Hurricane Matthew uncovers clutch of Civil War ordnance


When word circulated that Civil War-era cannon balls had been uncovered on beach south of Charleston following last weekend’s hurricane, I was somewhat surprised.

While the strength of such storms can’t be underestimated, the ability to move, say, a 12- or 24-pound round shell from the bottom of Charleston Harbor onto a beach would be quite a feat.

It appears that the clutch of 16 cannon balls found Sunday on Folly Beach had most likely been in place since the 1861-65 conflict.

“There was a gun emplacement there during the Civil War and this must have been a stack because they were all consolidated together,” John Manzi, who has a home on Little Oak Island, on the other side of Folly, told USA Today.

Manzi said a friend went on to the beach Sunday and found the Civil War-era shells.

Bomb squads successfully detonated most of the shells, which were badly corroded by 150 years of sand and salt.

An official with the area sheriff’s department said a few of the shells were transported to the nearby Navy base.

Maj. Eric Watson, a public information officer with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, said his office had to wait for the tide to go down to recover all the ordnance.

“When the tide receded, our guys and members of the US Air Force explosive team used a small amount of C-4 to detonate the cannon balls right there on the beach,” he said.

Fuse holes were noted in at least some of the shells, indicating the ordnance was designed to explode, rather than being solid shot, which was used to batter targets.

(Top: Exciting action photo of cannon balls found on Folly Beach, SC.)

Savannah’s Methuselah, sloppy mind or stonecutter’s mistake?


Claims to amazing longevity are not only legion, they go back thousands of years. Methuselah is noted in the bible for having lived 969 years; Jimmu, alleged to be the first emperor of Japan, was said to have survived more than 125 years; and the Soviet Union claimed that as of 1960 it had 100 citizens between the ages of 120 and 156.

Science, though, recognizes France’s Jeanne Calment (1875–1997), who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days, as the longest-lived person, at least that can be verified. She lived three years longer than the runner-up, Sarah Knauss of the US, who died in 1999 at 119.

So it was some skepticism that I read the wording on the tombstone of Laurence Dunphey, located in Savannah’s Catholic Cemetery:


to the Memory of

Laurence Dunphey

A Native of Clonmel

County of Tipperary Ireland

who departed this life

December 17th 1834,

aged 145 years”

Were the information on Dunphey’s gravestone correct, it would mean he had been born in 1689, the year before the Battle of the Boyne, fought between English King James II and the Dutch Prince William of Orange. William and his wife Mary had overthrown James in 1688.

The battle, fought near the town of Drogheda on the east coast of Ireland, about 100 miles from Clonmel, resulted in a victory for William, curtailed James’s bid to retaken the English throne and aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. It is still a point of pride today with Protestants in Northern Ireland, the more low brow of whom use it as occasion to attempt to whip up anti-Catholic feeling.

Box vault of Laurence Dunphey in Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Ga. Note Southern Cross of Honor in front of grave, apparently depicting belief that Dunphey, who died in 1834 at the purported age of 145, also managed to fight in the US Civil War (1861-65).

Box vault of Laurence Dunphey in Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Ga. Note Southern Cross of Honor in front of grave, apparently depicting belief that Dunphey, who died in 1834 at the purported age of 145, also managed to fight in the US Civil War (1861-65).

Georgia itself wasn’t established as a British colony until 1733, when Dunphey would purportedly have been 44 years old.

Of course, it’s almost a certainty that Dunphey was not 145 when he died in 1834. It’s possible Dunphey was old, even very old when he died, but it’s more likely that a mistake was made by someone somewhere along the line.

While some Irish immigrants had moved into Georgia from South Carolina in the 18th century and there were Irish who came with founder James Oglethorpe when he arrived in Savannah in 1733, the first wave of Irish immigration directly into Savannah came in the 1830s, with the arrival of individuals to help build the Central Rail Road and Canal Co., later the Central of Georgia Railway.

Had Dunphey immigrated with the very earliest settlers to Georgia, he probably would have been recognized as such as his death; it seems implausible that he chose to leave his homeland and come over with the first major wave of Irish immigrants at the age of 140-plus.

A writer for the Catholic Diocese of Savannah speculated that Dunphey’s age was probably inscribed on his gravestone by “bored Union soldiers” during or just after the War Between the States.

However, the lettering appears identical across the marker, meaning that unless the Federal soldier-turned-mischievous stonemason opted to remake an entire marble slab, it’s almost certain that the grave marker was made shortly after Dunphey’s death.

Two possibilities:

  • Dunphey was very elderly, but uncertain of his age, and he or his family either really believed that he was 145, or, in his family’s case, did so to humor him. In an era when time was much more fluid, mistakes regarding age, even of several decades, weren’t unheard of;
  • There is also the possibility that the stonemason working on Dunphey’s marker simply made a mistake, carving “145” instead of, say, “45.” And given that there’s no “reset” button when you’re working with stone, you get what you get.

Whatever the real story behind the age of Laurence Dunphey – County Tipperary native, US immigrant and long-dead Irish Catholic – he’s managed to achieve a small bit of immortality, no matter how long he really lived.

Even without color, peafowl seems plenty proud


While not a “birder” in the formal sense of the word, I’m often fascinated by the beauty of feathered creatures. Given their striking variety of colors, extensive array of plumage and capacity to compose a seemingly endless arrangement of songs, it’s easy to be captivated.

Occasionally, one comes upon a bird that’s particularly breathtaking, such as the above, a white peahen seen last weekend in rural South Carolina.

After a bit of research, I came to the realization that the above was not an albino peafowl, but one with a condition called leucism, which results in an overall reduction in different types of pigment.

Peahen with normal coloring.

Peahen with normal coloring.

As a result, the bird had practically no coloration in its plumage but retained its normal eye color, rather than having red or pink eyes as an albino bird would have had.

In addition, white peafowl can mate to create white offspring.

The above bird was spotted on the edge of farm and, given the presence of innumerable predators in the area and the fact that an all-white creature would have little chance of blending in in the wild, there’s no question it was a domesticated creature.

Despite the lack of blues, browns and tans normally associated with peafowl, the bird in question still strutted around as though it were the most colorful creature in the county. Some characteristics can’t be bred out, one supposes.

White peafowl have to be somewhat rare; earlier this year, when a white peacock got loose in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, it caused a bit of a stir.

Scientists say Greenland sharks can live for 400 years

greenland shark

Researchers using radiocarbon dating have determined that Greenland sharks, slow-moving giants that live in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic, are the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with one recorded as being 400 years old.

Which explains the old Greenland shark quip that goes something like: “God must like practical jokes; why would He make it so female Greenland sharks reach their sexual peak at age 150 while males reach theirs at 75?

Lame jokes aside, the recent evidence uncovered by the team at the University of Copenhagen nearly doubles the age of oldest-known living vertebrate. The former record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old, according to the BBC.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 Greenland sharks, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old, according to research published in the journal Science.

“We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were,” said lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen.

Greenland sharks, which live farther north than any other shark species, can grow to more than 20 feet and 2,100 pounds.

Determining the age of Greenland sharks proved difficult.

“For some fish, scientists are able to examine ear bones called otoliths, which when sectioned, show a pattern of concentric rings that scientists can count as they would the rings in a tree,” according to the BBC. “Sharks are harder, but some species, such as the Great White, have calcified tissue that grows in layers on their back bones, that can also be used to age the animals.”

But because the Greenland shark is a very, very soft shark, with no hard body parts where growth layers are deposited, it was believed that the age could not be investigated, Nielsen told the BBC.

However the team discovered a means of determining the age of the sharks.

“The Greenland shark’s eye lens is composed of a specialized material – and it contains proteins that are metabolically inert,” Neilson said. “Which means after the proteins have been synthesized in the body, they are not renewed any more. So we can isolate the tissue that formed when the shark was a pup, and do radiocarbon dating.”

The team looked at 28 sharks, most of which had died after being caught in fishing nets as by-catch.

Using this technique, they established that the largest shark – a 16-foot-long female – was extremely ancient.

Because radiocarbon dating does not produce exact dates, they believe that she could have been as “young” as 272 or as old as 512. But she was most likely somewhere in the middle, or about 400 years old, the news service reported.

It means she was born between the years of 1501, or less than a decade after Columbus landed in the Western hemisphere, and 1744, or, 12 years after George Washington was born. Most likely the date of birth was in the 17th century. If she were exactly 400 years old, she would have been born the same year William Shakespeare died.

The oldest invertebrate is a 507-year-old clam called Ming. If the female Greenland shark’s age is at the upper end of the scale, she will have outlasted the long-lived clam – and certainly had a much more exciting existence.

And, for the record, Greenland sharks, both male and female, appear to reach sexual maturity at around age 150.

Nine-banded armadillos: Not just roadkill anymore

silverstreet 8 8 2016 007

Armadillos are like possums in that they are more often seen dead along the side of the road than alive.

In fact, given the abundance of deceased armadillos and possums that are evident throughout much of the year two thoughts come to mind: a) how exactly do the two species remain vibrant?; and b) just how many of each exist in the wild that they can withstand such wilting assaults from vehicles?

While possums have been a regular feature in my neck of the woods for, likely, tens of thousands of years, armadillos are relative newcomers, having only migrated into South Carolina about 25 years ago.

I’d seen the remains of a number of armadillos that had gone mano a mano with cars and lost, but Monday I experienced my first live sighting in the Palmetto State. Driving through the small town of Silverstreet (population 216, not counting interloping armadillos), I spotted Dasypus novemcinctus, or the nine-banded, long-nosed armadillo, in the middle of a yard, rooting around.

The yard was a large, one-acre lot without fencing, so I pulled over, grabbed my camera and walked the 50 yards or so toward the insectivore. It ignored me until I got within perhaps 10 feet of it, then it trundled ahead, keeping a small distance between us.

Each time I moved slowly toward it, it kept ahead of me, but didn’t pay me a lot of attention.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

The nine-banded armadillo has been described as a cross between a turtle and piglet, a depiction both entertaining and accurate. Apparently, the creature got its name from Spanish conquistadors, with “armadillo” meaning “little man in armor” in Spanish.

The armadillo’s shell isn’t solid like that of a turtle, but made up of a series of scutes, or bony plates, which overlap and telescope, giving the creature flexibility.

Their expansion into large swathes of the US hasn’t exactly been well received. Not only do they damage lawns, gardens and structures with their digging, but can cause havoc in the poultry and egg-producing industries. In addition, they also eat the eggs of ground-nesting creatures such as rice birds and gopher tortoises.

One of the interesting aspects of armadillos is that they give birth to identical quadruplets, which are usually born in the spring.

Looking at the mammal as it poked around, I was struck by the length and width of its tail and the diminutive size of its head. It was as though someone had stuck a camper shell on a bicycle.

Though this particular armadillo may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing, it was certainly fleet of foot. Once I moved in for a closeup, it skedaddled toward what it thought was a burrow. However, said burrow turned out to be only about 12 inches deep.

It turned around and paused for about 30 seconds, enabling me to snap a few pictures, than made for, in this case, low ground, galloping at pretty good clip across well-manicured grass before disappearing into a culvert.

Given the relatively few number of cars in the area this particular armadillo inhabits, it’s likely it will survive and mate, which will mean more “little men in armor” as time progresses.

(Top: Armadillo trying to hide from nosey blogger in Silverstreet, SC.)


Wooly mammoth died off due to depletion of drinking water


Wooly mammoths, the prehistoric pachyderms renowned for their popularity in Ice Age-genre movies and their ability to scatter tribes of primitive man with little more than a bellowing roar – at least according to Ice Age-genre movies – died out because of lack of potable water, according to a new study.

The last group of wooly mammoths, living on St. Paul Island in the Bering Strait, fell victim to fresh water being contaminated by nearby ocean water, according to research led by Penn State University professor Dr. Russell Graham and published in this week’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to BBC News and the Daily Mail, post-Ice Age warming of the planet caused the sea levels to rise and the mammoths’ island habitat to shrink in size.

“Furthermore, some of the freshwater lakes that they used to keep hydrated were flooded by saltwater from the ocean, leading to increased competition for the few remaining watering holes. The increasing number of mammoths using these lakes ultimately made them unusable as well, Dr. Graham said.

“As the other lakes dried up, the animals congregated around the water holes. They were milling around, which would destroy the vegetation – we see this with modern elephants,” he told BBC News. “And this allows for the erosion of sediments to go into the lake, which is creating less and less fresh water. The mammoths were contributing to their own demise.”

While most of the world’s wooly mammoth population died out by approximately 10,500 years ago, the group on St. Paul Island managed to survive for another 5,000 years before lack of fresh water brought about their extinction.

“Graham and his colleagues reached this conclusion after analyzing the remains of 14 wooly mammoths using radiocarbon dating, and collecting sediments from underneath the lake floor in order to study their contents in order to determine what the lake environment was like at various points throughout history,” according to the online science website Red Orbit.

Researchers believe the mammoths on St. Paul Island survived 5,000 years longer than other mammoths when they became trapped on the island after a land bridge was submerged by rising sea levels.

They survived until conditions worsened, and the influx of saltwater combined with the lack of freshwater from melting snow or rain caused their sources of drinking water to become increasingly limited, according to Red Orbit.

“We do know modern elephants require between 70 and 200 liters of water daily,” Dr. Graham told BBC News. “We assume mammoths did the same thing. It wouldn’t have taken long if the water hole had dried up. If it had only dried up for a month, it could have been fatal.”

Riding the rails with a small green unrelenting reptile

anole 1 cropped

How tough are times in parts of the US these days? Look at the grade of hobo that can be found wandering the rails of the Deep South.

The above Carolina anole, about six inches long, kept up a steady pace about four feet in front of me as I walked down the Norfolk Southern tracks in the late afternoon hours near Silverstreet, SC, earlier this week. That the steel tracks, having baked in the broiling sun all day, were quite hot didn’t dissuade the diminutive reptile from its smooth, straight path.

When I would attempt to get a close-up photo, the anole would hop off the rail, scamper across a railroad tie and jump up onto the other rail. This went on for several minutes before it finally grew tired and sat atop the track with its mouth agape, a threat of sorts, one supposes.

Carolina anoles have the ability to change colors, from dark brown to bright green, depending on their background, though they’re not considered true chameleons.

While their bite is relatively painless, anoles will grip hard enough and with enough tenacity that they can dangle from an earlobe and even a nose if given the opportunity. This tends to be more entertaining for children than spouses, or so I have heard.

I eventually took the above critter, worn out from its rail-hopping antics, and placed it in a patch of cool, leafy shade. It scuttled away into the green grass, blending in quickly.

anole 3