Germany returns skulls of indigenous people

A delegation of nearly five dozen Namibians were in Berlin Friday to receive the skulls of 20 indigenous people killed during a massacre by colonizing German forces more than a century ago.

It is hoped that the solemn ceremony will be a first step toward a greater reckoning with Germany’s brief but brutal African adventure a century ago, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We have come to first and foremost to receive the mortal human remains of our forefathers and mothers and to return them to the land of their ancestors,” delegation member Ueriuka Festus Tjikuua told reporters in Berlin.

He said the mission intended to “extend a hand of friendship” to Germans and encourage a dialogue “with the full participation and involvement of the representatives of the descendants of those that suffered heavily under dreadful and atrocious German colonial rule.”

The skulls are among an estimated 300 taken to Germany after a massacre of indigenous Namibians at the start of the last century during an anti-colonial uprising in what was then called South West Africa, which was a German colony from 1884 to 1915.

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California cotton facing insidious threat

California cotton growers are facing a fungus that could not only lay waste to their livelihood, but impact other parts of the Cotton Belt, as well.

An insidious soil fungus known as Fusarium Race 4, or Race 4 for short, is threatening the ability of cotton farmers in the Golden State’s San Joaquin Valley to continue to expand, according to Western Farm Press.

“This particular race has been around awhile, but with the expanded cotton acreage this season it has been found in far more areas than ever before,” according to the publication.

Race 4 has been identified in all six San Joaquin Valley cotton-producing counties in more than 200 total locations.

“Although not as menacing elsewhere, it also poses a threat to the rest of the US Cotton Belt and could have an impact on California as a source of premium cotton planting seed for varieties to be sold throughout the US and the world,” Western Farm Press added.

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Asheville: Where government pork is green

The Asheville Citizen-Times, part of the notoriously inept Gannett newspaper chain, has an article about city restaurants. However, there is no mention of food, service or “atmosphere,” you know, some of the typical things that can make or break a dining establishment.

No, this piece highlights the fact that, according to the Citizen-Times, “Asheville could become a dining destination not just for taste but for energy-efficiency by year’s end.”

Through the Asheville Independent Restaurants Association, 17 local eateries are using a state grant to retrofit their hot-water systems with solar panels, upgrade their lighting and take other measures to meet the standards for Certified Green Restaurant status.

Partnering with the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute, the Asheville Independent Restaurants Association received a $285,000 grant through the N.C. Green Business Fund.

The restaurants had to put up an additional $100,000 for the upgrades.

Count the blog Kids Prefer Cheese among those less than impressed:

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NH paper details life of Northern slaves

Slaves in at least one Northern community fared little better than those in the Deep South, according to a New Hampshire newspaper.

The Portsmouth Herald has detailed the findings of a report put together by archaeologists and scientists after a “Negro Burying Ground” was uncovered in the city in 2003.

At that time, a contractor excavating an area for a sewer manhole came across the base of a coffin. Eventually, eight bodies were found, ranging in age from 7 to 40 and all were Africans or of African descent.

“Some showed evidence of the hard work they performed throughout their short lives, some had poor teeth, some had childhood diseases,” according to the publication.

“This and much more was learned painstaking moment by painstaking moment by a group of archaeologists, dendochronologists, forensic anthropologists, historians and biochemists in the wake of the discovery of remains at what was once the city’s ‘Negro Burying Ground.’”

The eight bodies were among an estimated 200 Africans buried in what was then the outskirts of Portsmouth, once New Hampshire’s most populous city, from 1705 to the 1790s.

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An endangered language commits suicide

Living in a nation whose dominant language seems to be encroaching daily upon the rest of the globe, we sometimes forget there are literally hundreds of spoken tongues on the brink of extinction.

Nearly 500 languages are currently close to oblivion, according to the website In the Americas alone, some 182 are on the cusp of extinction, including approximately 75 in the United States.

It is said that every 14 days a language dies somewhere in the world and that by 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many not yet recorded – may disappear.

Cornell University researchers found that when two languages compete, only one survives while the other declines exponentially. Policies, education and advertising can slow this process, according to the 2003 study.

Perhaps one of the more curious examples of an endangered language is that of Ayapaneco, which has been spoken in what is now Mexico for centuries. Today, there are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.

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Swallowtail caterpillars a pleasant portent

Swimming recently in the Tyger River along the Union County-Newberry County border, my kids and I came across half a dozen Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

These were fully grown specimens nearly two inches long, smooth and green, with black bands and yellow spots.

They were quite spectacular, provided insect larvae are your thing.

The small group we found were feeding on what appeared to be Virginia snakeroot located along the riverbank.

The Black Swallowtail is a black butterfly with yellow markings near the margins of the forewings and hindwings, and more limited blue and red markings on the hindwings, according to a description by the Texas A&M Extension Service. Its wingspan can reach 4-½ inches.

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WWII wreck may hold most treasure ever

When the British merchant ship SS Gairsoppa was sunk by the German submarine U-101 in February 1941, she was carrying more than 7 million ounces of silver then worth £600,000, or about $2.5 million.

Today, that treasure, which a Florida-based salvage operation is trying to recover from the bottom of the North Atlantic, is valued at $200 million.

If successful, it would be the greatest treasure find at sea ever, according to officials with Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Monday, Odyssey confirmed the identity and location of the Gairsoppa and cited official documents indicating the ship was carrying some 219 tons of silver coins and bullion when it sank some 300 miles off the coast of Ireland.

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Celebrating a historic SC church’s rebirth

One of South Carolina’s most historic churches held a homecoming service earlier this month to celebrate an extensive renovation project that enabled it to formally reopen its doors after nearly a decade.

The Church of the Holy Cross, located in the Sumter County community of Stateburg, traces its history back to 1852, when it was built by slaves.

The Gothic Revival cruciform-design church features walls of yellow pise de terre – or rammed earth – and a high-pitched roof of red tile, and contains a rare organ and original carved walnut pews, according to a description of the Episcopalian house of worship on the National Register of Historic Places.

Using an ancient building technique, slaves “pummeled Georgia red clay into wooden forms to create monolithic walls, 18-inches thick,” according to The State newspaper.

By packing earth between wooden molds, tamping it down, and leaving it to dry, the earth became as hard as baked brick.

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Turning the page to Banned Books Week

As some of you may know, Banned Books Week begins tomorrow. And, no, it’s not a seven-day period where enraged fundamentalists and overly protective parents join together to see who can burn the most Harold Robbins’ and Harry Potter novels.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment, according to the American Library Association.

It “highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States,” according to the organization.

Consider some of the books that were banned, challenged, restricted or removed between May 2010 and May 2011:

  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – This longtime staple of high school English classes was challenged by a parent in the Culpeper County, Va., public schools in 2010. The parent requested that her daughter not be required to read the book aloud. Initially, it was reported that officials decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary. The director of instruction announced the edition published on the 50th anniversary of Frank’s death in a Nazi concentration camp will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints. The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level. (Did no one see the irony in trying to ban a book written by a girl who was killed by a regime that specialized in banning books?)
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Women’s lot in rural Texas a Southern story

Rebecca Sharpless’s book Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices: Women on Texas Cotton Farms, 1900-1940 delves into a little explored aspect of 20th century culturewhat life was like for the average Southerner – with far more depth than any high school history textbook or PBS program could hope for.

What might at first seem a dry, academic topic is, in reality, the story of the South for the vast multitude of individuals who lived their lives below the Mason-Dixon line up until the start of World War II, and beyond.

Rural women, according to Sharpless, a professor at Texas Christian University, comprised the largest part of the adult population of Texas until 1940 and in the American South until 1960.

On the cotton farms of Central Texas, women’s labor was essential. In addition to working untold hours in the fields, women shouldered most family responsibilities, including raising the kids, cooking food, keeping house and raising vegetables and fruit to feed the family, Sharpless writes.

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