Tall Tales

This issue we have a selection of tales from around the world to amuse and intrigue you.


The oldest grape pip in Britain

This is the true tale of an eminent archaeobotanist, returning from London by train with a small piece of evidence from her latest site. The find in question was a grape pip from Hambledon Hill, possibly the oldest grape pip in Britain. The visit to London had been to have another archaeobotanist confirm its identity before it was sent off for dating.

Having left the train, the archaeobotanist realised that she had left her bag by her seat (apparently a frequent occurrence). Going through the contents in her head, she decided there had been little of value in the bag until she remembered - the grape pip, possibly evidence for the earliest grape cultivation known in Britain, its true date not even properly determined!

One can only imagine the conductor's expression when he received a frantic phone call alerting him to a valuable piece of lost property left on the train -- a single grape pip. The antiquity of the pip had to be impressed upon him. Nevertheless, the train was searched and the bag was found, the grape pip was returned and was sent to be dated. It was confirmed as being the oldest in Britain. The co-author of the paper on it, published in Antiquity, was needless to say, not informed of the pip's adventure until a much later date.


Eskimo boomerangs

The story is told of an Australian geologist, prospecting in the wilds of northern Canada. He is caught in a blizzard, and takes refuge with a group of Eskimos. After exchanging food and pleasantries, and also a few stories, he takes out his pocket knife and carves a small boomerang from a scrap of wood. The Eskimos ask what it is, so he shows them how to throw it so that it returns. They are fascinated, and soon the whole group is making and throwing tiny boomerangs. The storm clears, the snow melts, and finally it is time for the geologist to leave. The Eskimo leader says, 'You have given us a wonderful gift, this boomerang. What can we offer you in return?' The geologist replies, 'Some day, a person will come to ask you how you learned to make these boomerangs. I want you to tell them that you were taught by your grandfathers, who were taught by their grandfathers, and so on and so on....'


The old cowboy

This tale was originally told by Dr H. Marie Wormington, the first female archaeologist to graduate from Harvard, later Chief Archaeologist for the Denver Museum of Natural History. The incident in question comes from her early days in archaeology in the American South West.

Due to an unfortunate incident the previous year (an unexpected pregnancy of a young crew member), she conducted an all-female field school/excavation in the High Plains of Northern Colorado in the mid-1930s. The site being investigated was far from any human abode. In fact, a local rancher trucked their tents and supplies over a trackless plain and unceremoniously dumped it onto the grass, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Excavating under the hot sun, in the blowing dust of the High Plains, several young girls toiled in trousers and cotton blouses. One late morning, several days into the project, a young woman asked if she could remove her blouse. Dr Wormington, only a few years older than her young crew, agreed. Soon, more than one crew member scraped and hauled dirt clad in bras and rolled-up trousers. As the day progressed and the heat increased, one or more of the women removed even that article clothing their breasts. So far from other eyes it seemed safe enough, Dr Wormington explained with a sly grin.

At lunch time the crew and their leader retreated to the shade of a square of canvas held aloft by four tall poles. Seated on boxes and crates they were enjoying lemonade, untroubled by the lack of attire of some of their number.

Without warning, a lone cowboy rode over a nearby ridge astride a dusty horse. Grizzled, unshaven, and far from young, the cowboy rode into their camp while the young girls sat in shocked silence.

Dr Wormington and the others were so startled by the man's unexpected appearance the fact that some were topless flew completely past them. The lone cowboy, squinting in the sun's blaze, enquired politely if he could dismount. (A trait of the American West, much like knocking on a door, requesting permission to enter).

Dr Wormington invited the stranger to sit beneath the awning with them. As they shared a glass of cool lemonade with their guest, the old man, eyes aglitter, stared about him, asking about their camp and the meticulously dug square hole in the ground and nearby mounds of shifted soil. All the time the scantily clad and bare breasted women sat motionless, dazed. After a time, his curiosity seemingly satisfied the cowboy mounted his horse, and bidding his hosts Good Day, quickly rode out of sight.

Dr Wormington finished her tale with a sigh, then a soft chuckle. 'I've always imagined,' she continued, 'that old cowboy, in a bar somewhere, telling of the time he found a bevy of half-naked girls digging a hole in the middle of nowhere. And not one son-of-a-bitch in the place believing him.'


Australopithecus barbie

This is a letter from the Smithsonian Institute to a man who regularly sends in artefacts he excavates from his back garden. The find it refers to was labelled 'hominid skull'.

			Paleoanthropology Division
			Smithsonian Institute

Dear Sir:

	Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labelled '211-D,
layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull'. We have given
this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform
you that we disagree with your theory that it represents 'conclusive
proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million
years ago'. Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a
Barbie doll, of the variety one of our staff, who has small children,
believes to be the 'Malibu Barbie'. It is evident that you have given a
great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be
quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in
the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings.
However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of
the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:

*	The material is moulded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are
	typically fossilised bone.
*	The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic
	centimetres, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified
*	The dentition pattern evident on the 'skull' is more consistent with
	the common domesticated dog than it is with the 'ravenous man-eating
	Pliocene clams' you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time.

	This latter finding is certainly one of the most intriguing hypotheses
you have submitted in your history with this institution, but the
evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against it. Without going into
too much detail, let us say that:

	A. 	The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a dog has
		chewed on.
	B.	Clams don't have teeth.

	It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny your
request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is partially due to the
heavy load our lab must bear in its normal operation, and partly due to
carbon dating's notorious inaccuracy in fossils of recent geologic
record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie dolls were produced
prior to AD 1956, and carbon dating is likely to produce wildly
inaccurate results. Sadly, we must also deny your request that we
approach the National Science Foundation's Phylogeny Department with the
concept of assigning your specimen the scientific name 'Australopithecus
spiff-arino'. Speaking personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously for
the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but was ultimately voted down
because the species name you selected was hyphenated, and didn't really
sound like it might be Latin.

	However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this fascinating
specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a hominid fossil, it
is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of the great body of work
you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly. You should know that our
Director has reserved a special shelf in his own office for the display
of the specimens you have previously submitted to the Institution, and
the entire staff speculates daily on what you will happen upon next in
your digs at the site you have discovered in your back yard. We eagerly
anticipate your trip to our nation's capital that you proposed in your
last letter, and several of us are pressing the Director to pay for it.
We are particularly interested in hearing you expand on your theories
surrounding the 'trans-positating fillifitation of ferrous ions in a
structural matrix' that makes the excellent juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex
femur you recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a
rusty 9-mm Sears Craftsman automotive crescent wrench.

			Yours in Science,

			Harvey Rowe
			Curator, Antiquities

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