Poverty Point: Star of My Show

Near Bayou Macon, Louisiana, is an archaeological site called Poverty Point. I am drawing for information about Poverty Point primarily on the book Mysteries of the Ancient Americas, 1986, by the The Reader’s Digest Association Inc., but here is the official Poverty Point web site. It is now a World Heritage Site. Here is a recent article about an archaeological project done at Poverty Point.

First, the Obligatory Eye-Rolling at Mainstream Archaeology

Like many North American sites, Poverty Point was hard to spot because it consists of earthworks that had been overgrown with forest. (And not only North American sites. Radar technology is revealing that the Mayan civilization was much more extensive than first thought — because the jungle took over so quickly — and is also revealing old settlements in what was hitherto thought to be never-before-settled Amazon rainforest.)

Earthworks are basically impossible to date, but for other reasons, Poverty Point is thought to be about 3,000 years old (i.e. about 1,000 B.C.). However, it helps to remember that when dealing with paleontology and even archaeology, dates are often basically just made up — i.e. reached through dead reckoning based on a shaky framework of background assumptions. But let’s accept 1,000 B.C. for now.

Mysteries, which again, was published in 1986, also makes several more or less dubious claims about the builders of Poverty Point. Here’s a sampling:

“[S]cholars think it is doubtful that societies on the chiefdom level existed in North America 3,000 years ago.” (page 111)

“[This civilization] had no writing, no true agriculture, and no architecture except for its earthworks. Its weapons were simple: the spear, the atlatl, the dart, the knife, and possibly the bola. Even the bow and arrow was unknown to these people.” (page 112)

“Considering the massiveness of Poverty Point’s ridges and mounds, one naturally assumes that they were built over many generations or even centuries.” (page 112)

Mysteries of the Ancient Americas

The first of these quotes is 100% pure assumption, based on the noble savage mythology so beloved of modern academics.

The second is also pure assumption. A better way to put it would be that we have found no evidence of writing, agriculture, etc., so far. The findings reported at the first link above seem to confirm that agriculture was not a big thing at Poverty Point, based on the remains of the peoples’ diet, but this could have been simply because the fishing and foraging was so abundant. It does not necessarily mean they were “only hunter-gatherers” who had not “advanced” to the level of agriculture. C.f. similar claims being made about Gobekli Tepe. As for the bow and arrow, I take it that remnants of all these other weapons have been found, but not bows. Even that, I take with a grain of salt, as it seems that almost every week, something is discovered that we had thought this or that ancient group didn’t have. (Here’s the latest example, which even refers to ancient humans as not particularly ‘smart,’ with ‘smart’ in scare quotes.) But even if the Poverty Point people did not use bows and arrows, this does not necessarily mean the weapon was “unknown” to them. Perhaps they had specialized in other weapons instead. Not everybody in the Middle Ages was an English longbowman, but boy oh boy did they know about them!

Finally, the third claim made in the Mysteries quote box (which they at least had the grace to call an assumption), appears to have been possibly disproven by the second link above. “New radiocarbon dating, microscopic analysis of soil, and magnetic measurements of soils at Ridge West 3 found no evidence of weathering between layers of soil, suggesting that the earthwork had been built rapidly.”

Now, the Site Itself

from Mysteries of the Ancient Americas, p. 111

It’s easier to just show you guys this diagram than to try to describe it, but buckle up, here comes the description. The Poverty Point site consists of earthen ridges set concentrically inside each other, in what looks like a C-shape from the air. “The two central aisles point toward the setting sun at solstice” (ibid). Directly to the west of all this is a large man-made mound (Mound A), while a ways farther north there is a smaller mound (Mound B), which seems to be a burial mound. Bayou Macon, directly to the east, cuts through the eastern side of this whole complex. Was this whole thing originally C-shaped, or was it a circle? Probably a C shape, because there are similar, smaller sites around this region which tend to be “constructed in a semicircle or semioval pattern with the open side facing the water and with one or more mounds located nearby.” (ibid)

The book uses the word “ceremonial” a lot, and honestly I can’t fault them. This complex was constructed by human beings, and now, millennia (?) later, more human beings come and look at it and say, “This looks like it was clearly designed for ceremonial purposes.” That’s a valid argument. The architecture is having a certain effect on us, and we can assume that it had that same effect on our long-lost fellows, and was designed to.

Poverty-Point-related sites have yielded thousands of little decorated clay balls, called Poverty Point objects, that we think were used for cooking. There are also little clay sculptures of female torsos (with or without heads), reminiscent of the Venuses found around ancient Europe. There are also “myriads of stone tools,” including drills, awls, and needles, made both from local stone and from flint imported from as far away as Indiana. They made “plummets,” perhaps as bola weights or perhaps as weights for fishnets, “most often of hematite in graceful teardrop or oval shapes [and] often decorated with beautifully executed stylized designs representing serpents, owls, and human figures.” (ibid, p. 115)

But it is in lapidary work that the Poverty Point people excelled. Pendants, buttons, beads, and small tablets are worked in an array of such colored or translucent stones as red jasper, amethyst, feldspar, red and green talc, galena, quartz, and limonite. Most of these stones were obtained by far-flung trade. Among the pendants are a number of bird effigies — red jasper owls and parakeets, and bird heads worked in polished jasper and brown and black stones. There are also representations of a human face, a turtle, claws, and rattles, and stubby but carefully made tubular pipes.

Mysteries of the Ancient Americas, p. 115

O.K., I’ve changed my mind. Perhaps this C-shaped complex was not ceremonial, it was a lapidary factory.

Regardless, the Poverty Point “hunter-gatherers” have once again made my point for me: that wherever human beings go, they start up civilization and display mathematics, art, and craftsmanship.

The Snake City

I guess there have been a lot of “snake cities” throughout history. In my third novel, The Great Snake (upcoming, hopefully in 2022), Snake City is founded by a small group who break off from our main group of characters. Their city is like a smaller, less populous version of Poverty Point.

As you can see, our city is much smaller. It overlooks the Mississippi River itself, rather than a bayou. The temple is built not on a man-made mound, but on a natural hill. The people actually live on top of the ridges. They aren’t lapidary craftspeople (at least, not as of the end of the novel). And, finally, this city is about 7,000 years earlier in time than Poverty Point. Other than that, though, it’s exactly the same.

In the cover image, Klee is standing on the lower hill that houses the women’s complex. Behind her, the temple looms over her from atop the hill. It has a Mayan-style roof comb that is facing away from the viewer. In this view, the snake is either hovering in the air just east of the temple, or possibly it is out over the river.

Quote: How Moms “Vacation”

What, oh what, will I do to fill the days that are usually taken up with errands and housecleaning and laundry and Max and Ron and their various time-sucking wants and needs? Don’t for one minute think I don’t absolutely adore my life as a wife and mom. But even the best lives need a vacation and, let’s face it, renting a house with your family at a ski resort is NOT a vacation. It’s basically moving your life from one location to another. Unless someone else is making the beds, doing the laundry, and cooking, it’s just the same old life with the added inconvenience of not knowing where anything is in the kitchen.

from Class Mom by Laurie Gelman, page 219

Quote: Alternatives Actually Available

Judicially expanded “rights” to appeal state court decisions to the federal courts led to an increase in such appeals for habeas corpus from fewer than 100 in 1940 to more than 12,000 by 1970. … This is not to say that there are literally no innocent men ever convicted in a country with a quarter of a billion people. It is simply to raise the question whether extended federal second-guessing of state apellate courts will turn up many or any … and at what cost, not only in terms of money, but in terms of innocent people sacrificed as victims of violent criminals walking the streets longer and longer, while legal processes grind on slowly in a seemingly interminable way.

In short, while saving some individuals from a false conviction is important, the question is whether it is more important than sparing other, equally innocent individuals from violence and death at the hands of criminals. Is saving one innocent defendant per decade worth sacrificing ten innocent murder victims? A hundred? A thousand?

Once we recognize that there are no solutions but only trade-offs, we can no longer pursue “cosmic justice,” but must make our choices among alternatives actually available. These alternatives do not include guaranteeing that no harm can possibly befall any innocent individual. The only way to make sure that no innocent individual is ever falsely convicted, is to do away with the criminal justice system and accept the horrors of anarchy.

Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed

I realize this might seem a little esoteric, but I’m posting it for two reasons. 1) I love Thomas Sowell, and 2) This theme of having to choose between existing options, none of which are perfect and all of which may be awful, is a major theme of both my second and (freshly drafted) third novels.

All the Aliens on Netflix

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Behold, mini-reviews!

Aerials: An alien invasion plot set in Dubai. It’s mostly about how people react when they are forced to hide out inside their houses, not knowing what is going to happen. (They mostly do nothing and argue a lot.) I enjoyed it for the glimpse of Dubai itself: the beautiful inside of the couple’s apartment, and how the main character relates to his wife versus to his men friends in the tea shop. Interestingly, the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) is featured in this movie. The alien spacecraft hovers directly above it, and the title would seem to imply that they showed up there because they took it for a huge antenna. But this point is never developed. It’s more a character study about the people.

Ancient Aliens: A nothingburger. The worst “documentary” I have ever seen.

The Darkest Hour: Two friends who arrive in Moscow to check out the club scene find their trip interrupted by aliens. Great views of Moscow in the summertime, and for once, a really creative kind of alien that is not organic.

Revolt: An American soldier and a French aid worker deal with an alien invasion in Kenya. Really disappointing. I want to see the actual aliens, not just their machines.

Rim of the World: I watched this a few years ago, so I don’t remember it very well, but I remember it being a good apocalyptic film with teenaged protagonists and satisfyingly horrible aliens.

Battle: Los Angeles: O.K. Kind of meh. Running around and getting killed. It’s a little bit better than Revolt, but the same type of thing.

The Fourth Kind: Supposedly, these are aliens, but they are obviously actually demons.

Stargate (the original movie, not the series): I will never not love Stargate. The nerdy linguist hero, the spaceship that fits down over the pyramid …bliss.

Beautiful Description from a Horrifying Book

On the White Sea, where the nights are white for half a year at a time, Bolshoi Solovetsky Island lifts its white churches from the water within the ring of its bouldered kremlin walls, rusty-red from the lichens which have struck root there — and the grayish-white Solovetsky seagulls hover continuously over the kremlin and screech.

“In all this brightness it is as if there were so sin present … It is as if nature here had not yet matured to the point of sin” is how the writer Prishvin perceived the Solovetsky Islands.

Without us these isles rose from the sea; without us they acquired a couple of hundred lakes replete with fish; without our help they were settled by capercaillies, hares, and deer, while foxes, wolves, and other beasts of prey never ever appeared there.

The glaciers came and went, the granite boulders littered the shores of the lakes; the lakes froze during the Solovetsky winter nights, the sea howled under the wind and was covered with an icy sludge and in places froze; the northern lights blazed across half the sky; and it grew bright once again and warm once again, and the fir trees grew and thickened, and the birds cackled and called, and the young deer trumpeted — and the planet circled through all world history, and kingdoms fell and rose, and here there were still no beasts of prey and no human being.

Half a hundred years after the Battle of Kulikovo Field and half a thousand years before the GPU, the monks Savvaty and German crossed the mother-of-pearl sea in a tiny boat and came to look on this island without a beast of prey as sacred. The Solovetsky Monastery began with them …

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, abridged version, pp. 181 – 182