Saturday, December 06, 2014

ISEPP Lecture Series 2015: Kick Off

I use the term "kick off" advisedly as there was rumoredly a football game of some import that night, involving Oregon.  How nerdy would Portlanders prove to be, forsaking live witnessing a ball game to attend a lecture on the ball game crazies of this hemisphere:  the Maya?

Plenty nerdy it turned out.  We packed the place, and Dr. William Suturno "regaled us with stories" as my late wife Dawn would have said.  She loved this lecture series too, which has been going a long time thanks to Terry, with a little help from his friends (lots of co-sponsors).

This may well be our last season after a record-setting run.  I've benefited greatly in my education.  These blogs are richer for the write-ups I've been privileged to record.

Anyway, back to 800 AD or so, these Maya had a steady integer uptick like our Julian Date in Python, i.e. some enormous number of days going back to some mythic beginning, inside of which was their time and space.

The days were then demarcated with the periods of the astral bodies, including Mars and Venus, with no confusion about the latter being two bodies (it's not).  They were big fans of 20s for grouping groups, with 360 in there too.  The ceremonial overlay, like our weeks, persists to this day but without the planetary knowledge.

Mayan architecture involved carefully modeling buildings to match up with world lines, like where the sun got furthest north and south.  Humans have perennially spontaneously organized around such phenomena and we know birds use a lot of the same information.  Brains have to earn their keep somehow as they're expensive in terms of blood and oxygen.

Humans lug around big ones and have proved superb at mapping the cosmos with it, starting with seasonal periodicity and the cycles on which life quite literally depends, whether you're agriculturally based or hunting and gathering (or both or neither).

The Mayan civilization was highly successful and when a system winds down we need to avoid that reflex of thinking that's always some dire "collapse" as if we all wept when DOS 3.1 was retired, or Windows of the same version.  These were but passing chapters in our upgrade to tomorrow, the Omega God of the Jesuit branch headed by Teilhard de Chardin.

One might spin it this way too:  "you've got to admit it's getting better" (Beatles).  People outgrow themselves and move on, and it's not a big disaster.

He had some digs at Jared Diamond's Why Civilizations Choose Collapse (not the real title) for what he considered its fanciful spinning of just so stories in some cases.  Moralizing should not shove science in the back seat, even if one agrees with the basic message (that mismanagement will have consequences).

I always enjoy it when ISEPP speakers allude to or speak to the work of others who've been through here, as chances are I've got some personal experience to dredge up and rethink.

The rats are what got 'em on Easter Island says Saturno.  They eat all the seeds.  It wasn't so much willful mismanagement as an outbreak of infection.  Civilizations die, get over it (doesn't mean they were suicidal or pathological).  Like, so we don't get to play the game with the big heads anymore, drat those rats, lets sail away (Enya).

As an archeologist with a large time horizon, one can see feeling like that.  "Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky" (Kansas).

The highlight of Saturno's talk was the unearthing of a new find and the reconstructed paintings therein (painstaking work for sure), and what they tell us about this Mayan heyday.

The exact nature of the institution is unknown at this point, but clearly lots of calendar stuff, the same as what went in the books (they had paper from way back), was written on the wall over and over, like a whiteboard.

The sense of getting access to a retired hard drive or IT room was palpable.  This is where the torch got passed somehow, but will we ever know much more?

 :: william saturno, archeologist ::