John Lawson on Passenger Pigeons in Carolina

John Lawson arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1700. At the end of the year, he set off with nine other people on a two month long excursion through South and North Carolina, arriving on the Pamlico River on the 24th of February, 1701. Along the way, they encountered passenger pigeons more than once.  On one occasion, after crossing a river, they “saw several Flocks of Pigeons, Field-Fares, and Thrushes.” (1709:42) Several days later, while waiting for one of the men to return with some horses that had run off, the others

went to shoot Pigeons, which were so numerous in these Parts, that you might see many Millions in a Flock; they sometimes split off the Limbs of stout Oaks, and other Trees, upon which they roost o’ Nights. You may find several Indian Towns, of not above 17 Houses, that have more than 100 Gallons of Pigeons Oil, or Fat; they using it with Pulse, or Bread, as we do Butter, and making the Ground as white as a Sheet with their Dung. The Indians take a Light, and go among them in the Night, and bring away some thousands, killing them with long Poles, as they roost in the Trees. At this time of the Year, the Flocks, as they pass by, in great measure, obstruct the Light of the day.(1709:44-45)

When Lawson wrote his book several years later, he incorporated additional knowledge he had obtained about the Carolinas. According to Lawson, pigeons did not breed along the coast of the Carolinas (“They leave us in the Summer.” 1709:140), but large flocks did roost there during the winter. He intimates that the size of these flocks could vary by year, with a particularly large number of pigeons seen in 1707, “the hardest Winter that ever was known” (1709:141) in Carolina. Yet these flocks paled in comparison to “the great and infinite Numbers of these Fowl, that are met withal about a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, Miles to the Westward of the Places where we at present live; and where these Pigeons come down, in quest of a small sort of Acorns” (1709:141)

Recalling his winter expedition, he wrote how

such prodigious Flocks of these Pigeons…had broke down the Limbs of a great many large Trees all over those Woods, whereon they chanced to sit and roost; especially the great Pines, which are a more brittle Wood, than our sorts of Oak are. These Pigeons, about Sun-Rise, when we were preparing to march on our Journey, would fly by us in such vast Flocks, that they would be near a Quarter of an Hour, before they were all pass’d by; and as soon as that Flock was gone, another would come; and so successively one after another, for great part of the Morning. (1709:141)

These flocks may have been traveling from roosts to feeding areas, or may have been working their way north to nesting grounds.  Lawson asked the local natives “where it was that those Pigeons bred, and they pointed towards the vast Ridge of Mountains, and said, they bred there.” (1709:142)

Lawson1709

 References:

Lawson, John

1709       A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel’d Thro’ Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. London.

Powell, William S., ed.

John Lawson, 1674-1711. In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/lawson/bio.html

Infant Burials, Antler Foreshafts at c. 11.5kya Site in Alaska

Ben Potter and colleagues’ work at the Upward Sun River Site in Alaska is making news, and the Smithsonian has the best headline:

Ice Age Babies Surrounded by Weapon Parts Found in Alaska

Foreshafts and bifaces from the Upward Sun River Site, Alaska. Source: University of Alaska-Fairbanks/Ben Potter/Smithsonian.

Details are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required):

New insights into Eastern Beringian mortuary behavior: A terminal Pleistocene double infant burial at Upward Sun River

PC with built-in 3D Scanner and Projector for Under $2K

You could go to the official HP web site (sprout.hp.com), which has photos of hands, and origami, and phrases like “express yourself” that don’t tell you anything about what this thing actually is.

Or read some of the reports of people who have actually used it. The HP Sprout is a desktop touch screen computer that comes with an integrated 3D scanner and projector and the Touch Mat, which looks kind of like a big mouse pad but has a capacitive touch surface. The projector also can project images onto the surface of the 20-inch mat, which you can then interact with – like a keyboard, piano keys, or a drawing pad.

The best description I’ve seen yet is PCMag’s, including more on the 3D scanning ability.  One limitation on the scanner, according to CNET:

“Right now, the Sprout only scans the top half of objects — the part facing up toward the Illuminator’s cameras — but sometime next spring, HP promises support for full 3D scanning. There’s also a plan to have the Sprout send its data to 3D printers, too.”

Yes, you have to put up with Windows 8, but you can get this all-in-one package in about two weeks for $1899.99.

For more photos, check out The Verge:

HP Sprout. Source: theverge.com

Paleontology in Panama: Postdoc Opportunity

1911 Washington Post Headline. Source: http://nmnh.typepad.com/100years/our-history/page/2/

The Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida
is advertising a 2 year postdoctoral fellowship starting January 2015 within the Panama Canal Project (PCP), an NSF-funded project within the Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program.

The postdoc fellow will work with scientists at the University of Florida and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to:
1) conduct original field-based research on the ancient biodiversity, climates, and environments of Panama; 2) facilitate on-going field research of other project participants; and 3) supervise and mentor PCP-PIRE interns in Panama. Minimum requirements: PhD (geology, biology, or related discipline), experience conducting geology/paleontology field work, and some supervisory experience. The postdoc fellow will be required to spend considerable portions of this appointment in Panama. Some Spanish competency is preferred. This position is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and includes an annual stipend ($40,000), health insurance, housing when living in Panama, and related travel. PCP-PIRE is committed to diversity in education and encourages the application of women and underrepresented minorities.
Applicants must submit a letter of interest, curriculum vitae, statement of proposed research, and contact information for 3 references to Aaron Wood (awood@flmnh.ufl.edu) by 15 November 2014.

For more information:
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/panama-pire/funding-opportunities/postdoc

Also check out Fossils of Panama at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Swedish Colonial Foodways

Beef, Beer and Bread: Colonial Foodways
The annual New Sweden History Conference, held at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia, will focus on food this year. From the website:
Five speakers will discuss various aspects of culinary history—from the kitchens of Stockholm to the brew houses of Philadelphia. The keynote speaker is author, chef, and Swedish food historian Dr. Ulrica Söderlind. Dr. Söderlind holds a PhD from the University of Stockholm. She has written five books on topics such as, the role of food in Swedish social history, and the culinary history of the Nobel Banquet. Her conference session will focus on the cooking practices of a 17th century Swedish noble household. Additional speakers include David Furlow, who will be discussing the significance of cattle as an important part of New Sweden’s economy; Rich Wagner will lead an engaging discussion on the intricacies of colonial beer brewing. In the spirit of this year’s theme, a special lunch will be served featuring colonial recipes and, of course, beer.
The conference is Saturday, November 8, 2014. Registration is $45 and includes breakfast and lunch. For more information: www.americanswedish.org

Prehistory of the “Feathered Tempest”

Beloit College has posted the video of zooarchaeologist Steven Kuehn’s talk on the prehistoric occurrence of the passenger pigeon in the Midwest.

Kuehn briefly surveys passenger pigeon bones at archaeological sites in the Southeast and Northeast (with a mention of both the Lamoka Lake and Cole Gravel Pit sites), but focuses on the area he knows best, Illinois and Wisconsin.

While I disagree with his assertion that Ectopistes bones are, in general, rare in prehistoric archaeological sites, Kuehn makes some interesting points about possible changes through time in the abundance of passenger pigeon and also shows how, at least in later prehistory, passenger pigeons may have had greater symbolic importance.

Kuehn also talks about his own work at the Late Woodland Fish Lake site in Illinois (not far from Cahokia Mounds), where a single feature contained 28 passenger pigeon bones, almost all from the distal wing. Watch the video to see his interpretation of this find.

If Iron Man Was an Archaeologist…

…he would wear a suit like this:

Archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou testing the Exosuit.
Archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou testing the Exosuit. Image from ABlogtoWatch.com

That’s Greek archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou testing out a new underwater suit that will allow him to work on underwater archaeological sites for extended periods without worrying about the bends.

It’s like a personal submarine that you wear.

They gave it to an archaeologist.

And he’s looking for the missing parts of the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Marsyas.

MINI Makes a Pickup Truck

The Mini Paceman Adventure Truck Concept
The MINI Paceman Adventure Truck Concept
Mini Paceman Adventure Going Away
MINI Paceman Adventure Going Away

Sporting what may the the smallest ever truck bed, a snorkel, and almost no ground clearance, the one-off MINI Paceman Adventure concept keeps the fun, throws out the rest of the function along with the back seats.

Or does it? After all MINIs have been winning the Dakar Rally the past few years, so they should know something about driving offroad. Regardless, the Adventure is a concept car that will not be going into production, so if you want one, you’ll have to chop the back off a Paceman yourself.

MINIs at the Dakar Rally
MINIs at the Dakar Rally

Virtual Passenger Pigeon Bones and Digital Zooarchaeology

Digital model of passenger pigeon humerus
Digital model of a passenger pigeon humerus createdfrom an archaeological site. Created by the Virtual Curation Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University.

On the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University has just posted the results of a project to create 3D models of passenger pigeon bones. Most of the source bones were excavated from an archaeological site in Virginia. Its a fantastic idea that will make easier for everyone, including scientists trying to identify passenger pigeon at archaeological and paleontological sites.

There are already hundreds of prehistoric sites where this bird has been identified, but it is surprisingly less common to have passenger pigeon identified from historic period archaeological sites.  One factor complicating their identification in historical sites is the challenge of distinguishing passenger pigeon from the similarly sized rock dove, or common pigeon (Columba livia), that  was introduced to North America in the 1600s.  Often when pigeon bones of a certain size are found in historic period sites, they are classified only as Columbidae, or pigeon. It would be nice to see the VCL also produce 3D models of the rock dove, so zooarchaeologists without access to a comprehensive faunal collection might be better able to distinguish these two species.

For more information, see the VCL website.