Paleoichthyology

It’s a real word, referring to the study of fish in the past, as detailed in a recent Atlantic article:

The Medieval Practices that Reshaped Europe’s Fish

In Europe, aquatic animals have been traded at least since the days of the Roman Empire. But it was during the early Middle Ages, with the arrival of widespread Christianity, that the animals became a popular source of protein. That’s partially due to the roughly 130 days a yearwhen the faithful were exhorted not to eat meat, because fish didn’t count in that category.

At the same time, expanding agrarian populations were cutting down forests to create fields and diverting rivers to fill defensive moats around castles and towns, Hoffmann writes in one paper. From the ninth century a.d. to the 11th, the number of grain mills built along rivers in England exploded from about 200 to 5,624. Species that came into fresh water to spawn, such as salmon and sturgeon, began declining. New regulations, such as King Philip’s, were put into place to manage fish populations. A Scottish statute from 1214 required all dams to include an opening for fish and barrier nets to be lifted every Saturday, for instance. Soon highly sophisticated aquaculture ponds stocked with carp also provided regular access to fish for the landed elite.

This decline in freshwater populations coincided with a sudden, commercial-scale boom in sea fishing, which began around a.d. 1000 and is known as the “fish event horizon.” In one study, archaeologists collected cod bones in London from 95 Roman, medieval, and postmedieval sites. The number of bones jumped circa the year 1000, and isotopic sampling showed that in the following centuries, fish came from farther and farther away, indicating long-distance trade. In the southern English town of Southampton, the remains of marine species (such as cod) began to outnumber freshwater species (such as eel) by 1030.

That “fish event horizon” could have been caused by a number of forces. It came at a time of population growth, urbanism, new ship technology, and increased trade, says the archaeologist James Barrett, from the University of Cambridge. But, he adds, “I’ve argued consistently that this must also be about human impacts on freshwater and migratory fishes. The degree of vulnerability of fishes depends on how bounded the ecosystem they occupy is.”

In other words, because their habitat was smaller, freshwater fish were more likely to respond to human pressures sooner. When the reliable stocks of freshwater fish began dwindling, hungry Europeans turned to the much larger oceans. And while those populations had larger ranges, humans still had an impact.

Another Viking Site?

Someone ought to compose a list of every claimed Viking site in North America, with a rating: definite (1), as yet undetermined (2), and definitely false (3). The latest one, from Archaeology World (hat tip: David Winter):

Discovery of Viking site in Canada could rewrite history

An iron working hearthstone was discovered on Newfoundland, hundreds of miles from the only noted Viking location to date.

Another thousand-year-old Viking colony might have been found on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. The finding of the old Viking location on the Canadian coast could drastically change the story of the exploration of North America by the Europeans prior to Christopher Columbus.

The excavation of the stone, once used in iron working, on Newfoundland took place a hundred miles south of the only known Viking site located in North America.

This proposes that Vikings may have traveled much farther into the continent than previously thought.

A team of archaeologists have been unearthing the newly-found location at Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula on the most western part of the island.

Others referenced on this blog:

L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (1)
Miramichi-Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick (2)
Baffin Island, Nunavut (2)
Cambridge, Massachusetts (3)
Memphis, Tennessee (3)
Alexandria, Minnesota (3)
Newport, Rhode Island (3)

Medieval Hand Grenades

From the Daily Mail, courtesy Tim Furnish, who comments that they’ve found the real “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch“!

Now that’s a time bomb! 700-year-old hand grenade used in the Crusades is found off the coast of Israel

By Richard Gray

The crusades saw Christian soldiers wield a terrifying array of medieval weaponry, including powerful crossbows, wickedly spiked maces and swords large enough to cleave a man in two.

But in the bloody battles over the Holy Land, the crusaders faced, and perhaps also used, weapons that were far ahead of their time – hand grenades.

Now one of these early explosive devices has been pulled from the sea in northern Israel.

Although they rose to prominence as weapons during the 20th century, grenades have a long history.

They are first thought to have been used by the Byzantine Empire from around the seventh century AD. Clay vessels were filled with flammable liquid known as Greek fire and flung at the enemy.

They were often piled into catapults to increase the range and devastation they caused.

They were popular weapons in naval battles as the fire could easily spread on ships and cause devastation.

More at the link.

Herodotus Vindicated!

From the Guardian (hat tip: Ace of Spaces):

Nile shipwreck discovery proves Herodotus right – after 2,469 years

Greek historian’s description of ‘baris’ vessel vindicated by archaeologists at sunken city of Thonis-Heraclion

Dalya Alberge

In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt and wrote of unusual river boats on the Nile. Twenty-three lines of his Historia, the ancient world’s first great narrative history, are devoted to the intricate description of the construction of a “baris”.

For centuries, scholars have argued over his account because there was no archaeological evidence that such ships ever existed. Now there is. A “fabulously preserved” wreck in the waters around the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion has revealed just how accurate the historian was.

“It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realised Herodotus was right,” said Dr Damian Robinson, director of Oxford University’s centre for maritime archaeology, which is publishing the excavation’s findings. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.”

In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of a baris. He noted how the builders “cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks”. He added: “On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate the seams from within with papyrus. There is one rudder, passing through a hole in the keel. The mast is of acacia and the sails of papyrus…”

Robinson said that previous scholars had “made some mistakes” in struggling to interpret the text without archaeological evidence. “It’s one of those enigmatic pieces. Scholars have argued exactly what it means for as long as we’ve been thinking of boats in this scholarly way,” he said.

More at the link, including images. The baris appears in book 2, chapter 96 of The Histories.

Stonehenge

The most recent discovery about Stonehenge. From the National Post:

Stonehenge bluestones were dragged 240 km over land from quarry in Wales, study finds

‘You could actually see the hole left from where the stone pillar had been removed. Just amazing’

Stonehenge: one of the wonders of the ancient world, but also the elusive megalith that leaves scientists and people ruminating on its purpose. Discoveries by a team of archeologists and geologists suggest the transportation of the bluestones from the Preseli hills in Wales to Stonehenge in England was an effort to unify tribes of prehistoric Britain.

In the team’s excavations, they pinpointed the exact origins of the bluestones that line the inner and outer perimeter of the sarsen trilithons — the tall, three-stoned structure that people usually envision when thinking of Stonehenge.

The location of the quarries, where the bluestones originate, now nullifies a pre-existing theory that suggested they were transported by sea from Milford Haven to the Salisbury Plains. Nearly 5,000 years ago, the Neolithic humans dragged the bluestones 240 km over land, according to the study published in Antiquity.

More at the link.

Appalachian English

From Appalachian Magazine (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

Appalachian English: Why We Say “Warsh Rag” & “Low Tar”

The world that I knew as a kid was far different than that of most other children; however, at the time, I had no idea.  I thought that every child had grandfathers who were coalminers, a father who bucket fed orphaned calves, a grandmother who spoke about Jesus as though she knew him personally and a mother who wasn’t above forcing her disobedient son to snap a green branch from the willow tree out in the front yard.

I grew up Appalachia and Appalachia was all I knew.

It was not until I reached the golden age of 18 and moved away to college in a distant city that I slowly began to realize just how unique and wonderful my life’s experiences had been compared to so many others.

My first day of living in a freshman dormitory, I evoked the laughter of the entire floor when I used the word “warsh rag” to describe the newly purchased wash cloths my mother had included in my bag of necessities.

In the world that I came to age in, that’s what they were called and that was the only thing they were called.

In the days, weeks and years that followed, I would one by one learn that the way we spoke as a child was far different than how most others talked.

To my astonishment, I discovered that a “mountain holler” was actually spelled an pronounced as “hollow”, I also faced criticism for pronouncing wire as “war”, fire as “far”, and tired as “tarred”.

Through the years, my classmates, teachers and employers have all attempted to either correct my pronunciations or berate me for speaking this way; however, I have since learned to be proud of my Appalachian-English and that there are many linguistic experts who have come to our defense in recent years.

Read the whole thing.

Speaking of the Funk, I’m looking forward to a presentation there this week:

“Archaeology of the Cherokee Heartland”

Join us this Thursday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. when we host Dr. Benjamin Steere of Western Carolina University. Dr. Steere, author of “The Archaeology of Houses and Households in the Native Southeast,” will introduce participants to the world of the prehistoric Cherokee who lived in the Southern Appalachians. Reserve your seat by calling (770) 720-5967. The cost is $10 (or $5 for members).

A Plague of Plague

From Science News, courtesy my friend William Campbell:

A 5,000-year-old mass grave harbors the oldest plague bacteria ever found

A long-dead Scandinavian woman has yielded bacterial DNA showing that she contracted the earliest known case of the plague in humans.

DNA extracted from the woman’s teeth comes from a newly identified ancient strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, the oldest ever found. The woman’s bones, which date from 5,040 to 4,867 years ago, were found nearly 20 years ago in a mass grave at an ancient farming site in Sweden.

Teeth from an adult male in the same grave contain traces of the same plague variant, say evolutionary geneticist Simon Rasmussen of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues. But plague DNA from the woman is better preserved, the team reports online December 6 in Cell.

Comparisons of the newly found Y. pestis strain with other ancient and modern strains suggest that a plague epidemic emerged more than 5,000 years ago in densely populated farming communities in southeastern Europe. Then the plague spread elsewhere, including to Scandinavia, via trade routes, Rasmussen’s team concludes. That ancient epidemic apparently contributed to sharp population declines in Europe that began as early as 8,000 years ago.

In particular, the scientists suspect that an early form of plague developed among southeastern Europe’s Trypillia culture between 6,100 and 5,400 years ago. Trypillia settlements were the first to bring enough people into close contact to enable the evolution of a highly infectious version of Y. pestis, the team suggests. Trading networks then transmitted the plague from Trypillia population centers, home to as many as 10,000 to 20,000 people, to West Asian herders known as the Yamnaya, the researchers argue. In this scenario, herders infected by the Trypillia people probably spread what had become a new strain of the plague both eastward to Siberia and westward to the rest of Europe, including Scandinavia. Yamnaya migrations to Europe roughly coincided with the rapid abandonment and burning of large Trypillia settlements, which probably occurred as a result of plague outbreaks, the scientists say.

More at the link.

Viking Tar

From Smithsonian.com:

Was the Vikings’ Secret to Success Industrial-Scale Tar Production?

Evidence suggests that the ability to mass-produce tar bolstered their trade repertoire and allowed them to waterproof and seal their iconic longships

The Vikings are often viewed as brutish, destructive village-pillagers, but their knack for innovation is perhaps overlooked. Viking-age Scandinavia was kind of the Silicon Valley of shipbuilding in the early medieval period. Their iconic longboat designs, advanced navigational skills, and perhaps even legendary sunstones gave them the ability to raid, trade and establish settlements as far away as Russia, Italy and North Africa. A new study adds another bit of technology to the list of things that gave Vikings a leg up on their adversaries: they may have been capable of making industrial scale quantities of tar, according to a new paper published in the journal Antiquity.

Tar was probably essential to the Vikings’ lifestyle since each longship would have required about 130 gallons of tar to coat all of its wooden elements, the study suggests. Tar was also needed to coat the ships’ wool sails, and the boats would need to be regularly re-tarred between voyages as well. Multiply all that to fit the needs of a fleet and we’re talking about a lot of tar here.

However, little was previously hypothesized about how they would have been able to produce the sticky substance en masse. The new study, authored by Andreas Hennius, an archaeologist from Uppsala University in Sweden, proposes a possible outline of how small scale tar production in the early centuries of the first millennium gave rise to potentially industrial use of tar by Vikings.

“I suggest that tar production in eastern Sweden developed from a small-scale household activity in the Roman Iron Age to large-scale production that relocated to the forested outlands during the Vendel/Viking Period,” Hennius writes in the paper. “This change, I propose, resulted from the increasing demand for tar driven by an evolving maritime culture.”

Read the whole thing. It’s interesting how many historians don’t tend to consider technology like this; thank goodness there are people who are willing to.

New Echota

On Saturday we had the pleasure of visiting New Echota State Historical Site near Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838, when U.S. government forces, under the command of Winfield Scott, rounded them up and forced their removal to Oklahoma. This is the infamous Trail of Tears, and a monument commemorates this as you arrive at the visitors’ center.

The flag on the left is that of the United Keetoowah Band, and the flags on the right are those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation are headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., while the Eastern Band is headquartered in Cherokee, N.C.)

A plan of the site. Alas, the Worcester House (8) is the only original building here. This was the home of Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokee and publisher of the Cherokee Phoenix (see below). Convicted by the state of Georgia for living in Cherokee territory without a license, Worcester appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the Georgia law unconstitutional, as it was the federal government that had the exclusive right to treat with Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson is reputed to have said in response that “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Worcester went west with the Cherokee and died there in 1861.

Other buildings are reconstructions, like the Council House (3), where the Cherokee legislature convened…

…or the Supreme Courthouse (4), which doubled as a school.

What made this visit especially pleasurable was to see Reinhardt history graduate Cole Gregory, now employed with the state parks service. Here he is in the Vann Tavern (9), explaining how it worked (an interesting detail: a window on the back served as a drive-thru for people that the manager did not want coming in). James Vann was a Cherokee leader who owned several taverns; this one does date from the early nineteenth century but was originally located in Forsyth County and moved here in the 1950s.

The reconstructed Print Shop (11) represents the locale of the famous Cherokee Phoenix. A friendly and knowledgeable volunteer explained things to us. The newspaper was largely written by Elias Boudinot, who believed that relocation to the west was in the best interests of the Cherokee and who thus signed the Treaty of New Echota with the federal government. This “Treaty Party” represented a minority of the Cherokee Nation, and the signatories, including Boudinot, were assassinated not long after they arrived in Oklahoma.

You can buy a copy of Vol. 1, No. 4 in the gift shop. This one contains notice of Cherokee laws passed, news of ongoing negotiations with Washington, poetry, and news of the escape of some missionaries from Maori cannibals. As you can see, it is printed both in English and in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary. (We learned that they type foundry had changed some of his characters for easier casting – and that archaeologists at New Echota had recovered a cache of individual letters [“sorts”] at the bottom of a well, into which they had been thrown by U.S. troops in 1838.)

We were pleased to find this book in the gift shop. John Ross was a Cherokee leader who opposed forced resettlement in the west; his house is in Rossville, Georgia, less than 1000 feet from the Tennessee state line. Jeff Bishop is Reinhardt’s new director of the Funk Heritage Center and, as you can see, an expert in Cherokee history.

***

On our way home we stopped at the Rock Garden, situated behind Calhoun’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The Rock Garden is the creation of one DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd, and features sculptures made up pebbles glued together to form miniature buildings. My favorite was this interpretation of Notre Dame cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, but I loved the whole thing – I respect anyone with the vision and the patience to realize art like this, like Howard Finster and his Paradise Garden.

Dare Stones

I have just discovered the existence of South’s version of the Kensington Runestone. From the Brenau Window:

In November 1937 as America clawed its way out of The Great Depression, a Californian man showed up at the history department of Emory University in Atlanta with a most peculiar object – a 21-pound chunk of rough veined quartz with some foreign looking words chiseled into its surface. The man said he found the rock in a North Carolina swamp, about 80 miles from Roanoke Island, while he was driving through on vacation. The strange stone caught the attention of one of the professors, Dr. Haywood Pearce Jr., who also served as vice president of Brenau, where his father was president. The inscription on the stone read “Ananias Dare & Virginia went hence unto heaven 1591,” and a message to notify John White of that news bore the initials of the author of the carved writing, EWD, presumably those of Eleanor Dare.

Although Emory’s historians weren’t interested, Pearce and his father certainly were. Perhaps they concluded that, if this chuck of rock indeed marked the graves of America’s “first white child” and her father, it might well be the thing to put their college on the map. They wound up paying the California man $1,000 for the treasure.

Anyone who has used tiller, plow or trowel in Appalachian dirt will swear the region grows rocks. But nothing plows better than cold cash. To make a long story short, over the next four years, similar rocks popped up all over the place, mostly found by four people. Pearce and his father over the years acquired close to 50 of the huge stones, all with similar inscriptions unearthed as far south as the banks of the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. Although the Pearces’ fervent explorations and money never turned up graves or any other evidence to authenticate the stones, a team of Smithsonian Institution-commissioned historians – headed by the venerable Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard – traveled to Gainesville and, in a preliminary report, assigned some validity to what had then come to be known as “The Dare Stones.”

David Morrison’s article notes that the Saturday Evening Post, in 1941, conclusively proved that most of these stones were forgeries, but what about the original one? From the Washington Post on July 5 (hat tip: Ron Good):

In the past few years, researchers have been taking another look. For one, the letters etched on the first stone look very different from the others. It doesn’t contain any suspiciously modern words as the others do. Plus, Dare was “moderately educated,” Schrader says, and her husband was a stonemason. It’s reasonable to think she may have learned the skill from him.

In 2016, Schrader had a sample of the stone analyzed by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, exposing the quartz’s bright white interior.

“The original inscription would have been a stark contrast to the weathered exterior,” science writer Andrew Lawler wrote for National Geographic. “A good choice for a Roanoke colonist but a poor one for a modern forger.”

Schrader said he would like to marshal the funds for an “exhaustive, geochemical investigation,” but first, this fall, a Brenau professor will assemble a team of outside experts to analyze the language more thoroughly.

“The type of English that’s on the stone was really only used for about a hundred years, so it’s a nice time marker to be able to study,” Schrader said.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. (I make no comment on the use of “Virginia Dare” by white nationalists – if the rock is authentic, then it’s authentic, and if it’s fake, then it’s fake. What “uses” it is put to are beyond the investigator’s concern.)