Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » August 2005 » Thought for the Day:

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08/09/2005: Thought for the Day:

It's rare that an archaeologist can walk into a newly-discovered ancient building and start nosing around. Very rare. OK, it never happens. You see, debris starts accumulating in a building long before it's done being built. It was only through the constant efforts of the custodial staff that the priests of Indy's temple weren't kicking their way through mounds of dirt, dried leaves, and soda cans on their way to human sacrifices a thousand years ago. When the janitors quit things went to pot quickly--today the typical Mesoamerican temple lies buried under the accumulated junk of centuries. Nobody will be running down those halls until somebody, preferably a volunteer or student working for free who still thinks archaeology is romantic, has shoveled out all that dirt. With a soup spoon. And sifted it for busted crockery and chicken bones.

That dirt isn't just in your clothes, hair, shoes, and fingernails; it's also in any machines the ancients hoped would kill you. Here's this week's home experiment: Bury your car at the beach. Leave it there a month, then dig it up and try to start it. Didn't work, did it? Neither would the ancients' machines.

If there were any. That's the thing, you see. The main reason archaeologists have nothing to fear from booby traps isn't that the machines have been buried a couple millennia. It's that the ancients just didn't have cool machines like automatic door closers or trip-wired blowguns or enormous ball returns. Archaeologists know this both because they have never found the ball returns but also because the ancients didn't brag about them. If Pharaoh Amunhotep XXIII had something like that, or thought of it, or had somebody on the Cool Weapons staff who thought of it, there would be stellae (upright inscribed stones) trumpeting his total coolness and showing giant bowling balls knocking down Midianites like squishy duckpins.
--Straight Dope Science Advisory Board guest contributor "dropzone" [on the question, "Do archeologists find booby trapped temples, etc., a la the Indiana Jones movies?"]

Len on 08.09.05 @ 05:13 AM CST

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