Archive for January, 2013

Last Saturday, while traveling I stopped off at the Great Salt Plains in northwest Oklahoma, one of the weirdest landmarks in the state.

If you are traveling down State Highway 64 between the tiny towns of Jet and Cherokee, you’ll notice signs advertising crystal digging at the Great Salt Plains.

I decided to make a detour to check it out.

When you first approach the crystal digging area on the west end of the Great Salt Plains, it looks like white water, as if it is choppy from a very windy day. It wasn’t until I’d pulled up to the entrance to the crystal digging area that I realized that it was a dry lake bed.

From the picture, you can see that there is a designated driving area. This is also the designated digging area. Visitors are not allowed to stray past the fence line, for fear of depleting the slowly replenishing crystal bed.

The science behind what is going on here is pretty cool. Millions of years ago, this part of Oklahoma was repeatedly flooded with sea water and then cut off. The water evaporated away, leaving behind a thick layer of salt. Today, the brine formed by the salt, minerals in the soil, and water just below the surface, combine to create unique crystal types that are not known to be found naturally anywhere else in the world.

The hourglass design is so unique, that the Great Salt Plains crystals are the official crystal of Oklahoma.

State Crystal of Oklahoma

A few years ago, Alfalfa County (where Great Salt Plains is located) put out a series of videos in an attempt to attract tourism. Here is a useful, if cheesy, one on what you need to dig up the crystals.

Unfortunately, when I visited the site this past weekend, it was closed for the winter. If I ever make it that way again during the digging season (April 1 - October 15), I’ll be sure and post pictures of any crystals I find.

Mea Culpas

Posted: January 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

I promised to visit the January OPERA conference last weekend. I was planning on going Saturday, but I was forced on very short notice to travel to visit an ailing family member for what will probably be the last time. As a result, I wasn’t able to make it to the conference. I’ll do my best to cover the March one.

I am planning on attending the American United for Separation of Church and State annual legislative preview this weekend. I had previously reported that it would be at the State Capitol, assuming it would be the same venue as previous years. I shouldn’t have assumed. This year’s session will be at the Belle Isle Library. If you are free Saturday morning, you should come out.

Last Saturday wasn’t a total blogging loss. While driving through the prairie lands of far north Oklahoma, I made a short detour. I’ll have the post on it up tomorrow.

Spiro Mound People, Part 2

Posted: January 29, 2020 in Uncategorized
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At the beginning of the 12th century, Spiro was just one of the many towns growing up along the rivers and streams of the American Southeast. It possessed the foundations of an impressive ceremonial center, but so did other towns, some even in the general vicinity of Spiro, such as the Harlan site many miles to the north. However, the next 150 years would propel Spiro to fantastic heights, dominating eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, southwest Missouri, and heavily influencing the entire region east of the Mississippi River and beyond. Four things, all connected and intertwined, brought Spiro to greatness. These included internal stability, success in war, control of trade, and religious power. – La Vere, David, Looting of Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut’s Tomb

It is true that Spiro was not the only ceremonial center (meaning a place where hardly anything but religious ceremonies were supported) as the Harlan site was a very influential center. But, their reign ended around 1250 CE just as Spiro was gaining speed. In the early stages of settlement, Spiro was a bountiful place to live as the seasons were predictable and the land was easy to cultivate. There was a great diversity of subsistence available as well because of the region’s proximity to rivers and forests. Just like any rich place there was social stratification within Spiro which eventually led to a religious class that was specially selected to care for the ceremonies associated with the mound center. Priest-chiefs and nobles lived healthier lives than the commoners and even separated themselves via clothing. “Noblemen might wear large snake-like necklaces and cloaks made of feathers. Their earlobes were pierced, actually slit with a knife, and large round ear spools were inserted into the slits.” Spiroans also practiced skull deformation which is a process that is performed on babies when their skulls are still developing. One particular form of “cone head” deformation seems to be a form of identification for Spiroan traders, believes Frank Schambach. Meaning, if a neighboring trader met some cone headed folk, then they knew the items they were pushing were high quality. The commoners are not known to wear any form of jewelry but probably tattooed their bodies like so many American Indians in this period.

The mounds grew larger and larger as priest-chiefs died and were interred with their afterlife possessions. Just as in many cultures in Mesopotamia, priest-chiefs’ bodies were laid to rest in a house where their bodies would decay. After this process was complete, their bones were carried to a ceremonial mound and laid to rest there along with exquisite goods such as effigy pipes (towards the latter stages of Spiro as their wealth grew), pipes, pottery and copper plated items (such as the wooden mask with a sheet of copper laid over that was referenced in the first post of this series). One of the particular signals that archaeologists identify cultures by, are the pottery sherds. More specifically what was mixed in to the clay (temper) to increase the strength of the pottery.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

The pottery found in Spiro mounds were numerous and varied, obviously. Spiroans were extensive traders, for example pottery from the Pueblo (Southwest) people were found. This pottery (Pueblo) is identified in part by their extremely sandy clay. In contrast, pottery produced by Spiroans lacked this sandy texture and were tempered with grit, bone or grog (crushed pottery). In some rare instances the pottery was tempered with conch shell but this was an exotic item. This is one of the methods archaeologists use to discern which pottery is exotic and which is local. This helps measure the magnitude of their influence in the region as well as establish a heritage for Spiroan descendants (Caddos claim this heritage today). Conch shells with exquisite engravings were found as well. These were used as containers and, just as most items still preserved at Spiro, were most probably used ceremonially.

The last materials extracted from the mounds that I will talk about are the lithics (stone tools). Just as the materials used to create the pottery helped identify their origination, the same goes for tools. The raw materials used for tools are mined from quarries that can be easily traced. Most of the tools found here can be traced to sources found in the Southern Ozarks which is sometimes referred to as Boone chert (full disclosure: Daniel Boone is my great^5 grandfather so I’m partial to the name). Other sources of chert found here are from Flint Hills, Ouachita Mountains, Red River Basin and the Texas panhandle.

Just like the ceramic and shell containers, archaeologists uncovered an embarrassing amount of immaculately produced projectile points. Many of these points were rarely used and seemed to have one purpose which was to be interred with very important people.

Now, there can only be the end. It was a great and powerful run but the sources for Spiro’s boom eventually dried up.

Since at least the Middle Ages, there has been people claiming to have discovered ways to access unlimited supplies of free or essentially free energy. Inevitably, these people fail to make good on their claims, because perpetual motion and free energy machines violate the laws of physics…and those are laws that nobody gets to break. Almost universally, modern free energy proponents end up accusing the government or corporations of nefariously suppressing the ‘truth’.

You can find it in physics classrooms.

Today’s example of conspiracy theory wrapped up in either scam artistry or self-delusion is Paul Pantone of Stephens County.

Pantone is the creator of Global Environment Energy Technology (GEET), a device that he claims will convert any liquid to fuel. What it actually does use is probably gasoline vapors, but don’t tell the investors.

Pantone only recently moved to Oklahoma, after several years of incarceration. Pantone was arrested in Utah for securities fraud involving bilking investors out of more than $200,000. He tried to pull a One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and get off on an insanity plea. Only, it worked a little too well and he ended up in the psych ward for longer than he would have been in prison. When he got out, he moved here to start over.

Pantone is already back to his old tricks. For example, he was featured on an entirely too credulous story by KFOR back in November of 2012. They should have done an exposé on the dangerous scam artist who moved into the state. Instead, the opted for false balance. Boo bad journalism.

It really frustrates me when journalists play the false balance card instead of being consumer advocates. It is lazy, and it doesn’t do what journalism is supposed to do, which is give the public the best available information as accurately as possible. False balance as a policy leads to tragic outcomes, and it means a journalist never has to actually put their reputation on the line for a story they report on.

On the other hand, the Oklahoma Gazette covered Pantone in the Chicken Fried News section in their first issue of 2013, basically getting the story right by sourcing this article from the SPLC.

Pantone is just one of many crackpots claiming to have overturned modern physics. They are so common, there is a checklist for them to tick off before they should approach actual scientists with their ideas. Pantone will die in obscurity like the rest of them.

Every year, several members of the Oklahoma legislature introduce anti-evolution bills in the State House and Senate. The cast of characters who write these bills repeat every time. Usually Sally Kern has at least one, but there are always several others as well.

If previous years are any indication, these bills are entirely defeat-able if there is a little effort. When Brad Henry was governor, he would just veto any of these bills, but we don’t have that option available to us with Mary Fallin. Instead, we have to tenuously rely on the sanity of a portion of the Republicans in the House and Senate that are business-friendly. In recent year’s opponents of these bills have been able to convince House and Senate leadership to never bring these bills to a vote. By doing this, business-friendly Republicans can avoid having to choose between two important constituencies (the religious right and the Chamber of Commerce). Republican leadership has realized that being seen as a state that undermines quality science education is harmful to business, especially when we are trying to attract corporations like Google to set up more branches here.

A few of the bills have been picked up by other bloggers, already.

Okie Funk has outlined three of them:

Senate Bill 758: This one was introduced by Brecheen is a classic ‘strengths and weaknesses‘ bill. It is a common tactic by Creationists to get their view into the classroom. They’ve been using it since the 1980s, to no real avail. Brecheen did not write this legislation. It is almost exactly the same as a bill introduced in Missouri. If I remember correctly (and I may not), it is exactly the same as bills introduced into the House and Senate in previous years.

House Bill 1674: Introduced by Gus Blackwell. This is a revival of a failed bill previously introduced by Sally Kern. It specifically points to evolution as a controversial topic that teachers should be encouraged to teach the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ on. This bill passed the House last year, but died in a Senate committee.

House Bill 1456: Introduced by Mike Reynolds. This is bill is designed to prevent teachers from penalizing students that give answers on homework and tests, if their answers are based on a religious viewpoint. In other words, if a student decided to answer a question about the age of some sedimentary rocks being discussed in the lesson as being put down by God 6000 years ago, the teacher must accept that answer as equally valid in a science classroom as a student that actually puts down the right answer.

I’m sure there will be more bills coming to light over the next few weeks. The Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is going to have its annual legislative review on Saturday, February 2, at the State Capitol. I’ll be covering it, so there will be more information available after that for sure.

DoOM: Bung…

Posted: January 24, 2020 in conspiracy, DoOM

I’ve written before about the frequency in which Oklahoma has been making it onto public radio recently, and now we have another example. The January 11 episode of This American Life, titled Doppelgangers, featured a segment on the possibly apocryphal story of an Oklahoma pork plant that ships hog rectum, known in the industry as bung, to Asia to be used as imitation calamari.

Gross?

Bung is used in the United States as sausage casing. If you’ve eaten a high-quality large sausage, you’ve probably had bung. My favorite way to partake of bung is with summer sausage made from venison.

Inevitably, there was a taste test, but I won’t spoil the results for you. As always, this episode of TAL is worth listening to, so check it out.

Spiro Mound People, Part 1 (Society)

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Today’s post is by guest writer Chas Stewart. Chas is doing several of these posts on interesting archeological sites around Oklahoma. Chas is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a BA in Anthropology, so that makes him imminently more qualified to write on this subject than me. Enjoy!

I’ve spent enough time talking about why you should care about this site and its tragic history but I have yet to give great details about the actual people that lived in and around Spiro and those that were so inspired to build these mounds. This seems like a mistake on my part because I have highlighted the things found and the people that found them before bothering to give voice to the people that make all those things meaningful and important. Before we move on to the description of the early settlement of Spiro, we must first reckon with the name. It’s just a name that people started to call this grouping of mounds and since archaeologists are yet unable to identify a true identity for the people then we must call them Spiroans. It has no meaning beyond this, sadly.

From the beginning, then. The Spiro settlement process began around the 800-950 A.D. period (though there is some evidence of occupation before this time). This falls on the heels of what archeologists regard as the Woodland Period (1,000 BCE to 1000 CE) and the main evidence (ceramics, points, house structures) that archaeologists find around this area is attributed to Fourche Maline farmers (and archaeologists wrap this particular type of ceramics, points and house structures in to the Fourche Maline Focus). They inhabited an area around the Fourche Maline Creek and Poteau River and it is hypothesized by Dr. Don G. Wyckoff (a legendary Oklahoman figure) that before 800-950 C.E. the lands around Spiro were uninhabited but once Fourche Maline people had exhausted their lands to the south, they began to work their way in to the “fertile bottomlands…along the Arkansas, Canadian, Illinois and Grand Rivers (The Woodland Southeast: Anderson, David G.; Mainfort, Robert C., page 97). Or maybe not. This is where I have to slay my hero worship tendencies (sorry Dr. Wyckoff) and admit that it seems unlikely that these Fourche Maline farmers would make such a drastic change in environments. This Arkansas Valley (where Spiro Mounds lie) is described as a “mosaic…of upland dry, scrubby forests” and “tallgrass prairies” (The Woodland Southeast: Anderson, David G.; Mainfort, Robert C., page 98) while the land they had inhabited up until this point was a forest of oak, hickory and pine trees which are much more suitable for the slash and burn horticulture that the Fourche Maline practiced. There is a proto-Spiro candidate known as the Gober complex. The Gober complex is a collection of 8 sites that are located 70 kilometers from the Spiro Mound settlement in the Ozark Reservoir. The Gober complex is thought to have lasted from 300 CE to the later portion of the Woodland Period (right around the time that Spiro was settled) and unlike the Fourche Maline, the Gober complex people occupied an Osage Savannah floodplain which is nearly the exact same environment as Spiro. Unfortunately, accepting this view would mean that the people who settled Spiro may not have been Caddo but would instead be Tunica as Fourche Maline is widely regarded as the progenitor of the Caddo culture and Gober complex, Tunica. This seems radical to me right now so I think I will stop dreaming about the origins until there is a more defined and compelling case.

Okay, I know that was a bit murky and you may not be satisfied but I can’t lie to you just to make our knowledge of prehistory look clean and neat. We’ve established, as best we can, what was happening around Spiro at the end of the Woodland period and now we can safely move in to a clearer time frame, the Mississippian Period. This period extends from 800 CE to 1500 CE which envelopes all of the major action happening around Spiro.

And I will delve in to that deeper in the next post.