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  • Beachcombed 29 November 1, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback

    Dear Reader,

    All well in the Beachcombing household except the roof renovations have not yet begun and the cold is closing in. Prepare for posts about arctic weather and creativity below zero. New aupair from the six counties is settling and apart from the fact we are all wearing long johns life is fine. In twenty minutes Beach has to pack children into a car and go and argue with a bank manager about money so this will have to be brief. Sorry… First, the best off world sites this month: we have Haunted Ohio and the very strange but very fine Camp Fire. Then if you want the acceptable face of conspiracy theories, this was published on the BBC no less: a history of that idiot-savant Ghadaffi (or, however, the hell you want to spell his name) [for reasons Beach doesn’t understand the blog is not working, type bbc, adam curtis, blog and gaddafi into google]. And, finally, here is a map of the Roman Empire (as was) with thanks to Ricardo!

    Beach still has lots of comments to put up – only sixty seven emails… – but below are the twenty-six new links with special thanks to Adrian and other readers and the ten thousand (actually eleven thousand) most important words from strangehistory this month.Enjoy, prosper and thanks!

    Indonesia and Madagascar: Stephen D complicates matters: The Y chromosomes of Malagasys have already been reported: see Hurles ME et al, American Journal of Human Genetics 76:894-901, 2005. About half the males studied have African haplotypes, the others appear to be from Borneo (and linguists have noted that the languages spoken around the Barito River in southern Borneo are the closest relatives of Malagasy languages).Note that this adds a further twist to the story: if you had to guess where in Malaysia or Indonesia the transoceanic element of Madagascar came from, Borneo would seem very unlikely. KMH has a coast-hugging solution: There is the remote possibility that the ship or ships of these thirty women hugged the coast line most of the way from Indonesia to Africa before perhaps being serendipitously blown off course to Madagascar. I seem to recall that a great Chinese fleet made a similar voyage that got at least to Aden. As such, the survival problem would not be overwhelming. Follow the Baldie has a supplementary question: If you work out the conundrum of the female xylophone orchestra’s deserting ship in Tamatave, maybe you could help with this one: http://oreneta.com/kalebeul/2005/12/30/when-javans-ruled-spain/ Stephen D. Sends in this further piece: Serva M (2012) The Settlement of Madagascar: What Dialects and Languages Can Tell Us. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30666. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030666; Abstract: The dialects of Madagascar belong to the Greater Barito East group of the Austronesian family and it is widely accepted that the Island was colonized by Indonesian sailors after a maritime trek that probably took place around 650 CE. The language most closely related to Malagasy dialects is Maanyan, but Malay is also strongly related especially for navigation terms. Since the Maanyan Dayaks live along the Barito river in Kalimantan (Borneo) and they do not possess the necessary skill for long maritime navigation, they were probably brought as subordinates by Malay sailors. In a recent paper we compared 23 different Malagasy dialects in order to determine the time and the landing area of the first colonization. In this research we use new data and new methods to confirm that the landing took place on the south-east coast of the Island. Furthermore, we are able to state here that colonization probably consisted of a single founding event rather than multiple settlements. To reach our goal we find out the internal kinship relations among all the 23 Malagasy dialects and we also find out the relations of the 23 dialects to Malay and Maanyan. The method used is an automated version of the lexicostatistic approach. The data from Madagascar were collected by the author at the beginning of 2010 and consist of Swadesh lists of 200 items for 23 dialects covering all areas of the Island. The lists for Maanyan and Malay were obtained from a published dataset integrated with the author’s interviews. Stephen abstracts this information: there is a strong ocean current from Sumatra to Madagascar; the Barito languages lack words for deep sea navigation; Such words in Malagasy are from Malay, not Barito; Therefore probably Malay ship with Barito as crew, swept off course; Linguistics of Madagascar consistent with once-only arrival, ca 650 AD. Thanks Stephen!! Thanks Stephen, Baldie and KMH!

    Fourteen-month pregnancy: Dr Turkey writes in ‘I find it very difficult to believe a foetus could survive an additional 5 months in utero.  Placenta’s have a lifespan that eventually runs out.  From 37 weeks onwards the stillbirth rate rises, and after 42 completed weeks it rises dramatically (which is why inductions are scheduled for this time).  Rates of stillbirth are about 1 in 633 by 43 weeks increased 7 fold from the rate at 40 weeks and continue to rise sharply.  In addition – the description provided here of a malformed foetus sounds much like a deceased foetus which had slowly been broken down internally.  (Sorry that’s really gross but the best way I could explain it.).  As to explanation of why labour didn’t commence – it is entirely possible that the mother never entered labour because of polyhydramnios (too much water).  Labour is a complex process that we don’t fully understand but we do know that that something (either a head or a bottom) needs to be pressing against a cervix to allow a mother to dilate appropriately.  So that explanation is not too far fetched.  Long term pregnancies were not unheard of prior to modern obstetrics.  Babys and mother’s usually died from it.  There’s another example here on my blog. Tacitus from Detritus writes: at this far remove you really can’t say much about the onset of the pregnancy described.  Was there some reason to imagine that it must have started that early? Hubby away on a long fishing trip to the Grand Banks, say? But if you have to ponder the implications of long, very long, pregnancies…consider the odd tale of “stone babies“.  Rare indeed, but there have been reported cases of intra abdominal pregnancies that expire and slowly calcify into what appear to be marble statuettes of fetuses. Otto writes ‘from the description the 14 month pregnancy sounds like it might have been a case of holo anencephaly  Use caution opening that link, it has an image of an anencephalactic foetus. And don’t plug the term into a Google image search; too sad. Thanks Otto and Tacitus and Turkey!

    Out of Place Artefacts: Villy B has sent this comment in: I enjoy learning more about ancient out-of-place artifacts. I think this stems from reading too much sci-fi as a child. I find few to be credible, though they can be entertaining. Some of the most interesting, if least believable, are those that require alien or pre-human/very early human sources. As one example there have been gold chains (and other objects) reported from Illinois coals (about 300 million years in age). Such finds (if true) have interesting implications, but you have to wonder why anyone (or anything?), in any time period, would be wandering around in vast swamps losing gold chains. More likely we would be finding in a swamp the equivalents of modern garbage-bottles and cans and the like. Closer to our own times is the finding of Roman empire age coins in the eastern USA, a few from the area where I live.  I can believe it remotely possible that a Roman ship or two (or other pre-Columbian visitors including Prince Madoc, a local favorite here in the Ohio River valley) could have been very lost or perhaps drifted to North America’s east coast via Atlantic currents. To then trek hundreds of miles inland to drop a few coins or carve a few ambiguous faces or letters in stone (as the Brandenburg Stone and others, Madoc again here in part)seems unlikely in the extreme. A better explanation for at least some of these coins is a forgotten colonial tradition of gifting coins at weddings (as a symbol of prosperity and the “something old” of the rhyme).Coins from the “time of  Jesus”, or close to it, being considered auspicious. Coins later be lost and refound. Among the strangest of modern claims for out-of-place artifacts that I know of has to be those from “Burrows Cave” (lots online for this one,very entertaining story). These artifacts, if real, would indicate centuries of pre-Columbian travel to interior North America. The claim is also made that Alexander the Great is buried in the cave! Hard to believe under any circumstances, harder still to believe when all the artifacts are so crude and artistically similar, though from different traditions. Even harder to believe authenticity when the “gold” artifacts are (from the pictures online anyway) obviously “gold” painted complete with brush marks (should of used spray paint guys)! I could talk about many more, but I hope these give my general take on the matter. Real OOPA are out there I think, but they have to be proven to be believed. Proof often seems less important than agendas in many of these cases. Where Bad Archeology says “The sites that present information to counter the claims of Bad Archaeologists tend to do it piecemeal, answering specific bits of data, such as individual out-of-place artifacts. There is little by way of large-scale, overarching argumentation.”, I have to ask where is your “overarching argumentation” when you give us supposed artifacts in a piecemeal fashion? If we can’t look at each artifact (or “specific bits of data” as he says) on its’ own merits and provenance, what answer(s) are they really looking for?  He also states “Archaeology needs better advocates than vapid television “personalities””-most of the vapid television “personalities” I’ve seen are the “bad archeologists” (most recently on the Ancient Aliens programs).’ Thanks VB

    Whoops, Apocalypse: Regarding worries that “Little Boy” would detonate if the Enola Gay crashed, you may rest assured that there were many worries about such an event.  There are many built-in safety features to nuclear warheads (even then) which also explains the “miraculous” way that the several (admittedly frightening) mishaps you refer to with nuclear warheads did not result in a detonation.  Regarding the flight out of Tinian, you state that “should it accidentally explode most human life on the island, a mere thirty-nine square miles in size, would cease to exist.”  I will grant that this type of view of the world-ending nature of nuclear weapons is widely held in the educated, non-nuclear public, but I would like to reply to that statement with a map showing the blast pattern of a “Little Boy” sized warhead in an idealized air drop (much broader effect than a ground-level detonation). There would have been many dead people at the airport, but as for wiping out all life on Tinian, that is overdone. I’d also like to take issue with the idea of the “frighteningly high radiation levels in the area” of Palomares after the B-52 went down.  There have been traces of Americium and Plutonium found in a debris trench.  There are no known direct effects to health to the people of the area from the low levels of exposure found at that site.  There is much controversy over the effects of chronic exposure to low-level radiation levels (start hereif you want a piece of radioactive contamination history we are not allowed to talk about amongst right-thinking people). That said, I guess it does come down to what is “frightening” to one person might not be to another.  I can see how educated Western elites in non-technical areas who have been told by sincerely righteous people that any radiation exposure is dangerous over and over for decades could generate a significant level of fear.  Hopefully this alleviates maybe a little of that fear.  Knowledge is power.’ Ozzie writes in: I don’t know if this is up to Fraga standards, but I lived for five years in Pocatello, Idaho, which is about 50 miles southwest of the US National Reactor Testing Site.  Many local residents worked at “The Site,” and, this being the 70s,  there was always worry about whether they would all start to glow in the dark.  Whenever concern reached a peak, there was always a comforting announcement made to the effect that “radiation readings at The Site are actually lower than those in Idaho Falls.”  Idaho Falls was another town located about 40 miles due east of the site.  The prevailing west wind blew directly from the site to Idaho Falls, sending any contaminated dust from the test site to the city.  Oh, how we laughed.Finally, we have Sleeper: One of my neighbors when I was growing up had been invalidated out of the Army Air Corps during the war due to rheumatic fever.  Since he was from Eastern Washington State he went home and wound up with a job running trucks at Hanford , where a lot of the nuclear material was purified.  He said he had been issued a dosimeter for working on the site, and it was checked daily.  He worked for a while running a water truck sprinkling water on the roads and lanes in the facility to keep down the dust. He said one day he noticed a bunch of guys in enveloping white suits working at one building, and it was so interesting he made multiple passes at the site, driving round and round the building.  When he went in the next day his dosimeter badge was missing, and he was told it had been over-exposed, but he should wait a minute and they would find him another one – and they did, that was all they did about the over-exposure.  He found out later he had been circling the main reactor as they were loading it up. Health and safety regulations were a little less stringent then, I’m sure WA Labor and Industries (LNI) would have something to say about that today. Thanks Ozzie, Sleeper and MF!!

    Out of Time Coins: First up Lehmansterms writes: Interesting that you quote from a (nontheless, unknown) 19th century traveller’s journal of the use of Roman coppers in Arabia. I have also tantalizingly heard of but never been able to locate travellers’ memoires written in not too much earlier an age (early 19th century) in which Roman coins were observed passing current (in the incident I have heard referred-to) as the toll a farmer paid a rural French ferry operator to transport his wagon full of goods across a river to market. The traveller’s journal supposedly comments on the impression made when seeing coins of Constantine the Great (307-337), fully 1500 years out of time, in daily use. I have a number of Roman-era coins dependably sourced from the Alsace region.  Sold to me by the 2nd generation (American) descendent of an Alsatian wine merchant family in which “unusual” coins which came across the counter over a period of many years were evidently put aside becoming a sort of proto-collection.  There were some odd coins which were far less old as well, but still well out of time and place, like heavy coppers from 18th century Russia, Bolton’s British “Cartwheel” pennies and two-pence, etc. The majority of these coins, however, were of Roman vintage and spanned about four centuries in their dates of issue – from the late Republican era through the mid-late 4th century.  Overwhelmingly copper, bronze or very low-silver billon, there were a few silvery-looking pieces from the era of debasement and inflation in the mid 3rd century, but no significant quantity of precious-metal pieces.  The wear-pattern on many of these coins is unusual in that they show evidence of having been buried (at least) once and accumulating the sort of verdigris over areas of ancient wear which one would expect to result from a millennium of diagenesis. Atop this, there is observable evidence of having been cleaned and smoothed, with yet another generation of wear atop remnants of verdigris incompletely removed in the cleaning and the sort of patina coins in circulation for a few decades might exhibit. I would have to guess that in some rural areas – perhaps many rural areas if they were far enough removed from centers of economic action – the clutches and hoards of ancient coins, buried by their owners for safety and never retrieved for any of a number of reasons – occasionally and inevitably found by those digging ditches or turned-up by the plow – would regularly be cleaned and put back into circulation in places where the supply of regal coin of the era was chronically inadequate.  One imagines some old pensioner (an easy task for me, being my job description) who having found a number of ancient coins cleaned them up as best as he was able then hied himself off to the local tavern where, evidently, any good, solid chunk of copper was as good as any other for a cup of wine. This is, of course, far removed from the “erratic finds” of ancient Roman, Greek, Byzantine or early Islamic coins in the Western hemisphere, which open up a different kettle of controversy altogether. KJ writes in next: Getting a foreign coin from the shop till may sound bizarre to you, but  it is not at all uncommon. For my entire life, getting Canadian change instead of American has been one of the minor inconveniences of life in New England. When I was very young, it was exciting to get a Bluenose dime or a penny with the Queen on it. Now, it’s annoying since we are reduced to trying to pass it on to the next unsuspecting Yank. I have a small bag filled with Canadian change. In years past, when I travelled more frequently to Canada, I would bring all the money with me and dump it into the first counter-top charity cup I saw. Now, Canada will no longer mint pennies, so I may inadvertently have the beginnings of a type collection.      I have also received foreign money in change from vending machines, all small coins and all but one dating from the pre-Euro era. I would be surprised if other Americans living near the border don’t have similar stories. Now I’m off to check my change from Dunkin’ Donuts for a denarius…. Then Rabbit Hole: Beach, I think you might not realise how long coins survive. Take, for example, the pre decimal British penny. The design for this changed relatively little in the nineteenth century with the result that coins from seventy or eighty years before remained in circulation.’ Thanks KJ, Lehmansterms and Rabbit Hole!

    Esposito: Wade sends in a link to Gorman’s variorum volume, the third that dopey Beach did not realise had been published. On p. 307 Gorman writes that Bieler (German medievalist who had been forced to flee to Ireland before the war) had seen the book. Gorman writes though that ‘no copy seems to survive’ It would be interesting to find out where Bieler’s books ended up at his death: Beach recalls rumours of an American collector. Thanks Wade!

    Church Porch: First up is PJ: I saw your blog on the church porch devilry and remembered this article by Paul Devereux from Fortean Times: If Mr. D is to be believed, it wasn’t just church porches that allowed one to see all the dead of the coming year.  He believes that there were “church way paths,” special spirit pathways leading through the landscape, traveled not only by the spirits of the dead, but fairies and the like.  He quotes a reference to them in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (which, if valid, is probably at least contemporaneous with Katherine of Aubrey): Now it is that time of night,That the graves all gaping wide, Every one lets forth his sprite, In the church-way paths to glide. He goes on to say, “In Britain, they can also be known by a number of other names – bier road, burial road, coffin line, lyke or lych way (from Old English liches, corpse), or funeral road, to mention just some.”  And “In Britain, we pick it up as the “church porch watch” or “sitting-up”. In this, a village seer would hold a vigil between 11 pm and 1 am at the church door, in the graveyard, at the lych-gate (where the cortège entered the churchyard), or on a nearby lane (presumably a corpse road), in order to look for the wraiths of those who would die in the following 12-month period. Typically, this ‘watch’ took place on St Mark’s Eve (24 April), Hallowe’en, or the eves of New Year, Midsummer, or Christmas.  The wraiths of the doomed, but still living, members of the community would usually appear to the inner eye of the seer as a procession coming in from beyond the churchyard and passing into the church, and then returning back out into the night. However, in some cases, especially in Wales, watchers were more likely to hear a disembodied voice tell the names of those who were soon to die.” Next KR ‘Here is a link with some information, the most interesting being the link between Midsummers Eve and the Black Death. It was believed by “the Celts” and many others of ancient times and into present times in some places, that times and places “in between” or “neither here nor there” were places where “the veils are thin” between this world and the other world, between this world and the fairy world, between this world and the world of the souls of the departed, or between this world and the world of goddess or god. So a branch in a stream/river (neither this stream nor that,) a fording place (neither fully in or out of water) the time of midnight (neither this day nor that,) the time of dawn or twilight (neither dark nor light) the days that divided the seasons (neither this season nor that)
    entryways/thresholds (neither within nor without,) tops of summits (the person is “in the sky” yet on the earth,) places where the steam/gasses from the underworld pass through to the upper-world (neither above ground nor below ground,) mists (neither rain nor fair,) edges of great woods (neither fully in a clearing nor fully in a wood) bright and big fires in the night (neither fully dark nor fully light, the person by the fire being neither fully cold nor fully hot, the dream-state (neither conscious nor unconscious) were long considered to be the places where contact might be made with the otherworld.  The churches use/used some of the same. Censers(fire, smoke, herbs) baptisms(water and air) prayers at burials (for the soul of the newly departed between heaven and earthly existence) or to saints(the blessed dead, but spirits living) are but a few examples. There are more examples of “in between” places, and in-between times and in-between situations. But these examples are plenty. The more in-between was the person, place or time, or the more of in-between factors existed, the more likely that fates could be known, or ghosts or fairies could be seen. In many old religions, a combination of neither-here-nor-there times and places increased the contact with the otherworld, and more clearly opened the veils/the portals between the earth world and spirit world in the old beliefs.  So in the-woman-on-the-church-porch episodes we have: 1. Neither inside nor outside (a portal) 2. Neither sacred/heavenly place nor secular/earthly place. 3. Neither seeding time nor threshing time/ the Midsummer solstice being between those. 4. Neither climbing sun nor lowering sun, but at the height, a point in between. 5. Neither closer to morning light nor closer to the daylight before, the hour(s) of mid night.  6. Neither untouched maid nor married woman, the widow is herself in an in between state. 7. Neither fully in this world nor fully in the next, a grief-stricken widow might have been in a state of wishing she could be with her loved one again either here or there. There are likely more “in-betweens” in this than I have found. Perhaps the widow is neither secure nor in abject poverty, neither sure of her faith nor ready to disown it. A widow’s wish to see spirits, any spirits, might indicate a wish to fully believe that spirits exist: therefore her loved one still exists. We still use the saying, Living “on the edge” to denote (usually)a risky/dangerous way to live, as in-between life and death, or living in a way so as to put one (another saying)”at deaths door.” Interesting how common old expressions might still reference old ways of believing. Invisible writes in over the Church Porch: Church porches were not just for women, although women often made use of the church porch: for marriage, for “churching,” for refuge, and for healing (there is a note on p. 173 of Choice Notes from Notes & Queries, 1859 about a young woman seeking to be cured from fits by sitting in the church porch, receiving money.) And in my new favorite book: Church folklore: a record of some post-Reformation usages in the English Church, now mostly obsolete, The Rev. James Edward Vaux, 1894) it is mentioned that the church porch is a refuge for the destitute, that financial transactions often took place there, as it was a public place, and in some areas, corpses of the unknown dead were laid in the porch for identification. I’m most familiar with the following sort of story, involving only men who see their fetch/wraith/double in the porch and subsequently die. I have also seen references to this custom occurring on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. I regret that I don’t have a date for this anecdote. The following, illustrating as it does a superstition still very prevalent in Lincolnshire, may interest some of your readers. I transcribed it a few days ago in the British Museum from Holly’s Lincolnshire Notes, vol. iii. fol. 358: “The other I receaued from Mr. Thomas Codd, minister of Laceby in Linc, wch he gave under his owne hand: he himself being a native of ye place where this same happened, and it was thus: “At Axholme, alias Haxey, in ye Isle, one Mr. Edward Vicars (curate to Mr. Wm. Dalby, vicar), together with one Robert Hallywell a taylor, intending on St. Marke’s even at night to watch in ye church porch to see who shoud die in ye yeare following (to this purpose using divers ceremonies), they addressing themselues to the busines, Vicars (being then in his chamber) wished Hallywell to be going before and he would psently follow him. Vicars fell asleep, and Hallywell (attending his coming in y“ church porch) forthwith sees certaine shapes psenting themselves to his view, resemblances (as he thought) of diuers of his neighbours, who he did nominate ; and all of them dyed the yeare following ; and Vicars himselfe (being asleep) his phantome was seen of him also, and dyed with ye rest. This sight made Hallywell so agast that he looks like a Ghoast ever since. The lord Sheffield (hearing this relation) sent for Hallywell to receiue account of it. The fellow fearing my Lord would cause him to watch the church porch againe he hid himselfe in the Carrs till he was almost starued. The number of those that died (whose phantasmes Hallywell saw) was as I take it about fower score. “ Tho. Cod, Rector Ecclie de Laceby.” Edward Peacock.— (Vol. iv. p. 470.) Bottesford Moors. Choice Notes from Notes & Queries, 1859, pp. 51-2. Thanks KR, Invisible and PJ!!

    Great War Cartoons: Invisible writes in: For First World War cartoons, you should also look at Brushes & Bayonets, Cartoons, Sketches and Paintings of World War I, Lucinda Gosling, In association with The Illustrated London News Picture Library, 2008. This drawing is “Passed by the Censor”, Edwin Morrow, The Bystander, 16 August 1916 Caption: Officers of the ____Battn. ___Rgt. who took part in a recent advance in ____. Reading from left to right (back row): Lieut___, Lieut___, Sec.-Lieut___, Lieut___, Sec.-Lieut.___. Front Row: Capt.___, Lieut-Col.___, Major___, and Capt.___ Contents: An Illustrators’ War, ‘Over by Christmas’: The Outbreak of War; ‘Who’s for the Trench, Are You, My Laddie?’: Enlistment, Recruitment & Training; Frightfulness: Drawing the Enemy; From Plug Street to Regent Street: Life in the Trenches; Business as Usual: The Home Front; The Blue Pencil: Reporting & Censorship; Carrying On: Women & War; Back to Blighty: Soldiers on Leave; Shoulder to Shoulder: Allies; Venus & Mars: Love & Marriage in Wartime; Up, Up & Away: Land, Sea & Air; ‘The Day’: Victory & Peace.

    The Count has this to say: Poor old Kaiser Bill – he managed to start WWI, but today almost nobody remembers him at all, let alone as the classic Supervillain he clearly wanted to be, judging by his constant attempts to dress up as one, skull-and-crossbones and all, while trying to disguise the fact that he had a withered arm. He even retired to a place called Doom! It didn’t work, though – he remains a slightly cartoonish and somewhat inept baddie who wasn’t really in control of events – WWI just sort of happened, more despite than because of him. The fact that the victors allowed him to live out his days in comfortable obscurity and die of old age once he became irrelevant says rather a lot. WWII, on the other hand… During the war, right up until its closing stages, attempts were of course made to portray Hitler & Co. as bumbling cartoon buffoons not unlike the Kaiser. However, when the literally unbelievable horror of what the Nazis had done in the camps finally became all too apparent, the joking had to stop. One artist working for D. C. Thompson later said that he felt horribly ashamed in retrospect for having unwittingly tried to be funny about people capable of such things, even though he couldn’t possibly have known at the time. To see what I’m talking about, here are some images from the wartime Beano of that wacky overweight Italian person Musso the Wop, and, even more unbelievably, by the same artist, and in the Dandy of all places, the slapstick escapades of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering! (Readers unaware of these strips miss the real joke underlying Viz Comics’ “Oswald Mosely the Black-Shirted Funny Man”.) Then there is the Great Mike Dash: No post about humour in the First World War is complete without mention of the remarkable and increasingly celebrated Wipers Times, a satirical trench newspaper produced by a group of officers and men from the Sherwood Foresters. They were fighting on the front line, and discovered a working printing machine in a shelled-out print shop, which they thereafter lugged around the trenches with them; the magazine was sometimes actually produced under fire. More than a dozen issues were produced in all. Quite a lot of the humour still stands up, and there are even cartoons, though these had to be engraved in improvised ways. Best of all perhaps are the spoof advertisements:

    The WT is an interesting bit of evidence for the persistence of good morale and actual determination to win a war thought worth fighting, and as such it is a useful antidote to the post-hoc war-is-hell version of events that has become the standard narrative of the war. The staff of the Times were even aware of this while the fighting was still going on: We regret to announce that an insidious disease is affecting the Division, and the result is a hurricane of poetry.  Subalterns have been seen with a notebook in one hand, and bombs in the other absently walking near the wire in deep communication with the muse…The editor would be obliged if a few of the poets would break into prose as a paper cannot live by “poems” alone. Thanks Mike, Count and Invisible!

    Animal Sacrifices: Kithra writes: I enjoyed reading your blog this morning about “Modern and Early Modern Animal Sacrifices in Britain.” While I don’t know about other animal sacrifices cats were sacrificed, up to at least the end of the 18th Century. It was a ceremony known as the Taigheirm. I only came across it recently, and wrote an article about it that, if you’ve not heard of it and you’re interested, you can read on kithraskrystalkave The Invisible: Jim, the ironworker, opens a very long article in the Washington Post on the history of foundation sacrifices, which also discusses modern human and animal foundation sacrifices in the Yukon and an historical account of a young girl being walled up in the ramparts of Copenhagen. Then, mystifyingly, the article veers into an analysis of modern construction fatality statistics and the importance of building worker safety. JIM, the ironworker, talks: “The hoodoo’s off this buildin’. We killed our first man yesterday. I’m sorry for the Italian they crushed, but all the same, I feel better. There’s got to be some good red man blood in the makin’ of every building or the thing’s a hoodoo. But it keeps you nervous until you hear that some other fellow’s blood is spilled. Then you think maybe yours ain’t needed this ilme. Every man gets his call someday. Somethin’,  somewhere, is keeping the time card When the right minute comes one o’ them big iron toothpicks swings round when you’re not lookin’—and over [illegible] More foundation stuff—that’s all. Never heard of human sacrifices in this buildin’ business, eh? Well, look it up, young man. And take it from me, we ain’t got past laying fine young humans  alive in the foundations of the big things we build.  Not by a good deal They did it a thousand years ago We’re doin’ it now all right only we don’t call it by the same name And there’s hell to pay if a man gets caught talking about it. Look it up. You’ll find it mighty interesting. And leave me out of it—understand? I don’t want ‘em to lay me off for bein’ gabby.  Washington Post, 4 February, 1912: p. 42 Christian/Spiritualist religious mania seems to set the scene for many 19th-century “human sacrifices.” SACRIFICE OF A MEDIUM A man whose name is Samuel Cole, residing in Washington County, Ohio, who was made insane by the workings of the spirit-rapping delusion, became possessed of the idea that he must offer, like Abraham of old, a sacrifice to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. He accordingly proceeded to carry his object into execution, by taking off one of his feet, which he succeeded in doing some days since, in a very scientific manner, and with a heroic determination that would compare with the self-sacrificing deeds done in earlier ages. His family fearing that some other of his limbs might be demanded in a like cause, had him conveyed to the Lunatic Asylum at Columbus, where he is now in the enjoyment of as much liberty as the nature of his disease will warrant the superintendent of that institution in granting him. Adams Sentinel, [Gettysburg, PA] 14 March, 1853: p. 5 And, the 1828 Ohio cow burnt to expel witches. I’ve posted this here before [but what the hell, let’t do it again! B]. The annexed report of a case, that came before the court of common pleas in this county, is from the pen of a legal gentleman of high standing. It shows that in our day, the belief in witchcraft has not entirely vanished. Lawrence Common Pleas. Term 1828. At some subsequent time, when defendant was from home, his wife sent for witness and others, to see and find out what was the matter with her cow, in a lot near the house. They found it frantic, running, and pitching at everything which came near. It was their opinion, after observing it considerably, that it had the canine madness [rabies]. The defendant, however, returned before the witness and others left the lot; he inspected the cow with much attention, and gave it as his opinion that they were mistaken as to the true cause of her conduct,—she was not mad, but bewitched; the same which had been in the horse, had transferred itself to the cow. By this time the animal, from exhaustion or other cause, had lain down. The defendant then went into the lot, and requested the persons present to assist in putting a rope about her horns, and then make the other end fast to a tree, where he could burn her. They laughed at the man’s notion, but finally assisted him, seeing she remained quiet—still having no belief that he really intended burning her. This being done, the- defendant piled up logs, brush and other things around, and finally over the poor cow, and then set fire to them. The defendant continued to add fuel, until she was entirely consumed, and afterwards told the witness he had never seen any creature so hard to die; that she continued to moan after most of the flesh had fallen from her bones, and he felt a pity for her, but die she must; that nothing but the witches in her kept her alive so long, and it was his belief they would be so burnt before getting out, that they never would come back. Night having set in before the burning was finished, the defendant and his family set up to ascertain if the witches could be seen about the pile of embers. Late at night, some one of the family called the defendant to the window—the horse being near the place—and pointed to two witches, hopping around, over and across the pile of embers, and now and then seizing a brand and throwing it into the air, and in a short while disappeared. The next morning, on examination, the defendant saw their tracks through the embers in all directions. At a subsequent time, he told the same witness and others, that from that time the witches had wholly disappeared from the neighborhood, and would never return—and to burn the animal alive, in which they were found, was the only way to get clear of them: he had been very fearful they would torment his family. Historical Collections of Ohio, Henry Howe, (Cincinnati, OH: Bradley & Anthony, 1850) p. 291 Continues today in muti murders, and, if you believe the Evangelicals, many people a year are killed by Satanists. And, a warning from the Internet:  YU-GI-YO Leads to human sacrifice! Who knew? [B: I thought this was satire but reading it carefully it seems not]. Thanks Invisible and Kithra!!!

    Missing Majorana: Chris (an old friend of this blog) writes: A photo of Majorana was discovered recently and according to the forensics people, there are ten points of similarity between the individual known as Mr. Bini and the elusive theorist. lKR writes: This wikipedia page in Italian contains several other possibilities regarding Hector’s disappearance, including one that he gained help from Jesuits to go into a monastery. The letters here by an Italian, are interesting as well.  “I refused the sea” could have different meanings: was he considering, then refused some offer to immigrate? If so, it could simply mean “I refused the offer to go overseas.” Or was he considering using the sea or sea water in an experiment and then refused/chose not to do so? The most interesting excerpts here are from Laura Fermi. Did the genius’s uncle cause the death of an infant by burning it in it’s cradle? Accident? I note that it was mentioned that he wrote notes or calculations on his cigarette pack sometimes, and we are in the days here before fabrics were made less flammable, so a dropped ash could have caused his baby cousin’s death, perhaps. It says he accepted responsibility to protect an uncle, but was this bit a cover up for the family genius? (Not that his family was not full of professors and important men, but Hector was a prodigy.) Did guilt over this cause him to become suicidal, or seek solitude/penance as a monk? Note mention of this with the accompanying comments in the link. The descriptions of his character make him sound a bit like a high-functioning genius-autistic or schizophrenic man, a bit more than just “retiring.” Even so, a mental break, needing institutionalization seems a likely possibility. Keeping such things secret in those days of eugenics-gone-mad would have protected his family from more than just embarrassment. I haven’t seen this as a noted theory, but then, I haven’t researched too much on it. He says to AC not to think of him like a girl as that is not the case. (paraphrased a bit) Is he saying not to think of him as a coward, or not to think of him as a girl to be easily dropped after an amorous encounter? Homosexuals were most definitely not (openly) accepted in Facist Italy, and in a Jesuit-taught Catholic. Another interesting thing is that he was in Germany, (and with Eichmann) for months, in 1933, after which he stopped (according to Laura Fermi) performing his work and also avoided his old fellows. Letters seem to show some degree of indoctrination or else his own positive impressions of Nazis and their attitudes about Jews, later apparently dwindling into lesser admiration or else outright confusion. What did he see there, outside of his work with physics? Another possible reason for needing solitude/penance or being suicidal? I have not seen mention of murder as a possibility. However, possible motives: Academic jealousy (yes this can be viscous!) An unknown lover’s jealousy, spouse’s revenge, or lover’s fear of exposure? (Or was this man, at 31, not sexually active yet?)  Burned baby’s mama’s revenge? (There would be no greater anger I could imagine, than to think her baby’s life meant less to her family than his career) Eichmann has him eliminated? (Maybe he said” No, I won’t do that” to the Third Reich/Axis Powers? Or maybe his oddness was seen as a mental defect? I know his body didn’t wash up, but is it certain he didn’t get off the boat? Maybe it didn’t wash up because he was killed on land. Now, Beach, here’s the one I know you’ll like best: he turned himself into a test subject and achieved liminality as a state of being. He was like Schrodinger’s cat thereafter neither here nor there, or perhaps both here and there. Perhaps he could occasionally pop in to our reality from his alternate reality(ies) in alternate-space/time(s.) Or, in the ancient way of saying approximately the same thing, he went to the otherworld while yet alive, and was able to appear now and then (when conditions were enabling) as a living person and talk to people in this world. (such has been mentioned in mythologies by magician/alchemists and by prophets, by “witches,” also by people that mess around with the “good folk.”) This theory with either way of saying it, would help explain the Elvis-type phenomena of appearances from Naples to Argentina! Wade sends in meanwhile a fascinating link to another disappeared person, Granger Taylor. thanks Karen, Chris and Wade!

    Egyptologist, Cat and Goddess: Southern Man writes in having kindly excerpted the relevant 1933 article, not all is history, but it is entertaining. Thanks SM! ‘One summer during a heat wave, when the temperature in the shade of my veranda in Luxor was a hundred and twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit, I went down to cooler Lower Egypt to pay a visit to an English friend of mine stationed at Zagazig, the native city which stands beside the ruins of ancient Bubastis. He was about to leave Egypt, and asked me whether I would like to have his cat, a dignified, mystical-minded, long-legged, small-headed, green-eyed female, whose orange-yellow hair, marked with grayish-black stripes in tabby pattern, was so short that she gave the impression of being naked – an impression, however, which did not in any way detract from her air of virginal chastity. Her name was Basta, and though her more recent ancestors had lived wild amongst the ruins, she was so obviously a descendant of the holy cats of ancient times, who were incarnations of the goddess Basta, that I thought it only right to accept the offer and take her up to Luxor to live with me. To be the expert in charge of Egyptian antiquities and not have an ancient Egyptian cat to give an air of mystery to my headquarters had, indeed, always seemed to me to be somewhat wanting in showmanship on my part. Thus it came about that on my departure I drove off to the railroad station with the usually dignified Basta bumping around and uttering unearthly howls inside a cardboard hatbox, in the side of which I had cut a small round hole for ventilation. The people in the streets and on the station platform seemed to be under the impression that the noises were digestive and that I was in dire need of a doctor; and it was a great relief to my embarrassment when the hot and panting train steamed into Luxor. Fortunately I found myself alone in the compartment, and the hatbox on the seat at my side had begun to cause me less anxiety, when suddenly Basta was seized with a sort of religious frenzy. The box rocked about, and presently out through the air-hole came a long, snake-like paw which waved weirdly to and fro in space for a moment, and then was withdrawn, its place being taken by a pink nose which pushed itself outward with such frantic force that the sides of the hole gave way, and out burst the entire sandy, sacred head. She then began to choke, for the cardboard was pressing tightly around her neck; and to save her from strangulation I was obliged to tear the aperture open, whereupon she wriggled out leaped in divine frenzy up the side of the carriage, and prostrated herself on the network of the baggage rack, where her hysteria caused her to lose all control of her internal arrangements, and if I say modestly that she was overcome with nausea I shall be telling but a part of the dreadful tale. The rest of the journey was like a bad dream; but at the Cairo terminus, where I had to change into the night express for Luxor, I got the help of a native policeman who secured a large laundry basket from the sleeping-car department, and after a prolonged struggle, during which the train was shunted into a distant siding, we imprisoned the struggling Basta again. The perspiring policeman and I then carried the basket at a run along the tracks back to the station in the sweltering heat of the late afternoon, and 1 just managed to catch my train; but during this second part of my journey Basta traveled in the baggage van, whence, in the hot and silent night, whenever we were at a standstill, her appalling incantations came drifting to my ears. I opened the basket in an unfurnished spare room in my house, and like a flash Basta was up the bare wall and onto the curtain pole above the window. There she remained all day, in a sort of mystic trance; but at sunset the saucer of milk and plate of fish which I had provided for her at last enticed her down, and in the end she reconciled herself to her new surroundings, and indicated by her behavior that she was willing to accept my house as her earthly temple. With Pedro, my pariah dog, there was not the slightest trouble; he had no strong feelings about cats, and she on her part graciously deigned to acknowledge his status as, I believe, is generally the case in native households. She sometimes condescended to visit my horse and donkey in their stalls; and for Laura, my camel, she quickly developed a real regard, often sleeping for hours in her stable. I was not worried as to how she would treat the chickens and pigeons, because her former owner at Zagazig had insisted upon her respecting his hen-coop and pigeon-cote; but I was a little anxious about the ducks, for she had not previously known any, and in ancient times her ancestors used to be trained to hunt wild geese and ducks and were fed with pute de foie gras, or whatever it was called then, on holy days and anniversaries. In a corner of the garden I had made a miniature duck pond which was sunk rather deeply in the ground and down to which I had cut a narrow, steeply sloping passage, or gangway. During the day, after the ducks had been up and down this slope several times, the surface used to become wet and slippery, and the ducks having waddled down the first few inches, were forced to toboggan down the rest of it on their tails, with their two feet sticking out in front of them and their heads well up. Basta was always fascinated by this slide and by the splash at the bottom, and used to sit and watch it all for hours, which made me think at first that she would one day spring at one of them; but she never did. Field mice, and water rats down by the Nile, were her only prey; and in connection with the former I may mention a curious occurrence. One hot night I was sitting smoking my pipe on the veranda, when my attention was attracted by two mice which had crept into the patch of brilliant moonlight before my feet and were boldly nibbling some crumbs left over from a cracker thrown to Pedro earlier in the evening. I watched them silently for a while and did not notice that Basta had seen them and was preparing to spring, nor did I observe a large white owl sitting aloft amongst the overhanging roses and also preparing to pounce. Suddenly, and precisely at the same moment, the owl shot down on the mice from above and Basta leaped at them from beside me. There was a collision and a wild scuffle; fur and feathers flew; I fell out of my chair; and then the owl made off screeching in one direction and the cat dashed away in the other; while the mice, practically clinging to each other, remained for a moment or so too terrified to move. During the early days of her residence in Luxor, Basta often used to go down to the edge of the Nile to fish with her paw; but she never caught anything, and in the end she got a fright and gave it up. I was sitting by the river watching her trying to catch one of a little shoal of small fish which were sunning themselves in the shallow water when there came swimming into view a twelve- or fourteen-inch fish which I recognized (by its whiskers and the absence of a dorsal fin) as the electric catfish, pretty common in the Nile – a strange creature able to give you an electric shock like hitting your funnybone. These fish obtain their food in a curious way: they hang round any shoal of small fry engaged in feeding, and then glide quietly into their midst and throw out this electric shock, whereupon the little fellows are all sick to the stomach, and the big fellow gets their disgorged dinners. I was just waiting to see this happen with my own eyes –for it had always seemed a bit far-fetched – when Basta made a dart at the intruder with her paw, and got a shock. She uttered a yowl as though somebody had trodden on her, and leaped high in the air; and never again did she put her foot near the water. She was content after that with our daily offering of a fish brought from the market and fried for her like a burnt sacrifice. Basta had a most unearthly voice, and when she was feeling emotional would let out a wail which at first was like the crying of a phantom baby, and then became the tuneless song of a lunatic, and finally developed into the blood-curdling howl of a soul in torment. And when she spat, the percussion was like that of a spring-gun. There were some wild cats, or, rather, domestic cats who, like Basta’s own forbears, had taken to a wild life, living in a grove of trees beside the river just beyond my garden wall; and it was generally the proximity of one of these which started her off; but sometimes the outburst was caused by her own unfathomable thoughts as she went her mysterious ways in the darkness of the night. I think she must have been clairvoyant, for she often seemed to be seeing things not visible to me. Sometimes, perhaps when she was cleaning fish or mouse from her face, she would pause with one foot off the ground and stare in front of her, and then back away with bristling hair or go forward with friendly little mewing noises; and sometimes she would leap off a chair or sofa, her tail lashing and her green eyes dilated. But it may have been worms. Once I saw her standing absolutely rigid and tense on the lawn, staring at the rising moon; and then all of a sudden she did a sort of dance such as cats sometimes do when they are playing with other cats. But there was no other cat, and, anyway, Basta never played; she never forgot that she was a holy cat. Her chaste hauteur was so great that she would not move out of the way when people were walking about, and many a time her demoniacal shriek and perhaps a crash of breaking glass informed the household that somebody had tripped over her. It was astonishing, however, how quickly she recovered her dignity and how well she maintained the pretense that whatever happened to her was at her own celestial wish and was not our doing. If I called her she would pretend not to hear, but would come a few moments later when it could appear that she had thought of doing so first; and if I lifted her off a chair she would jump back onto it and then descend with dignity as though of her own free will. But in this, of course, she was more like a woman than like a divinity. The Egyptian cat is a domesticated species of the African wildcat, and no doubt its strange behavior and its weird voice were the cause of it being regarded as sacred in ancient times; but, although the old gods and their worship have been forgotten these many centuries, the traditional sanctity of the race has survived. Modern Egyptians think it unlucky to hurt a cat, and in the native quarters of Cairo and other cities hundreds of cats are daily fed at the expense of benevolent citizens. They say that they do this because cats are so useful to mankind in killing off mice and other pests; but actually it is an unrecognized survival of the old beliefs. In the days of the Pharaohs, when a cat died the men of the household shaved off their eyebrows and sat around wailing and rocking themselves to and fro in simulated anguish. The body was embalmed and buried with solemn rites in the local cats’ cemetery, or was sent down to Bubastis to rest in the shadow of the temple of their patron goddess. I myself have dug up hundreds of mummified cats; and once when I had a couple of dozen of the best specimens standing on my veranda waiting to be dispatched to the Cairo Museum, Basta was most excited about it, and walked around sniffing at them all day. They certainly smelled awful. On my lawn there was a square slab of stone which had once been the top of an altar dedicated to the sun god, but was now used as a sort of low garden table; and sometimes when she had caught a mouse she used to deposit the chewed corpse upon this slab, nobody could think why, unless, as I always told people, she was really making an offering to the sun. It was most mysterious of her; but it led once to a very unfortunate episode. A famous French antiquarian, who was paying a polite call, was sitting with me beside this sacred stone, drinking afternoon tea and eating fresh dates when Basta appeared on the scene with a small dead mouse in her mouth, which in her usual way she deposited upon the slab, only on this occasion she laid it on my guest’s plate, which was standing on the slab. We were talking at the moment and did not see her do this, and anyhow the Frenchman was as blind as a bat; and, of course, as luck would have it, he immediately picked up the wet, molecolored mouse instead of a ripe brown date, and the thing had almost gone into his mouth before he saw what it was and, with a yell, flung it into the air. It fell into his upturned sun-helmet, which was lying on the grass beside him; but he did not see where it had gone, and jumping angrily to his feet in the momentary belief that I had played a schoolboy joke on him, he snatched up his helmet and was in the act of putting it on his head when the mouse tumbled out onto the front of his shirt and slipped down inside his buttoned jacket. At this he went more or less mad, danced about, shook himself, and finally trod on Basta, who completed his frenzy by uttering a fiendish howl and digging her claws into his leg. The dead mouse, I am glad to say, fell onto the grass during the dance without passing through his roomy trousers as I had feared it might; and Basta, recovering her dignity, picked it up and walked off with it. It is a remarkable fact that during the five or six years she spent with me she showed no desire to be anything but a spinster all her life, and when I arranged a marriage for her she displayed such dignified but violent antipathy toward the bridegroom that the match was a failure. In the end, however, she fell in love with one of the wild cats who lived among the trees beyond my wall, and nothing could prevent her going off to visit him from time to time, generally at dead of night. He did not care a hoot about her sanctity, and she was feminine enough to enjoy the novelty of being roughly treated. I never actually saw him, for he did not venture into the garden, but I used to hear him knocking her about outside my gates; and when she came home, scratched and bitten and muttering something about holy cats, it was plain that she was desperately happy. She licked her wounds, indeed, with deep and voluptuous satisfaction. A dreadful change came over her. She lost her precious dignity, and was restless and inclined to be savage; her digestion played embarrassing tricks on her; and once she mortally offended Laura by clawing her nose. There was a new glint in her green eyes as she watched the ducks sliding into the pond; the pigeons interested her for the first time; and for the first time, too, she ate the mice she had caught. Then she began to disappear for a whole day or night at a time, and once when I went in search of her amongst the trees outside and found her sharpening her claws on a branch above my head, she put her ears back and hissed at me until I could see every one of her teeth and halfway down her pink throat. I tried by every method to keep her at home when she came back, but it was all in vain, and at last she left me forever. Weeks afterward I caught sight of her once again amongst the trees, and it was evident that she was soon to become a mother. She gave me a friendly little mew this time, but she would not let me touch her; and presently she slipped away into the undergrowth. I never knew what became of her.’

    Caliphate: Thanks to readers for their comments here. Two important themes came out here. Roman penetration down the east coast of Africa (which is unquestionable) though the mechanisms by which this penetration took place are obscure and the different nature of Roman and Islamic culture. Let’s start with Vile B I think here you might be unfairly comparing two different systems and/or methods here. The Romans were primarily expanding an empire, and concerned themselves with political and cultural control. This required the use of Roman (or Romanized at least) soldiers far from home surrounded by alien (to them) peoples and cultures. Islam on the other hand was more interested in expanding a religion. “Empire”, as the imposition of a culture, being somewhat secondary. I believe that through the use of local converts, who can maintain much of their local culture(s) and languages, it would have been far easier converting the somewhat similar cultured peoples next-door (through force or otherwise). Something akin to toppling an expanding set of dominoes, as neighbor converts neighbor without the need of large Arabic armies in foreign lands. Also Islam had the advantage of access to eastern sub-Saharan sea ports via the Indian Ocean, which were being visited by Arab and related peoples for millennia before. Rome, which always seems to me to be more of a land based power, never seems to have exploited sea routes to any real extent on either side of Africa (or anywhere else except in their private ‘lake’). Like you I wonder how different the world could have been (for better or worse) if Roman navies had sailed beyond the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ south along the west coast and had exploited the  sub-Saharan resources to be found there for the ‘glory of Rome’. In the east, were the Romans at all aware of the Egyptian canals that once led to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea? Next comes Lester who quotes me: ‘How is it that Islam succeeded where Romanitas so conspicuously failed? After all, even late Rome’s most important export Christianity did not, to the best of our knowledge, penetrate into the south of the Sahara.’ Then comments you are forgetting the Christian kingdoms in Nubia and Abyssinia, all definitely sub-saharan. I suspect part of the reason for islamic success was that islamic society and mores were more friendly to business than xtn society and mores. Also, there were technical developments in camel saddles, camel breeding, etc., from 2d century AD on. You might like Bulliet’s very readable THE CAMEL AND THE WHEEL. Another thought. Roman era businessmen in Egypt visited East Africa quite often, sailing down the Red Sea and the coast. Checkout Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, ed and transl. Lionel Casson. It’s a list of ports around the Indian Ocean, Roman in date, listing what people here and there wanted to buy, had to sell, etc. East Africa, of course, had all kinds of other connections: India, Indonesia, even China. Great Zimbabwe sites are full of Chinese porcelain. An old friend of the blog Stephen D expands on Lester’s point about camels: Camels, competent use of vs. Camels, absence of.  This blog post gives date of ca 200 AD for introduction of dromedaries into Roman N Africa: which fits approximately with my memory of Richard Bulliet’s “The Camel and the Wheel”. Lovely book, explains why massive load-carrying power of camels caused N Africa to abandon wheeled vehicles. Also if my memory is right – I don’t have the book with me – the Arabians introduced an efficient camel-saddle. Consequence: Arabs had efficient trans-Saharan transport, Romans didn’t in expansionary period of Empire, and post-200 Empire more or less unexpandable, indeed making great efforts not to contract. I read somewhere, possibly in Pliny, about four Roman centurions (by definition men of great hardiness and determination) who decided to go southwards into the Sahara to see if there was anything on the other side. As far as I can remember, they went on foot. After a long while they came back and reported: miles and miles of bugger all, occasional oases thanks be to the gods, way down south there is a land full of blacks with a great river flowing through it, west to east. So a Roman Nigeria (or at least Niger or Mali ) might have been possible, given camels and their correct use.’ LTM comments. KMH writes meanwhile, The Roman reason to extend the empire was to protect its inhabitants, especially the Romans, from foreign aggression, and continue the Roman peace in the Mediterranean, the Pax Romana, an essentially political goal.  Muslims were driven by a religious zeal to convert  everyone to Islam that could be reached by Islamic armies, or later by merchants. One thing to consider is that, for some reason or other, both the Arabians and the sub-Saharans had never been  part of the succession of empires in the north, starting with the Assyrian and ending with the Roman. Both were fresh to the empire-building spirit. The south did provide  Muslims, natural slave-traders, with a large natural resource of slaves, if not the normal fruits of  civilization such as  precious metals, jewelry and well-cultivated lands. Muslim activity in the south may have been accentuated due to the  Byzantine road block  in the Eastern Mediterranean until the Turks arrived. Ethiopia, although never part of the Roman empire, had been Christian for several centuries at the time of Muhammad. It was never required to convert to Islam since it had provided refuge for Muslims  before they won the Arabian peninsula. Of course in modern times it has become at least one third Muslim. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Islam had arisen two centuries earlier to encounter the Eastern Roman Empire. North Africa then would not have  rapidly fallen to Islam, or the eastern Mediterranean. Islam seems to have arisen at the exact time its prospects for quick conquest were greatest. Is this destiny or good luck? And finally LTM reminds us about the Vandal Empire in Africa! Not to forget the Vandal Empire in Africa who presumably though didn’t make it down to Nigeria, though having said that they got from the Rhine to the Magreb:  Thanks Stephen D. Lester, KMH, LTM and Vile B!

    The Queen of Cuba: KR writes in this fascinating note that gives us some of the back story here. ‘Possibly Ms. Brooks (note that the name Brooks also relates to water) is relating a spiritual experience and/or belief with her story of her harrowing escape. While her story might seem very farfetched and fanciful to the reporter, it might have contained a message quite familiar to Santeria [this is Beach’s word, KR prefers not to use it as it has negative connotations for some, I use it here for general understanding] followers, who might have been her intended audience and her hoped-for connection  in her immigration. (Note that she says she is looking for her mother: perhaps she is also looking for her Mother and ‘Mother-church’.) I am well aware that Wikipedia is sometimes seen as a poor choice as a source, but at least this brief article will give some information about Yemaya as relates to the Queen of the Waters, who was most often in the shape of a mermaid. Although, of course, the word ‘maid’ is not entirely apropos with it’s connotations of “young-and-relatively-powerless female” and perhaps Yemaya would be better described as a ‘mer-queen-mother-goddess-most-omnipotent,’ rather than a mere mermaid.  Here is another brief link for you…   it also occurred to me that the queen she mentions might have been a high priestess, and this would fit the scene she describes, the knife being sharpened in the kitchen, better than to imagine any European queen in a kitchen sharpening a knife. The “queen’s troops” then, being male enforcers and followers of the priestess, might well have given chase. Ms. Brooks story of her salvation by the merpeople might be her attempt to say to the fellowship she is seeking “the high-priestess condemned me, but the goddess herself has pardoned and saved me.” Note also the repetitions of seven in her story, seven days and seven miles with seven being a number sacred to Yemaya. All just conjecture on my part, of course. But, it seems to fit the tale: perhaps the intelligent Ms. Brooks was sending a coded message that she was in search of fellow-believers in America, or maybe she was even seeking a following herself. A fascinating subject. ‘ Thanks KR!

    Lewis Chessmen: Beach just wants to put his seal of approval on a wonderful new Lewis chess-set created by a London chess shop, pieces that have arrived just in time to teach Beach’s daughters to play ‘the game of kings’. In the words of the Regency Chess website: ‘If you are looking for complete authenticity and don’t feel brave enough to steal the original pieces from the museum then the official set of Lewis chessmen is for you.’

    Holy Gunpowder: GW writes in with this consideration: There are precedents in Asia. I don’t have the reference handy, but in Needham’s volume on gunpowder technology in China, some of the evidence he adduces for the Chinese invention of proto-guns includes illustrations from a Buddhist temple cave before 1100. Wikimedia has an illustration of one of them online: . As I recall, these illustrations represent demons tempting the Buddha. One demon at the upper right holds a grenade of some type, while to his right, another holds a fire-lance (an early gunpowder-based flamethrower that evolved into the gun after higher-nitrate powders became common). [Picture excerpted here!]

    PCB writes: Paradise Lost — as I recall, there is a description of Lucifer’s forces using cannon in their war on Heaven in Book VI. They were outgunned. Invisible writes in (though KR also made this point) As a fan of colonial Hispanic art, I’ve always been intrigued by the armed angels, usually found in South American paintings. They’re so top-heavy with lace and plumes and bottom heavy with rosettes and shoe and knee, one wonders how they manage to fight the Powers of Darkness, but, of course, they ARE angels…   Musketeers of the Heavenly Court. Here’s the quick n’ dirty from Wikipedia

    ‘And something more reputable’ writes Invisible.  Southern Man includes Emperor Shah Jahan with his bejewelled rifle and a halo.

    On a lighter note JCE: Well, I can’t vouch for the historicity of it, but I have seen before today a reference to holy gunpowder, lo, these many years ago in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, in the scene about “the holy hand grenade of Antioch” (pic attached). You’ll note it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Sovereign’s Orb of the Crown Jewels.

    Have a great November!