Ah, I See You Have A Policy: A Screenshot Essay on the Trade in Human Remains

Warning: There are many photographs of human remains in this post.

There is a literature on the online trade in human remains going back to at least Huxley and Finnegan’s 2004 piece on eBay in the Journal of Forensic Science,  and since then, several academics have been active in discussing the ethical, moral, and legal dimensions of this trade, producing a steady stream of articles. At the same time, the trade was transformed by the merging of social media with marketplace and ad-driven revenue models, expanding in scope and reach. Several platforms, over the last decade, have added wording to their prohibited categories of goods that deals with human remains. Let’s walk through some of that.

I found a copy of the World Archaeological Congress 2010 Newsletter in the Internet Archive, with this one line describing a human skull seen on Etsy, and WAC’s successful request to Etsy to remove the post.
The post was not in fact removed. And can still be found online.
It sold in 2011. What’s etsy’s stance on human remains, anyway?
Etsy’s current policy on human remains. Such as it is. Human remains were added to the prohibited list in 2012.
The seller from 2010, still active, using a different skull as a prop. Still selling human remains, now points people towards her Facebook page, and since Etsy banned human remains, wants you to send private messages if you’re interested. Facebook’s good for that sort of thing, eh? Private messaging, I mean.

Facebook says no human body parts or fluids.
But here’s a Facebook store selling…. human remains.
We are not surprised, to find human remains on Facebook. After all, Facebook owns Instagram, and there are any number of posts there selling human remains. Including this one. But wait, is that an Amazon box? Does Amazon have a human remains policy?

Yes, yes they do. And it seems a bit contradictory. And unenforced.
And it is trivial to find human remains being sold on Amazon. Like this skull. Displayed sideways, since the photo was taken with the seller’s cellphone.
Since I’m on wordpress.com, you might see advertisements interspersed in this essay. It will be interesting to see which advertisements WordPress matches to this post; it might even be hard to see the difference between those ads and these screencaptures.

Ebay, 2012: ” [the policy prohibits] “humans, the human body, or any human body parts”  but expressly permits “clean, articulated (jointed), non-Native American skulls and skeletons used for medical research.” (Marsh, 2012, HuffPost). Today?

It was on eBay that we all (the archaeological ‘we’) first twigged that human remains selling online was lucrative and booming. While their policy has changed over the years, the policy is now admirably lucid and succinct. Did this tighter, stronger, policy have any impact?
It is possible to find the ruins and remains of specialist eBay aggregator sites like this one in the Internet Archive. I spent quite a lot of time tracking as many of these down as I could, teasing out which posts were actually for human remains, and which ones were replicas or adjacent materials, and scraping the data, plotting it over time.
And I see three phases here. An early phase where there was a lot of money happening (remember, these values are approximate indications rather than absolute totals. They give us a sense of the trend rather than the exact dollar number); a phase where language is suddenly cagey about what precisely is being sold (the stand? or the skull? Remember the earlier wishy-washy policy of 2012?), and the volume drops; and then, from July 2016: eBay bans human remains outright. And human remains drop out of the aggregators completely. The ban – to judge from these numbers – worked. Graphs and underlying research Graham, forthcoming.

Have we accomplished anything? eBay certainly has, I think, and that’s worth thinking about.  Perhaps an auction site where sales are also dependent on reputation responds better to moral suasion than the other platforms. When is it in a platform’s best interest to actually police its own policies?

Human remains are in a nebulous zone, legally. In Canada, the law to my mind seems pretty clear:

Section 182.B seems to cover it. These materials are human beings. Buying and selling humans interferes -at the very least!- with human dignity. I’m no lawyer, and I don’t think this has ever been tested in court. But: If a platform profits from a user’s breaking of the platform’s very own policies on human remains, if a platform turns a blind eye, is the platform not condoning the trade? Is this not a nudge-nudge wink-wink tacit approval of the trade? Who should want to invest in a platform that makes money from selling human beings? Should we not hold such a platform accountable?

See ACCO for more on various illicit and illegal trades happening across social media. For more on our project studying the trade in human remains, see bonetrade.github.io.

Posts referred to have also been saved to the Internet Archive.

The diary in the attic

update march 9 2017 I found the damned thing again. Zip file here with the pages & the android apk.

update feb 2 2017: In a fit of madness, I ‘tidied’ up the dropbox folder where these materials were hiding. And dumb-ass that I am, I can’t find them again. So, in the meantime, you can grab the apk for the stereoscopic version here, and the diary pages here (although those might be too low-rez for this to work properly). An object lesson: never tidy anything.



Shawn dusted off the old diary. ‘Smells of mould’, he thought, as he flipped through the pages.

Hmmph. Somebody was pretty careless with their coffee.

I think it’s coffee.


Doesn’t smell like coffee. 

What the hell…. damn, this isn’t coffee.

Shawn cast about him, looking for the android digital spectralscope he kept handy for such occasions. Getting out his phone, he loaded the spectralscope up and, taking a safe position two or three feet away, gazed through it at the pages of the diary.

My god… it’s full of….


The thing about hand-held AR is that you have to account for *why*. Why this device? Why are you looking through it at a page, or a bill board, or a magazine, or what-have-you? It’s not at all natural. The various Cardboard-like viewers out there are a step up, in that they free the hands (and with the see-through camera, feel more Geordi LaForge). In the passage above, I’m trying to make that hand-held AR experience feel more obvious, part of a story. That is, of course you reach for the spectralscope – the diary is clearly eldritch, something not right, and you need the device that helps you see beyond the confines of this world.

Without the story, it’s just gee-whiz look at what I can do. It’s somehow not authentic. That’s one of the reasons various museum apps that employ AR tricks haven’t really taken off I think. The corollary of this (and I’m just thinking out loud here) is that AR can’t be divorced from the tools and techniques of game based storytelling (narrative/ludology, whatever).

In the experience I put together above, I was trying out a couple of things. One – the framing with a story fragment, so that the story that emerges from the experience for you (gestures off to the left) is different from the story that emerges from the experience for you (gestures off to the right). (More on this here). I was also thinking about the kinds of things that could be augmented. I wondered if I could use a page of handwritten text. If I could, maybe a more self-consciously ‘scholarly’ use of AR could annotate the passages. Turns out, a page of text does not make a good tracking image. I used a macro in Gimp (comes prepackaged with Gimp) that adds a random waterstain/coffeestain to an image. The stained diary actually made the best tracking images I’ve ever generated! So maybe an AR annotated diary page could have such things discretely in the margins (but that takes us full circle to QR codes).

[Some time later, some further reflections:] one of the things I tell my history students who are interested in video games, the mechanic of the game should be illustrative of the kind of historical truth they are trying to tell. William Urrichio pointed out in 2005 that game mechanics map well onto various historiographies. What kind of truth then does an augmented reality application tell? In the very specific case of what I’ve been doing here, augmenting an actual diary (a trip up the Nile, from New York, starting in 1874), I’m put in mind of the diaries of William Lyon MacKenzie King, who was Prime Minister of Canada during the Second World War. King was a spiritualist, very much into seances and communing with the dead (his mom, mostly). I can imagine augmenting his ‘professional life’ (meeting minutes, journals, newspaper accounts), with his diaries such that his private life swirls and swoops through the public persona, much like the ghosts and spirits that he and his friends invoked on a regular basis. King was also something of a landscape architect; his private retreat in the Gatineau Hills (now a national historic site) are adorned with architectural follies (see this photo set) culled from gothic buildings torn down in the city of Ottawa. MacKenzie King might well be a subject whose personal history might be very well suited indeed for an exploration via augmented reality.

After all, the man lived an augmented reality daily.

Update July 30th Here’s a Google Cardboard -ready version of the Spectralscope. Vuforia updated their SDK today which includes stereoscopy (as well as a way to move from AR to VR and back), so I was playing with it.


Anyway. I should acknowledge my sources for the various sounds and 3d models.

– Egyptian Shabti, by Micropasts, from the Petrie Museum https://sketchfab.com/models/a09f9352c5ce44be8983524ff81e38b3

– Red Granite Sarcophagus (Giza, 5th dynasty), by the British Museum, https://sketchfab.com/models/117315772799431fa52e599630ec2a35

– 2 crouched burial inserted in bronze age pit, by d.powlesand https://sketchfab.com/models/fadf7a7392d94e41a3d1b85c160b4803

– ambient desert sounds by Joelakjgp http://desert.ambient-mixer.com/desert

– Akeley’s wax cylinder recordings https://ia801408.us.archive.org/16/items/Akeleys_Wax_Cylinder_Recording/

– Edison’s talking doll https://archive.org/details/EdisonsTalkingDollOf1890

– Man from the South, by Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys https://archive.org/details/ManFromTheSouth

In the cardboard version, there are a few more things:

Granite head of Amenemhat III, British Museum   https://sketchfab.com/models/64d0b7662b59417986e9d693624de97a

– Mystic Chanting 4 by Mariann Gagnon, http://soundbible.com/1716-Mystic-Chanting-4.html


Desert Island Archaeologies

You’ve been castaway on an uncharted desert isle… but friendly dolphins deposit a steamer trunk full of books on the shore to keep you occupied, the exact ten you’d pick. Thus the premise of Lorna Richardson’s new public archaeology project: Desert Island Archaeologies. Turns out, I was the first castaway. You can read my ten picks alongside those of other castaways, or just keep reading here.

[… the sun beats down…]

Damn steamer trunks. Can’t lift it. All these archaeology books! What those dolphins must be eating, I ask you!

Let’s see. Ah. Here we go. Goodness: the exact ten books I would want to be reading. First up: Ray Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, 1994. This was the book that convinced me to go to grad school – we had a whole seminar built on it in my final year, back in ’96. It was unlike anything else I was reading as an undergraduate, and showed me that there were ways of looking at something as well-trod as Pompeii that were completely askew of what I’d come to expect. The geek in me loved the space-syntax, the way of reading street life. Hell, it was fun!

Next,Stephen Shennan, Genes, Memes and Human History – Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution (2002). By the time I came across this, I was getting very much into complex systems and simulation, and this was something that helped me make sense of what I was doing. And it’s a fun read. Oh look, here’s Amanda Claridge’s Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide‘ (1998). I hear Amanda’s dry wit every time I open this thing. This was my constant companion on my first trip to Rome. I can’t imagine going there without it.

If I ever get off this island.

What else, what else… It’s interesting how nostalgic I am about these items. Each one seems tied to a particular chapter of my life. Matthew Johnson’s ‘Archaeological Theory‘ (1999) still makes me laugh and provides guidance through the thorny thickets of theory. Sybille Haynes’ ‘Etruscan Civilization‘ is a treat for sore eyes, filled with the beauty and magic of that people. I expect it can also be used for self-defence, in case of wild animal attack on this island. I used it for the first class I ever taught, at the school of continuing education at Reading.

Harry Evans, ‘Water Distribution in Ancient Rome‘ (1997) reminds me of adventures through the Roman countryside on a dangerously lunatic vespa, trying to identify the standing ruins, with A. Trevor Hodge’s ‘Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply (1992) in the other hand. Hodge’s book was as a bible for me writing my MA; I had the opportunity to meet Hodge at Carleton University shortly after I started working there. Sadly, a trivial over-long meeting prevented that from happening. Hodge died later that week. I will regret that always.

Back to Ray Laurence. The man has had a profound impact on me as a scholar. His ‘Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change‘ (1999) and all that space-economy stuff: fantastic! Totally connected with the ORBIS simulation of the Roman world by Meeks and Scheidel, by the way, in terms of how it changes our perspective on the Roman world (ORBIS isn’t a book, but maybe there’s a tablet in this steamer trunk somewhere?) In the intro to Roads of Roman Italy, Laurence mentions my name, which was the first time I’d seen my name in print, in an academic context. A real thrill! No less of a thrill than how I came to be mentioned in the first place: driving the British School at Rome’s death-trap ducato for Ray as we explored the remains of the Roman roads in the outskirts of town. If there is no tablet in this steamer trunk (with wifi provided by an unseen Google blimp, obviously), I think the ‘Baths of Caracalla‘ by Janet DeLaine (1997) might be buried down here somewhere… ah, here it is. When I first pitched my MA idea to Janet, she kept finishing my sentences. I wanted to do a quanity survey of the Roman aqueducts. Turned out, she was waaaaay ahead of me. She let me use the manuscript to this as I puttered away on the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. It’s actually quite a fun read, especially when you start thinking about nuts-and-bolts type questions like, how the hell did they build this damned thing anyway?

Final book? It’s not archaeological, but it’s a good read. Complexity: A Guided Tour‘ by Melanie Mitchell, 2011. I’m quite into simulation and games, and the emergent behaviours of both ai and humans when they conspire together to create (ancient) history (as distinct from the past). That’s a whole lot of interdisciplinariness, so this volume by Mitchell always provides clarity and illumination.

So… that’s what I’ve found in this steamer trunk. The bibliographic biography of a digital archaeologist. Neat!


On Aurochs and the Inadvisibility of Night Herding

I’m becoming increasingly interested in cognitive archaeology, especially in terms of virtual reality and immersive 3d learning. More on that at a later date; but when I describe this thread to colleagues, I sometimes begin by pointing to the caves of Lascaux, and the wall paintings, as a kind of virtual world.

Some of the most impressive paintings at Lascaux are of bulls, cattle – that is, aurochs (and here). These wild, massive animals (much larger than domestic cattle today) went extinct in Europe in the 17th century. We look at the paintings, and think to ourselves, oh yes, aurochs, how big! look how they seem to move in the firelight.

I think we’re missing the terror of these animals. Let me explain.

We’re living in a farmhouse at the moment. The pasture surrounds us, with a field to the east, and a field to the west, which are connected by a narrow path & bridge, just outside the house. The other night, at about 2 in the morning, a single cow in the west field began to low plaintively, irregularly. The night was quiet and still, and her lowing carried right to the house, waking us up. Just when I thought I’d fall asleep again, she’d low once more… it was maddening.

So, farmboy that I once was, I decided to solve the problem, and out I went in my housecoat, armed with a plastic broom handle. I figured if I could drive her to the east field, she’d shut up.

Problem 2: electric fences are invisible at night.

Problem 3: so are black angus cattle.

Problem 4: so is an adult human male wearing a blue housecoat, for all intents and purposes.

I couldn’t find her at all. So if I can’t find the one I want, want the ones I’ve got: it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I figured maybe I could drive the rest of the herd (surely I could find the herd?) to her, thus shutting her up.  My foray into the east pasture startled the rest of the herd in the east field, who all rose up and began to run. The only sound they made came from the thunder of their hooves as they began to circle the field. And I couldn’t see them, not a one; just vague, rushing shapes.

Vague rushing shapes who each weighed approximately 500 – 700 kg.

Vague rushing shapes with horns.

Vague rushing shapes who had but one outlet.

Where I was standing.

So I can now appreciate the terror, the majesty, however dimly, of what that cave painter was trying to convey.

(by the way, once the cattle had run to the west field – and I had vaulted the electric fence – all was quiet again. Except for the one cow left in the east field, who began to low plaintively…)



Tales of Things

Just seen: talesofthings.com

Wouldn’t it be great to link any object directly to a ‘video memory’ or an article of text describing its history or background? Tales of Things allows just that with a quick and easy way to link any media to any object via small printable tags known as QR codes. How about tagging your old antique clock, a building, or perhaps that object you’re about to put on eBay.

They have a free iPhone app to allow you to “scan, comment, and add location to things”.  Cliocaching, anyone?

Virtual Worlds: and the most powerful graphics engine there is

Virtual worlds are not all about stunning immersive 3d graphics. No, to riff on the old Infocom advertisement, it’s your brain that matters most.  That’s right folks, the text adventure. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have experimented with this kind of immersive virtual world building for archaeological and historical purposes. But, with one thing and another, that all got put on a back shelf.

Today, I discover via Jeremiah McCall’s Historical Simulations / Serious Games in the Classroom site Interactive Fiction (text adventure) games about Viking Sagas – part of Christopher Fee’s English 401 course at Gettysburg College.

Yes, complete interactive fictions about various parts of the Viking world! (see the list below). I’m downloading these to my netbook to play on my next plane journey.

Now, interactive fiction can be quite complex, with interactions and artificial intelligence as compelling as anything generated in 3d – see the work of Emily Short. And while creating immersive 3d can be quite complex and costly in hardware/software, Inform 7 allows its generation quite easily (AND as a bonus teaches a lot about effective world building!)

Explore the Sites and Sagas of the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic through one of Settings of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom IF Adventure Game:The earliest version of the Otter’s Ransom game was designed to be extremely simple, and to illustrate the pedagogical aims of the project as well as the ease of composing with Inform 7 software: In this iteration the game contains no graphics or links, utilizes very little in the way of software functions, tricks, or “bells and whistles,” and contains a number of rooms in each of sixteen different game settings; as the project progresses, more rooms, objects and situations will be added by the students and instructor of English 401, as well as appropriate “bells and whistles” and relevant links to pertinent multimedia objects from the Medieval North Atlantic project.

Using simple, plain English commands such as “go east,” “take spear-head,” “look at sign” and “open door” to navigate, the player may move through each game setting; moreover, as a by-product of playing the game successfully, a player concurrently may learn a great deal about a number of specific historical sites, as well as about such overarching themes as the history of Viking raids on monasteries, the character of several of the main Norse gods, and the volatile mix of paganism and Christianity in Viking Britain. The earliest form of the game is open-ended in each of the sixteen settings, but eventually the complete “meta-game” of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom will end when the player gathers the necessary magical knowledge to break an ancient curse, which concurrently will require that player to piece together enough historical and cultural information to pass an exit quiz.

Play all-text versions of the site games from The Secret of Otter’s Ransom using the Frotz game-playing software.

Play versions of the site games which include relevant images using the Windows Glulxe game-playing software.

In order to view images the player must “take” them, as in “take inscription;” very large images may come up as “[MORE]” which indicates that text will scroll off the screen when the image is displayed. Simply hit the return key once or twice and the image will be displayed.

We hope that you will enjoy engaging in adventure-style exploration of Viking sites and objects from the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic!

Start by saving one of the following modules onto your desktop; next click the above game-playing software. When you try to open the Frotz software (you may have to click “Run” twice) your computer will ask you to select which game you’d like to play; simply select the module on your desktop to begin your adventure; you may have to search for “All Files.” Each game setting includes a short paragraph describing tips, traps, and techniques of playing:

Andreas Ragnarok Cross

Balladoole Ship Burial

Braaid Farmstead

Broch of Gurness

Brough of Birsay Settlement

Brussels Cross

Chesters Roman Fort

Cronk ny Merriu Fortlet

Cunningsburgh Quarry

Helgafell Settlement

Hvamm Settlement

Hadrian’s Wall

Jarlshof Settlement

Knock y Doonee Ship Burial

Laugar Hot Spring

Lindisfarne Priory

Maes Howe Chambered Cairn

Maughold – Go for a Wild Ride

Maughold- Look for the Sign of the Boar’s Head

Maughold – The Secret of the Otter Stone

Mousa Broch

Ring of Brodgar

Rushen Abbey Christian Lady

Ruthwell Cross

Shetland Magical Adventure

Skara Brae

Stones of Stenness

Sullom Voe Portage

Tap O’Noth Hillfort

Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh

Ting Wall Holm Assembly Place

Tynwald Assembly Place

Yell Boat Burial

Review: The First Jesus? Expedition Week, National Geographic Channel, Friday November 20 9 pm

In a word: Bollocks.

From the blurb:

He was called the King of the Jews, believed to be a Messiah.  Just before Passover, the Romans beheaded him and crucified many of his followers outside Jerusalem.  But his name was not Jesus … it was Simon, a self-proclaimed Messiah who died four years before Christ was born.  Now, new analysis of a three-foot-tall stone tablet from the first century B.C., being hailed by scholars as a “Dead Sea Scroll on stone,” speaks of an early Messiah and his resurrection.  Was Simon of Peraea real?  Did his life serve as the prototype of a Messiah for Jesus and his followers?  And could this tablet shake up the basic premise of Christianity?

We’ll go to Israel to assess this unique and mysterious artifact, including testing by a leading archeological geologist and comprehensive review of the letters, script and content by a Dead Sea Scroll expert.  Then, from Jerusalem to Jericho, we’ll investigate key archeological ruins which could help prove Simon was indeed real — all of which just might sway the skeptics.

The entire documentary is based on a stone tablet, which comes to us courtesy of the antiquities market. No provenance, no context. This entire ‘controversy’ rests on a single scholar’s interpretation of a single word – an interpretation in the minority, of those who have studied it.

This whole documentary put me in mind of the worst of archaeology – scholars drooling over an artifact ripped from wherever it might’ve been located (and so questions of authenticity can never be fully resolved). I was at a conference once where one lecture hall was filled with folks giddy over the aesthetics of another bloody pot looted from another bloody tomb. This was much like that. A silly section of this film has the two ‘leads’ wandering over a site, looking for burn layers from a particular year that they tie back to a passage in Josephus. An already excavated and conserved site, by the way: you might as well look for evidence of European castle-building at Disneyland.

Bah. Do yourself a favor. Don’t support the antiquities market by watching this film. Give it a miss. The nuance in the arguments over 1st century messianic fever in the Levant is lost in the sensationalism.  Why does every documentary about the holy land promise to overthrow the tenets of one faith or another? That is the more interesting question than the ones posed in this film.

The First Jesus? Expedition Week, National Geographic Channel, airs Friday November 20 9 pm.

Review: Expedition Great White, Monday November 16 9 PM EST National Geographic Channel

sharkThere are some for whom tv fishing shows are the height of reality tv. ‘Expedition Great White’ will appeal to these folks. The idea is to tag some Great White Sharks, to find out where they go, what they do, where they breed… all the regular questions.

As a documentary, this was quite entertaining: will the Great White survive the capture and tagging? Will the crew? Apparently there is some eye-candy amongst the crew, in the form of some random actor fellow: will he get eaten? Hope springs eternal.

From the official release info –

A hundred sixty miles off the coast of Baja California, science and sport fishing join forces for an unprecedented research effort.  A team of world-class anglers will land one of the most challenging fish imaginable: the great white shark.  Unlike any other catch ever attempted, they’ll lift an SUV-sized shark out of the water onto a platform, mount a long-lasting tracking tag by hand, take measurements and DNA samples while pumping water into the shark’s mouth to keep it alive, and release it unharmed … all within minutes, like a NASCAR race pit stop.


Marine biologist Dr. Michael Domeier uses advanced tracking devices to help uncover how this predator lives, how it mates and where it roams, with the ultimate goal of conserving and protecting this endangered species.  “Ecosystems are changing fast today with the amount of overharvesting.  We don’t want to see them wiped off the face of the earth,” Domeier states in the film.  But he can’t do it alone.  He’ll rely on the fishing expertise of expedition leader Chris Fischer and crew members, including actor Paul Walker (“Fast and Furious”), who jumped in as a deckhand and quickly earned the crew’s respect.  With more than 1,000 hours of footage culled into 10 upcoming episodes, NGC gives the ultimate EXPEDITION WEEK sneak peak at this exciting series set to debut in 2010.

Expedition Great White airs Monday November 16 9 PM EST on the National Geographic Channel


Review: EXPEDITION WEEK: ‘Search for the Amazon Head Shrinkers’, Sunday, November 15 at 9PM ET/PT

So I go home for lunch. There’s a package from National Geographic there – they’re doing their ‘Second Annual Expedition Week‘, and they’ve sent me pre-screening versions of the documentaries to review.

My wife says, ‘let’s watch this one as we eat’. Sure!

(We’re eating lasagna. This is important.)

We slip it in, begin to watch. Ok, Rain forest – the Amazon, ok, cool, here comes the title: ‘In Search of the Shrunken Heads of the Amazon’. Footage continues. What’s that in the pot? Oh… a head. yep. Definitely a head being stewed woops – they’re holding it up…

My wife says, ‘would you like some more lasagna?’

From the press info:

Terrifying legends from the Amazon tell of Indian headshrinkers who would shrink an enemy’s head to render the vengeful soul powerless. Now, NGC has exclusive U.S. access to 45-year-old archive footage captured by explorer Edmundo Bielawski, purportedly the only known footage that shows the process of an actual,  recently deceased, human head being shrunk. Author and explorer Piers Gibbon heads deep into the Amazon jungle in an attempt to trace Bielawski?s 1960s journey, rediscover the exact location where this scene was filmed and reconnect with the tribe today. After a string of setbacks, Gibbon finally gets a striking clue that leads him on an arduous trek to the village of Tukupi, where he finds one aging warrior, the last of his generation, who could provide answers to the mystery once and for all.

shrunken head

This was a fascinating documentary. What I found most interesting were the things dealt with only tangentially in the film. The point of the film was to try to verify the authenticity of the footage from the ’60s – fair enough, and in its way, compelling. But what was particularly intriguing was the way the practice of head-shrinking continued to play a role in the modern community, most notably as a totem of the peoples’ strength.  ‘A shrunken head is a beautiful thing’ remarks one of them. In a darker turn, it seems that some amongst them are still shrinking heads to service a burgeoning market amongst western collectors. I would have liked to have seen more about this, but as the film hints, this is a very dark and dangerous road indeed. Apparently there have been murders and graverobbing to provide the raw …materials… for the trade. A quick search on eBay suggests that these things can in fact be had rather easily (though the link above says that ‘these’ heads are made from animal skins).

Which makes me wonder about some of Nat Geo’s promotional materials –

…but I wondered the same thing about last year’s Expedition Week game, which seemed to promote looting, as I recall. I haven’t checked out this year’s game yet:



But, those concerns aside, one of the best National Geographic documentaries I’ve seen in ages.


EXPEDITION WEEK: ‘Search for the Amazon Head Shrinkers’ airs Sunday, November 15 at 9PM ET/PT

Interactive Fiction – bibliography and other directions

Denis Jerz writes of IF,  “Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much”

I like IF. I’m crap at solving puzzles, but I like it all the same.

For the bibliophiles amongst us, some bibliography from the academic literature on Interactive Fiction – you’ll note that most of the academic interest in IF waxed and waned in the late 80s, early 90s. But, there has been a resurgence in interest lately, mostly due to the literary qualities of IF. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, check out:

Douglass, J. (2007). Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media. Dissertation, U. California Santa Barbara. link

as well as the complete oeuvre of Nick Montfort, including his ‘Twisty Little Passages‘. Nick also has a ‘harcover‘ of an IF he created, for sale:

An annotated bibliography of academic IF, published in 2002, lives here.

Emily Short’s articles on the art of creating IF may be found here. If you’re at all interested in the possibilities of creating IF, you must start with Short’s work!

Finally, a blog worth following for the literary qualities of IF and other species of computer-mediated writing: Grand Text Auto ‘A group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry, and art’

Right. Here’s the bit o’ bibliography that I’ve scraped up this morning:

Baltra, A. (1990). Language Learning through Computer Adventure Games. Simulation & Gaming, 21(4), 445-452.

Blanchard, J. S., & Mason, G. E. (1985). Using Computers in Content Area Reading Instruction. Journal of Reading, 29(2), 112-117.

Bonnaud-Lamotte, D. (1986). Contemporary Literary Lexicology and Terminology: An Inventory. Computers and the Humanities, 20(3), 209-212.

Brackin, A. L. (2008). Tracking the emergent properties of the collaborative online story “deus city” for testing the standard model of Alternate Reality Game. (1)U Texas At Dallas, US.

Broadley, K. (1986). Past Practices and Possibilities with Computers. Australian Journal of Reading, 9(1), 41-50.

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Federation of American Scientists, Games, and Discover Babylon

Fascinating report from the Federation of American Scientists: they support the use of commerical off the shelf games for science education! C’mon archaeologists…

Report here; and a game called ‘Discover Babylon’ :

The game is divided into three periods of Mesopotamian history: The Uruk Period (3300-3000 BC) when writing was first developing; the Ur III period (2100-2000 BC), a time of great cities and central organization; and the Neo-Assyrian period (1000-600 BC), a time of empires. […]

The game opens with a cataclysmic event—an earthquake in Baltimore. The player quickly learns that this event is caused by an ingenious archaeologist named Dexter who has figured out how to travel back in time, accidentally and unknowingly wreaking havoc with the fabric of time. The storyline then unfolds, compelling the player to go on a series of missionsto ancient Iraq to find Dex and restore the fabric of time The player travels back in time, ‘leaping’ into the body of several historically attested characters. In the first level, the player assumes the character of Taribi, a 12 year old boy studying to be a scribe. Living a day in Taribi’s life, the player is challenged to learn what he would have learned in school. Players are encouraged to learn by discovery and to experience one of the earliest cities, Uruk ca. 3100 BC.

Looks like I’ll be busy for a while…   hmm. nothing on the site seems to be more recent than 2006, and the images do not load… has the game died?