords to inform them of this development. They immediately arrived and, using mysteriously advanced technology, cleared the spruce tree from the road. This took them until about midnight.

Meanwhile, the Neanderthal kids were quite freaked out. The Neanderthal woman spent the night comforting them as they huddled together.

It later turned out that the winds (called a “microburst”) had knocked down power poles for about a mile to the West of the cave. It would take some time, even with advanced technology, to restore the fire of the gods.

It also turned out that cave’s well is accessed by an electric pump, which meant that until the fire was restored, the cave would have no water. The Neanderthal family was forced to go back to the ways of their ancestors, hauling buckets of water from a nearby stream in order to flush toilets and brushing their teeth using water they had reserved in 2-liter bottles. They ate cold food, being unwilling to fire up the wood-burning stove. Unwashed dishes piled up, but this was not too different from ordinary life so the Neanderthal family hardly noticed it.

The Neanderthal children missed their Netflix and their online games, but they had fun playing at a friend’s house. Meanwhile, the bearers of advanced technology were working their high, Cro-Magnon-style foreheads off and by Monday night, the fire of the gods was restored. The Neanderthal family eagerly dived back into their highly electricity-dependent life, resolving from now on to store more than six liters of water in the basement.

Betataki Cliff Dwelling, Nestled in Its Valley

Betataki 4
Here is the painting.

Betataki 2
Here is what it looks like on the wall. It is 12×24″.

Betataki Cliff Dwelling is located at what is now the Navajo National Monument. Rand McNally, who kindly alerted me to its presence, won’t allow me to post a copy of a page from their atlas. However, if you want to find this somewhat out-of-the-way place, head north from Phoenix on I-17. Continue north as the highway becomes 89, then get off at the turnoff for 160, signs for Tuba City. 160 cuts northeast across Navajo country. About 75 miles past Tuba City (and just before Kayenta), you’ll see signs for the Navajo National Monument. It’s on the north side of the road. Like every good national park, there is a small museum/gift shop/information center, where you can obtain maps for walking the various trails.

The trail to Betataki is a short, easy hike: about an hour round trip to and from the overlook. You cannot approach the cliff dwelling itself, but there is a viewing platform that allows you to look across the canyon. When you do, this painting is roughly what you will see.

Navajo 4 Pueblo

Here is a crude, cell-phone-picture close-up of the cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s under the large arch on the left side of the painting.

We were there on a grey, snowy day. I didn’t plan it this way, but I love the contrast the snow and the cold grey colors of sky and vegetation make with the red-rock desert.

For those keeping track, Kachina Bridge is about one day’s drive north of Betataki. It’s in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah.  This is simply a huge culture area.

Finally Read This

TBR Naya Nuki
Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma, Grandview Publishing Co., Jackson, Wyoming, 1983

This children’s book is based on actual events. At the age of eleven, Naya Nuki and her friend Sacajawea (yes, that Sacajawea) were kidnapped during a raid and marched about 1,000 miles to the east, into what is now North Dakota, to serve as slaves of the more prosperous Minnetare.

Naya Nuki determines to escape. She begins preparing before the outbound journey is even over, memorizing landmarks and so on. (Luckily, in order to get back to her home country, she basically just has to follow the Missouri River.) She then busies herself being a model prisoner, while also obtaining and hiding the things she will need for her journey, such as a buffalo robe (basically, a winter coat/sleeping bag), moccasins, extra food, and even a knife.

Sacajawea isn’t interested in trying to escape, being fairly sure that the girls will be quickly run down and killed by their captors. Shortly before Naya Nuki’s escape, Sacajawea tells her that she has been sold to a white man. (I knew Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman, and I’d always wondered whether it was a romantic interracial love match. Turns out, not so much.)

Naya Nuki cleverly waits for a stormy night to escape. She travels by night at first in case she is being tracked and continues to think like a fugitive throughout her journey. Once she gets well out of range of her captors, she then “only” has to deal with things like illness, snowstorms, and even a grizzly bear.

This little eleven-year-old girl walks all the way back to her people. She seems so capable throughout most of the book. It’s not until the end, when she and her mother are crying and embracing, that she seems like a little girl again. Her people change her name to Naya Nuki, which means Girl Who Ran. We don’t know what her name was before that, so Thomasma calls her Naya Nuki throughout the book.

Four years later, Sacajawea shows up at the Shoshoni camp again, this time in the company of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and carrying the baby she had with her French husband, Charbonneau.

I’ve always admired Sacajawea for making that journey with a baby, but Naya Nuki … wow.

Here are some charts I’ve created to illustrate my reaction to this true story.

Strength Chart

Naya Nuki, while a lot physically stronger than yours truly, is still an eleven-year-old girl, not a grown man. She doesn’t have unlimited strength, speed, or endurance.

Toughness Chart

But her mental toughness knows no bounds.

Amazing Person of the Week

All night Naya Nuki ran at a steady pace, with short periods of walking that served as rest periods. At every stream she drank small amounts of water. She ate no food and would go without food as long as possible. As a Shoshoni Indian, she was used to having only three or four meals a week when times were hard. Now Naya Nuki would call on all her past experiences to help her survive her long and difficult journey back to her people.

Naya Nuki, Shoshoni Girl Who Ran, by Kenneth Thomasma, p. 61

Kachina Bridge Series

Kachina Bridge is huge natural stone bridge located in southern Utah. It has petroglyphs dibbled onto it. I was able to visit it last November, took a million pictures, fell in love. Here are some views of it from the back.

The photograph. The stripes are water/mineral staining.
First painting of it
Second painting of it, done on a smaller canvas (8×10)
For
comparison

The more vibrant colors in the painting are closer to how I remember it looking real life, especially the warm glow.

Now, zooming out from the arch, let’s go down the path behind it, turn, and look back:

In the upper left corner of this painting, you can see the portion of the arch that the earlier paintings are close-ups of.

Next time: Kachina Bridge from the front!

Quote of the Week: Brilliant Native American Botanists

Matthew Stirling, Chief of the American Bureau of Ethnology, [says] ‘Among the plants developed by these ancient botanists are maize, beans (kidney and lima), potatoes, and sweet potatoes, now four of the leading foods of the world. Manioc, extensively cultivated by the natives of tropical America is now the staff of life for millions of people living in the equatorial belt. Other important items, such as peanuts, squash, chocolate, peppers, tomatoes, pineapples and avocados might be added. In addition, the Indian was the discoverer of quinine, cocaine, tobacco and rubber …’

Kenneth Mackoman adds to this list, the custard apple, strawberry, vanilla bean, chickle, and cascara, besides a number of others less familiar. His whole list of important plants made up by Indian’s agriculture is impressive, for it contains 50 items, not one of which is an Old World species … The Indian devised a useful method for extracting a deadly poison (cyanide), from an otherwise useful plant, manioc, without losing the valuable starch it contained.

M.D.C. Crawford gave a list of vegetables which were cultivated by the American Indians prior to 1492, which adds the following: Aloe, Alligator Pear, Arrowroot, Star Apple, Cacao, Chili pepper, Jerusalem Artichoke, Cotton, Pineapple, Prickly pear, Pumpkin.

‘The pineapple … originated in America and was the unknown to the people of the Old World before its discovery.’ Just where the Indian found the original plants which they improved upon to produce modern pineapples, we do not know. None of the existing [wild] varieties compares with the domesticated plant … This was … a deliberate and intelligent breeding process … we cannot now retrace the steps by which it was first accomplished.

Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, Zondervan 1975, pp. 166 – 168

I Like Painting Pines

You all remember this pastel sketch of Sasquatch, which was inspired by Starry Night …

Note the evergreens, because Sasquatch lives in the Northwest. (And yes, I know that not every evergreen is a pine! There are spruces, hemlocks, etc.)

I just like adding conifers (maybe we should call them that) when it seems called for. They are easier to paint than deciduous trees, though harder and less advisable to hug.

When I did this quick sketch of a certain little boy, he posed for me indoors. But I decided to add some conifers and some golden light to make it look as if he was standing in a Northern paradise.

Come to Idaho! We have trees. Happy little trees.

Just call me Bob Ross.

Addendum:

What can I say? Curly hair and artistic talent just go together …

To Build A Fire

Another post in the series taken from this book

Building a fire is really stinkin’ hard. Even with matches. When I was 11, I attended an environmentally-focused school that taught (or attempted to teach) survival and camping skills. For one project, we had to build our own fire, using grass for tinder, and keep that fire going long enough to boil a 2-minute egg in a coffee can. (Remember coffee cans?) We were allowed matches, but even so, it was a challenge.

Fire-Building in Books

I think I could do it now, assuming there isn’t a ton of wind, or wet, or any other thing that makes fire-building really difficult. In Jack London’s classic short horror story To Build A Fire, the man is equipped with matches but not with brains, and he ends up freezing to death. The moral seems to be, Don’t go out in the Yukon when it’s 75 below.

Without matches, it’s a whole different ball game. The two main ways to do it are by striking sparks (the “percussion method”), or with a bow and drill. For both, you need a pile of tinder and good dry kindling handy. In the YA survival classic Hatchet, the 13-year-old hero Brian figures out by accident that he can strike sparks by throwing his hatchet against the wall of the cave in which he’s sheltering. Even then, it takes him a long time to get the sparks to catch in his “spark nest” of tinder. Once he does get a fire going, he realizes that his best bet is to keep it going at all times. That is how many people handle it. I’ve been told that some Native Americans used to carry a live coal in a small leather bag rather than try to start a fire from scratch, which is frankly genius. In my books, I have my characters do the same because I don’t have time for them to be unable to start a fire whenever they pick up and move camp. And also, they’re not stupid. That’s part of the point.

Bow and Drill

A drill, of course, is even harder. The drill may be rotated by the use of a thong, or a thong attached to a bow.

The thong-drill is rotated by a cord passed round it in a simple loop. The two hands of the operator pull on the thong in such a way that the [drill] stick repeatedly changes its direction of rotation … Obviously there is a necessity for the drill to be held upright in firm contact with the hearth [the bottom piece] by pressure from above, and a small socketed holder of wood, bone, or stone, or even the cut end of a coconut shell, is provided for this purpose. This socket-piece may be held down on the top of the drill by an assistant, or if its shape is suitable, as it usually is in the Eskimo appliance, it may be gripped in the mouth of the fire-maker.


H.S. Harrison, quoted in Rudgley, p. 161

The White Man has not introduced a single item of environmental protection in the Arctic which was not already used by the natives, and his substitute products are not yet as effective as native ones… Eskimos are described as very ‘gadget-minded’ and are able to use and repair machinery such as motors and sewing machines with almost no instruction.

Dr. O. Solandt and Erwin H. Ackerknecht, quoted in Custance, p. 159

If the thong is attached to a bow, it becomes possible to hold the drill on top with one hand and rotate it with the other hand by pulling the bow back and forth. If all goes well, the drill will produce on the hearth (bottom wood piece) “a little pile of wood-dust which smoulders and can be blown upon to make it glow, at which point it can ignite the tinder” (Rudgley p. 160).  Obviously not an easy process.

Fire in the Stone Age and Before

Both these methods – percussion, and wood friction – are attested in Stone Age times, as noted by Richard Rudgley. A site in Yorkshire has yielded flint and iron pyrites from Neolithic times. Various kinds of bows and drills, because made of wood, are less likely to be preserved for millennia than stone artifacts. However, the bow-and-drill’s wide distribution around the world indicates that it was a very old invention (or that people, wherever they go, are clever, and that the same thing was invented multiple times). An intact bow and drill was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, though he is comparatively recent on the time scale we are discussing.  The Maglemosian culture, a culture from Mesolithic Scandinavia, has left stone and antler hand-rests from fire drills, as well as a fire-bow made from a rib. Also, many Stone Age objects have been found with drill-holes in them, so clearly Stone Age people were familiar with the drilling process. (Rudgley 161 – 162)

In Europe, objects reported to be lamps have survived from the Upper Paleolithic onwards. Examples get more numerous as we come forward in time. As with the Venuses of a previous post, we don’t see an evolution from “cruder” to “more sophisticated” lamps; rather, both kinds exist together, with the simpler ones being more common (146). By 25,000 years ago, there is evidence of different kinds of pyrotechnology, from hardening spear points in a fire, to oxidizing ocher, to heat treating flint to make it easier to work with, to metallurgy, to pottery.

For Palaeolithic man to have used such pyrotechnology [heat-treating flint] successfully he would have had to master a number of skills. Detailed knowledge of a range of materials, as well as a very accurate sense of timing and temperature control and maintenance, would have been essential. In these three fundamental aspects of Stone Age pyrotechnology one can see key elements that are found in the subsequent industrial activities of firing pottery and smelting metals.

Rudgley p. 149

In other words, as I’ve been saying, ancient people were a heck of a lot more capable than me, and probably than you as well.

There is evidence from Dordogne, France, that Neanderthals had fire about 60,000 years ago. “The Neanderthals seem to have deliberately chosen lichen as their fuel.” Rudgley adds, “At this site there is no evidence that any cooking took place … The indications are that the cave was used only as an occasional haven from the outside world, as signs of long-term use were lacking. Compared to the rock-lined hearths and excavated fire pits that were made by Upper Palaeolithic people, these fireplaces are rather basic” (p. 145). However, it seems a little hard on the Neanderthals to assume that they had no hearths and did not use for fire for cooking, just because there is evidence of neither at what Rudgley admits was probably a campsite.

Going even farther back, sites have been found with traces of human habitation and of fire that are believed to be 400,000 years old (Suffolk, England); 1.42 million years old (Chesowanja, Kenya); 1.8 million years old (Xihoudu, China); and 500,000 years old (Zhoukoudian or Choukoutien, China). For me personally, when the dates invoked are this ancient, the imagination fails and skepticism about the dating methods starts to set in. But regardless of the exact dates, I can accept that these are some of the oldest human sites that have been found, and that they seem to have used fire. Of course, sites from this far back (or even half this far back) are by their nature so fragmentary, and their interpretation requires so much conjecture, that if you don’t believe early “hominoids” had fire, it’s extremely easy to cast doubt on whether these ashes were caused by people.

The Binfordian hypothesis of minimal cultural capacities for Pleistocene hominids [proceeds by] imposing impossibly rigorous standards of evidence on archaeological assemblages and postulating elaborate natural alternatives (lightning-caused cave fires, spontaneous combustion, chemical staining).

Geoffry Pope, quoted in Rudgley, p. 144

But in Zhoukoudian (the supposedly 500,000-year-old, Homo erectus site), “the case is seen to be particularly strong, as burnt bones and stones, ash and charcoal have been found in each and every layer of the site” (Rudgley p. 144).  As someone who believes that people have always been people and never merely “hominids,” I have no problem with the idea that the use of fire goes back to the very beginning of mankind.

Pyrotechnology in Ancient America

It’s an old saw that whenever archaeologists don’t know what a find was used for, they attribute to it some religious function. This proved to be the case with a mound near Indian Creek, Illinois, at the base of which was a “deposit of 6,199 flints … covered with a stratum of clay, 10 inches in thickness, and on this a fire had been maintained for some time” (Rudgley 150 -151). Most of these flints are unfinished. There was speculation, at first, that they had been buried as grave goods or, for some reason, to hide them from enemies. But it is now believed that this is a large-scale example of heat-treating flint.  “It has now become clear that the use of heat treatment in aboriginal North America can be traced back to the Palaeo-Indians … This, in conjunction with the fact that the practice is known from the upper Palaeolithic period in France, and has been reported from Aboriginal Australia, South America and Japan, shows that it is of … considerable antiquity” (151) and that the story of the world is that of an outward spread of already sophisticated peoples.

Sources

Custance, Arthur C. The Doorway Papers I: Noah’s Three Sons. Zondervan, 1975.

(The Doorway Papers can be found online at: https://custance.org/library_menu.php

My blog post that gives a very brief summary of Custance’s thesis: Two Views on the Sons of Noah )

Rudgley, Richard. The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age. Touchstone, 2000.

Latest Kachina Bridge Painting

Kachina Bridge with petroglyphs

I found my muse. It’s Kachina Bridge.

This is the second painting I’ve done of it. The other one is posted here. Both paintings were done with acrylic paints on a 12×12 canvas.

This particular painting provided a very emotional, up-and-down process. The first Kachina Bridge painting, I felt pretty good about during most of the steps of its slow creation. For this one, I went back and forth between loving and hating it every step or two. I’m still not completely sure about it. On the one hand, I love it because it looks as you see. On the other hand, I hate it because it’s supposed to look like this:

I may do more studies from the same photograph, but I need to recover first.