Extreme longevity: A blessing or a curse?

okawa

Want to know what the kiss of death – literally – is? Being named the world’s oldest person.

Such recognition brings with it a guarantee that within a short period, months often, the honoree will shortly shuffle off this mortal coil.

It happened again earlier this week when Misao Okawa of Japan died at age 117.

Okawa succumbed to heart failure surrounded by relatives at a nursing home in Osaka, just weeks after celebrating her last birthday.

Okawa, born in Osaka on March 5, 1898, was recognised as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in 2013, meaning she lasted a surprisingly long time in her role.

Guinness World Records all but lays out a map and GPS coordinates for the Grim Reaper each time it recognizes a new world’s oldest person.

Jiroemon Kimura, Okawa’s predecessor as the world’s oldest person, held the title for 177 days. Before Kimura, Dina Manfredini’s reign lasted just 13 days.

Gertrude Weaver of Camden, Ark., who at the age of 116 years and 271 days, is Okawa’s successor. Weaver appears to be the daughter of a man born into slavery in 1861.

In all seriousness, one wonders if holding such a record is all that enviable. Beyond the fact that most of the extremely elderly have lost at least some of their faculties, there’s also the reality that by the time you reach 115 years-plus you’ve long outlived all your contemporaries and likely your children.

Okawa, who was married nearly a century ago in 1919, had been widowed for 84 years. She was survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

(Top: Misao Okawa, surrounded by family, on the occasion of her 117th birthday at a nursing home in Osaka, Japan.)

South Carolina conserves oldest state document, dating to 1671

1671 charleston deed

After several months work and an expenditure of $15,000, South Carolina’s oldest state document – dating back nearly 350 years – is back in the state archives.

A deed for a lot of land at Charleston’s original location at Albemarle Point dates to May 28, 1671, the year after English settlers landed at what is now the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, and is included in Records of the Secretary of the Province 1671-1673.

Those records and a companion volume, Records of the Registrar of the Province 1673-1675, feature 26 handwritten sheets recently conserved at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass.

Among the documents is an accounting of property owned by two men from Barbados forming a partnership to create a plantation, according to the Associated Press. It lists items ranging from the value of their tools to the names of indentured servants.

Charleston was established in 1670 by English colonists from Bermuda, under the first governor of South Carolina, William Sayle, on the west bank of the Ashley River a few miles northwest of the present city. It was moved to its current location on the Charleston peninsula a decade later.

“I think it’s a tribute to all those people who came before who recognized the significance of all these public records and recognized the need to take care of them,” SC Department of Archives and History Director Eric Emerson said. “This is the first record. It’s really kind of the genesis of record-keeping in South Carolina and the genesis of the archives.”

Decades ago, the 1671 deed didn’t appear destined to be around much longer.

It was described in 1944 as “a battered document having fallen victim to ‘storms, earthquakes and wars,’ making it a difficult document to read or preserve,” according to Archives and History spokesman Geoffrey Hardee.

Seventy years ago it and its companion documents, which for many years had been kept in the heat and humidity of the Statehouse basement, were sent to Virginia to be preserved using what was then cutting edge technology – lamination with a sheet of acetate.

Since then, conservators have determined such treatment did more harm than good as the acetate deteriorated over time.

In Massachusetts, the laminate was removed with acetone, ethanol and water, the acid was removed from the paper and then the paper was lined on both sides with a special transparent tissue paper.

“A staff member accompanied it up there and a staff member brought it back,” said Charles Lesser, a retired department archivist and an expert on early colonial documents, who noted that the state wasn’t taking any chances with its records.

“This is the oldest government record that has survived here,” he said. “This has been in state custody from 1671 until the present.”

The department keeps state government records in temperature- and humidity-controlled vaults at its headquarters just outside Columbia.

It has an estimated 80 million documents, including such items as the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights ratified by state lawmakers in 1790 and the Ordinance of Secession passed when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860.

The Records of the Secretary are the first documents of what would later become the South Carolina state government, according to the Associated Press.

In those days, such things as recording deeds and wills were the responsibility of the state, Lesser said. Later those functions passed to South Carolina’s counties, according to the wire service.

(Top: South Carolina’s earliest state government document, a 1671 deed for a lot at Charles Towne Landing, is seen at the SC Department of Archives and History in Columbia, on March 27, 2015. Photo credit: The Associated Press.)

Center for Pecan Innovation sees “tremendous opportunities”

pecans-ground

While I’m of the opinion that the highest and most noble use of the pecan involves their placement in a pie, the folks at the Georgia Pecan Commission have higher aspirations. They recently established the Center for Pecan Innovation, with the goal of finding new uses for Carya illinoinensis.

The initial focus of the Atlanta-based center will be new food products made from pecans, according to John Robison, the commission’s chairman.

“The recent 30-year study from Harvard University showing that regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease is just one more supporting voice to the center, which was established to encourage more companies to find ways to use pecans in their products,” he said.

Beyond that, the commission sees opportunities for biodegradable pecan shells, from roadbeds and packing material to bath products. Cosmetic companies are looking for natural products to replace plastic micro-beads in facial cleansers, and the Journal of Food Science reports that a new study shows that extract from pecan shells may be effective at protecting meats such as chicken from listeria growth.

The US produces the vast majority of the pecans harvested annually – as much as 95 percent, or 300 million to 400 million pounds.

Georgia leads the nation in pecan production, growing 40 percent of the US total, more than the next two states – New Mexico and Texas – combined, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

“In 2012 Georgia led the nation in pecan production, harvesting 100 million pounds for the domestic and global markets,” Robison said. “China is one of the biggest markets for our in-shell pecans, but there still is tremendous opportunity for companies to use pecan pieces – even the shells.  The Center for Pecan Innovation will work to develop new products that use Georgia pecans.”

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said the Georgia Pecan Commission is taking a creative approach to agriculture by establishing the center.

“Farmers today do far more than just grow food and fiber,” he said. “They take an active part in promoting their crops to grow their markets, as we have done with our Georgia Grown program. The Center for Pecan Innovation is yet another step to increase awareness for Georgia pecans.”

The Georgia Pecan Commission, begun in 1995, funds research, educational and promotional programs in order to increase demand for Georgia pecans.

Old-time movie show San Francisco in days before Quake

While on a recent visit to the West Coast my dad and I were able to visit the San Francisco Railway Museum, a small but fascinating locale dedicated to the city’s long and varied rail transportation history.

San Francisco is renowned for its cable cars, but the city also has a long background with streetcars, trains, carriages, buses and, in later years, light rail and subways.

The above footage is remarkable for a couple of reasons: First, it shows the diversity of conveyances evident in the city in the early 20th century.

In addition to cable cars, streetcars and horse-drawn carts shown making their way down San Francisco’s Market Street toward the Port of San Francisco, there are also bicycles, cars and numerous people attempting to navigate what would appear to be a rather chaotic thoroughfare.

The photo below, taken from the movie, shows at least three different cable cars, a street car, an automobile, a bicycle, and at least one horse-drawn carriage.

It’s interesting to note the horse-drawn carriages and carts traveling in front of the cable cars. Doing so allowed them to traverse the smoother path offered by the rails and avoid, for at least a short time, the rougher ride of the cobbled street.

And at different points of the movie one can witness one of the constant hazards of an era when horse-drawn carts were still prevalent, as manure can be seen at different locations on the street.

Interestingly, there appears to be numerous cars evident in the movie, made by the early film duo the Miles Brothers.

However, the Miles Brothers actually used just a handful of cars, having them loop back into the camera’s view repeatedly through the 13-minute-plus film. When the movie was made, San Francisco, the wealthiest city on the US West Coast, had but 200 cars in all.

The second noteworthy feature of this footage is that is believed to have been shot just days before the April 18, 1906, earthquake that devastated San Francisco.

For years, the film was believed to have been taken in 1905, but recent research based on weather conditions, the positioning of shadows and the timing of newspaper ads promoting the Miles Brothers film titled “A Trip Down Market Street” indicate that it was shot in April 1906.

That means many of the structures seen in the footage would shortly be destroyed either by the quake itself or the ensuing fire. The disaster is believed to have claimed more than 3,000 lives. The movie, then, is a brief glimpse at an epoch that was about to end.

SF movie

Resting place of long-lost Japanese battleship found

musashi a

The Japanese warship Musashi, one of the two heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, has likely been found in the Sibuyan Sea, where it was sunk by US forces during World War II.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said earlier this week he found the wreck of a long-lost World War II Japanese battleship near the Philippines.

Allen and his team of researchers have spent more than eight years searching for the Musashi, a 74,000-ton, 800-foot battleship that carried a crew of 2,500.

The Musashi, built at the Mitsubishi Shipyard in Nagasaki, was sunk on Oct. 24, 1944, during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in the central Philippines.

The Musashi was sunk by an estimated 19 torpedo and 17 bomb hits from American carrier-based aircraft over the course of four hours.

More than 1,000 of the Musashi’s crew died during the battle and sinking. The 1,300-plus survivors were taken aboard by other Japanese warships, according to the US Navy report.

The Musashi was found at a depth of approximately 3,280 feet, according to Allen.

The Musashi and sister ship the Yamato were the two largest battleships ever built. Both carried the largest naval artillery ever fitted to a warship, with nine 18-inch guns, each capable of firing 3,000 pound shells more than 25 miles.

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Oldest English cannonball linked to War of Roses clash

war of the roses

Researchers believe they have discovered the oldest surviving cannonball used in English warfare.

The damaged lead projectile, about three inches in diameter, was found at site of the Battle of Northampton, a War of the Roses clash fought nearly 555 years ago, in 1460.

The cannonball was actually discovered several years ago by Northampton resident Stuart Allwork and was only found in his house last year following his death.

Its significance was not realized until protests over plans to put sports fields on the battlefield site sparked demands for an archaeological survey, according to the BBC.

A study of the missile has led experts to the belief that artillery was used for the first time in conflict in England at the Northampton battle, fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, according to the media outlet.

The ball has been analyzed by medieval artillery expert Glenn Foard, who said the object suffered massive impact damage from at least two bounces and may have struck a tree.

It is not clear which side fired the cannonball, but some contemporary accounts suggest the Lancastrian guns failed to fire because of the rain – which means it most likely came from a Yorkist cannon.

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Researchers narrow search for remains of Don Quixote author

miguel de cervantes statue

Researchers believe they may have found the remains of the man said to be the author of the first modern European novel, beneath the chapel of a cloistered convent in Spain.

Experts searching for the remains of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes said earlier this month that they found wooden fragments of a casket bearing the initials “M.C.” containing bones beneath the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid’s historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, according to the Associated Press.

Archaeologists are seeking to solve the centuries-old mystery of where the famed Spanish writer was laid to rest. The initials on a plank of the coffin were formed with metal tacks embedded into the wood.

While the bones of at least 10 people were found inside the niche containing the broken wooden planks of the coffin, some of the remains belonged to children.

Cervantes’ remains went missing in 1673 when work was undertaken at the convent. They were thought to have initially been taken to another convent before being returned, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers are examining the bones to try to determine whether Cervantes’ are among them. Cervantes, who was 69 when he died in 1616, left several clues that should aid investigators with their probe, including:

  • He had just six teeth when he died; and
  • He suffered three wounds during the famed Battle of Lepanto, including one that left one of his arms withered.

Cervantes’ influence on the Spanish language is such that it is often called the “the language of Cervantes.”

His magnum opus, fully titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, follows the adventures of Don Quixote, a landless nobleman who has imbibed too many chivalric novels and lost touch with reality. In a bid to bring justice to the world, he turns knight errant, recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his faithful squire, and roams the world in search of adventure.

Cervantes himself led a fascinating life. Born in 1547, he had by 1569 moved to Rome, where he worked as chamber assistant to a cardinal.

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