THE SLOW RECOVERY IN PUERTO RICO

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SMITHSONIAN)

 

THE SLOW RECOVERY IN PUERTO RICO

As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria approaches, Puerto Ricans feel not only devastated but abandoned

A home on the storm-battered southeastern coast. The words on the sign, “Yo voy a ti PR,” translate roughly to “I’m rooting for you, Puerto Rico!” (Erika P. Rodríguez)

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I didn’t leave Puerto Rico until I was 20. I was traveling to Europe with my college theater group when an immigration official in Spain said, “Oh, you’re American.” I tried to tell them, “Yes—but no.” I tried to explain that I am an American citizen in a place that “belongs to…but is not a part of” the United States, according to the Supreme Court’s definition of an unincorporated territory.

Later that year, I had the opposite experience when I transferred to a photography school in Ventura, California. I was the only Puerto Rican in my class and I felt very much like a foreigner. Our culture is a mixture of European, African and Taíno Indian. We’re very warm and outgoing. I had to adapt to a very different chemistry with the other students in California. Some of my closer friends there were Mexican, but I had to use a more neutral Spanish when I spoke to them, without all my Caribbean slang. When I’d call home, my cousin would ask, “Why are you speaking so strangely?” I’d say, “I can’t speak Puerto Rican here!”

Once we graduated, my Latin American friends had to leave the country. That was strange for me—that they couldn’t stay and I could. Yet I knew the history of Puerto Rico and what that advantage had cost us.

In 1898, Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States as a “spoil” of the Spanish-American War along with Guam and the Philippines. Until 1948, all our governors were appointed by the U.S. government. Until 1957, our patriotic songs and other expressions of nationalism were outlawed. Even today, our government exists under the discretion of Congress—though we do not have a voting representative in that body. Since 1967, there have been five referendums in Puerto Rico on statehood, independence or maintaining the commonwealth, but all have been nonbinding.

So we exist in a confusing, kind of gray realm. We use U.S. dollars and U.S. postage stamps. We serve in the U.S. military and our borders are monitored by U.S. Customs. In my California student days, I’d give my phone number to friends and they would ask if it was an international call. I had to check with my telephone company to find out (it isn’t). That’s Puerto Rico.

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A statue of the Virgin Mary

A statue of the Virgin Mary in Toa Baja, on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. The area flooded hours after Hurricane Maria made landfall, when the government opened a nearby dam. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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cultural center in Cayey

A flag hangs from the balcony at a cultural center in Cayey, during a performance of troubadour music. The sky blue in this flag is associated with the movement for an independent Puerto Rico. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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Workers clean a business that flooded in Toa Baja, on Puerto Rico’s northern coast.

Workers clean a business that flooded in Toa Baja, on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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Bags of supplies

Bags of supplies wait to be distributed to families in Utuado. The Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers used their own trucks to deliver the supplies. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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A Puerto Rican flag

A Puerto Rican flag is painted on the living room wall of a home without power. The bedrooms are uninhabitable so the entire family has been sleeping in this room. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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A view of the Panoramic Route in San Lorenzo weeks after the storm. The route crosses the island east to west through the mountainous region, offering beautiful views. (Erika P. Rodríguez)

I’ve been documenting this ambiguity for the past six years, starting with an internship at a Puerto Rican newspaper. I began photographing everyday moments: a salsa class at a bar, Mother’s Day with my family, festivals and political events. I could be at a rally, where everyone was shouting. But the best photo would be the one where a woman holding a sign was looking down and being introspective. You could feel her withdrawing into her own thoughts.

After Hurricane Maria ravaged everything in its path last year, there was a sense of unity among people of the archipelago. Under complete darkness, without sufficient fuel, water or food, and largely without communications, our sense of community changed. It was visible in the young neighbor who collected and distributed water for months after the storm, and in the person with a power generator who would provide electricity to other families through extension cords crossing from one home to another. It was visible in the neighbors who cooked together on the only working gas stove on their street. Tension and despair were real, but a new solidarity emerged.

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a girl in the mountainous central city of Utuado

A few weeks after Maria, a girl in the mountainous central city of Utuado walked toward what used to be her home. A small creek nearby overflowed during the storm, eroding the road and pushing debris through the walls. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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A touristy area of San Juan, the day after Maria snapped a palm trunk in two in Condado.

A touristy area of San Juan, the day after Maria snapped a palm trunk in two in Condado. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
In Aibonito, a mountain town, a picture of Jesus sat in a pile of debris, still partially buried by dirt, a few weeks after the storm.(Erika P. Rodríguez)
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picture of Jesus

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A little girl named Brenda flies a kite at El Morro fort by San Juan Harbor.

A little girl named Brenda flies a kite at El Morro fort by San Juan Harbor. (Erika P. Rodríguez)

Over a week after the storm, I spotted a Puerto Rican flag flapping on the side of a fuel truck. More soon appeared on car antennas, storefronts, home balconies, highway bridges and street corners. Our flag, once illegal, could now be seen all over the island. It was a message: “We are here and we are standing.”

But we’re still dealing with the aftermath. In San Juan, where I live, I regularly still see broken electrical posts, missing traffic lights and blue plastic tarps covering damaged rooftops. The power still goes out short term. Things are much worse in the mountain town of Utuado. Communities there have been without power since the hurricane, unable to store food in their refrigerators, and many roads remain exactly as they were back in September. Electrical cables hang overhead and vegetation now grows in the mudslides that cover entire lanes.

The phrase “Se fue pa’ afuera”—literally, “he went outside”—is an expression for a Puerto Rican who has left the island on a one-way flight. It has become far too common. I’ve been to many tearful goodbye parties. My sister left for Chicago and has no desire to ever return; I was introduced to my newborn godson over Skype. I continue to see friends find better possibilities outside.

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The Puerto Rican flag at a memorial for two independence activists killed in a police ambush in 1978 at Cerro Maravilla. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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residents and public workers

The day after the hurricane, residents and public workers navigated flooded streets to rescue people.(Erika P. Rodríguez)
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Police walk in formation

Police walk in formation as demonstrators protest planned austerity measures. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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A woman holds a sign

A woman holds a sign that says “A crime called education.” The University of Puerto Rico had announced plans to increase its tuition and possibly close six of its 11 campuses. (Erika P. Rodríguez)
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A woman hangs a solar lamp

A woman hangs a solar lamp in her living room. Eight months after the storm, her home was still without power. Her husband, who suffers from sleep apnea, couldn’t use his air pump at night. (Erika P. Rodríguez)

We won’t know until the 2020 census how many people have already left. Since the beginning of the recession in 2006, Puerto Rico has lost around 635,000 residents, and another half million are expected to leave by next year.

As a young Puerto Rican, I’m unsure what lies ahead. That’s why I want to stay and continue documenting our complex dual identity. I want to photograph Puerto Rico as we rebuild, or fall apart. I just can’t look away. There’s no room in my mind or heart for anything else.

About The Author: Erika P. Rodriguez is a photographer based in Puerto Rico. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York TimesRead More articles from Erika P. Rodriguez

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SMITHSONIAN.COM)

 

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination Sparked Uprisings in Cities Across America

Known as the Holy Week Uprisings, the collective protests resulted in 43 deaths, thousands of arrests, and millions of dollars of property damage

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Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, cities across the U.S. erupted in protests. (Library of Congress)
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In April 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. made his way to Memphis, Tennessee, where sanitation workers were striking for a pay raise with the support of local ministers. On April 3, King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and made plans for a march to be held on April 5. But the evening of April 4, while at his lodgings at the Lorraine Motel, King was shot through the jaw. An hour later, he was pronounced dead at age 39.

Long before the public had any answers as to the identity of the assassin (a man named James Earl Ray, who pled guilty to the murder in March 1969 and was sentenced to life in prison, despite questions about the involvement of groups like the FBI or the Mafia), the nation was swept up in a frenzy of grief and anger. When King’s funeral was held the following Tuesday in Atlanta, tens of thousands of people gathered to watch the procession.

Despite King’s father expressing the family’s preference for nonviolence, in the 10 days following King’s death, nearly 200 cities experienced looting, arson or sniper fire, and 54 of those cities saw more than $100,000 in property damage. As Peter Levy writes in The Great Uprising: Race Riots in Urban America During the 1960s, “During Holy Week 1968, the United States experienced its greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War.” Around 3,500 people were injured, 43 were killed and 27,000 arrested. Local and state governments, and President Lyndon Johnson, would deploy a collective total of 58,000 National Guardsmen and Army troops to assist law enforcement officers in quelling the violence.

King’s death wasn’t the only factor at play in the massive protests. Just weeks earlier, an 11-member commission established by President Lyndon B. Johnson had released its investigation of the 1967 race riots in a document called the Kerner Report, which provided broad explanations for the deadly upheavals. “Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans,” the report stated. “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

While the conditions the Kerner Report described—poverty, lack of access to housing, lack of economic opportunities and discrimination in the job market—may have come as a surprise to white Americans, the report was nothing new to the African-American community. And at the time of King’s death, all those problems remained, including the need for access to housing.

President Johnson openly acknowledged how painful King’s murder would be to African-American communities, in the context of all that they’d already suffered. In a meeting with civil rights leaders following news of King’s death, Johnson said, “If I were a kid in Harlem, I know what I’d be thinking right now. I’d be thinking that the whites have declared open season on my people, and they’re going to pick us off one by one unless I get a gun and pick them off first.” Although Johnson successfully pushed Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (which prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing) four days after the assassination, the legislative victory was a meager palliative in the face of the loss of Reverend King.

To better understand the days following King’s death, explore the responses of five cities across the country. While all were united in mourning the loss of a civil rights champion, the conditions in each city led to varying levels of upheaval.

Washington, D.C.

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A soldier stands guard on the corner of 7th & N Street NW in Washington D.C. on April 8, 1986, with the ruins of buildings that were destroyed during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Library of Congress)

Of the dozens of cities involved in uprisings and demonstrations after King’s death, the nation’s capital experienced the most damage. By the end of 12 days of unrest, the city had experienced more than 1,200 fires and $24 million in insured property damage ($174 million in today’s currency). Economic historians would later describe the Washington, D.C. riot as on par with the Watts Riot of 1965 in Los Angeles and the Detroit and Newark riots of 1967 in terms of its destructiveness.

Economic conditions largely fueled the upheaval; African-Americans made up 55 percent of the city’s population by 1961, but were crammed into only 44 percent of the housing, and paid more for less space and fewer amenities, writes historian Dana Schaffer.

Although activist Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, encouraged businesses only to remain closed until King’s funeral, he couldn’t stop the crowds from turning to looting and arson. One young man who witnessed the rioting told Schaffer, “You could see smoke and flames on Georgia Avenue. And I just remember thinking, ‘Boy it’s not just like Watts. It’s here. It is happening here.’”

It wasn’t until President Johnson called in the National Guard that the rioting was finally quelled. By that time, 13 people had died, most of them in burning buildings. Around 7,600 people were arrested for looting and arson, many of them first-time offenders. The fires that ranged across multiple neighborhoods left 2,000 people homeless and nearly 5,000 jobless. It would take decades for the neighborhoods to fully recover, and when they did, it was mostly gentrifying white professionals reaping the benefit.

Chicago

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Soldiers stand guard in front of a supermarket on 63rd Street on Chicago’s South Side on April 7, 1968. (AP Photo )

African-American communities in the Second City had a special relationship with King, who in 1966 lived in the poverty-stricken West Side while campaigning for open housing in the city. Almost immediately after news of King’s death arrived, looting and rioting began. One local of the West Side told the Chicago Defender on April 6, “I feel this is the opening of the door through which will come violence. Because of the way Dr. King died, I can guarantee it’s gonna be rough here.”

By Friday evening, the day after King’s assassination, the first of 3,000 Illinois National Guard troops began arriving in the city and were met by sniper fire in West Side neighborhoods. Mayor Richard Daley ordered police to “shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail” and to “shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” By the time the protests came to an end, 11 people had died, of which seven deaths were by gunfire, reported the Chicago Defender. Nearly 3,000 more people were arrested for looting and arson.

As in Washington, protestors saw their actions in the broader context of segregation and inequality. “Violence is not synonymous with black,” wrote a columnist in the Chicago Defender on April 20. “Who shot President Kennedy? Who shot King? The black revolt is a social protest against intolerable conditions that have been allowed to linger far too long.”

Baltimore

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One of four black men arrested by police in down Baltimore April 8, 1968 spreads his arms wide. (AP Photo)

Of all the cities that saw unrest in the wake of King’s assassination, Baltimore came second only to Washington in terms of damage. Although the crowds that gathered in East Baltimore on Saturday. April 6. began peacefully, holding a memorial service, several small incidents that evening quickly led to a curfew being set and the arrival of 6,000 National Guard troops. The protests that erupted thereafter led to nearly 1,000 businesses being set afire or ransacked; 6 people died and another 700 were injured, and property damage was estimated at $13.5 million (around $90 million in today’s currency), according to the Baltimore City Police Department.

It was a tumultuous, terrifying week for those living in the neighborhoods under siege from protestors and law enforcement. “The Holy Week Uprising engendered a great deal of fear. Fear of getting shot, of being bayonetted by the Guard, of losing one’s home, of not being able to find food or prescription medicine,” writes historian Peter Levy. Making matters worse was Maryland governor Spiro Agnew, who blamed African-American community leaders for not doing more to prevent the violence, describing them as “circuit riding, Hanoi visiting, caterwauling, riot inciting, burn America down type of leaders.” Agnew’s response to the riots, and to crime more generally, drew the attention of Richard Nixon, and led him to recruit Agnew as his vice presidential running mate later that year.

The upheaval continued until April 14, and only came to an end after more nearly 11,000 federal troops had been deployed in the city.

Kansas City

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A police officer watches for a flash from a sniper’s rifle after police officers were fired on in Kansas City, Missouri, April 11, 1968. (AP Photo/William P. Straeter)

In a city stretched across two states, on the Kansas-Missouri border, Kansas City was a telling example of what could happen when a community’s desire for peaceful demonstrations were stymied. After King’s death, the Kansas City, Kansas School District canceled classes on Tuesday, April 9, so that students could stay home and watch the funeral. In Kansas City, Missouri, however, schools remained open.

“When school authorities rejected their request, the young people [of Kansas City, Missouri] began to demand that they be permitted to march to City Hall to protest,” recalled Revered David Fly, who participated in the marches that week. Initially, it seemed as if the students might achieve their desire to demonstrate; Mayor Ilus Davis ordered police to remove barricades they had installed in front of schools. He also attempted to march with the students to show his support. But for reasons that remain unclear—perhaps because a student threw an empty bottle at the police line—law enforcement unleashed canisters of gas into the crowd.

“Students began running as the police in riot helmets and plastic masks charged into the crowd with tear gas, mace, dogs and clubs,” Fly said. Over the next four days, vandalism and fires plagued the east side of the city in Missouri (Kansas City, Kansas was largely unaffected thanks to the proactive efforts of city officials to memorialize King). More than 1,700 National Guard troops joined police officers to disrupt the rioting and arrest nearly 300 people. By the end of the protests, 6 people had been killed and city damages totaled around $4 million.

New York City

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New York City Mayor John Lindsay and civil rights leaders marched through Central Park on their way to a memorial service for the slain Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in New York City on April 7, 1968. (AP Photo )

Despite President Johnson’s empathy toward the “little boy in Harlem” responding to King’s assassination, New York City proved to be one of the exceptions to the broader unrest. Although Harlem and some neighborhoods in Brooklyn experienced fires and looting, the damage was relatively minimal. This was, in part, due to the efforts of Mayor John Lindsay.

As deputy chair of the commission that wrote the Kerner Report, Lindsay was well aware of structural inequality and the problems that plagued African-American communities. He pushed the Kerner Commission to demand federal spending efforts to undo decades of segregation and racism. When Lindsay learned of King’s assassination, he ignored the advice of aides and immediately headed to Harlem, writes historian Clay Risen, author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. At 8th Avenue and 125th Street, Lindsay asked police to take their barricades down and addressed the growing crowd, emphasizing his regret that the death happened. Lindsay also met with students marching from City University of New York and civil rights leaders.

Although 5,000 police officers and firemen were deployed around the area, and some arrests were made, the city emerged from the weekend relatively unscathed. “Everyone agreed that Lindsay had made a huge difference by showing up at a time when many mayors across the country were hiding out in bunker-like emergency operations centers,” Risen writes.

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African American History American History Cities Civil Rights Martin Luther King, Jr. Politics

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Rare Case of ‘Coffin Birth’ Seen in Medieval Grave

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SMITHSONIAN.COM)

 

 Keeping you current

Rare Case of ‘Coffin Birth’ Seen in Medieval Grave

The pregnant woman’s remains may also suggest that she underwent cranial surgery due to a life-threatening complication

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coffin birth

(Pasini et al./World Neurosurgery/Elsevier)
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At some point in the 7th or 8th century, a pregnant woman died and was buried in the medieval Italian town of Imola. There is, sadly, nothing unusual about that. But when the woman’s grave was discovered in 2010, two very strange details emerged. First, a cluster of tiny bones lay between the woman’s legs—the remains of her fetus, which appeared to have been born after her death. Archaeologists also observed a small hole in the mother’s skull, amplifying the mystery of her demise.

Now, as Brandon Specktor reports for Live Scienceresearchers have published a paper in World Neurosurgery that seeks to unpack what happened to the woman before and after she died.

The unfortunate mother’s remains were found face-up in a stone grave, suggesting that she had been deliberately buried. Analysis by scientists at the University of Ferrara and University of Bologna revealed that the woman was between 25 and 35 when she died. Her fetus, whose gender could not be determined, appeared to have reached the 38th week of gestation, making it just two weeks shy of full term.

According to Gizmodo’s George Dvorskythe baby’s legs were still inside its mother, but the head and upper body appeared to have been born after she died. The authors of the study suggest that the burial offers a rare example of “post-mortem fetal extrusion,” or “coffin birth,” which occurs when gases build up inside of the body of a deceased pregnant woman and force the fetus out of the birth canal. This gruesome phenomenon has only infrequently been observed in the archaeological record.

Scientists were just as intrigued by the mysterious hole in the woman’s skull. Measuring 4.6 mm in diameter, the hole was neat and clean, which suggests that it was not inflicted in a violent attack. It is more likely, according to the study authors, that the hole was drilled into the woman’s skull as part of a crude surgical procedure known as trepanation. The surgery was performed as early as the Neolithic era and was thought to relieve a variety of ailments, from high fever, to convulsions, to intracranial pressure. The woman’s skull also bore signs of a small, linear incision, which may show where her scalp was peeled back in preparation for the trepanation.

Why would medieval doctors perform such a dramatic procedure on a heavily pregnant woman? Researchers cannot be certain, but they theorize that the mother might have been suffering from preeclampsia or eclampsia, pregnancy-related complications that are characterized by high blood pressure, impaired liver function and—in the case of eclampsia—seizures. As the authors of the study note, common manifestations of these conditions also include symptoms like fevers, intra-cranial pressure and cerebral hemorrhages, which, prior to the 20th century, were treated with trepanation.

Scientists were able to observe signs of healing on the woman’s skull, leading them to believe that she died about a week after the procedure. It remains unclear if her death was caused by a hypertensive pregnancy condition, the surgery or some other complication, but the research team is nevertheless excited by the discovery. Evidence of trepanation has been found in many ancient archaeological remains, but signs of the surgery are rarely seen in skulls that date to the European Middle Ages. The postmortem “coffin birth” makes the woman’s grave a doubly unusual discovery—one that might very well shed light on how medieval doctors tried to help at-risk pregnant women.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media’s Women in the World.

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Archaeology Discoveries Health Medicine Medieval Ages

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Did climate change help modern humans emerge?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS NEWS AND THE SMITHSONIAN)

 

Did climate change help modern humans emerge?

Environment changes transformed early humans, who learned how to use lighter tools, hunt new kinds of animals and communicate with other groups

by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 

At this Olorgesailie Basin excavation site, the Smithsonian team discovered key artifacts and pigments. Fossil bones found at the site also showed that a significant change in the kinds of animals in this region occurred around the same time as the transitions in human behavior.Human Origins Program / Smithsonian

Half a million years ago, something big happened in east Africa.

It was a big enough change to transform the terrain, reshape the landscape and to alter the populations of animals living there.

And it completely transformed the early humans who lived there.

“What we are seeing is the demise of a way of life in early human ancestors that persisted for hundreds of thousands of years,” said paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, who heads the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program.

Before the change, pre-humans such as Homo erectus had lived happily for millennia using crude, heavy stone axes. Afterwards, the early humans living in the area traded for sharp, strong obsidian and made delicate tools and spear heads. They learned to hunt new kinds of animals and they carried around a lot of raw materials for making black and red paint or ink.

 A photo of older, more archaic handaxes used by early humans in East Africa, before 320,000 years ago. Human Origins Program / Smithsonian

New studies from Potts and colleagues published Thursday paint a clear picture of a time of total disruption in what is now southwestern Kenya. Not only do they document periods of devastating earthquakes, but climate change that transformed the area from a rich, stable plain to an area ravaged by unpredictable floods, intense thunderstorms and then long droughts.

There’s not much evidence of anything between about 500,000 years ago, and 320,000 years ago. But the transformation is sweeping.

Giant ancestors of elephants, zebra and baboon-like apes disappeared, to be replaced by more modern-looking grazers such as antelope and oryx.

The humans who lived there changed — a lot. Big, clumsy stone axes known as Acheulean tools disappear and instead the archeologists found finer, lighter and more varied tools. They’re made from materials not found locally, such as obsidian and chert, which indicates they were carried and traded over distances.

 For hundreds of thousands of years, people living there made and used large stonecutting tools called handaxes (left). According to three new studies published in Science, early humans in East Africa had–by about 320,000 years ago–begun using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools (right) than those of the Early Stone Age handaxes. Human Origins Program / Smithsonian

“The large, clunky technology is gone and in its place is a smaller technology, more mobile,” said Potts. “What we are looking at is a real change from the hand ax times. Think of the same technology produced over and over again for hundreds of thousands of years. That’s not us. I can barely keep up with the latest version of Windows,” he said.

“The history of technology has been the same ever since, going from large and clunky to small and portable.”

EARLY HUMANS HAD TO ADAPT

It’s not clear which species of early humans is responsible for the artifacts. Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis both lived on the African continent. But Homo sapiens fossils from Morocco date back to 300,000 or so years ago.

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“This represents a significant revision in African hominin behavior at or near the time of origin of Homo sapiens,” the teams of scientists wrote in one of the reports published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Whatever species they were, they had to adapt to the climate changes, the natural disasters and the disappearance of the foods they were used to eating; they had to learn how to communicate with other groups of hominids, how to trade information and trade tools and, possibly, food.

“All of these are fundamental aspects of our humanity that are right there at the beginning of our species,” Potts said.

“The history of technology has been the same ever since, going from large and clunky to small and portable.”

“The history of technology has been the same ever since, going from large and clunky to small and portable.”

The ancient people used dye.

The team found rocks with streaks of pigment, blocks of iron-rich minerals used to make ochre and other colors, and pretty colored stones carried from afar.

That shows people were thinking beyond the simple needs of survival.

“Color is the root of complex, symbolic behavior in humans,” said Potts. “We use it in clothing, uniforms, flags, tattoos — whatever ways we have of signaling that I am a member of this particular group.”

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What were these early Africans doing with the lumps of coloring?

“We don’t know what they were applying it to but they almost certainly applying it to something; perhaps their skin or hair,” Pott said. “That is a pretty human characteristic.”

In other words, the early humans who lived in this area were becoming more like modern humans. And it sure looks like the dramatic changes were forcing it.

“All this transition, this transformation of human behavior is occurring at a time of upheaval of the landscape,” Potts said.

 A bird’s eye view of the Olorgesailie Basin in southern Kenya, which holds an archeological record of early human life spanning more than a million years. This landscape shows a shift in the environment between 500,000 years ago, which marks the last known evidence of the handaxe toolmakers in the Olorgesailie Basin, and the more recent sediments dated 320,000 years and younger, which preserve the Middle Stone Age evidence. Human Origins Program / Smithsonian

It’s not news to anyone that human beings adapt and even evolve in the face of change. As the Ice Age glaciers receded, so did Neanderthals, to be replaced by modern Homo sapiens from the Near East and Africa.

WHAT ABOUT HUMANS NOW?

But this change was happening 320,000 years ago. The indications are that trade was taking place 100,000 years earlier than anthropologists have believed.

What do the changes say about humans alive today in a time of climate change?

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The findings in Kenya indicate people can likely survive. “I tend to be optimistic in that the adaptability of human beings tends to be pretty astonishing,” Potts said.

But he points to the profound transformation of the hominids of prehistoric Kenya.

“We certainly are running an experiment right now where humans are taking what is already a dynamic planet and messing with it,” Potts said.

“Often what people mean by survival in a modern context means whether their way of life will persist and thrive,” he added. “The moral of this story is that the status quo does not survive.”

John Willis Menard, First African-American Elected to Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SMITHSONIAN.COM)

 

The International Vision of John Willis Menard, First African-American Elected to Congress

Although he was denied his seat in the House, Menard continued his political activism with the goal of uniting people across the Western Hemisphere

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/qa1ahPSaDH94x48QAWOyz9cTm4g=/800×600/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/bc/92/bc923044-3abf-403c-99f3-c0ba0c794e01/john-willis-menard-wr2.jpg

John Willis Menard

The Library of Congress recently digitized this portrait of John Willis Menard, the only known photograph of the African-American trailblazer. (Composite of Library of Congress images)
SMITHSONIAN.COM

In July 1863, months after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a young African-American man from Illinois boarded a small ship in New York City and headed for Belize City, in what was then British Honduras. John Willis Menard, a college-educated political activist born to free parents of French Creole descent, made his Central American journey as a representative of Lincoln’s. His goal: to determine whether British Honduras was a suitable location for previously enslaved Americans to relocate.

Menard’s trip to Central America was undoubtedly an unusual period in his early political career—one that never came to fruition—but it set the stage for decades of internationalism. Wherever he moved and whatever position he held, Menard repeatedly considered African-American liberation in the context of the New World’s dependence on the work of enslaved laborers.

That work, and Menard’s brief foray into the world of legislation, is part of what makes his appearance in a newly digitized photo album so remarkable. The album, acquired by the Library of Congress and Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture last year, features rare portraits of dozens of other abolitionists of the 1860s, including Harriet Tubman and only known photo of Menard (shown above). While those photos offer unique insight into the community of abolitionists fighting for a better future for African-Americans, what they don’t show is the controversy that sometimes surrounded that debate.

Before the American Civil War came to its bloody end, both Lincoln and the growing community of free black Americans were looking ahead to a United States without slavery. There were around 4 million enslaved people in the United States in 1860, comprising 13 percent of the American population. What would happen when all of them were freed?

“A number of African-American leaders saw colonization to Central America, to Mexico, or to Africa as the only viable solution prior to the Civil War,” says historian Paul Ortiz, author of Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920.

For more than a year, President Lincoln had publicly expressed his support for the colonization efforts of emancipated African-Americans. He’d had discussions about colonization with representatives from the government of Liberia, as well as members of the Cabinet. He even espoused his views on colonization to leading members of the African-American community.

“You and we are different races,” Lincoln told a black delegation invited to the White House in August 1862. “Even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”

“Lincoln was relatively devoid of personal prejudice, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t incorporate prejudice into his thinking,” writes Oxford University historian Sebastian Page. After the fall congressional elections of 1863, historians argue that Lincoln “came to appreciate the impracticality, even immorality of expatriating African-Americans who could fight for the Union.”

While some members of the free African-American community initially supported Lincoln’s colonization plan—11,000 moved to Africa between 1816 and 1860—many more were vocal in their opposition. Among the most vehement critics was Frederick Douglass. As historian Eric Foner writes in The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, “Douglass pointed out that blacks had not caused the war; slavery had. The real task of a statesmen was not to patronize blacks by deciding what was ‘best’ for them, but to allow them to be free.”

But Menard could be just as voluble in his defense of the colonization plan. “This is a white nation, white men are the engineers over its varied machinery and destiny,” Menard wrote to Douglass in 1863. “Every dollar spent, every drop of blood shed and every life lost, was a willing sacrifice for the furtherance and perpetuity of a white nationality. Sir, the inherent principle of the white majority of this nation is to refuse forever republican equality to the black minority. A government, then, founded upon heterogeneous masses in North America would prove destructive to the best interest of the white and black races within its limits.”

image: https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/1d/fa/1dfa2281-8908-4d24-a126-8230fbe62866/african_american_leaders.jpg

African American leaders.jpg

African-American leaders disagreed on the issue of colonization, with some like Menard in favor of it while others, including Frederick Douglass, denounced it. (Library of Congress)

And so Menard traveled to Central America. American companies with business interests in the region made it one possible option for colonization. While there, Menard noted the potential of the landscape for a colony of newly freed African-Americans, but also worried over the absence of housing and proper facilities. Although Menard announced his support for a colony in British Honduras and wrote a favorable report to Lincoln upon returning in the fall of 1863, he worried about lack of support for such a project. As historians Phillip Magness and Sebastian Page write in Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, “Menard, long among the most vocal supporters of Liberian migration [to Africa], conceded that he was torn between resettlement abroad and working to improve the lot of blacks at home.”

Ultimately, the Union victory in the Civil War in 1865 and the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 made the latter option more possible than it ever had been before. In 1865 Menard moved to New Orleans, where he worked among the city’s elite African-Americans to fight for political representation and equal access to education. When James Mann, a white congressman from New Orleans, died five weeks into his term in 1868, Menard successfully ran for the seat and became the first African-American elected to Congress.

Despite Menard winning the clear majority of votes in the election, his opponent, Caleb Hunt, challenged the outcome. In defending the fairness of his victory to the House of Representatives, Menard also became the first African-American to address Congress in 1869. “I have been sent here by the votes of nearly nine thousand electors, [and] I would feel myself recreant to the duty imposed upon me if I did not defend their rights on this floor,” Menard stated. But the Republican-majority House of Representatives refused to seat either Menard or Hunt, citing their inability to verify the votes in the election.

Menard refused to give up on his vision of a democratic future for African-Americans—or forget his early lessons in the importance of building international relationships. In 1871 he moved to Florida with his family, this time taking up his pen to describe the work by immigrants and African-Americans to produce representative democracies at a local level. Menard edited a series of newspapers, and moved from Jacksonville to Key West, where he could participate in an almost utopic community, says Ortiz.

“Menard had a black, internationalist vision of freedom. That’s why he ends up describing Key West with such excitement,” Ortiz says. At the period, the island community was filled with a mixture of working class white people, as well as immigrants from Cuba, the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean. “Part of his genius was that he understood the freedom of African-Americans in the United States was connected to those freedom struggles in Cuba and Central America.”

Menard wasn’t the only one interested in building a coalition across racial and linguistic lines. During the same period, multiple states passed Alien Declarant Voting laws, allowing new immigrants to register to vote as long as they promised to become naturalized citizens. Menard wrote of political events conducted in both English and Spanish, Ortiz says, adding that Menard was representative of other black leaders who saw politics in a new way—as a system of power that impacted people regardless of national borders.

But for all his work in Florida, and later in Washington, D.C., Menard eventually came up against the system of oppression that Reconstruction-era policies failed to undo. Violent white supremacist groups like the Knights of White Camellia and the White League formed to terrorize African-Americans and prevent them from voting. Deadly attacks occurred across the South, from the Colfax Massacre in New Orleans to the Ocoee Massacre in Florida.

“The tragedy is, we know the end of the story,” Ortiz says of Menard’s attempt to create lasting change for his community and others. “Those movements were defeated. White supremacist politics were premised on everything being a zero-sum game. Economic resources, jobs, the right to even claim that you were an equal person. Reconstruction was beginning to work, and what came after it didn’t work. It’s our tragedy to live with.”

TAGS

African American History Congressmen Photography Political Leaders

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/international-vision-john-willis-menard-first-african-american-elected-congress-180968330/#2DrKuj2eZMVKwKxM.99
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World’s Most Ancient, Elusive Sharks Were Finally Caught on Video

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SMITHSONIAN.COM)

 

The World’s Most Ancient, Elusive Sharks Were Finally Caught on Video

Greenland sharks, which can live more than 400 years, reveal how little we know about life in the coldest oceans

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/Sz-HpJx9QSTe8xn05DJ9LqSHTuo=/800×600/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/46/b4/46b47612-9792-420d-8322-5cf8751bdc39/file-20180215-131006-1crtmxc-wr.jpgGreenland shark
A large female Greenland shark observed near the community of Arctic Bay, Nunavut. (Brynn Devine, Author provided)
SMITHSONIAN.COM

The Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest marine species, reaching lengths over 19 feet. And yet these fish, which prefer the deep, cold waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans, have largely eluded scientific study.

Their evasiveness highlights how little we know about Arctic marine ecosystems—and how much we can learn by developing and employing new technologies.

For scientists like us, the observation and monitoring of marine species can be challenging under the best of circumstances. But sampling at extreme depths and in seasonally ice-covered waters is especially difficult.

image: https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/44/1e/441e5259-9a63-49a8-8219-a13b25f42b7f/file-20180215-131032-w89qtb.jpgBrynn Devine and Laura Wheeland
Researchers Brynn Devine (right) and Laura Wheeland aboard the vessel Kiviuq I off the community of Grise Fiord on southern Ellesmere Island in 2016. (Laura Wheeland, Author provided)

However, we recently captured some of the first underwater video footage of Greenland sharks in the Canadian Arctic. The recordings gave us valuable insight into their abundance, size and behaviour, as well as their distribution in the Canadian Arctic.

These findings are the first step towards closing a major knowledge gap on the population status of the Greenland shark. And we did it without taking any sharks from the water.

**********

Until now, most of what we knew about Greenland sharks came from the historical records of commercial landings. They were fished in the North Atlantic for their oily livers until 1960. A limited harvest still occurs in Greenland, and the species is sometimes encountered as bycatch in fisheries that occur within its geographical range.

But in areas of the North Atlantic and Arctic where commercial fishing has not historically occurred—such as the waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago—their full geographic range has remained unknown.

Due to their sluggish and seemingly lethargic behaviour, the Greenland shark is part of the family of “sleeper sharks.” Despite being remarkably slow swimmers and effectively blind, thanks to eye parasites, the Greenland shark is one of the Arctic’s top predators.

image: https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/26/a5/26a55edf-8338-40c9-ae39-8bff1ab78e27/file-20180215-131024-1uieukg.jpgGreenland shark
A small Greenland shark, less than 1.5 metres long, observed inside Scott Inlet on northern Baffin Island. (Brynn Devine, Author provided)

Although they feed mostly on a diverse buffet of bottom-dwelling fishes, there is some evidence that they can capture live seals. Just how they catch these fast-swimming marine mammals, remains a mystery to researchers.

Greenland sharks are by far the largest fish in the Arctic. They rival the Great white shark in length, if not its fear factor.

Scientists have also puzzled over their life span and growth rates. They appear to grow extremely slowly—less than one centimeter per year—and are believed to not reach maturity until females are 15 feet long and males are around 10 feet long.

They also have remarkable lifespans. Scientists recently used radiocarbon dating techniques on the eye lens of a Greenland shark, and found they can live for more than 272 years, making the species the longest living vertebrate on the planet.

While these are impressive traits, their age and large size leave Greenland sharks more vulnerable to stressors such as overfishing or habitat loss than other fishes.

**********

Scientists know little about Greenland sharks living in the unfished waters of the eastern Canadian Arctic. To help collect information on sharks residing in this region, we baited cameras with squid and dropped them into the deep waters of Nunavut.

After two summer field seasons, we had more than 250 hours of high-resolution video recorded from 31 locations.

Greenland sharks arrived at 80 percent of our deployments. We used the video to distinguish one individual from the next based on their unique skin markings, a method researchers also use to identify for whale sharks and great white sharks. Altogether, we identified 142 individual sharks.

The videos also gave us additional information about the sharks, including their length and swimming speeds. In some locations, the sharks were relatively small — less than 1.5 metres long — in others, they were over three metres long, but nearly all of them were likely still too young to reproduce.

Researchers are increasingly using video to survey marine wildlife. Baited-camera surveys eliminate the adverse effects of scientific longline surveys, where fish are caught on hooks. Even though the sharks are later released, many suffer from the stress of capture or can become entangled in the fishing gear, which can lead to death.

**********

We did most of this work within the region of Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound), which could become Canada’s largest marine protected area.

This area is known as a vital feeding and nursery ground for many Arctic species of both ecological and Inuit cultural significance, including whales, seabirds, polar bears, seals and walruses. Our video data now shows that this area might of be important to Greenland sharks too, at least in summer months.

image: https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/69/81/6981f97e-a05d-4ad2-8fa1-0cbfdf2c1ffb/file-20180215-131024-ccb54d.jpgMap of baited camera deployments
Map of baited camera deployments where Greenland sharks were observed, with symbol sizes proportional to the number of individuals distinguished from each set. The ‘X’ indicates sets where no sharks were observed.(http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-19115-x, CC BY)

In addition, given the significance of top predators in controlling the dynamics of high latitude marine ecosystems, the role of Greenland sharks may represent an important link in Arctic food webs.

At a time when oceans are rapidly warming, Arctic sea-ice cover is shrinking and there is increasing interest in Arctic fisheries and conservation, it’s important that we understand the domains of these large, ancient creatures.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.image: https://counter.theconversation.com/content/90584/count.gif

The ConversationBrynn Devine, Ph.D. candidate, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Jonathan A. D. Fisher, Research scientist, Memorial University of Newfoundland

TAGS

Arctic Arctic Ocean Biology Conservation New Research Oceans Scientists Sea Creatures Sharks

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/caught-camera-ancient-greenland-sharks-180968303/#P8RGP2BBt76jYGp5.99
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