Ancient set of antlers found on beach in Wales

red deer antlers wales

Weeks after first being spotted on a beach along the coast of Wales, researchers have recovered an impressive set of antlers that belonged to a red deer believed to have lived at least 4,000 years ago.

Researchers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are examining the remains, which include part of the skull, discovered on a beach in Borth, seven miles north of Aberystwyth, in the Welsh county of Ceredigion.

The remains were first sighted in early April but could not be recovered until recently because of the tides, according to the BBC.

The find comes from a channel cut through an area which in the 1960s turned up bones of an auroch, large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the ancestor of domestic cattle.

“The individual was certainly in the prime of his life showing full development of the large antlers,” according to Dr. Ros Coard of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

When the skull and antlers were first seen, they were reported to the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth which alerted officials at the school’s archaeology, history and anthropology department.

The individuals who originally located the antlers and partial skull photographed the area where it was spotted. The images were used by the team, who manually searched the water at low tide until the skull was found in approximately three feet of water, according to the BBC.

The forest and peat deposits on either side of the channel date to between about 6,000 and 4,000 years ago – the time of the last hunter-gatherers and the earliest farmers in Britain.

“This is a wonderful discovery that really brings the forest and its environs to light,” said Dr. Martin Bates of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. “Although the exact age of the skull has yet to be confirmed, it’s probable that the channel within which the find was made is contemporary with the forest and so an age in excess of 4,000 years old is likely.”

Coard, a faunal specialist at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, added: “Although the antlers and partial skull still have to undergo full analysis, the antlers can be said to come from a very large, mature male red deer.”

(Top: Antlers and part of skull of red deer believed to be at least 4,000 years old, recovered along coast of Wales. Photo credit: University of Wales Trinity Saint David.)

New Caravaggio said to have been uncovered in France

Judith Beheading Holofernes

While its authenticity has yet to be fully determined, a painting discovered in a French attic is being attributed by some to the Italian master Caravaggio.

At least one expert said the 400-plus-year-old work, called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” could be worth as much as $135 million.

However, experts aren’t in agreement as yet regarding the work’s authenticity, with some attributing the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures, according to the Associated Press.

The painting was discovered two years ago in Toulouse, in southern France, when the owners of the house went into the attic to repair a leak.

The picture was kept out of the public eye while it was cleaned and submitted to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays, the wire service added.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation.

The work depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general and is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1600.

The work is believed to have gone missing about 100 years after it was painted. Another version of it, which was also thought to be lost before its rediscovery in 1950, hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Ancient Art, according to the BBC.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was among the most innovative of the Renaissance painters, and his works are often spectacular for their realism and dramatic lighting. Only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings survive.

Turquin told a news conference Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.

Turquin believes the work “must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

While the work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”

Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Christ” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.

“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he told the Associated Press.

Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”

“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if they correspond to those used by Caravaggio, he said.

On the other hand, Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.

Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.

“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.

(Top: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” a different version of the work discovered in the attic of a house in southern France recently and purported to be the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio. The above is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.)

 

Wisteria a welcome sign that spring is here

wysteria-tree

Signs spring is returning to the South: dead armadillos on the side of the road, a thick coat of pollen on the car a day after it’s been washed and the arrival of mosquitoes so big that if you slap them they return the favor.

Actually, a simpler way to know spring is here is sighting wisteria in bloom, its blue-purple flowers a vivid contrast to the green of pine trees or newly flowered plants.

Wisteria is a woody climbing bine native to the Eastern US, China, Korea and Japan. (A bine is a plant that climbs by its shoots growing in a helix around a support, where a vines uses tendrils.)

American wisteria tends to first bloom in March and by early April can be seen throughout the South.

American wisteria can grow up to 50 feet long, producing dense clusters of flowers on stalks 2 to 6 inches long.

It is very fragrant plant, putting off a rich lavender-like scent that can be detected hundreds of feet away if you’re downwind from a substantial stand.

Apparently, Chinese and Japanese wisteria are noted for being fast-growing, hardy and being able to “escape cultivation.” American wisteria is easier to control.

Wisteria, not unlike vines, is at its best when it has a tree, wall or other supporting structure to assist with upward movement. In the South, wisteria is often seen in stands of trees, around abandoned structures or growing along old fences.

The flowering season for American wisteria is relatively short; by the end of May, at least in South Carolina, the bluish-purple flowers will be gone and all that will remain will be long snaking stems, green leaves and pods that hold the seeds of future wisteria beauty.

(Top: Tree overgrown with wisteria. Below: wisteria growing along picket fence.)

wisteria fence

Addiction, trial and error part of Coke’s humble beginning

john s. pemberton statue

Coca-Cola products are recognized and consumed around the globe. Today, products of the Coca-Cola Co. are consumed at the rate of more than 1.8 billion drinks per day. Compare that with the first year the product we call Coke was “on the market,” 1886, when sales averaged nine drinks a day and tallied just $50 for the entire year.

Coke’s creator was Dr. John S. Pemberton, a Tennessee native who had moved to Georgia to study medicine in 1850. Pemberton was serving as a lieutenant colonel in the 12th Georgia Cavalry (state guards), when he was wounded during one of the very last clashes of the Civil War. On April 16, 1865, at the Battle of Columbus, Ga., Pemberton suffered a serious injury when he was slashed across his chest with a sabre.

During his recovery he became addicted to morphine, like many wounded veterans of the conflict.

Pemberton had the advantage of having been a pharmacist in civilian life, so he sought a cure for his addiction and the following year began work on devising painkillers that would serve as opium-free alternatives to morphine.

Before long, Pemberton was experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a version of a then-popular patent medicine containing kola nuts and damiana, a shrub native to Texas, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He called his concoction, an alcoholic beverage, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

Pemberton moved from Columbus to Atlanta in 1870 and continued to sell his beverage, among other items. He was forced to changed gears in 1886 when the city of Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation.

In an effort to provide a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca, Pemberton tried a variety of alternatives, ultimately blending the base syrup with carbonated water. He ultimately opted to market it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine.

Pemberton never got rich off Coca-Cola. In fact, he never even kicked his opiate addiction.

Sick, still addicted to morphine and nearly bankrupt, Pemberton sold a portion of the rights to the soft drink to his business partners in 1888 for approximately $500. Later that year he died of stomach cancer.

Pemberton had recognized at least a portion of Coke’s potential and left an ownership share to his only child, Charles Pemberton. Pemberton’s son, however, died from complications related to opium addiction six years later with little to show for his father’s efforts.

Asa Candler, the Atlanta businessman who bought out Pemberton, formed the Coca-Cola Co. in 1892 and ended up making millions of dollars.

Coca-Cola, created by an ex-cavalryman trying to deal with prohibition legislation, is today one of the largest global brands in history.

(Top: Statue of Dr. John S. Pemberton, Atlanta, Ga.)

Beware the remorseless vine that ate the South

kudzu1

Among that which marks the onset of spring in the South is the arrival of wisteria and kudzu. The first is an attractive flowering plant that is in bloom just a short time, while the latter is an unattractive weed that pretty much takes over everything and anything in its path.

Both are vines, but kudzu has become a symbol of the South, given its propensity to engulf stands of trees, signage, telephone poles, abandoned vehicles, homes, barns, loitering youth, etc.

Native to Asia, kudzu was introduced to the US as an ornamental bush at the Philadelphia Continental Exposition in 1876. During the Great Depression, it was “rebranded” as a means for farmers to stop soil erosion.

Close-up of kudzu in Beaufort, SC. Photo by CJ Dietrich, aka Cotton Boll Jr.

Close-up of kudzu in Beaufort, SC. Photo by CJ Dietrich, aka Cotton Boll Jr.

Southern farmers were given about $8 dollars an acre to sow topsoil with the vine and more than 1 million acres of kudzu were planted. As a result, millions of acres of land in the South and beyond are today covered with the invasive vine.

Kudzu isn’t all bad; it adds nitrogen to the soil and can be eaten by grazing animals such as sheep and goats. The vine also has medicinal uses.

However, it competes with native species and tends to take over land, blocking out competitors.

Today, not even 150 years after its introduction to the US, kudzu is as much a staple of the Southern US as swamps, slash pine and seersucker suits.

(Top: Kudzu evident in rural area, with small cabin in middle completely overgrown.)

A reminder of the golden age of sweet potato farming

lexington county 3 19 2016 023

Located in a rural area of Lexington County, SC, is a dilapidated sweet potato drying house. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a sweet potato drying house, welcome to the club. I, too, had no idea such a structure existed until I happened across it recently.

From its appearance, it’s safe to say that it’s been many a year since any sweet potatoes were cured in the rectangular wooden structure. The building has a single door, four openings in the roof, and four small windows and one larger window. It was definitely not built for comfort.

Estimating its age is inexact at best, but because it was built with round-headed nails it was almost certainly built after 1890 and, from its appearance, most likely before World War I.

The structure recently achieved higher visibility because, after many years of being surrounded by thick woods, the land surrounding it was cleared, leaving it sitting in the open.

When constructed, sweet potatoes were a staple of the American diet. At the beginning of the 20th century the tubers were the second most-important root crop in the nation. Per-capita consumption of sweet potatoes in 1920 was 31 pounds, but by the start of the 21st century that figure had dwindled to just 4 pounds per person, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Storing sweet potatoes is a relatively straightforward. The bottom line is to cure the tubers, than keep the potatoes dry, to fend off rot, and prevent them from getting too warm or too cold.

The main goal behind curing is to heal injuries so that sweet potatoes remain in good condition for marketing during the winter and to preserve “seed” roots for the next crop, according to the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture.

Healing takes place rapidly at 85 degrees Fahrenheit and between 85 to 90 percent humidity, for four to seven days.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes in all their glory.

“Curing should start as soon after harvest as possible to heal injuries before disease-producing organisms gain entrance,” according to the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. “Healing involves production of cells that are very much like the skin in their ability to prevent infection. These new cells form in a layer just below the surface of the injuries. Because this layer is corky, it is commonly called wound cork. Healing is more rapid under clean cuts and skinned areas than in deep wounds where tissue is crushed. The rate of healing differs a little among varieties.”

In the above structure, heaters and exhaust flues were used to promote circulation, remove excessive condensation and prevent accumulation of carbon dioxide produced by sweet potato roots.

The four holes in the roof were used to vent the flues.

After the tubers were cured, the temperature in the storage house was brought down to a narrow range of between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity maintained at between 85 and 90 percent.

Much below that and sweet potatoes experienced an increased susceptibility to rot and discoloration, and the quality of roots was diminished, hurting their ability to produce sprouts when planted the following season.

It’s unclear how common standalone sweet potato drying houses were. It’s likely most individuals who raised the tubers simply relied on earthen structures, whether dug into banks or put into holes then simply covered with dirt.

Standalone structures like the one shown above would likely have been used by more than one farmer, a cooperative of sorts, or by an individual with an extremely large spread.

(Top: Old sweet potato drying house, located in rural Lexington County, SC, west of Columbia.)

World’s only wild horse appears to be on the rebound

przewalski-horses-on-a

Seventy years ago the world’s only wild horse, called the Przewalski’s horse, was extinct in the wild and down to fewer than three dozen animals in captivity.

Today, that number has not only swollen to some 2,000, but hundreds have been reintroduced into the wild, including six Przewalski’s horses that were recently released into a vast, 40,000-plus-acre unbroken plot of virgin steppe in Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

Native to China, the stocky, tan-colored horse once inhabited the Eurasian steppe, including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

These hardy creatures enjoy rolling around in the snow, scratching their backs on the crusty surface, according to Przewalski’s horse expert Tatjana Zharkikh, who heads the Russian reintroduction project.

“They are not afraid of wind, snow, cold … If the Przewalski’s horse has enough food, it is practically invincible,” she said.

The Przewalski’s horse is considered the world’s only wild horse because it has never been domesticated, unlike some equines found in the western US that, while untamed, are descendants of domesticated animals.

This winter marks the first in the wild for the half dozen Przewalski’s horses introduced into the Orenburg Reserves, a cluster of six strictly protected nature areas, according to Agence France-Presse.

Przewalskis horse.

Przewalski’s horse.

The animals were born at a reserve in the south of France.

Other horses have been released into the wild at locations in Mongolia.

The species was discovered by Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky, who described it in the 19th century. After its discovery, there was a ruthless effort to capture the animals.

“Herds were chased down to exhaustion to capture the young foals,” Zharkikh told Agence France-Press, “but in the end the process secured enough animals to save the species after they had gone extinct in their natural habitat.”

The 2,000 animals alive today are descendants of just 12 wild-caught horses. Breeding a viable population from such a limited gene pool has not been without difficulties.

Also, unlike what happens when a horse and donkey reproduce, Przewalski’s horses can breed with domestic horses and produce fertile hybrids, which are a threat the species’ gene pool.

“Even a few hybrids can cancel out all conservation efforts,” Zharkikh said. “What is the point of protection if they are just cute shaggy-haired horses rather than a species?”

“Our goal is to form a reserve of genetically pure animals,” said Rafilya Bakirova, director of Orenburg Reserves, who would like to expand the project, including working with neighboring Kazakhstan.

A wild population would only work if the protected area is much larger, Zharkikh said, 250,000 acres or more.

(Top: Przewalski’s horses on a snow-covered field in the Orenburg Reserves. Photo credit: Agence France-Press via Tatjana Zharkikh.)