Wednesday, February 1, 2012


The other day I attended a lecture by a visiting anthropologist; the title sounded interesting, but I drifted away during the lecture, sketching out a design for a large sailing raft, a replica of a pre-Conquest vessel of South America. This little mental drift reminded me of how thankful I am that I didn't follow the tenure-track path. On that path, there would be no time for these more expansive thoughts.

Sketching the design put me back in the mind of the sailing expedition of 1998; here's a great photo of Dowar Medina-Urbin, an Ecuadorean fisherman who sailed with us for 750 miles, to Northern Colombia. We learned a lot from him about the local conditions, and he learned -- as we did -- about sailing a 60-ton vessel made of 50-foot balsa logs tied with over a mile of 1-inch diameter native hemp rope and propelled by nearly a thousand square feet of native cotton sails! That expedition led us to a realistic understanding of the sailing options and constraints that would have conditioned the behavior of pre-Conquest Ecuadorean mariners, an issue that I and my coauthors approach -- in a roundabout (but appropriately roundabout!) way -- here.

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