Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Woman who Figured Out what Mankind is Made of after Thousands of Years Passed

The answer to this fundamental question of astrophysics was discovered in 1925 by Cecilia Payne (1900-1979) & explained in her Ph.D. thesis. Payne showed how to decode the complicated spectra of starlight in order to learn the relative amounts of the chemical elements in the stars. In 1960 the distinguished astronomer Otto Struve referred to this work as “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”

Cecilia Payne was born in Wendover, England. After entering Cambridge University she soon knew she wanted to study a science but was not sure which one. She then chanced to hear the astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) give a public lecture on his recent expedition to observe the 1919 solar eclipse, an observation that proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. 

She later recalled her exhilaration: “The result was a complete transformation of my world picture. When I returned to my room I found that I could write down the lecture word for word.” She realized that physics was for her.

Later, at Cambridge Observatory Cecilia told Professor Eddington, that she wanted to be an astronomer. He suggested a number of books for her to read, but she had already read them. Eddington then invited her to use the Observatory’s library, with access to all the latest astronomical journals. 

"There is no joy more intense than that of coming upon a fact that cannot be understood in terms of currently accepted ideas." declared Cecilia Payne

Payne realized early during her Cambridge years, that a woman had little chance of advancing beyond a teaching role, & no chance at all of getting an advanced degree in England. 

Women in the USA had only won the right to vote in national elections in 1920, just 3 years before Payne left England in 1923 for the United States. Here she met Professor Harlow Shapley (1885-1952), the new director of the Harvard College Observatory, who offered her a graduate fellowship. 

Cecilia Payne became the 1st person to earn a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. Her 1925 graduate thesis proposed that the Sun & other stars were made predominantly of hydrogen, & described as "the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy." (Payne received the 1st Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College for her thesis, since Harvard did not grant doctoral degrees to women.)

But Harvard did have the world’s largest archive of stellar spectra on photographic plates. Astronomers obtain such spectra by attaching a spectroscope to a telescope. This instrument spreads starlight out into its “rainbow” of colors, spanning all the wavelengths of visible light. The wavelength increases from the violet to the red end of the spectrum, as the energy of the light decreases. A typical stellar spectrum has many narrow dark gaps where the light at particular wavelengths (or energies) is missing. These gaps are called absorption “lines,” & are due to various chemical elements in the star’s atmosphere that absorb the light coming from hotter regions below.

The study of spectra had led to the science of astrophysics. In 1859, Gustav Kirchoff & Robert Bunsen in Germany heated various chemical elements & observed the spectra of the light given off by the incandescent gas. They found that each element has its own characteristic set of spectral lines—its uniquely identifying “fingerprint.” In 1863, William Huggins in England observed many of these same lines in the spectra of the stars. The visible universe, it turned out, is made of the same chemical elements as those found on Earth.

Beginning in the 1880s, astronomers at Harvard College such as Edward Pickering, Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, & Antonia Maury had succeeded in classifying stars according to their spectra into seven types: O, B, A, F, G, K, & M. It was believed that this sequence corresponded to the surface temperature of the stars, with O being the hottest & M the coolest. In her Ph.D. thesis (published as Stellar Atmospheres [1925]), Payne used the spectral lines of many different elements & the work of Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha, who had discovered an equation relating the ionization states of an element in a star to the temperature to definitively establish that the spectral sequence did correspond to quantifiable stellar temperatures. Payne also determined that stars are composed mostly of hydrogen & helium. However, she was dissuaded from this conclusion by Princeton astronomer Henry Norris Russell (1877-1957), who thought that stars surely would have the same composition as Earth. (Russell conceded in 1929 that Payne was correct.) 

In principle, it seemed that one might obtain the composition of the stars by comparing their spectral lines to those of known chemical elements observed in laboratory spectra. Astronomers had identified elements like calcium & iron as responsible for some of the most prominent lines, so they naturally assumed that such heavy elements were among the major constituents of the stars. In fact, Princeton's Henry Norris Russell at Princeton had concluded that if the Earth’s crust were heated to the temperature of the Sun, its spectrum would look nearly the same.

When Cecilia Payne arrived at Harvard, a comprehensive study of stellar spectra had long been underway. Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification.  Annie was nearly deaf throughout her career. She was a suffragist & a member of the National Women's Party.

Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941)

Annie had sorted the spectra of several hundred thousand stars into seven distinct classes. She had devised & ordered the classification scheme, based on differences in the spectral features. Astronomers assumed that the spectral classes represented a sequence of decreasing surface temperatures of the stars, but no one was able to demonstrate this quantitatively.

Cecilia Payne, who studied the new science of quantum physics, knew that the pattern of features in the spectrum of any atom was determined by the configuration of its electrons. She also knew that at high temperatures, one or more electrons are stripped from the atoms, which are then called ions. The Indian physicist M. N. Saha had recently shown how the temperature & pressure in the atmosphere of a star determine the extent to which various atoms are ionized.

Payne began a long project to measure the absorption lines in stellar spectra, & within two years produced a thesis for her doctoral degree, the first awarded for work at Harvard College Observatory. In it, she showed that the wide variation in stellar spectra is due mainly to the different ionization states of the atoms & hence different surface temperatures of the stars, not to different amounts of the elements. She calculated the relative amounts of eighteen elements & showed that the compositions were nearly the same among the different kinds of stars. She discovered, surprisingly, that the Sun & the other stars are composed almost entirely of hydrogen & helium, the two lightest elements. All the heavier elements, like those making up the bulk of the Earth, account for less than two percent of the mass of the stars.

Most of the mass of the visible universe is hydrogen, the lightest element, & not the heavier elements that are more prominent in the spectra of the stars! This was indeed a revolutionary discovery. Harlow Shapley sent Payne’s thesis to Professor Russell at Princeton, who informed her that the result was “clearly impossible.” To protect her career, Payne inserted a statement in her thesis that the calculated abundances of hydrogen & helium were “almost certainly not real.”

She then converted her thesis into the book Stellar Atmospheres, which was well-received by astronomers. Within a few years it was clear to everyone that her results were both fundamental & correct. Cecilia Payne had showed for the first time how to “read” the surface temperature of any star from its spectrum. She showed that Cannon’s ordering of the stellar spectral classes was indeed a sequence of decreasing temperatures & she was able to calculate the temperatures. The so-called Princeton Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, a plot of luminosity versus spectral class of the stars, could now be properly interpreted, & it became by far the most powerful analytical tool in stellar astrophysics.

From the time she finished her Ph.D. through the 1930s, Payne advised students, conducted research, & lectured—all the usual duties of a professor. Yet, because she was a woman, her only title at Harvard was “technical assistant” to Professor Harlow Shapley. 

In 1933, Payne traveled to Europe to meet Russian astronomer Boris Gerasimovich, who had previously worked at the Harvard College Observatory & with whom she planned to write a book about variable stars. In Göttingen, Ger., she met Sergey Gaposchkin, a Russian astronomer who could not return to the Soviet Union because of his politics. Payne was able to find a position at Harvard for him. They married in 1934 & often collaborated on studies of variable stars. She was named a lecturer in astronomy in 1938, but even though she taught courses, they were not listed in the Harvard catalog until after World War II.

In collaboration with colleague John Whitman, she rendered this early X-ray image of the supernova remnant Cassopeia-A in 1976 using yarn & needlepoint. 

Despite being indisputably one of the most brilliant & creative astronomers of the 20C, Cecilia Payne was never elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences. But times were beginning to change. In 1956, she was finally made a full professor (the 1st woman so recognized at Harvard) & chair of the Astronomy Department.

Her fellow astronomers certainly came to appreciate her genius. In 1976, the American Astronomical Society awarded her the prestigious Henry Norris Russell Prize. In her acceptance lecture, she said, “The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the 1st person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something.” 


American Museum of Natural History: Cecilia Payne & the Composition of the Stars

Encyclopedia Britannica: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin 

Archival Collections:

Collections of Cecilia Payne- & Sergei Gaposchkin. Wolbach Library, Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.

Papers of Harlow Shapley, 1906-1966; HUG 4773.10 Box 89. Harvard University Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, circa 1950s-1990s, 2000; HUGB P182.5, P182.50. Harvard University Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Link.

Project PHaEDRA. Wolbach Library, Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. Link.

Radcliffe College Alumnae Association Records, ca.1894-2004; RG IX, Series 2, box 241. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Wilbur Kitchener Jordan Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1943-1960; RG II, Series 3, boxes 27, 60. Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Bartusiak, Marcia. 1993. “The Stuff of Stars.” The Sciences, no. September/October: 34–39.

Boyd, Sylvia. 2014. Portrait of a Binary : The Lives of Cecilia Payne & Sergei Gaposchkin. Penobscot Press.

DeVorkin, David. 2010. “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: C.H. Payne, H.N. Russell & Standards of Evidence in Early Quantitative Stellar Spectroscopy.” Journal Of Astronomical History & Heritage 13 (2): 139–44.

Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne. 1984. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography (“The Dyer’s Hand”) & Other Recollections. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gaposchkin, Sergei. 1970. The Divine Scramble. Self-Published.

Gingerich, Owen, Katherine Haramundanis, & Dorrit Hoffleit. 2001. The Starry Universe: The Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Centenary. L. Davis Press.

Popova, Maria. 2017. “Stitching a Supernova: A Needlepoint Celebration of Science by Pioneering Astronomer Cecilia Payne.” Brain Pickings (blog). May 10, 2017. 

Russell, Henry Norris. 1929. “On the Composition of the Sun’s Atmosphere.” The Astrophysical Journal 70 (July): 11.

Spiller, James. 2015. Frontiers for the American Century: Outer Space, Antarctica, & Cold War Nationalism. First edition. Palgrave Studies in the History of Science & Technology. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Woodman, Jennifer. 2016. “Stellar Works: Searching for the Lives of Women in Science.” Dissertations & Theses, June.

"We Are Made of Starstuff.”

Dear old Hubble & the new James Webb Telescope, the largest space observatory to date, & thousands of scientists around the world will lead us into countless universes & 100 billion galaxies of composed of dying stars expelling dust & gas - elements & gases interchangeable with ours. We are part of infinity living on a tiny blue dot in space. “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

―American astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Spring 2022 at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania

There have been many stewards of the land that is now called Longwood Gardens. For centuries, the native Lenni Lenape tribe fished the streams, hunted its forests, & planted its fields. Evidence of tribe's existence is found in quartz spear points that have been discovered on & around the property.

In 1700, a Quaker farmer named George Peirce purchased 402 acres of this English-claimed land from William Penn’s commissioners. Over the next several years, George & his descendants cleared & farmed the rich land that would one day become Longwood Gardens. In 1730, one of George’s sons, Joshua, built a brick farmhouse that, now enlarged, still stands today.

Known as Peirce’s Park, the land became a popular destination for visitors. However, due to declining interest by the family, the trees came under threat of being cut down by a local lumber company. Pierre du Pont stepped in & bought the land to preserve it.

In 1798, George’s twin great-grandsons, Samuel & Joshua, actively pursued an interest in natural history & began planting an arboretum that eventually covered 15 acres. The collection included specimens from up & down the Eastern seaboard & beyond. By 1850, the land had become one of the best collections of trees in the country. The arboretum boasted one of the finest collections of trees in the nation & had become a place for the locals to gather outdoors – a new concept that was sweeping America at the time. Family reunions & picnics were held at Peirce's Park in the mid to late 19C.

As the 19C US fought its way to the 20C, the heirs to the land lost interest in property & allowed the arboretum to deteriorate. The property passed through several hands in quick succession, until a lumber mill operator was contracted to remove the trees from a 41-acre parcel within the original lands in early 1906. 

It was this threat that moved one man to take action. In July 1906, 36-year-old Pierre du Pont purchased the farm primarily to preserve the trees. But he didn’t stop there. Much of what guests see today – the beauty & majesty & magic of the Earth that is Longwood Gardens – was shaped by the remarkable vision & versatility of Pierre du Pont. See: Longwood Gardens History for more. 

“Beauty awakens the soul to act.” - Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Mythical Gardens - The Garden of Eden at Creation - Illuminated Manuscripts

Animals & Humans Emerging from the Earth Together; from an illustrated manuscript version of Augustine's City of God, c. 1475 (The Hague, RMMW, 10 A 11, fol. 300v) This garden seems to ha a natural curved road with trees evenly planted on both sides

In Western iconography the early Christian garden is usually defined by the Biblical story of Adam & Eve, the original lovers thrown out of paradise for tasting forbidden fruit, & cast into the wilderness to define their own lives & gardens. Before the Western printing press, illustrated manuscripts & early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during the periods the images were created. 

Gardens are often mentioned in the Bible. In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants & trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. Fruit & shade trees, with aromatic shrubs, sometimes constituted the garden; though roses, lilies, & various gardens were used only for table vegetables, Genesis 2:8-10 15:1-21; 1 Kings 21:2; Ecclesiastes 2:5,6.

Genesis 2:8 “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed...And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it."

Monday, April 18, 2022

17C Spring - Flowers, Fertility, Sensuality, & Delight.

1620 Lady as Spring, by Follower of Abraham Janssens, also called Abraham Janssens Van Nuyssen (Flemish, 1573-1632)  Spring brings flowers, fertility, sensuality, & delight.  

Spring is the perfect time to celebrate Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

Mythical Gardens - The Garden of Eden at Creation - Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscript, Bible (part), Creation of the world, (and Eve!) Walters Manuscript W.805, fol. 6v detail. Here is a beautiful natural garden with trees & shrubs full of birds, water fowl, & even a squirrel in a tree.

In Western iconography the early Christian garden is usually defined by the Biblical story of Adam & Eve, the original lovers thrown out of paradise for tasting forbidden fruit, & cast into the wilderness to define their own lives & gardens. Before the Western printing press, illustrated manuscripts & early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during the periods the images were created. 

Gardens are often mentioned in the Bible. In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants & trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. Fruit & shade trees, with aromatic shrubs, sometimes constituted the garden; though roses, lilies, & various gardens were used only for table vegetables, Genesis 2:8-10 15:1-21; 1 Kings 21:2; Ecclesiastes 2:5,6.

Genesis 2:8 “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed...And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it."

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Angel said Fear not...He is Risen

Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494). Vatican Museums.

And the angel...said Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Matthew 28:5–6

Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Music-making Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) from fresco paintings of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, the Vault of the Sacristy of Saint Mark. Vatican Museums.
Angel by Melozzo da Forli (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494). Vatican Museums.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Jesus Arrives in Jerusalem

Giotto di Bondone (Florentine painter, c 1267-1337). Triumphal Entry

Jesus Arrives in Jeruselem

Fresco of Jesus' Entry by Pietro Lorenzetti, an Italian artist in the early 14C

Jesus Arrives in Jeruselem

A Serbian Icon of Jesus’ Entry to Jerusalem

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Annunciation of the coming Birth of Jesus to Mary in Spring Gardens - Illuminated Manuscripts

The Annunciation in a Garden, Book of Hours (Bodmer Hours), ca. 1400–1410 Michelino da Besozzo (Italian, act. 1388–1450). Renaissance (about 1400–1600) manuscript artists depicted gardens in a variety of texts, and their illustrations attest to the Renaissance spirit for the careful study of the natural world. In a society then dominated by the church, gardens within the miniature & in the margins surrounding were also integral to a Christian visual tradition.

The Annunciation is a day of celebration for many Christians throughout the world which reminds them of the time when the Virgin Mary was asked by the Lord to bring into the world a Savior who would be named Jesus.  Mary as Mother of Jesus was prophesized in Isaias 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, & bear a son, & his name shall be called Emmanuel.”
Psalter Annunciation in Garden, 1180. (National Library of theNetherlands) The Annunciation ca 1450, Book of Hours

The Annunciation is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament. The gospel of Matthew begins by describing the heritage of Jesus stating “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:” (Matthew 1:1). In Chapter 1:2-16, continues listing Jesus’ heritage ending with a conclusion in verse 16 stating “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:16).  Matthew describes the Annunciation of Mary. The Virgin Mary was found with a child, before she & Joseph “came together” Matthew 1:18). Joseph had concerns about what to do in this situation, until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. & she shall bring forth a son: & thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
 The Annunciation in a Garden from the Book of Hours,  Flanders c.1460

Luke is the only other gospel to mention the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Luke states that: “the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; & the virgin’s name was Mary. & the angel said unto her: 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women..And the angel said to her: fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, & shalt bring forth a son; & thou shalt call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:26-31)  Mary, being of such a young age, was in wonder, because she had not been with any man. Gabriel answered “.The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, & the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. & therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
The Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, with Anne Boleyn's note in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 66v).
The Annunciation in a Garden, about 1469

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

In 875 AD Imagining the origin of the Gospels

Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Matthew, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 33v Freising, Germany c 875.

A gospel is an account describing the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The most widely-known gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John.  Some Christians use the term "gospel," otherwise known as the "good news," in reference to the general message of the biblical New Testament.  Here Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John are portrayed with a few of their fierce friends writing about the life of Jesus.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Mark, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 90v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Luke, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 126v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of John, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 178v Freising, Germany c 875.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Claim that Evidence shows 1st Americans came from the Pacific Coast

New Evidence Bolsters Theory That 1st Americans Arrived by the Pacific Coast
Gizmodo.com  by George Dvorsky  8/29/19

Archaeological evidence excavated in western Idaho suggests humans were in the region well over 15,000 years ago—prior to the opening of the massive ice sheets that blocked entrance into North America via the Bering land bridge. It’s further evidence that the continent’s first people arrived by traveling along the Pacific coast.

Prior to the Late Upper Paleolithic, humans had established a presence on every habitable continent on the planet—except North and South America. A gigantic and impenetrable obstruction known as the Cordilleran Ice Sheet blocked entry from Siberia into Alaska, preventing human migration into the New World.

But as the last great Ice Age ended, so too did this colossal barrier. Around 14,800 years ago, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet separated from its neighboring Laurentide Ice Sheet, creating an ice-free corridor that extended from Beringia through to what is now the Dakotas. This dramatic change in the environment has led archaeologists to surmise that the earliest migrants to North America arrived by traversing this corridor, in what’s referred to, appropriately enough, as the Ice-Free Corridor Hypothesis.

Trouble is, emerging archaeological and genetic evidence is increasingly pointing to an arrival date in North America prior to 14,800 years ago, leading to the Coastal Migration Hypothesis. Instead of traveling through the interior, this theory proposes a route in which the first settlers of North America traveled south along the Pacific coast, eventually surpassing the southernmost extent of the ice sheets.

New research published today in Science offers some of the earliest archaeological evidence of humans in North America, further bolstering the Coastal Migration Hypothesis. Working at the Cooper’s Ferry site in western Idaho, a team led by Loren Davis, a professor of anthropology at Oregon State University, uncovered stone tools, animal bones, traces of fire pits, and other signs of human occupation dated to between 16,560 and 15,280 years ago—several centuries prior to the appearance of the ice-free corridor.

“This is so cool,” Christiana Scheib, an archaeologist and paleogeneticist from the University of Cambridge, told Gizmodo. “This is a great example of the kind of archaeology we need happening in order to better understand the First Peoples in the Americas,” said Scheib, who wasn’t involved with the new study.

Archaeologist Alia Lesnek from the Department of Geology at the University at Buffalo, also not affiliated with the new study, said the new paper “presents an exciting new dataset that provides convincing evidence of human presence in modern-day Idaho as early as 15,300 years ago,” and that these results “add to a growing body of research suggesting that the First Americans arrived in North America by traveling along the Pacific coast.”

Last year, Lesnek and her colleagues uncovered potential geological evidence of an Alaskan coastal migration route that could have allowed humans to cross over from Eurasia into North America during the Ice Age.

But not everyone is convinced by the new evidence. One archaeologist we spoke to said more work will be required to validate the results presented in the new paper. The study describes findings from one of two excavation sites at Cooper’s Ferry, which has been investigated by archaeologists since the late 1990s.

“The Cooper’s Ferry site is located along the Salmon River, which is a tributary of the larger Columbia River basin,” said Davis in a press release. “Early peoples moving south along the Pacific coast would have encountered the Columbia River as the first place below the glaciers where they could easily walk and paddle in to North America. Essentially, the Columbia River corridor was the first off-ramp of a Pacific coast migration route.” To which he added: “The timing and position of the Cooper’s Ferry site is consistent with and most easily explained as the result of an early Pacific coastal migration.”

Buried within the deepest layers of the site, Loren’s team found hundreds of artifacts, including stone tools, fire-cracked rocks used in hearths, bone fragments from possibly prey, and other evidence of human occupation, such as areas used for processing food. Tooth fragments from an extinct horse were also uncovered, though its connection to the settlement is not entirely clear.

Radiocarbon dating of animal bone fragments and burnt charcoal suggests the site was repeatedly occupied between 16,560 and 15,280 years ago. “Prior to getting these radiocarbon ages, the oldest things we’d found dated mostly in the 13,000-year range, and the earliest evidence of people in the Americas had been dated to just before 14,000 years old in a handful of other sites,” explained Davis. “When I first saw that the lower archaeological layer contained radiocarbon ages older than 14,000 years, I was stunned but skeptical and needed to see those numbers repeated over and over just to be sure they’re right. So we ran more radiocarbon dates, and the lower layer consistently dated between 14,000-16,000 years old.”

The new paper subsequently challenges the longstanding “Clovis First” theory of North American colonization, which proposes that the first migrants to the continent arrived via the interior ice-free route, eventually reaching the Dakotas. What’s more, the authors presented evidence showing that the tools used by the Cooper’s Ferry migrants were of a distinctly non-Clovis-like nature. Specifically, these people employed unfluted and stemmed projectile points, and not the fluted, broad-based points indicative of Clovis culture. Loren and his colleagues also argued that the tools used by the Cooper’s Ferry people bear a striking resemblance to those found in contemporaneous cultures living in northeastern Asia, including Japan. This would seem to suggest that these early migrants retained knowledge of this technology as they settled into North America.

“My perspective is that Cooper’s Ferry is intriguing, but not paradigm-shifting.” Ben Potter, an archaeologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, had some issues with the new paper. “My perspective is that Cooper’s Ferry is intriguing, but not paradigm-shifting,” Potter told Gizmodo. “Much more work needs to be done to establish the nature and age of the occupations.”

Potter expressed concerns about the layer itself, which he described as a hodge-podge of “multiple potentially overlapping components over four thousand years.” He also didn’t love the fact that the majority of dates established within the investigated layer were less than 13,800 years old (10 out of the 18 ages reported). There is “no good reason to hypothesize occupation” at more than 16,000 years ago “because of a few widely scattered charcoal fragments not directly linked to cultural feature, and one from a feature with much later ages,” he said. The date presented in the study most closely linked with stemmed points at other sites, around 11,600 years old, or the oldest hearth with a few flakes between 15,000-14,000 years old, he said, do not “preclude passage through the Ice Free Corridor and/or the Pacific coast,” and by “no means do these data refute the [ice-free corridor] hypothesis. Both interior and coastal routes remain viable,” he said.

On a similar note, Lesnek thought it important to point out that the oldest age established for the site, at over 16,500 years old, was not established directly from material that was actually dated. “Rather, that age comes from a statistical modeling program that uses dates from the entire sediment layer to estimate when the event—in this case occupation by humans—began,” Lesnek told Gizmodo. “However, the statistical modeling program the authors employ is robust and widely used in archeology and earth sciences. In addition, even if the authors used the oldest radiocarbon date to determine the age of the site, that would put humans in North America by 15,300 years ago, which precludes that the initial migration to the Americas took place through the ice-free corridor.”

Potter described the comparisons of the stemmed points with Japanese tools as being “superficial and unconvincing,” without “any technological analysis to support the hypothesized connections.” Similarly, Scheib said this connection was “interesting,” but it “doesn’t mean that these people came directly from there,” she told Gizmodo.

Scheib, who studies the DNA of America’s first people, said an early genetic split occurred among North America’s first settlers, and it may have happened around the time of the Cooper’s Ferry settlement. “One group is associated with Clovis tools and related to modern Central and South Americans and the other is related to modern North Americans,” Scheib told Gizmodo. “It would be very interesting to know whether the early people at Cooper’s Ferry are genetically more like one or the other. Or if this is the time when these two groups are actually becoming distinct entities.” Genetic evidence from Cooper’s Ferry—which has yet to be uncovered—could tell us more about how and where these two populations diverged, she said. Finding DNA could be tough but not impossible.

“The cultural material at Cooper’s Ferry was only accessible due to the construction of a road in the 1930s, which removed about 15 feet of sediment,” Lesnek told Gizmodo. “It may very well be that other ancient archeological sites are buried across North America, but we haven’t found them yet.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Did an Agricultural Society become dominant 5,000-10,000 Years Ago

From the Associated Press By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Randolph E. Schmid, Ap Science Writer – Monday, March 7, 2011 

WASHINGTON – Thousands of years ago, our ancestors gave up foraging for food and took up farming, one of the most important and debated decisions in history.

Was farming more efficient than foraging? Did the easily hunted animals die out? Did the environment change? A new study by Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico argues that early farming was not more productive than foraging, but people took it up for social and demographic reasons.

In Monday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bowles analyzed what it would take to farm under primitive conditions. He concluded farming produced only about three-fifths of the food gained from foraging.

But, Bowles notes, farming became the most common way of living between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago because of its contribution to population growth and military power.

Without the need for constant movement, child-rearing would have been easier and safer, leading to a population increase, Bowles said. And since stored grain might be looted, farmer communities could have banded together for defense and would have eventually pushed out neighboring foragers, he suggests.

Brian Fagan, a professor emeritus of archaeology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, called Bowles' ideas "provocative and fascinating." It had been suspected that the earliest farming was not necessarily more productive, said Fagan, who was not part of the research. "What he does is to draw attention to the social and demographic factors that contributed so importantly to the spread of farming," Fagan said. "This is a useful contribution to a debate about agricultural origins that has been under way for generations."

Samuel Bowles Abstract:

Cultivation of cereals by the first farmers was not more productive than foraging
Did foragers become farmers because cultivation of crops was simply a better way to make a living? If so, what is arguably the greatest ever revolution in human livelihoods is readily explained. To answer the question, I estimate the caloric returns per hour of labor devoted to foraging wild species and cultivating the cereals exploited by the first farmers, using data on foragers and land-abundant hand-tool farmers in the ethnographic and historical record, as well as archaeological evidence. A convincing answer must account not only for the work of foraging and cultivation but also for storage, processing, and other indirect labor, and for the costs associated with the delayed nature of agricultural production and the greater exposure to risk of those whose livelihoods depended on a few cultivars rather than a larger number of wild species. Notwithstanding the considerable uncertainty to which these estimates inevitably are subject, the evidence is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the productivity of the first farmers exceeded that of early Holocene foragers. Social and demographic aspects of farming, rather than its productivity, may have been essential to its emergence and spread. Prominent among these aspects may have been the contribution of farming to population growth and to military prowess, both promoting the spread of farming as a livelihood.

Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, 87501; and University of Siena, Siena 53100, Italy
Edited by Henry T. Wright, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, & approved February 2, 2011 (received for review July 26, 2010)

Full article from The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the United States of America.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Ancient DNA retells Story of Caribbean's First People, with a few Plot Twists...

Ancient DNA retells Story of Caribbean's First People

Florida Museum of Natural History 3 Dec 2020

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- "The history of the Caribbean's original islanders comes into sharper focus in a new Nature study that combines decades of archaeological work with advancements in genetic technology.

"An international team led by Harvard Medical School's David Reich analyzed the genomes of 263 individuals in the largest study of ancient human DNA in the Americas to date. The genetics trace two major migratory waves in the Caribbean by two distinct groups, thousands of years apart, revealing an archipelago settled by highly mobile people, with distant relatives often living on different islands.

"Reich's lab also developed a new genetic technique for estimating past population size, showing the number of people living in the Caribbean when Europeans arrived was far smaller than previously thought - likely in the tens of thousands, rather than the million or more reported by Columbus and his successors.

"For archaeologist William Keegan, whose work in the Caribbean spans more than 40 years, ancient DNA offers a powerful new tool to help resolve longstanding debates, confirm hypotheses and spotlight remaining mysteries. "This "moves our understanding of the Caribbean forward dramatically in one fell swoop," said Keegan, curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History and co-senior author of the study. "The methods David's team developed helped address questions I didn't even know we could address."

"Archaeologists often rely on the remnants of domestic life - pottery, tools, bone and shell discards - to piece together the past. Now, technological breakthroughs in the study of ancient DNA are shedding new light on the movement of animals and humans, particularly in the Caribbean where each island can be a unique microcosm of life.

"While the heat and humidity of the tropics can quickly break down organic matter, the human body contains a lockbox of genetic material: a small, unusually dense part of the bone protecting the inner ear. Primarily using this structure, researchers extracted and analyzed DNA from 174 people who lived in the Caribbean and Venezuela between 400 and 3,100 years ago, combining the data with 89 previously sequenced individuals.

"The team, which includes Caribbean-based scholars, received permission to carry out the genetic analysis from local governments and cultural institutions that acted as caretakers for the human remains. The authors also engaged representatives of Caribbean Indigenous communities in a discussion of their findings.

"The genetic evidence offers new insights into the peopling of the Caribbean. The islands' first inhabitants, a group of stone tool-users, boated to Cuba about 6,000 years ago, gradually expanding eastward to other islands during the region's Archaic Age. "Where they came from remains unclear - while they are more closely related to Central and South Americans than to North Americans, their genetics do not match any particular Indigenous group. However, similar artifacts found in Belize and Cuba may suggest a Central American origin," Keegan said.

"About 2,500-3,000 years ago, farmers and potters related to the Arawak-speakers of northeast South America established a second pathway into the Caribbean. Using the fingers of South America's Orinoco River Basin like highways, they travelled from the interior to coastal Venezuela and pushed north into the Caribbean Sea, settling Puerto Rico and eventually moving westward. Their arrival ushered in the region's Ceramic Age, marked by agriculture and the widespread production and use of pottery.

"Over time, nearly all genetic traces of Archaic Age people vanished, except for a holdout community in western Cuba that persisted as late as European arrival. Intermarriage between the two groups was rare, with only three individuals in the study showing mixed ancestry.

"Many present-day Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are the descendants of Ceramic Age people, as well as European immigrants and enslaved Africans. But researchers noted only marginal evidence of Archaic Age ancestry in modern individuals.

"That's a big mystery," Keegan said. "For Cuba, it's especially curious that we don't see more Archaic ancestry."

"During the Ceramic Age, Caribbean pottery underwent at least five marked shifts in style over 2,000 years. Ornate red pottery decorated with white painted designs gave way to simple, buff-colored vessels, while other pots were punctuated with tiny dots and incisions or bore sculpted animal faces that likely doubled as handles. Some archaeologists pointed to these transitions as evidence for new migrations to the islands. But DNA tells a different story, suggesting all of the styles were developed by descendants of the people who arrived in the Caribbean 2,500-3,000 years ago, though they may have interacted with and took inspiration from outsiders.

"That was a question we might not have known to ask had we not had an archaeological expert on our team," said co-first author Kendra Sirak, a postdoctoral fellow in the Reich Lab. "We document this remarkable genetic continuity across changes in ceramic style. We talk about 'pots vs. people,' and to our knowledge, it's just pots."

"Highlighting the region's interconnectivity, a study of male X chromosomes uncovered 19 pairs of "genetic cousins" living on different islands - people who share the same amount of DNA as biological cousins but may be separated by generations. In the most striking example, one man was buried in the Bahamas while his relative was laid to rest about 600 miles away in the Dominican Republic.

"Showing relationships across different islands is really an amazing step forward," said Keegan, who added that shifting winds and currents can make passage between islands difficult. "I was really surprised to see these cousin pairings between islands."

"Uncovering such a high proportion of genetic cousins in a sample of fewer than 100 men is another indicator that the region's total population size was small," said Reich, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard. "When you sample two modern individuals, you don't often find that they're close relatives," he said. "Here, we're finding relatives all over the place."

"A technique developed by study co-author Harald Ringbauer, a postdoctoral fellow in the Reich Lab, used shared segments of DNA to estimate past population size, a method that could also be applied to future studies of ancient people. Ringbauer's technique showed about 10,000 to 50,000 people were living on two of the Caribbean's largest islands, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, shortly before European arrival. "This falls far short of the million inhabitants Columbus described to his patrons, likely to impress them," Keegan said.

"Later, 16th-century historian Bartolomé de las Casas claimed the region had been home to 3 million people before being decimated by European enslavement and disease. While this, too, was an exaggeration, the number of people who died as a result of colonization remains an atrocity," Reich said. "This was a systematic program of cultural erasure. The fact that the number was not 1 million or millions of people, but rather tens of thousands, does not make that erasure any less significant," he said.

"For Keegan, collaborating with geneticists gave him the ability to prove some hypotheses he had argued for years - while upending others. "At this point, I don't care if I'm wrong or right," he said. "It's just exciting to have a firmer basis for reevaluating how we look at the past in the Caribbean. One of the most significant outcomes of this study is that it demonstrates just how important culture is in understanding human societies. Genes may be discrete, measurable units, but the human genome is culturally created."

Daniel Fernandes of the University of Vienna and the University of Coimbra in Portugal was also co-first author of the study. Other co-senior authors are Alfredo Coppa of the Sapienza University of Rome, Mark Lipson of HMS and Harvard and Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna.

An earlier article from June 2020

Illustration of one of the early settlers in the Caribbean. Image credit: Tom Björklund.

Humans Colonized Caribbean Islands in Three Waves: Study

Jun 5, 2020 Sci News

An international team of researchers has sequenced and analyzed the genomes of 93 ancient Caribbean islanders and found evidence of at least three separate population dispersals into the region: two early dispersals into the Western Caribbean, one of which seems connected to earlier population dispersals in North America; and a third, more recent wave from South America.

The Caribbean Islands were one of the last regions in the Americas to be settled by humans.

The earliest archeological evidence suggests that the Caribbean’s first residents arrived roughly 8,000 years ago, and by 5,000 years ago, were widely dispersed.

However, how, when and from where the region’s first colonists came to the islands of the Antilles isn’t well understood.

Much of the Caribbean’s settlement history has heavily relied on interpretations from archaeological findings, such as the stylistic comparison of artifact collections between Caribbean sites and those from the surrounding mainland.

While these approaches have illuminated broad-scale population movements, many of the more nuanced aspects of Caribbean population history remain unknown.

To fill these gaps, Kathrin Nägele from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and colleagues analyzed genome-wide data from 93 ancient Caribbean islanders who lived between 400 and 3,200 years ago using bone fragments excavated from 16 different archaeological sites across the Caribbean.

The analysis provided new genetic evidence of at least three separate colonization events, including two early dispersals into the Western Caribbean – one of which was previously unknown and may have been connected to radiation events in North America that predate the diversification of Central and South American populations.

Afterward, a later expansion of groups from South America arrived and brought new technologies, including pottery, supporting previous archaeological interpretations.

“The new data give us a fascinating glimpse of the early migration history of the Caribbean,” said senior co-author Dr. Hannes Schroeder, a researcher in the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen. “We find evidence that the islands were settled and resettled several times from different parts of the American mainland.”

“Big bodies of water are traditionally considered barriers for humans and ancient fisher-hunter-gatherer communities are usually not perceived as great seafarers,” Nägele said. “Our results continue to challenge that view, as they suggest that there was repeated interaction between the islands and the mainland.”

“The new data support our previous observations that the early settlers of the Caribbean were biologically and culturally diverse, adding resolution to this ancient period of our history,” said co-author Dr. Yadira Chinique de Armas, a researcher at the University of Winnipeg.

The team’s results also revealed distinct genetic differences between the ancestors of the region’s earliest settlers and the newcomers from South America.

Despite coexisting for centuries, the scientists found almost no evidence of admixture, raising intriguing new questions about their interactions.

“Although different groups were present in the Caribbean at the same time, we found surprisingly little evidence of admixture between them,” said co-author Dr. Cosimo Posth, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

“The results of this study provide yet another layer of data that highlights the diverse and complex nature of pre-Columbian Caribbean societies and their connections to the American mainland prior to the colonial invasion,” said co-author Professor Corinne Hofman, a scientist at Leiden University.

The findings were published in the journal Science. Kathrin Nägele et al. Genomic insights into the early peopling of the Caribbean. Science, published online June 4, 2020

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Idaho Researchers look for Links between Clovis People & large Mammals on the Snake River Plain


About 13,000 years ago on the banks of the Pleistocene American Falls Lake on the Snake River Plain, large “megafauna” mammals now extinct — such as mammoths, mastodons, camels, short-faced bears, dire wolves & saber-toothed tigers — lived alongside the Clovis people.

However, Clovis artifacts have never been recovered side-by-side with fossil remains of these extinct megafauna mammals, even though they’ve been found near each other.

Charles Speer, an Idaho State University anthropology assistant professor, along with colleagues at the Idaho Museum of Natural History, other universities & soon with ISU students, is engaged in research to document the link between the artifacts of the Clovis people & these extinct animals that populated the area during the same time period.
Charles Speer holds part of a mammoth fossil recovered at the 2018 ISU Archaeology Field School site in the Magic Valley near Kimberly. Next summer, Speer & the school will be working closer to home near American Falls Reservoir.

In a recently published paper on Clovis technology from American Falls on the Eastern Snake River Plain in the journal “North American Archaeologist,” Speer & colleagues detailed the potential for making new scientific findings that can shed light on this period of history in eastern Idaho. This potential includes discovering new information on the area’s climate, animals & people; all of which provides the rationale for thoroughly excavating a site in the area.

“We don’t have a connection in the Snake River Plain between Clovis stone tools, some of the earliest in North America, & the megafauna we have at the time,” Speer said. “We haven’t found any kill, butchering, or scavenging sites where we have the stone tools & animals in the same place. At the American Falls (reservoir) site, it is highly likely that we will find this connection. This next summer during the ISU archaeology field school in June, that is exactly what we are going to be looking for.”

The ISU researchers will be excavating a site down 8 to 10 feet below the surface. “The primary reason we are excavating is that the whole area is in danger of eroding away,” Speer said, noting the group has been tasked by the Bureau of Reclamation to recover as much as they can.

Speer explained that the climate on this portion of the Snake River Plain was likely colder & wetter 13,000 years ago. The climate was affected by the large glaciers to the north extending down from Canada only a few hundred kilometers away. Though the climate was cooler, this area was a magnet for the animals mentioned above, as well as familiar species still making the region home like mule deer, antelope, bison & elk.

“People camped out there, made their tools & hunted the animals. We really just want to make that connection showing they were exploiting these extinct animals because that is a big missing piece,” Speer said.

Studying the climate at the time & potential kill sites can help answer a host of questions about this area’s history.  “We are interested in the animals that died off right when this Clovis culture was at its peak,” Speer said. “We ask questions like ‘did these people kill all these animals, was it climate change or was it both?’ In North America alone, 90 genera of animals over 100 pounds died off during the Clovis period at the close of the Pleistocene 11,700 years ago,” Speer said. This included horses, that flourished when re-introduced 500 years ago by Europeans.

The researchers also are interested in how human beings reacted to climate change during this period, which was right at the end of the Pleistocene period, after which the climate warmed & dried considerably.

In addition, the researchers will be looking for evidence of a culture older than the Clovis living in eastern Idaho.  “Clovis for the longest time was thought to be the oldest culture in North America but know we know it is not,” Speer said. “Researchers in western Idaho have been excavating the Cooper’s Ferry site that is associated with a projectile point style called ‘Western Stemmed’ that is both contemporaneous & potentially older than Clovis. Additionally, they have recovered artifacts several thousands years older which we hope to also discover & fill in the missing pieces with here.”

“We are hoping to see an overlap & connection between the two,” Speer continued, “because we are right on this boundary where to the east you have Clovis in abundance & to the west we have Western Stemmed in abundance, but we don’t have any sites where the two are mixed up. We are also hoping to see the site stretch back in time to 17,000 or 18,000 years ago.”

The researchers will turn over any artifacts found at the site to the Idaho Museum of Natural History, which already has more than 10,000 specimens of megafauna that lived in the area & a collection of Clovis artifacts from the American Falls area.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Epiphany & the Magi - The Kings' Journey Nears It's End

 Benozzo Gozzoli 1459-61 Centro
 Anonimo Siglo VI Mosaico Sanit-Apollinare
 Salterio de Ingeborg de Dinamarca S XII-I
 Anonimo Romanico Cataluna
 Anonimo Mosaico 430 Sta Maria Roma
 Journey of the Magi by Hieronymus Bosch 1500-1510
 Stefano Di Giovanni Sassetta (Italian artist, 1394-1450) Journey of the Magi 1435
 The Meeting of the Kings by Maestro de Saint Bartholomew 1480