Gateway Arch

A visit to St. Louis prompts a post about the famous Gateway Arch, international symbol of this fine city:

From Wikipedia.

Technically it is a catenary arch, as long as it is high. One can take a tram capsule up the interior of one of the legs to an observation deck at the top. St. Louisans love it!

They’ve even built their baseball stadium so that there’s a good view of it (I took this photo in July):

The arch was finished in 1965 after many years of negotiation over the land acquisition, design, construction, etc. It is in fact only the most obvious part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes a park, a underground museum, and the Old Courthouse (seen on the right in the top photograph), where the Dred Scott case was heard. The whole thing is supposed to commemorate Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the ensuing Lewis and Clark expedition, and subsequent waves of white settlers conquering the West and fulfilling America’s Manifest Destiny (this is why I think that the arch is less of a “gateway” than an updated version of a Roman triumphal arch). Actually, the whole thing does strike me as a relic from America at midcentury – beautiful modern architecture (by Eero Saarinen, no less) in confident celebration of American achievement, before everything went to pot in the late 1960s.

For a good book on the arch see Tracy Campbell’s The Gateway Arch: A Biography which came out in 2013 in the Icons of America series from Yale University Press.

The Vikings Again

From Medievalists.net, via my friend Roman Kovalev:

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Thousand-year-old crucible provides more evidence of the Vikings in Canada’s Arctic

Although it was found about fifty years ago, archaeologists have just determined that a small stone container discovered on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic region was actually part of metallurgical equipment used by the Vikings around the year 1000 A.D.

The findings were revealed in an article published in the journal Geoarchaeology, by archaeologist Patricia Sutherland. She and her co-authors report that scanning electron microscopy was employed to determine if metal traces were present in a small stone container (about 48 mm tall) from an archaeological site on Cape Tanfield, part of the southern coast of Baffin Island.

They found that the interior of the vessel contained fragments of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, as well as small spherules of glass which are formed when rock is heated to high temperatures. The object is a crucible for melting bronze, likely in order to cast it into small tools or ornaments. The crucible appears to have been broken while in use, suggesting that it was likely used at the locality where it was found.

The artifact was originally excavated during the 1960s and identified as the fragment of a small soapstone pot made by the local indigenous people, the Palaeo-Eskimo who occupied the area in the centuries around 1000 A.D. However among the Palaeo-Eskimo artifacts Sutherland has identified a wide range of specimens that resemble those used by Europeans of the Viking and medieval periods. These include lengths of yarn spun from the fur of local animals, whetstones bearing metal traces from tools that had been sharpened, and tally sticks of the type used for recording transactions.

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More at the link.

We Got Here First!

Columbus tried to get to Asia by sailing across the “Ocean Sea” in 1492, and he’s lucky that the New World was in the way, because he would have starved to death before he ever got to Asia. No, he did not “discover” “America,” given that there were plenty of people living here already. But by this point in European history his sponsors were in a position to capitalize on the event, and so now a majority of the people in the Western Hemisphere speak Spanish as their native tongue.

But was Columbus the first non-native to gaze upon the New World? There have been plenty of attempts to claim that he wasn’t, for various reasons. I remember finding a book in the library at U. of Minnesota claiming that fisherman from Bristol had discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the 1480s, and made annual trips there (but who kept the discovery under wraps as a trade secret, which is why no one knows about it). Gavin Menzies has made a nuisance of himself by claiming that one of the Chinese treasure fleets rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1421 and made it to the New World. The Vikings did indeed make it to Greenland, and Newfoundland, in the tenth and eleventh centuries – but both of these settlements were later abandoned.

Now Muslims have gotten in on the act. The latest, from a Facebook friend:

Muslims found Americas before Columbus says Turkey’s Erdogan

Muslims discovered the Americas more than three centuries before Christopher Columbus, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

He made the claim during a conference of Latin American Muslim leaders in Istanbul, pointing to a diary entry in which Columbus mentioned a mosque on a hill in Cuba.

Mr Erdogan also said “Muslim sailors arrived in America in 1178”.

He said he was willing to build a mosque at the site Columbus identified.

The Turkish president – whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam – gave no further evidence to back up his theory, instead stating: “Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th Century.”

Columbus is widely believed to have discovered the Americas in 1492, while trying to find a new route to India.

But in a disputed article published in 1996, historian Youssef Mroueh said Columbus’ entry was proof that Muslims had reached the Americas first and that “the religion of Islam was widespread”.

However many scholars believe the reference is metaphorical, describing an aspect of the mountain that resembled part of a mosque.

No Islamic structures have been found in America that pre-date Columbus.

Mr Erdogan said he thought “a mosque would go perfectly on the hill today” and that he would like to discuss building this with Cuba.

Needless to say, Mr. Erdogan’s opinion is about as accurate as Holy Blood, Holy Grail.