Skeptical Graduate Student:
"The Olmec arose in an area with nothing no jade, no obsidian, no granitic rock for mutates, no serpentine, no magnetite or ilmenite, no decent chert, no rock crystal or chalcedony. They had to trade for it right? And how did they trade for it? By setting up an incredible trade network that had to be tied into their chiefly lineage, or it never would have worked.”
“If their area had nothing, what were they doing there?” asked the Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist.
“Growing three metric tons of maize per hectare,” muttered Gomez, who had worked on the levees of the Coatzacoalcos River.
“And what were they trading for all this jade, and serpentine, and obsidian, and magnetite?” R.M.A. demanded.
“Ideas,” said S.G.S.
…”the Olmec were in the process of working out the greatest intellectual and artistic tradition in early Mesoamerica, weren’t they? Isn’t that what you and Michael Coe keep telling me? The ‘great tradition’ in the sense that Rover Redfield used the term, calendrics, writing, monumental art, the concept of social rank, cosmology, the cult of the were-jaguar. Wasn’t that worth selling? You once told me that list of items ‘constituted Olmec culture’.”
But it’s worth asking: why do people who do not believe that knocking on wood has an effect on the world often do it anyway? Because it works.
No, knocking on wood won’t change what happens. The cancer is no more likely to stay in remission one way or the other. But knocking on wood does affect our beliefs, and that’s almost as important.
In the absence of other bounty, we did collect, through our guide’s chatter, strange superstitions: Among the reasons people prefer to come from Moscow to sleep in wooden dachas is that sleep in a wooden building is much more restful than in an ordinary house; five hours of sleep in a wooden house is worth eight in an ordinary one; if one has a country home, one should not leave furniture out at night, because moonlight ruins furniture.