New research question: Is it possible to write an article about passenger pigeons without using the adjective “stupendous”? This article in The Star uses it, while talking about the Royal Ontario Museum’s plan to put some of their 153 stuffed Ectopistes back on display, as well as how the DNA from one of their birds is being used in an ambitious plan to recreate the passenger pigeon.
Visitors swamped the museum at the San Isidro Basilica in Spain after two authors published a book claiming a goblet at the basilica is the Holy Grail. It’s not clear yet if the basilica was informed of the stunt prior to publication of the book, or if they were able to raise (or start charging) admission rates before the crowds arrived. Probably not, since they were unable to cope with the demand to see the goblet and have temporarily taken it off display.
Take your pick of news reports covering the story, like this one at the Guardian.
If you need to see The Holy Grail and can’t make it to San Isidro, you can visit the Cloisters Museum in New York City and view another The Holy Grail, a.k.a. the Antioch Chalice, which is either the real Grail, or maybe a lamp. The provenience of that one seems a bit sketchy, too.
A thought-piece on small crossover SUVs for overland travel has some interesting tidbits of information, such as:
The diminutive Lada Niva was the first vehicle to drive to the North Pole, although that discussion raises hackles with Top Gear fans. First or second, it went there, which is an accolade only Toyota can match.
A parachute was involved, which may help explain the controversy. And the Fiat Panda helps show that ground clearance isn’t everything.
Which leads them to ask how good might the newly announced Jeep Renegade actually be for overlanding?
These guys got off easy:
An earlier record of Europeans shooting passenger pigeons (“doves”) that Joel Greenberg found but was not able to get into his book:
A second voyage left France in 1564 under the command of Rene Laudonniere. At the mouth of the St. Johns River where Jacksonville now stands, he founded Fort Caroline on June 22. It, too, would fail, as the Spanish, aware of France’s intentions, sent a fleet about a year later to slaughter or imprison most of the inhabitants and destroy the structures. Laudonneire managed to escape, however, and wrote of his experiences. Sometime between January 25, 1565 and May 1565, there occurred the earliest instance of Europeans killing passenger pigeons that I know of:
“In the meantime, a great flock of doves came to us, unexpectedly and for a period of about seven weeks, so that every day we shot more than two hundred of them in the woods around our fort.” ( Rene Laudonniere, Three Voyages (translated, edited, and annotated by Charles E. Bennett), Gainesville: The University Presses of Florida (1975): 114.
The exact location of Fort Caroline has never been identified, although at least one archaeological attempt to find it is underway. Recently, some people have even claimed, apparently without showing much evidence, that it was actually in Georgia.
In 1908 the New York State Museum purchased a passenger pigeon from Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, NY (NYSM 1908:134). The late date of this acquisition is interesting. By this time, the species was considered extinct in the wild. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, of course, died in captivity in 1914. The latest confirmed killing of a passenger pigeon that Schorger (1955) was aware of occurred in 1900 in Ohio. Greenberg (2014) has since identified two more recent records: a passenger pigeon killed in Illinois in 1901 that survives as a taxidermic mount at Millikin University, and a pigeon killed in Indiana in 1902. That specimen has not survived.
There were, however, unconfirmed sightings of passenger pigeons in the wild. Most, if not all of these, were likely misidentifications of the smaller mourning dove. Schorger has pointed out how even experienced observers could make such a mistake.
The latest confirmed kill of a passenger pigeon in New York was in 1899. Yet a passenger pigeon nest was reported from Monroe County, New York, in 1904 and in 1907 Edmund Niles Huyck saw a live pigeon in Albany County and naturalist John Burroughs recorded sightings of flocks of pigeons in the Hudson Valley (Greenberg 2014; Steadman 1996).
Is it possible that a collector working for Ward’s killed a wild passenger pigeon that was then sold to the Museum? Perhaps, although Ward’s Natural Science was a major supplier of passenger pigeons and all sorts of animals to museums and other institutions. It seems more likely that the State Museum bought a specimen prepared by Ward’s years earlier that had been sitting unsold in a warehouse. In fact, another source, Frank H. Ward himself, tells us that the company obtained their passenger pigeons the same way many other people did: by buying them in public markets in the 1880s. At the time of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in 1914, Ward’s still had eight skeletons in stock (Pitelka and Bryant 1942).
The New York State Museum has several passenger pigeons in their collections — ten mounted skins according to David Steadman, the former curator of birds there. An earlier report listed five mounted specimens and two study skins at the museum, of which only one, a mounted specimen collected in 1895 from Orleans County, New York, had reliable provenience (Stoner 1940).
The pigeon from Ward’s, whether a stuffed taxidermic mount or a mounted skeleton, is presumably still at the NYSM. Their products would have had a label with the name of the company, but this would not be considered provenience data, as it would not have the date and location the bird was actually obtained. A search of the museum’s archives and an examination of the bird itself might produce more information. The University of Rochester curates the archives of the Ward’s company (link), but a fire in 1930 destroyed many of the earlier records, so it may not possible to ever determine if this bird was truly one of the last wild passenger pigeons.
2014 A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. Bloomsbury USA.
New York State Museum
1908 Fourth Report of the Director of the Science Division including the 61st Report of the State Museum, the 27th Report of the State Geologist, and the Report of the State Paleontologist for 1907. New York State Museum Bulletin 121. Albany.
Pitelka, Frank A., and Monroe D. Bryant
1942 Available skeletons of the passenger pigeon. The Condor 44:74-75.
1955 The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction.
Steadman, David W.
1996 …And live on pigeon pie: the passenger pigeon finally expired at the Victorian dining table. New York State Conservationist. April, pp. 21-23.
1940 Unreported New York State specimens of passenger pigeon. The Auk 57:415-416.
Discovered another Trowelblazers post with a Lamoka connection, which led me into the interesting and complex family history of Arthur Parker.
Bertha “Birdie” Parker Pallan Thurston Cody was the daughter of Beulah Tahamont Parker and Arthur Parker, New York State Archaeologist and Rochester Museum director. She had an interesting and complicated life of her own, working as an archaeologist/anthropologist at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California for many years. That was only part of her life, however.
Following a trail from Open Access Archaeology led to this practical guide to extracting data from documents, whether paper or digital. Whether you want to get the numbers from one table in an article cleanly into Excel, or you just got the Wikileaks download, you can find the tools in Jonathan Stray’s guide.
A Jack’s Reef point was found at the Lamoka Lake site during the Buffalo Museum of Science excavations. These pentagonal or corner-notched pentagonal points date to the Kipp Island Phase (beginning around A.D. 500) of the Middle Woodland in New York State. Farther south, they are associated with the equivalent Webb Phase.
Darrin Lowery recently looked at Jack’s Reef in the Delmarva Peninsula (i.e., parts of Delaware, Maryland, and a little bit of Virginia). Important sites include Island Field in Delaware, which had over 100 human burials, bone tools, shell beads, shark teeth, and more, and the Riverton Site (18WC5) in Maryland, another burial site (unfortunately not professionally excavated), which had stone platform pipes, a Ramah chert knife, and stone celts and adzes.
Jack’s Reef sites can be found eroding out of the shore line, such as at the Oxford (18TA3) and Wheatley’s Point (18DO371) sites in Maryland. One major find at the latter site was a cache of fossil shark teeth. Lowery found and excavated the Upper Ridge Site (44NH440) in Virginia, which had an midden with food remains, including a large number of fish bones. VA. The lithic evidence at Upper Ridge documents the entire sequence of manufacturing Jack’s Reef points, from core to flake to finished product.
Lowery, Darrin L.
2013 Jack’s Reef in in the Chesapeake and Delmarva Region: Research into the Coastal Archaeology of the Era Between circa Cal A.D. 480 and Cal A.D. 900. Archaeology of Eastern North America 41:5-30.
Mike Toner, in the Spring 2014 issue of American Archaeology, writes about the threats to American archaeological sites posed by extreme weather. Forest fires in the southwest, Drought from Texas to California, melting glaciers in Alaska, and sea level rise along the coasts are exposing previously unknown artifacts but also destroying them.
Some of the facts and figures are astounding: over 100 prehistoric wooden dugout canoes were uncovered around one shrinking lake in Florida. Entire historic towns, once covered by reservoirs, are now exposed. Wooden arrows, complete with fletching, have been found melting out of ice patches. With so many archaeological resources, and so little time and money to properly identify and preserve them before they are destroyed by nature or looters, archaeologists are forced to practice triage. One of the sadder quotes comes from a National Park Service official: “There are going to be some situations where we will have to learn to say goodbye to resources we can’t protect.”
Mike Toner, “The threat of climate change”. American Archaeology, Spring 2014, pp. 12-19.
To read the whole article, you have to get it from your local newsstand, but see one of the dugout canoes at the Archaeological Conservancy.