The Great Exhibition of 1851

On May 1, 1851, the brainchild of Prince Albert  (Queen Victoria’s consort) came to fruition.  He wanted to showcase Britain’s might and cutting-edge technology and include other nations as well.  Therefore, a Royal Commission was issued for the first “world’s fair” called the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.

The Great Exhibition was created by  Henry Cole, George Wallis, Francis Henry, Charles Dilke and members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and, of course, Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria presided over the opening ceremonies and though The Times heralded the exhibition as the first time since the world’s creation that all peoples worked together, the English people initially responded with a resounding “Meh…” to the idea.

Queen Vickie at Great Exh

Queen Victoria opening the Great Exhibition inside the Crystal Palace accessed  from Historic UK

 

Ultimately it caught on. By the time the exhibition ended in October, more than six million visitors had paid for entry. A casual walk through the exhibits might result in a sighting of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, or Charlotte Bronté, as well as the Royal Family, who visited often.

The Exhibits

The exhibits were based, in typical Victorian style, on  a thirty-part classification system with a focus on manufacturing. It started with raw materials and worked its way through to the final object. A large part of the exhibition focused on Britain’s empire and its manufacturing might. A lump of coal that weighed several tons, from Speedwell Colliery, was testament to the source of energy that powered the first industrial revolution. It also highlighted England’s coal industry.

However, other nations were included as well. Exhibitions included pottery, ironwork, perfume, pianos, in short, over 100,000 items over 10 miles. There was the hydraulic press that had been used to move a bridge, an adding machine, and the precursor to the fax machine. Also included were strange objects like an expanding hearse, folding pianos, and  ink for the blind that rose up on paper, creating print readable by touch.

A fire-engine was sent from Canada, its panels painted with Canadian scenes. The Canadians also sent furs.

India sent a carved ivory throne, a pearl-covered coat, rubies, emeralds and the Koh-i-noor Diamond (“Mountain of Light”). They also sent an elaborate howdah (canopied saddle) for the rajah’s elephant. The stuffed elephant provided by an English museum of stuffed animals showcased the saddle.

Elephant great exhib

Crown Jewels great exhib

Image 1: Indian exhibit, public domain      Image 2: Crown Jewels of England with Koh-i-noor Diamond in center. Image accessed from Smithsonian Magazine at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-koh-i-noor-diamondand-why-british-wont-give-it-back-180964660/ on July 5, 2020.

Of course, the British Empire would not be returning the diamond; India would not get its freedom from Britain until 1947. Instead, they had it polished and set it in the crown jewels.

A huge eagle with outstretched wings, holding a star-spangled banner, the Colt’s repeating rifle and Cyrus McCormick’s reaping machine were sent by the U.S.

In one area, Egypt’s architecture with a complete recreation of the Avenue of the Lions and King Ramses court loomed over the visitors.

Egyptian exhibit great exhib

Egyptian Exhibit, public domain

 

There was also a recreated lead mine and the first recreation of dinosaurs and other extinct animals.

Replicas of statues from around the world could be seen, the most popular being the Greek Slave by Hiram Power. She had her own little red velvet tent since all she wore was a piece of chain.

Slave Great Ex

The Greek Slave by Hiram Power. Accessed at https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.166484.html

France sent Sevres porcelain and silks from Lyons, furniture, tapestries, and enamels from Limoges together with the machinery used to produce these items.

Because of ice in the Baltic, the Russian exhibits arrived late.  They sent porcelain and malachite vases and urns twice as tall as a man. They also sent Cossack armour.

Gold watches from Switzerland and a 50 kg. lump of gold from Chile were displayed.

All of these exhibits were housed inside the Crystal Palace.

The Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace exterior

The Crystal Palace, exterior. Public domain.

 

A competition was held to see who could create the best design for the building to house the exhibition. The firm of Fox and Henderson won. Joseph Paxton was the architect and based his design on greenhouses he had built previously. Charles Fox was the structural engineer on the project and together they built the Crystal Palace with iron rods supporting the glass walls of the building.

The building was 1848 feet long by 454 feet wide, covering 19 acres. It held trees and large statues as well as the exhibitions.

But first, a visitor had to get to the Crystal Palace and in order to do so, one took a special train (the railway being another huge accomplishment of the era). The London and Brighton Railway provided various routes of entry. Tourists could buy their railway ticket which included the entry fee for the palace and grounds as well.

Once inside, the tourist would see the Palace’s famous fountain in the middle of the building. It was made of four tons of pink glass. It stood 27 feet high.

Fountain Great Ex

The Crystal Palace fountain, public domain.

 

Throughout the building  a visitor could obtain refreshments by Messrs Schweppes, although no alcohol was sold. In addition, for the first time, one could obtain a private cubicle for “convenience” (bathroom) and it only cost one penny!

The building required over 1,000 iron columns to support 2,224 trellis girders. It was made up of 4,000 tons of iron, with 30 miles of guttering (a new invention). The transept arch was made of 16 huge semi-circular ribs made of laminated timber. In order to be cleaned (by machines), the flooring boards were set half an inch apart. Actually, though, the skirts of the women visitors took care of that quite well.

The palace was organized as series of courts depicting the history of art and architecture from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance, as well as exhibits from industry and the natural world. The building was so large, it easily held hundreds of statues and trees, as well as all of the exhibits.

Inside C P 1

The Crystal Palace from Encyclopedia Britannica assessed June 28, 2020

 

The original site of the palace was in Hyde Park and after the Great Exhibition it was dismantled, enlarged, and rebuilt in Sydenham Hill,  one of the highest points in London. You can imagine how it looked, gleaming on a hill overlooking that bustling city.

Crys Pal on hill

Image from Hidden London: https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/sydenham/ accessed July 5, 2020.

 

With the influx of tourists, hotels appeared and impressive homes were built nearby. The population in Sydenham Hill doubled every ten years for three decades due to housing for the employees of the palace.

Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of the building in 1936. The rest of the building as torn down in 1941 so as to make less of a landmark for German bombers.

Because of its use of iron and glass, some architects hail the Crystal Palace as the first truly modern building. Historians often cite the fact that London’s building codes at the time did not normally allow for such prefabricated, imposing structures.

In either case, Paxton’s use of interchangeable, pre-built girders, columns, and other components of the building were novel and allowed the building to be deconstructed and then reconstructed (and enlarged upon) when moved to Sydenham Hill.  It was the largest glass building of the nineteenth century, and the only free-standing iron-frame building of that century as well. Its design was a precursor to our skyscrapers.

Because of the amazing construction of the Crystal Palace, many exhibitions afterward were in glass buildings. New York was quick to create its own Crystal Palace in 1853, and Munich (1854) and Sydney (1879) among others followed suit.

Obviously, Joseph Paxton expanded the humble idea of a greenhouse and the many technical innovations of the Crystal Palace would be a legacy for architects to come.

 

Works Cited

Auerbach, Jeffrey A. The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display. Yale University Press, 1999.

Chance, Tom. January 2018. The Crystal Palace’s Glass: a technical and social history.  http://tomchance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Glazing_the_Crystal_Palace.pdf#:~:text=The%20Crystal%20Palace%20marked%20a%20number%20of%20great,to%20a%20different%20design%2C%20supplemented%20with%20new%20parts. Accessed July 7, 2020.

Encyclopedia Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Crystal-Palace-building-London. Accessed July 4, 2020.

Hidden London at https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/sydenham/. Accessed July 6, 2020.

Historic UK at https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Great-Exhibition-of-1851/. Accessed July 6, 2020.

Phillips, Samuel.  Guide to the Crystal Palace and Park: Facsimile edition of 1856 official guide. Euston Grove Press.

Picard, Liza. Oct 14 2009. “The Great Exhibition” at https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain/articles/the-great-exhibition. Accessed July 7 2020.

 

What’s Your Poison?

 “Hide not thy poison with such sugar’d words.” (Shakespeare, Henry IV, Act III, Scene 2)

Poison has played a large part in human history. It has shaped empires and silenced dissidents. It has been used to denigrate entire groups of people and alienate the sexes. It has been used by kings, slaves, men, and women.

Socrates

Ideas are dangerous and a perfect example of poison as thought control is the death of Socrates. The great Greek philosopher was condemned to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. In 399 B.C.E., he took hemlock, noting its effect as he died surrounded by followers.

Death of Socrates

Fig: “Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David Met Museum of Art at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436105  

Mithridates

Mithridates (114-63 BCE) feared being poisoned so much he tested poisons and their cures on criminals. As King of Pontos (in what is now Turkey), no one would argue if he killed a few guys scheduled for execution. He took small doses of poison daily to build up an immunity and created an antidote, which he named Mithridatium.  When the Romans invaded, they took that top-secret information with them.

Mith

Fig: Mithridates at https://www.ancient.eu/Mithridates_VI/#:~:text=Mithridates%20was%20born%20in%20the%20city%20of%20Sinope,tutored%20in%20languages%2C%20military%20skills%2C%20and%20the%20arts.

Locusta of Gaul

Speaking of Romans, Locusta, a Gaul captive of the Roman Empire, became Emperor Nero’s favorite poisoner. Before he “employed” her, Nero’s mom had Locusta sprinkle poison on Emperor Claudius’s mushrooms. Apparently she didn’t use enough! He didn’t die right away and his doctor finished the job by putting a poison feather in his mouth (supposedly to get him to vomit the poison out).

Poor Claudius.

Nero feared that his son would usurp him and ordered Locusta to poison him. Once again, she gave too low a dose and the boy did not die.

Nero flogged her.

He demanded she up the dose and practice on children!

Apparently that awful experiment worked and she used the correct dose on Britannicus because the boy died shortly after drinking his tainted beverage.

This made Nero happy and he gave Locusta estates, and even set up students for her to teach her deadly skills to. They would practice on convicts, animals, and slaves.

Of course, when Nero killed himself, Locusta’s jig was up. She was dragged through the streets of Rome and sentenced to death.

Locusta

Fig: Locusta of Gaul from Ancient Origins https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/locusta-gaul-0013483

 

One does wonder, though, if as a captive Locusta had any say in the matter. Her initial forays into murder were half-hearted since the potions were not strong enough to kill.

That could be wrong, of course. Maybe she enjoyed it.

Lucrezia Borgia

Certainly, when you think “poison” you think Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), right? Well, although she is rumored to have worn a hollowed out ring that held poison, and although her husband and her brother were both murdered (stabbed and/or strangled), there is really no proof she poisoned anyone.

Lucrezia Borgia

Fig: Lucrezia Borgia from Library of Congress at https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=library+of+congress+lucrezia+borgia+image&id=6F186DA678CFB2FB871F02152C96E83171067112&form=IQFRBA&first=1&scenario=ImageBasicHover

 

It’s far more likely she was a pawn in the Borgia family’s political manipulations and her reputation was an easy mark for the Borgia’s enemies.

Yes, she did attend the infamous Banquet Chestnuts which was rumored to include 50 prostitutes and clergymen, including her father Pope Alexander VI, but that doesn’t mean she killed anyone. Even the lewd specifics of the banquet are called into question now.

The Borgias are said to have preferred arsenic as their method of dispatch. Their power in Renaissance Italy was unparalleled and they meddled in politics and ecclesiastical power struggles.

Miao Women

Women became known as the main users of poison. It didn’t require strength. It did imply a sneaky methodology, something that fit in well with the misogynistic worldview of women from antiquity to present.

There was a legend that the women of the southern mountains of China would slip gu poison to their lovers. This poison was made by putting five venomous critters in a jar: a scorpion, snake, centipede, toad, and spider. This was done on the Day of the Dragon Boat Festival (the fifth day of the fifth lunar month). The jar was kept in darkness for a year and during that year, the five creatures would fight. When the jar was opened, the surviving creature was (obviously) the most venomous and would have eaten the others, thereby adding to its poison.

But why wait a year? A gu sorcerer could kill a poisonous snake, mix in some herbs, and sprinkle some water on it. Once it decomposed, he would scoop up the mold and mix it with wine for a tasteless poison.

Why would the women poison their lovers? The idea was that they seduced northern men. A man would have a good time, and then return home. He’d promise to return of course, and if he returned in time, the woman would administer the antidote. If not, well, his heart and abdomen would swell and he’d die a prolonged, painful death.

Miao women

Fig: Miao women from Atlas Obscura at https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-legendary-chinese-poison-made-by-forcing-snakes-scorpions-and-centipedes-to-fight

 

The lesson here, fellows, is don’t dawdle.

Of course, the people accused of using this poison were marginalized women of the Lingnan and Miao. The legend was used to further marginalize them, particularly in the 18th century when the Miao rebelled. Miao women were independent: they didn’t bind their feet, they hunted and farmed beside their men, and they had sexual freedom. You can’t just let that go, you know. The next thing you know, they’d be voting!

We know the Chinese were not the only people to manipulate the narrative on people who were different, right? The witch hunts of the seventeenth century in Europe and North America are perfect examples of this. But today we’re talking about poison, not discussing creating a negative dynamic about a group.

The Lambeth Poisoner

Women and marginalized groups weren’t the only ones using poison.

In the later nineteenth century, Dr. Thomas Neil Cream, a/k/the Lambeth Poisoner, used strychnine to kill eight of his patients in Chicago. He was tried, imprisoned, then freed when his brother begged (and possibly bribed) the governor of Illinois to commute the sentence.

Originally from England, he returned there in October of 1891 where he killed a 19-year old prostitute and blackmailed a man who used the dead woman’s services.  Just days later he did it again, but apparently he wasn’t careful enough with the blackmail victim (he just chose one at random) and Scotland Yard got involved.

Dr. Cream must have felt rather impervious; he took a visiting American on a tour of where the (by then four) prostitutes had been killed and creeped the visiting fellow out so much, he contacted the authorities.

Cream

Fig: Dr. Thomas Neil Cream from http://www.executedtoday.com/2017/11/15/1892-thomas-neill-cream-i-am-jack-the/

 

He was finally executed in 1892. His return to England didn’t last a year. According to the executioner, just as the trapdoor was sprung, Cream said, “I am Jack the….”

But the timeline doesn’t work.

One Man’s Poison….

Obviously, poison is deadly. But with modification and experimentation, we’ve developed medicines from poison.

Paracelsus (1493-1541), (the Father of Toxicology) was a Swiss physician during the German Renaissance. He discarded the teachings of the universities and sought information from “old wives” and gypsies.

Paracelsus

Fig: Paracelsus from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Paracelsus

Paracelsus also denounced the idea that stars and planets affected the human body and started experimenting with natural cures. He’s credited with the idea that small doses of what makes a man ill can also be his cure (homeopathy).

His work, and the work of others have given us many medicines. Strychnine gave us quinine, for the treatment of malaria. Arsenic and yew bark are components of treatments for cancer. Foxglove contains digoxin which controls heartbeat. There are many, many more medicines made from poisonous plants. There are also medicines from venomous animals.

It’s interesting that something that can kill you can, once modified, cure you as well. Just be sure you don’t leave out that modification and let the scientists and doctors do the experimentation!

Sources

“A History of Poison.” https://slate.com/technology/2006/04/a-history-of-poison.html Accessed August 15, 2020.

Glowatz, Elana. “5 Deadly Poisons that are also Medicine, from Cancer Therapy to Heart Disease Drugs.” November 30, 2016. https://www.medicaldaily.com/5-deadly-poisons-are-also-medicine-cancer-therapy-heart-disease-drugs-405337  Accessed August 16, 2020.

Hargave, John G. “Paracelsus.” Briticanna. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Paracelsus Accessed August 19, 2020.

“History of Poison.” Bionity.com.  https://www.bionity.com/en/encyclopedia/History_of_poison.html  Accessed August 20, 2020.

Leafloor, Liz. “Poison: the Good, the Bad, the Deadly”  Ancient Origins. October 4, 2014.  https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-technology/poison-good-bad-and-deadly-002165 Accessed August 1, 2020.

“Lucrezia Borgia.” Biography. https://www.biography.com/political-figure/lucrezia-borgia  Accessed August 15, 2020.

“Mithridates”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/Mithridates_VI/#:~:text=Mithridates%20was%20born%20in%20the%20city%20of%20Sinope,tutored%20in%20languages%2C%20military%20skills%2C%20and%20the%20arts. Accessed August 22, 2020.

“Paracelsus.” Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Paracelsus  Accessed August 19, 2020.

Vuckovic, Aleksa. “Locusta of Gaul – Nero’s Notorious Poison Maker.” Ancient Origins March 20, 2020.  https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/locusta-gaul-0013483

Young, Lauren. “The Legendary Chinese Poison Made by Forcing Snakes, Scorpions, and Centipedes to Fight” Atlas Obsurca. November 11, 2016.  https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-legendary-chinese-poison-made-by-forcing-snakes-scorpions-and-centipedes-to-fight Accessed August 21, 2020.

“1892: Thomas Neill Cream, “I am Jack the….” http://www.executedtoday.com/2017/11/15/1892-thomas-neill-cream-i-am-jack-the/  Accessed August 16, 2020.

A War, A Thief, and…Tea!

You know that tea originated in China, but do you know how it was discovered? As in all good stories, it starts with a near-death experience. Shennong, the second mythical emperor of China, is credited with the discovery. He lived in the 28th century B.C.E. and some stories say he was born with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Be that as it may, he initiated agriculture in China by showing the people how to clear land with fire and how to use oxen and horses to pull a plow and cart (both of which he invented). He invented other agricultural implements too, such as the axe and hoe.

Shennong experimented with plants and would sometimes eat them. He poisoned himself over seventy times! One day, as he lay dying from ingesting a poisonous plant, a tea leaf wafted down and fell into his mouth. He chewed it – and was revived! Or, some stories say the leaf fell into his pot of boiling water and he drank it.

Aside from the fact that he brought tea to the people, he also catalogued about 365 species of medicinal plants.

Shennong

Shennong from “Ancient Origins”

 

In addition to all that, he is credited with creating acupuncture, figuring out irrigation,  and even the Chinese calendar.

 

Matcha

The Chinese initially ate the tea leaves like a vegetable or with porridge. Later, they dried them into tea cakes and then ground them. They would mix this powdered leaf into hot water to make matcha.

An entire culture formed around matcha. When your barista makes a dolphin out of cream on your coffee, she’s not really doing anything new. Artists in ancient China created complex images in the foam of the tea.

In the Eighth Century, Lu Yu wrote a treatise on the proper method of brewing and serving tea, and even where it would be best to serve the drink. He imbued tea drinking with spiritual meaning as well.

Lu Yu

Lu Yu from Teapedia

In the Fourteenth Century, the Chinese Emperor changed the method of making tea to using loose leaves with hot water, rather than a powder.

 

Tea Travels

As with all good things, when one group has something nice, others want it.  A Japanese monk brought some tea plants to Japan in the eighth century. The Japanese would create the tea ceremony that most of us have seen portrayed on T.V. or in movies. Called Chanoyu, Ocha, or Sado in Japan, this intricate ceremony keeps the guest at the center. Placement of utensils, pouring of the tea, even the use of the teapot, is all done with precise movements.

Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony, public domain

 

China held the gold standard, however, and was very powerful even into the early seventeenth century when Dutch traders started importing tea to Europe. The Dutch East India Company, (the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch) was created in 1602 and is considered one of the first and most successful international corporations.

VOC

17th century gable stone of VOC, public domain

 

You can credit tea with the creation of clipper ships (if you like) since these small, fast ships carried valuable cargo for quick sale and trade.  Of course, in addition to tea they carried spices, and people.

 

Tea in Europe

King Charles II’s wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza (Portuguese) made tea drinking fashionable in England. By 1700 tea was more valuable than coffee (ten times more valuable!) and still only China grew it. Britain paid the Chinese in silver for their tea, but that was very costly.

Cath of Brag

Catharine of Braganza, from Boston Tea Party

The Opium Wars

How to get around that pesky expense? Offer a trade of course. Opium for tea. What could go wrong? The Chinese became addicted. Remember, people used opium at this time with little concern. In 1839, the Chinese destroyed huge quantities of opium. This started the First Opium War. Fighting on the Chinese coast raged until 1842 when the victorious British put in place favorable trading terms for themselves – and were ceded the port of Hong Kong in the process.

 

The Tea Thief

In 1848 the Scotsman Robert Fortune, under orders from the British East India Company, disguised himself and infiltrated China’s Wu Si Shan hills. He studied the production of tea, from growing, picking, drying, and more. He smuggled tea workers, seeds, and tea plants into Darjeeling India.

Robert Fortune

Robert Fortune, public domain

 

While India grew tea previously, it was the Chinese tea plants and expertise which Fortune brought that helped Indian tea production to flourish.

 

Types of Tea

Types of Tea

Types of Tea, public domain

 

“Real” tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant.  Black, green and white teas are “real”, as is oolong and Pu-erh. Of these five “true teas”, Pu-erh is fermented.

Chai tea is a blend of black tea, herbs, spices, and milk.  The Chippewa (Ojibwa) Tribe’s traditional tea is called Essiac Tea. There’s mint tea, chamomile tea, chaga, barley, and dandelion tea. There’s hibiscus tea and moringa tea. There’s tea made from mushrooms.

We could say all these are not true teas, but do we really care? So long as it tastes good, is fun to share and has beneficial health qualities (some do, some don’t), let’s call it tea.

Time to have a cuppa!

 

Sources:
“A History of Tea” at https://www.peets.com/learn/history-of-tea
“Catherine of Braganza.” At https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/tea-blog/catherine-the-first-british-tea-drinking-queen
Encyclopedia Britannica. At https://www.britannica.com/topic/Shennong
“Lu Yu.”Teapedia. At http://teapedia.org/
Joseph, Michael. “Twenty Six Types of Tea.” May 20, 2020. At https://www.nutritionadvance.com/healthy-foods/types-of-tea/
Rose, Sarah. “The Great British Tea Heist.” Smithsonian. At https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-british-tea-heist-9866709/
“The Japanese Tea Ceremony.” At  http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net/history.html
“The Dutch East India Company. ”The ThoughtCo At  https://www.thoughtco.com/the-dutch-east-india-company

 

That’s no lady, that’s a pirate!

Granted, most pirates are men. But there have been women pirates and we’re going to talk about some of the more famous ones.

Zheng Shi

Ching Shih (or Zheng Shi) was a female pirate who controlled the Red Flag Fleet in China in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Zheng Shi Zheng Shi, from public domain

She was born in 1775 in the Guangdong province of China and became a prostitute in a floating brothel in Canton. Some stories say the pirate, Zhèng Yi, sent a raiding party to plunder the brothel and bring the beautiful Zheng Shi to him. Other stories say he just plain asked her to marry him. Either way, she negotiated with him so that she got half of the plunder and was an equal partner in managing the Red Flag Fleet.

Red Fleet

Image from Ancient Origins

 

The marriage lasted six years; Zhèng Yi died in 1807. By the time he died, the Red Flag Fleet had up to 1200 ships and 50,000 to 70,000 pirates organized under the Cantonese Pirate Coalition. The ships were color coded with the Red Fleet in the lead and the Black, White, Blue, Yellow and Green following. With these men and their color-coded fleet,  Zheng Shi and her cohorts managed to defeat the Portuguese and intimidate the British.

When Zhèng Yi died, Zheng Shi took his place. Her pirates controlled trade and fishing rights along the coasts of Vietnam, Guangdong, and China.

And she controlled the pirates.

Any man who raped a captive or took a captive for a wife but was unfaithful or didn’t take care of her, was executed. (Unattractive women were released unharmed.) Any man who deserted, once captured, would have his ears cut off. If a pirate did not turn over his loot to the fleet, he was whipped. If he did it more than once, he was beheaded!

That loot was divided very strictly. The ship that was responsible for the “take” got 20%. The rest went to a fund for the entire fleet and was shared.

“The Terror of the South China Seas” went so far as to collect taxes from some coastal towns. She defeated the Qing Dynasty’s armada, sinking 63 ships when attacked in 1806.

Four years later, the Qing emperor offered her amnesty. She accepted, provided she could keep her wealth and some of her ships. She then went on to run a successful gambling house and died in 1844, aged 69. That’s a ripe old age for a pirate!

 

Anne Bonny and Mary Read

These two gals paired up and took part in a raiding spree in 1720. They’re perhaps the best-known of all the female pirates.

Oddly enough, we know more about Zheng Shi than Anne Bonny and Mary Read. What we do know of Anne and Mary comes from Capt. Charles Johnson’s  A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724). This work is not considered a legitimate source, but it’s all we’ve got. Some scholars think Capt. Johnson was actually the English writer Daniel Defoe.

So, what follows is unverified: Anne Bonny was born in Ireland in April of 1698 (or so) and died in 1782 (or so) in Charleston (then Charles Towne) South Carolina. Anne was the product of the illicit love affair of (married) attorney William Cormac and his maid. Cormac left his wife and traveled with Anne and his paramour (the maid) to Charles Towne. Anne’s mother died of typhoid fever when Anne was 13. Later Anne was betrothed to a local man.

Anne was fiery and independent, like any good heroine. One story about her tells of a man who tried to rape her. She beat the bejesus out of him, putting him in the hospital (Go, Anne!)

She didn’t want her betrothed, (remember, she’s fiery), and so she ran off and married John Bonny, a sailor. She traveled with him to the Bahamas. While there she met John “Calico Jack” Rackham, a pirate. Together they harassed merchant vessels up and down the Jamaican coast while commanding the pirate ship, William.

Anne BonnyA
Anne Bonny – or Mary Read? Image from public domain

 

Mary Read (who also went by Mark Read) was raised as a boy. Her father was a sailor but he deserted the family.

Mary Read

Mary Read, public domain. You can see where the confusion comes from.

 

Read continued to dress as a male and even joined the military. While there, she met her future husband, married, and they opened an inn near Breda, Netherlands. Her husband died, of course.

After that, she worked as a sailor, still hiding her gender. One story says her ship was captured by buccaneers and she either chose to or was forced to become a pirate. A different story says she was one of the original pirates that captured the William, before Anne and Jack commanded it.

Mary continued to hide her gender. Anne did not unless she was fighting. Neither woman was demure in any way. They were ruthless and swore and fought as well as the men.

Eventually Woodes Rogers, originally a privateer and later the governor of the Bahamas, declared the crew of the William  “Enemies to the Crown of Great Britain.” They were captured when the pirates were too inebriated to fight. The story is that Anne and Mary mocked the men and fought alone, but were defeated.

The group was taken to prison in Jamaica. The men were found guilty and hung. Anne and Mary were also sentenced to death, but since they both were pregnant, they “pled their bellies.” Poor Mary died in prison. Anne supposedly returned to Charles Towne, got married, and had a bunch of little buckaneers.

 

Sayyida Al Hurra

Sayyida al Hurra (1485- __), a queen pirate from the early sixteenth century, terrorized Spanish and Portuguese ships all along the Mediterranean. What we know about her comes from Christian sources and they called her Sayyida al Hurra, thinking that was her name. That is actually a title “ Sovereign Lady.”

Sayyida al Hurra

Sayyida al Hurra, image from Ancient Origins

 

She was born in the Kingdom of Granada (a Muslim state in Spain). She was of noble birth and during the Reconquista, when Spain expelled the Muslims, her family left Spain. A few years later, she married Abu Hassan al-Mandari, the governor of Tetouan, in Morocco. They governed together until he died and she took over.

Oruc Reis Oruc Reiss, public domain

Somehow she started pirating, hitting the western part of the Mediterranean while working with Oruc Reis who harassed the east. Sayyida al Hurra would exact ransoms for the return of ships and men. The Spanish and Portuguese hated and feared her.

She became so rich and powerful that Ahmed al-Wattasi, the Sultan of Morocco, asked her to marry him. She agreed, but made him travel to her for the ceremony. This was unheard of at the time. Once married, they each lived in their own capital.

Ahmed al Wattasi  Ahmed al-Wattasi, public domain

In 1542, the Moroccans went to war with Portugal and Sayyida al Hurra’s son-in-law from her first marriage conspired to dethrone her. She disappears from the history books but historians think she lived another twenty years in Chefchaouen, Morocco.

Other Female Pirates

Other females who answered the call of the sea (and plunder) were Charlotte Badger (1778-1818), the first Australian woman pirate, Grace O’Malley (1530-?) an Irish Chieftan’s wife and female pirate, and Elise Eskilsdotter, a Norweigan pirate of the fifteenth century. Jeanne de Clisson, was a Breton pirate of the fourteenth century who pirated along the English Channel, and Ǣthelǣd lived in Alfred the Great’s kingdom of Wessex. She ruled Mercia from 911 until she died and helped her husband fight off the Vikings as they raided the English coast.

Clearly women took part in many activities normally thought to be assigned to men. It makes you wonder what other things women did that are lost to us because no one thought to record their activities.

Sources:

Sczcepnski, Kallie. “Zhen Shi, Pirate Late of China.” January 12, 2019. Accessed at https://www.thoughtco.com/zheng-shi-pirate-lady-of-china-195617

“Ching Shih- from Prostitute to Pirate Lord.” May 25, 2018. Accessed at https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/ching-shih-prostitute-pirate-lord-002582

Pallardy, Richard. “Anne Bonny, Irish American Pirate.” Britannica.  Accessed from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anne-Bonny

Codlyn, Robin. “Mary Read, Pirate.” Accessed from https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Mary-Read-Pirate

“Sayyida al-Hurra: Noble ‘Sovereign Lady’ Who Terrorized the Mediterranean As A Pirate.” From Ancient Origins. March, 2019. Accessed from https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/sayyida-al-hurra-0011644

Of Sailing Ships

Innovation is an on-going factor in maritime history. While not at all exhaustive, here’s a little snippet of information about some early sailing ships.

THE CARAVEL

A caravel is a type of ship, usually with a main mast and a mizzen mast.  They have a bow that slopes gently and have a lateen sail. A lateen sail is a triangular sail that sits at 45 degrees to the mast. The other sail is square.

Caravel 1

Caravel (Bing)

 

These ships are generally easy maneuverable and therefore safe. The Nina and Pinta were caravels. By the time Columbus made his voyage, these ships were probably three-masted, with the mainmast and foremast having square sails and the mizzen mast retaining the lateen sail. However, the sails could be completely square-rigged. This gave the captain and crew different options in maneuverability.

MUSLIM CONTRIBUTIONS

The word “caravel” can be traced back to Muslim qârib, a boat used originally in shallow waters, that was later modified for the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the contribution Muslims made to the caravel, we know they gave us the astrolabe, sextant, and compass.

Caravel 2     Caravel 3

Astrolabe (Bing)                    Sextant (Bing)

 

 

PORTUGUESE INFLUENCE

Portuguese records tell us that the caravel existed as a fishing vessel as early as the 13th century. Early Portuguese caravels had low sides and shallow draught and so were used along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. They could be managed by a small crew of about nine men.

Caravel 4

Prince Henry the Navigator (Bing)

 

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) chose the caravel for his travels to West Africa because the little ship was fast and could sail windward. The only big negative was the need for a large crew to man the sails; men need water and food and the ship could not always carry enough for the crew.

These ships became bigger, with deeper hulls, as the need for exploration and trade grew and were also utilized for war and piracy.

THE NAU

The Santa Maria was a nau, (Portuguese), nao (Spanish) or a carrack (English). This type of vessel has four masts and is well-suited to ocean travel.  It was built much like the caravel but built for long voyages and with a deeper hull for cargo. They have a large aft castle on the back of the ship, where the captain’s cabin and other cabins were located. It also has a forecastle at the front of the ship, for sailor’s quarters.

On the stem, there was a bowsprit. That’s that long pointy thing (spar) that pokes out of the front of some ships…it has a purpose, other than looking cool. It allows the foremast to be anchored further to the front of the ship, giving the ship more maneuverability.

Caravel 5

The Nau (Bing)

 

THE DUTCH

Of course, the Dutch were seafarers as well and their adaptation of the Caravel resulted in the flute (fluitschip ), originally designed in the sixteenth century. This ship was cheaper to build because it was made with specialized tools that made it easier to make more ships.

Caravel 6

Dutch Flute Ship (Bing)

These innovations contributed largely to the Dutch maritime empire. This ship was not built to possibly be modified into a warship, like the Caravel and Nau. It had a shallow draft but lots of room for cargo because of its longer, shallower hull. Another innovation was its use of block and tackle (pullies and cable to move heavy objects), to streamline ship operations. By 1670, Dutch shipping totaled about half of all of Europe’s!

Sources:
de Vries, Jan (1976). The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600–1750. Cambridge University Press. pp. 117–18 accessed May 3, 2020. https://books.google.com/books?id=XibqvuCdn1MC&pg=PA117#v=onepage&q&f=false
https://www.abc.se/~pa/bld/shiptype.htm  accessed May 3, 2020.
https://nautarch.tamu.edu/shiplab/01George/caravela/htmls/Caravel%20History.htm  accessed May 3, 2020.

Smile for the Camera

The ancient Chinese had a camera of sorts.

While a camera obscura is not really a camera as we know it, it could capture an image. A camera obscura is either a dark room with a hole in one wall, or box with a hole one side.  An image of whatever is outside that hole is projected onto the wall opposite. It’s upside down and backward.

Smile for Camera 1

The only way to save that image is to draw over it.

We know the Chinese used it because, Mozi, a Chinese philosopher from the fifth century, B.C.E., wrote about it.

 

ANCIENT OPTICS

Euclid (4th century B.C.E.), Anthemius of Tralles (6th century B.C.E.) and Al-Kindi,(9th century) all experimented with pinholes and light. Alhazen (also known as Ibn al-Haytham) in 11th century was the first to use a screen. He wrote The Book of Optics.

 

SCIENTISTS AND THINKERS

Francis Bacon wrote of its use to observe eclipses.

For centuries, the camera obscura was the only “camera” available. Then, in about 1550, Girolamo Cardano,, a sixteenth century physician and mathematician, used a lens over the hole. Beforehand, the smaller the hole the more crisp the picture; Cardano’s lens allowed more light which made the image brighter, obviously, but less focused.

Smile for Camera 2

In order to clarify the image, you had to move the lens backward or forward.

Giambattista della Porta wrote about the lens and the camera and suggested the use of a mirror or mirrors to correct the image.

 

VICTORIAN CAMERAS

Victorians loved the camera obscura and they were sold at various vacation spots.

Also during Victorian times, various improvements were made to the camera.

A Bellows Camera looked sort of like an accordion. It was made of mahogany and a leather “bellows” that could fold up or out. With brass fittings, it was a work of art in itself.

Smile for Camera 3

The camera was set up on a tripod both because of its weight and the time it took to take a photograph.

First, the photographer would move various parts of the camera in order to get a clear picture on a screen within the camera. Then he would put a glass plate in the back, on which he had spread various chemicals.  Then, often he’d walk away! And the subjects would stand or sit for up to half an hour while the image on the screen transferred to the glass plate. Now you know why so few people were smiling in old photographs!

Actually, he would check on the photo as the time passed. Once the photo was taken, the glass plate was taken out and more chemicals were added so as to bring out the photograph.

Smile for Camera 4

Of course, cameras have come a long way since then. Now we just whip out our cell phones and take a picture. But it does beg the question, would we all be smiling in those photos if we had to stand around for a half hour?

Sources (Image and text):
Willett’s Amazing Portable Camera Obscura. Retrieved from http://www.amazingcameraobscura.co.uk/howitworks.htm
History of Camera Obscura. Retrieved from http://www.photographyhistoryfacts.com/photography-development-history/camera-obscura-history/
“Bellows Camera” on Object Lessons retrieved from https://www.objectlessons.org/work-and-innovation-victorians/bellows-camera-victorian-original/s64/a1057/
“Camera Obscura.” Furer Mechanicus. Retrieved from https://redi.imss.fi.it/inventions/index.php/Camera_Obscura

Ancient Mariners

Waterways were our first highways. Ever since the first man floated on a raft, we’ve been working on ways to improve watercraft.

The first rafts were made from reeds, wooden logs, or bamboo which were lashed together. Later came canoes, which were dug out or burned out of large trees. Some ancient peoples used leather or cloth and pitch to frame their canoes. As you can see, natural resources dictated what kind of watercraft you could build.

Ancient Mariners 1

In the Mediterranean Sea and the area around it, ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians traded and used the waterways to transport goods and people.

MESOPOTAMIA

The Neolithic Ubiads built reed boats as early as 5500 B.C.E.  They managed to travel down the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and got all the way to the Persian Gulf; they also traveled along the coasts of Saudi Arabria, Bahrain, and Qatar.  We know this because their pottery has been found in ancient Persian sites. Ceramic models of Mesopotamian boats have been found in Neolithic sites in Kuwait.

These reed boats had curved bows that were sometimes pretty ornate.  They would cover the reeds with a material like the felt used for roofing and they may have lashed the reeds together with rope. Archeologists have found bituminous material with reed impressions in archeological digs. Mesopotamian mariners used poles to guide the boats. Most had one mast for sails, although ceramic boats showing some boats with two sails have been found.

Ancient Mariners 2

EGYPT

Around 4,000 B.C.E., the ancient Egyptians used papyrus-reed boats that they rowed. Later, they added sails. Eventually the reeds were replaced by wood, but the design stayed the same. These boats were flat-bottomed. They had no keels, and their sterns were square. The sails were square too and the wooden planks the boats were built with were lashed with rope and “caulked” with reeds. They used acacia wood that grew in their country, or they imported cedar from Lebanon.

The boats had a flat bottom because the Nile has shallows.

Egyptian

The Egyptians also used watercraft for religious purposes, and some temples had whole fleets of ships.  An integral part of their belief system was that the sun god, Ra, traveled across the sky in a boat.

Several pharaohs were buried with full-size boats in their tombs to carry them over into the afterlife. Since Tutankhamun was pretty important, he had thirty-five boats buried with him. He had servants, pets, and needed food and all the amenities to travel with him when he went into the great beyond!

The Egyptians made different kinds of boats for different uses: funeral barges, cargo ships, warships, and fishing vessels. They traveled the Nile and Mediterranean and managed to get to the eastern coast of Africa. They also crossed the Indian Ocean.

THE PHOENICIANS

The Phoenicians, seafaring traders who lived in independent city-states along the Mediterranean Sea, were excellent seamen. They mapped the Mediterranean and became masters at shipbuilding. They bravely traveled past the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic.

The Phoenicians also mapped the stars, using the North Star (which the ancient Greeks and others called the “Phoenician Star.” This innovation allowed the Phoenicians to travel longer distances.

As shipbuilders, they were unparalleled at the time. They were the first to add a stringer, the main beam in the bottom of the boat, which improved balance.

The Phoenicians built gauloi (“round ships”) for trading. These ships had a huge rectangular sail that could turn. They steered with a big oar on the port (left side) of the ship. The crew and storage was in the rear of the ship. Gauloi came in two sizes, one for localized trading and one for trading further away. They had deeper hulls for storage.

Ancient Mariners 4

They also built warships which were long and narrow and could hold more people. These ships had two sails and a forecastle on the front for catapults and bowmen. They even had a bronze ramming tip (“rostrum”) to ram into enemy ships.

They painted eyes on the warships, to frighten their enemies and to help the ship “see.” Sometimes they carved a horse’s head to honor Yamm, their god of the sea.

Ancient Mariners 5

Their ships were so cutting-edge, that the Greeks and Romans copied them.

GREEKS

Athens created a maritime empire built around the trireme, a ship originally created by the Phoenicians. With three tiers of rowers running the entire length of the ship, the trireme could reach speeds of up to nine or ten knots for short periods of time. Although long, these ships could be carried to land by the crew. Oak was used for the outer hull and lighter woods like pine or cypress were used for the interior.

These ships were steered by two steering oars on each side of the helm. Equipped with sails as well as oars, the hull of the ship was sealed with pitch or resin and a layer of wax was added to help increase speed. Like the Phoenician war craft, eyes were added to the ship. In this case, the Greeks used marble.

They considered the ships to be female, and named them.

Ancient Mariners 6

ROMANS

The Romans were very good at learning from the people they conquered. They picked up shipbuilding from the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Greeks.

They too built triremes, but later built larger quadriremes (with four rows of oarsmen) and quinqueremes (five).  These ships were faster than the trireme and handled bad weather better.

EXPLORATION AND TRADE

Improvements continued especially during the age of discovery.  We need to be aware, though, that though we have a primarily Eurocentric view of history, Chinese, Muslim, and others traded and sailed extensively. Their contributions to the lore of the sea, as well as the explorations and improvements made by Europeans deserve their own post; another read for another day.

 

 

Sources:
Alonso, Natalie. Sept. 29, 2017. “Innovations of the Phoenicians.” The Classroom.  Retrieved from https://www.theclassroom.com/inventions-of-the-phoenicians-12082792.html
Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/trireme/
Ancient Pages. Retrieved from http://www.ancientpages.com/2017/06/20/khufu-boat-and-unique-boat-building-technique-of-ancient-egyptians/
Carter, Robert. June 17, 2011. “Boat Remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC.” Retrieved from http://dro.dur.ac.uk/3673/1/3673.pdf
Encyclopedia Britannica “History of Ships” Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/ship/History-of-ships
The Mariner’s Museum and Park. Retrieved from https://exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/phoenician-ships/
The Mariner’s Museum and Park. Retrieved from  https://exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/egyptian-ships/
Hirst, H. Kris. Nov. 12, 2019. “Mesopotamian Reed Boats Changed the Stone Age.” From Thought Co.  Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mesopotamian-reed-boats-171674
Sources for images:
Image 1 (Pease Dug Out Canoe): Encyclopedia Britannica “History of Ships” Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/ship/History-of-ships
Image 2 (Mesopotamian): Carter, Robert. June 17, 2011. “Boat Remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC.” Retrieved from http://dro.dur.ac.uk/3673/1/3673.pdf
Image 3: (Egyptian): https://www.ancient-origins.net//sites/default/files/barge-of-khafu.pg.
The Mariner’s Museum and Park. Retrieved from  https://exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/egyptian-ships
Image 4 (Galoi, Phoenician trading ship) The Mariner’s Museum and Park. Retrieved from https://exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/phoenician-ships/
Image 5 (Phoenician war ship) The Mariner’s Museum and Park. Retrieved from https://exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/phoenician-ships/
Image 6 (Greek triereme): Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/trireme/

Grave Matters

We are all familiar with the pyramids of Egypt and the information gleaned from those tombs. But what about ancient peoples who were not wealthy or important?

A burial site can show us what people died from, their age when they died, and what diseases they suffered from while living.  A grave can show us the rituals of the deceased’s culture. We can even tell if an individual was a soldier or warrior based on the presence of multiple fractures or thickening of bones.

Grave Matters 1

Image from Shapira, Ran. April 3, 2020. “Caramel cavemen used plants in rituals 13,000 years ago, study finds” Retrieved from https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/plant-use-in-carmel-cavemen-rituals-1.5314486

 

MORTUARY POOLS

About 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, natives in Florida used pools to bury their dead. Off Manasota Key, Warm Mineral Springs, and Little Salt Springs, Florida, archeologists have found underwater burials.

When the Manasota Key site was used, the Gulf of Mexico was about 30 feet lower, and the site itself was probably freshwater, since it has an organic peat bottom.

Archeologists used pastry brushes and spatulas to clear the debris because trowels are too rough on the delicate specimens. They deduced that the bodies were wrapped in fabric and held below the water with sharpened boughs. They based this on their discovery of human remains, fabric, and wood within the peat basin of the pond.

Also based on their finds, they can tell the pond was used for generations.

 

IT’S A SMALL WORLD

Of course, there are mortuary pools found world-wide. Finland’s Levänluhta area has evidence that during the Iron Age, (about 300 AD), a lake was used for burials. This continued for about 400 years.

Grave Matters 2

Image: Levänluhta Springs (Anna Wessman 2019)

 

In the Netherlands, a 6,000-year-old grave shows that care was taken in the burial of a mother and child. In Nieuwegein in the province of Utrecht, four adult skeletons were found. It was the position of the woman’s right arm that led to the discovery of the baby’s skeleton. Her arms were not laid straight beside her body like the others, but the right one was crooked, holding the baby. She is estimated to have been between 20 and 30 years old and the baby was not more than six months old.

Mother and child were members of a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived near the Vecht River.

Their grave is part of a larger archeological site: the Swifterbant site, which has provided hundreds of thousands of artifacts.

Grave Matters 3

Image: Mother and child in Nieuwegein   (Gemeente Nieuwegein

 

AN ANCIENT MURDER MYSTERY

Őtzi the iceman  was discovered in 1991 by hikers in the Ötztal Alps.  He was not buried; his grave was where he fell.

Őtzi lived during the Copper Age (late 5th millennium B.C.E.), and died over 5300 years ago when he was murdered at his campsite. He was short: about 5’3” and had brown hair. He weighed about 110 pounds.  Poor Őtzi had health issues: gall stones, and maybe Lyme Disease, but he died when he was shot with an arrow and he bled to death. His hands were wounded, so the evidence shows he fought before he died. It is hard to tell if his last struggle took place a day or two or maybe just hours before his death.

ŐTZI’S WEAPONS

Although we will never know why he was killed, we do know that Őtzi had a state-of-the-art copper axe. He was carrying a knife and unfinished stone arrowheads. Blood from at least four other people were on his coat and knife. Whose blood was it? Comrades? Family members? A foe? We’ll probably never know.

Grave Matters 4

Image: Őtzi (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

 

NEANDERTHAL DEATH RITUAL

We know now that Neanderthals buried their dead with rituals. Based on evidence gleaned from about twenty gravesites, we know that our distant ancestors took great care to protect their dead from predators. When you consider what tools were available at the time, this is quite an accomplishment.

 

LA CHAPELLE-AUX-SAINTS, FRANCE

In 1908, in a cave at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France, two Catholic priests, (who also happened to be brothers), discovered  a Neanderthal grave. They were archeologists, but the fact that they did not document their methodology, combined with their religious affiliation, led other scientists to doubt their contention that the burial was intentional. The site was reexamined in 1999 and it was concluded that the human remains were buried immediately while animal bones found in the cave had been left out longer. This implies care was taken with the Neanderthal.

The poor fellow who died also had back and hip problems that would have made movement difficult. This points to the fact that the others in his group took care of him before he passed away.

 

RAQEFET CAVE, MOUNT CARMEL, ISRAEL

The Raqefet Cave in Israel holds evidence that about 13,700 years ago cave dwellers had elaborate meals to honor their dead. Archeological evidence of gazelle meat and processed grains like wheat and barley were discovered in the cave. Sage and mint were found buried with the bodies. Gazelle meat would not have been plentiful in that area and so special care was taken with this meal. Between 2004 and 2011, archeologists uncovered 29 skeletons in the cave, which points to generational burials.

Archeologists found stone slabs at the heads of the graves, as well as laid over the bodies. They found flowers in the graves, as well.

Grave Matters 5

Image from Daily Mail.com. “Cavemen Used Plants and Meat in Rituals: Grasses and gazelle meat were eaten and left as offerings to the dead when they were buried.”

OUR LINK TO THE PAST

As you can see, our ancient ancestors cared for each other, in life and in death. They were not so different from us. As civilization developed, the rituals became more rigid, buttressed by religious beliefs and our shared fear of the unknown. Who wouldn’t want to give their loved one a safe journey to the other side? This link is worldwide, multi-generational, and multi-cultural.

Sources:

Ancient History.  June 11, 2019. “Breakthrough Discovery of DNA in Ancient Water Burials Clearly Identifies Sámi People.” Retrieved from https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/water-burials-0012126

Daily Mail.com. “Cavemen Used Plants and Meat in Rituals: Grasses and gazelle meat were eaten and left as offerings to the dead when they were buried.” https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2545445/Cavemen-used-plants-meat-RITUALS-Grasses-gazelle-meat-eaten-left-offerings-dead-buried.html

DutchNews.nl. January 31, 2018. “Archeologists find earliest baby’s grave in Netherlands.” Retrieved from https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/01/archaeologists-find-earliest-babys-grave-in-the-netherlands/

Grimshaw, Patricia. 2018, July 5. “Weapons reveal how Őtzi, the 5300-year-old ice mummy lived.”https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/07/05/otzi-weapons/

Than, Kerr. “Neanderthal Burials Confirmed as Ritual” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131216-la-chapelle-neanderthal-burials-graves/#close

Kimel, Earle. “Ancient burial site off Manasota Key is 1,000 years older than estimated.” Herald-Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20190516/ancient-burial-site-off-manasota-key-is-1000-years-older-than-estimated .

McDermott, Alicia. Feb. 1, 2018 “Stone Age Grave of a Mother and Child it the Oldest Baby Burial in the Netherlands.” Retrieved from https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/stone-age-grave-mother-and-child-oldest-baby-burial-netherlands-009526

Ronson, Jacqueline. 2016, Oct.7. “The 5 Most Influential Ancient Corpses of 2016.” https://www.inverse.com/article/21928-ancient-human-corpses-archaeology .

Shapira, Ran. April 3, 2020. “Caramel cavemen used plants in rituals 13,000 years ago, study finds” Retrieved from https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/plant-use-in-carmel-cavemen-rituals-1.5314486

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. “Őtzi the Iceman.” http://www.iceman.it/en/the-iceman/ .

Hyperlink to Neanderthal:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/rethinking-neanderthals-83341003/

 

 

 

Garbage Detectives

It’s not easy to study ancient history. There are no letters, no photographs, and no newspapers because ancient history occurred before humanity knew how to write. You can learn a lot from a burial site or a pile of garbage, though.

archeol

Science Learning Hub. “Middens.” Retrieved from https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1460-middens

MIDDENS

Garbage heaps are called middens by archaeologists, from the Danish word, køkkenmødding, meaning kitchen mound.

From the name, clearly some of these middens were near or actually where cooking took place. We can learn what people ate and what the environment was like from midden excavations. We can see what tools ancient people used too. Archeologists use radiocarbon techniques to date the artifacts and even recreate some aspects of ancient life to learn how middens worked and what it took to live in prehistoric times.

layers

Layers of a midden. Hirst, K. Krist. 2019, July 19. “Midden: An Archeological Garbage Dump.” Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/midden-an-archaeological-garbage-dump-171806 .

CAMP BOWIE TEXAS MIDDEN

Camp Bowie, Texas, has several “central feature” middens that were in use from 750 to 1400 A.D. The “central feature” was a pit, lined with rocks where ancient people cooked.

The scientists recreated the earth ovens and learned it takes a lot of wood and stone to create a fire hot enough to cook with. They also were able to measure the cracked rock they produced to help extrapolate the age and use of the Camp Bowie middens. They estimate the largest midden was used about 300 times. These middens are about 8,000 years old.

It makes sense these middens would be close to the materials needed to build them. There’s still plenty of rock around Camp Bowie. Based on the plant debris found inside the middens, archeologists believe at the time the middens were used there were stands of oak, juniper, willow, and mesquite in the area.

strata

Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bowie/middentell.html

FLOWER EATERS

It’s rare to find a lot of plant remains in a midden, but Camp Bowie had some well- preserved specimens. Plant bulbs and seeds were found, showing that wild onions grew nearby.  They found a lot of flower bulbs: dog-tooth violet and eastern camas (like wild hyacinth). Eastern camas bulbs have a lot of protein in them, especially in the spring.  Dog-tooth violet bulbs are poisonous and the natives in the area cooked the poison out.

hiacinth

Britannica. “Hyacinth.” Retrieved from  https://www.britannica.com/plant/wild-hyacinth

MEAT EATERS

Since Middens can contain bones of animals that were eaten, they can show us what the people hunted each season.  A midden in New Zealand tells us that the early Maoris hunted moa and seals. Later they ate shellfish, muttonbirds, weka, and fish.  From this, we can learn not only about extinct animals, but also, we can trace animal, human, and plant population growth and decline.

shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater (muttonbird) Retrieved from Audubon. “Muttonbird.” Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/short-tailed-shearwater

SHELL MIDDENS

Many middens are located on the coast and show the different shellfish eaten, as well as give us a timeline. They even help us understand climate change.  One Late Stone Age midden on the coast of South Africa enabled scientists to identify sea-level changes by looking at the different sizes and ages of the mollusks discarded there.

TOOLS

Many middens contain broken or discarded tools. From this we can see how those tools were made and what they were made of.  The Camp Bowie site produced prehistoric arrow points, 5000-year-old dart points, chipped stone tools used for butchering and scraping hide, and grinding stones.

In the shell middens especially, shellfish tools are found.

dart points

Two late Archaic dart points (600 B.C.E. to 1200 B.C.E. Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bowie/middentell.html

SHELLS AND CEREMONY

Shell rings, like shell middens, are a build-up of shells and food refuse and appear across the world. They vary in size and can have diameters as large as 800 feet or as small as 98.5 feet. Their height varies from 3.2 feet to almost 20 feet.

Shell rings are built in maritime forests, on high land. South Carolina has 17 sites and a total of 25 shell rings on our islands, such as Coosaw Island and Hilton Head. In the U.S. shell rings were generally created by the woodland period natives, roughly 3,000 years ago.

Rings vary in shape from ovals and circles, to Cs and Us. Using comparative analysis of circular communities, and by analyzing the lay-out of towns, scientists deduced that some sections of the rings had more significance than others.

shell circles in SC

Shapes and locations of S.C. shell rings. Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from http://www.npshistory.com/publications/nhl/theme-studies/archaic-shell-rings.pdf

Some archeologists argue that the oval and circular rings point to a more egalitarian society and that the C or U-shaped rings mark different social statuses. They use the setting of homes within a village to support this. Often a C-shaped ring has a higher accumulation of shell in the ends of the C. This mirrors the placement of high-status homes within the village.

Additionally, the natives didn’t lay down one layer from one end to the other and then build on top of that. If one section of the shape had more cultural or social influence, it would be built higher and more quickly.

Often the ground would be scorched first, then a mound of sand from nearby would be placed on top. Shells would be layered on top of that.  Then multicolored sands would be set down, and covered with shell. Because of the careful construction and the effort taken to get different building materials, these sites are deemed ceremonial.

Shell rings usually were next to a town plaza where people congregated for interaction, feasting, and ceremonies. They also served to mark a tribe’s territory.

Screenshot_2020-03-28 Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U S - archaic-shell-rings pdf(1)

Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from http://www.npshistory.com/publications/nhl/theme-studies/archaic-shell-rings.pdf

IT’S NOT JUST GARBAGE

Shell middens and shell rings mark the beginnings of community living and ritual. Shell mounds give us insights into the people, animals, and even plants of the time. These refuse piles allow us to track ancient ecological change as well as societal change. What you throw out matters. Maybe in the future an archeologist will be digging through our refuse heaps. Kind of makes you wonder what they’ll think of us.

Sources:

“Ancient shell rings preserved on Coosaw Island for 4,000 years.” Retrieved from  Eat Sleep Play Beaufort. https://www.eatsleepplaybeaufort.com/ancient-shell-rings-preserved-on-coosaw-island-for-4000-years/

Audubon. “Muttonbird.” Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/short-tailed-shearwater

Britannica. “Dog Tooth Violet.” Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/plant/Erythronium

Britannica. “Hyacinth.” Retrieved from  https://www.britannica.com/plant/wild-hyacinth

Britannica. “Moa.” Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/animal/moa

Hirst, K. Krist. 2019, July 19. “Midden: An Archeological Garbage Dump.” Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/midden-an-archaeological-garbage-dump-171806 .

Merriam-Webster. “Midden.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/midden

“Middens.” Science Learning Hub. Retrieved from https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1460-middens

New Zealand Birds Online. Retrieved from http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/weka

Science Learning Hub. “Middens.” Retrieved from https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1460-middens

Smith, Debbie. 2017, August 15. “It’s Not Just Garbage: Identifying Ceremony and Cosmology in Shell Middens.” Retrieved from https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/its-not-just-garbage-identifying-ceremony-and-cosmology-in-shell-middens/

Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from http://www.npshistory.com/publications/nhl/theme-studies/archaic-shell-rings.pdf

Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bowie/middentell.html

 

Septima Clark

septima-clark

Septima Poinsette Clark, African-American civil rights activist and educator, was born in Charleston on May 3, 1898. She went to public school, then she attended the Avery Normal Institute (n/k/a the Avery Institute). The Institute was at that time a private African-American school. Ms. Clark became qualified to teach, but this was the South in the early 20th century; she would never be hired to teach in Charleston because of the color of her skin.

Not letting that daunt her, Septima Clark took the state examination for rural schools and began teaching on Johns Island. She later taught at the Avery Institute. In an effort to motivate Charleston to hire African-Americans as educators, she joined the NAACP.

In 1927, Septima moved to Columbia to teach. While there she worked with Thurgood Marshall to obtain equal pay for all teachers, black and white. They won the case. This was her first foray into civil rights.

While in Columbia, she studied at Columbia University in New York and with W.E.B. DuBois in Georgia, at the Atlanta University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Benedict College in 1942 and earned a masters from Hampton (Virginia) Institute in 1945.

Typical for the South at that time, South Carolina did not allow state employees to associate with civil rights organizations, so Clark had to leave the state since she was not willing to leave the NAACP. She worked with the Tennessee Highlander Folk School and directed the Highlander’s Citizenship School program. The idea was to educate individuals so they could educate others in their communities, teaching basic math and literacy. Literacy was often taught by reading the Constitution. Of course, teaching reading would enable more people to vote because of the literacy tests used to disenfranchise African Americans.

Clark joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when it took over the Citizenship School program in 1961. She was the director of education and teaching for them. Septima Clark was instrumental in creating over 800 citizenship schools.

This woman who did so much to educate others had to fight for reinstatement of her teaching pension and back pay from South Carolina.

In 1970, Clark retired from the SCLC. She served on the Charleston County School Board for two terms. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave her the Living Legacy Award. In South Carolina, she was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, in 1982.

She died at the age of 89, but her legacy lives on in all of the people whose lives she touched.

Sources:

http://www.biography.com/people/septima-poinsette-clark-38174#teaching-and-early-activism

accessed Jan. 24, 2017.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Septima-Poinsette-Clark acceded Jan. 24, 2017.

http://shpo.sc.gov/Pages/GoogleSearch.aspx?q=Septima%20Clark accessed Jan. 24, 2017.

http://spclark.ccsdschools.com/ accessed Jan 24, 2017.

All images from Google Images.