S.M. Stirling Responds to my Review of “Island in the Sea of Time.”

American science fiction author S. M. Stirling.

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This week there is a bit of new territory for me.  I have had the great honor of having S.M. Stirling respond to the harsh critique I gave of his novel over on the comments page of that article.  Since, however, that article was written over a month ago, and it took him a while to become aware of it (fair enough!  He probably has better things to do), I thought it unlikely that my followers would be aware that he responded.  Since I wanted to give the man equal and fair airtime, I thought I’d just post the comments en mass this week, and so bring it to the full attention of my readers. 

I also want to point out that while he has been forced to write his comments on the fly, I more often had time to consider mine, and so that should be taken into account when you are judging each.  That having been said, I’ve done no editing (other than correcting some of both of our spellings), and so let the debate continue.  Please add comments as you wish.

S.M. Stirling says:

September 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

“and is otherwise fairly derivative of Eric Flint‘s 1632 series.”

A simple examination of the publication dates at the front of the book would have revealed that “Island in theSeaofTime” was published before Eric’s book. And Eric was unaware of “Island” when he wrote 1632; I asked him. Hence, it would be rather difficult for “Island” to be “derivative” of 1632… unless I employed time travel. The similarities are simple serendipity.

“Why they didn’t go after maize from the central Americas, a much less dangerous crossing than the North Atlantic, is not discussed, but since they needed animals as well, we can forgive that.”

– because the varieties of maize available in Central America in 1250 BCE were tropical-adapted and wouldn’t grow in Nantucket. This is why maize agriculture didn’t reach the New England area until about 1000 CE. It took that long for varieties adapted to the northern temperate zone to be developed.

Furthermore, in terms of large sailing ships the wind and current patterns make it easier and faster to cross the Atlantic than to sail from Nantucket to Mexico and back — as is pointed out in the book. Beating down the East Coast means sailing into the teeth of the prevailing winds and against the main coastal current. From New England to Europe you just run your easting down with the prevailing winds and then drop south and do the reverse to get back. This is also pointed out in the book. I looked it up.

Continued on next rock:

Thomas Evans says:

September 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm

First off, thank you for taking the time to respond to my review. I’m very happy you chose to do so.

Secondly, I stand completely corrected in my comments about it being derivative of the 1632 series. One of the problems of audiobooks is that it becomes difficult to check some of the facts, though in the case of publication dates, it would have been very easy for me to do so.

As for the spread of maize agriculture, there is a fairly large debate about the exact dates, methods and routes of transport. As for the maritime trade routes taken, I remain unconvinced that any long distance route across the North Atlantic is safer than a coastal route where one could shelter in the lee of the land and restock from the shorelines. Even so, I still think the presence of Cattle in Europe is argument enough for me to accept their word for it.

Didn’t see any continuation, but I’ll be happy to discuss it.

I am always glad to be proven wrong. And, by the way, I did really like Marian Alston as a character. My comments in the post may indicate otherwise, but she definitely stole the show.

Thomas Evans says:

September 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

PS, I am particularly interested in why you chose to ignore the more recent interpretations of Prehistory, however.

S.M. Stirling says:

September 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

As for the spread of maize agriculture, there is a fairly large debate about the exact dates, methods and routes of transport.

– I’m aware of that, but there is absolutely no dispute that Central American varieties of maize in 1250 BCE would simply not grow in New England. The growing season and the daylight patterns are just wrong. Conversely, NW European varieties of wheat and barley -would- grow there; that was proved by experiment in the 17th century. They’re at about the same degree North, so the seasons are similar and the rainfall and temperature regimes roughly similar.

>As for the maritime trade routes taken, I remain unconvinced that any long distance route across the North Atlantic is safer than a coastal route where one could shelter in the lee of the land and restock from the shorelines.

– believe me, when you’re sailing a big windjammer, or even a substantial schooner, the last thing on God’s green earth you want to do is hug the shore. Getting caught on a lee shore in a storm is the easiest way to get wrecked. The way to survive a storm is to get out in the deep water and ride it out where you have room to run with minimal rig and not run into anything solid.

Plus something the size of the Eagle can comfortably stay at sea for months at a time. And sailing time has surprisingly little to do with distance and everything to do with the currents and, even more, the prevailing winds. Which are very consistent.

The basic discovery which made the post-Renaissance expansion of Europe possible was the discovery of the deep-ocean patterns of wind and current, which are as I described. It wasn’t the size of the ships — ones as small as 50 tons crossed the Atlantic routinely in the sail era, and in the 1890′s two Norwegians -rowed- from New York to Le Havre in an 18-foot dory.

As I said, I looked this stuff up and consulted experts.

S.M. Stirling says:

September 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Sorry for the amazing number of spelling mistakes in the previous post; I’m using a small laptop.

To continue with the archaeological stuff:

“It is that he really does use that one line to ignore the past THIRTY YEARS of discoveries and interpretations in archaeology”

– ignore discoveries, no.

I wasn’t in the least surprised by the Amesbury Archer and other uses of modern techniques using chemical and isotope ratio analysis of remains which show a high degree of mobility in the period. (Among other things, they show that most of the earliest strata of Beaker graves involve males from at least 100 miles from the site of burial, IIRC the article in British Archaeology). People have always moved around a lot. I’ve followed developments in forensic archaeology closely and have several advisors who are professional archaeologists.

Ignore interpretations, yes.

I think the anti-migrationist and anti-diffusionist perspective which Renfrew embodies (and which lead to his…. to put it charitably startling… incursions into Indo-European historical linguistics) and which is the received orthodoxy among academic archaeologists in the English-speaking world simply isn’t supported by the evidence.

It posits that when no literate observers are around, the mechanisms of historical change which operate when we -do- have records suddenly stop functioning and entirely different ones take their place.

Eg., for first-person accounts of how things worked see Caesar’s description of the attempted mass-migration of the Helvettii, or the Greek accounts of the founding of the Galatian kingdom in Anatolia after a horde of Celts poured south, sacked Delphi, and ended up in what’s now Turkey.

In other words, this anti-migrationist school projects its methodological imperatives and political preferences onto the helpless past in areas where there are no written records to contradict it.

If a migration can come out of left field, and completely reformat the cultural “software” of language, social organization, religion and so forth -without- leaving much evidence in the stones-and-bones record (though forensic archaeology is helping with that nowadays), then the stones-and-bones crowd would have to admit that their ability to reconstruct actual culture is severely limited. Without the written record, who’d be able to prove that a bunch of Central European Celts had founded a kingdom in central Anatolia?

Hence they try to rule out migration. This also has the happy effect of enabling them to downgrade processes such as war, and institutions such as ethnicity, which makes them more ideologically comfortable. I await with baited breath some enthusiastic young archaeologist “proving” that the first human beings in Britain weren’t anything so uncouth and un-politically-correct as immigrants, but were instead purely indigenous reindeer, symbolically transformed by the reception of a cult-package.

Reconstructive linguistics is actually more helpful, because it can to a limited degree get at what actually went on inside people’s heads. But for the most part, in all honesty we should admit that where no written records exist, most of the cultural information has vanished into the pit of entropy and there’s no way to know. What the people then were like in detail is unrecoverable, and fiction need only be reasonably plausible. It’s a non-falsifiable hypothesis.

In other words, I’m fully en courant with the theory, I just don’t think it’s even remotely credible, and I’m not forced by the professional necessity of appearing respectable to pretend that I do.

“let’s just say that he stereotypes prehistoric peoples as having very simplistic forms of social interaction. The Sun People are warriors with very few cultural subtleties. The Moon People”

– I find this puzzling. Most of the interaction with the Sun People is military, so you see the warrior aspect of their society. Enough is shown of the rest to indicate that they have a complex culture. Ditto the Moon People, whose material culture is fairly simple but who have an enormously complex system of astrological obsessions backed up by mathematics more advanced than, say,Babylonia. There’s no evidence that anything of the sort existed then-and-there, of course. But then again, there’s no evidence that it didn’t.

>but is in the process of being invaded by the extremely violent and warlike Aryans… oh sorry… Iraiina (say it out loud and see what I mean), or Sun People.

cf. “Iran” and “Erin”.

The evidence in the western part of the Indo-European range isn’t as conclusive as in the eastern, but it’s perfectly credible to use the hypothesis that the original PIE speakers used some variant of this term as a general ethnoynm to mean “our people” or “people who follow our customs and speak our language.” The ones in the eastern half of the language range certainly did, and in 1250 BCE the various IE daughter languages were closer to the original PIE than the Romance languages of today are to Latin. The linguistic evidence strongly indicates that PIE was a single language with only minor dialect differences as recently as 4000-3000 BCE, probably starting to split up around 3500 BCE. In 1250 BCE, it’s very likely that you could have walked from the English Channel to the Punjab without hitting a single clear linguistic boundary, though by the time you’d traveled say 500 miles or so you’d no longer be clearly intelligible to the locals.

(The Anatolian IE languages partially excepted, but that’s a question too complex to go into here. I recommend Mallory’s “Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture” and Anthony’s “The Horse, the Wheel and Language”.)

The Iraiina in the book are speakers of a hypothetical bridge-dialect between Pre-Proto-Germanic (this is still 700 years before the first Germanic sound-shifts) and Proto-Celtic.

And as for them being warlike and violent, nearly everyone in the remote past was extremely violent by the standards of the contemporary West. Forensic archaeology indicates, if you examine the remains, that in pre-State level societies for adults at least 1/3 of males and a smaller but still significant proportion of females commonly died by violence. That’s almost certainly an underestimate, as soft tissue damage doesn’t show up on the bones — we have only an occasional freak example like the bog people (strangled, drowned, blunt injury trauma), or Otzi the Iceman (shot in the back with an arrow, defense wounds on the arms).

“The Tartasseans have all the social graces of stereotyped Used Car Salesmen (an analogy thatStirlinguses repeatedly)”

– the Tartessians shown are -merchants-. Add in that we don’t even know where Tartessos -was-, much less what the people were like. That’s a blank slate.

When you meet people from a strange culture, you don’t see the whole culture; you just see the individuals and aspects presented to you.

In Kenya, where I spent a lot of my childhood, many of the locals had -very- odd ideas about Westerners… due to the fact that all they’d seen were British colonial officials, missionaries, soldiers and quasi-aristocratic settlers, and then tourists. Which wasn’t an unbiased sample.

If the only person from Culture X you see is someone trying to sell you stuff, or beat you up and rob you, you’re going to get a certain impression.

S.M. Stirling says:

September 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm 

On to theNantucketstuff:

>Oh, yes, and then there was the use of individually focused Japanese martial arts in mass unit combat

– ummm… where? Alston, who is a -very- experienced martial artist, uses her skills in -individual- combat (so does Walker). I’m a martial artist myself (20 years, until forced out by injuries) and I’ve fought in life-or-death situations.

When it comes to massed combat, the Islanders use superior weaponry (car-spring crossbows, steel swords, later firearms), better armor, and mass discipline to overcome the superior individual skills and ferocity of their local opponents. Their weapons and tactics are based on historical examples, mostly Classical and Early Modern. They’re drawing on thousands of years of experience their opponents just don’t have.

This is repeatedly pointed out. Discipline and unit articulation are massive force multipliers, and the crew and cadets aboard the Eagle give the Islanders an experienced cadre, as do the high proportion of veterans on Nantucket.

So is good steel body armor and other technological tricks. A pre-firearms battle isn’t a series of duels, at least not above the armed-mob level. The locals mostly -are- at the armed-mob level, half-naked farmers with clubs, and it shows. Their professional warriors are a very small percentage of their total; economies like that can’t support many specialists.

>Think about it: how many car mechanics could figure out how to make a steam engine if the raw material for pressure seals was not already available.

– in 1998, -every single machine, animal, seed, building and skill- described in the books were -actually in place on Nantucket-. (Or on the Eagle, which is based nearby and often sails close to the island.)

Eg., the small machine shop whose operator repaired and made steam engines as a hobby is a direct Tuckerization. So is the machine shop on the Eagle and the range of skills among its cadet-crew.

So are the farmers, the weavers, the boat builders, and so forth.

I’ve visitedNantucketrepeatedly and I interviewed most of the people concerned and directly observed their operations, and questioned them as to what they could and couldn’t do. Yes, you can use the small machine shop to do everything described. Building the steamboat seen towards the end of the book? Piece of cake.

>In contrast, Nantucket has none of those things. It has a small population (the event occurred out of tourist season), but not one whose recent history would suggest the ability to come together quickly for the kind of decision making that the Event would have required.

– it has a small, homogenous population which is used to governing itself through the Town Meeting, one in which everyone knows everyone and many people are related. This is, I would say, as suited as anywhere in modern North America for quickly doing the necessary.

The date was selected to keep most of the ‘coofs’/Summer People off the island. They would have been a problem, and not only their numbers.

>This brings us to our second ramification induced failure in disbelief: I just can’t see a Modern Western town cut off from most modern amenities that didn’t lose at least a third of the population within the first year.

– nope. It would be either be total collapse and nearly everyone dying, or they’d mostly pull through, allowing for the death of people dependent on modern medicine and a rash of suicides of various sorts. There’s really no way you can have a box marked “other”, if you think about it. Social cohesion could not stand casualties on that scale, and if cohesion was lost virtually nobody could survive.

>The contestants nearly didn’t survive the first night. You’re telling me a whole town could get by without losing people in the thousands?

– the contestants didn’t have a large stock of 18th-century houses and other infrastructure; tools, fireplaces, stored fuel. Or fishing boats, or a broad range of relevant skills, and so forth.

>I suspect it would lead to a bit of a “do it my own way” mentality that just wouldn’t work well in a society that has to totally recreate their entire social and economic system within a matter of days. How do you herd 9000 cats?

– transport them in time, cut them off from all they’re familiar with, and threaten them with death?

Everyone goes to the Town Meeting and hears the report on the food situation, for example. This is not rocket science. They know they’re desperately short of food and must take emergency measures. Intense social pressure keeps everyone in line.

Admittedly they’re fortunate in their leadership — note that most of the Selectmen are out of the picture for one reason or another, so Cofflin, Alston and a few others end up taking over by default.

Americans actually have a pretty good record of pulling together spontaneously when emergencies happen, particularly settled communities where most people know each other, which is the case on Nantucket.

Nine thousand random urbanites or suburbanites might collapse, but that’s not the situation at hand.

Thomas Evans says:

September 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Don’t ever worry about spelling mistakes here when responding to a post, it is always and totally forgiven. Most of my comments are written on an iPod, so I am no one to complain.

Sadly, I’m just about to check off line for the weekend, so I don’t have time at the moment to give the kind of considered response that you deserve. Having said that, I will be back online on Monday, and hope that I will have a chance to respond in detail.

In brief, however, I will note that the “Celtic” migration of the Iron Age does generally appear to be a generalized response to changes in the flow of prestige goods from the Mediterranean (see Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts. Penguin Books 1999 for a good summary. You may also be interested in Patrice Brun’s seminal work Princes et Princesses de la Celtique. Editions Errance, 1987. This does post date your book by about 250 years, but gives a marvelous examination of the development of Late Bronze Age society). Furthermore, while Linguistic evidence is always interesting, the actually datable material culture fromBritainof the period does not in anyway suggest a large migration occurring.

Reply

Steve Stirling says:

September 17, 2011 at 3:21 am

“Furthermore, while Linguistic evidence is always interesting, the actually datable material culture from Britain of the period does not in any way suggest a large migration occurring.”

>It doesn’t rule it out, either, and there are historically attested migrations which did -not- leave much evidence in the archaeological record. The Galatian one I mentioned is an example, or the migration of the Maa-speakers into the Rift Valley area, or any number of others. Hence the record material culture says pretty well -nothing- to the issue.

This is an instance where ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

And historically there are -no- attested instances of pre-literate and pre-State cultures undergoing linguistic transitions without moving substantial numbers of people. The only way to transport the language is inside the head of someone who speaks it.

Changing an established language among a numerous peasant population is -extremely hard-. Small minorities of immigrant conquerors or other high-status groups are almost invariably linguistically assimilated by the linguistic environment into which they intrude.

Renfrew’s proposed solutions like “elite dominance” don’t work the way he seems to think it does, in other words.

Note that we do not speak Norman French, despite an extremely radical change in elites in post-1066 England, accompanied by the massive cultural prestige of French in the ensuing centuries. We speak English, and this took only a few centuries after the Conquest. The French do not speak Frankish.

More generally, since migrations are common in the historical record (I can give you dozens of examples from Africain the last few centuries, for instance) on the general scientific principle of uniform causality we should assume that they were frequent in periods in which we have no written records. Hence if there’s a phenomenon usually associated with a migration (like the spread of a language) we should assume, absent very strong proof to the contrary, that there -was- a migration.

Ruling them out for lack of stones-and-bones evidence is pure prejudice; it’s like the classic story of the drunk who was found looking for his car keys under the street-light. That wasn’t where he’d dropped them, but he needed the light to look…

Reply

Thomas Evans says:

September 19, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Good morning, I’m about to start responding to the above comments, but before I do, I thought I’d suggest it might suit you if I were to post the entirety of this debate as a fresh post come this Thursday.

The review itself is a few weeks old, and so many of my readers are not likely to have seen your comments. That being the case, I thought it was the least I could do to offer you fair air time. I would combine the discussions up to that point onto a single post, noting who is speaking, and only edit to remove spelling mistakes (unless you had a desire to edit anything present thus far).

Regardless, I will keep posting on the comments section here until the section is replaced.

All the best,
Tom

Reply

Thomas Evans says:

September 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm

First: To any readers that have just joined this discussion, I want to point out that I have just paused the discussion for a whole weekend while I was otherwise engaged. To that end, I have had two days to think about my responses (albeit not continuously) while Mr. Stirling was forced to write more or less off the cuff up to this point. This is, of course, the nature of a home field advantage in blog posting. Aaanyways…

In order to address Mr. Stirling’s comments appropriately, and to avoid any confusion of points by late-comers to this conversation, I’m going to break my responses into two separate discussions:

1: Discussion of my review of your novel.
2: Discussion of different interpretations of European Prehistory.

To that end:

My review of Island in the Sea of Time

The central issue I had with your novel revolves around its inability to allow me to sustain disbelief. Once a reader is pulled out of a story, it becomes more and more difficult for them to return back into it. What is more, it engaged the hypercritical mind, and as such causes the reader to over analyze and doubt other assumptions. To that end, once my suspension of disbelief was broken once, it became easier and easier to suspend it again.

For me, while my ability to suspend disbelief was strained by the ease with which the Nantucket society was totally re-engineered (which I will address later), the breaking point came during Ian Arnstein’s description of the British Bronze Age.

It was not that you chose to use the Invasionist model of the Bronze Age for your novel (it’s a novel, do what you want). It was the way the professional historian in your novel totally ignored thirty years worth of archaeological interpretations when describing it, and then just so happened to be right.

Look at it like this: I can believe that the entire Island of Nantucket can be transported back to the Bronze Age, I can believe that the changes in sea-level wouldn’t have had cataclysmic effects on the island (and/or neighboring shoreline). What I can’t believe is that a Professional historian who knows enough about the period to speak with the authority he does throughout the book would lump the varying theories that have developed over the past thirty years as a single thing and them dismiss them out hand. That is too incredible to believe.

After all, these are interpretations that have dominated British prehistory for a long time, and formed the bulk of professional discussions. You may see Renfrew and all the ideas that followed him over thirty years as simply anti-invasionist theories (a term which is, ironically, very reminiscent of Collin’s keynote speech at the 1987 Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting where he referred to all the numerous theories that post-dated his own as Anti-processualist), but professionals see them as Processualist, post-processualist, neo-processualist, Marxist, Deconstructionist, symbolic archaeologist, post-feminist, etc. etc. etc. To that end, to have a professional student of the past discuss these ideas as one and then dismiss it out of hand is simply unbelievable to me.

Now, I understand that as an author you just don’t have the time to have your character posit every major theory that is out there (or you could, but that would be really boring), but the way you handled it suggested to the reader that you just didn’t know what you were talking about. You accepted a theory that was forty-years out of date (which by itself is fine), through up a theory that is thirty years out of date as a straw man, and then ignored every other interpretation that followed.

The fact that in this blog, you’ve shown a more substantial understanding of the material is great, but when I review a book, all I have to go on is what is in the text. In this case, what you presented just didn’t cut it for me. It broke my ability to sustain disbelief.

What then synched this break of trust was that Arnstein’s character went on to be proven right. Again, I have no problem with the fact that you chose to use an invasionist hypothesis as your model for representing the Bronze Age. What bothers me is the somewhat clunky way you went about presenting it. Had you put up someone like Richard Bradley (whose work I really like), up as the straw man, I would have been on-board. Better yet, had you reversed Arnstein’s argument, having him say something like: “Well, the old model suggests that a series of invasions are occurring now, but most people really think that there is an elaborate exchange system in place…” then had them shown up and found the invasion in process (as occurs in the book), I would have thought you a genius.

Unfortunately, the way you presented it just pushed my ability to sustain disbelief beyond its limits.

“I find this puzzling. Most of the interaction with the Sun People is military, so you see the warrior aspect of their society. Enough is shown of the rest to indicate that they have a complex culture. Ditto the Moon People, whose material culture is fairly simple but who have an enormously complex system of astrological obsessions backed up by mathematics more advanced than, say,Babylonia. There’s no evidence that anything of the sort existed then-and-there, of course. But then again, there’s no evidence that it didn’t.”

AND

““The Tartasseans have all the social graces of stereotyped Used Car Salesmen (an analogy that Stirlinguses repeatedly)”

– the Tartessians shown are -merchants-. Add in that we don’t even know where Tartessos -was-, much less what the people were like. That’s a blank slate.
When you meet people from a strange culture, you don’t see the whole culture; you just see the individuals and aspects presented to you.

In Kenya, where I spent a lot of my childhood, many of the locals had -very- odd ideas about Westerners… due to the fact that all they’d seen were British colonial officials, missionaries, soldiers and quasi-aristocratic settlers, and then tourists. Which wasn’t an unbiased sample.”

In fact, you answer my issue in the first, with your comments in the second. If it is true that one often forms one’s opinion about whole cultures based on the limited sample of those that one meets (a position I whole heartedly agree with), then that is even more the case when said culture is presented in a novel. The only evidence one has to formulate what a made up culture is like is what is presented in the text.

In your book, we primarily see the Sun People throughWalker’s eyes. Since he is living among them, he has a fairly substantial interaction with them, but all we see are his interactions with the warrior class. These are very stereotypical of a modern view of a warrior society, and there is nothing in the text (that springs to mind), that suggests any complexities beyond that. The very fact that he rises to power so quickly and is rapidly adopted by the high Chief supports this conclusion.

I fully understand that you might have a much more detailed and complex model for society in your head, but that is not what was on the page, or at least, that was not what stood out for me in the audio book.

The same can be said of my “reading” of the Moon People and the Tartesseans. All we have as readers to base our imagined cultures upon is what you give us. I would have liked it had you given us a hint of complexity beyond that.

Now to be fair, you do suggest some element of this when you showed the Tartesseans speaking among themselves. Additionally, it is possible that my opinion of the Moon people was jaded by the way in which the narrator read the parts. Hard to tell. You did give both of these cultures a very advanced cosmology, but unfortunately, this resulted only is further straining my disbelief: we meet three Bronze Age cultures and two of them have the understanding that the world is round. This suggests that the knowledge of a round earth was common in the Ancient world, or that the crew of the Eagle was phenomenally lucky in the peoples they found. It also results in further illustrating the primitive nature of the Sun People by contrast.

As for the military conflicts and use of mass troops etc. Yes, indeed, you did note in the text that it was discipline and technology that won the day, and you do state that the troops were using mass unit combat methods. Unfortunately, the only training scene that stood out for me in the text was when Alcroft was leading a training exercise on the beach one morning. This lead me to belief what you were saying was that the Nantucketers were being trained using the martial arts techniques possessed by Captain Alcroft, and then applying them to mass unit combat. To me, this didn’t add up. In this discussion you have shown you clearly know the difference between the two styles of combat, but that is not stood out to me in the text of the novel. It does, however, raise the question, where did they learn to use hand to hand weapons in a mass unit formation?

Additionally, you note that it was the discipline and technology that gave the Nantucketers their advantage. I can see that argument, but the time the Nantucketers had to train was relatively short (a few months) during which they were also spending a good deal of time doing other things (farming, retrofitting technology, etc. etc.). In contrast the warriors that they met (both Olmec and Sun People), had warriors who had trained in combat from an early age. Indeed, you specifically note that the Olmecs did have a specialized warrior class set to guard their Priest-King. To that end, I’m not arguing that the Olmecs or Sun People would have won, but rather they would have had a harder time of it.

On to Nantucket, which will have to be briefer than it deserves since I must dash off to a meeting.

Suffice it to say that while all of the resources and knowledge may have existed on theIslandin 1998, I still find it stretches my ability to sustain my disbelief that everyone would have thought of the problems, not to mention the solutions as quickly as you presented it in the novel and with as little loss of life.

I agree, Americans do have a great ability to group together when facing imminent threats, and perhaps the first few days, or even weeks after the Change they would have done so, but I can’t believe they would have held it together. What is more, I don’t think they would have come up with a list of problems and solutions that actually met the needs and reality so quickly. I’ve dealt with too many government and town halls to think that is the case. Once the threat was perceived as real, I can buy it (thus in Flint’s 1632 series, they are threatened right off the bat by a real outside threat that needs immediate attention, this forms the impetus), but I think you overestimate how quickly people would react and accept the cold hard facts once presented in the scenario you put forth.

I suppose this just boils down to my having less faith in my fellow human beings than you do.

Thomas Evans says:

September 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

My responses to the interpretations of the past will have to wait, I’m afraid… business calls, but I will post them I promise.

Reply

Steve Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 3:27 am

“but professionals see them as Processualist, post-processualist, neo-processualist, Marxist, Deconstructionist, symbolic archaeologist, post-feminist, etc. etc. etc. To that end, to have a professional student of the past discuss these ideas as one and then dismiss it out of hand is simply unbelievable to me.”

– Arnstein is a -classicist-. With regard to the study of the European Bronze Age, he’s in the same position as me; that is, he reads a lot of this stuff, but has no professional investment in it. In fact, (although he’s a Tuckerization of Harry Turtledove for the most part) he’s more or less standing in for me.

And my position is that this stuff is not only for the most part laughable, but so laughable that it’s not worth critiquing in any detail. It’s historical Lysenkoism.

(For Harry’s position, try his story: “Deconstruction Gang”.)

Thomas Evans says:

September 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I am indeed saddened to hear that is your opinion as that belittles a generation of work conducted by hundreds of academics and thousands of field researchers. This is not because they all necessarily agree with any one theory, but rather because they are part of a process of discovery which has resulted in a predominant set theory and discourse that you dismiss out of hand.

Perhaps when I get a chance to discuss some of the more modern approaches to the Bronze Age you will gain a touch of respect for the more modern theories. After all they didn’t just evolve out of nothing, nor did they develop to explain a lack of material. Rather they have grown to explain the seriation in the material culture that has been discovered.

Reply

S.M. Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 7:28 pm

“I am indeed saddened to hear that is your opinion as that belittles a generation of work conducted by hundreds of academics and thousands of field researchers”

– if that makes you sad, don’t get me started on developments in literary criticism, although thankfully the situation there has been improving lately. In fact, that disastrous bout of fashonista nonsense negatively affected a good many fields in the humanities.

“Perhaps when I get a chance to discuss some of the more modern approaches to the Bronze Age you will gain a touch of respect for the more modern theories.”

– you’re assuming that I’m not familiar with this material. I am quite familiar with it, and I follow the literature about as closely as anyone who doesn’t do it for a living; I just don’t -agree- with the stuff you’re talking about.

To put it very mildly.

Thomas Evans says:

September 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Well I suspect that we would agree with much of the literary criticism, and might well have some common ground on what’s happening in the publishing industry.

As for your familiarity, I really couldn’t judge. It just seems to me that your comments here regarding lack of data suggest you may not be familiar with certain areas of it. Of course, I do follow it for a living, so I would be a bit surprised if you were aware of the material as I am.

Still, I shall therefore assume that you are aware of the research that shows the seriation in ceramic and metal styles and how that changed over time. The material coming from the UK is of course fairly convincing, but it is really the research out of France and Austria that clearly demonstrates the indigenous origins of the artefact types most commonly associated with the hypothetical Bronze Age Migrations, and how their subsequent spread acrossEuropeis indicative of cultural exchange networks.

Of course, your own examples of the Iron Age migration of the Keltoi shows a very different pattern, while the evidence from Anatolia is limited, the data from the Po Valley is quite convincing. What is more, there is also strong evidence to corroborate the “Celtic Migration” coming from the Upper Seine Basin. There, the massive decrease in cemetery populations that occurs in the La Tène Ancienne II is highly suggestive of a large scale migration originating from that zone. Since that correlates almost precisely to the dates that the histories give to the Celtic Migrations, it does seem likely that the two are related. That does not, however, prove the fact, merely lend credence to the hypothesis.

Steve Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 3:33 am

“In contrast the warriors that they met (both Olmec and Sun People), had warriors who had trained in combat from an early age. Indeed, you specifially note that the Olmecs did have a specialized warrior class set to guard their Priest-King.”

– first, their specialists are very few in number. The bulk of their forces are farmers. Second, their specialists are specialists in a particular -type- of combat, one which does not involve articulated units. Unit articulation probably postdates the Bronze Age, and certainly does so outside the Middle East and (more peripherally) ShangChina.

If you read the battle scenes, the enemies the Nantucketers face do quite well on the occasions when things end up as a one-on-one fight. They do very badly when engaged in mass combat, because the advantage of the methods the islanders are using is that it means every enemy -individual- is facing several opponents at once. And as the ancient Greek saying went, “even Hercules can’t fight two”. Two opponents are not twice as strong as one; the gap is more like four or five to one.

Reply

Steve Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 3:43 am

“Suffice it to say that while all of the resources and knowledge may have existed on the Island in 1998, I still find it stretches my ability to sustain my disbelief that everyone would have thought of the problems, not to mention the solutions as quickly as you presented it in the novel and with as little loss of life.”

– I’m baffled. The problems are hard, but -simple-. Likewise, the solutions are hard, but -straight forward-. The situation isn’t complex at all. It requires no special intelligence or vast fund of information to see. Everyone knows they have to eat every day. Everyone knows that food comes from farms or the ocean.

Later on things become more complex and there’s more dissension, but what is anyone going to say to the “we don’t have enough food, here’s the only way to get it” argument? Anyone else will listen to, that is.

Furthermore, “everyone” doesn’t think of the solutions and problems; a few people do, and they convince (or, to a certain degree, coerce) the others. Plus of course Alston has the crew and cadets behind her, forming a substantial part of the adult population and used to acting with military discipline.

“agree, Americans do have a great ability to group together when facing imminent threats, and perhaps the first few days, or even weeks after the Change they would have done so, but I can’t believe they would have held it together.”

– why not? Everyone knows the problem isn’t going away. It’s right there in front of everyone’s eyes; there isn’t enough food. Until the first harvest is in and they have the fishing and fish-salting operations going, there isn’t -going- to be enough food.

This is a direct threat of a visceral type anyone can recognize. Some people refuse to see it or go insane, of course. After the first few weeks, things are organized — for example, food is rationed and if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

What’s anyone going to say? “We have plenty of food?” or “There’s no necessity to work so hard”?

–Someone- will find that convincing, but not, I would posit, very many.

“but I think you overestimate how quickly people would react and accept the cold hard facts once presented in the scenario you put forth.”

– “you don’t get to eat tomorrow” is not something you can disregard.

Reply

Thomas Evans says:

September 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Everyone knows tsunamis are dangerous and yet some people go sown to the shore to watch. I think you credit humanity with too much common sense

Reply

Steve Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 3:50 am

“we meet three Bronze Age cultures and two of them have the understanding that the world is round.”

– no, -small groups- within two of the cultures know the world is round. Amounting to a few hundred people in all. This is made clear in the text.

“It also results in further illustrating the primitive nature of the Sun People by contrast.”

– by contrast to the Tartessians, whose center is proto-urban and who are at least peripherally part of the literate world of their time, the Sun People -are- intellectually primitive. Some cultures at any given time just are more primitive than others, you know. It’s ludicrous antinomianism to pretend otherwise.

The Moon People have a priest-scholar caste who have preciously advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge because their religion is focused on it (which is why the Babylonians did too, by the way).

Reply

Steve Stirling says:

September 20, 2011 at 4:16 am

“In your book, we primarily see the Sun People throughWalker’s eyes. Since he is living among them, he has a fairly substantial interaction with them, but all we see are his interactions with the warrior class.”

– that’s because they’re a) what he’s interested in, and b) he’s interested in them because they’re the politically dominant element in their society, and he’s there strictly for political power. The rest of the population are, as far as he’s concerned, more or less raw materials.

(He ends up fighting at least one duel because of religiously-based hostility to his outsider status and innovations, you will note.)

The Sun People don’t have much “government” in our sense of the term, but what they do have exists mainly to manage the ‘violence function’; the rest of it’s mainly about religion.

This is a society in which social status is mainly based on a raiding-and-feasting ethos, in which chiefs redistribute stuff to followers so the followers will support them and fight for them, and by that they loot and/or tribute to redistribute to their followers, and around and around it goes. Which is, as the Monty Python crowd put it in “Eric the Viking”, “a bit of a circular argument”.

There are many such cultures in the historical record.

>These are very stereotypical of a modern view of a warrior society

– most stereotypes, thought they may contain a lot of exaggeration, hostile spin and selective reporting, also have a substantial core of truth. That’s why they get to be stereotypes.

“the very fact that he rises to power so quickly and is rapidly adopted by the high Chief supports this conclusion.”

– war is everywhere a powerful mechanism of social mobility, even in much more caste-ridden societies than the Sun People as shown in the books.

The Iraiina are refugees when Walker meets them, after suffering military defeat on the Continent just across the Channel. They’re desperate to hack out a new place for themselves, and also desperately in need of help — they’re not doing this out of high spirits, but out of raw need for survival.

The high Chief supports Walker because Walker is obviously a powerful magician (he has a boom-stick which kills at a distance, after all) and then because Walker and his followers have tools, weapons, wealth and organizational ideas which bolster the Chief’s position beyond anything he could expect without them. He just lost a war and needs all the help he can get.

Why -shouldn’t- he support Walker? He’s ignorant of the context Walker comes from, but he’s not stupid and he can see what’s in front of him. This is a heaven-sent opportunity for him and he seizes it with commendable speed and determination. Plus his culture has no prejudices against assimilating outsiders — it’s traditional for individual warriors to attach themselves to a chief in hope of reward. Their legends have plenty of examples of demigods and magicians involving themselves in the quarrels of ordinary mortals, too.

There are dozens of historical examples of outside adventurers making a place for themselves in alien cultures in roughly this way — the Brooke dynasty of Sarawak, to give just one instance, where a man and a half-dozen friends with a small leaky yacht founded a state and became overlords.

Likewise, Isketerol the Tartessian supports Walker because he sees, quite correctly, that Walker is his key to maximizing his advantage. He’s intelligent enough to mentally adjust to what’s happened and use it to further his ambitions, for himself and then later for his people.

Reply

Thomas Evans says:

September 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Yes I am somewhat familiar with the concept of social reproduction through the feasting/warfare cycle. 

WRITTEN 22nd November, 2011 on Date of Post:

Perhaps I should note at this point, that my own work has focused on the Iron Age in Northwestern Europe, particularly in Britain in the Northeastern France, where I studied gender, identity and regionality as reflected in the Burial rites.  To that end, I primarily looked at elements of prestige exchange and possible elements that explain the development of the feasting/warfare cycle.  Indeed, part of my work suggested that the origin of the Keltoi/Gaul invasions discussed so heavily in the classical literature may have originated from the Upper Seine Basin in response to the growth of this form of cultural reproduction.  This, I suppose makes for a good transition into the next topic.

 Interpretations of the Past:

 >I’m aware of that, but there is absolutely no dispute that Central American varieties of maize in 1250 BCE would simply not grow in New England.

Good point.  I really didn’t think about it in either my review nor my response, mostly because, as I stated in the text of my review, you more or less had me at the domesticated animals argument.

“.. believe me, when you’re sailing a big windjammer, or even a substantial schooner, the last thing on God’s green earth you want to do is hug the shore. Getting caught on a lee shore in a storm is the easiest way to get wrecked. The way to survive a storm is to get out in the deep water and ride it out where you have room to run with minimal rig and not run into anything solid.”

“You have a good point here, but my own experience and that of those who I have known who have done this suggests that while the Caribbean route is more difficult, the North Atlantic route is more deadly.  The threat of icebergs and freezing to death in the water should you fall overboard is far lower off the coast of Honduras than it is off the coast of Iceland.  I turn to the excellent description you gave of the Eagle’s crossing as illustration of how easy it would be for crew members to be swept overboard.

“…for first-person accounts of how things worked see Caesar’s description of the attempted mass-migration of the Helvettii, or the Greek accounts of the founding of the Galatian kingdom in Anatolia after a horde of Celts poured south, sacked Delphi, and ended up in what’s now Turkey.”

Well, of course as you are no doubt aware, much of both Caesar and Strabo’s accounts were cribbed directly from Poseidonus, whose manuscript is lost to us.  Furthermore, much of his account (and portions of both aforementioned accounts) were not direct observation but recordings of things other travelers had said.  Thus, they are not completely first hand accounts.  Furthermore, each was writing with an agenda, particularly Caesar, and as such, one must remember that there is a definite bias to what they were saying.  It was well within Caesar’s means to exaggerate the movement of people in Gaul, particularly since Gallic migrations are exactly the sort of thing that would incite the mobs to support him.  The assault by the Gauls on Rome a few hundred years earlier always played well in Roman politics (and some suggest is what turned the it into a truly expansionist state). 

Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the migration of the Helevetti would have made much of an impact archaeologically because we are talking about portions of the same culture moving around within their own regional boundaries.  The ability to identify different ethnicities within an individual culture is very difficult indeed (but not impossible).

“If a migration can come out of left field, and completely reformat the cultural “software” of language, social organization, religion and so forth -without- leaving much evidence in the stones-and-bones record (though forensic archaeology is helping with that nowadays), then the stones-and-bones crowd would have to admit that their ability to reconstruct actual culture is severely limited….”

This is true, but it is also highly unlikely that such a circumstance would leave no evidence in the material record.  Your example of the Galatians is a good one, though some evidence in Anatolia does is exist, its just it is scarce and inconclusive.  However, the large scale depopulation of the regions of Northeastern France that we find that correlates to these dates does suggest a large scale migration at this period, and as such plays into the interpretations as a whole.

Yet it is not just the lack of evidence to support a Bronze Age invasion of Britain that created doubt as to the validity of the Invasion Hypothesis, but also the presence of evidence that suggests indigenous adaptation.  The seriation in styles, materials, and various other aspects of the material record generally support a gradual adaption of techniques rather than any large scale migration.  This does not just come from the British Archipelago itself, but also from across the continent. 

Don’t forget, the interpretations of Bronze Age populations that don’t involve large scale migrations developed in order to explain what was in the ground. Previously, every time there was a new number of dots that appeared on an urn, it was described as an invasion.  In many cases (particularly in the Iron Age), this didn’t match the hard evidence, and indeed, as more and more archaeological remains were discovered, the evidence really pointed to something else having occurred.  As a result, they began to explore other explanations as to why changes in the material culture happen. 

What’s more, not all of the modern interpretations deny that large scale migrations occurred, nor that all people always stayed where they were.  Indeed, the entire prestige exchange theory that Frankenstein and Rowlands put out, is based on the movement of portions of the population, albeit small ones. 

The more dominant archaeological theories at the moment simply suggest that the changes in material culture what we see coming out of the ground is more indicative of cultural change having occurred through cultural exchange.

“Reconstructive linguistics is actually more helpful, because it can to a limited degree get at what actually went on inside people’s heads.”

But the entire process is based on a set of presumptions, including in many cases, that migrations occurred. Furthermore there are as many (if not more) theories coming from Reconstructive linguistics as there are from archaeology.  Some of them support the growth of exchange networks.  Indeed, one even suggested that the change between p and q Celtic represents the difference between the Bronze and Iron Age exchange networks.  Since, however, I am not a linguist, I don’t pretend to be able to judge which of the theories is more valid than the others.  I can only note when they seem to marry up with the archaeological record. 

“It (lack of physical evidence for a migration) doesn’t rule it out, either, and there are historically attested migrations which did -not- leave much evidence in the archaeological record. The Galatian one I mentioned is an example, or the migration of the Maa-speakers into the Rift Valley area, or any number of others. Hence the record material culture says pretty well -nothing- to the issue.

This is an instance where ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’….”

Absence of proof may well not be proof of absence, but neither is it proof of existence.  There is no proof that Martians didn’t build Stonehenge, but there is evidence that the indigenous populations of Britain did. The same is true of many elements of the adoption of Bell Beaker, Urnfield and particularly the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.  Is this evidence conclusive?  No.  Would I deny that it is reasonable to accept that invasions did occur?  Yes… it is a completely reasonable assumption, and indeed I think at time we have thrown out the baby with the bath water (see any discussion of my own work involving the depopulation of the La Tène Ancienne II cemeteries in the Marnian Zone…). 

To that end, as I said in the review, it’s not that I think you need to have used a modern theory in your book, rather that the way you went about disclosing it pulled me out of the story.  It was just too pat.

“Note that we do not speak Norman French, despite an extremely radical change in elites in post-1066 England, accompanied by the massive cultural prestige of French in the ensuing centuries.  We speak English, and this took only a few centuries after the Conquest. The French do not speak Frankish….”

But while we do speak English, but we don’t speak Old English. The linguistic change that occurred after the Norman invasion was drastic, as was the change in the material culture that accompanied that (though admittedly, some Norman style architecture did come to England before the invasions… see the Oxford Castle excavations done by OA back in 2003 or so).  Similarly the French do not speak Frankish, but neither do they speak Latin, and the change in the material culture at that accompanied that invasion was drastic.

But regardless, the point is not that an invasion is impossible, nor that you should have used a different model for your story.  It is that the way it was presented in the book strained my disbelief.  Arstien, who wasn’t a specialist, didn’t suggest any modern theories (even for invasion), and lo-and-behold he was right on the money.  Too easy.  I couldn’t maintain my suspension of disbelief. 

Same is true of what happened in Nantucket.  There were no major fires caused by using chimneys that hadn’t been swept in five or a hundred years.  No steam engines blew up because the joins weren’t quite right or the operators didn’t make a simple mistake. None of the grain was infected with ergot or any other malady that could have wiped out the crop.  The ancient cattle stock that was introduced to the island didn’t all die off because they came in contact with diseases that the modern cows had long ago developed immunity to. 

With the exception of problems caused by their own people, it was too easy.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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5 Responses to S.M. Stirling Responds to my Review of “Island in the Sea of Time.”

  1. Thomas Evans says:

    Cut from other page due to technical problems with WordPress….

    S.M. Stirling said 20 minutes ago:
    Couldn’t find a “reply” button below the following, so I’m putting it here.

    “where I studied gender, identity and regionality as reflected in the Burial rites.”

    – let’s take a hypothetical here, a thought-experiment.

    Let’s assume that we had no written records from Classical Athens and Attica, and that we didn’t know what language they spoke. What interpretations could you make strictly from the material remains?

    Well, you could make a good case that it was an Amazonian matriarchy that worshipped owls. After all, there’s an enormous number of depictions of this armed woman with an owl…

    This illustrates the tendency to overinterpret the data I mentioned. In point of fact the -material- culture would give very little indication of what gender relations were like; even the pottery depictions of symposia would be open to multiple interpretations. Eg., that this culture was unconcerned with sexual jealousy.

    You could make a good case from it that Attica was a single political unit (from the coinage, if nothing else)… but you certainly couldn’t prove it. You could prove that there were extensive trade relations with the Mediterranean basin, but you couldn’t prove a damned thing about how they were organized — tribute, gift-exchange, ordinary trade, what? You could demonstrate that the religion was polytheistic, but you couldn’t get at the myths or much of the rituals — and you would certainly assume that the Athena figure was head of the pantheon, which wasn’t the case. Nothing about the details of social structure would be recoverable, except that there were differences in living standards. Nothing about the political system would be recoverable. And so forth and so on.

    Archaeology can recover a good deal of what people -did-, but very little of what they -meant- by it. I’d argue that a lot of the interpretation is simply guessing or projection.

    For example, you can tell the Amesbury Archer came from the Alps and moved to Britain as an adult, and that he was a high-status individual from the richness of the grave goods.

    But absence of rich grave goods does -not- prove that an individual -wasn’t- high status. Eg., Shaka Senzagakhona, the first ruler of the Zulu kingdom, was an absolute monarch over hundreds of thousands of people living in tens of thousands of square miles. He was buried wrapped in one bullhide, with a pot and a single spear.

    “while the Caribbean route is more difficult, the North Atlantic route is more deadly. ”

    – the important factor in the context of the story is -speed-. Going to the Caribbean means tacking into the winds; going across the North Atlantic means running before them, as does running west along Columbus’ route. The dangers about balance out; the Caribbean has hurricanes, and is full of small islands and reefs, and modern charts would be very unreliable on the details of 1250 BCE. Getting thrown into warm water when the reef rips the bottom out of your ship is not much of a consolation. Sailors have long been familiar with the means of dealing with the dangers of the North Atlantic weather, and it’s straightforward deep-water sailing in which you can make runs of several hunded miles a day.

    “Well, of course as you are no doubt aware, much of both Caesar and Strabo’s accounts were cribbed directly from Poseidonus”

    – certainly there were a set of standard tropes, but Caesar was actually -there-, and fought the Helvetii, as did tens of thousands of Roman citizens, including many of the literate ruling class. There’s no reason to doubt the account is essentially accurate, though of course systematically slanted to favor Caesar.

    A complete ‘whopper’ wouldn’t have done him any good politically; in that intensely competitive setting it would be too easy for his political enemies, who were legion, to expose him as a braggart.

    And the reason the Roman populace was apprehensive about barbarian migratory hordes was that they were a real and present danger, as everyone knew. The Cimbri and Teutones had slaughtered three consular armies and invaded Italy within living memory — plenty of Caesar’s contemporaries remembered how desperate the situation was before Marius’ military reorganization and defeat of them.

    The main additional bit I’d put in was that the Helvetii were probably thinking about moving not simply because of overpopulation but because they were under increasing pressure from the Germanic-speakers to their north, who were pressing on the Celts throughout Central Europe at this point. Without the Roman intervention they might well have supplanted them completely; even now the Romance-Germanic linguistic frontier is surprisingly similar to the old Roman -limes- in many places.

    “Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the migration of the Helevetti would have made much of an impact archaeologically”

    – this is a more generally applicable point. Migrants -usually- adopt elements of the material culture of the place they end up.

    For example, in terms of material culture the 17th-century English migrants along the eastern coast of North America had a highly mixed set of baggage. They relied on Amerindian crops and farming methods as much as European ones (maize and beans, bush-fallow systems, hoe rather than plow cultivation), they often reoccupied Indian village sites and used Indian fields and trails, the place-names are as much Indian as anything, and there were further influences on things like dress — breechclout and leggings and moccasins became more common than trousers and shoes in many areas for a good long while.

    If all you had was the -material- record from, say, 1700, you could make an excellent case that it indicated a mixed culture, possibly with Indians being predominant and assimilating elements from a few high-status migrants and traders.

    In fact what happened was a combination of plague, merciless ethnic cleansing and genocidal slaughter which resulted in one of the most complete turnovers of population in recorded history, usually within a single generation in any given area.

    “but it is also highly unlikely that such a circumstance would leave no evidence in the material record.”

    – see above. It wouldn’t leave -no- evidence, but it might well leave very -little- evidence, and nothing conclusive.

    Migrants usually pick up things along the way. Nobody’s completely sure who the hell he Cimbrii were, for example; not least because by the time they came in contact with literate observers the original core (probably from Denmark) were thickly overlaid with people and stuff picked up along the way, all calling themselves “Cimbrii” and probably planning on telling their kids they’d come from Jutland. And at that time the southern Germanics were heavily under the influence of Celtic material culture anyway.

    If they’d beaten Marius and overrun Italy, the resulting material culture would probably have shown very little indication of their origins.

    Again, without written records who would believe that the Vandals started out north of the Danube and ended up in Tunisia 33 years later?

    Next rock…

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Re: Athens, actually we would still have a good idea about the role of women due to the extremely large amount of material remains found from excavations from the habitation and burial remains. We don’t just need the artwork to indicate gender divisions, it can be suggested by other remains, like the presence of grave goods and in this case, the material remains from households.

      As for your case from the Americas, well, the nature of the remains would still show the sudden appearence of a distinct culture followed by the disapperearence of the indigenous culture. That’s not quite what we see in the British Bronze Age.

      But regardless, I should shut up, be a good host, and let you have the last word.

      I’ll just say thank you for taking the time to respond and debate. Please feel free to respond, and let me know if you’d like me to keep on too.

  2. Thomas Evans says:

    S.M. Stirling says:
    September 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm (Edit)
    “But while we do speak English, but we don’t speak Old English.”

    – we wouldn’t speak Old English even if there hadn’t been a Norman invasion. Virtually nobody speaks what their ancestors did 1000 years ago.

    Modern standard English descends from an East Midland dialect heavily influenced by Old Norse (to the point of almost being a contact creole, which probably drove a lot of the shift to an analytical grammar), combined with a massive overlay of French and other Romance lexical borrowings.

    The core vocabulary is Germanic, and the grammar is mostly the result of internal developments already underway towards the end of the Old English period.

    Written Old English, the chancery language of the Wessex kings, was based on southwestern speech patterns from the 9th century; and that’s a very conservative area. As late as the 17th century, they were using terms like “geboren”. The standard written tongue, which was learned only by specialists, had probably already drifted fairly far from the common spoken form (expecially the London and Midland dialects) by 1066. The Norman Conquest destroyed the standarized administrative language and put all English dialects on the same (low) social plane. When English reemerged as a written language several centuries later the form adoped was that of London, which had received a lot of Midland migrants by then.

    But the overhwelming bulk of the population always spoke English, and the French-speaking immigrants had been linguistically assimilated within a few generations, except for a narrow slice around the royal Court and the very highest levels of the aristocracy.

    >Same is true of what happened in Nantucket. There were no major fires caused by using chimneys that hadn’t been swept in five or a hundred years.

    – actually, they use (and sweep) the chimneys all the time; most downtown houses have functioning fireplaces.

    As is mentioned in the book there’s a large-scale movement into vacant Summer People houses with better facilities — including those fireplaces. On Nantucket “old” means “central”. People move because it’s easy and drastically increases the comfort level, since these houses were built before central heating and are closer to work.

    And the central portion of town, where people relocate, was rebuilt specifically with fire prevention in mind after a devastating fire in the 1830′s. That’s why the downtown architecture is so uniform and why so few pre-Federal style buildings survive.

    There -is- a major fire in the book, due to arson by followers of a deranged religious sect, btw.

    > No steam engines blew up because the joins weren’t quite right or the operators didn’t make a simple mistake.

    – none that are mentioned; I assumed the normal component of industrial accidents. They just weren’t common enough to affect the plot, and so weren’t mentioned. It’s a -long- book, and received a lot of criticism for excessive technical detail.

    You can’t please everyone… 8-).

    >None of the grain was infected with ergot or any other malady that could have wiped out the crop. The ancient cattle stock that was introduced to the island didn’t all die off because they came in contact with diseases that the modern cows had long ago developed immunity to.

    – I actually flipped coins for a lot of that stuff. They have competent farmers, veterinarians and others to deal with this stuff, too, of course. Ergotism is a recognized hazard and not all that difficult to detect. Modern cattle don’t -have- many diseases, btw; the danger would be the other way ’round.

    I didn’t go into the details of that because the book was already too friggin’ -long-. (It’s over 200,000 words and the publisher was very unhappy with that; there was talk of splitting it, though eventually I talked them out of that.)

  3. Pingback: Versatile blogger award goes to… Bibliophage’s Buffet? « Bibliophage's Buffet

  4. Thomas Evans says:

    As an interesting development to anyone still interested in this discussion, there was a recent Paper released in Science that has spread some light on the spread early Neolithic farmers.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/07/13/science.aaf7943

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