[extropy-chat] Book Review: _Archaeological Anomalies, Small artifacts_

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Tue Jul 13 21:54:52 UTC 2004

Source: Fortean Times 183, June 2004, p. 57

_Archaeological Anomalies, Small artifacts_, compiled by William Corliss

The Sourcebook Project, 2003 (PO Box 107, Glen Arm, MD 21057, USA)

Hb, 319pp, illus, refs, notes, 3 inds, $24.95, ISBN 0915554461

Challenging the mainstream

Mayan nano-structured materials, iron pots in coal, domesticated giant
sloths, baboons with carving knives...  Corliss comes up with another of his
incomparable compendia

For more than 30 years, Bill Corliss has been publishing his incomparable
compendia of anomalies covering subjects right across the scientific
spectrum.  Bob Rickard (who founded FT [Fortean Times] about the time
Corliss started work) calls him a hero of forteana.

This is the 21st volume in Corliss's monumental "Catalog of Anomalies",
although he has published a grand total of 39 books under the aegis of the
*Sourcebook Project*--and this represents only about half his database.
Moreover, as he admits, "only a handful of English-language journals have
received my serious attention", so the project could expand almost
indefinitely.  "And for every anomaly that can be explained away," he muses,
"a trip to the library will quickly replace it with ten more from impeccable

Each anomaly is rated in terms of the quality of the evidence and the
seriousness of the challenge posed to mainstream paradigms.  Anomalies that
score highly on both counts are very rare, but are the most significant
since they have the potential to force paradigm shifts.  Crucially, all
the examined sources are listed, such lists forming a large proportion
of each catalogue.  This gives researchers a solid base for further
investigation.  For ease of reference, each volume has indexes of authors,
sources, subjects, times and places--although since archeological phenomena
are not of the "event" type, the last two types of index are not included
in the book currently under review.

This book covers high tech and geological artefacts as well as those made
of bone, stone, metal, pottery, wood and cloth.  Among much else, there are
absorbing sections on exotic mummies, cannibal signatures, trepanning,
dentistry, musical instruments, toys, human-like footprints in ancient rock,
and ancient chemistry.  It is a companion volume to two earlier tomes--
_Ancient Infrastructure: Remarkable Roads, Mines, Walls, Mounds, Stone
Circles_ (1999); and _Ancient Structures: Remarkable Pyramids, Forts,
Towers, Stone Chambers, Cities, Complexes_ (2001).

Artefacts can be anomalous in many different ways--in age (such as the
skillfully crafted bone harpoon from West Africa, dated to 80,000 years);
location (e.g. purported Roman amphorae off the Brazilian coast); purpose
(African stone crescents); size (microliths); scale (a vast stone workshop
in Belize); composition (purported ancient Chinese buckle made of
aluminium); affiliation (ancient pottery from Ecuador resembling Jomon
pottery from Japan); association (giant sloth domestication suggested by
bones in an Argentinian cave); sophistication (the Baghdad battery, no
later than 3rd century AD); or curiosity value (large caches of stone

For anyone with even a slight interest in archaeology, this book is
packed with fascinating finds, inviting speculation to go into overdrive;
it's hard to resist recounting several of them at length; instead, I will
mention just a couple that caught my attention.

"Maya blue", pigment used by the Maya in murals and ceramics, is more
brilliant than blue pigment from the indigo plant found elsewhere in the
world, and maintains its vivid brilliance even after 15 centuries.  Maya
paint chemists managed to combine indigo molecules with needles of
polygorskite clay to create a chemical cage-like structure that protected
the enclosed indigo particles from fading.  Then, by adding nano-particles
of metal, they made the paint more brilliant.  As the 1996 report in
*Science* put it: "The combination of an intercalcated clay forming a
super lattice and the metallic and oxide nanoparticles supported on an
amorphous substrate makes the ancient Maya blue look like nano-structured

While working at an electrical plant in Thomas, Oklahoma, in 1912,
FJ Kenwood broke a large chunk of coal with a sledgehammer.  An iron pot
fell from the centre, leaving an impression in the coal.  This was
witnessed by another employee.  The coal was traced to Wilburton,
Oklahoma, and was estimated to be 312 million years old.  The pot was
once in the private museum of R Nordling, but was lost after his death.
Only a photograph remains.

I have just one criticism of the *Sourcebook Project*: Bill Corliss has
always published in the same typeface (American typewriter?).  The
catalogues would be more user-friendly if different faces and point
sizes were used to signpost anomaly descriptions, verbatim quotations,
assessments, bibliographies and indexes.

Paul Sieveking

Fortean Times Verdict
The mother lode from a true hero of forteana -9-

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
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