* 200 articles. Two years. Whelk. The best of Upsideclown. Might be reprinted.

Packet Loss

9 December 2002
Matt looks back; forward.

Nobody could have guessed that the Italian find would change our ideas of Neanderthal life - culture - quite so much. Indeed, even once the full scale of the 2008 dig had been discovered, an entire village quite literally frozen for thousands of years, nobody suspected the wealth of information that lay waiting to be decoded in the buried artifacts.

A string of coincidences -- one of my graduate students spotting the same colour sequences in the rugs and the necklaces. An associate recognising another necklace with a pattern similar to ones she'd found in Spain. And, critically, the Neanderthal bead rug that could've languished forever in that basement in Prague if it wasn't for the 2012 floods. Without these, we'd never have started looking for commonalities in what we'd previously disregarded as simple craft.

It seems almost certain now that the the necklaces we've found were used in an elaborate, organised method to send information across the Eurasian landmass.

The first 30 beads of so of a necklace, we've historically thought was just an aesthetically pleasing pattern customarily used by a particular tribe. But this pattern actually acts as a kind of address, each tribe having its own.

The rugs we've learned are giant lists, themselves of lists of addresses. Judging by the genetic distribution of the Neanderthal people, individuals themselves didn't actually travel more than a few score miles from their home territory in a lifetime, but these beads definitely did.

Handed on from tribe to tribe, strings of beads would continually move around the ancient world, each tribe adding their own address to the end, as well as to a separate bead-per-day timer. Efficient routes would thus be found, and the best of these copied onto rugs. The rug we've found shows, for hundreds of tribe-pattern-addresses, lists of how to reach them leapfrogging from tribe to tribe. For hundreds again, it gives partial routes, perhaps showing how to get into the general area.

The purpose of the necklaces is thus thrown into sharp relief. We're looking at nothing less than encoded messages addressed and routed across the entire continent. Each necklace carries with it its destination bead-pattern, its origin, and a tribe-by-tribe route so far, each tribe directing the necklace onward guided by the routes recorded in the tribe-rugs. And of course a message, a long, seemingly random pattern of beads.

And so many messages! We see three women in the 2008 Italian find squatted by necklaces, over the largest rug, sorting them into piles at the very moment the avalanche struck. The bone abrasion in the fingers indicates this was a full-time job. A messenger we've also found, carrying a full bag of necklaces, some bearing patterns we've since discovered signify Spain, and others the furthest reaches of the Russian steppes.

The messages themselves! I cannot overemphasise what a massive linguistic project this has been, and the genius of those with whom I have been privileged to work. These magnificent fellows have translated the necklace corpus found in Italy, and subsequently so-called primitive necklaces in museums and new digs from all over Europe.

It's gossip, largely. Recipes and discussion about game also figure. Boasting too. Judging by the strict regularity of the messages from one particular tribe, it seems growing-season announcements were also broadcast by specialists in monitoring such things.

But what is most spectacular is that the catastrophe for the tribe in Italy has been most fortuitous in its timing for us, falling at a period of massive cultural change for the Neanderthal people.

News is coming in of a new people from the East, travellers. The news contains warnings. These new people are violently displacing the existing inhabitants of the land, refusing to settle into the established system. Already a not insignificant number of tribes have become unreachable.

Mostly the news is a combination of scared and bemused. Who are these people who waste their time taking their bodies places?, the beads spell out the comments, Isn't it enough to [word untranslatable]? Further alarming news comes in notices of necklace loss in transit, the proportion of which has been rising in recent times. It seems these new people are considerably further into Western Europe than this particular tribe realises, a new culture living in the gaps of the old static one, disrupting the communication routes.

Cro Magnon man entirely replaced the Neanderthal eventually of course, if not genetically then certainly culturally. It stands as a sad loss of a hitherto unsuspectedly sophisticated people, and leaves me to speculate what could have been had this mentality been inherent in our own human history, this ability and nature to encode and trust message delivery not to a single messenger but to society itself?

The social cohesion would have been totally different. Perhaps the signal bonfires so famously used to signal the arrival of the Spanish Armada would have been the rule rather than the exception, message streams flying across the country, navigating their way from hilltop to hilltop. And then perhaps with mirrors, could beads of light be relayed, strings of encodings directed in different directions by professionals with routemaps on paper? How would telegraph be different? Would the railway contain whole trains, or instead carriages routed junction-to-junction? I doubt the industrial production line, a goal-obsessed tunnel vision if ever there was one, would even play a part.

It's hard to tell what sort of people would inhabit Europe in our year of 2020, so many thousands of years after the bead rugs. A world where each individual is more aware of those around it? A decentralised world lacking the concentrated marketplaces and libraries, storing the entire cultural knowledge in dynamic transit instead of dead recordings. And maybe a world less prone to the disease that sweeps through close-packed living, and lacking the territorialism that comes from squalid, claustrophobic urban life.

But alas we'll never know, for our ancestors were the destroyers of a foreign culture. We are the descendants of the Italian Neanderthal's barbarian at the gate.


This is the fucking archive

Current clown:

18 December 2003. George writes: This List

Most recent ten:

15 December 2003. Jamie writes: Seven Songs
11 December 2003. Dan writes: Spinning Jenny
8 December 2003. Victor writes: Rock Opera
4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
1 December 2003. George writes: Charm
27 November 2003. James writes: On Boxing
24 November 2003. Jamie writes: El Matador del Amor; Or, the Man who Killed Love
20 November 2003. Dan writes: Rights Management
17 November 2003. Victor writes: Walking on Yellow
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
(And alas we lost Neil, who last wrote Cockfosters)

Also by this clown:

4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
23 October 2003. Matt writes: Topology
2 October 2003. Matt writes: Haunted
8 September 2003. Matt writes: The Gardener's Diary
21 August 2003. Matt writes: The Starling Variable
31 July 2003. Matt writes: Two stories
14 July 2003. Matt writes: What is real?
23 June 2003. Matt writes: Mapping and journeys
29 May 2003. Matt writes: Extelligence
5 May 2003. Matt writes: Religious experiences
17 April 2003. Matt writes: Seeing the Light
27 March 2003. Matt writes: Flowering
10 March 2003. Matt writes: Climax state
10 February 2003. Matt writes: The Role of Cooperation in Human Interaction
20 January 2003. Matt writes: The same old subroutine
2 January 2003. Matt writes: New beginnings
9 December 2002. Matt writes: Packet Loss
18 November 2002. Matt writes: Wonderland
31 October 2002. Matt writes: Having and losing
10 October 2002. Matt writes: Trees of Knowledge
19 September 2002. Matt writes: The online life of bigplaty47
29 August 2002. Matt writes: Divorce
8 August 2002. Matt writes: How to get exactly what you want
18 July 2002. Matt writes: Eleven Graceland endings
27 June 2002. Matt writes: Listopad, Prague 1989
3 June 2002. Matt writes: Engram bullets
6 May 2002. Matt writes: Sound advice
15 April 2002. Matt writes: How it all works: Cars
21 March 2002. Matt writes: Proceeding to the next stage
25 February 2002. Matt writes: Spam quartet
31 January 2002. Matt writes: Person to person
7 January 2002. Matt writes: All for the best
13 December 2001. Matt writes: Life
19 November 2001. Matt writes: Giving is better than receiving
25 October 2001. Matt writes: Ludo
1 October 2001. Matt writes: Gifts, contracts, and whispers
6 September 2001. Matt writes: The world is ending
13 August 2001. Matt writes: The Church of Mrs Bins
16 July 2001. Matt writes: Things I Don't Have
25 June 2001. Matt writes: Fighting the Good Fight
31 May 2001. Matt writes: Code dependency
7 May 2001. Matt writes: Up The Arse, Or Not At All
5 April 2001. Matt writes: The increasing nonlinearity of time
19 March 2001. Matt writes: Hit Me Baby, One More Time
22 February 2001. Matt writes: Space, Matter, Cities, Sausages
29 January 2001. Matt writes: Truth in Advertising
1 January 2001. Matt writes: Six predictions for tomorrow
7 December 2000. Matt writes: You must reach this line to ride
16 November 2000. Matt writes: The truth about the leopard
23 October 2000. Matt writes: Shopping mauls
28 September 2000. Matt writes: Heavy traffic on the road to Utopia
4 September 2000. Matt writes: Sixty worlds a minute
17 July 2000. Matt writes: You, Me, and Face-space

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