Archive - Nov 10, 2013


Tucson morning scene...

balooon 1.jpg 

Almost every morning this week, this has been the scene through the back windows. There must be a balloon staging area behind the mountain. 

Last night, a party at the neighbors celebrating their participation in the Studio Tour. The music? A bagpiper who studied piping for three years in Glasgow, Scotland. His partner on guitar is from Bulgaria, and specializes in the haunting rhythms and minor keys of that region. His website is here

No shortage of conversation. Also present: A jazz pianist originally from Minnesota and his wife, who spent her childhood in Hallock, MN and is now an authority on pottery finishing. The architect of the house I am renting arrived, as did his architectural partner. The two quickly fell into a discussion of various glues used to bind metal. There is a tape made by 3M, I found out, which is so strong that it is used as a substitute for welding. 

Over ambled a chemist, who contributed his knowledge of interlocking crystalline structures to the glue discussion. Then came a sculptor of old metal, the hostess, whose interest in glues took the conversation in another direction. 

Enter a delicate young woman, looking all of 17, who works in the Sudan as an archaeolgist. She is attempting to solve the puzzle of several massive mounds of slag, evidence of the production of iron, in the Sudanese desert. The mounds, which so far have been dated from 400-800 BCE ("which does us no good at all," she declared) are so high you have to take trails to the top. Because the chemistry of the diggings changes immediately upon exposure to sunlight and air, she does her digging at night and stuffs her samples in PVC pipe to be shipped back to the University of Arizona for analysis when she returns. 

The biggest hurdle? Getting the samples through customs. Things stuffed into PVC pipe tend to alert US border agents. No matter how many letters she has written and politicians she has appealed to, there still remains the possibility that her samples will be ruined by opening at the border, in which case, she has to go back to Sudan and find some more. 

The piles of slag were generated by a civilization which was not Egyptian, but clearly was attempting to imitate the more famous civilization to the north. Their pyramids are tiny, and most of them were destroyed by gold-seeking Italians in the 19th century. 

Nobody knows where all the iron produced went. The unbelievable masses of firewood needed for the smelting must have come from somewhere--one theory states that the smelting of that iron might have deforested the area and turned it into the desert it is today.

Enter the chemist. "Well, couldn't you isolate the isotopes..." with a suggestion for dating the material. "Oh, we tried that," the young woman replied.