Growing up in California, 1947-1959. By Lawrence G. Desmond.

Growing up in California, 1947-1959.                                        By Lawrence G. Desmond.

Strictly speaking, this book, Growing up in California, 1947-1959. Toy Racers and Giant Salamanders, is not about archaeology. It’s about the photographic skills I acquired over a period of 12 years that led directly to the more professional-level photography of later years in support of my archaeological and ethnographic projects in Mexico, and work with the 19th century photos of Alice Dixon and Augustus Le Plongeon.

A few years ago I began making my photos publically available. I began by publishing a co-authored book about backpacking in the Sierra Nevada of California, then a book about my four years in the Coast Guard, another of my photos of the 1969 San Francisco peace march, and finally four books of photos of Mexico.

But, Growing up in California brought me back to 1947 when I started taking photos as a pre-teen living at home where I was influenced by the family album photos of people and the environment taken by my mother and other family members. In choosing the photos for this book I looked closely at my photography for those first 12 years, but then extended my review to 1970. During the first 12 years my skills improved quickly, but there were a few years when the learning curve was much less steep. Then, beginning around 1968 my photographic output suddenly increased ten fold, and my photography matured with the help of photographers Ansel Adams and Pirkle Jones.

The following summarizes my photography through 1970:

“Looking back at my first 12 years of photography, I consistently documented the people and environment in my life, and that pattern has continued even to this day. My sense of design and technical expertise had its greatest gain in the two years prior to my departure for Mexico to study archaeology. Those gains were due to the training I received from masters of photography such as Adams, Jones and others, a ten fold increase my photographic output, and careful review of my camera work. By 1970, I was prepared to take on the photographic challenge of Mexico, and while my studies in archaeology at the university were invaluable, photography took me far beyond the classroom to villages and archaeological sites where I learned directly about Mexico’s ancient history and culture.” (Growing up in California, 1947-1959, 2014.Page 102)

Growing up in California, 1947-1959 is organized into two parts. The first part has photos taken from 1947 to 1953, and the second has those taken from 1954 to 1959. Part I begins with photos of students and activities in the 7th grade, and ends when I graduated from high school. Part II includes photos taken during my university years of dorm life and some family photos, and ends with photos of Coast Guard shipboard life.

A link to all DesmondBooks, including this new book published, by Blurb of San Francisco is below. Photos in all the books can be viewed standard size or full screen by using the Preview command.


Mexico- Landscape and Architecture. Jacket cover.

Mexico- Landscape and Architecture.

Preview book: Mexico- Landscape and Architecture by Lawrence G. Desmond

Hot off the press: Mexico- Landscape and Architecture. After publishing three books that feature the peoples of Mexico, I have just finished my first book of photos that highlight the landscape and architecture. Most of the photos were taken in the 1970s when I was living in Puebla, and attending the Universidad de las Americas in Cholula. The photos are now archived at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum.

I took advantage of days off from classes at the Universidad de las Americas to travel around Mexico with family and friends. We were graduate students in art history and archaeology, and that required a stop at nearly every Colonial church and archaeological site. The trips, along with my photos, were pretty much unplanned.

I was seldom without my camera because, for me, the Cholula-Puebla region is one of the most photogenic in Mexico. To the west are the snow capped volcanoes of Popocatepetl (17,802 ft, 5,426 m) and Iztaccihuatl (17,343 ft, 5,286 m); and scattered throughout the region are small farming villages and, some say, 365 Colonial churches. True or not, the churches are architectural jewels, and a photographic challenge.

Of course, Mexico has many landscapes — the dry and open spaces of Oaxaca that are reminiscent of Northern California, the damp-steep mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla, the rugged western mountains near Tepic, volcanoes both dormant and ready to erupt, deserts in Northern Mexico and Baja California, the flat limestone plain of Yucatán surrounded by the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the thick humid tropical rainforest along the Gulf Coast that penetrates inland for hundreds of miles.

Most everywhere you travel in Mexico you are likely to see the remains of an ancient civilization. One of the most spectacular, near Mexico City, is Teotihuacan (popularly known as “The Pyramids”), but equally spectacular are the great cities of the Maya such as Uxmal and Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, and in Oaxaca is Monte Alban built on a mountaintop by the Zapotecs, and further south is Mitla with its delicate stone work made by the Mixtecs.

The photos in the book were selected from my Kodachrome transparencies and black-and-white negatives. With a few exceptions, they date from the early 1970s, and were taken with a 35mm Leicaflex SL camera using 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm lenses. The 35mm Kodachrome film was processed by Kodak labs in Palo Alto, California and Mexico City, and I processed the black-and-white Kodak Tri-X film at the Universidad de las Americas in Cholula using Edwal FG7 developer mixed with sodium sulfite.

Weird-Fantastic-Astounding. Find the answer in HAIG.

Weird-Fantastic-Astounding, but all in a day’s work for an archaeologist.

The Society for American Archaeology History of Archaeology Interest Group Newsletter can now be read online. Professor Bernard K. Means, editor of the newsletter, has a particular interest in the New Deal archaeology carried out in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Like everyone else in the 1930s, literally hundreds of archaeologists were out of work, and received funding along with artists, photographers, and musicians to carry out their research.

But, more than WPA funded archaeology, Means publishes articles on lesser-known pioneers in archaeology such Americanist Zelia Nuttall. An in-depth review of the Ross Parmenter (1911-1999) biography of Nuttall (1500 pages and unpublished) by graduate student Peter Diderich at Rostock University in Germany is an example of the newsletter’s excellent coverage of the field (see the January 7, 2014 Archaeoplanet.blog posting). Another important feature of the newsletter is: “Recent and Noteworthy Publications.” It’s indispensable for anyone trying to keep up with the flood of material being published about the history of archaeology.

Means announced in the November issue of the newsletter that “HAIG” will meet at 1PM on April 25th during the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas.

Issues of the Newsletter back to 2011 can be accessed at: http://www.saa.org/HistoryofArchaeologyInterestGroup/tabid/1434/Default.aspx

Mexico- As it was Cover 1            The photographs in Mexico- As it was were taken in the early 1970s during days off from classes at the University of the Americas in Cholula, Mexico. We traveled to cities and villages in the mountainous dry highlands, and to the humid tropical lowlands of Mexico. The photos show life before the rapid social and economic changes of the final two decades of the 20th century.

The color and black-and-white photos are grouped into separate sections, even though there is some overlap in subject matter. Both sections begin with rural farming, fishing, and village life. Next, in contrast to that way of life, are the middle class on Sunday outings, the urban professionals such as a Puebla doctor and his family, a Puebla supermarket, and my teachers who were university-trained archaeologists. Then come the young women of important Puebla families, dressed in traditional sombreros and flowing yellow dresses, who showed their astonishing synchronized horse riding skill–sidesaddle. I am still amazed at how they stayed on their horses when coming to a sudden stop from a gallop. Not to be left out are the one percent who own large farms, ex-haciendas, cattle and bull breeding ranches, and live a life with an international flavor, yet remain very Mexican.

If you would like to Preview the book on the Blurb (publisher) web site click on this link:

MEXICO – As it was. Photographs of Life in the 1970s. by Lawrence G. Desmond:| Blurb Books

Archaeologist Zeiia Magdalena Nuttall

Archaeologist Zeiia Magdalena Nuttall

Peter Diderich, a graduate student at the University of Rostock in Germany, has written an important and in-depth review of the unpublished manuscript Zelia Nuttall and the recovery of Mexico’s past for the Society for American Archaeology’s Newsletter of The History of Archaeology Interest Group. Mr. Diderich was a month at the Bancroft Library of the University of California Berkeley in 2013 reading the Ross Parmenter (1911-1999) 1,500 page Zelia Nuttall and …. (1857-1933) manuscript. Parmenter’s biography is an extraordinary piece of scholarship that is encyclopedic in scope covering the world of Mesoamerican archaeology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mr. Parmenter submitted his biography to the University of New Mexico Press in the mid-1990s, and after review by this writer it was recommended for publication. Unfortunately, the publishing expense due to its great length prevented publication.

To read the full review click on the following link that will take you to the HAIG Newsletter, Volume 3, Numbers 3 & 4, pages 8 to 17, November 2013.    http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/ABOUTSAA/interestgroups/haig/SAA%20HAIG%20newsletter_v3_no3.pdf

As an introduction to his review, Mr. Diderich is quoted below:

“At the age of 88, Ross Parmenter died in 1999 before he was able to finish the manuscript about Nuttall. In his will he stipulated three copies to the Latin American Library at Tulane University, to the Harvard University Library at Cambridge, and to the University of California at Berkeley.18 As for the literary rights, Ross Parmenter’s heirs19 donated these to the Latin American Library.20 There the Latin American Library established the Ross Parmenter Collection, comprising not only the manuscript but also 100 boxes with vast material that Parmenter had accumulated about Nuttall, mostly but not exclusively, for the biography.

            “The manuscript itself is not only a mere narrative about Zelia Nuttall as an important figure in archaeology and anthropology at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. This manuscript is also a reflection on the archaeological scene at the turn of the century. In that regard Ross Parmenter succeeded in piecing together many details into a broad narration about the institutionalization and professionalization of American archaeology and anthropology at this time.”  Peter Diderich, 2013.

Heaven and earth in ancient Mexico: Astronomy and seasonal cycles in the Codex Borgia.

Milbrath- Book cover            This book by art history Professor Susan Milbrath is a breakthrough interpretation of the Codex Borgia. Published in 2013 by the University of Texas Press.

            Heaven and earth in ancient Mexico: Astronomy and seasonal cycles in the Codex Borgia is major new interpretation of the enigmatic middle section of the Codex Borgia. Milbrath demonstrates that this ancient painted text is the most important historical record of pre-Columbian astronomy and natural history in central Mexico.

Her innovative interpretation incorporates a reappraisal of the dates and imagery in a unique narrative passage that has been the subject of scholarly debate for generations. Decoding the imagery in the Borgia narrative allows a new understanding of the way astronomy was integrated with annual cycle of the festival calendar. Reading the Calendar Round dates in companion almanacs as historical records, the author sets the narrative in historical context.

These dates are associated with imagery that are related to changing seasonal rainfall and the festivals celebrated at different times of year to ensure rainfall at appropriate times of year. The book includes an analysis of the seasonal cycle of rainfall and maize, and its relationship to the late Postclassic (1325-1520) festival calendar shared throughout Central Mexico.

The author demonstrates that this account records actual observations of astronomical events and observations of seasonal cycles on earth involving plants, animals, and rainfall.  The interpretations focus on Post Classic imagery of the three most important astronomical bodies in Mexico: the Sun, Moon, and Venus as manifested in the Borgia Group codices and the broader sphere of Aztec iconography. The narrative focuses on the transformation of Venus in relation to the solar cycle, tracking Venus events in concert with the equinoxes and solstices, and the periods when Venus made its underworld journey in conjunction with the sun. Significantly, the narrative records a time when Venus was seen to go through its phase transformations at key points in the solar cycle in a year (1496) of a solar eclipse, the  only total eclipse recorded in late Postclassic Aztec sources.

Stuart Report 60- hieroglyhic panel blog            I regularly receive the publications of the Boundary End Archaeological Research Center that focus on the decipherment and interpretation of Maya hieroglyphics. When I received the September 2013 Report 60, “The Rise of Chak Ek’,“ I was not prepared for the amazing story behind the research.

To do justice to the “back-story” of Report 60, authored by Native American inmates in the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, it seemed best to present the report Preface in the words of its author, archaeologist George E. Stuart.

Dr. Stuart’s (I think he would rather be called George) accomplishments in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology are well known to both professionals and the public. His many articles and books would be too long to list here, yet few outside of the profession of archaeology are aware of his quiet work as staff archaeologist for the National Geographic Society for decades until his retirement in 2001. His work brought discoveries and research about the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica to a worldwide audience.

I was always in awe Geographic’s accurate, but impactful photographs of the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, Mixtec and Zapotec (the list is long) ruins made by its photographers, but Dr. Stuart was always working behind the scenes to foster those articles, and to be certain the writers and photographers had it right. Report 60 is again representative of his quiet and persistent work that resulted in an important contribution to the study of Maya writing by prison inmates who were written off by some in this society—those shortsighted persons were wrong.

For a copy of Report 60, “The Rise of Chak Ek’,“ or any of the other many publications of BEARC online, go to: Boundary End Archaeological Resource Center

Stuart Report 60 cover blog

        “FOR MORE THAN A DECADE the Center for Maya Research and its successor, the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center, have taken part in a remarkable and productive relationship with a group of Native American inmates serving time in the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, and other prisons in the state.

The story began in 2001, when Barry A. Bausman, also known by his Cherokee name, Uguku Usdi (“Little Owl”), and some fellow prisoners took an interest in the ancient Maya calendar and in astronomy. This came after they read Michael D. Coe’s 1999 classic, “Breaking the Maya Code.” Uguku Usdi was so captivated by this history of the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic script that he wrote a letter of inquiry to the people mentioned in the text or bibliography who were likely still alive. I responded, and thus began an exchange of letters and telephone calls that continues to this day. The correspondence file is now more than a foot thick, and growing.

Uguku Usdi and the study group he founded had begun work on the astronomical and calendrical content of the Maya codices with a total lack of source material. Thus, my first task was clear – to provide some basic references.

At the time I received Uguku Usdi’s first letter (forwarded from National Geographic, shortly after my retirement), I was in the midst of sorting books – my own library of some 7,000 volumes along with about that same number from the library of the late Matthew W. Stirling, the gift of his widow, Marion Stirling Pugh.

As one might imagine, many duplicates came to light each day. These I set aside for the group. Hardback books, forbidden to go directly to prisoners, I shipped to prison chaplain Ricardo Duran, who placed them in his office library; paperbacks I sent (in packages conforming to strict limits of content and weight) directly to Uguku Usdi’s cell block. Soon, the prisoners had access, not only to the best reproductions of the codices themselves, but also to complete sets of our own Center’s special publications and serials- Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing and Ancient America, along with papers by scholars, past and present, who had written on Maya astronomy and the calendar.

The letters that came back were both encouraging and, at times, somewhat discouraging. Uguku Usdi’s vivid descriptions of the In Lak’ech Study Group (as they called themselves) sitting around in the yard of Cell Block 4 reading papers by John Teeple, Floyd Lounsbury, David Stuart, and others were wonderful. Nonetheless heartening were the stories of frequent “lockdowns,” when the prisoners, confined to their cells, had to rely upon Maya hieroglyph flash cards held outside the bars for the response of others of the group who could see them!

Soon, the In Lak’ech Study Group began to produce papers. Eventually these reached more than a dozen in number. These I shared with colleagues who specialized in the topics involved, particularly Mayanist Bruce Love of Littlerock, California, and Professor Anthony F. Aveni of Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. Both agreed that the paper presented here deserved publication. Thus, I offer it here as the final print issue of the Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, nearly 30 years after the appearance of Number One.

For co-authors Uguku Usdi, Alberto Saa, and Christopher Wehunt and their colleagues, this is an achievement of the first order, accomplished in the face of almost unimaginable odds. As is the case with all inmates, these men had neither e-mail nor access to the Internet. And if that were not enough, the continuing movement of prisoners among California’s hideously overcrowded facilities now separates the members of the In Lak’ech Study Group. We are honored to publish this result of their determined efforts.”

George Stuart

June 2013


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