jump to navigation
  • Beachcombed 30 December 1, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback

    Dear Reader

    Dec 1 and sorry for the lateness of this post but all busy here. Above Beach’s head the workmen are smashing his roof to pieces. Below the kids are dismantling his living room. And Mrs B is threatening to dismantle Beach’s head should he not hurry up and finish. So without further ado: here is a beautiful vision of the Milky Way from Mars and some students bloopers in history. Still another 130 emails to answer so please be patient if you have written.


    Here are the best reports from this month on bizarre history with special thanks to those who sent them in and particularly to Adrian for helping me put them together.

    And then the 10,000 most important words from this month’s blog with thanks to all contributors, featured or otherwise.

    Oldest Memories:  When I asked this question I made two assumptions. Namely that as many readers are American family memories of (i) emigration and (ii) the Civil War – two unquestionably traumatic events – would be foremost in family memories. This was only partially true. Here are some of the best of the crop. Aldous Huxley provides the oldest memories yet: ‘On my Dad’s side, my great-grandfather apparently claimed that a McArthur (that’s us, my family) was the first to swim the Firth of Forth with a keg of whiskey on his back: This would probably place it before 1890 opening of the firth bridge, and he left Scotland in about 1887. Jokes aside there were a lot of stories my grandfather had about his family, but the only really dramatic one was that when the family moved to Canada so Great-Grandfather could work in the silver mines in Ymer BC in the 1890s and his family stayed at Salmo.His infant daughter became very ill in the winter during a blizzard in 1898.  He, his wife with the baby, and a friend went down to the railroad, stole a railroad push car and went down the line to where the nearest doctor was, 7 miles or so in Ymer.  During the travel the baby girl died. I know these things because my dad took notes while pumping information out of my grandfather one Christmas when I was a kid.  Dad later wrote a book, but I do remember him telling the story a couple of times. On my Mom’s side, the family story was that my great-grandfather came out on a wagon train to the Oregon Territory in 1845, they took the cutoff through the Blue Mountains (the Meek cutoff in NE Oregon) got delayed, ran low on provisions and nearly starved to death.  He married and settled on a donation land claim in about 1851.’ Tacitus from Detritus writes ‘My family lore goes back to 1862.  Supposedly my great, great grandmother was a young bride in 1862 when the Sioux uprising occurred.  Burying the family valuables in the floor of the log cabin they lit out for safer environs. The tale, much embellished, was told to my uncle who passed about five years back at age 90. He told it to my generation incessantly.  My kids have heard it too, so it may last a while.  So, g-gma to her gson to me and to mine. As to the actual chest in which said valuables were buried, I have significant doubts.  1862 to 2012….150 years.  But surely someone will top that.’ Invisible writes: ‘On the oral tradition. My great-great-great-Grandfather Oliver was killed at the battle of Chickamauga, September 19, 1863 leaving a widow and two daughters. His wife received a Civil War widow’s pension and became engaged to a gentleman who then jilted her to marry one of her daughters. She said in 1880 that it didn’t really matter, because “she wouldn’t give up her pension, not for any man.” Her soldier husband’s body was never found (as happened to a number of soldiers at Chickamauga). His oldest daughter would never turn away a tramp, thinking it might be her father come back. This quote and anecdote has come down in the family through the younger daughter, who told my great-grandmother, who told my aunt, who told me. In a different sort of transmission, this same aunt heard from a man who bought the house where my 3G Grandfather Oliver lived before he went away to the War. He has been researching the family and somewhere he found an account of Oliver in 1861 nailing a coin onto the door frame of the dining room and saying that he would take the coin down when he returned. The new owner found the coin still in place. (He has offered to show us documentation and coin when we visit.) There is also a story from before the family left Switzerland in the early 1880s. One of our ancestors was a baker. He went hunting and died in a shooting accident; they served the breads he had baked that morning at his wake that evening. My grandfather was the youngest of 12 exceptionally long-lived children so he heard much of the ancestral lore. The entire clan was fond of telling family stories so I have a reasonable expectation that these tales are true.’ EH writes, meanwhile, ‘My grandfather was born in 1898, and lost most of his hearing in WWI — in a few  years I can tell my kids of that hundred year old memory, and another decade on I can tell them about how he had opinions of Al Capone (or “Caponey” as he pronounced it) based on knowing people who knew people, rather than based on reading things in the headlines.  That’ll be a hundred year one there. On the other side of the family, I am told that my maternal grandfather, a minister’s child on the Navajo reservation, was nicknamed Nayenezgani, the Monster Slayer, by his playmates.  That seems almost too cool to be true.  But I heard it from him.  That’s probably not even close to a hundred year old memory; he was considerably younger than my paternal grandfather.’ Thanks AH, Tacitus, Invisible and EH!

    Prudery and Execution: Lehmansterms writes: You’re probably well aware of this – but in the event that it’s better known by those of us raised and educated this side of the pond, I wanted to let you know that this blog entry and the questions of propriety, morbid fascination and the eternally paradoxical relationship between the stated Victorian mindset and the actual behavior of those who claimed to live by these standards, brings to mind the hanging of Mary Surat.  The first (white) woman officially executed by the United States(how many women of color may have been unofficially lynched prior to that time is, of course, unrecorded).  Implicated for providing a location for the villainy of planning in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as the owner of the Washington D.C. boarding house near Ford’s Theater in which the plot was mainly hatched, she was swept up in the public cry for revenge and attendant blood-rage which followed the event and was hung semi-publicly on a hot and muggy July day along with 3 men who were unequivocally John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators. The event was fully covered by the newspaper reporters of the time – recorded by Matthew Brady’s photographic studio as well – and widely written about in the memoirs of those in attendance.  Probably more words were expended in describing in excruciatingly intimate details the last minutes of Mary Surat’s life than those of all of the other principal players combined. At this time it seems she had taken leave of any rational thought, merely babbling on repeatedly requesting of those around her “Please don’t let me fall.”  There was some speculation as to whether she meant from the relatively high scaffold erected for the occasion or “the last drop”, as they say – or indeed whether in her mental state she even grasped the situation at all.  Many words have been expended on how the executioner’s fingers had tired from tying the nooses for the 3 men, making each with the usual 13 turns of rope in a classic hangman’s knot, and therefore made Mary Surat’s noose (which is probably in the Smithsonian Institution) with only 7 or 8 turns. Great detail also goes into the descriptions of the pause in the proceedings occasioned by what was possibly a near afterthought to tie her dress around her ankles. Of course this was meant to prevent the spectacle’s potential for inadvertently satisfying any covert or overt prurient interest. This, as you note, seems a bit odd to us at our remove from the social mores of the moment when considered within the context of the process of creating an official public spectacle out of her execution, one certainly meant and designed to satisfy the overt morbid interest and rage of the populace.’ Then DM I suppose it is ‘coincidence’ but just today I head most of this interview with author Hilary Mantel where it was remarked that ladies that were to be beheaded were to be advised to tuck their skirts under their knees so when the swordsman lopped off their heads they would not expose themselves, only to find that the ladies, probably through talking it over amongst themselves, had already had already planned to do just that.’ thanks Lehmansterms and DM!

    Oldest Clothes: Chris from Haunted Ohio writes: ‘What an intriguing post today! (I really enjoyed Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines.) I suspect that you will find the oldest garment still in use in a collection of royal regalia, like the 11th century Mantle of St Stephen: Here it is being worn by Emperor Karl von Habsburg. It might also be a vestment found in a Coptic monastery or in the sacristies of the Vatican, which has one of the largest collections of lace in the world. But one possible candidate may be found in the theatre of Japan. The oldest Noh drama costume still in use belongs to the Kanze school (Japanese theatre has different “schools” or traditions of performance) in Kyoto. It is believed to have been donated by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490), who wore it while performing in a play called Futari Shizuka, so it is over 500 years old. The gift was such a great honor that the costume cannot be retired. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a photo of it online, but this is the type of fabric. It is a kinran or gold brocade. In the meantime, I have posted your blog post at the Costume Society of America and perhaps some of its members will take up the challenge.’ Thanks Chris!

    Wynn Madonna: Invisible writes in with these considerations: I think the statue in the Ely Lady Chapel has much in common with the pregnant Virgin of Piero della Francesca and suspect that this image was at least partly the inspiration for the sculptor. The statue also has more than a suggestion of the character Merida in the animated film Brave, although obviously it predated the movie. I think I dislike the Ely Lady because I don’t find it particularly good art (and I speak as someone who has an irrational fondness for the doll-like, dressed images of the Iberian Peninsula.) Although it has been in place for 12 years, it seems, like guitar masses and calling God “she,” to be something ephemeral rather than eternal. The raised arms have no parallel in traditional Virgin iconography (with the possible dubious exception of some early Christian Virgins in the orans pose or of a few Crucifixion scenes) and I do not see how they represent any sort of empowerment. She looks more like someone performing a badly choreographed liturgical dance, another faddish form of worship which I hope has had its day, but which still sometimes rears its ugly legs under the guise of the scriptural authority that “David danced before the Lord.” What is left out is that David stripped to his underthings when he danced, but never mind… Modern feminism has imposed its own views of the Patriarchy on Medieval iconography. I cannot see how the Virgins of the Middle Ages were in any way images of subjugation. These images had real power: they could bless, they could curse, they could grant the prayers of their devotees. The sedes sapientiae/Throne of Wisdom images show the Virgin enthroned, crowned, bejeweled, often wearing the lorum of the Byzantine Empresses (some have said, even more blasphemously, that the accessory was a pallium, suggesting priestly powers for the Lady.) There are images of the Virgin in Italy said to be so powerful that they are capable of killing onlookers—so they are kept veiled. (See Madonnas That Maim: Popular Catholicism in Italy since the Fifteenth Century, Michael P. Carroll.) Medieval exempla are full of stories of people who disrespected a particular Virgin or her image and paid the price or, conversely, who revered the Virgin and were saved from some awful doom despite their sins. Even if I find the Black Virgin of Chartres or simpering Germanic virgins of the 15th century not to my aesthetic taste, there is no denying that these were powerful cult images, beloved and revered by those who prayed before them. Perhaps we are so hungry for ways to express our “spirituality” and sense of the Divine that this Lady of Ely will become a cherished cult figure. God forbid… It speaks too much of ill-judged attempts to rewrite hymnals, prayers, and scripture to make them gender neutral and to theological attempts to re-cast the Holy Spirit as a kind of fertility goddess.’ Hilaire writes: ‘I was interested to see this statue of Mary at Ely – it is very unusual and striking! I just thought I must write and say how it appears to me. I think that it depicts Mary as a channel – her arms raised towards heaven, her eyes closed in concentration (not ecstasy) and her hips not gyrating but given prominence to emphasise the birth canal. That is the strongest impression to my mind. It shows Mary as the means by which God is made flesh and descends to the earthly plane; an intermediary. The divine born of woman. Her place above the altar therefore seems fitting. Her closed eyes and expression of concentration add to this sense of her giving herself up as a channel; it is quite self-effacing and not the expression of, say, a powerful goddess figure in her own right; it is still Mary in the service of God, or something greater than herself. This interpretation comes across particularly clearly in the picture taken from a distance.’AL shares these thoughts: ‘I recently attended a Nigerian Christian wedding. The statue’s posture is exactly the same as that of the dancing worshippers. I’ve come to the conclusion that, basically, a Nigerian church service is a party without any booze. I have also seen a very similar posture in Minoan statues of the “snake goddess”, the only difference being that she is holding snakes in her hands. There seems to be a sort of unconscious continuity of religious expression over a period of thousands of years. Incidentally, I went to boarding school in Ely. I bloody hated the place.’ It is a bit glum… The Count by the way writes that the poor old Ely Madonna looks like a sex toy! Thanks to Hilaire and AL and thanks Invisible!

    Witches, Torture and Confession:  The great Mike Dash writes: ‘Roper’s thesis has a certain plausibility, but there is another possibility I commend to your attention: that some testimony was the product of fantasy prone personalities. The FPP is a relatively recent proposal from the psychology faculty, still, I think, a theory that has yet to be rigorously tested for . But it would explain a lot, and not just about witches. The broad estimate is that about 4% of us are FPPs. I wrote briefly about all this here.’ Thanks Mike!

    Captain of Kopenick: Louis makes a cute comparison before we Brits get all superior: Isn’t there this tale about some practical jokers who made a visit to the HMS Dreadnought, claiming to be the sultan of someweherefaroff, and his retinue, on a state visit? Sounds to me, that this is the the same thing…. I found this on Wiki: From 1907–1911, Dreadnought served as flagship of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet.[41] In 1910, she attracted the attention of notorious hoaxer Horace de Vere Cole, who persuaded the Royal Navy to arrange for a party of Abyssinian royals to be given a tour of a ship. In reality, the “Abyssinian royals” were some of Cole’s friends in blackface and disguise, including a young Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury Group friends; it became known as the Dreadnought hoax. Cole had picked Dreadnought because she was at that time the most prominent and visible symbol of Britain’s naval might.’ Louis also adds ‘I seem to remember that, after his release, the Captain played himself in a play based on his exploits’. Kit writes ‘The story about Kopenick and the British treatment of the story took me straight back to my own reaction (Anglo-Saxon type Aussie) to first hearing of the Teigin Bank Robbery. Japan 1948 Man claiming to be from the “Public Health Office” shows up at a bank and tells the staff he is here to deliver an inoculation against some disease or other. The man is wearing an “official” armband so they obediently comply. As i heard it, the staff all go to the lunch room and wash their own tea cups and then line up to receive the antidote. Of course, rather than medicine, they are administered cyanide and the robber/murderer then proceeds to plunder the safe. Wikepedia has the bare details under major Japanese crimes and Sadamichi Hirasawa: The story was told to me in mixed company, in Japan. A Japanese guy provided the facts (it is still a relatively well-known case) and and an English speaking expat provided the commentary. In his view it was a perfect example of how a totalitarian society (30’s and 40’s Japan) bred compliance and blind obedience, and furthermore illustrated the Japanese people’s willingness to blindly follow orders. I could see though, in my Japanese friend’s eyes, a hurt look. He saw it differently, I think. When the British press reported the Kopenick story, they were on a pre-war footing and were keen to characterize the Germans as different and therefore dangerous. Perhaps the Prussians in your story saw the heist as an example of someone exploiting a strength in the social system (obedience) for their own nefarious ends. It is certain that any lingering folk knowledge of the Kopenick case emphasizes the evil of the bad guy, not the gullibility of the townsfolk. In my view, Japanese society then and now values trust in authority, and their story is not a parable about passive obedience, but rather one of how rotten apples can turn up in even the purest barrel.’ Thanks Kit and thanks Louis!

    Indians in Galway: KMH writes: ‘I believe it was common knowledge in Europe before Columbus that the Chinese were yellow-skinned. If so, why did Columbus believe that presumably red-skinned Amerindians were from Cathay? Would he have reasoned that they perhaps came from the SE Asian islands  or India where skin color might be more  variable?  Of course, Columbus was an extraordinary figure, and might have experienced some creative wishful thinking fated to propel him into his three voyages. The sense of destiny can color normal thinking processes.’ The Count, meanwhile, is on the warpath: ‘Since it seems to be entirely authentic, and there’s no reason why a man jotting marginal notes in a book he owns as a reminder to himself would make things up, presumably whatever he’s saying can be taken to be true. But what is he actually saying? The first sentence has an unambiguous meaning – “People from China have reached the West by crossing the Atlantic.” But he doesn’t say when this happened, merely that it has done at some time – possibly hundreds of years ago. The rest of his statement basically says: “when I was in Ireland, myself and my companions saw with our own eyes a man and a woman in Galway Bay afloat on two pieces of wood of very odd design.” Most commentators assume that the people, not the pieces of wood, were what struck Columbus as being weird, and because he was just scribbling a quick note, his grammar is poor. But if we assume that he did in fact write a coherent sentence expressing exactly what he meant, it reads as though the bits of wood, not the people, were unusual. It’s also customary to assume that the two pieces of wood must have been connected in some way, because two people crossing the Atlantic on two separate pieces of driftwood could hardly both end up at the other side in exactly the same place, could they? Yet the most natural reading of a text that says: “a man and a woman on two pieces of wood” is that they had one each. Also consider this. Two Apaches lashed to tree-trunks which are also lashed to each other (obviously, when planning their transatlantic jaunt, they had the foresight to bring plenty of rope, but carelessly forgot the boat) arrive, whether alive or dead, in Galway Bay – a presumably unique, and certainly very uncommon event. The usual interpretation is that they were dead (well, they’d tend to be, wouldn’t they?). However, Columbus actually saw them “on two pieces of wood”, meaning that he, the one person in the whole world most able to appreciate the true significance of this event, arrived at the exact same time as the Injuns – and he doesn’t even live in Ireland! Well, if they were alive, he must have, and if they were dead, since he saw them “on” those bits of wood, How long would the locals be likely to leave dead bodies lying on the beach before burying them? Yet apparently they hadn’t even detached them from those mysterious pieces of wood “two totem poles?) when Columbus arrived. As good timing goes, that’s so good it’s downright ludicrous! I think what he’s saying is this. He was already predisposed toward his own pet theory that it was possible to reach China from Europe via the Atlantic, and of course vice versa, and people who are stubbornly predisposed to see evidence for their pet theory are very likely to see it in places where others might disagree. And Columbus was so stubborn that, in one of history’s greatest ironies, he flatly refused ever to accept that he hadn’t been to China at all, reasoning that the idea of an undiscovered country in the middle of the Atlantic was just plain silly, and his mysteriously short travel-time could be explained quite logically by assuming that the Earth was pear-shaped. So this is a guy determined to see exactly what he wants to see. Also, anyone who can mistake America for China probably doesn’t really know a whole lot about China. I think that what Columbus was saying was this. When he was in Galway, he saw two perfectly ordinary Irish folk afloat in Galway Bay on small craft so peculiar that an experienced mariner like him couldn’t even describe them as boats. Since Chinese and Irish culture were obviously very different, anything that seemed very out-of-place indeed compared to everything else the Irish had come up with suggested to him that they must have copied the idea from Chinese visitors. You don’t need me to give you examples of precisely this kind of logic being employed by people obsessed with a controversial and eccentric theory. This of course explains why there are no Irish tales of this incident whatsoever, although you’d think it’s the kind of thing they’d all be talking about for many years hence. Two ordinary Irishmen were fishing in Galway Bay from little boats which none of the locals saw anything unusual about. Columbus, however, being a very experienced sailor (and very biased indeed when it came to spotting possible signs of Chinese influence), noticed how odd these little boats were, and drew his own conclusions. If you read that margin note again, you’ll see that, in the absence of any other account, this is the most natural reading of the text. So what did he actually see? My guess would be the traditional Irish currach. It came in all sizes, but the smallest and most basic models were very basic indeed. They were also mostly very flimsy, so it isn’t surprising that it’s hard to say exactly what a currach from that time looked like, since very few survive from any historical period. However, judging by some of the few examples that do survive from a bit later, the Model T end of the currach market was probably a tiny rowing-boat which, because it wasn’t meant to go very far or very fast, might not have been terribly streamlined – some later examples look oddly angular. Since all you needed from it was to go out a little way into calm and sometimes very shallow coastal waters to catch a fish for your dinner, it would tend to have no keel and be a rather shallow boat that sat low in the water – the later models at least partly give that impression, and those that survive are probably the most robust and expensive types. So if the angle was deceptive, Columbus may have thought he was seeing two people in totally flat craft he could only describe as “pieces of wood” whose overall shape suggested a dingy rather than a raft, but were still kind of raft-like. I’m assuming that poor Irish folk who wanted the absolute minimum of boat because they couldn’t afford more might end up with something so unseaworthy that Columbus would automatically see multiple flaws with it and perceive it as being deeply odd rather than just crappy. Other possibilities do of course exist. I’ve discounted a dugout canoe with an outrigger because, although that’s the only two-person craft that an experience mariner might describe as “two pieces of wood”, it doesn’t really make sense if the only countries involved are Ireland, North America, and possibly China. Another possibility is a couple of Welsh ex-pats in coracles. Wales isn’t very far from Ireland, and a sailor a fair distance away trying to interpret the sight of a circular boat – not a very popular concept in boating worldwide – might have trouble interpreting what he’s seeing.’ Thanks Count and thanks KMH!

    Beatrice as Love Goddess: KR writes in ‘Beatrice the person was, for Dante, a saintly love, and in essence a virginal love, without evidence of lust. She represents the purity of admiration of a pre-pubescent boy in which the attributes of a virgin pre-sexual maiden are not tainted with physical lust. Remember, Dante was nine years old, Beatrice younger, when he “fell in love” with her. Beatrice represents the love for the eternal-virgin, and as such represents purity-before-lust in boykind and in Dante himself. In some respects, it represents the masculine wish to return to his own state of innocence and purity. In Eastern thought, in apocryphal books, we see Sophia as the goddess of wisdom, who is also seen as a generally unlustful goddess, who inspires a saintly love devoid of sexual overtones. In dichotomy of thought regarding females in Christian doctrines, a woman who is sexual is evil, whilst an asexual woman is good. Projecting their own sin of lust, men began to believe that a beauty who inspired lust was evil, whilst a beauty who did not inspire lust was good. Because beauty, as defined in the male perspective, most often leads to male lust, a beauty who inspired other-than-lust is rare and thus goddess-like in his perspective. Mothers, who were clearly sexual beings, caused some confusion in this mode of thinking and projecting. Without mothers, “holy” men would not be. Yet because mothers were most often the source of wisdom and love for boy children, they were beloveds-sans-lust from the standpoint of normal son-memory (Freud the fraud excepted) even though being lust objects from the standpoint of fathers. Thus Dante, a product of his era, names his first crush, Beatrice, as the prototypical female ideal of his era. She inspired admiration before he knew lust, and afterward, he kept her in his mind’s eye as representing the perpetual and holy virgin. After Beatrice’s death, Dante transforms virgin Beatrice to a Wise-Teacher-Holy-Mother figure and his teacher-guide in Purgatory. Beatrice-spirit, now envisioned as an archetypical Sophia-Mother Mary, scolds him for having lost his (holy) way since her death. That he names this “goddess” Beatrice (a name which has beatific and beauty both in it’s root) and associates her with his own pure (before sexual) respect-and-admiration-and awe (love) of the feminine certainly does not imply that the goddess represented by this name does not exist. Beatrice represented, for Dante, the essence of Minerva/Sophia and Virgin/Mother combined. Because man could not (and in many cases still cannot) conceive of holiness in beauty-woman, because he is subject to projecting his own lust upon her, only virgin maidens before they become sexual beings themselves, are to his hormone-warped understanding, pure. The only exception being the childhood concept of mother, before males were cognizant of their mother’s sexuality. In remembrances of childhood, then, man can conceive of woman as worthy, saintly, holy, teacher, guide, wise. But once he associates his own hormonal/penile lust/angst to the female, and becomes lustful himself, he projects. And woman, as a sexual being, falls from (male-concepts of) grace. In the mind of man, at least in Dante’s era, women who also desire sex, (unless under his personal tutelage) are whores. Girls who allow themselves to be persuaded into sex are sluts, whilst women who refuse to be persuaded are teasers and worse. In the minds of lustful males, women are to blame for male lust: he claims innocence. Dante cannot use his own wife as his muse, his model of holy-feminity, for he has had sex with her. Only the feminine as he knew it whilst HE was still pure-from-lust can then be pure. So, in essence, Beatrice the person represents for Dante all that he is capable of conceiving as holy and powerful in the female: Beatrice is Dante’s Mary-Sophia. Beatrice also represents Dante’s own real innocence: that innocent self which he remembers being in childhood, and which he knows is his soul’s salvation. “Beatrice” is only a Dante-made-up name, although based on an admired person, for a very real goddess-archetype. If Dante WAS able to comprehend this male-lust-projection dilemma, writing for a male audience of his day, he had no choice but to explain the feminine-as-worthy as a “Beatrice.” If he was NOT, he still had no other choice:Using “Minerva” or “Sophia” would have labelled him a pagan; Using “Mary” would have been blasphemy. The wonder is that any male of his era used a “holy-female” meme at all.’ Thanks KR!

    The First Sub-Saharan Africans in China: ML, JKMOL, ANL and Lehmansterms all got in touch to make essentially the same point. I’m going to quote Lehmansterms who can speak for all and I find myself persuaded: ‘Please don’t mistake me for an amateur anthropologist, it’s just that your last couple of blog entries have nearly begged for speculative information I felt I might supply by way of comment without sounding too silly. The description of the slaves being black with ochre colored hair puts me in mind of the inhabitants of the (?) Marquesas Islands, New Hebrides, etc. (the area of the Pacific in which are located islands referred to as “Melanesia”, I believe) who might easily be mistaken for Africans at a casual glance – but are not genetically or racially related – they merely exhibit some superficial similarities (as do, for example, the Australian aboriginal peoples).  The curly red hair, however, does seem significant as a distinguishing feature – and not common among Africans. As admittedly plausible as the theory that Arab traders brought Sub-Saharan Africans to China might be, we also have some significant evidence, if not a solid historical record, of Chinese voyages of exploration in the Pacific.  I have nothing more to suggest that this was the case, but the ochre hair seems not to fit very well with Africans and perhaps this potential connection needs to be considered.’ It is certainly true that this entry is often connected by Sinologists with Africa and it is also true that in Somalia (allegedly) there are Africans with blond in their hair on occasion. But surely this is the more economical explanation. There is also the point that another text suggests that the wildmen were often good swimmers. This is something we associate too perhaps above all with the Pacific Island people rather than Somalians. Though apologies if there is a strong coastal swimming tradition in Somalia too! Michael Dunn of the Mideasti blog writes: I was  struck by the fact that these (seemingly) African slaves were in Guangzhou. That city, long known in the West as Canton, has long been (and still is today) one of China’s main contacts with the outside world. During the Abbasid Caliphate, in the years folloing 750 AD, the Arab/Islamic world developed a busy trade with China,  most of it conducted bet2een Basra in Iraq and the southern Chinese ports of Guangzhou (which the Arabs called Khanfu) and Quanzhou (which they called Zeitoun). That’s point one. Point two: in the hinterland of that same Iraqi port of Basra there was for a time extensive plantation slavery which led to a revolt in teh 860s to 880s known as the Zanj or Zanji revolt. These were African slaves: “Zanj” was the Arab name for East Africa, particularly the Kenya-Tanzania area, and the island of Zanzibar takes its name from Zanj-i-bsarr, “land of the Zanj”. So there were a lot of East African slaves near Basra who drop out of history after their rebellion was crushed. And Basra was trading with Guangzhou. Even if the Zanj rebellion has nothing to do with the Africans in Guangzhou, the fact that there was trade between Guangzhou and Basra from at least the 8th and 9th centuries (a Muslim tradition claims a companion of the Prophet Muhammad is buried in Guangzhou, having been sent to carry the Prophet’s message to the Chinese Emperor), and the fact that well before the period you’re talking about the Arabs were trading slaves from East Africa, ought to suggest an obvious potential source of African slaves in Guangzhou. Especially in Guangzhou. In the past couple of centuries Gunagzhou created a foreign colony on Xiamian Idand, where the US and other consulates are still located. (Been there.) But it was China’s gate tot the West as far back as the ninth century. No evidence: but if you’re wondering how they got there …. Judith from Zenobia writes ‘A possible contemporary alternative puts blacks on the Malabar coast of India. In the early 1160s, a Sephardic Rabbi named Benjamin set out from Tuteila  in Navarre on a wide arc across the known world. His intent was to document the lands he visited, with particular emphasis on the Jewish diaspora. His peregrinations took him to France, Italy, the Balkans, Constantinople, the Holy Land, Mesopotamia, Khuzistan, Persia, Quilon, and then, on his journey home, Yemen, Egypt, Sicily, Germany, Bohemia, Russia, and finishing in Paris, where he completed his Itinerary.  To make a very long story short, when he got to Khulam (Quilon) on the Malabar coast, he mentions Kushites (bnei Kush) living there, and he says: “And throughout the island, including all the towns there, live several thousand Israelites. The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets.” From Khulam, it takes 23 days by sea to reach Ibrig (Ceylon?) and from Ibrig to the land of Zin (China) a further voyage of 40 days.  Entirely do-able. Who knows how much of his journal is true?’ Rebis meanwhile writes: What immediately came to mind for me were the Adaman islands just off the coast of Burma. The island chain belongs to India but are so far east that they appear to be a continuation of Indonesia. Being relatively close to China they seem to be a good possibility as a source of blacks in early China. Genetically the black Adamanese are thought to be the remnants of the very early homosapiens that left Africa. Due to the extreme isolation and restricted access by the Indian government they remain genetically pure africans to this day.  Thanks Michael, Judith and Rebis, ML, JKMOL, ANL and Lehmansterms.

    Bully Crowds: Louis writes in: Unfortunately your positive assessment of the Netherlands is not correct: two photographs, blackened face and shaving a collaborator Even in the movie “Soldier of Orange”(or at least in the TV series) there is a scene in which a girl is being shorn, for “colaborating” with the germans. Not our proudest moment, as Dutchmen…’ The Count writes: ‘the first of your two illustrations of “witch-ducking” doesn’t show a witch at all. Ducking-stools, which, as you can see from the picture, were quite large and elaborate things to set up just to see if an old lady could float. They were in fact used to punish women who were judged to be unsatisfactory wives, usually for nagging their husbands, or otherwise being insufficiently submissive. Of course, a large part of the punishment was the public humiliation. The purpose of building that huge, costly device was partly a controlled way of throwing women in the river with no risk of their being swept away and drowned, but mainly to provide a constantly visible reminder to behave yourself, just like the stocks and the gibbet. Some further examples thereof… For parishes with a smaller budget, devices such as the scold’s bridle served a similar function. Aren’t people nice? The second illustration, on the other hand, certainly does show a witch being “swum”. Actually that’s a bit of a misnomer, since the whole point was that she didn’t swim at all. The logic behind it was that since a witch has renounced her baptism, and baptism involves water, henceforth water will reject her, so anyone who can’t sink must be a witch (presumably it never occurred to them that the all-time champion at not sinking in water was a chap called Jesus Christ). If you closely at that picture, you can see all the elements in the process. The suspect was always immobilized in some way – in this instance, the supposed witches appear to be wrapped in sheets by way of an improvised strait-jacket – because even people whose life depends on not floating may panic and attempt to stay afloat by swimming. Suspects were also stripped of all clothing except that required to preserve modesty, to make sure no air was trapped in their clothes to buoy them up. In its own bonkers way, it was all surprisingly fair. Note the people on the right taking the strain on ropes. Contrary to popular belief, the poor girl didn’t have to go right to the bottom and drown in order to establish her innocence. She just had to indubitably disappear below the surface for a moment or two, and then they’d haul her out in a matter of seconds. And see that guy in the pond with her? He’s prodding her with a stick to help her go under if she’s going to – if she’s a witch, she should be unable to sink even with this kind of assistance. Of course, if the fellow with the stick is one of those demented witch-hunters who think the end justifies the means, he may only be pretending to push her under in order to prove her guilt all the more convincingly when he claims he can’t manage it. On the other hand, if the case was a controversial one, the suspect might have quite a crowd of friends and family prodding her with poles. Since under these circumstances it’s more or less physically impossible not to sink, suspected witches whose guilt was very doubtful had a bit of an edge. Really, rather than bullying, this weird ritual was mainly a means of providing what we would nowadays call “closure”. Once the rumours started, they’d never go away until the question was settled one way or another, and “swimming”, though unpleasant, quickly decided the issue once and for all, and it was much easier to pass the test than to fail, especially if you had friends who were willing to help. Probably the reason it ceased to be part of the official judicial process very early on was that if it was admitted to be a valid test, they’d have had to acquit the vast majority of their suspects before the trial even started, and it would have begun to dawn on people that the whole witch thing was maybe a bit silly. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, except in the middle of a full-blown witch-panic where just about anybody might be accused, people rumoured to be witches had usually made themselves unpopular in some way. So even if they passed, the test was itself a public humiliation that reminded them to behave themselves in future. Another, more obscure test involved weighing the suspect on a huge pair of scales against the church Bible. If this brings to mind a certain movie scene involving a duck, that’s because Terry Jones, a genuine mediaeval scholar when he isn’t being professionally silly, undoubtedly knew of this weird procedure. The idea was that obviously, although the Bible used was a really big, heavy book, it couldn’t possibly weigh more than a human being who wasn’t three days old or the world’s tiniest midget. However, it contained the “weight” of God’s grace, and, this being entirely absent from a witch who had renounced her baptism, it would magically weigh more than she did. This seems to have been used in cases where the local bigwigs knew perfectly well that the suspect was the victim of malicious gossip, and wanted to allow her a chance to prove her innocence in a way that didn’t involve any indignities being heaped upon her, and which moreover she couldn’t possibly fail, except through a literal Act Of God. I assume they stopped using this one because people began to question the validity of a test which had never detected any witches at all. Unfortunately they didn’t follow that thought to its logical conclusion and realise that there weren’t really any witches to detect.’ Thanks Count, particularly for the correction and thanks Louis.

    Coins out of Time: Doug writes: ‘Here in Oz, ten or fifteen years ago you used to see the ghost of the British Empire alive and well. Before both Britain and New Zealand downsized their coins you used to get UK and Irish 5p and 10p coins, as well as Kiwi 10c and 20c coins in your change as they were all the same size as our 10c and 20c coins dating back to pre decimal times when we all used the pound. As well as these you also used to get coins from related currencies which must once have been closely related to the pound.  Malay and Singapore coins turned up, doubtless picked up by travellers changing planes, along with the occasional Fijian coin. Probably the most exotic I ever found was a Malawi 5 Kwacha doing service as a 10c coin and all more or less the same size as their Australian equivalents. Given that the Kiwi coins were more or less worth the same as our coins, and the UK coins were worth a little more no one seemed to mind very much if they ended up in their change. These days are gone – since New Zealand downsized its coins there seems to have been concerted push to weed out the exotica from the circulating coinage and these days you hardly ever get anything exotic in your change.’ Thanks Doug

     Mysterious Hominids in India: Lehmansterms writes in, ‘I can’t help but think of the diminutive hominid skeletons recently discovered in the vicinity of Sumatra. Dubbed “Homo Floriensis” by science as well as “Hobbits” by nearly everyone else, the debate still rages, evidently, over whether they were mature, normal members of a distinct hominid line or whether they were either juvenile, “stunted” – or both – specimens of an already better-known hominid. Since these fossils are relatively “new” – at (I believe) 20,000 or so years, as these things go, a mere hiccup in geological time – it certainly seems tempting to associate the quite human-like creatures described in your recent blog entry with the somewhat mysterious recent anthropological finds on Flores. Or now perhaps they are no longer considered so mysterious as they were at first – perhaps I recall hearing that similar fossils have now been idenitified elsewhere. I don’t agressively keep abreast of such scientific findings and depend upon stumbling upon the odd entry posted somewhere, as in David Meadow’s weekly “Explorator” list of potentially historically and scientifically significant web articles for updates on this sort of thing.’ JKMOL writes ‘This reminded me of the Nittaewo of Sri Lanka, who I think (can’t check) are already mentioned by Heuvelmans. Searched your blog, but you haven’t mentioned them before.’ Beach is going to steal the underdeveloped Wiki text here as this was new to him. Sounds an interesting topic. Would be well worth chasing the Pliny reference down.  The Nittaewo, (sometimes spelt without the a or as Nittevo) were said to be a small tribe of small bigfoot or Yeti type homins. Pliny the Elder mentioned the Nittaewo as a small, hairy tribe of people living in the country of Ceylon(now known as Sri Lanka). They lived at the same time as the Veddha. The Veddhas are a tribe which still live, mainly as farmers, on the island of Sri Lanka and, their legends say they are responsible for wiping out the Nittaewo roughly 250 years ago. According to the Veddha tradition recorded by Frederick Lewis in 1914, the Nittaewo were approximately three feet (1 metre) tall, the females being shorter than the males. They walked erect, had no tails and were completely naked. Their arms were short and they had talon like nails ,lived in trees, caves and crevices and caught and ate small animals like the hare, squirrel and tortoise. They lived in groups of 10 or 20 and their speech was like the twittering of birds. They were said to be exterminated in the late eighteenth century by the Veddhas because the both tribes were constantly fighting and the Nittaewo began to take the Veddha’s children. The elders of the Veddha’s decided that something had to be done. The Nittaewo were trapped in a cave, which the Veddhas blocked the entrance to with wood and set it a blaze killing all that remained of the Nittaewo In 1887, British explorer Hugh Nevill documented recent tales of the warfare occurring between the Veddhas and the Nittaewo. The Nittaewo being extinct at this point in time. In the 1940’s British primatologist W.C. Osman Hill published reports about the Nittaewo. He led an expedition into the region in 1945and found widespread belief in the Nittaewo still being alive on the island.. He concluded that Dubois’s Pithecanthropus erectus of Java, also known as the Java Ape Man, which has since been renamed, Homo erectus, matched the traditions and descriptions of the Nittaewo.’ This is one from Judith M. ‘I’m writing regarding your recent article about the tiny hominids possibly found in the depths of the Indian subcontinent.  At the moment, I’m reading a book entitled Humans Who Went Extinct (Clive Finlayson, Oxford University Press 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-923918).  According to this drop-dead fascinating book there have been a number of recent finds of now-extinct diminutive hominids (Homo Floresiensis being the one most highly publicized); the author postulates that these fossils represent the hominid version of the phenomenon of species miniaturizing on island habitats, like miniature elephants, etc.).  In fact, one group of tiny hominids evidently persisted on a very remote atoll somewhere near the Philippines until as recently as +/- 940 bp!  Homo Habilis colonized widely and evolved into various phenotypes wherever they became isolated from each other…including, of course, from ourselves as we evolved into “us”. The Indian subcontinent is such a vast and still-mysterious land; recently, a friend just returned from a long stay there reported to me that a “tribe” of forgotten humans had just been contacted, having been discovered living deep within a quite impenetrable jungle environment somewhere in the south of India.  Their genetic structure is quite different from any living Indian population and it is estimated that their isolation has been of such duration that their DNA closely replicates that of the very first Homo Sapiens groups who ventured into India some 50 -60,000 years ago.  I wish I knew more about this discovery. So – who knows about those reports of the tiny pale man and woman, captured at the end of the feckless nineteenth century?  In light of the Philippine atoll-residents, I bet there’s some truth to this!  Poor little guys!’ ou might look at the legend of the Prasii described by Pliny in Natural Histories 6-70. He says that the further from the Ganges one gets, the paler are the pygmies; or rather that they get darker from the sun as one gets closer but never as dark as the Ethopians. The Prasii live in the mountains, before one reaches the Ganges, so presumably they would be of the lighter variety.
    As to white pygmies, Pliny mentions pygmy legends in Thrake, Caria, and Phrygia in Asia Minor, though most were said to be driven off by cranes. There are myths of cranes vs. pygmies in the Greek mythology, and notably illustrated on extant Greek pottery art. A different link to white pygmies in a different place entirely, not part of your particular story, but still relative in that white pygmy tribes are described: Meanwhile Sir John Mandevillemakes mention of pygmies in the near east too, although no one seems to know whether he actually existed: There is said to be an inscription for him carved into the stones in St. Albans Abbey. Tracking old legends and fairy-like creatures is like a wild goose chase, or in this case, perhaps a wild crane chase. It may be an exhilarating pass-time, though if one enjoys the chase rather than the prize.’ Thanks JKMOL, KR and Judith and L!

    Sherlock Holmes: KMH writes in: ‘The Holmes-Watson duo continues its transmutations. Now there is a program on TV where Holmes is a recovering heroin addict solving crimes in New York City called “Elementary.”  The interesting part of the show is Lucy Liu as Watson, a surgeon suspended for two months who has at least temporarily left the profession to help in the recovery of drug addicts. http://www.cbs.com/shows/elementary/ You can see past episodes on your computer.  I would prefer an older, more mature, less frenetic Holmes, but that may occur only if the program survives more than one season. Who knows what the next Holmes concept will be?’ As a partial answer to KMH’s question there is a BBC update of Holmes that has won lots of plaudits named Sherlock  Next up is Andy the Mad Monk who writes: Following your Sherlock during the Blitz theme, many comic book heros also took part in the war effort: Worth looking at some of the other Galleries as well.  Particularly look at this one:  Many of the racial stereotypes are very disturbing. Thanks Andy and KMH!

    North American Vampires: Chris from over at Haunted Ohio Books  sent this great selection in: You asked for non-European vampires. I give you The Vampire Cat of Japan. With a wonderful illustration. Other Pacific vampires include the aswangs of the Philippines, who look like bat-winged humans; and the sat-kalauk of Burma  I know you want non-European, but Dr. Shuker also called attention to a very strange resemblance between the current image of the chupacabra and a 1940s Dutch war cartoon.  Then there is the vampire of the West Indies. This is from “Duppies, Obeah & Other Specialities of the West Indies” by E. Katherine Bates in Borderland, Vol. 4 1897, edited by William Thomas Stead.  THE WEST INDIAN VAMPIRE. /Speaking of desecrated graves, brings us to the subject of vampires. A firm belief in Loogaroos (“from the French, Loupgarou) exists amongst the negroes of the West Indian Islands. These Loogaroos are supposed to haunt the magnificent silk-cotton tree where they fold up their skins, hiding them away and thus rendering themselves invisible. The negroes further declare that the Loogaroos flash through the sky in the form of balls of blue flame on their way to the graveyards, where they perform their ghastly ceremonies. If a negro feels exhausted or languid on waking up, he declares that the Loogaroo has been sucking his blood. A story is told in Grenada of an old woman known to be a Loogaroo. A negro woke one morning, feeling weak and languid, and noticed two or three drops of blood on his clothes. This was sufficient proof to him that he had been the victim of a Loogaroo. His suspicions at once pointed to this old woman. He and his wife determined, therefore, to keep a strict watch the following night, and each agreed to keep the other awake. Not a sound was heard until cock-crow, when both husband and wife noticed a noise as of scratching on the thatch of the roof over their heads. This was evidently the ill-omened Loogaroo preparing for a descent through the ceiling. The man noiselessly armed himself with a cutlass, and as the scratching and rustling became more distinct, he thrust his knife through the thatch just at the spot whence the sounds proceeded. A dismal moan sounded through the air, and rushing outside, both the negro and his wife heard the groans dying away in the distance whilst they noticed a bluish Loogaroo light vanish into the house of the suspected woman. Next day, this woman was found lying in her bed, half blind from some injury to one of her eyes. She said this had been caused during the night by falling over the stump of a tree whilst searching for some chickens that had strayed.’ The Count writes in with this Tour de Force: Concerning vampires: you recently discussed a most peculiar Native American myth about somebody called the Bad Thing. I have a suggestion as to what’s going on here, and it doesn’t involve vampires. Firstly, what is a vampire? Leaving aside idiot goth wannabes and real creatures that suck blood for perfectly natural reasons – Count Dracula clearly doesn’t belong in the same category as a horsefly, or indeed Marilyn Manson – the broad definitions is any malign supernatural creature that drains blood (or any other body fluid or abstract essence which in that particular culture represents life-force that you can’t afford to lose – hence some rather naughty examples from the Near and Far East, though sadly no Victorian masturbation vampires) in order to sustain or strengthen it. It isn’t necessarily the case that this type of vampire will actually starve to death if it doesn’t get enough blood, but it always steals life-force for others for its own benefit. Thus any supernatural being which simply weakens, injures, or murders people from sheer spite, but doesn’t actually gain anything by it, apart from the satisfaction of a job well done, is not a vampire. What does the Bad Thing do? Well, apparently he cuts people open, rips their guts out, removes a certain part, then magically makes them all better with no after-effects other than a healed scar. He doesn’t actually do any real harm to anybody, and he doesn’t seem to have any use for the part he removes, since he throws it away immediately (always into the fire, thus explaining why there’s never any physical evidence that this actually happened, apart from an old and not necessarily very big scar that could have been from anything). What else do we know about the Bad Thing? Amongst other details, he lives underground, presumably in the Land of the Dead, he sometimes wears women’s clothing but not always, and he has a beard.I submit that the Bad Thing is Jesus Christ! Beards are very uncommon indeed amount Native Americans, but Jesus is always depicted with one. When he’s on the cross, he wears a loincloth – typical Native American attire for most men. When he isn’t, he wears what these people could only have interpreted as a big girl’s blouse. And when he’s on the cross, he has a very prominent wound on his upper abdomen. The central fact about Jesus is that he rose from the dead, and this is so simple a concept that even a missionary who was having a problem getting his message across for linguistic reasons could surely make them understand that much. Who in Native American mythology rose from the dead? The trickster god Coyote. How did he do this? Well, in many, many primitive belief-systems, from places such as, for example, Finland, you get this same archetypal myth of the trickster whose ultimate prank was to put one over on death itself. Coyote’s method, which was fairly typical, was to cut himself open and remove several bits and pieces representing his life-force, which he buried in a secret location. Then, having died, gone to the underworld, and done whatever it was he wanted to do – probably stealing something – he dug out his cache of vital organs from underneath with a sharp flint he’d thoughtfully had about his person when he died and put everything back where it belonged. Simple!Now, in many primitive cultures, the shaman is basically a lesser version of the trickster god, since he has to alter the will of frequently unreasonable gods or natural forces by means such as trickery, flattery, or basically anything except a direct confrontation which he would of course lose. To gain these powers, once his training is complete, he goes into a trance of some kind (this happens in a secluded place so nobody is watching, but the received wisdom is that the following is literally what occurs, rather a culturally-influenced subjective experience), where he dies, goes to the underworld, and is horrifically mutilated in ways that usually involve him being disemboweled, and one of his internal organs – usually his heart – thrown away. Then of course he’s put together again, with a mystical (but undetectable) object replacing the missing bit, and now he’s got shamanistic powers.The point is that the shaman, who is chosen by various esoteric means rather than volunteering, has an interesting but not necessarily easy life he didn’t ask for. But everyone accepts this because the tribe needs a shaman, so if the gods arbitrarily choose you, you take your lumps. To someone with that cultural background, a muddled half-understood explanation of Christianity given by an over-zealous Jesuit could easily give them the notion that Jesus is a` Coyote-style trickster god who chooses his followers by visiting them on his own initiative with no warning at all, and does this by inflicting a “revelation” upon them which, in his cultural context, must be mystical disembowelment. Indeed, since a prime part of the Christian message is that Christ wants everyone on the team, his agenda might be to wander around inflicting a traumatic shaman’s initiation upon random people with no training or talent for it, who are in any case never going to be the medicine man because the tribe already has one. It’s just a theory, but the details fit rather well – especially the beard! And of course the women’s clothing. Though in many places, such as Siberia, that would also apply to the shaman, who was always male, but officially of both genders, and thus wore feminine clothes. The fact that the dwelling shakes violently when the Bad Thing appears is a standard detail of the shamanistic experience. He typically communes with spirits in a fairly flimsy tent or hut which is violently shaken from the inside by supernatural activity. It is of course taken as read that the shaman is not doing this himself. There’s also the odd detail that the Bad Thing is in some way associated with a mysterious flying phantom torch. Well, Jesus has a halo. If you look at a picture of him and you don’t know what one of those is, it looks as though a small levitating light-source is, depending on the artist, either behind his head or hovering above it. A couple of final details. Two things which even a badly-translated missionary could get across because they’re pretty simple to grasp. Jesus lives in Heaven, where good people go when they die. Well, in just about every primitive belief-system, the underworld caters for all ex-humans, both good and bad, though the standard of the accommodation may vary. So the Bad Thing’s underground home could equally well be Heaven or Hell. And Christians attach vast importance to a symbolic meal which they regularly have, and which Jesus apparently attends in person. The Indians in this tale regularly leave food out for the Bad Thing, which, sadly, he never eats. This suggests that they assume that logically, he might be expected to eat it. My interpretation of this is that if, for whatever reason, they think the Bad Thing is about, they basically say: “Look, here’s the meal you’re expecting. See? We know the rules! So we’re in the club already – no disembowellings required around here, thanks very much! Bye now!” Why not? People much better-informed than this lot still got the notion, back in the very early days, that Christians practiced cannibalism. And by the way, although the Bad Thing is in no sense a vampire, Coyote is simultaneously an actual coyote, and a deity with all the qualities of human being plus superpowers. So you may have discovered the hitherto unknown fact that Jesus was a werewolf.’ Thanks Count and Thanks Chris!

    Tara Harpoon: Several readers wrote in (thanks!) to point out that Tara is in the south and not in the County Down. Beach was confused too but actually there is a second Tara in the County Down. Now to business: Stephen D writes in: Re the Down Harpoon: Hypothesis 2 seems perhaps a little stronger than you make out. Consider the bowhead whales, circumpolar Arctic species, shorter than blue whale but as heavy (big ones over 100 tons). Very long-lived: see JC George et al. (2011) A new way to estimate the age of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) using ovarian corpora counts. Canadian Journal of Zoology 89: 840-852. Quote: “Counts of ovarian corpora were obtained from 50 mature females. Corpora and baleen data were used with aspartic acid racemization (AAR) data to obtain estimated age at sexual maturity (ASM) at 26 years. The number of corpora counted in both ovaries (or estimated when only one ovary was counted) was used with ASM and estimated ovulation rate (OR) to obtain corpora age estimates ranging from 26 to 149 years. A stone harpoon tip recovered from whale 92B2 was consistent with her corpora age of 133 years.” It’s the last bit that’s significant. The blubber on these whales is very thick, and harpoon points may lodge in it and be carried around for over a century. To quote: “1997 Native Subsistence whalers from Wainwright land a whale with an ancient harpoon tip made from slate embedded in its blubber. Such documented recoveries began in 1981 and continued to this year with harpoon heads made of metal and ivory, jade and slate being recovered. The recovered slate harpoon tip from the Wainwright whale is estimated to have been made around 1860-1890, putting the age of the Wainwright whale possibly over 137 years. The harpoon point that was recovered is of the style used by Native people as far south as Little Diomede Island. Siberian hunters may have been using similar metal and ivory points into the 1960’s.” Now, wandering bowheads stick to the Arctic: we can always of course hypothesise an aberrant one in the Little Ice Age (bering a harpoon from previous centuries) reaching Ireland. Also,  there is a slightly smaller, related species, the Atlantic right whale, of which a few still survive in the northwest, ranging up to Nova Scotia in summer: the eastern right whale has been hunted to extinction. Some of the westerly population occasionally wander eastwards, to Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Spain. They could have carried harpoons with them, more easily than any seal. Snag: this range doesn’t really overlap with the Thule culture, but how sure are you that the harpoon is Thule?’ CvanC writes in to note. ‘Reminded me of this: “Marischal Museum has over one hundred Inuit objects, coming from many different collectors. These range from arrowheads to toys, furs and carvings. This kayak was found off the coast at Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire c. 1720 with an Inuit man aboard, who died shortly afterwards.”  We need a list of all the alleged Amerindian boats that turn up in Europe as there are a lot! AGib also wrote on describing a similar incident. GT writes, meanwhile, ‘How about a fourth possibility, it was lost on the ice and brought to the Irish shore on a grounded iceberg? Thanks All!


    A Hundred Generations: KR writes ‘The illustration given in the adorable link  is a very simple one. This little song was copyrighted in 1835, with sheet music (although it was likely sung well before copyrighting!) Now does any western mother have to read the sheet music or look up the rhyme to teach it to her child? Of course not! It is so well-established in memory that a great-grandmother can still teach it. Ergo, it is quite effective over generations without the necessity to be literate to recall it. From nursery songs and rhymes to bardic-type songs recalling genealogies and cultural history; from warrior/hero songs to hymns reminding the faithful of moral obligations; the addition of melody, rhythm and rhyme to words has been used over centuries to pass knowledge from generation to generation. Rituals reinforce the repetitions required to remember, and the importance/sacredness of remembering.  Grade school lessons in rhythm/rhyme help to keep historic/mythic events in memory as well. Off the top of my head and rather quickly: “Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”  or “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, All through the valley of death rode the six hundred.” I am sixty, so these bits have remained longer than “a generation” if one is referring to familial generations. I do not recall every word of these poems but, had they been also set to music, I might do better. I can recall every word of many songs from my youth.  Even today, in modern music, songs about historic events are being written, and sometimes used in teaching.  Song and dance also teaches cultural histories with the mnemonics of rhythm, music, and acting out dramas: Native American dances are but one example.  The combination of song, rhythm and rhyme has been recognized as mnemonic for a very long time. Aristotle says, in his “On Memory and Reminiscence” (as translated by J.I. Beare) “…in the case of words, tunes, or sayings…People give them up or resolve to avoid them; yet again they find themselves humming the forbidden air, or using the prohibited word.” Of course, Aristotle also said, in the same treatise, “…very young…persons are defective in memory…” to which my first link may not agree.  So, to answer your question about how long unwritten tales can be transferred to future generations in a culture, you might want to look at the age of legends in songs, dances and rhythms (if not rhymes) of peoples who are still somewhat illiterate, or who were so in recent times. And if you are looking to teach your own children lessons so that they do not forget, try setting a simple lesson to simple rhyme, rhythm, dance/action or tune. (Stamping the foot, clapping, skipping rope, making faces can substitute easily for “dance/action.”) A bit of fun and a bit of drama always helps a lesson, and makes it more worthy of passing down in future, also works so much better than yelling… [My little song whilst combing out wet hair for granddaughter: “We start at the bottom and work toward the top, Less ouchy tangles, and no ugly mop.” (singsong “Twinkle twinkle little star” tune.) Very simple, she gets it, no crying, she holds still, I’m not yelling, and when she tries it herself she remembers how to best get the tangles out all by herself. Now my great-great granddaughters might get the same little tune-lessons in the same less-painful, non-yelling way!]’ thanks KR!

    Candle in Church: KJ writes: My late stepfather was a Protestant clergyman for many years. His churches mainly were in New England, with outliers in the Canadian Maritimes and New York State. One or two of the churches had a ‘watch night service’ on New Year’s Eve. The congregation would gather for prayer, bible study and light refreshments. As you can imagine, they were sparsely attended. However, my stepfather always keenly noted if the lit candles on the altar blew out for some reason. He believed that if the candles blew out, it would be a bad year for the church. If they remained lit, all would be well. I know at least one old sexton shared his belief, because he made sure the candles used were new and all drafts carefully blocked. Some of the older sea-faring types  were quite superstitious about New Year’s Eve and believed that they would see the shades of those who were to die in the New Year on New Year’s Eve. I don’t think these beliefs were linked strictly with the church, however. Since many of the original settlers of these areas were originally from the British Isles, the traditions were transferred along with the household goods and altered to fit the circumstances. New Year’s Eve is also St Sylvester’s Eve, one of the old pagan celebrations subsumed into Christianity, and has long been associated with witchcraft and fortune-telling. Thanks KJ!

    How Big Are Fairies: The great KR writes: Dr. D.L. Ashliman gives some answers in a book he authored, “Fairie Lore: A Handbook.” He authored other books on the subject, and articles as well. Another author’s opinion stands out among the rest in this work: there were couple of statements by Yeats, which I will paraphrase for you here: (although you can read them in Ashliman’s linked text). Per Yeats: 1. They appear in whatever size they wish to appear. 2. It is something in our own eyes that causes us to see them as we see them. Dr. Ashliman relates this “something in our eyes” to fairy glamour, which is to say fey enchantments upon our perspectives. The fairies put this something there in our eyes, then. And Dr. Ashliman has also mentioned, in other writings, as also did I in a recent post here, that our words often link back to ancient beliefs.  The following ideas and statements are my own, but link up well with some of Ashliman’s: Note the serendipity of our current meanings of “glamour” and “enchantment,” when matching the current meanings with the old meanings. We speak of “glamour” in terms of the surface appearance of beauty, and link this word often with lovely-appearing actresses, who make a living by being good at pretending to be someone they are not. Travel agents speak of various tourist destinations as worlds of “enchantment,” inviting us to come and see the loveliness of these “other” worlds. But travel-agents do not of course, advertise to us the worldly sorrows, poverty, crime, or “disenchantment” of actual people who live there. In both cases, we still use these two words most often to describe the magic of surface appearances, and rarely if ever use them to discuss truth. Certainly we no longer overtly and consciously associate most of these sorts of words with the fairy worlds, although our current definitions are not too far from the old, if we think about those words a bit. That we no longer consciously recognize the fey words we use might just be a glamour: words have a power of their own, as you, a writer, must know. That we use the fey words unthinking, might keep the fey in our psyches, our world, and/or us in theirs.  So, back to your subject: How small? Small enough to sit unobserved in our subconscious minds and fly out unnoticed each day on the air we use to push out words. How large? Large enough to put one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other in the Western Hemisphere, untiringly through time, without having to stretch their legs to do so. Thanks KR!

    Cocaine, Nicotine and Mummies: KR writes ‘Betel juice! Contains nicotinic acidand is available from India, not so very far from Egypt. Also has “stimulant effects” and can be hallucinogenic when combined with certain nuts. It does not mention cocaine, but I wonder if a breakdown of the betel-and-nut combo would be a similar stimulant compound to cocaine? It should be mentioned that nicotinic acid was originally synthesized from nicotine in tobacco. Schafer (1993) states that determining whether the drugs are contaminants or actually in hair samples is not so easy. Also he says use of insecticidal nicotine sprays might have been absorbed by tissues. Another site mentions that by the 1920’s cocaine and heroin had become so readily and easily available in Egypt that laws had to be made against their use. So were the diggers and mummy bearer/assistants spilling their cocaine on mummies at digs during the 1910’s to 1920’s?’ Thanks KR!

    Have a great December!