Brian R. Mahoney-Pierce

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Brian Mahoney-Pierce Abstract 3 April 11, 2011

I am particularly interested in the inhospitable environments that the Maya and Anasazi inhabited. Due to the karst geology of the region, there was no groundwater accessible to the Maya. The Anasazi Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde and Acoma Pueblo settlements were not built in areas with easy access to water or arable land. Why did they choose to settle in these places? Lack of knowledge or alternatives is one possible explanation. Another is that each group had unique preferences and that ease of access to food and water were not paramount. Interplay between the two, of course, is also possible.

The ancient Greeks apparently settled the valleys first, then, as population grew, pushed their progeny further into the slopes as more fertile areas became crowded. The Greeks, in other words, apparently settled harsh areas out of necessity, unlike the other two groups. Regardless, with the passing of generations new land becomes home. At some point in cultural history, at the point when peoples shift from nomadic or migratory lifestyles to sedentary ones, this concept of home takes hold. We humans do not like to leave a place once we have deemed it home, we see this throughout history. This is why the abandonment of ancient settlements is so fascinating and mysterious.

I often hear the question, amidst conversations that touch upon homelessness in New England winter, “why don’t people go to where it’s warm?” The question has a clear logic – without protection, cold winters can be lethal. If a person knows that they do not have the means to protect themselves, it is illogical to remain in a dangerous position. Perhaps young adults, liberated by their loosening roots, find this logic particularly apt. It negates, however, the feeling of home that some people value above all else.

Last semester I learned that traditional Kenyan houses are made of raw natural materials like mud and straw. Such houses will not last more than 10 years. This, however, was not seen as a flaw. The house weakens and melts back into the earth, and a new one is built nearby. Nothing, from a traditional Kenyan perspective, is lost.

As we can see by visiting mountainous Guatemala, some lines of Mayan descent never really left their land, and through the ages maintained culture and language. Why are the Anasazi different? Benson hypothesized that cultural forces sucked every last Anasazi away from Chaco, despite the evidence that many of them should have been able to remain. Were the Anasazi a people that placed community and solidarity above other values? Are the people called Pueblos, or subgroups within them, culturally Anasazi?

Perhaps it is assumed, or irrelevant, the valuation the humans can place on their settlements. However, I feel that many of the theories we have read are too dull to fully explain what compelled people to permanently abandon their land; or the theories are dull because they fail to consider the tragic nature of emigration.

  • Does 'dullness' affect likelihood of 'correctness'? But I think your point is really more like, "there are dimensions not addressed here"? Certainly -- and fair to bring them up -- but would the authors be justified in saying "of course -- but that's not te question we're asking"? Kwoods 01:27, 28 April 2011 (UTC)
  • This is pretty interesting, especially given that the only way we can study these people is through their abandoned homes. Since the Pueblo Indians are named for the stacked-apartment pueblo housing they build, which are clearly made to last, and what we know about the Anasazi are their cave dwellings and kivas, it seems clear that these people were never like the Kenyans with their mud-straw houses. These people were building to stay, to have a permanent home, like the farmers who built their grand houses in New England before agriculture declined here. You're right that that is part of what makes their disappearances so mysterious. (Not that the Pueblo have disappeared...) I guess my point is that, based on the homes they built, they DID value home, so they must have been pretty desperate to leave, and that's what the studies are all about.

Jsippel 20:08, 1 May 2011, (UTC)


Bmahoney-pierce 12:29, 25 May 2011 (UTC) MIL-waukee-ORGAnic-NITrogEn I was interested in looking more into Milorganite and other modern considerations of using human waste as a component of agriculture. MIL-waukee-ORGAnic-NITrogEn The city of Milwaukee treats wastewater (sewage) to separate and purify water and isolate biosolids for disposal using a waste-treatment process developed ~ 1900 and implemented since 1923. Initial reception was positive such that by 1925 “the Sewerage Commission concluded that the disposal problem they faced could be solved by producing and marketing the fertilizer.” (http://www.milorganite.com/about/history.cfm) How much of a ‘disposal problem’ did Milwaukee face? How different is the current situation? What percentage of total biosolid waste is sold as Milorganite? I would also like to know how common it is to use urban ‘sludge’ in agriculture, and what the alternatives are. All cities have to do something with the huge volume of human feces, whether incinerating or landfilling it or taking some other approach. I will move forward by researching and comparing common approaches to ‘disposing of’ human waste. As a pollutant, how significant are biosolids? What proportion of landfilled material do biosolids assume? Once in a landfill, how do biosolids act? How much carbon is released by the incineration of human shit? How much does it cost for cities to landfill one ton of biosolids? How much to incinerate one ton? Does it cost more to process biosolids for agricultural use than to pay for other disposal methods? How much of the Milorganite production process is funded by retail sales of Milorganite? On a philosophical level, I am curious why I have not been compelled to educate myself on local sewage waste disposal, while I have concerned myself greatly with my material impacts on my environment/the global environment. I saw my primary, lasting impacts as a human as directly related to commercialism and overconsumption. Landfills present a growing problem to society as they grow in size and anaerobically decompose. Contributing to them is direct participation in an unsustainable waste-management scheme. Under this pretext, I came to believe that by eliminating my material waste, I would be effectively eliminating my impact on the biosphere. I never occurred to me, until now, that one form of material ‘waste’ is intrinsic to humans – as long as we live we will produce excrement and urine. So, in considering our direct impact on the biosphere we must consider what happens to this singular inescapable material output of a living human. In pursuing this concept I am interested to learn about historical examples of human-waste disposal. Night soil was historically essential to rice-paddy production. How is it used today, and what accounted for any observed changes? What are some examples of hunter-gatherer bathroom practices? When was ‘humanure’ first applied to soil, and when did it cease to be put to that use? In the early 1900’s, just before the production methods of Milorganite were being researched, someone must have had the idea of using urban human waste as a fertilizer. This idea must have been radical in a time when dumping sewage into the ocean was common practice by costal cities (that’s an assumption, I do not know what the most prominent sewage management methods were – would like to find out).


“Our History.” Milorganite Lawn and Garden Products. 

(http://www.milorganite.com/about/history.cfm)