Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Seven years ago this month, THE GENERALIST ran a long piece on the archaeological discoveries in Amazonia that showed evidence of a considerable number of  ancient settlements across the region that were much larger and more advanced than previous theories suggested, surrounded by areas that were extensively cultivated. SEE PREVIOUS POST 

So was interested to read a bang up to date summary of the latest evidence and theories in 'Finding the Real Eldorado' by Michael Marshall [New Scientist/19th Jan 2019].

Long before the arrival of Europeans, millions of people were living in Amazonia, building vast earthworks and  cultivating multitudes of plants and fish.

When the Europeans did arrive in the 1500s there were several reports of cities, road networks and cultivation. The mysteries of these lost cities fuelled many a gripping yarn and several expeditions searched for the legendary El Dorado without success. As a result, for many years, Amazonia was regarded as a pristine wilderness, with lush vegetation but poor soils that would not be able to support substantial human occupation.

Marshall says that this view changed in the 1990s. Fresh evidence of larger settlements and a new understanding of terra preta - patches of dark earth first discovered in the 1870s - emerged. This fertile soil is now thought to have been enriched by charcoal, created by burning waste including bones and seeds. However it only dates from 2,000 years ago and Amazonia was inhabited much longer than that.

Recent DNA samples of current Amazonian tribes has confirmed that colonists from east Asia, who first arrived in the Americas 17,000 years ago, quickly reached Amazonia, whose population began to expand  for the next 3,500 years. By 9,000 years ago, we now know that the Amazonians had domesticated 83 species of plants, including many that would become the most important crops in the world. There are traces from 4,500 years ago of fruit tree planting and rice growing. Large fish farms have been found.

It is clear that they also built substantial structures, principally out of soil.They never used stone and didn't have metal. Archaeologist Michael Heckenberger has spent 25 years mapping a substantial group of ancient settlements, home to some 50,000 people, that were linked by a network of roads.

It now seems that the entire southern Amazon belt [1800 kms long], was occupied by earth-building cultures from 1250-1500 AD.Their cities were linked networks of smaller clustered settlements woven into the fabric of the forest. They farmed fish and trees not wheat, barley and cattle.

Their population peaked in 1000 AD and began to decline over the next 50 years for reasons thatare not known..The best estimate is that there were 8-10 million people living in Amazonia by 1492, the year Columbus "discovered" America. When Europeans arrived, the rate of decline of the Amazonian population accelerated.

Modern deforestation has also revealed huge earthworks, further evidence of the extent of civilisations thousands of years ago. 

In 2010, a Finnish anthropologist Martti Pärssinen reported on his discovery of more than 300 large-scale geometrical patterns - mainly consisting of mounds and moats - in the Brazilian state of Acre alone. This construction feat has been compared to the scale of the Egyptian pyramid building. Radiocarbon dating conducted on the construction show that the earliest ones were built some 2.000 years ago.

Denise Schaan, co-author of the study and anthropologist at the Federal University of Pará, in Belém, Brazil.“We are talking of enormous structures, with diameters ranging from 100 to 300 meters, connected by straight orthogonal roads. They are strategically located on plateaux tops above the river valleys. Their builders took advantage of the natural topography in order to construct spaces that were full of symbolic meaning.”

“The geoglyphs are an astonishing discovery...They are the vestiges of a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society.” 
[Source: ZME Science]

See Also: Under The Jungle by David Grann  [New Yorker. 7th Jan 2010]



There is a similarity between this story and discoveries made in the Great Plains of America. Again my main source is another excellent piece 'The Missing city on the Plains' by Daniel Cossins (New Scientist/1 Dec 2018). Most people will think that the vast grasslands of the Midwest were peopled by tribes of Native Americans who led a nomadic existence in small groups.

This view was disproved by the discovery of Cahokia, America's first city, centred on a large grassy knoll directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri. A cluster of small villages of the Mississippian people in the 9th century expanded over the next 200 years into a city of 20,000 people. Cossins writes: 'A 30m high terraced structure hewn from the clay-heavy soil, overlooked a grand plaza, outside of which people lived in thatched huts scattered across the landscape.' It was abandoned by the mid-14th century.

According to Wikipedia, the site is now a historic park covering 2,200 acres (890 ha) /3.5 sq mls (9 sq km),  containing about 80 mounds. In its heyday,  the ancient city was much larger, covering 6 sq miles (16 sq km) and included about 120 man-made earthen mounds.
'Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1,000 years before European contact. Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico.'
 'Archaeologists estimate the city's population at between 6,000 and 40,000 at its peak, with more people living in outlying farming villages that supplied the main urban center.  If the highest population estimates are correct, Cahokia was larger than any subsequent city in the United States until the 1780s, when Philadelphia's population grew beyond 40,000. Moreover, according to the same population estimates, the population of 13th-century Cahokia was equal to or larger than the population of 13th-century London.'

The discovery of the second largest prehistoric settlement Etzanoa in modern-day Kansas can be traced back to the historic records of a 1601 Spanish expedition across what is now Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.Cossins reports: 'The Spanish recounted how they were led to a settlement of people they called the Rayados so that it would have taken two days to walk across it. They called it Etzanoa and reckoned it was home to 20,000 people.' 

Further testimonies of the expedition and an enigmatic map have come to light, piquing the interest of anthropologists Donald Blakeslee who went out into the field to follow-up previous speculations that Etzanoa lay at the confluence of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers in southern Kansas. By matching clues in the documents to the landscape, excavations have uncovered evidence of clusters of houses surrounded by gardens and some metal objects which may be Spanish. Further excavations to follow.
(Photo by William S. Soule/Wikimedia Commons)
According to an account in La Crosse International in August 2018: 'Centuries ago, people lived there in thatched, beehive-shaped houses that ran for miles along local riverbeds, the 75-year-old said. [Blakeslee] bases such claims on the unearthing in recent years of a huge trove of pottery, arrowheads, stone scrapers and other relics along a five-mile stretch along the banks of the Walnut and Arkansas rivers.'

Two videos on the Wichita Eagle website: Blakeslee refers to other discoveries: a settlement of 10,000 people in West Ohio and another in North Dakota.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


It's taken THE GENERALIST a week to get around to writing about the Mimeograph Symposium at the University of Westminster campus on London's Marylebone Road, in a giant industrial basement area, painted white, three floors down.

This picture was taken the afternoon before the event started. Just loaded and checked the Powerpoint presentation - on two screens. All looked great and I could feel some adrenaline flowing. I turned round and welcomed the absent audience. My friend Peter Messer commented on Facebook: 'He's not the Messiah, he's just a very naughty boy.' Brilliant! Enjoyed the whole experience.

'The stencil duplicator or mimeograph machine (often abbreviated to mimeo) is a low-cost duplicating machine that works by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper... Mimeographs...were a common technology in printing small quantities, as in office work, classroom materials, and church bulletins. Early fanzines were printed with this technology, because it was widespread and cheap. In the late 1960s, mimeographs began to be gradually displaced by photocopying.' [Wikipedia]
Mimeographed Programme
printed on-site


Alt Går Bra is a group of visual artists researching the intersections between art and politics through discursive events, exhibitions, and publications. Their title is Norwegian for Everything Goes Well.

International conference convened by Alt Gar Bra at the University of Westminster, 7-8th February 2019, 9am-6pm, Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS

Thursday, 7th February
8:45 Welcome and arrivals. Tea & coffee
9:10 Opening by Alt Gar Bra and Senior Lecturer Jane Tankard

9:20 Alt Gar Bra Technology and Labor, A 21st Century Artistic Experiment With a 20th Century Tool

10:15 John May  The Generalist Archive's Mimeo Publications, History of the Underground Press Syndicate and UK Publications

11:20 Elizabeth Haven Hawley Duplicating for the Movement 

12:15 Jess Baines Community Activism, Papers and Printshops
14:00 Teal Triggs Zines and the Graphic Language of Duplication

[In reality,Teal Triggs gave her interesting talk on the great punk zines [Ripped & Torn/Sniffing Glue etc] in the 12:15 slot. Then we had lunch and I had  to leave.

14:55 Rob Hansen & Oscar Mac-Fall The Mimeograph and Science Fiction Fandom in the UK

[Got to talk with Rob who showed me some copies from his massive archive of historic SF mags. He is one of three major collectors in the UK of this prolific stream of small print publications. The graphic cover art is amazing in many cases]

15:50 Video Screening Human Mimeo: MidAmeriCon (1976)

Friday 8th February
9:20 Lawrence Upton Writers Forum or How to Use the Gestetner Duplicator to Try to Change the World

10:15 Bruce Wilkinson Hidden Culture, Forgotten History: Little Poetry Magazines, Diverse Countercultures and Their Lasting Impact

11:20 Douglas Field: A Paper Exhibition in Words, Pages, Spaces, Holes, Edges and Images: Jeff Nuttall, William Burroughs and My Own Mag

[Douglas is based at Manchester University and was recently involved on the revived and republished edition of Jeff Nutall's '60s classic 'Bomb Culture'. SEE PREVIOUS POST ]

12:15 Ueno Hisami Mimeograph: The Fertile Field Between Industry and Art in Modern Japan

14:00 Alessandro Ludovico The Mimeograph and Post-digital Print

15:00 David Mayor & Dr. Amy Tobin Beau Geste Press: A Community of Duplicators Doing, Discovering and Disseminating

15:55 Conference closing by Alt Gar Bra 16:15

Closing Performance by Cephalopedia  Kitchin Publishing - Chopping up the Past and Stapling it Together: A Homage to Martha Hellion and Takako Saito, and in memoriam Felipe Ehrenberg

Arts Council England, Norwegian Arts Council, OCA, Bergen City Council, Norwegian Visual Artists Association, Norwegian Embassy in London. In partnership with the University of Westminster. Printed on a Gestetner 366 and typed on an Olympia 7.6 De Luxe.

Big Thanks to Oscar and ALT GRA BAR. Thanks to Keane, Raphael, Jerome and Richard who sent me a Guardian article by Sam Leith on the boom in books on how to speak in public  - and a message on a postcard.


The Generalist enjoys the chancy nature of fishing for good DVDs in charity shops. This 3-DVD set is a treasure - the 1986 film 'Comrades' about the Tolpuddle Martyrs (3hrs 3mins) directed by Bill Douglas, in Blue Ray and DVD formats, and a great third disc of Extras, mainly interviews with the director. It was a great pleasure to watch the film for the first time with Shirley Collins, widely regarded as the queen of British folk music, who had never seen it either.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs site is a good place to get up to speed on the basic story of how, in 1834, a group of farm workers in west Dorset formed what is widely considered to be one of the first trade unions in Britain. At that time unions were legal and were growing fast but the six leaders of the Tolpuddle workers were arrested for taking an oath of secrecy. Sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years, their case triggered a massive national protest, with thousands marching through London. Numerous petitions and meetings calling for their release helped to strengthened the union movement. There is annual festival celebrating their memory in Tolpuddle every year (19-21st July).

This little-seen film is a curio of great interest. The main part of the narrative is based in the Dorset landscape and is beautifully conceived and filmed on rich coloured film stock. The six largely unknown lead actors are superb, as are the women and children. Their suffering and emotional lives are realistically portrayed, the period is cleverly evoked, the costumes are great and the narrative skilfully unfolds, capturing your deep attention and touching your sensitivity.

The second shorter section, shot in Australia, is, by contrast, harder to like.The prisoners are split up and we follow their different fates. The landscapes are dramatic but the filming and the stories are rambling and less skilfully told and edited, with throwaway cameos by Vanessa Redgrave and James Fox.

A delightful aspect of the film reflects Bill Douglas passionate interest in the early years of optical instruments leading up to the silent cinema days. Thus characters appear throughout the film from that early world of moving images. Alex Norton who plays 11 roles in total, opens the film as a travelling magic lantern entertainer, and is later seen as a Diorama showman, a silhouettist and a mad photographer.

 As well as making films, Bill Douglas (b.1934) and his friend Peter Jewell assembled a remarkable collection of over 50,000 items which, after Bills death in 1991, was gifted to the University of Exeter to found The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum that now houses one of the largest collections in Britain of material relating to the history of the moving image.

Bill's other work for which he was best known was  an influential trilogy which harks back to his impoverished upbringing in the early 1940s in Scotland. According to IMDB : 'Cinema was his only escape - he paid for it with the money he made from returning empty jam jars - and this escape is reflected most closely at this time of his life as an eight-year-old living on the breadline with his half-brother and sick grandmother in a poor mining village...Later he works in a mine and in a tailor's shop nefore he is conscripted into the RAF, and goes to Egypt, where he is befriended by Robert, whose undemanding companionship releases Jamie from self-pity.'


On the Acknowledgments page at the back of this remarkable novel (thanks to Mick B for the tip-off), the author Hari Kunzru writes:

'Certain things are always erased or distorted in a novel and this is no exception. It seems worth saying that it is not a representation of the politics or personalities of the Angry Brigade, which carried out a series of bomb attacks on targets including the Police National Computer and the Employment Secretary's house in the early seventies. Readers who want information about the Angry Brigade are directed to the papers of the Stoke Newington Eight Defence Group, and writing by Gordon Carr, Jean Weir, John Barker and Stuart Christie.' 

I remember those days at the end of the 60s/early 70s when everything was happening every week and it was scary and exciting.

This novel captures the energy of that time and sweeps you along right from Page One as we join the assault on the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, guarded by riot police with truncheons on horseback.Hunzru's novel has several narratives interweaving with each other, back and forth, and several mysteries. I was hooked for three or four days. A great read.


Look back in anger

Martin Bright The Observer/Sun 3 Feb 2002
They were the British Baader Meinhof, '70s icons of the radical left. Thirty years ago, the Angry Brigade launched a string of bombing attacks against the heart of the British Establishment. No one was killed, but after a clampdown on the 'counter culture' and amid accusations of a Bomb Squad 'fix', four radicals were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now, for the very first time, two of the Angries break their vow of silence.'


This is the Activism issue of VAROOM, the bi-annual magazine of theAssociation of Illustrators.This issue is still available here. One of the keynote essays 'Graphic Protest'  written by Margaret Cubbage, an independent curator, explains the role graphics have played in protest and campaigns for change. This is a valuable issue, beautifully designed.