Tag Archives: Archaeology

Idaho iPods: A Tom Trusky legacy

(Note: The following story by Tom Trusky has been preserved on this site. The original is no longer in place at the school site. As a result, a number of the original links for the January 2011 story no longer worked and needed to be updated. It’s still a good story and record and I’m reprinting it here verbatim. A photo gallery has been inserted, which was not in the original story. Tom Trusky coined the word ‘creativity’ and his work will continue to be available on the Internet through sources such as this one.)

Recently, I was thinking of an intriguing project Tom Trusky assigned to his students in 2007. He was my poetry teacher at Boise State University in the early 1980s. Then, from 1984-86, I had the good fortune to be co-editor of cold-drill, an amazing literary magazine Tom founded and for which he was faculty editor. He later founded a poster series, centers and archives for book arts, western writing and rare films. He discovered artists hitherto unknown or long forgotten, wrote and edited books and traveled extensively on speaking tours. Click here to go to a site that has a podcast of an interview with him, just scroll down the page and boot up the Tom Trusky podcast. It’s a wonderful interview. The kingpin of pranks and puckish humor, Tom amused us all with daily e-mails, snail-mail postcards and packages. He was also the king of kitsch and I remember eating Chunky Monkey ice cream and curly hotdogs with him when he visited us in Montana. Some time later, we all met in Seattle to watch Nell Shipman movies and listen to him lecture. A number of years ago, he and his partner, Enver, visited us here in Canada, as they made their way through British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (if I remember correctly!). The last project I worked on with Tom was a book published in 2007 called Michael b., about a good friend of his who lived in British Columbia. But, now, let’s switch to one of his many adventures. In reprinting his words below and posting links to his photos, I honor my friend and mentor who passed away three Decembers ago.

Tom Trusky next to the sunflowers he grew in his backyard in Boise Idaho in 2008. Photo by Enver Sulejman

Tom Trusky next to the sunflowers he grew in his backyard in Boise, Idaho in 2008. Photo by Enver Sulejman

October 22, 2007


by Tom Trusky

Introduction to Book Arts students are usually assigned to create one pre-book structure such as a scroll; however, fall of 2007 I decided inflict a new plot on students, a plot I had been considering for 25 years: utilizing Idaho clay to make a tablet. I had been galvanized to concoct this assignment by news that the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) in Boise had Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets over 4,000 years old-among the oldest examples of writing in the Gem State.

I called this assigned tablet an “Idaho iPod” and defined it as “a real-time, full-text, random-access, read-only information storage and retrieval device.”

The project began with field trip to ISHS where students learned of the tablets’ provenance from Director Linda Morton-Keithley and were allowed to inspect the ancient tablets “gloved-hands-on!” Students visited two pits to obtain clay for their tablets. The first site was on US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property and is located between the small town of Grandview and C. J. Strike Reservoir in SW Idaho. BLM clay is white and very pure.

• BLM clayscape (photo by student Corrine Fuller)
• Instructor, retrieving BLM clay

The second site was located by Geo-Archeologist Jerry Jerrems and is found near Cartwright Road (CR) on soon-to-be developed private property in the northwest Boise foothills. (Both BLM and CR sites required permission from property owners, prior to removal of clay.) CR clay is dark grey and often contains sediments and artifacts.

• Jerry Jerrems, providing historical background about the site.
• Student digs in Cartwright Road pit.

Basic tablet construction advice was provided by Rick Jenkins of the Boise City Arts Center. Student lab fees purchased dowels and rolling pins used in the construction process which concluded with either air or sun-drying or kiln firing.

• iPod construction begins with hydrated, screened and 
kneaded clay, dowels, and rolling pin.

Clays from seven Idaho pits or sites had been obtained over the summer by the instructor and all were test fired by Jenkins-who also made city kilns available for student tablet firing. Results of test firings of Idaho clays, student (and instructor) iPods, and one deck of US Army “Heritage Resource Preservation” playing cards (which feature a cuneiform tablet on the back of each card-and tablets, seals, and other historical artifacts and structures in Iraq-ancient Mesopotamia-on the face side) were then placed on display at BSU.

• Display photos
• Deck of cards array
• ArtTalk: Lost in the Shuffle (163K PDF)
• Fact Sheet: Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection (50K PDF)

(Note: some of these photographs are no longer available. Instead of editing Tom’s article, I’ve just emboldened info for the ones for which photos are available. See gallery above.)

A selection of iPods by eight students (asterisked captions are followed by photographs taken by Carrie Quinney of BSU Photographic Services):

PAIGE WEBER: A “traditional” tablet made from Cartwright Road (Boise) clay. Tablet emulates the cuneiform markings of a Babylonian tablet. (2 ¾ x 4 ½”)*

 Paige’s tablet

FRANCES SUTTON: Round “tokens” have been created out of three Snake River Valley, Cartwright Road, and BLM clays. (Each approx.1 ¼ x 1 ½”)* Frances’s tablets

ISAAC GUNTHER: Tablet made from BLM clay simulates a real iPod. (3 ¾ x 2 ¼”)*

 Isaac’s tablet

JESSIE BEARD: A punning “eye” pod tablet (from BLM clay). (1 ½ x 2 ¼”)

 Jessie’s tablet

TABBY JOLLEY: Jolley’s punning, painted and decorated tablet is an Idaho spud-a plural iPod (eyes of the potato-get it?). (3 x 6″)

 Tabby’s tablet

AMBER TRENT: A Winco supermarket receipt tablet. Trent is emulating hundreds of thousands of Babylonian tablets which are receipts, receipts for sheep, honey, land sales, etc. She has used Cartwright Road clay. (2 ¾ x 2 ¼”)*

 Amber’s tablet

HOLLY GERE: Air or sun-dried tablets are far more fragile than fired tablets. Breakage has rendered Gere’s message (on BLM clay) ominous and/or ironic…. (4 ¼ x 7 ½”)

 Holly’s tablet

RANDY PURVIANCE: BLM and commercial clay have been mixed-much as the elements in Purviance’s cutting-edge tablet. It’s a “green” tablet (wind powered-note propeller?) that turns a spool on which have been affixed a 19th century ( Eadweard Muybridge) sequence of photos:

Photo 1

Photo 2

which may then be viewed on (through?) a 21st century screen (square hole?) in the clay:

Photo 3

Credits: Many individuals assisted in the Idaho iPod project. Many thanks (in alpha order) to: Gary Bettis, Scott Brown, Cort Conley, Virginia Gillerman, Felicia Burke Halter, Mark Hofflund, Sharon Hubler, Clinton Hughes, Rick Jenkins, Jerry Jerrems, Rick Just, Linda Morton-Keithley, Coyote Short, Paul Swiergosz, Mike Wardle.


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Stonehenge, Winter Solstice and the pottery of its neolithic peoples

Magical Stonehenge - geograph.org.uk - 1628518

Magical Stonehenge Photograph taken at 15.51, during sunset. 19th December 2009; as close to the winter solstice as possible during a sunset, according to the weather forecast. Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Winter Solstice! By now, no area of the world is left untouched by this change of season in the northern hemisphere. Happy Summer Solstice to friends south of the equator! Today, we’re going to concentrate on the North, specifically Salisbury plain in Great Britain and that great monument which is forever tied to primitive astronomy, Stonehenge. The Stone and Bronze Ages peoples who populated the area lived from 3,700 BCE to 1600 BCE.

English Heritage, an excellent site, addresses material artifacts left behind by the monument’s builders, including tools and pottery, some shown in museums at Devizes and Salisbury. The site states

the archaeology of the Stonehenge landscape shows that people in the 4th to 2nd millennia BC had wide regional and international contacts. Similar Neolithic monument complexes in other parts of Britain…display the same types of ceremonial enclosures, burial monuments and stone settings and similar material culture….

Pottery that has been found at the Stonehenge site is of two types. One, known as Grooved Ware,  “was used by the builders of the first phase of Stonehenge,” according to Wikipedia. This type of pottery was embellished by incised lines. (Click here to see a photo of Grooved Ware. Note: this is an example found in Scotland.) The Archaeology website states that, nearby, Peterborough-type pottery was also found. Grooved Ware and Peterborough-type styles are vastly different, with latter type decorated making indentations with cord. (Click here to see Peterborough pottery holdings at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.) Rodney Castleden talks about these two types of pottery in Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC. He suggests that two completely different sets of people created these styles, stating that it “could be explained by itinerant potters trained in different traditions starting out from different centers but with overlapping circuits.” He continues, saying that the alternative would be trade of a finished product. Castleden discusses the pottery of the area and time, saying

much of the pottery was plain but serviceable. Its form was well-suited to the ‘ground-level’ life style of the Stonehenge people, as the rounded base could easily be nested between tus-socks of grass or in little hollows in the earth, and the unglazed, matt surface was easy to hold securely. Towards the end of the., A taste for ornament of a particularly earthy and plastic type developed, but in general the pottery remained fairly plain and functional. People evidently preferred it that way. This is in distinct contrast to the people of central Europe who produced very refined pottery in a wide variety of beautiful and exotic forms, often richly decorated in colored patterns. The British were less concerned with the aesthetic value of their pottery, even though some of it does have a kind of earthy sensuality; their thoughts were elsewhere. The extraordinary wealth the ceremonial monuments in Britain finds no parallel in central Europe. I think we can indulge a certain casualness, a surgeon haste, in the Stonehenge people’s pottery when we realized that they were massively preoccupied with greater projects by far.

Today is the Winter Solstice and for eons, people have been gathering at Stonehenge for the solstice. According to a BBC story posted yesterday, “the exact time of the solstice this year – when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun – is at 11:11 GMT.” People started arriving in the morning for the annual event. While neo-Pagans and Druids hold services at Stonehenge for the solstice, it is not known whether the original Druids were ever there at all. What is known is that the Romans are responsible for the damage caused to the monument, according to Castleden. Druids opposed the Roman Empire’s takeover of Britain and while Romans were usually tolerant of religions, they deemed the Druids seditious and wiped them out, burning their sacred groves, killing the priests, and damaging the monuments. Castleden suggests that the Romans, who had destroyed a Druidical monument in Romania, assumed that Stonehenge was a Druid site and damaged it. We can’t know for certain. All we know is what has been left behind, of which pottery plays a big part.


Sunrise between the stones at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice in the mid-1980s,
22 December,1985. By Mark Grant via Wikimedia Commons

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Opus spicatum, the Roman legacy of bricklaying

Small Roman bricks (opus spicatum) floor in Trajan’s Market in Rome. By MM via Wikimedia Commons

Opus spicatum, which translates to “spiked work,” were small ceramic bricks the Romans laid in a herringbone pattern for pavement. Remains of such work can be found in many areas of the world even today. When aligned in this pattern, they are nearly impervious to foot traffic. According to Will Belcher, in Opus spicatum: A History of Herringbone, “when the chevrons are pointed in the direction of traffic the pattern becomes extremely strong under compression as the chevrons are able to spread the load over twice as many bricks. This inherent ability to absorb compression of movement makes it a remarkably resilient paving pattern.” Such technology was lost after Rome fell, though, and not rediscovered till much, much later in history. Belcher states that when opus spicatum was rediscovered,

the herringbone bond was taken from the horizontality of landscape and began to find its self in the motifs of architecture. The pattern became the fundamental backbone of Brunelleschi’s great Duomo in Florence. By incorporating the interlocking pattern into the structure of the dome, much like keystones in an arch, Brunelleschi disposed of the need for a central support system. The interlocking system gave the dome its unique shape and allowed it to defy the rule of quinto acuto, or ‘acute fifth,’ a mathematical concept that had previously been used to divine the curvature of architectural domes.

Because the opus spicatum is part of the dome’s infrastructure, the sections with the brickwork cannot be seen by the casual viewer. So, I’m very happy to have come across photos that show the masonry in the article “The Great Dome of Florence” in Counterlight’s Peculiars. Just scroll down the page till you reach it.

Eglise Savennières Opus Spicatum

Opus spicatum in the face of the church Savennières, in Loire Valley, France. By Kormin via Wikimedia Commons

I like the idea of creating something durable and decorative using this design. I want to see if we can pave an area outside using opus spicatum. At pavingexpert.com, I found precise information about creating herringbone patterns with bricks. Al McCormack & Son, the paving consultants who run the site, state that “all block paving for trafficked areas, such as driveways, should be laid in a fully interlocked pattern.” The site includes diagrams, photographs, and contact information. Another site, Houzz, has a photo gallery that has 5,530 photographs of brickwork patios! I felt like weeping just after seeing the first page because the patios are so beautiful and the areas so well-landscaped. Yet, I have to remind myself of the region in which I live, as unglazed brick does not fare well in our freezing thawing cycles during the cold season. Still, we could use concrete pavers that look like brick. I’ve seen it around. But could we find alternatives this small? Opus spicatum = small bricks. If we could find materials, the job would take much longer, but we would end up with something much more durable. To make such a solid pavement, we would also have to take great care with the preparation underneath…leveling, layering sand, etc. To my mind, to be able to walk on pavement with such a history would be well worth the effort….

Knightia alta 01

Knightia alta, an eocene fossil fish of the herring family (Clupeidae). ca. 56 Ma. Colorado USA.33 mm long. By Keith Edkins via Wikimedia Commons

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Egyptian exhibition at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center

Last Friday, my husband and I met my mother and sister in Seattle. We were on a mission. The next day, at 9:30 a.m., a coterie of people were standing before the doors at the Pacific Science Center, north of downtown. We were there to see the National Geographic exhibition, “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs.”  The exhibition, which opened in May of this year, ends January 6. If you are interested, you may want to schedule a trip, as these artifacts are not scheduled to return to North America after the show closes.

One has to reserve a time slot and it turns out the best time to see it is right after it opens or just before it closes. Being part of the first  group meant no one was in front of us and the next group didn’t arrived for some time. Our group was small and we were able to study pieces without anyone pressuring us to move along. It is a dramatically staged show, too, and the elegant venue was a treat in itself. Dark, it was easy to forget anything else was there besides the statue in front of you. Non-flash photography is also allowed, which was surprising to me, so I photographed the whole show, save three or four pieces.

At present, I am working on a two-part slideshow of the photographs I took. The first segment will be posted on Monday and, in the meantime, the following photographs are a taste of what is to come…. My husband saw the King Tut show at the same venue back in 1978, so it was a real treat for him to see this show and he so wanted me to see it. We all enjoyed it immensely and I am so glad I have photographs to pore over now.

It was truly incredible to see, at close hand, carving marks on colossal statuary, hieroglyphs, and representations of people and animals from the many Egyptian dynasties. The regimentation and ritualization of this culture really sunk in. Had I not seen this Egyptian exhibition, it would have been a great personal loss. Of course, I would dearly love to travel to Egypt to see the gargantuan monuments, but I treasure having been able to see these. I was also amazed to learn that one of the pieces is made of unfired clay. Incredible! The fragment shown below is about eight feet tall…

An example from the Egyptian exhibition: Relief detail at the top of the fragment. Depicted is the falcon god, Horus, son of Isis, Egyptian god of the sun, protection, and war; patron god.


“Relief of Horemheb. Quartzite, Cairo (Heliopolis), New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Region of Horemheb (1343-1315 BCE). The last king of the 18th Dynasty, Horemheb removed the vestiges of the Amarna revolution and restored the traditional polytheistic religion. On this wall fragment, perhaps a scene related to coronation, he offers incense before the solar God Khepri, no longer visible.”

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