Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Myth & War - THEN & NOW! - Invading Ukraine

1650s Joseph Ii Werner (Swiss artist, 1637-1710) Christine Marie de France, Duchesse de Savoie as Minerva with her son Francesco Hyacinte


Minerva (Athena in Greek) was one of the most important of the ancient Greek & Roman goddesses. She was originally a Goddess of War, hence her armor & spear. Her role later expanded to Goddess of War, Trade, Wisdom & the Arts. (Those duties including Trade & War surely reflect modern economic motives.)  She was fierce & brilliant. From 2C BC onwards, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena, Goddess of Music, Poetry, Medicine, Wisdom, Commerce, Weaving, Crafts, & Magic.

Artists in the 15-18C sometimes painted their clients as allegories or personifications, & often painters would put the faces of their patrons or sponsors on the bodies of the saints.  These came to be called donor portraits.  

Allegorical portraits remained popular; & as time passed, they expanded to show the sitter as a goddess, or muse, or nymph in a rustic or garden setting.  These allegories grew to include strong portraits of Minerva wearing idealized attire, nothing like the clothing worn by actual women of the period.  Dressing scantily or provocatively would have been frowned upon if a proper lady was sitting for a realistic portrait, but if she were posing as an ancient goddess or muse, a little skin was acceptable.


Russia has 800 miles of border on its West. In the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, one of the nations on its Western border, Ukraine, moved toward closer integration with Europe. When pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych tried to reverse that trend in 2014, protests swept him from power. 

Having lost an ally, Vladimir Putin invaded & annexed the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea. He also provoked separatist uprisings in Donetsk & Luhansk, two regions in eastern Ukraine; fighting between pro-Russian militias & the Ukrainian government continued there for years. 

Running on a populist reform platform, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in 2019 with more than 70 percent of the vote.

In 2021 Putin ordered a buildup of troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, & on February 22, 2022, after he announced the beginning of a “special military operation,” Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Did the First Americans Arrive via Land Bridge? This Geneticist Says No.

John White 1585 British Museum

A Non-Fiction Book Review from The New York Times By Jeremy DeSilva Feb. 8, 2022 
A Genetic History of the Americas By Jennifer Raff 

"It’s Anthropology 101. At the end of the last ice age, around 13,000 years ago, retreating glaciers created an inland corridor connecting Siberia to the Americas. People from northeast Asia crossed the Bering Strait land bridge and entered a new world. From there, these people — often given the name Clovis, after a New Mexico site that was rich with the distinctive stone tools they made — rapidly spread and successfully adapted to the various ecologies they encountered. All Native Americans can trace their ancestry back to these First Peoples. 

 "But, according to the University of Kansas anthropological geneticist Jennifer Raff, that’s not quite how it happened. 

 "In her new book, “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas,” Raff beautifully integrates new data from different sciences (archaeology, genetics, linguistics) and different ways of knowing, including Indigenous oral traditions, in a masterly retelling of the story of how, and when, people reached the Americas. While admittedly not an archaeologist herself, Raff skillfully reveals how well-dated archaeological sites, including recently announced 22,000-year-old human footprints from White Sands, N.M., are at odds with the Clovis first hypothesis. She builds a persuasive case with both archaeological and genetic evidence that the path to the Americas was coastal (the Kelp Highway hypothesis) rather than inland, and that Beringia was not a bridge but a homeland — twice the size of Texas — inhabited for millenniums by the ancestors of the First Peoples of the Americas. 

 "Throughout, Raff effectively models how science is done, how hypotheses are tested, and how new data are used to refute old ideas and generate new ones. 

 "As a paleoanthropologist who works on fossils of ancient human ancestors living millions of years ago, I’ve never fully grasped why my colleagues who study the peopling of the Americas so fervently argue over a few thousand years. But Raff helps the reader understand why those several thousand years matter in terms of identifying source populations for the First Peoples of the Americas, the route they took (coastal versus inland) and the ecological challenges they faced. An informed and enthusiastic guide throughout, Raff takes the reader from underground caverns in Belize to a clean lab at the University of Kansas where ancient DNA is tediously teased from old bones. She explains difficult to understand concepts — geoarchaeology, coalescence times, biodistance — with well-placed sidebars. The book is richly referenced, and informative footnotes and endnotes give readers an opportunity to take a deeper dive if they wish. 

 "Our job as anthropologists is to breathe life into the past, to retell the stories of our ancestors and extinct relatives. We do not work with lifeless old bones or inert molecules but with the precious, fragmentary remains of once living, breathing, thinking individuals who laughed, cried, lived and died.

 "As Raff explains, “We have promised to treat the small scraps of bone and teeth with respect and mindfulness that they are cherished ancestors, not ‘specimens'." Sprinkled through “Origin” are lovely vignettes of life thousands of years ago. Raff playfully imagines how the Yana River boys lost their deciduous teeth in a Siberian river 31,000 years ago. She poignantly fills a page with the sorrow a family must have felt as they placed the limp body of their 2-year-old boy into the earth in south-central Nevada 12,600 years ago. Through a combination of rigorous science and a universal humanity, Raff gives ancient people a voice. 

 "The first few chapters of “Origin” detail the long history of archaeology in the Americas. Here, we meet the usual characters — Thomas Jefferson, Ales Hrdlicka, Franz Boas — but also folks who were new to me. People like José de Acosta, a Jesuit priest who long ago predicted that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were related to northeast Asian populations. And George McJunkin, a formerly enslaved man who made one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century at Folsom, N.M. 

 "Throughout “Origin,” Raff takes on pseudoscientific nonsense rooted in bigotry and colonial thinking. She eviscerates claims of “lost civilizations” founded on the racist assumption that Indigenous people weren’t sophisticated enough to construct large, animal-shaped or pyramidal mounds and therefore couldn’t have been the first people on the continent. She convincingly disposes of the Solutrean hypothesis of ancient Europeans in the Americas with logic and evidence. It puzzles her (and me) that people interested in this topic watch ill-informed “documentaries” on the History Channel when “the true histories, evident in genetics, oral traditions and archaeology, are exciting enough.” 

 "Given the fast and furious pace of discovery in this field, Raff is clear that not everyone will agree with her interpretations of the data. “All scientists must hold themselves open to the possibility that we could be wrong, and it may very well be that in five, 10 or 20 years, this book will be as out of date as any other,” she writes. “That possibility is what makes working in this field so rewarding.” That, she explains, is how science is done. 

 "While science is the most objective way of understanding the natural world that humans have ever devised, it is still done by an emotional, subjective primate — us. Raff celebrates science, but also calls attention to the many ways science has harmed Indigenous communities. “Origin” details mistrust between some Native communities and helicopter scientists who have swooped into their lands and exploited them for their DNA without inviting input and participation from all stakeholders. The hashtag #decolonizescience looks good on Twitter and the concept sounds good in grants, but it rings hollow unless it is put into practice. Raff provides a road map for how to do this and convincingly argues why this must be the future of our science. In fact, “Origin” opens with the discovery of 10,000-year-old human bones from Shuká Káa Cave, Alaska, and details the constructive partnerships, built on transparency and trust, that emerged between scientists, Indigenous communities and federal agencies.

 "My only quibble with this outstanding book is that we don’t learn who Raff herself is and how she personally has contributed to this work through her scholarship until halfway through “Origin.” At the end of the book, she describes herself as “one obscure researcher from a small lab.” To be sure, there are much bigger labs than hers, but I think she’s being too modest. Jennifer Raff is a well-published scholar and accomplished scientific communicator who has contributed important insights into the genetic history and movement patterns of Indigenous Americans. She is at the forefront of a culture change in our science. And now she has written the book anyone interested in the peopling of the Americas must read."

 Jeremy DeSilva is the author of “First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human.”

Sunday, January 2, 2022

British Botanist celebrates Christmas & New Year in 1790s America

Henrietta Liston (1751-1828) 

Henrietta Liston (1751-1828) was a British botanist. The National Library of Scotland has digitized her journals. Henrietta married diplomat Robert Liston when she was 44, & he was 53, on 27 February 1796.  After their wedding, they traveled directly down to London where Robert met with King George III, ahead of his posting to the United States in 1796.

They took up residence in Philadelphia, the capital. Genuinely curious about the New World, they began an extended trip from Philadelphia to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1797. The couple also established friendships with George Washington & John Adams, of whom Henrietta's diaries contain favorable impressions.  She also praises Alexander Hamilton, as "lively & animated in his conversation, gallant in his manners & sometimes brilliant in his sallies."

Henrietta documented their trip in her journal, noting facts that she found interesting, the foods they ate, & their astonishment at the natural beauties, particularly the flora, of the countryside. Traveling the east coast of North America must have been a challenge for the 45-year-old Mrs. Liston & her 55-year-old husband.  She wrote:  On Christmas eve, the Listons reached Fayetteville, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.It is a flourishing Town, upon a Branch of the Capefear River & nearly at the head of the navigation—before the War it was called Cross Creek. 

We were visited by a Scotch Gentleman, named Donaldson, with whose family we passed Christmas day very agreeably. No doubt they were happy to spend the day with a fellow Scot, but Mrs. Liston does not give any details of the festivities. However, she does describe a particular meal she & her husband enjoyed en route.

Our most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread, it happened to be the Season for killing Pork, it was fresh & most excellent meat,...always broiled upon the Coals, & when we happened to get a few fryed Eggs to it, it was the best food possible & with Corn bread—no other is known—baked upon a hoe, in general, & call hoe cake.

On New Year’s Eve, Henrietta & her husband arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, where they spent a week before returning to Philadelphia, receiving “very marked attentions” from the “polished Society” that characterized Charleston. 

A book on her diaries & journals The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America & Lower Canada, 1796-1800, edited by L.V. North was published in 2014.

Friday, December 31, 2021

What is Yuletide?

Yule was typically celebrated for three days from the first night of the Winter Solstice, December 21 or 22, to December 24 or December 25.

Germanic & Northern European peoples observed Yule or Yuletide, a Winter Solstice festival connected with the worship of the Norse god Odin & the celebration of Odin’s Wild Hunt, where Odin & his goddess Frigg rode through swathes of winter light in the night sky to chase damned souls to the underworld. People feared that if they witnessed or in any way mocked the hunt, they too could be taken into the underworld.

Starting in December, some peoples celebrated Yule for a whole month, often up to three. People slaughtered animals, cooking the meat to enjoy with wine & ale. But, purposely, they saved the blood. Blood was used ritually to decorate the people & the statues of their gods & goddesses.
The solstice brought the darkest & longest night of the year. Celebrations were lit by firelight from masses of candles, bonfires, & the burning of a large log called the Yule Log, which was sprinkled with salt & oil so that when it burned down the ashes could be scattered around homes to ward off evil spirits.
Other customs carried to the modern era included decorating homes with trees covered in candles, metal ornaments, & fruit, & caroling or wassailing, where wandering groups of singers were rewarded with warm mugs of cider or ale.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Timeline of Judaism/Christian History to Colonial America

Timeline of Judaism/Christian History

Judaism developed among the ancient Hebrews. Judaism is characterized by a belief in one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, & the Hebrew prophets & by a religious life in accordance with Scriptures & rabbinic traditions. Judaism is the complex phenomenon of a total way of life for the people, comprising theology, law, & innumerable cultural traditions.  The history of Judaism can be divided into major periods: biblical Judaism (c. 20th–4th century BCE), Hellenistic Judaism (4th century BCE–2nd century CE), Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century CE), and modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present).

c.2100 BC Calling of Abraham - the Father of the nation.

c.2000 BC Birth of Jacob, Israel. 12 tribes of Israel are named after Jacob's sons.

c.1900 BC Joseph slavery Egypt. Israelites become captives in the land.

c.1446 ?      Exodus begins by Moses, Israelites leave Egypt & settle in Canaan.

c1010 BC David becomes king of Israel, making Jerusalem his capital.

c970 BC David's son Solomon becomes king & builds a temple in Jerusalem..

c930 BC Kingdom is divided into 2 sections: Northern (Israel) & Southern (Judah).

753 BC Traditional date for the founding of Rome.

722 BC Fall of the kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians.

586 BC Babylonians take Jerusalem & destroy  temple. Jews taken to Babylon.

c538 BC Return of some of the exiles. Start of reconstruction of the temple.

c512 BC Completion of the temple.

c330 BC  Conquest by Alexander the Great. Rise of Hellenism (Greek culture).

c.250 BC  Translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. 

63 BC Roman rule of Israel begins.

Christianity is a faith tradition that focuses on the figure of Jesus Christ. Christianity is more than a system of religious belief. It has generated a culture, a set of ideas & ways of life, practices, & artifacts that have been handed down from generation to generation, since Jesus first became the object of faith. The agent of Christianity is the church, the community of people who make up the body of believers.

c.4 BC Birth of Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem.

c30 AD Death of Jesus Christ.

c33    Pentecost & the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

c33 Stephen - First Christian martyr (Acts 7).

c.48 Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Gentiles included

c.60 First Gospel published (often thought to be that written by Mark).

62 Martyrdom of James, "The Lord's Brother."

c.67-68 Apostles Peter & Paul martyred in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero.

70 Judaism rebellion on Roman empire ends. Destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Fr 70 Christianity moves to Antioch, Alexandria & Rome.

c.90 Book of Revelation & Gospel of Saint John written.

161-80 Persecution of Christians by Emperors Marcus Aurelius. Decius & Diocletian.

301 Armenia becomes 1st country to adopt Christianity as the state religion.

312 Rome emperor Constantine envisions a flaming cross "By this sign conquer." 

313 Edict of Milan by Constantine - Christianity is religion in the Roman empire.

325 Nicene Creed declares "Begotten, not made; of one being with the Father"

367 Saint Athanasius is the first to list all 27 New Testament books

381 Ecumenical Council at Constantinople revises Nicene creed to current form.

c.382 Saint Jerome begins translating the Bible into Latin.

397 Synod at Carthage ratifies the 27 books of New Testament as sacred.

431 Ecumenical council at Ephesus where Mary is declared "Mother of God"

449 At Ephesus, Pope Leo I defends orthodox belief & claims Papal supremacy.

589 Insertion of  "and the son" into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

597 St. Augustine becomes the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

664 Synod of Whitby ratifies the authority of the Pope in England.

731 Bede writes his Ecclesiastical History.

800      Charlemagne is crowned emperor of Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III.

988 Conversion of Prince Vladimir to Christianity in Russia.

1054 Great Schism - Eastern Orthodox & Western Catholic churches separate.

1095 Pope Urban II orders the 1st Crusade to recover the Holy Land from Moslems.

1099 Crusaders conquer Jerusalem.

1182 Massacre of Latin inhabitants of Constantinople.

1187 Jerusalem recaptured by a Moslem army.

1189 Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart of England.

1204 Sack of Constantinople during the 4th crusade.

1216-23 Papal approval of the Dominican & Franciscan orders.

1266-73 Thomas Aquinas writes of systematic Theology: Summa Theologiae.

1305 Papacy moved to Avignon following a dispute with Philip IV of France.

c.1376 John Wycliffe writes for reform of the church.

1378 Return Papacy to Rome, Antipopes emerge. Ends in 1417 with Pope Martin V.

c.1380 John Wycliffe translates the Bible into Middle English.

1453 Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks.

1517 Martin Luther posts 95 Theses in Germany; begins the Protestantism.

1525 William Tyndale completes his translation of the Bible into English.

1534 Ignatius of Loyola founds the Jesuits.

1534 Act of Supremacy passed - Henry VIII becomes head of the English church.

1536 John Calvin publishes his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

1545-63 Council of Trent - Roman Catholic counter reformation.

1549 Book of Common Prayer published  in England (revised in 1662).

1555 Peace of Augsburg ends religious wars in Germany.

1611 Publication of the King James Version of the Bible.

1618-48 Protestant/Catholic conflict in Germany (30 Years War).

1738 John & Charles Wesley form the Methodist church in England

1730-60 The "Great Awakening" - A revival movement among Protestants in the USA.

Monday, November 29, 2021

A Brief Overview of Hanukkah

Photo by Lawrence Peskin, History Professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore

Hanukkah, (Hebrew: “Dedication”) also called Festival of Lights, or Feast of the Maccabees, Judaism festival that begins on Kislev 25, the Judaism calendar, & is celebrated for 8 days. Hanukkah reaffirms the ideals of Judaism & commemorates in particular the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival. Although not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, Hanukkah came to be widely celebrated & remains one of the most popular Judaism religious observances. 

Origin & History

Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean (Hasmonean) victories over the forces of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175–164 BCE) & the rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25, 164 BCE. Led by Mattathias & his son Judas Maccabeus (died c. 161 BCE), the Maccabees were the first Jews who fought to defend their religious beliefs rather than their lives. According to I Maccabees, a text of the Apocrypha (writings excluded from the Judaismcanon but included in the Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox Old Testament canons), Antiochus had invaded Judaea, tried to Hellenize the Jews, & desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Following the Judaism victory in a three-year struggle against Antiochus, Judas ordered the cleansing & restoration of the Temple. After it was purified, a new altar was installed & dedicated on Kislev 25. Judas then proclaimed that the dedication of the restored Temple should be celebrated every year for eight days beginning on that date. In II Maccabees the celebration is compared to the festival of Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths), which the Jews were unable to celebrate because of the invasion of Antiochus. Hanukkah, therefore, emerged as a celebration of the dedication, as the word itself suggests.

Although the traditional practice of lighting candles at Hanukkah was not established in the books of the Maccabees, the custom most likely started relatively early. The practice is enshrined in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), which describes the miracle of the oil in the Temple. According to the Talmud, when Judas Maccabeus entered the Temple, he found only a small jar of oil that had not been defiled by Antiochus. The jar contained only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously the oil burned for eight days until new consecrated oil could be found, establishing the precedent that the festival should last eight days. The early date for this story or at least the practice of lighting eight candles is confirmed by the debate of the 1st-century-CE scholars Hillel & Shammai. Hillel & his school taught that one candle should be lit on the first night of Hanukkah & one more each night of the festival. Shammai held that all eight candles should be lit the first night, with the number decreasing by one each night thereafter.

The celebration of Hanukkah includes a variety of religious & nonreligious customs. Like Purim, Hanukkah is a joyous festival that lacks the work restrictions characteristic of the major festivals of Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur.


The most important of all Hanukkah traditions is the lighting of the menorah each evening. Also known as the Hanukkah lamp, the menorah recalls the Temple lampstand & is a simple or elaborate candelabra with eight branches plus a holder for the shammash (“servant”) candle that is used to light the other eight candles. One candle is lit on the first evening, & an additional candle is lit on each subsequent evening until eight candles are burning on the last evening. Olive oil was traditionally used for lighting the menorah, but it was replaced by candles, which are inserted in the menorah incrementally each night of the festival from right to left but are lit from left to right. A blessing is also offered while the candles are lit each night. The menorah was originally kindled outside the home, but it was brought inside in ancient times to guard against offending neighbors.

Liturgy & Prayers

The Hanukkah observance is also characterized by the daily reading of Scripture, recitation of some of the Psalms, almsgiving, & singing of a special hymn. The liturgy includes Hallel, public readings from the Torah, & the ʿal ha-nissim (“for the miracles”) prayer. The Scroll of Antiochus, an early medieval account of Hanukkah, is read in some synagogues & homes. Along with the daily prayers, thanks are offered to God for delivering the strong into the hands of the weak & the evil into the hands of the good. The word Hanukkah in Hebrew also means “education,” & rabbis & educators try to instill in their congregants & students the notion that the holiday celebrates Judaism's strengths, perseverance, & continuity.

Hanukkah & other Judaism Religious Rituals depicted in 1707

Hanukkah, Festival of Lights 
These woodcuts illustrate Judaism holiday & ritual observances in the 1707 Minhagim (Customs), published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, with descriptions & instructions in Yiddish, offer a glimpse of Judaism life at the end of the 17C & the beginning of the 18C in central Europe.

The woodcuts in the book cover Sabbath & holiday observance, & home & synagogue rituals. Among them area mother blessing the Sabbath lights of a Sabbath oil lamp;a father chanting the Havdalah (service of "separation" at the conclusion of the Sabbath), while he holds a cup of wine by the light of a candle held by a child whose sibling holds a spice box; 4 men blessing the new moon;a rabbi preaching on the Great Sabbath (preceding Passover); grinding flour for & baking matzoh; searching for chametz (leaven); & scouring pots & pans. Also shown are a man having his hair cut on Lag B'Omer--the 33rd day of the 50 between Passover & Shavuot, when restrictions obtaining during that period of mourning are relaxed; Moses on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments; worshipers seated on the floor on Tisha B'Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple; the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year; a man building his tabernacle for the Feast of Tabernacles; the gathering of palms, willows, & myrtle to join the citron in its celebration; children receiving sweets to celebrate the Joy of the Law, Simhat Torah; the kindling of a Hanukkah lamp; & Purim jesters sounding their musical instruments.

The life cycle is also marked: bride & groom under the huppah (canopy); an infant boy entering the Covenant of Abraham; & finally, a body borne in a coffin to its eternal resting place. These are some of the 1707 woodcuts:

Blessing the Sabbath Candles

The Havdalah Service

Sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

The Lulav: Palm Branch, Myrtle, and Willow

The Merry Festival of Purim

Removing the Leaven from the Home

Under the Huppah, the Wedding Service

Brit Milah, the Circumcision

Carrying the Deceased to the Cemetery

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Winter Solstice - 3200 BC Prehistoric Passage Tombs or Monuments

Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland

Newgrange is a prehistoric structure in County Meath, Ireland.  It was built during the Neolithic period around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge & the Egyptian pyramids.  According to carbon-14 dates, it is about 500 years older than the current form of Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, as well as predating the Mycenaean culture of ancient Greece.  The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway & interior chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front & is ringed by engraved kerbstones. 
Entrance to Newgrange in Ireland in  1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown.

Newgrange contains various examples of abstract Neolithic rock art carved onto it. These carvings fit into 10 categories, 5 of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms & dot-in-circles) and the other 5 of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines & offsets). There is no agreement among archaeologist & historians about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance – it is aligned with the rising sun & its light floods the chamber on the winter solstice.
Entrance to Newgate in Ireland today

A passage grave or tomb or monument consists of a narrow passage made of large stones & one or multiple burial? chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs usually dates from the Neolithic Age.  Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from a main chamber.  One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped.  Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe in Scotland.  Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered passage monument or grave situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland.  It was probably built around 2800 BCE.  Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at the winter solstice.
Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland

Passage tombs or monuments are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany, & the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, & along the northern coast of Africa. In Ireland & Britain, passage tombs or monuments are often found in large clusters. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, perhaps because their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.
Maeshowe Entrance today

The Winter Solstice - The Druids & Mistletoe

Druids formed the professional class in ancient Celtic society. They performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers, poets, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, & judges. Druids led public rituals often held within fenced groves of sacred trees.  

The word "Druidae" is of Celtic origin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23/24-79 A.D.) believed it to be a cognate with the Greek work "drus," meaning "an oak." "Dru-wid" combines the word roots "oak" & "knowledge" ("wid" means "to know" or "to see" - as in the Sanskrit "vid"). The oak (together with the rowan & hazel) was an important sacred tree to the Druids. In the Celtic social system, Druid was a title given to learned men & women possessing "oak knowledge" (or "oak wisdom").

Some scholars have argued that Druids originally belonged to a pre-Celtic ('non-Aryan') population in Britain & Ireland (from where they spread to Gaul), noting that there is no trace of Druidism among Celts elsewhere - in Cisalpine Italy, Spain, or Galatia (modern Turkey). Others, however, believe that Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia to be found among all Celtic peoples, but were known by other names.

The Winter Solstice is the time of the death of the old sun & the birth of the dark-half of the year.   The Winter Solstice was called "Alban Arthuan," Welch for "Light of Winter" by the Druids.  This was a time of dread for the ancient peoples, as they saw the days getting shorter & shorter. A great ritual was needed to revert the course of the sun. 
This time for the ritual may have been calculated by the great circles of stone & burial grounds which are aligned to the Winter Solstice, such as Stonehenge in England & Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.   John Aubrey, writing in the 17C first thought it a "probability" that stone circles, such as Stonehenge, "were Temples of the Druids" titling his text on stone circles the "Templa Druidum."   This idea was picked up by William Stukeley, in the early 18C, who subtitled his 1st book, Stonehenge, published in 1740, "a Temple Restored to the British Druids, and his 2nd publication on Avebury, published in 1743, "a Temple of the British Druids."   Although later, in the 19C, Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) dated Stonehenge to a period much earlier than the time of the Druids (that is, to about 3000 B.C., whereas the Druids don't appear in the historical record until 1800 years later), nonetheless the view was maintained by some, that Druids were pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain & that the religious beliefs & practices for which Stonehenge was built are ancestral to those of the laterday Celtic Druids.  And the speculation continues.

Sure enough, the next day after the great Druid Winter Solstice celebration, the Sun began to move higher into the sky, showing that it had been reborn.  For the Druids, the Winter Solstice is the end of month of the Elder Tree & the start of the month of the Birch.  This is the time of the Serpent Days or transformation.  The Elder & Birch stand at the entrance to Annwn or Celtic underworld where all life was formed. As in several other Druid myths, they guard the entrance to the underworld.  At this time, the Sun God journeys through the underworld to learn the secrets of death & life and to bring out those souls to be reincarnated. 
Mistletoe has a compelling Druid history. According to ancient Druid tradition, Mistletoe was the most sacred of all plants. Mistletoe was used by Druid priests in a ceremony which was held 5 days after the New Moon following Winter Solstice. The Druid priests would cut Mistletoe from a holy Oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground.  The priest then divided the branches into sprigs & dispersed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection.  Druids believed Mistletoe had miraculous properties that could cure illnesses, antidote poisons, ensure fertility, & protect against evil witchcraft. It was also a sign of peace & goodwill. When warring tribes came across Mistletoe, a temporary truce would be observed until the next day. 
Tradition relates that on the Winter Solstice, Druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak. The Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground.  With his golden sickle the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe to be caught below.  It is said that the early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Native American Heritage Day

Native American Heritage Day is a national holiday observed on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States.

President George W. Bush signed into law legislation introduced by Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. The Native American Heritage Day Bill was supported by only 184 out of 567 federally recognized tribes, & designates who approved the Friday following Thanksgiving, as a day to pay tribute to Native Americans for their contributions to the United States.

The Native American Heritage Day Bill encourages Americans of all backgrounds to observe the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, through appropriate ceremonies & activities. It also encourages public elementary & secondary schools to enhance student understanding of Native Americans by providing classroom instructions focusing on their history, achievements, & contributions.

The United States House of Representatives originally passed H.J. Res. 62 on November 13, 2007. The bill was passed with technical adjustments by unanimous consent in the United States Senate on September 22, 2008. Then, on September 26, 2008, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass the legislation again, including the adjustments from the Senate. The legislation was signed into public law by the President on October 8, 2008.

There is conflict about the day chosen to honor Native Americans.  In addition to calling Thanksgiving the "National Day of Mourning," some Native Americans believe it is "poor taste" for Native American Heritage Day to be on Black Friday - "a day of greed & aggressive capitalism."

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

9000-year-old Obsidian Tools Found at Bottom of Lake Huron

The two ancient obsidian flakes recovered from a now submerged archaeological site beneath Lake Huron represent the oldest & farthest east confirmed occurrence of western obsidian in the continental United States.

Obsidian, or volcanic glass, is a prized raw material for knappers, both ancient & modern, with its lustrous appearance, predictable flaking, & resulting razor-sharp edges.

As such, it was used & traded widely throughout much of human history.

Obsidian from the Rocky Mountains & the West was an exotic exchange commodity in Eastern North America.

“Obsidian from the far western United States is rarely found in the east,” said Dr. Ashley Lemke, an anthropologist in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The two ancient obsidian artifacts were recovered from a sample of sediment that was hand excavated at a depth of 32 m (105 feet) in an area between two submerged hunting structures at the bottom of Lake Huron.

“This particular find is really exciting because it shows how important underwater archaeology is,” Dr. Lemke said.

“The preservation of ancient underwater sites is unparalleled on land, & these places have given us a great opportunity to learn more about past peoples.”

The larger artifact is a mostly complete, roughly triangular, biface thinning flake made from a black & translucent material with a sub-vitreous texture.

The second artifact is a small, very thin, translucent flake on a material visually similar to the larger specimen.

“These tiny obsidian artifacts reveal social connections across North America 9,000 years ago,” Dr. Lemke said.

“The artifacts found below the Great Lakes come from a geological source in Oregon, 4,000 km (2,485 miles) away — making it one of the longest distances recorded for obsidian artifacts anywhere in the world.”

See: PacTV site 16th November, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021

DNA Tracks mysterious Denisovans to Chinese cave, just before Modern Humans Showed Up

DNA Tracks mysterious Denisovans to Chinese cave, just before Modern Humans Showed Up

29 OCT 2020 By Ann Gibbons

For today's Buddhist monks, Baishiya Karst Cave, 3200 meters high on the Tibetan Plateau, is holy. For ancient Denisovans, extinct hominins known only from DNA, teeth, and bits of bone found in another cave 2800 kilometers away in Siberia, it was a home. Last year, researchers proposed that a jawbone found long ago in the Tibetan cave was Denisovan, based on its ancient proteins. But archaeologist Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University and her team wanted more definitive evidence, including DNA, the molecular gold standard. So in December 2018, they began to dig, after promising the monks they would excavate only at night and in winter to avoid disturbing worshippers.

After working from dusk to dawn while temperatures outside plunged to –18°C, then covering traces of their dig every morning, the scientists' persistence paid off. Today in Science, Zhang's team reports the first Denisovan ancient DNA found outside Denisova Cave: mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gleaned not from fossils, but from the cave sediments themselves. Precise dates show the Denisovans took shelter in the cave 100,000 years and 60,000 years ago, and possibly as recently as 45,000 years ago, when modern humans were flowing into eastern Asia.

The find shows that even though their bones are rare, "Denisovans were widespread in this hemisphere," says University of Oxford geochronologist Tom Higham, who was not part of the study. It also ends a long quest for Denisovan DNA outside Siberia. "Every year, I've said we will find this," says co-author Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (EVA). "It's been a decade."

The presence of Denisovan DNA in the genomes of living people across Asia suggested these ancient humans were widespread. But the partial jaw from Baishiya Karst Cave was the first fossil evidence. Zhang and her colleagues identified the jaw as Denisovan based on a new method that relies on variation in a protein. Some researchers questioned the claim, however, because the method was new, and no one knew where in the cave the jaw had been found.

Those questions are likely to fade. The dig, led by Zhang and Fahu Chen of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, took many sediment samples and found charcoal from fires, 1310 simple stone tools, and 579 pieces of bone from animals including rhinos and hyenas. Paleogeneticist Qiaomei Fu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing managed to extract hominin mtDNA from the sediment itself. The mtDNA, perhaps shed in poop or urine, most closely matched that of Denisovans.

Meanwhile, geochronologists led by Bo Li and Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong dated material from those same sediment samples. They used optical dating to reveal when light last struck mineral grains in the samples, showing when each grain was buried. The four layers that yielded Denisovan mtDNA were laid down 100,000, 60,000, and as recently as 45,000 years ago, although the younger sediments were disturbed.

The dates for the older sediments seem highly reliable, says Higham, who dated Denisova Cave. And by showing DNA and dates can be gleaned from the same sediment samples, the work opens "a new era of molecular caving," says geochronologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The charcoal in the cave shows its occupants built fires. They also used simple stone tools, and, from the cave's high opening, must have spied on animals grazing in the meadows below. Some may also have been on the lookout for modern humans, who were in the region by 40,000 years ago.

In a separate study published today in Science, Pääbo reports extracting modern human DNA, the oldest yet in Asia, from 34,000- and 40,000-year-old fossils from what is now Mongolia and from near Beijing, respectively. Those genomes included Denisovan DNA, the legacy of mating that happened roughly 50,000 years ago. But the Denisovan sequences differed from those found in living New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals. Homo sapiens must have met and mated with two populations of Denisovans—one in mainland Asia and one in Southeast Asia, says EVA paleogeneticist Diyendo Massilani—further evidence that they were once numerous and wide-ranging.

The Denisovans bequeathed a particular genetic gift to modern Tibetans: a "superathlete" variant of a gene, called EPAS1, that helps red blood cells use oxygen efficiently and is found in Denisovans from Denisova Cave. Zhang and her colleagues think the Tibetan Plateau Denisovans may have been adapted to life at high altitude, and that EPAS1 may have spread widely among them, before they handed it on to modern Tibetans.

But molecular dating suggests EPAS1 spread rapidly only in the past 5000 years. And natural selection would have favored that gene variant only in people who lived at high altitude year-round, says archaeologist Mark Aldenderfer, professor emeritus at the University of California, Merced. The Denisovans may have lived only seasonally in the cave. Zhang's team will need to find nuclear DNA to test its hunch.

Zhang expects more digs at the cave will clarify the issue with DNA and perhaps fossils. "The study of this cave is only beginning," she says.

Neil Bockoven tells us that two breakthrough studies employing several cutting edge technologies have documented the oldest modern human DNA in Asia, and the first Denisovan DNA outside of Siberia. 

It appears that modern humans showed up in Central Asia at roughly the time that Denisovans died off there. In one study, researchers tested sediments, not bones, in a Tibetan cave for DNA. The sediments were dated with optical methods, which can detect when light last struck the mineral grains. The mitochondrial DNA found in the sediments likely came from Denisovan poop or urine. 

The other study determined that modern humans were in the Beijing area by at least 40,000 years ago. The optical dates from the cave sediment study indicate that Denisovans were there 100,000, 60,000, and probably 45,000 years ago. 

Highly-respected geochronologist Tom Higham said that the finding ends a long quest for Denisovan DNA outside of Siberia, and it shows the species was widespread in the hemisphere before we showed up. 

Earlier work has documented that we mated with Denisovans, and the fact that some people today in the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia carry as much as 6% Denisovan genes is further proof that the species was wide-ranging. The two studies highlight the breathtaking discoveries that are happening due to applying new technologies. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

What We Have Learned, so far, about Ancient Cave Art

Neil Bockoven tells us that the oldest works of "cave art" presently documented are handprints in Tibet that may be 226,000 years old  - probably Denisovan or Neanderthal (Zhang et al. 2021). 

The oldest Homo sapien drawing is a cross-hatching on a piece of red ochre made more than 73,000 years ago in South Africa (Henshilwood et al. 2018).

The oldest known cave painting is a Neanderthal's 64,000-year-old, red hand stencil in Spain (Hoffmann et al. 2018). 

Nearly 350 caves that contain prehistoric art have been discovered in Europe, but a lot has been found elsewhere too. The most common subjects in cave paintings are large animals, such as horses, bison, aurochs, and deer, as well as tracings of human hands. 

The oldest representational painting - of a warty pig - is found in Indonesia and dates to at least 45,500 years (Brumm et al. 2021). All of these wonderful works of art help define the early edge of human abstract thinking. 

See Ancient Wonders of Archaeology, Art History & Architecture

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween - 1607 Jesuit suspects Lutheran sect of Witchcraft

This 1607 woodcut by a Jesuit, Christoph Andreas Fischer, The Hutterite Anabaptist Pigeon Coop, accuses that Protestant sect of witchcraft with its symbols — bats, brooms and more.

Dr. Adam Darlage, who teaches at Oakton Community College, with campuses in Skokie & Des Plaines, Illinois, studies how Christians have been less than kind to one another. For example, Darlage analyzed the meaning of a 1607 woodcut depicting Hutterites as pigeons, witches, and bigamists. Bigamists? In those days, Hutterite leaders let members of their flock abandon spouses who wouldn’t convert, he says, and thereafter allowed remarriage. Hence the accusation.

Halloween - A brief history of Halloween's Celtic & religious origins

More than 2,000 years ago the Celtic people believed summer came to an end on October 31st, so in anticipation of the end of "the season of life" & the beginning of "the season of death," Celts would celebrate Samhain or Samain (pronounced "sah-win") or "Summer's End." In the 19C, one academic explained, "The Samhain feast...was, like the Greek Apaturia, partly devoted to business...other wise the feast, which occupied, not only Samain or the first of November, but also the three days before and the three days after it."The festival segment of Samhain focused on the harvest & death of crops & the approaching season of cold & darkness, to symbolize the the transition from life to death. The Celts thought the veil between this world & the next was thinnest during Samhain & that spirits & fairies could more easily move between the two realms. Some might pass from the living to the dead, and some dead ancestors might come to visit during this time. The Celtic celebration of Samhain was the New Year’s Day on the Celtic calendar.
In ancient times the festival was said to be celebrated with a great assembly at the royal court in Tara, the archaic hill fort and bastion of the Irish kings. The festival began after a ritual fire was set ablaze on the Hill of Tlachtga. This bonfire served as a beacon, signaling to people gathered atop hills all across Ireland to light their ritual bonfires. This ritual was called the Féile na Marbh in old Irish, meaning the 'festival of the dead' took place on the night of Samhain, or “Oíche Shamhna” and and was said to fall on the 31st of October. The word 'bonfire' itself is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh or Bone Fire, because villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered livestock upon the flames. October was the traditional time for slaughter - for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires and then each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the local common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together with the symbolic bones of their ancestors. English travelers of the 19C are said to have witnessed this ritual.
In some homes, a door would be opened to the west & a beloved dead relative would be specifically invited to attend the celebration. Villagers might leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home.On Samhain Eve, the Celts lit their bonfires & laid out harvest gifts for the souls traveling through the corporeal plane on their way to the next realm. Families would leave food & wine on their doorstep to aid the souls passing over & to keep the pesky ghosts at bay. Many wore costumes when leaving the house hoping to be mistaken for ghosts themselves. The Celts believed dressing up both honored the good spirits & helped avoid the bad ones.
Ancient Celtic legends supported this concept of transition from life to death. In one, Nero, while begging from door-to-door on Samhain, discovered a cave leading directly into the fairy realm. In another, gods called Fomorians demanded tribute from Celtic mortals, who offered harvest fruits to these gods at Samhain. This story reinforced the Celtic tradition of setting out harvest gifts for souls crossing over & for the ghosts gathered near at Summer's End.Sometime in the 8C, Pope Gregory IV changed the date originally set for All Saints' Day to the same day as Samhain, essentially merging the traditions connected to those holidays & making the church more attractive to non-believers. The Catholic Church established November 1st as All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows) & November 2 as All Souls Day.
A traditional Irish Halloween carved turnip jack-o-lantern

Incorporating the existing Celtic custom of going door-to-door on Samhain, the church encouraged a practice called "souling." The practice of dressing up in costumes & begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland & Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas.”In 19C England, one writer reported, "The custom of "souling"...is carried on with great zeal in this neighbourhood." Another wrote of "children who are singing their "Souling Song" under my window." One noted, "Soul-cakes...to give away to the souling-children."
James Elder Christie (British artist, 1847-1914) Halloween Frolics

The traditions of "guising," & "mumming" grew into an event where masked individuals would go door-to-door disguised as spirits dancing & singing in exchange for food & wine. A 19C Scottish song noted, "In a guizing excursion, he sung some verses." The custom of mumming was first written about in the 1400s in English. In 1546, it was noted, "The disguising and muming that is vsed in Christemas tyme." By 1801, one sports writer explained, "A sport common among the ancients...consisted in mummings and disguisements." (The Danish word mumme meant to parade in masks. The term guising was first used in written English in 1563.)In order to see as they paraded at night, Irish participants would carve faces into turnips & potatoes to light as lanterns, as they passed from house to house, & to set outside their doorways to light dark steps & to scare away evil spirits.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Making a grand living in 1647 England by identifying & torturing witches

Frontispiece from Matthew Hopkins' (c. 1620-1647) The Discovery of Witches (1647), showing witches identifying their familiar spirits

Folks in 17C England & her British American colonies often dealt with hardships by looking for a scapegoat to blame, much as we do today. Witchcraft was a convenient superstition to latch onto during this period. Witchcraft had been illegal since 1563, & hundreds of people, mostly women, were wrongly accused. 'Proof' of being a witch could be a third nipple, an unusual scar or birthmark, a boil, a growth, or even owning a pet (a 'witch's familiar', or potential embodiment of an evil spirit). Witch-finder Matthew Hopkins employed Mary Goody Phillips who specialized in finding "witch marks" on the bodies of accused females.Confessions were often made under torture or duress. After a trial, victims were often hanged.

Professionals who exposed witches could make a lot of money, as local magistrates paid the witch finder the equivalent of a month's wages. And the busiest tradesman of all was Matthew Hopkins, a shadowy figure who called himself 'Witchfinder General' & had scores of women executed in East Anglia during the turmoil of the English Civil War in 1645 & 1646.John Stearne (c. 1610–1670) was another associate of Matthew Hopkins. Stearne was known at various times as the witch–hunter and "witch pricker." A family man & land owner from Lawshall near Bury St Edmunds, Stearne was 10 years older than Hopkins. Within a year of the death of Matthew Hopkins, John Stearne retired to his farm & wrote A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft.
During the year following the publication of Hopkins' book, trials & executions for witchcraft began in the New England colonies with the hanging of Alse Young of Windsor, Connecticut on May 26, 1647, followed by the conviction of Margaret Jones. As described in the journal of Governor John Winthrop, the evidence assembled against Margaret Jones was gathered by the use of Hopkins' techniques of "searching" & "watching". Jones' execution was the first sustained witch-hunt which lasted in New England from 1648 until 1663. About 80 people throughout New England were accused of practicing witchcraft during that period, of whom 15 women & 2 men were executed. Some of Hopkins' methods were once again employed during the Salem Witch Trials, which occurred primarily in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692–93.

Although torture was unlawful in England, Hopkins was said to have used a variety of torture techniques to extract confessions from his victims. His favorite was sleep deprivation. Although Hopkins claimed to never use the swimming test, some argued that witches floated, because they had renounced their water baptism when entering the Devil's service. James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) 1566-1625 claimed in his Daemonologie, that water was so pure an element that it repelled the guilty. Suspects were thrown into water, & those who floated were considered to be witches. Or the alleged witch might also be bound at the hands & feet & thrown into a body of water. If the body floated to the surface, that was proof, that the accused was indeed a witch (at which point they might execute her by some other means). If she sank to the bottom & inevitably drowned – she was innocent but also dead.

For a fascinating update on the truths, lies, and exaggerations containted in books written by these two witch finders in the mid 17C see The Discovery of Witches and Witchcraft: The Writings of the Witchfinders by Matthew Hopkins, John Stearne. Edited with an introduction and notes by S.F. Davies (Sept 2007) Published: Brighton: Pucknel Publishing. A critical, scholarly reprint of the writings of the Witch Finder General and his accomplice.S. F. Davies researches witchcraft writing at the University of Sussex. He also has edited Puritan preacher George Gifford's (1548-1600) Dialogue concerning witches and witchcrafts(2007).

Also see
"The Reception of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft: Witchcraft, Magic, and Radical Religion" by S.F. Davies
Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 74, Number 3, July 2013, pp. 381-40 This article considers the reception of Reginald Scot’s (1538-1599) skeptical Discouerie of Witchcraft (1584). As well as the surprisingly mixed reception of the 1st edition, this article examines the publication of the 2nd edition. The latter appeared in 1651, long after Scot’s death; the possible reasons for its publication have never been examined. Not only interest in witchcraft but other kinds of magic and even religious radicalism may have been involved.
Woodcuts dealing with water, witches, and "scolds."

The always surprising Alice Morse Earle found a 1st-hand account of the Dunking Stool in her 1896  Curious Punishments of Bygone Days. Francois Maximilian Misson, a French traveler and writer, recorded the method used in England in the early 18th century: The way of punishing scolding women is pleasant enough. They fasten an armchair to the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long, and parallel to each other, so that these two pieces of wood with their two ends embrace the chair, which hangs between them by a sort of axle, by which means it plays freely, and always remains in the natural horizontal position in which a chair should be, that a person may sit conveniently in it, whether you raise it or let it down. They set up a post on the bank of a pond or river, and over this post they lay, almost in equilibrio, the two pieces of wood, at one end of which the chair hangs just over the water. They place the woman in this chair and so plunge her into the water as often as the sentence directs, in order to cool her immoderate heat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In Canada - Woman's Involvement in the Fur Trade

Women Fur Trading at Fort Nez Percé in 1841. Fort Nez Percés, later known as old Fort Walla Walla, was a fortified fur trading post on the Columbia River on the territory of modern-day Wallula, Washington. Despite being named after the Nez Perce people, the fort was in the traditional lands of the Walla Walla. Founded in 1818 by the North-West Company, after 1821 it was run by the Hudson's Bay Company until its closure in 1857.

In Canada - Woman's Involvement in the Fur Trade 

by Mason McDowell at University College of the North

The University College of the North is an institution devoted to community & northern development & reflects the Aboriginal reality & cultural diversity of northern Manitoba.

The fur trade was one of the biggest economic trends in Canadian history. Even though much of the trading happened between European & Aboriginal men, women played a very interesting & an important part in the fur trade. From creating & strengthening relationships between the European & Aboriginal men, to helping navigate, dressing furs, even cooking & setting up camps, women had a big part in the fur trade. When it came to the actual act of trading & being on trade routes, many people believe that it was just between native men & European men, but in actuality women sometimes also travelled on trade routes trapping, preparing, & traded their own furs. While men dominated the fur trade, women played a very important role in the fur trade, often being the suppliers for their trader husbands, & some even going as far to participate in the trading as well. 

 When the European traders first came to North America “colonization was not envisaged”  by them, so the traders brought no white women from Europe over to North America. This made it much harder for the European traders to practice their own culture & start families in North America so “instead, the traders were forced to come to terms with an alien, nomadic culture,”  a culture that the Europeans traders’ own livelihoods depended on. The Aboriginals culture & way of life had given them “distinct advantages with coping with the wilderness environment,”  & the fur traders knew that having the knowledge of the land would be crucial to their survival in the harsh conditions of North America. The traders also knew that the Aboriginals had distinct & valuable techniques in hunting, trapping, tracking, & navigating. So, European men started turning to Aboriginal women for companions on their long journeys. The Aboriginal Women educated the European men with their ways of living on the land & practicing their own culture while, helping traverse & navigate the harsh wilderness of North America.


When it came to Aboriginal women & European men, their encounters together were not usually “casual promiscuous encounters, but the development of marital unions which gave rise to distinct family units.”  Even though “there were differences in attitudes & practices between the Europeans & the Aboriginals; the fur trade society developed its own marriage rite, marriage a la facon du pays, which combined both Aboriginal & European marriage customs.”  When a European man married an Aboriginal woman in fur trade society, the European men would gain & strengthen trade relationships with Aboriginal men, & would “secure the trade of the tribe or band”  that the Aboriginal woman belonged too. This tradition soon caught & became accustomed to European traders, with many marrying Aboriginal women to create the social ties to improve their access trade opportunities & gain better knowledge of the aboriginal culture & way of life. Many intermarriages between Aboriginal women & European traders became more & more popular, with both sides of the marriages having a lot to gain from the courtship. With the increased intermarriages the fur trade society began to grow, creating new & strengthening the existing relationships among traders & Aboriginals almost everyday.

 The European traders had gained a lot by marrying into an Aboriginal family as the Aboriginal women were “trained in the skills necessary for survival”  in the harsh wilderness of North America. The Aboriginal women helped the European traders navigate & traverse the wilderness & taught them many survival skills, crafted snow shoes to make it easier to travel through the deep snow, & provided traditional Aboriginal clothing for the traders to keep from freezing in the sub-zero temperatures. Aboriginal women would also cook, preserve food, & prepare camp while their trader husbands were off either trading or trapping furs. One major food contribution that Aboriginal women made was “preservation & manufacturing of pemmican,”  which was a very important & nutritious staple food in a fur trader’s diet. European traders also enjoyed the presence of Aboriginal women in their everyday lives as they kept the company on the long journeys between trading posts; for the traders the aboriginal women also filled “the role of a wife & mother left void by the absence of white women.”  The men of the North West Company, a Montreal-based company at time of the fur trade in particular, “had always appreciated the economic advantages to be gained by forming alliances with Aboriginal women.”  European traders’ marrying into an Aboriginal family helped them “secure the trade of the Aboriginal women’s tribe or band.”  Besides helping the European traders strengthen & secure trade relationships, the Aboriginal women “did much to familiarize the European men with the Aboriginal way of life.”  The Aboriginal women also taught the European traders trapping techniques, fur preparation, & even going as far to teach the traders a bit of their language. By teaching the traders their language Aboriginal women “greatly contributed to the men’s effectiveness as a trader,”  & helped further close the cultural gap between Aboriginals & Europeans. Intermarriages in the fur trade were very beneficial for European traders as they learned many valuable skills & techniques used by Aboriginals for hundreds of years. At the same time those parties filled the void that the lack of white women left in their lives, & greatly increased the success of their livelihoods by creating & strengthening trade relationships between them & Aboriginals.

 Aboriginal women were also benefiting from the intermarriage during the fur trade, with the influx of European technology that they were enjoying the luxuries of goods from Europe & the courtships by the European men. Many Aboriginal women were anxious to keep trade flowing, so they could have more access & the ability to use more “European goods such as kettles, cloth, knives, needles, & axes to help alleviate their sometimes-onerous work roles.”  Their working roles often included cooking, preparing & dressing furs, & crafting clothing & snowshoes, & making other tools. During the early years of the fur trade “many Aboriginal tribes & bands actively encouraged the formation of marriage alliances their women & traders.”  In Aboriginal society “marriage was seen in an integrated social & economic context.”  So, the European traders & Aboriginals made an agreement that if the Aboriginals allowed European traders marry & begin families with their women the Aboriginals would have “free access to the trading posts & provisions.”  This would give the Aboriginals full trading capabilities at trading posts across British North America, & it would also give the Aboriginals more access to European technology. The European traders, in turn, would strengthen & gain better access to trade relationships with the Aboriginals, while simultaneously gaining knowledge of Aboriginal techniques & culture to further increases their profits. Even though Aboriginal men & European traders were more dominate when it came to being hunters & trappers, some Aboriginal women were trapping, preparing, & trading their own furs. Kees-Jan Waterman & Jan Noel outline that “fur transactions were the norm for people of both sexes”  rather than just being confined to men. When it came to the act of trapping itself “men were the hunters of beavers & larger game animals, & the women were responsible for trapping smaller fur-bearing animals, especially the martin whose pelts were highly prized.”  Aboriginal women & the Aboriginal population in general benefited greatly due to intermarriages in the fur trade, with gaining more access to trading posts & European technology, which greatly impacted their lives & made their traditional ways of hunting & fur preparing easier. 

Even though white women did not come to the predominantly fur trading areas of British North America until later when the fur trade society was already greatly established, & when they did arrive, they also had great contributions to the fur trade as well. The white women played a largely subsidiary role in fur trade society often being compared to a modern-day house wife. The majority roles of white women who were married to traders were “as suppliers of food & other supplies,”  which means they often cooked & set up camp for the traders if they travelled with them, so that their trader husbands could focus on the trapping & hunting rather than setting up his camp & cooking meals. If a white woman did not travel with her trader husband, she often stayed at home to take care of the children, whilst the trader was out making money to support the family.  Even though white women did not serve the major role & exert the same impact as Aboriginal women did in fur trade society, they still made contributions by helping the traders on their long journeys for the business.   

 In conclusion, women were very impactful & important in fur trade society & were one of the reasons that the fur trade was as successful of & economic trend as it was. If women had not been as involved so much, many European traders would not have had such strengthened social relationships with Aboriginals tribes & bands at that time. The traders also wouldn’t have had the knowledge of the land & Aboriginal culture if it wasn’t for the intermarriages with the Aboriginal women. This also proves that major companies in the fur trade such as The Hudson’s Bay Company & The North West Company may not have been as successful as they were, with The North West Company outlining the many “economic advantages to be gained by forming alliances with Aboriginal women.”  Even if women didn’t travel on trade routes with their trader husbands, they were able to stay home & care for their families & raise the next generation of traders. In the end women really were one of the major reasons that the fur trade was as profitable & successful as it was, & greatly benefited both Europeans & Aboriginals alike.    


Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-trade Society, 1670-1870. Norman, Oklahoma:         University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. “The Impact of White Women on Fur Trade Society.” Visions Pre-Confederation (2015): 338-351.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. “The Role of Native Women in the Fur Trade Society of Western Canada, 1670-1830."  Woman of the Western Front (1984): 9-13.

Waterman, Kees-Jan. Noel, Jan. “Not Confined to the Village Clearings: Indian Women in the Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1695–1732.” New York History Vol 94 (2013): 40-58.

White, Bruce M. "The Woman Who Married a Beaver: Trade Patterns & Gender Roles in the Ojibwa Fur Trade." Ethnohistory Vol 46. (1999): 109-47.